A Little Science, A Little Medicine

Interesting Tidbits Found Cruising the Internet

First, Some Close to Home Technical News

 Good news and bad news!

The good news is that the mysterious failure of the COMMENTS section of this blog to accept input has been resolved. A really smart fellow who knows more than I ever will about what all goes on behind the screen resolved it and provided some other good upgrades and tune ups.

The bad news is that in the process, we somehow hit an invisible button that sent about a half-dozen of my previous posts back out to everyone. Thanks to those who reported that on Monday, and apologies to all for needlessly cluttering your inbox.

So, COMMENTS are back online. Hit that button and let us know what you are thinking!

 A Detour

Yep, we do more politics and related areas than anything else on this blog, but this week, let’s take a bit of a break. Goodness knows, with you-know-who’s first trial coming up, the changing situation in Gaza, and the return of Congress, we have plenty to talk about. But today, a few things different for a change.

After all, the week of the eclipse should put us in a science state of mind, don’t you think? Speaking of the eclipse, I think a lot of us enjoyed it, but wondered why this one seemed to be such a national/global focus, subject to such media attention. I don’t recall another eclipse generating such eagerness. Ah well, we had a pretty good few here, with the clouds separating just enough at the right moment. Lots of good photos, too. This is one my favorites of the photos I took:

Some Good News

 We have all known for several years that bees in the US have been dying off at a disastrous rate. The implications for nature, and for crop/plant production are fatal. A lot of people have been working hard in many directions to reverse this course. It appears they are succeeding.

A story in the Washington Post notes that the United States’ domesticated bee colonies have been booming of late, rising 31 percent since 2007 to 3,800,015 colonies. A million of these have been added in the past five years alone. They’re the fastest-growing “herd” of animals in the U.S. Don’t know if this represents a true turning of the corner overall, but it sure looks promising.

Not Such Good News

 A new analysis published by Carbon Mapper, cited in Grist, found that landfills are emitting methane at a rate and volume way beyond earlier estimates. Methane emissions from landfills are at least 40 percent higher than previously reported. Landfills were already the third-largest source of emissions; appears they may be an even higher source. Sort of puts farting cows further down the list.

By now, most of us understand how serious global warming is and that methane is a major factor. We as a species are really good at generating garbage. It seems that the garbage is coming back to haunt us. Will be interesting to see if anyone comes up with a way to eliminate methane at these levels.

Really Not Good News

Avian flu (“bird flu”) has been a deadly and persistent disease. Efforts to control it have not been very effective. Millions of chickens have been killed in a failing effort to stop the spread. It is even affecting penguins at the South Pole now. Recently, it made the dreaded leap between species, infecting cows. One would have to think that at some point, it could cross over to humans, just as did AIDS. And so, it has, far faster than one might have expected.

The life cycles and evolution of disease in general, and to me viruses specifically, are scary stuff. It’s always a race between us and them. Look at the evolutions COVID is going through at lightning speed and cleverly executed rearrangements of its components. Medicine is getting better at great speed and will be doing more so with AI and other aids coming online. But whether we ever win this war is a toss-up.

Well, That Is Interesting

 If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I think 3D printing to build houses and other structures is a great idea with excellent potential. I wish it would spread faster than it has so far. I ran across an interesting article recently that combines the efficiency of 3D printing with reducing waste in the environment. An article in Scientific American reported that the US produces 18 million tons of scrap wood, and most of that ends up in the aforementioned landfills.

Some folks are working on how to turn all that scrap wood into a substrate material that could be used in 3D printing construction. Currently such construction uses basically a mix of sawdust and chemical binders. It works but has limitations. If the scrap wood could be incorporated, the resulting element would be stronger and better to use, not to mention recycling tons of what was methane producing trash.  Early tests indicate the finished product, once complete and dried, looks much like regular wood, an aesthetic value, and carries many of its useful properties. Pretty neat. Hope it works.

An Interesting Medical Quandary

I just read an interesting article in The New Yorker that talked about the problem of people dying from kidney failure. Many thousands die every year due to a lack of replacement organs. Many try dialysis but if you have any familiarity with that process, you know it is terribly demanding. Some cannot take it and some simply do not have access to it, due to costs or location.

The article talked about four possible solutions, all of which have complicating factors. The first possibility is transplant of a human kidney. There are limitations on kidneys from cadavers and the number of live donors is pitifully small compared to the need. A second possibility is, of course, dialysis, but again, it does not always work or is not always available. I had a friend die a few months ago, unable to make dialysis work. It is a punishing regime at best.

A third option is the transplant of kidneys from pigs specially raised and genetically modified to produce a useful transplant kidney. Early results look promising, but the author points out that there are moral factors in raising an animal simply to kill it and harvest an organ. The more we come to understand animals, the more that moral element rings true.

Lastly, there are new experiments putting a genetic soup into a special bag, implanting it in a person, and growing a new kidney. Sounds like science fiction, but how great that would be. Fingers crossed.

See You Next Week

I expect we will be back to the usual: war, politics, and all that stuff.

Bill Clontz

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