Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Friday, 27 February 2009

The future of medicine, 02, 2009


  1. Scrawny' gene keeps stem cells healthy
  2. Converting adult somatic cells to pluripotent stem cells using a single virus
  3. Scientists develop first examples of RNA that replicates itself indefinitely
  4. British first as baby born free of cancer gene
  5. Patient’s DNA May Be Signal to Tailor Medication

Scrawny' gene keeps stem cells healthy

( -- Stem cells are the body's primal cells, retaining the youthful ability to develop into more specialized types of cells over many cycles of cell division. Scientists at the Carnegie Institution have identified a gene, named scrawny, that appears to be a key factor in keeping a variety of stem cells in their undifferentiated state.

In the study, Spradling, with colleagues Michael Buszczak and Shelley Paterno, determined that the fruit fly gene scrawny modifies a specific chromosomal protein, histone H2B, used by cells to package DNA into chromosomes. By controlling the proteins that wrap the genes, scrawny can silence genes that would otherwise cause a generalized cell to differentiate into a specific type of cell, such as a skin or intestinal cell.

The researchers observed the effects of scrawny on every major type of stem cell found in fruit flies.

Stem cells function as a repair system for the body. They maintain healthy tissues and organs by producing new cells to replenish dying cells and rebuild damaged tissues.

While the scrawny gene has so far only been identified in fruit flies, very similar genes that may carry out the same function are known to be present in all multicellular organisms, including humans. source

My comment: Not too much to say here-this is a piece of great research. I'm posting it, because this really is a step in the right direction for the stem-cell research. If you know that gene, you can manipulate it to either make the type of cells you need or to keep the stem cells intact for later use. That's great.

Converting adult somatic cells to pluripotent stem cells using a single virus

A Boston University School of Medicine-led research team has discovered a more efficient way to create induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells, derived from mouse fibroblasts, by using a single virus vector instead of multiple viruses in the reprogramming process. The result is a powerful laboratory tool and a significant step toward the application of embryonic stem cell-like cells for clinical purposes such as the regeneration of organs damaged by inherited or degenerative diseases, including emphysema, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and Alzheimer's Disease.

Prior research studies have required multiple retroviral vectors for reprogramming essentially a separate virus for each reprogramming gene (Oct4. Klf4, Sox2 and cMyc) that convert the cells from their adult, differentiated status to what amounts to an embryonic-like state.

However, the high number of genomic integrations that typically occurs when multiple viruses are used for reprogramming, poses a safety risk in humans, as some of these genes can cause cancer.

The major milestone the six-member research team, led by Gustavo Mostoslavsky, Boston University, achieved was combining the four vectors into a single "stem cell cassette"(named STEMCCA) containing all four genes.

With the STEMCCA vector, the researchers were able to generate iPS cells more 10 times more efficiently and several iPS clones were generated with a single viral integration. source

My comment: Again, not too much to say, except that this is a big advance and I can't wait to see where all those cool discoveries are taking us to.

Scientists develop first examples of RNA that replicates itself indefinitely

January 9th, 2009

Scientists from Scripps Research Institute have synthesized for the first time RNA enzymes that can replicate themselves without the help of any proteins or other cellular components, and the process proceeds indefinitely.

In the modern world, DNA carries the genetic sequence for advanced organisms, while RNA is dependent on DNA for performing its roles such as building proteins. But one prominent theory about the origins of life, called the RNA World model, postulates that because RNA can function as both a gene and an enzyme, RNA might have come before DNA and protein and acted as the ancestral molecule of life.

The goal of the researchers was to take one of the RNA enzymes already developed in the lab that could perform the basic chemistry of replication, and improve it to the point that it could drive efficient, perpetual self-replication.

The team was able to isolate an evolved version of the original enzyme that is a very efficient replicator. The improved enzyme fulfilled the primary goal of being able to undergo perpetual replication.

The replicating system actually involves two enzymes, each composed of two subunits and each functioning as a catalyst that assembles the other. The replication process is cyclic, in that the first enzyme binds the two subunits that comprise the second enzyme and joins them to make a new copy of the second enzyme; while the second enzyme similarly binds and joins the two subunits that comprise the first enzyme. In this way the two enzymes assemble each other — what is termed cross-replication. To make the process proceed indefinitely requires only a small starting amount of the two enzymes and a steady supply of the subunits.

Then the researchers mixed 12 different cross-replicating pairs, together with all of their constituent subunits, and allowed them to compete in a molecular test of survival of the fittest. Most of the time the replicating enzymes would breed true, but on occasion an enzyme would make a mistake by binding one of the subunits from one of the other replicating enzymes. When such "mutations" occurred, the resulting recombinant enzymes also were capable of sustained replication, with the most fit replicators growing in number to dominate the mixture. The research shows that the system can sustain molecular information, a form of heritability, and give rise to variations of itself in a way akin to Darwinian evolution. source

My comment: Two points here. First, as a decent SG fan, I get very uncomfortable hearing the word "replicator". And if you think about it, letting loose such RNAs might create the perfect virus. True, it's not straight-forward, but the little guys are really creative in terms of survival and all that RNA needs is a non-living thing to incoroporate it in its genome. Apart from that, I think this is a wonderful proof of evolution and gives us a new perspective in terms of creation of life. If you think about it, it's not that hard in a complex environment to obtain such life building blocks. And then, all you need to do is wait and see who's going to survive and what it's going to become.

British first as baby born free of cancer gene

January 9th, 2009

A mother who is the first woman in Britain to have a baby selected free of a gene which causes breast cancer has given birth succesfully, doctors said Friday.

The baby's 27-year-old mother, who wants to remain anonymous, decided to take the step because several of her husband's close female relatives suffered from breast cancer.

Any daughter born with the BRCA 1 gene has an 80 per cent risk of developing breast cancer and a 60 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer -- as well as a 50 percent risk of passing on the anomaly to their own children.

Doctors said the parents were relieved to have a guarantee that the faulty gene would not be passed to their daughter.

"This little girl will not face the spectre of developing this genetic form of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in her adult life," said Paul Serhal, head of the Assisted Conception Unit at UCL Hospital.

The procedure was carried out using a technique known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis which has already been used here to screen embryos resulting from in vitro fertilisation for disorders like cystic fibrosis.

It was given the green light in Britain in 2006.

The procedure is still relatively rare but has been used to screen embryos for breast cancer in the United States and Belgium. source

My comment: I think this is a great news. Yes, it's a bit scary to imagine parents selecting the gens of their children, but for me, ensuring a cancer-free life is more important, especially when the probability of developing it is 80%. This is very hight percentage and I think the mother of the baby did the best thing. Sure, there are many more types of cancer to endanger the future person, but every one down the wall counts.

Patient’s DNA May Be Signal to Tailor Medication

Experts say that most drugs, whatever the disease, work for only about half the people who take them. Not only is much of the nation’s approximately $300 billion annual drug spending wasted, but countless patients are being exposed unnecessarily to side effects.

No wonder so much hope is riding on the promise of “personalized medicine,” in which genetic screening and other tests give doctors more evidence for tailoring treatments to patients, potentially improving care and saving money.

Many policy experts are calling for more studies to compare the effectiveness of different treatments. One drawback is that such studies tend to be “one size fits all,” with the winning treatment recommended for everybody. Personalized medicine would go beyond that by determining which drug is best for which patient, rather than continuing to treat everyone the same in hopes of benefiting the fortunate few.

