Archive for category biology

Not finding life all over the place

Posted by on Sunday, 28 December, 2014
Not finding life everywhere




If you’re going “Enough with life on Mars”, I’m sorry.


I know there’s too much not finding life  going on.

You lost interest in life-finding years ago, right? But who cares? We keep not finding it, right?

Recently, we didn’t find it on Mars. Also, we recently didn’t find it on Titan or on Europa or on Io.

Not to mention the exoplanets, planets circling other stars, where, it so happens, we also haven’t had much luck. Plus, very excitingly, we now know there’s a dwarf planet called Ceres. Ceres is fairly warm, probably has oceans full of water and isn’t that far away.

We didn’t find life there too.

Not finding life is pretty much everywhere these days and, you know what? We’re just starting.

No life out there? Don’t get used to it

I hate to squash the hopes of the “Not Lifers” but things don’t look that good for them, in the long run. The Mars rover, Curiosity, has finally made it to Gale Crater where it has analyzed the rocks and found organic molecules and “puffs” of methane. Organic molecules are (often) a sign of life. Puffs of methane? Same thing (although that isn’t for sure either). Philip Gillet (Earth And Planetary Sciences Laboratory) says a meteorite from Morocco (but once from Mars) has organic chemistry that is “probably” biologic.

While these latest discoveries may turn out to be another Didn’t Find It Moment, that can’t go on forever. Sooner or later – sooner, in my opinion, we will find a microbe somewhere – somewhere besides our own silly planet.

Unless something unmistakably alive walks by one of our cameras, we probably won’t have a “That’s it!” moment for life on Mars. Maddening as it is, that’s the system. As the evidence grows, life becomes “more likely”. One day, maybe the evidence for life elsewhere will be “accepted”. If you’re a Not Lifer, you’re in for a surprise, not a shock.The idea of life “out there” will, I think, just gradually work its way into our heads as the evidence grows.

– – – – – –

The drawing is mine.

Antioxidants CAUSE cancer??

Posted by on Wednesday, 23 July, 2014

Antioxidants ain't great

                                             No oxygen?


You’ve got some vitamin C  on the kitchen counter next to the bananas.


Probably because vitamin C is an antioxident. Everybody knows antioxidants are good for you because they keep “free radicals” (which can promote cancer) in check.

Oxygen is an aggressive chemical. It can turn an iron bar into a hunk of rust. Most living things take advantage of oxygen’s “reactivity” by sucking energy out of the air. It’s why we have lungs. How living organisms learned to “handle” air without being eaten alive by it is one of the great back stories of evolution. Our cells have built in antioxidant “fire extinguishers” designed to protect us from toxic chemical reactions with oxygen.

But why don’t studies support the use of antioxidants?. In FACT, why do antioxidants often seem to make things worse?

Dr. David Tuveson ( Director of Research for the Lustgarten Foundation), and Dr. Navdeep S. Chandel (Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University) did a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Here’s what they found.

Small amounts of oxidants are needed in the cells. The cell actually creates them.  If the level of oxidants gets too high though, they become a cancer threat and have to be countered. Evolution came up with its own way to handle this problem. In the mitochondria (energy center) of the cells, where the danger lies, natural antioxidants keep things under control.

The problem with supplements such as Vitamins C, E, and A is that they don’t appear to get the antioxidants to the mitochondria. Instead, they show up all over the place, doing no particular good and maybe even causing undesirable effects.

Tuveson and Chandel think we could figure out better ways to control the levels of “reactive oxygen species” in our cells. With more research, we might come up with a pill that actually does something useful instead of confusing people.

– – – – – –

The drawing is mine.


Posted by on Monday, 23 December, 2013
cartoon about apples



Science has lots of busy corners. Technology, even more. I can’t use up all my blog time on health related stuff. It wouldn’t be fair to physics, chemistry, biology, and North Korean tablets. But I  would be a b-a-d science blogger if I didn’t tell you about apples.


You know about statins? They’re drugs that  lower cholesterol. Doctor’s love them. Pitivistatin, lovostatin, atorvastatin, , zocor are statins. Others too. Long list.

Statins are amazing. They don’t just  lower cholesterol, it seems they do other good stuff. They help with cataracts and dementia, and gum inflammation. They also reduce the incidence of  heart attacks and strokes, and one study even says that statins might slow aging by protecting your telomeres. Supposedly they can cause some problems with muscles but, for most people, that shouldn’t be a problem.

I’ve seriously toyed with  trying to talk my way on to statins, myself.

Well here’s the thing.

Dr Adam Briggs (BHF Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University)  looked at the effect of eating a single apple each day (that’s right – “an apple a day”) vs statins. The results, cardiovascular wise, were about the same for apples as statin drugs. Dr. Briggs’ conclusion was that you could do as good a job for yourself eating apples as taking statins (probably because apples contain pectin which has similar effects on cholesterol to statins).

If you can lower your cholesterol and lower your heart risk without taking drugs, who am I to say you shouldn’t?

This report didn’t get into whether apples did all  the good stuff that statins do.


Apples? Hot dang!

