Pinpointing how cancer cells turn aggressive

From Phys.Org:

It’s often cancer’s spread, not the original tumor, that poses the disease’s most deadly risk. “And yet metastasis is one of the most poorly understood aspects of  biology,” says Kamen Simeonov, an M.D.-Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

In a new study, a team led by Simeonov and School of Veterinary Medicine professor Christopher Lengner has made strides toward deepening that understanding by tracking the development of metastatic . Their work used a mouse model of pancreatic cancer and cutting-edge techniques to trace the lineage and gene expression patterns of individual cancer cells. They found a spectrum of aggression in the cells that arose, with cells that were likely to remain in place at the primary tumor at one end and those that were more likely to move to new sites and colonize other tissues at the other end.

Of the cells that eventually became metastatic and grew in tissues and organs beyond the pancreas, the majority shared a common lineage, the researchers discovered. “By building a precision tool for probing cancer metastasis in vivo, we’re able to observe previously inaccessible types of information,” says Simeonov. “We were able to use this lineage tracing approach to rank cells based on how metastatic they were and then relate these differences in behavior to .” The group’s findings, published in the journal Cancer Cell, suggest that it’s not only genetic mutations that can drive cancer’s spread; the single-cell RNA profiling results underscore that gene expression patterns—which  cells are turning on and off—play a key role in disease outcomes.

More here.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Last Day: 3 Quarks Daily Is Looking For New Monday Columnists

Dear Reader,

Here’s your chance to say what you want to the large number of highly educated readers that make up 3QD’s international audience. Several of our regular columnists have had to cut back or even completely quit their columns for 3QD because of other personal and professional commitments and so we are looking for a few new voices. We do not pay, but it is a good chance to draw attention to subjects you are interested in, and to get feedback from us and from our readers.

We would certainly love for our pool of writers to reflect the diversity of our readers in every way, including gender, age, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, etc., and we encourage people of all kinds to apply. And we like unusual voices and varied viewpoints. So please send us something. What have you got to lose? Click on “Read more” below…


Read more »

My words have meaning, your parrot’s do not, Wittgenstein explains

Stephen Law in Psyche:

These squiggles have a meaning. So do spoken words, road signs, mathematical equations and signal flags. Meaning is something with which we’re intimately familiar – so familiar that, for the most part, we barely register or think about it at all. And yet, once we do begin to reflect on meaning, it can quickly begin to seem bizarre and even magical. How can a few marks on a sheet of paper reach out across time to refer to a person long dead? How can a mere sound in the air instantaneously pick out a galaxy light-years away? What gives words these extraordinary powers? The answer, of course, is that we do. But how?

A slogan often associated with the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is ‘meaning is use’. Here’s what Wittgenstein actually says:

For a large class of cases of the employment of the word ‘meaning’ – though not for all – this word can be explained in this way: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.

In order to appreciate the philosophical significance of this remark, let’s begin by looking at one of the key things that Wittgenstein is warning us against.

Suppose I say: ‘It’s hot today.’ So does a parrot. Saying the words is a process; for example, it can be done quickly or slowly.

However, unlike the parrot, I don’t just say something: I mean something. This might suggest that, when it comes to my use of language, two processes take place. But where does this second process – that of meaning something – occur?

More here.

In more than 80 U.S. locations, the failure of an aging dam could flood a major toxic waste site

James Dinneen and Alexander Kennedy in Undark:

While the dramatic breach of the Edenville Dam captured national headlines, an Undark investigation has identified 81 other dams in 24 states, that, if they were to fail, could flood a major toxic waste site and potentially spread contaminated material into surrounding communities.

In interviews with dam safety, environmental, and emergency officials, Undark also found that, as in Michigan, the risks these dams pose to toxic waste sites are largely unrecognized by any agency, leaving communities across the country vulnerable to the same kind of low-probability, but high-consequence disaster that played out in Midland.

More here.

A Global Incentive to Reduce Emissions

Raghuram G. Rajan in Project Syndicate:

Economists generally agree that the way to reduce GHG emissions is to tax them. But such taxes almost certainly will cause disruptive economic changes in the short run, which is why discussions of imposing them tend to run quickly into free-rider or fairness problems.

For example, industrialized countries such as the US are concerned that while they work hard to reduce emissions, developing countries will keep pumping them out with abandon. But at the same time, developing countries like Uganda point out that there is profound inequity in asking a country that emitted just 0.13 tons of carbon dioxide per capita in 2017 to bear the same burden as the US or Saudi Arabia, with their respective per capita emissions of 16 and 17.5 tons.

