Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Such a nice smile

“Autophagy” means “self-eating”, and the various autophagous processes are akin to urban garbage-disposal systems; they identify, transport and dispose of unwanted, sometimes dangerous, cellular elements.  In macroautophagy, for instance, the damaged stuff is enclosed in a double membrane, then hauled off to an organelle known as a lysosome, where it is degraded and recycled. Without autophagy our cells would soon come to resemble my garage; so stuffed with junk as to be essentially non-functional.
There seem to be diseases that stem from haywire autophagy, and there are drugs that combat these diseases.  Playing, it seems, on a hunch, people at U.C. San Diego have shown that these same drugs are effective against OVCA – at least in rats.  More trials are in progress.
Make it so!

Friday, February 10, 2017


Mamma fur seal and baby (that little black glob)
How come they can sleep on cold gravel and I can't sleep on an expensive mattress?

This is the fourth day of February, here in old Borrego Springs.  The high temperature was 750 a few hours ago; it will drop down to near 60o just before dawn.  There is no breeze, no air pollution, almost no noise – and the surrounding mountains clearly urge me to “come out and play”.  And here I sit, hunched over a keyboard – thoroughly bummed.  I remember the opening lines from a Dostoyevsky novel:” I am a spiteful man, I am a resentful man.  I think my liver is diseased.”  (No, that’s not the actual quotation, but it gives the flavor.  Hell, it took me three tries and spell-check just to get his name right.)
So, no – it’s not my liver keeping me inside.  It’s my lungs.  I wheeze when I breathe.  If I take a deep breath, then hold it, I hear sounds from inside that remind me of an orchestra tuning up.  And I cough.  God, do I cough!  And always at an inappropriate time.  If someone phones me, I have to call them back.  I never get the punch line in a TV news story.  No way can I sleep more than 30 minutes at a stretch.  And the stuff that comes up – but we can skip that.
The point is I am going to use this little bit of enforced physical inactivity to scan back through my sources and toss out one-liners on what I find.  It will give me something to do, and you….. Well, you know where the “Delete” button is.
1)      It is reliably predicted that cancer rates in the U.K. will increase six-times more rapidly in women than in men, mainly because of obesity and smoking rates.  I would add that women there drink things like “lager and lime” whereas men drink real beer.
2)      Johnson & Johnson continues to be sued over the role of talcum powder in causing ovarian cancer, and they continue to lose – to the tune of a few tens of millions of dollars at a crack.  However, their revenue last year was over 70 billion, and their stock price actually rose over the past year by a little over 10%.  Also, they pay a dividend of nearly 3%.  What’s that my bank is paying?  0.5%?  I guess investors aren’t much worried about talc.
3)      And here it is a Thursday, ten days later, my cough is as juicy as ever, and I am beginning to starve because nothing tastes good.  Went to ole’ Doc Huet this morning and learned that half the Borrego valley has or has had this variety of crud, which goes on essentially forever.  I guess I should have stayed in Bellingham, surrounded by all that healthy snow and ice.
4)      Finally, I am so out of energy that I can scarcely follow the TV news, let alone read cancer articles.  That being the case I am going to shut this thing down and publish what’ve got.  Send food.

Friday, February 3, 2017


Linda is in the northern hemisphere and I am in the southern  hemisphere.  We both are hot and sweaty.  Where are we?

Not long ago I read the statement that “it requires real courage to investigate the obvious”.    This is certainly  true, in most cases, but not all.  Take Isaac Newton, for instance.  The prevailing opinion about falling in his time, insofar as anybody had an opinion, must have been something like “Well, God wants everything to be as low as possible.”  Or maybe, “the natural place for everything is on the ground”.  But, really, nobody cared:  falling was obvious.  Then Newton spoiled it all, and classical physics was born.
Well, nowadays it also takes an independent income, because no funding body will finance you if you want to investigate, for instance, why are there men? (See recent blog about parthenogenesis in ants.) Unless, maybe, the National Institutes of Health.  The NIH, has just paid for an investigation as to why there are e-cigarettes.  Well, actually, the study concerned itself with how the introduction of e-cigs has impacted things like total nicotine consumption and usage of conventional cigarettes by teens.  And guess what, by Golly: e-cigs have made everything worse!  The health practices of kids with regard to tobacco are worse now than just a few years ago.
And why would you believe otherwise?  E-cigs are not lollypops.  They are the Lucky Strikes of today, designed to infer social cachet on users, as well as provide a mild euphoria.  Teens are herd animals; they judge what is right by what the rest of the herd is doing.  Hell, when I took up smoking it was entirely because of social stimuli – and, God knows, I am not easy to influence!  I just wanted Marj and Patsy to notice me.
Note that the health argument cuts little ice amongst teens.  Teens are immortal.  Teens don’t worry about ill-health; mostly they worry about passing the next exam, making the football team, and getting laid.  We knew that those Lucky Strikes were bad for us.  Why else would we have called them coffin-nails?
So e-cigs are dangerous and must be stomped into powder. As a Liberal, in the original sense, I oppose this - but as a health nut I'm in favor.   Maybe if The Donald were to issue another Executive Order ….. ?

