Science in the News

from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society


Today's Headlines - October 30, 2008

BPA Ruling Flawed, Panel Says

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

The Food and Drug Administration ignored scientific evidence and used flawed methods when it determined that a chemical widely used in baby bottles and in the lining of cans is not harmful, a scientific advisory panel has found.

In a highly critical report to be released yesterday, the panel of scientists from government and academia said the FDA did not take into consideration scores of studies that have linked bisphenol A (BPA) to prostate cancer, diabetes and other health problems in animals when it completed a draft risk assessment of the chemical last month.

The panel said the FDA didn't use enough infant formula samples and didn't adequately account for variations among the samples. Taking those studies into consideration, the panel concluded, the FDA's margin of safety is "inadequate."

New Minerals Point to Wetter Mars

from BBC News Online

A Nasa space probe has discovered a new category of minerals spread across large regions of Mars. The find suggests liquid water remained on Mars' surface a billion years later than scientists had previously thought.

The US Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft found evidence of hydrated silica, better known as opal.

The discovery adds to the growing body of evidence that water played a crucial role in shaping the Martian landscape and—possibly—in sustaining life. Hydrated, or water-containing, minerals are telltale signs of when and where water was present on ancient Mars. 

Older Donated Blood Is Linked to Infection Risk

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Hospitalized patients who received blood that had been stored for more than four weeks were nearly three times as likely to develop infections as those who received fresher blood, researchers said Tuesday.

The blood itself was not infected, but the stored blood's release of chemical agents called cytokines may have affected the recipients' immune systems, rendering them more susceptible to infections, said Dr. Raquel Nahra of Sparks Regional Medical Center in Fort Smith, Ark.

The patients typically suffered an increase in urinary-tract infections, pneumonia and infections associated with intravenous lines, but those who were infected were no more likely to die, Nahra told a Philadelphia meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

Monitor Shifts from Print to Web-Based Strategy

from the Christian Science Monitor

The Christian Science Monitor plans major changes in April 2009 that are expected to make it the first newspaper with a national audience to shift from a daily print format to an online publication that is updated continuously each day.

The changes at the Monitor will include enhancing the content on, starting weekly print and daily e-mail editions, and discontinuing the current daily print format.

... While the Monitor's print circulation, which is primarily delivered by US mail, has trended downward for nearly 40 years, "looking forward, the Monitor's Web readership clearly shows promise," said Judy Wolff, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society. 

Danger Lurking in Your Bottle of Red

from the Times (London)

Wines from 13 different countries contain potentially hazardous levels of metals, according to a chemical analysis by British scientists.

The findings suggest that the health benefits of drinking red wine may often be counter-balanced by risks posed by excessive levels of metals such as copper, manganese and vanadium, researchers at Kingston University said.

Wines whould also be labelled with their ion metal content, and manufacturers need to introduce new methods to remove the potentially hazardous material from their products, they said. Metal ions are charged atoms, which play an important role in body biochemistry but which can also be hazardous in excess amounts.

Is Setting Clock Back Good for Your Ticker?

from the Seattle Times

Turning your clock back one hour Sunday for the end of daylight-saving time could do your own ticker some good.

Researchers have found a 5 percent drop in heart-attack deaths and hospitalizations the day after clocks are reset each year to standard time, according to a study in the new issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The Swedish researchers also found that the onset of daylight-saving time in the spring appears to increase the risk of heart attacks. ... The risk also rises on holidays and anniversaries, although no one knows why ...

Tiny Mercury Had Huge Volcanic Eruptions

from National Geographic News

Our solar system's smallest planet has seen an enormous amount of volcanic activity, according to scientists studying information from the latest Mercury flyby.

Images returned earlier this month from NASA's MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft reveal about 3,600 cubic miles (15,000 cubic kilometers) of solidified lava inside a single crater on Mercury's western hemisphere.

That's enough lava to fill the entire Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area to a height 12 times that of the Washington Monument, according to Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is a co-investigator for the mission.

Farm Chemicals Can Indirectly Hammer Frogs

from Science News

Atrazine, the second-most widely used agricultural pesticide in America, can pose a toxic double whammy to tadpoles.

The weed killer not only increases the likelihood that massive concentrations of flatworms will thrive in the amphibians’ ponds, a new study reports, but also diminishes the ability of larval frogs to fight infection with these parasites.

Moreover, the new data show, runoff of phosphate fertilizer into pond water can amplify atrazine’s toxicity. The fertilizer does this by boosting the production of algae on which snails feed. Those snails serve as a primary, if temporary, host for the parasitic flatworms, which can sicken frogs.

Smart Amoebas Reveal Origins of Primitive Intelligence

from New Scientist

Amoebas are smarter than they look, and a team of US physicists think they know why. The group has built a simple electronic circuit that is capable of the same "intelligent" behaviour as Physarum, a unicellular organism—and say this could help us understand the origins of primitive intelligence.

In recent years, the humble amoeba has surprised researchers with its ability to behave in an "intelligent" way. Last year, Liang Li and Edward Cox at Princeton University reported that the Dictyostelium amoeba is twice as likely to turn left if its last turn was to the right and vice versa, which suggests the cells have a rudimentary memory.

... In the past, biologists have suggested that there are natural oscillators within the cells that can change their frequency in response to a changing environment. But that can't be the complete picture, say the researchers, because the amoeba's response is short-lived.

Are You Evil? Profiling That Which Is Truly Wicked

from Scientific American

TROY, N.Y.—The hallowed halls of academia are not the place you would expect to find someone obsessed with evil (although some students might disagree). But it is indeed evil—or rather trying to get to the roots of evil—that fascinates Selmer Bringsjord, a logician, philosopher and chairman of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Department of Cognitive Science here.

He's so intrigued, in fact, that he has developed a sort of checklist for determining whether someone is demonic, and is working with a team of graduate students to create a computerized representation of a purely sinister person.

"I've been working on what is evil and how to formally define it," says Bringsjord, who is also director of the Rensselaer AI & Reasoning Lab (RAIR). "It's creepy, I know it is."



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