Sunday, July 13, 2008

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

Discovery of key malaria proteins could mean sticky end for parasite
Scientists funded by the Wellcome Trust have identified a key mechanism that enables malaria-infected red blood cells to stick to the walls of blood vessels and avoid being destroyed by the body's immune system. The research, published today in the journal Cell, highlights an important potential new target for anti-malarial drugs.

Big brains arose twice in higher primates
After taking a fresh look at an old fossil, John Flynn, Frick Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, and colleagues determined that the brains of the ancestors of modern neotropical primates were as small as those of their early fossil simian counterparts in the Old World. This means one of the hallmarks of primate biology, increased brain size, arose independently in isolated groups -- the platyrrhines of the Americas and the catarrhines of Africa and Eurasia.

Controlling the size of nanoclusters: First step in making new catalysts
Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University have developed a new instrument that allows them to control the size of nanoclusters -- groups of 10 to 100 atoms -- with atomic precision. They created a model nanocatalyst of molybdenum sulfide, the first step in developing the next generation of materials to be used in hydrodesulfurization, a process that removes sulfur from natural gas and petroleum products to reduce pollution.

Molecular motor works by detecting minute changes in force
Researchers discovered that the activity of a specific family of nanometer-sized molecular motors called myosin-I is regulated by force. The motor puts tension on cellular springs that allow vibrations to be detected within the body. This finely tuned regulation has important implications for understanding a wide variety of basic cellular processes.

Self-moisturizing contact lenses, naturally
Chemical engineering researchers at McMaster University have shown that a common fluid found in our bodies can be used as a natural moisturizing agent in contact lenses.

Pocket-sized magnetic resonance imaging
The term MRI scan brings to mind the gigantic, expensive machines that are installed in hospitals. But research scientists have now developed small portable MRI scanners that perform their services in the field: for instance to examine ice cores.

MIT reports finer lines for microchips
MIT researchers have achieved a significant advance in nanoscale lithographic technology, used in the manufacture of computer chips and other electronic devices, to make finer patterns of lines over larger areas than have been possible with other methods. Their new technique could pave the way for next-generation computer memory and integrated-circuit chips, as well as advanced solar cells and other devices.

Will our future brains be smaller?
New research from the University of Bristol, UK, has shown that the evolutionary pressures arising from the older, faster, but less accurate, part of the brain may have shaped the more recent development of the slower-acting but more precise cortex, found in humans and higher animals.

Superfast muscles in songbirds
Certain songbirds can contract their vocal muscles 100 times faster than humans can blink an eye -- placing the birds with a handful of animals that have evolved superfast muscles, University of Utah researchers found.

A baby's smile is a natural high
The baby's smile that gladdens a mother's heart also lights up the reward centers of her brain, said Baylor College of Medicine researchers in a report that appears in the journal Pediatrics today.

Setting the record right: species diversity less dramatic than previously believed
The new fossil data also indicate that the current pattern of distribution of life -- with low species diversity in the poles and a very high diversity in the tropics -- was established some 450 million years ago.

Whales and dolphins influence new wind turbine design
By studying the flippers, fins and tails of whales and dolphins, scientists have discovered some features of their structure that contradict long-held engineering theories. Dr. Frank Fish will talk about the exciting impact that these discoveries may have on traditional industrial designs including wind turbines and helicopters.

A green solution to biofuel production
With the current drive towards production of alternative fuels from plant material, enzymes which can break down this material into useable compounds are required in industrial quantities and at a low cost. One group of scientists from Texas A&M University have come up with a solution: using plants to make the enzymes. Professor Zivko Nikolov will describe their research on Society for Experimental Biology's Annual Meeting in Marseille.

Nano-sized electronic circuit promises bright view of early universe
(Rutgers University) A newly developed nano-sized electronic device is an important step toward helping astronomers see invisible light dating from the creation of the universe. This invisible light makes up 98 percent of the light emitted since the "big bang," and may provide insights into the earliest stages of star and galaxy formation almost 14 billion years ago.


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