Scientists Crispr the First Human Embryos in the US (Maybe) – MEGAN MOLTENI SCIENCE 07.27.17 06:40 PM


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As powerful as the gene-editing technique Crispr is turning out to be—researchers are using it to make malaria-proof mosquitoes, disease-resistant tomatoes, live bacteria thumb drives, and all kinds of other crazy stuff—so far US scientists have had one bright line: no heritable modifications of human beings.

On Wednesday, the bright line got dimmer. MIT Technology Review reported that, for the first time in the US, a scientist had used Crispr on human embryos.

Behind this milestone is reproductive biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov, the same guy who first cloned embryonic stem cells in humans. And came up with three-parent in-vitro fertilization. And moved his research on replacing defective mitochondria in human eggs to China when the NIH declined to fund his work. Throughout his career, Mitalipov has gleefully played the role of mad scientist, courting controversy all along the way.

Yesterday’s news was no different. Editing viable human embryos is, if not exactly a no-no, at least controversial. Mitalipov and his colleagues at Oregon Health and Science University fertilized dozens of donated human eggs with sperm known to carry inherited disease-related mutations, according to the Tech Review report. At the same time, they used Crispr to correct those mutations. The team allowed the embryos to develop for a few days, and according to the original and subsequent reports a battery of tests revealed that the resulting embryos took up the desired genetic changes in the majority of their cells with few errors. Mitalipov declined to comment, saying the results were pending publication next month in a prominent scientific journal.

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From Skyhook To STEM: Kareem Abdul Jabbar Brings The Science – Eric Westervelt July 27, 2017 6:07 AM ET


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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Kareem Abdul Jabbar is taking his shot helping narrow the opportunity and equity gaps with his Skyhook Foundation and Camp Skyhook. The Los Angeles nonprofit helps public school students in the city access a free, fun, week-long STEM education camp experience in the Angeles National Forest.

Every week throughout the year, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Unified School District, groups of 4th and 5th graders attend Camp Skyhook at the Clear Creek Outdoor Education Center, one of the oldest outdoor education centers in America. The hands-on science curriculum allows students to study nature up close: take water temperature in a stream; soil or forest samples during a hike; study the local wildlife or explore the stars. That’s alongside the traditional fare of hiking, swimming, and campfire songs.

It’s so popular there’s basically a five-year waiting list for the camp in the city’s schools, where about 80 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunch.

Having an NBA Hall of Famer and the league’s all-time leading scorer support the camp certainly helps attract attention and financial support.

Abdul-Jabbar puts the spotlight “on environmental literacy and the need for students to be given the opportunity to learn about science in a place where they can do their own investigations and experiments,” says Gerry Salazar, director of outdoor and environmental education programs at LAUSD. “We don’t have rivers and streams at LA school sites.”

They do at Camp Skyhook.

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Are scientists going to march on Washington? – By Sarah Kaplan January 25 2017


People hold signs as they listen to a group of scientists speak during a rally in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The next big march on Washington could flood the Mall with scientists.

It’s an idea spawned on Reddit, where several scientists — concerned about the new president’s policies on climate change and other issues, and hyped from the success of the Women’s March on Washington — were discussing the best way to respond to what they feared would be an administration hostile to science.

Then someone wrote, “There needs to be a Scientists’ March on Washington.”

“100%,” someone replied. Dozens of others agreed.

[Trump administration gives scientists cold shoulder, alarming research community

One participant in the exchange, University of Texas Health Science Center postdoctoral fellow Jonathan Berman, took the conversation to heart. In short order, the march had a Facebook page (whose membership swelled from 200 people on Tuesday night to more than 300,000 by Wednesday evening), a Twitter handle, a website, two co-chairs, Berman and science writer and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg, and a Google form through which interested researchers could sign up to help.

Right now, that’s all it has. But, as the women’s march on Saturday demonstrated, social movements have started with less.

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From Psychedelics To Alzheimer’s, 2016 Was A Good Year For Brain Science – BRET STETKA December 31, 20165:00 AM ET


Image by Catherine MacBride/Getty Images

Image by Catherine MacBride/Getty Images

With a president-elect who has publicly supported the debunked claim that vaccines cause autism, suggested that climate change is a hoax dreamed up by the Chinese, and appointed to his Cabinet a retired neurosurgeon who doesn’t buy the theory of evolution, things might look grim for science.

Yet watching Patti Smith sing “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” live streamed from the Nobel Prize ceremony in early December to a room full of physicists, chemists and physicians — watching her twice choke up, each time stopping the song altogether, only to push on through all seven wordy minutes of one of Bob Dylan’s most beloved songs — left me optimistic.

Taking nothing away from the very real anxieties about future funding and support for science, neuroscience in particular has had plenty of promising leads that could help fulfill Alfred Nobel’s mission to better humanity. In the spirit of optimism, and with input from the Society for Neuroscience, here are a few of the noteworthy neuroscientific achievements of 2016.

One of the more fascinating fields of neuroscience of late entails mapping the crosstalk between our biomes, brains and immune systems.

