The FDA approves cloned meat, researchers say praying helps, and celebrities need some help with their science.

Doubling the Steaks
In the future, the steak on your plate won’t be quite so rare. After a recent paper published in the journal Theriogenology reported that animals produced by cloning show no abnormalities, the FDA released a draft proposal saying that food from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats is probably just as safe to eat as food from non-cloned animals. It is expected that after the 90-day comment period, the FDA will approve the proposal and allow the public to consume food from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats. While most farmers will probably still produce their livestock the old-fashioned way—cloning isn’t the most economically efficient way to get an animal—it seems likely that some animals with desirable qualities will be cloned and bred. You will then be able to eat these children of clones. While cloning companies are, unsurprisingly, thrilled with the announcement, some suspect that the market may not bite. According to a 2005 survey by the Pew Initiative On Food and Biotechnology, only 23 percent of American consumers believe that food from cloned animals is safe. Only time will tell if the public will always have a beef with cloned food.

Agnus Gay
Oregon Health & Science University biologist Charles Roselli just can’t win. His research on the biological basis of sexual orientation in sheep surely can’t be making him any friends in the religious far right, where some insist that homosexuality isn’t “physically caused.” But Roselli has recently come under fire from the left, where PETA and some gay rights activists, including tennis superstar Martina Navratilova, have condemned his research as an attempt to “cure” homosexuality. Roselli has, indeed, tried to manipulate the sexual differentiation of sheep brains, including the development of sexual partner preferences, by giving hormones to pregnant ewes. (He has not yet been successful.) According to blogger Emptypockets, Roselli has said in an email that he does not think homosexuality is something that can or should be “cured,” and he finds it “appallingly offensive that PETA has suggested that I and my collaborators do.” In an article in The Sunday Times, Glasgow Caledonian University bioethicist Udo Schuklenk is quoted as saying, “I don’t believe the motives of the study are homophobic, but their work brings the terrible possibility of exploitation by homophobic societies. Imagine this technology in the hands of Iran, for example.”

Words of Pray
While a large study published last March showed that prayers from strangers have no effect on the medical outcomes of heart surgery patients, a new study comes with the proud press release headline “Praying online helps cancer patients.” And indeed, that is what the study concludes ... although praying online doesn’t necessarily help the patients with their cancer, per se. The paper, based on research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center of Excellence in Cancer Communications Research and published online in the journal Psycho-Oncology, concludes that patients who used more religious terminology in online support groups tended to have lower levels of negative emotions, higher levels of self-efficacy, and higher levels of functional well-being. The researchers measured the percentage of words used by each person that were suggestive of religion—words such as God, faith, or pray.  Using a survey administered to the patients and controlling for prior levels of religious belief, the researchers found the correlation between religious language and aspects of psychological well-being. The authors say people who pray may use coping methods such as “appraising their cancer in a more constructive religious light.” Hey, if it works, it’s lovely for them.

Stars and Tripe
Stop them before they speak again! With television appearances to spare and gossip rags hanging on their every word, celebrities have the power to spread a wealth of information or misinformation. Since not all of them have taken the time to learn the history of psychiatry, a British group called Sense About Science has published a leaflet urging celebrities to get their facts straight before they make any scientific statements. The leaflet quotes stars of stage, screen, and more, and provides statements from scientific authorities debunking their claims. For example, the group quotes Madonna as saying, “I mean, one of the biggest problems that exists right now in the world is nuclear waste ... that’s something I’ve been involved with for a while with a group of scientists—finding a way to neutralize radiation.” Loughborough University environmental radiochemist Nick Evans shot back, “Radioactivity cannot be ‘neutralised,’ it can only be moved from one place to another until it decays away at its own rate. It comes in many different types: Some last for billions of years, others decay away in a few minutes. There are no magical solutions.” The leaflet also includes more general warnings—”WARNING! Natural doesn’t mean better.” “WARNING! Mumbo jumbo is sometimes dressed up to sound ‘scientific’—and a phone number to call to check up on your facts.

Sharing is Not Caring
The cure for your major Oedipus complex may lie in your major histocompatibility complex (MHC). It has been shown that people generally prefer mates who have genes dissimilar to their own at the MHC, an area associated with the immune system. Researchers have hypothesized that this may prevent inbreeding and help people have kids with people who are genetically compatible with them. Now, a study published in the journal Psychological Science has demonstrated that genetic similarity in the MHC between two romantically involved partners directly correlates with the number of sexual partners the woman will have (on average) outside the relationship. Researchers from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque typed the alleles of 48 couples. They found that the more genetically similar the members of the couple were at the MHC, the less sexually responsive the woman was to her partner, the more partners she had in addition to her significant other, and the more attracted she was to other men. The men didn’t appear to have any response to genetic similarities or differences. The researchers say they’re pretty sure this all has to do with scent. Those darn pheromones—they’re always running our lives.

Surf ‘n’ Turf
Does this look like just about the most frightening thing in the world to you? Luckily for the doomed-seeming guy on the board, a new study shows that he may have better prospects than these dudes.  According to a paper published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, surfing has a lower rate of injury than many other competitive sports, including collegiate soccer and basketball. The researchers analyzed 32 professional and amateur surfing contests, and found a rate of 6.6 significant injuries per 1,000 hours of competitive surfing. The authors found that “sprains and strains to the lower extremities, particularly the knees” were the most common type of injury. When surfers took on large, overhead waves or surfed over an area with a hard bottom, the risk of injury more than doubled.

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Originally published January 8, 2007


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