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Aug 152017
 
Australian Marriage Equality

Australia, I’m talking to you – it’s time to get sexy and serious.

The rest of the western world has entered the 21st century and now it’s your turn to stand up for the rights of same sex-couples.

I know you’re already on board with the idea of two people of the same sex getting all up in each other’s dirty bits. I know this because the most viewed category in Australia on everyone’s favourite heavy breathing aggregator site, PornHub, was Lesbian (the type with more than 2 boobies in shot and no scrotum).

So, you can’t hide it, it’s clear you love lesbians but maybe what you don’t love is when they love each other.

You’re fine with seeing people of the same sex explore each other’s bodies but perhaps you’re offended by the idea of allowing them to explore the perfect table decoration for their wedding.

To feel like I’ve done my part, I’m going to look at the science of same-sex relationships and shed some light on some of the facts that’ll help you decide.

What all the gay animals are doing.

In the natural world, same-sex behaviour occurs in over 450 species and there are many thousands of instances of courtship, pair bonding and copulation.

Bottlenose dolphins have one of the highest rates of same-sex sexual behaviour in any animal.

Males love to put their willies in each other, touch each other up and a little bit of “goosing” (ramming their noses into another dolphin’s dick). Goosing sounds very much like a rugby locker room scenario minus the “no-homo” assertions.

This behaviour strengthens alliances between small groups of males and provides practice for future opposite-sex encounters (as soon as they grow out of the genital punching stage).

In bottle nosed dolphins, female– female sexual behaviour also occurs, but to a much lesser extent. Which is why there’s no specific category for this on PornHub.

Closer to us in our evolutionary ladder, bonobo females spend a considerable amount of time engaged in same-sex sexual behaviour, including genital rubbing that can result in orgasm.

To a much lesser extent, bonobo males engage in kissing, blow-jobs and genital massages. It’s thought that same-sex sexual behaviour might ease social tension and facilitate reconciliation among group members. Remember this top bonobo tip for the next time you piss someone off at work.

But it’s not all about the shagging.

Reducing the marriage equality debate to sexual preferences in animals is clearly not helpful on its own.

Although, I’m sure you’re all animals in the sheets…amirite?

Drawing parallels between human sexual identity and animal behaviour is clearly not the most important factor in this debate and we must address the fact that there’s more to this than just sticky fingers.

As the 2009 album from Barbra Streisand says, Love is the answer. Yeah, that reference made me uncomfortable too.

Science and scientists are really bad at measuring love. There’s no love spectrometer or probe that measures love specifically. Sure, we can measure physiological effects like heart rate, pupil dilation, oxytocin concentration in the blood and how much you grit your teeth when you see a cute puppy, but we cannot come up with a real value for love.

For me, love is like gravity: we can observe its effects but we can’t see it.

Let’s have a look at loves effects:

First of all, a study from the Open University found that couples in same sex relationships are likely to be happier than straight couples. It also found that childless men and women are more satisfied with their relationship than their sleepless and food stained counterparts.

The study asked 5000 people questions about their relationships and found that it was “hard to pin down” what is meant by love in a relationship, adding: “The act of saying ‘I love you’ is identified as important by men and women alike but a loving gesture is far more highly valued”.

What’s the secret sauce of a happy relationship?

Well, actions speak louder than words as far as loving relationships are concerned. The people surveyed said it was the things that their partners did for them that made them feel most appreciated.

These included:

  1. Says thank you and notices my achievements.
  2. Buys thoughtful gifts and shows kind gestures – a cup of tea in bed was especially appreciated by mothers.
  3. Talks with me and listens.
  4. Physical affection, with cuddles and foot massages featuring prominently.
  5. Shares the household chores and/or child care.

Note what was not on the list: having different genitals as me…

Won’t someone please think of the children!

The science is clear on this one.

Scientists agree that children raised by same-sex couples are no worse off than children raised by parents of the opposite sex, according to a study of studies.

The research looked at 19,000 studies and articles related to same-sex parenting from 1977 to 2013.

The studies showed some disagreement among scientists on the outcome of same-sex parenting in the 1980s but it largely subsided in the 1990s, and a clear consensus had formed by 2000 that there is no difference between same-sex and different-sex parenting in the psychological, behavioural or educational outcomes of children.

There it is in all its peer-reviewed glory.

If you are sitting on the fence or you feel trapped in the marriage equality closet science is here to help.

But there’s one thing that we can all agree on without the need for an ARC funded, double-blind study: If you vote ‘No’ to marriage equality you’re probably a massive fuckwit.





Aug 082017
 
Anthrax Suit

An international team of scientists have found that a mutant form of Anthrax is coming for you and your family. So you probably should have sex with that cute co-worker and/or feel instant regret for all the things you’ve haven’t done…like having sex with that cute co-worker.

Or at least that was the subtext of their study.

An international team of scientists have found that there is a messed up new strain of Anthrax on the loose in Africa and it’s killed more than half of the dead chimps on the Ivory coast.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there, the sad team also found that it’s killing other animals too.

“To our surprise, almost 40 percent of all animal deaths in Taï National Park we investigated were attributable to anthrax,” says virologist Emmanuel Couacy-Hymann from the Ivorian Animal Health Institute.

Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium B. anthracis. You may remember it because it was popular in the early 2000’s when terror groups sent it around the US in the post. Luckily for us, just like man-buns, the trend didn’t last long so we didn’t have to hear about a small group of wankers on the news for any more than a couple of months.

The new bacterial strain has acquired two bits of DNA, possibly from B. anthracis, that make anthrax a better killer than Ted Bundy.

So, I guess it’s time to scream into the air “why God, WHYYYYYYYY?!!!!!!!!!”.

The scientists examined bones from 20 different species that had been collected from a forest in Africa for over 26 years. They detected the anthrax pathogen in 81 of the 204 carcases and in 26 of the 75 bones they sampled.

Hunting and deforestation of the region had already brought chimps to the brink of extinction and diseases like Anthrax and Ebola could be the nail in the coffin for the chimps.

Computer simulations, performed by the friend zoned members of the team, showed that anthrax could wipe out the Taï Forest’s population of roughly 400 chimps within the next 150 years.

