Wednesday, July 23, 2014

TDRSS for Mars

TDRSS was and is the satellite relay system for collecting and communicating satellite data. NASA has announced an RFI for a TDRSS like system for Mars.

The above from NASA is a conception of such a system. The objective is overall Mars coverage and its ability to transmit back and forth to the earth. It is intended for controlling Martian robots and is considered as a joint commercial venture. The commercial side is interesting.

Worth following.....

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fulvablastoma Multiforme

The plant H fulva has a subspecies which is a triploid and is sterile. It is the common orange daylily and as one looks around each year this time and see them everywhere in the world one should remember that they are all the same plant! Yes, the one very same plant since they propagate only vegetatively.

Now they seem to attack weak hybrids. Let me explain.
Here is the root structure of what was at one time an attractive fertile hybrid. It is not totally invaded by H fulva, which managed to kill off the hybrid, I suspect it took 2 years to do that, and then sent out its runners to an adjacent hybrid.
These are some runners left behind. Even a little piece of this is capable of total regeneration. It is like glioblastoma multiforme or an ovarian cancer. Just one cell spreads out everywhere.
Now washing the roots one see the pathognomonic orange colored root and runner structures. One can see the attack on the former plant. The H fulvas seem to focus on certain hybrids. I have lost about a dozen so far to this attack. Species seem to be immune at least as of now.
Here is a closer look and the poor old hybrid, just gone! How did it die? Starved or consumed. It the plant a herbivore? That could be a first.

Its behavior seems directed and its method of attack seem quite effective.
Here is an array of the above plant after it has been separated.

There are some interesting questions here. I now know the what and how, I am still trying to figure out the why!


1. Why do the H fulvas target existing hybrids. The runners are almost directed to clusters of a hybrid which they then attach to, devour, and spread from there.

2. Is it a chemical attractant or random. My analysis seems to indicate it is targeted. I have now seen it on three dozen hybrids. However there are some on which there is nothing.

3. How can it be prevented? Good question since I believe just one H fulva cell, yes one cell, is enough to regenerate.

Interesting problem.

Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Some Recent Writings

I was interested in two recent papers on Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity. The first paper really startled me. The paper by Rolls starts out by saying:

Systematic studies have shown that providing individuals with larger portions of foods and beverages leads to substantial increases in energy intake. The effect is sustained over weeks, supporting the possibility that large portions have a role in the development of obesity. The challenge is to find strategies to effectively manage the effects of portion size. One approach involves teaching people to select appropriate portions and to use tools that facilitate portion control….A more effective strategy may be to encourage people to increase the proportion of foods low in energy density in their diets while limiting portions of high-energy-dense foods. If people lower the energy density of their diet, they can eat satisfying portions while managing their body weight.

In reality this is common knowledge. I am reminded of the day I brought one of my Czech partners and his family out to lunch in Boston. The portions arrived and they were aghast. The plate was about 18” across in an oval and it was piled high with food. I explained that they were not expected to finish the meal. Then I turned around and saw the Americans devouring the plates and then ordering deserts, all of them obese or morbidly obese. In Prague our lunch was on a small plate and like almost all Czechs they had a 6 oz glass of beer. Portion size is both cultural and personal. Just because it is placed in front of you there is no need to eat all of it. Thus in my opinion the Rolls paper is typical of many, an attempt to shift the blame.

Rolls concludes:

In an obesogenic environment where large portions of energy-dense foods are pervasive and viewed as appropriate, it is challenging to find effective strategies to help people consume portions that match their energy requirements. Although there are a number of tools to teach people to recognize appropriate portions, it is not clear that these tools produce sustained changes in eating behavior that facilitate weight management.

 There is a simple tool, the scale. Weigh yourself. The problem is that we all too often shift the blame to some third party. The solution lies within themselves, self-control.

Now to the second article by Suh et al. As VoA remarks[1]:

Scientists have known about the protein, called FGF1, for several decades. But researchers discovered the potential of the molecule, which is part of a family of so-called growth factors, when they injected it into mice that were engineered to have Type 2 - or adult-onset - diabetes. The blood sugar levels of the experimental animals were restored to a healthy range for more than two days after a single injection.

