Morten Morland – The Times
Chris Riddell – The Observer
Some scenes and scripts have been reworked. Many themes went undeveloped.
This year, the Prima Donna Dr. Bob abandoned public performance in favor of writing. In his own 30 Rock world? He may have to make do with his rendition of Bunthorne in Patience. But, not for him the vulgar hacks work of projects and programs. He preferred the more erudite world of 'academic' publishing. Sad that involved describing the kinds of things we had been told just didn't apply here in Seattle. Some stockings must have been filled with coal!
Most of the year passed under wraps. It was alright to be optimistic as long as you spoke in vague terms about 'hope'. But on no account we you supposed to heed financial warnings --- "Where's the Money?" was definitely out. "Please don't do anything to upset the Election" became the watchword. The Whisperers continued as a recurring old favorite
But now that now been abandoned as everybody scrambles for financing and the saving of their own little production companies. Gone are the days when the community would (or could) be called on to rally to the rescue financially. Lost patrons and subscribers are hard to get back. Silence = Death (still applies, maybe). Even so, it was intriguing to see all the passions (and even some action) in response to Prop 8 -- having been told that the community had lost interest in activism.
Even the Governess has warned us about dire straits and the hard times to come. Notwithstanding she has managed to go ahead with bureaucratizing health in the name of keeping it safe. But the impact of that has hardly begun to surface. More to come! Despite her pledge not to increase taxes, the beleaguered Registered Counselors have seen their registration fees increase by some 315% (until their final demise next year!) That's no tax increase? And we leave you to guess who are the clients it will be passed on to.
Its rather like The scene from the traditional pantomime Dick Whittington. On his sea voyage, Dick struts about on deck oblivious of the fact that down below the vessel is over run by the rats.
In desperation you could always think of the Municipal Production of Aladdin. The excitement is somewhat dampened by Mayor Nickels role as the Genie who wouldn’t use his lamp because it was ecologically unfriendly. No matter in these hard economic times he managed to bring a major city to a standstill. Critics for this drama are not needed. The Genie graded himself.
Do not fear for the Players. They will have the their little New Year celebrations. Doubtless the pot lucks will be smaller, but they can look back on a year of agency consolidations, protocol implementation, fundraisers , and bingo. No, David we haven’t forgotten about LIFELONG ( who could be surprised if we had?) But really, what is there to say?
Happy New Year
Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that an estimated 2 million drunk drivers with three or more convictions will be on the roads this holiday season. In 2007, approximately 1,500 people nationwide were killed in crashes that involved a drunk driver from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.
Researchers from the University of Missouri and the University of Georgia found that the most important deterrence factors for high-risk drivers are their perceptions of the likelihood of being stopped or arrested and their support for deterrence laws.
All U.S. states have laws designed to deter impaired driving, but there is little evidence on what works to deter drivers who have a high risk of drinking and driving. The researchers found that the existence of laws, such as the .08 blood alcohol content and open container restrictions, affect only those less likely to drink and drive, and the actual number of impaired driving arrests in a state has no significant effect on drivers’ likelihood of drinking and driving.
"Essentially, law enforcement needs to focus on perceptions; it is important that drivers perceive that they will be caught if they drive impaired," said Lilliard Richardson, professor in the MU Truman School of Public Affairs. "We found that high-risk drivers are less likely to drink and drive if they perceive they are likely to be stopped or arrested by police. However, the mere existence of laws designed to discourage people from drinking and driving does not impact high-risk drivers. The results provide support for the value of high-visibility enforcement campaigns. Public safety education and media efforts are important components of the overall strategy for reducing impaired driving."
Previous studies have found conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of strategies that deter drinking and driving behavior. Richardson and Anthony Bertelli, associate professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia, assessed drinking and driving laws to determine if their enforcement influenced individuals’ likelihood of drinking and driving and if the impact was direct or through perception. The researchers measured the propensity to drink and drive of 6,000 respondents interviewed as part of NHTSA’s 2001 National Survey of Drinking and Driving Attitudes and Behavior. The measurements were used to assess the impact of perceptions of enforcement, actual enforcement levels and deterrence laws.
