Sunday, August 27, 2006

Enzymes Make Use of Quantum Effects

Upcoming drug revolution takes a quantum leap.

British scientists have found that enzymes cheat time and space by quantum tunnelling - a much faster way of travelling than the classical way - but whether or not perplexing quantum theories can be applied to the biological world is still hotly debated.

Until now, no one knew just how the enzymes speed up the reactions, which in some cases are up to a staggering million times faster.

"Our research has shown at an atomic level how enzymes act as catalysts," said Nigel Scrutton, lead researcher at the University of Manchester, whose team published their work in the U.S. journal, Science, on April 14.

Just how these enzymes speed up reaction rates compared with uncatalysed reactions remain controversial among scientists, but such insights of the underpinnings of enzyme behaviour have begun.

"Enzymes are central to the existence of life because most chemical reactions in our cells would take place too slowly or produce a difference outcome without their involvement," he said.

Without enzymes, we'd wither away or be riddled with disease.

As biological molecules, the enzymes work to lower the energy needed for a reaction to occur. Although enzymes act as catalysts, they are often affected by other molecules. Therefore, when drugs are made, they are designed to act as enzymes inhibitors to stop the reactions from occurring.

"The findings are a radical departure from the traditional view of how they work and might explain why attempts to make artificial enzymes have so far been disappointing," he said.

But now that researchers know enzymes can quantum tunnel, better drugs can be designed leveraging this knowledge.

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Einstein Robot Looks Almost Completely Real

Just found this on YouTube.

The robot looks so real, it's bizarre.

This made it much easier for me to see how robots may one day intermingle with us without us being able to clearly distuingish between robots and biological humans.

Einstein Robot.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Our Technological Future - Mixed Bag #1

Embryonic stem cells without embryo death.

You don’t have to destroy an embryo to create stem cells for medical research. An American biosciences company has succeeded in deriving the cells from embryos without killing them, raising hopes that President Bush will reconsider his veto on federal funding for such work.


Lanza hopes that because the method does not involve destroying embryos, it will lead to the lifting of the veto on federal funding for stem cell research. “We need to jump-start the field – it’s been crippled by a lack of funding,” he says. “This will hopefully solve the political impasse and bring the president on board, as no embryos will be harmed with this method.”

The Future of Robots.
Once we understand how the mind operates, we will be able to program detailed descriptions of these principles into inexpensive computers, which, by the late 2020s, will be thousands of times as powerful as the human brain—another consequence of the law of accelerating returns. So we will have both the hardware and software to achieve human-level intelligence in a machine by 2029. We will also by then be able to construct fully humanlike androids at exquisite levels of detail and send blood-cell-size robots into our bodies and brains to keep us healthy from inside and to augment our intellect. By the time we succeed in building such machines, we will have become part machine ourselves. We will, in other words, finally transcend what we have so long thought of as the ultimate limitations: our bodies and minds.

Nanosolar: Printing Solar Film Like Paper.
Nanosolar is a company based in Palo Alto, California, which uses an innovative technique to produce a kind of "solar film". To make the film, Nanosolar prints CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium) onto a thin polymer using machines that look like printing presses. There is no costly silicon involved in the process, and, ultimately, a solar cell from Nanosolar will cost about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of a standard silicon solar panel. Nanosolar is only a few years old, but it has laid plans to take on multinational corporations, such as BP and Sharp, in the solar industry.

Computers write news at Thomson.
First it was the typewriter, then the teleprinter. Now a US news service has found a way to replace human beings in the newsroom and is instead using computers to write some of its stories.

Thomson Financial, the business information group, has been using computers to generate some stories since March and is so pleased with the results that it plans to expand the practice.

The computers work so fast that an earnings story can be released within 0.3 seconds of the company making results public.

Chaos Computing.
Ditto's chip is like the microelectronic version of a stem cell: It's a device that can assume all sorts of different functions. But a chaotic chip goes one step further: It can morph over and over again. For computer design, this has huge implications. In a traditional chip, the basic elements, called logic gates, are hardwired to perform a single, specific task. In a chaotic chip, each logic gate can be converted on the fly to perform any function.

