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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Today in the News (5 Sep 09)

Evolution:
First Genetic Link Between Reptile And Human Heart Evolution Found. Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (GICD) have traced the evolution of the four-chambered human heart to a common genetic factor linked to the development of hearts in turtles and other reptiles. The research, published in the September 3 issue of the journal Nature, shows how a specific protein that turns on genes is involved in heart formation in turtles, lizards and humans. "This is the first genetic link to the evolution of two, rather than one, pumping chamber in the heart, which is a key event in the evolution of becoming warm-blooded," said Gladstone investigator Benoit Bruneau, PhD, who led the study. "The gene involved, Tbx5, is also implicated in human congenital heart disease, so our results also bring insight into human disease."

Discovery Of Novel Genes Could Unlock Mystery Of What Makes Us Uniquely Human. Humans and chimpanzees are genetically very similar, yet it is not difficult to identify the many ways in which we are clearly distinct from chimps. In a study published online in Genome Research, scientists have made a crucial discovery of genes that have evolved in humans after branching off from other primates, opening new possibilities for understanding what makes us uniquely human. The prevailing wisdom in the field of molecular evolution was that new genes could only evolve from duplicated or rearranged versions of preexisting genes. It seemed highly unlikely that evolutionary processes could produce a functional protein-coding gene from what was once inactive DNA.

Milk Drinking Started Around 7,500 Years Ago In Central Europe. The ability to digest the milk sugar lactose first evolved in dairy farming communities in central Europe, not in more northern groups as was previously thought, finds a new study led by UCL (University College London) scientists published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology. The genetic change that enabled early Europeans to drink milk without getting sick has been mapped to dairying farmers who lived around 7,500 years ago in a region between the central Balkans and central Europe.

Model Suggests How Life's Code Emerged From Primordial Soup
. In 1952, Stanley Miller filled two flasks with chemicals assumed to be present on the primitive Earth, connected the flasks with rubber tubes and introduced some electrical sparks as a stand-in for lightning. The now famous experiment showed what amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, could easily be generated from this primordial stew. But despite that seminal experiment, neither he nor others were able to take the next step: that of showing how life’s code could come from such humble beginnings. By working with the simplest amino acids and elementary RNAs, physicists led by Rockefeller University’s Albert J. Libchaber, head of the Laboratory of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics, have now generated the first theoretical model that shows how a coded genetic system can emerge from an ancestral broth of simple molecules. “All these molecules have different properties and these properties define their interactions,” says first author Jean Lehmann, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab, whose work appears in the June issue of PLoS One. “What are the constraints that allow these molecules to self-organize into a code? We can play with that.”

Vaccines:
Two New Antibodies Found To Cripple HIV: 'Achilles' Heel On Virus For AIDS Vaccine Researchers To Exploit. Researchers at and associated with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), at The Scripps Research Institute, and at the biotechnology companies Theraclone Sciences and Monogram Biosciences have discovered two powerful new antibodies to HIV that reveal what may be an Achilles heel on the virus. They published their work in Science this week. Researchers will now try to exploit the newfound vulnerability on the virus to craft novel approaches to designing an AIDS vaccine. Moreover, the global collaboration and process that led to the discovery of the two new broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) are likely to produce more such antibodies, which may in turn reveal additional vulnerabilities of HIV, adding still more vitality to the effort to develop a vaccine against AIDS.

Scientists Move Closer To A Safer Anthrax Vaccine. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have identified two small protein fragments that could be developed into an anthrax vaccine that may cause fewer side effects than the current vaccine. The research is significant because anthrax is considered a major bioterrorism threat. The current anthrax vaccine is intended mainly for members of the armed forces serving in areas considered high risk and for individuals involved in homeland biosecurity.

Autism:
Children With Autism Use Alternative Keyboard To Communicate With Their Families And Their World. Autism can build a wall of poor communication between those struggling with the condition and their families. While a personal computer can help bridge the divide, the distraction and complexity of a keyboard can be an insurmountable obstacle. Using a unique keyboard with only two "keys" and a novel curriculum, teachers with Project Blue Skies are giving children with autism the ability to both communicate and to explore the online world.

Neuroscientists Find Brain Region Responsible For Our Sense Of Personal Space
. In a finding that sheds new light on the neural mechanisms involved in social behavior, neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have pinpointed the brain structure responsible for our sense of personal space. The discovery, described in the August 30 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, could offer insight into autism and other disorders where social distance is an issue. The structure, the amygdala—a pair of almond-shaped regions located in the medial temporal lobes—was previously known to process strong negative emotions, such as anger and fear, and is considered the seat of emotion in the brain. However, it had never been linked rigorously to real-life human social interaction.

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