Brightsurf Science News & Current Events Archive (December 2014)

Science news and science current events archive December, 2014.

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Top Science News & Current Event Articles from December 2014

The avian tree of life
An international effort to sequence the genomes of 45 avian species has yielded the most reliable tree of life for birds to date. This new avian family tree helps to clarify how modern birds -- the most species-rich class of four-limbed vertebrates on the planet -- emerged rapidly from a mass extinction event that wiped out all of the dinosaurs approximately 66 million years ago.

Bradley Hasbro Research Center to study drug treatment program for girls in court system
Marina Tolou-Shams, Ph.D., a psychologist from the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center, has received a $2 million grant to study the efficacy of a drug use intervention for court-involved, non-incarcerated girls who use illicit substances. The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, will compare the gender-responsive program's effect on reducing drug use and sexual risk behaviors relative to other community-based services that girls are typically referred to by the court.

Economist's book goes under the hood of social-science research
An economist's new book teaches how to conduct cause-and-effect studies on complex social questions.

New conversion process turns biomass 'waste' into lucrative chemical products
A new catalytic process is able to convert what was once considered biomass waste into lucrative chemical products that can be used in fragrances, flavorings or to create high-octane fuel for racecars and jets. A team of researchers from a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center has developed a process that uses a chemical catalyst and heat to spur reactions that convert lignin into valuable chemical commodities.

Strong neighborhood ties can help reduce gun violence
The bonds that tie a neighborhood together can help shield community members from gun violence, according to new findings by Yale School of Medicine researchers in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program. The team presented their work Dec. 19 at the Institute of Medicine's Means of Violence workshop.

Joachim Kopp receives ERC Starting Grant for research in particle and astroparticle physics
Professor Joachim Kopp receives a prestigious Starting Grant worth 800,000 Euros from the European Research Council to help promote his work in the field of theoretical particle and astroparticle physics.

Molecular 'hats' allow in vivo activation of disguised signaling peptides
When someone you know is wearing an unfamiliar hat, you might not recognize them. Georgia Institute of Technology researchers are using just such a disguise to sneak biomaterials containing peptide signaling molecules into living animals.

Study demonstrates that exercise following bariatric surgery provides health benefits
Researchers discover that moderate exercise following bariatric surgery reduces specific metabolic risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes. The findings suggest that moderate exercise may provide additional benefits to health beyond weight loss in these patients

NASA sees Hagupit weaken to a depression enroute to Vietnam
The once mighty super typhoon has weakened to a depression in the South China Sea as it heads for a final landfall in southern Vietnam. NASA's Aqua satellite captured an image of the storm that showed it was weakening.

Researchers assessing new treatment for common hospital-acquired infection, C. difficile
One of the most common infections contracted in hospitals, C. difficile, is often a cause of disease and death among the elderly. Patients with C. difficile often have recurrent infections over prolonged periods of time, making treatment challenging. In the United States alone, there are approximately 500,000 C. difficile cases annually, with a mortality rate greater than 2.5 percent. A National institutes of health study aims to prove the effectiveness of a new treatment for the disease.

Ever tried a 'laser delicious' apple?
The ability to detect when to harvest 'climacteric' fruits -- such as apples, bananas, pears and tomatoes -- at the precise moment to ensure 'peak edibleness' in terms of both taste and texture may soon be within reach for farmers, thanks to the work of a team of researchers from Saint Joseph University in Lebanon and the Université de Bretagne Occidentale de Brest in France.

New cause of child brain tumor condition identified
Doctors and scientists from the University of Manchester have identified changes in a gene, which can increase the risk of developing brain tumors in children with a rare inherited condition called Gorlin syndrome.

Combining images and genetic data proves gene loss behind aggressive ovarian cancers
Cancer Research UK scientists have shown that loss of a gene called PTEN triggers some cases of an aggressive form of ovarian cancer, called high-grade serous ovarian cancer.

Epithelial tube contraction
Researchers at the Mechanobiology Institute, National University of Singapore have identified a novel mechanosensitive regulation of epithelial tube contraction. These findings are published on Dec. 19, 2014, in Current Biology.

International conference on the 4-dimensional organization of the nucleus
The latest advances in understanding the principles behind the three-dimensional organization of the cell nucleus in space and time (the 4th dimension) will be presented at an international conference, 'The 4D Nucleome 2014,' in Hiroshima, Japan, from Dec. 17 to 20, 2014. The conference will be hosted by the Research Center for the Mathematics on Chromatin Live Dynamics of Hiroshima University.

