Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Prince Rupert's Drop

Since we're into posting cool videos, check these out:


Monday, September 28, 2009

Video Archives of the Canadian Society for Arachnology

We all know what happens when Cornwall engineers push the envelope. And when Canadian biologists go looking for bears. But no one can mess shit up like our fellow Ottawans, the Arachnologists over at the Canadian Wildlife Service. MUCH RESPECT.

H/T: An old friend of the Bay.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Won't Somebody Think of the Insurance Companies?

Will Ferrell and others point out the REAL victims of health care reform.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


You can sign up to get your PhD online here. Choose your program wisely however. You don't want to waste all that time surfing the web for nothing:

"While those with Ph.D.'s often go into careers as university professors, many also work outside academia in scientific research, publishing, or other arenas. A Ph.D., otherwise known as a doctorate, can be an excellent choice for those who are passionate about contributing to a specific field; those with this degree typically earn several hundred thousand dollars more over their career than those with a master's degree. That said, competition for jobs as professors can be cutthroat. Students contemplating a Ph.D. program should research their options and career prospects carefully."


Friday, September 18, 2009

Would You Stick Your Head Down A Bear Den for Science?

This is why I study biology in a lab. Crazy bastards.


Stevie Wonder Could Probably Make Music On A Gilson

Stevie Wonder on the drums. HOLY SHIT! As the caption says "Can't nobody fuck with the dude Stevie Wonder." I agree.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I can't believe I have never come across this amazing blog before. Searching for scientific humour gold on Pubmed is one of the Bayblab's pastimes. NCBI ROFL makes it a full time job. Guaranteed amusement.


Monday, September 14, 2009


I have been sort of interested in the condition synaesthesia because I perhaps have a mild version of it. I associate particular colours with numbers and letters, days of the week ect, the hallmark symptom of this 'condition'. I always attributed this to the fact that early in school when these things were taught to me they were shown to me on coloured construction paper. These materials were probably repeatedly used and posted around the classroom. Interestingly, since I didn't go to school on Saturday or Sunday these days have particularly unique 'colours'. In fact Saturday has two pointy ears like bugs bunny because I watched Saturday morning cartoons.
However, I have read that a true synaethete can quickly see a number 2 in a sea of 5's for example because the colour stands out. I don't 'see' the associated colour quit so literally and could definitely not do this. See if you can do it.
An article at the BBC describes some variations of synaesthesia that are interesting. I was very interested to see the diagram posted here. I definitely see the year as a circle much like that in the diagram. However the one in my mind that I use is fixed and encircles the yard in the house where I grew up (June is near the maple tree ect.)
The BBC article carries on to state:
They have already established that most people associate texture and shape with shades of colour. And most people have an intrinsic sense of the shade of different pitches of sound
That combined with the performance advantage that some synaethetes have in certain memory tasks makes me wonder if these associations are simply mental cheats that are very commonly used and just become part of the working of your mind.
The most bizarre sounding one to me is the rare lexical / gustatory synesthesia where individual words and the phonemes of spoken language evoke taste sensations in the mouth. I would never admit to this condition for fear of being taken advantage of if I was hungry.
Does anyone else have these mental connections? I suspect lots of people have these mental tricks and, as the BBC article states, if it is a condition probably has a very large spectrum. Does the time of day smell or the letters of the alphabet taste?


Thursday, September 10, 2009

XKCD: so true


Friday, September 04, 2009

Cancer Carnival #25

Welcome to the 25th edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival - your monthly roundup of cancer related blogging.

Unless you've been cut off from all news, you're probably aware of the debate over health care reform happening in the United States. Sandy Ordonez has sent us this overview, which includes interviews with doctors and insurance providers.

Cancer, of course, doesn't care if you're rich, poor, uninsured or where you're from. The Viewspaper looks at the issue of cancer in India - much of which is tobacco related - as well as their own National Cancer Control Programme.

Erin Cline Davis, from the 23andMe blog The Spittoon, keeps us up to date with the latest SNPs associated with cancer, this time genetic variants associated with childhood ALL.

Fred Lee from Healthcare Hacks discusses a recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at the effects of aspirin on cancer survival.
In addition to lessening pain while also helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes, aspirin is now believed to increase the chance of survival for patients suffering from colon cancer. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that colon cancer patients reduced their risk of dying from the disease by as much as 30% when they took aspirin in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy.
The effect is only effective with tumours that overexpress Cox-2. The mechanism of action is still unclear - other Cox-2 inhibitors have been tested, such as celecoxib (Celebrex), and they have effects in vitro even when Cox-2 inhibition is removed.

Fred continues with his healthcare hacks, describing a NEJM study that shows that weightlifting may alleviate one of the possible side-effects of breast cancer treatment, lymphedema.
Though the idea has been argued for years, this is the first study with the size, scope and duration to give it clinical relevancy to the notion that not only is exercise not bad for breast cancer survivors, but that it might be beneficial, as well. Breast cancer survivors who were suffering from lymphedema were divided into two sections: one group was told not to change their exercise habits, while the other took part in a 90 minute weightlifting class twice a week for 13 weeks. After the classes, the subjects worked out on their own for an additional 39 weeks.
This runs contrary to past recommendations to avoid strain, such as heavy lifting, on the affected areas.

