MY AMERICAN SCIENTIST
LOG IN! REGISTER!
SEARCH
 
RSS
Logo IMG
HOME > SCIENCE IN THE NEWS

Science in the News

Retracing the Evolution of African Penguins

African Penguins"Penguins are 10 times older than humans and have been here for a very, very long time," said Daniel Ksepka, Ph.D., a researcher at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). Dr. Ksepka researches the evolution of penguins and how they came to inhabit the African continent.

Because penguins have been around for over 60 million years, their fossil record is extensive. Fossils that Dr. Ksepka and his colleagues have discovered provide clues about migration patterns and the diversity of penguin species.

Dr. Ksepka goes into more depth about how his research is piecing together the evolutionary puzzle of penguins and other related bird species.

Watch his interview below to learn more about the fascinating evolutionary world of penguins:


Read his blog, March of the Fossil Penguins.

Save to Library

Science Hangout: Dr. Gruss on Advancing Research

Download the MP3 audio file for this podcast.

In American Scientist 's first Google Hangout On Air, managing editor Fenella Saunders talks with Prof. Dr. Peter Gruss, president of the Max Planck Society, which is a nonprofit research organization that has promoted research at its own institutes since 1948.

He discusses the need to grow basic research, the pluses and minuses for using grants as the main source of support for researchers, the role of business funding in science, the importance of multidisciplinary collaborations, the need to support women in science careers, and the gains created by communicating science well to the general public.

Watch the recorded video from the discussion below:



Direct link to video on YouTube: http://youtu.be/KTuWwVwNl8I

Save to Library

Smart Materials Used to Treat Uterine Fibroids

Download the MP3 audio file for this podcast.

Dr. Darlene Taylor Uterine FibroidClick to Enlarge Imageis an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at North Carolina Central University. She uses molecular engineering to develop what she calls “smart materials”- substances that can sense and respond in some way to a change in their environment. Perhaps the most exciting use for smart materials is helping to deliver powerful drugs to specific target sites deep inside the body without affecting other tissues along the way.

These nano-substances can react to environmental changes, such as temperature changes, and can break down over time, which, in turn, can then release certain materials, such as a drug, to a specific area in the body. Taylor compares this substance to Jell-O with fruit inside it; a person can gouge around with a spoon and dislodge the fruit but the matrix, in this case the Jell-O, still keeps its original wiggly state. By using these substances, she is researching ways to provide a noninvasive therapy option for treating uterine fibroids.

Read her American Scientist article from February - March 2014: "Engineered Molecules for Smarter Medicines"

Read her publications.

Dr. Taylor discusses her research in an interview with Sandra Ackerman, senior editor at American Scientist magazine.

Save to Library

Pancreatic Cancer and More Effective Treatments

Download the MP3 audio file for this podcast.

Dr. Antonio Baines is an associate professor in the Department of Biology at North Carolina Central University, an adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a cancer researcher.

PancreasClick to Enlarge Image

Dr. Baines’ research focuses on understanding a gene called Ras, and its role as a molecular target in pancreatic cancer. His research aim is to target certain points in the pathway of pancreatic cancer in order to increase the effectiveness of treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Dr. Baines goes into more depth about how his research could increase understanding of how to combat pancreatic cancer.



Direct link to video on YouTube: http://youtu.be/L-4r19YvX9o

View his entire Pizza Lunch Podcast presentation.

Click here to view a list of Dr. Baines' publications.

Save to Library

How You Can Better Communicate Your Science

Download the MP3 audio file for this podcast.

Most scientists will tell you that one of the inspirations for their work is to somehow benefit mankind, whether that’s through new medicines or a better understanding of the formation of the universe. But how can scientists ensure that mankind knows about their work? 

Science Conference Example

Effective communication about science to the public has been the life work of science author and journalist  Dennis Meredith, whose career as a science communicator has included service at some of the country's leading research universities, including MIT, Cal tech, Cornell, Duke and the University of Wisconsin. In 2012, Meredith was inducted as an Honorary Life Member of Sigma Xi, and he is the Chair for American Scientist 's Committee on Communications and Publications. 

He wrote Explaining Research, which equips scientists and engineers with the necessary tools and techniques on explaining their work to various types of audiences.

In this podcast, he discussed with American Scientist managing editor, Fenella Saunders, some of the ways he’s found to help scientists become more effective communicators.

Podcast music is “Spot,” by Ardent Octopus, courtesy of Mevio’s Music Alley.

Funding for Pizza Lunches is provided by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

See our complete list of Pizza Lunch Podcasts

Save to Library

Robots in Clinical and Home Environments

Download the MP3 audio file for this podcast.

