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156145.  Tue Mar 13, 2007 10:47 am Reply with quote

Q: What would you happen if you jumped on a "Trembling Sea Mat"?

A: You'd be arrested. It is an endangered species and one of Britain’s rarest animals.


Despite looking more like plants, Trembling sea mats are animals. They can only be found in only one place in the UK - Swanpool, near Falmouth in Cornwall. Swanpool is able to accommodate Trembling Sea Mats because it is both a salt and seawater (or ‘brackish’) lagoon. Trembling Sea Mats, which are also known as “lace corals” or “horn wrack”, belong to an amazing group of animals called “bryozoa” of which there are over 5000 species.

“Bryozoa” are one or two millimetres in size, live in colonies underwater and feed on algae using tentacles which are covered in tiny hairs.

“Bryozoa” are also known as “Ectoprocta”, the Greek for “anus outside”, because its bottom is located near it’s mouth outside of its body. They can reproduce both sexually and asexually, and most species are hermaphrodite, meaning they contain both ovaries and testes. Although some species fuse their eggs and sperm directly into the water, most brood their eggs in chambers called “ovicells”. They fertilize their eggs by grabbing their sperms with their tentacles and dunking them onto the eggs. The eggs develop into free swimming larvae which then escape from the “ovicells” and swim away to either join its parent’s colony or to start a new one up. Although ‘bryozoa’ colonies are mostly immobile, some have learnt to move about, including one that floats around in the Antarctic ocean.

Seafarers consider “Bryozoa” a nuisance as over 125 species grow on the bottoms of boats and can reduce manoeuvrability. When colonies get too large, they can form large jellylike masses and clog water flows. However, “bryozoans” produce a great variety of chemical compounds which may help humans battle cancer.

One species found off the California coast called Bugula neritina creates a chemical called bryostatin that scientists believe may prevent the growth of tumors in a variety of cancers, including melanoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and renal cancer. Bryostatin is being tested in more than 40 clinical trials in the United States, and to date several cancer patients have shown notable improvements with few side effects.

The only problem so far is that it takes 14 tons of Bugula neritina harvested from the sea to produce less than one ounce of bryostatin, so scientists are working out how to produce it artificially.

Swanpool, which was formerly connected to the sea, boasts more than a hundred bird species and a wide variety of plants including Lady’s Smock, Cornish Moneywort and Greater Tussock Sedge. Despite this varied wildlife it is only 2.5 metres deep.


157732.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 3:36 am Reply with quote

As a result of this question, we wondered whether or not scientists deliberately make cancer claims just to secure funding. As a result, here is a list of items which have been reported as having anti-cancer properties.

Botox, E Coli, salmonella, anthrax, the common cold, woad, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, green tea, black tea, milk, magnets, algae, bacteria, fungi, sharks, sponges, sea hares, marine worms, seaweed, spicy food, honey, the Sun, soy, breath mints, sauerkraut, garlic, sleep, Viagra, cocoa, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, aspirin, breast milk, pineapples, thai curry, olive oil, garden weeds, orange peel oil, mistletoe, marijuana, peanuts, turmeric, liquorice, carrots, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, goji juice, noni juice, cabbage juice, pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, beetroot juice, rosemary, chocolate, watercress, raspberry seeds, mustard, oily fish, non-oily fish, shellfish, cereals, eggs, grapes, antimatter.

sources available on request, here is the antimatter one which caused a certain amount of incredulity at the meeting.


Researchers at CERN have reported a successful experiment into the biological effects of antiproton radiation on living cells. In an experiment intended to simulate deep irradiation of tissue, the treatment was found to be 4 times more effective at killing hamster cells than a proton beam, a traditional cancer therapy for over 40 years.

157776.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:08 am Reply with quote

That whole business - of scientists having to tie their work to prevailing priorities or fashions in order to get or keep funding - is fascinating, I agree. It might also be interesting to make a list of the things that “cause” cancer, as well as the things that “prevent” cancer. Not a complete list, in either case, or we’ll be here for the rest of our lives! But a modest start ...

