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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Today in the News (29 Jul 09)

Evolution:
Did an ice age boost human brain size? It is one of the biggest mysteries in human evolution. Why did we humans evolve such big brains, making us the unrivaled rulers of the world? Some 2.5 million years ago, our ancestors' brains expanded from a mere 600 cubic centimetres to about a litre. Two new studies suggest it is no fluke that this brain boom coincided with the onset of an ice age. Cooler heads, it seems, allowed ancient human brains to let off steam and grow.


First Vertebrate To Live In Trees Described. In the Late Paleozoic (260 million years ago), long before dinosaurs dominated the Earth, ancient precursors to mammals took to the trees to feed on leaves and live high above predators that prowled the land, Jörg Fröbisch, PhD, a Field Museum paleontologist has concluded. Elongated fingers, an opposable "thumb," and a grasping tail of Suminia getmanovi demonstrate that this small plant-eating synapsid is the earliest known tree-climbing vertebrate. Suminia was relatively small, about 20 inches from its nose to the tip of its tail. The tree-climbing lifestyle of this Paleozoic relative of mammals is particularly important because for the first time in vertebrate evolution it gives access to new food resources high off the ground, and also provides protection from ground-dwelling predators. The evidence for this lifestyle is based on several excellent skulls and more than a dozen exceptionally well preserved, complete skeletons from a single large block of red mudstone that was discovered in central Russia's Kirov region.

Naming Evolution's Winners And Losers. Mammals and many species of birds and fish are among evolution's "winners," while crocodiles, alligators and a reptile cousin of snakes known as the tuatara are among the losers, according to new research by UCLA scientists and colleagues. "Our results indicate that mammals are special," said Michael Alfaro, a UCLA assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and lead author of the research.

Vaccines:
First Genetically-engineered Malaria Vaccine To Enter Human Trials. Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists have created a weakened strain of the malaria parasite that will be used as a live vaccine against the disease. The vaccine, developed in collaboration with researchers from the US, Japan and Canada, will be trialled in humans from early next year. Malaria kills more than one million people each year and destroys – through premature death and disability – the equivalent of at least 35 million years of healthy, productive human life every year.


I am including this story, even though it's not directly about the vaccine because it's some interesting information. Also because it's one of those onfusing articles that peole latch on to, and in the end you'll hear all sorts of crazy stuff about this study that don't even resemble the results they published here. Low Prevalence Of HPV Infection May Be Tied To Poor Prognosis For Blacks With Head And Neck Cancer. Researchers at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer have found that head and neck cancer patients who test positive for the human papillomavirus (HPV) have much better survival rates than patients who don't have the virus, according to a new study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. The researchers also discovered that blacks in the study had a very low rate of HPV infection, and consequently worse survival, which may explain why African-American patients traditionally have had a poor prognosis for head and neck cancer. "For the first time, we have evidence that the major difference in survival between black and white patients with head and neck cancer appears to be the rate of HPV infection. We found an astounding difference in prognosis between patients who are HPV-positive and those who are HPV-negative," says the study's senior author, Kevin J. Cullen, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Autism:
In the field of Autism, I have not found anything really new or news worthy to report today. Although, I did notice something incredibly disturbing, and sad. Many of the "suggested" links on my search involved stem cell treatments for autism. While I am hopeful that one day we'll have a cure for autism, we DON'T yet. And people attempting to fleece the gullible with these treatments are probably doing a lot more harm than anything. Please, actually think about what you may be doing to your child before succumbing to the latest fads like unproven stem cell treatments and not vaccinating your kids. You are only putting your child and everyone else in danger.

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