Last Week on ResearchBlogging.org

Scientists use a ‘gene gun’ to insert a gene from a flowering plant called rockcress into the cells of wheat seeds. The genetically modified wheat became more resistant to a fungus called take-all, which in real life can cause “a 40-60% reduction in wheat yields.”

T-cells from six HIV+ patients were removed from their bodies, treated with a zinc-finger nuclease designed to snip a gene out of the cell’s DNA, and put back in the patients.  Removal of the gene mimics a naturally occurring mutation which confers resistance to the HIV virus.  But only 25% of the treated cells showed evidence of being successfully edited.

Researchers “use time-resolved X-ray microtomography to visualize the muscles and hinges in three-dimensions” of fly wings, modelling the complex physical processes that enable flies’ flight.

Even with the cost of building new energy storage infrastructure, wind energy will continue to offer a net gain of power.  Plus: wind produces enough surplus electricity to offer 72 hours of backup power (vs. 24 hours for solar panels).  Researchers say that the industry of onshore wind turbines can “double in size each year—and still maintain an energy surplus.”

Researchers cremated the remains of young piglets to investigate why there’s little evidence of high infant mortality in the archaeological record. To no avail.

Men in ‘traditional’ marriages (whose wives are not employed) are more likely to look negatively upon women in the workplace.

Regardless of the structural integrity of a shoulder (rotator cuff) repair, patients have improved function and reduced pain after surgery.

Stem cells are influenced by the rigidity of the substrate they grew up on: “spending 10 days on a particular bed leads to irreversible future differentiation of the stem cells into stiff-environment-loving bone or soft-loving fat cells.”  That could lead to considerable demand for a new scaffolding material “based on a biocompatible silk-alginate hydrogel” which can be made to varying standards of firmness.

By appearing to tap test subjects on the hand with a small hammer while playing the recorded sounds of a hammer tapping stone, researchers made people feel their hands were more stone-like (or numb).

A gene coincidentally named FAT10 ( for F Adjacent Transcript) actually “regulates lipid metabolism and longevity,” and model mice who lacked the gene were leaner, had a faster metabolism, and lived up to 20% longer.

Encapsulating immature pancreatic cells grown from human stem cells and implanting them under the skin of mice showed the cells could produce insulin whenever needed and reduce diabetic symptoms.

The CDC revised it autism prevalence rate upward again; in 2010 about 1 in 68 eight-year-olds had an autism spectrum disorder.

At age six, children award beneficial resources to members of their ‘in-group;’ at age eight they also assign harmful or negative resources to members of an ‘out-group.’

People with OCD were less likely than controls to believe they could influence a light bulb by pressing a space bar whenever they want. The light bulb blinked randomly on and off.

A virus affecting crickets not only sterilizes them, but makes them more eager to initiate courtship. Males perhaps uninhibited by the virus would start playing a courtship song for a female much sooner than their healthy peers.  Intimacy may be the virus’s way of spreading.

Within the ultrapure water purification system of a nuclear reactor, scientists found oligotrophic bacteria, including new species, growing in biofilms “visible to the naked eye” on ceramic filter surfaces.

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Last Week on ResearchBlogging.org

For the first time, researchers have transformed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into specialized bladder cells. Meanwhile the development of iPSCs from normal cells has been shown to depend on two proteins necessary for the induction of a glycolytic state. In order to make iPSCs, researchers have previously needed to collect significant amounts of skin, bone marrow, or blood from a donor, but researchers have demonstrated a new method that requires only a single drop of blood.  In the future, you may be able to prick your finger, send a drop of blood to the lab, and have them grow a new bladder for you.

Paleontologists digging in the Dakotas have discovered “a giant crested bird-like dinosaur that the experts liken variously to an outsized cassowary, or a ‘chicken from hell.'”  The new genus of oviraptorosaur was named Anzu after a Mesopotamian bird-demon.

By coating gallium nitride semiconductors with “a layer of phosphonic acid derivatives,” researchers increased the brightness and longevity of LEDs without having to increase energy input.

Human appetite for conch snails has reduced the size of mature specimens by 2/3 in the last seven millennia.

A study of dioxin exposure via breast milk in Vietnam showed a correlation between levels of the chemical and development of autism in children.

Regardless of how long you spend playing, video games (especially those played with others) may help you relax after a long day at work.

Mexico now beats the U.S. as the most obese country in the world; they also drink the most Coca-Cola.  With Coke expanding aggressively in developing nations, chronically undernourished people are faced with too much of a good thing.

Getting less sleep is associated with having less ‘gray matter’ in the brain, but researchers can’t determine the direction of causality.  In another study, autistic children demonstrated shorter sleep duration than control groups.

Among sex-changing fish, the largest females are known to replace dominant males in a pinch, but male-to-female transitions are much more rare.  By studying a bunch of widowed male wrasses, researchers observed that the males would pair up with the next individual they encountered–whether male, female, or juvenile–and when two widowed males paired up, the smaller would become a female.

Baseline risk of ACL and other ligament injury may be genetically determined.

To accelerate word learning in young children, read them a story and then put them down for a nap.

Lithium-air batteries use the atmosphere as a cathode and could boost the range of electric vehicles to 300 miles or more.