In the study, the majority of participants were less likely to drink and drive if they perceived a probability of being stopped or arrested by law enforcement. Individuals of different risk levels, who agreed with the goals of deterrence laws, including sobriety checkpoints and open container laws, also were less likely to drive intoxicated.
"No single effort to reduce drinking and driving will be the most effective with all citizens, but state efforts designed to change enforcement perceptions and gain support of policy goals are most likely to influence a broad array of drivers," Richardson said.
The Behavioral Impact of Drinking and Driving Laws.
Anthony M. Bertelli and Lilliard E. Richardson Jr.
Policy Studies Journal, 2008; 36 (4): 545 – 569 DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-0072.2008.00283.x
Link to PSJ abstract
The United States faces the potential for abrupt climate change in the 21st century that could pose clear risks to society in terms of our ability to adapt.
"Abrupt" changes can occur over decades or less, persist for decades more, and cause substantial disruptions to human and natural systems.
A new report, based on an assessment of published science literature, makes the following conclusions about the potential for abrupt climate changes from global warming during this century.
The U.S. Geological Survey led the new assessment, which was authored by a team of climate scientists from the federal government and academia. The report was commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program with contributions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.
The full report Synthesis and Assessment Product 3.4: Abrupt Climate Change and a summary brochure on abrupt climate change are available on-line
Link to climatescience.gov.
Structure Of Virulent Pathogen Revealed
Like high-profile politicians, pathogenic bacteria dispatch advance teams to make way for their arrival. But these bacterial agents don’t just secure a safe passage, as a Secret Service detail might do. Rather they are teams of molecules that bacteria inject into cells they want to colonize, sent to hijack their hosts’ biochemistry to serve their master’s microbial needs. These molecules — called virulence factors — co-opt essential cell functions including the reproduction cycle and cell structure assembly, suppressing the cells’ defenses against bacterial invasion and causing disease.
Now researchers at The Rockefeller University have revealed the crystal structure of one virulence factor common to the meaner strains of Escherichia coli that are the leading causes of dangerous bouts of diarrhea in developing countries. The structure, a kind of molecular image that shows the position and identity of every atom in the so-called cycle inhibiting factor (Cif), offers clues as to how this particular bacterial weapon works and, potentially, how to defend against it or even use it to attack cancer.
“Cif shuts down cell cycle progression in a way we don’t yet understand. If we can figure this out, we may be able to find ways to inhibit the cell cycle in certain tissues that we don’t want to grow, like tumors,” says C. Erec Stebbins, associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Structural Microbiology at Rockefeller. The research is a significant advance toward understanding exactly how Cif manipulates the cells it invades.
Using the century-old, labor-intensive technique of x-ray crystallography to identify the structure of the protein, researchers showed Cif is part of a prominent “superfamily” of enzymes including cysteine proteases and acetyltransferases. Like these enzymes, Cif contains three amino acid residues — a catalytic triad — that are essential to its virulence. Stebbins and colleagues used point mutations to remove each of these residues and then tested the mutants for whether they could arrest the cell cycle. When test cells are exposed to bacteria with regular Cif, they puff up, form tell-tale stress fibers and are essentially frozen at the stage of cell reproduction just before mitosis. None of the mutants had this effect on the host cells, however, showing that the residues were critical to Cif’s work.
Structure of the Cyclomodulin Cif from Pathogenic Escherichia coli.
Yun Hsu et al.
Journal of Molecular Biology, 384(2): Pages 465-477 (December 12, 2008) DOI: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.09.051
Link to JMB abstract
— For the first time, researchers have established a clear link between family rejection of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adolescents and negative health outcomes in early adulthood.
A new paper, authored by Caitlin Ryan, PhD, Director of the Family Acceptance Project and her team at the César E. Chávez Institute at San Francisco State University, shows that negative parental behaviors toward LGB children dramatically compromises their health. The discovery has far reaching implications for changing how families relate to their LGB children and how a wide range of providers serve LGB youth across systems of care.
