Sunday, August 27, 2006

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

What's nature worth? New computer models tell all:

Nature has a price tag. Robert Costanza and colleagues at the University of Vermont are building computer models that will estimate the economic value for "ecosystem services" at any spot on earth. Their interactive Web site will allow policy-makers to test scenarios -- wetland or shopping mall -- with easy-to-use maps. In 1997, Costanza wrote a now-famous paper in Nature valuing ecosystem services (e.g., soil formation and water purification) at $33 trillion per year. "This is the next leap forward," said Costanza.

Astronomers report first direct evidence for dark matter:

Astronomers have discovered the first direct evidence that dark matter exists.

Engineers create gecko-inspired, high-friction micro-fibers:

Inspired by the hairs that allow geckos to hang single-toed from sheer walls and scamper along ceilings, a UC Berkeley-led team of researchers has created an array of synthetic micro-fibers that uses very high friction to support loads on smooth surfaces without the stickiness found in adhesives. The fibers in the array, packed 42 million per square centimeter, are about 100 times thinner than a human hair.

MIT provides first evidence for learning mechanism:

Finally confirming a fact that remained unproven for more than 30 years, researchers at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory report in the Aug. 25 issue of Science that certain key connections among neurons get stronger when we learn.

Mitochondrial DNA sequencing tool updated:

High-tech laboratory tools, like computers, are often updated publicly as their analytical capabilities expand. In the September issue of the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, NIH grantees report they have developed a second generation "lab on a silicon chip" called the MitoChip v2.0 that for the first time rapidly and reliably sequences all mitochondrial DNA.

Remarkable physiology allows crucian carp to survive months without oxygen:

Cooling water temperature during the fall prompts the crucian carp to store vast amounts of glycogen in its brain and at the same time reduce the amount of energy its brain needs. These physiological changes keep the brain functioning from February to April, when there is no oxygen in its ponds. The carp, a goldfish cousin, avoids predators this way.

Oxygen deprived brains repaired and saved:

Scientists from Melbourne's Howard Florey Institute have found special proteins that protect the brain after it has been damaged by a lack of oxygen, which occurs in conditions such as stroke, perinatal asphyxia, near-drowning and traumatic brain injury.

Weather forecast accuracy gets boost with new computer model:

U.S. civilian and military weather forecasters have adopted a newly developed computer forecasting model that can predict many weather events with unprecedented accuracy. The model, created through a partnership among NCAR, NOAA and more than 150 other organizations, will also be used by overseas forecasters.

Dartmouth researchers find key player in immune system regulation:

Studies led by Dartmouth Medical School researchers have revealed a crucial link in how the immune system works. In a study published online on August 20 in the journal Nature, the researchers found that mast cells, known for their role in allergy reactions such as watery eyes and runny noses, are connected to the activity of regulatory T cells, which suppress immune responses.

New lab technique churns out fungus' potential cancer fighter:

For the first time, researchers have developed a way to synthesize a cancer-killing compound called rasfonin in enough quantity to learn how it works. Derived from a fungus discovered clinging to the walls of a New Zealand cave, the chemical tricks certain cancer cells into suicide while leaving healthy cells untouched.

Scientists uncover critical step in DNA mutation:

Scientists at Georgia Tech have made an important step toward solving a critical puzzle relating to a chemical reaction that leads to DNA mutation. The research uncovers knowledge that could be critical to the development of strategies for cancer prevention and treatment.

Carbon fibers make tiny, cheap video displays:

Cornell researchers have shown that carbon fiber can be a durable, flexible material for micromechanical electromechanical systems (MEMS), with particular application to creating video displays.

Scientists learn more about how roughage keeps you 'regular':

If you ever wondered just how a high-fiber diet helps keep you, well, "regular," scientists may have the answer.

Study identifies molecular process underlying leukemia:

New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has identified a molecular process in cells that is crucial to the development of two common leukemias. The findings help explain how fundamental cell processes go awry during cancer development and represent a first step toward new, targeted treatments for leukemia.

Researcher hits bulls-eye for antibiotic target:

A Purdue University researcher has opened the door for possible antibiotic treatments for a variety of diseases by determining the structure of a protein that controls the starvation response of E. coli. This research is applicable to the treatment of many diseases because that same protein is found in numerous harmful bacteria.

US satellite protection scheme could affect global communications:

A proposed US system to protect satellites from solar storms or high-altitude nuclear detonations could cause side-effects that lead to radio communication blackouts, according to new research. If activated, the "radiation belt remediation" (RBR) system could significantly alter the upper atmosphere, seriously disrupting high frequency (HF) radio wave transmissions and GPS navigation around the world.



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