What this means is that computers will no longer need separate, costly chips for the CPU, memory, video RAM, graphics accelerators, arithmetic processing units, and so on. Instead, one chip will convert itself to whatever functions the software needs at a given moment.

3-D TV That Actually Works.
I entered a conference room in Manhattan and a woman on the TV tossed a handful of rose petals out of the screen, where they floated in the air before my eyes.

At least, that's what I saw. In truth, the image resided on a perfectly flat, 42-inch LCD screen. But the 3-D illusion was fully believable, and I didn't have to wear a dorky set of polarizing glasses.

A new line of 3-D televisions by Philips uses the familiar trick of sending slightly different images to the left and right eyes -- mimicking our stereoscopic view of the real world. But where old-fashioned 3-D movies rely on the special glasses to block images meant for the other eye, Philips' WOWvx technology places tiny lenses over each of the millions of red, green and blue sub pixels that make up an LCD or plasma screen. The lenses cause each sub pixel to project light at one of nine angles fanning out in front of the display.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Government Backs Intelligent Robot Development

Govt to back intelligence robot development.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to begin assisting the development of next-generation intelligence robots in fiscal 2007 with the aim of commercializing them in 2015, Jiji Press learned Thursday.

The ministry is set to seek 2.1 billion yen in related funds as part of its budget request for the fiscal year that starts next April, and will assist the development of basic technologies in the next five years, informed sources said.

Intelligence robots are capable of recognizing sounds and images through sensors and of automatically analyzing the obtained information to determine their actions. Conventional industrial robots require input work patterns before they can operate.

For the government-funded development project, the ministry will seek the participation of universities and manufacturers that conduct research into artificial intelligence and sound and image recognition technologies, the sources said.

It hopes to commercialize the newly developed robots by 2015. The robots will include "cleaning robots" that, equipped with the plan of a building, will be able to choose the most appropriate routes to reach areas that need cleaning, and "guide robots" capable of communicating with humans through advanced voice and image processing technologies.

Reflecting a surge in the number of industrial robots in the past 10 years, there are some 840,000 robots operating at present across the globe.

In Japan, the market for industrial robots is expected to expand to around 3 trillion yen over the next decade.

Against this backdrop, the government acknowledges that intelligence robots constitute one of its core strategies for economic growth.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Single Molecule Stores Data

Single molecule stores data.

IBM researchers in Zurich, Switzerland, have demonstrated a single-molecule device capable of repeatedly storing and retrieving data.

Described in the Aug. 4 issue of nanotech journal Small Times, the device is a surprisingly simple organic compound that can be set to high or low resistance through electrical pulses. In the lab, it reliably retained its ability to change states over many hours and more than 500 tests, which the researchers described in the paper as "a remarkable result for a single-molecule system."

"Right now, we are concentrating on understanding the relationship between the design of the molecular system and the electrical properties measured," researcher Heike Riel told ZDNet UK. "Our next steps are to investigate the mechanism responsible for switching."

The molecule at the heart of the system, BPDN-DT, was designed by professor James Tour and co-workers at Rice University in Houston and is one of a class of compounds called Tour wires. Although it was specifically synthesized to operate in this and other devices--it has also been used in a single molecule transistor--there is still considerable debate as to how it works and what characteristics any potential commercial application may have.


At about 1.5 nanometers long, the molecule is less than a hundredth of the size of current silicon memory elements. It is widely accepted in the industry that current progress in silicon will become economically more difficult below 20nm, with fundamental physical limits being reached below 10nm. IBM says it sees molecular computing as one way of pushing past this barrier, as well as semiconducting wires, carbon nanotubes and spintronics.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Shorter, 4-6 Hour Workdays Would Benefit Us All

Call for six-hour work day.

Working four to six hours a day is the key to happiness, according to a new report.

In the quest for money and status, Australians are among the hardest workers in the world.

But Sydney University academic Dr Caroline West says while work delivers self-esteem, income and social ties, more than four to six hours a day will bring anxiety, exhaustion and a poor quality of life.

"We've structured our lives so the majority of our waking life is devoted to work, which might bring us more money but doesn't make us more fulfilled," Dr West said.