"For the first time, research has established a predictive link between specific, negative family reactions to their child's sexual orientation and serious health problems for these adolescents in young adulthood such as depression, illegal drug use, risk for HIV infection, and suicide attempts," said Ryan. "The new body of research we are generating will help develop resources, tools and interventions to strengthen families, prevent homelessness, reduce the proportion of youth in foster care and significantly improve the lives of LGBT young people and their families."
Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Young Adults. Caitlin Ryan et al.
Pediatrics, Vol. 123 No. 1 January 2009, pp. 346-352 (doi:10.1542/peds.2007-3524)
Link to Pediatrics abstract
Fears Of Promiscuity Pose Barrier To Cervical Cancer Vaccinations
— The public's concerns about costs and increased promiscuity among teenagers appear to be hindering use of a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) to prevent life-threatening diseases, according to a study by researchers at Yale School of Public Health.
There is an ongoing public health campaign promoting the vaccination of girls against HPV to prevent genital warts and cervical cancer, but the Yale study showed the public believes that the benefits are outweighed by potential disadvantages. The Yale researchers—Sanjay Basu, a Ph.D. candidate, and Alison Galvani, assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases— studied how concerns about adolescent promiscuity and everyday economics lead many parents and guardians to not have their children treated.
The vast majority of those surveyed believed the risk of cervical cancer and genital warts (which are largely spread through sexual contact) is far lower with the HPV vaccine. But the same group of 326 adults in the United States also thought adolescent sexual activity would nearly double among those receiving the vaccine. Concern about increased promiscuity was the single biggest factor in the decision not to vaccinate, according to the study.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the HPV vaccination be administered to young girls between 11- and 12-years-old (and also to administer catch-up vaccinations to young women ranging from 13- to 26-years-old). But currently less than 25 percent of the target population has received even one of the three recommended vaccinations, far below the target needed to maximize the vaccine's potential public health benefit. An estimated 11,000 women in the United States alone were diagnosed in 2007 with invasive cervical cancer.
The researchers applied "game theory" to create a mathematical model of how such external factors as a fear of encouraging promiscuity and money influence perceptions and ultimately affect public health goals.
According to Basu and Galvani, the study suggests that educational programs that address specific public concerns might be needed to convince parents that the vaccine's benefits outweigh other factors.
In the past, other health campaigns have been hampered by the public's unwillingness to participate in sufficient numbers. "A fundamental but often-neglected aspect of developing and implementing an optimal intervention program is human psychology, which influences adherence to recommendations," Galvani said.
Financial considerations also influenced people's choices. The research found that even with health insurance and other financial assistance, the average family still had to spend $181 out of pocket to provide a child with all three vaccinations. The researchers estimated that the price of each vaccination would have to be cut by $55 per dose to significantly influence decision making in favor of the vaccine.
Integrating epidemiology, psychology, and economics to achieve HPV vaccination targets.
Sanjay Basu, Gretchen B. Chapman, Alison P. Galvani
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2008; 105 (48): 19018 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0808114105
Link to PNAS abstract
Science and its publisher, AAAS, the nonprofit science society, now salute cellular reprogramming as the Breakthrough of the Year and recognize nine more of the year's most significant scientific accomplishments. The top ten list appears in a special feature in the journal's 19 December 2008 issue.
"When Science's writers and editors set out to pick this year's biggest advances, we looked for research that answers major questions about how the universe works and that paves the way for future discoveries. Our top choice, cellular reprogramming, opened a new field of biology almost overnight and holds out hope of life-saving medical advances," said deputy news editor Robert Coontz.
Two years ago, in experiments with mice, researchers showed that they could wipe out a cell's developmental "memory" by inserting just four genes. Once returned to its pristine, embryonic state, the cell could then be coaxed to become an altogether different type of cell.
