Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Moving on to February...

I reported on a new study ranking antidepressant drugs for the Los Angeles Times. Researchers compiled data from more than 100 clinical trials and concluded that two antidepressants -- Zoloft and Lexapro -- bested the rest. Another study found that antidepressants were largely equivalent in their therapeutic effect. More damning is a third study that used internal FDA documents to prove that published studies exaggerate the benefits of antidepressants by publishing only those trials with positive results. The take home message (and my favorite quote, thanks to UCLA psychiatrist Lon Schneider): "They may be comparing a relatively ineffective drug with another relatively ineffective drug."

In Nature (access limited to subscribers), I profiled ecologist Simon Lewis, who has studied tropical forests in Africa and thinks that they absorb and store more carbon dioxide than has ever been realized -- enough to affect atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas. In a recent study, Lewis used data collected by the forest service of a number of African countries to monitor the growth of forest trees over four decades.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I've fallen terribly behind on posting my stories. Here's my first effort at catching up.

I wrote about genetically engineered animals for the Los Angeles Times in January, soon after the US Food and Drug Administration decided how they should be regulated. Essentially, these are farm animals to be raised for food or to produce biologic drugs. The engineering of genes are a high-tech way of breeding animals with certain desirable traits, such as fast-growing salmon that reach market weight much faster or pigs that make heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids -- nutrients not usually found in pork. My Q&A article explains how genetic engineering is done, what products are under development, and what exactly the FDA will regulate -- and what it won't.

For Nature (subscription only), I profiled German scientist Marcel Kuypers, who discovered a new dynamic among gases, bacteria, and fishes in deep ocean waters. When oxygen levels drop -- as they do with algal blooms -- hydrogen sulphide levels can rise, poisoning fish and crustaceans in the vicinity. In Nambia, where the discovery was made, natives have long known that the smell of rotting eggs means that lobsters will congregate on the beach. Kuypers measured high sulphide in the absence of any surface smell or discoloration, and further analysis of his samples showed that unusual bacteria were feeding on the sulphide and thereby shielding it from animals that live in the surface waters, as well as from human detection. His finding suggests that sulphidic events are probably much more common and widespread than previously thought.