A Pleasing Plethora Of Puppies And Other Nice Things
Jake and Elwood by Wonkette Operative 'Dorothy Nelson'

It's a holiday weekend and we yet again wake up to news of horror in Texas that happened on Saturday. Plus there's that hurricane out there. If you need to get to shelter, get to shelter, you! And if you're in need of a breather, we have some de-stressifying stuff for you!

Itty Bitty Petri-Dish Brainlets Have Itty Bitty Brainwaves!

UC San Diego photo

Some Science Coolness for starters! Scientists have for the first time discovered brain waves in lab-grown human brain tissue, which could lead to insights in brain development, as well as to discoveries that might eventually help treat neurological conditions like autism, schizophrenia, or Alzheimer's.The study was published last week in the journal Cell Stem Cell, which is not a typo; that is really the journal's name title name.

The "cortical organoids" -- the little suckers in the dish above are about the size of a pea -- offer a model of how brain tissue develops in a fetus, says UC-San Diego School of Medicine professor Alysson Muotri, who directs the school's Stem Cell Program.

"Since we cannot see, we cannot measure [activity in an embryo's brain], we have to rely on this model." For example, it may help scientists understand the effects of nicotine, pollution, or pesticides on infants' development, he says.

The organoids were grown from a few stem cells, and Muotri had the bright idea of monitoring the little blobs' electrical output.

Early on, electrodes picked up just a few spikes of electrical activity. But after several months, "we realized that the number of spikes were too many," Muotri says. "We'd never seen that before."

As the organoids continued to grow, the electrical spikes measured became even more common and started to occur at different frequencies.

"And what we could tell is not only the neurons are connecting to each other, but they are forming these microcircuitries," Muotri says. "That's when we started seeing these brain waves."

It appeared that the brain cells were communicating with one another and forming networks, he says.

"We thought, wow. I mean, it's nice that we have this system," Muotri says. "But how close is that to the human brain?"

Computer analysis of the organoids' brain waves, compared with those of very premature infants', showed that the organoids' activity was very similar. And that results in some ethical questions, maybe:

"If we're starting to see spontaneous brain activity that grows and develops as the organoid grows and develops, then we need to have some concerns about how ought we regard these things," says Nita Farahany, professor of law and philosophy at Duke University. "Do they have some moral status?"

There's still a big gap between an actual human brain and a brain organoid, Farahany says. For example, the human brain has a million times more cells and is connected to the world through our senses.

But the gap is closing, as organoids become more complex, acquire the capacity to respond to their environment and now can live for years in a lab.

"The big questions in organoids are will they ever develop any sentience-like capabilities, any perceptions of pain or any perception whatsoever," Farahany says.

Farahany also recognizes the benefits to actual human people who are not blobs of cells in a lab could be considerable, so she thinks research should go forward, but within ethical guidelines that will need to be developed. Muotri agrees:

If they can prove these organoids have "even a residual embryonic signal of any conscious activity," he says, it would be important to discuss the tissues' moral status and develop regulations around it, similar to the regulations around animal research. "Animals have consciousness," he says. "And we can use them for research, but there are regulations. I think brain organoids might go down the same pathway."

That seems like a good idea, especially before the brains in dishes join forces with the robots and the yogurt-based AIs, then decide to take over. Perhaps we can buy them off with cat pictures. (You didn't think I'd go a whole week without linking to the latter two stories again, did you?)

If you're into audio, here's NPR's report on the brainoid doodads:

Class Warfare -- On Your Wrist!

We'll confess, this next tweet isn't altogether nice, so if you want to skip straight to the next subheading, go for it. But the replies are kind of wonderful, so there's that. Bloomberg reporter Joe Weisenthal posted a link to this dumb fashion gewgaw story about "affordable" watches -- you know, the kind that are available for the low low price of under $10,000.

The cheapest of the bunch were vintage models that can be found for between $2000 to $4000, and there was a new Cartier watch that can be had for a mere $3650, but the rest were all well north of $6K. For a goddamned watch. Thank goodness Twitter allows replies, so at least some reality entered the discussion of these "budget" watches.

More than one nerd replied with images, or just the model number, of the classic Casio F-91W digital watch, which has remained in production since 1989.

And then the one-downmanship began:

The rich really are different from you and me. For one thing, they just have a hell of a time finding a decent table for lunch.

O, Canadian Nice Things!

So I says to Mabel, I says, just change "Texas" to "Yukon" in this fine song.

Lyle Lovett - That's Right (You're Not From Texas) www.youtube.com

Have You Seen The Little Piggies?

About 50 adult pigs and 200 PIGLETS went all Polish Freedom Cow and escaped from a farm in Vermont, after which they caused general mayhem and confusion for nearly three weeks, blocking roads and being a squealy adorable nuisance. They were eventually rounded up and lured back into captivity by workers deploying a trail of hot dog buns last week. Then a very bright spider in the corner of a barn spelled out SOME BITTER IRONY in her web.

The farm owner suspects a disgruntled former employee of damaging a fence (and of stealing a lot of tools, too). Whoever's fault it was, the farmer faces a fine, which has yet to be determined; the town of Orange estimates the fine will run around $8,200 ("based on the number of pigs in the right-of way"). Darn it, poor guy won't be able to get himself a budget watch this year.

Pigs on the loose in Vermont www.youtube.com

No word on whether a fifth of the hogs suddenly ran into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play.

Random Twitter Stuff!

Dok still has his cat Thornton (The name came with the cat; the apartment is definitely His Town now). Thornton decided to pee in the laundry this week. Dok now has a more pee-proof hamper with a lid. There is a learning curve here for both of us.


We are kind of in love with Walter, the little doggie who owns ProPublica reporter Jessica Huseman (we mentioned Walter last week, too).

Pro: Cool robot cat legs and a happy kitty.

Con: The glurgey music is spreading from The Dodo and Now This News to Mashable.

Blep II: The Bleppening.

Just wanted to remind you it is not especially clever to post pics of Frank Gorshin from "Let That Be Your Last Battleground" when you see a picture of a chimera cat. But you will want to do it anyway. That's the law.

UPDATE: One more very nice thing, via alert Wonkette Operative "Sister Artemis" in the previous open thread:

Now go enjoy your weekend! I'll be back tomorrow with a VERY LAZY Labor Day open thread which will have been written in advance, so I can spend MY Labor Day cleaning and further catproofing the apartment. Maybe if I just laminate the entire place.

This is now your open thread! Enjoy!

[NPR / Mother Jones / Associated Press]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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