We have another double-hit of submissions from Kat Arney who blogs for Cancer Research UK. First, she demystifies recent claims that we're "2-years from a cure for breast cancer", explaining the science behind estrogen receptor regulated microRNAs and why the recent findings are still a long way from a cure.
Dr Stebbing’s results help to unravel the complex communications circuits within cells that controls the activity of our genes, and helps to explain how this goes wrong in cancer. Now we know more about this, we can start to look for potential treatments.

One speculative idea might be to add extra processed miRNAs to breast cancer cells, to switch off the oestrogen receptor so the cells stop growing – but this needs to be explored in further experiments.
Dr. Arney also directs our attention to the BRAF gene, which is defective in 70% of melanomas, in an ongoing series focusing on Cancer Research UK-funded work
One of the key players in certain signalling cascades is BRAF, a protein produced from the instructions carried by the BRAF gene. BRAF is a kinase, a protein that sticks chemical ‘tags’ onto other proteins, activating them in order to pass on signals in the cell. And, as you might expect, faults in BRAF can have big implications for cells – and for cancer.
Here at the Bayblab, Bayman discusses transmissible tumours in tasmanian devils, raising some questions about tumour immunology and the effectiveness of cancer vaccines. Among the issues raised: why, if tumours are effective at evading the immune system, aren't more tumours transmissible? Ian York at Mystery Rays from Outer Space tries to answer that question.
The most important factor, I suspect, has nothing to do with immunology. These tumors are unusual in that they have a built-in way of contacting new hosts. TDFT is spread through bites, CTVT is spread sexually. There’s no similar way that, say, a liver tumor, or a brain tumor, could be spread. So that immediately rules out the vast majority of tumors; even if they could survive after transmission, there’s no chance of a transmission chain. But still, most tumors would be rejected even if they did manage to be transmitted.
The posts and comments across both blogs are interesting and worth the read. Ian continues his posts about transmissible tumours by looking at a human case: the vertical transmission of tumours from mother to fetus.
Malignancy during pregnancy isn’t all that uncommon (0.1% of pregnancies, it says here), so the handful of cases with actual spread of the tumor to the fetus are “numerically inconsequential”. What was different about these 14 cases? We don’t really know, in general. Almost all of the described cases are earlier than 1965, predating the molecular era of medicine.
Another interesting case of transmissible tumour, even if the mechanism of immune evasion isn't clear. But as he points out, "these stories are still worth keeping in mind when thinking about tumour transmission" (and tumour immunology).

That's it for this month's Cancer Research Blog Carnival. For older editions, visit the Carnival Homepage. Don't forget, the CRBC has subscription options; you can follow by email or RSS feed. An aggregated feed of credible, rotating health and medicine blog carnivals is also available.

If you'd like to host a future edition, email bayblab@gmail.com


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Has NASA Got it Wrong?

The following is a picture describing the scientific method for kids from NASA's SciFiles:
It captures the frustration of things not working pretty well (Do observations and experiments support hypothesis -> No), but it falls short after that. The graphic implies that if data doesn't support your hypothesis, it's the fault of bad experimentation. Worse, it seems to follow that we should only accept observations and results that support our hypotheses. Cherry-picking results is a problem not a solution.

Of course, it is possible that failure to confirm a hypothesis is an experimental problem (though less likely if care is taken in experimental design and execution) but it could also be that they hypothesis is wrong and needs revision.

Perhaps this is too nit-picky for a children's page, but I think NASA can do better.

[h/t: The Geeks' Guide to World Domination]


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cancer Vaccine Clinical Trials

A clinical trial for a new treatment for ovarian cancer and melanoma is about to begin using a vaccine developed at Cornell University. From the press release:
The melanoma trial is being conducted at New York University Medical Center, while the ovarian cancer vaccine trial is at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. The trials are assessing the safety and the anti-tumor immune response of the so-called NY-ESO-1 recombinant protein cancer vaccine alone and in combination with other agents, according to the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), an organization that has recently given $450,000 to Cornell to support vaccine production at the Bioproduction Facility. The facility is a partnership between the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Cornell.
The goal of these trials is to maximize the body's immune response to the NY-ESO-1 protein.
NY-ESO-1 is an antigen found in normal testis and in various tumours. The peptide vaccine stimulates the immune system against cells expressing the NY-ESO-1 antigen leading to lysis of tumour cells (no word on how it affects 'normal testis'). The vaccine isn't meant to be preventative, but rather to stimulate the body's response against an existing tumour.


Call for Posts: Cancer Research Blog Carnival

The Cancer Research Blog Carnival will arrive on Friday. If you've written about cancer or cancer research in the past month, submit your posts here. If not, you still have a few days to get writing something new! For past editions visit the carnival home page. And we're still looking for hosts for future months, so drop us an email if you'd like the carnival to appear on your blog.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Open Source GE

Here's a quick video on Fora.tv (sort of like Ted) where Michael Pollan makes a good point against genetically engineered crops. It's not about health or even the environment, it's about intellectual property being used to own the crops on which we all depend. He calls for open source genetic engineering. I don't know if the open source concept really works well for biotech. It's cheap for an individual to sit down and make some code for an open source project and therefore these things can be accomplished as a hobby. Biotech is expensive, and the only way labs are going to work on a genetically engineered crop is if there is a patent on the horizon. Here are some arguements that the comparison of open source software and biotech is valid.