Protecting the chimpanzees will be difficult – can’t we just take them into our homes and allow them to serve us tea like we used to?

The standard Anthrax vaccine protects against B. cereus; the team vaccinated about 100 animals in 2012 and 2013 and is now monitoring them. But researchers can only reach the few animals that have been habituated to humans. And protection may only last a year, so the chimps would require regular shots. “Vaccinating them too often is a problem since they get shy and they tend to rip your face and hands off,” Leendertz says.

The team think that what the monkeys eat may be playing an important role in spreading the disease.

One candidate is carrion flies. Leendertz’s team found traces of B. cereus DNA in 17 flies; if they help spread the disease, that might explain how some monkey species that only live in trees become infected. The team found the pathogen’s DNA in 12 out of 103 flies living in the canopy.

There are other more important questions to be answered here: Are humans somehow protected from infection? How far has this pathogen spread? And why shouldn’t I go on a looting spree?

Human infections with the new strain of anthrax bacterium have so far not been reported. But the probability that it also poses a threat to humans, just like Bacillus anthracis, is high, since both types are related.

In light of this new study, I encourage you to move to Alaska, join the camo wearing preppers movement, buy a gun and some freeze dried food.

The less than optimistic research has been reported in Nature.

Jul 042017
 

Arthritic knees, bingo and viagra fuelled orgies are only some of the things you can look forward to if you’re lucky enough to reach old age. Once you hit the retirement village, there are no more rules. You can be rude, racist and sexually inappropriate because, well, you’ve earned it. You’ve adhered to strict social codes for long enough that you can now be the person you’ve always wanted to be, unconstrained by people’s opinions and hygiene expectations.

Sounds great right? How long do you get to enjoy this magical land of drugs and soft food? Well, previous research has suggested that the upper limit to how long humans live is 115 years old – so about until then…or so we thought.

Because science is essentially one long and expensive pissing match, a new study in Nature by McGill University, in Canada, comes to a completely different conclusion. The new research finds that there’s no reason to think there’s an upper limit to age and, if there is one, we haven’t reached it yet.





At the time of writing, the oldest person alive is Violet Brown, currently at the grand old age of 117 years. When asked about the reasons for making it to an age a Wizard would be proud of, Brown claimed that there is no secret formula to her long life, telling the Jamaica Gleaner: “Really and truly, when people ask what I eat and drink to live so long, I say to them that I eat everything, except pork and chicken, and I don’t drink rum and dem tings”.

oldest woman alive

The old person bothering scientists analysed the lifespans of the longest living people from the USA, UK, France and Japan since 1968, did some fancy number crunching stuff on it and found no top age limit.

BUT WAIT!

The scientists from the previous research, aren’t having any of it!

In a letter included in the article, they still stand by their original value of 115 years concluding “Taken together, and in the absence of solid statistical underpinning of various possible future scenarios, we feel that our interpretation of the data as pointing towards a limit to human lifespan of about 115 years remains valid.”

Roughly translated to normal person words this means: “Your math is wrong and you should feel bad about annoying us with your rubbish article. Go back to doing something that isn’t as hard for you.”

The debate continues…





Further Reading:

Jun 132017
 

Virtual reality is the future. It offers people the ability to be completely immersed in another world and, obviously, part of that future is looking like a massive twat and masturbating with something more expensive than a real doll:

vr sex robot

Besides using it to please the devil, scientists from the University of Barcelona (rating of 4.2 on Facebook) have used virtual reality to create out-of-body experiences and found that it reduces the fear of death. They report their findings in PLOS one.

A Near-Death Experience (NDE) is a state of consciousness where you leave your body and realise how out of shape you are, it occurs during clinical death—typically following the cardiac arrest that happens when you decide to do something about having to buy reinforced toilet seats.

Characteristics of NDEs can vary widely, but generally include the perception of moving through a tunnel, bright lights, meeting spiritual beings, a panoramic life review, euphoria, and an out-of-body experience – just like smoking DMT.





The high-tech-wank scientists took 32 female volunteers over the age of 18 and used VR to elicit the “full body ownership illusion”. That means making the volunteer believe that the virtual representation of their body was actually theirs. They did this by placing small vibrators on their arms and legs to provide physical feedback on what was happening visually.

Another 16 women, who were used as a control group, experienced a similar virtual reality simulation except they did not experience an out-of-body experience while the headset was on. After the virtual reality experience had finished, the volunteers were given a questionnaire and a hug.

Check out this video to see how it was done:

In the paper, they stated that 12 of the volunteers did not complete the study because of dizziness and software malfunctions with one person being withdrawn from the study because they did not understand what they were meant to do.

The results?

The group that had the out of body experience felt a greater disownership towards their virtual body compared to the control group. Fear of death in the experimental group was found to be lower than in the control group. This is in line with previous reports that naturally occurring out-of-body experiences are often associated with enhanced belief in life after death.

The research is “implicit evidence that it is possible to separate consciousness from the body, which may have the impact of changing attitudes towards death” says lead researcher Mel Slater, “vibrators were sourced ethically” she added.

In the future, the researchers want to simulate near-death experiences to really scare the shit out of people.





Read more:

  1. A Virtual Out-of-Body Experience Reduces Fear of Death
  2. Scientists reduce fear of death by using virtual reality to induce an out-of-body experience
Jun 062017
 
woman too high and hiding

Smoking marijuana or, as it is more commonly known, Pot, Weed, Grass, 420, Ganga, Dope, Herb, Joint, Blunt, Cannabis, Reefer, Mary Jane, Buds, Stinkweed, Nuggets, Chronic, Gangster, Skunk and Wacky Backy, is cool.

You don’t need science to tell you that.

Although there’s lots of evidence that smoking weed makes you really hungry and everyone knows you’re high, there’s actually no evidence from peer-reviewed studies to back up the relaxing effects reported by most of the cannabis enthusiast community or, as they preferred to be called, jazz musicians.

Researchers, at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago (where Carl Sagan was educated – I guess this explains the weed connection) report that low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, does reduce stress. In higher doses, like those required to start feeling empathy for the dog not having a comfortable place to sit, actually increased anxiety when performing particular tasks.

