Trump Preps for War on Vaccines

In the latest of a series of appointments that are poised to contravene scientific and medical consensus, Donald Trump met with anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for the purpose of forming a commission on “vaccine safety.” On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg says “Kennedy is a lawyer — not a scientist, doctor, child health expert or public health practitioner” yet Trump wants to charge him with “reviewing the safety of one of the greatest life-saving tools of the 20th century.” Like Kennedy, Trump says that vaccines can cause autism, and as Orac notes on Respectful Insolence, “compared to the flip-flops Trump has pulled off regarding beliefs in a variety of areas, Trump’s views on vaccines and autism have been remarkably consistent.” Meanwhile, on Confessions of a Science Librarian, John Dupuis picks up on an article that jokes Trump “will require all reviewers for all journals and grant agencies to end all reviews with the word ‘Sad!'” and may even “Make Astrophysics Great Again.” John says “One word peer review is going to be Huuuuugggggggeeeeee!”

See also:

Inauguration day: How President Trump could undermine trust in vaccines 
on Respectful Insolence


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Critical signaling molecules can be used to convert stem cells to neural progenitor cells, increasing the yield of healthy motor neurons and decreasing the time required to grow them.

Mexican blind cavefish are so close to their sighted kin that they are considered the same species, but they use pressure waves (from opening and closing their mouths) to navigate in the dark.

Electrostatic assembly allows luminescent elements (like Europium) to be embedded in nanodiamonds; these glowing particles “can be used as biomarkers, allowing researchers to track things that are happening inside cells.”

In a rather cruel experiment, researchers tortured male rats by isolating them, depriving them of food and water, clamping their tails, shocking them with electricity, dunking them in cold water, placing them in soiled bedding, and keeping the lights on all night.  Then they cut off and dissected the rats’ testicles to look for signs of stress in their reproductive cells.

On the brighter side of testicular slices, researchers have shown that cancer cells cannot survive a new process for removing and freezing a sample of testicular tissue from boys with cancer.  The process could allow patients to sidestep infertility caused by radiation and chemotherapy by implanting spermatogonial stem cells back into survivors when they reach adulthood.

A newly engineered bacterium can better manufacture pinene, “a hydrocarbon produced by trees that could potentially replace high-energy fuels, such as JP-10, in missiles and other aerospace applications.”

Weather extremes don’t always cause crops to fail; extra rain (as opposed to drought) can boost yields significantly, but it also boosts mosquito populations and the prevalence of mosquito-borne disease.

People with children “experienced less physical pain, felt they had more enjoyment in their lives, earned higher incomes, were better educated, and were healthier” than childless individuals, but still reported lower overall life satisfaction.

Like everyone else, most prisoners feel they are kinder and more moral than the average person; they also feel they are equally law-abiding.

Male wasps mouth the antennae of females during coitus to make them horny (with an oral pheromone), but a second exposure to the pheromone causes a lady wasp to lose interest in “unlocking her genitals” and start looking for fly larvae to deposit her eggs in.

Mafia members, despite their violent lifestyle, are highly social and not likely to be psychopaths.

Using more wood in building construction could reduce CO2 emissions related to the manufacture of steel and concrete while maintaining sustainable forestry practices.

New research replicates a pioneering 19th-century study of blood flow to the brain during cognitive processing.

Some children with autism respond favorably to naltexone, an opiate antagonist, but the drug did not demonstrate an impact on core features of the disorder.

Dogs placed in foster homes—dressed in “Adopt Me” vests and taken to public places—relieve crowding in animal shelters and are more likely to be adopted for the long-term.

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Growing soccer players at elite levels of play are more likely to develop cam deformities of the hip.

A patient who lost his hippocampus in a motorcycle accident (and his ability to form new memories) still understands the concepts of past and future, yet he has no regrets, and cannot imagine anyone having regrets (even Richard Nixon).

Hybrid cars get better gas mileage in countries like India and China due to higher levels of traffic congestion.

Among 65,226 UK residents, eating 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduced risk of death from all causes by 42%.

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T-cells from six HIV+ patients were removed from their bodies, treated with a zinc-finger nuclease designed to snip a gene out of the cell’s DNA, and put back in the patients.  Removal of the gene mimics a naturally occurring mutation which confers resistance to the HIV virus.  But only 25% of the treated cells showed evidence of being successfully edited.

Researchers “use time-resolved X-ray microtomography to visualize the muscles and hinges in three-dimensions” of fly wings, modelling the complex physical processes that enable flies’ flight.

Even with the cost of building new energy storage infrastructure, wind energy will continue to offer a net gain of power.  Plus: wind produces enough surplus electricity to offer 72 hours of backup power (vs. 24 hours for solar panels).  Researchers say that the industry of onshore wind turbines can “double in size each year—and still maintain an energy surplus.”

