Rapid-DNA technology makes it easier than ever to grab and store your genetic profile. G-men, cops, and Homeland Security can’t wait to see it everywhere.

Robert Schueren shook my hand firmly, handed me his business card, and flipped it over, revealing a short list of letters and numbers. “Here is my DNA profile.” He smiled. “I have nothing to hide.” I had come to meet Schueren, the CEO of IntegenX, at his company’s headquarters in Pleasanton, California, to see its signature product: a machine the size of a large desktop printer that can unravel your genetic code in the time it takes to watch a movie.

Schueren grabbed a cotton swab and dropped it into a plastic cartridge. That’s what, say, a police officer would use to wipe the inside of your cheek to collect a DNA sample after an arrest, he explained. Other bits of material with traces of DNA on them, like cigarette butts or fabric, could work too. He inserted the cartridge into the machine and pressed a green button on its touch screen: “It’s that simple.” Ninety minutes later, the RapidHIT 200 would generate a DNA profile, check it against a database, and report on whether it found a match.

The RapidHIT represents a major technological leap—testing a DNA sample in a forensics lab normally takes at least two days. This has government agencies very excited. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Justice Department funded the initial research for “rapid DNA” technology, and after just a year on the market, the $250,000 RapidHIT is already being used in a few states, as well as China, Russia, Australia, and countries in Africa and Europe.

“We’re not always aware of how it’s being used,” Schueren said. “All we can say is that it’s used to give an accurate identification of an individual.” Civil liberties advocates worry that rapid DNA will spur new efforts by the FBI and police to collect ordinary citizens’ genetic code.

The US government will soon test the machine in refugee camps in Turkey and possibly Thailand on families seeking asylum in the United States, according to Chris Miles, manager of the Department of Homeland Security’s biometrics program. “We have all these families that claim they are related, but we don’t have any way to verify that,” he says. Miles says that rapid DNA testing will be voluntary, though refusing a test could cause an asylum application to be rejected.

Miles also says that federal immigration officials are interested in using rapid DNA to curb trafficking by ensuring that children entering the country are related to the adults with them. Jeff Heimburger, the vice president of marketing at IntegenX, says the government has also inquired about using rapid DNA to screen green-card applicants. (An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said he was not aware that the agency was pursuing the technology.)

Meanwhile, police have started using rapid DNA in Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina. In August, sheriffs in Columbia, South Carolina, used a RapidHIT to nab an attempted murder suspect. The machine’s speed provides a major “investigative lead,” said Vince Figarelli, superintendent of the Arizona Department of Public Safety crime lab, which is using a RapidHIT to compare DNA evidence from property crimes against the state’s database of 300,000 samples. Heimburger notes that the system can also prevent false arrests and wrongful convictions: “There is great value in finding out that somebody is not a suspect.”

But the technology is not a silver bullet for DNA evidence. The IntegenX executives brought up rape kits so often that it sounded like their product could make a serious dent in the backlog of half a million untested kits. Yet when I pressed Schueren on this, he conceded that the RapidHIT is not actually capable of processing rape kits since it can’t discern individual DNA in commingled bodily fluids.

Despite the new technology’s crime-solving potential, privacy advocates are wary of its spread. If rapid-DNA machines can be used in a refugee camp, “they can certainly be used in the back of a squad car,” says Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “I could see that happening in the future as the prices of these machines go down.”

Lynch is particularly concerned that law enforcement agencies will use the devices to scoop up and store ever more DNA profiles. Every state already has a forensic DNA database, and while these systems were initially set up to track convicted violent offenders, their collection thresholds have steadily broadened. Today, at least 28 include data from anyone arrested for certain felonies, even if they are not convicted; some store the DNA of people who have committed misdemeanors as well. The FBI’s National DNA Index System has more than 11 million profiles of offenders plus 2 million people who have been arrested but not necessarily convicted of a crime.

For its part, Homeland Security will not hang onto refugees’ DNA records, insists Miles. (“They aren’t criminals,” he pointed out.) However, undocumented immigrants in custody may be required to provide DNA samples, which are put in the FBI’s database. DHS documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation say there may even be a legal case for “mandating collection of DNA” from anyone granted legal status under a future immigration amnesty. (The documents also state that intelligence agencies and the military are interested in using rapid DNA to identify sex, race, and other factors the machines currently do not reveal.)