Instead of rolling a phat one on the back of their lab book, the participants were given tablets containing the active component, THC. The drug dealer research team took 42 (I guess 420 would have been too many) volunteers and got some of them a little bit high (7.5 milligrams of THC), others a little higher (12.5 milligrams) and, to a third group, they gave a placebo (big, fat zero milligrams of THC). Imagine the disappointment you’d have if you received the placebo after telling your mates you are getting high for science…probably like the time you bought parsley from a street dealer in Camden, London…or, you know, something like that.The researchers selected people who had smoked weed in the past but weren’t regular users.

The researchers selected people who had smoked weed in the past but weren’t regular users. A person rejected from the study, Mr Dogg, said: “aw shit”.

Once the volunteers were appropriately inebriated, they were put through a series of stress-inducing tasks and had their blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormone (cortisol) levels measured. They also had the hungry participants to fill out a form to measure their psychological responses to getting high in public. The tasks included having to prepare for 10 minutes and then undergo a mock interview with one of the researchers. In another scenario, they were given a five digit number and asked to subtract 13 continuously for five minutes or until they forgot why they were there – whichever came first.

The participants who received 7.5 milligrams of THC reported less stress after the psychosocial test than those given a placebo, and their stress levels dissipated faster after the test. Participants who received 12.5 milligrams of THC before the two tasks reported greater negative mood before and throughout the task, and were more likely to rate the psychosocial task as “challenging” and “threatening” beforehand. Participants who received the higher dose also had more pauses during the mock interview compared to those in the placebo group, presumably to eat something.

There were no significant differences in participants’ blood pressure, heart rate or cortisol levels — before, during or after the doses or the tasks – so, just like masturbating before the invention of smartphones, it was all in the mind.

The lead researcher, Emma Childs said “it’s really fun to get people high and freak them the fuck out, I can’t believe that this study was funded”, she added, “next, we’ll be making them dab and telling them it’s a strain that never wears off.”





Read more:

  1. Dose-related effects of delta-9-THC on emotional responses to acute psychosocial stress
  2. Low-dose THC can relieve stress; more does just the opposite

 

May 302017
 
Matterhorn mountain climbing

espressoscience

This week, I have teamed up with content partner, Espresso Science, to give you two different perspectives on the same science story.

Check out Espresso Science on their website, HERE, on Twitter, @scidocmartin, and Soundcloud.

 


 

Matterhorn mountain climbingNow that I’m over 30, I can’t even stand up without having to hold on to a wall to brace for the inevitable head rush.

On the other end of the scale, Sherpas are the motherfuckers of high altitude living. Scientists from the ever so dapper Cambridge University have finally worked out that their ability to use oxygen more efficiently is what makes them so damn good at climbing up our biggest thing, Roberto Esquivel Cabrera’s penis Mount Everest.

I really have no idea who would want to climb up Mount Everest, it sounds dangerous and nothing like sitting inside watching TV. It feels to me like, somewhere along the line, a drunken dare has got out of hand.

Two hundred and ninety-eight explorers, desperate to say they have conquered Everest, have died since 1922. The most recent one (at the time of writing) was only nine days ago; they fell into a 200 m crevasse. The ascent is so dangerous that there’s even a section called ‘the death zone’.





Even if Brad Pitt‘s money was to ask me: “Hey, Andy, some friends and I are heading to the death zone this weekend to take some excellent drugs and draw each other, wanna come?” My reply would be a simple, but firm,”Fuck off”.

The things that kill people up there? Mainly avalanches and symptoms related to being in freezing temperatures at high altitudes. Out bodies suck at being high up. Sherpas, on the other hand, are really good at it and hold a load of the world records for most number of summits.

Sherpas are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, the Himalayas. Generations of Sherpas have lived at high altitudes so it stands to reason then, that they would have evolved to be awesome at high altitude climbing in the same way you are good at putting on weight for a food-scarce winter that will never come.

Scientists wanted to understand what gives Sherpas their home ground advantage. The posh team studied two groups of people on a recent expedition to Everest’s base camp, situated at 5,300 metres above sea level. One group consisted of mostly rich Europeans with an overactive sensitivity to locker-room bravado and the other group consisted of Sherpas. They analysed blood and bone samples from each of the two groups before and after they had ascended to base camp.

They found that mitochondria (the energy centres in the cell) were much more efficient in Sherpas than they were in Europeans. Not only that, the Sherpa’s mitochondria were much better at metabolising sugars rather than fat. Fat requires much more oxygen during metabolism, an element that becomes increasingly scarce at high altitudes, so it makes sense that the Sherpas have evolved not to use it as a fuel source often as us fatty-pumbas. The researchers attributed some of the Sherpas’ altitude advantages to a gene variation in the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor A (PPARA) gene, which favours glucose over fat for generating energy.

In the future, the scientists hope that the findings could lead to a better way of treating hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in emergency room situations.

To be honest, I’ll only be happy when they come up with a way to stop me from seeing stars every time I stand up to go grab something from the fridge.


Read more:

  1. Metabolic basis to Sherpa altitude adaptation




May 232017
 
sweaty mess

Sweating is a normal part of being a human, and stopping sweat from ruining social gatherings should be a normal part of being a functional member of society.

For the athletic few, sweat is worn as a badge of honour after a facebook brag-post workout. For most of us, human skin cordial is an inconvenient part of life that you hope doesn’t get on anything expensive or anyone important. If you are not in a gym, the only other place that is acceptable to sweat is during sex, and even then it’s preferable for everyone involved to pretend it’s not happening.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (home of the MIT card-counting blackjack team) have made a futuristic looking suit that responds to body heat and sweat. They report their findings in Science Advances. The suit contains microbial cells that open and close flaps on the suit in response to humidity. Even though the suit looks like it has got some form of rare scab condition, it’s quite funky.

