Monday Morning Bullets

As the week goes on and I collect potential stories, many of them are interesting, but not complicated enough to warrant a full writeup. I tend to hang on to them in the hope that some other story will flesh them out, and give me enough to write about. When that doesn't happen, but they still seem interesting, you get bullets. HangZhou Night Net

• Researchers have found that wasabi and other mustard derivatives all act through a single pain receptor. Aside from demonstrating that all us sushi afficionados are masochists, they're hoping that a better understanding of which pain receptors handle what stimulus will allow them to generate more targeted and less addictive pain medication.

• New research shows that 10 month old babies learn words for what interests them. The conclusion: "These findings suggest that parents might want to talk more about what their babies are interested in rather than what they, the parents, are interested in." The story suggests that babies eventually transition to being interested in what others are talking about. Unfortunately, they don't tell you when that second transition happens. I understand that period of being interested in what others are saying ends somewhere around 12 years old…

• Scientists working at Texas A&M have inserted interfering RNA genes into the genome of goats. Their target: the prion protein, which is the target of diseases such as mad cow and chronic wasting. Currently, food supply precautions seem to have limited the spread of the disease in agricultural stocks, but it's nice to know there's a fall back.

• I covered both the poor scientific literacy of some mainstream press, as well as creationist's new attack on evolution, critical analysis. So I'm happy to report a story where the regular press got a story about critical analysis absolutely right. The big surprise is that it's from the Tahlequah Daily Press somewhere in Oklahoma, not widely recognized for its journalistic impact. Go give it a read and support quality journalism by not blocking their ads.

• Meanwhile, the school board in Lancaster CA seems to have adopted some sort of philosophy of science statment that (surprise!) singles out evolution as being especially suspect. Details are extremely sketchy about what's been decided, and it's unclear whether this will actually impact anything in the classroom.

• Astronomers have spotted several globular clusters (aggregations of stars that are smaller than galaxies) that are leaving trails of stars behind as they move through the universe. They're hoping that detailed observations of the movement of the stars in the tails will let them infer mass in the cluster, and get a better grip on the dark matter that might be present there.

• Researchers have developed a new way to find the parts of the genome that regulate human gene expression: stick them in zebrafish. Fish are cheap to grow and easy to insert DNA into, and evolution has maintained the DNA sequences that mediate gene expression about as well as it has maintained the genes themselves.

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