Sunday, November 25, 2007

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

Liquid crystal phases of tiny DNA molecules point up new scenario for first life on Earth
A team led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Milan has discovered some unexpected forms of liquid crystals of ultrashort DNA molecules immersed in water, providing a new scenario for a key step in the emergence of life on Earth.

Simple recipe turns human skin cells into embryonic stem cell-like cells
A simple recipe -- including just four ingredients -- can transform adult human skin cells into cells that resemble embryonic stem cells, researchers report in an immediate early publication of the journal Cell, a publication of Cell Press. The converted cells have many of the physical, growth and genetic features typically found in embryonic stem cells and can differentiate to produce other tissue types, including neurons and heart tissue, according to the researchers.

Evolutionary comparison finds new human genes
Using supercomputers to compare the human genome with those of other mammals, researchers at Cornell have discovered some 300 previously unidentified human genes.

Evolution is deterministic, not random, biologists conclude from multi-species study
A multi-national team of biologists has concluded that developmental evolution is deterministic and orderly, rather than random, based on a study of different species of roundworms. The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology

'Cooper pairs' can be found in insulators as well superconductors
Fifty years ago, three physicists unveiled their BCS theory of superconductivity, which explained how currents of electrons can flow perpetually if they join in pairs. Those physicists, including Leon Cooper at Brown University, won a Nobel Prize for their work. Now Brown physicists have shown something surprising: the formation of Cooper pairs can not only help electric current to flow but it can also block that current. Their research appears in Science.

Another type of nanotube, a how-to guide to making bamboo-structured carbon nanotubes
Nanotechnology is an area science that has recently captured the attention of people all around the world. At the heart of the nanotechnology revolution are carbon nanotubes, amazing materials with astonishing properties. They have applications in most fields, with new possibilities emerging regularly.

Growing tiny carbon nanotube wires to connect computer chips of the future
Computers and electronic devices of the future will utilise technologies not currently available. An example of such a technology is the use of carbon nanotubes as interconnects for computer chips. This is now a step closer to reality with some new work from nanotechnology researchers within the Materials Ireland Polymer Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin.

Salk scientists identify key nerve navigation pathway
Newly-launched nerve cells in a growing embryo must chart their course to distant destinations, and many of the means they use to navigate have yet to surface. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have recovered a key signal that guides motor neurons -- the nascent cells that extend from the spinal cord and must find their way down the length of limbs such as arms, wings and legs.

NYU neuroscientists show naturally-occurring chemical in brain enhances visual processing
Neuroscientists at New York University have found that a naturally-occurring chemical in the brain can enhance visual processing and suggest that this chemical may represent part of the biological basis of visual attention.

Have we sealed the universe's fate by looking at it?
Have we hastened the demise of the universe just be looking at it? That's the startling question posed by a pair of physicists who suggest that by observing and measuring dark energy we may have accidentally nudged the universe back to a point early in its history when it was more likely to end. The researchers in the US came to the conclusion by calculating how the energy state of our universe might have evolved.

St. Jude finds molecule that could improve cancer vaccines and therapy for other diseases
Investigators at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have discovered a new signaling molecule that prevents immune responses from running amok and damaging the body.

Nuclear desalination
New solutions to the ancient problem of maintaining a fresh water supply is discussed in a special issue of the Inderscience publication International Journal of Nuclear Desalination. With predictions that more than 3.5 billion people will live in areas facing severe water shortages by the year 2025, the challenge is to find an environmentally benign way to remove salt from seawater.

3-D photonic crystals will revolutionize telecommunications
Three-dimensional photonic crystals will revolutionize telecommunications. Smaller, faster, more efficient: BASF research scientists are helping to revolutionize the future world of telecommunications -- with the aid of 3-D photonic crystals. In a three-year project, BASF is researching into the development of these crystals together with partners such as Hanover Laser Center, Thales Aerospace Division, Photon Design Ltd., the Technical University of Denmark and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications de Bretagne.

Scientists uncover how the brain controls what the eyes see
Vase or face? When presented with the well-known optical illusion in which we see either a vase or the faces of two people, what we observe depends on the patterns of neural activity going on in our brains.

MIT: Thermoelectric materials are 1 key to energy savings
Breathing new life into an old idea, MIT Institute Professor Mildred S. Dresselhaus and co-workers are developing innovative materials for controlling temperatures that could lead to substantial energy savings by allowing more efficient car engines, photovoltaic cells and electronic devices.

Is the beauty of a sculpture in the brain of the beholder?
Is there an objective biological basis for the experience of beauty in art? Or is aesthetic experience entirely subjective? This question has been addressed in a paper published in this week's PLoS ONE, Cinzia Di Dio, Emiliano Macaluso and Giacomo Rizzolatti. The researchers used fMRI scans to study the neural activity in subjects with no knowledge of art criticism, who were shown images of Classical and Renaissance sculptures.

New microscope peers into secret lives of cells
The University of Delaware's new laser-scanning confocal microscope, based in the Bio-imaging Center at UD's Delaware Biotechnology Institute, is helping researchers explore a diversity of intriguing subjects, from plants that can decontaminate soils of toxic metal pollutants, to carbon nano-bombs for destroying cancer cells. UD is among a handful of universities that own one of the million-dollar instruments.

New evidence for female control in reproduction
Adding another layer of competition to the mating game, scientists are reporting possible biochemical proof that the reproductive system of female mammals can "sense" the presence of sperm and react to it by changing the uterine environment. This can be the molecular mechanism behind promiscuous female choice, in which females that have mated with several partners play a role in determining which sperm fertilizes their egg.

New research helps explain how tumors go undetected by the body
Scientists studying how immune cells are regulated in healthy individuals, have made a key discovery in understanding why tumors may go undetected by the immune system and remain untreated by the body's own natural defences. The findings, published online this week (November 19-23) by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to new treatments for tumors.

Immune system can drive cancers into dormant state
A multinational team of researchers has shown for the first time that the immune system can stop the growth of a cancerous tumor without actually killing it. Scientists have been working for years to use the immune system to eradicate cancers. The new findings prove an alternate to this approach exists: When the cancer can't be killed with immune attacks, it may be possible to find ways to use the immune system to contain it.


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