Credit: Hannah Cohen

For middle-aged divorcee’s everywhere, sweat is the ever-present hurdle to “third time’s a charm” life-long happiness. 18 billion dollars a year is spent on making people smell like anything but people – flowers, gravity, dark temptation, wood, dark vanilla, iced musk and ginger. If in doubt, buy a fragrance that sounds like something Brian Cox would talk about while stood in front of a gentle fan. Or, for all you Australians out there, anything you think Alan Duffy‘s silk pillow smells like.

To make sure sweat doesn’t get in the way of potential lovemaking, scientists have printed two lines of microbial cells on latex sheets to create humidity responsive materials. The cells expand and shrink in response to humidity. If the cells are dry, they shrink. If the cells are wet, they expand. It looks like this:

 

Image: Chin-Yi Cheng

Clearly, this wasn’t futuristic enough for the scientists to get into a high-impact journal because they also make the cells glow when they are wet. Great for science, but something you wouldn’t want to draw attention to if the only part of you glowing was your arse/testicle/under-boob region.

The microbial activated flaps were able to go through a wet and dry cycle up to 100 times without degrading enough for researchers to get annoyed.

Next on the list are clothes that not only respond to moisture but can also release a fragrance while doing so. At this rate, you’ll never have to shower after going to the gym or sitting down in a hot room for too long. Here is the fancy multimedia they put out:


More:

  1. Harnessing the hygroscopic and biofluorescent behaviors of genetically tractable microbial cells to design biohybrid wearables
  2. Researchers design moisture-responsive workout suit

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May 162017
 

Climate change is a really big deal…to most of us.

As humans, we have fancy ways of dealing with it, such as funding research into renewable energy and impeaching Donald Trump. Stupid ol’ nature, on the other hand, just doesn’t listen when famous climate change deniers such as Lord Mr Monkton explain “things are warming up, sure, but it’s all part of the natural cycle of the earth. Chill out and ignore the scientist’s conspiracy which, they seem to have done a suspiciously good job at creating”.

You see, migrating birds can’t rely on technology to get around the impending sweat pit that’ll be “the outside”, they can’t just download an app to find out the best times to make the trip north to get their fuck on – they rely on mother nature to be their fluffer (click the link, it’ll make sense then).

So, to understand the effect of a warming climate on migrating birds, scientists from The Memorial University of Newfoundland (with 16,720 followers on facebook) looked at the relationship between the beginning of spring and migration timing on migratory birds. They found that there were nine bird species not adjusting to spring’s shifting start date, threatening their survival. They report their finding in a journal that people brag about publishing in but is actually just OK, Scientific Reports.

Migratory songbirds rely on seasonal changes to trigger mass horniness. Unhappy with having sex at home, migratory songbirds prefer “doing it” on holiday, just like drunk adolescents on their first trip to Bali. Also, because the dirty little shits don’t use protection, they need to raise their offspring in a safe environment that contains plenty of food. Lead researcher, Stephen Mayor said “it kind of makes sense, everyone feels a little more naughty on holiday” he added, “it’s the only time I like to be peed on”.

The scientists used data from satellites and citizen scientists to study how quickly the interval between spring plant growth and the arrival of 48 songbird species across North America changed from 2001 to 2012. The researchers found the gap lengthened by over half a day per year across all species on average, a rate of five days per decade–but for some species, the mismatch is growing at double or triple that rate.

The researchers found that of the 48 species studied nine were clearly unable to keep up with the shift: great crested flycatchers, indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, eastern wood-pewees, yellow-billed cuckoos, northern parulas, blue-winged warblers and Townsend’s warblers.

Great names we have the potential of losing. This is the real threat to our society.

The scientists hope that this news will make people feel sad enough to actually do something about climate change instead of driving to gym, and installing fountains in their gardens – energy used just to throw water in the air.

 

featured image credit: Elecia Crumpton, University of Florida


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References

  1. Increasing phenological asynchrony between spring green-up and arrival of migratory birds
  2. Migratory birds bumped off schedule as climate change shifts spring
May 092017
 

Is there anything more fulfilling than seeing two grown men lovingly embrace each other then get a little bit embarrassed?

I think not.

The relationship between same-sex, straight-identifying males is becoming increasingly emotionally intimate thanks to the leftist agenda sweeping across the nation. To get to the no-homo bottom of it, researchers from the University of Winchester, in the UK, have performed the first ever study of heterosexual men’s understanding and experiences of bromance, outside of how it’s portrayed in films. The researchers asked 30 men about their views and bromance activities and found that young men were socially encouraged to enjoy deep emotional and physically intimate friendships. They report their findings in the journal Sex Roles.

As an aside, I couldn’t believe it when I read that the University of Winchester’s chancellor is Alan Titmarsh, that’s right, the celebrity TV gardener. For those of you who don’t know who this conservative, lazy eyed, frogman is, he was on the telly in the 90’s and inspired everyone in the UK to build a deck. His rise to power, from mucky TV gardener to chancellor, is only surpassed by Trump’s recent ascent – perhaps Alan gave him the courage?

Anyway, to answer the ever-changing question of “how much touching is too much between straight men, who aren’t in the same rugby team?”, The deck-installing researchers found 30 undergraduate sporty-type students who identified as ‘straight’ or ‘mostly straight’ and asked them some pervy questions. I’m assuming that ‘mostly straight’ is someone who mainly dates women but doesn’t mind getting some uncovered penis in and around their mouth every now and again.

Happy to be corrected.

Lead researcher, Stefan Robinson said, “I asked the questions and gave them the option to hug me in between each one”.

Among the 20 set questions, probing whether they had participated in secret sharing, bed sharing and kissing, they asked the 30 male students:

Can you tell me what a bromance is? define it for me?

Tell me about being nude with your bromance

Tell me about threesomes, have or would you do one with your bromance? Are there limits to what one can do sexually with a bromance?

Are there limits to what one can do sexually with a bromance?

Their voyeuristic conclusions were simple. A decline in homophobic attitudes has significant positive implications for any flourishing bromance. Participating in a bromance improves mental health and social well-being because it is a safe space for men to talk about sensitive issues and for safe emotional disclosure.

The main limitation of the study was that it only asked young self-identifying straight white males who are doing a sports degree – potentially a biggie!

