Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Morality is not declining

Nature news has a nice news piece on this recent study on the (mis)perceptions of the decline of morality.  A sample from the study:

People believe that morality is declining. Is it? Societies keep (or at least leave) reasonably good records of extremely immoral behaviour such as slaughter and conquest, slavery and subjugation or murder and rape, and careful analyses of those historical records strongly suggest that these objective indicators of immorality have decreased significantly over the last few centuries15,16. On average, modern humans treat each other far better than their forebears ever did—which is not what one would expect if honesty, kindness, niceness and goodness had been decreasing steadily, year after year, for millennia. Although there are no similarly objective historical records of everyday morality—of how often people offer their seats to an elderly person, give directions to a lost tourist or help their neighbour fix a fence—there are subjective measures of such things.

....Participants in the foregoing studies believed that morality has declined, and they believed this in every decade and in every nation we studied. They believed the decline began somewhere around the time they were born, regardless of when that was, and they believed it continues to this day. They believed the decline was a result both of individuals becoming less moral as they move through time and of the replacement of more moral people by less moral people. And they believed that the people they personally know and the people who lived before they did are exceptions to this rule. About all these things, they were almost certainly mistaken. One reason they may have held these mistaken beliefs is that they may typically have encountered more negative than positive information about the morality of contemporaries whom they did not personally know, and the negative information may have faded more quickly from memory or lost its emotional impact more quickly than the positive information did, leading them to believe that people today are not as kind, nice, honest or good as once upon a time they were.



Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Former Ballerina With Alzheimer's Performs 'Swan Lake' Dance

A very moving video!


Monday, June 05, 2023

Gene therapy for muscular dystrophy

Nature news reports on the upcoming FDA decision regarding the approval of the first gene therapy for muscular dystrophy.  A sample:

DMD seems like a straightforward target for gene therapy. The disease affects boys almost exclusively, because they have only one copy of the X chromosome, where the dystrophin gene is located; girls with a disease-causing variant have a backup copy. Replacing even some working protein in muscle cells should reverse the disease, or at least halt its progression.

But developing that replacement has proved difficult. Dystrophin is the longest gene in the human genome and is much too large to fit into the adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector commonly used to deliver gene therapies. Sarepta and several other companies have got around this by designing a gene that encodes just the most important parts of the protein (see 'Big genes in small packages'). The resulting ‘microdystrophin’ is only partly effective.



Friday, June 02, 2023

Aging Cell Paper (now out)

My latest article entitled "Geroscience and Climate Science:  Oppositional or Complementary?" is now available on the "early view" of Aging Cell.  Here is the abstract:

Two of this century's most significant public health challenges are climate change and healthy aging. The future of humanity will be both warmer and older than it is today. Is it socially responsible, in a warming planet of a population exceeding 8 billion people, for science to aspire to develop gerotherapeutic drugs that aim to reduce the burden of aging-related diseases that may also increase lifespan? This question is the “elephant in the room” for geroscience advocacy. Science communication concerning what constitutes empirically valid and morally defensible ways of navigating the dual public health predicaments of climate change and healthy aging must be sensitive to both the interdependence of the environment (including planetary health) and the mechanisms of aging, as well as the common (mis)perceptions about the potential conflict between the goals of climate science and geroscience. Geroscience advocacy can transcend narratives of intergenerational conflict by highlighting the shared aspirations of climate science and geroscience, such as the goals of promoting health across the lifespan, redressing health disparities, and improving the economic prospects of current and future generations.



Monday, May 29, 2023

The Tongue


has this interesting story on how the tongue shaped life on this planet. A sample:

THE DEMANDS OF FEEDING may have prompted the emergence of the tongue, but natural selection then tailored and honed it for myriad other purposes, sometimes creating “ridiculously crazy specialized systems,” Schwenk says. For example, web-toed salamanders (Hydromantes) whip out a sticky tongue to nab insects or other small arthropods, shooting their entire throat skeleton out through their mouth. This feeding mode involved retooling throat muscles, with one set storing elastic energy that could be instantaneously released to shoot out the tongue, and another set reeling the tongue back in.

....TONGUE EVOLUTION helped reptiles and amphibians capture animal prey, but in birds, some of the most outlandish tongue adaptations reflect a taste for plants. Most avian tongues are a stiff sliver of keratin (think fingernails) or bone, with little muscle or other living tissue. They “are just a conveyor belt to move food from front to back,” Schwenk says. But there are exceptions—most notably in hummingbirds and other birds that feed on nectar. “The tongue is probably the most vital component for nectar feeding in birds,” says David Cuban, a graduate student at the University of Washington (UW) who works with behavioral ecophysicist Alejandro Rico-Guevara.



Thursday, May 25, 2023

Fisk and Alcohol: Its Relation to Human Efficiency and Longevity (1917)

Just making a note of this historical piece for future research.  Book can be accessed here.



Friday, May 19, 2023

Genetics and COVID

Nature news has this interesting news piece on why COVID is life-threatening for some people- it may have to do with immune genes.  A sample from the story:

Baillie and his colleagues analysed data from more than 24,000 people and combined this information with data sets from around the world. They found 49 DNA sequences that are associated with becoming critically ill from COVID-19. Sixteen of these had not been reported previously.

Among these sequences are some that could affect the activity of genes and proteins involved in the immune system. Raging immune cells have long been implicated in causing some of the tissue damage seen in late-stage, severe cases of COVID-19. Baillie and his colleagues found genetic links to inflammatory responses and the activation of immune cells — processes that can damage the lungs and reduce their capacity to send oxygen to the body’s tissues.

“It definitely expands our understanding of the genetic determinants of severe COVID,” says Brent Richards, a human geneticist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Richards is an investigator on another project called the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, a global effort in which scientists from more than 54 countries share data.

The study mentioned in the news piece is here.