Dr. Ron Alterovitz, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, talks about current and future research and challenges involving robots used in clinical and home environments. LungFlexibleRobot

Dr. Alterovitz and his team apply algorithms to emerging robots that have the potential to enhance physician performance, improve patient care and autonomously assist people in their homes. An example involves medical devices like steerable needles and flexible tentacle-like robots that can assist surgeons reach their clinical target. In the home, robots are programmed to assist the elderly and people with disabilities.


Watch this video created by Dr. Alterovitz and Gu Ye at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

 

In this podcast, Dr. Alterovitz talks about his research on creating algorithms for robots and their use mainly in surgical and home environments.

Podcast music is “Spot,” by Ardent Octopus, courtesy of Mevio’s Music Alley.

Funding for Pizza Lunches is provided by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

See our complete list of Pizza Lunch Podcasts.

Save to Library

Rolling the Dice on Big Data

Download the MP3 audio file for this podcast.

Dr. Ilse Ipsen, a professor in the Department of Mathematics at North Carolina State University, goes in-depth about how mathematicians can use the Monte Carlo method, and other tools, to wrestle with the deluge of data emerging from the wide variety of scientific research areas.

Dr. Ipsen's research interests include numerical linear algebra, matrix theory, numerical analysis, randomized algorithms, and others. She has written countless papers and software regarding her research as well as on the Monte Carlo method and its use on big data. Also, Dr. Ipsen is the associate director for the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Institute (SAMSI). SAMSI focuses on forging a synthesis of statistical sciences and applied mathematical sciences with disciplinary science to tackle difficult, yet important data- and model-driven scientific challenges.

MathConceptClick to Enlarge Image

In this podcast, Dr. Ipsen speaks with associate editor, Katie Burke, about her research and viewpoints on using the Monte Carlo method and big data.

Podcast music is “Spot,” by Ardent Octopus, courtesy of Mevio’s Music Alley.

Funding for Pizza Lunches is provided by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

See our complete list of Pizza Lunch Podcasts.

Save to Library

Addressing Emergent Challenges with Wind Power

Download the MP3 audio file for this podcast.

Dr. Sukanta Basu , an associate professor in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at North Carolina State University, talks about the benefits and challenges of wind power and what it could mean for the future of renewable energy. His field of study is boundary layer meteorology , which addresses some of the widespread uses of wind power.

Wind turbines

Dr. Basu and his group research various boundary layer turbulence and practical problems using a combination of innovative approaches, such as state-of-the-art numerical simulations, field measurements, flow-visualizations and theoretical developments.

Podcast music is “Spot,” by Ardent Octopus, courtesy of Mevio’s Music Alley .

Funding for Pizza Lunches is provided by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center .

See our complete list of Pizza Lunch Podcasts.

Save to Library

What Is Intelligence?

Katie L. Burke

Download the MP3 audio file for this podcast.

Brian Hare, professor of evolutionary anthropology and member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, is interested in what dogs can do cognitively that humans and other primates cannot do. Are humans really the most intelligent species? Hare compares psychology within primates as well as between primates and nonprimates through the Hominoid Psychology Research Group and the citizen science project that he launched, Dognition. You can find out how your dog's breed compares in intelligence measures with other dog breeds, based on Hare's research, by visiting Dognition's new data visualizations.

In this audio slideshow, Hare spoke to associate editor Katie L. Burke about what we can learn about our own species by studying dogs and bonobos.

Hare spoke at Sigma Xi Headquarters in March 2013.

Funding for Pizza Lunches is provided by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

See our complete list of Pizza Lunch Podcasts.

Save to Library

Behind the Scenes of Foldit, Pioneering Science Gamification

Katie L. Burke

Proteins are involved in how our bodies develop and fight disease as well as how we behave and how we sense the world around us. Genes are instructions for making proteins, each of which is made up of some combination of building-block molecules called amino acids. Proteins can be hundreds of amino acids long, so they are complex and difficult to study. Although protein sequencing to find out the order of the amino acids in a particular protein is pretty easy for a biochemist, it is not simple for a biochemist to figure out all the possible shapes those amino acids can fold into. Foldit is a popular online citizen-science game, in which players are scored on the structure of proteins that they’ve folded. In Foldit puzzles, for example, players are rewarded for solving clashes and voids , places where the protein is not consistent with known biochemical patterns. 2012-11SciObsBurkeFC.jpgClick to Enlarge Image

Seth Cooper is the lead designer of Foldit, and one of the original creators of the game. He is currently the creative director for the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington. In a recent Science Observer , American Scientist associate editor Katie Burke discussed Foldit and other citizen science games. The following is an extended version of her conversation with Cooper:

Compare playing Foldit to playing other games. What did you use as your inspiration, and what can a person who hasn’t played Foldit expect?

