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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Today in the News (1 Dec 09)

Evolution:
Bacteria 'Invest' Wisely to Survive Uncertain Times, Scientists Report. Like savvy Wall Street money managers, bacteria hedge their bets to increase their chances of survival in uncertain times, strategically investing their biological resources to weather unpredictable environments. In a new study available online and featured on the cover of Cell, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers describe how bacteria play the market so well. Inside each bacterial cell are so-called genetic circuits that provide specific survival skills. Within the bacteria population, these genetic circuits generate so much diversity that the population as a whole is more tolerant of -- and is more likely to survive -- a wide range of variability in the environment.

New Fossil Plant Discovery Links Patagonia to New Guinea in a Warmer Past. Fossil plants are windows to the past, providing us with clues as to what our planet looked like millions of years ago. Not only do fossils tell us which species were present before human-recorded history, but they can provide information about the climate and how and when lineages may have dispersed around the world. Identifying fossil plants can be tricky, however, when plant organs fail to be preserved or when only a few sparse parts can be found. In the November issue of the American Journal of Botany, Peter Wilf (of Pennsylvania State University) and his U.S. and Argentine colleagues published their recent discovery of abundant fossilized specimens of a conifer previously known as "Libocedrus" prechilensis found in Argentinean Patagonia. This plant was first described in 1938 based on one fossil vegetative branch whose characteristics were said to most closely match those of a living South American dry, cold-climate conifer found in the study area: Austrocedrus (Libocedrus) chilensis, the Cordilleran Cypress.

Mass Extinction: Why Did Half of N. America's Large Mammals Disappear 40,000 to 10,000 Years Ago? Years of scientific debate over the extinction of ancient species in North America have yielded many theories. However, new findings from J. Tyler Faith, GW Ph.D. candidate in the hominid paleobiology doctoral program, and Todd Surovell, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming, reveal that a mass extinction occurred in a geological instant. During the late Pleistocene, 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, North America lost over 50 percent of its large mammal species. These species include mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, among many others. In total, 35 different genera (groups of species) disappeared, all of different habitat preferences and feeding habits.

Vaccines:
Lyme Disease Vaccine? Tick Saliva Found to Protect Mice from Lyme Disease. A protein found in the saliva of ticks helps protect mice from developing Lyme disease, Yale researchers have discovered. The findings, published in the November 19 issue of Cell Host & Microbe, may spur development of a new vaccine against infection from Lyme disease, which is spread through tick bites. Traditionally, vaccines have directly targeted specific pathogens. This is the first time that antibodies against a protein in the saliva of a pathogen's transmitting agent (in this case, the tick) has been shown to confer immunity when administered protectively as a vaccine.

Availability of Vaccine No Guarantee Public Will Want It. Just because a vaccine is available doesn't mean people will choose to be inoculated, according to new UofT research published amid widespread public confusion around the merit of H1N1 flu shots. The research -- which looked at acceptability of potential future HIV vaccinations among high-risk adults in Los Angeles -- shows many factors come into play when a person is deciding whether or not be vaccinated.

Autism:
Early Intervention for Toddlers With Autism Highly Effective, Study Finds. A novel early intervention program for very young children with autism -- some as young as 18 months -- is effective for improving IQ, language ability and social interaction, a comprehensive new study has found. "This is the first controlled study of an intensive early intervention that is appropriate for children with autism who are less than 2 1/2 years of age. Given that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all 18- and 24-month-old children be screened for autism, it is crucial that we can offer parents effective therapies for children in this age range," said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks and the study's lead author. "By starting as soon as the toddler is diagnosed, we hope to maximize the positive impact of the intervention."

Parent Training Key to Improved Treatment of Behavior Problems in Children With Autism. The serious behavior problems that can occur in children with autism and related conditions can be reduced with a treatment plan that includes medication combined with a structured training program for parents, according to Yale University researchers and their colleagues. Published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the study was conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Research Units on Pediatric Psychopharmacology (RUPP) Autism Network. The 24-week, three-site trial was conducted at Yale, Ohio State University and Indiana University. Lawrence Scahill, professor at Yale School of Nursing and the Yale Child Study Center, is principal investigator at the Yale site.

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