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The Key to Genius

January 13, 2004

Autistic savants are born with miswired neurons—and extraordinary gifts. Geneticists are starting to pinpoint the DNA anomalies found in savants. More than a dozen genes may contribute to autism. Several other forms of mental impairment also produce islands of startling ability—known as splinter skills—as if fragments of savant code are scattered throughout the genetic database.

Stem Cells Used to Create Fertile Sperm in Mice

January 13, 2004

Scientists have coaxed stem cells from mice to change into immature sperm that can fertilize eggs to develop into embryos, an achievement that could pave the way for new ways of treating male infertility. The embryonic germ cells may also help scientists understand how erasure occurs and how stem cells are programmed to specialize and create different tissue and body parts.

Squid May Inspire New Nanolights

January 13, 2004

A Hawaiian squid has a built-in flashlight made up of a previously unknown type of protein that could help researchers design novel nanoreflectors.

Glowing bacteria provide the light source, which is surrounded by stacks of reflective plates. The team notes that the reflectins are “a marked example of natural nanofabrication of photonic structures” and should inspire bottom-up synthesis of new spectroscopic and optic devices.

Robotic Segways play soccer with humans

January 13, 2004

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have created a robot football team designed to play the game with humans riding ordinary Segways.

The exercise could help engineers develop robots capable of working effectively with humans in the future in tasks such as construction work, search and rescue operations, and space exploration.

Gates Previews ‘Amazing Decade’

January 9, 2004

Bill Gates kicked off the annual International Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday night by touting a mix of “seamless computing experiences” inside and outside the home, driven by Microsoft technology:

  • The Windows Media Center Extender, which allows consumers to retrieve and control digital music, video and photos stored on Microsoft Media Center PCs from their TVs.
  • The portable Media Center, which is small enough to fit
  • read more

    Therapy works like drugs on brain

    January 9, 2004

    Training patients to tune out the signals that cause major depression alters the chemicals in the brain as much as drugs do, a new study has found.

    It found that as patients in therapy learn to turn off the thinking that leads them to dwell on negative thoughts and attitudes, the chemical activity in certain parts of the brain decreases as well.

    Brain scans may one day become… read more

    Alzheimer’s disease cause identified?

    January 9, 2004

    Researchers may have pinpointed the cause of Alzheimer’s disease: a rogue protein called amyloid beta that forms plaques in the brain.

    Drugs that reduce this protein in humans may have the same protective effect.

    In experiements with a strain of Alzheimer’s disease-prone mouse, as the animals age, amyloid beta levels rise and their memory declines. But when a key enzyme, called BACE1, is eliminated through genetic engineering, the… read more

    First brainstem implants aim to tackle deafness

    January 9, 2004

    Two deaf women have become the first people to undergo the risky procedure of having implants in their brainstems. The devices are designed to restore hearing by directly stimulating nerves.

    The procedure is needed by people with a damaged cochlea or auditory nerve, where cochlear implants cannot help. The researchers hope that the implant, in which eight electrodes of different lengths are inserted into the brainstem, will be able… read more

    Verizon trumps Wi-Fi with 500 k/bits

    January 9, 2004

    Verizon is rolling out its “BroadbandAccess” (300 to 500 kbit/s, with with bursts of 2 Mbits/s) cell phone service nationwide this year.

    Verizon promises its “iobi” service will offer features such as programmable call forwarding or voice mail showing up as email and much closer integration between landline, IP and cellular networks.

    MRIs in Stanford experiments indicate active suppression of unneeded memories

    January 9, 2004

    fMRI studies “confirm the existence of an active forgetting process and establish a neurobiological model for guiding inquiry into motivated (voluntary) forgetting,” say Stanford University scientists.

    They showed that the human brain blocks an unwanted memory, that there is such a mechanism, and it has a biological basis. The findings could encourage the development of new ways for people to overcome traumatizing memories.

    Tiny particles ‘threaten brain’

    January 9, 2004

    Microscopic pollutant particles given off by traffic and industry can enter the bloodstream and the brain after being inhaled, scientists have found.

    The particles are known to cause lung damage in susceptible patients, and are implicated in cardiovascular disease. Experiments on rats and humans have now discovered they can penetrate further into the body, including the brain, with unknown results.

    UK scientists are calling for vigilance over the… read more

    Nanotubes could make better brain probes

    January 8, 2004

    Nanotubes caused less scar tissue and stimulated neurons to grow 60 percent more fingerlike extensions, called neurites, needed to regenerate brain activity in damaged regions, according to a paper in the journal Nanotechnology.

    Conventional silicon probes cause the body to regard them as foreign invaders and surround them with scar tissue. The nanotubes were designed so that their surfaces contained nanoscale bumps that mimic features found on the surfaces… read more

    Mobile Robots Take Baby Steps

    January 8, 2004

    The Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) has awarded $2.25 million to two robotics firms to prototype a big mechanical dog capable of carrying ammunition, food and supplies into battle.

    Depth perception is essential for recognizing obstacles and avoiding them, so NASA JPL developed a way for robots to see in three dimensions, using two separate cameras that take images of the same scene. JPL built a similar system… read more

    Babel’s Children

    January 7, 2004

    A research project just beginning in Indonesia is examining correlations between the way concepts are expressed in languages and how native speakers of these languages think. This is a test of a hypothesis first made by Benjamin Lee Whorf, an early 20th-century American linguist, that the structure of language affects the way people think. Whorf’s hypothesis fell into disfavor half a century ago; it is now undergoing something of a… read more

    New careers appear as old jobs fade

    January 7, 2004

    Coming new types of jobs will include A.I. programmer, bio-informatician, Wireless engineer, fuel-cell engineer, and nanotechnologist.

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