Stories tagged Human Organism

Oct
31
2013

Tell me Ouija board: What is the science that makes you actually work?
Tell me Ouija board: What is the science that makes you actually work?Courtesy Majail0711
Hey, it's Halloween. Do you have a seance to go to tonight after you finish your trick and treating?

And what's a good seance without a Ouija board? You know it's the quickest way to connect with the dead and find out those mysterious secrets that aren't accessible any other way.

It's been quite a while since I last touched a Ouija board. But I do remember being amazed how that little pad just skimmed across the board to give us answers to our questions. It's fun and mystical. And (SPOILER ALERT) it's all based on science.

The current issue of Smithsonian delves into the history and science behind the board. You can get all the details right here. Since the board's beginnings, the creators had insights into the ideometer effect. That's a fancy term for the automatic muscular movements that take place in our bodies without our conscious will or volition. It's like what happens to us when we cry during the sad part of a movie or flick away an annoying bug pestering us. People using a Ouija board are subtly moving the pointer around the board without realizing they are doing so.

Research conducted a couple years ago quantified what was happening. People were asked random fact-based questions that were challenging. Just hearing the questions and answering without a Ouija board, participants got about 50 percent correct, which was what researchers expected. But when participants were asked similar questions while seated at the Ouija board, that correct response rate jumped up to 65 percent.

The researchers account of the difference by people tapping into their non-conscious knowledge and using the ideometer effect to guide the Ouija board pointer across the board. And people actually do better answering questions on topics that they don't think they know the answer to than topics that they do.

So, if you do happen to find yourself sitting around a Ouija board tonight, be careful what you ask it. You might just get the answer to something you've been burying away in your mind for a long time!!!

Happy Halloween and feel free to share your observations here with other Buzz readers on the science of Ouija boards.

Oct
15
2013

Carbo loading: The conventional wisdom in sports nutrition has been to "carbo load" on foods high in carbohydrates before a contest. But now some are saying avoiding gluten carbs can actually enhance athletic performance.
Carbo loading: The conventional wisdom in sports nutrition has been to "carbo load" on foods high in carbohydrates before a contest. But now some are saying avoiding gluten carbs can actually enhance athletic performance.Courtesy cyclonebill
The arrival of fall each year brings leaves changing colors, apples ready for the picking and a host of long-distance races contested in more temperate conditions. And with those marathons and other distance tests come the pre-race rituals of "carbo loading," the practice of eating a high carbohydrate meal of pasta to fill a body up with extra energy.

But several elite athletes are now shaking up that conventional wisdom. They're saying that they're feeling better and performing more efficiently by focusing their pre-performance meals on the right kind of carbohydrates: gluten-free carbs.

Tennis champion Novak Djokovic, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the entire Garmin cycling team are now crediting gluten-free diets as helping them feel and perform better. Djokovic went gluten free in 2010 and has now climbed to become the No. 1-ranked player in men's pro tennis and he credits his new diet with giving him better focus, more endurance and avoiding injury.

However, all these benefits so far are anecdotal. There have been no research studies done on the impact of a gluten-free diet on athletic performance. But some nutritionists point out that gluten, evolutionary speaking, is a pretty new entry into the human diet, having only been around 10,000 years. Our digestive systems don't know how to deal with it, so we get no nutritional benefit from it. For most of us, our immune system handles the gluten in our digestive track, just like stray microbes, and works it into our waste. About six percent of the population is gluten sensitive and has to avoid these types of foods entirely.

Does this new information change your thoughts about "carbo loading?" Do you avoid gluten foods even if you're not sensitive to them? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.

Sep
10
2013

Mosquito proofing: New chemical compounds could block human smells that mosquitoes use to find their prey.
Mosquito proofing: New chemical compounds could block human smells that mosquitoes use to find their prey.Courtesy James Gathany/CDC
Harry Potter has his cloak of invisibility. Chemical researchers think they're on the brink of finding substances to make us humans invisible to mosquitoes.

At the recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, information was presented on new compounds that can block human smells, the key that mosquitoes use to find their next meal. Current mosquito repellents are losing their effectiveness and chemical researchers think the newly discovered compounds can be even more effective.

