Exaggerated gait allows limbless R2G2 robot to move quickly in confined spaces, rough terrain (w/ Video)

Snakes usually travel by bending their bodies in the familiar S-pattern. But when they’re stalking prey, snakes can move in a straight line by expanding and contracting their bodies. This “rectilinear gait” is slow, but it’s quiet and hard to detect—-a perfect way to grab that unsuspecting rodent.

Roboticists have long known that this kind of “limbless locomotion” is a highly effective way for a to move through cluttered and confined spaces. But like snakes, robots that employ rectilinear gaits are slow. They also have a problem maintaining traction on steep slopes.

University of Maryland Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student James Hopkins has been trying hard to overcome the speed limitations of engineered limbless locomotion. In a robot called “R2G2” (Robot with Rectilinear Gait for Ground operations), he decided to dramatically exaggerate the gait to increase the speed.

“Our current R2G2 model has a maximum forward velocity of one mile per hour, bringing it close to human walking speed,” says Hopkins. “Our goal is to develop a gait and a mechanical architecture that will enable high-speed limbless locomotion to support applications such as search and rescue.”

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the fastest limbless robot in its class in the open literature,” says Hopkins’ faculty advisor, Professor S.K. Gupta (ME/ISR).

R2G2 could get faster. “In this design, the speed is linearly proportional to the length of the robot. So by doubling the length we should be able to easily achieve the speed of two miles per hour,” Gupta says. To get much above that speed, R2G2 will need an upgrade to more powerful motors.

R2G2 can more through spaces that are problems for other kinds of robots. It can crawl through pipes, and traverse tricky surfaces like grass and gravel. What’s more, “it can climb steep, narrow inclines,” Hopkins says.

Hopkins used actively actuated friction pads near the head and tail of the robot to improve its traction, and has found that different terrains require unique kinds of friction pads—a bed of nails for traveling over grass; rubber for carpets.

In addition, Gupta and Hopkins used 3D printing technology to create a novel mechanism for expanding and contracting R2G2’s body while maintaining a small body cross section. This enabled them to make geometrically complex parts and greatly simplify the assembly of the robot. Other researchers with access to 3D printing will be able to easily replicate R2G2 in their labs.


Currently robots that use limbless locomotion do not come close to their natural counterparts in terms of capabilities. “Unfortunately, we do not yet have access to engineered actuators that can match the natural muscles found in biological creatures,” Gupta says, “or highly distributed, fault-tolerant, self-calibrating, multi-modal sensors and materials with highly direction-dependent friction properties. So our design options for limbless locomotion are limited and truly mimicking nature is simply not possible right now.”

In the short term, Gupta believes robotics engineers are better off “taking a different approach that exploits inspiration from biological creatures.” Robots like R2G2 advance the science because they “take a useful feature in nature and exploit it to the fullest extent.”

Source:  University of Maryland

Pandoravirus: missing link discovered between viruses and cells

Researchers at IGS, the genomic and structural information laboratory (CNRS/Aix-Marseille University), working in association with the large-scale biology laboratory (CEA/Inserm/Grenoble Alpes University) have just discovered two giant viruses which, in terms of number of genes, are comparable to certain eukaryotes, microorganisms with nucleated cells. The two viruses – called “Pandoravirus” to reflect their amphora shape and mysterious genetic content – are unlike any virus discovered before.

With the discovery of Mimivirus ten years ago and, more recently, Megavirus chilensis , researchers thought they had reached the farthest corners of the viral world in terms of size and genetic complexity. With a diameter in the region of a micrometer and a genome incorporating more than 1,100 genes, these giant viruses, which infect amoebas of the Acanthamoeba genus, had already largely encroached on areas previously thought to be the exclusive domain of bacteria.

For the sake of comparison, common viruses such as the influenza or AIDS viruses, only contain around ten genes each.In the article published in Science, the researchers announced they had discovered two new giant viruses: •Pandoravirus salinus, on the coast of Chile;•Pandoravirus dulcis, in a freshwater pond in Melbourne, Australia.Detailed analysis has shown that these first two Pandoraviruses have virtually nothing in common with previously characterized giant viruses. What’s more, only a very small percentage (6%) of proteins encoded by Pandoravirus salinus are similar to those already identified in other viruses or cellular organisms. With a genome of this size, Pandoravirus salinus has just demonstrated that viruses can be more complex than some eukaryotic cells . Another unusual feature of Pandoraviruses is that they have no gene allowing them to build a protein like the capsid protein, which is the basic building block of traditional viruses.Despite all these novel properties, Pandoraviruses display the essential characteristics of other viruses in that they contain no ribosome, produce no energy and do not divide.This groundbreaking research included an analysis of the Pandoravirus salinus proteome, which proved that the proteins making it up are consistent with those predicted by the virus’ genome sequence. Pandoraviruses thus use the universal genetic code shared by all living organisms on the planet.

This shows just how much more there is to learn regarding microscopic biodiversity as soon as new environments are considered. The simultaneous discovery of two specimens of this new virus family in sediments located 15,000 km apart indicates that Pandoraviruses, which were completely unknown until now, are very likely not rare. It definitively bridges the gap between viruses and cells – a gap that was proclaimed as dogma at the very outset of modern virology back in the 1950s. It also suggests that cell life could have emerged with a far greater variety of pre-cellular forms than those conventionally considered, as the new giant virus has almost no equivalent among the three recognized domains of cellular life, namely eukaryota (or eukaryotes), eubacteria, and archaea.

Source: http://www.cea.fr

Diseases can be tracked better and faster with new tech.

