Tuesday, November 9, 2010

WIN/LOSE: Patenting genes, HFCS in sodassss

I've returned from my sabbatical to bring you a new feature I'd like to call WIN/LOSE. It's pretty straightforward, but please pay attention: One news item will be good news (i.e. a "win") while the other will be bad news (i.e. a "los--"... hmm. The verb doesn't work in that context, does it?)

So, do you want the good news or the bad news first?

LOSE: High Fructose Corn Syrup in soda... Liars, liars, pants on fires

Remember how HFCS is supposed to be virtually identical to regular cane sugar? Well, it's possible that the HFCS in soda pop is actually sweeter than advertised, making it not identical to regular sugar.

A recent study suggests that the HFCS added to soda actually has upwards of 30% more fructose than previously thought. The NPR report acknowledges that the study is controversial, and people on both sides are not totally convinced yet. They even quote Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina (author of The World is Fat) admitting, "We have no real indication that the science of just a small amount [of] more fructose matters."

But then, blamo! Here's Marion Nestle on the study:

The metabolic problems that result from sugar intake are mostly due to the fructose content.  Less is better for health.  More is better for the soft drink industry, however.  Fructose is sweeter than either glucose or sucrose, and sweet is what sells sodas.
At most, HFCS is supposed to be 55% fructose, as compared to the 50% in table sugar.  Most foods and drinks are supposed to be  using HFCS that is 42% fructose.  A percentage of 55 is not much different biologically than 50, which is why the assumption has been that there is no biologically meaningful difference between HFCS and table sugar.   This study, if confirmed, means that this supposition may need some rethinking.
In fact, analysis of the study has produced a number of possible issues in the methodology, which you can read about at Nestle's blog, if you care. But the study does raise some interesting questions, and needs to be replicated more responsibly.

If it is found that soda companies are commonly using HFCS that is 60% fructose and calling it table sugar, there are some major legal issues to address, as well as the public health concern. Among them, violations of federal law against food adulteration, false and misleading food labeling, and false and misleading advertising.

What I always find the most interesting in these situations, is the industry's response. In this case, Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association says via press release,
"Consumers should know that fructose is safe... Fructose is commonly found in many fruits and vegetables, as well as honey, maple syrup, processed sugars, and high fructose corn syrup or corn sugar."
Uh, ok. We know.... Wait, corn sugar? Yes. The Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the FDA for the right to change the name of HFCS to "corn sugar."

This has nothing to do with all the bad press HFCS has gotten in the last few years, right?

WIN: US Justice Department says you can't patent a "naturally occurring" human gene

This isn't exactly breaking news, but I thought I'd spread the word. Marion Nestle talked about this on her blog last week and points to the New York Times articles that highlighted a newly released friend-of-the-court brief outlining the issue.

The practice of isolating and patenting human genes is fairly common, but became a contentious issue when Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation patented two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that are linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Owning the patent to these two genes has enabled Myriad to charge $3,000 for a test that detects genetic variations associated with a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The patents prevent other companies from developing similar tests which would drive down the price.

To compare, the Times reports that it costs at least $10,000 to get a personal genome sequence, but that the cost is expected to fall to around $1,000 in a few years. Myriad's outrageous price to test for just two genes simply seems greedy and unethical.

So exploiting the very real health fears of women is what capitalism is all about, right? Kevin E. Noonan, a patent lawyer in Chicago who represents biotech companies like Myriad, put down his sippy cup long enough to complain to the Times:
“It’s dumb,” Mr. Noonan said of the government’s brief. “It shows a singular ignorance of the technology and the law at the same time.”
Attorney Noonan also opined that
the government’s stance would endanger innovation because the same philosophy against patenting products isolated from nature might be extended to protein-based drugs and antibiotics.
Forgive me, but it's these bullshit ideas about "capitalism" that created the stupid system we've got today. Innovation and discovery existed looooooooooonngg before the United States was around letting everyone patent every g.d. picture their preschooler drew in class. If the only goal of innovation is to make a buck, then yes, this Justice Department ruling is the pits. Who's going to want to discover anything if they can't get all the credit, prestige and cash?