How do they work? The chemicals interfere with the skeeters' ability to smell. Hundreds of chemicals make up the smells that come from human bodies. Mixing in different combinations, they make some people more attractive to mosquitoes than others. What they've found with these new chemicals, including 1-methylpiperzine, was that an arm sprayed with the chemicals and put into a cage full of mosquitoes was completely ignored. Mosquitoes didn't even land on the skin.

It will take a few years of testing to develop products using these new compounds. But if they live up to the hype, they could be a key tool in helping stop the 600,000 annual deaths worldwide caused by malaria spread through mosquito bites.

So don't ditch that can of Off just yet. You'll have at least a couple more summers of slapping and spraying the old-fashioned way.

Jun
05
2013

Does this make my feet look baboonish?: Some folks among us have more ape-like feet than others.
Does this make my feet look baboonish?: Some folks among us have more ape-like feet than others.Courtesy Mark Ryan
A recent study of visitors to the Boston Museum of Science has revealed that some humans - about 1 in 13 - have feet that are ape-like in their structure.

Our great-ape cousins such as chimpanzees have feet that are very flexible in their middle region due to something called the midtarsal break that allows their feet to bend in the middle, enabling them to grasp at branches for easier climbing through trees. So when a chimp lifts his foot off the ground, it just flops about - there's nothing to hold the bones together. Most humans, on the other hand (or should I say foot?), have the same joint but have ligaments that stretch across it making the foot more rigid and stable for upright walking. Australopithecus sediba, a human ancestor that lived 2 million years ago, has a foot structure that is more ape-like than human, so somewhere along the line our feet evolved probably to accommodate our bipedalism.

The study was done by Jeremy DeSilva, a functional morphologist from Boston University, whose main interest is the evolution of the human foot and ankle. In this recent study, museum visitors were requested to walk barefoot across a mechanized carpet while DeSilva's team observed their gaits and the structure of their feet as they walked.

The surprising results showed that 8 percent of the nearly 400 participants possessed a flexible midtarsal break in their foot, and displayed a pressure signature in their footprint that looked like that found in the footprints of non-human primates. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that those subjects who had the unusual foot-joint structure weren't even aware of it until DeSilva revealed it to them.

The study was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

SOURCES
BBC.com story
Popsci.com story
Jeremy DeSilva cv

Oct
16
2012

Flu shot: A new study shows that flu shots are effective, at best, up to 59 percent of the time. Researchers are encouraging drug companies to develop new and better flu shots for the future.
Flu shot: A new study shows that flu shots are effective, at best, up to 59 percent of the time. Researchers are encouraging drug companies to develop new and better flu shots for the future.Courtesy r Joseph R Schmitt
Hey, I got my flu shot last week. It's been about 10 years now I've been able to get a free flu shot covered by my health insurance plan. And I'm happy to say I've never had the flu in all that time.

That, of course, is all anecdotal evidence. But some researchers at the University of Minnesota have been studying the issue of flu shots and have some new ideas on the matter. Based on their findings, they're encouraging new research to find a "game-changer" new vaccine to make flu shots more effective.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the U released its findings yesterday. And overall, they found that flu shots had, at best, a 59 percent effectiveness rate for adults ages 18 to 64. Effectiveness rates for flu shots for people younger and older than that age group were inconsistent. The nasal-spray vaccine was found to have an efficacy of 83 percent in children ages 6 months to 7 years.

Vaccine manufacturers haven't made any significant changes to flu vaccine formulas for many years, mostly based on the idea that the flu shots were highly effective. But the new report challenges that theory and encourages new research to find different approaches to flu vaccines, with those new approaches aiming to have a higher rate of prevention.

In the meantime, the researchers are still encouraging people to get a flu shot this season. Some protection is better than no protection, they point out. And they also said that their findings showed no reason to believe that flu shots cause any harm to people who receive them.