Detection tools such as crowdsourcing are revamping disease surveillance, say Larry Brilliant and Mark Smolinski.
Surveillance is key to eliminating and preventing infectious diseases. Early detection offers the chance of rapid response, which can stop a handful of cases or a few clusters of illness from becoming something far worse.
Take polio. Surveillance underpins the current global eradication effort: without it, we wouldn’t know where or how the virus circulates, as 90 per cent of cases have no symptoms, which makes it difficult to identify them. As a result of early detection, however, 99 per cent of cases have been eliminated, and the disease is cornered in only three endemic countries — down from at least 125 in 1988.
The ‘Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan’, a comprehensive road map launched by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in May to end polio by 2018, sees surveillance as key to guide eradication activities, and sets out steps to scale it up globally. [1] Recent advances in surveillance technologies, together with new tools such as mobile phone self-reporting and improved genetic sequencing of viruses, mean that diseases can now be tracked better and faster than ever before.

A global surveillance system

The polio programme has continuously incorporated new innovations and their impact is tangible. The widespread introduction of the systematic testing of sewage over the last five years has allowed the WHO and national governments to identify poliovirus in the faeces of infected individuals who do not present any symptoms.
This has enabled pre-emptive mass vaccinations to be launched — as happened this year in Egypt and Israel — even without the onset of any paralytic cases.
More recent innovations are also being used. In Uganda, the government deployed mTrac, a text message-based platform that allows local health workers to report potential cases of polio and other diseases in real time using their mobile phones.
Then, the origin of any virus can be detected through genetic sequencing, enabling scientists to track transmission and improving the focus of emergency vaccination campaigns.

The analysis is sometimes carried out in US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labs, but more and more often it is done in regional or local labs where, for instance, a Pakistani stool sample will be sent to a Pakistani lab and tested by a Pakistani scientist.
The value of these tools extends beyond polio. Increasingly, the polio surveillance system incorporates the tracking of other diseases, such as influenza and measles. The strategic plan aims to ensure that resources built for polio, including surveillance infrastructure, also have the greatest possible impact on other public health priorities.

Protecting against pandemics

Today’s technology is just the beginning. The latest ideas in digital disease detection — or ‘clues from the cloud’ — are opening doors to detect and combat viruses even more effectively. For example, in October 2011, the American Public Health Association, HealthMap and the Skoll Global Threats Fund launched Flu Near You, a crowdsourced initiative to track flu activity in the United States that’s now entering its third season and is open to all.
We caught a glimpse of what the future holds last month, when hundreds of innovators, epidemiologists and engineers convened at the 2nd International Conference on Digital Disease Detection to explore how technology is changing the game for epidemic intelligence gathering.
Crowdsourcing is emerging as a trend. For instance, the Ministry of Health in Singapore and the Aggeu Magalhães Research Centre of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil are aggregating social media posts to look for emerging outbreaks or new symptoms of diseases such as dengue fever and influenza.
One group at the Boston Children’s Hospital in the United States helped to create MedWatcher, an online tool to monitor attitudes and complaints about medicines, vaccines and medical devices. And another group, InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters), is encouraging citizens in places such as Cambodia to use Verboice, an interactive voice response tool, to help report on a range of health conditions even faster.
The potential of these innovations seems endless. The opportunity to get local people to directly report on health conditions in their communities provides economies of scale not possible with the traditional ‘feet-on-the-street’ approach.

The final inch

Advances in surveillance equip us better than ever before to take on diseases, but they are not enough. They must be grounded in the political will to use them effectively.
In tackling polio’s final inch, we need the commitment and ability to act on the data that surveillance provides. Finishing the job requires a tremendous level of national and global coordination. We had many of the tools to eradicate smallpox for years, but it wasn’t until the world committed to a unified global programme to detect the last case and vaccinate each child that we wiped out the disease in 1980.
We have an opportunity and the tools to do this again now with polio. The strategic plan is a detailed blueprint of activities required to eradicate the disease. With global commitment to implement it, we can finish the job by 2018.
The world must step up to the plate and demonstrate what’s possible when scientists, engineers, governments, campaigners and innovators push boundaries and work together. If political commitment and funding keep pace with continued innovation, no disease is too great to tackle.

Monkey feels touch with prosthetic hand.

A sense of touch lets you connect with loved ones, makes your limbs feel your own, and helps you to interact with your surroundings. But people who are paraplegics or have lost limbs have to navigate the world without this most fundamental of sensory inputs.

Sliman Bensmaia at the University of Chicago, Illinois, is working to change that with a new model for transmitting a sense of touch to the brain that bypasses regular routes. He hopes it will be a blueprint for constructing prosthetics that convey touch in the same way that natural limbs do.

One day they'll feel the same <i>(Image: PNAS, 2013)</i>

To start, Bensmaia and his colleagues trained rhesus macaques to focus their gaze in different directions depending on whether their index finger or fourth finger were being prodded.

Microelectrodes were then placed in an area of the brain called the primary somatosensory cortex. This area represents an entire map of the body, with each neuron responsible for sensing when a different part of the skin is touched.

Microelectrodes record the activity pattern of neurons. They can also be used in reverse – to deliver electrical stimulation to make neurons fire.

Fourth finger exercise

Next, the team recorded what activity occurred and where it registered in the somatosensory cortex when a monkey had its index or fourth finger poked.

Then they stimulated the brain using the same pattern of activity. The monkeys reacted as if they had been touched – fixing their gaze in the direction they been taught in response to a poke.

