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No-Fishing Zones Studied for Ecosystem Protection

from the Rocky Mountain News

DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK, Fla. (Associated Press) - Reeling in a 45-pound grouper used to be just an average day on the water in the Florida Keys. The abundance of behemoth fish attracted anglers from around the world in the early 1900s ...

But as Florida's population boomed, the attraction that drew them began to vanish. Anglers were snapping up the larger fish by the thousands. An average grouper caught in the Keys now is about eight pounds.

"We were starting to look like a Third World nation in regards to having blitzed our resources," said University of Miami marine biologist Jerald Ault. Ault and others are studying whether putting large tracts of ocean off-limits to fishing in the Keys can help species rebound - and prove a way to help reverse the effects of overfishing worldwide.

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Mitochondrial Disease Strikes at the Cellular Level

from the San Diego Union-Tribune (Registration Required)

At 8 months old, Mikey Tighe suffered an unexplained seizure but recovered. Over the next two years, the Spring Valley boy "got every kind of test imaginable," said his mother, Grace. "Everything came back negative."

Then, just before his third birthday in 2005, Mikey went into severe respiratory distress, unable to breathe. Again, he recovered, but no cause was found. Less than a year later, he had a second mysterious respiratory attack ...

... Mikey was eventually diagnosed with Leigh's syndrome, one of a diverse group of disorders that fall under the broad classification of mitochondrial disease (MD). It's an inherited condition, the result of a defect or mutation in Mikey's mitochondria - the tiny organelles found in every nucleated cell in the human body.

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The Hole at the Bottom of the Moon

from Nature News

Dhofar 961 wasn't like the other Moon rocks. Looking at its freshly cut face, geochemist Randy Korotev noticed immediately how dark it was - almost purple - and that it contained big metallic grains. It was so different from anything he'd seen before that he began to wonder. Was it from the 'big one'?

Korotev, of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, already knew that Dhofar 961 was a piece of the Moon, chipped off by some anonymous impact so that it escaped the Moon's feeble gravitational grasp and succumbed to Earth's. Tens of thousands of years ago, Dhofar 961 fell into the Oman desert.

A few years ago, it fell into the hands of collectors eager to make a buck. ... Korotev bought a sliver, and sacrificed a third of it for a chemical analysis that confirmed his suspicions.

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Scientists Seek to Sort Sundry Names for Sealife

from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Registration Required)

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - The underwater world and the underworld have at least one thing in common - lots of aliases.

The Census of Marine Life, an effort to catalog all species of life in the oceans, has validated 122,500 species names so far, as well as 56,400 aliases, different names that have been applied to the same species over the years.

"Convincing warnings about declining fish and other marine species must rest on a valid census," Mark Costello of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said in a statement.

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Losing Sleep

from Science News

If you've got rhythm, thank a pair of RNA-binding proteins. A new study in mice shows that the way these proteins function is crucial for synchronizing the biological clocks throughout a person's body.

The study aimed to understand the source of a symptom in people with Fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited form of mental retardation and the most common known cause of autism.

The syndrome is caused by a defect in a gene called fragile X mental retardation 1 or FMR1. People with the syndrome often have unusual sleeping patterns. ... Many neurological disorders are accompanied by sleep difficulties ... but the reason for those sleeping problems is often unknown.

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Using Causality to Solve the Puzzle of Quantum Spacetime

from the Scientific American

How did space and time come about? How did they form the smooth four-dimensional emptiness that serves as a backdrop for our physical world? What do they look like at the very tiniest distances?

Questions such as these lie at the outer boundary of modern science and are driving the search for a theory of quantum gravity - the long-sought unification of Einstein's general theory of relativity with quantum theory.

Relativity theory describes how spacetime on large scales can take on countless different shapes, producing what we perceive as the force of gravity. In contrast, quantum theory describes the laws of physics at atomic and subatomic scales, ignoring gravitational effects altogether.

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Tropical Ocean Sucks Up Vast Amounts of Ozone

from New Scientist

An important mechanism for sucking ozone and methane out of the atmosphere has been discovered over the tropical Atlantic. The finding reveals how the two greenhouse gasses are kept in check by natural chemical reactions.

