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Bora’s Picks (March 22nd, 2013)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Begin at the beginning by Kathleen Raven:

Where do you begin the story of genetically modified food? At a modern beginning, with Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel, arguably the father of genetics as we know it today? Perhaps it’s best to turn the clock forward 40 years or so to 1901. That’s the year an American businessman borrowed money to get into the artificial sugar business. He christened his start-up after his wife’s maiden name: Monsanto. A third option: Dive head-first into the “GM food must be bad” controversy replete with fear-mongering. (And fear assuaging as talented science writers debunk headline-grabbers.)…

The Plan to Bring the Iconic Passenger Pigeon Back From Extinction by Kelly Servick:

Twelve birds lie belly-up in a wooden drawer at the Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Bloated with stuffing, their ruddy brown chests resemble a row of sweet potatoes. Slate-blue heads and thin white tails protrude in perfect alignment, except for one bird that cranes its neck to face its neighbor. A pea-sized bulge of white cotton sits where its eye should be. A slip of paper tied to its foot reads, “Ectopistes migratorius. Manitoba. 1884.” This is the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America. When Europeans first landed on the continent, they encountered billions of the birds. By 1914 they were extinct….

Eye Trials Give Hope for Stem Cells by Hannah Waters:

After the pioneering stem cell company Geron, which launched the first-ever clinical trial for a human embryonic stem cell (hESC) therapy in 2010, shuttered its stem cell program last November for financial reasons, a shadow fell over the field of stem cell medicine. But yesterday, optimism rose as the stem cell research company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) published in The Lancet preliminary data from two human patients, each with a different degenerative eye disorder, showing safety and perhaps even some efficacy of an hESC treatment….

Bat-Eating Spiders: The Most Terrifying Thing You’ll See Today by Nadia Drake:

A bat’s enemies: owls, hawks, snakes, the Joker, spiders. Spiders? Yes. The incidence of spiders eating bats could be more widespread than initially suspected, reports a study published March 13 in PLoS ONE. To reach this conclusion, the authors spoke with scientists, conducted an extensive scientific literature review, dug through the blogosphere, and looked for pictures of spiders eating bats on Flickr…

5-Million-Year-Old Saber-Toothed Cat Fossil Discovered by Tanya Lewis:

A new genus and species of extinct saber-toothed cat has been found in Polk County, Fla., scientists say. The fossil, which is 5 million years old, is related to the well-known carnivorous predator Smilodon fatalis from the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles. The group of saber-toothed cats called Smilodontini was thought to have originated in the Old World and later migrated to North America, but the new species’ age suggests the group evolved in North America, researchers reported March 13 in the journal PLOS ONE….

Horse therapy by Laura Geggel:

Anecdotal evidence and the results from several small studies suggest that children with autism benefit from interacting with dogs, horses and dolphins. But most of these studies haven’t rigorously evaluated the benefits of animal therapy, and even fewer have looked at whether the potential benefits extend beyond the interaction with the animal to real-world settings, such as schools….

Twitter: Public Health’s Newest Tool by Emery Rogers:

Twitter users send about 500 million tweets each day–an endless pool of data pouring into cyberspace. Now, the public health and epidemiology community is taking note of this pool of self-generated data and using it as a way to possibly address the origin and spread of disease….

Treading Softly in a Connected World by Natalie Wolchover:

Gene Stanley never walks down stairs without holding the handrail. For a fit 71-year-old, he is deathly afraid of breaking his hip. In the elderly, such breaks can trigger fatal complications, and Stanley, a professor of physics at Boston University, thinks he knows why….

Why that echoey phone feedback drives us nuts by Jordan Gaines:

Perhaps you’ve been chatting on your cell phone or Skyping with a friend when, suddenly, you hear your voice echoed on the other end. It’s a strange feeling, right?…

Distracted eaters likely to take in more calories by Kathleen Raven:

People who eat meals or snacks while watching TV, playing games or reading tend to consume more calories in a sitting, and especially later in the day, according to a review of two dozen past studies….

Don’t start drinking for your health: Experts by Kathryn Doyle:

Moderate drinking has been linked to several benefits, but it’s too soon to pour a glass in pursuit of physical wellness. That was the response of several doctors and alcohol researchers to an editorial based on a critical analysis of recent studies in the journal Addiction…..

The Pocket Breathalyzer by Jaya Mathur:

Here’s one way you could avoid a nerve-wracking, potentially life-altering breathalyzer test on the side of the road: give yourself a breathalyzer test before you even get behind the wheel….

Tadpoles See with Extra Eyes by Sabrina Richards:

Blind tadpoles can be gifted with sight from grafted eye tissue—even when that tissue is put in their tails. In new research published today (February 27) in The Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers at Tufts University showed that eyes grafted onto tadpole tails allowed the amphibians to learn the difference between two colors of light—even though the new eyes’ nerves don’t reach the brain….

Natural STD Protection for Women? by Kate Yandell:

The cells lining the human female reproductive tract continually express an immune protein that may help protect against infection, according to a study published today (February 28) in Science. The protein, called interferon-ε, improved symptoms of genital herpes and chlamydia in mice….

DNA Machines Inch Forward by Sabrina Richards:

Wikimedia Commons, M Strong et al.Advances in nanotechnology are paving the way for a variety of “intelligent” nano-devices, from those that seek out and kill cancer cells to microscopic robots that build designer drugs. In the push to create such nano-sized devices, researchers have come to rely on DNA. With just a few bases, DNA may not have the complexity of amino acid-based proteins, but some scientists find this minimalism appealing….

Salt at Fault? by Kate Yandell:

Salt may play an important role in autoimmune diseases, according to two new papers published today (March 6) in Nature. Exposure to high levels of salt was found to make both cultured mouse and human T cells more pathogenic, and high-salt diets worsened autoimmune disease in mice….

Building a Better Schizophrenic Mouse by Emily Underwood:

Hallucinations and paranoia aren’t the only symptoms that make life difficult for people with schizophrenia. Problems with memory and other cognitive functions also interfere with daily tasks, such as remembering the way to the office or balancing a checkbook. Now, by dampening the activity of a small group of neurons deep within the mouse brain, researchers have produced cognitive deficits similar to those found in those with schizophreniaa discovery that they say could potentially lead to new treatments for the disorder, which affects roughly 24 million people worldwide. …

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