The FBI is the only federal agency allowed to keep a national DNA database. Currently, police must use a lab to upload genetic profiles to it. But that could change. The FBI’s website says it is eager to see rapid DNA in wide use and that it supports the “legislative changes necessary” to make that happen. IntegenX’s Heimburger says the FBI is almost finished working with members of Congress on a bill that would give “tens of thousands” of police stations rapid-DNA machines that could search the FBI’s system and add arrestees’ profiles to it. (The RapitHIT is already designed to do this.) IntegenX has spent $70,000 lobbying the FBI, DHS, and Congress over the last two years.

The FBI declined to comment, and Heimburger wouldn’t say which lawmakers might sponsor the bill. But some have already given rapid DNA their blessing. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a former prosecutor who represents the district where IntegenX is based, says he’d like to see the technology “put to use quickly to help law enforcement”—while protecting civil liberties. In March, he and seven other Democratic members of Congress, including progressive stalwart Rep. Barbara Lee of California, urged the FBI to assess rapid DNA’s “viability for broad deployment” in police departments across the country.

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/rapid-dna-profiles-database-fbi-police

By SETH BORENSTEIN

The banking industry seems to bring out dishonesty in people, a new study suggests.

A team of Swiss economists tested the honesty of bank employees in a lab game that would pay off in cash if they cheated. When workers at an unnamed bank were asked about their home life, they were about as honest as the general public. But employees who had just been asked about work at the bank cheated 16 percent more.

Bank employees are not more dishonest than others,” said Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich, author of the study published Wednesday by the journal Nature. But he said when reminded of their job they become more dishonest, so something about the culture of banking “seems to make them more dishonest.”

The American Bankers Association dismissed the study: “While this study looks at one bank, America’s 6,000 banks set a very high bar when it comes to the honesty and integrity of their employees. Banks take the fiduciary responsibility they have for their customers very seriously.”

Researchers studied 128 employees at a single bank (even the country where it is located was not revealed).

They gave them what is a fairly standard honesty test. They were told to flip a coin 10 times; each time they flipped they could earn $20 if it matched what researchers had requested — sometimes heads, sometimes tails. An honest person would report matching the requested flip result about 50 percent of the time. But when workers were asked questions about their work at the bank, placing their work at the forefront in their minds, they self-reported the result that paid off 58 percent of the time.

When researchers repeated the test with more than 350 people not in banking industry, job questions didn’t change honesty levels. Researchers tested 80 employees of other banks and they came up with about the same results as those from the main bank.

Six outside experts in business ethics and psychology praised the study to various degrees. Duke University behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely, author of the book “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty,” said he agreed with the study authors that one possible solution is an honesty oath for bankers, like doctors’ Hippocratic oath.

University of Louisville psychologist Michael Cunningham said while the study is intriguing, it is too broad in its conclusions.

Fehr said recent multi-billion dollar international banking scandals convinced him that he had to test scientifically public perceptions about bankers not being honest.

The study’s findings ring true to Walt Pavlo, though he is not a banker — he was in finance at telecom giant MCI and pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in a multi-million dollar scheme. Pavlo said before joining his company he had worked in the defense industry where ethics were stressed and wasn’t tempted to cheat. That changed in his new job where he was “paid for performance” and was told to be aggressive.

That culture “influenced me in a way that initially I thought was positive,” but led to prison, said Pavlo, who now teaches business ethics and writes about white-collar crime.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/19/bankers-cheat-study-job_n_6186494.html


Chinese children are lined up in Tiananmen Square in 2003 for photos with the overseas families adopting them. The children in the new study were adopted from China at an average age of 12.8 months and raised in French-speaking families.

You may not recall any memories from the first year of life, but if you were exposed to a different language at the time, your brain will still respond to it at some level, a new study suggests.

Brain scans show that children adopted from China as babies into families that don’t speak Chinese still unconsciously recognize Chinese sounds as language more than a decade later.

“It was amazing to see evidence that such an early experience continued to have a lasting effect,” said Lara Pierce, lead author of the study just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in an email to CBC News.

The adopted children, who were raised in French-speaking Quebec families, had no conscious memory of hearing Chinese.

“If you actually test these people in Chinese, they don’t actually know it,” said Denise Klein, a researcher at McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute who co-authored the paper.

But their brains responded to Chinese language sounds the same way as those of bilingual children raised in Chinese-speaking families.


Children exposed to Chinese as babies display similar brain activation patterns as children with continued exposure to Chinese when hearing Chinese words, fMRI scans show.

“In essence, their pattern still looks like people who’ve been exposed to Chinese all their lives.”

Pierce, a PhD candidate in psychology at McGill University, working with Klein and other collaborators, scanned the brains of 48 girls aged nine to 17. Each participant lay inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine while she listened to pairs of three-syllable phrases. The phrases contained either:

■Sounds and tones from Mandarin, the official Chinese dialect.
■Hummed versions of the same tones but no actual words.