Researchers cremated the remains of young piglets to investigate why there’s little evidence of high infant mortality in the archaeological record. To no avail.

Men in ‘traditional’ marriages (whose wives are not employed) are more likely to look negatively upon women in the workplace.

Regardless of the structural integrity of a shoulder (rotator cuff) repair, patients have improved function and reduced pain after surgery.

Stem cells are influenced by the rigidity of the substrate they grew up on: “spending 10 days on a particular bed leads to irreversible future differentiation of the stem cells into stiff-environment-loving bone or soft-loving fat cells.”  That could lead to considerable demand for a new scaffolding material “based on a biocompatible silk-alginate hydrogel” which can be made to varying standards of firmness.

By appearing to tap test subjects on the hand with a small hammer while playing the recorded sounds of a hammer tapping stone, researchers made people feel their hands were more stone-like (or numb).

A gene coincidentally named FAT10 ( for F Adjacent Transcript) actually “regulates lipid metabolism and longevity,” and model mice who lacked the gene were leaner, had a faster metabolism, and lived up to 20% longer.

Encapsulating immature pancreatic cells grown from human stem cells and implanting them under the skin of mice showed the cells could produce insulin whenever needed and reduce diabetic symptoms.

The CDC revised it autism prevalence rate upward again; in 2010 about 1 in 68 eight-year-olds had an autism spectrum disorder.

At age six, children award beneficial resources to members of their ‘in-group;’ at age eight they also assign harmful or negative resources to members of an ‘out-group.’

People with OCD were less likely than controls to believe they could influence a light bulb by pressing a space bar whenever they want. The light bulb blinked randomly on and off.

A virus affecting crickets not only sterilizes them, but makes them more eager to initiate courtship. Males perhaps uninhibited by the virus would start playing a courtship song for a female much sooner than their healthy peers.  Intimacy may be the virus’s way of spreading.

Within the ultrapure water purification system of a nuclear reactor, scientists found oligotrophic bacteria, including new species, growing in biofilms “visible to the naked eye” on ceramic filter surfaces.

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For the first time, researchers have transformed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into specialized bladder cells. Meanwhile the development of iPSCs from normal cells has been shown to depend on two proteins necessary for the induction of a glycolytic state. In order to make iPSCs, researchers have previously needed to collect significant amounts of skin, bone marrow, or blood from a donor, but researchers have demonstrated a new method that requires only a single drop of blood.  In the future, you may be able to prick your finger, send a drop of blood to the lab, and have them grow a new bladder for you.

Paleontologists digging in the Dakotas have discovered “a giant crested bird-like dinosaur that the experts liken variously to an outsized cassowary, or a ‘chicken from hell.'”  The new genus of oviraptorosaur was named Anzu after a Mesopotamian bird-demon.

By coating gallium nitride semiconductors with “a layer of phosphonic acid derivatives,” researchers increased the brightness and longevity of LEDs without having to increase energy input.

Human appetite for conch snails has reduced the size of mature specimens by 2/3 in the last seven millennia.

A study of dioxin exposure via breast milk in Vietnam showed a correlation between levels of the chemical and development of autism in children.

Regardless of how long you spend playing, video games (especially those played with others) may help you relax after a long day at work.

Mexico now beats the U.S. as the most obese country in the world; they also drink the most Coca-Cola.  With Coke expanding aggressively in developing nations, chronically undernourished people are faced with too much of a good thing.

Getting less sleep is associated with having less ‘gray matter’ in the brain, but researchers can’t determine the direction of causality.  In another study, autistic children demonstrated shorter sleep duration than control groups.

Among sex-changing fish, the largest females are known to replace dominant males in a pinch, but male-to-female transitions are much more rare.  By studying a bunch of widowed male wrasses, researchers observed that the males would pair up with the next individual they encountered–whether male, female, or juvenile–and when two widowed males paired up, the smaller would become a female.

Baseline risk of ACL and other ligament injury may be genetically determined.

To accelerate word learning in young children, read them a story and then put them down for a nap.

Lithium-air batteries use the atmosphere as a cathode and could boost the range of electric vehicles to 300 miles or more.

Computational research has postulated the structure of electromagnetic knots that satisfy Maxwell’s equations.

And finally, a study of stem cell therapy for Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS) showed that the cells can be safely transplanted into the spinal cord and do not accelerate progression of the disease, providing a green light for further research.

