Science News - April 26th

Cereal Mothers: Babies' Sex Linked to Moms' Breakfast Calories
British researchers say a new study shows that would-be moms who skip breakfast are more likely to have girls than boys.

Want a son? Pack on the calories. Biologist Fiona Mathews of the University of Exeter in England and her colleagues surveyed 740 first-time mothers on their pre-pregnancy eating habits and found that 56 percent of those on high-calorie diets had sons, compared with 45 percent of those on leaner menus.But it wasn't only calories that contributed; specific foods also appear to play a role, say researchers. "Prior to pregnancy, breakfast cereal, but no other item, was strongly associated with infant sex," the researchers write in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. "Women producing male infants consumed more breakfast cereal than those with female infants."The reason is a mystery, but Mathews speculates that glucose may be key. This type of sugar, converted by the human body into energy, is a by-product of the breakdown of carbohydrates such as those in breakfast cereal. Women who do not eat breakfast tend to have low levels of glucose, and other studies have shown that glucose enhances the growth of male fetuses in vitro.

The Defense Department today launched a five-year, Army-led cooperative effort to leverage cutting-edge medical technology to develop new ways to assist servicemembers who’ve suffered severe, disfiguring wounds during their wartime service.

The newly established Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, known by the acronym AFIRM, will serve as the military’s operational agency for the effort, Dr. S. Ward Casscells, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. A key component of the initiative is to harness stem cell research and technology in finding innovative ways to use a patient’s natural cellular structure to reconstruct new skin, muscles and tendons, and even ears, noses and fingers, Casscells said.

It's far from the first time a researcher has enlisted the help of his own family or kids, but MIT's Deb Roy's latest endeavor looks to be a bit more ambitious than most, as he's aiming to do nothing short of understand how children learn language. To do that, Roy and his wife installed 11 video cameras and 14 microphones throughout their house to record just about every moment of their son's first three years. That, obviously, also required a good deal of computing power, which came in the form of a temperature-controlled data-storage room consisting of five Apple Xserves and a 4.4TB Xserve RAID (you can guess why Apple's profiling 'em), along with an array of backup tape drives and robotic tape changes (and an amply supply of other Macs, of course). While the project is obviously still a work in progress, they have apparently already developed some new methods for audio and video pattern recognition, among other things, and it seems they'll have plenty of work to sift through for years to come, with the project expected to churn out some 1.4 petabytes of data by the end of year three.

Ancient Praying Mantis Found in Amber
Julian Ryall in Tokyofor National Geographic News
April 25, 2008
An 87-million-year-old praying mantis found encased in amber in Japan may be a "missing link" between mantises from the Cretaceous period and modern-day insects.
The fossil mantis measures 0.5 inch (1.4 centimeters) from its antennae to the tip of its abdomen.

Although the forelegs, head, and antennae appear to be well preserved, the wings and abdomen have been badly crushed.


Science News - April 24th, 2008

Heart cells cultured in the lab
Scientists have moved a step closer to creating functioning heart tissue for transplants in the lab.
They have grown three types of human heart cells from cultures derived from embryonic stem cells. When a mix of the cells was transplanted into mice with simulated heart disease, the animals' heart function was significantly improved.
The study, by a team of Canadian, US and UK scientists, features in the journal Nature.
The researchers created the cells by supplying embryonic stem cell cultures with a cocktail of growth factors and other molecules involved in development.
By supplying the right growth factors at the right time, they encouraged the cells to grow into immature versions of three different types of cardiac cell.


Science News - April 23rd

Bionic eye 'blindness cure hope'
The AMD disease leads to a progressive loss of sight
A 'bionic eye' may hold the key to returning sight to people left blind by a hereditary disease, experts believe.
A team at London's Moorfields Eye Hospital have carried out the treatment on the UK's first patients as part of a clinical study into the therapy.
The artificial eye, connected to a camera on a pair of glasses, has been developed by US firm Second Sight.
It said the technique may be able to restore a basic level of vision, but experts warned it was still early days.
The trial aims to help people who have been made blind through retinitis pigmentosa, a group of inherited eye diseases that affects the retina.


