New Drug Targets May Fight Tuberculosis in Novel Way

Posted on December 31, 2007  Comments (0)

New Drug Targets May Fight Tuberculosis and Other Bacterial Infections in Novel Way

“We have developed the first inhibitor of a key small molecule from Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae (which causes leprosy) utilized to subvert human host’s defenses and damage and invade human host’s cells during infection,” explains study senior author Dr. Luis Quadri, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Cornell.

“We are moving beyond antimicrobials such as antibiotics, which kill the bacterium directly, to anti-infectives, that may have no effect against the pathogen in the test tube but which do compromise its ability to infect and spread in the host,” he explains. “We believe that the expansion of the drug armamentarium to include such anti-infective drugs could help the fight against multi-drug resistant infection that has become such a challenge today.”

“I believe that drugs targeting virulence factors are just one component of the paradigm shift in the antimicrobial drug discovery for the 21st century—one that will offer patients more options in the fight against truly global killers,” he says.

Related: Entirely New Antibiotic DevelopedTuberculosis RiskDisrupting the Replication of BacteriaAntibiotic Discovery Stagnates

LEGO Project Inspires Students

Posted on December 31, 2007  Comments (0)

LEGO project inspires students

After school every Thursday at New Haven Elementary more than 60 students gather to discuss energy sources, plan building models, and learn more about science and engineering. The group, made up of first-, second- and third-graders, is participating in Junior First LEGO League (JFLL). JFLL is a worldwide organization that introduces children to concepts of teamwork and basic design skills.

Karen Cheser, elementary director of teaching and learning for Boone County Schools, brought the program to the district. It relies on 10 volunteer coaches including school teachers, a robotics engineer, parents, and business owners to guide students.

“Participation is very active because of the hands-on component of the work,” Fortner said. “Students see it as a club, but we look at it as an extension of the school day, because it teaches fundamental science concepts, it encourages teamwork, and builds social skills.”

The First Lego League web site provides information on local programs all over the world.

Related: More Lego LearningBuilding minds by building robotsLego Autopilot First Flight

Molecular Bioengineering and Dynamical Models of Cells

Posted on December 30, 2007  Comments (0)

Study Maps Life in Extreme Environments, Creating Potential for Molecular Bioengineering and Dynamical Models of Cells

The researchers focused on a little studied organism that can survive high salt, radiation, and other stresses that would be deadly to most other organisms. By focusing on such an organism the researchers were able to show definitively that they could understand and model the circuit controlling the cell directly from experiments designed to measure all genes in the genome simultaneously. These are called systems-biology experiments. This scholarship is part of a new scientific field, systems biology, which examines how genes influence each other via extremely large networks of interaction and how these networks respond to stimuli, adapting over time to new environments and cell states.

“This is also a good model to explain how, in general, cells make stable decisions as they move through time scales,” added Bonneau, who is part of an NYU research group that handled the analysis of this genome. “If you want to understand how cells respond to their environments, the model offers a clearer window than previously existed for this domain of life.” The collaboration between Baliga’s and Bonneau’s research groups represents a type of partnership becoming more essential to biological and biomedical research: biologists and computer scientists teaming up to design experiments and analysis that synergize to decipher living systems, resulting in ever more complex and accurate models of the cell.

Science Explained: Genetics

Posted on December 29, 2007  Comments (1)

The latest 1 page summary of a science topic from Seed Magazine – Genetics cribsheet:

The field of genetics deals with the way living things store and use information required for their development and behavior. This Cribsheet covers the basics of molecular genetics: DNA replication, the genetic code, and gene expression. In addition, we tell you how genome sequencing has progressed over the last decade and what researchers hope to accomplish with synthetic biology.

Related: Learning About the Human GenomeSummary of PhotosynthesisBeyond Genetics in DNABdelloid Rotifers Abandoned Sex 100 Million Years Ago

Smart Squirrels Sneaky Snake Strategy

Posted on December 29, 2007  Comments (1)

Squirrels Use “Snake Perfume” to Fool Predators

To mask their odor from rattlesnakes, California ground squirrels and rock squirrels chew on sloughed-off snake skin and smear it on their fur, according to a new study. The act most likely persuades the predators that another snake, not a squirrel, is in the area.

“To our knowledge this is the first case where [this idea] has been tested systematically and shown to have an anti-predator function—protecting the squirrel from rattlesnake predation,” said study lead author Barbara Clucas.Rattlers and other snakes usually prey on baby squirrels, because the adults have proteins in their blood that make them immune to snake venom.

Pups, on the other hand, aren’t big enough to resist the poison. Clucas and colleagues therefore think that adult female and juvenile squirrels spend more time applying snake scent to their bodies. “Adult females actively protect their pups … and share their burrows with juveniles,” Clucas said.

Stephen Hawking Joins Attack on Science Cuts

Posted on December 28, 2007  Comments (0)

Stephen Hawking joins attack on science cuts

The Council, which funds public research in particle physics and astronomy, has to save £80 million over the next three years because of lack of Government funding. To add insult to injury, Nature reports that the Government has also raided a similar amount – £93 million – from the money raised from patents by the Medical Research Council, an act which has been condemned as a “breach of faith” by the Royal Society.

The newest category I added was for funding a month ago. This is another example of the important role funding plays in science. And is a reminder that political realities affect government funding science will receive. As I said earlier this month: If the science and engineering community are not well represented to our representatives the interests of the science and engineering community will get short changed. Many working is science don’t want to be involved in the political debate but those who are involved play an important role.

Related: Basic Science Research Funding‘Looming Crisis’ from NIH BudgetFunding for Science and Engineering Researchers

Africa Turning to China and India for Engineering and Science Education

Posted on December 28, 2007  Comments (0)

‘Browning’ the technology of Africa by G. Pascal Zachary

The sudden influx of Chinese and Indian technologies represents the “browning” of African technology, which has long been the domain of “white” Americans and Europeans who want to apply their saving hand to African problems.

