This may be TMI, but the wintry weather we've been having has made my feet really dry and itchy (and not too pretty to look at). Soaking my feet in a warm bath brought to mind a story I read a few years ago about pedicures that used fish to nibble away dead skin.
The fish turns out to be the Garra rufa or Doctor Fish. Native to Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, the fish are used in spa treatments all over the world. Watch them in action:
That unfortunately means I'll have to stick to traditional treatments - pumice and lotion - for my dry heels. My husband claims my feet are too ticklish to withstand 15 minutes of fish nibbling anyway.
Interestingly, one preliminary study found that Garra nibbling - more properly called ichthyotherapy - may be part of an effective treatment for psoriasis. Maybe someday you'll find them in your dermatologist's office, even if they aren't allowed in your local salon.
Ever since the release of the award-winning movie The King's Speech, there has been a lot of discussion about stuttering in the media.
The movie is the fictionalized story of the struggle of King George VI - "Bertie" to his family - to overcome his stuttering with speech therapy. That summary doesn't make it sound particularly interesting, but I found the story to be quite engaging. By the end I was rooting for Bertie to make it through his big speech.
It's estimated that almost 1% of adults stutter, just like Bertie. After decades of research, the underlying causes are only beginning to be understood.
NIH geneticist Dennis Drayna and his colleagues have been studying closely-related families in Pakistan. They discovered three mutations associated with stuttering in those families. The three affected genes - GNPTAB, GNPTG, and NAGPA - are involved in directing glycoproteins to the lysosomes. Lysosomes are tiny organelles inside the cell that break down waste material and cellular debris. If the proper glycoproteins don't end up in the lysosomes, carbohydrates and fatty materials can build up to toxic levels in the body's cells.
It was already known that some mutations in GNPTAB and GNPTG cause mucolipidosis, a disease that affects both neurological and physical development. In its severest form, mucolipidosis causes mental retardation and skeletal deformities. The people who carry the mutations in GNPTAB and GNPTG associated with stuttering don't have the severe neurological and physical problems associated with mucolipidosis.
It's not entirely clear how the mutations in genes involved in cellular metabolism might affect the development of the brain and cause speech problems, so there's still a lot of research to be done. But no matter what the mechanism is, finding these mutations provides support to the idea that the cause of stuttering is primarily physiological rather than behavioral or psychological.
But these genes are only a small part of the story. Only about 6% of stutterers carry a mutation in GNPTAB, GNPTG or NAGPA. Drayna's team and other research labs are searching for additional associated mutations. The hope is that the ongoing research into the genetics of stuttering will ultimately lead to new effective therapies.
GrrlScientist reports on her Punctuated Equilibriumblog over at the Guardian that a cat burglar has been stalking a San Mateo, California neighborhood. In this case the thief is 6-year-old Dusty, a mixed-breed housecat. Dusty prowls the neighborhood at night and grabs gloves, shoes, toys and other items from his neighbors' yards and carries them home to share with his family. His record is 11 items in a single night, and he seems to favor drying swimsuits.
Local station ABC 7 caught him in the act with their night vision camera. Watch their report:
Apparently Dusty's neighbors are understanding about his behavior, as they know where to go to find their missing items.
Dusty isn't the only feline thief roaming our cities and suburbs. Apparently this sort of "misdirected predation" behavior is not uncommon in urban cats. The UK cat site Moggies.co.uk has a whole collection of cat thief stories - and those are just the ones who both got caught and had stories written about them.
Personally, if I had a cat I'd much prefer a "gift" of the neighbor's flip flops than a half-dead mouse.
A picture's worth a thousand words. Sometimes even more. I think that's especially true when trying to imagine microscopic organisms and molecules, that simply can't be seen with the naked eye. And even better than a flat picture is a three-dimensional model that you can move and manipulate.
I have on good authority that it used to be that if you wanted to create a 3D image on your home computer you would have to invest in expensive software and wait seemingly forever for models to be processed or rendered. But almost a decade ago, Blender - a free open source 3D modeling application - was released to the public. And over the years personal computers have gotten fast enough that it doesn't take days to render your images.
The image at the top is one of the Blender Magazine sample images in the process of rendering. I actually don't have any experience making 3D animations myself. Thanks to Brian (who does use Blender) for pointing the magazine out to me!
My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly express'd;
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night. ~ Sonnet 147, William Shakespeare
Romantic love begins as an individual comes to regard another as special, even unique. The over then intensely focuses his or her attention on this preferred individual, aggrandizing the beloved's better traits and overlooking or minimizing his or her flaws. Lovers experience extreme energy, hyper activity, sleeplessness, impulsivity, euphoria, and mood swings. They are goal-oriented and strongly motivated to win the beloved. Adversity heightens their passion [ . . . ] They reorder their daily priorities to remain in contact with their sweetheart , and experience separation anxiety when apart. And most feel powerful empathy for their amour; many report they would die for their beloved.
In fact, love can affect your brain like an addiction. When love is reciprocated it's a constructive addiction, while rejection of love is a destructive addiction. It's powerful effects have shaped and been shaped by evolution, and - Fisher argues - have even helped drive the development of human culture.
Sorry for the long posting hiatus. The past couple of months seem to have flown by unexpectedly quickly. I thought a post celebrating Darwin Day would be an ideal way to get back into the swing of things.
So far there hasn't been any official recognition of Darwin's birthday here in the U.S. (at least that I know of). But I'm proud to say that a few days ago Representative Pete Stark (D-CA)* submitted House Resolution 81 in support of officially designating February 12th, 2011 as Darwin Day.
Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 and his life has had a profound impact on the course of human history. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has not only provided a compelling explanation for the diversity of life, it is also the foundation of modern biology and genetics. Darwin exemplified the scientific curiosity that has led to new scientific breakthroughs that have helped humanity solve numerous problems and improve our quality of life.
Charles Darwin is worthy of recognition and honor. His birthday should be a time for us to celebrate the advancement of human knowledge and the achievements of reason and science. It should also be a time for Congress and other elected officials to ensure that children are being taught scientific facts and not religious dogma in our public schools.
The mention of "religious dogma" is sure to antagonize those Representatives who think their religious beliefs can take the place of science (or at least think their constituents want them to believe that). And Stark threw in in a bit about climate change, which seems like a poke at Republican climate change deniers. But even so, I'm hoping the bill at least garners enough support to pass out of committee.
But even if it passes, it will be too late to celebrate Darwin's birthday this year.