A selection of my favorite blog posts, articles, videos and photos from the last couple weeks.

Best e. coli Explanations

Marian Turner over at Nature did a nice job of explaining the biology behind the recent e. coli outbreak in Germany. From her article, Phage on the Rampage:

Our use of antibiotics may be helping those viral genes to spread. If bacteria are exposed to some types of antibiotics they undergo what is called the SOS response, which induces the phage to start replicating. Active replication of the phage causes the bacterial cells to burst open, which releases the phage. It also releases the toxin, which is why antibiotics are not usually used to treat e. coli infections.

A generalized bacteriophage cycle

Some other folks ran some good posts on the e. coli outbreak as well:

Mark Bittman, NY Times:  E. Coli: Don’t Blame the Sprouts!

Mike the Mad Biologist, Science Blogs:  Some More Thoughts About the German E. coli Outbreak

Tara C. Smith, Science Blogs:  E. coli O104:H4 in Europe–is it new?

[Edited on 6/11/11 to add the following:]

Carl Zimmer, Newsweek: The Rise of Superbacteria

And this excellent summary and collection of blog discussions  by Tabitha M. Powledge at the National Association of Science Writers Blog: On science blogs this week: Shiga, Shiga


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Bluefin Tuna (NOAA)

The corresponding article is here at Seafood Source.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Friday decided not to list Atlantic bluefin tuna for protection under the Endangered Species Act, which would have prohibited U.S. fishermen from catching the species.

However, NOAA committed to revisiting the decision by early 2013, when more information will be available about the effects of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as a new stock assessment from the scientific arm of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the international body charged with the species’ management.

So let’s NOT protect the species now, just in case the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill turns out to be a big harmless nothing. And if it was something? Ohwell. Too late.

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Coolest Science Trick I’m going to try at home

Nice explanation with that video too:

Eddy Current Tubes — Drop the Magnets down the tube. An eddy current is set up in a conductor in response to a changing magnetic field. Lenz’s law predicts that the current moves in such a way as to create a magnetic field opposing the change; to do this in a conductor, electrons swirl in a plane perpendicular to the changing magnetic field.

Because the magnetic fields of the eddy currents oppose the magnetic field of the falling magnet; there is attraction between the two fields. Energy is converted into heat. This principle is used in damping the oscillation of the lever arm of mechanical balances.

Best  Misdirecting Headline

“Huge testicular tumour helps identify subject of 19th century portrait”

Got an image of that portrait in your head? Now click.

(No. Not there. In the jar)


Biggest Near Miss I Almost Missed

Solar Flare This Week Illuminated Power Grid’s Vulnerability

Solar Flare (NASA)

What, with all the tornadoes, floods, heatwaves, and other natural disasters in the past couple of weeks, I completely missed the news on the solar flare:

Antti Pulkkinen, who leads NASA’s “Solar Shield” satellite-based detection system at the Goddard Space Flight Center, said the cloud of ionized particles from Tuesday’s violent “coronal mass ejection” will largely miss Earth, giving some North American residents a glimpse of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, this weekend. “It will not be a major event [for] the power grid,” he said.

So that’s good news. But the more important point is that a large solar flare, like those expected during the next sun spot cycle in 2012-14 will could conceivably knock out large portions of the power grid and leave populations without power for “many months or even years.”

“If the solar storm of 1921, which has been termed a one-in-100-year event, were to occur today, well over 300 extra-high-voltage transformers could be damaged or destroyed, thereby interrupting power to 130 million people for a period of years.”  — Joseph McClelland, director of the Office of Electric Reliability at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission


Favorite  Photo of an Activist

Activist Barbie?

And finally, you really can’t beat Barbie in a pink bulldozer taking on Mattel.

Elise Nabors, wearing a Barbie outfit and driving a pink skip loader, is stopped by a police officer near Mattel’s headquarters in El Segundo during a protest that accused the toy maker of using packaging material from Indonesian rain forests.  (LA Times)

Greenpeace reminds us that Ken does not date girls who are into deforestation.