17 September 2021

Accepting Evolution

Welcome back. Although creationism and intelligent design proponents are going strong, a majority of American adults now accept evolution. At least that’s what researchers with the University of Michigan, National Center for Science Education and Spain’s University of Oviedo found through analysis of national surveys from 1985 to 2020.

To be sure we’re on the same playing field, I’ll define some terms and review the status, then get back to the researchers’ analysis.

Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design from Merriam-Webster
Evolution is the scientific theory that explains the development of new species and varieties of living things from preexisting forms through the action of biological mechanisms (e.g., natural selection, genetic mutation or drift, and hybridization).

Creationism is a doctrine or theory that matter, the various forms of life and the world were created by God out of nothing, usually in the way described in Genesis.

Creationism versus evolution (graphic by Sidney Harris from
Intelligent design is the theory that matter, the various forms of life and the world were created by a designing intelligence.

Science or Religion?
Creationism took a hit in 1987 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a Louisiana law that required “creation science” be taught in public schools where evolutionary science was taught (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578). In support of Aguillard, 72 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, 17 state academies of science and 7 other scientific organizations filed amicus briefs that described creation science as being composed of religious tenets.

But the hit was far from fatal. Although no state currently bans teaching evolution, Oklahoma makes it optional, Louisiana and Tennessee give the freedom to question scientific theories like evolution, and about 20 states still allow creationism to be taught.

The intelligent design movement arose out of the creation science movement. Its chief activities are promoting awareness of the intelligent design concept, lobbying policymakers to include it in high school science, and legal actions to defend or remove barriers to it being taught.

Intelligent design’s scientific material has been criticized as containing factual misrepresentation and misleading, rhetorical and equivocal terminology. Scientists responding to a poll overwhelmingly said intelligent design is about religion, not science. The National Academy of Sciences stated that creationism and intelligent design are not science because they cannot be tested by scientific methods.

In contrast, evolution is one of the most substantiated theories in science, backed by such disciplines as geology, paleontology, genetics and developmental biology. Like other scientific theories (e.g., gravity), evolution does not address God or religious belief. A 2009 Pew Research Center survey of scientists found 97% accept evolution and 51% believe in God or a higher power.

Surveying Evolution’s Acceptance
The researchers’ analysis of evolution’s acceptance was based on a mix of national surveys. Since 1985, several years of biennial National Science Board surveys, several national surveys funded by other units of the National Science Foundation, and a new time series focused on civic scientific literacy funded by NASA have asked U.S. adults to agree or disagree with the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”

While survey results during the two early decades were generally split, acceptance of evolution increased significantly during the last decade. The percentage of U.S. adults agreeing with the statement increased from 40% to 54%, which reflected a small decrease in overt rejection and a larger decrease in those unsure about evolution.

Response of U.S. adults, from 1985–2020, to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" (from journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/09636625211035919?journalCode=pusa).
Through statistical analysis (structural equation modeling) of the combined data set, the researchers were able to attribute the increased acceptance of evolution to higher enrollment in baccalaureate-level programs, exposure to college-level science courses, a declining level of religious fundamentalism and a rising level of civic scientific literacy.

Wrap Up
The rise in evolution’s acceptance in the U.S. is certainly significant, however 54% is likely to still be low for a developed nation. By “still,” I’m referring to a 2005 study of evolution’s acceptance in 34 developed nations. Only one nation, Turkey, scored lower than the U.S.