The colon cancer drugs Erbitux and Vectibix, for instance, do not work for the 40 percent of patients whose tumors have a particular genetic mutation. The Food and Drug Administration held a meeting this month to discuss whether patients should be tested to narrow use of the drugs, which cost $8,000 to $10,000 a month.

And a genetic test might help doctors determine the optimal dose of warfarin, a blood thinner used by millions of Americans. Tens of thousands of them are hospitalized each year because of internal bleeding from an overdose or a blood clot from an inadequate dose. The test typically costs $100 to $600.

For all the potential, experts see some formidable obstacles on the path to the promised land of personalized medicine.

The hurdles include drug makers, which can be reluctant to develop or encourage tests that may limit the use of their drugs. Insurers may not pay for tests, which can cost up to a few thousand dollars. For makers of the tests, which hope their business becomes one of health care’s next big growth industries, a major obstacle is proving that their products are accurate and useful. While drugs must prove themselves in clinical trials before they can be sold, there is no generally recognized process for evaluating genetic tests, many of which can be marketed by laboratories without F.D.A. approval.

Genentech, a developer of cancer drugs, petitioned the F.D.A. this month to regulate such tests. It warned of “safety risks for patients, as more treatment decisions are based in whole or in part on the claims made by such test makers.”

A cautionary case is Herceptin, a Genentech breast cancer drug that is considered the archetype of personalized medicine because it works only for women whose tumors have a particular genetic characteristic. But now, 10 years after Herceptin reached the market, scientists are finding that the various tests — some approved by the F.D.A., some not — can be inaccurate.

Moreover, doctors do not always conduct the tests or follow the results. source
My comment: Yeah, what a surprise that the drug makers will be against the personalized medicine. But i think we must support in every way such tests. That will save us both money and life and improving our life should be our number one priority. As for drug makers-that a wonderful opportunity to start producing drugs that actually work.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The discovery of the "self" and the memory stored in our genes


  1. The secret life of the brain
  2. Goldmine bug DNA may be key to alien life
  3. Scientists create working artificial nerve networks
  4. Can experiences be passed on to offspring?
A truly amazing set of articles. I suggest you read them, I carefully shortened them, but the originals are even more informative. Read also my comments and please tell me what you think. Because I'm simply overwhelmed by joy and excitement. That kind of articles are precisely why this blog exists!

The secret life of the brain

IN 1953 Louis Sokoloff found out that although the brain accounting for 2% body mass consumes 20% of the calories we eat, it consumed no more oxygen while doing arithmetic than it did while he was resting with his eyes closed.

Marcus Raichle, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St Louis and colleagues discovered what the idling brain is doing. And whatever it does, it fires up whenever the brain is otherwise unoccupied and burns white hot, guzzling more oxygen, gram for gram, than your beating heart.

Raichle and Shulman published a paper in 2001 suggesting that they had stumbled onto a previously unrecognised "default mode" - an activity which the brain turns to when unoccupied and sets aside when called on to do something else. This brain activity occurred largely in a cluster of regions arching through the midline of the brain, from front to back-the default network.

Measurements of metabolic activity showed that some parts of this network devoured 30 per cent more calories than nearly any other area of the brain.

One of the core components is the medial prefrontal cortex , which is known to evaluate things from a highly self-centred perspective of whether they're likely to be good, bad, or indifferent. Parts of the default network also have strong connections to the hippocampus, which records and recalls autobiographical memories.

To Raichle and his colleague Debra Gusnard, this all pointed to one thing: daydreaming. Raichle and Gusnard speculated that the default network might provide the brain with an "inner rehearsal" for considering future actions and choices. So important is this exercise, it seems, that the brain engages in it whenever possible.

But people are starting to suspect that the default network does more than just daydream. In 2003 Michael Greicius of Stanford University in California studied the default network of calm patients with an fMRI scanner. This led him to find what are called resting state fluctuations in the default network - slow waves of neural activity that ripple through in a coordinated fashion, linking its constellation of brain areas into a coherent unit. The waves lasted 10 to 20 seconds from crest to crest, up to 100 times slower than typical EEG brain waves recorded by electrodes on the scalp.

Raichle reported last year that the network's resting waves continued in heavily anaesthetised monkeys as though they were awake. More recently, Greicius reported a similar phenomenon in sedated humans, and other researchers have found the default network active and synchronised in early sleep.

Raichle now believes that the default network is involved, selectively storing and updating memories based on their importance from a personal perspective. source

My comment: Ok, I couldn't shorten it more than this. But this article is extremely important. Why? Because it found out that the daydreaming is really important not only to us, but also for our brain. It a link between brain and personality in a way. What's more important is that they caught the origin of the "self". At least that's what I think those slow ripples are. Because when you daydream, you usually forget yourself, but at some points, something brings back the feeling of self, of being. I think that's what they found! Awesome!

Goldmine bug DNA may be key to alien life

A bug discovered deep in a goldmine and nicknamed "the bold traveller" has got astrobiologists buzzing with excitement. Its unique ability to live in complete isolation of any other living species suggests it could be the key to life on other planets.

A community of the bacteria Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator has been discovered 2.8 kilometres beneath the surface of the Earth in fluid-filled cracks of the Mponeng goldmine in South Africa. Its 60 °C home is completely isolated from the rest of the world, and devoid of light and oxygen.

Dylan Chivian of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California, studied the genes found in samples of the fluid to identify the organisms living within it, expecting to find a mix of species. Instead, he found that 99.9% of the DNA belonged to one bacterium, a new species. The remaining DNA was contamination from the mine and the laboratory.

A community of a single species is almost unheard of in the microbial world. It means the ecosystem's only species must extract everything it needs from an otherwise dead environment.

Chivian's analysis shows that D. audaxviator gets its energy from the radioactive decay of uranium in the surrounding rocks. It has genes to extract carbon from dissolved carbon dioxide and other genes to fix nitrogen, which comes from the surrounding rocks. Both carbon and nitrogen are essential building blocks for life as we know it, and are used in the building blocks of proteins, amino acids. D. audaxviator has genes to produce all the amino acids it needs.

D. audaxviator can also protect itself from environmental hazards by forming endospores - tough shells that protect its DNA and RNA from drying out, toxic chemicals and from starvation. It has a flagellum to help it navigate.

"One question that has arisen when considering the capacity of other planets to support life is whether organisms can exist independently, without access even to the Sun," says Chivian. "The answer is yes and here's the proof." source

My comment:Another stunningly cool discovery. At first I thought this organism must be alien, but the article suggest it could evolve from Earth bacteria with some luck and enough time. In any case, this bug is a proof that life can exist in much more variety than we usually assign to it. They guy lives on radioactivity! That's simply amazing.

Scientists create working artificial nerve networks

January 28th, 2009

Scientists have already hooked brains directly to computers by means of metal electrodes. In the future, the interface between brain and artificial system might be based on nerve cells grown for that purpose. In research that was recently featured on the cover of Nature Physics, Prof. Elisha Moses of the Physics of Complex Systems Department and his former research students Drs. Ofer Feinerman and Assaf Rotem have taken the first step in this direction by creating circuits and logic gates made of live nerves grown in the lab.