Now Suh and the authors state:

Fibroblast growth factor 1 (FGF1) is an autocrine/paracrine regulator whose binding to heparan sulphate proteoglycans effectively precludes its circulation. Although FGF1 is known as a mitogenic factor, FGF1 knockout mice develop insulin resistance when stressed by a high-fat diet, suggesting a potential role in nutrient homeostasis. Here we show that parenteral delivery of a single dose of recombinant FGF1 (rFGF1) results in potent, insulin-dependent lowering of glucose levels in diabetic mice that is dose-dependent but does not lead to hypoglycaemia. Chronic pharmacological treatment with rFGF1 increases insulin-dependent glucose uptake in skeletal muscle and suppresses the hepatic production of glucose to achieve whole-body insulin sensitization. The sustained glucose lowering and insulin sensitization attributed to rFGF1 are not accompanied by the side effects of weight gain, liver steatosis and bone loss associated with current insulin-sensitizing therapies. We also show that the glucose-lowering activity of FGF1 can be dissociated from its mitogenic activity and is mediated predominantly via FGF receptor 1 signalling. Thus we have uncovered an unexpected, neomorphic insulin-sensitizing action for exogenous non-mitogenic human FGF1 with therapeutic potential for the treatment of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

The problem is that many of the insulin stimulating drugs for Type 2 Diabetes do not solve the underlying problem of chronic inflammation. That seems only solvable by a restricted dies and weight loss. Thus FGF1 is an interesting approach it still may not solve the underlying set of issues found in obesity. The problem is first obesity and then its sequella, increased blood sugar.


Rolls, B., What is the role of portion control in weight management? International Journal of Obesity (2014) 38, S1–S8.

Suh, J., et al, Endocrinization of FGF1 produces a neomorphic and potent insulin sensitizer, Nature, July 2014.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

July Days

I have a few thousands of these in bloom and each day I have to record what has bloomed and then proceed to select several dozen possible crosses. To select a cross one looks for a good paternal pollen contributor and then wanders about thinking of the maternal recipient. One considers the possible offspring but like humans there is always a great deal of luck.
Thus across a wide field one wanders thinking of great parents for great offspring knowing that at best it would be two years hence and most likely four years before one sees anything.
Hybridizing requires patience and commitment. It is real genes in action, not that lab stuff with little mice but nature at its wildest.
Then there is always the battle with nature. The triploid H fulvas are like cancerous tumors, targeting weaker hybrids, surrounding them, killing off their nutrients and taking over. One must be vigilant, seeing them and then performing surgery. First the removal from the ground, then identification of the malignant cells, carefully separating them from the hybrid and destroying them, and then setting them aside for growth till the fall. In many ways it is akin to being a cancer surgeon, knowing what to cut and what to keep and then bringing the patient back.

Nature is the same everywhere, just in different forms.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Ethical" Manipulation

I was an early user of Facebook thanks to the prodding of my Grad students and I soon became an early ex-user. It had zero value as far as I was concerned and moreover had negative value relating to the postings of people who I somehow had befriended. These friends were bemoaning their personal and/or love lives and frankly that was not at my level of interest. So Farewell Facebook.

Now the manipulation of Facebook participants without their knowledge has caused a bit of a flurry. If this were say a clinical trial in medicine then I would be very concerned. It would clearly violate a bunch of standards. But alas it is beyond my kin of expertise in the wild world of Social Sciences.

Yet some person from a New York Hospital alleges that we are all wrong in our assessments, in fact she is right and we appear to be just ignorant naysayers. In Nature she states:

Let us be clear. If critics think that the manipulation of emotional content in this research is sufficiently concerning to merit regulation or charges of unethical behaviour, then the same concern must apply to Facebook’s standard practice — and many similar practices by companies, non-profit organizations and governments. But if it is ethically permissible for Facebook to offer a service that carries unknown emotional risks, and to alter that service to improve user experience, then it should be allowed — and encouraged — to try to quantify those risks and publish the results. Much has been made of the issue of informed consent, which the researchers did not obtain. Here, there is some disagreement even among the six of us. Some think that the procedures were consistent with users’ reasonable expectations of Facebook and that no explicit consent was required. Others argue that the research imposed little or no incremental risk and that informed consent might have biased the results; in those circumstances, ethical guidelines, such as the US regulations for research involving humans, permits researchers to forgo or at least substantially alter the elements of informed consent. Although approval by an institutional review board was not legally required for this study, it would have been better for everyone involved had the researchers sought ethics review and debriefed participants afterwards. The Facebook experiment was controversial, but it was not an egregious breach of either ethics or law. Rigorous science helps to generate information that we need to understand our world, how it affects us and how our activities affect others. Permitting Facebook and other companies to mine our data and study our behaviour for personal profit, but penalizing it for making its data available for others to see and to learn from makes no one better off.