Science News - April 18th

Research has suggested certain vitamin supplements do not extend life and could even lead to a premature death.
A review of 67 studies found "no convincing evidence" that antioxidant supplements cut the risk of dying.
Scientists at Copenhagen University said vitamins A and E could interfere with the body's natural defences.
"Even more, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E seem to increase mortality," according to the review by the respected Cochrane Collaboration.
The research involved selecting various studies from 817 on beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium which the team felt were the most likely to fairly reflect the impact of the supplements on reducing mortality.


Science News - Sunday, April 13th

When Art and Science Meet, Nanoscale Smiley Faces Abound [Slideshow]
Caltech researcher Paul Rothemund folds DNA strands into an origami of nanosize shapes and patterns.

Paul Rothemund is a computer scientist and an artist, although not necessarily in that order. Using a few DNA molecules, an atomic force microscope and a computer, he can fit the likenesses of 50 billion smiley faces into a space no bigger than a drop of water.Rothemund refers to his brew of art, biology and technology as "DNA origami," because it is created by using hundreds of short DNA strands (which Rothemund refers to as "staples") to fold much longer genetic ribbons into nanoscale shapes and patterns.

DNA origami proves that microscopic material can be controlled so that it forms specific objects. "The reason the work is exciting for [potentially] making smaller circuits," he says, "is that this resolution is roughly eight to 10 times smaller than the features in current computer chips' [at] 45 to 60 nanometers." The process of creating DNA origami allows many shapes or patterns to be crafted simultaneously (50 billion in a single drop of water), paving the way to make loads of circuits more quickly and cheaper than is now possible.

Process Behind Heart Muscle Contraction Uncovered
ScienceDaily (Apr. 12, 2008) — Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Chicago were able to control heart muscle function in a new way after discovering the previously unknown role of two enzymes in heart muscle contraction, as detailed in the April 11 cover story of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Although in the early stages, the research provides fresh knowledge of how heart muscle functions and also holds early potential as a treatment for various heart diseases—including congestive heart failure—that is possibly less taxing on the heart than current regimens.

The First Animal On Earth Was Significantly More Complex Than Previously Believed
A new study mapping the evolutionary history of animals indicates that Earth's first animal -- a mysterious creature whose characteristics can only be inferred from fossils and studies of living animals--was probably significantly more complex than previously believed.

Earliest Step In Human Development Revealed By Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have uncovered the molecular underpinnings of one of the earliest steps in human development using human embryonic stem cells. Their identification of a critical signal mediated by the protein BMP-4 that drives the differentiation of stem cells into what will become the placenta, will be published in the April issue of Cell Stem Cell.


Science News - April 8th, 2008

Darwin Was Right: Natural Selection Speeds Up Speciation
In the first experiment of its kind conducted in nature, a University of British Columbia evolutionary biologist has come up with strong evidence for one of Charles Darwin's cornerstone ideas -- adaptation to the environment accelerates the creation of new species.

First Lungless Frog Discovered
Researchers have confirmed the first case of complete lunglessness in a frog, according to a report in the April 8th issue of Current Biology. The aquatic frog Barbourula kalimantanensis apparently gets all the oxygen it needs through its skin.

Breakthrough In Biofuel Production Process
Researchers have made a breakthrough in the development of "green gasoline," a liquid identical to standard gasoline yet created from sustainable biomass sources like switchgrass and poplar trees.


Science News - April 4th, 2008

Stem Cell Breakthrough Offers Diabetes Hope
Scientists have discovered a new technique for turning embryonic stem cells into insulin-producing pancreatic tissue in what could prove a significant breakthrough in the quest to find new treatments for diabetes.

DNA Building Block Creation Seen In Living Cells: Could Be Key To New Cancer Treatments
Penn State scientists are the first to observe in living cells a key step in the creation of adenine and guanine, two of the four building blocks that comprise DNA. Also called purines, the two building blocks are essential for cell replication. The findings, which will be published in the 4 April 2008 issue of the journal Science, could lead to new cancer treatments that prevent cancer cells from replicating by interfering with their abilities to make purines.
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