Bayer and DNDi sign agreement to develop an oral treatment for river blindness
Bayer HealthCare and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative have signed an agreement under which Bayer will provide the active ingredient emodepside to support DNDi in its effort to develop a new oral drug to treat river blindness (or onchocerciasis). The world's second leading infectious cause of blindness, river blindness is a neglected tropical disease caused by a filarial worm.

Risk-based screening misses breast cancers in women in their forties
A study of breast cancers detected with screening mammography found that strong family history and dense breast tissue were commonly absent in women between the ages of 40 and 49 diagnosed with breast cancer.

Friendly bacteria are protective against malaria
In a breakthrough study to be published on the Dec. 4 issue of the prestigious scientific journal Cell, a research team led by Miguel Soares at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia discovered that specific bacterial components in the human gut microbiota can trigger a natural defense mechanism that is highly protective against malaria transmission.

Disorder in gene-control system is a defining characteristic of cancer, study finds
The genetic tumult within cancerous tumors is more than matched by the disorder in one of the mechanisms for switching cells' genes on and off, scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard report in a new study. Their findings, published online today in the journal Cancer Cell, indicate that the disarray in the on-off mechanism -- known as methylation -- is one of the defining characteristics of cancer and helps tumors adapt to changing circumstances.

UNC researchers pinpoint chemo effect on brain cells, potential link to autism
University of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers have found for the first time a biochemical mechanism that could be a cause of chemo brain' -- the neurological side effects such as memory loss, confusion, difficulty thinking, and trouble concentrating that many cancer patients experience while on chemotherapy to treat tumors in other parts of the body.

A taxonomic toolkit ends a century of neglect for a genus of parasitic wasps
Entomologists from the University of Alberta have used a combination of morphometric and molecular techniques to describe the first new North American species of a particularly morphologically-challenging genus of parasitic wasps in over 100 years. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

MSU scientists find way to boost healthy cells during chemo
Michigan State University scientists are closer to discovering a possible way to boost healthy cell production in cancer patients as they receive chemotherapy. By adding thymine -- a natural building block found in DNA -- into normal cells, they found it stimulated gene production and caused them to multiply.

Study hints at antioxidant treatment for high blood pressure
High blood pressure affects more than 70 million Americans and is a major risk factor for stroke, heart failure and other renal and cardiovascular diseases. Funded by a $1.3 million National Institutes of Health grant, University of Houston College of Pharmacy researchers are examining the role of intrinsic antioxidant pathways in mitigating hypertension.

Australia's coastal observation network may aid in understanding of extreme ocean events
A network of nine reference sites off the Australian coast is providing the latest physical, chemical, and biological information to help scientists better understand Australia's coastal seas.

'Smart windows' have potential to keep heat out and save energy
Windows allow brilliant natural light to stream into homes and buildings. Along with light comes heat that, in warm weather, we often counter with energy-consuming air conditioning. Now scientists are developing a new kind of 'smart window' that can block out heat when the outside temperatures rise. The advance, reported in ACS' journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, could one day help consumers better conserve energy on hot days and reduce electric bills.

Anyone who is good at German learns English better
Your literacy skills in your first language heavily influence the learning of a foreign language. Thus, anyone who reads and writes German well is likely to transfer this advantage to English -- regardless of the age of onset of foreign language learning. Foreign language lessons at an early age, however, pay off less than was previously assumed. In fact, they can even have a negative impact on the first language in the short run.

Body's cold 'sensor' could hold key for frostbite and hypothermia treatments
A cold 'sensor' which triggers the skin's vascular response to the cold could represent an exciting new therapeutic target for the treatment of frostbite and hypothermia, according to scientists at King's College London.

March of the penguin genomes
Two penguin genomes have been sequenced and analyzed for the first time in the open access, open data journal GigaScience. Timely for the holiday season, the study reveals insights into how these birds have been able to adapt to the cold and hostile Antarctic environment.

Doctors trained in higher expenditure regions spend more, may add to rising health care costs
A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that physicians who do residency training in regions of the country with higher health care spending patterns continue to practice in a more costly manner -- even when they move to a geographic area where health care spending is lower.

Alcohol apps aimed at young
Apps with names like 'Let's get Wasted!' and 'Drink Thin' have led a James Cook University professor to call for government action on alcohol advertising on mobile devices.

'Perfect storm' quenching star formation around a supermassive black hole
Astronomers using ALMA have discovered that modest size black holes can quench star formation.

Back to future with Roman architectural concrete
A key discovery to understanding Roman architectural concrete that has stood the test of time and the elements for nearly two thousand years has been made by researchers using beams of X-rays at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source.

Research links soil mineral surfaces to key atmospheric processes
Research by Indiana University scientists finds that soil may be a significant and underappreciated source of nitrous acid, a chemical that plays a pivotal role in atmospheric processes such as the formation of smog and determining the lifetime of greenhouse gases.