Now the tone, "Let us be clear" is a bit off putting.  She is not lecturing to some collection of inmates at Sing Sing, this is in Nature. As to the Review Board, perhaps someone should have given a thought. Is this mind-manipulating? I see no reason why it is not. Yes, "much has been made of informed consent" . They disagree amongst each other. If so then there should have been some addressing the issue, any disagreement indicates a concern.

In my opinion this write-up is near callous and appears to reflect in my opinion a level of arrogance that one should be seriously concerned with. Should on-line sites who have very manipulable audiences try out the manipulation. They apparently do so with Ads but with the News we may be seeing for example what may be going on in Russia as we speak. Is that a good idea? Hardly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Je Pense Francais

The NY Times has a piece about learning French. Now being a rainy Wednesday in July I thought why not comment. Languages are a bit complex. I agree, but as a kid growing up in a mixed New York neighborhood I was exposed to Italian ( really Sicilian but I did not know that until I tried it in Florence), Spanish (my father's first job was as a Spanish-English translator for a shipper in New York, and my friends were Puerto Rican so my accent is a Brooklyn-Spanish), and of course like any good Catholic School Boy in the 1950s a great wealth of Latin, all before High School. In fact I was great at Latailian, that mix of Latin and Italian we spoke at Mass.

Now in Secondary School we had French, after all it was the French Christian Brothers, Latin, it was Catholic, and Greek, it was a Prep School.

In Grad School for some reason I chose Russian for my language, the last person perhaps at MIT having to take a language exam. By then you could bring anything you wanted and the translation was some electronics paper and all you had to do was kind of get close. Actually I learned some Russian from a fellow Life Guard in New York, one Jimmy Bula, a Ukrainian, who taught me pronunciation and the vernacular. Little did I know but half the words were Polish.

So when I went off to Europe and Asia for my companies I had been exposed to Homeric Greek, Latin, Sicilian Italian, Puerto Rican Spanish, Ukrainian Russian, and some semblance of American English. I tried my Homeric Greek in the Marriott in Athens, and well, the waitress was from Astoria Queens working for her uncle for the summer so we went to English and I decided I would come up to speed. You see Greek is real easy, if you had medical and scientific training you were halfway there.

The solution, 3X5 index cards, 20 words a day, and trying to get around Athens by Taxi. You are surrounded by Greek, signs, people, papers, and after a week it starts to be absorbed. You get the first 100 words, here, there, this, that, where, how much, thank you, please, etc. The most important is "where is the bathroom?". For my wife it was "How much is it?" She knows that in 22 languages, and that is all.

But the language steps are simple:

1. Go to where it is spoken.

2. Lern the first 100 words

3. Learn the present, past, future of to be and to have

4. Get 20 verbs in present past and future.

5. Get 25 adverbs

6. Every day write and memorize 20 new words. Look fr them

7. Try your skill on the locals. They will enjoy it and at first you will not.

8. Repeat the steps again and again.

9. Watch television, except in France. Somehow French TV is too intellectual. Spanish TV is great!

10 Realize that for some reason you will learn some languages and others will be impossible. I am good at Russian but Czech and Polish are impossible. Too old to wonder why.

Now the Times piece state:

Last year researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Northwestern University in Illinois hypothesized that language study should prove beneficial for older adults, noting that the cognitive tasks involved — including working memory, inductive reasoning, sound discrimination and task switching — map closely to the areas of the brain that are most associated with declines due to aging. In other words, the things that make second-language acquisition so maddening for grown-ups are the very things that may make the effort so beneficial. The quest for a mental fountain of youth, pursued by baby boomers who fear that their bodies will outlive their brains, and who have deeper pockets than Juan Ponce de León, has created a billion-dollar industry. There is some evidence that brain exercise programs like Lumosity and Nintendo’s Brain Age can be beneficial, but if my admittedly unscientific experience is any indication, you might be better off studying a language instead. Not only is that a far more useful and enjoyable activity than an abstract brain game, but as a reward for your efforts, you can treat yourself to a trip abroad. Which is why I plan to spend the next year not learning Italian.

 Frankly it seems that the author has missed all the steps. You want to learn French, go live in France, and work at it. You want to learn Spanish, ride the NY Subways, do garden work in the summer, or watch soccer.