"So long as there's a trend to work these really long hours you'll continue to see the plateauing and decline of people's wellbeing."

Dr West said almost a third of Australian full-time workers worked more than 48 hours a week and 30 per cent worked 50 hours or more.

After analysing a range of studies over the past few years, Dr West, who has published her findings in the Australian Law Reform Commission Journal, says the idea of a six-hour day is not a fantasy.

"I don't see any reason why it can't realistically happen," she said.

"It's going to require a lot of structural reform, but I think the time is ripe for addressing it as an issue."

She said the concept of the four- to six-hour working day - originally flagged by economist John Maynard Keynes in the early 1900s - would even help productivity.

But with competitiveness and the quest to "outdo one another" ingrained in society, most people weren't convinced that working less would make them happier, she said.

Dr West's research shows most people would rather work longer hours and have more money than have extra leisure and family time.

She said people who don't have money and who don't value work as their number one priority often risked being ostracised, or dubbed as lazy.

"It's difficult to be someone who places priority on leisure if you're surrounded by people who just care about money, or care about it more than other things," Dr West said.

For now, only a select privileged group with alternatives such as job sharing arrangements could afford the shorter hours, she said.

It's quite a pathetic situation. The article actually says people would rather work long and hard than be with their families and friends.

Well, not me. I've had exactly one year of working experience and I've watched it steadily suck the soul right out of me without being able to do anything about it. Up till now, that is. My contract allows for me to switch back to 4 days a week, which is exactly what I'll be doing a few weeks from now. The arrangements are being made right now at my company.

You may be wondering why I am posting this, as it has nothing to do with technology at first sight.

Here's why:

Technology is what is responsible for industrial revolutions which have great impact on our society. With every industrial revolution, the quality of our lives has increased by lessening our workload.

Think about it:

We started out as cavemen, running around in the jungle for about 25 years fighting off sabretooth tigers and grizzly bears.

Then we built societies for ourselves and we started working on the land. Work was still physical and hard, but at least we had the protection of the village or town.

Then we built machines. Still lots of physical work, but the workday eventually decreased to 10 hours. Henry Ford later decreased the workday further to 8 hours.

Welcome to today. We're still working 8 hours, but most of it is intellectual now. Light-load office jobs.

The first reports of people wanting more free time (as opposed to what the article states) are already coming in. Also, research has showed that a 4 day workweek makes people more productive, provided the work is properly planned. I heard this on the radio while plowing away at my lame 5 days / 8 hours job. And yet we all kept going at it as if we didn't hear it.

After all those industrial revolutions, life is still crap. We sleep one third of our time, work one third of our time and a great deal of the other third is spent doing things that are absolutely necessary, such as travelling (to work, blegh), bathing, shopping, preparing food, eating, etc. We are rewarded only with much too short weekends and too few days off, in which nobody has any time for anybody because we're too busy doing other things that need to be done.

Virtually no time is left for personal development. And somehow we are expected to maintain our social contacts and find girlfriends in this little bit of time as well. Some people are really good at accepting this situation. They apparently have no problem shoving their own desires aside and are happily grinding away, fulfilling their role as a miniscule gear in our beautiful system.

They're lying to themselves. Would they really spend 8 hours a day doing their current job if they were free to decice what to do? Have these people been brainwashed to such a degree that they cannot function without the system holding a double-barreled shotgun to the back of their heads?

Slaving away your entire life just to buy a pile of bricks and rooftiles seems like a poor man's life to me. But who the hell am I. Just some nutcase who manages a techblog in his spare minutes, I recon.

But there is hope.

Thanks to exponential acceleration in our technological progression, we are seeing industrial revolutions following up much faster. Soon, we can expect one every few years. And with every revolution, life gets better.

The first revolution we will see in about ten years, is that of nanotechnology which has the potential to make products extremely cheap and outperform our current products by about a factor of thousand. Recent developments suggest robots will soon be entering the mainstream and they will be taking plenty of our jobs away. You'd think this would cause huge economic depression. But keep in mind that if our economy is entirely automized, robots will be doing all the work and we'd be free to party all day singing yippee yippee.

