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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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