This year, scientists built on this work with spectacular results. Two research teams took cells from patients suffering from a variety of diseases and reprogrammed them into stem cells. Many of these diseases are difficult or impossible to study with animal models, making the need for human cell lines to study even more acute.
The transformed cells grow and divide in the laboratory, unlike most adult cells, which don't survive in culture conditions. The cells could then be induced to assume new identities, including those cell types most affected by the diseases afflicting the patients who had donated the initial cells.
A third research team skipped the embryonic state altogether and, working with mouse cells, turned one type of mature pancreas cells, called exocrine cells, directly into another type, called beta cells.
The new cell lines will be major tools for understanding how diseases arise and develop, and they may also prove useful in screens for potential drugs. Eventually, if scientists can master cellular reprogramming so that it's more finely controlled, efficient and safe, patients may someday be treated with healthy versions of their own cells.
The other nine scientific achievements of 2008 follow. Except for the first runner-up, the direct detection of extrasolar planets, they are in no particular order.
Areas to Watch: Science's predictions for hot science topics in 2009 include plants genomics, the elusive Higgs boson, speciation genes, ocean acidification, and neuroscience in court.
The special news features also looks at how the financial meltdown – the Breakdown of the Year – affected scientific research, and the major scientific collaborations getting off the ground in Europe.
Suppose you want to build a computer that operates like the brain of a mammal. How hard could it be? After all, there are supercomputers that can decode the human genome, play chess and calculate prime numbers out to 13 million digits.
But University of Wisconsin-Madison research psychiatrist Giulio Tononi, who was recently selected to take part in the creation of a "cognitive computer," says the goal of building a computer as quick and flexible as a small mammalian brain is more daunting than it sounds.
Tononi, professor of psychiatry at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and an internationally known expert on consciousness, is part of a team of collaborators from top institutions who have been awarded a $4.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the first phase of DARPA's Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project.
Tononi and scientists from Columbia University and IBM will work on the "software" for the thinking computer, while nanotechnology and supercomputing experts from Cornell, Stanford and the University of California-Merced will create the "hardware." Dharmendra Modha of IBM is the principal investigator.
“Every neuron in the brain knows that something has changed,” Tononi explains. “It tells the brain, ‘I got burned, and if you want to change, this is the time to do it.’’
Thus, a cat landing on a hot stovetop not only jumps off immediately, it learns not to do that again.
The idea is to create a computer capable of sorting through multiple streams of changing data, to look for patterns and make logical decisions.
There's another requirement: The finished cognitive computer should be as small as a the brain of a small mammal and use as little power as a 100-watt light bulb. It's a major challenge. But it's what our brains do every day.
"Our brains can do it, so we have proof that it is possible," says Tononi. "What our brains are good at is being flexible, learning from experience and adapting to different situations."
While the project will take its inspiration from the brain's architecture and function, Tononi says it isn't possible or even desirable to recreate the entire structure of the brain down to the level of the individual synapse.
"A lot of the work will be to determine what kinds of neurons are crucial and which ones we can do without," he says.
It all comes down to an understanding of what is necessary for teaching an artificial brain to reason and learn from experience.
'Smart' Surveillance System May Tag Suspicious Or Lost People
Engineers are developing a computerized surveillance system that, when completed, will attempt to recognize whether a person on the street is acting suspiciously or appears to be lost.
Intelligent video cameras, large video screens, and geo-referencing software are among the technologies that will soon be available to law enforcement and security agencies.
In the recent Proceedings of the 2008 IEEE Conference on Advanced Video and Signal Based Surveillance, James W. Davis and doctoral student Karthik Sankaranarayanan report that they've completed the first three phases of the project: they have one software algorithm that creates a wide-angle video panorama of a street scene, another that maps the panorama onto a high-resolution aerial image of the scene, and a method for actively tracking a selected target.
The ultimate goal is a networked system of “smart” video cameras that will let surveillance officers observe a wide area quickly and efficiently. Computers will carry much of the workload.