In similar experiments, the monkeys were also able to differentiate between pokes of varying strength to a prosthetic hand that transmitted the information to their brain via the microelectrodes.

“Information about location and pressure of a touch is often unavailable visually or is inadequate to guide motor behaviour for people with prosthetics,” Bensmaia says. “But it is crucial. Without it we crush or drop objects in our grasp.”

He hopes that one day prosthetic sensors will be able to transmit signals to implants in humans that dispatch the correct pattern of electrical pulses to the brain to allow them to sense touch. Such prosthetics, he says, will confer a greater feeling of embodiment – the sense that your limbs feel like a part of your body, and foster richer interactions with the environment.

“Maybe this will help a person touch a loved one for the first time,” Bensmaia says. “That’s powerful.”

Though electrode implants has been used in humans, Bensmaia says that hurdles remain. Implants must be safe and durable enough to remain in the brain over a long period of time, as well as adaptable enough to function as a person’s brain changes with age.

Despite the obstacles, Lee Miller at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, says that Bensmaia’s biomimetic approach holds great promise for prosthetics, which have limited sensory capacity at the moment.

“Bensmaia is trying to reproduce a natural pattern of sensory activity and that’s a big distinction,” he says. “The best approach to conveying touch will likely be imitating as faithfully as possible the brain’s own signalling.”

Power from the sea?

Triboelectric nanogenerator extracts energy from ocean waves.

As sources of renewable energy, sun and wind have one major disadvantage: it isn’t always sunny or windy. Waves in the ocean, on the other hand, are never still. American researchers are now aiming to use waves to produce energy by making use of contact electrification between a patterned plastic nanoarray and water. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, they have introduced an inexpensive and simple prototype of a triboelectric nanogenerator that could be used to produce energy and as a chemical or temperature sensor.

Power from the sea? Triboelectric nanogenerator extracts energy from ocean waves

The triboelectric effect is the build up of an electric charge between two materials through contact and separation – it is commonly experienced when removal of a shirt, especially in dry air, results in crackling. Zhong Lin Wang and a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta have previously developed a triboelectric generator based on two solids that produces enough power to charge a mobile telephone battery. However, high humidity interferes with its operation. How could this technology work with waves in water? The triboelectric effect is not limited to solids; it can also occur with liquids. The only requirement is that specific electronic levels of two substances are close enough together. Water just needs the right partner – maybe a suitable plastic.

As a prototype, the researchers made an insulated plastic tank, whose lid and bottom contain copper foil electrodes. Their system is successful because the inside of the lid is coated with a layer of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) patterned with tiny nanoscale pyramids. The tank is filled with deionized water. When the lid is lowered so that the PDMS nanopyramids come into contact with the water, groups of atoms in the PDMS become ionized and negatively charged. A corresponding positively charged layer forms on the surface of the water. The electric charges are maintained when the PDMS layer is lifted out of the water. This produces a potential difference between the PDMS and the water. Hydrophobic PDMS was chosen in order to minimize the amount of water clinging to the surface; the pyramid shapes allow the water to drop off readily. Periodic raising and lowering of the lid while the electrodes are connected to a rectifier and capacitor produces a direct current that can be used to light an array of 60 LEDs. In tests with salt water, the generator produced a lower output, but it could in principle operate with seawater.

The current produced decreases significantly as temperature increases, which could allow this device to be used as a . It also decreases when ethanol is added to the , which suggests potential use of the system as a chemical sensor. By attaching probe molecules with specific binding partners, it may be possible to design sensors for biomolecules.

Hydrogen Peroxide for Colds and Flu.

Story at-a-glance

  • Placing a few drops of three percent hydrogen peroxide into each ear is a surprisingly effective treatment for upper respiratory infections
  • The best way to treat a cold is to prevent one from taking hold in the first place by strengthening your immune system
  • Vitamin D deficiency is a major contributor to your cold and flu susceptibility, and inadequate rest, excess stress, poor sleep, and too much sugar are also major factors
  • If you have a cold, practice good nutritional choices, and avoid using cold remedies, fever reducers, painkillers, and antibiotics; seek medical care only if your fever is greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Email from Wendy Fyfe, Subscriber
    Brush, Colorado

    “Thanks to one of your articles in your newsletter about using peroxide in the ears for flu or colds, my family and I have had a relatively flu/cold free winter! We have been exposed to a serious flu in our area, but have managed to dodge it. Here are some specifics:

    My 6-year-old son had kept me up during one night with coughing and sneezing. By noon the next day he had a fever. I then remembered recently reading in your newsletter about using three drops of peroxide in each ear for 10 minutes. You should have seen his face when I told him I was going to put peroxide in his ears! He was nervous, but soon settled down. It bubbled a lot in both ears. I did only one treatment in each ear, and from then on, his fever went away and his symptoms were reduced to the sniffles. That night he slept well, as did mom. The cold did not return!

    Next came myself. About a week later I felt like my head was in a ‘fog,’ a familiar fog that is a sure sign I am going to get sick with a bad cold or flu. I used the peroxide treatment in each ear and went to bed about an hour early. The next morning I felt fantastic! Not a trace of illness.

    Again about a week after I had felt something coming on, my husband started feeling ‘ugh.’ I told him about the peroxide and he looked at me skeptically. But he tried it. And it worked! He works for the school district in the bus shop and is around the drivers (who are around all those kids passing germs about) frequently.

