Archive for January, 2011

At Least I Know What A Newt Is…

January 28, 2011


  Some time back, somewhere, I read that business people have just about the biggest vocabularies of all professions.  False.  Not even close.  My doctor brother knows all the words I do (me businessman) – and a whole lot more.

  The other day I was looking through an issue of one of his Journals of the American Medical Association and had to use a dictionary so often that I’d lose the sense of a passage and have to start over.  Exactly similar to reading something in a nearly forgotten foreign language. 

  Nonetheless, I’ve never met a periodical I didn’t like and this was no exception.  The most interesting bit (so far) was entitled: “Re- ‘evolutionary’ Regenerative Medicine”* which asks: “Can an evolutionary perspective on the mechanisms used by ‘lowly’ organisms inform the approach to human tissue regeneration?”

  Through most of the article the authors use the example of a newt, or more specifically one minus a limb.  How does it grow back and why won’t they, damaged heart tissue, etc grow back in humans?  Seems that science has long thought that a limb-bud (blastema) was made of “multipotent” cells (like stem cells I guess) that somehow took appropriate new form.

  Turns out not to be the case.  Instead, the already specialized cells  (cartilage, bone, neural, and muscle) of the stump/bud are enabled to re-enter the cell cycle and proliferate anew.  Furthermore, “A crucial step would likely entail ‘lifting the brakes’ on cell division, but only transiently, to avoid uncontrolled proliferation and tumor formation.”

  It sort of follows that mammals and other species might have lost to cancer the ability to regenerate.  Those of our (way) distant ancestors that did finagle new stuff also developed cancer at an unsurvivable rate.  I think that’s what they mean.  Does make you wonder about how newts et al made it through though.

  Anyway, they figured out that inhibition of a certain tumor suppressing gene mediated newt limb regeneration.  In humans the suppression of a homologous gene does not.  Seems that the culprit is a certain ‘alternative reading frame protein’ which isn’t found in any species capable of regeneration.   This ARF is frequently inactivated in human cancers.

  The above described existing route to a new limb (for some creatures) is then different than the one based upon stem cells and has several  advantages warranting further research.  Some tissues don’t seem to have stem cells.  Methods to steer stem cell development towards a specific destiny haven’t been worked out nor has a means of reintroduction of new into diseased or damaged tissue.

  No brainer then huh? 

  Also, seems obvious that those against stem cell research must not be avid readers of JAMA.  Final (for now) point of interest is that a work of art graces the covers of each issue and that three recent ones have borne works from our (Figge Art Museum’s that is) vault.  Cover of this issue pictured below.

*Re”evolutionary”Regenerative Medicine; H.M Blau; J.H. Pomerantz; JAMA 1/5/11; p87

I Can’t Stand It. I Been There Before

January 21, 2011

  At the behest of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took their “Corps of Discovery” across the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  Leaving St. Louis on May 14, 1803 they made their way across the wilderness to the coast of what is now Oregon and arrived back in St. Louis on September 23, 1806. 

  Clark went on to hold a number of governmental positions and fathered eight children (one named Meriwether Lewis Clark!) with two wives.  Lewis became Governor of the Louisiana Territory, had no children, and shot himself on his way to deliver journals of the expedition to a publisher.*  I’ve long wondered what was up with that.

  He’d been leader of the expedition and must have felt exhilaration of uncommon intensity upon journey’s end.  He’d operated successfully through thousands of miles of unknown territory and hardship compiling the first account of America’s west.  There could have been no measure of accolade equal in proportion to having returned with crew largely intact after those many dangerous and difficult months. 

  Perhaps that was just it.  The return to civilization was more than he could take.  Compared with the clear choices of life and death in the wilderness, a desk job and starched shirts must have chafed not only his neck.

  Jungian therapist James Hollis writes: “…whenever we force ourselves to do what is against our nature’s intent, we will suffer anxiety attacks, depression, or addictions to anesthetize the pain of this inner dislocation”.**

  A recent evolutionary rationale for depression holds that it is a ‘healthy’ manifestation of the psyche in response to spiritual/emotional/existential dis-ease.  Some way down a certain path, one finds it problematic, stews for a bit, and then chooses a new direction.  Three years must not have been enough for Lewis to recalibrate.

