Category:Science News’

Father’s Day at the Science Museum

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

I just got this email from the Science Museum of Minnesota and thought I’d share it with you.  It sounds like a great way to spend Father’s Day!

Father’s Day – Sunday, June 20, 2010 – 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
at the Science Museum of Minnesota

Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet. Make: DayMake: Day at the Science Museum is this Father’s Day—Sunday, June 20, 2010. Mark your calendars for the chance to meet with an astounding group of local engineers, artists, tinkerers, and inventors. They’ve been hard at work, and now they want to share their DIY creations with you.

Presentations to see, hear, and interact with include:

  • A 3D Printer that makes plastic models from computer designs right before your eyes
  • A potential Guinness World Record-breaking attempt using kinetic gadgets
  • Musical performances by experimental musicians using custom-built instruments
  • A bicycle ride across a suspended cable
  • Plus a whole lot more!

You’ll have the opportunity to meet with the makers, ask them about their inventions, and learn about ways that you can get involved with local making communities. Presentations will be located throughout the museum’s exhibit galleries. The event is included with regular museum admission.

Dads get in free to Make: Day!
Make: Day is a great way to celebrate Father’s Day with the whole family. With all the amazing DIY presentations, there’s sure to be something for everyone. And don’t forget to take advantage of the incredible opportunity for dads to get in free with the Make: Day Father’s Day coupon. Just print it out and present it at the box office along with any full-price ticket purchase. The free admission is good for any exhibit combination, including the Omnitheater and The Dead Sea Scrolls. So bring your DIY (or not-so-DIY) dad down and see what’s being made!

Raw Milk isn’t Worth the Risk

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

In today’s paper, I was disgusted to read that two school-age children, a toddler and a 70-year old man were victims of an E.coli outbreak this week caused by raw milk from a Minnesota dairy.  The toddler is currently hospitalized with a serious condition related to the infection (hemolytic uremic syndrome) which can cause kidney failure and death.  These are unnecessary illnesses and people are putting themselves and their children at risk by drinking raw milk.

Pasteurization is the process of heating up food to kill any bacteria it might contain.  Louis Pasteur first tested the process in 1864 and it is perfectly safe.  However, some people who drink raw milk feel that beneficial proteins and bacteria are destroyed during the heating process.

According to the Health Department, several dozen people are sickened by raw milk every year in Minnesota.  Unpasteurized milk can contain the live pathogens, or bad bacteria,  E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter.  Most people are careful handling and cooking  meat to avoid the very same pathogens.  Why they wouldn’t mind drinking them is a mystery to me.

Beneficial, or “good” bacteria can be found in most yogurt and many companies now add beneficial bacteria to other dairy items, including pasteurized milk.  I suspect that many of milk’s other beneficial heat-sensitive proteins can be found in other, safe foods as well.  Even raw milk cheese made correctly is safer than raw milk, because it contains other microbes that inhibit the growth of pathogens.

Maybe people don’t realize it, but giving their child a glass of raw milk is as risky as feeding them a raw hamburger.  I’m glad to hear the state is cracking down.

Jurassic Park- Closer Than We Think?

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

When I told my husband that scientists at the J.Craig Venter Institute had assembled a funtioning bacterium from bottles of chemicals, he said exactly what I was thinking.  “It’s like The Stand.”  Even if you’re not a Stephen King fan, you’ve probably heard of his novel where a genetically engineered strain of the flu virus wipes out almost every human on earth.

USA Today, on the other hand, said “The long-anticipated advance, reported in the journal Science, is a $40 million milestone in the nascent field of “synthetic biology” and points towards a future of designer microbes manufacturing fuels, chemicals and materials.”

The news that a synthetic bacterium has been created comes as no surprise to most scientists.  Even when I worked in a lab ten years ago, we cut and pasted bacterial DNA together on a regular basis.  We also synthesized  relatively short pieces of DNA by pushing buttons on a machine.  The technology has vastly improved since then, and entire bacterial genomes have been sequenced.  Scientists know exactly what it takes to make a functioning bacterial cell.