So it seems to me we've all got something to look forward too.

It sure is a shame I was born in 1978, though. I'd rather be born in 2000.

Then again... having gone (and still going) through this barbaric society, I might actually not take all of tomorrow's technology for granted.

Because that's exactly what young people growing up right now will be doing.

But me... I've gone through the cesspit of the backwards eighties and nineties...

Tomorrow's technology might actually make me happy.

All I have to do is hang in there...

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hybrid Full-Sized Trucks Debut in 2007

GM To Debut Hybrid Full-Sized Trucks in Fall '07.

General Motors is planning a fall 2007 launch for its highly anticipated so-called "dual-mode" or two-mode gas/electric hybrid version of the 2007 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks.

Company insiders tell Inside Line the hybrid version of the trucks will see a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy over the conventional trucks, with a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 25 mpg. The hybrid trucks will also be outfitted with a new V8 engine with an unspecified displacement that makes approximately 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque.

Both the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra are capable of using the new hybrid system. It is unclear which truck will be the first to get the hybrid system — or whether both will get it at the same time. However, because of the hybrid's anticipated expense — at least $3,000 more than the gas-powered versions of the trucks — GM may be leaning toward introducing it first in the GMC-brand trucks, which are aimed at a more affluent audience.

GM's dual-mode hybrid trucks will be equipped with the new V8 and two electric motors that control two planetary gearsets. Another key piece of equipment will be a fuel-optimization computer. "Dual mode" refers to the hybrid's transmission setup, which allows the truck to shift between a conventional 4-speed automatic transmission and a continuously variable transmission. The shifting between transmission modes is done with the help of the onboard fuel-optimization computer, which makes split-second calculations as to which transmission mode will be the best for conserving fuel. The work is done automatically, with no buttons to push by the driver.


This is the future of cars unfolding before our very eyes. Future cars will be more fuel-efficient and more automised.

Eventually, cars will do a great deal of driving for us.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Intelligence Amplification Pill Invented

"Anti-stupid" pill tested on mice.

A German scientist has been testing an "anti-stupidity" pill with encouraging results on mice and fruit flies, Bild newspaper reported on Saturday.

It said Hans-Hilger Ropers, director at Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, has tested a pill thwarting hyperactivity in certain brain nerve cells, helping stabilise short-term memory and improve attentiveness.

"With mice and fruit flies we were able to eliminate the loss of short-term memory," Ropers, 62, is quoted saying in the German newspaper, which has dubbed it the "world's first anti-stupidity pill."

I'm sure the researcher is a brilliant researcher... but if he'd known anything about marketing strategies he would have called it an intelligence amplification-pill or a smart-pill.

Anyway... we can expect this kind of stuff to enter the mainstream sometime in the coming biotech era.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

MIT Researchers Watch Brain In Action

MIT researchers watch brain in action.

For the first time, scientists have been able to watch neurons within the brain of a living animal change in response to experience.

Thanks to a new imaging system, researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have gotten an unprecedented look into how genes shape the brain in response to the environment. Their work is reported in the July 28 issue of Cell.

"This work represents a technological breakthrough," said first author Kuan Hong Wang, a research scientist at the Picower Institute who will launch his own laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health in the fall. "This is the first study that demonstrates the ability to directly visualize the molecular activity of individual neurons in the brain of live animals at a single-cell resolution, and to observe the changes in the activity in the same neurons in response to the changes of the environment on a daily basis for a week."

This advance, coupled with other brain disease models, could "offer unparalleled advantages in understanding pathological processes in real time, leading to potential new drugs and treatments for a host of neurological diseases and mental disorders," said Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa, a co-author of the study.

This is pretty big. Being able to watch a brain learn is a tremendous boon to research aimed at reverse-engineering the (human) brain.

Reverse-engineering the brain will eventually enable science to build superior artificial intelligence.

Superior AI will in turn likely lead to a Singularity.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Solar Power Tower To Be Built In Australia

How Australia got hot for solar power.

It's a dead-calm antipodean winter's day, the silence of this vast ranch called Tapio Station broken only by the cry of a currawong bird. Davey, chief executive of Melbourne renewable-energy company EnviroMission, aims to break ground here early next year on the world's first commercial "solar tower" power station.