It’s most like a puzzle game. There’s not a lot of fast-paced action. There are no time-critical kinds of things, other than approaching the deadline for a particular puzzle closing. When we started, we often thought about it as a 3D Tetris. In Tetris you’re trying to fit all the blocks together to fill in all the empty space and remove the lines, and protein folding is a lot like that, except it’s in three dimensions. You want to remove all the empty space from the interior of the protein by packing everything in as tightly as possible. But there aren’t a lot of nonscientific games out there that are very similar to it that I know of. It definitely requires some kind of 3D spatial reasoning to follow.

You can also build your own protein, which could be a little bit like MineCraft , because there’s more creativity in the new design puzzles. You’re not just trying to solve a problem that already exists—it’s much more open-ended. You can build the protein up, more or less from scratch, starting with a scaffold that you can change to be whatever you want, building it with whatever little molecular subcomponents that you feel like. So there’s a lot of freedom and creativity.

What was it like to work on gamifying protein folding?

When we started out, we didn’t know what parts of the protein folding problem people would be good at, which parts people would find interesting, how much we would need to teach people about protein folding to allow them to be effective players, how we should make the protein look, what kinds of ways people should be able to interact with the protein. There were all these different variables and possibilities to consider. And it’s a double challenge when you’re making a game that has some kind of purpose, because you not only have to make a fun game, which just by itself is a pretty big challenge, but you’re also constrained by having to make a fun game that has some real scientific application. Before we released the game, we spent about a year coming up with prototypes. The game development team was going back and forth with the biochemists in the Baker Lab here at the University of Washington, seeing what they thought would be useful and watching people play the game to see where they got stuck, where they got confused, what kinds of things they liked to do and what kinds of problems they could solve. In a sense, we haven’t really stopped doing that.

We released Foldit about four years ago online, after a year of alpha testing. Instead of just a few people in the lab talking to people directly, we’re now using telemetry and analytics. The game records the structure and the moves that the players do, and we get data that we use to improve the game in every aspect, from the quality of the scientific results that are coming back to how long people play the introductory levels that are supposed to teach the game. The whole game is like an ongoing, continuous experiment. We release updates every couple of weeks with new features. Every week, we publish a different set of puzzles. So we’re adapting the game to the players to make it the most effective scientific problem-solving tool that we can.

What sort of people like playing this game, which requires quite a time investment to get to levels where they are working on a real-life protein?

A lot of different people are interested in playing the game. I think it’s much broader than what you might typically consider the core gamer demographic. There’s a pretty big international community. Most of the players are from the United States, but there are a large number from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. I think that a lot of the players are brought into the game or at least stick around for a number of reasons: They are motivated by the sense of purpose of contributing to science. It’s a game, but you’re not just playing a game. Something can come out of it, and we’ve shown that scientific results actually do come out of the game-play. A lot of the players, top players even, don’t have much background in biochemistry, and they’re still able to do well and solve interesting problems.

2012-11SciObsBurkeFD.jpgClick to Enlarge Image Do you get such a broad group because the game provides a variety of motivations, which in turn draw in a lot of different people?

We built the game using many different rewards or motivations. It's designed to encourage competition, because everyone is trying to fold their version of the protein better than everyone else to get the highest score. But it’s not just every person competing against every other person. There’s a lot of social interaction that’s supported by the game—chat and forums and things like that. Players can form teams to work together. So individual players can fold the protein for a little while, and then they can share that with other members of their group, who can pick up where they left off. The whole group gets credit for what the members have done, and the groups are competing against each other as well.

The leaderboard system on the website is also meant to motivate people. We support different skill sets, rewarding and recognizing players for doing what they’re good at. There are leaderboards overall for everyone, but there are also leaderboards for different types of puzzles, for individuals working alone and for groups working collaboratively.

There are puzzles that are just protein structure prediction, where you’re trying to figure out the shape of a naturally occurring protein. And then there are puzzles where you’re trying to design an entirely new protein. There are extra tools in the game that allow you to change the amino acids and the atomic structure of the protein, rather than just fold up some existing one. And we actually have a fairly recent type of puzzle, called “ Symmetry ,” in which there are multiple subpieces of the protein that are all exactly the same; they’re symmetrical. You can only change one of those subpieces, and when you change that one, all the others change in that same way. So we reward all the different kinds of skills that people can bring to developing solutions to each type of game. The game also looks fun and approachable to make players feel more motivated than they might when opening up a science textbook and seeing a standard picture of a protein.