What do you think? Are you getting a flu shot this year? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Oct
16
2012

A plankton bloom: Not the new bloom off of Canada, but this is what it looks like. The green stuff in the water is sucking up carbon dioxide and doing ... we don't know exactly what else yet.
A plankton bloom: Not the new bloom off of Canada, but this is what it looks like. The green stuff in the water is sucking up carbon dioxide and doing ... we don't know exactly what else yet.Courtesy NASA
Have you ever wanted to change the world? Of course you have. Who hasn’t? Even JGordon, world renowned for being more or less satisfied with his immediate surroundings, keeps a list of Things I Will Change When I Am King.

Some sample items from the list:
31: No more cake pops. What a joke.
54: Round up the jerks, make them live on Jerk Island.
55: Make sure Jerk Island isn’t actually an awesome place to live.
70: Transform Lake Michigan into biggest ball pit. Cover dead fish with plastic balls.
115: More eyepatches.
262: Regulate burps.

I think you get the idea. As Tears for Fears almost said, everybody wants to change the world.

And we do change it. We change it in a huge way. Cumulatively, the tremendous force of the human race has drastically altered the face of the planet, from oceans to atmosphere. But a lot of that change is sort of accidental; we don’t mean to affect the acidity of the oceans or warm the atmosphere, but we like driving around, making things, using electricity, and all that, and the byproducts of these activities have global effects that we can’t always control.

The notion that we could control these effects is called geoengineering. So we’re accidentally causing global warming … what if we could engineer a global solution to actively cool the planet. We’re causing ocean acidification … what if we could chemically alter the oceans on purpose to balance it out? The trick would be to balance out the positive effects of geoengineering with the potential side effects … if we could even figure out what those side effects are.

Geoengineering is necessarily a really large-scale thing, so for the most part it’s been limited to theoretical projects. But it’s been pointed out that some geoengineering projects would be within the capabilities of not just international bodies or individual countries, but corporations or even wealthy individuals. The Science Museum of Minnesota even has an exhibit on just this possibility: What would you do if you had the wealth to literally change the world?

But there are rules against that sort of thing, and it’s potentially really, really dangerous. So no one would actually do it in the real world ever, right?

Wrong!

Apparently someone did do it. Back in July.

A guy named Russ George, in partnership with a First Nations village, is thought to have dumped about 100,000 kilograms of iron sulfate into the ocean off the Western Coast of Canada. Why iron sulfate? Because iron sulfate is an effective fertilizer for plankton, the microscopic plant-like things in the ocean. The idea is that if you could cause massive growth in plankton, the plankton would suck up a bunch of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere before dying and falling the ocean floor, taking the CO2 with it.

The first part of the plan seems to have worked: satellites have detected an artificial plankton bloom about 6,200 square miles large off the west coast of Canada (which is how the operation was discovered).

George was hoping to make money selling carbon credits gained from the CO2 captured by the plankton, and he convinced the First Nations group involved to put about a million dollars into the project, telling them that it was meant to help bolster the area’s salmon population.

The thing is, it’s really hard to say what dumping almost half a million pounds of iron sulfate into the ocean will do, besides capture some CO2. And, what’s more, it looks like it was illegal: conducted as it was, the operation violates the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity and the London convention on dumping wastes at sea. Whoops.

So does this spell the end for individually funded geoengineering projects? Or has George’s scheme just opened the door for similar operations?

And, more importantly, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Are people like George taking big steps toward addressing human-caused global change? Or are they creating what I like to call “Pandora’s Frankenstein*”?

Weigh in in the comments, and let us know what you think!

(*My friend Pandora has a pet chinchilla named Frankenstein, and he is horrible. I can’t wait until that chinchilla dies.)

Sep
11
2012

Throw like a girl: Researchers see significant differences in the data about how far and how fast boys can throw things compared to girls. Is this something we should be talking about?
Throw like a girl: Researchers see significant differences in the data about how far and how fast boys can throw things compared to girls. Is this something we should be talking about?Courtesy dbwilldo
Right off the bat, let me say that this study was conducted by a female. And she asks a very interesting, and maybe stereotypical, question. Please read this full post before you jump to any conclusions. Or jump on me for posting this.

Do girls really "throw like girls?"

