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Scientists Get Death Threats Over Large Hadron Collider

from the Telegraph (UK)

Scientists working on the world's biggest machine are being besieged by phone calls and emails from people who fear the world will end next Wednesday, when the gigantic atom smasher starts up.

The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, where particles will begin to circulate around its 17 mile circumference tunnel next week, will recreate energies not seen since the universe was very young, when particles smash together at near the speed of light.

Such is the angst that the American Nobel prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has even had death threats, said Prof Brian Cox of Manchester University .... There have also been legal attempts to halt the start up.

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New Robot Legs Have a Spring in Their Step

from New Scientist

Walking comes naturally to humans but is one of the greatest barriers facing roboticists. Legs with joints driven by motors struggle to recycle energy during walking in the way biological legs with springy tendons and muscles do.

A new design driven by steel cable tendons and with built-in springs could provide the answer. "The spring is important. That's something that is fundamental to being able to run in an efficient way," says Jonathan Hurst, a roboticist at Oregon State University, Oregon.

Studies of humans walking and running show that our tendons and muscles store and release up to 40% of the total energy expended. Other animals, for example kangaroos, recycle even more, says Hurst.

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Gene Regulation Makes the Human

from Science News

Genes alone don’t make the man—after all, humans and chimps share roughly 98 percent of their DNA. But where, when and how much genes are turned on may be essential in setting people apart from other primates.

A stretch of human DNA inserted into mice embryos revs the activity of genes in the developing thumb, toe, forelimb and hind limb. But the chimp and rhesus macaque version of this same stretch of DNA spurs only faint activity in the developing limbs, reports a new study in the Sept. 5 Science.

The research supports the notion that changes in the regulation of genes—rather than changes in the genes themselves—were crucial evolutionary steps in the human ability to use fire, invent wheels and ponder existential questions, like what distinguishes people from our primate cousins.

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Download Free Books and Movies from Local Libraries

from the Christian Science Monitor

In a time when practically any question can be answered through a Google search, brick-and-mortar libraries are evolving to remain relevant.

Rather than cede ground to search engines, e-book readers, and download services, more than 7,500 US libraries are adopting their competitor’s tricks and offering digital means to access books, music, and movies–free of charge. The embodiment of this effort parked outside Boston’s City Hall last week.

Inside the 75-foot-long, 18-wheel bookmobile are computer workstations, portable download devices, even a souped-up lounge replete with a “pleather” couch and a flat-screen TV–all designed to teach Bostonians how to use the newest in librarian tech: the digital lending library.

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Rosetta Probe Makes Asteroid Pass

from the BBC News Online

The Rosetta space probe has made a close pass of asteroid Steins. The European Space Agency mission flew past the 5km-wide rock at a distance of about 800km, taking pictures and recording other scientific data.

The information was sent back to Earth for processing late on Friday and released to the public on Saturday. The asteroid pass is a bonus for Rosetta. Its prime goal is to catch and orbit Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko out near Jupiter in 2014.

Friday's pass occurred about 360 million km from Earth, in between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, in the asteroid belt.

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Tiny Bug Takes Large Toll on Europe's Forests

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

CASTINCAL, PORTUGAL (Associated Press)—Manuel Coimbra watches in silence, his hands on his hips, as a lumberjack saws down one of his pine trees to stop a killer bug that experts say could wipe out large belts of European woodland.

The dense forests that blanket the hillsides of this rural area of west-central Portugal are the latest international conquest for the pest, which has caused ecological catastrophes in East Asia. Thousands of trees here are already dead, according to locals.

His land is on the front line of Europe's attempt to check pine wilt disease, which is spreading out of control in this southwestern corner of the continent and is a menace from Scandinavia to Italy and Greece.

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FDA to List Drugs Being Investigated

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

The Food and Drug Administration will begin posting every three months a list of drugs whose safety is under investigation because of complaints brought to the agency's attention by drug companies, physicians and patients.

The FDA will name the drug and the nature of the "adverse events" but will not describe their seriousness or the number of complaints received, officials said [Friday]. Being on the list does not mean the drug is unsafe, only that the FDA is looking into that possibility.

FDA officials said they realize that the new policy, required by changes to federal law enacted last year, may unintentionally alarm some patients.

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For the Brain, Remembering Is Like Reliving

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Scientists have for the first time recorded individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory, revealing not only where a remembered experience is registered but also, in part, how the brain is able to recreate it.

The recordings, taken from the brains of epilepsy patients being prepared for surgery, demonstrate that these spontaneous memories reside in some of the same neurons that fired most furiously when the recalled event had been experienced. Researchers had long theorized as much but until now had only indirect evidence.

Experts said the study had all but closed the case: For the brain, remembering is a lot like doing (at least in the short term, as the research says nothing about more distant memories).

