Sunday, February 04, 2007

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

What does it mean to have a mind? Maybe more than you think:
Through an online survey of more than 2,000 people, psychologists at Harvard University have found that we perceive the minds of others along two distinct dimensions: agency, an individual's ability for self-control, morality and planning; and experience, the capacity to feel sensations such as hunger, fear and pain.

2 brains -- 1 thought:
Max Planck researchers in Göttingen have developed a method to identify possible wiring diagrams of a network based on its dynamics.

How does your brain tell time?
For decades, scientists have believed that the brain possesses an internal clock that allows it to keep track of time. Now a UCLA study in the February 1 edition of Neuron proposes a new model in which a series of physical changes to the brain's cells helps the organ to monitor the passage of time -- much like counting the rings in a tree stump reveals the age of a fallen tree.

'Electric' fish shed light on ways the brain directs movement
Scientists have long struggled to figure out how the brain guides the complex movement of our limbs, from the graceful leaps of ballerinas to the simple everyday act of picking up a cup of coffee. Using tools from robotics and neuroscience, researchers have found some tantalizing clues in an unlikely mode of motion: the undulations of tropical fish.

On automatic pilot:
Walking while holding a conversation and writing a letter whilst thinking about its content: we perform many actions without even thinking about them. This is possible due to the cerebellum. It regulates the automation of our movements and as a result the cerebrum can perform other tasks. However, how the cerebellum performs this task is not clear. Dutch researcher Angelique Pijpers reconstructed a part of cerebellar functioning in rats and investigated how it mediates in the control of hind limb muscles.

Scientists identify pancreatic cancer stem cells:
Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical Center have, for the first time, identified human pancreatic cancer stem cells. Their work indicates that these cells are likely responsible for the aggressive tumor growth, progression and metastasis that define this deadly cancer.

New forecasting tool could reduce drug development costs:
It now costs more than $800 million to develop a new drug. But what if pharmaceutical companies could predict which experimental drugs will ultimately get FDA approval, and which will ultimately fail? Researchers present a forecasting model that could potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars per new drug. They also urge more data sharing by the drug industry to improve the accuracy of forecasting, allowing more medical discoveries to be brought to the bedside.

Nanomachine of the future captures great scientist's bold vision:
An idea conceived by one of the world's greatest scientists nearly 150 years ago has finally been realised with a tiny machine that could eventually lead to lasers moving objects remotely.

Gut research yields new anti-cancer approach:
Researchers believe they have discovered by chance a new way to fight colorectal cancer, and potentially cancers of the esophagus, liver and skin. Early work shows that a group of compounds called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma (PPARgamma) inhibitors may act through some of the same mechanisms as the blockbuster chemotherapy Taxol, but with key differences.

Researchers develop marker that identifies energy-producing centers in nerve cells:
A protein that causes coral to glow is helping researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine to light up brain cells that are critical for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. This fluorescent marker protein may shed light on brain cell defects believed to play a role in various neurological diseases.

Artificial atoms make microwave photons countable:
Using artificial atoms on a chip, Yale physicists have taken the next step toward quantum computing by demonstrating that the particle nature of microwave photons can now be detected, according to a report spotlighted in the Feb. 1 issue of the journal Nature.

Scientists see DNA get 'sunburned' for the first time:
For the first time, scientists have observed DNA being damaged by ultraviolet (UV) light. Chemists used a special technique to watch strands of DNA in the laboratory sustain damage in real time. They observed the most common chemical reaction among a family of reactions on the DNA molecule that are linked to sunburn, and discovered that this key reaction happens with astounding speed.

Helium helps patients breathe easier:
It makes for bobbing balloons and squeaky voices, but now helium is also helping people with severe respiratory problems breathe easier.

Using nanomagnets to enhance medical imaging:
Nanoscale magnets in the form of iron-containing molecules might be used to improve the contrast between healthy and diseased tissue in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) according to a new report by NIST researchers. Molecular nanomagnets are a new class of MRI contrast agents that may offer significant advantages, such as versatility in design, over the compounds used today.

Breakthrough in nanodevice synthesis revolutionizes biological sensors:
A novel approach to synthesizing nanowires (NWs) allows their direct integration with microelectronic systems for the first time, as well as their ability to act as highly sensitive biomolecule detectors that could revolutionize biological diagnostic applications, according to a report in Nature. Not only can the NWs detect as few as 1000 individual molecules in a cubic millimeter, they can do it without any added fluorescent or radioactive probes.

Theory stretches the limits of composite materials:
In an advance that could lead to composite materials with virtually limitless performance capabilities, a University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist has dispelled a 50-year-old theoretical notion that composite materials must be made only of "stable" individual materials to be stable overall.

Performing surgery on a beating heart may be safer:
According to a review of the latest clinical trials, coronary artery bypass surgery performed on a beating heart, without the aid of a heart-lung machine, is a safe option that leads to fewer negative side effects for bypass patients. This review is featured in Journal of Cardiac Surgery.

Does evolution select for faster evolvers?:
A January 29 study in Physical Review Letters suggests the speed of evolution has increased over time because bacteria and viruses constantly exchange transposable chunks of DNA between species, making it possible for life forms to evolve faster than they would if they relied only on sexual selection or random genetic mutation. The Rice University findings come from the first exact solution of a mathematical model of evolution that accounts for cross-species genetic exchange.

Physicists find way to 'see' extra dimensions:
Peering backward in time to an instant after the big bang, physicists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have devised an approach that may help unlock the hidden shapes of alternate dimensions of the universe.



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