"The tower will be over there," Davey says, pointing to a spot a mile distant where a 1,600-foot structure will rise from the ocher-colored earth. Picture a 260-foot-diameter cylinder taller than the Sears Tower encircled by a two-mile-diameter transparent canopy at ground level. About 8 feet tall at the perimeter, where Davey has his feet planted, the solar collector will gradually slope up to a height of 50 to 60 feet at the tower's base.

Acting as a giant greenhouse, the solar collector will superheat the air with radiation from the sun. Hot air rises, naturally, and the tower will operate as a giant vacuum. As the air is sucked into the tower, it will produce wind to power an array of turbine generators clustered around the structure.

The result: enough clean, green electricity to power some 100,000 homes without producing a particle of pollution or a wisp of planet-warming gases.

"We're aiming to be competitive with the coal people," says Davey, 60. "We're filling a gap in the renewable-energy market that has never been able to be filled before."


With a solar tower, there's no fuel to dig out of the ground, transport, or dispose of, no smog, no scarred landscapes from open-pit mining. The sun rises every day and is not subject to embargoes, geopolitics, or commodity markets.

And once the solar tower's capital costs are paid off, the price of producing electricity should drop dramatically, as operating and maintenance costs are expected to be minimal. Despite its monolithic scale, the technology behind the tower is based on an elemental scientific truth: Hot air rises. The solar tower's only moving parts are its turbines.


But out at Tapio Station, Davey insists that the solar tower will be built whether or not the government gives EnviroMission $75 million. "This used to be a dream," he says, staring out at the horizon where the tower will rise. "Then it became a concept. Now it's becoming reality."

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Robot With 20 Brains Takes On Any Desired Shape

No head required for 20-brained bot.

Humans are lost without their heads, but not M-TRAN. The robot, made of 20 independent modules that each have their own "brain", can lose any of its body parts without breaking down.

The modules of M-TRAN, which was developed by the Intelligent Systems Research Institute in Tsukuba, Japan, consist of two blocks connected by a flexing joint, powered by electric motors. Four processors in the two blocks enable each module to operate independently, and hooks allow them to latch onto each other. These hooks also relay signals, so that modules can coordinate to change the robot's overall shape.

Previous modular robots have formed four-legged walkers, worms or wheels, but unlike M-TRAN, they were unable to function without an external computer or central brain module. Watch videos of earlier M-TRAN versions here.

Be sure to follow the link to the videos. They're awesome.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Rat Brain Cells Hooked Up To Robot Body, Computer Simulation

It's Alive (ish).

When Rene Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am," the philosopher probably didn't imagine a stamp-sized clump of rat neurons grown in a dish, hooked to a computer.

For years, scientists have learned about brain development by watching the firing patterns of lab-raised brain cells. Until recently, though, the brains-in-a-dish couldn't receive information. Unlike actual gray matter, they could only send signals.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology figured they could learn more from neuron clumps that acted more like real brains, so they've developed "neurally controlled animats" -- a few thousand rat neurons grown atop a grid of electrodes and connected to a robot body or computer-simulated virtual environment.

In theory, animats seem to cross the line from mass of goo to autonomous brain. But Steve Potter, a neuroscientist and head of the Georgia Tech lab where the animats were created, said his brain clumps won't be reciting French philosophy anytime soon.

"Our goal is not to get something as conscious as a person," he said. "We're studying basic mechanisms of learning and memory." The researchers are focusing on how groups of individual cells interact and change when stimulated.

Rather than create a sentient being, the goal of the work is to learn about the earliest human brain development, according to Daniel Wagenaar, a California Institute of Technology neuroscientist who worked with Potter on the animat.

"When someone is born, they're still not able to control much of their behavior," Wagenaar said. "Somehow this system has to learn to control a body. Part of that comes from interactions with environment. We hope to get, at the very simple level of small nervous system, some insight into how that occurs."

The scientists rely on these models because no technology exists to watch live human brain cells in real-time action.


