Pragma Synesi – interesting bits

Compendium of interesting bits I come across, with an occasional IMHO

Stress, evolution and cancer

Interesting theory — stress speeds up evolution.  Full article: Does Stress Speed Up Evolution?

Implication for cancer is in the last few paragraphs; here is the excerpt:

…Austin says his experiments suggest that putting too much stress on cancer cells by hitting them with high doses of cancer drugs could accelerate their evolution to develop drug resistance. “We give the patients as much as they can tolerate, guaranteeing the emergence of resistant cancer cells,” he says, adding that the current aggressive approach to cancer treatment has largely failed.

Instead, he is culturing cancer cells on his death galaxy to find the right low-dosing and timing of cancer drugs that keep the cancer cells from spreading without killing them—hopefully delaying the evolution of resistance as long as possible.

At least in an ovarian cancer model in mice, the approach seems to work. In 2009, Robert Gatenby, a radiologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, and his colleagues reported that interrupting, or down-adjusting, therapy as long as the tumor volume didn’t increase prolonged survival in these mice compared with the standard aggressive regimen. “If you give them standard high-dose therapy, the tumor can almost completely go away and then come back very rapidly and be resistant,” Gatenby says. “If you use an adaptive approach, we can consistently get control of the tumor.” Gatenby is now testing the approach in a 40-patient open clinical trial in patients with late-stage prostate cancer….

April 23, 2016 Posted by | evolution, health | , , | 1 Comment

Who will make a good father?

Highlights two successful but opposite evolutionary strategies for parental care.

Changes in a man’s testosterone level show the kind of parent he will be

Dec 12th 2015 | Economist

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February 13, 2016 Posted by | behaviour, decision making, evolution | , , | Leave a comment

How “probiotic epidemics” help wildlife—and us—survive

Pretty amazing how much we are dependent on a bunch of “low life”s.

When Evolution Is Infectious

How “probiotic epidemics” help wildlife—and us—survive

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff | October 1, 2015 | Nautilus Continue reading

October 2, 2015 Posted by | environment, evolution, genes, health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugar Addiction is Real

So after you read this, look at the amount of sugar in your kids’ cereal.  I wonder if a couple of decades from now (or sooner?) the companies selling such addictive and harmful fare will be treated like the tobacco companies today are.

Here’s what happens to your brain when you give up sugar for Lent

Jordan Gaines Lewis | February 18 2015 | The Conversation

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February 21, 2015 Posted by | brain, evolution | , , | Leave a comment

Why do we smile?

An evolutionary explanation of why we laugh and smile and cry the way we do.  Seems very convincing and eye-opening. Make sure you get to the last paragraph.

From the excellent aeon magazine:

The first smile

Why do laughter, smiles and tears look so similar? Perhaps because they all evolved from a single root

by 13 August 2014 | aeon magazine

Michael Graziano is a neuroscientist, novelist and composer. He is a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University. His latest book is Consciousness and the Social Brain.

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October 21, 2014 Posted by | anthropology, behaviour, emotions, evolution | , , , , | Leave a comment

Play the game, help science

Cool “spot-the-egg” game that helps science. Can you get on the high-score board?

September 26, 2014 Posted by | evolution, fun | , , , | Leave a comment

Evolutionary traps

” ON THE Caribbean island of St Kitts, a colony of exuberant vervet monkeys patrols the beach, waiting to pounce on unattended drinks. When they spot one, they scamper acrobatically across the sand to steal it. They fight. They drink. They overturn tables. Finally, as the sun slides over the horizon, they slump clumsily onto the sand.

Scientists have been studying the drunken monkeys of St Kitts for decades, using them to research the neural pathways involved in alcoholism. But they represent more than just a primate model of addiction.

According to biologist Bruce Robertson at Bard College in New York, the monkeys are caught in an “evolutionary trap”. Their enjoyment of alcohol exists for a very good reason, he says: they evolved to crave energy-rich foods. But now that piña coladas are easier to obtain than bananas, it has become a liability. “It’s an incorrect behaviour that happened because we changed the environment too fast for evolution to catch up,” Robertson says.

Evolutionary traps – also called ecological traps – are everywhere. They have been found in almost every type of habitat, affecting mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects. Bamboozled by rapid environmental change, these animals can no longer accurately assess the suitability of food resources, mates, habitats or much of anything else. Bad choices look like good ones, and the animals are lured into an evolutionary dead-end.”

— excerpt from the article Trapped! (New Scientist issue 2960, 17 March 2014, by Christopher Kemp)

The article goes on to give examples of other animals that are facing decline due to the change in their environment, from newly hatched turtles crawling towards the city lights instead of the sea, to jewel beetles mistaking a beer bottle for a female and mating with it.  It’s eye-opening to see examples of the inadvertent destruction humans cause in the environment.

But there are two additional ideas in this article that fascinated me.  The first one is what Robertson calls “virtuous evolutionary traps”, a trap set on purpose, for example for mosquitoes carrying malaria. Ken Pienta is using it to trap metastasizing cancer cells — and calling it eco-therapy.

The second idea is that evolutionary traps apply to humans too. Behaviours that evolved to aid survival, hijacked to our detriment:  fast food, gambling, video gaming, drugs, pornography and so on. How can these be fixed?

The article is well worth reading. If you don’t have a subscription to New Scientist, this link seems to have the full text.

April 21, 2014 Posted by | behaviour, environment, evolution | , , , | Leave a comment

Beauty and friendliness

Breeding experiment with silver foxes showed that friendliness and facial features are correlated — the friendlier, the more “beautiful”, and it seems, the more “highbrow”.  From The Economist, November 16th, 2013:

The evolution of beauty:  Face the facts

What makes for a beautiful visage, and why, may have been discovered accidentally on a Russian fur farm

February 18, 2014 Posted by | evolution | , , , | Leave a comment

Why Your Brain Craves Music

Brain scans suggests that it has to do with our pattern recognition and predicting ability. And it’s also good for depression.  From TIme magazine, April 15, 2013:

Why Your Brain Craves Music

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May 26, 2013 Posted by | behaviour, brain, evolution | , , | Leave a comment

Eating Snot is healthy

Uhmmm… just read it.

Picking your nose and eating it may be good for you

University of Saskatchewan biochemistry professor ready to start a study

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April 26, 2013 Posted by | evolution, health | , , , | Leave a comment