    At the same time my 10-year-old son who is rarely sick said he didn’t feel well. I wasn’t sure if he was saying that because he felt left out (the peroxide treatment aroused his interest), or if he really was coming down with something. So, I gave him a treatment, not seeing that any harm would come of it. He had strong bubbling on one side. He soon felt better and did not become ill.

    The peroxide has been used a few other times on all of us with almost amazing results. There was a different result in one case, which had to do with myself. It had been a couple of weeks from my first use of the peroxide on myself.

    I came home from our local library book sale, which was held in the basement. I quickly became ill, as if allergic to something in the basement, of which this was my first time down there. By the next morning I had a full-fledged cold and felt awful. I tried the peroxide.

    Although I had to repeat the peroxide treatment about every 4 hours, the peroxide alone relieved my symptoms! I was a bit tired, but other than that, no sneezing, coughing, fever, etc. After about 4 hours I would feel pressure building in my head (especially the ears) and I would begin to get quite cranky. Then I would use the peroxide again and be much better.

    The peroxide allowed me to maintain my schedule of homeschooling the boys and doing my chores. It worked better than anything I have tried over the years and had no side effects!

    A few notes: the peroxide feels like ice when it is dropped into the ear! It usually did not sting. The hardest thing for me to get used to was the tickling of the bubbles!

    Thank you again for the information on peroxide for flus and colds. This wife and mom has had many peaceful nights thanks to you! Thank you also for ALL the fantastic information that you pass along in your newsletter. If it weren’t for you, how would we know of these things?!?

    Last fall I started using EFT and am very pleased with the results and that I have such a useful tool for others and myself. I learned of it through you. You have made a difference in many lives.”

    By Dr. Mercola

    You probably know that I don’t advise over-the-counter medications in general, but the hydrogen peroxide treatment referred to by Wendy Frye in the above email she sent to me is surprisingly effective against upper respiratory infections. Many patients at my clinic have had remarkable results in curing colds and flu within 12 to 14 hours when administering a few drops of three percent hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) into each ear.

    You will hear some bubbling, which is completely normal, and possibly feel a slight stinging sensation. Wait until the bubbling and stinging subside (usually 5 to 10 minutes), then drain onto a tissue and repeat with the other ear. A bottle of hydrogen peroxide in 3 percent solution is available at any drug store for a couple of dollars or less. This seems to be effective about 80 percent of the time, especially if done when your symptoms first appear.

    In 1928, Richard Simmons, M.D. hypothesized that colds and flu viruses enter through your ear canal, as opposed to your nose and throat. But his findings were dismissed by the medical community. Then in 1938, German researchers had great success using hydrogen peroxide for treating colds and the flu. But their data has been ignored for over 60 years.

    Of course, the best way to treat a cold is to not get one in the first place. And the key to preventing colds is to keep your immune system strong and healthy.

    Prevention of Colds Is the Key

    Cold viruses are all around you, living on your computer keyboard, coffee mugs, door handles and other objects for hours, so coming into contact with them is part of daily living. However, the key to remember is that just being exposed to a cold virus does not mean you’ll catch a cold. If your immune system is operating at its peak, it should actually be quite easy for you to fend off those viruses without getting sick. On the other hand, if your immune system is impaired, they’ll easily take hold in your body.

    The major reasons your immune system becomes weakened and you come down with a cold are:

    Vitamin D Deficiency: A Major Risk Factor for ‘Catching’ a Cold

    It’s estimated that the average U.S. adult typically has two to four colds each year, while children may have up to 12. One reason for the widespread prevalence may be that vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common in the United States, especially during the winter months when cold (and flu) viruses are at their peak.

    Research has confirmed that “catching” colds and flu may actually be a symptom of an underlying vitamin D deficiency. The research is quite clear: less than optimal vitamin D levels will significantly impair your immune response and make you far more susceptible to contracting colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections. Vitamin D is an amazingly effective antimicrobial agent, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

    The best source for vitamin D is direct sun exposure. But for many of us, this just isn’t practical during the winter. The next best option to sunlight is the use of a safe indoor tanning device. If neither natural nor artificial sunlight is an option, then using oral vitamin D3 supplements is your best bet. If you wish to take an oral vitamin D3 supplement, follow my dose recommendations, based on the latest scientific research. The only way to establish that you are taking your optimal dose is to get your blood tested. Ideally, you’ll want to maintain a vitamin D level of 50-70 ng/ml year-round.

    For an in-depth explanation of everything you need to know about vitamin D, please refer to my FREE one-hour vitamin D lecture.

    How You Can Get Well Faster

    Most uncomplicated colds last between eight and nine days, but about 25 percent last two weeks, and five to 10 percent last three weeks. Even the most stubborn colds will typically resolve in a few weeks’ time. This is actually one of the ways you can distinguish a cold from allergies—a cold will last, at most, a few weeks, but allergy symptoms can last all season.

    A slight fever will actually help you to feel better sooner. Cold viruses cannot reproduce at higher body temperatures. Therefore, popping over-the-counter cold remedies or fever reducers is counterproductive to recovering quickly. In fact, as long as your temperature remains below 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius), there is no need to lower it. Avoid taking over-the-counter painkillers as well as they tend to suppress your body’s natural antibody production.

    One of the most effective ways to prevent spread of infection is to practice good hand washing techniques, without overdoing it. Over washing can lead to cracked skin, which is counterproductive. Use plain soap and water, not antibacterial cleansers, which can lead to resistant bacteria, or “superbugs.” For specific dietary strategies, including natural supplements, for cold prevention and treatment, refer to my comprehensive article about combating colds and flu.

    When Should You Call Your Physician?