“Women who breathe air polluted with smoke and exhaust fumes are up to four times more likely to have children who develop cancer,” according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (Independent, 17 Jan 05). Women “who live near factories, power stations or major road junctions are at greatest risk,” and “the evidence from these set of data is that these exposures account for half or more of cancers in childhood.” Further: “Most childhood cancers start in the womb and are caused by pollution.” (Daily Mirror, 17 Jan 05.)

“The average person is being slowly poisoned by more than three hundred man-made chemicals.” (The Mirror, 14 Feb 01). A European Commission study warns that the “substances in use before the introduction of safety legislation in 1981 are exempt from the regulations, and have therefore never been tested for their effects on humans. “We absorb the potentially-lethal cocktail from everyday objects such as plastic toys and toilet bleach. Long-term health risks include cancer, birth defects, allergies, asthma and hormonal problems.”

157777.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:09 am Reply with quote

found to be 4 times more effective at killing hamster cells than a proton beam

Are they very dangerous, then? Hamster cells?

157778.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:11 am Reply with quote

On the same general subject - which I take to be that all statistics-based immunology is worthless, since it all depends on who pays the piper ...

Sir Richard Doll - the epidemiologist who is credited with being the first to truly establish a link between smoking and lung cancer - was paid $1,500 a day by Monsanto, manufacturers of Agent Orange, the defoliant used illegally as a weapon of mass murder by the USA during the Vietnam War. (Guardian, 8 Dec 06; Morning Star, 9 Dec 06). While he was on the payroll as a “consultant,” during the 1980s, Sir Richard assured a royal commission investigating the potential cancer-causing properties of Agent Orange that there was no evidence to suggest a link. Clearly, coming from so eminent a cancer expert, this testimony must have carried a great deal of weight. Doll was also paid fees by the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Dow Chemicals and ICI, for undertaking work which established that vinyl chloride (used in plastics) did not cause various cancers (the World Health Organisation disagrees with his view). Doll’s financial relationship with these companies was only revealed after his death.

157785.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:21 am Reply with quote

An extraordinarily sharp rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes (usually blamed on obesity) may be linked to exposure to increasing levels of persistent organochlorine pollutants (POPs), which are most likely to come from eating fish, according to a study published in Environmental Health. (Daily Telegraph, 29 Nov 05.)

I know that isn’t cancer, but I just love the idea that diabetes is caused by eating fish - which is, of course, such a core element of the healthy lifestyle litany.

157788.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:28 am Reply with quote

MatC wrote:
On the same general subject - which I take to be that all statistics-based immunology is worthless, since it all depends on who pays the piper ...

That's not really immunology, though, is it? That's epidemiology, which is a branch of statistics after all.

It's true that you should consider where the funding comes from, but that's true for any kind of research. The whole point of science is that you shouldn't just take one person's word for something. You should repeat their experiments and see if they make sense.

According to the Guardian article on Richard Doll (,,1967386,00.html)
he also has his defenders.

Sir Richard Peto, the Oxford-based epidemiologist who worked closely with him, said the allegations came from those who wanted to damage Sir Richard's reputation for their own reasons. Sir Richard had always been open about his links with industry and gave all his fees to Green College, Oxford, the postgraduate institution he founded, he said.

Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said times had changed and the accusations must be put into context. "In the days he was publishing it was not automatic for potential conflicts of interest to be declared in scientific papers."

But funding has long been a problem. There are currently moves in the EU to pass a law requiring drug companies to publish all the results of their clinical trials, whether favourable or not. At the moment it is quite common for drug companies to simply refuse to publish results they have funded if they turn out to be unfavourable to their products, and only publish the favourable results. As you might imagine, this gives a slightly skewed view of things.

157817.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:48 am Reply with quote

That's not really immunology, though, is it? That's epidemiology, which is a branch of statistics after all.

Thanks, Bob - I mistyped! Good spot.

I’ve come across quotes from quite a few cancer specialists who worry that the concentration in recent decades on smoking as a cancer factor has meant that other causes of cancer have been ignored or at least under-studied. This concentration, of course, is due to exactly what we’ve been talking about - if you are studying the perils of smoking, you will get funding. (And, of course, those scientists who complain about it are subject to the same pressures, in their own - less fashionable - fields; their own complaints are not automatically disinterested).