"In my lab, we've always tried to develop technologies that would improve officers' situational awareness, and now we want to give that same kind of awareness to computers," said Davis, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at Ohio State University.
The research isn't meant to gather specific information about individuals, he explained.
"In our research, we care what you do, not who you are. We aim to analyze and model the behavior patterns of people and vehicles moving through the scene, rather than attempting to determine the identity of people. We are trying to automatically learn what typical activity patterns exist in the monitored area, and then have the system look for atypical patterns that may signal a person of interest -- perhaps someone engaging in nefarious behavior or a person in need of help."The first piece of software expands the small field of view that traditional pan-tilt-zoom security cameras offer.
When surveillance operators look through one of these video cameras, they get only a tiny image -- what some refer to as a "soda straw" view of the world. As they move the camera around, they can easily lose a sense of where they are looking within a larger context.
The Ohio State software takes a series of snapshots from every direction within a camera's field of view, and combines them into a seamless panorama.
Commercially available software can turn overlapping photographs into a flat panorama, Davis explained. But this new software creates a 360-degree high-resolution view of a camera's whole viewspace, as if someone were looking at the entire scene at once. The view resembles that of a large fish-eye lens.
The fish-eye view isn't a live video image; it takes a few minutes to produce. But once it's displayed on a computer screen, operators can click a mouse anywhere within it, and the camera will pan and tilt to that location for a live shot.
Or, they could draw a line on the screen, and the camera will orient along that particular route -- down a certain street, for instance. Davis and his team are also looking to add touch-screen capability to the system.
A second piece of software maps locations within the fish-eye view onto an aerial map of the scene, such as a detailed Google map. A computer can use this information to calculate where the viewspaces of all the security cameras in an area overlap. Then it can determine the geo-referenced coordinates -- latitude and longitude -- of each ground pixel in the panorama image.
In the third software component, the combination map/panorama is used for tracking. As a person walks across a scene, the computer can calculate exactly where the person is on the panorama and aerial map. That information can then be used to instruct a camera to follow him or her automatically using the camera’s pan-and-tilt control. With this system, it will be possible for the computer to “hand-off” the tracking task between cameras as the person moves in and out of view of different cameras.
"That's the advantage of linking all the cameras together in one system -- you could follow a person's trajectory seamlessly," Davis said.
His team is now working on the next step in the research: determining who should be followed.
The system won't rely on traditional profiling methods, he said. A person's race or sex or general appearance won't matter. What will matter is where the person goes, and what they do.
"If you're doing something strange, we want to be able to detect that, and figure out what's going on," he said.
To first determine what constitutes normal behavior, they plan to follow the paths of many people who walk through a particular scene over a long period of time. A line tracing each person's trajectory will be saved to a database.
"You can imagine that over a few months, you're going to start to pick up where people tend to go at certain times of day -- trends," he said.
People who stop in an unusual spot or leave behind an object like a package or book bag might be considered suspicious by law enforcement.
But Davis has always wanted to see if this technology could find lost or confused people. He suspects that it can, since he can easily pick out lost people himself, while he watches video footage from the experimental camera system that surrounds his building at Ohio State.
It never fails -- during the first week of fall quarter, as most students hurry directly to class, some will circle the space between buildings. They'll stop, maybe look around, and turn back and forth a lot.
"Humans can pick out a lost person really well," he said. "I believe you could build an algorithm that would also be able to do it."
He's now looking into the possibility of deploying a large test system around the state of Ohio using their research. Here law enforcement could link video cameras around the major cities, map video panoramas to publicly available aerial maps (such as those maintained by the Ohio Geographically Referenced Information Program), and use their software to provide a higher level of “location awareness” for surveillance.
It’s time patient consent forms came back full circle to a tool for patient education, rather than the waiver of liability they have become, experts urge.
The original purpose of the consent forms was for a surgeon or doctor to inform the patient of common or serious risks associated with the procedure to be performed. However, the way current consent forms are written – as formal, legal documents – plants a litigious relationship in both the patient’s and the surgeon’s mind even before treatment has begun.
