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Archive for April, 2009

Extra healthy beer? We’ll drink to that!

A group of college students at Rice University are taking their favorite pastime and turning it into a research project. Their passion? Beer. Their project? Inventing a brew that contains resveratrol, a chemical present in wine that lowers the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Sounds like our kind of science fair project, so here is the science portion of this broadcast:

Instead of adding hops, they’re adding genes, so to speak. Two sets of genes are in play here: the first allows the yeast to metabolize sugars and excrete an intermediate chemical. The second converts that chemical into the secret ingredient, resveratrol. The team has created a strain of yeast that can complete the latter conversion, but they are still working on genetically modifying the former. They hope to have the entire chemical reaction by the time the competition rolls around, but say that even if they don’t, they can still enter with data from other experiments and computer models to back them up. They also plan to brew their first test batches before heading north in November.

Now for the bad news. Unless they work out all the kinks and get FDA approval, this brew won’t be available at your favorite watering hole any time soon. We’re cheering for science to win this round.

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The acai berry is a small fruit, related to blueberries and cranberries, which grows on a type of palm tree. It is considered a superfood because of its naturally high quantity of antioxidants.

Anthocyanins and flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that help defend the body against life’s stressors. They also play a role in the body’s cell protection system. Free radicals are harmful byproducts produced by the body. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants may interfere with aging and the disease process by neutralizing free radicals.

There are several fruit with antioxidants, but acai berries stick out amongst them.

Some studies show that acai fruit pulp has a very high antioxidant capacity with even more antioxidant content than cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, or blueberry.

Adding some of this superfood to our diet may be a prudent investment in our health. We don’t believe that there is anything magical about acai berries which will cause weight loss without effort or cause women to suddenly find you very attractive. Eating foods like this in addition to proper exercise however, will keep your doctor pleased with you for while. When was the last time you went to see your physician and he left the exam room with a smile on his face?

For now, plenty of research supports eating a diet rich in antioxidants. There’s no doubt that berries and other fruits are a key part of any healthy diet promoting weight loss.

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It would be great if every person who graduated medical school was equally talented in all areas. Sadly, that is not the case. Given that many insurance companies limit the doctors available to see, it is more important than ever to have a way of choosing the right doctor for your needs; especially if you need a doctor with a certain specialization. Many ratings systems are incomplete, inefficient, and still in their infancy.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Determine if you have special needs (eg. diabetes) or if you are just looking for routine check ups.
  • In addition to internists, primary care physicians usually have a good network of specialists for referrals.
  • Check to see if those physicians are on your health plan, which hospitals they are affiliated with, and convenient in terms of travel and scheduling.
  • Try to get a physician who is board certified in whichever specialty is important for your needs.

The bottom line:

“Do your research,” said Dr. Samantha Collier, the chief medical officer for HealthGrades. “Don’t assume all physicians are equally skilled. More importantly, they need to be a good match for you. I hear so many patients tell me they really don’t like their doctor or trust their doctor but they keep going back. That is ridiculous. This is one of the most important relationships you’re ever going to have — you need to feel completely comfortable.”

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Spore is a game created by Will Wright, a legend in the business. You may recognize some of his other creations, such as Sim City. The game plays homage to science but is not faithful to in an attempt to make the game fun to play.

In case you missed the hype, players start the game as microbes. They spawn pincers and flagella and swim to shore, “evolving” into a complex multi-celled organism that later becomes tribal, then builds cities and spaceships and finally colonises inhospitable planets and strives for galactic domination.

Actually evolving a creature may only take hours, yet the timeline will describe the process as having taken billions of years. On the other hand, the game’s evolution doesn’t rely on random natural selection and creatures evolve linearly, whereas in real life there are many branches on the tree of life.

Wright himself admits that making a great game – not absolute faithfulness to scientific knowledge – has to be the priority. But he told me later that: “We only break science with good reason.”

Overall, it is a fun engaging game which we recommend. It will force you to at least think about the processes involved in evolution. The only part of Spore which we found to be a negative is the space stage – it takes a long time, and certain tasks need to be done repetitively and manually which should be automated. At that point, gameplay becomes more of a chore. However, it’s easy to start a new round and find a different niche to explore and not be bored.

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