The least costly way to reduce global emissions would be to give every country similar incentives. While India should not keep building more dirty coal plants as it grows, Europe should be closing down the plants it already has. But each country will want to reduce emissions in its own way – some through taxation, others through regulation. The question, then, is how to balance national-level priorities with global needs so that we can save the one world we have.

More here.


Consumed – a sister’s story

Fiona Sturges in The Guardian:

Arifa Akbar’s memoir begins with the death of her sister from a mysterious illness. Before she died in 2016, aged 45, Fauzia had already been rushed to hospital twice, the cause of her symptoms unknown. She had complained of chest pains, shortness of breath and night sweats. Her face began to swell and her lungs became inflamed, but still doctors were clueless. Later, as her speech started to slur and her behaviour became erratic, she was put in an induced coma and subsequently had a brain haemorrhage. Eventually there was a diagnosis: she had died of tuberculosis.

Akbar was left with questions, among them: why hadn’t Fauzia been diagnosed earlier? How, in 2016, does a person contract TB? Her sister’s death also prompted a broader reflection on her life and the ways she had been failed by others. Along with telling the story of a sibling, Consumed is also a candid dissection of family with its complex bonds and rifts, and an acute portrait of grief and mental illness. “Life brought Fauzia pain,” Akbar writes.

The eldest sibling, Fauzia was born in Pakistan shortly after her father had left for the UK to find work and start a new life. She didn’t meet him until she was one, when she and her mother first joined him in London. The child instinctively shrank from this man who was, to her, a stranger, which he took as a personal slight. Throughout her childhood, he subjected her to sustained abuse, reprimanding and taunting her, pulling her hair and often refusing to eat at the same table as her. He made no secret of the fact that her younger sister, Arifa, was the preferred daughter; his emotional cruelties towards Fauzia were, notes Akbar, “so insistent, every day and unrelenting, that they became normalised in our home”.

More here.

Our Little Life Is Rounded with Possibility

Chiara Marletto in Nautilus:

If you could soar high in the sky, as red kites often do in search of prey, and look down at the domain of all things known and yet to be known, you would see something very curious: a vast class of things that science has so far almost entirely neglected. These things are central to our understanding of physical reality, both at the everyday level and at the level of the most fundamental phenomena in physics—yet they have traditionally been regarded as impossible to incorporate into fundamental scientific explanations. They are facts not about what is—“the actual”—but about what could or could not be. In order to distinguish them from the actual, they are called counterfactuals.

Suppose that some future space mission visited a remote planet in another solar system, and that they left a stainless-steel box there, containing among other things the critical edition of, say, William Blake’s poems. That the poetry book is subsequently sitting somewhere on that planet is a factual property of it. That the words in it could be read is a counterfactual property, which is true regardless of whether those words will ever be read by anyone. The box may be never found; and yet that those words could be read would still be true—and laden with significance. It would signify, for instance, that a civilization visited the planet, and much about its degree of sophistication.

More here.

Thursday Poem

Factory of Tears

And once again according to the annual report
the highest productivity results were achieved
by the Factory of Tears.

While the Department of Transportation was breaking heels
while the Department of Heart Affairs
was beating hysterically
the Factory of Tears was working night shifts
setting new records even on holidays.

While the Food Refinery Station
was trying to digest another catastrophe
the Factory of Tears adopted a new economically advantageous
technology of recycling the wastes of past –
memories mostly.

The pictures of the employees of the year
were placed on the Wall of Tears.

I’m a recipient of workers’ comp from the heroic Factory of Tears.
I have calluses on my eyes.
I have compound fractures on my cheeks.
I receive my wages with the product I manufacture.
And I’m happy with what I have.

by Valzhyna Mort
Factory of Tears
publisher: Copper Canyon Press, 2008
translation from original Belarusian: 2008, Valzhyna Mort, Franz Wright and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright

Original Belarusian at “Read More” Read more »

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Languages of Truth by Salman Rushdie review

Abhrajyoti Chakraborty in The Guardian:

The inspiration for Midnight’s Children came to Salman Rushdie on a backpacking trip around India. It was 1974, and he had just received an advance of £700 for his debut novel, Grimus. But he still saw himself as an apprentice novelist who worked part-time for an ad agency in London. He stretched out his advance over four months of travel, roughing it in 15-hour bus rides and humble hostelries, reacquainting himself with the country he had known as a child. The homecoming made him reconsider a minor character in an old story: a snot-nosed Bombay boy, Saleem Sinai, born at the exact moment of India’s independence, whose destiny aggressively mirrored the timeline of major events in the subcontinent. The new novel would tell the story not of a life, but a nation.