What is the outcome when you design a protein? Is it synthesized?

In Foldit’s design puzzles, the players are able to build a hypothetical protein and see how it works in the game. The game’s score is based on a proxy for how well the protein would work in the lab, whether that’s how well it catalyzes some reaction that the scientists are interested in, or how well this protein sticks to some part of a virus, or even in the case of the Symmetry puzzles, how well the protein sticks to itself. Then we take the solutions that players come up with and present those to scientists for analysis. Solutions that are promising are then synthesized in the lab. We’ve been doing this for a fair number of the puzzles that the players have completed now.

We published a paper several months ago about a structure that the scientists and the players codesigned. The scientists were interested in an enzyme that catalyzes the Diels-Alder reaction, which brings together two small molecules to form a particular kind of bond that the scientists were interested in making. This catalysis would be useful for building other kinds of small molecules, such as drugs and chemicals. We went back and forth between the scientists and the players with several rounds of puzzles. In the end, we designed an enzyme that was about 20 times more efficient in catalyzing the reaction than the one the scientists had started with. And the really cool part of the solution was that the players had inserted about 13 amino acids, a really big departure from the structure that we started with. When the scientists looked at it, they said it was such a drastic change that it was something they wouldn’t possibly have considered, because they wouldn’t have thought it would work at all. But the players didn’t know that, so they just tried something that they thought would work, and it turned out to work really well. So they ended up with an enzyme that was much more efficient than, and quite structurally different from, the initial enzyme.

What are some other major breakthroughs that should be highlighted?

One really exciting recent result was with something in the game called “The Cookbook,” which allows the players to script or code up their strategies in the game. You basically write up what we call a recipe , which is an automated tool that will run moves in Foldit that the players have written. Players can share and modify these recipes online. We had this tool in the game so that we could learn strategies from the players and then automate those strategies. When we looked at the data, we found that one recipe was beating pretty much the next couple recipes combined in terms of popularity. This recipe was called “ Blue Fuse version 1.1 .” It was pretty simple, only a few lines. When one of the biochemists we were working with looked at it, he said it looked pretty familiar to him because it was similar to an algorithm that they were developing in the biochemistry lab, but they hadn’t published it yet. Organically, the community of Foldit players had come up with the same algorithmic moves that the scientist in the biochemistry lab had come up with independently. So we wrote a joint paper on both of the algorithms.

Have educators used Foldit? How does Foldit help players understand proteins?

We’ve been contacted by a fair number of teachers who are using Foldit for their classes. We know that sometimes they assign playing a puzzle for homework, so the students can see what proteins are like and get a sense of what they are before they learn the scientific details. We designed the game not necessarily to teach biochemistry but to teach the mechanics of how you would go about folding a protein. The game is a good starting place to encourage excitement about science and proteins, before getting into details of how proteins work. But one of the things that we’re starting to work on now is a version of the game that’s tailored specifically toward use in the classroom. We're supporting as much of the scientific curriculum as we can through interaction with proteins and other biological molecules. We’d like this version to be an effective teaching tool, while also setting up a way for educators interested in using the game to connect more easily. That way, when someone comes up with a good way to integrate the game into the classroom, other teachers could learn from that.

Do you think that humans will always be better than computers at folding proteins?

Once the players have the ability to automate some of the things that they do, some of the game becomes strategizing when you would run particular algorithms. If the players came up with an algorithm that solves protein folding, that would be really amazing. Proteins are very complex. It would take a long time, I think, for computers to catch up with people in many of these spatial reasoning and visual processing problems, because there are just so many variables. But even beyond that, players can be creative and come up with new things, which is even more challenging for computers to do. I think that thinking in nonintuitive and novel ways puts people even that much further beyond what computers are able to do.

What are the major changes that you’ve seen as the game has developed?