    Remember that antibiotics are completely ineffective against cold and flu viruses, so avoid them—they will do more harm than good. Sinus, ear, and lung infections (bronchitis and pneumonia) on the other hand are examples of bacterialinfections that DO respond to antibiotics. If you develop any of the following symptoms, these are signs you may be suffering from a bacterial infection rather than a cold virus, and you should call your physician’s office:

    • Fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius)
    • Ear pain
    • Pain around your eyes, especially with a green nasal discharge
    • Shortness of breath or a persistent uncontrollable cough
    • Persistently coughing up green and yellow sputum

    Generally speaking, if you have a cold, medical care is not necessary. Rest and attention to the lifestyle factors noted above will help you to recover quickly and, if you stick to them, will significantly reduce your chances of catching another one anytime soon.

Raw Milk: A Key Ingredient in Some of the World’s Finest Cheeses.

Story at-a-glance

  • Raw milk is used to make some of the world’s finest cheeses, from the Italian Parmigiano Reggiano to the famous French-made Camembert
  • Raw cheese has a richer and deeper flavor than cheese made from pasteurized milk because heat destroys the enzymes and good bacteria that add flavor to the cheese
  • Raw cheese has flavors derived from the pastureland that nourished the animals producing the milk, much like wine is said to draw its unique flavors from individual vineyards
  • The US government has been threatening to ban raw-milk products, including raw cheese, despite a lack of evidence showing them to be dangerous.
  • Based on their vehement warnings to the public, as well as their raids on small farms, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) want you to believe that raw milk is unsafe.

    And if you listen to them, you would come away believing that raw milk is a filthy, disease-causing beverage that is virtually guaranteed to make you and your family sick…

    Yet, this very same ingredient – raw milk – is used to make some of the world’s finest cheeses, from the Italian Parmigiano Reggiano to the famous French-made Camembert.

    The traditional cheese-making process has been crafted over centuries in many cases, and is truly an art form, with each cheese carefully aged and ripened to develop a complex taste and texture that mass-produced cheeses cannot replicate – thanks, in large part, to their raw milk content.

    Why Raw Milk Makes Cheese Better

    Raw cheese has a richer and deeper flavor than cheese made from pasteurized milk because heat destroys the enzymes and good bacteria that add flavor to the cheese.

    In fact, raw cheese has flavors derived from the pastureland that nourished the animals producing the milk, much like wine is said to draw its unique flavors from individual vineyards. As The Edmonton Journal recently reported:1

    “ … bacteria present in the raw milk creates a taste profile for cheese that cannot be replicated post-pasteurization.

    ‘It’s impossible to recreate what nature creates first,’ says [Bobby] Gregoire, part of a Slow Food campaign to educate the public about raw milk and its products. ‘If you pasteurize the cheese, you lose the link to the land. It’s impossible to have a terroir product if you pasteurize it.’”

    Unfortunately, 90 percent of standard grocery store cheeses are made from the milk of CAFO cows, which are grain-fed cows. Raw-milk cheese is far more likely too come from grass-fed animals raised on pasture, rather than grain-fed or soy-fed animals confined to feedlot stalls. Raw grass-fed dairy products not only taste better, they are also nutritionally superior:

    • Cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows has the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio of 2:1. By contrast, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of grain-fed milk is heavily weighted on the side of omega-6 fats (25:1), which are already excessive in the standard American diet. Grass-fed dairy combats inflammation in your body, whereas grain-fed dairy contributes to it.
    • Grass-fed cheese contains about five times the beneficial conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) of grain-fed cheese.
    • Because raw cheese is not pasteurized, natural enzymes in the milk are preserved, increasing its nutritional punch.
    • Grass-fed cheese is considerably higher in calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, D and E.
    • Organic grass-fed cheese is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.

    Are the FDA and Canada Going to Ban Raw-Milk Cheese?

    For years, federal regulators have been threatening to ban raw milk products, including raw cheese, due to what they claim are increased safety risks. In Canada, where unpasteurized milk is legal to sell, an E. coli outbreak linked to one raw milk cheese has experts calling for tighter regulations.

    But the E. coli source has yet to be firmly identified, meaning it could be from fresh herbs used in the cheeses, tubing at the factory where the cheese is made or any number of sources, i.e. not necessarily the raw milk.

    The Edmonton Journal continued:2

    “In light of such a tragedy, it’s easy to panic, and to view cheese made from unpasteurized milk — which is legal to sell in Canada — with a jaundiced eye. Ban it! Bring on irradiation! This sort of fear-based attitude is a mistake.

    Food-borne pathogens exist. They are a fact of life — always have been, always will be. But to blame, or move to eliminate, an entire food culture, in existence for thousands of years, stimulating both the palate and the economy, would be an overreaction.”

    Even a 2012 report from the FDA and Health Canada,3 which claimed that there is a 50- to 160-fold increase in the risk of listeriosis from eating soft-ripened raw-milk cheese, compared with cheese made from pasteurized milk, appears to be greatly overblown. As one journalist reported:4

    The risk certainly sounds serious… until you read closely the full 189-page report and learn that the FDA-Health Canada conclusion about ‘a 50- to 160-fold increase in the risk’ is based entirely on estimates and mathematical predictions, rather than real-life data on illnesses from the soft raw milk cheeses.

    Even more remarkable, the actual real-life data presented in the report of illnesses worldwide from listeriosis in soft cheese over a 23-year period between 1986 and 2008 show not a single documented illness in the U.S. from listeriosis due to tainted brie or camembert.”

