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I should be focusing on my project presentation for class (apologies for not writing in here as much as I planned to, but really: I HAVE ALMOST SURVIVED MY WHOLE FIRST YEAR OF GRADUATE SCHOOL). Instead I keep getting sidetracked by all these cool research articles not entirely related to my chosen topic (selective inhibitors of histone modifications as a potential therapeutic for major depressive disorder - say that 10 x fast). Like this article (which I am almost half glad UCSD doesn't have access to, because I do need to go to bed sometime tonight):

Whitfield JB, Zhu G, Heath AC, Martin NG. Choice of residential location: chance, family influences, or genes? Twin Res Hum Genet. 2005 Feb;8(1):22-6.

ABSTRACT: The choice of where to live would appear to be determined by a combination of economic constraints and personal preferences. We have tested how far this choice is affected by the continuing effects of the environment shared within families, and genetic variation between people, using data from twin studies conducted in Australia. The addresses provided by study participants were categorized as urban, suburban and nonurban, and data were analyzed in three adult age groups. There were significant effects of both shared environment and genes, and the balance between them was affected by both sex and age. Shared environment accounted for some 50% of variation in the youngest group, but only about 10% in the oldest. As shared environmental effects decreased, additive genetic effects increased. These results have implications for internal migration of people within countries and, over the long term, for gene flow within and between populations. They may also be pertinent to the different prevalences of certain psychiatric diseases between city and country locations. Comparisons between countries with different demography are needed to confirm and further characterize these effects.

There is this whole theory that urban living contributes to one's risk of depression, but this paper looks like it challenges that idea. One may be more likely to live in the city and have depression because of one's genes. So is it gene -> environment -> phenotype or gene + environment -> phenotype or even more confusingly something like gene x environment x entropy -> epigenetic factors --> phenotype. I like the last one because it is appropriately complex, but it also gives me a bit of a headache.

I am sorta also hating the fact that I can't read this article, because I am fascinated with the idea (maybe not actually shown in their findings) that the genetic influence was stronger the older individuals got. I remember reading in another book somewhere (maybe Gould's Mismeasure of Man?) that genetic influences on IQ (intelligence and inheritance is sorta controversial) get stronger the older we get. After finals I think I will uncover the passage I am thinking about and post it here.
I know I took a hiatus with this journal, I'm hoping to start bringing it back!

In the meantime, how I am feeling right now:

borrowed from here.

To be fair, my current faculty advisor is a very reasonable guy. I just feel overwhelmed with all the work to do and when I am overwhelmed I seem to do it less well.

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Former Marxist revolutionary Daniel Ortega could emerge from 16 years in opposition to become Nicaragua's president on Sunday, helped by the weak record of pro-Washington governments.

Voting in the Central American nation will be closely watched by the United States, which trained and financed Contra rebels to fight Ortega's Sandinista government in a 1980s civil war that killed 30,000 people.

A Sandinista win would be likely to irk President Bush, whose father, then president, celebrated the end of Ortega's decade-long rule in 1990....Collapse )

Fired up by his chances, Ortega's speeches sometimes verge on the messianic and he has compared the campaign against him to the persecution of Jesus.

"We must forgive them for they do not know the damage they are doing to their own hearts," he said this week.
Nothing serious for now, instead: scientists according to The Colbert Report:

My favorite line: they are dangerous enough one at a time - now they are organizing

The Scientists & Engineers for America website is www.SEforA.org.
Another scientific finding that comes to us via accident: Illuminating the Shadow People.

Straight from ScienceDaily, researchers found that ...when a specific region of the brain called the left temporoparietal junction (TPJ) is stimulated, it can create the illusion of a "shadow person."

The findings originally came from a woman they implanted electrodes into to help with epilepsy. She started feeling somebody, a shadow, everywhere. Apparently: Such delusions are similar to those seen in patients with schizophrenia, says Blanke. Schizophrenics often mistake their own bodies to be someone else's, for example, and attribute their own actions to others. They also have frequent illusions of being followed, or controlled by a stranger, as do those who claim to have been manipulated by aliens.

What I find to be the most fascinating part: the shadow person phenomenon may shed light on how the brain perceives "self." In order to recognize its own body, he says, the brain uses sensory information, such as visual and proprioceptive cues (which indicate the position of body parts relative to each other and everything else). The TPJ is known to put some of these cues together. When this function is disrupted, the brain perceives two bodies instead of one and mistakes the second for that of a stranger...
It is no Grey's Anatomy, but this little video is pretty much awesome - 'the secret life of the cell'.

More later, about this whole grad school thing. Right now I am sorta tired.
I'm settling into graduate student life in San Diego - right now we are in the midst of a program orientation that finishes next week just in time for classes. 'Orientation' means 8 hours of science talks each day, which is both very awesome and sorta mind numbing. (I'm reminded of a little jewelry box my mom gave me growing up that played the song 'we've only just begun...')

In cool relevant science news: ScienceDaily covered an interesting story on the debate whether grounding airplanes in the event of a pandemic would help delay spread of disease. (And quaintly, they named it aches on a plane.)

One study found that as a result of the days of grounded air-travel after 9/11 (and subsequent delay in the days afterwards) delayed the flu season in America that year by 13 days. The researchers go on to say: Extrapolations suggest that a full-blown travel ban, as opposed to the post-9/11 slump, might delay a flu pandemic by as much as 2 months.