Participants were asked to tell if the last syllables of each pair were the same or different. The imaging machine measured what parts of the brain were active as the participants were thinking.

“Everybody can do the task — it’s not a difficult task to do,” Klein said. But the sounds are processed differently by people who recognize Chinese words — in that case, they activate the part of the brain that processes language.

Klein said the 21 children adopted from China who participated in the study might have been expected to show patterns similar to those of the 11 monolingual French-speaking children. After all, the adoptees left China at an average age of 12.8 months, an age when most children can only say a few words. On average, those children had not heard Chinese in more than 12 years.

The fact that their brains still recognized Chinese provides some insight into the importance of language learning during the first year of life, Klein suggested.

Effect on ‘relearning’ language not known

But Klein noted that the study is a preliminary one and the researchers don’t yet know what the results mean.

For example, would adopted children exposed to Chinese in infancy have an easier time relearning Chinese later, compared with monolingual French-speaking children who were learning it for the first time?

Pierce said studies trying to figure that out have had mixed results, but she hopes the findings in this study could generate better ways to tackle that question.

She is also interested in whether the traces of the lost language affect how the brain responds to other languages or other kinds of learning. Being able to speak multiple languages has already been shown to have different effects on the way the brain processes languages and other kinds of information.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/adoptees-lost-language-from-infancy-triggers-brain-response-1.2838001


World Cup soccer players with higher facial-width-to-height ratios are more likely to commit fouls, score goals and make assists, according to a study by a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The structure of a soccer player’s face can predict his performance on the field—including his likelihood of scoring goals, making assists and committing fouls—according to a study led by a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The scientists studied the facial-width-to-height ratio (FHWR) of about 1,000 players from 32 countries who competed in the 2010 World Cup. The results, published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, showed that midfielders, who play both offense and defense, and forwards, who lead the offense, with higher FWHRs were more likely to commit fouls. Forwards with higher FWHRs also were more likely to score goals or make assists.

“Previous research into facial structure of athletes has been primarily in the United States and Canada,” said Keith Welker, a postdoctoral researcher in CU-Boulder Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the lead author of the paper. “No one had really looked at how facial-width-to-height ratio is associated with athletic performance by comparing people from across the world.”

FWHR is the distance between the cheekbones divided by the distance between the mid-brow and the upper lip. Past studies have shown that a high FWHR is associated with more aggressive behavior, with both positive and negative results. For example, high FWHR correlates with greater antisocial and unethical behavior, but it also correlates with greater success among CEOs and achievement drive among U.S. presidents. However, some previous research has failed to find a correlation between FWHR and aggressive behavior in certain populations.

The new study adds weight to the argument that FWHR does correlate with aggression. Welker and his colleagues chose to look at the 2010 World Cup because of the quality and quantity of the data available. “There are a lot of athletic data out there,” Welker said. “We were exploring contexts to look at aggressive behavior and found that the World Cup, which quantifies goals, fouls and assists, provides a multinational way of addressing whether facial structure produces this aggressive behavior and performance.”

Scientists have several ideas about how FWHR might be associated with aggression. One possibility is that it’s related to testosterone exposure earlier in life. Testosterone during puberty can affect a variety of physical traits, including bone density, muscle growth and cranial shape, Welker said.

Co-authors of the study were Stefan Goetz, Shyneth Galicia and Jordan Liphardt of Wayne State University in Michigan and Justin Carré of Nipissing University in Ontario, Canada. –

See more at: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2014/11/11/facial-structure-predicts-goals-fouls-among-world-cup-soccer-players#sthash.mAvOP9oO.dpuf

By weighing down the characters and distorting similar letters, this new typeface pins words firmly to the page.

Watching letters float and twist across a page, flipping and jumbling with gymnastic abandon, can be a daily frustration for readers with dyslexia. But the restless characters might soon be tamed thanks to a new font.

Developed by young Dutch designer Christian Boer, the Dyslexie typeface, currently on show at the Istanbul Design Biennial, has put all 26 letters of the alphabet through a finely-tuned process of adjustment to weigh them down and make it harder for similar letters to be confused.

“When they’re reading, people with dyslexia often unconsciously switch, rotate and mirror letters in their minds,” says Boer, who is dyslexic himself. “Traditional typefaces make this worse, because they base some letter designs on others, inadvertently creating ‘twin letters’ for people with dyslexia.”