Go out there my ‘straight’ or ‘mostly straight’ identifying male readers and bromance the shit out of someone; it’s good for you! Just don’t be weird about it.


References

  1. The Bromance: Undergraduate Male Friendships and the Expansion of Contemporary Homosocial Boundaries
  2. Bromances flourish thanks to changing anti-gay sentiments

Adelaidians!

This event is almost sold out! They only have a few tickets left for Tuesday the 16th!

Go here to get your ticket NOW, motherfuckers…https://pintofscience.com.au/event/toxic

 

May 022017
 
woman in dress

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common in women. It’s probably because evolution is playing a cruel trick on them by placing all of the body’s dirty bits within bacteria’s commuting distance. UTIs can be caused by having sex and wearing luminous g-strings but, despite what your mum told you, not necessarily by wiping back to front.

Unfortunately, 25 – 30% of women who show up at the GP with UTI symptoms, are not given any treatment because their test for UTI has come back negative. Research from Belgium (the place with beer, chocolate, waffles and french fries with mayonnaise) used a fancy test that showed almost all of the women with urinary complaints, but negative test results, actually have a bacterial infection. They report their urine adventure in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

Once diagnosed, UTIs are fairly easy to treat. By scoffing the appropriate antibiotics and throwing the g-strings into the Salvo’s collection bin, you can kiss goodbye to the urge to wee all the time. In the past, women who had the symptoms of UTI but negative UTI test results were often diagnosed with “urethral syndrome” and some doctors said was psychosomatic. Really.


The flemish scientists took the mid-stream urine (the bit between the sigh of relief and wishing it would hurry up) and tested it for the presence of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus saprophyticus. They tested the mid-stream urine of 220 women with symptoms and 86 women that didn’t have any symptoms and compared the outcomes.

Once the pee had been carefully directed towards, into and all over a sample container, it was tested for the presence of bacteria. Alongside the standard tests for UTIs, the researchers also used a technique called quantitative polymerase chain reaction, or qPCR. Apart from sounding like a home shopping channel, qPCR looks for the DNA that comes from the UTI bacteria and is way more sensitive than the standard tests.

Among the women with UTI symptoms, standard testing detected bacteria in 80.9% of urine samples. But the qPCR test found that 95.9% of samples contained Escherichia coli and 8.6% had Staphylococcus saprophyticus. Combining the results of both tests, the researchers found infections in 98.2% of women with symptoms.

In other words, if you be burning on urination you better start taking that medication.

In the women without symptoms, standard testing picked up Escherichia coli in 10.5% of samples and qPCR picked up E. coli in 11.6%. They did this bit to show that the findings in the symptomatic group were not caused by the detection of contamination due to the higher sensitivity of qPCR.

The clinical recommendations from the study are simple: if non-pregnant women consult their GP about UTI symptoms the diagnosis of a UTI can be accepted without further investigations and can be treated.  Instead of spending time and energy to prove an uncomplicated UTI, doctors can rely on a diagnosis based on the typical symptoms and focus on acknowledging and managing the patient’s complaints – such as how long they had to wait in the waiting room.


You’ll never guess what! I’m on Patreon.

For as little as $1 a month you can support me, Andy, your friend and secret crush, to write science news and avoid sadness.

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References

  1. Symptoms of cystitis probably caused by bacterial infection, even when tests are negative
  2. Women with symptoms of a urinary tract infection but a negative urine culture: PCR-based quantification of Escherichia coli suggests infection in most cases

 

 

Apr 252017
 

I have always tried to stay up to date with the latest trends in genital hygiene, and vaginal douching is one that I have been conflicted about.

Sure, I’m all for a super clean vagina but I worry about two things. Firstly, doctors actually recommend that women don’t douche their vagina. It changes the balance of bacteria and can cause the growth of harmful bacteria leading to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. As a 1973 commercial once said, “our oven is as self-cleaning as a vagina”, so it’s best to let it clean itself.

Secondly, as douching becomes more popular among teens, the number of plastic douches embarrassingly tossed from cars, while they speed down the motorway, increases. We can all agree that the only acceptable thing to be thrown out of cars on the motorway is a bag of vomit.

Douches are typically made from polyethylene. Polyethylene is a plastic that accounts for about 40% of the worldwide demand for plastics, and douches, probably, make up most of that demand.

Fear not, my clean as a whistle friends, scientists from the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria (CSIC), Spain, and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, have found a caterpillar that can break down polyethylene and cover up your earth-hating habits.

Dr Bertocchini, the supervising researcher, accidently stumbled upon the discovery when she was removing pest wax moth caterpillars from her hobby beehive. Placing them in a plastic bag she noticed that the caterpillars seemed to be eating the bag and holes started to appear.

Bertocchini said: “it was fucking unbelievable”. She added, “I went from hating them to realising they’ll get me loads of media attention”.

The team then did a timed experiment by placing the wax moth caterpillars into a Marks & Spencer plastic bag and monitoring the by-products and holes produced. Also, it goes to show that if you can get a job at the University of Cambridge you can afford to do all of your shopping at Marks & Spencer, not just at Christmas like most of the UK’s families.

After 40 minutes, holes started to appear in the bag and, after 12 hours, the hungry caterpillars had eaten through 92 mg of the plastic. This worked out to be a rate of 2.2 holes per worm per hour (unit not in the International System of Units, yet). This is over 1000 times faster than the rate achieved by bacterial breakdown of plastic.

The future direction for the research is to find the chemical that is responsible for breaking down the plastic and isolating the enzyme responsible for its creation.

As pointed out by the leftist dictator, Waleed Aly, there’s a huge amount of plastic circulating in the ocean. Bertocchini said: “fitting the caterpillars with life jackets is not a viable solution and please don’t include it in your waste of time blog”.


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References

  1. Polyethylene bio-degradation by caterpillars of the wax moth Galleria mellonella
  2. Caterpillar found to eat shopping bags, suggesting biodegradable solution to plastic pollution
Apr 182017
 
crystals

Despite what most social media science news publications will lead you to believe, science doesn’t, and shouldn’t, always have an end application. In that way, it’s similar to the trend of stretching out ear lobes or, for that matter, any body modification that leaves your dear old granny nauseous.

