Saturday, March 25, 2006

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

Towards a new test of general relativity?
Scientists funded by the European Space Agency have measured the gravitational equivalent of a magnetic field for the first time in a laboratory. Under certain special conditions the effect is much larger than expected from general relativity and could help physicists to make a significant step towards the long-sought-after quantum theory of gravity.

MIT makes move toward vehicles that morph
Picture a bird, effortlessly adjusting its wings to catch every current of air. Airplanes that could do the same would have many advantages over today's flying machines, including increased fuel efficiency. Now MIT engineers report they may have found a way for structures -- and materials -- to move in this way, essentially morphing from one shape into another.

Scientists one step closer to cancer vaccine
Scientists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have helped to identify a molecule that can be used as a vaccination agent against growing cancer tumours. Although the results are so far based on animal experiments, they point to new methods of treating metastases.

Amazon rainforest greens up in the dry season
The Amazon rainforest grows the most during the dry season, according to new research. The finding is surprising, because plants generally green up in the rainy season and "brown down" in the dry season.

Too much or too little sleep increases diabetes risk
Men who sleep too much or too little are at an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Reduced insulin in the brain triggers Alzheimer's degeneration
By depleting insulin and its related proteins in the brain, researchers at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown Medical School have replicated the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

New sensor technology, developed at Argonne, quickly detects
Engineers at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, using an emerging sensing technology, have developed a suite of sensors for national security applications that can quickly and effectively detect chemical, biological, nuclear and explosive materials.

Mars meteorite similar to bacteria-etched earth rocks
A new study of a meteorite that originated from Mars has revealed a series of microscopic tunnels that are similar in size, shape and distribution to tracks left on Earth rocks by feeding bacteria. Although researchers were unable to extract DNA from the Martian rocks, the finding nonetheless adds intrigue to the search for life beyond Earth.

Junk DNA may not be so junky after all
Researchers at the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins have invented a cost-effective and highly efficient way of analyzing what many have termed "junk" DNA and identified regions critical for controlling gene function. And they have found that these control regions from different species don't have to look alike to work alike.

UCR-led study identifies crucial mechanism involved in immune response against viruses
A research team led by UC Riverside scientists has shown that the common fruit fly can serve as an excellent model for studying the immunity animals are born with for fighting viral infections. The research will help scientists better understand how our own bodies respond to viral infections, enabling more effective drugs to combat them. Study results appear in the March 23 issue of Science Express.

MIT: Oceans are a major gene swap-meet for plankton
New evidence from open sea experiments shows there's a constant shuffling of genetic endowments going on among tiny plankton, and the "coinage" they use seems to be a flood of viruses, MIT scientists report.

The research, led by MIT Professor Sally W. Chisholm, is uncovering a challenging new facet of evolution, helping scientists see how photosynthesizing microbes manage to exploit changing conditions such as altered light, temperature and nutrients.

Deep-sea fish populations boom over the last 15 years, new Scripps study shows
The largest habitats on Earth are located in the vast, dark plains at the bottom of the ocean. Yet because of their remoteness, many aspects of this mostly unexplored world remain mysterious.

How does the brain know what the right hand is doing?
A new experiment has shed more light on the multi-decade debate about how the brain knows where limbs are without looking at them.

New lipid molecule holds promise for gene therapy
Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara have created a new molecule that holds promise in fighting disease via gene therapy. Inherited diseases, as well as many cancers and cardiovascular diseases, may eventually be helped by this approach, which delivers therapeutic genes directly to cells. Reporting in an article to appear in the March 29 print edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (published on-line on March 8), the authors describe the synthesis of the new lipid molecule.

New light on muscle efficiency: It is not the power-plant
A recent study from Scandinavia shows that the well-known differences between individuals in the efficiency of converting energy stored in food to work done by muscles are related to muscle fibre type composition and to the content of specific molecules in muscle.

Mutation in a single gene switches a fungus-grass symbiosis from mutualistic to antagonistic
Scientists highlighted a novel role for reactive oxygen species (ROS) in a symbiotic association between a filamentous fungus (Epichlo. festucae) and a grass (Lolium perenne). They isolated the fungal gene responsible for the production of ROS and found that disruption of this gene causes the fungus to become pathogenic rather than beneficial. The authors propose that the function of ROS in this association is to control the growth of the fungus within the plant.

UCSB researchers discover shape matters to macrophages
Researchers at UC Santa Barbara have made a surprising discovery: phagocytosis depends more on particle shape than size. The research, which has far-reaching implications for immunology, vaccine development and drug delivery, is published today online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Samir Mitragotri, a UCSB professor of chemical engineering, and a graduate student Julie A. Champion. The paper will be published in print on March 28.

Launch of new P2P technology for television
The new peer-to-peer Tribler system, based on open-source software, was launched on Friday during The Workshop on Technical and Legal Aspects of Peer-to-Peer Television in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The software, developed at the Delft University of Technology, offers a revolutionary way of distributing TV programmes via the Internet.

We're flying without wing flaps and without a pilot
A remote-controlled aeroplane packed with scientific know-how has recently had a test flight in the UK - heralding a new generation of aircraft.

X chromosomes key to sex differences in health
Females have two X chromosomes and males only have one -- and this simple fact, along with the occurrence of what geneticists call mosaicism, may not only explain why women are less susceptible than men to certain genetic diseases, but also may account for the female prevalence in the incidence of other conditions and even sex differences in behavior, according to a special communication in the March 22/29 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on women's health.

New 'liquid lens' data for immersion lithography
New data on the properties of potential "liquid lenses" compiled by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) could help the semiconductor industry continue to shrink feature sizes on computer chips. In a paper published in the March 10, 2006 issue of Applied Optics,* NIST researchers present newly measured values for key properties of organic solvents and inorganic solutions that might be useful in immersion lithography.

Algorithm advance produces quantum calculation record
Two theoreticians from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Indiana University (IU) have published the most accurate values yet for fundamental atomic properties of a molecule--values calculated from theory alone. In a recent paper,* James Sims of NIST and Stanley Hagstrom of IU announced a new high-precision calculation of the energy required to pull apart the two atoms in a hydrogen molecule (H2).

Scientists use satellites to detect deep-ocean whirlpools
Using sensor data from several US and European satellites, researchers from the University of Delaware, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Ocean University of China have developed a method to detect super-salty, submerged eddies called "Meddies" that occur in the Atlantic Ocean off Spain and Portugal at depths of more than a half mile. These warm, deep-water whirlpools, part of the ocean's complex circulatory system, help drive the ocean currents that moderate Earth's climate.

Sea coral's trick helps scientists tag proteins
The glow emitted by a variety of sea coral helped Russian scientists harness the protein that generates the light to create a tiny fluorescent tag that responds to visible light. The two-color tag should help researchers follow individual proteins as they dart around inside living cells.



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