Thomas R. O'Donnell

Too many tubes: Iowa medical study finds most blood specimens wasted

In University research on November 14, 2016 at 7:45 am
With one full tube already in hand, a healthcare worker draws a second blood specimen. It may never get lab testing.

With one full tube already in hand, a healthcare worker draws a second blood specimen. It may never get lab testing. Credit: Lori Greig via photopin (license).

We’ve all experienced it: Waiting in the doctor’s office, hospital room or ER, perhaps in a flimsy, colorfully printed gown with your backside hanging out, for the friendly phlebotomist or nurse to come in with a rubber strap, a needle and a rack of tubes, each perhaps the size of your little finger.

The usual procedure, deftly performed in an efficient ballet: wrap the band around a bicep, have the patient flex until the vein bulges, swab the area and put in the needle.

If you’re lucky, the phlebotomist will stop at filling one tube. But often they suck out a second, a third, or more, until you’re sure you’ll be drained dry. Each tube has its own colored cap, designating the laboratory test for which it’s destined.

Unpleasant, but necessary, right? It’s all about finding out what’s wrong and how to fix it. Those extra tubes could provide the vital clues to a cure.

But what if they don’t? A study out last week from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) had surprising findings about the fate of those blood-filled tubes.

Does planting GMOs increase pesticide use? It depends…

In University research on November 2, 2016 at 7:35 am
A common Iowa sight: a rig spreading herbicide on glyphosate-tolerant soybeans.

A common Iowa sight: a rig spreading herbicide on glyphosate-tolerant soybeans. Photo credit: clisenberg John Deere 4730 via photopin (license).

A year or so ago I was listening to a candidate (who will remain unnamed) for a federal office (that will remain unnamed). This candidate sounded reasonable and I agreed with most of what I heard – except for a call to label products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

I challenged this assertion. There is no evidence, despite extensive testing, that consuming GMOs poses a health hazard. Labeling would feed unfounded fears.

Another person turned to me and said that may be so, but planting GMO crops that resist specific weed-killers and insects encouraged farmers to overuse pesticides, putting the environment at risk.

It only occurred to me later to ask: How would labeling fix that?

And in any case, recent research out of Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan state universities and the University of Virginia suggests the GMO-pesticide connection may be more complicated than we think. In some cases, planting genetically engineered (GE) crops may lead to more pesticide use, but in other cases it leads to less. And when a pesticide’s environmental impact is taken into consideration, the picture gets even cloudier.

ISU prof’s microfluidics machine promises nearly instant wine

In Industry Research, University research on August 29, 2016 at 11:55 am
A former military tunnel in Taiwan, now converted to a cave to age rice wine in clay jars.

The opposite of instant wine: a former military tunnel in Taiwan, now used to age rice wine in clay jars. It’s not really related to microfluidics and Switzerland, but it’s cool. Click to enlarge. Photo credit: Cave #88 via photopin (license).

For centuries, winemaking has been a messy, time-consuming operation, taking weeks just to ferment and sometimes years to mellow grape juice into something you’d actually drink.

Now an Iowa State University professor is raising the hopes of oenophiles around the world by short-circuiting the process, producing wine in just minutes.

There are, of course, a few catches. And just as importantly, the technology, revealed earlier this summer, is more a feat of engineering than oenology.

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