Drug-Resistant Bacteria Found in 4-Million-Year-Old Cave

5:39:20 PM, Sunday, April 15, 2012

“(Nat. Geo.) Deep in the bowels of a pristine New Mexico cave, microbiologists have discovered nearly a hundred types of bacteria that can fight off modern antibiotic drugs.

The bacteria coat the walls of the Lechuguilla cave system on rock faces some 1,600 feet (487 meters) below Earth's surface. Until recently, the microscopic life-forms had encountered neither humans nor modern antibiotics.

That's because a thick dome of rock isolated the cave between four and seven million years ago. Any water that trickles through takes roughly ten thousand years to reach the cave's depths—which means the subterranean life has existed entirely in the absence of modern medicine.

While not infectious to humans, the cave bacteria can resist multiple classes of antibiotics, including new synthetic drugs. The discovery serves as an intriguing lead in the quest to understand how drug-resistant diseases emerge.

"Clinical microbiologists have been perplexed for the longest time. When you bring a new antibiotic into the hospital, resistance inevitably appears shortly thereafter, within months to years," said study leader Gerry Wright, a chemical biologist at McMaster University in Ontario.

"It's still a big question: Where is this coming from?" Wright said. "Almost no one thought to look at other bacteria, the ones that don't necessarily cause disease."

Growing "Superbug" Problem

Lechuguilla is one of the deepest and most extensive cave systems in New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns National Park. With at least 130 miles (209 kilometers) of mapped passages, Lechuguilla is also the planet's seventh longest known cave…”

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In First Public Speech, North Korean Leader Talks of Military Superiority

5:33:30 PM, Sunday, April 15, 2012

“SEOUL, South Korea — In his first speech in public since assuming the leadership of North Korea, Kim Jong-un said Sunday that his “first, second and third” priorities were to strengthen the military, and he declared that superiority in military technology was “no longer monopolized by imperialists.”

Mr. Kim’s speech was followed by what South Korean officials said was the North’s biggest display of weapons in a military parade, including a missile the North appeared to be presenting for the first time. While it is not clear whether it was a new long-range missile or a mock-up, its display demonstrates the importance that the North Korean government places on weapons development despite an embarrassing failure of a rocket it launched last week.

South Korean officials would not comment on the North Korean missile, pending further examination.

Mr. Kim’s claim to superior military technology could sound poignant, coming two days after the North Korean rocket carrying a satellite disintegrated in midair. The failure of the rocket indicated that North Korea might still have a long way to go before mastering the technology for delivering warheads atop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Mr. Kim’s speech on the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, his grandfather and the North’s founding president, was his public political debut. In an unexpected 20-minute speech, broadcast live inside North Korea, Mr. Kim demonstrated a new leadership style but reaffirmed his adherence to the “military first” policy of his father, Kim Jong-il, which has left North Korea locked in a prolonged confrontation with the United States and its allies…”

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It Doesn’t Get Any More Hipster Than This

5:22:22 PM, Sunday, April 15, 2012
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Could “Advanced” Dinosaurs Rule Other Planets?

3:29:04 AM, Saturday, April 14, 2012

“(American Chemical Society, http://portal.acs.org, April 11, 2012) New scientific research raises the possibility that advanced versions of T. rex and other dinosaurs — monstrous creatures with the intelligence and cunning of humans — may be the life forms that evolved on other planets in the universe. “We would be better off not meeting them,” concludes the study, which appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the report, noted scientist Ronald Breslow, Ph.D., discusses the century-old mystery of why the building blocks of terrestrial amino acids (which make up proteins), sugars, and the genetic materials DNA and RNA exist mainly in one orientation or shape. There are two possible orientations, left and right, which mirror each other in the same way as hands. This is known as "chirality." In order for life to arise, proteins, for instance, must contain only one chiral form of amino acids, left or right. With the exception of a few bacteria, amino acids in all life on Earth have the left-handed orientation. Most sugars have a right-handed orientation. How did that so-called homochirality, the predominance of one chiral form, happen?

