Sunday, March 05, 2006

Science Sunday: Wrap-up of recent advancements in science from EurekAlert!

A new tree of life allows a closer look at the origin of species:

A group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg has developed a computational method that resolves many of the remaining open questions about evolution and has produced what is likely the most accurate tree of life ever. The study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Science, gives some intriguing insights into the origins of bacteria and the last common universal ancestor of all life on earth today.

[ed.'s note: The article above makes reference to a phenomenon known as horizontal gene transfer. It appears that humans are not the only ones that are utilizing gene therapy; bacteria may already be using it to produce drug resistance:

Horizontal gene transfer is common among bacteria , even very distantly-related ones. This process is thought to be a significant cause of increased drug resistance; when one bacterial cell acquires resistance, it can quickly transfer the resistance genes to many species. Enteric bacteria appear to exchange genetic material with each other within the gutin which they live.

Research shows ventilated auto seats improve fuel economy, comfort:

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has demonstrated that ventilated automotive seats not only can improve passenger comfort but also a vehicle's fuel economy...

..."If all passenger vehicles had ventilated seats, we estimate that there could be a 7.5 percent reduction in national air-conditioning fuel use. That translates to a savings of 522 million gallons of fuel a year," said John Rugh, project leader for NREL's Vehicle Ancillary Loads Reduction Project...

A protein fragment called 12.5 kda cystatin may generate first simple test for multiple sclerosis:

Johns Hopkins scientists report the discovery of a protein found only in cerebrospinal fluid that they say might be useful in identifying a subgroup of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) or identifying those at risk for the debilitating autoimmune disorder.

Convergent evolution of molecules in electric fish:

Having a set of extra genes gave fish on separate continents the ability to evolve electric organs, report researchers from The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Harold Zakon and colleagues, in a paper recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that African and South American groups of fish independently evolved electric organs by modifying sodium channel proteins typically used in muscle contraction.

Space suit technology can protect workers from heatstroke:

The technology used in space suits to protect astronauts carrying out space walks in direct sunlight is now being used to develop protective clothing to safeguard firefighters and steel workers who often work in extremely hot and dangerous conditions.

Newly discovered killer cell fights cancer:

A mouse immune cell that plays dual roles as both assassin and messenger, normally the job of two separate cells, has been discovered by an international team of researchers from the United States and France. The discovery has triggered a race among scientists to find a human equivalent of the multitasking cell, which could one day be a target for therapies that seek out and destroy cancer.

From biological imaging to Sudoku solutions:

Cornell physicist Veit Elser has been engrossed recently in resolving a pivotal question in biological imaging. So he hasn't had much time for brainteasers and number games.

But in discovering an algorithm critical for X-ray diffraction microscopy, Elser and colleagues solved two problems. First, they gave researchers a new tool for imaging the tiniest and most delicate of biological specimens. And second, they discovered that the same algorithm also solves the internationally popular numbers
puzzle Sudoku .

Not just one puzzle. All of them.
[ed. emphasis added]

Serotonin may play role in hardening of the arteries:

A less active brain serotonin system is associated with early hardening of the arteries, according to a study presented today by University of Pittsburgh researchers at the 64th Annual Scientific Conference of the American Psychosomatic Society in Denver. These findings, which are the first to establish a link between serotonin messages in the brain and atherosclerosis, could lead to an entirely new strategy for preventing heart disease and stroke, say the researchers.

Chocolate milk could be key to longer, healthier life:

Non-pharmaceutical means of increasing muscle quality could help reduce human morbidity and prolong mortality.

A new magnetic phenomenon may improve RAM memories and the storage capacity of hard drives:

A team of scientists from the Universitat Aut.noma de Barcelona -- in collaboration with colleagues from the Argonne National Laboratory (USA) and the Spintec laboratory (Grenoble, France) -- has for the first time produced microscopic magnetic states, known as "displaced vortex states," that will allow an increase in the size of MRAMs (which are not deleted when the computer is switched off). The research has been published in Physical Review Letters and Applied Physics Letters.

Bone marrow cells can become functional gut lining cells:

Yale researchers report the discovery that cells used in bone marrow transplantation can develop into new cells lining the gut.

