Sunday, 28 November 2010

Science update- Florida keys, The Lionfish derby and the death of Frank Fenner

Antennata Lionfish, picture taken in Zoo Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria by Christian Mehlfuhrer (this image has a creative commons 2.5. licence- details [here])

Welcome to Weirdbeautiful.

First link of the day today is to this article on the Lion fish (also known as the Scorpion fish): a stunningly beautiful fish that has been popular in the pet trade for some time. The creature is native to the Indo pacific region but, after first being discovered in the Florida Keys area in 2009, has become a worryingly succesful invasive species there. In fact, Lionfish have now become such a major problem in the Caribbean and off the Florida keys, that an annual "lionfish derby" has been established to reduce their numbers -

There is more information on Lionfish on wikipedia [here].

On a sadder note,Frank Fenner, who was perhaps best known for his work for the World Health Organisation's small pox eradication programme died this week. You can read his obituary in the New York Times [here], including his depressing prediction that mankind will become extinct- possibly within a century due to our over-exploitation of the environment.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Science News- links of the week- Parthenogenesis in Boa constrictors and Why stress leads to sickness

Boa constrictor- picture by Leo Fleck (this image has a creative commons 2.5 licence- details [here])

Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful

Things have been a little quiet on this blog of late, for the simple reason that I have been juggling writing articles with conducting magazine interviews, scripting and producing two short films and preparing for some public talks (watch this space...). However, scientific progress continues relentlessly, so there have been quite a few interesting science stories in the news lately.

The biggest biological news of the last few weeks has been the discovery of parthenogenesis in Boa constrictors by Dr Warren Booth of the University of North Carolina. You can find the original press release of that story [here]and "Discover" Magazine's take on the news [here]

There will also be an exclusive interview with Dr Booth in the next issue of Practical Reptile Keeping Magazine.

If you have ever wondered why, when you are stressed, you are much more vulnerable to diseases, the emerging field of "Microbial Endocrinology" sets out to find the answers. In 1992, American endocrinologist Mark Lyte, of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, proposed that the situation was more complicated than just human stress hormones (cortisone, adrenaline etc) supressing the imune system, but rather that harmful bacteria are triggered to attack the body when these stress hormones are abundant. Prof Lyte and Dr Primrose Freestone of Leicester University, UK have now co-edited the first major book in the field; you can find more details here-

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Quote of the week- Tatanga Mani

"I have learned a lot from trees; Sometimes about the weather, Sometimes about animals, Sometimes about the Great Spirits"
- Tatanga Mani (Walking Buffalo)

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Baby Dolphins and Electrons

"Dusky Dolphin"- Image by Allen McC (this image has a creative commons 2.5. licence- details [here] )

Good morning.
Welcome to Weirdbeautiful

Weird link of the day is this science blog post on electrons-

and Beautiful link is this picture of a recovering baby dolphin (rescued from fisherman's nets)-

Sunday, 7 November 2010

"Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows all by itself"
- Zen Proverb.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Link of the day- lion cubs swimming and white bats

There are 3 links of the day today the first-

is a wonderful article from the LA times with pictures and videos of lion cubs at The National Zoo in Washington going for their first swim.

The second, is a set of pictures of Honduran white bats from the blog "The Featured Creature"-

The final link has more to do with science than wildlife- a stunning gallery of pictures from the Mir space station-

Monday, 1 November 2010

Drugs, Pharmaceutical Companies, Marketing and Quote of the Week (James le Fanu on Zantac)

Psychiatrists talk about the phenomenon of “perception filter”- no sooner has your attention been drawn to a particular fact or word, than you become aware of this item/subject everywhere. No sooner had I got [this short article] published on the role of marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, than the subject seemed to be everywhere I looked.

The idea that drugs may be promoted inappropriately is not a new subject -one of the allegations that has dogged the “antidepressant industry”, doctors and patients alike has long been that antidepressants are being prescribed inappropriately (over-prescribed). In the case of antidepressants, this “debate” seems to date pretty much from the advent of SSRIs, such as Prozac, over twenty years ago. None the less, the role of drug-company-marketing on prescription and disease diagnosis rates is probably being discussed a little more in the media of late. The context to this may or may not be the release of the book “Sex Lies and Pharmaceuticals” by Ray Moynihan last month. In any case, quote of the week this week is one comment on the topic that has slipped through my current “drug-marketing” perception filter-

Manhattan-based advertising executive Vince Parry describes how childhood Christmases were always marred by an uncle’s withering pessimism about the whole business.... Then, in the Eighties, psychiatrists described the now well known Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a depressive illness associated with shorter winter days and treatable with antidepressants or light exposure. “My uncle was thus transformed from a curmudgeon into a sympathetic victim by the coining of a simple phrase”....Parry has since become one of the most influential people in contemporary medicine by working closely with the pharmaceutical industry to persuade doctors that common symptoms are in fact due to some potentially serious but under-recognised condition – hence treatment with some costly drug...”

- Dr James le Fanu writing in The Sunday Telegraph 31st Oct 2010, page L21 (“Life” section).

le Fanu concludes his piece by relating the phenomenon of “blockbuster” drugs (those which have sales exceeding $1 billion per year), noting that the first of these- Zantac- was for indigestion. This may be a little unexpected, not least since treating indigestion is certainly not one of the most obvious ways to make a fortune, but there are a further 27 drugs with similar (or greater) sales. Some of these treat serious and unmistakable conditions, such as Enoxaparin for thrombosis, Quetiapine for schizophrenia, Metoprolol for high blood pressure and Budesonide for asthma, but the list includes other anti-indigestion medicines, such as Omeprazole (aka "Losec" or "Prilosec") and Esomeprazole.