    Likewise, according to Grist,5 between 1973 and 1999 there’s not a single report of illness from either raw or pasteurized cheeses. However, since the year 2000, illnesses have begun to appear from raw and pasteurized cheese alike. Most outbreaks have been found to result from post-production contamination and laxity in quality control, not lack of pasteurization.

    The truth is that raw cheese is not inherently dangerous, provided high standards are followed in the cheese-making process. Hard cheeses like cheddar dry out as they age, making them relatively inhospitable to invading bacteria. The FDA’s attack on raw cheese is not based on facts, but simply is an extension of their long-standing hostility toward raw milk in general.

    Did You Know High-Quality Cheese Is Good for You?

    Cheese is much maligned in America due to the saturated fat/cholesterol myth. Does eating high-quality cheese lead to obesity and heart disease? This is actually a myth that stems from an outdated and seriously flawed hypothesis, perpetuated by decades of wildly successful marketing.

    Numerous recent studies have confirmed saturated fat is NOT associated with obesity or heart disease and is actually associated with improved heart health. Most Americans today are consuming inadequate saturated fat. In fact, the Greeks, French and Germans eat much more cheese than Americans but enjoy lower rates of hypertension and obesity.6

    Of course, there is a difference between natural cheese and processed “cheese foods.” Natural cheese is a simplefermented dairy product, made with nothing more than a few basic ingredients — milk, starter culture, salt and an enzyme called rennet. Processed cheese or “cheese food” is a different story. These products are typically pasteurized and otherwise adulterated with a variety of additives that detract from their nutritional value. When prepared traditionally, as most raw-milk cheeses are, cheese offers a wealth of good nutrition, including:

    • High-quality protein and amino acids
    • High-quality saturated fats and omega-3 fats
    • Vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc, phosphorus, vitamins A, D, B2 (riboflavin) and B12
    • Vitamin K2
    • CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a powerful cancer-fighter and metabolism booster

    Which Cheeses Are Best?

    This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? And one that’s virtually impossible to answer, as everyone’s palate is unique when it comes to cheese. From a health standpoint, your best option is cheese made from the raw milk of pasture-raised cows, sheep and goats, as opposed to feedlot livestock fed grain and soy. My top picks are Gouda, Brie, and Edam cheese, as these are good sources of vitamin K2, but you also can’t go wrong with high-quality cheddar, Swiss, Colby, Gruyere, and goat cheese.

    Cheese is unique in that it offers a synergistic blend of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, including the magic trio of vitamin D3, vitamin K2 and calcium. This nutrient triad is vitally important for reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, so don’t be afraid to include high-quality cheese in your regular diet. Also, don’t be afraid of raw cheese (as long as it comes from a reputable cheesemaker), which beats ordinary cheese in both taste and nutrition.

The Perilous Road Ahead: Designer Babies and Other Patented Life Forms… Where Will It All End?

Story at-a-glance

  • Genetic modification of humans appears to have been running alongside the genetic engineering of plants, being just a few years behind in terms of the technology being unleashed
  • A US patent has been filed for a DNA testing database, which would be used by prospective parents to find out which traits their future offspring might inherit. Critics call it “ethically and socially treacherous”
  • Researchers have discovered that while each person has one major genome, on the cellular level you can have multiple different genomes, depending on the tissue. These slight differences could impact development and health
  • In addition to patenting its own genetically engineered seeds, Monsanto has also patented a large number of common crop seeds, in essence patenting life forms, without a single vote of the people or Congress
  • Hints have been dropped, indicating the possibility of engineering soil microbes to “make up” for the detrimental effects of Roundup.
  • In 2001, a study1 announcing the successful birth of the world’s first genetically engineered babies—30 in total—was published. This staggering development didn’t receive media attention until nearly a decade later.

    The children were created using genes from TWO women and one man—a process referred to as ooplasmic transplantation, in which genes from a female donor are inserted into another woman’s eggs before being fertilized with a man’s sperm.

    What the ramifications of having the genetic traits of three parents might be for the individual, or for their subsequent offspring, is still unknown.

    However, based on what I’ve learned about the genetic engineering of plants, I’m inclined to say the consequences could be vast, dire, and most likely completely unexpected.

    In fact, it only took two years for follow-up reports to begin discussing problems encountered in these genetically engineered babies. According to one such report:2

    “A frank follow-up of ooplasmic transplantation pregnancies and infants reports that two out of 17 fetuses had an abnormal 45, XO karyotype. The authors assume the hypothesis of a link between chromosomal anomalies and oocytes manipulation, and reveal that one of the babies has been diagnosed at 18 months with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a spectrum of autism-related diagnoses.”

    Despite such risks, and the lack of public discussion about these kinds of ventures, genetic scientists are steadily forging ahead, bringing us ever closer to the reality of “designer babies”—children born with traits predetermined by the parents’ choice.

    As a matter of fact, the genetic modification of humans appears to have been running alongside the genetic engineering of plants, being just a few years behind in terms of the technology being unleashed. The lack of proper evaluation of health effects is apparently on par as well, which is to say near non-existent.

    Are ‘Design-A-Baby’ Centers Next?

    As recently reported by BBC News,3 a US patent has been filed for a DNA testing database, which would be used by prospective parents to find out which traits their future offspring might inherit. Critics call it “ethically and socially treacherous,” and I’m inclined to agree. According to the featured article:

    “23andMe says its Family Traits Inheritor Calculator can predict the risk of inheriting specific diseases as well as details such as height, weight, eye color and even personality. Couples send the firm a saliva sample to see what their babies might be like.