This isn’t a new fear, of course: in 1957, the British government prevented the Medical Research Council from publishing a statement saying that, although smoking was a significant cause of lung cancer, up to 30% of cases might be caused by air pollution. The MRC, under pressure from the Tory government, changed its statement to say that the role of pollution was “relatively minor in comparison with cigarette smoking.” (Independent, 9 Dec 02). The medical historian (a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) who discovered these long-hidden documents said: “The readiness of supposedly independent scientists to emphasise smoking over air pollution represented a wider shift away from the concept of health related to an individual’s environment and workplace towards one focused on that individual’s responsibility for his or her health as epitomised by smoking.”

157829.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 8:08 am Reply with quote

To save space, here is an unadorned list of a few more things which “cause cancer” (sources ‘pon application):

Cheese, pesticides, olive oil, meat, good health amongst teenagers (no, honestly), Helicobacter pylori, working night shifts, keeping a pet bird, eating one pork chop per week, being American, masturbation (a theory largely abandoned since the 1950s, admittedly, though still taught in some areas of Jesusland), obesity, “binge” drinking, nuclear energy, being underweight.

157831.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 8:11 am Reply with quote

Of course the need to over-simplify messages to the point of inaccuracy is one thing which the writers of TV comedy panel games have in common with government propagandists.

157832.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 8:12 am Reply with quote

And things which “prevent cancer,” to add to egg’s list:

Tomato ketchup, tangerines, housework (women only), having children, breastfeeding children (women only), smoking (women with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer), passive smoking (go on - ask me for the source! I’ll give you a clue; it begins with W and H and O), eating Brussels sprouts three times a week (men only), being overweight.

For mussels being bad for you and then good for you, see post 162313

Last edited by MatC on Mon Apr 02, 2007 7:30 am; edited 1 time in total

157835.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 8:15 am Reply with quote

Of course the need to over-simplify messages to the point of inaccuracy is one thing which the writers of TV comedy panel games have in common with government propagandists.

I don't think we'd be guilty of that would we?

Anyway, all the following will give you cancer.

Teflon, soy, hot dogs, The Sun, electricity, coca-cola, paint, paint strippers, henna, tea, wine, fluoride, pesticides, pavements, crisps, chips, tap water, popcorn, red meat, playgrounds, pylons, heartburn pills, salmon, milk, obesity, corn oil, mobile phones, assymetrical breasts, barbequeing, sugar, aspirin, fibre, marijuana, alcohol, high-carb diets, low-carb diets, calcium.

157882.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 9:56 am Reply with quote

The problem with these claims is that the data is almost always very dodgy. Often clinical trials are carried out by clinicians or medical researchers who like to do their own statistics. These people generally have only the most basic understanding of statistical methods and generally claim to have proved things that are simply not supported by the data.

Since my better half has a PhD in statistics and works in Edinburgh Medical School with clinicians, I often hear her ranting about a paper she's been asked to review, or a trial she's been asked to contribute to when it's already far too late to get any decent data to say anything.

Unfortunately, newspaper journalists are also not exactly famous for their grasp of statistical methods. They are, however, aware that a banner headline along the lines of "Tap Water Causes Cancer!!!" will shift a lot of papers, and so these results get far more publicity than they deserve.

157886.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 9:59 am Reply with quote


157911.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 10:24 am Reply with quote

In 1998, the World Health Organisation finished what was then the largest study ever undertaken on passive smoking and lung cancer. The study involved seven European countries, and looked at people who lived with smokers (adults and children), worked with smokers, and both lived and worked with smokers. It concluded that there was no statistical link whatsoever between Environmental Tobacco Smoke and lung cancer - whether in adulthood or childhood. Furthermore, the results “could be consistent with passive smoke having a protective effect against lung cancer.”

(S: Sunday Telegraph, 8 Mar 98).

Now, of course, that only goes to prove what Bob was saying above about medical stats ... but even so, the non-cynics amongst us will be slightly disappointed to hear that the WHO refused to publish its own report.


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