Mini-synchrotron could increase access to key research tool

Scientists based in Palo Alto, California, have accomplished a major feat: They have produced brilliant X-ray light from a device just a fraction of the standard size. The advance could transform numerous fields of biomedical research by vastly improving access to a key resource for studying the properties of molecules.

Researchers who want to know the structures of molecules, such as proteins, use synchrotrons--facilities as big as football stadiums that produce intense X-ray beams. But because of the size and cost of synchrotrons, only a few exist. To make the technology more widely available, scientists at Lyncean Technologies, Inc., have been constructing a synchrotron prototype since 2004 that would produce X-ray beams in the space of a small office and that could be installed at many research institutions. The prototype, called the Compact Light Source (CLS), demonstrated its feasibility by generating its first X-ray beam on February 23, 2006.

Computer scientist sorts out confusable drug names:

Was that Xanex or Xanax? Or maybe Zantac? If you're a health care professional you'd better know the difference--mistakes can be fatal.

Scientists capture the speediest ever motion in a molecule:

The fastest ever observations of protons moving within a molecule open a new window on fundamental processes in chemistry and biology, researchers report today in the journal Science.

Software to bring order to information chaos:

A new software system that enables faster and more comprehensive analysis of vast quantities of information is so effective that it not only creates order out of chaos and allows computers to perform tasks that before only people could perform, it is also creating new information from old data.

'Nano skins' show promise as flexible electronic devices

A team of researchers has developed a new process to make flexible, conducting 'nano skins' for a variety of applications, from electronic paper to sensors for detecting chemical and biological agents. The materials, which are described in the March issue of the journal Nano Letters, combine the strength and conductivity of carbon nanotubes with the flexibility of traditional polymers.

Stealth sharks to patrol the seas

A number of groups around the world have gained ethical approval to develop
implants that can monitor and control the behaviour of animals, from sharks to rats. A team funded by the US military have created a neural probe that can manipulate a shark's brain signals or decode them. More controversially, the Pentagon hope to use remote-controlled sharks as stealth spies.

[ed. Wasn't there a movie with a simila theme?]

Sex: Why bother? Evolutionary mysteries probed at UH:

What advantage did sex offer when it first appeared and why does sex persist in modern organisms, stopping them from becoming asexual again? One University of Houston professor thinks he may have uncovered some new clues in answering these questions. UH's Ricardo Azevedo found some pros and cons of sex through using a computational model that a leading theory may be more plausible than previously thought, as a consequence of sexual reproduction itself.

Computer simulation and lab synthesis sift through vast universe of possible molecules for the best molecules for drugs, electronic devices or an array of other uses:

Duke University theoretical chemists are investigating a new computer method that could help scientists identify the best molecules for drugs, electronic devices or an array of other uses. Their method would address the "daunting" fact that "that there aren't enough atoms in the universe to make all the reasonable-sized molecules that could be made," said Duke chemistry professor David Beratan.

Largest ever galaxy portrait . stunning HD image of Pinwheel Galaxy:

The new Hubble image reveals the gigantic Pinwheel Galaxy, one of the best known examples of "grand design spirals," and its supergiant star-forming regions in unprecedented detail. The image is the largest and most detailed photo of a spiral galaxy ever released.

The evolution of right- and left-handedness:

A study from the April issue of Current Anthropology explores the evolution of handedness, one of few firm behavioral boundaries separating humans from other animals. As researchers find new cultural behaviors among chimpanzees and other primates, language is the only other characteristic accepted to be unique to humans, and both language and handedness appear to relate to the separation of functions between the two halves of the human brain, also known as lateralization.

Potential link between aluminum salts in deodorants and breast cancer warrants further research:

A review just published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology calls for further research to evaluate the potential that oestrogen could increase the risk of getting breast cancer.

Researchers unlock how cells determine their functions:

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have discovered a molecular mechanism directing the fate and function of cells during animal development. The findings could hold promise for the advancement of cancer and stem-cell research.

Nanoscale tubing assembles itself instantly:

Researchers from Berkeley Lab's National Center for Electron Microscopy and the University of Kiel have found a completely new way to form complex networks of nanotubes. Extensive hexagonal networks of tubes, intricately branched and connected and having the cross section of a pitched roof, form spontaneously on the surface of certain layered crystals. Applications may include networks of pipes for transporting minute quantities of materials or templates for the fabrication of nanowire networks.



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