Lawrence Brenner is an attorney on the faculty of the Department of Orthopedics at Yale University. He and his colleagues propose a set of five recommendations to return consent forms to their intended purpose – that of allowing patients to meaningfully take part in the decision-making process.
As surgeons have become increasingly concerned about potential litigation, the informed consent process has lost its educational value. The focus is now on obtaining ‘preoperative release’, rather than an exchange of information to help patients make important decisions about their healthcare choices. In reality, the majority of patients find it a challenge to understand the complicated legal jargon used on the forms.
Research also suggests that proper informed consent has a direct impact on the quality of patients’ recovery after surgery. Indeed, patients have more realistic expectations and are better prepared psychologically to cope with the outcome of the operation when they have had an open discussion with their physician about what to expect during and after surgery.· In order to return informed consent forms to a tool for patient education rather than a form written by lawyers to absolve surgeons from liability, the authors make five recommendations.
Beyond Informed Consent: Educating the Patient.
Lawrence H. Brenner , Alison Tytell Brenner and Daniel Horowitz
Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 2008; DOI: 10.1007/s11999-008-0642-4
Link to CORR abstract
Excessive police violence is evident in the types of injury and trauma emergency care doctors are treating in the US, indicates research published in Emergency Medicine Journal.
The findings are based on 315 responses to a representative survey of 393 academic emergency care doctors across the USA.
There are around 800,000 police (law enforcement) officers in the USA, and figures for 2002 show that just short of the 45 million people who had a face to face encounter with one, did so at the behest of the officer.
Almost all (99.8%) of respondents believed that the police use excessive force to arrest and detain suspects.
And a similar number (98%) confirmed that they had treated patients who they suspected had sustained injuries/bruising inflicted by police officers.
Around two thirds of respondents said they had treated two or more such cases a year.
Doctors working in public facilities were more than four times as likely to report treating patients who had been the victims of excessive police force than doctors working at university or community teaching emergency care departments.
The most frequently cited type of injury was blunt trauma inflicted by fists or feet. Around three out of four cited overly tight handcuffs.
Seven out of 10 (71%) doctors said they had not reported these incidents and over 95% said they had no departmental policies on reporting their suspicions.
A high proportion of respondents (94%) said they had not been given any training on how to handle such cases.
But around 70% felt they should be reporting incidents of this kind, while just under half felt it should be a statutory requirement to do so, as it is for child abuse, domestic violence, and elder abuse.
The authors point out that the police do sometimes have to use coercive force, ranging across a spectrum from voice commands through physical restraint and use of chemical sprays, batons, and dogs, to lethal firearms.
Most police departments do not keep records of how often coercive force is used in confrontational situations, say the authors, but estimates suggest that this applies in around 8% of encounters.
How often it escalates to excessive force is not known, they add. But the World Health Organization classifies Injury and death caused by excessive force at the hands of police officers a breach of human rights.
Excessive use of force by police: a survey of academic emergency physicians
H R Hutson et al
Emergency Medicine Journal 2009;26:20-22; doi:10.1136/emj.2007.053348
Link to EMJ abstract
Racial Tension In A 'Split Second'
Interracial and interethnic interactions can often be awkward and stressful for members of both majority and minority groups. People bring certain expectations to their interactions with members of different groups—they often expect that these interactions will be awkward and less successful in establishing positive, long-lasting relationships than interactions with members of one’s own racial or ethnic group.
These expectations can cause people to interpret the vague comments and behaviors of others more negatively in intergroup situations, further confirming their negative perceptions of these interactions. Research has suggested that apprehensive behaviors such as brief hesitations may often be a result of anxiety experienced in intergroup interactions.
However, Yale University psychologist Adam R. Pearson along with his colleagues from the University of Connecticut wanted to know if the opposite was true: Can brief hesitations in conversation (often associated with anxiety) actually cause interracial tension?