A final point:  Statins, like anything, have pluses and minuses. Don’t rush off and stuff yourself full of statins on my account. First go over the particulars with your doctor. Better yet? Try fruit.

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 UPDATE 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

A reader left a comment (see comments) suggesting that this study from the BMJ is less than serious. Perhaps so. But you’ve gone out and bought all those apples, right? You might as well eat them.

What could it hurt?

– – – – – –

I drew that apple!

To leave a comment, click “comments” which can be found at the top right of each article just beneath the headline.




Mysterious Unknown Forms Share Our Planet? It Seems Possible

Posted by on Saturday, 16 November, 2013


Funny cartoon about the "shadow biosphere"



We once thought there might be “people” on Venus or Mars.

It seemed possible.

We didn’t know much about planets. Maybe there were caves with lizards.

Now we know almost too much. We have equipment routinely exploring the surface of Mars, probing, drilling, sniffing, analyzing. Lizards, we would have seen.

The search for life “out there” goes on. Nothing yet. Maybe nothing til hell goes cryothermic.

The reason I bring this up is that there are people with an interest in alien life who think we missed it. They think it’s on our own planet.

Don’t look up, they say. Look down


The bugs who were our ancestors weren’t bashful. They got going as soon as there was the least little chance that they could move in. By about 3.6 billion years ago  the crust of the earth was more or less solid.   Suddenly, somehow, life popped up. We don’t know exactly how. We have some theories.  We do know that some very  simple organisms eventually evolved into the sports crazed organisms of modern day.

How many times did life get going?  Were there some bad designs that didn’t do well – more homely, maybe,  than our own DNA kind? Based on entirely different processes?  Did they hide out in isolated “niches”? And nobody bothered them? Are they in seawater maybe at low concentrations?

Carol E Cleland (Center for Astrobiology, University of Colorado), says we won’t find this parallel universe of living things if we don’t look for it. And we almost certainly missed it if it is there. It would have flunked all of our “is that thing like me?” tests.

The idea of a Shadow Biosphere is appealingly simple. It’s safe and easy. We live here. So do they, maybe. We can do the search on a shoestring without launching rockets.  If we do happen to find something really weird – something that’s alive but built along different lines than our own strand of life, we will know for a fact that 1) life is not to be denied. It’s opportunistic. It will flourish if it can flourish. 2) We will also know that it’s on other planets.  Period. If you were yearning for extraterrestrial life, you would then be able to relax knowing that it will, eventually, show up elsewhere.

How’s that for a cheap experiment?

Dr. Cleland’s article, The Search for Shadow Life, is in New Scientist.

– – – – – – – –

Regular readers will recognize the cartoonist as the author.


Posted by on Wednesday, 30 October, 2013


funny cartoon of kid squeezed into school desk



You just bought yourself a nice ergonomic chair for your desk. It wasn’t cheap, but who needs back pain?

Meanwhile, back at school, guess what’s happening to junior? He’s doing contortions to squeeze into his crap school desk.

Is this bad?

You bet!

Ana Assunção is in the Biomechanics and Functional morphology Lab at the University of Lisbon. She was the lead in a project to figure out why so many students (two thirds of the ones she studied) have back pain. It didn’t seem right that so many kids between 12 and 15 years old were gimping around like their elders.

What she discovered is that poor fitting  school desks and too heavy backpacks are a lethal combo. What she didn’t discover is where school systems will find the money to do a better job with the furniture.


– – – – – –

The drawing is mine



Posted by on Thursday, 3 October, 2013




Resveratrol is in red wine and in red  grapes. Supposedly, it is good for the heart and keeps cancer in check too. We see this in animal experiments.

What about human studies? Well, they are still a work in progress.  Researchers have been afraid to put too much into this kind of research because they don’t feel like they really understand what’s going on. Resveratrol changes into something else very quickly when it is in the body. How can you design a serious human trial if the thing you are testing goes away so fast?  Scientists call it the “Resveratrol Paradox’. The active ingredient disappears and yet seems to continue working. Does this remind you a little of my article on homeopathy?

Once in the body, resveratrol converts to resveratrol sulfate (and reveratrol glucuronide).  To see what happens after resveratrol becomes resveratrol sulfate  Dr. Karen Brown (University of Leicester) injected mice with resveratrol sulfate. What a surprise! After it gets into the cells, it converts back to resveratrol. It doesn’t really go away for good. Her study also showed the resveratrol  sulfate stops cancer cells from dividing – at least in animals.

This might not seem like a huge big deal to you. It just clears a roadblock that was in the way of scientists doing the right kinds of human research to help us know if we should keep encouraging the use of this promising natural substance. But, you know what? This is what science is about. Little steps.

Oh. Hey. By the way. Before you go? You should know that resveratrol in red wine isn’t the most brilliant way to guard against cancer. Resveratrol might help. But alcohol probably cancels out any benefit.

– – – – – – – – –

Drawing is mine




Posted by on Thursday, 19 September, 2013
test tube




Sorry about that. I needed a headline.