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Mammoths Moved 'Out of America'

from the BBC News Online

Scientists have discovered that the last Siberian woolly mammoths may have originated in North America. Their research in the journal Current Biology represents the largest study of ancient woolly mammoth DNA.

The scientists also question the direct role of climate change in the eventual demise of these large beasts.

They believe that woolly mammoths survived through the period when the ice sheets were at their maximum, while other Ice Age mammals "crashed out." The iconic Ice Age woolly mammoth-Mammuthus primigenius-roamed through mainland Eurasia and North America until about 10,000 years ago.

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Study Finds No Autism Link in Vaccine

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

A common vaccine given to children to protect them against measles, mumps and rubella is not linked to autism, a study published [Wednesday] concludes. The findings contradict earlier research that had fueled fears of a possible link between childhood vaccinations and a steep increase in autism diagnoses.

In February 1998, the Lancet journal published a study by British researcher Andrew Wakefield of 12 children with autism and other behavioral problems that suggested the onset of their behavioral abnormalities was linked to receiving the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

The new study comes as the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington is in the midst of evaluating evidence on whether children's vaccines are implicated in causing autism.

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Milky Way's Black Hole Seen in New Detail

from Science News

New radio wave observations are giving astronomers their closest look yet at the supermassive black hole believed to be lurking at the center of our galaxy.

Reporting in the Sept. 4 Nature, a team has, for the first time, resolved features as small as the black hole’s event horizon—the gravitationally warped region from which nothing, not even light, can escape.

“We have now entered a new era, one in which we can directly image structure at the event horizon of a black hole,” asserts Christopher Reynolds of the University of Maryland in College Park in a commentary accompanying the Nature report.

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BPA Linked to Primate Health Issues

from the Seattle Times

WASHINGTON—Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine have linked a chemical found in everyday plastics to problems with brain function and mood disorders in monkeys, the first time the chemical has been connected to health problems in primates.

The study is the latest in an accumulation of research that has raises concerns about bisphenol A, or BPA, a compound that gives a shatterproof quality to polycarbonate plastic and has been found to leach from plastic into food and water.

The Yale study results come as federal toxicologists Wednesday reaffirmed an earlier draft-report finding that there is "some concern" bisphenol A can cause developmental problems in the brain and hormonal systems of infants and children.

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Doctors: New Way to Spot Breast Cancer Shows Promise

from USA Today

A radioactive tracer that "lights up" cancer hiding inside dense breasts showed promise in its first big test against mammograms, revealing more tumors and giving fewer false alarms, doctors reported Wednesday.

The experimental method—molecular breast imaging, or MBI—would not replace mammograms for women at average risk of the disease.

But it might become an additional tool for higher risk women with a lot of dense tissue that makes tumors hard to spot on mammograms, and it could be done at less cost than an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging.

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Cracking Anthrax

from the San Diego Union-Tribune (Registration Required)

Attacked by Bacillus anthracis in its most virulent form, the human body is no match. White blood cells dispatched to kill the pathogen wind up transporting anthrax spores back to key organs, where the bacteria burst forth in multitudes, flooding the bloodstream with death-dealing toxins.

By the time many victims realize they're infected, they're already doomed. Anthrax is an old nemesis.

... Robert Koch, a pioneer in microbiology, finally isolated the bacterium in 1877, helping launch a scientific effort to understand and overcome the microbe. That effort continues around the world, including inside labs at San Diego State University and the University of California San Diego. A driving motivation is fear, of course.

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How the Large Hadron Collider Might Change the Web

from the Scientific American

When the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) begins smashing protons together this fall inside its 17-mile-circumference underground particle racetrack near Geneva, Switzerland, it will usher in a new era not only of physics but also of computing.

Before the year is out, the LHC is projected to begin pumping out a tsunami of raw data equivalent to one DVD (five gigabytes) every five seconds. Its annual output of 15 petabytes (15 million gigabytes) will soon dwarf that of any other scientific experiment in history.

The challenge is making that data accessible to a scientist anywhere in the world at the execution of a few commands on her laptop. The solution is a global computer network called the LHC Computing Grid, and with any luck, it may be giving us a glimpse of the Internet of the future.

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A Changing Climate of Opinion?

from the Economist

There is a branch of science fiction that looks at the Earth’s neighbours, Mars and Venus, and asks how they might be made habitable. The answer is planetary engineering. ... So, fiddle with the atmospheres of these neighbours and you open new frontiers for human settlement and far-fetched story lines.

It is an intriguing idea. It may even come to pass, though probably not in the lifetime of anyone now reading such stories. But what is more worrying—and more real—is the idea that such planetary engineering may be needed to make the Earth itself habitable by humanity, and that it may be needed in the near future.

Reality has a way of trumping art, and human-induced climate change is very real indeed. So real that some people are asking whether science fiction should now be converted into science fact.