Breslow describes evidence supporting the idea that the unusual amino acids carried to a lifeless Earth by meteorites about 4 billion years ago set the pattern for normal amino acids with the L-geometry, the kind in terrestial proteins, and how those could lead to D-sugars of the kind in DNA.

“Of course,” Breslow says, “showing that it could have happened this way is not the same as showing that it did.” He adds: “An implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D-amino acids and L-sugars. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.””

-- Praised be Raptor Jesus!

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Majorana Particle Glimpsed in Lab

1:27:04 AM, Saturday, April 14, 2012

“Scientists think they may finally have seen evidence for a famously elusive quarry in particle physics.

The Majorana fermion was first predicted 75 years ago - a particle that could be its own anti-particle.

Now Dutch researchers, who have devised some exotic and minute circuitry to test for the Majorana's existence, believe their results show the fermion to be real.

The team has reported the details of its experiments in Science magazine.

"It opens up some very interesting ideas," said Leo Kouwenhoven from the Delft University of Technology.

Majoranas should behave quite differently from more familiar matter particles, such as electrons.

When these confront their opposites - positrons - they annihilate each other in a flash of gamma rays.

The idea that a particle existed that might be equal to its anti-particle was put forward by Italian Ettore Majorana, a brilliant theorist who mysteriously went missing after withdrawing all his money to go on a boat journey in 1938…”

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Researchers Convert Skin and Umbilical Cord Cells Directly Into Nerve Cell

3:29:46 AM, Friday, April 13, 2012

“(phys.org April 11, 2012) Until recently, the production of pluripotent "multipurpose" stem cells from skin cells was considered to be the ultimate new development. In the meantime, it has become possible to directly convert cells of the body into one another – without the time-consuming detour via a pluripotent intermediate stage. However, this method has so far been rather inefficient. Scientists from the Bonn Institute of Reconstructive Neurobiology have now developed the method to the point that it can be used for biomedical applications. The scientists are presenting their results in the journal Nature Methods.

There was much excitement surrounding cell reprogramming with the breakthrough of Shinya Yamanaka. In 2006, the Japanese scientist was able to reprogram skin cells for the first time with the aid of a few control factors into so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) – "multipurpose" cells from which all body cells can in principle be produced. In 2010, Marius Wernig, a former postdoctoral researcher with Prof. Brüstle and meanwhile the director of the institute at Stanford University in California, developed the idea further: Using only three so-called transcription factors, his team was able to perform direct transformation of skin cells into so-called induced neurons (iN). However, the method has so far been rather inefficient: Only a small percentage of the skin cells were converted into the desired nerve cells.

Researchers are increasing yields during transformation of cells

For the scientists at the LIFE & BRAIN Center at the University of Bonn, that was not enough. They are interested in the biomedical utilization of artificially produced human nerve cells for disease research, cell replacement, and the development of active substances. One concept seemed likely: Why not use low-molecular active substances - so-called small molecules - to optimize the process? Julia Ladewig, post-doctoral researcher and lead author of the study, began using such active substances to influence several signaling pathways important for cell development.

By blocking the so-called SMAD signaling pathway and inhibiting glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta (GSK3ß), they increased the transformational efficiency by several times – and were thus able to even simplify the means of extraction. Using only two instead of previously three transcription factors and three active substances, the Bonn researchers were able to convert a majority of the skin cells into neurons. In the end, their cell cultures contained up to more than 80% human neurons. And since the cells divide even further during the conversion process, the actual efficiency is even higher…”

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The Illegal Ivory Trade Threatening Africa's Elephants

3:12:41 AM, Friday, April 13, 2012

“(11 April 2012, BBC) Despite a 23-year ban on international trade in ivory, elephants continue to be shot for their prized tusks, with much of the material ending up on sale in China.

The very future of the African elephant, the largest land animal on Earth, could be at risk.

Last year saw the highest number of large seizures of illegal ivory for more than two decades.