Rushdie has previously written here and there about his rookie years, and he writes about them again in his new collection of essays, Languages of Truth. He prefaces the story this time with a memory of having lunch with the American writer Eudora Welty in London, one year after Midnight’s Children won the Booker prize. During the meal, Rushdie ended up asking Welty about William Faulkner. How did she perceive the Nobel laureate, who had lived out his life in Mississippi like Welty? Did she think of him as one of the writers closest to her? Welty’s response was caustic: “I’m from Jackson,” she said. “He is from Oxford. It’s miles away.”

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Simon DeDeo on How Explanations Work and Why They Sometimes Fail

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

You observe a phenomenon, and come up with an explanation for it. That’s true for scientists, but also for literally every person. (Why won’t my car start? I bet it’s out of gas.) But there are literally an infinite number of possible explanations for every phenomenon we observe. How do we invent ones we think are promising, and then decide between them once invented? Simon DeDeo (in collaboration with Zachary Wojtowicz) has proposed a way to connect explanatory values (“simplicity,” “fitting the data,” etc) to specific mathematical expressions in Bayesian reasoning. We talk about what makes explanations good, and how they can get out of control, leading to conspiracy theories or general crackpottery, from QAnon to flat earthers.

More here.

The Many Questions of Reparations

Phillip Meylan in The Factual:

To mark 100 years since the Tulsa Massacre, President Biden recently visited Tulsa and decried the day’s tragic events. Beginning on May 31, 1921, groups of white men, reacting to a claim that a Black man attacked a white woman (later revealed to be false), began shooting Black residents and burning down businesses on Tulsa’s Black Wall Street. This led to some 300 deaths and the leveling of what had been the richest Black neighborhood in the U.S. Now, a century later, the area still shows scars, both from the massacre and from subsequent policies that frustrated the revitalization of the area.

The event has once more brought the question of reparations for Black Americans — both for slavery and for discriminatory policies long after abolition — to the forefront of public discussion, with many anticipating movement under the Biden administration to, at the very least, form a commission to formally study the situation and make recommendations. The question of whether reparations should be made, and how to make them, are both complex and contested. The idea remains fairly unpopular with Americans — 53% of Democrats support the idea, while just 6% of Republicans do; likewise, around three-quarters of Black respondents support reparations, compared to just 15% of white respondents.

More here.

‘It’s infuriating and shocking’: how medicine has failed women over time

Lisa Wong Macabasco in The Guardian:

Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, believed that women were controlled by their uteruses. The father of modern gynecology, James Marion Sims, in the mid-19th century experimented on enslaved black women without anesthesia, convinced that they felt less pain than white women. (Until its removal in 2018, his statue stood in New York’s Central Park for over a century.) Doctors claimed that women’s suffrage would cause injury to women’s fragile bodies and diminished minds. Such examples cast an abhorrent pall over “first, do no harm”.

The history of medicine is every bit as social and cultural as it is scientific, and male dominance is cemented in its foundations. But even the author Elinor Cleghorn, who spent the past year immersed in the history of women’s relationship to medicine, was surprised by “just how conscious and insidious it was”, she told the Guardian. “Biological theories about female bodies were used to reinforce and uphold constraining social ideas about women.”

Cleghorn’s new book, Unwell Women, enumerates a litany of ways in which women’s bodies and minds have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed through history. From the wandering womb of ancient Greece (the idea that a displaced uterus caused many of women’s illnesses) and the witch trials in medieval Europe, through the dawn of hysteria, to modern myths around menstruation, she lays bare the unbelievable and sometimes horrific treatment of women for millennia in the name of medicine.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

The News Vendor


Night already
…… under the stoplight
…… his face yellow
red, green
…… and yellow again:


With his plastic bag wrapping
the last papers of the day
…… and his shirt
like a sail flapping
…… over the frailness of his body:


A poor angel
proclaimer of history
…… eyes brilliant from lack of sleep:


by Daisy Zamora
Risking a Somersault in the air
…… Conversations with Nicaraguan Writers
by Margaret Randall
Solidarity Publications, 1984

Researchers create self-sustaining, intelligent, electronic microsystems from green material

Mary Dettloff in Phys.Org:

A research team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has created an electronic microsystem that can intelligently respond to information inputs without any external energy input, much like a self-autonomous living organism. The microsystem is constructed from a novel type of electronics that can process ultralow electronic signals and incorporates a device that can generate electricity “out of thin air” from the ambient environment. The groundbreaking research was published June 7 in the journal Nature Communications.