We started the game in 2007 and released it in 2008. The first Nature paper that we published compared the players’ protein folding with the biochemists’ state-of-the-art protein-folding algorithm. The game teaches some high-level rules, and one of them is that hydrophobic regions of the protein should be on the interior of the protein and away from water. In the game, hydrophobic and hydrophilic regions are color-coded. The players fixed incorrectly exposed hydrophobic areas better than the computational algorithm could. Soon after that paper, we discovered the shape of a retroviral protease enzyme that is associated with AIDS in monkeys. Then we added support for the recipes and the scripts, and we had the “Blue Fuse” result . We’ve added support for protein design, which resulted in the design of the Diels-Alder enzyme . Recently, we added support for the different leaderboards for the different puzzle categories. Since then, we’ve added a lot of new features, such as the “Symmetry” puzzles. We also added puzzles based on electron density, where, from some experiments, you can get a little information about where the mass of the protein is, and you can visualize that as a cloud that you want to fit the protein into. We just released a version of the game that supports Kinect. Rather than just using the mouse and keyboard, you can use Kinect to grab parts of the protein and push pieces with your hands. We wanted to try to support more natural 3D interactions and movements with the proteins.

What can we expect from Foldit in the future?

In addition to novel protein designs, new symmetry games, the latest interactions using Kinect, and innovative educational interfaces, we’re also looking into new kinds of games beyond Foldit. One idea is based on DNA and DNA nanomachines. You can use DNA as a building material and, based on the preferences of the nucleotide-base pairings, you can cause DNA to self-assemble into little shapes, machines and devices that move and interact with other molecules. We want to build something inspired by Foldit through which players build little pieces of DNA from scratch or from some initial scaffold. These DNA pieces can be designed to do things such as move around in the body, help to actively build up structures or fight a disease. We want it to be really open-ended, so that players can come up with things that we haven’t even thought of. There’s really no telling what people will be able to do if you give them the tools and the power to do it.

Save to Library

New! Sigma Xi SmartBrief

Science in the News has been replaced by Sigma Xi SmartBrief, an enhanced daily summary of science news.  You can follow it on the web here,  or subscribe here to receive free daily bulletins.

Save to Library

New! Sigma Xi SmartBrief

Science in the News has been replaced by Sigma Xi SmartBrief, an enhanced daily summary of science news.  You can follow it on the web here,  or subscribe here to receive free daily bulletins.

Save to Library

In Good Health? Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

For years, bacteria have had a bad name. They are the cause of infections, of diseases. They are something to be scrubbed away, things to be avoided.

But now researchers have taken a detailed look at another set of bacteria that may play even bigger roles in health and disease: the 100 trillion good bacteria that live in or on the human body. No one really knew much about them. They are essential for human life, needed to digest food, to synthesize certain vitamins, to form a barricade against disease-causing bacteria. But what do they look like in healthy people, and how much do they vary from person to person?

In a new five-year federal endeavor, the Human Microbiome Project, which has been compared to the Human Genome Project, 200 scientists at 80 institutions sequenced the genetic material of bacteria taken from nearly 250 healthy people. They discovered more strains than they had ever imagined -- as many as a thousand bacterial strains on each person. And each person's collection of microbes, the microbiome, was different from the next person's. To the scientists' surprise, they also found genetic signatures of disease-causing bacteria lurking in everyone's microbiome. But instead of making people ill, or even infectious, these disease-causing microbes simply live peacefully among their neighbors.

Read more...


Save to Library

Professor's Academic Freedom Was Violated, UC Davis Faculty Leaders Say

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

UC Davis faculty leaders have declared that medical school administrators there violated the academic freedom of a professor who published a 2010 opinion article criticizing a campus event promoting prostate cancer screening.

In a unanimous vote, the faculty Senate's Representative Assembly admonished administrators for threatening cuts in title and funding and possible legal action against medical professor Michael Wilkes after his piece appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. The faculty governing panel last week also called for medical school leaders to apologize and "take concrete steps to prevent future violations of rights of academic freedom."

Although disciplinary action was not carried out against Wilkes, raising that possibility violated his rights, according to microbiologist Linda Bisson, who chairs the UC Davis faculty Senate. "It's not a gray area or even a little cloudy. This is a textbook example of what is protected in academic freedom," Bisson said Wednesday.

Read more...


Save to Library

Dam Removal to Help Restore Spawning Grounds

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

BRADLEY, Me. -- Under a bright sky here, a convoy of heavy equipment rolled onto the bed of the Penobscot River on Monday to smash the Great Works Dam, a barrier that has blocked the river for nearly two centuries.

Before the destruction began, a tribal elder from the Penobscot Indian Nation used an eagle wing to fan smoke from a smoldering smudge of sage, tobacco and sweet grass over the crowd that had gathered to watch."Today signifies the most important conservation project in our 10,000-year history on this great river that we share a name with, and that has provided for our very existence," said the tribal chief, Kirk Francis.

The Penobscot River's once-abundant runs of salmon, shad, sturgeon, alewives, eels and smelt were nearly wiped out because for years the dams -- there are three in the river's first 10 miles alone -- impeded migrations to their spawning grounds. "Returning these species of fish to their historic habitat, we will see the river continue to come back to life in a major way," Mr. Francis said.