When neurons - brain nerve cells - are grown in culture, they don't form complex 'thinking' networks. Moses, Feinerman and Rotem wondered whether the physical structure of the nerve network could be designed to be more brain-like. To simplify things, they grew a model nerve network in one dimension only - by getting the neurons to grow along a groove etched in a glass plate. The scientists found they could stimulate these nerve cells using a magnetic field.

Experimenting further with the linear set-up, the group found that varying the width of the neuron stripe affected how well it would send signals. The researchers identified a threshold thickness, one that allowed the development of around 100 axons.

The scientists then took two thin stripes of around 100 axons each and created a logic gate similar to one in an electronic computer. Both of these 'wires' were connected to a small number of nerve cells. When the cells received a signal along just one of the 'wires,' the outcome was uncertain; but a signal sent along both 'wires' simultaneously was assured of a response. This type of structure is known as an AND gate. The next structure the team created was slightly more complex: Triangles fashioned from the neuron stripes were lined up in a row, point to rib, in a way that forced the axons to develop and send signals in one direction only. Several of these segmented shapes were then attached together in a loop to create a closed circuit. The regular relay of nerve signals around the circuit turned it into a sort of biological clock or pacemaker.

For the scientific paper, please see: . source

My comment: Nice, huh?! Not simply nice, it's actually beautiful. Just imagine hooking up to your brain a neural interface that consists of neurons. Any idea for more gentle and natural way to link something to your head? This discovery has a lot of potential.

Can experiences be passed on to offspring?

It seems that in mice at least, mothers that receive mental training before they become pregnant can pass on its cognitive benefits to their young.

Previous studies in both people and animals have shown that a mother's experiences while pregnant can affect her offspring's gene expression and health, even years later.

Larry Feig at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and his colleagues bred "knockout" mice that lacked a gene called Ras-GRF-2, causing them to have a memory defect. Normally, if mice in a cage receive a shock to their feet, they freeze in fear if they are then placed back into the same cage. In contrast, Ras-GRF2 knockout mice did not associate the cage with fear.

Before they reached adolescence, the team kept these knockout mice in a cage filled with toys for two weeks. Such "enriched environments" are known to enhance learning and memory. In the knockout mice, the enriched cage was enough to compensate for their memory defect: when tested on the fear task, they associated the shock with the cage, like normal mice.

To see if this compensation could be passed on to young, the researchers waited for these enriched knockout mice to reach sexual maturity, bred them and tested their offspring on the fear task. Despite being reared by an "unenriched" knockout foster mother - to rule out the effects of spending time with a mouse they could learn directly from - the offspring associated the electric shock with the cage, just like their enriched mothers and those without the genetic defect.

In contrast, the offspring of knockout mice who did not receive the enrichment did not associate the shock with the cage (Journal of Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1523/jneurosci.5057-08.2009).

This effect was only seen in offspring whose knockout mothers had an enriched cage: having an enriched knockout father but a normal knockout mother was not enough to remedy the defect in the offspring.

As the offspring had the same genetic defect as their mothers, the researchers attribute the enhanced cognition in these mice to the time their mothers spent in the enriched cage prior to becoming pregnant.

The effect was not passed on to a third generation and was only inherited if the offspring were conceived within three months of enrichment. So the researchers suspect that the mother passes on this cognitive effect during gestation, perhaps by releasing hormones that prompt "epigenetic" chemical markers to appear on her unborn child's genes, regulating their expression after birth. source

My comment: I knew that even before that experiment, but I'm glad that now other people know it too. Again, this is stunning result. Why? Because it gives you the real value of your DNA. It's not simply a bunch of letters telling your body how to grow. It actually tells you much more-it can tell you about the problems of your ancestors, about important lessons learnt by your parents. Now, I'm not overestimating the implications-this effect is hard to catch. I think it only happens when the environment is close to the original situation or when you're in certain mind-state. Our brain constantly offers us all kind of sensors and voices, but we only choose what we're familiar with-that means that even if your internal memories warn you on something, you might very well not choose to accept that information. And this could happen almost subconsciously. But if you choose to stay concious the most, you might find very interesting information all around you. That's sooooo exciting!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Climate special - the bacteria can be useful after all


  1. Synthetic e. coli could build a better biofuel: study
  2. Hot rocks: Africa's Rift Valley is geothermal gold mine
  3. Bacteria detoxify deadly seawater
  4. Plastic-Devouring Bacteria Could Keep Soda Bottles Out of Landfills

Synthetic e. coli could build a better biofuel: study

CHICAGO (AFP) – US researcher have engineered a synthetic version of the common e. coli bacteria that could help build a better biofuel, according to a study published Monday.

By altering the basic genetic structure of the bacteria, researchers were able to stimulate it to produce long-chain alcohols that are denser in energy than those found in nature.

Ethanol, one of the leading sources of biofuel, contains just two carbon atoms, and the most common naturally-produced long-chain alcohols contain no more than five carbon atoms.

But alcohols produced for the e. coli study by the University of California's Los Angeles lab contain up to eight carbon atoms, which means they pack a lot more energy.

These long-chain alcohols are also relatively easy to separate from water, making them ideal biofuels.

This is the first time researchers have been able to synthesize long-chain alcohol.

Liao's team did so by inserting chromosomes into the e. coli's DNA, which enabled it to overproduce a natural, elongated version of a compound that becomes an amino acid.

Two additional genes on the chromosomes encoded enzymes that converted the elongated compound to a six-carbon alcohol. source

My comment: As long as they don't let the little beast out, this sounds like a cool news. I mean, exploiting bacteria, what more do you want from life :)

Hot rocks: Africa's Rift Valley is geothermal gold mine

by Richard Ingham Richard Ingham Tue Dec 9, 1:39 pm ET

POZNAN, Poland (AFP) – Pilot drilling using new technology has revealed awesome potential for geothermal power in East Africa's Great Rift Valley, the UN talks on climate change heard here on Tuesday.

Engineers using new seismic tools to locate hot spots hit powerful veins of steam, warmed by heat from Earth's core, near the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, according to a press conference hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Several wells have been identified, most of them generating four to five megawatts of electricity, while one has a "bumper" capacity of eight megawatts, they said.

The geothermal potential from the Rift Valley is "at least 7,000 megawatts," providing a mighty contribution to the energy needs of 12 countries in East Africa, she said.

Under geothermal, superheated water from underground reservoir is drawn to the surface, where it can be harnessed for several uses according to the temperature.

The Valley is a gouge that extends from the Red Sea to Madagascar where massive tectonic energies are ripping crustal plates apart.

Kenya already has a geothermal plant, dating back a quarter of a century, that delivers around 115 megawatts, or just over a tenth of the country's electricity capacity. However, more power is urgently need to meet the needs of the country's fast-growing population, and electricity cuts are common, UNEP experts said.

The success of the pilot project could mean savings of as much as 75 million dollars for a new heat-capturing installation, he said. source

My comment: I'm not going to talk about the coolness of the news, because it's obvious. However, notice the place they are talking about. It's the Great Rift Valley- the very same place where man-kind started! Isn't this interesting coincidence? I think not.

Bacteria detoxify deadly seawater

( -- Some marine bacteria produce hydrogen sulphide, which is toxic to animals. Scientists have now discovered that bacteria also protect marine animals from this toxic gas. A bacterial bloom detoxified a vast expanse of hydrogen sulphide-containing water off the coast of Namibia, before it could unfold its full deadly impact.

Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) is well known for its characteristic smell of rotten eggs. But hydrogen sulphide is not only smelly, it is also highly toxic. Humans can die within minutes when exposed to high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide. This foul-smelling gas threatens coastal fisheries, which account for 90 percent of global fish-catch.

Bacteria play a dubious role in the process - after all, they are responsible for the formation of deadly hydrogen sulphide gas. However, bacteria are also responsible for detoxifying hydrogen sulphide, as researchers from the German Max-Planck-Institute et al. now discovered. Their surprising results show that bacteria detoxified sulphidic coastal waters covering an area of approximately 7,000 km2 off Namibia - an area almost three times the size of Luxembourg.

The scientists investigated the occurrence of sulphidic water masses along the coast of West Africa. In January 2004, they hit upon a sulphidic water mass covering 7,000 km2 of coastal seafloor. The surface waters, however, were well oxygenated. In the presence of oxygen, sulphide is oxidized and transformed into nontoxic forms of sulphur. Surprisingly, Lavik, Stührmann, Kuypers and their colleagues found an intermediate layer in the water column, which contained neither hydrogen sulphide nor oxygen.

"Obviously the layer was oxidized anaerobically - without oxygen", Torben Stührmann explains. "Many bacteria do not require oxygen for respiration and can use nitrate (NO3-) instead. And indeed - we found a water layer that contained both hydrogen sulphide and nitrate."

This water layer is the habitat of detoxifying microorganisms, which are closely related to bacteria known from hot vents and cold seeps in the deep ocean. By using nitrate, these bacteria transform sulphide into finely dispersed particles of sulphur that are nontoxic. Thus, the microorganisms create a buffer zone between the toxic deep water and the oxygenated surface waters, where fish and other marine animals live. source

My comment: So, good news and bad news all in one. The Nature took the time to place detoxifying bacteria on the way of pollution, but our satellites cannot monitor the pollution then. Oh, well. I find it particularly interesting how everything in Nature has its place. It's a very comforting thought.

Plastic-Devouring Bacteria Could Keep Soda Bottles Out of Landfills

Researchers have discovered new strains of Pseudomonas bacteria that feed on the PET plastic used in drink bottles, and turn it into a more valuable, biodegradable form of plastic. The discovery suggests a way to keep billions of pounds of discarded plastic out of landfills.

The researchers knew that heating PET plastic in the absence of oxygen produces a substance called terephthalic acid, which some bacteria feed on. They also know that other bacteria produce a high quality plastic called PHA that could have numerous applications in medicine–because PHA plastic is biodegradable. The researchers hoped to find a bacteria that fed on terephthalic acid and produced PHA plastic, so they collected soil bacteria from a bottle processing plant.

As reported in their paper, published in Environmental Science and Technology , after 48 hours they screened each culture for PHA. Three cultures, all similar to known strains of Pseudomonas, accumulated detectable quantities of the valuable plastic. The next step is to improve the efficiency of the process, says O’Connor. “A quarter to a third of each cell is filled with plastic – we want to increase that to 50 to 60%” [New Scientist]. source

My comment: Very very nice! I mean that's what a sustainable society should be about-living in perfect harmony with Nature. And again, notice how the bacteria found the plant on their own and they were there, only someone had to look for them.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Distant planets and Spirit's new moods


  1. Astronomers get a sizzling weather report from a distant planet
  2. Mars Rover Team Diagnosing Unexpected Behavior
  3. Cassini Finds Hydrocarbon Rains May Fill Titan Lakes
  4. Apollo 17 sample helps date Moon

Astronomers get a sizzling weather report from a distant planet

January 28th, 2009

Astronomers have observed the intense heating of a distant planet as it swung close to its parent star, providing important clues to the atmospheric properties of the planet. The observations enabled astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to generate realistic images of the planet by feeding the data into computer simulations of the planet's atmosphere.

The researchers used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to obtain infrared measurements of the heat emanating from the planet as it whipped behind and close to its star. In just six hours, the planet's temperature rose from 800 to 1,500 Kelvin (980 to 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit).

Known as HD 80606b, the planet circles a star 200 light years from Earth, is four times the mass of Jupiter, and has the most eccentric orbit of any known planet. It spends most of its 111.4-day orbit at distances that would place it between Venus and Earth in our own solar system, while the closest part of its orbit brings it within 0.03 astronomical units of its star (one astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the Sun). The planet zips through this dramatic close encounter with its star in less than a day.

Spitzer observed the planet for 30 hours before, during, and just after its closest approach to the star. The planet passed behind the star (an event called a secondary eclipse) just before the moment of its closest approach. This was a lucky break for Laughlin and his colleagues, who had not known that would happen when they planned the observation. The secondary eclipse allowed them to get accurate measurements from just the star and thereby determine exact temperatures for the planet.

The extreme temperature swing observed by Spitzer indicates that the intense irradiation from the star is absorbed in a layer of the planet's upper atmosphere that absorbs and loses heat rapidly, Laughlin said.

Coauthor Jonathan Langton, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC, fed the Spitzer data into a hydrodynamic model of the planet's atmosphere to predict its response to the intense heating. Langton's simulation shows the global storms and shockwaves unleashed in the planet's atmosphere every 111 days as it swings close to its star.

"The initial response could be described as an explosion on the side facing the star," Langton said. "As the atmosphere heats up and expands, it produces very high winds, on the order of 5 kilometers per second, flowing away from the day side toward the night side. The rotation of the planet causes these winds to curl up into large-scale storm systems that gradually die down as the planet cools over the course of its orbit."

Daniel Kasen was able to generate photorealistic images of the planet using a program he developed to calculate radiative transfer processes in astrophysics. "

The resulting images show a thin blue crescent of reflected starlight framing the night side of the planet, which glows cherry red from its own heat, like coals in a fire. "These images are far more realistic than anything that's been done before for extrasolar planets," Laughlin said. source

My comment: I find it absolutely cool how we can know what's happening on a planet 200 l.y. away from our own! We can get a pretty good idea what it looks like, or what happens when it passes near its star. Also interesting is that the heat is absorbed by the upper atmosphere. Imagine what could go on inside the giant. I mean, we know so little about our own Jupiter!

Mars Rover Team Diagnosing Unexpected Behavior

January 28th, 2009
( -- The team operating NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit plans diagnostic tests this week after Spirit did not report some of its weekend activities, including a request to determine its orientation after an incomplete drive.

On Sunday, during the 1,800th Martian day, or sol, of what was initially planned as a 90-sol mission on Mars, information radioed from Spirit indicated the rover had received its driving commands for the day but had not moved. That can happen for many reasons, including the rover properly sensing that it is not ready to drive. However, other behavior on Sol 1800 was even more unusual: Spirit apparently did not record the day's main activities into the non-volatile memory, the part of its memory that persists even when power is off.

On Monday, Spirit's controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., chose to command the rover on Tuesday, Sol 1802, to find the sun with its camera in order to precisely determine its orientation. Not knowing its orientation could have been one possible explanation for Spirit not doing its weekend drive. Early Tuesday, Spirit reported that it had tried to follow the commands, but had not located the sun.

"We don't have a good explanation yet for the way Spirit has been acting for the past few days," said JPL's Sharon Laubach, chief of the team that writes and checks commands for the rovers.

