Archive for the ‘Health’ Category


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This is old news, but of such great historic importance that it is worth posting, even if it is late.  I meant to post this some time back but have had difficulty finding the time to get caught up on blogging.  Never the less, it is up now and if you have not already listened to or read Venter talk about what he and his team have done, please take the time to check it out.

FROM TED.COM: Craig Venter and team make a historic announcement: they’ve created the first fully functioning, reproducing cell controlled by synthetic DNA. He explains how they did it and why the achievement marks the beginning of a new era for science.


Written by Aaron Nee

July 18, 2010 at 11:53 am

Washing Away Sins – Whether You Know it or Not

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I am intrigued by the pervasive practice of baptism and ritual purity throughout religious history, around the world.

Before the Christian baptism that remains popular in Western culture there were ancient Babylonian and Egyptian baptism practices.  The Greek Mystery religions included baptismal rites.  For Judaism and Islam ritual cleansing has historically been of great importance as is the case with Hindu praxis as well.  A new study, however, appears to demonstrate that the psychological benefits of washing can effect an individual even when they are not consciously performing a ritual cleansing.

Spike W. S. Lee, a psychology researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and his partner Norbert Schwarz devised a test in which they lead individuals participating in the study to make a decision the participant would not be happy with.  Following the decision some of the subjects washed their hands, while others did not.  The majority of those who washed their hands exhibited behavior that suggested they were at peace with having chosen something they did not like, whereas those who did not wash exhibited the expected behavior of justifying their negative choice.

The researchers admit that there are a lot of questions still to be explored in the study, but the initial results suggest that even when the cleansing is not done as a conscious act of washing away mistakes, people enjoy the psychological benefit of the ritual.

For more details on the study, check out  Nell Greenfieldboyce’s  report at

Written by Aaron Nee

May 7, 2010 at 9:57 am

Believing Is Seeing

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Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer and colleagues have reported research that demonstrates a notable improvement in what test subjects were able to see without the use of spectacles, contact lenses, or any physical changes to the subjects eyes.

The method of improving vision was no more than using suggestion to make the subject believe they were able to see more than they previously could.  Participants in the study who were predisposed to believing their vision could be enhanced showed particularly strong improvement in what they were able to see.

Another study conducted at MIT demonstrated similar results.

For more on the psychology of vision, see’s article.

Written by Aaron Nee

May 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Beyond The 6 Million Dollar Man – Nano Technology and the Future of the Human Race

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We are a strange creature, us humans.  Rather than wait around for natural selection to weed out a defective trait, we have learned to use our tool making abilities to fashion some bit of technology that will correct the defect.  Eyes aren’t working well?  No need to let that diminish your fitness, we’ll just make glasses and you’re good as new.  Irregular heartbeat?  We’ll make you a pacemaker and you’re back in business.

Thus far there has been little outcry about the ethical implications of glasses, pacemakers, prosthetics and other restorative technology.  Our species has, however, reached a new threshold.  Through advances in genetic engineering and nano technology, we are entering the territory of not mere human restoration, but human enhancement.  We have moved beyond short circuiting our evolution, and now have begun exploring designing the human of the future.

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Why Stop At 2 When You Could Have 3 Biological Parents?

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Researchers have produced human embryos containing DNA from three people, a biotechnological proof-of-principle with profound medical and ethical implications.
To accomplish this, chromosomes were taken from one zygote — the single cell formed when sperm and egg fuse — and put into a zygote stripped of its original chromosomes, but left with its original mitochondria, which provide each human cell with energy.
… Mitochondrial swapping might seem less controversial than regular genetic engineering, because it involves metabolism rather than obvious physical traits. “On the other hand, when embryo manipulations for heritable changes start being done, even with the best intentions, we’re on slippery ground,” said Darnovsky.
“I think this strategy for handling mitochondrial disease is fascinating, important and ethical, but it certainly crosses the line of engineering genes,” said Art Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics. “It’s a quiet intrusion, but it crosses a line that a lot of people said shouldn’t be crossed.”


Written by Aaron Nee

April 28, 2010 at 8:11 am

Want To Do More and Do It Better? Take a Nap!

with one comment reported that not only does a good night’s sleep help improve ones performance on memory tests, but a short power nap in the afternoon can result in a significant enhancement of ones ability to store and process data.  There is a catch though – you have to dream during your nap.  The reported on study is that of Robert Stickgold, PhD, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition.  You may not be surprised to learn that Radiolab reported on related research in a 2007 episode titled Memory and Forgetting.

The research reported on by Radiolab and the complimentary research of Robert Stickgold suggest that, during one’s dreams, the brain is recreating the experiences of the day, even mixing and matching data, looking for connections that may have initially gone unnoticed.

Subjects in Sickgold’s research who had a short, dreaming nap demonstrated as much as a ten fold improvement in their ability to navigate a maze they were memorizing.  Those who at first struggled with the test demonstrated the strongest improvement.  It would seem that the initial difficulty of the task signals the brain that this is something it needs to work on while sleeping.  The brain’s processing of the information, manifests itself as a seemingly random series of bizarre dreams.

This is a strong argument for the siesta!  I’ve always suspected there was wisdom in the custom of afternoon naps.

Thanks to Abeo at the Derren Brown blog for alerting me to the report.

Written by Aaron Nee

April 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

The Nothing That Really Does Cure Anything (almost)

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On a similar note to the previous post regarding homeopathy, here are some interesting resources on the mysterious and wonderful placebo effect.

In 2002, the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute published study results that revealed a surprising difference between the patients receiving a placebo and the patients on the medication being tested.  Of those receiving the actual medication, a little more than fifty percent experienced a reduction in their depression symptoms, while thirty eight percent of the placebo recipients also saw an improvement in their symptoms.  The surprising revelation in the study was the fact that those patients who responded to the placebo experienced improved brain activity in a region of the brain that none of the other patients experienced, whether they were on the medication or placebo.  In fact those on the actual medication experienced diminished activity in that region of the brain.

You can hear a brief report on the study here.

The full text of the study is also available.
Radio Lab did a show on placebos that, as always, was great.  If you listen to only one thing linked to on this post, it should be Radio Lab.

If you are not all placeboed out, then you may enjoy listening to the very interest, uncut interview between Richard Dawkins and Professor of Psychology, Nicholas Humphry, in which placebos are discussed in their conversation about alternative medicine.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Written by Aaron Nee

April 17, 2010 at 8:02 pm