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Scientists Map Gene Changes Linked to Cancer

from the Chicago Tribune (Registration Required)

WASHINGTON (Associated Press)—Scientists have mapped the cascade of genetic changes that turn normal cells in the brain and pancreas into two of the most lethal cancers. The result points to a new approach for fighting tumors and maybe even catching them sooner.

Genes blamed for one person's brain tumor were different from the culprits for the next patient, making the puzzle of cancer genetics even more complicated. But Friday's research also found that clusters of seemingly disparate genes all work along the same pathways.

So instead of today's hunt for drugs that target a single gene, the idea is to target entire pathways that most patients share. Think of delivering the mail to a single box at the end of the cul-de-sac instead of at every doorstep. The three studies, published in the journals Science and Nature, mark a milestone in cancer genetics.

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Youth Suicide Rate Is Still High

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Suicides among U.S. adolescents dropped in 2005 after a sharp rise the previous year, but the number still remained high compared with historical trends, researchers said Tuesday.

The youth suicide rate had been falling steadily for a decade, but shot upward by 18% in 2004, boosted, according to some experts, by a government warning about antidepressants that led patients to stop taking the drugs.

The latest study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that the reaction triggered by the warning has subsided and patients are being treated with antidepressants or other therapies.

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Strongest Storms Grow Stronger Yet, Study Says

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

A new study finds that the strongest of hurricanes and typhoons have become even stronger over the last two and a half decades, adding grist to the contentious debate over whether global warming has already made storms more destructive.

“I think we do see a climate signal here,” said James B. Elsner, a professor of geography at Florida State University who is the lead author of the paper, being published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

The study, which also found that more typical, less powerful tropical storms had not become stronger over the 26-year period studied, is consistent with other researchers’ hurricane models, Dr. Elsner said.

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Major Ice-Shelf Loss for Canada

from the BBC News Online

The ice shelves in Canada's High Arctic have lost a colossal area this year, scientists report. The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years, have seen almost a quarter of their cover break away.

One of them, the 50 sq km (20 sq miles) Markham shelf, has completely broken off to become floating sea-ice. Researchers say warm air temperatures and reduced sea-ice conditions in the region have assisted the break-up.

"These substantial calving events underscore the rapidity of changes taking place in the Arctic," said Trent University's Dr Derek Mueller. "These changes are irreversible under the present climate."

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The Incredible Journey Taken by Our Genes

from the Guardian (UK)

Sixty thousand years ago, a small group of African men and women took to the Red Sea in tiny boats and crossed the Mandab Strait to Asia. Their journey-of less than 20 miles-marked the moment Homo sapiens left its home continent.

The motive for our ancestors' African exodus is not known, though scientists suspect food shortages, triggered by climate change, were involved. However, its impact cannot be overestimated. Two thousand generations later, descendants of these African emigres have settled our entire planet, wiped out all other hominids including the Neanderthals and have reached a population of 6.5 billion.

Now scientists are completing a massive study of DNA samples from a quarter of a million volunteers in different continents in order to create the most precise map yet of mankind's great diaspora. Last week, in Tallinn, Estonia, they outlined their most recent results.

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Electrons as Math Whizzes

from Science News

If two physicists are right, a single electron might know more about numbers than all of the world’s mathematicians. In an upcoming Physical Review Letters, the researchers hint that the dynamics of an electron can embody the solution to the nearly 150-year-old Riemann hypothesis, a crucial unsolved problem that has wide and deep consequences for number theory.

Germán Sierra of the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid and Paul Townsend of the University of Cambridge in England have proposed that when an electron is confined to moving in two dimensions, its possible energy level values might encode the key to the Riemann hypothesis.

“They have gone a step forward toward giving a physical description of the Riemann hypothesis,” comments Jonathan Keating of the University of Bristol in England. He warns, though, that the problem may not have gotten any easier as a result.

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High-Aptitude Minds: The Neurological Roots of Genius

from the Scientific American

Within hours of his demise in 1955, Albert Einstein’s brain was salvaged, sliced into 240 pieces and stored in jars for safekeeping. Since then, researchers have weighed, measured and otherwise inspected these biological specimens of genius in hopes of uncovering clues to Einstein’s spectacular intellect.

Their cerebral explorations are part of a century-long effort to uncover the neural basis of high intelligence or, in children, giftedness. Traditionally, 2 to 5 percent of kids qualify as gifted, with the top 2 percent scoring above 130 on an intelligence quotient (IQ) test.

A high IQ increases the probability of success in various academic areas. Children who are good at reading, writing or math also tend to be facile at the other two areas and to grow into adults who are skilled at diverse intellectual tasks. Most studies show that smarter brains are typically bigger—at least in certain locations.

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More Women at the Top

from the Scientist (Registration Required)

While women are entering the sciences and health professions in record numbers, the percentage that achieves positions of leadership lags far behind that of male scientists. This deficit of high-ranking female science leaders represents both a business and equity issue.

