U.S. top court bars patents on human genes unless synthetic
It has always stuck in my craw that the simple act of sequencing a gene could possibly be considered ‘novel, useful and non-obvious’, yet we have (had) thousands of patents on them. It is exactly like finding a blue jay and then getting a patent on the species. You have done nothing but bend over, yet you are to be awarded with 20 years of monopoly for having done so? No wonder there was such a gold rush! No different than the inane rush to register domain names, all the squatters were hoping for was a winning lotto ticket, they have done nothing to contribute to society, but at least in that case we aren’t talking about something everyone has.
I am glad that SCOTUS allowed synthetic genes to be/remain patented. There will, of course, be all sorts of cases where someone makes a trivial change to a gene (one totally ‘silent’ in expression) to produce an identical product, but the courts will eventually sort that out. Personally I don’t envy the people trying to come up with a rational solution. Most genes are useless by themselves, it is the expression of the gene that leads to something useful. If the expressed product is identical (something actually quite trivial to do) should that be infringement? Though protein/enzyme design is still in its infancy (a long one; I started my research into this area in the very early ’90s and as far as I can tell, nothing has changed since then), in principle you can nave a near infinite number of distinct scaffolds to hold up the same ‘active site’ on the protein/enzyme. What should be protected? The primary sequence? The active site? The primary sequence is (in principle and often in actuality) trivial to tweak and cause no measurable decrease in behavior, yet by the same token, small changes can result in dramatically different behavior with a chance of dramatically enhanced activity. Since this is (at least today) considered very ‘hard’ to do, that sort of modification should be rewarded with monopoly through patent. It is a complicated area and I expected SCOTUS to return one of their trademarked idiotic split decisions (or worse, one of their trademarked idiot unanimous decisions) and vastly muddy the waters, yet, at least in my mind (though I must admit I haven’t read the actual legal document) they have dramatically clarified things, in many respects exactly how I would have done it. I guess in any real world expectations must at least occasionally be thwarted, fortunately this time it was in a good way.
$27,500 gun hits targets at 1,000 yards
I am not totally sure that this is as revolutionary as made out to be. Sure, it is hard for ordinary people (i.e., not snipers) to hit targets at that range, but really, how many ‘real world’ targets are at that range? Besides, with a good rifle with an excellent scope and a moderate amount of training (and practice, of course, lots of practice) most people on most days could indeed hit a man-sized target at 1K yards. Heck, I was able, after a mere week of training, to hit a man-sized target at 500 yards 8 out of 10 times with plain old iron sights, I feel quite sure with a decent scope (on a rifle that is accurate at that range, of course; don’t forget the critical importance of the rifle!) most anyone could learn the basic skills. What sets a sniper apart, though, isn’t just the ability to accurately hit a target at extreme ranges (not to belittle that skill, it is quite formidable), it is their ability to do so under fire, tired, late at night, after being awake 36 hours and not eating for 18, that sort of thing. Without the skills to accomplish these manifold other tasks, the mere act of taking someone out at a half mile is rather inconsequential and having a super accurate shoot-by-itself gun isn’t going to change that.
Besides, the biggest problem with shooting at extreme ranges is controlling your breathing and heart rate. Decouple the gun from your body via the use of video aiming and all the sudden accuracy for anyone is going to skyrocket. I suspect, after reading the article, that what they have is an automated trigger pull system that chooses the instant the person is actually pointing at the appropriate location to actuate and release the firing pin. You really are no longer in command, more of an advisory role. You suggest to the gun you would like to take a shot, only when you have ‘accidentally’ lined up with the target will it actually execute the suggestion. Fail to line up the target and you get no shot.
I doubt this will be any form of game changer and will only serve to extract dollars from the pockets of rich people itching to empty their pockets.
Marks on Martian Dunes May Be Tracks of Dry-Ice Sleds
This is quite interesting…
Mars isn’t quite the dead planet it has been made out to be. Now, in addition to the dust storms (that sometimes cover the _entire_ planet!) and the occasional evidence of recent (less than a few years) water flows, we have dry ice surfing down the slopes. Something else for people to bet on, I am guessing; just the vig on that activity would probably pay for the necessary cameras and whatnot.
