the digest

Human brain result of ‘extraordinarily fast’ evolution

December 29, 2004

New research by Bruce Lahn, an assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago, suggests that humans evolved their cognitive abilities not owing to a few sporadic and accidental genetic mutations but rather from an enormous number of mutations in a short period of time, acquired though an intense selection process favoring complex cognitive abilities.

Lahn suggests that the development of human society may be the reason.… read more

Antibiotic Resistant Bacterium Uses Sonar-Like Strategy to ‘See’ Enemies Or Prey

December 28, 2004

Scientists have found that bacteria can use a Sonar-like system to spot other cells (either normal body cells or other bacteria) and target them for destruction.

Reported in the December 24 issue of Science, this finding explains how some bacteria know when to produce a toxin that makes infection more severe. It may lead to the design of new toxin inhibitors.

Schepens Eye Research Institute newsread more

Intense physical activity may help people maintain cognitive skills as they age

December 28, 2004

Longer and more intense physical activity may help people maintain their cognitive skills as they age, according to a 10-year study of elderly men published in the December 28, 2004 issue of Neurology.

The study showed that over 10 years the cognitive decline in men who had reduced their daily physical activity by an hour or more was 2.6 times greater than the decline in men who maintained their… read more

What We Can Learn from Robots

December 28, 2004

Mitsuo Kawato, director of the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, believes that experiments on humanoid robots can provide simplified models of what certain groups of neurons in the brain are doing.

Then, using advanced imaging techniques, he looks at whether brain cells in monkeys and humans accord with the models.

By combining magnetic-resonance imaging, which offers millimeter-level resolution, with electrical and magnetic recording techniques, which resolve… read more

First ‘atlas’ of key brain genes could speed research on cancer, neurological diseases

December 28, 2004

Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have compiled the first atlas showing the locations of crucial gene regulators, or switches that determine how different parts of the brain develop — and, in some cases, develop abnormally or malfunction.

The scientists say the map will accelerate research on brain tumors and neurological diseases that result from mutations in these switch genes, called “transcription factors.”

Just How Old Can He Go?

December 27, 2004

Emerging trends in medicine, biotechnology and nanotechnology open a realistic path to immortality, says Ray Kurzweil in his new book, “Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever,” co-authored by Terry Grossman, M.D.

Natural selection acts on the quantum world

December 27, 2004

Objective reality may owe its existence to a “quantum darwinisn” process that promotes certain quantum states by natural selection, say physicists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Information about these states proliferates and gets imprinted on the environment. So observers coming along and looking at the environment in order to get a picture of the world tend to see the same “preferred” states.

‘Jumping Gene’ Helps Explain Immune System’s Abilities

December 23, 2004

A team led by Johns Hopkins scientists has found the first clear evidence that the process behind the human immune system’s remarkable ability to recognize and respond to a million different proteins might have originated from “jumping genes,” whose only apparent function is to jump around in genetic material.

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions news release

Grape Seed May Protect Brain

December 23, 2004

University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers have reported the first direct evidence that a grape-seed extract affects specific proteins in healthy brains in ways that may protect against future age-related dementia.

Grape-seed-extract supplements are thought to have health benefits due to their high content of polyphenolic compounds, which have been shown to have high antioxidant activity

New graphic displays for the blind

December 23, 2004

A new, lower-cost mechanism may replace Braille for graphical tactile displays for the blind.

The displays use metallic films featuring various shape-memory alloys (SMAs) produced layer by layer on silicon wafers using thin-film technology. Display pixels are generated when the SMA metallic film is deformed by heat pulses. The movement of the films is then transferred to the touch panel via plastic pins that can be detected by the… read more

Mobile-phone radiation damages lab DNA

December 23, 2004

Radiation from cellular phones harms the DNA in human cells, according to an extensive, pan-European laboratory study.

The researchers found that levels of radiation equivalent to those from a phone prompted breaks in individual strands of DNA in a variety of human cells. These types of damage have been linked with cancer. The level of injury increased with the intensity of radiation and the length of exposure.

The… read more

Stem-Cell Method May Cheat Death

December 23, 2004

A reproductive research team could have an answer to the ethical and scientific conundrums presented by the pursuit of stem-cell treatments: remove one cell from a very early embryo that has developed to about eight cells (called a morula), and derive stem cells from that single cell.

The embryo would still have the potential to develop into a human if implanted into a womb.

New technique provides insights into gene regulation

December 22, 2004

University of Toronto researchers have developed a technique to accurately monitor the level of individual exons (coding segments of DNA) used to produce different mRNAs.

Monitoring the production of mRNA in more detail will help understand diseases in which out-of-control RNA splicing is involved and will suggest new treatments.

University of Toronto news release

Nanotubes Form Along Atomic Steps

December 22, 2004

Weizmann Institute of Science researchers have developed a new approach to aligning carbon nanotubes by forming the nanotubes on a sapphire wafer surface.

The orientation of nanotubes on these wafers follows the surfaces’ crystal planes at the atomic level. Changing how the sapphire surface is cut would produce different nanowire arrangements.

The research may eventually make it possible to assemble nanowires in ordered arrays for the production of… read more

Dr Raj Reddy makes PCs talk the masses language

December 22, 2004

Raj Reddy, Head of the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Lab, is using AI and speech recognition software to empower illiterates in villages in India to use computers.

The computer will also serve as a low-cost TV, DVD player/recorder and conferencing unit.

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