In this study, subjects engaged in one-on-one conversations via closed-circuit television with someone of the same (intragroup) or different (intergroup) racial background. Unbeknownst to the participants, half of the conversations occurred with a brief delay—equipment was used to delay auditory and visual feedback for one second throughout the conversation. This delay was subtle and was not consciously detected by the participants. The remaining conversations occurred in real time, with no delay. Following the conversation, participants independently completed questionnaires about their experience, rating their feelings and those of their partners.
The results, reported in the December issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, revealed that a mere one second delay in conversation was sufficient to raise anxiety in intergroup but not intragroup interactions. Both whites and minorities in the delayed intergroup conversation felt more anxious and viewed their partners as being more anxious compared to participants who engaged in conversations in real time. In addition, participants in the delayed intergroup conversation indicated less interest in getting to know their partners. Surprisingly, participants in intragroup conversations reported feeling even less anxious in the delayed conversation than they did when interacting in real time and were unaffected by the delay when it came to wanting to get to know their partner.
These findings suggest that ingroup members are given a “benefit of the doubt” following a brief delay in conversation. However, this courtesy is not extended to members of other racial or ethnic groups. In addition, these results offer direct experimental evidence of just how fragile intergroup relations are when people are first getting acquainted. This study also provides some insight into why it is that attempting to regulate our behavior to ease tension in interracial interactions can sometimes backfire.
The authors suggest that this can introduce delays in the natural flow of conversation which can further contribute to anxiety of all members involved in the interaction. The authors conclude that “the findings may also have direct practical implications for understanding the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities across a wide variety of contexts, including law enforcement, employment and legal settings, where appearing apprehensive may place members of racial and ethnic outgroups at a distinct disadvantage.”
The Fragility of Intergroup Relations: Divergent Effects of Delayed Audiovisual Feedback in Intergroup and Intragroup Interaction
Adam R. Pearson et al
Psychological Science Volume 19 Issue 12, Pages 1272 – 1279
Published Online: 15 Dec 2008 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02236.x
Link to Psychological Science abstract
Blocking The Spread Of Antibiotic Resistance In Bacteria
It's as simple as A, T, G, C. Northwestern University scientists have exploited the Watson-Crick base pairing of DNA to provide a defensive tool that could be used to fight the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria -- one of the world's most pressing public health problems.
The resistant nasty pathogens cause thousands of deaths each year . Particularly virulent is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which often cause hospital- and community-acquired infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls antibiotic resistance one of its top concerns.
The Northwestern researchers have discovered that a special DNA sequence found in certain bacteria, called a CRISPR locus, can impede the spread of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic staphylococci. It blocks the DNA molecules (plasmids) that move from one cell to another, spreading antibiotic resistance genes. With the plasmids disabled, which the researchers believe is a result of the DNA itself being destroyed, the resistance cannot spread.
The blocking mechanism takes advantage of the fact that a small sequence of this CRISPR locus matches staphylococcal conjugative plasmids, including those that confer antibiotic resistance in MRSA strains.
"If this mechanism could be manipulated in a clinical setting, it would provide a means to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance genes and virulence factors in staph and other bacterial pathogens," said Erik Sontheimer, associate professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Sontheimer and postdoctoral fellow Luciano Marraffini carried out the study.
Generally, antibiotic resistance is spread through a process called horizontal gene transfer, the simple passing of genes from one individual to another. Bacteria are very adept at this, thus the interest among scientists in identifying biological pathways that limit horizontal gene transfer, particularly the process called conjugation, which is most commonly associated with the spread of antibiotic resistance.
Sontheimer and Marraffini studied the CRISPR locus in a clinically isolated strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis, bacteria that cause infections in patients whose immune systems are compromised or who have indwelling catheters.
The two found that the CRISPR locus can block the transfer of plasmids from one S. epidermidis strain to another or between S. epidermidis and S. aureus strains. The researchers' experiments show that the CRISPR locus limits the ability of the S. epidermidis strain to act as a plasmid recipient, essentially denying entry to the genes carrying the resistance.