Read more...


Save to Library

Swedes Implant Tissue-Engineered Vein in 10-Year-Old Girl

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Swedish researchers have, for the first time, implanted a tissue-engineered vein made from her own stem cells into a 10-year-old girl. The implant of the portal vein had to be repeated after a year, but the team reported that the new vein dramatically improved the young girl's quality of life, allowing her to grow taller, gain weight and begin exercising.

The portal vein drains blood from the intestines and spleen to the liver, and blockages, which are usually genetic in origin, can cause serious medical complications such as enlarging the spleen and stunting growth. It can even be fatal. Normal treatment is to transplant a vein taken from the leg or the deep neck, but surgery to remove the vein can cause limb problems. The transplanted vein can also lead to loss of the liver and the need for an organ transplant.

Researchers have also been working with artificial veins made of Dacron or polytetrafluoroethylene, but have encountered problems with those as well. The synthetic grafts often fail, particularly if the vein is small.

Read more...


Save to Library

Particles Point Way for NASA's Voyager

from the BBC News Online

Scientists working on Voyager 1 are receiving further data suggesting the probe is close to crossing into interstellar space. The NASA mission, which launched from Earth in 1977, could leave our Solar System at any time.

It is now detecting a sharp rise in the number of high-energy particles hitting it from distant exploded stars.

The observation was predicted, and is another indication that Voyager will soon reach its historic goal.

Read more...

Save to Library

Three Doctors Charged in Armstrong Doping Case

from BBC News Online

One unusual aspect of the doping case brought against Lance Armstrong is that three doctors have been charged in addition to the champion cyclist. The United States anti-doping agency (USADA) says that Armstrong and the doctors were involved in a "pervasive pattern of doping." The seven-time Tour de France winner vehemently denies the charges.

But experts say that if proven the case would signal that responsibility for doping no longer stops at the athlete. Respected anti-doping scientist Dr Michael Ashenden told BBC News that the case marked a significant change.

"It is no longer enough to stop at the athlete, but instead authorities are now seeking to investigate further and root out the doctors, support staff and drug dealers who make doping possible." USADA has sent a 15-page letter to Lance Armstrong and five others detailing the range of the charges and some of the evidence against them.

Read more...


Save to Library

Italian Scientists Win Battle to Halt Controversial Research

from Nature News

The Italian research minister, Francesco Profumo, has bowed to pressure from Italian and international scientists and agreed to take a closer look at a proposed nuclear research programme at one of the country's leading institutes. He has also withdrawn his nomination of a proponent of the controversial research for the institute's scientific council.

The research -- on piezonuclear fission, the theory that compressing solids can provoke nucleus-splitting reactions without emitting γ-rays or producing nuclear waste -- was being led by Alberto Carpinteri, a structural engineer and president of the Italian National Institute of Metrological Research (INRIM) in Turin. Carpinteri and his collaborators have published a series of papers on the theme, mostly in Strain, a journal for which Carpinteri is on the editorial board.

But the theory is widely disputed. "The experiments are badly described and no other groups have been able to reproduce them so far," says Ezio Puppin, a nuclear engineer at Milan Polytechnic.

Read More...


Save to Library

A Three-Way Partnership at the Bottom of the Sea

from ScienceNOW Daily News

In dense fields of seagrass that carpet coastal waters around the world, there's a three-way interaction keeping the ecosystem thriving. Two-shelled mollusks called bivalves, bacteria inhabiting the bivalves' gills, and seagrasses themselves all live symbiotically, new research reveals. The finding helps explain the long-standing puzzle of how seagrasses can survive in murky shoreline waters and offers insight into how scientists can better restore seagrass ecosystems, which are declining worldwide.

"I think it's a really exciting and interesting idea," says ecologist Jay Stachowicz of the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the new study. "This is a type of interaction that people really hadn't considered before as being critical to seagrasses."

Often called marine nurseries, seagrass meadows harbor juvenile fish that spend their adult lives in coral reefs. Because of their shoreline locations and lush grasses, the meadows have dense layers of sediment and decaying organic material, a rich feeding ground for most ocean life. But the muddy deposits present a conundrum for the seagrasses: the bacteria responsible for breaking down the decaying matter emit high levels of sulfide, which should be toxic to the plants.

Read More...