Despite the rover's unexplained behavior, Mars Exploration Rovers' Project Manager John Callas of JPL said Wednesday, “Right now, Spirit is under normal sequence control, reporting good health and responsive to commands from the ground." source

My comment: Ok, first, why did they call the Martian day "sol". It's kind of weird. Anyway, that's not even part of the weirdness. So, dear old Spirit, decided that it's having a time off work? As funny as it sounds, its behaviour is very odd. Sure, it could have problems moving or locating the Sun, but not recording them is very odd. I wonder what happened with the poor guy. It's very suspicious. I guess it either was used for a party of the little (or not so little) green guys or it developed AI. a link to the story suggesting everything is fine now.

Cassini Finds Hydrocarbon Rains May Fill Titan Lakes

January 30th, 2009

( -- A region on Saturn's moon Titan's southern latitudes appears to have been flooded by a summer cloudburst of hydrocarbon rain, as seen in images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft taken before and after a large storm system was observed.

Recent images of Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft affirm the presence of lakes of liquid hydrocarbons by capturing changes in the lakes brought on by rainfall.

For several years, Cassini scientists have suspected that dark areas near the north and south poles of Saturn’s largest satellite might be liquid-filled lakes. An analysis published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters of recent pictures of Titan's south polar region reveals new lake features not seen in images of the same region taken a year earlier. The presence of extensive cloud systems covering the area in the intervening year suggests that the new lakes could be the result of a large rainstorm and that some lakes may thus owe their presence, size and distribution across Titan’s surface to the moon’s weather and changing seasons.

The high-resolution cameras of Cassini’s Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) have now surveyed nearly all of Titan’s surface at a global scale.

Such observations have documented greater stores of liquid methane in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere. And, as the northern hemisphere moves toward summer, Cassini scientists predict large convective cloud systems will form there and precipitation greater than that inferred in the south could further fill the northern lakes with hydrocarbons.

Some of the north polar lakes are large. If full, Kraken Mare is 400,000 square kilometers. All the north polar dark ‘lake’ areas observed by ISS total more than 510,000 square kilometers -- almost 40 percent larger than Earth’s largest “lake,” the Caspian Sea.

However, evaporation from these large surface reservoirs is not great enough to replenish the methane lost from the atmosphere by rainfall and by the formation and eventual deposition on the surface of methane-derived haze particles.

Combined with previous analyses, the new observations suggest that underground methane reservoirs must exist.

Titan is the only satellite in the solar system with a thick atmosphere in which a complex organic chemistry occurs. "It’s unique," Turtle said. source

My comment: Oh, well, enough is said in the article. I'd just like to remind you that Titan is one of the Top candidates in our Solar System to host life.

Apollo 17 sample helps date Moon

A SPECK of the mineral zircon that's older than any yet found on Earth has been recovered from a rock sample brought back by Apollo 17 astronauts. The grain has helped pinpoint the age at which the molten moon solidified.

Until now, the zircon found in lunar rocks was between 3.90 and 4.35 billion years old, the same as the oldest zircon found on Earth. But many of these lunar grains came from low-lying areas on the moon, where the crust had been resurfaced after being melted by meteorite impacts.

The new sample, found by Alexander Nemchin at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, and colleagues, is 4.42 billion years old, and came from the lunar highlands. That means it crystallised after the crust first solidified, within 100 million years of the moon's formation .

The grain sets limits on the moon's age, says Dianne Taylor of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied similar samples. The moon is thought to have formed from debris ejected by a giant impact between Earth and a smaller body between 10 and 100 million years after the formation of the solar system, 4.57 billion years ago. Taylor reckons the lunar crust formed within 90 million years of the impact, which tallies well with the age of the zircon. source

My comment: I don't know what exactly that means, except that it probably makes the Earth even older if we keep the theory that the Moon is part of the Earth.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The amazing life of bacteria and the new ways to stop it


  1. Can cannibalism fight infections?
  2. Scientists drill holes through deadly bacteria's Kevlar-like hide
  3. Nanoemulsion potent against superbugs that kill cystic fibrosis patients
  4. Nanotechnology used to probe effectiveness of antibiotics
Very specialised post, but if you get past the technicalities, you'll discover a whole new world. they would of those small nasties - the bacteria. But no matter how nasty, they show something very important for me. Signs of collectivism and even of intellect. And they are so small. How did they learn to do that (for example to pass messages between colonies?!), where they're storing the ability to do it. How and why it happens? It's all very interesting. If bacteria has some form of intelligence, then the Universe just got even Bigger. And that's a lot! And yeah, on the bright side, there is a chance to learn how to kill them. Fortunately. Especially note article #3. Absolutely cool! Enjoy :)

Can cannibalism fight infections?

February 2nd, 2009

The secret weapon against a colony of bacteria may be to stress it with its own protection system, which forces it to reduce its population through cannibalism.

"Our studies suggest this is a new way to fight off bacteria," says Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, an award-winning scientist from Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy. "If we expose the entire colony to the very same chemical signals that the bacteria produce to fend off competition, they'll do the work for us and kill each other."

Cannibalism among bacteria, explains Prof. Ben-Jacob, is a strange cooperative behavior elicited under stress. In response to stressors such as starvation, heat shock and harmful chemicals, the bacteria reduce their population with a chemical that kills sister cells in the colony.

"But what's most interesting among bacteria is that they appear to develop a rudimentary form of social intelligence, reflected in a sophisticated and delicate chemical dialogue conducted to guarantee that only a fraction of the cells are killed."

In the current study, the researchers investigated what happens when two sibling colonies of bacteria --Paenibacillus dendritiformis (a special strain of social bacteria discovered by Prof. Ben-Jacob) -- are grown side by side on a hard surface with limited nutrients. Surprisingly, the two colonies not only inhibited each other from growing into the territory between them but induced the death of those cells close to the border, researchers found.

Even more interesting to the scientists was the discovery that cell death stopped when they blocked the exchange of chemical messages between the two colonies. "It looks as if a message from one colony initiates population reduction in the cells across the gap." says Prof. Ben-Jacob.

Bacteria, Prof. Ben-Jacob says, know how to glean information from the environment, talk with each other, distribute tasks and generate collective memory. He believes that bacterial social intelligence, conveyed through advanced chemical language, allows bacteria to turn their colonies into massive "brains" that process information, learning from past experience to solve unfamiliar problems and better cope with new challenges.source

My comment: Awesome! I never knew that bacteria are so social and intelligent. From one point of view, I hate bacteria, because I have too often confrontation with them. But from another- I admire them. They are so tough and adaptive and versatile. And surprisingly intelligent for something so small. Maybe the size really doesn't matter.

Scientists drill holes through deadly bacteria's Kevlar-like hide

In research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Rockefeller University researchers have figured out how to drill holes through the Kevlar-like hide of gram-positive bacteria without obliterating them, and in doing so, they’ve made it possible to study, from the inside out, most of the known bacteria on the planet.

The work, led by Vincent A. Fischetti, head of the Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology, provides, for the first time ever, a look inside the rapidly multiplying and highly contagious Streptococcus pyogenes, the culprit behind a myriad of diseases, including strep throat and rheumatic fever. At a time when organisms are increasingly acquiring “superbug” powers, Fischetti and his colleague Assaf Raz, a graduate student in the lab, have used the technique to look specifically at a well-known enzyme called sortase A and its distribution inside the cell. Common to all gram-positive bacteria, the enzyme functions by anchoring surface proteins to the cell wall, endowing the bacteria with their infectious properties.