The more we learn about our celestial neighbors the more we discover stuff we don’t know about. That is what is cool about science!
Employment is still near a 30-year low
Using the most generous measurement of employment in the article (for workers ages 25 to 54 — those who should be in the prime of their careers) there is an employment rate of just shy of 76%. That translates to an _un_ employment rate of people in the same age group of 24%, well above the stated value seen in the reports we get all the time. Granted that some portion of those people are disabled, stay-at-home spouses, etc.; the real key is looking at the trend. While the article only displays the graph for the entire adult population, it reported that the trend of the smaller group mirrors the entire population and it also hasn’t been this low for 30 years (by my reading of the graph all employment is off 10% from the highs). People should be upset about this: there was a very sharp drop in employment with the Great Recession and now everyone is crowing that the recession has recovered and the markets are in record territory again, yet the employment rate is exactly the same. Who got all those returns? Not you and me!
If it weren’t for the safety net the GOP is constantly trying to further shred, we would be in the depths of a massive depression complete with soup lines, etc. The safety net, as tattered as it is, has kept our country from dragging down the entire world. This should tell everyone to strengthen it, not continue to shred it.
But we are in America where intelligence and awareness have went the way of the dodo (link provided for those of you too young to know what a dodo was).
MS Treatment That Resets Immune System Shows Promise In Safety Trial
I mentioned earlier about some work using nanoparticles for work attempting to reset the immune system to stop attacking self. Well this article talks about an approach using the patient’s own white blood cells, but mentions that the nanoparticles might be a better approach and it appears to be successful.
It is nice to see this stuff move out of the lab, too bad it takes so long. Still, there are many cases where rushing has resulted in costly failure, so I fully support the intent of how things are done (the intent is often violated by the highest bidder, though).
As a case in point from my personal experience… Years ago (too many now to count) I worked for a period at a company that tested chemicals on animals (I worked in the area that prepared the compounds, though that was in the building with the dogs; sure all animals stink, but the dogs were the worst (and the non-stop barking!)). Many of the studies were multi-generational and would last 2-3 years. The studies would generally start with an ‘acute’ test which would look at the toxic level so that long-term studies could be done. One company, though, was so sure that their compound was safe they wanted to save on time and run the studies in parallel. Our compounding area was divided into the feed section (mostly) for the long-term studies and the not-feed section for the (mostly) short-term studies and I was in the latter. Because we were working with unknown chemicals we wore full body suites and respirators (quite uncomfortable!), just in case. Well, there are generally four groups in each study. The no-dose, or control group, then low, medium and high dose. So, a week into a 2-3 year long study we got a complaint: why did we keep sending all this food for this study? We investigated and it turns out that, on the first day of the 2-3 year multi-generational study _all_ the animals in the high dose died, the second day all in the medium dose and the third day, every single one in the low dose croaked. Good thing we assumed everything was deadly, since that one turned out to be! So, the moral of this story is: animal testing really does save human lives. Just because _most_ of the chemicals tested are innocuous doesn’t mean that _all_ of them are!
Is Barefoot-Style Running Best? New Studies Cast Doubt
I talked earlier about my intention to try out ‘barefoot’ running (not really barefoot, more like a foot glove). After switching to jogging on the balls of my feet for about 18 months, last year I got a pair (Vibrams, I think they are called) and tried them out. I was surprised (shocked, really) that the balls of my feet felt like they were on fire after only a half mile or so (typically our walk/jog route is 4 miles). I stuck with it and was eventually able to get to the point I could go about 2.5 miles before the burning sensation would start, but further efforts didn’t seem to change any of that. Because that sensation happened whether jogging or walking I started to use my shoes again when I walked and, with winter setting in, I haven’t used them for at least 6 months. I started to ramp up my jogging a month or so ago and made the conscious decision to go with shoes thinking I might switch later. I am now (even before reading this article) not sure I want to switch back. With the shoes I have the option of heel walking/jogging, something that isn’t the case without them (quite painful to do heel first walking with the Vibrams!) and I find that switching to heel-first even for a few 10′s of feet gives my muscles a nice break and allows me to go further (went 7 miles earlier this week, though paid for it the next day).