Researchers warn, however, that there is a risk the process could be overpowered by rising industrial pollution.

The data collected in Cape Verde, off the western coast of Africa, suggests that 50 percent more ozone is being destroyed above the tropical Atlantic Ocean than previously thought, because of halogens released by the seawater.

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Rotavirus Vaccine Proves Highly Effective

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

A rotavirus vaccine approved in 2006 is having a significant impact in the United States, delaying the onset of the rotavirus season by three months and reducing its severity by about half, federal officials said Wednesday.

The incidence of rotavirus activity during the first months of 2008 was the lowest it has been since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began monitoring the illness 15 years ago, researchers from the agency reported in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The highly contagious virus is the leading cause of severe vomiting and diarrhea in infants and young children in the United States and around the world. Each year in this country, it causes more than 400,000 physician office visits, as many as 272,000 emergency-room visits, up to 70,000 hospitalizations and 20 to 60 deaths.

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Sun-Loving Frogs Aid Fungus Fight

from the BBC News Online

Sunbathing tree frogs may hold the key to understanding how a deadly fungus is wiping out amphibians around the world. The chytrid fungus has been implicated in many amphibian extinctions.

Now scientists are using non-invasive imaging technology to find out how some frogs from Central America may be able to beat this deadly disease.

They believe that the frogs' unusual skin is allowing the animals to bask in hot sunlight, possibly boosting their temperatures to kill off the fungus.

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Asteroid Impact Made Mars Two-Faced

from the Telegraph(UK)

A massive impact with an asteroid that measured around 400 miles across is the reason that Mars is a planet of two distinct halves, where the northern and southern hemispheres look different.

This strange feature was first observed by Nasa's Viking missions to Mars in the 1970s and ever since scientists have puzzled over why there are relatively young, smooth, low-lying plains in the north and relatively old, heavily cratered highlands in the south.

The mystery deepened 20 years later, when the Mars Global Surveyor probe showed that the crust of the planet is much thicker in the south and also revealed magnetic anomalies in the southern hemisphere but not in the north.

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Fishy Ancestors of Humans Surprisingly Diverse

from National Geographic News

The fishlike ancestors of humans and other land animals were a surprisingly diverse bunch, according to a new fossil reconstruction of the transitory species Ventastega curonica.

The aquatic creature, which lived during the late Devonian period about 365 million years ago, represented an evolutionary midpoint between Tiktaalik, one of the earliest fish to clamber onto land, and primitive four-legged land animals, or tetrapods.

"Ventastega gives clues to what the very earliest tetrapods looked like," said study leader Per Ahlberg of Uppsala University in Sweden. Ventastega was first described from a few bone fragments unearthed in Latvia in 1994, but it took additional years of excavation and the discovery of remains from many more individuals before scientists had a good idea of what the creature looked like.

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Gene-Testing Firms Face Legal Battle

from Nature News

Last Wednesday, as California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger prepared to tell a biotechnology industry convention in San Diego that his state "is one of the best places to set up shop," Kári Stefansson was opening a letter that had just landed on his desk at deCODE genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The letter read: "It has come to the attention of the California Department of Public Health…that deCODEme Genetics is in violation of California law" for failing to have a clinical laboratory licence in the state and offering genetic tests to consumers resident in the state without a physician's order.

It gave deCODE until 23 June to submit a plan showing how it would correct the situation, or face "civil and/or criminal sanctions." Stefansson's high-profile company is one of 13 genetic-testing firms that have been targeted during the past two weeks by the California agency with a letter to "cease and desist" selling tests to California's residents. The directive poses a serious challenge to plans for a new era of Internet-based, direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

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CDC: About 8 Percent of Americans Have Diabetes

from the Chicago Tribune (Registration Required)

ATLANTA (Associated Press) - The number of Americans with diabetes has grown to about 24 million people, or roughly 8 percent of the U.S. population, the government said Tuesday.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on data from 2007, said the number represents an increase of about 3 million over two years. The CDC estimates another 57 million people have blood sugar abnormalities called pre-diabetes, which puts people at increased risk for the disease.