“If you interfere with this process, you get naked bacteria and naked bacteria are unable to cause infection,” says Fischetti. “So the idea here is that the more we know how sortase functions inside the cell, the more strategies we’ll have to interfere with its activity stripping the bacteria of their pathogenic surface proteins.”

The technique relies on enzymes produced by viruses, called bacteriophages, which attack only bacteria. Unlike antibiotics, which take time to take effect, phage enzymes strike with blitzkrieg speed, preventing bacteria from mustering a defense. Usually, these enzymes destroy their target, leaving nothing but cellular debris behind. That’s because the pressure inside a bacterium is like a champagne bottle: Once it’s opened, it explodes. In their work, however, Fischetti and Raz figured out how to poke holes in S. pyogenes while keeping the bacteria intact. These holes provide an entryway for tags that fluoresce when they attach to molecules inside the altered bacteria, allowing scientists to visualize, from the inside out, what makes these single-celled powerhouses infectious.

Fischetti and Raz were interested in whether the distribution of sortase A inside the cell affects the distribution of protein M, one of many surface proteins found on these bacteria. The researchers found that as the bacteria divide, the tagged sortase A assembles at a very specific location: the point of cell division where it anchors protein M. Interestingly, before the bacterium finishes dividing, sortase A starts to assemble at the new point of division — even before the recently formed bacteria starts dividing.

Perhaps this migration is a way for bacteria to be ultra-organized. “Strep divide every 20 or 30 minutes under optimal conditions,” says Fischetti. “During that time, a lot of things are going on and the bug has to be extremely organized for all these things to happen very quickly. We now have the tools to start answering how these organisms carry out this feat. ” source

My comment: Cool! Even if somewhat long. Bacteria are just so cool! Ok, maybe it's not so cool to read about those resistant bacteria, but this new technology looks promising. Maybe they'll finally find something to kill the bugs in us once and for all. At lease the bad ones.

Nanoemulsion potent against superbugs that kill cystic fibrosis patients

February 4th, 2009

University of Michigan scientists report highly encouraging evidence that a super-fine oil-and-water emulsion, already shown to kill many other microbes, may be able to quell the ravaging, often drug-resistant infections that cause nearly all cystic fibrosis deaths.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic lung disease that affects 30,000 children and adults in the United States. Patients have mucus-clogged lungs that leave them vulnerable to repeated, ever more serious respiratory infections.

Nanoemulsions developed at Baker's institute consist of soybean oil, water, alcohol and surfactants forced by high-stress mechanical extrusion into droplets less than 400 nanometers in size.

These emulsions have already proved to be non-toxic, potent killers of bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, H. influenzae and gonorrhea, of viruses such as herpes simplex and influenza A, and of several fungi. Nanoemulsion treatments for cold sores and toenail fungus are in Phase 3 clinical trials.

"We have a product that looks like it could be safely administered to the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis," LiPuma says. If future trials show that patients can tolerate effective doses of the nanoemulsion, he adds, "This could be a major breakthrough in the treatment of cystic fibrosis."

The novel physical mode of action -- the nanoemulsion appears to kill bacteria by disrupting their outer membranes - makes developing resistance unlikely, LiPuma says.

"Given that this technology works differently from antibiotic drugs, it provides a potential alternative for treatment in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Since the material has already shown success in treating skin infections, we believe it has potential to treat antibiotic-resistant lung infections," says Baker.

If the technique proves safe and effective, people would inhale the nanoemulsion using a nebulizer and be able to reduce the severity and frequency of infections that spiral out of control due to resistance to current antibiotics.

In cell cultures in the lab, the U-M scientists tested a nanoemulsion against 150 bacterial strains that attack cystic fibrosis patients. The emulsion proved effective at killing all of them, including one-third that are resistant to many antibiotics and 13 percent that resist all antibiotics.

They then tested the nanoemulsion against several bacterial strains grown in biofilms and sputum, to more closely simulate conditions in a patient's body. Antibiotics often can't penetrate biofilms and sputum unless given at high doses with unacceptable side effects.

"We saw, not surprisingly, that greater concentrations of nanoemulsion were required to kill the bacteria, but we saw no strains that were resistant," LiPuma says. Whether humans can tolerate those concentrations well remains to be seen.

The University of Michigan has filed for patent protection on the CF nanoemulsion, and licensed this technology to Ann Arbor-based NanoBio Corporation. Baker is a founder and equity holder of NanoBio. source

My comment: NICE! Ok, that's extremely good news and it surprisingly reminds me of alchemy. I mean, on first glance the emulsion is nothing special. But it obviously does work! If it's also safe, this will be the greatest discovery ever. Also, I like it that the scientists filed a patent and founded a company. Way to go, guys!

Nanotechnology used to probe effectiveness of antibiotics

February 4th, 2009

A group of researchers led by scientists from the London Centre for Nanotechnology, in collaboration with a University of Queensland researcher, have discovered a way of using tiny nano-probes to help understand how an antibiotic is effective against bacteria.

Bacteria such as MRSA (commonly known as Golden Staph) are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, posing a major community health problem.

Professor Matt Cooper, the Australian in the team, has this week joined the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at UQ on a $4 million Australia Fellowship.

Through the fellowship, he will establish a research program in the development of antibiotics and antifungals that are active against drug-resistant pathogens, in particular those responsible for hospital-acquired infections.

To study antibiotic action, the London team made nano-probes coated with molecules found in bacterial cell walls from normal bacteria and bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

They then added doses of the “last resort” antibiotic, vancomycin, to the system and found that probes from normal bacteria were stressed and changed shape, whereas probes from resistant bacteria were only weakly affected. These bent probes could be detected with a laser, indicating that the antibiotic was applying a force to the surface.

This allowed the researchers to quickly assess the effectiveness of an antibiotic and propose new ways in which antibiotics may be acting to cause the bacteria to burst and die.

The system was able to detect that it is 1,000 times harder for vancomycin to attach to resistant bacteria than to non-resistant bacteria.

The team are now screening other novel antibiotics with the goal of finding a drug that is able to bind strongly to resistant bacteria and cause substantial structural weaknesses to the cell wall. source

My comment: One more cool result. Thogh, this article is more oriented to the future, still, they found a way to measure the effect of antibiotic on a bacteria. That's important result.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Microstuff - the war is not over


  1. Dressed to Kill: From Virus to Vaccine
  2. Turning down gene expression promotes nerve cell maintenance
  3. Targeted nanospheres find, penetrate, then fuel burning of melanoma
Eyes on the first and the last article. Pretty cool!

Dressed to Kill: From Virus to Vaccine

( -- In a pioneering effort, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Queensland in Australia have successfully demonstrated that they can count, size and gauge the quality of virus-like particle-based (VLP) vaccines much more quickly and accurately than previously possible. Their findings could reduce the time it takes to produce a vaccine from months to weeks, allowing a much more agile and effective response to potential outbreaks.

Viruses are small, simple bodies consisting of DNA or RNA wrapped in a protein shell studded with short strands of protein. Viruses use these short strands of protein like a skeleton key to unlock and invade healthy cells, replace their DNA, hijack the cells’ replication machinery and turn them into virus-producing factories. As with smallpox and influenza, the only way to combat the virus is through vaccination, in which dead or weakened viruses are injected into the body. Unable to cause any real harm, the dead or weakened viruses allow the body to develop antigens that can fight off the infection in the future.

