Brightsurf Science News & Current Events Archive (February 2004)

Science news and science current events archive February, 2004.

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Top Science News & Current Event Articles from February 2004

New risk factors for retinal disorder identified
Antibiotics, antihistamines, alcohol use, tobacco use, untreated hypertension and multisystem autoimmune diseases are potential risk factors for a retinal disorder known as central serous chorioretinopathy.

Plant pathologists: Rust disease impacting ornamental plant production
An increase in the spread of rust diseases could have devastating results on the fast-growing ornamental crop industry, say pathologists with The American Phytopathological Society (APS).

Study predicts conditions for sustainable lion trophy hunting
If lion trophy hunting is limited to males age five and older, populations of any size can be sustained without bag limits.

Standardizing disaster models to help first responders
Computer modeling and simulation programs that depict pre-disaster site conditions, changes due to sudden life-threatening events and consequences of emergency responses can be powerful tools for preparing and coping with everything from terrorist attacks to hurricanes. NIST researchers are working to make these program more compatible and user friendly to ensure these programs are readily accessible to emergency response decisionmakers.

New 'Understanding Evolution' Web site provides one-stop-shop for nation's science teachers
A new NSF-funded Web site,

Breakthrough cancer treatment Avastin receives first approval in the US
Roche today announced that Genentech has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Avastin (bevacizumab, rhuMAb-VEGF), an innovative new cancer drug, to be used with intravenous 5-Fluorouracil-based chemotherapy as treatment for patients with previously untreated metastatic cancer of the colon or rectum (first-line treatment). Genentech will market Avastin in the US and expects it to be shipped within three days.

Stroke news tips for Friday, Feb. 6, 2004
To complement our news releases, here are some additional news tips reported by News Media Relations from the more than 500 abstracts and presentations. Abstract numbers are listed for each tip. Note: Embargo times listed. All times are Pacific.

Congo plans to safeguard biodiversity with new protected areas
The Republic of Congo announced today plans to expand its protected area network for the purpose of further conserving the region's immense biodiversity, one of the key goals of the 7th Conference of the Parties for the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-7).

Other highlights in the February 4 issue of JNCI
Other highlights in the February 4 JNCI include a commentary about partial-breast irradiation, an analysis of pre- versus postoperative chemoradiation for rectal cancer, a study of glycemic load and colorectal cancer, a report of the characterization of two new antiestrogens, and an analysis of breast cancer risk factors according to hormone status. The tipsheet also contains a listing of additional articles in the issue.

Probiotics beneficial even when inactive, according to UCSD study
Probiotics, the trendy

Smart software gives surveillance eyes a 'brain'
In these days of heightened security and precautions, surveillance cameras watching over us as we cross darkened parking lots or looking over our shoulders at airports may seem reassuring, but they're only of use if someone is watching them. Researchers at the University of Rochester's computer science laboratories have found a way to give these cameras a rudimentary brain to keep an eye out for us, and the research is already been licensed with an aim toward homeland security.

Kidney transplant patients who develop diabetes show poor short-term outcomes
Patients who develop diabetes shortly after kidney transplantation have poorer short-term outcomes than those who had the disease before transplant, according to a Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center study.

Social life-history response to individual immune challenge of workers of Bombus terrestris
Solitary organisms can minimise fitness loss from parasitism with a facultative change to an earlier reproduction. In Ecology Letters, February, Moret and Schmid-Hempel report a study testing this possibility by experimentally activating the immune response of individual workers in colonies of the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. Results showed reduced fitness of social unity and collective response towards earlier reproduction suggesting elements of the use of immune defence have been maintained through evolutionary transition to sociality.

Activation of receptor ups development of precancerous intestinal polyps
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center researchers have provided the first evidence that activation of a particular cellular receptor dramatically increases the development of precancerous polyps in the intestine. The findings suggest a new strategy for preventing colorectal cancer by blocking activation of this receptor. However, they also raise caution about an increased risk of colorectal cancer among people who take drugs that activate this receptor. Such drugs are currently in clinical development to treat obesity and atherosclerosis.

Traditional Iroquois methods work for today's farmers
Jane Mt. Pleasant, professor of horticulture and director of the American Indian Program at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is mining her Iroquois heritage for planting and cultivation methods that work for today's farmers.

ESC in partnership with EU to strive for European consensus on CVD treatment and prevention
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) has long called for concerted action on a European Union (EU) level to curb the growing epidemic of cardiovascular disease across Europe. Now the ESC is delighted to announce that the Irish Presidency of the EU has taken up the challenge by placing cardiovascular disease top of its health agenda and working with the ESC to strive for European consensus on cardiovascular disease treatment and prevention.

