Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How humans adapt to eating new types of foods

Most people who realize humans can adapt to digesting new types of food, think they know that there are one or two ways for humans to adapt to new food: by having new types of bacteria in our intestines and the other is to evolve news ways of digesting.

However, there are other ways, as we can sometimes pick up new DNA from other species, as well as pick up the required bacteria to properly digest the new foods.

I suppose that most people would never have consider that a virus could ever have a positive impact on our health!

Viruses and Other Gene Transfer Mechanisms
The Transfer of DNA Across Species Boundaries
Bacteria trade genes more frantically than a pit full of traders on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange — Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan (3)

While recombination moves whole blocks of genetic instructions within a cell, other processes move whole blocks of genetic information from one bacterium to another bacterium of a different kind. In the analogy between genes and written text, this move is a transfer of paragraphs or pages from one library to another

Sushi may 'transfer genes' to gut
A traditional Japanese diet could transfer the genes of "sushi-specific" digestive enzymes into the human gut.

This is according to researchers who discovered a substance in marine bacteria that breaks seaweed down into digestible pieces.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

LHC experiments described

I thought initially that there were 8 main experiments at the Large Hardron Collider (LHC), there are in fact 6.

Note that While they are looking at the same types of collisions, they are constructed in different ways to look at different aspects.

You can see that a large number of scientists are involved from all around the world.

It is important to have short names to refer to the experiments rather than a long but more meaningful phrase. However, you can see some groups were struggling to come up with good short names!

The following are brief excerpts about each of the experiments, click on the links for more details.

ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)
For the ALICE experiment, the LHC will collide lead ions to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang under laboratory conditions. The data obtained will allow physicists to study a state of matter known as quark‑gluon plasma, which is believed to have existed soon after the Big Bang.
A collaboration of more than 1000 scientists from 94 institutes in 28 countries works on the ALICE experiment (March 2006).

ATLAS is one of two general-purpose detectors at the LHC. It will investigate a wide range of physics, including the search for the Higgs boson, extra dimensions, and particles that could make up dark matter. ATLAS will record sets of measurements on the particles created in collisions - their paths, energies, and their identities.
More than 2900 scientists from 172 institutes in 37 countries work on the ATLAS experiment (December 2009).

CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid)
The CMS experiment uses a general-purpose detector to investigate a wide range of physics, including the search for the Higgs boson, extra dimensions, and particles that could make up dark matter. Although it has the same scientific goals as the ATLAS experiment, it uses different technical solutions and design of its detector magnet system to achieve these.
More than 2000 scientists collaborate in CMS, coming from 155 institutes in 37 countries (October 2006).

LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty)
The LHCb experiment will help us to understand why we live in a Universe that appears to be composed almost entirely of matter, but no antimatter.

It specialises in investigating the slight differences between matter and antimatter by studying a type of particle called the 'beauty quark', or 'b quark'.
The LHCb collaboration has 650 scientists from 48 institutes in 13 countries (April 2006).

TOTEM (TOTal Elastic and diffractive cross section Measurement)
The TOTEM experiment studies forward particles to focus on physics that is not accessible to the general-purpose experiments. Among a range of studies, it will measure, in effect, the size of the proton and also monitor accurately the LHC's luminosity.
The TOTEM experiment involves 50 scientists from 10 institutes in 8 countries (2006).

LHCf (Large Hadron Collider forward)
The LHCf experiment uses forward particles created inside the LHC as a source to simulate cosmic rays in laboratory conditions.

Cosmic rays are naturally occurring charged particles from outer space that constantly bombard the Earth's atmosphere. They collide with nuclei in the upper atmosphere, leading to a cascade of particles that reaches ground level.
The LHCf experiment involves 22 scientists from 10 institutes in 4 countries (September 2006).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

British Libel Laws can be used against people in other countries

British Libel Laws are not only extremely costly to defend against, but they are used to silence legitimate concerns fro people around the world, as American corporations (and others) can go to England to take legal action against Scientists in New Zealand (and people in other countries). You can help, even if you don't live in England.

Simon Singh is attempting to force a much need repeal of these laws, so please take a moment to read the message from Singh below:

Message from Simon Singh: “A big step for me, a small step for libel reform, and what you can do to help today.”

