Tuesday, July 11, 2006

News: Biofuels, mammoth hair, addiction-curing brain damage and Van Gogh's solving of turbulence!

` Hey, let me just give ya a few highlights from Nature's science news, shall I? With no cut-and-pasting! Just because I like you!

` Apparently, corn and soybean fuels are not going to be used because there aren't enough plants to make much of an impact in the use of oil - especially when you consider that people are expected to eat most of them to begin with. Switchgrass, on the other hand, seems to be better - ethanol can be made from its dense cellulose, and no natural habitat or food resources would need to be sacrificed.
` On top of this, a report by the US Department of Energy (Friday, July 7) says that cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels combined could displace 30% of the US vehicular fuel by the year 2030.

` Mammoth hairs of varying shades have been found, but are their true colors preserved? It is possible that some mammoths really were light-colored, says Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
` He and his colleagues found a gene called Mc1r, from a segment of DNA they extracted from a 43,000 year-old mammoth thighbone. All mammals - including elephants, of course - have this gene, and it controls the level of pigment that can be created. In fact, they found both copies of Mc1r, and discovered that one copy could produce more proteins than the other. (How, I'm not sure, but I'll take their word for it.)
` What this means is that the mammoth had two genes for brown pigment - one was a lot better at it than the other. Usually, one strong copy and one weak copy is sufficient to produce brown hair, although animals with two weak copies have a lighter shade - as in blond humans or blond black bears.

` When a smoker's insular cortex is damaged, they stop having the urge to smoke - you cannot even trigger cravings or withdrawal in them if you tried. In fact, there is a very small chance that they will forget they ever had smoked. Apparently, the damage prevents signals from the brain's impulsive system (which involves the amygdala).
` This may provide some insight into how to help a drug addict kick the habit... of course, intentionally causing brain damage is not recommended.

` It appears that Van Gogh's paintings had swirly patterns that look a lot like Kolmogorov scaling - in other words, pictures of what turbulence looks like! Look at Starry Night, Road with Cypress and Star and Wheatfield with Crows - these contain visual eddies. They were also painted when Van Gogh was particularly manic.
` When he was taking potassium bromide, to calm him down after he cut off his ear, his famous self-portrait shows no such thing.
` Other turbulent paintings, such as Edvard Munch's The Scream, do not fit Kolmogorov's theory nearly as well.
` Though, Van Gogh is not alone - Jackson Pollock's drip paintings (like this one) are full of fractals. Strange.

` Well, there ya go. I'm going to abandon the computer now to pounce on Lou because he's lying prone on the couch. I just love it when he does that. All vulnerable and stuff... Grar.


Amber said...

I have experienced visual eddies and turbulence, but I am sure it had something to do with being chemically altered first.

Galtron said...

How many blond mammoths does it take to screw in a lighbulb?

Okay,,, never mind.

S E E Quine said...

` Two, but it has to be one heck of a lightbulb!

cassie d said...

amber - judging by your art (which is awesome by the way - where's my tatoo!) i'd say you were chemically altered on a regular basis!

so when your insular cortex is damaged, does that mean you lose the urge to do all the other things you're addicted to as well? or is it just smoking? What about it you can't stop yourself from eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's? if this were somehow say "damaged" - could one actually stop?

S E E Quine said...

` It would appear so. Apparently, when the insular cortex isn't very active, you feel less of an impulse, allowing you to use your reasoning abilities to a higher extent.
` So, if you really wanted to stop eating ice cream on a regular basis, it would probably have a similar effect.

` In any case... I don't recommend plotting any "accidents".

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