Response of adults in selected countries in 2005 to the statement, “Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals” (graphic from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_support_for_evolution modified from data on 34 countries, 1985-2005, www.science.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.1126746).
Nevertheless, if the factors identified by the researchers as affecting the increased acceptance are correct, acceptance in the U.S. should keep rising. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of U.S. acceptance of evolution, 1985-2020, in Public Understanding of Science journal:
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/925987
U.S. Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwards_v._Aguillard
Intelligent design movement: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design_movement
Teaching of evolution, 2021: worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/states-that-dont-teach-evolution
Pew Research Center survey: www.pewresearch.org/politics/2009/07/09/section-4-scientists-politics-and-religion/
Example of National Science Board reports: ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsb20207/public-familiarity-with-s-t-facts

10 September 2021

It’s Time to Get Active

Welcome back. In the earliest days of this blog, I described the evolution of my daily exercise routine (Time to Exercise). The foundation was laid on a UN project in 1982, during which our team visited the Tien Shan Mountains in northwestern China. When I returned to Cornell, my mentor, colleague and friend, Prof. Ta Liang, who had come to the U.S. from China after World War II, advised me that, because I’d seen Heavenly Lake, I would live forever.

Warren and UN project counterparts at Heavenly Lake, Tien Shan Mountains, Xinjiang, China.
Although I trusted Ta implicitly, as I got older, I decided that I’d better hedge my bet. I started exercising.

All this is to say that starting to exercise at any age can have major health benefits. This was shown in a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress by a researcher at Switzerland’s University of Bern.

I was hesitant to blog about this study for a few reasons: (1) the research was presented at a conference, not published in a peer-reviewed journal; (2) I’d be blogging about a study, without seeing the paper; and (3) the research focused on health benefits for coronary heart disease patients.

I went ahead for a few reasons: (1) though the conference submission may not have been peer-reviewed, the study involved a meta-analysis of published research that would have been peer-reviewed; (2) the study focused on cardiovascular disease mortality but included all-cause mortality; (3) considering the research and researcher, the paper will likely be published if submitted; and (4) I didn’t want to wait a year to share the findings.

The New Study
The researcher conducted a meta-analysis, combining results from nine separate studies, to investigate the relationship of physical activity with the risk of cardiovascular disease death. In all, 33,576 patients (average age 62.5 years, 34% female) with coronary heart disease were included.

The patients were classified as physically active or inactive using validated questionnaires at baseline and after a median of 7.2 years. Definitions of active and inactive varied across the different studies but were in line with the 2016 European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice for healthy people--at least 150 minutes/week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes/week of vigorous activity, or some combination.

Patients were categorized into four groups according to their activity status at both baseline and follow-up: inactive over time, active over time, increased activity over time, and decreased activity over time. All of the studies defined “increased activity over time” as changing from the inactive to the active category and “decreased activity over time” as changing from the active to the inactive category.

Each of the four groups was assessed against the risks of all-cause and cardiovascular disease deaths at 7.2 years after baseline.

Wrap Up
Compared to patients who were inactive over time, the risk of all-cause death was 50% lower in those who were active over time, 45% lower in those who were inactive but became active, and 20% lower in those who had been active but became inactive.

Continuing the same comparison, the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, was 51% lower in those who remained active over time, 27% lower for those who were inactive but became active, and statistically the same for those whose activity decreased over time.

Although regular physical activity over the years offered the greatest longevity, starting later in life offered heart disease patients significant survival benefits. But those benefits were reduced or even lost if the physical activity was not maintained.

So do yourself a favor--continue or start exercising. Thanks for stopping by. 

Some of Warren’s low-cost exercise paraphernalia: stationary bike (especially for bad weather, less than $200), running/walking shoes, mat, free weights, bungee cord, shorts, hat, t-shirt (optional for predawn), reflective vest (mainly for predawn); dress warmer in winter.
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC): www.escardio.org/The-ESC
ESC Congress 2021--The Digital Experience: www.escardio.org/Congresses-&-Events/ESC-Congress
Congress program: digital-congress.escardio.org/ESC-Congress/programme
Study author: www.ispm.unibe.ch/about_us/staff/gonzalez_nathalia/index_eng.html
Study title: Physical activity trajectories are associated with the risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in patients with coronary heart disease. A systematic review and meta-analysis.
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/925989
European Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4986030/

03 September 2021

Chile’s Healthy Food Policies

Welcome back. Reducing the consumption of sugary beverages by law, tax or public campaign is a topic I’ve revisited a few times (Research Sponsor Bias, Sugary Beverage Addendum, Taxing Sugary Beverages). I felt it was important to promote the health benefits. Equally important was to show the ways beverage and sugar industries have fought the reductions, just as the tobacco industry resisted smoking restrictions and the fossil fuel industries denied their effect on climate.

