DCD, dicyandiamide, 2-cyanoguanidine

DCD dicyandiamide 2-cyano-guanidine2-Cyanoguanidine, also known as DCD (dicyandiamide) is a nitrile derived from guanidine used as a curative agent for epoxy resins in packaging.

Since 2004, it has been used in New Zealand by farmers hoping to lower the environmental impact of livestock by reducing the rate at which soil microbes convert ammonia from animal urine into nitrates and nitrous oxide, thus slowing nitrate leaching from pasture.

DCD recently hit the headlines when traces were found in milk. Although the authorities said of the Westland Milk Products example that it did not represent a health risk to consumers, there are echoes of the melamine debacle I first discussed on Sciencebase back in September 2008; manufacturers have withdrawn DCD products from the agricultural market.

Direct exposure to DCD powder may cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. However, toxicity level is rather low, certainly well below trace levels found in milk products. ‘Experiments with mice indicate that the lethal dose (LD50) for table salt (sodium chloride) is 4 grams per kilogram of body weight. For DCD it is more than 2.5 times that at over 10 grams per kilogram.


Fossil perspective on economic growth

A paper from a researcher at Fukushima University caught my eye recently. Not least because it was from that university, but also because the city was in the news again because of proposals to plant a wind farm off the coast there. Moreover, the paper is about how fossil fuels drive economic growth…multiple ironies I’d say.

Engineer Hazuki Ishida of the Faculty of Symbiotic Systems Science at the university begins his paper with the statement: “Fossil fuels are major sources of energy, and have several advantages over other primary energy sources. Without extensive dependence on fossil fuels, it is questionable whether our economic prosperity can continue.” I’m not entirely sure what economic prosperity he’s referring to, surely not that of Japan, but globally? Well many nations are reporting triple-dip recessions and tightening their belts with draconian austerity measures. In his paper he has studied GDP for the period 1971 to 2008 (just before the current major, global economic downturn began) and finds a correlation with fossil fuel use and growth. Might that not be a rather selective analysis?

In the 1970s we had the energy crisis, strikes, runaway inflation in many parts of the world and then the yuppie years of the 1980s, the dot.com boom and bust of the 1990s and the borrow now, pay later of the 2000s. Well, that pay later is upon us and we are in another kind of energy crisis, one that sees fracking and cracking carrying on apace despite rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and increasingly extreme weather across the globe while the megajoules available from sunshine, wind and tides simply dissipates…

I don’t mean to give Hazuki short shrift and perhaps his paper was prepared before certain events overtook the debate. He concludes that, “Fossil fuels are important factors to promote economic growth, and it is difficult to achieve both departure from dependence on fossil fuels and ongoing global economic growth simultaneously.” Perhaps that still holds true in a world where greed and the urge for economic growth remain strong drivers despite poverty, debt, dwindling food and water security, emerging and thriving infectious disease, earthquakes, tsunami and war.

Research Blogging IconIshida H. (2012). Causal relationship between fossil fuel consumption and economic growth in the world, Int. J. Global Energy Issues, 35 (6) 427-440. DOI:

NASA solar montage of Elmer the Elephant

We usually think of the sun as that big glowing ball in the sky, at least on days when we can see it, grey here again (ahead of imminent snow storms).

But NASA can paint a different picture using specialized instruments, either in ground-based or space-based telescopes, which can “see” light beyond the extremes of visible. Different wavelengths convey information about different components of the sun’s surface and atmosphere, so scientists use them to paint a more complete picture of our nearest and dearest star.

But, when I saw the montage, I knew it reminded me of something…


NASA – Sun Primer: Why NASA Scientists Observe the Sun in Different Wavelengths.

Why crustaceans might be feeling crabby

UPDATE: Apparently, research from James Rose and colleagues has demonstrated that actually, fish don’t feel pain in any conscious, meaningful way. Sounds fishy to me…

Contrary to the words of Kurt Kobain, it’s probably no longer okay to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings, and now perhaps the same can be said of crabs. The BBC reports this morning that scientists have found further evidence that crustaceans feel pain. A study has revealed that the shore crab, a close relative of the species we use for food, responds to electric shocks and then goes on to avoid them. Previous research has shown that prawns and hermit crabs also react to painful situations.

The study was led by Bob Elwood of Queen’s University Belfast and is published in JEB this month. The interviewer on Radio 4 Today mentioned boiling live lobsters and Elwood pointed out that much worse is done to crabs in food processing where they are torn apart and dismembered while very much alive and their remains left wriggling. If crustaceans do feel pain, as we might assume they do from this and other research, then is time for humane practices to be brought into the industry just as they are the furry animals we eat? After all, we would hope that cows, and horses for that matter, were not being butchered alive.

via BBC News – Further evidence crabs and other crustaceans feel pain.

Research Blogging IconStead N. (2013). PAINFUL FEELINGS IN CRABS, Journal of Experimental Biology, 216 (3) i-i. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.084046

Climate change makeover

sunflowerOften a name change, a brand re-launch or a corporate makeover becomes a matter of urgency when a company gets seriously bad press. I could list a few examples but will spare their blushes (#subtweet). Of course, when it comes to a phenomenon, the same thing can happen. Think global warming morphing into climate change. Of course, that was more about greater scientific understanding, public acceptance of the various trends and issues that arise and a dawning realisation that rising global average temperatures, through the greenhouse effect, are just one factor.

Asfaw Beyene of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at San Diego State University and chemical engineer Ron Zevenhoven of the Thermal and Flow Engineering Laboratory, at Ã…bo Akademi University in Finland, have now considered the notion of global thermodynamics in the wake of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. They suggest that it’s time for a makeover and that rather than focusing on temperature, we should also now consider the many other factors involved in climate change – air pressure, wind speed and humidity etc.