Those in opposition of whether a travel ban would be effective mention good points: we only have this one case, which isn't very good for making this argument statistically sound, other measures (such as vaccination and quarantine) are more relevant factors in models - but I still find the study's results interesting.
From ScienceDaily: Researchers Find Key Player In Immune System Regulation. Interestingly, the cells they found to be involved in immune system suppression are mast cells, more commonly known for their role in allergic reactions.

What I really love about this story? The researchers say: "Our finding is a complete surprise. We were studying transplant tolerance and what's required to protect a graft from rejection... When we went looking to see what genes were responsible in a successful graft, we found high levels of mast cell gene products, which made the connection between regulatory T cells and mast cell recruitment. The fact that mast cells may be instrumental in orchestrating regulatory T cell tolerance was new, unanticipated, and surprising."

It is fun to see a big new science idea like this coming from unexpected results to a different study. I wonder how often that happens...

In unrelated scienceness - ScienceDaily also has a report on a study on how chimpanzees can transmit 'cultural' behavior. Researchers taught two different chimpanzees two different techniques on how to open a box. After each chimpanzee could successfully open the box the way they were taught, new chimps from each's social group was brought into the room and the original chimp 'taught' the technique. The researchers found that the techniques could be taught for atleast 6 'generations' from chimp to chimp. There was also a control group that wasn't taught either technique of opening the box and had to learn on its own.

Interestingly, says the researchers: "The chimpanzees in this study continued using only the technique they observed rather than an alternative method... This finding is particularly remarkable considering the chimpanzees in the control group were able to discover both methods through individual exploration. Clearly, observing one exclusive technique from a previous chimpanzee was sufficient for transmission of behavior along multiple cultural generations."

What I find cool is how studies like this may help us better understand the cognitive mechanisms of learning.
NewScientist.com has a brief article on Hurricane Katrina: One year later here. An excerpt:

Nearly 1700 people died when Katrina hit Mississippi and Louisiana, and 153 people are still missing. Around 78,000 homes were destroyed in New Orleans and, one year later, just 200,000 of the original 455,000 inhabitants have returned.

The psychological legacy of 29 August 2005 is evident: suicide rates have trebled, with survivors twice as likely to suffer from serious mental health problems, according to a Harvard Medical School survey.

Nearly 85% of those taking part in the survey experienced significant monetary, income or housing loss as a result of the storm, Ronald Kessler and colleagues found. And about 23% said they had experienced extreme psychological stress.

For those wanting more information, NewScientist.com has a 'special report' section on Hurricane Katrina: the Aftermath here.
If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? - Hillel

Long time, no science-blog. I apologize. I want to get back into the swing of things... so why not start with a bang?

I watched the documentary Out of Control: AIDS In Black America tonight on ABC. It shocked me and I got to thinking about how much I didn't know anything, really, that they talked about as far as the epidemic of HIV/AIDS on African Americans. And when I learn new things I have this annoying (but eventually helpful) tendancy to have to spread my new found knowledge every where I can, so here I go...

To start with: here are some numbers, courtesy www.blackaids.org [written in an article here] that might shock you (bold = my emphasis):

Over a million Americans are living with HIV today – nearly half of them are Black.... Federal funding for domestic AIDS care programs has remained largely flat since 2001. Approximately 54% of the new HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in the U.S. are Black. Among women, Blacks account for two-thirds of all new infections. And recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies estimate nearly half of all Black gay and bisexual men in some of America's urban centers are already infected.

And from the more detailed report 25 Years of AIDS and Black America (a whopping 80 pages to read, if you want), here:

... [In the 90s] the story of AIDS was rapidly and dramatically changing, as new drugs that hit the market in 1995 literally brought people back from death’s door. But not only were the drugs massively expensive, patients also had to be plugged into quality care to know about them—not to mention to manage the still-complicated treatment regimens they required. For those who met these requirements, AIDS suddenly stopped being a death sentence: HIV mortality in the U.S. dropped a staggering 70 percent between 1995 and 1998. Among whites, deaths dropped from more than 22,000 in 1994 to just over 7,000 in 1997.

But the picture for African Americans looked much different. Black death rates dropped too, but far more slowly. In 1996, for the first time, more African Americans died of AIDS than whites. By 2001, the annual Black death toll was nearly double that of whites. Today, we’re [African Americans are] more than seven times more likely to die from AIDS once diagnosed with HIV than whites.

Shocking, huh?

The documentary on ABC tonight talked about these things and the failures that can be seen to contribute. First, people are silent about it. HIV/AIDS is considered by most Americans as an issue that mostly needs to be addressed overseas, not in our own country. Next, the government has failed to support initiatives that may have helped in prevention efforts (such as a federally funded needle exchange program). And there are also different cultural forces at play (ABC reports: Black men are more than twice as likely as white men to have multiple female partners at the same time.).

It is issues like this that tempt me, ever so slightly, to go into science/medical policy. What is the institution doing now, how can we start to make a difference? But I'd never survive long in politics... Before I had decided to leave Seattle for Chicago, I had been filling out the application to volunteer for an organization named Shanti in Seattle, maybe I'll look up to see if they have a similar program in San Diego...