Saturday, January 28, 2017


Linda and Amanda
About 25 years ago

A while back I posted a blog called “Fun Facts about Biology”.  Here it is:
The idea was to alert all you avid biology fans of articles I had stumbled upon which didn’t really merit a blog entry of their own but were too interesting to simply delete.  For a time this worked (I got lots of hits – I can tell!), but lately, not so much.  Therefore I have resolved to stir the pot with a new blog: new name, same purpose.  I begin with an article from the NYTimes which I consider fascinating.
If you think about it in a deeply twisted way you will realize that there is a lot of similarity between a human being and an ant hill.  Humans consist of a large number of “individuals” (cells), doing a lot of specialized things for the benefit of the “tribe” (an individual person).  Same goes for ants; fewer individuals, fewer specific functions, but a similar cooperation for the good of the “tribe”.  Termite mounds and bee hives also qualify.  Thus, the main difference between you and a termite mound is that your cells don’t wander about eating wood.  Ponder that for a while.
Well, it transpires that this guy in NYC is using a species of ant to study – not humans, but the origin of societies.  Not just insect societies it seems, but societies in general, from termites to the TEA party and “Babes for Bernie", if such exists.  He and his minions have just published a flurry of scholarly papers on the subject which, needless to say, I have not read.  Hence the NYTimes article, below.
The principal scientist here is named Daniel Kronauer.  Dr. Kronauer works for Rockefeller University and runs what appears to be an unusually well-funded lab.  In keeping with the time-honored tradition of NYTimes essayists of tossing in irrelevant human-interest information we are informed that Dr. Kronauer was born and raised in Germany, is 40, tall, sandy-haired, and is married to a dentist.  Important stuff:  I can hear their bedtime conversation. He: "Oh God, what a day - I stumbled and squashed one of my most important ants!".  She: "Well, that's too bad.  I didn't want to tell you, but today I yanked the wrong molar out of a patient, who happens to be a trial lawyer."
The subject of this experiment is an ant, Cerapachus birosi, described as a “weedy clonal raider”.  “Weedy” apparently indicates that C. birosi, like a garden weed, can thrive in disparate environments.  “Raider” clearly indicates that they raid other ant colonies for food.  The really interesting adjective here is “clonal”.  All these scurrying little nasty's are clones; that is to say, the all have identical DNA.  And – I am truly astonished – this comes about because they are born parthenogenetically!  No sperm involved!  No males AT ALL!  Every single individual ant is female!  (Don’t let this get out, for God’s sake.)
Well, so far what the Rockefeller folks have been doing is to mess around with the DNA of individual ants to see how behavior is affected.  Some very interesting results have been obtained, and I will leave you with the pleasure of reading about them for yourself.  There is a lot more of interest in this article; I urge you to read it.
One last fun thing:  It is an old essayist’s trick to start with some unusual statement and then loop back to it at the end; I do it myself, when I can figure out how.  The first paragraph refers to Dr. Kronauer’s lifelong penchant for flipping over rocks to see what’s crawling around underneath.  The last sentence reads “When the ant police come knocking, there’s no rock big enough to hide you”

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Linda and her big brother, 1967

It seems as though it was just a few years ago that I first realized that there was this thing called the Internet, and that it might be useful.  Well, I investigated, dabbled – and, like an invasive kudzu vine – the Internet has taken over my life.  And here, in Borrego Springs, for the past four days, the Internet has been DOWN!  Oh, the horror.  People have been wandering about like zombies, with blank, glazed eyes, wondering what to do next.  If you lacked 4G you were totally out of luck; you might as well have been in exile in Nebraska.  But now, thanks to a team of intrepid engineers who braved the thick snow cover on Toro Peak, the Internet is back UP!  Unfortunately I have forgotten what I wanted to report.  I know it had to do with diet.  There seems to be some evidence that dark toast and roasted potatoes furnish a chemical that, when stuffed down the gullets of mice in prodigious quantities, increase the probability of getting cancer.  Why?  Who knows?  Official health authority’s reaction seems to be something like “don’t sweat it.”  I won’t; I don’t like to eat dark brown things very much, anyway.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Linda and Butch
Early on
Good news!  At long last Fred Hutch has solved its computer problems and has put their Tributes section “up”.  Linda’s tribute was first, probably because I have been riding them cruelly for at least a year.  The problem has been that hackers had been inserting all sorts of inane commercial nonsense where it emphatically didn’t belong.  You would think that people who can insert bug DNA into human beings could swat computer hackers like bloated flies, but apparently not.
Anyway, if you want to see Linda’s new tribute page, click on
And if you want to leave a little money behind, that’s okay.

Friday, January 13, 2017


Linda and her Schneider cousins
and some cheap zinfandel
Here is an article that is an appropriate comment on several cancer topics: History of the War on Cancer; the Moonshot; Mammography; and, not least, more evidence that Medicos are not Demigods, but rather normal quarrelsome human beings.  It appeared in Slate, which is somewhat given to splenetic journalism, so don’t confuse it with absolute truth.  Here are some main points, either stated explicitly or implied:
Richard Nixon is responsible for the original War on Cancer (not true)
The original War on Cancer was ill conceived (quite true)
The Moonshot, while better conceived than the War on Cancer, is damagingly over-hyped (also true)
Mammography also is over-hyped; mammography applied to younger women does not reduce mortality (unfortunately true)
We should prevent cancer, not wait until it happens and then attempt to cure it.  (Sure, but how?)
Life is complicated.  (Indisputable)

Anyway, I am safely sheltering in Borrego Springs, until April.  To greet my arrival nature threw a rainstorm at the desert.  There was even a Severe Weather Alert.  So far we have had about 0.1 inches of rain, and it appears to be clearing up.