If you are thinking about going barefoot, I suggest you take it very slow. Though I feel like I am less prone to injuring myself going on the balls of my feet, I can do that without giving up my shoes!
I feel sure I blogged about high fructose corn syrup at some point, but am not finding it in my searches…
Does high fructose corn syrup deserve such a bad rap?
Fructose has got a bad rap lately as a specific nutrient that is bad for you in excess. When I had read on it in the past the evidence that excess fructose was particularly bad for you seemed quite strong, but this article indicates those preliminary reports were premature in condemning it. The problem seems to boil down, though we fat-assed Americans are reluctant to accept it, that excess calorie intact is the problem and ‘high’ fructose (often just 55% of the sugar as opposed to ‘low’ when it is ‘just’ 45% of the sugar) has nothing to do with anything. Of course, the marketers will continue to push their high sugar (but low fructose) products as if they are healthy, yet it is equally as unhealthy to guzzle sugary drinks (or foods, for that matter) in excess no matter what kind of sugar is in it.
Though few people will actually read this article (it is in a magazine called ‘Science’ News after all), I am sure that the marketing people will continue to blitz us with the ‘fructose is bad’ mantra as long as they think it will enable them to pack on excess margins.
Pretty soon Americans will question that the Earth revolves around the sun and begin to fear falling off the edge if they travel outside the country’s boundaries. I think the reason Forrest Gump spoke so well to the American psyche is that is is all too familiar.
TSA drops effort to allow small knives on planes
As if more proof were needed of the anti-science attitude of the US population, the TSA, in a laudable effort to reduce (however slightly) the security theater that it is in charge of by no longer regulating knives that can’t possibly be used to bring a plane down, has now bowed to the idiotic pressure by the ignorant masses and left that aspect of the theater intact. The only reason box cutters were ‘successful’ at hijacking the 9/11 planes was because we, as a nation, were trained to give hijackers whatever they wanted no matter how threatening (or rather, unthreatening) they were. Today that ‘trick’ wouldn’t have a prayer to work (indeed, one of the four planes hijacked was unable to accomplish its task because its passengers ignored the threat), there are any number of redneck Americans just itching for a chance to beat the hell out of someone even talking about it. So, instead of injecting some rationality (however tiny and irrelevant), we are going to continue taking our shoes off and having our nail clippers confiscated because we, as a nation, are a bunch of dumb-assed morons.
Ain’t it great to be an American?
Why Didn’t the SEC Catch Madoff? It Might Have Been Policy Not To
For those non-financial types amongst my reader(s) this article might be a bit hard to follow. The gist is the SEC is basically in place to enforce 4 laws from back in the 1940′s and for much of the decade prior to the Great Recession they evidently made a conscious decision to enforce only two of them. The two they chose to ignore were the ones that covered the type of scheming done by Bernie Madoff and we all know how well that turned out. This is just a wee bit of documentation on how corrupt our government is. We are only a few tiny steps away from Third World corruption (where they basically post the bribes on the door as you enter), our country is obviously being run by the rich for the rich and ordinary people (the 99+%) serve merely to further enrich the already fabulously wealthy. That ordinary people can’t (or choose not to) see this boggles my mind.
Potemkin Stimulus: One Way to Offset Austerity
How far away are we from doing this? I doubt it is very. At the moment we rush around and spend huge dollars replacing broken things (like bridges, cities; generally with borrowed money) instead of doing the nearly infinitely cheaper maintenance and preparation, how much longer before we stop that and just put up cheap billboards with pretty images of the ‘repaired’ location? Our government already has an incredibly sort attention span (a few weeks, generally, thanks in large part to our media’s constant focus on right now), how much follow through was there actually on the BP oil spill, Katrina, Sandy, etc.? “We will make you whole” is a dramatic speech, but once our Great Leaders have moved on (often within minutes) the reality of YOYO (your on your own) settles in.