The percentage of people unaware that they have diabetes fell from 30 percent to 25 percent, according to the study. Dr. Ann Albright, director of the CDC Division of Diabetes Translation, said the report has "both good news and bad news."

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New Pieces in the Climate-Change Puzzle

from the Christian Science Monitor

Forecasting climate change is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle when you don't know its overall pattern. Sometimes you find a piece you didn't even know was missing.

A discovery that arid deserts may be soaking up a lot of carbon dioxide is a case in point. And other times you see a puzzle piece in a helpful new perspective. That has just happened in a study of how nitrogen fixation affects the CO2-absorbing capacity of forests.

The latter takes some explaining. It involves subtleties of plant and soil chemistry that scientists are just beginning to appreciate.

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Genetic Mutation Can Raise Alzheimer's Risk

from the San Francisco Chronicle

An international team of researchers has spotted a previously unknown genetic mutation that can raise the risk of Alzheimer's disease by 44 percent and is carried by about a quarter of the U.S. and European populations studied.

It is only the second gene ever linked to so-called late-onset Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of the devastating brain-wasting condition that afflicts 5.2 million Americans and creates untold heartache for victims and their families.

The first gene linked to the late-onset condition, which affects people over age 65 - was discovered 15 years ago. That finding has yet to lead to meaningful therapies. Researchers said the newly implicated genetic flaw, a mutation in a gene called CALHM1, plays a role in biological processes within the brain that may be more amenable to treatment.

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Inventor Nabs $500,000 MIT Prize

from the News and Observer(Raleigh, N.C.)

The allure of creating things hasn't let go of Joseph DeSimone since he concocted a vial of purple crystals in high school. A co-founder of Liquidia Technologies and a chemist who holds posts at two Triangle [North Carolina] universities, DeSimone is caught up in experimenting as national attention for his work and his collection of accolades continue to grow.

Wednesday, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology named DeSimone, 44, the winner of this year's Lemelson Prize. Known as the "Oscar for inventors," the award pays $500,000 cash.

... DeSimone won the award because of his diverse contributions in the field of polymers, man-made materials better known as plastics. He has coaxed these materials to dissolve, fill microscopically small molds and protect the environment.

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Unwrapping the Chocolate Genome

from the Washington Post (Registration Required)

To save chocolate lovers from the agony of a potential candy bar shortage, McLean candy giant Mars is investing $10 million in a five-year project to develop cacao trees that fight drought, disease and poor harvests.

Mars will announce today that it is partnering with IBM and the Department of Agriculture to sequence and analyze the entire cocoa genome. The team will be identifying the characteristics that make a better cacao tree. Then it plans to breed the genetically superior specimens to battle the foes that have shrunk the number of beans to make chocolate over the years.

... Unlocking the secrets of the genome and eliminating the guesswork in traditional breeding could bring economic stability to the 6.5 million small family cocoa farmers around the world and help fend off the environmental assaults that inflict $700 million to $800 million in damages to farmers each year ...

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Doctors Say Medication Is Overused in Dementia

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Ramona Lamascola thought she was losing her 88-year-old mother to dementia. Instead, she was losing her to overmedication.

Last fall her mother, Theresa Lamascola, of the Bronx, suffering from anxiety and confusion, was put on the antipsychotic drug Risperdal. When she had trouble walking, her daughter took her to another doctor ... who found that she had unrecognized hypothyroidism, a disorder that can contribute to dementia.

Theresa Lamascola was moved to a nursing home to get these problems under control. But things only got worse. ... The psychiatrist in the nursing home stopped the Risperdal, which can cause twitching and vocal tics, and prescribed a sedative and two other antipsychotics.

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Florida Strikes $1.7B Everglades Deal with Big Sugar

from the Miami Herald (Registration Required)

ELLINGTON, Fla. (Associated Press) - In one of the biggest conservation deals in U.S. history, the nation's largest producer of cane sugar reached a tentative agreement Tuesday to get out of the business and sell its nearly 300 square miles in the Everglades to the state of Florida for $1.75 billion.

The deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. results from a convergence of interests: The state is trying to restore the Everglades and clean up pollution caused by Big Sugar and other growers, while the American sugar industry is being squeezed by low-price imports.