It all adds up: Mathematical model shows which couples will divorce
There are no general laws of human relationships as there are for physics, but a leading marital researcher and a group of applied mathematicians have teamed up to create a mathematical model that predicts which couples will divorce with astonishing accuracy.

Virginia Tech offers one-stop engineering research showcase
The Northern Virginia Engineering Showcase will provide a review of a broad cross-section of advanced technology and basic science research at Virginia Tech, including biomedical engineering, materials, human factors engineering, cluster computers (as were used to build the world's third fastest supercomputer), power electronics, wireless communications, and transportation. Disney's VP for technology is the keynote speaker.

Protein helps immune system mount 'instant strike' against deadly flu viruses
Researchers have identified a protein in the immune system that appears to play a crucial role in protecting against deadly forms of influenza, and may be particularly important in protecting against the avian flu. The researchers believe that a vaccine made with a live but weakened strain of flu virus - such as the inhaled flu vaccine introduced last year - may activate this part of the immune system and offer the best defense against avian flu.

Demographics not key to adoption of banking technology
When it comes to people's desire to use ATMs and online banking, it's not just the young, educated, and affluent who are interested. That's the finding of a new study at Ohio State University that examined the role that factors such as age, income, and education level play in people's adoption of electronic banking technology.

First robot moved by muscle power
Researchers in a Los Angeles lab have for the first time used living muscle tissue to propel a micromachine. The team have used heart muscle fibres to propel a silicon microrobot as the muscle contracts and relaxes. The research was initially funded by NASA to design

Two centres for infectious diseases established
The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded a so-called centre subsidy to two research centres which are currently being established. Each centre will receive a total of 1.35 million euros. These funds must be used by the centres over the next five years to carry out multidisciplinary research towards the prevention, management or treatment of infectious diseases in the Netherlands or in developing countries. The focus is on flu, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

How meals become bones
Amylin, a hormone produced along with insulin after food intake, is vital for strengthening bones, according to an article in the Journal of Cell Biology (
Question about fundamental chemistry of water answered
In perhaps the final round in a long standing argument about the fundamental chemistry of water, the authors argue that the currently accepted temperature at which water in the glassy state softens into a liquid (known as the

The future of drug development
In this month's PLoS Biology Essay, Tim Hubbard and Jaime Love argue that we need a better way to research and develop new drugs. They contend that the existing system for drug development--rooted within the pharmaceutical industry--is inefficient and unsustainable. The authors propose that the markets for R&D and the markets for products should be separated. Researchers and drug developers would be compensated, but not through a marketing monopoly.

American Thoracic Society Journal news tips for February 2004 (second issue)
Newsworthy articles include studies that show: researchers have found that influenza vaccination did not significantly reduce the number, severity, or duration of asthma exacerbations caused by the flu; mothers who smoke adversely affect their offspring's lung function, as they grow older, in three major ways; and after evaluating the

MIT student dances with robots
MIT graduate student Sommer Gentry is investigating the complex haptic, or touch-based, communication behind the often-improvised moves in swing dancing. Her experiments have already shown that pure haptic communication--without visual cues--is sufficient for two humans, or a human and a robot, to move in coordination. The paper describing the results of Gentry's human-robot experiments won the Best Student Paper Award at the 2003 IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Conference.

Protected wheat varieties
The music scene isn't the only industry concerned about pirated copies. It's a concern in farming as well. Possession isn't necessarily nine-tenths of the law, especially if the purchase is a wheat variety protected by the Plant Variety Protection Act. This misunderstood and often-ignored law may soon become more stringently enforced, largely due to the stepped-up use of DNA plant testing.

2004 AAAS annual meeting spotlights world health, oceans and family science
Ocean and world-health headlines, plus family science -- from hair-raising electricity to

MPRI opens its doors to cancer patients
The Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute will treat its first cancer patient this week, the culmination of seven years of hard work by Indiana University administrators and faculty, Indiana business leaders and local, state and federal government officials.

Cholesterol drugs may lower risk for mental impairment after stroke
High cholesterol may increase the risk of stroke, but cholesterol-lowering drugs might reduce the risk of impaired brain function after a stroke, according to a study presented today at the American Stroke Association's 29th International Stroke Conference.

Newport cigarettes gain popularity among teens
Heavily-advertised Marlboro, Camel and Newport cigarettes dominated the teen smoking market between 1989 and 1996, according to a new study, which found that the percentage of teen Newport smokers doubled during those years.

Carnegie Mellon students design new product
Carnegie Mellon engineering students have designed a new product to help Kennametal improve customer productivity.