In July, a group from the University of Virginia published a study in Nature showing that the immune system, in addition to protecting us from a daily barrage of potentially infectious microbes, can also influence social behavior. The researchers had previously shown that a type of white blood cells called T cells influence learning behavior in mice by communicating with the brain. Now they’ve shown that blocking T cell access to the brain influences rodent social preferences.

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Is Your Noisy Neighborhood Slowly Killing You? – FLORENCE WILLIAMS JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017


Inside the science of negative sound effects, and what we can do about them.

If you’re a tree frog or an ovenbird in mating season and you happen to live in the 83 percent of the continental United States that lies within 3,500 feet of a road, bummer for you. Not only are you more likely to collide with an SUV, but you’re going to have a harder time finding a mate. Research suggests that human-generated noises also mess with nesting behavior, predator-prey dynamics, and sleep patterns. In other words, wildlife gets stressed out by noise.

The physical responses that helped save our asses from predators back on the veldt have obvious downsides in the middle of a school lesson.

So do we, it turns out—and the world is getting louder. Scientists define “noise” as unwanted sound, and the level of background din from human activities has been doubling roughly every three decades, beating population growth. Road traffic in the United States has tripled over the last 30 years. By 2032, the number of passenger flights is expected to be nearly double the 2011 figure—at peak hours, planes are even audible overhead 70 percent of the time in the remote backcountry of Yosemite National Park. And while that’s obviously a nuisance for animals and visitors seeking a restorative experience, this growing anthropophony (a fancy word for the human soundscape) is also contributing to stress-related diseases and early death, especially in and around cities.

By evolutionary necessity, noise triggers a potent stress response. We are more easily startled by unexpected sounds than by objects that come suddenly into our field of vision. Our nervous systems react to noises that are loud and abrupt (gunshots, a backfiring engine), rumbling (airplanes), or whining and chaotic (leaf blowers, coffee grinders) by instructing our bodies to boost the heart rate, breathe less deeply, and release fight-or-flight hormones.

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Hollywood Lends Some of its Shine to Science at the 2017 Breakthrough Prizes -NICK STOCKTON 12.05.16. 9:48 PM


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Author: Nick Stockton. Nick Stockton Science

Vin Diesel and Mark Zuckerberg speak onstage during the 2017 Breakthrough Prize at NASA Ames Research Center on December 4, 2016 in Mountain View, CA. Kimberly White/Getty Images

Most people are bad at arguing. These 2 techniques will make you better. – Nov 23, 2016, 9:20am EST


alashi / Getty images

alashi / Getty images

Argue better — with science.

Anyone who has argued with an opinionated relative at Thanksgiving about immigration or gun control knows it is often impossible to sway someone with strong views.

That’s in part because our brains work hard to ensure the integrity of our worldview: We seek out information to confirm what we already know, and are dismissive of facts that are hostile to our core beliefs.

But it’s not impossible to make your argument stick. And there’s been some good scientific work on this. Here are two strategies that, based on the evidence, seem promising.

1) If the argument you find convincing doesn’t resonate with someone else, find out what does

Whenever we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed.

On gun control, for instance, liberals are persuaded by stats like, “No other developed country in the world has nearly the same rate of gun violence as does America.” And they think other people will find this compelling, too.

Conservatives, meanwhile, often go to this formulation: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

What both sides fail to understand is that they’re arguing a point that their opponents have not only already dismissed but may be inherently deaf to.

“The messages that are intuitive to people are, for the most part, not the effective ones,” Robb Willer, a professor of sociology and psychology at Stanford University, told me last year.

Willer has shown it’s at least possible to nudge our political opponents to consider ideas they’d normally reject outright. Last year, in a series of six studies, he and co-author Matthew Feinberg found that when conservative policies are framed around liberal values like equality or fairness, liberals become more accepting of them. The same was true of liberal policies recast in terms of conservative values like respect for authority.

So, his research suggests, if a conservative wanted to convince a liberal to support higher military spending, he shouldn’t appeal to patriotism. He should say something like, “Through the military, the disadvantaged can achieve equal standing and overcome the challenges of poverty and inequality.” Or at least that’s the general idea.

How to sway the other side: Use their morals against them

Willer’s work is based on moral foundations theory. It’s the idea that people have stable, gut-level morals that influence their worldview. The liberal moral foundations include equality, fairness, and protection of the vulnerable. Conservative moral foundations are more stalwart: They favor in-group loyalty, moral purity, and respect for authority.

Politicians intuitively use moral foundations to excite like-minded voters. Conservative politicians know phrases like “take our country back” get followers’ hearts beating.

What moral foundations theory tells us, however, is that these messages don’t translate from one moral tribe to the other. “You’re essentially trying to convince somebody who speaks French of some position while speaking German to them,” Willer says. “And that doesn’t resonate.”

Willer cautioned that it’s still extremely difficult to convert a political opponent completely to your side, even with these techniques. “We found statistically significant effects,” he says. “They’re reliable. But in terms of magnitude, they are not large.”

The chart below shows how well the moral reframing worked for each policy area in Willer’s study. To be clear, there’s only so much that reframing in terms of values can do: It can’t turn an anti-Obamacare conservative into a proponent, but it can soften his stance and get him to listen to counterarguments.

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