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist declared the agreement "as monumental as the creation of our nation's first national park, Yellowstone." Under the deal, the state would buy U.S. Sugar's holdings in the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee, including its cane fields, mill and railroad line. U.S. Sugar would be allowed to farm the 187,000 acres for six more years, after which it would go out of business.

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From a Prominent Death, Some Painful Truths

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

Apart from its sadness, Tim Russert's death this month at 58 was deeply unsettling to many people who, like him, had been earnestly following their doctors' advice on drugs, diet and exercise in hopes of avoiding a heart attack.

Mr. Russert, the moderator of "Meet the Press" on NBC News, took blood pressure and cholesterol pills and aspirin, rode an exercise bike, had yearly stress tests and other exams and was dutifully trying to lose weight. But he died of a heart attack anyway.

An article in The New York Times last week about his medical care led to e-mail from dozens of readers insisting that something must have been missed, that if only he had been given this test or that, his doctors would have realized how sick he was and prescribed more medicine or recommended bypass surgery. Clearly, there was sorrow for Mr. Russert's passing, but also nervous indignation. ... People are not supposed to die this way anymore ...

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NASA Warming Scientist: 'This Is the Last Chance'

from the San Francisco Examiner

WASHINGTON (Associated Press) - Exactly 20 years after warning America about global warming, a top NASA scientist said the situation has gotten so bad that the world's only hope is drastic action.

James Hansen told Congress on Monday that the world has long passed the "dangerous level" for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and needs to get back to 1988 levels. He said Earth's atmosphere can only stay this loaded with man-made carbon dioxide for a couple more decades without changes such as mass extinction, ecosystem collapse and dramatic sea level rises.

"We're toast if we don't get on a very different path," Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences who is sometimes called the godfather of global warming science, told The Associated Press. "This is the last chance."

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Analysis: U.S. Poor Are Vulnerable to 'Neglected' Diseases

from USA Today

Tropical diseases that ravage Africa, Asia and Latin America commonly occur among the poor in the USA, leaving thousands of people shattered by debilitating complications including mental retardation, heart disease and epilepsy, an analysis showed Monday.

The diseases, caused by chronic viral, bacterial and parasitic infections, disproportionately strike women and children and are largely overlooked by doctors, says author Peter Hotez of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, part of Sabin Vaccine Institute.

Hotez says the diseases go untreated in hundreds of thousands of poor people who live mainly in inner cities, the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and the Mexican borderlands.

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Coal May Hold Solution to Gas Prices

from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Later this year, a plant in China will begin churning out liquid fuel made from coal, a technology that - if all breaks right for the coal industry - is headed to American shores.

From the CTLtec Americas 2008, which begins today at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown, to Capitol Hill, coal-to-liquids is a popular topic, spurred by rising gasoline prices and this country's ever-present need to wean itself from oil imports.

Coal-to-liquid proponents insist that the technology would strengthen national security and be a cheaper alternative than current petroleum. ... Still, coal-to-liquid plants would cost several billion dollars to build, and if the whims of OPEC were to drive down oil prices, there would be little market for a more expensive domestic product. That's why the coal industry has taken its case to Washington.

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Hopkins Reports Success with MS Treatment

from the Baltimore Sun

On a typical weekday, Richard Bauer jogs 2 1/2 miles near his White Marsh home and then drives to Baltimore, where he is a first-year radiography student. After a full day of lectures, he likes to relax by reading Japanese Performance and Motorcyclist.

... Life wasn't always this way for Bauer. In recent years, he couldn't muster the strength to get out of bed. In 2004, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis, which left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair for more than a year. Then Bauer tried an experimental drug regimen, and his body reacted in a manner that surprised everyone: The debilitating symptoms of MS almost disappeared.

Writing this month in a medical journal, Johns Hopkins researchers reported unexpected success in the treatment of Bauer and other MS patients who received a high dose of an immunosuppressant drug known as cyclophosphamide.

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Where You Vote Affects How You Vote

from Nature News

In November 2004, Christian Wheeler stood in line at a local church and waited to cast his ballot in the US presidential election, which pitted President George W. Bush against the democratic candidate, John Kerry. As Wheeler waited, his thoughts began to wander.