Dear Friends

Sorry for the silence, but it has been a ridiculously hectic (and happy) time since last week’s victory at the Court of Appeal. However, I urgently wanted to get in touch to update you on the status of my case, the latest news on libel reform and what you can do today to push libel reform up the political agenda.

BCA v Singh

April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.

Libel Reform Campaign

This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.

The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.

What you can do today to pressure politicians

I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at

The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!

You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and twitter about it. In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.

You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to . Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.

Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.

Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.

Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.

Simon Singh.

Ps. Please spread the word by sending out one, some or all of the following tweets

Pls RT English libel law silences debate, says UN Human Rights Committee. Sign up at & back #libelreform Pls RT English libel costs 140x more than Europe. We can't afford to defend our words. Sign up at & back #libelreform Pls RT Two ongoing libel cases involving health. The law should not crush scientific debate. Sign up at & back #libelreform Pls RT London is notorious for attracting libel tourists who come to UK to silence critics. Sign up at & back #libelreform

PPs. Reasons why we need radical libel reform:

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.

(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (including public health!).

(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (Again, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)

(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.

(e) Two separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and Peter Wilmshurst, and we are both raising concerns about medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns when our libel laws are so brutal and expensive? Our libel laws mean that serious health matters are not necessarily reported, which means that the public is put at risk.

PPPs. I know that I will leave people out of this list, but I owe a huge thanks to:

1. The 10,000 people who joined the Facebook group “For Simon Singh and Free Speech - Against the BCA Libel Claim”, particularly those who joined when the rest of the world ignored the issue of libel.

2. The 300 people who packed Penderel’s Oak in May 2009 and who helped launch the Keep Libel Out of Science campaign, particularly the speakers: Nick Cohen, Dave Gorman, Evan Harris MP, Professor Brian Cox, Chris French, Tracey Brown (Sense About Science), Robert Dougans (Bryan Cave) and David Allen Green.

3. The 20,000 people who then joined the Keep Libel Out of Science campaign.

4. Jack of Kent and every other blogger who ranted and raved about libel reform when the mainstream media was turning a blind eye.

5. Everyone in the mainstream media who is now covering the various libel cases and the issue of libel reform.

6. Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, who formed the Coalition for Libel Reform. And thanks to everyone who has contributed pro bono to the campaign in terms of design, technical support, chivvying support for the EDM and more.

7. The 46,000 people (i.e. you) who have signed the petition for libel reform, particularly those who have cajoled others to sign up at

8. All the big names who have spoken out in favour of libel reform, from Professor Richard Dawkins to Derren Brown, from the Astronomer Royal to the Poet Laureate, from the Amazing Randi to Ricky Gervais. Particular thanks go to Dara O Briain, Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin and Robin Ince, who have gone out of their way to step up to the plate when the campaign has needed them. Immense thanks also to the 100+ big names who were the first to sign the petition to keep libel out of science and highlighted the need for libel reform.

9. Everyone who has emailed and twittered and told me in person that I am not going crazy, and who reassured me that I am doing the right thing by defending my article.

10. Thanks to Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, for promising to put libel reform in his manifesto. And thanks in advance to Jack Straw (Justice Secretary) and Dominic Grieve (Shadow Justice Secretary), because I know that the Labour and Conservative parties are going to commit to libel law reform. I cannot believe that they will allow more scientists, serious journalists, bloggers, biographers, human rights activists and others to go through the same hell that I have had to endure for last two years.

Friday, April 2, 2010

previous post: LHC discovers black rings

My previous post: LHC discovers black rings, was an April Fool's joke, just in case someone was fooled, but it did link to genuine sites. However, to someone non technical, it does give a good flavour of how particle physics is actually done, though real nuclear physicists will note inaccuracies and gross over simplifications.

I discovered after I initially wrote the previous post, that there were actual Black Rings predicted, but the chances of the LHC creating one is much lower than the LHC actually discovering the Higgs boson in a definitive way within the next week - at best physicists could hope for are a few events suggestive of the Higgs boson.

The LHC is now starting its long 3.5 TeV run to look for the new physics, but I would be surprised if there were papers published in the next 3 months revealing any new particles based on this energy level. However, I would love to be wrong in this case!