Jun Yao, an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) and an adjunct professor in biomedical engineering, led the research with his longtime collaborator, Derek R. Lovley, a Distinguished Professor in microbiology. Both of the key components of the microsystem are made from , a “green” electronic material that is renewably produced from microbes without producing “e-waste.” The research heralds the potential of future green electronics made from sustainable biomaterials that are more amenable to interacting with the  and diverse environments. This breakthrough project is producing a “self-sustained intelligent microsystem,” according to the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, which is funding the research.

Tianda Fu, a graduate student in Yao’s group, is the lead author. “It’s an exciting start to explore the feasibility of incorporating ‘living’ features in electronics. I’m looking forward to further evolved versions,” Fu said.

More here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Timothy Morton’s Hyper-Pandemic

Morgan Meis in The New Yorker:

In 2013, a philosopher and ecologist named Timothy Morton proposed that humanity had entered a new phase. What had changed was our relationship to the nonhuman. For the first time, Morton wrote, we had become aware that “nonhuman beings” were “responsible for the next moment of human history and thinking.” The nonhuman beings Morton had in mind weren’t computers or space aliens but a particular group of objects that were “massively distributed in time and space.” Morton called them “hyperobjects”: all the nuclear material on earth, for example, or all the plastic in the sea. “Everyone must reckon with the power of rising waves and ultraviolet light,” Morton wrote, in “Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World.” Those rising waves were being created by a hyperobject: all the carbon in the atmosphere.

Hyperobjects are real, they exist in our world, but they are also beyond us. We know a piece of Styrofoam when we see it—it’s white, spongy, light as air—and yet fourteen million tons of Styrofoam are produced every year; chunks of it break down into particles that enter other objects, including animals. Although Styrofoam is everywhere, one can never point to all the Styrofoam in the world and say, “There it is.” Ultimately, Morton writes, whatever bit of Styrofoam you may be interacting with at any particular moment is only a “local manifestation” of a larger whole that exists in other places and will exist on this planet millennia after you are dead.

More here.

The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins

Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair:

Gilles Demaneuf is a data scientist with the Bank of New Zealand in Auckland. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome ten years ago, and believes it gives him a professional advantage. “I’m very good at finding patterns in data, when other people see nothing,” he says.

Early last spring, as cities worldwide were shutting down to halt the spread of COVID-19, Demaneuf, 52, began reading up on the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. The prevailing theory was that it had jumped from bats to some other species before making the leap to humans at a market in China, where some of the earliest cases appeared in late 2019. The Huanan wholesale market, in the city of Wuhan, is a complex of markets selling seafood, meat, fruit, and vegetables. A handful of vendors sold live wild animals—a possible source of the virus.

That wasn’t the only theory, though. Wuhan is also home to China’s foremost coronavirus research laboratory, housing one of the world’s largest collections of bat samples and bat-virus strains.

More here.

Ten Thousand Pairs of Shoes

Mallika Kaur in Guernica:

Thirty years have passed since journalists were cut off from Punjab, and Punjab from the world. In June of each year, Sikhs throng to gurudwaras to observe one of the most significant of their religious holidays. On this day, when even the less observant find their way to gurudwaras, the Indian Army attacked Darbar Sahib—the Golden Temple, the Sikh Vatican —and dozens of other gurudwaras across the state.

An estimated ten thousand never returned to claim their shoes from the entrance to the Darbar Sahib. That the exact number of civilian casualties remains unknown signifies precisely why June 1984 is relevant today. More so, in light of India’s May 2014 election and the fierce debates it raised about the status of India’s minority communities.

The army’s operation, code named “Blue Star,” began with the forced eviction of all foreign journalists from Punjab. This, coupled with a state-wide curfew enforced by soldiers, limited the documentation of the civilian experience. However, the people’s memory of these events has been preserved successfully.

More here.