“The problem with this approach is that it takes a long time to develop vaccines” said Leonard Pease, a NIST researcher working on the project.

In order to speed the creation and delivery of these life-saving treatments, scientists at NIST and the University of Queensland in Australia are working to develop a new class of vaccines with virus-like particles (VLP). First used in the cervical cancer vaccine, VLP-based vaccines consist of an artificial protein shell that has been coated with proteins specific to whatever disease the vaccine is intended to control. Although the VLP is dressed up to look like the real thing to the body’s immune system, it contains no DNA or RNA and is incapable of causing infection. Because VLPs do not have to be grown, vaccines based on these particles can be deployed much faster than traditional vaccines.

Whether or not a VLP-based vaccine will be effective depends on whether the VLPs are well-formed and properly coated. NIST researcher Leonard Pease and his team were able to determine that well-formed VLPs that have been coated with bird flu proteins are 2 nanometers larger than those without, a critical step towards the creation of future bird flu vaccines. source

My comment:That sounds really cool. Ok, I'm not too keen on vaccines, but if they are safe they are fine by me. And even if they are not so safe, sometimes they are badly needed! And this technique looks quite promising. Good luck guys!

Turning down gene expression promotes nerve cell maintenance

Normal nerve cells have a myelin sheath, which, much like the insulation on a cable, allows for rapid and efficient signal conduction. However, in several diseases - the most well-known being multiple sclerosis - demyelination processes cause the breakdown of this "insulation", and lead to deficits in perception, movement, cognition, etc. Thus, in order to help patients of demyelinating disease, researchers are studying the pathways that control myelin formation and maintenance.

A new study by University of California scientists examines the role of a structural protein, called lamin, in maintaining myelin. They found that, while lamin is necessary in the initial stages of myelin formation, too much lamin promotes myelin breakdown. Further investigation led the researchers to the discovery of a signal that fine-tunes lamin expression. This signal, a microRNA called miR-23, can turn down lamin gene expression, and thereby prevent demyelination due to lamin overexpression.source

My comment: Not too much to comment except that this is a great news. Does anyone but me wonder why after all those discoveries we never see drugs? Bad luck or conspiracy?

Targeted nanospheres find, penetrate, then fuel burning of melanoma

February 2nd, 2009

Hollow gold nanospheres equipped with a targeting peptide find melanoma cells, penetrate them deeply, and then cook the tumor when bathed with near-infrared light, a research team led by scientists at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center reported in the Feb. 1 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

When heated with lasers, the actively targeted hollow gold nanospheres did eight times more damage to melanoma tumors in mice than did the same nanospheres that gathered less directly in the tumors.

Lab and mouse model experiments demonstrated the first in vivo active targeting of gold nanostructures to tumors in conjunction with photothermal ablation - a minimally invasive treatment that uses heat generated through absorption of light to destroy target tissue. Tumors are burned with near-infrared light, which penetrates deeper into tissue than visible or ultraviolet light.

With hollow gold nanospheres inside melanoma cells, photothermal ablation destroyed tumors in mice with a laser light dose that was 12 percent of the dose required when the nanospheres aren't applied, Li and colleagues report. Such a low dose is more likely to spare surrounding tissue.

Injected, untargeted nanoparticles accumulate in tumors because they are so small that they fit through the larger pores of abnormal blood vessels that nourish cancer, Li said. This "passive targeting" delivers a low dose of nanoparticles and concentrates them near the cell's vasculature.

The researchers packaged hollow, spherical gold nanospheres with a peptide - a small compound composed of amino acids - that binds to the melanocortin type 1 receptor, which is overly abundant in melanoma cells. The targeted nanospheres were actively drawn into the cells through the cell membrane.

When the researchers beamed near-infrared light onto treated cultures, most cells with targeted nanospheres died, and almost all of those left were irreparably damaged. Only a small fraction of cells treated with untargeted nanospheres died. Cells treated only with near-infrared light or only with the nanospheres were undamaged.

Most of the targeted nanospheres in the treated mice gathered in the tumor, with smaller amounts found in the liver and spleen. Most of the untargeted nanospheres gathered in the spleen, then in the liver and then the tumor, demonstrating the selectivity and importance of targeting.

In another group of mice, near-infrared light beamed into tumors with targeted nanospheres destroyed 66 percent of the tumors, but only destroyed 7.9 percent of tumors treated with untargeted nanospheres.

The targeted nanospheres have a number of advantages, said Jin Zhang, Ph.D., professor in the University of California-Santa Cruz Department of Chemistry and developer of the hollow nanospheres. Their size - small even for nanoparticles at 40-50 nanometers in diameter - and spherical shape allow for greater uptake and cellular penetration. They have strong, but narrow and tunable ability to absorb light across the visible and near-infrared spectrum, making them unique from other metal nanoparticles.

The hollow spheres are pure gold, which has a long history of safe medical use with few side-effects, Li said. source

My comment: It's kind of interesting that gold has such a good acceptance in the human body. And also that these nanoparticles gathered in the liver and the spleen. Because it shows where all the other nanoparticles would gather.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Ancient history, January, 2009


  1. Peruvians walked their prayers into the earth
  2. The Maya suffered for their looks
  3. Study on early human migration focuses on stomachs
  4. The web of human progress revealed
  5. Pacific people spread from Taiwan
And by the way, check out what I found- the Vedic twin-gods of the Sun the Ashvins are the same like the Latvian and Lithuanian Ašvieniai! The same gods! If that's not amazing!

Peruvians walked their prayers into the earth

THE ancient, intricate geometric patterns stamped on the surface of a desert in Peru have long been thought of as messages to the gods, or as markers that tracked celestial objects. Now new details about these geoglyphs suggest they may have been made for "prayer walking".

The Nasca lines are a collection of lines, giant trapezoids, and figures of humans, plants and animals in a desert 400 kilometres south of Lima, Peru. They were created between 400 BC and AD 650 by the removal of reddish oxidised stones from the desert pavement to reveal the lighter sand beneath.

Tomasz Gorka of Munich University in Germany analysed five geoglyph complexes near the city of Palpa, focusing on the large trapezoidal structures which are etched on the plains there. He measured anomalies in the Earth's magnetic field caused by changes in soil density at various depths. The team walked the entire site, an area of about 60 hectares, using hand-held sensors.

"We found other lines, in the interior of the trapezoid structures, which were not visible from the air," says Gorka.

Some of the lines produced stronger magnetic anomalies than others, prompting Gorka and Karsten Lambers of the University of Konstanz in Germany to suggest that the soil beneath was compacted by people walking back and forth during prayer rituals. source

My comment: Obviously, the last part is ridiculous, but if you like it, your choice. For me, the important information is that there are anomalies along these lines. That could suggest the use of weird elements on them for example. Obviously those lines are special in one way. Of course, the best thing to do is to make a map of the anomalies alond all of them and the surrounding area, but this is also very exciting result. The next step is to take samples from the soil on some depth and check what's causing the anomalies-to know whether they are surface based or internal. If they are surface one-then it makes sense that they were produced by something. If they are natural, then it makses sense to guess that something was using them. It's so interesting!

The Maya suffered for their looks

“The Maya went to extreme lengths to transform their bodies,” Professor Mary Miller reports in the new year issue of Archaeology, the US journal. “They invested vast wealth and endured unspeakable pain to make themselves beautiful.”