From Kenya to Zambia, African law-enforcement and conservation authorities are facing a continuing battle with the poachers.

And it is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where governance is at its weakest, that the elephant population is being hit hardest, with thousands of elephants killed each year.

Conservationists have recorded steep declines in population and fear fewer than 20,000 of the region's forest elephants remain in the Congo basin.

In Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, poached ivory is openly on sale at large, unregulated markets.

While traders were wary of being filmed by a BBC TV crew, a Chinese undercover reporter working for Panorama quickly attracted the attention of sellers, using the Chinese word for ivory to good effect…”

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Unmanned Vessel Could Soon be Working for Navy

2:56:57 AM, Friday, April 13, 2012

“Technology that sent unmanned aircraft over Iraq and Afghanistan soon could be steering unstaffed naval boats for such dangerous tasks as minesweeping, submarine detection, intelligence gathering and approaching hostile vessels.

Defense contractor Textron Inc. demonstrated what it calls its Common Unmanned Surface Vessel technology Thursday at its Textron Marine & Land Systems shipyard in New Orleans.

"The unmanned vessels will keep the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs away from our personnel," said Ryan Hazlett, director of the advanced systems group of AAI, another Textron subsidiary.

The boat - painted in Navy gray and with a striking resemblance to a PT boat - is 39 feet long and can reach a top speed of 28 knots. Using a modified version of the unmanned Shadow surveillance aircraft technology that logged 700,000 hours of duty in the Middle East, the boat can be controlled remotely from 10 to 12 miles away from a command station on land, at sea or in the air, Haslett said.

Farther out, it can be switched to a satellite control system, which Textron said could expand its range to 1,200 miles. The boat could be launched from virtually any large Navy vessel.

It's not the first unmanned boat. But Haslett said others generally have been boats simply refitted with remote control equipment. The CUSV was designed from the first step not to have a crew.

"It uses space without having to worry about the things that are required for a manned vessel," he said.

Using diesel fuel, the boat could operate for up to 72 hours without refueling, depending upon its traveling speed and the weight of equipment being carried, said Stanley DeGeus, senior business development director for AAI's advanced systems. The fuel supply could be extended for up to a week on slow-moving reconnaissance missions, he said…”

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Gabriel Medina: Surfing the North Shore

2:52:25 AM, Friday, April 13, 2012

-- ;)

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Athletic Frogs Have Faster-Changing Genomes

1:21:28 AM, Friday, April 13, 2012

“Physically fit frogs have faster-changing genomes, says a new study of poison frogs from Central and South America.

Stretches of DNA accumulate changes over time, but the rate at which those changes build up varies considerably between species, said author Juan C. Santos of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina.

In the past, biologists trying to explain why some species have faster-changing genomes than others have focused on features such as body size, generation time, fecundity and lifespan. According to one theory, first proposed in the 1990s, species with higher resting metabolic rates are likely to accumulate DNA changes at a faster rate, especially among cold-blooded animals such as frogs, snakes, lizards and fishes. But subsequent studies failed to find support for the idea.

The problem with previous tests is that they based their measurements of metabolism on animals at rest, rather than during normal physical activity, Santos said.

"Animals rarely just sit there," Santos said. "If you go to the wild, you'll see animals hunting, reproducing, and running to avoid being eaten. The energetic cost of these activities is far beyond the minimum amount of energy an animal needs to function."

To test the idea, Santos scoured forests in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama in search of poison frogs, subjecting nearly 500 frogs — representing more than 50 species — to a frog fitness test…”

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Can You Identify All of Them: Video Game Planets [Video]

12:59:04 AM, Friday, April 13, 2012
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Volcanic Plumbing Provides Clues on Eruptions and Earthquakes

12:51:36 AM, Friday, April 13, 2012

“Two new studies into the "plumbing systems" that lie under volcanoes could bring scientists closer to understanding plate ruptures and predicting eruptions—both of which are important steps for protecting the public from earthquake and volcanic hazards.

