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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Today in the News (16 Jul 09)

Evolution:
Ecologist Brings Century-old Eggs To Life To Study Evolution. Suspending a life in time is a theme that normally finds itself in the pages of science fiction, but now such ideas have become a reality in the annals of science. Cornell ecologist Nelson Hairston Jr. is a pioneer in a field known loosely as "resurrection ecology," in which researchers study the eggs of such creatures as zooplankton -- tiny, free-floating water animals -- that get buried in lake sediments and can remain viable for decades or even centuries. By hatching these eggs, Hairston and others can compare time-suspended hatchlings with their more contemporary counterparts to better understand how a species may have evolved in the meantime.

Last Supper Of The Hominids Establishes Times They Lived At Sites
. In the French cave of Arago, an international team of scientists has analyzed the dental wear of the fossils of herbivorous animals hunted by Homo heidelbergensis. It is the first time that an analytical method has allowed the establishment of the length of human occupations at archaeological sites. The key is the last food that these hominids consumed. For many years, the mobility of the groups of hominids and how long they spent in caves or outdoors has been a subject of discussion among scientists. Now, an international team headed by researchers from the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) in Tarragona has based its studies on the dental fossils of animals hunted by hominids in order to determine the vegetation in the environment and the way of life of Homo heidelbergensis.

Not Only Dogs, But Deer, Monkeys And Birds Bark To Deal With Conflict. Biologically speaking, many animals besides dogs bark, according to Kathryn Lord at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but the evolutionary biologist also says domestic dogs vocalize in this way much more than birds, deer, monkeys and other wild animals that use barks. The reason is related to dogs’ 10,000-year history of hanging around human food refuse dumps, she suggests. In her recent paper in a special issue of the journal, Behavioural Processes, Lord and co-authors from nearby Hampshire College also provide the scientific literature with its first consistent, functional and acoustically precise definition of this common animal sound.

Vaccines:
Discovery Of New Transmission Patterns May Help Prevent Rotavirus Epidemics. New vaccines have the potential to prevent or temper epidemics of the childhood diarrhea-causing disease rotavirus, protect the unvaccinated and raise the age at which the infection first appears in children, federal researchers report in a new study. The findings were based on changing patterns of rotavirus transmission in the United States, where the disease is rarely fatal, and they have implications for combating epidemics in other countries where the death toll is much higher.

Boosting Newborns’ Immune Responses. Newborn babies have immature immune systems, making them highly vulnerable to severe infections and unable to mount an effective immune response to most vaccines, thereby frustrating efforts to protect them. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 2 million newborns and infants less than 6 months of age die each year due to infection. Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston believe they have found a way to enhance the immune system at birth and boost newborns' vaccine responses, making infections like respiratory syncytial virus, pneumococcus and rotavirus much less of a threat.


Genetic Trigger For Disease-fighting Antibodies Discovered. A research team led by the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology has identified the specific gene which triggers the body to produce disease-fighting antibodies -- a seminal finding that clarifies the exact molecular steps taken by the body to mount an antibody defense against viruses and other pathogens. The finding, published online July 16 in the journal Science, has major implications for the development of new and more effective vaccines. The La Jolla Institute's Shane Crotty, Ph.D., was the lead scientist on the team, which also included researchers from Yale University.

Autism:
Okay, Science Daily didn't have any new stories on Autism, so I found this one about California's alarming increase, and how scientists are looking more to the environment. Although, since it's concentrated in one state, I wonder what it is about California that would be so different. Not only that, but I wouldn't be so quick to rule out some genetic anomalies in the state population (hey, California is the strangest state by far).

Also, for you parents out there with autistic children (like myself), this article about the dangers of poor diet due to "habits" the children hold on to is probably a good reminder to develop some challenges for your kids. A game I play with my daughter is to come up with unique, yet not always unappetizing names for different foods. Especially if we can tie it to another culture that would find that particularly appetizing.

Again, yesterday's news about the 27 genes is still in the news quite a bit. The implications are still being deciphered.

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