However, life in a test tube is pretty close to the truth. M. Jewett, and G Church (Northwestern and Harvard Medical School) led a team of researchers which made a  ribosome.

Ribosomes make proteins and enzymes. And proteins are the worker bees of living systems. And enzymes (themselves usually made from proteins) slice up proteins into the many varieties that are needed to make something useful.

In other words, Jewett/Church make a “life kit”.

The ramifications are startling.

Delicate ground? Of course. This kind of thing  could ruffle  the feathers of a snake. Just remember, MisterScienceAintSoBad had   n-o-t-h-i-n-g – to do with this. Okay?

– – – – – – – –

The drawing is mine.

Biologists Grow “Human Brain”. Fuss Expected.

Posted by on Thursday, 29 August, 2013


Biologists working on brain



Austrian biologists grew human brain tissue out of stem cells. Which – if you don’t mind my saying it – was an amazingly dumb thing to do for a bunch of smart people. They didn’t know what the headline would be?


Seriously. They’re going to get unbelievable grief over this one. And it’s not like they didn’t see it coming. They went to some pains to suggest that the thing on their lab bench wasn’t  MUCH of a brain really.  “Nowhere near an adult human brain” More like in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Pea-sized balls of white with “some of the complex features of a growing brain.”

What Jurgen Knoblich and his team accomplished (this is published in Nature Today, August 28, by the way) is scientifically very cool. They got brain tissue to self organize in some basic ways that have never been done before without nature directing the show.  How far they can push this has yet to be seen but, even at this early stage, they’re learning things that may help us understand what goes wrong in the beginning. Knoblich’s team hopes this work will provide an alternative to some animal experiments too.   Their “brain” is still primitive. It has no blood supply so very big pieces of it can’t be sustained. In other words, this is  complex tissue but  calling it a brain would be generous.

And foolhardy.

– – – – – – – – –

That is my own brain. The drawing, I mean.



Posted by on Friday, 23 August, 2013
Sunbabthing risks



Dear Mister SASB, I’m white as a ghost. I use sunblock like crazy.  And I cover up on sunny days.  I’m getting a lot of static from my partner who says I am crazy.  But that’s her problem,  right? Could you just do me a little favor here and explain to her how nasty skin cancer can be?

Dear Ghost,  I’d like to oblige. I have a soft spot in my heart for crazies.  But you know?  You might be a lot better off with a tan line. Dr. Håkan Olsson (division of oncology at Lund University) studied 40,000 women.

Not even close.

The sun’s bad for the skin. Okay, we know that.  But there’s more to it than that.  The sun also makes your body produce vitamin D. And vitamin D does a lot of good things. Among them: it reduces blood clotting in the legs and protects against some tumors. Other studies have shown that it reduces blood pressure.  Add it all up, and  a reasonable amount of sun does more good than bad.

Go to the beach.


– – – – – – –

The image? That’s my own.

Read more:


Posted by on Monday, 30 April, 2012




It’s named after Ernst Grafenberg, a German gynecologist. The g is for Grafenberg. (not Germany or gynecologist) and the big thing about the g-spot is whether it’s imaginary or not.

Is there really an interior place where “stuff happens”? Or is that a myth?

How come nobody’s ever seen it?

Well guess what? Adam Ostrzenski, M.D., Ph.D., of the Institute of Gynecology in St. Petersburg, FL seems to have found something. After dissecting the heck out of the vaginal walls of a cadaver, he found a “well-delineated sac structure” on the back wall about 15 mm down from the urethral opening. It’s small. About 8 mm in the longest dimension.

Exciting, right?

Yes and no. The discovery is interesting and provocative. But it would be nice to see confirmation that this organ is present in others. And – not to be a scientific fanatic – but it might also be nice to show that the little whatzit  in there serves the presumed stimulatory function and isn’t part of the immune system or isn’t the long sought seat of common sense which is clearly lacking in males of the species.

Now. Why is a semi-respectable blog such as this wasting it’s time on the g-spot? Human sexuality deserves respectful mention in ScienceAintSoBad just like anything else. And deepening our understanding of the female response could – who knows? – make life better for people.

Speaking of which.


If you get off on rope climbing, spinning (biking), or weight lifting, maybe there’s a reason for that. An article in Sex Therapy and Sexual Health (Debby Herbenick, J. Dennis Fortenberry, MD) describes a study of 370 women who experienced orgasms. When they exercise.

Almost half of them, oops-ed at least 10 times while working out. About 20% said they really couldn’t control it. It just happens when it wants to. The “captains chair” is the worst. It’s a thing with padded arm rests and back support.

DON’T – do NOT – get into this thing if your business associates are around.

The women reported on in this study weren’t fantasizing or having sexy thoughts. This was a purely physical thing. And – yes – it was a little creepy. A lot of the women were at least a little uncomfortable about it. You would be too. Right?

Well now you know. Just physiology. Like a little sneeze. You didn’t do anything wrong.

And you have an extra motivator for upping the exercise plan.


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Image credits: Regular readers will immediately recognize the crude drawing technique as, unmistakably, those of the author. Nobody else to blame. :)