Science & Technology


Corrupt science: How BigPharma stacks the deck to show their products work

© Tom Varco
Mark Zimmerman, M.D., a clinical researcher at Rhode Island Hospital, and his team analyzed the criteria used in antidepressant efficacy studies (AETs) and learned that the inclusion/exclusion criteria for AETs have narrowed over the past five years so that the most patients are excluded. The research was published today in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"The inclusion/exclusion criteria for AETs have narrowed over the past five years, thereby suggesting that AETs may be even less generalizable than they were previously," said Zimmerman, director of outpatient psychiatry and the partial hospital program at Rhode Island Hospital and director of the Rhode Island Methods to Improve Diagnostic Assessment and Services (MIDAS) project, a study that integrated researchers' assessment tools and procedures into a hospital-affiliated outpatient practice.

Comment: Independent studies have shown that there is little to no benefit from these medications and the side effects are substantial. But the profit potential is staggering, so the pharmaceutical industry routinely manages the data to prove their efficacy or simply refuses to publish when the results are not favorable to the drug or other product being tested.


NASA discovers 'smallest supermassive' black hole

© / NASA
Optical image of the RGG118 galaxy (center) and the X-ray image from Chandra (inset).
Just 50,000 times the mass of the Sun, a new supermassive singularity discovered by NASA is a tiny thing by cosmic standards. Scientists hope studying the black hole will help them learn more about the origins of the universe.

Using the orbiting Chandra X-ray observatory and the 6.5 meter Clay Telescope in Chile, astronomers found the black hole at the center of a dwarf disk galaxy, called RGG 118, some 340 million light years from Earth. The X-rays were produced by the hot gas swirling around the black hole.

"When gas rotates around a black hole, the motion causes the frequency of the light it emits to spread in a characteristic way. The width of this spread is related to the speed of rotation, which in turn is related to the mass of the black hole. By measuring the spread, we found that the black hole in RGG 118 weighs just 50,000 times the mass of the Sun, the smallest supermassive black hole yet reported!" wrote Vivienne Baldassare of the University of Michigan, lead author on the paper about the small supermassive black holes.


Mystery Deepens: Matter and antimatter are mirror images

© N. Kuroda
A newly reported experiment involving matter and antimatter was carried out in CERN's Antiproton Decelerator.
Matter and antimatter appear to be perfect mirror images of each other as far as anyone can see, scientists have discovered with unprecedented precision, foiling hope of solving the mystery as to why there is far more matter than antimatter in the universe.

Everyday matter is made up of protons, neutrons or electrons. These particles have counterparts known as antiparticles — antiprotons, antineutrons and positrons, respectively — that have the same mass but the opposite electric charge. (Although neutrons and antineutrons are both neutrally charged, they are each made of particles known as quarks that possess fractional electrical charges, and the charges of these quarks are equal and opposite to one another in neutrons and antineutrons.)

The known universe is composed of everyday matter. The profound mystery is, why the universe is not made up of equal parts antimatter, since the Big Bang that is thought to have created the universe 13.7 billion years ago produced equal amounts of both. And if matter and antimatter appear to be mirror images of each other in every respect save their electrical charge, there might not be much any of either type of matter left — matter and antimatter annihilate when they encounter each other.


New technology being developed to create energy from living plants

A Dutch start-up has developed a way to use living plants as a continuous source of clean energy - the system works best in wetlands or watery fields like rice paddies.
Here's another development worthy of applause: A Dutch start-up has developed a way to use living plants as a continuous source of clean energy - all that is needed is a light source, carbon dioxide, water, and a field or patch of plants.

The company is called Plant-e, and it is showing the world how easy it can be to bring electricity to isolated regions currently without power.

As shared in the video below, the system works best in wetlands or watery fields like rice paddies. Also, it doesn't matter if the water is brackish or polluted. This means that areas unsuitable for growing crops could be repurposed as a power source.


New system of lymphatic vessels discovered in the brain

Vessels discovered in the brain that were thought not to exist — could revolutionise study of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.

The brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist, new research reports.The finding means the textbooks will have to be rewritten.Discovery of the vessels may also revolutionise the study of neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and autism.

Professor Jonathan Kipnis, who led the research, was initially sceptical about the results:
"I really did not believe there are structures in the body that we are not aware of.I thought the body was mapped.I thought that these discoveries ended somewhere around the middle of the last century.But apparently they have not."
The vessels are located in the meninges — the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The vessels run near major blood vessels, which partly explains why they have been so difficult to find.

The left-hand image below shows the old map of the lymphatic system and the updated version is on the right.
© University of Virginia Health System

Comet 2

Electric Universe: Comet 67P emits flash of light ahead of perihelion

In the approach to perihelion over the past few weeks, Rosetta has been witnessing growing activity from Comet 67P/Churyumov - Gerasimenko, with one dramatic outburst event proving so powerful that it even pushed away the incoming solar wind.

The comet reaches perihelion on Thursday, the moment in its 6.5-year orbit when it is closest to the Sun. In recent months, the increasing solar energy has been warming the comet's frozen ices, turning them to gas, which pours out into space, dragging dust along with it.

The period around perihelion is scientifically very important, as the intensity of the sunlight increases and parts of the comet previously cast in years of darkness are flooded with sunlight.