Save to Library

EPA Issues New Soot Regulations

from the Christian Science Monitor

Responding to a lawsuit from 11 states, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new air quality standards to lower the amount of soot that can be released into the air

The Obama administration, facing strong resistance from congressional Republicans and industry officials, had sought to delay the politically fraught rule until after the election, but was forced to act by a court order. Critics, including officials representing the oil and gas industry, refineries and manufacturers, complained that overly strict rules could hurt economic growth and lead to job losses.

Soot, made up of microscopic particles released from smokestacks, diesel trucks, wood-burning stoves and other sources, contributes to haze and can burrow into lungs. Breathing in soot can cause lung and heart problems.

Read More...


Save to Library

European Cave Art Gets Older

from Science News

Red disks, hand stencils and club-shaped drawings lining the walls of several Stone Age caves in Spain were painted so long ago that Neandertals might have been their makers, say researchers armed with a high-powered method for dating ancient stone.

Scientists have struggled for more than a century to determine the ages of Europe's striking Stone Age cave paintings. A new rock-dating technique, which uses bits of mineralized stone to estimate minimum and maximum ages of ancient paintings, finds that European cave art started earlier than researchers have assumed -- at least 40,800 years ago, say archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol in England and his colleagues.

Pike's team presents its findings in the June 15 Science.Previous age estimates were based on stylistic comparisons of drawings in different caves and radiocarbon dates for ancient pigments containing charcoal or other organic material. That research indicated that people began creating cave paintings in Europe possibly 36,000 years ago. Some researchers suspect that Homo sapiens made rapid advances in symbolic thinking around that time.

Read more...


Save to Library

Debate on a Study Examining Gay Parents

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Young adults from broken homes in which a parent had had a same-sex relationship reported modestly more psychological and social problems in their current lives than peers from other families that had experienced divorce and other disruptions, a new study has found, stirring bitter debate among partisans on gay marriage.

The study counted parents as gay or lesbian by asking participants whether their parents had ever had a same-sex relationship; the parents may not have identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Gay-rights groups attacked the study, financed by conservative foundations, as biased and poorly done even before its publication on Sunday in the journal Social Science Research.

But outside experts, by and large, said the research was rigorous, providing some of the best data yet comparing outcomes for adult children with a gay parent with those with heterosexual parents. But they also said the findings were not particularly relevant to the current debate over gay marriage or gay parenting.

Read more...



Save to Library

Educators Once Opposed Raising Bilingual Children. Experts Now Say It's Beneficial.

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

When I was a baby, my mother gazed down at me in her hospital bed and did something that would permanently change the way my brain developed. Something that would make me better at learning, multi-tasking and solving problems. Eventually, it might even protect my brain against the ravages of old age. Her trick? She started speaking to me in French.

At the time, my mother had no idea that her actions would give me a cognitive boost. She is French and my father English, and they simply felt it made sense to raise me and my brothers as bilingual. Yet a mass of research has emerged to suggest that speaking two languages while growing up may profoundly affect the way I think.

Cognitive enhancement is just the start. According to some studies, my memories, my values, even my personality may change depending on which language I happen to be speaking. It is almost as though the bilingual brain houses two separate minds. All of which highlights the fundamental role of language in human thought. "Bilingualism is quite an extraordinary microscope into the human brain," says cognitive neuroscientist Laura Ann Petitto of Gallaudet University.

Read more...



Save to Library

Institute's Gas Drilling Report Leads to Claims of Bias

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

A report from a new institute at the State University at Buffalo asserting that state oversight has made natural gas drilling safer is causing tumult on campus and beyond, with critics arguing that the institute is biased toward industry and could undercut the university's reputation.

The study, issued on May 15, said that state regulation in Pennsylvania had made drilling there far safer and that New York rules were even more likely to ensure safety once drilling gets under way in the state.

But a government watchdog group quickly raised questions about the study's data and the authors' ties to the oil and gas industry. And a newly formed group of professors and students is calling for a broader inquiry into the genesis of the institute, which issued the report only weeks after its creation was announced in April.

Read more...



Save to Library

Fish Oil Fail: Omega-3s May Not Protect Brain Health After All

from Time

Despite the widely touted benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for preserving cognitive function and memory, a new review by the Cochrane Library finds that those effects may be overstated: healthy elderly people taking omega-3 supplements did no better on tests of thinking and verbal skills than those taking placebo.

A number of previous studies have associated omega-3 consumption with better brain health and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. One recent study by Columbia University researchers found that people who ate diets higher in omega-3s had lower blood levels of beta amyloid, the telltale protein that gums up brains in Alzheimer's patients. In another study published in the journal Neurology in February, researchers showed that people with the highest levels of omega-3s in their blood had bigger brain volumes and performed better on tests of visual memory and abstract reasoning, compared with those with the lowest levels.