If Toxins Cause Autism, They’re Not in Vaccines

Do environmental factors such as toxins contribute to autism? On Respectful Insolence, Orac looks at a new study which found a correlation between birth defects and the eventual development of autism. Orac says this correlation has already been demonstrated, along with “autism and exposure to teratogens, specifically at least maternal rubella infection, thalidomide, valproic acid, and misoprostol.” But could other chemicals be influencing higher rates of birth defects and autism in certain areas? Many people believe that autism-inducing toxins are found in vaccines. But autism’s correlation with birth defects and its tendency to cluster in certain geographic areas suggest that the risk of autism could be determined before birth and/or by exposure to regional chemical concentrations, not to a nation-wide standard of care. Besides, no credible research has ever shown a link between vaccines and autism. And the risks of not vaccinating can be dire: on Aetiology, Tara C. Smith writes “infectious diseases still injure and kill, despite our nutritional status, despite appropriate vitamin D levels, despite sanitation improvements, despite breastfeeding, despite handwashing, despite everything we do to keep our kids healthy.” With scientific understanding offering so much opportunity to raise a healthy child, why do some parents still draw the line at vaccines?

Hey Kids, Some Drugs Are Good for You

The U.S. “war on drugs,” besides failing to meet its goals, has demonstrated a stubborn ignorance of the effects that different drugs have in the human body. Granted, some drugs cause degeneration and are properly outlawed. Opiates such as heroin and stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine take a harsh physical toll and leave users addicted to the chemical. But classified along with these truly dangerous drugs are some of nature’s most mysterious medicines. New research shows how marijuana, psychedelics, MDMA and even ketamine have positive physiological and psychological effects that can persist even after the drug has worn off.

The marijuana flower, of course, is the nearest of these drugs to public and political acceptance, and the transformation of its image over the decades is very instructive. Stuck with a Spanish name in the 1930’s to excite American xenophobia, marijuana has long been demonized as causing “reefer madness.” In fact, new research shows that marijuana has potent neuroprotective and neuroplastic properties, in addition to its power as a non-addictive painkiller.  Marijuana contains at least 85 cannabinoid chemicals, including the well-known THC, and the lesser known CBD.  New research shows that CBD, administered thirty minutes after a devastating loss of oxygen in mice brains, totally circumvented brain damage.  Cannabinoids are currently being studied for a wide range of therapeutic applications, including the fight against cancer.  Their potency should come as no surprise since all mammals have cannabinoid receptors in their brains.  According to Salon, these receptors evolved in animals 550 million years before the marijuana plant.

Psychedelic drugs are very different; the most popular ones are psilocybin, mescaline, and LSD.  Psilocybin and mescaline occur naturally, in certain mushrooms and cacti, respectively.  LSD must be made in a laboratory.  These drugs have differing effects, but the psychedelic experience has many features in common.  A new study in PLOS ONE showed no correlation between a lifetime of psychedelic use and negative mental health outcomes.  In fact, “in several cases psychedelic use was associated with lower rate of mental health problems.” Ongoing research on psilocybin suggests that it can help terminally ill patients come to terms with their mortality in healthy and beneficial ways.  Meanwhile mescaline, in the form of peyote, is exempt from DEA regulation when taken under certain religious circumstances.  Mescaline and psilocybin have been used in tribal cultures for thousands of years as tools for understanding the self and the world. If you try them just once your life can change drastically. After marijuana, magic mushrooms and peyote cactus should be decriminalized as natural, non-addictive, safe substances.  LSD on the other hand can cause psychedelic effects for up to 16 hours (about twice as long as psilocybin) and may present a bigger danger to public health.

Similar in effect to psychedelics, but also demonstrating stimulant properties, is MDMA or Ecstasy.  While conflicting research suggests that long term or heavy use of MDMA may cause brain damage, a 2011 study at UCLA “found that persons with autism using the drug often report an increase in socialization and strong feelings of empathy that last even after the drug has worn off.”  Perhaps one day this darling of dance culture will be available for therapeutic use by prescription.

Finally, there’s a drug you may not have heard of: Ketamine, best known as a horse tranquilizer and club drug.  In sub-anaesthetic doses “Special K” causes very strange psychological effects unlike those of pot or psychedelics.  It’s a type of drug known as a dissociative, along PCP and dextromethorphan.  But while these latter drugs can cause psychosis and brain damage, Ketamine turns out to be pretty gentle, and may even have a future as an antidepressant.  According to Scientific American, “the enthusiasm for ketamine is such that physicians, often working out of small clinics, have already started prescribing low doses of the generic anesthetic off-label […] and drug companies are contemplating whether to get into the act by creating new drugs based on ketamine’s biochemistry.”

A word of warning: these drugs are illegal for recreational use, they often have unpleasant effects, and it’s always possible to get too much of a good thing.  Many drugs are truly dangerous and deserve to remain tightly regulated or illegal.  One needs only to read about the emergence of krokodil, a street form of mesomorphine cooked up from codeine and toxic chemicals, to be reminded of the horrors of drug addiction.

But the prohibition of safe, non-addictive, psychologically inspiring, and medically promising substances is not the answer.