Take a recent discovery from Harvard University (home of the sexually harassing football team): the creation of “time crystals”. Just that name alone makes me imagine a glowing, angular rod of awesomeness which, when slipped into the rectum, has the ability to manipulate time and transport you back to when you didn’t care about interest rates. The reality, however, is that the applications of time crystals are currently unknown. So, if it doesn’t cure cancer or make your smartphone better, why has it been published in the super fancy journal, Nature?

Reading the peer-reviewed paper (here) to find out, is about as useful as a magician with no palms.

Unless you have a PhD in physics, you’ll get lost pretty quickly. For example, this sentence is only 5 sentences in:

“We observe long-lived temporal correlations, experimentally identify the phase boundary and find that the temporal order is protected by strong interactions. This order is remarkably stable to perturbations, even in the presence of slow thermalization.”

What the fuck is going on? It’s like it was written by a person who hasn’t had any intimate contact with actual humans, due to a sexual attraction to anime characters. I guess that makes sense…

Luckily for you, I had nothing better to do today and made the easy version:

Time crystals are a new form of matter that, until now, have only existed in theory.

In normal crystals, atoms are arranged in repeating and predictable patterns. In the common crystal example, table salt, there’s a neat structure of sodium and chlorine atoms repeated over and over again. In time crystals, the structure of the atoms operates in relation to time rather than in relation to space. (stay with me…I understand that your brain has just decided it’s not worth reading on)

The time crystals, created by the Harvard scientists, were small diamonds which had been treated so that loads of impurities were present in the crystal structure. Within each of these impurities, there are electrons. The electrons in the impurities have a property which is known as spin – either up spin or down spin.

The electron’s spin direction reacts to microwave pulses by flipping 180 degrees. Typically, we’d expect an electron’s spin to change with each pulse, but in the case of the time crystals, the spin changes after two or three pulses, not every time you microwave it. In other words, this structure responds to time, not just external forces.

After a load of microwave pulses, the spins could start to get out of sync and become randomly orientated. In the time crystal, however, the interactions between the impurities keeps all of the electrons spinning in the same direction.

So, I guess that’s cool but what about applications? Does it cure cancer or make smartphones better?

No. The anime bothering scientists don’t really know what the applications are yet, but to make themselves sound more sciency, they included the words “quantum” and “computing” so other researchers would take them seriously.

The lead researcher Mikhail D. Lukin said: “I haven’t got time to explain my research to you for your stupid blog”.


References

  1. Observation of discrete time-crystalline order in a disordered dipolar many-body system
  2. Creating time crystals

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Apr 112017
 
fig leaf willy

It seems like everything we own is now rechargeable: phones, lights, watches, and internet connected dildos. To facilitate our sexy, cordless existence, all of these devices need a battery. The problem is that the batteries used for our strangulation-proof-life become degraded by frequent recharging. The sort of frequent recharging required during an all-night, swipe right binge on tinder so you can confidently look your mum in the eye and say that you are trying to find someone.

Scientists from the fancy university in Cambridge (home of the “rear of the year” competition), report in Nature Communications, that they have developed a new type of battery which, can withstand the effects of social isolation and is based on the structures found in nature’s vascular systems.

The vascular structures created by the scientists are similar to those you’d find on the back of leaves, in circulatory systems and, even though the scientists don’t explicitly mention it in their paper, on the top of willies so big they have their own soul.

Willy veins

In a first of its kind demonstration, the superficial-dorsal-vein-loving-scientists use what is known as Murray’s Law to inspire material design. Murry’s Law is basically a formula to explain how natural systems minimise resistance in vessels. It all starts with a big vessel which has “daughter” branches that are smaller in diameter.

In the case of a willy, the superficial dorsal vein is the main pathway which then branches off into smaller and smaller veins. This hierarchal structure ensures the hard working willy gets all of the nutrients it needs in a super efficient way.

The blue-vein-imitating-scientists created their Murry material by allowing zinc-oxide nanoparticles to self-arrange through a simple layer by layer evaporation process. By changing the solvent and temperature used for the evaporation of different layers, the “rear of the year” scientists were able to change the size of the pores created by the nanoparticles.

Prof Bao-Lian Su, who holds a number of positions: as a life member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, Wuhan University of Technology in China and at the University of Namur in Belgium because he hates spending time with his family said,

“sometimes all the inspiration you need is right under your nose…or between your knees and nipples to be exact”

When used in a battery, the zinc oxide Murray material had a reversible capacity 25 times higher than that of a state-of-art graphite Li-ion battery electrode. The bio-inspired ZnO Murray network, with its vascular network of pores, delivered ultra-high capacities and rate capabilities, along with long-life cycling stability.

The branching nature of the pores also reduces the stresses in these electrodes during the charge/discharge processes, improving their structural stability and resulting in a longer lifetime for energy storage devices.

The team envisions that the same willy inspired structures could be used effectively in material designs for energy and environmental applications and promise that their next paper will mention where they really got the inspiration from.


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References

  1. Bio-inspired Murray materials for mass transfer and activity
  2. Leaf vein structure could hold key to extending battery life

 

Apr 042017
 
Cancer Cells

Being told “you have skin cancer” is pretty rubbish. It’s up there with “your brother and I have been shagging on your favorite Egyptian cotton sheets” and “please get out of the swimming pool, I think you have just shit yourself”. Skin cancer is a really aggressive form of cancer which, if left untreated, can spread really quickly. Scientists from The University of Iowa (rating of 4.8 on Facebook) watched and modeled how skin cancer grows so they could identify a drug to stop it as well as over-enthusiastic tongue movements stop a kiss.

In Australia, melanoma is the third most common cancer and is followed closely by facebook invites for Candy Crush Saga and Farmville. Biology professor David Soll (aka slippery D) and his team used really fancy 3-D reconstruction software to work out how both breast tissue cancer cells and melanoma cells form tumors. The team watched cells under a microscope and used the software to create a 3D representation of what was happening. Slippery D said, “I have to stop the PhD students from using the computer for playing online poker”.

