Sci/tech

Ice Age Sabertooth Was a Pussy Cat
October 4, 2007 07:55 AM - Reuters

SYDNEY - The Ice Age sabertooth, with its large protruding fangs, was actually a bit of a pussycat, according to Australian scientists who studied the power of its bite and hunting skills. While most people rank the sabertooth alongside the Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur as a killing machine, in reality today's lions are far more powerful, the study found. Using the skull of a modern-day lion for comparison, a team of scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) found the sabertooth had a relatively weak bite. In fact, its bite was about one third as powerful as a lion.

Researchers Discover Link Between Schizophrenia, Autism and Maternal Flu
October 3, 2007 08:05 PM -

PASADENA, Calif.- A team of California Institute of Technology researchers has found an unexpected link connecting schizophrenia and autism to the importance of covering your mouth whenever you sneeze.

It has been known for some time that schizophrenia is more common among people born in the winter and spring months, as well as in people born following influenza epidemics. Recent studies suggest that if a woman suffers even one respiratory infection during her second trimester, her offspring's risk of schizophrenia rises by three to seven times.

Since schizophrenia and autism have a strong (though elusive) genetic component, there is no absolute certainty that infection will cause the disorders in a given case, but it is believed that as many as 21 percent of known cases of schizophrenia may have been triggered in this way. The conclusion is that susceptibility to these disorders is increased by something that occurs to mother or fetus during a bout with the flu.

 

To Treat Patients Doctors' Alter Own Pain Responses: Study
October 3, 2007 07:31 PM -

CHICAGO - Physicians apparently learn to “shut off” the portion of their brain that helps them appreciate the pain their patients experience while treating them and instead activate a portion of the brain connected with controlling emotions, according to new research using brain scans at the University of Chicago.

Because doctors sometimes have to inflict pain on their patients as part of the healing process, they also must develop the ability to not be distracted by the suffering, said Jean Decety, Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University and co-author of “Expertise Modulates the Perception of Pain in Others,” published in the Oct. 9 issue of Current Biology and currently available on-line.

Discovery Supports Theory of Alzheimer's Disease as Form of Diabetes
October 3, 2007 07:24 PM -

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Insulin, it turns out, may be as important for the mind as it is for the body. Research in the last few years has raised the possibility that Alzheimer's memory loss could be due to a novel third form of diabetes.

Now scientists at Northwestern University have discovered why brain insulin signaling -- crucial for memory formation -- would stop working in Alzheimer's disease. They have shown that a toxic protein found in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's removes insulin receptors from nerve cells, rendering those neurons insulin resistant. (The protein, known to attack memory-forming synapses, is called an ADDL for “amyloid ß-derived diffusible ligand.”)

With other research showing that levels of brain insulin and its related receptors are lower in individuals with Alzheimer's disease, the Northwestern study sheds light on the emerging idea of Alzheimer's being a “type 3” diabetes.

Physicists Tackle Knotty Puzzle
October 3, 2007 07:20 PM -

San Diego, California - Electrical cables, garden hoses and strands of holiday lights seem to get themselves hopelessly tangled with no help at all. Now research initiated by an undergraduate student at the University of California, San Diego has resulted in the first model of how knots form.

The study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investigated the likelihood of knot formation and the types of knots formed in a tumbled string. The researchers say they were interested in the problem because it has many applications, including to the biophysics research questions their group usually studies.

Japan Looks to Batteries to Clean Up Cars
October 3, 2007 07:10 AM - Reuters

TOKYO - Achieving a breakthrough in battery technology is the key to tackling pollution caused by cars and sustaining a rapid growth in car ownership worldwide, an official at the Japanese automakers' lobby said.  An estimated 700 million cars are on the road today and this is expected to double "in no time" given rapid motorization in China, India and other emerging markets, said Minoru Taniguchi, head of the environment department at the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

New method could advance development of hydrogen-fueled cars
October 2, 2007 09:29 PM - UCLA News

Los Angeles, California - Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a model that could help engineers and scientists speed up the development of hydrogen-fueled vehicles by identifying promising hydrogen-storage materials and predicting favored thermodynamic chemical reactions through which hydrogen can be reversibly stored and extracted.

The new method, published online in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Materials, was developed by Alireza Akbarzadeh, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher in the department of materials science and engineering; Vidvuds Ozolins, UCLA associate professor of materials science and engineering; and Christopher Wolverton, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Ancient Fossils Points to Carbon Dioxide As a Driver of Global Warming
October 2, 2007 12:37 PM -

PASADENA, Calif.--A team of American and Canadian scientists has devised a new way to study Earth's past climate by analyzing the chemical composition of ancient marine fossils. The first published tests with the method further support the view that atmospheric CO2 has contributed to dramatic climate variations in the past, and strengthen projections that human CO2 emissions could cause global warming.

In the current issue of the journal Nature, geologists and environmental scientists from the California Institute of Technology, the University of Ottawa, the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Brock University, and the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve report the results of a new method for determining the growth temperatures of carbonate fossils such as shells and corals. This method looks at the percentage of rare isotopes of oxygen and carbon that bond with each other rather than being randomly distributed through their mineral lattices.

 

Some Cattlemen Nervous About New Biolab
October 2, 2007 08:09 AM - Suzanne Gamboa -Associated Press

The spread of a deadly livestock disease from a laboratory in Britain has not stopped U.S. officials from considering where to build a new animal disease research lab in this country.

The Aug. 3 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain was tied to a government laboratory and a private vaccine manufacturer in Pirbright, England. Initial tests show a second outbreak, which is still under investigation, was the same strain as the lab-related outbreak.

Killer Amoeba Blamed for Six Deaths
October 1, 2007 03:50 PM - Chris Kahn, AP, Lisa Vorderbruggen, Contra Costa Times / MCT

PHOENIX (Sept. 29) — It sounds like science fiction but it's true: A killer amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain where it feeds until you die.
 
Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are extraordinarily rare, it's killed six boys and young men this year. The spike in cases has health officials concerned, and they are predicting more cases in the future.

"This is definitely something we need to track," said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better," Beach said. "In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases."

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