Rethink Your Drink poster included in Sugary Beverage Addendum post (2013 poster by Hawaii Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eatrighthawaii.org/2013/11/14/rethink-your-drink-campaign/).

While actions in the U.S. have largely been either local, by nonprofits, or lately, by beverage companies in response to consumer preferences, Chile has led the world in national policies to reduce sugary beverage purchases and promote healthy foods.

Chile’s Law of Food Labeling and Advertising, implemented in three progressively stricter phases between 2016 and 2019, was the world’s first national regulation to mandate policy strategies recommended by the World Health Organization.

These included front-of-package warning labels on unhealthy foods and beverages; restrictions on child-targeted marketing of these foods and beverages; and a ban on sales in schools of all foods and beverages containing added sugars, sodium or saturated fats that exceeded set thresholds.

Front-of-package warnings from Chile’s Law of Food Labeling and Advertising; clockwise from upper left--high in sugars, saturated fats, calories, sodium (from photo by Aeveraal posted on commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Etiquetado_minsal_Chile.jpeg).
Evaluating the Law’s First Phase
Researchers with the University of North Carolina, University of Chile and Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health reported their initial evaluation of the law’s first-phase effect on sugary beverage purchases in a February 2020 publication. But the law’s first-phase effects go much further, and a broader scope investigation by most of the same researchers was recently released.

This study monitored 2,381 Chilean households, collecting demographic data and changes in food and beverage purchases from January 2015 through December 2017, thereby encompassing the law’s first phase implementation in June 2016.

Nutrition data were linked to household purchases using barcode, brand name and product description. Nutritionists checked accuracy and categorized the products as “high-in” if added sugar, sodium or saturated fat exceeded first-phase cut-offs.

For the main analyses, the researchers used a pre- and post-modeling approach to examine changes in nutrient content (calories, sugar, saturated fat and sodium) of overall food purchases before and after the policy was implemented. Nutrients purchased from high-in and “not high-in” foods and beverages were examined separately, as well as by food and beverage subgroup.

Observed Changes
The proportion of households that purchased any high-in product or high-in food remained almost unchanged after the law was implemented; however, the proportion that purchased high-in beverages dropped by 12%.

The largest decreases in high-in purchases were for commercial fruit and vegetable juices (–47%), dairy-based beverages and substitutes (–31%), condiments and sauces (–33%), meat, poultry and meat substitutes (–11%), breakfast cereals (–11%), and sweets and non-grain-based desserts (–8%).

Calories, sugar, saturated fat (each measured in kilocalories/capita/day) and sodium (milligrams/capita/day) from high-in purchases declined respectively by 24%, 27%. 16% and 37%.

In contrast, calories, sugar, saturated fat and sodium from not-high-in purchases increased, though not enough to offset the declines from high-in products. Not-high-in calories increased by 13%, sugar by 26%, saturated fat by 24% and sodium by 21%.

The results suggested that more educated households had larger decreases in overall and high-in calories purchased, the least educated households had the largest increases in not-high-in calories purchased, and that households with lower assets had larger decreases in overall and high-in calories purchased as well as smaller increases in calories purchased from not-high-in foods.

Wrap Up
The first phase of Chile's Law of Food Labeling and Advertising generated significant decreases in overall purchases of calories, sugar, saturated fat and sodium, driven largely by reduced high-in food and beverage purchases. It's likely that the more stringent nutrient thresholds of the second and third phases of the law produced even greater impacts, but these remain to be studied.

