science + technology news

Recount slashes number of human genes

October 21, 2004

Humans have just 20,000 to 25,000 genes, less than previous estimates of 27,000 to 40,000, says the latest analysis of the human genome.

The latest gene count reveals that researchers overestimated the number of genes lurking in heavily-duplicated regions of the human genome, which are extremely tricky to sequence because they are repeated DNA sequences.

A separate study has found detailed flaws in Venter’s “shotgun” sequencing, the more… read more

Biochip spots single viruses

October 21, 2004

Environmental sensors and handheld devices that quickly and easily detect and identify individual viruses would provide early warning of infections in individuals, the spread of disease in populations, and biological weapons attacks.

Harvard University researchers led by Charles Lieber, a professor of chemistry, have built a detector from nanowire transistors that can identify individual virus particles in real time in unpurified samples. The prototype uses antibody proteins attached to… read more

From a Physicist and New Nobel Winner, Some Food for Thought

October 20, 2004

Nobel Prize winner Dr. David Gross has listed the most enticing items that physics had learned enough to be ignorant about in 25 different areas.

Physicists are injecting themselves into the search for the origin of consciousness and other life science issues; not content to muse about building quantum computers, they are thinking of training computers themselves to be physicists.

Bacteria are Genetically Modified by Lightning

October 20, 2004

University of Lyon researchers have found that lightning opens up pores in soil bacteria, allowing them to pick up any stray DNA present.

The researchers suspect the phenomenon is widespread, speeding up the rate at which bacteria evolve. Genetic studies show bacteria frequently pick up foreign genes, usually from other bacteria, but natural DNA uptake rates are too sluggish to explain the observed diversity.

Scientists Detect Two Decision-making Pathways in Human Brain

October 20, 2004

New research suggests why people are often torn between impulsively choosing immediate rewards or more deliberatively planning for the future: human decision-making is influenced by the interactions of two distinct systems in the brain which are often at odds.

Study participants made choices between immediate and longer-term rewards. When participants chose between incentives that included an immediate reward, fMRI scans indicated heightened activity in parts of the brain, such… read more

Scientists Seek to Create ‘Three-Parent’ Babies

October 20, 2004

UK Scientists are applying for a license to create human embryos with three genetic parents: their cells would contain a nucleus with genes from both parents, and their mitochondria would be from a woman other than the mother.

The aim is ultimately to prevent children from inheriting genetic diseases caused by mutations in DNA housed by their mitochondria — components of cells that produce energy.

‘Knowledge Discovery’ Could Speed Research

October 20, 2004

Purdue University researchers are developing a “data-rich” environment for scientific discovery that uses high-performance computing and artificial intelligence software to display information and interact with researchers in the language of their specific disciplines.

It allows experts to talk naturally in their own specific scientific language, so they don’t have to deal with computerese and can take full advantage of advanced visualization capabilities to enhance the scientific discovery process.… read more

Gravity Constant Called Into Question

October 20, 2004

Researchers suggest that one of nature’s venerable constants — gravity (G) — may not be the same for every type of particle in the universe.

Calculations by John Barrow of Cambridge University and Robert Scherrer of Vanderbilt University suggest that G could have been smaller for photons than for other particles in the early universe.

The work might explain the lower abundance of helium seen, because the expansion… read more

Guiding Light Through Liquids and Gases on a Chip

October 20, 2004

UC Santa Cruz researchers have reported the first demonstration of integrated optical waveguides with liquid cores, a technology that enables light propagation through small volumes of liquids on a chip.

The new technology has a wide range of potential applications, including chemical and biological sensors with single-molecule sensitivity.

UC Santa Cruz news release

‘Energy Blocker’ Kills Big Tumors in Rats

October 20, 2004

Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered that an apparently nontoxic cellular “energy blocker” can eradicate large liver tumors grown in rats.

The chemical, 3-bromopyruvate, blocks cancer cells’ conversion of sugar into usable energy, a process necessary to fuel the cells’ functions and growth, but appears so far to have little or no effect on normal tissues. Clinical trials are not likely for several years.

Johns Hopkinsread more

Plasma Beam Eyed in Space Travel

October 19, 2004

A University of Washington team is pioneering the concept of the Mag-beam, (magnetized-beam plasma propulsion), which could significantly shorten the time it takes to travel to other planets.

A space-based outpost station would generate a high-energy plasma beam aimed at a spaceship equipped with a sail, resulting in it being thrust out into space. Plasma beam stations at each end of the interplanetary flight path would speed up and… read more

Sealing Corneal Incisions with a Drop of Chemistry

October 19, 2004

Boston University researchers have produced an elastic, transparent hydrogel with properties allowing it to seal corneal incision.

The researchers used dendritic macromolecules — polymer complexes capable of extensive molecule-to-molecule linking which can be designed to meet very precise specifications — to formulate the hydrogel.

The hydrogel could have advantages over traditional sutures since the physical barrier that the hydrogel forms on the eye could help prevent infection. In… read more

Power on a Chip

October 19, 2004

MIT researchers have built a turbine engine with blades that span an area smaller than a dime and spin at more than a million revolutions per minute.

The engine is designed to produce enough electricity to power handheld electronics. In the future, a micro gas turbine engine could run for ten or more hours on a container of diesel fuel slightly larger than a D battery; when the fuel… read more

How False Memories are Formed

October 19, 2004

Northwestern University researchers used MRI technology to pinpoint how people form a memory for something that didn’t actually happen.

The new findings directly showed that different brain areas are more critical for accurate memories for visual objects than for false remembering (forming a memory for an imagined object that is later falsely remembered as a perceived object). The neuroanatomical evidence furthermore sheds light on the mental mechanisms responsible for… read more

A Nanowire with a Surprise

October 19, 2004

Brookhaven National Laboratory researchers have discovered that a short organic chain molecule with nanometer dimensions conducts electrons in a surprising way: it regulates the electrons’ speed erratically, without a predictable dependence on the length of the wire.

In research on oligophenyleneethynylene (OPE) nanowires, researchers found that as they increased the length of the OPE wire from one to four PE units, the electrons moved across the wire faster, slower,… read more

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