King Kong’s Monkey Love

Sex smells, according to Joshuah Bearman of the LAWeekly who wrote to sciencebase today to alert us to his article on King Kong’s Monkey Love (obviously, he’s well aware that Kong is an ape not a monkey, but allow him some artistic licence, he is after all telling us about the birds and the bees, well beast, actually).

Anyway, his essay meanders from Gigantopithecus blacki, the 12-foot prehistoric ape that died out 100,000 years ago to the recent re-classification of chimpanzees into the hominidae family and even discusses the biological potential for a consummated love between man and ape.

All that aside, his essay concludes with a quote from Peter Singer who, along with many other people, suggests that the great apes should be endowed with “human” rights. It raises the ancient morality conflicts of how we treat all animals, of course, and whether we should use them for biomedical experimentation or not…

Toucan Play at That Game

Toucan Beak

Engineers are hoping to learn about strong construction work by studying the structure of the toucan beak.

Materials scientists could soon benefit from the first ever detailed engineering analysis of toucan beaks. Toucan beaks are incredibly tough and have a surprising impact-absorbing sandwich structure according to the study, which could provide engineers with a near-perfect model for novel aeronautics and construction materials.Materials scientists could soon benefit from the first ever detailed engineering analysis of toucan beaks. Toucan beaks are incredibly tough and have a surprising impact-absorbing sandwich structure according to the study, which could provide engineers with a near-perfect model for novel aeronautics and construction materials.

Radical Damage

Raman reveals the radical damage that other techniques cannot see.

Italian researchers have shown that Raman spectroscopy could be a useful tool in investigating radical-based damage to proteins.

Armida Torreggiani, Maurizio Tamba, Immacolata Manco, M.R. Faraone-Mennella, Carla Ferreri, and C. Chatgilialoglu of the ISOF Institute of the National Research Council in Bologna and Naples University have investigated the gamma-irradiation of bovine pancreatic ribonuclease A (RNase A) in aqueous solution using vibrational spectroscopy as well as enzymatic assay, electrophoresis, and HPLC analysis. They found that Raman spectroscopy in particular could reveal conformational changes in the protein and locate the amino acid residues most susceptible to radical attack.

Cellular ABC

X-rays see through cellular process

US biologists have used X-ray diffraction to take a snapshot view of the tiny motor that opens and shuts the cellular portals that allow nutrients to pass into our cells. Jue Chen and colleagues at Purdue University have clarified the connection between the membrane transport proteins and how they utilise a cell’s energy to permit or deny materials entry into the interior of the cell from the outside world.

Buckyballs versus DNA

Peter Cummings of Vanderbilt University and his colleagues have discovered that those marvels of the molecular playing field – the soccerball shaped fullerenes, aka buckyballs, can bind to DNA and cause it to deform, according to computer simulations published in the December issue of the Biophysical Journal. Perhaps most worrying is that they see this deformation in an aqueous environment rather than in an organic solvent.

Cummings and Alberto Striolo (now a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma), along with Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientist Xiongce Zhao, used molecular dynamics simulations to investigate the question of whether buckyballs would bind to DNA and, if so, whether they could then inflict any lasting damage.

Cummings suggests that his research reveals a potentially serious problem: “Buckyballs have a potentially adverse effect on the structure, stability and biological functions of DNA molecules.”

What is not mentioned in the Vanderbilt press release on this “discovery”, which as you will note is essentially theoretical is that the fullerenes are not particularly soluble in water under normal conditions. Indeed, researchers at London South Bank University explain that [60]fullerene can be dispersed in water but only if it is transferred from an organic solvent using high energy sound (sonication). That word “dispersed” is crucial irrespective of the relatively sophisticated technology required to carry these molecules into water.

One thing that our bodies generally lack is a large supply of organic solvent and a sonicator. So, with any luck, the Cummings work will remain theoretical rather than experimental. While this kind of research must be carried out under the precautionary principle, it is not necessarily providing us with any useful insights into the real risks or otherwise of fullerenes. Moreover, the powerful media machine that includes university press offices these days now has another opportunity to kick chemistry.

Science Lesson Plan on Magnetism

With news that after 400 years of stability, the Earth’s magnetic North Pole could soon reach Siberia. If that happens, you can kiss Alaska Borealis goodbye as the Northern Lights go with the flow.

The pole has moved hundreds of kilometres in the last couple of centuries and could reach Siberia within another fifty years according to Oregon State University paleomagnetist Joseph Stoner speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California, this week. The remarkably rapid (for geological change) movement of the magnetic pole doesn’t necessarily mean that our planet is going through a large-scale change that would result in the reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field as some people fear. Instead, this may be part of a normal oscillation, says Stoner, and could swing back towards Canada again.

Whichever way it goes, check out the sciencebase magnetic science lesson plan courtesy of Oregon’s Columbia Education Center.

ID Controversy – Intelligent Design or Incompetent Design?

According to Don Wise, emeritus professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amhurst, humans are anything but the product of Intelligent Design (ID), instead he suggests we are the product of Incompetent Design (IcD). Wise cites our sloping pelvis, which causes chronic back pain for millions, our mouths overstocked with teeth, the appendix and tonsils, our upward draining sinuses, and even the benign enlargement of the prostate leading to a staccato peeing style for older men, as being evidence of IcD.

Intelligent designers and creationists stretching right back to Darwin say the wonderful design of the eye is the ultimate evidence for ID. Wise, however, asks what is so “intelligent” in putting all the receptors behind a membrane layer rather than in front for maximum sensitivity? It has to be IcD. Surely?

Wise was interviewed by Maggie Witlin in Seed Magazine.

Medicating Male Orgasm

“Pour yourself a stiff one” Indeed! That’s the word on the pharma lecture circuit as drug companies work themselve up into a lather chasing liquid Viagra.. Meanwhile, there seems to be no end of new targets, even with malaria, cancer, TB, bird flu and the rest providing plenty of fodder, the pharma industry is intent on developing paying treatments for the likes of shyness, hypochondria, and of course premature ejaculation.

Dapoxetine was originally developed as a serotonin-reuptake inhibitor for depression. And, as male users of related quickly, or rather slowly, found out, these drugs cause retarded ejaculation. One man’s side-effect is another man’s therapy. Hence the repositioning, as it were, of Dapoxetine.

Anyway, the industry is, according to Alan Cassels writing in Canada’s CommonGround, keen to get into this new market, although the FDA deigned dapoxetine unapprovable saying that the manufacturer’s claims that it “�increased intra-vaginal ejaculatory latency (IEL) time” better than a placebo, did not stand up to closer examination. So, what will be the next big thing? Have you had enough of my puerile puns and blatant innuendos? Come again for more of the same!

Registering Interest

The Register reports this week on the inclusion of the word “Podcast” in the New Oxford American Dictionary and the fact that certain other trendy words from the current vernacular failed to make the grade, among them Sudoku, bird flu, rootkit and bloggin. Maybe next year.

There is some uncertainty as to the true etymology of the word podcast. Most people assume it’s iPod broadcast, with no i’s. Others claim it’s short for Personal On-Demand -casting or Portable Audio-casting. It’s unlikely to be either of these latter two, and more obviously simply a trademark free abbreviation of iPodcasting without the legal problems.