Chile’s Law of Food Labeling and Advertising three-phase cut-off values for calories, sodium, sugar and saturated fats (graphic from www.who.int/conferences/global-ncd-conference/workshop2-6-Melanie-Paccot-Entornos-saludables.pdf).
The results highlight the importance of policies that apply to both beverages and foods. Chile is one of the world's top consumers of sugary beverages, yet beverages comprise only about 10% of daily calorie intake.

Finally, the researchers note that Brazil, Israel, Mexico and Peru have instituted similar high-in warning labels, and at least five other countries are considering doing the same. No, not the U.S. Thanks for stopping by.

Coca-Cola’s changes in response to consumer demands: www.coca-colacompany.com/sustainable-business/in-our-products/sugar-reduction
Chile’s Law of Food Labeling and Advertising: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_labelling_and_advertising_law_(Chile)
2020 study of effect of Chile’s Law of Food Labeling and Advertising in PLOS Medicine: journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1003015
Recent study of effect of Chile’s Law of Food Labeling and Advertising in The Lancet Planetary Health: www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(21)00172-8/fulltext
Article on recent study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/924895

27 August 2021

Cat and Human Genomes

Welcome back. Do you remember when former President Trump was stricken with COVID-19? One of the treatments to speed recovery was the antiviral drug remdesivir. A few years earlier, researchers with the University of Missouri-Columbia’s College of Veterinary Medicine had learned that remdesivir was effective in curing cats of a coronavirus-induced disease, feline infectious peritonitis. That opened the door for them to consider the drug for treating humans with COVID-19. Why? Because the receptors for the virus are similar between cats and humans.

Lest you think that was an anomalous or lucky connection, It turns out that cats are more genetically similar to humans than nearly any other mammal. And that similarity can potentially facilitate the expansion of genomic medicine for both cat and human healthcare.

The human genome—some 20,000 to 25,000 genes in 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell (from www.genomicsengland.co.uk/understanding-genomics/what-is-a-genome/).

Before I go any further, it’s probably best to mention that genomics is the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution and mapping of genomes--the complete set of genes or genetic material, composed of DNA, that’s present in a cell or organism; genome mapping identifies a series of landmarks in a genome; genome sequencing spells out the order of every DNA base in a genome; and as for DNA bases, there are more than 3 billion base pairs of DNA in the mammal genome.

Comparative Geonomics
Despite the progress in sequencing the human genome, advances in precision medicine rely on more than accurate and complete human genome sequences. Comparing sequences in different species and exploring what variations mean for the biology and disease of other species are significant in developing precision therapeutics. High-quality reference genomes, particularly of species where genomes are conserved (essentially unchanged throughout evolution) and follow the same order as that in humans, are essential.

Comparative genomics by National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (graphic modified from www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Comparative-Genomics-Fact-Sheet, August 2020).
Although the discovery of single-gene mutations that cause rare conditions progresses well with the human genome, most common diseases are more complex. Since these are common conditions affecting cats as well as humans, research comparing genomes can possibly help identify the genes and mechanisms causing the diseases.

Toward that end, a University of Missouri-led consortium developed a genome reference assembly from the genomes of 54 domestic cats, annotating the feline variations in the context of human genes. The team is continuing to expand that resource to obtain more accurate genome assemblies that might identify novel variations responsible for traits and conditions of importance to animal and human genomic medicine.

“Dark Matter” DNA
One area of special interest is understanding the functions of “dark matter” DNA.

Of the 3 billion-plus base pairs of DNA that form the mammal genome, only 2% is coded into proteins that help our bodies perform natural functions. The other 98% of DNA--the so-called dark matter DNA--is not fully understood but might include regulatory elements that switch our genes on or off.

Finding regulatory sequences in the cat genome and potentially developing therapies to turn those sequences on or off would be a major breakthrough in managing genetic mutations.

Wrap Up
Whether loved or hated, cats are often undervalued by the scientific community. Research in comparative genetics is proceeding rapidly, and the genome match is such that cats could be the optimal species for advancing precision medicine, especially for inherited diseases that affect both cats and humans.