Diversity, including gender diversity, has come to be recognized as an essential component in the development and maintenance of strong, creative, and competitive organizations. This is achieved not through tokenism but by the presence of a "critical mass" of women and other minorities in leadership roles.

An increasing number of programs address the "pipeline" issue - ensuring that there are capable, qualified women and minority scientists in entry-level positions. Several programs ... have been successful in training and supporting women at the beginning to midlevel stages of their careers. Unfortunately, the pipeline leaks.

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Government Questions Safety of Plastic in Baby Bottles

from the Oregonian

Government toxicologists have reiterated safety concerns about a chemical used in baby bottles and food containers, just weeks after the Food and Drug Administration declared the substance safe.

A report issued Wednesday said there is "some concern" that bisphenol A can cause developmental problems in the brain and hormonal systems of infants and children.

The conclusion from the National Toxicology Program repeats initial findings issued in April. The group -- which includes scientists from the National Institutes of Health and other agencies -- said bisphenol's risks to humans cannot be ruled out, but acknowledged its concerns are based on the findings of studies on animals.

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Oldest Skeleton in Americas Found in Underwater Cave?

from National Geographic News

Deep inside an underwater cave in Mexico, archaeologists may have discovered the oldest human skeleton ever found in the Americas.

Dubbed Eva de Naharon, or Eve of Naharon, the female skeleton has been dated at 13,600 years old. If that age is accurate, the skeleton—along with three others found in underwater caves along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula—could provide new clues to how the Americas were first populated.

The remains have been excavated over the past four years near the town of Tulum, about 80 miles southwest of Cancún, by a team of scientists led by Arturo González, director of the Desert Museum in Saltillo, Mexico.

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About Death, Just Like Us or Pretty Much Unaware?

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

As anybody who has grieved inconsolably over the death of a loved one can attest, extended mourning is, in part, a perverse kind of optimism. Surely this bottomless, unwavering sorrow will amount to something, goes the tape loop. Surely if I keep it up long enough I’ll accomplish my goal, and the person will stop being dead.

Last week the Internet and European news outlets were flooded with poignant photographs of Gana, an 11-year-old gorilla at the Münster Zoo in Germany, holding up the body of her dead baby, Claudio, and pursing her lips toward his lifeless fingers.

Claudio died at the age of 3 months of an apparent heart defect, and for days Gana refused to surrender his corpse to zookeepers, a saga that provoked among her throngs of human onlookers admiration and compassion and murmurings that, you see? Gorillas, and probably a lot of other animals as well, have a grasp of their mortality and will grieve for the dead and are really just like us after all.

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Gaming Evolves

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

NEW HAVEN—By day, Thomas Near studies the evolution of fish, wading through streams in Kentucky and Mississippi in search of new species. By night, Dr. Near, an assistant professor at Yale, is a heavy-duty gamer, steering tanks or playing football on his computer. This afternoon his two lives have come together.

On his laptop swims a strange fishlike creature, with a jaw that snaps sideways and skin the color of green sea glass. As Dr. Near taps the keyboard, it wiggles and twists its way through a busy virtual ocean. It tries to eat other creatures and turns its quills toward predators that would make it a meal.

... Dr. Near has spent a few evenings testing out Spore, one of the most eagerly anticipated video games in the history of the industry. ... It starts with single-cell microbes and follows them through their evolution into intelligent multicellular creatures that can build civilizations, colonize the galaxy and populate new planets.

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Galactic Supercrash Proves Rarity of Antimatter

from New Scientist

The collision of entire clusters of galaxies has helped set the strongest limit yet on the amount of antimatter in the universe. The research suggests that if antimatter exists in large amounts, it may have been pushed to the far reaches of the universe in the moments after the big bang.

In the early universe, the theory goes, matter and antimatter–which has the same mass as matter, but the opposite charge–should have been created in equal amounts. But as far as we can tell, our universe is made of matter.

In our galaxy, for instance, no primordial anti-protons or anti-helium atoms have been found by satellite or balloon-based experiments. "It's clear to a very high level of precision that our galaxy is made of [what] we by convention call 'ordinary matter'," says Gary Steigman of Ohio State University in Columbus.

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Study Links Gene Variant in Men to Marital Discord

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

Men are more likely to be devoted and loyal husbands when they lack a particular variant of a gene that influences brain activity, researchers announced [Monday]—the first time that science has shown a direct link between a man's genes and his aptitude for monogamy.

The finding is striking because it not only links the gene variant—which is present in two of every five men—with the risk of marital discord and divorce, but also appears to predict whether women involved with these men are likely to say their partners are emotionally close and available, or distant and disagreeable.

The presence of the gene variant, or allele, also seems predictive of whether men get married or live with women without getting married.

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