Gizzards in Your Gas Tank
And other news from science and technology.
(For the latest Human Nature columns on gay priests, Pat Robertson, and abortion, click here.)
A nicotine vaccine could prevent kids from smoking. It triggers antibodies that prevent nicotine from getting to your brain. In a small initial sample, several smokers getting high doses of the vaccine kicked the habit for 30 days. Doctors say it could be administered to teenagers to prevent them from taking up smoking—"the first time that a vaccine is used not to prevent a disease but to prevent a behavior."
A factory is producing "biodiesel" from animal parts. It uses "bones, innards and other parts of farm animals" that people won't eat. Compared to fossil fuels, biodiesel radically cuts smog and greenhouse gases. The good news for environmentalists: Less global warming. The bad news: Another incentive to slaughter animals.
Surgeons performed the world's first face transplant. The recipient, who had been mauled by a dog, got the brain-dead donor's nose, lips, and chin. Critics oppose face transplants because they're elective and pose risks of identity confusion, tissue rejection, further disfigurement, and cancer. The surgeon who did this transplant also did the first hand-and-forearm transplant, which resulted in the patient amputating the hand.
Titan, a moon of Saturn, could replace Earth as our solar system's most habitable place. Scientists have just finished analyzing data from a probe we sent there. Tentative findings: Titan has many ingredients for life but is frozen at a primitive stage because it's too far from the sun. But in four billion years, as the sun swells and incinerates Earth, Titan might warm up enough to produce life. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)
Liberals are looking for loopholes in the Vatican's new policy against gay priests. The policy bans ordination of people who "practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.' " Liberal spins: 1) It's still OK to feel gay as long as you're celibate. 2) It's OK if it doesn't distract you from your job. 3) It's OK if you seem emotionally mature. 4) It's OK as long as homosexuality doesn't become your "primary identification." 5) It's OK as long as you preach "the immorality of homosexual genital activity." (For Human Nature's take, click here.)
Our increasingly fat rear ends are thwarting injections. In a small study, injections that were supposed to go into buttock muscles failed in two-thirds of patients because ordinary needles were too short to get through the fat. (Related: We're also getting too fat for stretchers and radiology equipment.)
Twins had IQ's nearly 7 points lower than their nontwin siblings, on average, in an old sample of 10,000 Scottish kids. Family size, mother's age, and father's social class didn't correlate with IQ differences, but gestational age and birth weight did. The study concludes it's "very likely that there will still be differences in cognition between twins and singletons because of the shorter gestations and impaired fetal growth that affect some twins."
Hundreds of South Koreans are donating human eggs for cloning. Their hero, cloning researcher Hwang Woo-Suk, had to step down as chairman of a new global stem-cell consortium last week because he got human eggs (used in the cloning process) from his underlings and covered it up. His countrywomen responded by pledging more than 700 eggs as of Nov. 27. (For Human Nature's latest take on stem cells, click here.)
The government plans to subsidize more weight-loss surgery. Medicare spent about $13,000 on the surgery for each of 8,000 people last year (that's about $100 million), but the procedure might save money by averting other medical problems related to obesity. However, the program might stop subsidizing such surgery for seniors, because data suggest it's killing them.
A UNICEF report says 130 million women have endured female genital mutilation. Previous estimates said 2 million girls were mutilated each year; the new estimate is 3 million each year. But the increase is due to better reporting, and the trend actually seems to be going down: In Egypt and Guinea, where nearly all women aged 15-49 have had FGM, only half of these women said their daughters have had it.
A genetic mutation correlates with antisocial behavior in kids with ADHD. In a six-year sample of 240 ADHD kids, "Early-onset antisocial behavior" was "predicted by a specific COMT gene variant" even after accounting for IQ, age, and sex.
Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The pope's antigay tendencies. 2) The overconfidence of stem-cell liberals. 3) Pat Robertson vs. the pope on intelligent design. 4) Does Alito treat women like girls? 5) Monty Python's flying creationism. 6) Two breakthroughs in the stem-cell war. 7) Bill Bennett's racial determinism. 8) The mainstreaming of anal sex.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.