They also found that "CRISPR interference," as this phenomenon is known, involves the targeting of the incoming plasmid or virus DNA directly. The CRISPR locus gives rise to RNA molecules (chemical cousins of DNA) that apparently recognize the incoming plasmid or virus DNA by the classic base pairing defined by Watson and Crick. This recognition then appears to lead to DNA destruction by unknown mechanisms.
Virtually any DNA molecule could be targeted with CRISPR interference. This blocking mechanism can, in principle, be "programmed" by incorporating into the CRISPR locus any desired A, T, G, C sequence that would match a target. It could potentially be used to fight antibiotic resistance in other pathogenic bacteria, including those that cause anthrax, tuberculosis, cholera and plague.
The programmable nature of CRISPR interference makes it analogous to RNA interference (RNAi), which has received much attention for its ability to block the functions of specific genes in human cells. Unlike RNAi, however, CRISPR interference operates naturally in bacteria.
CRISPR Interference Limits Horizontal Gene Transfer in Staphylococci by Targeting DNA.
Luciano A. Marraffini and Erik J. Sontheimer
Science December 19, 2008 Vol. 322. no. 5909, pp. 1843 - 1845
Link to Science abstract
A Walk In The Park A Day Keeps Mental Fatigue Away
If you spend the majority of your time among stores, restaurants and skyscrapers, it may be time to trade in your stilettos for some hiking boots. A new study in Psychological Science reveals that spending time in nature may be more beneficial for mental processes than being in urban environments.
Psychologists Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan from the University of Michigan designed two experiments to test how interactions with nature and urban environments would affect attention and memory processes. First, a group of volunteers completed a task designed to challenge memory and attention. The volunteers then took a walk in either a park or in downtown Ann Arbor. After the walk, volunteers returned to the lab and were retested on the task. In the second experiment, after volunteers completed the task, instead of going out for a walk, they simply viewed either nature photographs or photographs of urban environments and then repeated the task.
The results were quite interesting. In the first experiment, performance on the memory and attention task greatly improved following the walk in the park, but did not improve for volunteers who walked downtown. And it is not just being outside that is beneficial for mental functions—the group who viewed the nature photographs performed much better on the retest than the group who looked at city scenes.
The authors suggest that urban environments provide a relatively complex and often confusing pattern of stimulation, which requires effort to sort out and interpret. Natural environments, by contrast, offer a more coherent (and often more aesthetic) pattern of stimulation that, far from requiring effort, are often experienced as restful. Thus being in the context of nature is effortless, permitting us to replenish our capacity to attend and thus having a restorative effect on our mental abilities.
The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature
Marc G. Berman, John Jonides and Stephen Kaplan
Psychological Science Volume 19 Issue 12, Pages 1207 – 1212
Link to Psychological Science abstract
Pharmacies in Catalonia to offer rapid HIV tests
Pharmacies in a number of towns near Barcelona are to offer rapid HIV tests, the British Medical Journal reports. The tests will be available from early 2009 and will initially involve 35 pharmacies in a pilot project.
In common with many other European countries, Spain has a high rate of undiagnosed HIV infections. Late diagnosis of HIV is the underlying cause of a significant proportion of the HIV-related illness and death still seen in western European countries. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that many HIV transmissions originate in individuals who are unaware of their HIV status.
HIV testing in pharmacies will, it is hoped, reach individuals who are not accessing traditional health services that provide HIV testing.
The results of the rapid HIV tests will be available within 15 minutes. Any individual testing HIV-positive will be referred to hospital-based testing for a confirmatory test. The pharmacy tests are anonymous.
Target populations are injecting drug users and people who have had unprotected sex with multiple partners. The towns participating in the pilot have high levels of injecting drug use, being selected on the basis of the number of syringes dispensed by needle exchange programs.
All the pharmacies offering rapid HIV tests have experience of working with injecting drug users as they participate in methadone maintenance and needle exchange schemes.
None of the towns where the pharmacy-based tests will be available have other sources of community-based HIV testing.
Link to Aidsmap article