Henry, dreaming about comparing his genome with Noah’s (photo by Noah Philipson).
There is ample justification for the University of Missouri-led consortium to believe that feline genomics holds great potential and promise for advancing human medicine and mammalian biology.

Thanks for stopping by.

Comparative geonomics:
Review of feline genomic medicine and consortium research in Trends in Genetics journal: www.cell.com/trends/genetics/fulltext/S0168-9525(21)00142-6
Article on review on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/923830
Review of feline genome assembly in PLOS Genetics journal: journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1008926
Article covering both feline genome reviews on Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News website: www.genengnews.com/insights/cat-in-the-lab-feline-genomes-fuel-precision-medicine/

20 August 2021

Made in USA

American flag made in China (sunwardflag.com/american-flags-should-be-made-in-america/).

Welcome back. Thanks for stopping by. I’ve got some news you may have missed. The Federal Trade Commission finalized a Made in USA Labeling Rule, effective 13 August.

In short, the rule prohibits Made in USA labels on products unless: (1) final assembly or processing of the product occurs in the U.S., (2) all significant processing that goes into the product occurs in the U.S. and (3) all or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the U.S.

Hat that Warren bought in 2002 during a research study at the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, Calif.
To be clear, the rule does not change the FTC’s requirement that imported products show information regarding the country of origin, and there is no requirement for products made in the U.S. to be labeled. The Made in USA label is solely for marketing purposes. The new rule is to stop deceptive claims.

The marketing Made in USA claim on the Naval Air Weapons Station hat label.

You might ask, “Does country of origin matter?”

“Made in USA” Didn’t Matter
A study presented in 2015 by a researcher with Towson University examined the importance of country of origin in consumers’ decision-making process.

The researcher conducted an internet-based empirical analysis of factors important to nearly 900 U.S. consumers when considering the purchase of a small home appliance. The focus was the consumers’ perception of a Made in USA claim separately and compared to a Made in China claim.

The analysis showed that country of origin was one of the least important factors in a purchase decision. Moreover, at least in 2015, products with a Made in China label were seen more favorably than those with a Made in USA claim.

Wait! “Made in USA” Does Matter
A recently released paper by researchers with the University of Chicago also examined the effect of the Made in USA label on consumer demand.

They studied four brands that had been the subject of FTC investigations for deceptive Made in USA claims. The brands included Gorilla Glue, Loctite Glue, Gorilla Tape and Tramontina cookware.

Comparing sales before and after the label was removed from the products as well as from advertising and websites, they found three of the four brands were affected negatively. Weekly store sales of Tramontina cookware dropped 19.5%, Loctite Glue, 6.1%, and Gorilla Glue,1.9%. The fourth brand, Gorilla Tape, experienced a “trend decline.”

Tramontina, a Brazilian company that makes kitchenware in several countries, including the U.S., was investigated by the FTC for deceptive Made in USA claims (Graphic from Amazon).
Pursuing the analysis further, the researchers conducted over 900 three-day auctions on eBay, selling a single product, screen protectors for handheld devices. They compared consumer demand when the product was advertised with and without the Made in USA claim.

The eBay experiment showed the claim mattered. Auction transaction prices were 28% higher when advertised as Made in USA. While the higher prices may not be enough to justify relocating manufacturing to the U.S., the increase certainly provides incentive to display the claim.

Wrap Up
Two studies aren’t enough to address the importance of country of origin in the global marketplace. Though I scratched the surface with two, it’s a popular topic.

Does a product’s country of origin matter to you? Did your concern arise over the last several years? Is your concern related to trust in product quality, support for American workers or the economy, patriotism or other factors? Is your concern directed only at China?

Once again, many thanks for stopping by. I hope it was worth your time.  

FTC’s new Made in USA rule:
Towson University study of Made in USA: link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-18687-0_103
University of Chicago study of Made in USA: papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3468543
Article on Univ. of Chicago study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-06/ifor-di063021.php