Much of this previous data has been observational, however. So, for the Cochrane review, researchers looked specifically at so-called "gold standard" studies, those that randomly assigned people to take either omega-3s or a placebo and then tracked the participants over time. The authors of the review, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, included three studies involving a total of 3,536 people over the age of 60, which lasted between six and 40 months. All the participants started the studies in good cognitive health.

Read more...



Save to Library

NASA's Nustar X-Ray Telescope Rides to Orbit

from BBC News Online

The US space agency (NASA) has launched its latest orbiting X-ray observatory. The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (Nustar) was sent into space on a Pegasus rocket operated out of the Kwajalein Atol in the central Pacific.

Nustar will study high-energy X-rays coming from exotic sources such as black holes, exploded stars and the hot gas in galaxy clusters. The observatory will capture its target X-rays using a novel optics system held on the end of a 10m-long extension.

"Nustar will open up a whole new window on the Universe by being the very first telescope to focus high-energy X-rays," explained Fiona Harrison, Nustar's principal investigator from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. "As such it will make images that are 10 times crisper and 100 times more sensitive than any telescope that has operated in this region of the spectrum."

Read more...



Save to Library

Antibody Cocktail Cures Monkeys of Ebola

from Nature News

Monkeys infected with Ebola have been cured by a cocktail of three antibodies first administered 24 hours or more after exposure. The result raises hopes that a future treatment could improve the chances of humans surviving the disease caused by the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of infected people and could potentially be used as a biological weapon. Most treatment regimes tested to date only improve chances of survival if administered within one hour of infection. There are no approved treatments for people infected with Ebola.

Researchers based at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada, administered an antibody cocktail named ZMAb to cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) infected with the Zaire virus -- the deadliest strain of Ebola, prevalent in African countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon. All four of the monkeys that began the three-dose treatment regime within 24 hours of being infected survived. Two of four monkeys given the cocktail from 48 hours of infection also lived. A monkey that was not treated died within five days of infection.

"The antibodies slowed replication until the animals' own immune systems kicked in and completely cleared the virus," says Gary Kobinger, a medical microbiologist at the University of Manitoba who led the study. The results are published today in Science Translational Medicine.

Read more...



Save to Library

GM Crops Good for Environment, Study Finds

from the Guardian (UK)

Crops genetically modified to poison pests can deliver major environmental benefits, according to a landmark study spanning two decades and 1.5 million square kilometres. The benefits extended to non-GM crops grown in neighbouring fields, researchers found.

Plants engineered to produce a bacterial toxin lethal to some insects but harmless to people were grown in over 66 million hectares around the world in 2011. So-called Bt cotton is one type and now makes up 95% of the vast plantations in China. Since its introduction there in 1997, pesticide use has halved and the new study showed this led to a doubling of natural insect predators such as ladybirds, lacewings and spiders. These decimated pests not targeted by the Bt cotton, not only in the cotton fields, but also in conventional corn, soybean and peanut fields in the region.

"Insecticide use usually kills the natural enemies of pests and weakens the biocontrol services that they provide," said Professor Kongming Wu at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, who led the research team. "Transgenic crops reduce insecticide use and promote the population increase of natural enemies. Therefore, we think that this is a general principle."

Read more...



Save to Library

Alzheimer's Gene Found to Affect Women Over Men

from the San Francisco Chronicle

A gene that's been known for two decades as the largest inheritable risk for developing Alzheimer's disease mostly affects the brains of women, not men, according to a team of researchers from Stanford and UCSF.

The gene variant known as APOE4 is the most common genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's - only about 15 percent of people carry the gene, but it's found in more than half of all Alzheimer's patients.

The variant was first connected to Alzheimer's in 1993, but doctors and scientists for the most part have been unaware of any gender differences, despite early studies that showed an increased risk for women with the gene.

Read more...



Save to Library



 

Connect With Us:

    Pinterest Icon Google+ Icon Twitter Icon Facebook Icon Sm


Subscribe to Our Content!

Visit our RSS Feeds page to choose among 13 customized feeds, or create a free My AmSci account to request an email notice whenever a specified author, department or discipline appears online.


Subscribe to Free eNewsletters!

  • Sigma Xi SmartBrief:

    A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.

  • American Scientist Update

  • An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns, Science Observers and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.

  • Scientists' Nightstand

  • News of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.

    To sign up for automatic emails of the American Scientist Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an online profile, then sign up in the My AmSci area.


Subscribe to American Scientist