As an example, Professor Miller cites K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, who ruled the western Maya city of Palenque from AD615 to 683, and after his death at the age of 80 was interred in a great carved sarcophagus below the Temple of the Inscriptions. His skeleton shows that soon after his birth, his head was strapped between two cradle-boards to compress it from back to front.

This left an indentation above his browline, which was emphasised by an artificial nasal bridge, probably of clay or plaster, built up on to his forehead. Although this does not survive in the burial, a stucco portrait head found below the sarcophagus shows it clearly. The head also shows that Pakal’s hair was cut in a series of bluntly trimmed tresses, with longer strands on top flopping forward, which Professor Miller interprets as imitating the leaves and corn silk on a maize plant: at the site of Cacaxtla, Maya-style murals show maize cobs on the plant as human heads.

Pakal’s front teeth were filed into an inverted T-shape, marking him as also being the Sun God, something shown on his jade burial mask as well. For many Maya, notably those of the elite, dental decoration was seen as highly desirable.

Teeth, especially the upper incisors and canines were filed and notched in a variety of designs, giving in some cases a distinctly crooked smile. Most striking, however, were the dental inlays: a shallow hole was drilled into the front face of the tooth enamel (using a reed or bone hollow drill and an abrasive such as sand or jade dust), sometimes reaching the dentine within.

Small discs of jade, obsidian or haematite were then cemented into the holes: the plant adhesive was so powerful that many burials found by archaeologists today still have the inlays firmly in place. Up to three discs were inserted into a single tooth, and jade and the other materials were combined to give a flash of apple-green, dull red and shiny black across the mouth; inlays and filing were also combined. Dental decoration was probably applied as a rite of passage to adulthood, according to Professor Stephen Houston, of Brown University, Rhode Island.

The Maya also painted their bodies, in life and in death. In death, Pakal’s corpse was treated with alternating layers of red and black pigments, Professor Miller reports. Red to the Maya was the colour of the sunrise, black of the sunset, alternating with each other in the diurnal cycle. source

My comment: I'm pretty impressed by the fact that the plant cement lasted hundreds of years! If it's safe, can't we use it now? Ok, seriously, why did they do that? And the shape, the same as the aliens we imagine. Isn't it odd? You don't do that our of vanity, it's just too much. You do it to comply with some sort of very strict expectation. You do it for your soul. Why? And isn't it interesting that the skulls from Malta are also very odd. And that they are veeery hidden.

Study on early human migration focuses on stomachs

By ERIC BERGER, Jan. 22, 2009, 2:17PM

To better understand the early migrations of humans, modern scientists have followed their stomachs.

The findings, based upon an analysis of bacteria in the guts of modern humans, show that two major migrations from Southeast Asia populated the islands of the Pacific.

The researchers, including gastroenterologists at Baylor College of Medicine and the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, sampled the bacterial parasite Helicobacter pylori in the stomachs of present-day aborigines in the Pacific.

Only humans carry the H. pylori bacterium, which causes ulcers and gastric cancer, so it travels with people as they migrate. The bacteria itself mutates more rapidly than human DNA.

The novel research approach allowed scientists to compare the bacteria in the stomachs of aborigines across the Pacific to gain an understanding of when they came to the islands and from where.

“It’s most interesting to me that the people in Polynesia came from Taiwan about 5,000 years ago,” said Dr. David Graham, a professor at Baylor and a study co-author.

Earlier studies concluded that humans first came out of Africa about 60,000 years ago, slowly spreading into Asia via a southern coastal route. Later, sometime between 31,000 to 37,000 years ago, a group of humans crossed to New Guinea and Australia.

The second major Pacific migration came much later, about 5,000 years ago, when people from Taiwan began colonizing the Malay Archipelago and the rest of the Pacific.

Left unanswered is why humans undertook such heroic sea voyages at a time when, halfway around the world, Egyptians were just beginning to learn how to sail. source

My comment: A very interesting article. I prefer those than plain archeology which somewhat too conservative. So, they came from Taiwan. That's interesting. The question why they did it is really important. Because they didn't have to, if you think about it! I wonder how exact those surveys are. Because it wasn't exactly a piece of cake!

The web of human progress revealed

22 January 2009

When I started tracing my ancestors online a few years back, the trail went cold about 200 years ago at Westmeath in Ireland. Now I have moved on and reached back 50,000 years thanks to the Genographic project, now in its fourth year, organised by National Geographic. A team from NG is scouring the Earth to collect more than 100,000 DNA samples to which are added many more from members of the public such as me.

My line has been traced back to 10,000 fellow members of Homo sapiens living in or about the Rift Valley in north Africa (roughly, modern Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania). It seems I am nothing special. About 70% of men in the south of England are fellow members of my "haplogroup", R1b, rising to more than 90% in parts of Spain and Ireland (95% in the north). R1b is a kind of communal marker for men in the UK.

Another key ancestor born 40,000 years ago somewhere around modern Iran triggered a mutation marking a new lineage that spent the next 30,000 years populating much of the planet, with splinter groups moving into central Asia, Pakistan and India. NG points out that the descendants of my Iranian, or southern-central Asian ancestors, known as the Eurasian clan, include most people in the northern hemisphere, nearly all north Americans and east Asians and many Indians.

About 30,000 years ago our clan, by now numbering about 100,000 people, headed for Europe, marking the end of the 200,000-year era of the Neanderthals that had inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia previously. Some 20,000 years ago, expanding ice forced us to retreat to southern Spain, Italy and the Balkans before eventually moving back to the British Isles.

Sadly, the genetic traces of my ancestors' group ends between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, though more details may be known as a result of extra information participants are invited to contribute about themselves. source

My comment: Only 69 pounds to participate in this research. Well, it's not that much. I would participate if I didn't have privacy concerns. I mean, I'd surely love to know more about me and my ancestors, but I don't know anybody else to know it. Oh, well. But it's certainly interesting. Especially the lack of data from before 5000 years. Very interesting. Also, I can't stop myself of thinking about Iran- it really was the cradle of our civilisation. And now, everybody hates it. So sad.

Pacific people spread from Taiwan

New research into language evolution suggests most Pacific populations originated in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago.

Scientists at The University of Auckland have used sospisticated computer analyses on vocabulary from 400 Austronesian languages to uncover how the Pacific was settled.

"The Austronesian language family is one of the largest in the world, with 1200 languages spread across the Pacific," says Professor Russell Gray of the Department of Psychology. "The settlement of the Pacific is one of the most remarkable prehistoric human population expansions. By studying the basic vocabulary from these languages, such as words for animals, simple verbs, colours and numbers, we can trace how these languages evolved. The relationships between these languages give us a detailed history of Pacific settlement."

The results, published in the latest issue of the prestigious journal Science, show how the settlement of the Pacific proceeded in a series of expansion pulses and settlement pauses. The Austronesians arose in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago. Before entering the Philippines, they paused for around a thousand years, and then spread rapidly across the 7,000km from the Philippines to Polynesia in less than one thousand years. After settling Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, the Austronesians paused again for another thousand years, before finally spreading further into Polynesia eventually reaching as far as New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island. source

My comment: A confirmation of the previous article. I still can't even think what it is to colonize the Pacific. In a canoe! It's amazing. And quite unbelievable :) And how did they end up with so many languages anyway.