     But critics remain concerned that such technology could be misused. ‘It would be highly irresponsible for 23andMe or anyone else to offer a product or service based on this patent,’ said Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society… We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus for which to choose a future child’s traits.’”

    Designer Baby

    Could Humans Eventually Become Patented Property?

    One nightmarish scenario humanity might be faced with, should genetic engineering and designing of humans continue unchecked, is the potential for a patent war; meaning these genetically engineered humans could become patentable property.

    Sound crazy?

    You bet! But it’s not outside the realm of possibility. The world is already embroiled in discussions about which genetically engineered life forms can and cannot be patented,4 and biotech companies have secured patents on everything from genetically modified seeds to engineered animals of various kinds.

    Furthermore, as of 2005, nearly 20 percent of human genes were already patented,5 and are explicitly claimed as intellectual property by one company or another. Unchallenged, what’s to stop a company from eventually claiming patent rights on an entire individual?

    In an effort to put the brakes on this disturbing trend, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)6 has sued the US Patent and Trademark Office to stop the practice of issuing patents that are contrary to the law—which states that only inventions can be patented; not naturally-occurring parts of the human body. As explained by the ACLU:7

    “For example, Myriad Genetics, a private biotechnology company based in Utah, controls patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes [two genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer]. Because of its patents, Myriad has the right to prevent anyone else from testing, studying, or even looking at these genes. It also holds the exclusive rights to any mutations along those genes. No one is allowed to do anything with the BRCA genes without Myriad’s permission.”

    Thankfully, on June 13 this year, the US Supreme Court unanimously invalidated the patents on BRCA 1 and BRCA 2—an important victory in the fight to reclaim our genes.8 But we still have a long way to go. Patenting of seeds, for example, is just as hazardous to the future of mankind as the patenting of human genes.

    One Human, Multiple Genomes

    Genetic research is of course important, and has revealed some very interesting misconceptions. Unfortunately, many scientists fail to take such findings into account. One example is the genetic engineering of plants, which are considered to be “equivalent” to conventional varieties even though there are in fact vast differences. 

    For example, genetically engineered plants typically end up producing novel proteins that have never existed in the food supply before, courtesy of the new genetic material that has been inserted.

    The increased use of GE crops in the American food supply is one explanation for the dramatic uptick in food allergies and gastrointestinal problems over the past two decades.

    The Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003, discovered that we have nowhere near enough genes to account for all the biological functions in the human body, and the reason for this is because genes do not operate as previously predicted. In a nutshell, having a “cancer program” in your DNA does not automatically mean you’re destined to get cancer. Far from it, because simply having the genetic information does not mean it will beexpressed.

    As it turns out, any given gene can create and encode tens of thousands of different proteins, and it is these proteins that dictate cell function. What’s most important here is that the types of proteins encoded is dependent on the environment in which the cell finds itself.

    In fact, the epigenetic influences appear to be most powerful. These are the factors that cause your genes to actually be expressed and produce the proteins they encode for. A toxic environment will cause a gene to produce different proteins than a non-toxic environment for example.

    That said, according to more recent research,9 the picture is likely even more complex. Researchers have now discovered that while each person has one major genome, on the cellular level you can have multiple different genomes, depending on the tissue. As stated in a recent Science Magazine interview with the author of the study, James Lupski:10, 11

    “[R]esearchers have come to realize that we are made up of a mosaic of cells—populations of cells with different versions of the genome, present in varying degrees in different tissues.

    A few base pair changes, a few extra copies of a repetitive sequence—these things seem small on the scale of three billion base pairs, but it does mean that there is no ‘true you’ spelled out in your genes, and it also means that these slight differences could impact development and health… So certainly, if you’re looking at the blood, it doesn’t tell you what’s going on in the brain,’ [says James Lupski].

    Interestingly enough, genome mosaicism does not necessarily equate to disease. In fact, in his paper12 Lupski states that mosaicism has also been found in healthy tissues, and may even play a role in the normal functioning of cells. Mosaicism also comes into play when you’re talking about hereditary diseases, which makes the idea of creating “designer babies” all the more daunting and fraught with unforeseen risks. In his paper, Lupski writes:

    “Mosaicism and risk for recurrence in offspring may also relate to the time in embryo-genesis at which the de novo mutational event occurred. If the parent is germline mosaic, he or she is at risk for a recurrence of another child with the disease.

    …From a diagnostics standpoint, it is important to realize that genome analyses reflect the average genome of the cells one examines. Thus, for chorionic villus sampling, an abnormality observed may represent confined placental mosaicism. When performing karyotype analysis from a blood sample, only cells stimulated to grow are assayed for chromosomes, whereas total DNA isolated from white blood cells comes from more cell types and thus may detect mosaicism. However, none of these approaches informs on the presence of mosaicism in the brain or other tissues and organs.”

    Your Genes Do Not Predetermine Your Health

    The major problem with believing the myth that your genes control your life is that you become a victim of your heredity. Since you can’t change your genes, it essentially means that your life is predetermined, and therefore you have very little control over your health. Quelling such fears is what “designer babies” is all about—the idea that you can safeguard your offspring from certain health risks. (Of course, taken to an extreme, such fantasies also include the ability to design a child that has specifically chosen physical and mental characteristics, and perhaps even specific personality traits.)

    But the new science, oftentimes referred to as epigenetics, reveals that you are in fact an extension of your environment, which includes everything from your thoughts and belief systems, to toxic exposures and exposure to sunlight, exercise, and, of course, everything you choose to put onto and into your body.

