Sunday, October 28, 2007

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

St. Bernard study casts doubt on creationism
The St. Bernard dog -- named after the 11th century priest Bernard of Menthon -- may have ironically challenged the theory of creationism, say scientists.

Scientists discover a direct route from the brain to the immune system
It used to be dogma that the brain was shut away from the actions of the immune system, shielded from the outside forces of nature. But that’s not how it is at all. In fact, thanks to the scientific detective work of Kevin Tracey, MD, it turns out that the brain talks directly to the immune system, sending commands that control the body’s inflammatory response to infection and autoimmune diseases.

Researchers discover important tool in understanding differentiation in human embryonic stem cells
Researchers at the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Institute have used an existing genetic tool to study how human embryonic stem cells self-renew. The researchers used "knockdown" technology to reduce the expression, and plasmid vectors to increase the expression of oct4, a gene known to be necessary for self renewal. Both procedures resulted in differentiation, but with similar patterns, unlike mouse ES cells that differentiate into a different cell types with oct4 up-and down-regulation.

Designing new piezoelectric materials
Polymer-based piezoelectric materials are currently the object of great interest in the world of industry because they enable their use in new applications in sectors such as transport and aeronautics, amongst others.

Nanoballs deliver drugs
Dutch researcher Cristianne Rijcken has developed a new type of biodegradable nanoparticle. The spherical structures can encapsulate various fat-soluble medicines, which makes it easier to target tumor tissue. These nanoballs are highly promising carriers for the controlled release of anticancer drugs. Rijcken recently gained her doctorate for this research from Utrecht University.

Electricity grid could become a type of Internet
In the future everyone who is connected to the electricity grid will be able to upload and download packages of electricity to and from this network.

Role of a key enzyme in reducing heart disease identified
Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have identified the role of a key enzyme called CEH in reducing heart disease, paving the way for new target therapies to reduce plaques in the arteries and perhaps in the future, help predict a patient's susceptibility to heart disease.

Stanford/Packard researchers find disease genes hidden in discarded data
Previously hidden obesity-related genes have been uncovered from old experiments by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. The finding suggests that useful information about many medical disorders may be languishing in mountains of discarded data.

Natural product discovery by Cleveland medical researchers blocks tissue destruction
Scientists at Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine have published in the Journal of Inflammation a remarkable discovery with a natural product derived from the Amazon rainforest. The discovery's unique actions suggest a broad set of applications in various joint, skin and gastrointestinal diseases, including osteoarthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Humans and monkeys share Machiavellian intelligence
When it comes to their social behavior, people sometimes act like monkeys, or more specifically, like rhesus macaques, a type of monkey that shares with humans strong tendencies for nepotism and political maneuvering, according to research at the University of Chicago. "After humans, rhesus macaques are one of the most successful primate species on our planet; our Machiavellian intelligence may be one of the reasons for our success," said associate professor Dario Maestripieri.

Study reveals how the brain generates the human tendency for optimism
A neural network that may generate the human tendency to be optimistic has been identified by researchers at New York University. As humans, we expect to live longer and be more successful than average, and we underestimate our likelihood of getting a divorce or having cancer. The results, reported in the most recent issue of Nature, link the optimism bias to the same brain regions that show irregularities in depression.

More oil with hydrophobic gel
Older oil fields often have an increased water production that makes it increasingly difficult to pump the oil up. This problem can be resolved by using a chemical substance that forms a gel between the water and the oil. Dutch researcher Hein Castelijns wrote an experimental model that predicts the placing of the substance and gel formation in an oil reservoir. This can have both a cost-saving and yield-increasing effect.

Platinum-rich shell, platinum-poor core
At the University of Houston, Texas, USA, a team led by Peter Strasser has developed a new class of electrocatalyst that could help to improve the capacity of fuel cells. The active phase of the catalyst consists of nanoparticles with a platinum-rich shell and a core made of an alloy of copper, cobalt, and platinum.

Nuclear power worldwide: status and outlook
Nuclear power's prominence as a major energy source will continue over the next several decades, according to new projections made by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has just published a new report, "Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power for the period up to 2030."

Penn researchers pinpoint the brain waves that distinguish false memories from real ones
For the first time, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are able to pinpoint brain waves that distinguish true from false memories, providing a better understanding of how memory works and creating a new strategy to help epilepsy patients retain cognitive function.

The sensitive side of carbon nanotubes: Creating powerful pressure sensors
Blocks of carbon nanotubes can be used to create effective and powerful pressure sensors, according to a new study by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Taking advantage of the material's unique electrical and mechanical properties, researchers repeatedly squeezed a 3-millimeter nanotube block and discovered it was highly suitable for potential applications as a pressure sensor. No matter how many times or how hard they squeezed the block, it exhibited a constant, linear relationship between how much force was applied and electrical resistance.

ASU researchers improve memory devices using nanotech
Arizona State University's Center for Applied Nanoionics has a new take on old memory, one that promises to boost the performance, capacity and battery life of consumer electronics from digital cameras to laptops. Best of all, it is cheap, made from common materials and compatible with just about anything currently on the market.

Study proposes new theory of how viruses may contribute to cancer
A study published in the Oct. 24 issue of PLoS ONE suggests that viruses may contribute to cancer by causing excessive death to normal cells while promoting the growth of surviving cells with cancerous traits. The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute researchers suggest that viruses may act as forces of natural selection by wiping out normal cells that support the replication of viruses, leaving behind those cells that have acquired defects in their circuitry.

Mayo Clinic tests novel vaccine for aggressive brain tumors
A vaccine that has significantly increased life expectancy in early tests of patients with glioblastoma multiforme -- the most common, most aggressive form of brain cancer in adults -- is now being offered through a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

MIT works toward novel therapeutic device
MIT and University of Rochester researchers report important advances toward a therapeutic device that has the potential to capture cells as they flow through the blood stream and treat them. Among other applications, such a device could zap cancer cells spreading to other tissues, or signal stem cells to differentiate.

Video shows buckyballs form by 'shrink wrapping'
The birth secret of buckyballs -- hollow spheres of carbon no wider than a strand of DNA -- has been caught on tape by researchers at Sandia National Laboratory and Rice University. An electron microscope video and computer simulations show that "shrink-wrapping" is the key; buckyballs start life as distorted, unstable sheets of graphite, shedding loosely connected threads and chains until only the perfectly spherical buckyballs remain.


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