It's standard trash talk one male can hurl at another male who doesn't exhibit the form and proficiency of throwing that's usually expected. But professor Janet Hyde at the University of Wisconsin has data to back up the fact that men throw significantly farther and harder than women.

She actually has studied a variety of gender differences in her research. And the differences in throwing are one of the only categories where those gender differences are off the charts. You can read a full story about it right here.

To summarize, girls under teenage throw 51 to 69 percent the distance of their male peers. The differences grow as people get older. Teenage girls, on average, throw only 39 percent as far as teenage boys – throwing a ball for distance about 75 feet compared to 192 feet by males.

There is acknowledgement of the fact that boys in general get more practice in throwing based on the activities that they typically do compared to girls. But are there other factors.

Click the link to see some interesting theories about how evolution may have a role in this, leading to physiological differences between the muscles and movement patterns of males and females. Interestingly, the gap exists, but is narrower, between males and females in less advanced cultures.

Should we even be talking about this? Some think pointing out these differences might make girls give up hope on trying to improve their throwing. Others think data like this helps identify the difference and give girls, teachers and coaches information on how to improve. What do you think?

Of course, all these numbers still can't explain why Pee Wee Herman continues to throw like a girl.

May
09
2012

Man, there has been a ton of obesity-related news this week (no pun intended).

Weight problem: This will be almost half of us by 2030 if we don't shape up.
Weight problem: This will be almost half of us by 2030 if we don't shape up.Courtesy FatM1ke

Mothers of overweight toddlers believe their children are smaller than they actually are.

Bans on school junk food pay off in California.

The US obesity rate could hit 42% by 2030. (How accurate are those predictions, anyway?)

Prepregnancy obesity could lead to lower child test scores.

Kids who sleep in their parents' bed (those that don't suffocate when a parent rolls over on them or die of SIDS, that is -- the studies are conflicting) are less likely to be overweight than kids who always sleep on their own.

(Also, Meow, a literal "fat cat," has died from complications related to his morbid obesity. This kitty weighed in at a whopping 39 pounds! And, yes, I realize that this one is a little off-topic.)

I could go on. There are also a lot of "fixes" out there for the obesity epidemic--everything from national policies to questionable medical devices and weight-loss pills or "cleanses" to "personal responsibility." Ultimately, though, the individual solution to a weight problem means balancing calories in vs. calories out. And it's almost summer here in Minnesota, so get out there and do something. Take a walk over lunch. Ride your bike to and from work. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. It turns out that you only need 20 minutes of moving around to get most of the benefits of exercise and that 100 fewer calories a day can have a major effect: 10 pounds in a year. And dropping 500 calories per day can mean a weight loss of almost a pound a week.

I thought this BMI visualizer was pretty cool. Give it a try. It will probably inspire you to go jogging or something...

Apr
19
2012

Buckyballs are tiny spherical molecules made up of 60 carbon atoms arranged in what looks like a soccer ball, or a truncated icosahedron for those shape fans out there. Buckyballs are found naturally in soot and have even been found in deep space. They look promising for the medical field, for the development of a new class of battery, and now they may even be the key to living longer!Buckminsterfullerene: Just a spoonful of buckyballs helps......you live longer.
Buckminsterfullerene: Just a spoonful of buckyballs helps......you live longer.Courtesy Bryn C

In a recent study, scientists found that ingesting buckyballs can add years to your life! Well, if you're counting in rat-years. Scientists, in an attempt to better understand the toxicity of ingested buckyballs, gave three groups of rats different things to eat. One group, the control group, was fed a regular rat diet; the second group was fed olive oil; and the third, thought-to-be-ill-fated group, was fed olive oil laced with buckyballs. They found that the control group had a median lifespan of 22 months, the olive oil group had a 26-month lifespan, and the buckyball group had a 42-month lifespan – almost double that of the control group! I’m sure that was quite a surprise for the scientists.

As intriguing as these findings are, don’t go out and eat sooty olive oil…..I don’t think you’ll get the right results. This is just one study, and there’s a lot more research that needs to be done before they start selling Buckyballive oil.