Sunday, February 24, 2008

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

Solar cell directly splits water for hydrogen
Plants trees and algae do it. Even some bacteria and moss do it, but scientists have had a difficult time developing methods to turn sunlight into useful fuel. Now, Penn State researchers have a proof-of-concept device that can split water and produce recoverable hydrogen.

Scientists move towards stem cell therapy trials to mend shattered bones
Scientists are developing a revolutionary way to mend damaged bones and cartilage using a patient's own stem cells. The UK Stem Cell Foundation, the Medical Research Council and Scottish Enterprise, in partnership with the Chief Scientist's Office, are funding a £1.4 million project to further the research at the University of Edinburgh with a view to setting up a clinical trial within two years.

Rice computer chip makes Technology Review's top 10
Rice University's technology for a "gambling" computer chip, which could boost battery life as much as tenfold on cell phones and laptops while slashing development costs for chipmakers, has been named to MIT Technology Review's coveted annual top 10 list of technologies that are "most likely to alter industries, fields of research, and even the way we live."

Modified electron microscope identifies atoms
A new type of scanning transmission electron microscope recently installed at Cornell is enabling scientists for the first time to form images that uniquely identify individual atoms and see how those atoms bond to one another. And in living color.

New understanding of how big molecules bind will lead to better drugs, synthetic organic materials
Biological and medical research is on the threshold of a new era based on better understanding of how large organic molecules bind together and recognize each other.

Mechanism discovered in worm defecation identifies potentially widespread cell-to-cell communication
The focus of two recent Nobel prizes, a species of roundworm has made possible another advance in the understanding of how cells talk to one another.

Genetic tags reveal secrets of memories' staying power in mice
A better understanding of how memory works is emerging from a newfound ability to link a learning experience in a mouse to consequent changes in the inner workings of its neurons. Researchers have developed a way to pinpoint the specific cellular components that sustain a specific memory in genetically engineered mice. "Remarkably, this research demonstrates a way to untangle precisely which cells and connections are activated by a particular memory," said NIMH Director Thomas Insel, M.D.

The downside of a good idea
Indiana University cognitive scientist Robert Goldstone takes issue with the truism, "The more information, the better." In his experiments, innovation was stifled in groups in which information was freely shared because once a good idea was offered about a difficult problem, the human tendency to glom onto it instead of exploring further took over.

Cleaner water through nanotechnology
Tiny particles of pure silica coated with an active material could be used to remove toxic chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and other hazardous materials from water much more effectively and at lower cost than conventional water purification methods, according to researchers writing in the current issue of Inderscience's International Journal of Nanotechnology.

In the race to the top, zigzagging is more efficient than a straight line
A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it isn't necessarily the fastest or easiest path to follow. That's particularly true when terrain is not level, and now American and British researchers have developed a mathematical model showing that a zigzag course provides the most efficient way for humans to go up or down steep slopes.

Total, genetically-based recall
There are several human characteristics considered to be genetically predetermined and evolutionarily innate, such as immune system strength, physical adaptations and even sex differences. Psychologists determine significant sex differences in episodic memory, a type of long-term memory based on personal experiences, favoring women.

A greener way to power cars
Cardiff University researchers are exploring how waste heat from car exhausts could provide a new greener power supply for vehicles.

Another way to grow blood vessels
Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have found a previously unknown molecular pathway in mice that spurs the growth of new blood vessels when body parts are jeopardized by poor circulation. At present, their observation adds to the understanding of blood vessel formation. In the future, though, the researchers suggest it is possible that the pathway could be manipulated as a means of treating heart and blood vessel diseases and cancer.

'Invisible' bacteria dupe the human immune system
Scientists at the University of York have characterized an important new step in the mechanism used by bacteria to evade our immune system.

Study identifies new patterns of brain activation used in forming long-term memories
Researchers at New York University and Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science have identified patterns of brain activation linked to the formation of long-term memories. The study, which appeared in the journal Neuron, also offered an innovative and more comprehensive method for gauging memories.

Ancient mystery solved
Geologists at University of Leicester solve puzzle found in rocks half a billion years old.

Lensless camera uses X-rays to view nanoscale materials and biological specimens
X-rays have been used for decades to take pictures of broken bones, but scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and their collaborators have developed a lensless X-ray technique that can take images of ultra-small structures buried in nanoparticles and nanomaterials, and features within whole biological cells such as cellular nuclei.

Astronomy technology brings nanoparticle probes into sharper focus
Georgia Tech and Emory University researchers have created a technology based on astronomy software that provides more precise images of single molecules tagged with nanoprobes. The clearer images allow researchers to collect more detailed information about a single molecule, such as how the molecule is binding in a gene sequence, taking scientists a few steps closer to truly personalized and predictive medicine as well as more complex biomolecular structural mapping.

Strengthening fluids with nanoparticles
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have demonstrated that liquids embedded with nanoparticles show enhanced performance and stability when exposed to electric fields. The finding could lead to new types of miniature camera lenses, cell phone displays and other microscale fluidic devices.

Tumor-killing virus selectively targets diseased brain cells
New findings show that a specialized virus with the ability to reproduce its tumor-killing genes can selectively target tumors in the brains of mice and eliminate them. Healthy brain tissue remained virtually untouched, according to a Feb. 20 report in the Journal of Neuroscience. With more research, the technique could one day offer a novel way of treating brain cancer in humans.

Masters of disguise: Secrets of nature's 'great pretenders' revealed
A gene which helps a harmless African butterfly ward off predators by giving it wing patterns like those of toxic species, has been identified by scientists who publish their findings today.

Laser light may be able to detect diseases on the breath
A team of scientists at JILA, a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado at Boulder, has shown that by sampling a person's breath with laser light they can detect molecules in the breath that may be markers for diseases like asthma or cancer.

Researchers probe a DNA repair enzyme
Researchers have taken the first steps toward understanding how an enzyme repairs DNA.

Human culture subject to natural selection, Stanford study shows
Scientists at Stanford University have shown for the first time that cultural traits affecting survival and reproduction evolve at a different rate than other cultural attributes. Speeded or slowed rates of evolution typically indicate the action of natural selection in analyses of the human genome.

MIT creates gecko-inspired bandage
MIT researchers and colleagues have created a waterproof adhesive bandage inspired by gecko lizards that may soon join sutures and staples as a basic operating room tool for patching up surgical wounds or internal injuries


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