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Monday, October 12, 2009

Today in the News (12 Oct 09)

Evolution:
Archaeopteryx Was Not Very Bird-like: Inside The First Bird, Surprising Signs Of A Dinosaur. The raptor-like Archaeopteryx has long been viewed as the archetypal first bird, but new research reveals that it was actually a lot less "bird-like" than scientists had believed. In fact, the landmark study led by paleobiologist Gregory M. Erickson of The Florida State University has upended the iconic first-known-bird image of Archaeopteryx (from the Greek for "ancient wing"), which lived 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic period in what is now Germany. Instead, the animal has been recast as more of a feathered dinosaur -- bird on the outside, dinosaur on the inside.

New Mesozoic Mammal: Discovery Illuminates Mammalian Ear Evolution While Dinosaurs Ruled. An international team of paleontologists has discovered a new species of mammal that lived 123 million years ago in what is now the Liaoning Province in northeastern China. The newly discovered animal, Maotherium asiaticus, comes from famous fossil-rich beds of the Yixian Formation. This new remarkably well preserved fossil, as reported in the October 9 issue of the journal Science, offers an important insight into how the mammalian middle ear evolved. The discoveries of such exquisite dinosaur-age mammals from China provide developmental biologists and paleontologists with evidence of how developmental mechanisms have impacted the morphological (body-structure) evolution of the earliest mammals and sheds light on how complex structures can arise in evolution because of changes in developmental pathways.

Early Hominid First Walked On Two Legs In The Woods. Among the many surprises associated with the discovery of the oldest known, nearly complete skeleton of a hominid is the finding that this species took its first steps toward bipedalism not on the open, grassy savanna, as generations of scientists – going back to Charles Darwin – hypothesized, but in a wooded landscape. “This species was not a savanna species like Darwin proposed,” said University of Illinois anthropology professor Stanley Ambrose, a co-author of two of 11 studies published this week in Science on the hominid, Ardipithecus ramidus. This creature, believed to be an early ancestor of the human lineage, lived in Ethiopia some 4.4 million years ago.

Vaccines:
Frozen Assets: Decades-old Frozen Infant Stool Samples Provide Clues To Norovirus Evolution. A search through decades-old frozen infant stool samples has yielded rich dividends for scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. The team customized a laboratory technique to screen thousands of samples for norovirus, a major cause of acute gastroenteritis outbreaks in people of all ages. What they discovered about the rate of evolution of a specific group of noroviruses could help researchers develop specific antiviral drugs and, potentially, a vaccine against a disease that is very unpleasant and sometimes deadly. The research, led by Kim Y. Green, Ph.D., and Karin Bok, Ph.D., of NIAID's Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, will appear in a future issue of the Journal of Virology, and is now available online. NIAID scientist Albert Z. Kapikian, M.D., is a co-author on the paper. In 1972, Dr. Kapikian and colleagues identified and characterized the virus, now known as norovirus, responsible for an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1968.

No Scientific Link Between Childhood Vaccines And Autism, Review Shows. A new article recently published in the Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing explored vaccination history, vaccine safety monitoring systems in the U.S., and the two most publicized theoretical vaccine-related exposures associated with autism – the vaccine preservative thimerosal and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. A review of published research shows that there is not convincing scientific evidence supporting a relationship between vaccines and autism. The article is part of a special issue, which includes five articles focusing on the topic of autism. By definition, the onset of autism occurs prior to age three. No clear cause of autism has been identified, although various possible associations have been examined. There has been growing interest in environmental exposures, including vaccinations. Childhood vaccinations are administered as early as possible to assure that infants are protected against diseases that occur in early childhood. This time period often coincides with the time period that autism may be suspected or diagnosed.

NIH Prepares To Launch 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Trial In People With Asthma. The National Institutes of Health is preparing to launch the first government-sponsored clinical trial to determine what dose of the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine is needed to induce a protective immune response in people with asthma, especially those with severe disease. The study is cosponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), both part of NIH. "People with severe asthma often take high doses of glucocorticoids that can suppress their immune system, placing them at greater risk for infection and possibly serious disease caused by 2009 H1N1 influenza virus," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "We need to determine the optimal dose of 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine that can be safely administered to this at-risk population and whether one or two doses are needed to produce an immune response that is predictive of protection."

Autism:
Autism Associated With Single-letter Change In Genetic Code. In one of the first studies of its kind, an international team of researchers has uncovered a single-letter change in the genetic code that is associated with autism. The finding, published in the journal Nature, implicates a neuronal gene not previously tied to the disorder and more broadly, underscores a role for common DNA variation. In addition, the new research highlights two other regions of the genome, which are likely to contain rare genetic differences that may also influence autism risk. "These discoveries are an important step forward, but just one of many that are needed to fully dissect the complex genetics of this disorder, " said Mark Daly, one of the study's senior authors, a senior associate member at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and an associate professor at the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). "The genomic regions we've identified help shed additional light on the biology of autism and point to areas that should be prioritized for further study."

Autism Speaks' genetic resource exchange, tissue program support findings published in Nature. 'A Genome-wide Linkage and Association Scan Reveals Novel Loci for Autism' published in Nature using AGRE Data and ATP tissue extends prior research findings. Autism Speaks' Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) and the Autism Tissue Program (ATP) continue to play an integral role in continuing genetic research and new findings in the complex autism inheritance and causation puzzle. In a study published in the October 7, edition of the journal Nature, an extensive research team of more than 75 research institutions identified semaphoring 5A, a gene implicated in the growth of neurons to form proper contacts and connections with other neurons. Previous studies have reported lower levels of this protein in blood samples from individuals with autism as compared to controls. In this study, the researchers were also able to extend that observation to the brain tissue of individuals with autism vs. control brains.

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