Although the comet's general activity is expected to peak in the weeks following perihelion, much as the hottest days of summer usually come after the longest days, sudden and unpredictable outbursts can occur at any time - as already seen earlier in the mission.

Comet 2

New Comet: C/2015 P3 (SWAN)

CBET nr. 4136, issued on 2015, August 11, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~11) by M. Mattiazzo on low-resolution public website hydrogen Lyman-alpha images obtained during Aug. 3 and 4 with the Solar Wind Anisotropies (SWAN) camera on the Solar and Heliospheric Observer (SOHO) spacecraft. The new comet has been designated C/2015 P3 (SWAN).

We performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 13 unfiltered exposures, 15-sec each, obtained remotely on 2015, August 10.4 from Q62 (iTelescope network - Siding Spring) through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + f/4.5 focal reducer, shows that this object is a comet: sharp central condensation surrounded by bright coma about 1 arcmin in diameter.

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
© Remanzacco Observatory
M.P.E.C. 2015-P25 assigns the following very preliminary parabolic orbital elements to comet C/2015 P3: 2015 July 27.26; e= 1.0; Peri. = 131.81; q = 0.71; Incl.= 59.32


Electric life forms nourished on pure energy

Unlike any other life on Earth, these extraordinary bacteria use energy in its purest form - they eat and breathe electrons - and they are everywhere
© Derek Lovley/SPL
Geobacter - a current favourite
Stick an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein's monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these "electric bacteria" are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form - naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: "You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them." Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.

In the process, cells make ATP, a molecule that acts as an energy storage unit for almost all living things. Moving electrons around is a key part of making ATP. "Life's very clever," says Nealson. "It figures out how to suck electrons out of everything we eat and keep them under control." In most living things, the body packages the electrons up into molecules that can safely carry them through the cells until they are dumped on to oxygen.


Traitors in our midst: Bacteria use toxins to turn our own bodies against us

Researchers who have revealed a highly efficient way that bacteria use toxins to interrupt the immune response say that until now, the trickery of these toxins has been underappreciated in science.

Bacteria harm the body by releasing toxins - proteins that are exceptionally effective poisons. Always targeting essential molecules, toxins typically go after molecules that are either scarce or whose role is to send important signals. In both cases, only a small number of toxins is required to cause damage.

In contrast, some toxins appear to deviate from these strategies by targeting highly abundant proteins.

A new study shows that one toxin linked to cholera and other diseases, which hones in on a popular and plentiful protein target, also disables a scarce molecule - but in a deceptive way. The toxin turns the common protein into poison against the other essential and much less-abundant protein in a process that renders the immune cell useless.

It's important to understand how toxins work because they are key to enabling bacteria to cause disease. With some of the most lethal toxins - those released by the bacteria that cause whooping cough and dysentery, for example - a single molecule of toxin can kill an entire cell.

"It appears that this toxin followed some of the most sophisticated battlefield strategies long before they were invented by humans: It recognizes that to win the war, one doesn't need to kill all the soldiers. All that is needed is to send in a spy to recruit a few soldiers who will betray their own army and neutralize the officers," said Dmitri Kudryashov, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study.

"This finding suggests that with other toxins that appear to act on highly abundant structures, it's likely that we don't actually know how they work."


Gravitational constant appears universally constant, pulsar study suggests

© B. Saxton/(NRAO/AUI/NSF)
A 21-year study of a pair of ancient stars -- one a pulsar and the other a white dwarf -- helps astronomers understand how gravity works across the cosmos. The study was conducted with the NSF's Green Bank Telescope and the Arecibo Observatory.
Gravity, one of the four fundamental forces of nature, appears reassuringly constant across the Universe, according to a decades-long study of a distant pulsar. This research helps to answer a long-standing question in cosmology: Is the force of gravity the same everywhere and at all times? The answer, so far, appears to be yes.

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia and its Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico conducted a 21-year study to precisely measure the steady "tick-tick-tick" of a pulsar known as PSR J1713+0747. This painstaking research produced the best constraint ever of the gravitational constant measured outside of our Solar System.

Pulsars are the rapidly spinning, superdense remains of massive stars that detonated as supernovas. They are detected from Earth by the beams of radio waves that emanate from their magnetic poles and sweep across space as the pulsar rotates. Since they are phenomenally dense and massive, yet comparatively small - a mere 20 - 25 kilometers across - some pulsars are able to maintain their rate of spin with a consistency that rivals the best atomic clocks on Earth. This makes pulsars exceptional cosmic laboratories to study the fundamental nature of space, time, and gravity.

This particular pulsar is approximately 3,750 light-years from Earth. It orbits a companion white dwarf star and is one of the brightest, most stable pulsars known. Previous studies show that it takes about 68 days for the pulsar to orbit its white dwarf companion, meaning they share an uncommonly wide orbit. This separation is essential for the study of gravity because the effect of gravitational radiation - the steady conversion of orbital velocity to gravitational waves as predicted by Einstein - is incredibly small and would have negligible impact on the orbit of the pulsar. A more pronounced orbital change would confound the accuracy of the pulsar timing experiment.

"The uncanny consistency of this stellar remnant offers intriguing evidence that the fundamental force of gravity - the big 'G' of physics - remains rock-solid throughout space," said Weiwei Zhu, an astronomer formerly with the University of British Columbia in Canada and lead author on a study accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "This is an observation that has important implications in cosmology and some of the fundamental forces of physics."