"I was thinking about the election and how Bush was highly affiliated with religion," says Wheeler, "and it occurred to me that this church couldn't possibly be a neutral location. This has to be affecting people’s thoughts."

So Wheeler, a professor of marketing at Stanford University in California, decided to study whether the location of a polling station can influence how people vote. The results, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that his early musings may have been correct: in an Arizona election, those who voted in schools were slightly more likely to support a proposition to increase funding for education.

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Rubik's Cube Inspired Puzzles Demonstrate Math's "Simple Groups"

from the Scientific American

Millions of people have been perplexed at one time or another by Rubik's Cube, a fascinating puzzle that took the world by storm in the 1980s. ... The object of the puzzle is to put an arbitrarily scrambled cube back into its original state, one solid color per face, thereby "solving" the cube.

Rubik's Cube, Rubik’s polyhedra and all the many knockoffs that have appeared in the cube's wake are known as permutation puzzles because they are based on moves that rearrange, or permute, the puzzle pieces ... Permutation puzzles are closely related to a mathematical entity called a permutation group, the set of all the sequences of allowable moves that lead to distinct arrangements of the objects in the puzzle.

... A new set of puzzles inspired by Rubik's Cube offers puzzle lovers the chance to get acquainted with the secret twists and turns of mathematical entities called sporadic simple groups.

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Apnea May End Healthy Dip in Blood Pressure

from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

People who stop breathing during sleep are more likely to lose their expected - and beneficial - drop in nighttime blood pressure, according to a new study by University of Wisconsin researchers.

This brings scientists one step closer to understanding how sleep apnea, characterized by brief pauses in breathing during sleep, contributes to the development of various cardiovascular diseases.

"We and other people have already found that sleep apnea is related to cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, strokes and heart failure. We're always looking to see what are the mechanisms by which sleep apnea causes bad cardiovascular outcomes," said Khin Mae Hla, professor at UW-Madison and lead author of the study, which is published in the June issue of Sleep.

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Follow the Silt

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

LITITZ, Pa. - Dorothy J. Merritts, a geology professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., was not looking to turn hydrology on its ear when she started scouting possible research sites for her students a few years ago.

But when she examined photographs of the steep, silty banks of the West Branch of Little Conestoga Creek, something did not look right. The silt was laminated, deposited in layers. She asked a colleague, Robert C. Walter, an expert on sediment, for his opinion.

"Those are not stream sediments," he told her. "Those are pond sediments." In short, the streamscape was not what she thought. That observation led the two scientists to collaborate on a research project on the region's waterways.

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Researchers Hit a Homer with 'The Odyssey'

from the Los Angeles Times (Registration Required)

Delving into a 3,000-year-old mystery using astronomical clues in Homer's "The Odyssey," researchers said Monday they have dated one of the most heralded events of Western literature: Odysseus' slaughter of his wife's suitors upon his return from the Trojan War.

According to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the wily hero who devised the Trojan Horse hefted his mighty bow on April 16, 1178 BC, and executed the unruly crowd who had taken over his home and was trying to force his wife into marriage.

The finding leaves many perennial questions unanswered, such as whether the events portrayed actually occurred or whether the blind poet Homer was the author of the tale. But it casts a new sheen of veracity on a story that has existed in a hazy realm of fantasy and history since it was first composed 400 years after the Trojan War.

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Towns Question Fluoride Use

from the Chicago Tribune (Registration Required)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The great American assault on tooth decay began here 63 years ago, earning Grand Rapids a special place in the annals of dental history: the first city in the world to fluoridate its public water system.

So it is more than a little head-scratching that fluoride, the chemical widely credited with dramatically cutting cavities and promoting oral hygiene, is having its scientific credentials questioned in the city that literally swallowed it first.

The belated questioning of fluoride in the most unlikely of places stems partly from unsettled questions - some new, some old - about possible links to cancer and thyroid and kidney problems if too much fluoride is ingested. But the push here mirrors a spreading nationwide awareness and re-examination of the health impact of a wide variety of chemicals added to food, health-care products and water, as well as the use of pesticides.

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