To counteract this tendency, Boer has introduced a number of tweaks. First, the letters are weighted towards the bottom, as if the bulk of each character’s body has slumped downwards under accelerated gravitational pressure. This sets a heavy baseline, which makes it harder for the letters to be flipped upside down – and gives the font the look of a chubby-ankled cousin of Comic Sans.

This lowered centre of gravity is joined by specific alterations to differentiate similar letters. In many fonts, the d is the same as a b is the same as a p is the same as a q – a simple hoop on a stick, variously mirrored and rotated to form four different characters. Boer’s typeface distorts each letter, slanting the extenders and descenders and enlarging the openings to make them harder to confuse, in a process of careful anatomical refinement.

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2014/nov/12/dyslexie-new-font-that-makes-reading-easier-with-dyslexia

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

By Sumathi Reddy

The growing interest in eating healthy can at times have unhealthy consequences.

Some doctors and registered dietitians say they are increasingly seeing people whose desire to eat pure or “clean” food—from raw vegans to those who cut out multiple major food sources such as gluten, dairy and sugar—becomes an all-consuming obsession and leads to ill health. In extreme cases, people will end up becoming malnourished.

Some experts refer to the condition as orthorexia nervosa, a little-researched disorder that doesn’t have an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, considered the bible of psychiatric illnesses. Often, individuals with orthorexia will exhibit symptoms of recognized conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or end up losing unhealthy amounts of weight, similar to someone with anorexia.

Researchers in Colorado recently proposed a series of criteria they say could help clinicians diagnose orthorexia. The guidelines, published online in the journal Psychosomatics earlier this year, also could serve as a standard for future research of the disorder, they say.

Ryan Moroze, a psychiatry fellow at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and senior author of the study, said more research needs to be done to develop a valid screening instrument for orthorexia, determine its prevalence and differentiate it from other more well-known eating disorders.

“There are people who become malnourished, not because they’re restricting how much they eat, it’s what they’re choosing to eat,” said Thomas Dunn, a psychologist and psychology professor at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo., and a co-author of the article.

“It’s not that they’re doing it to get thin, they’re doing it to get healthy. It’s just sort of a mind-set where it gets taken to an extreme like what we see with other kinds of mental illness,” Dr. Dunn said.

Among the proposed criteria: an obsession with the quality and composition of meals to the extent that people may spend excessive amounts of time, say three or more hours a day, reading about and preparing specific types of food; and having feelings of guilt after eating unhealthy food. The preoccupation with such eating would have to either lead to nutritional imbalances or interfere with daily functional living to be considered orthorexia.

Some orthorexia patients are receiving treatments similar to those for obsessive-compulsive disorder. “We’re getting the people who aren’t being treated well under an eating-disorder diagnosis and their disorder is better treated under the OCD dial,” said Kimberley Quinlan, clinical director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, an outpatient clinic.

The condition seems to start with an interest in living healthy and then, over time, people develop an increased anxiety about eating food that is contaminated or that they deem unhealthy, said Ms. Quinlan. Treatment often involves cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy aiming at behavior modification. “We’ve basically taken a model that we use to treat OCD and applied it to this disorder which is so similar,” she said.

Experts say there is a gray area between striving to eat healthy and going to the extreme, which helps to spur skepticism about orthorexia. “People don’t believe how eating healthy can be a disorder,” said Ms. Quinlan.

Sometimes other illnesses can lead to orthorexia. David Rakel, director of integrative medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, estimated that 10% to 15% of the patients who come in with food allergies and related problems develop an unhealthy fear of particular foods.

Nutritional therapy often involves elimination diets—stopping to eat certain foods to check if they are contributing to an inflammatory condition, Dr. Rakel said. Under the program, the foods are later gradually reintroduced, but some people continue to avoid them. “People are getting so strict with their health choices that they’re not getting the nutrients that they need,” he said.

Some eating-disorder therapists say many of the orthorexia patients they treat also suffer from anorexia. But other experts say orthorexics often aren’t underweight, which can make it difficult to identify them.

“Someone on paper may be perfectly healthy and their blood work is great and their weight is fine but their behavior has become obsessive with food,” said Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a New York City-based dietitian and national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a professional organization.

A red flag is when someone’s eating habits are making them avoid social engagements, Ms. Cohn said. “They may not be able to go out to a restaurant with their friends because they don’t know what’s in the food or it’s not cooked in a certain way or what if it’s not organic olive oil?” she said.

Jordan Younger, 24, of Los Angeles, started a popular Instagram and blog last year to post recipes and pictures from her plant-based vegan diet. Then her daily diet became all-consuming.

