Science in the News

from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

Today's Headlines - April 11, 2012


A Celebration of Science With a Popular Touch

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- With the applause just winding down for a scantily clad all-girl rock band, John Durant climbed onstage, carrying his 2-year-old son.

His assistants handed out cardboard placards emblazoned with "X" or "Y." Dr. Durant asked the women in the crowd to hold up an X, the men to hold up a Y.

Their letters, Dr. Durant told them, marked the tail end of a two-mile-long scale model of the human genome that stretched from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the stage in Harvard Square. They cheered as they became the symbolic 23rd chromosome, the one that determines sex.

Total Gas Leak: Specialist Equipment to Plug Elgin Well

from BBC News

Specialist equipment has arrived in Scotland to help stop the gas leak at the Elgin platform in the North Sea. A team from operators Total flew out to inspect the leak last week.

The equipment, which will be used as part of the company's "dynamic kill" plan to plug the well with mud, was flown into Prestwick airport from Houston, Texas.

The Scottish government is also starting its assessment of the environmental impact of the leak. Marine Research Vessel Alba na Mara spent the weekend collecting samples in the area around the rig, 150 miles east of Aberdeen.

Study Finds Link Between Autism and Obesity During Pregnancy

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Pregnant women might now have one more good reason to watch their diet and exercise: A new study links autism and developmental delays in young children to metabolic conditions, like obesity and diabetes, in their mothers.

The findings, published in Monday's edition of the journal Pediatrics, found that women who had diabetes or hypertension or were obese were 1.61 times as likely as healthy women to have children with autism spectrum disorders. They also were 2.35 times as likely to have children with developmental delays.

Child development experts said the findings were interesting but that it would be premature to suggest that the results could help explain the dramatic rise in diagnosed cases of autism over the last decade.

Social Rank 'Linked to Immunity'

from BBC News 

A study of rhesus macaque monkeys may have solved a long-standing puzzle on a link between social rank and health. A study of 10 social groups of macaque females showed that the activity level of an individual's immune genes was an accurate predictor of her social rank.

In a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team also showed that the monkey's immunity changed when social rank was altered. The work suggests that status drives immune health, rather than vice-versa.

A great many studies have shown associations in both humans and non-human primates between social environment and biological markers of health. In previous studies of rhesus macaques, the so-called dominance rank has been correlated to levels of the stress-linked glucocorticoid hormones, sex hormones, the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, and white blood cell counts.

CDC: Teen Births Continue to Decline

from the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Registration Required)

Teen births fell again in the United States in 2010 with the highest rate once more in Mississippi, according to a new government report. Nearly every state saw a decline in teen births from 2007 to 2010, with the biggest drop in Arizona at 29 percent. Rates stayed about the same in three states: Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously reported that U.S. births by mothers of all ages had dropped in 2010 for the third straight year. Experts think the economy is a factor.

The rate for teenage moms reached its lowest point since record-keeping began in 1940. The rate fell 9 percent to about 34 per 1,000 girls ages 15 through 19. The decline was seen among all racial and ethnic groups. The CDC report released Tuesday focused on state figures. The authors say the teen declines have been attributed to pregnancy prevention efforts. They note that a recent government survey showed more use of contraception by teens.

Wellcome Trust Joins 'Academic Spring' to Open Up Science

from the Guardian (UK)

One of the world's largest funders of science is to throw its weight behind a growing campaign to break the stranglehold of academic journals and allow all research papers to be shared online.

Nearly 9,000 researchers have already signed up to a boycott of journals that restrict free sharing as part of a campaign dubbed the "academic spring" by supporters due to its potential for revolutionising the spread of knowledge.

But the intervention of the Wellcome Trust, the largest non-governmental funder of medical research after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is likely to galvanise the movement by forcing academics it funds to publish in open online journals.

How Edward Muggeridge Became Eadweard J. Muybridge

from the Christian Science Monitor

Eadweard J. Muybridge revolutionized photography, cinematography, and possibly even zoology. In his Google doodle on Monday, the search engine harkens back to his most famous work: a series of shots that capture the full gallop of a horse. Muybridge proved that, for a brief moment, all four of a horse's legs leave the ground.