“It is a tectonic shift to the East with shattering implications,” says Calestous Juma, a Kenyan professor at Harvard University who advises the African Union on technology policy. One big change is in education. There are roughly 2,000 African students in China, most of whom are pursuing engineering and science courses. According to Juma, that number is expected to double over the next two years, making China “Africa’s leading destination for science and engineering education.”

China’s technology inroads are usually less dramatic, but no less telling. In African medicine, Chinese herbs and pharmaceuticals are quietly gaining share. For example, the Chinese-made anti-malarial drug artesunate has become part of the standard treatment within just a few years. Likewise, Chinese mastery over ultra-small, cheap “micro-hydro” dams, which can generate tiny amounts of electricity from mere trickles of water, appeals to power-short, river-rich Africans. Tens of thousands of micro-hydro systems operate in China, and nearly none in Africa.

Related: African Union Science MeetingMake the World BetterSolar Powered Hearing AidAfrica ScientificEducation, Entrepreneurship and Immigration

Brain Development

Posted on December 27, 2007  Comments (2)

Making the Mind, Why we’ve misunderstood the nature-nuture debate by Gary Marcus

The mapping between genes and behavior is made even more complex by the fact that few if any neural circuits operate entirely autonomously. Except perhaps in the case of reflexes, most behaviors are the product of multiple interacting systems. In a complex animal like a mammal or a bird, virtually every action depends on a coming together of systems for perception, attention, motivation, and so forth. Whether or not a pigeon pecks a lever to get a pellet depends on whether it is hungry, whether it is tired, whether there is anything else more interesting around, and so forth. Furthermore, even within a single system, genes rarely participate directly “on-line,” in part because they are just too slow. Genes do seem to play an active, major role in “off-line” processing, such as consolidation of long-term memory—which can even happen during sleep—but when it comes to rapid on-line decision-making, genes, which work on a time scale of seconds or minutes, turn over the reins to neurons, which act on a scale of hundredths of a second. The chief contribution of genes comes in advance, in laying down and adjusting neural circuitry, not in the moment-by-moment running of the nervous system. Genes build neural structures—not behavior.

An interesting read on brain development. This is another topic I find very interesting.

Related: Feed your Newborn NeuronsHow The Brain Rewires ItselfBrain Development Gene is Evolving the FastestThe Brain is Wired to Mull Over Decisions

Science Explained: What The Heck is a Virus?

Posted on December 26, 2007  Comments (6)

What The Heck is a Virus? [removed broken link]

A virus is not strictly alive.. nor is it strictly dead… A virus has some fundamental information (genes made of DNA or RNA) which allows it to make copies of itself. However, the virus must be inside a living cell of some kind before the information can be used. In fact, the information won’t be made available unless the virus enters a living cell. It is this entrance of a virus into a cell which is called a viral infection. Too, the virus is very, very small relative to the size of a living cell. Therefore, the information the virus can carry is actually not enough to allow it to make copies (replicate). The virus uses the cell’s machinery and some of the cell’s enzymes to generate virus parts which are later assembled into thousands of new, mature, infectious virus which can leave the cell to infect other cells.

Related: What Are Viruses?Science Summary: PhotosynthesisAmazing Science: RetrovirusesUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

Aptera Prototype – Over 230 Miles Per Gallon

Posted on December 24, 2007  Comments (3)

Aptera - photo of the new electric vehicle

They have a goal to begin production in 2008 and initially the Aptera will be available only in California. It is classified as a motorcycle but they are planning to aim for passenger car safety standards. The Electric only version will have a range of 120 miles and the hybrid version is estimated at 300 mpg. More interesting details from the Aptera web site:

We decided not just to meet many of the requirements for passenger cars, but we chose to exceed them. Industry safety standards are very different for passenger cars and motorcycles; we are choosing to go well beyond the industry safety standard for passenger cars so Aptera drivers can feel safe in any driving situation.

The approximate price for the all electric version is $26,900 and the plug-in hybrid $29,900. These prices are subject to change any time before we begin production.

Operating Prototype achieved over 230 Miles per gallon

via: Aptera Test Drive A Success!

Related: Launch videoNSF Cafe Scientifique meeting on Electric CarsToyota iUnit

Bigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg?

Posted on December 23, 2007  Comments (9)

This is a pretty counter-intuitive statement, I believe:

You save more fuel switching from a 15 to 18 mpg car than switching from a 50 to 100 mpg car.

But some simple math shows it is true. If you drive 10,000 miles you would use: 667 gallons, 556 gallons, 200 gallons and 100 gallons. Amazing. I must admit, when I first read the quote I thought that it must be an wrong. But there is the math. You save 111 gallons improving from 15 mpg to 18 mpg and just 100 improving from 50 to 100 mpg. Other than those of you who automatically guess that whatever seems wrong must be the answer when you see a title like this I can’t believe anyone thinks 15 to 18 mpg is the change that has the bigger impact. It is great how a little understanding of math can help you see the errors in your initial beliefs. Via: 18 Is Enough.

It also illustrates that the way the data is presented makes a difference. You can also view 100 mpg as 1/100 gallon per mile, 2/100 gallons per mile, 5.6/100 gpm and 6.7 gpm. That way most everyone sees that the 6.7 to 5.6 gpm saves more fuel than 2 to 1 gpm does. Mathematics and scientific thinking are great – if you are willing to think you can learn to better understand the world we live in every day.

Related: Statistics Don’t Lie, But People Can be FooledUnderstanding DataSeeing Patterns Where None ExistsOptical Illusions and Other Illusions1=2: A Proof