Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Selected readings 7/13/10

Interesting reading and news items.

Please leave some comments that indicate which articles you find most interesting or that identify topics you would like to read about, and I will try to include more articles of a similar nature in the future

These items are also bookmarked at my Diigo account.

A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Cures
Ten years after President Bill Clinton announced that the first draft of the human genome was complete, medicine has yet to see any large part of the promised benefits. For biologists, the genome has yielded one insightful surprise after another. But the primary goal of the $3 billion Human Genome Project — to ferret out the genetic roots of common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s and then generate treatments — remains largely elusive. Indeed, after 10 years of effort, geneticists are almost back to square one in knowing where to look for the roots of common disease. [New York Times, 6/12/10]

How Our Brains Make Memories
His ideas are unconventional within neuroscience, and they have caused researchers to reconsider some of their most basic assumptions about how memory works. In short, Nader believes that the very act of remembering can change our memories. [Smithsonian Magazine, 4/19/10]

Writing Circuits on Graphene
Graphene, an atom-thick carbon sheet, is a promising replacement for silicon in electronic circuits, since it transports electrons much faster. IBM researchers have already made transistors, the building blocks of electronic circuits, with graphene that work 10 times faster than their silicon counterparts. [Technology Review, 6/15/10]

Rare Gene Glitch a Clue to Genomics Mystery
Common diseases have largely resisted genomic analysis, leaving scientists unable to explain genetic underpinnings of diseases that clearly have a hereditary component. These analyses have focused on mutations that are relatively widespread and easy to see. It took new tools to notice mutations like those just found in the SIAE gene, which cause immune cells to go haywire during autoimmune disease. They were detected by ultra high-resolution analysis of a sort rarely used in genomics. [Wired, 6/16/10]

Test Supports Universal Common Ancestor for All Life
One researcher put the basic biological assumption of a single common ancestor to the test--and found that advanced genetic analysis and sophisticated statistics back up Darwin's age-old proposition. [Scientific American, 5/13/10]

Frozen methane, from the gulf oil spill to climate change
At the conditions in which they form, methane is a gas, water a liquid. Somehow, they come together to form a solid. The key to understanding why is the small size and nonpolar (hydrophobic) nature of methane. [Nobel Intent, 5/11/10]

New evidence for quantum Darwinism found in quantum dots
Physicists have found new evidence that supports the theory of quantum Darwinism, the idea that the transition from the quantum to the classical world occurs due to a quantum form of natural selection. By explaining how the classical world emerges from the quantum world, quantum Darwinism could shed light on one of the most challenging questions in physics of the past century. [Physorg.com, 5/10/10]

I.B.M.'s Supercomputer to Challenge 'Jeopardy!' Champions
For the last three years, I.B.M. scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer. In other words, it must do more than what search engines like Google and Bing do, which is merely point to a document where you might find the answer. It has to pluck out the correct answer itself. [New York Times, 6/14/10]

New Nicaraguan sign language shows how language affects thought
NSL is not a direct translation of Spanish – it is a language in its own right, complete with its own grammar and vocabulary. Its child inventors created it naturally by combining and adding to gestures that they had used at home. Gradually, the language became more regular, more complex and faster. Ever since, NSL has been a goldmine for scientists, providing an unparalleled opportunity to study the emergence of a new language. And in a new study led by Jennie Pyers from Wellesley College, it even tells us how language shapes our thought. [Not Exactly Rocket Science, 6/22/10]

Hunt for genetic causes of diseases narrows targets
The falling cost of genome sequencing has kicked off a new phase in the search for the genetic underpinnings of complex diseases such as asthma, diabetes and autism. [Nature News, 5/18/10]

Researchers tweak fMRIs to map the brain's wiring schematic
Researchers were able to limit the firing of nerve cells to a specific individual type, and show that these triggered normal-looking fMRI signals in rats. Not only does this place fMRI on a firmer empirical footing, the technique allowed the researchers to track networks of connected nerves within the brain. [Nobel Intent, 5/17/10]

Fermi's Tevatron finds another bias against antimatter
Over the last couple of decades, a few cases of what are called C-P violations have been identified. These are cases where a particle decay that should, in theory, produce equal amounts of antimatter and matter, doesn't. These few instances, however, don't occur with sufficient frequency to explain why the Universe has its current abundance of regular matter. That has kept physicists looking and, this morning, Fermilab announced that research performed in its Tevatron accelerator has provided strong evidence for another C-P violation. [Nobel Intent, 5/18/10]

Man-Made Genetic Instructions Yield Living Cells for the First Time
The first microbe to live entirely by genetic code synthesized by humans has started proliferating at a lab in the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). Venter and his colleagues used a synthetic genome—the genetic instruction set for life—to build and operate a new, synthetic strain of Mycoplasma mycoides bacteria. [Scientific American, 5/20/10]

Synthetic genome resets biotech goals
Synthetic biology is a field with an audacious but ultimately utilitarian goal: to redesign the building blocks of life to serve the needs of humanity. It is also an endeavour that challenges clear-cut definitions of natural versus artificial life. [Nature News, 5/26/10]

Primordial Gravitational Waves Provide a Test of Cosmological Theories
Ripples in the fabric of spacetime could someday provide observational evidence for the goings-on in the earliest instants of the universe, revealing high-energy processes that currently remain opaque to even the largest particle colliders. [Scientific American, 5/21/10]

Neutrino experiments sow seeds of possible revolution
Neutrinos are the big nothings of subatomic physics. Nearly massless and lacking an electric charge, these ghostly particles interact so weakly with other types of matter that more than 50 trillion of them pass unimpeded through a person’s body each second. Yet recent preliminary findings from two experiments hint that neutrinos may be opening a window on a hidden world of subatomic particles and forces. [Science News, 6/25/10]

X-Ray Laser Resurrects a Laboratory No Longer in the Vanguard
In the first experiments conducted at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif., since its outdated particle accelerator was converted into the world's brightest X-ray laser, scientists managed to create what they called hollow atoms, giving just a preview of the kind of science expected to be done there. [New York Times, 7/5/10]

SETI Redux: Joining the Galactic Club
David Schwartzman, a biogeochemist at Howard University in Washington D.C., explains why he thinks the aliens are out there, despite the fact that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has only found silence. He also outlines what we need to do for planet Earth to be initiated into the Galactic Club. [Physorg.com, 5/24/10]

Dark Matter May Be Building Up Inside the Sun
The sun could be a net for dark matter, a new study suggests. If dark matter happens to take a certain specific form, it could build up in our nearest star and alter how heat moves inside it in a way that would be observable from Earth. [Wired, 7/9/10]

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