The Monitor has dug into his breakthrough Zoopraxiscope and how Muybridge got away with murder. But there's another interesting aspect to Muybridge, one that makes him seem more like a fictional character than a real person. Muybridge constantly reinvented himself, adopting at least five different names.

The man that died as Eadweard J. Muybridge grew up in England as Edward James Muggeridge. His transformation took many steps.

Wind at Sea Is Strangely Van Goghish, Says NASA

from NPR

Yesterday, Robert Krulwich took a look at invisible winds suddenly made visible, streaming across the Earth. This being the blustery season, he's got more wind today, this time streaming across the sea, but looking uncannily like a van Gogh sky.

Most of the surface currents in the ocean are shaped by wind. In a visualization from the folks at NASA, the ocean is rich with lazy spirals that move in great circular sweeps (called "gyres") clockwise in the northern hemisphere, counterclockwise in the south.

Think of the ocean surface here as a reflection of the winds above, a kind of watery mirror (though the spinning of the Earth, tugs of sun and moon and obstruction of continents play a part). Click on the video, and you'll see the dance of wind-on-water everywhere.

FDA Approves Possible Alzheimer's Test

from ScienceNOW

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a radioactive compound for evaluating people with cognitive impairment for Alzheimer's disease. The drug, called Amyvid, binds to amyloid plaques, the calling-card of Alzheimer's disease in the brain. When administered before a PET scan, Amyvid allows doctors to see whether amyloid has begun to build up.

A negative test reduces the likelihood that a patient's cognitive problems are due to Alzheimer's, FDA said in its approval letter, but a positive test does not necessarily confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer's.

The compound was developed by Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Eli Lilly and Company in 2010. Last year, an FDA panel decided to hold off on approving Amyvid pending more compelling evidence that different doctors would read the scans consistently. Lilly subsequently developed an online training course for neuroradiologists to ensure consistent readings.

A Little Independent Energy Experiment on the Prairie

from Smithsonian

In the middle of the Minnesota prairie sits Madelia, a town of a little more than 2300 people that is surrounded on all sides by miles upon miles of brown soil, tilled into neat rows. If you flew there in an airplane, Madelia would look like a button, sewn into the middle of a patchwork quilt--each farm divided into fields shaped like squares and circles, bordered by pale yellow gravel roads and by the narrow strips of bright green grass that grow alongside creeks and drainage ditches.

When the residents of a town such as Madelia think about the future of energy, the solutions they come up with are unsurprisingly centered on the land and what it can grow. In Madelia, however, those solutions look a little different from what you might expect. When Madelians imagine the future of energy, they don't see prairie dotted with big ethanol refineries, where corn grown by hundreds of farmers is processed into fuel that will be sold all around the United States. Instead, they're thinking about something much more local.

Madelia is a small town with a big plan to produce fuel made from local materials for local markets. From the native grasses that easily grow in prairie soil to leftover beaks and pieces from a nearby chicken canning factory, anything that can grow within a 25-mile radius of town is fair game.


"Science in the News" is produced daily by Sigma Xi as a service for its members and the public. It highlights science and technology news stories appearing in the mainstream media. The accompanying Web links provide access to the full text of the articles on the Web sites of the individual media outlets from which they are taken. For more about the service, visit American Scientist Online

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the Science in the News section of American Scientist Online, which mirrors the daily e-mail update. If you have any questions or comments about subscription or content, please e-mail us at


SIGN UP TODAY for "Science in the News Weekly," an e-newsletter produced by Sigma Xi in conjunction with "American Scientist Online." The newsletter provides a digest of the week's top stories from "Science in the News," and includes breaking news and feature stories from each weekend not normally covered by "Science in the News." For more information, visit American Scientist Online.


Please follow these links for more information about Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society:

Sigma Xi homepage

Sigma Xi Public Understanding of Science Program

American Scientist Online

Follow us on Twitter, and visit our Facebook page!

Send feedback regarding this e-newsletter


If you do not wish to receive any further e-mails, please click here to manage your subscriptions.