Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Time for Science!

Yay, science time!

- Exciting news first: Thirteen years ago, scientists at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research discovered a new element, Element 112, after bombarding a lead target with zinc ions in their particle accelerator. They have now finally decided to name it Copernicus (Cp for short), after Nicolaus Copernicus, who discovered that the earth revolved around the sun.
Get excited here.

- Scientists have tracked down the genetic mutation which lead to blue eyes. All blue eyed people (including yours truly) are descended from a common ancestor who lived about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. Before that, everyone was brown eyed. The mutation affects the OCA2 gene, which controls pigment production. It doesn't so much switch the gene off (which would cause albinism), but lessens the effect of the gene. Learn more here.

- It's been long known that, following an HIV-1 infection, women develop lower viral loads, yet suffer a faster progression of the disease. Researchers at the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), MIT and Harvard discovered that a receptor molecule involved in the first-line recognition of HIV-1 responds to the virus differently in women. This causes a subsequent differences in chronic T cell activation, which doctors use to predict disease progression. (Their paper will be published in an upcoming issue of Nature Medicine). The researchers focused on focused on plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), which are one of the first immune system cells to respond to HIV-1. They discovered the higher progesterone levels of premenopausal women correlated with increased activation of pDCs in response to HIV-1. Thus, the same amount of virus induces stronger pDC activation in women than in men. Learn more about the study here.

- Also in HIV/AIDS news, Brazil has proven that developing countries can indeed successfully treat and fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Their secret lies largely with inexpensive generic drugs. They also saved more than $1 billion as a result of bargaining with multinational pharmaceutical companies, having them lower their prices dramatically and encouraging generic companies to develop low-cost alternatives for emerging markets. Go Brazil!
Read the good news here.

- In Alzheimer's news, a drug called PMX205 recovers memory in mice, and may be used one day for Alzheimer's treatment. PMX205 is similar to a drug used in clinical trials for rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. It prevents inflamed immune cells from gathering in brain regions with amyloid plaques. Discover more here.

- Biologist J. Albert Uy (of Syracuse University) and his science minions have observed speciation in action, as two closely related populations of monarch flycatcher birds have split and are on their way to becoming two distinct species. Speciation has only been observed in action a handful of times, and is a central aspect of evolution (Bite me, creationists!). This is a fairly large endeavor, but it didn't phase Mr. Uy. Taking into account that the plumage of the two populations had changed (one is all black, the other has chestnut bellies), and that the males defend their mating territory and attack invading males, Uy and his team made models of the two bird populations. The all-black males attacked the all-black models, and paid little attention to the chestnut bellied models, and vice-versa. This indicates that the males do not consider the males of the other population a reproductive threat.
The birds also have a differing MC1R gene, which explains the change in plumage.
It's all gone to the birds here.

- Assistant Professor Li Hoi Yeung and Assistant Professor Koh Cheng Gee (along their team of science zombies) have discovered that during apoptosis (cell death) the cell's rescue mechanism is disabled when specific proteins can no longer enter the nucleus, which stops the cell from initiating it's self-repair process. This is actually a very important discovery in the world of biology, so be excited!
Oh, and they also discovered that the protein RanGTP, (involved in the transportation of certain proteins into and out of the cell's nucleus), is reduced greatly during the early stages of apoptosis. Just because they felt like rubbing in how smart and awesome they are.
Revel in the excitement here.

- In the boggling world of physics, Yale University researchers have discovered a light force with repulsive power. It can be used to manipulate silicon microchip components, and may means that one day, nanodevices could run off of light instead of electricity.
Get excited and learn more here.

- Dr. Daniel Malone, (UA College of Pharmacy) mailed a questionnaire to 12,500 U.S. pharmaceutical prescribers who were selected based on a history of prescribing drugs associated with known potential for drug-drug interaction. (The prescribers were physicians, physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners.) He found that, on average, perscibers only correctly identified 42.7% of drug pairs with potentially dangerous drug-drug interactions.
Oops. Looks like med schools are focusing enough on drug-drug interactions.
Follow the shame here.

While I have respect for NASA and all the contributions they have made towards understanding the worlds around us, I have to give them a hard time for this: As the last components of the International Space Station are installed in 2110, they plan to de-orbit it in 2016.
Seriously guys. What they hell??
Billions of dollars have gone into this, and the final cost is estimated at $100,000,000,000. This is one of humanity's greatest monuments, a symbol of international collaboration in the name of science. There is no reason to take it down. It is more useful up in orbit then it is destroyed in a million little pieces as it reenters our atmosphere.
Get angry here.

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