However, innovation is also driven by the desire to further the progress of humanity... you know, curing diseases and all that jazz. Which is sure to continue indefinitely, because we're naturally curious and we also kinda like it here. It's nice. Sunsets are pretty. Wine is good. Cheese is tasty.

So, please stop worrying about biotech companies and their shareholders. They will be fine. Or they will go bankrupt and other, more worthwhile enterprises will arise in their wake.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Just Kidding! Also, Not JK-ing About Facebook

Awww... you actually thought I was going to follow through with this?!

That's sweet.

I do have a follow-up post to People in their 20s and The Sex nearly finished, so that will arrive shortly. Clearly, you are on the edge of your seat, so I will try to be prompt in my delivery.

Additionally, I came across a Lifehacker post from a couple days ago that highlighted a NY Times' diagram concerning Facebook's privacy options. There has been a LOT of discussion about FB's ridiculous new privacy policies and weird profile design and a lot of confusion about both. This nifty diagram attempts to make sense of all the privacy options and maps them out. If you love infographics, you will thank me (or the Times. Or whoever.)

I STRONGLY suggest checking out the new privacy options and adjusting them accordingly. Some crazy stuff has been going on over at Facebook and everyone should be aware of who can see your information and who you may be unwittingly sending your info to. I've been tempted to just delete the whole blasted thing, but I'm not that extreme. However, if this is an appealing option, I'd suggest reading Lifehacker's manual for How to Quit Facebook Without Actually Quitting Facebook.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Holy hair trends! Cleaning out old bathroom drawers can be dangerous. Especially when they are filled with MILLIONS OF OLD HAIR CLIPS.


This picture represents the bulk of the bounty I recovered from a small drawer and a cabinet. What's not pictured are the many bottles of nasty smelling lotions, the used shower puffs, the sparkly shower gels or three bottles of solution to clean piercings. All from Claire's. Anyway.

Notice the bag in the back on the right. It is a bag of plastic curlers. My mom used some of those curlers to curl my hair for Easter festivities when I was 2 (see photo below). They were also used to curl my hair for Easter festivities for the next TEN YEARS. Or thereabouts.

Perms aren't for me.
On the far left are some giant clip thingys. What were those called? Claws? Anyway, I have no idea why there would be so many in my bathroom. Everyone in my family has very fine hair, so those claws would have been outrageously huge on the backs of our teenage heads holding our little bit of hair, half slipping out. Now that's just impractical.

At the bottom of the picture, you can find some teeny tiny sparkly claws. I have to say that I don't remember wearing these, but I could have blacked it out. Were they a Spice Girls fashion trend? A high school dance hair accessory? It's unclear. I suspect that my sister used these items more than me, but I'd hate to falsely accuse her of something so horrific as wearing tiny clips when she was 12. That was sarcasm.

One thing I'm sure of is this: neither my sister nor I wore 1/4 of this crap. For real. I would not lie to you about this. Our hair decorating days were in elementary school, and most of this accumulated after. Those giant clips were just impractical and we were WAY more into scrunchies anyway. The most popular (and therefore, hideous) of those scrunchies were disposed of long ago, because elastic bands can only withstand so many scalding water washings. I think it's for the best.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

People in their 20s and The Sex

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flikr user peachy92
Ah, yes. The Sex. Capital T, capital S. Let's discuss it for a minute.

Yesterday the LA Times published an article about Us and Sex. Us, meaning people in their 20s, and Sex. Let's just say the news isn't all good.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

30 Posts in 30 Days

Last week I attended an Etsy Virtual Lab about jump-starting creativity. Artist Noah Scalin talked about his project, Skull A Day, in which he created one skull every day for a year and posted them on his blog. Giving himself a deadline and an audience, Scalin was forced to buckle down and get working! Which is exactly what I plan on doing.

SO HERE WE GO: 30 Posts in 30 Days. We'll see what happens.

Look, I even made a banner for the event! There's no backing out now people.

Even though I'm only marginally employed right now and therefore have an obscene amount of free time, these posts will not be the hard-hitting and lengthy exposes that you've grown accustomed to. Ha! You'll be fine.