Study questions premise of impending US physician shortage
New research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the current U.S. physician supply is large enough to meet the needs of patients. A comparison of the current supply of physicians with staffing at several large medical group practices that treat HMO patients was completed.

Astronomers find nearest, youngest star with dusty debris disk. But are there planets?
Astronomers have scanned nearby stars for decades in search of visible dust disks, which are an indication of the presence of comets and asteroids that could coalesce into planets. Now, scientists at UC Berkeley and the University of Hawaii have found the nearest and youngest star with a dust disk, a red dwarf only 33 light years away. Many astronomers will be turning their telescopes on the star to answer one question: Are there planets?

Jefferson Lab nuclear theorist earns Virginia Outstanding Scientist of 2004 Award
Anatoly Radyushkin, a jointly-appointed physics professor at Old Dominion University and senior scientist at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, has been named a Virginia Outstanding Scientist of 2004 for his work on the theory of generalized parton distributions.

Carnegie Mellon scientist says new technologies boost bio-terrorism surveillance
Society can share medical information for bio-terrorism surveillance purposes while preserving the privacy of individual medical records through technologies created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Latanya Sweeney, who will speak at 11 a.m. Friday, February 13, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Researchers pinpoint brain areas that process reality, illusion
Marvin Gaye wailed in the '60s hit

Marsupial among model organisms next in line for sequencing
The Large-Scale Sequencing Research Network this year will begin sequencing the genomes of more than a dozen new model organisms, including the first marsupial to have its DNA deciphered. The research network, supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is part of an effort to further advance understanding of the human genome.

Research on tiniest particles could have far-reaching effects
Neutrinos are about the tiniest things in existence, but a University of Washington physicst working at the forefront of neutrino research believes that developing a greater understanding of what they are and how they function is likely to have a huge impact in the next few years.

Can nanopulses heal?
US researchers are developing a technique which involves applying nanosecond electric pulses into cells, to affect the structure of the cell without having to touch the body. Initial experiments suggest that these nanopulses, which can trigger cell suicide, could be used to shrink tumours, speed up the healing of wounds or even treat obesity.

Small amounts of alcohol or anesthetics may damage the developing brain
Brief exposure to small amounts of alcohol or anesthetic drugs can trigger nerve cell death in the developing brain, according to research reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Young men with conduct disorders are more likely to carry guns
The likelihood of carrying a concealed gun appears to be linked with conduct disorder (CD) in young men, according to an article in the February issue of The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Demolition tests aim to improve emergency communications
A team of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) scientists have begun conducting experiments in

Cutting-edge oceanography helps scientists understand climate change on Earth (and other planets)
The deep ocean seems as remote as the surface of the moon. But it may play a vital role in determining how the Earth's climate responds to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. At the AAAS annual meeting, two MBARI scientists present talks that link the ocean to global climate change. A third MBARI scientist will explain how new tools illuminate ocean processes on Earth and possibly other planets.

URI oceanographers share the exploration of volcanic environments via virtual reality
University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography volcanologists Steven Carey and Haraldur Sigurdsson have been awarded a $73,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop Internet and CD-based virtual field trips (VFTs) dealing with different types of volcanic settings. The VFTs will use inquiry-based exercises to allow students to observe eruptive activity, make observations, and formulate hypotheses about volcanic processes.

Ice sheets caused massive sea level change during late Cretaceous
Scientists using cores drilled from the New Jersey coastal plain have found that ice sheets likely caused massive sea level change during the Late Cretaceous Period -an interval previously thought to be ice-free. The scientists, who will publish their results in the March-April issue of the Geological Society of America (GSA) Bulletin, assert that either ice sheets grew and decayed in that greenhouse world or our understanding of sea level mechanisms is fundamentally flawed.

Lactating mammary glands sense calcium
Large amounts of calcium are transferred from mother to offspring through breast milk. Subsequently, adaptive mechanisms are required to maintain a healthy balance of calcium in the mother's body. In the February 16 issue of the JCI, Yale University researchers reveal that in mice, the lactating mammary gland can sense calcium increases and losses and adjusts milk production with the availability of calcium in the mother's body by upregulating expression of the calcium-sensing receptor.

Carbohydrates offer some help in muscle protein synthesis, but not enough for the desired effect
A new study is the first to compare net muscle protein balance (protein synthesis minus breakdown) after carbohydrate ingestion with control after exercise.

Cohabiting couples not likely to marry, study finds
A new study suggests that couples who live together before marriage may be less likely to eventually marry than previously believed. Only about 40 percent of cohabiting couples studied ended up marrying within four to seven years. And 42 percent of cohabiting couples disagreed about the future of their relationship, the study found. 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