Category: News

Coming soon to a lab near you? Genetically modified cannabis

By Amy Maxmen

Legal hurdles to exploring marijuana’s medicinal properties might soon fall in the wake of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) first approval of a cannabis-derived drug.

On 25 June, the FDA announced its approval of Epidiolex — a treatment for epileptic seizures that is based on a cannabis compound called cannabidiol (CBD). The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has until 24 September to re-classify Epidiolex so that it’s legal for doctors across the country to prescribe it. Many researchers hope that the agency will re-classify CBD itself, instead of just Epidiolex, so that they can more easily study this non-psychedelic component of marijuana.

Now that the FDA has approved Epidiolex, “we have a clear recognition that this plant has more potential than people credited it for, and that has reverberations that are scientific as well as legal”, says Daniele Piomelli, director of a new centre for cannabis research at the University of California, Irvine. At the very least, he says, the DEA ought to grant researchers an exemption permitting them to study CBD — especially now that people consume it and other cannabis compounds, known as cannabinoids, in states where marijuana is legal. At this point, the limits on research seem irrational, he adds.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

NASA Just Released the Song of the Summer

By Marina Koren

In Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” a sweeping, seven-part composition inspired by Earth’s neighbors in the solar system, the song of Saturn begins softly, with the gentle hum of flutes. The melody, solemn and nostalgic, marches slowly forward. Then the woodwinds subside, and there’s an explosion of sound, a frenzy of horns and clanging bells. Melancholy seems to morph into menace. The roar is brief, and the movement returns to its opening softness, closing on the dreamy whisper of violins.

The movement, first performed in late 1918, is enchanting and unsettling at the same time—just like the real music around Saturn.

And by music, I mean these noises from the space between Saturn and its icy moon Enceladus.

The source of this ethereal chorus is the movement of plasma waves between Saturn and Enceladus, recorded by the Cassini spacecraft and then converted into sound the human ear can register.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

A Judge Has Ruled Against Atheists Trying to Put Up the Least Offensive Ad Ever

By Hemant Mehta

A Pennsylvania judge has ruled that a government agency had every right to reject an atheist advertisement, putting a temporary end to a saga that’s dragged on for more than six years.

In 2012, atheist Justin Vacula and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society attempted to place the following ad on buses in the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS).

If that seems like quite literally the least offensive atheist ad ever, that’s kind of the point. This was a year when a lot of atheist groups were buying bus ads and billboards promoting their views, so Justin went in a different direction by trying to run an ad with the word “atheist,” links to a couple of websites, and pretty much nothing else.

COLTS took the bait by rejecting the ad. They actually called it too “controversial.”

Seriously. Too controversial. The COLTS policy at the time allowed them to reject ads “deemed controversial” or which would otherwise “spark public debate.”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Kavanaugh record suggests he would favor religious interests in school debates

By Laura Meckler

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court, has defended the use of taxpayer money for religious schools and backed student-led prayers at high school football games, siding with religious interests in the debate over government entanglement with religion.

In private practice, Kavanaugh backed the government when it sought to support religious interests and challenged schools when they attempted to exclude religious groups.

Together, legal experts say, these cases suggest he would continue the court’s steady shift from a strict separation between government and religion to a far more permeable relationship — a matter with implications for public and private schools.

Kavanaugh is the product of religious education. He graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School in Maryland’s Montgomery County, a Jesuit school where every class begins with a prayer. His daughters attend Blessed Sacrament, a Catholic school in Northwest Washington.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Early Life Experience: It’s in Your DNA

By Robert Martone

We normally think that every cell in our body contains the same genome, the complete set of genetic information that makes up the biological core of our individuality. However, there are exceptions where the body contains cells that are genetically different. This happens in cancers, of course, which arise when mutations create genetically distinct cells. What most people do not realize, however, is that the brain has remarkable genetic diversity, with some studies suggesting there may be hundreds of mutations in each nerve cell. In the developing brain, mutations and other genetic changes that occur while brain cells divide are passed down to a cluster of daughter cells. As a result, the adult brain is composed of a mosaic of genetically distinct cell clusters.

We know that the activity and organization of the brain changes in response to experience. Memories and learning are reflected in the number and strength of connections between nerve cells. We also know that the brain is genetically mosaic, but a new study makes a remarkable connection between experience and the genetic diversity of the brain. It suggests that experience can change the DNA sequence of the genome contained in brain cells.  This is a fundamentally new and unexplored way in which experience can alter the brain.  It is of great scientific interest because it reveals the brain to be pliable, to its genetic core, in response to the world.

The genome is the molecular signature of identity. The sequence of DNA contained in our genomes distinguishes each of us as unique individuals, and changes in that sequence are relatively rare.  Genomic changes typically arise from rare errors during cell replication, or from exposure to carcinogens or radiation. Here, experience has an equally powerful capacity to change the genome, but only in cells of the brain. The care that a newborn receives in early life can have profound effects on psychological and intellectual growth.  Attentive nurturing, feeding and grooming can reduce stress and anxiety and enhance psychological well-being.  On the other hand, indifference can lead to increased anxiety and impaired psychological adjustment.  This study reveals that one way the quality of early care could cause lifelong changes in behavior is by changing the brain’s genetic nature.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

A religious Oregon couple didn’t believe in medical care. After newborn’s death, they’re headed to prison.