The team has introduced the concept of “Equivalent Rate of Evaporation” (ERE), which they say provides better estimates of how enthalpy of vaporization affects climate change. “This approach offers a more lucid understanding of the climate model, with indubitably more accurate results,” the team says. The researchers point out that the earliest models of climate change did not distinguish between vertical and horizontal energy or include a temperature stratification. Later, models took this into account but this led to there being two parallel modelling systems, which the researchers suggest widens the error bars on predictions. All of which has provided denialists with ammunition over the years.

Beyene and Zevenhoven are, one might now suggest, reclaiming climate change science and putting it on a firmer, thermodynamic, footing. Two boundaries are proposed to form a control volume of the atmosphere – one, the traditional boundary at the top of the atmosphere, and the other inner boundary, at some superficial depth of the earth. Energy and mass that cross the inner boundary of the control volume are the only possible causes of anthropogenic climate change, Beyene explains. Moreover, the team asserts that temperature is just another “coordinate” in the system and so the only accurate measure of climate change must look at the energy balance of the atmosphere as a whole. From such an approach those other factors, wind, pressure, humidity as well as temperature change will feed into a new model with tighter error bars, a reduction in secondary modelling artefacts and a better chance of predicting global warming and thence climate change. This would not be so much a makeover as a much-needed complete overhaul of climate science.

Research Blogging IconBeyene A. (2013). Thermodynamics of climate change, International Journal of Global Warming, 5 (1) 18-29. DOI:

How nutritious is horse meat?

Just a quick round-up cribbed from NutritionData via KQED to address the issue of how nutritious is horse meat compared to beef in the wake of “StableGate” (horse DNA allegedly present in value burgers sold by UK and Iris supermarkets).

Horse meat is about 120 vs beef’s 130 kilocalories per 100 grams. They have similar cholesterol levels and pretty much the same protein content when comparing lean cuts. Horse meat has twice the iron of beef and more than twice the vitamin B12, but less B6, niacin and folate.

The levels of omega-3 fatty acids – supposedly linked to reduced risk of heart disease stroke and neurodegenerative diseases – are much higher in horse (360 mg/100g); just 21 mg in beef steak.

Numerous cultures are not in the slightest bit squeamish about eating horse meat, although Brits and Americans usually seem not to be among them. Personally, I think meat is meat, if you’re slaughtering one grass-eating mammal and then frying or stewing its rump it could just as easily be the sheep, cow or horse. I do think we could solve many of our climate, poverty and food security issues if we made goat the staple meat product given that it can produce meat and new goats at a high rate even scrabbling around on a few blades in the desert. Goats also have a slightly less cutesy image than horses, frolicking lambs and those ruminants with “cow eyes”…

The Other Red Meat.

Parkinson’s treatment might trigger creativity

According to a press release on Eurekalert: “Parkinson’s experts across the world have been reporting a remarkable phenomenon – many patients treated with drugs to increase the activity of dopamine in the brain as a therapy for motor symptoms such as tremors and muscle rigidity are developing new creative talents, including painting, sculpting, writing, and more.”

Now, this is intriguing given that the received wisdom about individuals with certain types of mood disorders are often hyper-creative (it’s often said of well-known artists, in history and some contemporaries artists, and performers, who are known to have suffered depression or been bipolar, for instance). The dopamine connection could be the key…

Parkinson's treatment can trigger creativity.

Zen habits

This makes sense. A Zen approach to coping with forum trolls, angry commenters and their ilk:

“I do not engage in confrontations with anyone, in-person or online. This is a waste of time and energy. If I have caused harm, I apologize and fix the situation. However, if someone simply doesn’t like something I have done or something that I do or disagrees with me, that is fine, but I’m not going to get into an argument about it. For any confrontation-like situation, I simply take a deep breath, relax, breathe out, and re-focus my efforts back on my work and goals.”

Other people (real and imagined) have said something similar throughout human history (#subtweet)…

» 12 Rules to Live By.

Hubble Space Telescope on the iPad

“Soar through the universe with the Hubble Space Telescope, exploring discoveries from dark energy to colliding galaxies. This highly interactive eBook features video, image galleries and more to reveal the record of scientific breakthroughs behind Hubble’s stunning images of the cosmos.


For more than two decades, Hubble has had a front-row seat for cosmic events: comets plunging into Jupiter, the explosive death of stars, the birth of new solar systems, and more. In the process, it has changed the face of astronomy. Learn about Hubble’s revelations and take a tour of the history and technology of the telescope.”

Free for you iPad via iTunes – Books – Hubble Space Telescope Discoveries by HubbleSite.org & WebbTelescope.org.

Shake it like a Polaroid picture

Hilarious round up of the #overlyhonestmethods hashtag meme on twitter from Mark Lorch:

“It all started with a neuropharmacologist researcher and blogger called Leigh when she tweeted “incubation lasted three days because this is how long the undergrad forgot the experiment in the fridge #overlyhonestmethods”. It didn’t take long for the hashtag to go viral. More tweets along similar lines followed including “…the chemicals were combined & stirred by hand for 2 hours by our project students as they were getting on our nerves” from @Simonleighuk, “The experiment was left for the precise time that it took for us to get a cup of tea” from @mahzabin and my favourite from @sciliz “the eppendorf tubes were ‘shaken like a polaroid picture’ until that part of the song ended”.”

Who said scientists cannot be honest about their methods?

(For those who care, I recorded a cover of that song, which you can listen to here.)