  He probably should have turned around.  Like at the end of Huckleberry Fin when our protagonist said: “…reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me.  And I can’t stand it.  I been there before.”

*Not all agree that Lewis took his own life.  Descendents of his sister hope to have his body exhumed to somehow prove that he was murdered.

**Hollis, What Matters Most, Gotham Books, 2009

***cf post of 2/20/08

No Fair!

January 14, 2011


  This is going to be a shock.  A recent study* suggests that men do stupid things when interacting with attractive women! OMG!  Phrased otherwise, men are more likely to engage in counterproductive behavior under the gaze of beauty than women are before a handsome visage.

  Researchers reviewed the results of more than 600 chess games played by expert men and women whose photos were later anonymously rated for relative attractiveness.  The opening moves of each game were evaluated by professionals in terms of relative risk.  Games ending in ties were adjudged to have been of restrained play.

  Playing against women rated to be the hottest, men were much more likely to take risks.  And the risks didn’t pay off.  Women played no differently with good looking opponents – either male or female.

  Reminds me of the winter before our first child was born.  We were staying in a cabin by a frozen lake way up somewhere in the frozen north.  Being pregnant, wife was unconvinced that she’d have fun in the bars in town at night so we played Clue.  Like fifty times. 

  I only won once.  Given the opportunity, I could have murdered Colonel Mustard and the rest my own self.  With any of the assorted weapons or blunt instruments.  Feel better now knowing that it had nothing to do with my IQ, imagination, or creativity.  It was her fault.  And, as I now realize, has been so much else.

  Oh well, moving forward, I have a great excuse for my behavior…

*”Beauty Queens and Battling Knights: Risk Taking and Attractiveness in Chess” Institute for the Study of Labor.  WSJ 12/11/10

** Photo is of real life Russian Grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk.

Anthropology of the Wild West

January 7, 2011

  About halfway through Silverado the Kevin Kline character, Paden, takes interest in Rosanna Arquette’s Hannah whose husband had just been killed:

He acted bravely out there, Hannah. 
Just bad luck his getting hit.  Could
have been any one of us.
I don’t believe in luck.  I know what
Conrad was like. Don’t tell me what you
think I want to hear.
Never will again.
We got married just before this trip,
so we could come out here and try
the land.  It’s hard to find a man
willing to take on a life like that.
Love isn’t the only important thing.

    The Kevin Costner character gives Paden a hard time: “Jeez, her old man ain’t even cold yet” as they ride off for action and adventure leaving Hannah and the other settlers to make their way.  After the passage of some time, their paths cross again.  Hannah asks Paden to admire her land:

…Mine starts right over there.  It’s all I’ve
ever wanted.  Pretty land isn’t it?
And a pretty lady.
A lot of men have told me that.  Maybe it’s true.
I guess some women are slow to believe it.
Believe it.
They’re drawn to me by that.  But it never lasts.
Because they don’t like what I want.
What’s that?
I want to build something, make things grow.
That takes hard work – a lifetime of it.
That’s not why men come to a pretty woman.

  Well, maybe not right off.  Both parties would agree, however reluctantly on the part of the men, that it is good for the woman to be wary.  Which makes the above exchange an interesting study in anthropology.

  Recent research shows that the nature of the environment bifurcates the decision path of a woman’s choice in mates.  “Whenever a woman has to choose a mate, she must decide whether to place a premium on the hunk’s choicer genes or the wimp’s love and care.”* 

  In other words: “It’d be great if Dad would stick around (and not beat me), but if he doesn’t, how likely is his/our baby to survive?”

  Turns out that the more disgusting, depraved, and/or difficult the environment the higher up the hunk scale woman are likely to chose.  Hmm. Guess I’m gonna tell myself that it was lucky that I did the last part of my courtin’ in a relatively rugged neck of the woods…

  Just like Hannah and Paden.  At the end of the movie as they stand side by side friend Emmett says:

You might make a farmer yet.
I’ve got a job.

  As he puts his arm against the post, and his coat is drawn back to reveal the shiny sheriff’s badge on his vest.  Thus, not likely to ever be the “yes honey” type or care much for yard work Paden seems about to be invited into the gene pool. After evaluating her experience and circumstance Hannah chose not to make the same mistake twice.

*Economist: 12/11/10