Monday, November 14, 2005

From Singing Mice to Einstein's Mistakes

I've been collecting links to interesting science-related articles, but have neglected to post them. Here's a roundup:

• Carl Zimmer has an interesting article about antibiotic peptides in frog skin. These natural anti-bacterial compounds can teach a lesson to the pharmaceutical industry in creating drugs that do not become worthless due to selection of resistant bugs:
There's another lesson for the drug industry in the evolution of these molecules. Not only have animals repeatedly experimented with new versions, but they never rely on just one. Each species may produce ten different kinds of antimicrobial peptides, and the molecules are often most effective in combination (for reasons scientists don't yet understand). By using a range of different peptides at once, animals may thwart the evolution of resistance, because bacteria never get intensely exposed to a single drug.
Scientific American reports on mating songs of mice. The songs are too high for the human ear to normally hear, but you can listen to pitch-shifted versions (WAV files). They don't really do much for me, but I'm not a lady mouse.

Physics Today has a thought-provoking article about Einstein's Mistakes. From the article:
Albert Einstein was certainly the greatest physicist of the 20th century, and one of the greatest scientists of all time. It may seem presumptuous to talk of mistakes made by such a towering figure, especially in the centenary of his annus mirabilis. But the mistakes made by leading scientists often provide a better insight into the spirit and presuppositions of their times than do their successes. Also, for those of us who have made our share of scientific errors, it is mildly consoling to note that even Einstein made mistakes. Perhaps most important, by showing that we are aware of mistakes made by even the greatest scientists, we set a good example to those who follow other supposed paths to truth. We recognize that our most important scientific forerunners were not prophets whose writings must be studied as infallible guides—they were simply great men and women who prepared the ground for the better understandings we have now achieved. (emphasis added)

• Brent Rasmussen has a moving story about cervical cancer and human papilloma virus, and the short-sighted "Family Research Council" who don't want teenage girls to have access to the new HPV vaccine.
All told, the impact of HPV on the US is roughly equivalent in terms of mortality, morbidity, and expense, to a 9-11 attack every month. And now, finally, after truckloads of disease ridden body parts have been incinerated in hospital waste facilities and millions of lives world-wide torn asunder, we can end at least this one threat to little girls and the women they will become. Maybe forever.
(Read my earlier post about the vaccine).

Nature reports recent study has shown that relatives of autism sufferers have brain abnormalities.
The results are intriguing, say the researchers, because the parents and siblings had not been diagnosed with autism. Macewicz says it is likely that in the unaffected siblings other brain areas, perhaps in the frontal lobes, are helping to regulate the amygdala and compensate for its smaller volume.

It may be that a core set of brain abnormalities has to be present for autism to occur, adds Peterson, and that the parents he studied do not have them all.
This may be a blow to those who believe that autism is caused solely by mercury in vaccines.

• On a lighter note, New Scientist reports on some unusual inventions, including Nestle's patent on coffee-flavored beer. My initial reaction to that is "ew", but I would be willing to taste it for the sake of science.

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