International teams of researchers, including two scientists from the University of Rochester, have been studying the location and behaviour of magma chambers on the Earth's mid-ocean ridge system—a vast chain of volcanoes along which the Earth forms new crust.

They worked in the tropical region of Afar, Ethiopia and the subarctic country of Iceland—the only places where mid-ocean ridges appear above sea level. Volcanic ridges (or "spreading centers") occur when tectonic plates "rift" or pull apart. This happens when magma (hot molten rock) injects itself into weaknesses in the brittle upper crust, erupting as lava and forming new crust upon cooling.

"These conclusions would not have been possible without the multi-disciplinary expertise of the researchers taking part in these studies," said Cynthia Ebinger, professor of geophysics at the University of Rochester.

The studies, published in Nature Geoscience, reveal new information about where magma is stored and how it moves through the geological plumbing network.

Magma chambers work like plumbing systems, channelling pressurized magma through networks of underground "pipes." Finding out where magma chambers lie and how they behave could help identify early warning signs of impending eruptions, according to the researchers…”

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Study Shows Adaptive Capacity of Reef Corals to Climate Change May Be Widespread

1:51:40 AM, Thursday, April 12, 2012

“A new study by scientists at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science suggests that many species of reef-building corals may be able to adapt to warming waters by relying on their closest aquatic partners - algae. The corals' ability to host a variety of algal types, each with different sensitivities to environmental stress, could offer a much-needed lifeline in the face of global climate change.

Using a highly sensitive genetic technique, Ph.D. student Rachel Silverstein analyzed 39 coral species from DNA collected in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean collected over the last 15 years. Most of these species had not previously been thought capable of hosting more than one type of the single-celled symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, which live inside the coral and help to supply them with energy. Silverstein's results revealed that at least one colony of all 39 species tested had at least two varieties of algae, including one thought to be heat tolerant. Over half of the species were found to associate with all four of the major types of algae found in corals.

"This study shows that more coral species are able to host multiple algal symbionts than we previously thought," said Andrew Baker, associate professor at UM's Rosenstiel School and co-author of the study. "The fact that they all seem to be capable of hosting symbionts that might help them survive warmer temperatures suggests they have hidden potential that was once thought to be confined to just a few special species."

More than 10 years ago, Baker was one of the first scientists to suggest that the ability of corals to associate with diverse algal symbionts may be one mechanism by which they are able to rapidly respond to environmental changes, such as increased ocean temperatures due to climate change.

"Although our study shows that different coral species do tend to have preferences in their algal partners, the fact that these preferences are not absolutely rigid means that we cannot ignore the possibility that most corals might change partners in response to environmental changes in the future," said Silverstein…”

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Potato Chips Guy Breaks Up Subway Fight

12:55:59 AM, Thursday, April 12, 2012
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The Race to Save the Rainforest Frogs so They Can Save Us

12:07:24 AM, Thursday, April 12, 2012

“Frogs matter - they play a vital role in the food chain, and some have been found to produce chemicals that cure human diseases. But a fungus dubbed "the amphibian smallpox" is making many species extinct. So scientists are mounting a rescue operation.

It's the middle of the night in the rainforests of central Panama.

Biologist Brian Gratwicke slogs through a stream with a group of researchers looking for little green blobs sitting on leaves.

"Anything that makes the leaf hang unusually," he says.

A colleague spots a pair of tiny eyes gleaming in the beam of a torch. But it's a false alarm - probably just a spider, and spiders are not the team's quarry.

The little green blobs they are looking for are frogs, and after 90 minutes in the jungle, they have yet to find a single one.

It might just be bad luck, but probably not. Frogs around the world are in decline. In recent years, scientists have documented frog population decreases of up to 80% in some areas.

Habitat loss, climate change and pollution, are all playing a role in the disappearances.

Another culprit is "chytrid" - a virulent fungal disease, thought to have originated in Africa, that's spreading around the globe.

In parts of Central America the fungus is moving at around 20 miles (32km) a year…”

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