“I would wake up in a panic thinking, ‘What am I going to eat today?’ ” said Ms. Younger. “I would go to a juice place or Whole Foods or a natural grocery store and would spend so much time in there looking at everything trying to plan out the whole day. It just began to take over my mind in a way that I started to see was unhealthy,” she said.

Ms. Younger, already slim, said she lost 25 pounds on her restrictive diet. Her skin turned orange and she stopped menstruating. In May, she started seeing an eating-disorder specialist and nutritionist who helped her recover.

Now, Ms. Younger said she doesn’t restrict herself from eating anything except for processed food. Her skin has returned to its normal color, her hair has thickened and grown 5 inches and she has put back on her weight.

“With all these different dietary philosophies, there’s a lot more room for orthorexia to develop,” she said. “It makes it really hard to eat if you’re listening to all these theories and it gives eating and food a ton of anxiety when really food should be enjoyable.”

http://online.wsj.com/articles/when-healthy-eating-calls-for-treatment-1415654737

Earlier this fall, researchers from the National Institute of Health finished up a landmark 20-year study, a study that hasn’t received the amount of coverage it deserves. About 84,000 farmers and spouses of farmers were interviewed since the mid-1990s to investigate the connection between pesticides and depression, a connection that had been suggested through anecdotal evidence for far longer. We called up Dr. Freya Kamel, the lead researcher on the study, to find out what the team learned and what it all means. Spoiler: nothing good.

“There had been scattered reports in the literature that pesticides were associated with depression,” says Kamel. “We wanted to do a new study because we had more detailed data than most people have access to.” That excessive amount of data includes tens of thousands of farmers, with specific information about which pesticides they were using and whether they had sought treatment for a variety of health problems, from pesticide poisoning to depression. Farmers were surveyed multiple times throughout the 20-year period, which gives the researchers an insight into their health over time that no other study has.

Because the data is so excessive, the researchers have mined it three times so far, the most recent time in a study published just this fall. The first one was concerned with suicide, the second with depression amongst the spouses of farmers (Kamel says “pesticide applicators,” but most of the people applying pesticides are farmers), and the most recent with depression amongst the farmers themselves.

There’s a significant correlation between pesticide use and depression, that much is very clear, but not all pesticides. The two types that Kamel says reliably moved the needle on depression are organochlorine insecticides and fumigants, which increase the farmer’s risk of depression by a whopping 90% and 80%, respectively. The study lays out the seven specific pesticides, falling generally into one of those two categories, that demonstrated a categorically reliable correlation to increased risk of depression.

The study doesn’t really deal with exactly how the pesticides are affecting the farmers. Insecticides are designed to disrupt the way nerves work, sometimes inhibiting specific enzymes or the way nerve membranes work, that kind of thing. It’s pretty complicated, and nobody’s quite sure where depression fits in. “How this ultimately leads to depression, I don’t know that anyone can really fill in the dots there,” says Kamel. But essentially, the pesticides are designed to mess with the nerves of insects, and in certain aspects, our own nervous systems are similar enough to those of insects that we could be affected, too. “I don’t think there’s anything surprising about the fact that pesticides would affect neurologic function,” says Kamel, flatly.

Kamel speaks slowly and precisely, and though her voice is naturally a little quavery, she answered questions confidently and at one point made fun of me a little for a mischaracterization I’d made in a question. The one time she hesitated was when I asked what she thought the result of the study should be; it’s a huge deal, finding out that commonly used pesticides, pesticides approved for use by our own government, are wreaking havoc on the neurological systems of farmers. Kamel doesn’t recommend policy; she’s a scientist and would only go so far as to suggest that we should cut down on the use of pesticides in general.

Others are going further. Melanie Forti, of a farmer advocacy group based in DC, told Vice, “There should be more regulations on the type of pesticides being used.” With any luck, this study will lead to a thorough reexamination of the chemical weapons allowed by farmers.

These types aren’t necessarily uncommon, either; one, called malathion, was used by 67% of the tens of thousands of farmers surveyed. Malathion is banned in Europe, for what that’s worth.

I asked whether farmers were likely to simply have higher levels of depression than the norm, given the difficulties of the job — long hours, low wages, a lack of power due to government interference, that kind of thing — and, according to Kamel, that wasn’t a problem at all. “We didn’t have to deal with overreporting [of depression] because we weren’t seeing that,” she says. In fact, only 8% of farmers surveyed sought treatment for depression, lower than the norm, which is somewhere around 10% in this country. That doesn’t mean farmers are less likely to suffer from depression, only that they’re less likely to seek treatment for it, and that makes the findings, if anything, even stronger.

http://modernfarmer.com/2014/11/landmark-20-year-study-finds-pesticides-cause-depression-farmers/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.