To look at the difference between the normal cells and cancerous cells, they first modeled the movements of normal healthy cells and it looked like this:

You can see in the video that the yellow blobs (representing cells) grow in an even way. Just like a career in science, the cells don’t move very far very fast. Slippery D’s team then modeled the movement of cancerous cells and it looked like this:

The first thing you would have noticed (because you’re either a clever person or lucky) is that the cells start reaching out to form bridges much quicker than the normal cells. It’s this rapid movement in combination with speedy cell division that makes skin cancer cells such wankers.

One of the tests showed a single cell moving three times its diameter to join with a small cancerous cluster in just four hours. In another instance, within 72 hours, 24 individual melanoma cells or small clusters of cells had combined into one large cancerous clot.

One important finding was that the skin cancer cells acted in a similar way to breast cancer cells, sending out cables to reel in other cells and clusters. It means that a drug that stops breast cancers from joining together can also stop skin cancers from doing the same thing.

One way of combatting cancer is to use chemicals that attach to the outside of the cell and tell the body to attack it, like sticking a “kick me” sign on its back. Slippery D’s science buddies looked at a load of the “kick me” chemicals before finding two that worked and stopped the tumor from growing, he said, “can you stop calling me? I have no idea why anyone would want to read your blog”.

 


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References

  1. Paper: Melanoma cells undergo aggressive coalescence in a 3D Matrigel model that is repressed by anti-CD44
  2. UI researchers document how melanoma tumors form

 

Mar 282017
 
Snoop Dog and Munchies

This week, the Canadian government announced that it is drafting some really boring paperwork to allow something that is anything but boring: the legalisation of recreational marijuana. The legislation is to be passed before 1 July 2018, which means Canadians have plenty of time to increase their tolerance before the arrival of the types of edibles that’ll make them consider composing some jazz.

The good news is people who love to get high won’t have to pretend they’re injured or ill to get hold of the icky sticky, like they do in places with medical marijuana laws.

Once you have smoked all of the devil’s lettuce and finally found where you left the lighter, you’ll probably get quite hungry. The problem is, it’s all too easy to stuff your disgustingly dry mouth with chocolate, Doritos and cheese based goodies. Even though they taste as amazing as a wizards taint, they’re not real good for you. Surely, there’s a way to push your colon to the limits while also being healthy…

Well, my red-eyed friends, yes, yes there is.

Researchers from Monash University (4.2 stars on Facebook) and CSIRO (unrated on Facebook), in Melbourne, have found the ultimate munchy health food. They report in Nature immunology that they have found a diet that will protect you against type 1 diabetes (that’s not the type of diabetes caused by being a fatty-fat-fat).

Type 1 diabetes is caused when your immune system has a “bit of a domestic” with the cells that create insulin; the chemical that controls your blood sugar levels.

The stoner loving researchers found that some starches from fruits and vegetables resist digestion, while in the stomach, and pass through to the large bowel and poop shoot. Here, they are broken down by bacteria into chemicals called acetate and butyrate which, together, acted as a superhero team and stopped the immune system from attacking the insulin-producing cells.

The researchers only looked at the role of these chemicals in mice, but I’m pretty sure that you could eat those mice and obtain their protection against diabetes. Dr Marino, the lead researcher for the paper said “are you fucking crazy. Do not eat mice” and that “it would be irresponsible to suggest such a thing on your blog, no matter how unpopular you claim it is”.

Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of eating more fruit, veg or laboratory mice. Here’s Dr Carly Rosewarne (via twitter) to explain how it works:

Carley Twitter

Next on the list for the research team is to investigate the diet’s effect on obesity and other inflammatory diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, food allergies and Inflammatory Bowel Disease…

yes they will

…fucking over achievers.

References

  1. The paper:  Gut microbial metabolites limit the frequency of autoimmune T cells and protect against type 1 diabetes

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Mar 212017
 
time for a career change

If you’ve come across this post because your last set of experiments went to shit and your supervisor is currently being a massive paper-demanding douche, now is absolutely not the time for you to leave research. I know that it would feel awesome to march into your supervisor’s office, flip the bird, expose yourself and leave a shit in the corner of the room, but this need’s a little more thought than your last break up.

On the other hand, if you can’t get to sleep at night for thinking about ripping off your lab coat and fingering it, unceremoniously, into the vice chancellor’s bum, and you’re desperate to try something else, perhaps it is time to for an exit strategy.

This is assuming that you’ve got the time to figure something out. More than ever, post-docs are relying on short-term contracts to feed and clothe themselves. If this is you, do what you can to live – don’t make any rash decisions.

Before you start planning your exit, you have to remember that short-term disappointment, feelings of anxiety and self-negativity are normal in the research arena. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Addressing them, and seeking help if they persist, will ensure that you start your new career path in the right frame of mind and not as a way of running away from problems. Mental health issues have a way of following you wherever you go.

The start part:

You have got to where you are because there’s something you like about science. Perhaps there are things that you prefer over everything else. Maybe it’s the fact you’re teaching, writing, doing new experiments, presenting your research, learning new skills, operating fancy equipment. Whatever it is, find it and write it down. Don’t rush this part – it’ll be the foundations for your new career.

 

There are certain professions that will absorb science graduates in all their forms. Some even love Ph.D. graduates. Patent Attorneys, IP examiners, and R&D companies are examples of places that employ PhD graduates. If you want to use all of your skills in a new forum then this is a great option for you. If you are not sure if you’d enjoy these jobs speak to someone who’s doing one.

You could be in the “I fucking hate science in all its forms and wish I could do *insert hobby here* as a job” box. That is OK too. All we need to do at this point is identify what you enjoy doing.

The hard part:

Once you have identified what you like doing (besides wanking and injecting marijuana) you need to start doing more of those things. Simply build skills in the things you like doing.

For skills like writing, consider starting a blog (not like this one, you fucking copy cat), you could write alongside your day job for a publication in order to produce a portfolio of work. Many publications offer internships and opportunities, all you have to do is ask.

Get actual qualifications, if you can. Real paper qualifications that your mum hangs on the wall. There are plenty of masters courses, diplomas and vocational courses that you can take alongside your job, in the evenings for example. Like I said, it won’t be easy, but it is completely doable. And, if you like what you are doing, you’ll make time for it.

