Sunday, May 11, 2008

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

Iron 'snow' helps maintain Mercury's magnetic field, scientists say
New scientific evidence suggests that deep inside the planet Mercury, iron "snow" forms and falls toward the center of the planet, much like snowflakes form in Earth's atmosphere and fall to the ground. The movement of this iron snow could be responsible for Mercury's mysterious magnetic field.

Power from formic acid
Matthias Beller and his team at the Leibniz Institute of Catalysis in Rostock have succeeded in the controlled extraction of hydrogen from formic acid without the need for a high-temperature reforming process. This room-temperature hydrogen source can be directly introduced into fuel cells.

Record-setting laser may aid searches for Earthlike planets
Scientists at the University of Konstanz in Germany and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have demonstrated an ultrafast laser that offers a record combination of high speed, short pulses and high average power and that could boost the sensitivity of astronomical tools searching for other Earthlike planets as much as 100 fold.

Platypus genome unravels mysteries of mammalian evolution
Genome Research is publishing several papers related to analyses of the platypus genome sequence. The place of the platypus in mammalian evolutionary history has remained controversial. Now, researchers are finding that the distinctive and unusual features of the platypus are reflected in the newly sequenced platypus genome. These reports describing novel evolutionary and biological insights will appear online May 8, concurrent with publication of the platypus genome sequence report in the journal Nature.

Biodiversity -- it's in the water
What if hydrology is more important for predicting biodiversity than biology?Research published in the May 8 issue of the journal Nature challenges current thinking about biodiversity, and opens up new avenues for predicting how climate change or human activity may affect biodiversity patterns.

Does the brain control muscles or movements?
One of the major scientific questions about the brain is how it can translate the simple intent to perform an action -- say, reach for a glass -- into the dynamic, coordinated symphony of muscle movements required for that action.

Undergrad has sweet success with invention of artificial Golgi
Graduating senior Jeffery Martin has put his basic knowledge of sugars to exceptional use by creating a lab-on-a-chip device that builds complex, highly specialized sugar molecules, mimicking one of the most important cellular structures in the human body -- the Golgi Apparatus.

Nanotube production leaps from sooty mess in test tube to ready formed chemical microsensors
Carbon nanotubes' potential as a super material is blighted by the fact that when first made they often take the form of an unprepossessing pile of sooty black mess in the bottom of a test tube. Now researchers in the University of Warwick's department of chemistry have found a way of producing carbon nanotubes in which they instantly form a highly sensitive ready made electric circuit.

Lab in a drop
J├╝rgen Pipper and his team at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore have developed a rapid test for genetic diagnosis that combines the preparation of biological samples with a polymerase chain reaction on one chip.

Lean and mean biomass-degrading fungus reveals capabilities for improved biofuel production
The bane of military quartermasters may soon be a boon to biofuels producers. The genome analysis of a biomass-degrading fungus has revealed a surprisingly minimal repertoire of genes that it employs to break down plant cells, highlighting opportunities for further improvements in enzymes customized for biofuels production. The results are published online May 4 in Nature Biotechnology by a team led by the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Scientists discover why plague is so lethal
Bacteria that cause the bubonic plague may be more virulent than their close relatives because of a single genetic mutation, according to research published in the May issue of the journal Microbiology.

Scientists demonstrate method for integrating nanowire devices directly onto silicon
Applied scientists at Harvard University in collaboration with researchers from the German universities of Jena, Gottingen, and Bremen, have developed a new technique for fabricating nanowire photonic and electronic integrated circuits that may one day be suitable for high-volume commercial production.

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