    Rather than looking for a way to “design” healthier humans through genetic manipulation, it would make far more sense to address our environment, including our food supply, instead—so that everyone, whether we’re “custom made” or not, can thrive and be the healthiest version of ourselves that we can be.

    Science has now taken us far beyond Newtonian physics, which says you live in a mechanical universe. Your body is NOT just a biological machine whose health can be modified by altering the parts of the machine. Unfortunately, conventional science is being slow on the uptake of these facts, and the entire pharmaceutical paradigm is still rooted in the Newtonian view of the body as a biological machine. As such, your body is thought to respond to physical “things” like the active chemicals in drugs, and by adjusting the drugs that modify your machinery, doctors can modify and control health.

    However, as biophysics and quantum physics shows us that the invisible, immaterial realm is actually far more important than the material realm, so your immaterial thoughts may actually shape your biological environment and genetic expression to a greater degree than a drug…

    Unfortunately, as a general broad-strokes rule, it seems few scientists fond of gene-tinkering have a well-rounded or holistic view of living organisms, opting instead to view the human body as a machine. And as demonstrated with the multi-varied problems that have arisen from genetically engineered foods—from the development of superweeds and superpests, to the creation of a never-before-seen organism now linked to miscarriage and infertility—such a view isbound to lead you to the wrong conclusions.

Vitamin D as prevention of osteoporosis may be inappropriate.

The common practice of administering vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of osteoporosis among adults may be unnecessary, according to data reported in The Lancet.

“The negative findings of our analysis contrast with the widely held perception that vitamin D works directly on bone cells to promote mineralization,” Ian R. Reid, MD, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and colleagues wrote. “The increasing practice for measurement and supplementation of vitamin D is expensive. Our data suggest that the targeting of low-dose vitamin D supplements only to individuals who are likely to be deficient could free up substantial resources that could be better used elsewhere in health care.”


Various databases were searched for trials examining the effects of vitamin D (D3 or D2, but not vitamin D metabolites) on bone mineral density. The primary endpoint was the percentage change in BMD from baseline, according to data. Ultimately, the researchers identified 23 studies (mean duration, 23.5 months) that included 4,082 patients (92% women; mean age, 59 years).

The mean baseline serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration was <50 nmol/L in eight of the studies (n=1,791) examined by Reid and colleagues. They also found that patients were given vitamin D doses <800 IU daily in 10 studies (n=2,294). Patients’ BMD was measured in each study at one of the following sites: lumbar spine, femoral neck, total hip, trochanter, total body or forearm, according to data.

The researchers reported that six studies showed significant benefits to BMD, four reported beneficial effects at one site only, and one reported beneficial effects in both femoral regions. The other sites in each study did not show benefit from treatment and two studies reported detrimental effects at the total body (P≤.05).

Researchers found a small benefit at the femoral neck (0.8%; 95% CI, 0.2-1.4) with heterogeneity among trials, according to abstract data.

“Although small increases in bone density at some skeletal sites in some studies were reported, when these increases are offset against the individual findings of deleterious effects, the number of positive results is little better than what would have been expected by chance,” the researchers wrote.


In an accompanying editorial, Clifford J. Rosen, MD, director of clinical and translational research and a senior scientist at Maine Medical Center’s Research Institute, wrote that Reid and colleagues’ analysis is consistent with the current understanding of vitamin D; that its supplementation is not needed to preventosteoporosis.

“However, maintenance of vitamin D stores in the elderly combined with sufficient dietary calcium intake (800 mg to 1,200 mg per day) remains an effective approach for prevention of hip fractures,”

Source: Endocrine Today.

Denosumab increased adherence, BMD in postmenopausal patients.

Patients previously treated with a bisphosphonate who still have a high risk for fracture may benefit from the addition of denosumab, according to data presented at ASBMR 2013.

 “We have in fact shown a more robust increase in [bone mineral density] at the end of the 1 year, based on total hip, femoral neck and lumbar spine. We also showed a larger reduction in bone turnover markers,” Jacques P. Brown, MD, of the CHU de Quebec Research Center and Laval University in Canada, told Endocrine Today.

The multicenter, randomized, open-label, parallel-group studies included postmenopausal women aged at least 55 years who were randomly assigned to denosumab 60 mg (Prolia, Xgeva; Amgen) subcutaneously every 6 months (n=852) or a bisphosphonate (ibandronate [Boniva, Roche] orrisedronate [Actonel, Warner Chilcott]) 150 mg by mouth each month for 12 months (n=851; mean age, 67 years). The mean T-scores of the patients were: –1.7 at the total hip, –2 at the femoral neck, and –2.4 at the lumbar spine.


The researchers conducted a combined post-hoc analysis on patients with a greater risk for fracture administered denosumab or bisphosphonate.

Patients at higher risk for fracture who were administereddenosumab appeared to have a significantly increased BMD compared with those assigned to a bisphosphonate at the total hip (2.2% vs. 0.8%), femoral neck (1.8% vs. 0.3%), and lumbar spine (3.8% vs. 1.4%), according to 12-month data.

“The important finding was that patients who appeared to be noncompliant with bisphosphonates improved their level of adherence when switched to denosumab,” Brown told Endocrine Today.

These findings were consistent with the overall study population (treatment-by-risk subgroup interaction P>.05), according to data. Further, adverse events and serious adverse events were similar between those assigned denosumab compared with those assigned bisphosphonates.

“There is a clear advantage to switching postmenopausal patients to a more convenient approach like a subcutaneous injection every 6 months,” Brown said.

Source: Endocrine Today.