3-D printed heart could reduce heart surgeries in children
Being able to practice on a model heart allows doctors to optimize the interventional procedure pre-operatively. 3-D models can also be used to discuss the intervention with the medical team, patients and, in the case of congenital heart defects, with parents. It helps everyone affected to better understand what the procedure will involve.

Multiple allergic reactions traced to single protein
Johns Hopkins and University of Alberta researchers have identified a single protein as the root of painful and dangerous allergic reactions to a range of medications and other substances. If a new drug can be found that targets the problematic protein, they say, it could help smooth treatment for patients with conditions ranging from prostate cancer to diabetes to HIV. Their results appear in the journal Nature on Dec. 17.

Computer equal to or better than humans at cataloging science
This year, a computer system developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison equaled or bested scientists at the complex task of extracting data from scientific publications and placing it in a database that catalogs the results of tens of thousands of individual studies.

NOAA: Researchers offer new insights into predicting future droughts in California
According to a new NOAA-sponsored study, natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers behind California's ongoing drought. A high pressure ridge off the West Coast (typical of historic droughts) prevailed for three winters, blocking important wet season storms, with ocean surface temperature patterns making such a ridge much more likely.

HIV drug blocks bone metastases in prostate cancer
The receptor CCR5, targeted by HIV drugs, is also key in driving prostate cancer metastases, suggesting that blocking this molecule could slow prostate cancer spread.

RI hospital find bacterial infections differ based on geography, healthcare spending
Rhode Island Hospital researchers and an international team of investigators find bacterial infections differ based on distance from the equator and spending on health care 23 health centers on six continents participated in study of bloodstream infections.

Decision 'cascades' in social networks
A paper published this month in the SIAM Journal on Computing shows how people in social networks are often influenced by each other's decisions, resulting in a run of behaviors in which their choices become highly correlated, causing a cascade of decisions.

Smithsonian launches major new initiative to better understand life on Earth
Scientists across the Smithsonian have studied genomics for years, investigating how animal and plant species function, relate to one another, adapt to change and thrive or fail to survive. Genomics also play a key role in their research of climate change, disease and biodiversity conservation. The Smithsonian is now uniting these efforts and creating a plan for transformative future research with the establishment of the Smithsonian Institute for Biodiversity Genomics.

Insulin dosage for type 2 diabetes linked with increased death risk
Analysis of thousands of NHS records has uncovered a link between an increased dosage of insulin in the treatment of type 2 diabetes and a heightened risk of death in patients

Activating hair growth with a little help from the skin
Restoring hair loss is a task undertaken not only by beauty practitioners. Previous studies have identified signals from the skin that help prompt new phases of hair growth. However, how different types of cells that reside in the skin communicate to activate hair growth has continued to puzzle biologists. An exciting study publishing on Dec. 23 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology reveals a new way to spur hair growth.

Ancient balloon-shaped animal fossil sheds light on Earth's ancient seas
A rare 520 million year old fossil shaped like a 'squashed bird's nest' that will help to shed new light on life within Earth's ancient seas has been discovered in China by an international research team -- and will honor the memory of a University of Leicester scientist who passed away earlier this year.

Cells can use dynamic patterns to pluck signals from noise
Scientists have discovered a general principle for how cells could accurately transmit chemical signals despite high levels of noise in the system.

PNAS study: Devising a way to count proteins as they group
A new study from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and UC Berkeley researchers reports on an innovative theoretical methodology to solve 'the counting problem,' which is key to understanding how proteins group and perform their vital functions within the human body.

Teen use of e-cigarettes growing; Hawaii use rates higher than in mainland
E-cigarette use among teenagers is growing in the US, and Hawaii teens take up e-cigarette use at higher rates than their mainland counterparts, a new study by University of Hawaii Cancer Center researchers has found.

Burg recognized as National Academy of Inventors fellow
Karen Burg, vice president for research at Kansas State University, has been named one of the 170 newest National Academy of Inventors fellows.

Vitamin D reduces lung disease flare-ups by over 40 percent
Vitamin D supplements can reduce chronic obstructive pulmonary disease lung disease flare-ups by over 40 percent in patients with a vitamin D deficiency, according to new research from Queen Mary University of London.

UBC scientist finds genetic wrinkle to block sun-induced skin aging
Scientists have shown that a key enzyme in the aging of skin, which is caused mostly by sun exposure; mice lacking that enzyme developed fewer wrinkles. The discovery points toward potential therapies that would preserve the strength of various tissues -- not just skin, but blood vessels and lung passages. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to