If you want to turn your hobby into a job, start small. One day/evening a week and see how you go. The important question when turning a hobby into a job is: Do you actually like it as a job or do you prefer it as a hobby? It’s fine that it’s the latter, now you know.

NETWORK YOUR FUCKING ARSE OFF.

Start making contacts in jobs you may want to do. Sneak your way into their office by asking for a discussion about their profession. Everyone I’ve asked is more than happy to help. Once they’ve seen that you aren’t a psycho, and you don’t have sticky hands, you’ve made a new professional friend that may help you in the future.

The scary part:

After a while, apply for those dream jobs with the new skills you’ve gained. If the answer is no, ask why. Put that academic thick skin to work and think of it as professional peer-review. You may not like what you hear but it’ll make sure you are focused on the skills that your dream job needs.

 

It’s rare that as one job finishes your next begins. You may find yourself having to take a leap into the unknown. If you’ve done the hard part, it’ll be way less scary. Leverage your networks, let them know about your new availability, get a mentor and be open to new opportunities. These things, along with some good old fashioned hard work, will eventually pay off and you’ll be on your way to a brand new career.

What’s your story? Do you have any advice for leaving research?


Further reading:

Young researchers thrive in life after academia

Is academia a happier life than a life in industry?

Why So Many Academics Quit and Tell

The ‘system’ failed me. It should have failed me sooner.

 

Mar 142017
 

Accidental or not, once hot, fresh jizzum comes into contact with a lady egg you have a good chance of changing your life, forever. The good news is that having children is not only shitty nappies and sleepless nights. Scientists from the meatball scoffing country, The Kingdom of Sweden, have reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health that parenthood is associated with a longer life and it doesn’t depend on whether you have boys or girls.

Previous studies have shown that parents live longer. What is unclear, however, is why you’d live longer when there’s someone, who’s half you, strutting around like they own the place.

The ice-hockey-loving science team used a national registry to track the lifespan of all men and women born between 1911 and 1925, resulting in a database with a total of 1,430,000 people.  The study looked at the marital status of each person and the number and sex of the children they had. Using this information, an age-specific risk of death was calculated.

The first conclusion of the study was this: the risk of death rose with increasing age! Oh. My. Fucking. God. That’s right folks, you heard it here first, the older you are the more likely you are of dying.

A little bit more useful, however, was the finding that the risk of death was lower among those who had at least one child. For example, an 80-year-old man with a child was 0.9% less likely to die than an 80-year-old man without children.

Unmarried men with children had the biggest benefit over their childless counterparts. The IKEA-building researchers suspect that unmarried men would be relying more on their children than a partner as they grow older. In other words, the social support they receive is an important factor in keeping them alive.

Unlike the results of previous studies, the krona spending scientists found no correlation between the sex of the child(ren) and how long the parent lives.

Overall, the total difference in life expectancy between those with and without children may be as much (or as little) as two years. Although, the research doesn’t tell you if those are good years or the years where you’re fighting to stay out of the nursing home while pretending you didn’t fall down the stairs.

Read more:

  1. Payback time? Influence of having children on mortality in old age
  2. Parenthood linked to longer life
Mar 072017
 
old man laughing and smiling

Think back to when you were 14 years old. Did you know someone who was such a twat that you decided to never speak to them again? Well, if it’s been a long time, it may be worth reigniting the friendship.

A new study, from the University of Edinburgh (home of the “posh Scottish accent“, but that’s like saying the “soberest member of Black Sabbath“) found that someone’s personality can change dramatically – particularly later in life.

Up until now, it has been thought that once someone is a miserable bastard, they’re always a miserable bastard, grinding to a halt any lively conversation with a long list of things they don’t like. The haggis munching team puts that commonly held belief to bed in a recent paper published in Psychology and Aging.

The kilt-wearing scientists used data from a mental health survey conducted on school students in 1947 and contacted the participants again, in 2017, to ask them to fill out another survey. This is what the home of the “posh Scottish accent” looked like in 1947:

At about the age 14, the participants had six of their personality traits rated by their teachers. Teachers fucking love giving grades and I imagine the ability to grade someone’s personality, instead of English essays, was like all the teacher’s wet dreams come at once.

The six characteristics were combined into one metric called dependability, but included these things:

  • Self-confidence – Answer this: Are you the best motherfucker, ever?
  • Perseverance – Choose between: Follow your dreams or eat a big bag of Doritos while watching Netflix.
  • Stability of moods – Answer this: has anyone ever called you a “psycho?”
  • Conscientiousness – Answer this: would you able to organise a bukake world record attempt?
  • Originality – Make a hat from something around you.
  • The desire to learn – Did you make a shit hat? Would you be interested in learning how to make it better?

At 77 years old, the group was asked again to rate themselves on the six characteristics, and nominate a close friend or family member to do the same – I know exactly who I WOULDN’T choose, Leo Garcia. Of the 1208 questionnaires filled out in 1947, only 174 people agreed to participate in 2012 as some had died and some had very little desire to learn any more about personality stability (personality burn, ouch).

The braveheart reenacting scientists concluded that a person’s personality characteristics in later life were not closely related to the same traits in early life.

The limitations of the study were that it only contained a small sample of people, the limited personality characteristics, chosen in 1945, were not a good way of measuring a personality, and the study only measured two points in time – not saggy and saggy. In the future, they’ll need to include an age where the skin is starting to be affected by gravity, but in low light conditions, you can get away with it.

The next step is to repeat the experiment with current 14-year-olds and requestion them in 2080 when the world looks like this:

So there we have it. Your personality is able to change over time so if you have been called a dickhead in the past you may not be one now. That being said, you could be an even bigger dickhead, it doesn’t have to change for the better.


espressoscience

 

This week, I have teamed up with Espresso Science to give you a different perspective on the same science story.

Check out Espresso Science on their website, HERE, on Twitter, @scidocmartin, and Soundcloud.

 

 


References:

  1. Personality Stability From Age 14 to Age 77 Years