The first generation of animats performed simple tasks. The virtual mouse tended to move in one direction (right). A dish-brain-controlled robot did manage to stay away from a moving target -- impressive-sounding perhaps but not particularly complicated. A robotic arm holding a set of pens and attached to a clump of neurons created art -- albeit in the eye of the beholder.


"Since our cultured networks are so interconnected, they have some sense of what is going in themselves," he said. "We can also feed their activity back to them, to mediate their 'sense of self.'"

The next phase of animats will likely have an even keener sense of self.

"In the next wave, we hope to sequence behaviors." Potter said. "The sensory input resulting from one behavior will trigger the next appropriate behavior." In other words, he hopes the animats will learn.

And if consciousness is a function of complexity, what would happen if a whole bunch of dish-brains were hooked together? Right now, Potter said, the biggest obstacle to trying is the $60,000 price tag of each "rig."

"That's the present limit," he said. "If we had a rich patron, I would love to get more rigs to do some 'social networks' experiments."

Potter hopes his research will eventually lead to better neural prosthetics, understanding of neural pathologies and even artificial intelligence. As for consciousness, he said, "I don't think it will get that far. But I'd love to be proven wrong."

I don't think $60.000 dollars is all that much. As a matter of fact, in the scientific world, $60.000 dollars is nothing. Especially if you take a look at what kind of amazing thing you can set up with it.

But apparently these researchers don't have the money to set up a few dozen of these rigs just like that. That is okay, because the costs of the enabling technology behind this will come down fast.

The article says that there is no way to monitor our brains in real time. Well, according to Zack of the Brainwaves blog, we will be able to do exactly that in 2015:
Nano-imaging techniques will make possible real-time analysis of neuro-molecular level events in the human brain. The brain imaging bottleneck will be broken around 2015.

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Anti Obesity Vaccine

Anti-obesity vaccine.

US scientists have developed an anti-obesity vaccine that significantly slowed weight gain and cut body fat in animals.

Mature male rats that received the jab ate normally yet gained less weight and had less body fat, reports the Daily Telegraph.

The vaccine, described by an American team in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may be especially important to stop "yo-yo dieting".

The vaccine acts against ghrelin, a naturally occurring hormone that helps to regulate energy balance in the body.

Prof Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute, California, said: "Our study is the first published evidence proving that preventing ghrelin from reaching the central nervous system can produce a desired reduction in weight gain."

According to the World Health Organization, about one billion people worldwide are overweight or obese.

Prof Janda told The Daily Telegraph: "We could speed quickly into human trials, maybe in a year, but we are going to be more cautious."

Not sure how serious to take this one. The Genotrim solution to obesity that I posted about half a year ago is said by some to be a scam.

That scam link is, unfortunately, in Dutch. Pulling it through a translator gave me an error, which is also unfortunate.

Luckily I've got common sense though. Genotrim was supposed to be on Oprah and there was supposed to be shown proof that it worked. More than half a year has gone by, and I haven't seen anything yet.

I'm sure we'll see a solution to obesity sometime in the future. Say... in the coming biotech era which is ready to take off anytime now. But in the meantime, it's important to keep applying common sense to all media coverage on 'obesity solutions'.


Th article Obesity Vaccine Looks Promising has some more details than the one I linked to above.
Researchers are reporting progress toward what would be a dream come true for many Americans: a vaccine to prevent obesity.

The target of this vaccine is ghrelin, a recently discovered hormone that decreases energy expenditure and fat breakdown. Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California reported in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have developed a way to make the immune system produce antibodies that attack ghrelin, and that rats given the vaccine ate normally but lost weight.

"We have enabled the immune system to recognize a molecule that it ordinarily won't recognize," explained study author Kim D. Janda, a professor of chemistry at Scripps.

The immune system thus produced antibodies that bound to and deactivated ghrelin, just as vaccines against diseases caused by bacteria or viruses bind to and inactivate them.

Mice given shots of the vaccine ate just as much as untreated mice but had "about a 20 or 30 percent reduction in weight gain," Janda said.


His best guess is that a first human trial is "about two years" away. The Scripps group is looking to link up with a major pharmaceutical company to help develop a usable vaccine, Janda said.

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