By Kyle Swenson

The deputy medical examiner knew before knocking on the door. There was a grim scene waiting for Eric Tonsfeldt inside the single-story house set among the pine trees outside of Oregon City, Ore. — a tragedy that had played out there before.

It was around 8:45 on March 5, 2017, and the Clackamas County official was responding to a report of a dead newborn.

The child had not been delivered in a hospital. She wasn’t attended to by doctors and nurses. The baby died amid the murmured prayers of friends and family. But Tonsfeldt knew — as everyone else in the county and many beyond all the way up to the state legislature — that this was a familiar occurrence with members of the Followers of Christ Church, a faith-healing sect numbering around 1,000 members.

Tonsfeldt found the newborn’s mother, Sarah Elaine Mitchell, in the master bedroom cradling the dead child in a blanket. As the official later recounted in a probable cause affidavit obtained by KGW8, the child’s father, Travis Lee Mitchell, was also in the room, as was Sarah’s father, Walter White. Tonsfeldt would say that when he questioned the individuals in the room about the death, the answers were “stilted and forced.” No one would make eye contact. Eventually, he learned the baby — Ginnifer — had been born around 2:55 p.m. Hours later, the baby stopped breathing, dying around 7 p.m. As Tonsfeldt examined the child, he noted Ginnifer was 3 pounds, 6 ounces. The baby had been born prematurely at 32 weeks.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Center For Inquiry Sues CVS for Defrauding Customers With Homeopathic “Medicine”

By Hemant Mehta

The Center For Inquiry has filed a lawsuit against CVS Health Corporation (which includes its nearly 10,000 pharmacies) for promoting and selling homeopathic remedies.

CVS is deceiving customers, CFI says, “through its misrepresentation of homeopathy’s safety and effectiveness, wasting customers’ money and putting their health at risk.”

Homeopathy is, of course the sham treatment that takes a trace amount of actual medicine, then dilutes it with water thousands of times over until no actual medicine remains. The resulting mixture of bullshit and nonsense is packaged and sold to customers who may not realize they’re being duped by nothing more than an expensive placebo.

“Homeopathy is a total sham, and CVS knows it. Yet the company persists in deceiving its customers about the effectiveness of homeopathic products,” said Nicholas Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “Homeopathics are shelved right alongside scientifically-proven medicines, under the same signs for cold and flu, pain relief, sleep aids, and so on.”

“If you search for ‘flu treatment’ on their website, it even suggests homeopathics to you,” said Little. “CVS is making no distinction between those products that have been vetted and tested by science, and those that are nothing but snake oil.”

It’s not just a waste of time and money. Over the past couple of years, some homeopathic remedies meant for babies were found to harm them because the pills were manufactured improperly. (The makers found a way to screw up doing nothing.)

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh stands on key issues

By Clare Foran and Joan Biskupic

Washington (CNN) – President Donald Trump announced on Monday his decision to nominate Brett Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire.

Kavanaugh, 53, currently serves as a judge on the powerful US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Here’s where he stands on some hot-button issues:

Abortion

Because he was a swing-vote in favor of abortion rights, Kennedy’s departure from the court has sparked alarm among abortion rights activists that Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, could be overturned. In addition, Trump has long vowed to appoint justices who would reverse Roe and allow states to determine whether abortion should be legal.
Kavanaugh has not expressed outright opposition to Roe v. Wade.
One of his opinions likely to draw scrutiny from senators is a his dissent from a ruling of the DC Circuit last October that an undocumented immigrant teen in detention was entitled to seek an abortion.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Religion, The Supreme Court, And Why It Matters

By Sarah McCammon and Domenico Montardo

Lots of controversial cases at the intersection of religion and the law wind up before the Supreme Court.

And, for most of U.S. history, the court, like the country, was dominated by Protestant Christians. But today, it is predominantly Catholic and Jewish.

It has become more conservative and is about to get even more so with President Trump’s expected pick to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is stepping down from the court at the end of July.

Everyone on Trump’s shortlist, but one, is Catholic. So what, if anything, do the current justices’ and potential nominees’ faiths tell us — and how has the religious makeup of the Supreme Court changed?

“It’s extraordinary and unprecedented in American history,” said Louis Michael Seidman, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church. “There was a time when, for example, there was tremendous anti-Catholic bias … and, of course, there was a time when there was a lot of anti-Semitism, and a lot of that has gone away.”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

The Secrets of Leonard Leo, the Man Behind Trump’s Supreme Court Pick

By Jay Michaelson

When President Donald Trump nominates a justice to the Supreme Court on Monday night, he will be carrying out the agenda of a small, secretive network of extremely conservative Catholic activists already responsible for placing three justices (Alito, Roberts, and Gorsuch) on the high court.

And yet few people know who they are—until now.

At the center of the network is Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, the association of legal professionals that has been the pipeline for nearly all of Trump’s judicial nominees. (Leo is on leave from the Federalist Society to personally assist Trump in picking a replacement for Justice Anthony Kennedy.) His formal title is executive vice president, but that role belies Leo’s influence.

Directly or through surrogates, he has placed dozens of life-tenure judges on the federal bench; effectively controls the Judicial Crisis Network, which led the opposition to President Obama’s high court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland; he heavily influences the Becket Fund law firm that represented Hobby Lobby in its successful challenge of contraception; and now supervises admissions and hires at the George Mason Law School, newly renamed in memory of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.