Some good and bad uses for synthetic biology immediately spring to mind:

Good things:  Scientists may be able to design bacteria that specifically target certain areas of the human bodies, so that the bacteria could colonize those areas (say, the intestine) and produce and deliver drugs to specific organs without causing harm.  You could even turn drug delivery on and off by putting “inducible promoters” which are basically on/off switches, in front of the genes for drug production.  You could possibly use the technology to deliver chemotherapy directly to tumors too, if you could create bacteria that recognize and bind to certain proteins produced by tumor cells.

Bad, bad things:  Bioweapons.  Scientists could potentially piece together nasty bacterial bioweapons that could survive sunlight and even radiation. (Most natural bacteria are relatively fragile and difficult to “disperse” or spread through the air.)

Nature has some controls of her own.  Bacteria must contain certain elements to survive and replicate, and sometimes putting foreign DNA into a bacterium will kill it.  There are also size limits.

We can only hope that the good that comes from this technological breakthrough outweighs the bad.  Later today, I’m planning to pre-order tickets for an amusement park where you’ll be able to see real live dinosaurs in about 20 years.

A Pill for Austism?

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Sandwiched between oil spills and militant lairs in the paper this morning, I found hope for millions of people.  

The New York  Times reported that a new drug therapy offers hope to children and adults suffering from a relatively common genetic flaw that causes autism and mild to severe retardation.  According to the article, one child in five thousand is born with Fragile X Syndrome, which is the most common inherited cause of mental retardation. (Down Syndrome is not inherited.)  Fragile X patients appear to experience an overload of brain signalling and the drug, manufactured by Novartis, appears to help by slowing down this excessive talk between brain cells.  Researcher hope this will allow patients to form memories,  learn and develop more normally.   If further studies bolster these initial trials, performed in adults, the drug may also hope for patients with autism not caused by Fragile X.    “This is perhaps the most promising therapeutic discovery ever for a gene-based behavioral disease,” said Dr. Edward M. Scolnick.


This Week in Science and Health

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

I found lots of interesting tidbits in today’s Science Times!

In science news, my son was fascinated to learn that ABE, a pioneering undersea robotic explorer, appears to have implodedunder about 10,000 feet of water while searching for hydrothermal vents in the sea of southern Chile.  We also read that “Fearless Felix” Baumgartner is going to jump from a helium balloon in the stratosphere, 120,000 feet above earth in an attempt to be the first skydiver to break the speed of sound.

In health news, The Science Times today tells us that a study showed that when soda prices went up, consumers health improved.  (Not that surprising, really.) There was an interesting article about new research showing that taking an anti-inflammatory related to aspirin helped Type 2 diabetes patients manage their disease and even lower their blood sugar.  This seems to be further evidence that inflammation plays a role in diabetes.  There is also a good article about Dr. Thomas Frieden,the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Alanta.  I was happy to read that he’s reorganizing the agency to give scientists better access to top leadership and popping into research labs on a regular basis to see what’s going on.

Supersonic Science for Kids-Throw a Rock into a Pond

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

StephenOrnes at reports that scientists have measured the speed of air escaping the column that is formed when a rock thrown into a flat body of water, like a pond.   When the column collapses, the air that is pushed out moves faster than the speed of sound (760 miles an hour.)  To read more and watch a video, go to

National Geographic Kids Design Contest

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Do you have a child that loves the ocean?  My son, a budding marine biologist,  is very excited about this National Geographic Kids design contest.  Some lucky kid’s winning design will be made into a flag and fly on the National Geographic Ocean Now expedition ship in 2010. Go to for rules and details! Entries must be postmarked by February 20, 2010 and the contest is for kids 8-14 years old (much to my 7-year old daughter’s disappointment.)

Flu virus vs. Cold virus- Who’s tougher?

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Did you know that flu viruses can survive longer than the viruses that cause colds on non-porous surfaces (like plastic or metal?)  One study showed that avian influenza, the virus that causes bird flu, can survive for six days on some surfaces.  Scary!  Viruses only survive for minutes on your skin, but that’s plenty of time to spread infection, especially if you touch your face.  Read more in the NYTimes article at and, more importantly, remember to wash your hands.