Computational research has postulated the structure of electromagnetic knots that satisfy Maxwell’s equations.

And finally, a study of stem cell therapy for Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS) showed that the cells can be safely transplanted into the spinal cord and do not accelerate progression of the disease, providing a green light for further research.

If Toxins Cause Autism, They’re Not in Vaccines

Do environmental factors such as toxins contribute to autism? On Respectful Insolence, Orac looks at a new study which found a correlation between birth defects and the eventual development of autism. Orac says this correlation has already been demonstrated, along with “autism and exposure to teratogens, specifically at least maternal rubella infection, thalidomide, valproic acid, and misoprostol.” But could other chemicals be influencing higher rates of birth defects and autism in certain areas? Many people believe that autism-inducing toxins are found in vaccines. But autism’s correlation with birth defects and its tendency to cluster in certain geographic areas suggest that the risk of autism could be determined before birth and/or by exposure to regional chemical concentrations, not to a nation-wide standard of care. Besides, no credible research has ever shown a link between vaccines and autism. And the risks of not vaccinating can be dire: on Aetiology, Tara C. Smith writes “infectious diseases still injure and kill, despite our nutritional status, despite appropriate vitamin D levels, despite sanitation improvements, despite breastfeeding, despite handwashing, despite everything we do to keep our kids healthy.” With scientific understanding offering so much opportunity to raise a healthy child, why do some parents still draw the line at vaccines?

Schooling SAT Gamers (The Slow Way)

Testing behemoth ETS announced a re-revised SAT for 2015, trying to stay one step ahead of its rival and the legions of teenagers who game standardized tests. Suggesting the vocabulary section was intended as “a proxy test for wide reading,” Chad Orzel says memorizing obscure words is “dumb and pointless, but probably takes less time than getting a large vocabulary the ‘right’ way.” Indeed, in the contemporary college prep atmosphere of clubs, sports, musical instruments, and hours of homework, who has time to read anyway? Even English students are likely to stick to SparkNotes (whose homepage, incidentally, features celebrities and kittens, not To Kill a Mockingbird).

There’s an obvious problem: if we expect kids to do everything, they won’t have much time to do anything. And what little free time they find will probably go toward a PlayStation 4 (or sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll). But on USA Science & Engineering Festival, Joanne Manaster says reading a lot “is one key to becoming successful in science and engineering as well as other fields.” She says we must challenge ourselves, that “our brains and our very essence of being thrives on that challenge.” Interested kids (and adults) can prepare for the SAT (and/or life) by making time to read a book, such as one reviewed by John Dupuis on Confessions of a Science Librarian.

Denialists are Doomed

It’s been a frigid winter in much of the United States, but Greg Laden notes that the country covers only 1.5% of the Earth’s surface, and overall the planet just experienced the fourth-warmest January on record.  Meanwhile global warming denialists are resorting to every rhetorical trick in the book, such as comparing their increasingly outnumbered position to that of Galileo.  While it’s tempting to recount the history of science as that of a few brilliant mavericks overthrowing established consensus, Greg writes “Science hardly ever gets Galileoed, and even Galileo did not Galileo science; he Galileoed religion.”  Meanwhile, on Stoat, William M. Connolley offers some explanations for denialist behavior.  For many, denialism is a political position amenable to any scientific veneer.  But the consequences of denying global warming are more than political: they could make life harder for generations to come.  And denialists, far from being vindicated, can only look forward to being reviled, ridiculed, and forgotten.

Last Week on ResearchBlogging.org

Solar cells made with bismuth vanadate achieve a surface area of 32 square meters per gram.  This compound can be paired with cheap oxides to split water molecules (and make hydrogen) with record efficiency.

Short-term geoengineering could postpone global warming, only to have it happen more quickly in the future.

Carotenoids tinge blackbird bills a deep orange, signalling fitness; birds with oranger bills are “are heavier and larger, have less blood parasites and pair with females in better condition than males with yellow bills.”

Fibroblasts can extrude a tidy biological scaffold for stem-cell growth at a nanometer scale, while provoking a lower immune response than synthetic or animal-derived materials.

Higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood correlate with stronger white matter in the brain.

By first reverting skin cells to endodermal cells instead of stem cells, researchers were able to transform them into better liver cells with true regenerative potential.

Headband cam reveals that babies spend 25% of their waking lives looking at other people’s faces, 96% of which belonged to members of their own race.  By the age of 6 months, the faces of another race begin to all look the same.

Here: everything you ever wanted to know about star spiders.

Rodents are similar enough to humans to be used as laboratory models, so does a cat parasite that manipulates the behavior of rats also alter the behavior of humans (30-40% of whom are infected worldwide)?

Researchers have come within 99.8% of the theoretical limit of light absorption enhancement in solar cells, paving the way for “the next generation of high-efficiency, cost-effective and ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells.”

European utilities, under pressure from a law requiring 20% of all energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, are importing millions of metric tons of wood pellets from the southern United States.  Burning these pellets produces less than half the emissions of fossil fuel, not counting the energy needed to ship them across the Atlantic.

Newly discovered chimpanzee populations in the Congo are thriving, outnumbering their cousins in West Africa, but bushmeat hunters, like researchers, are beginning to encroach.

Another study shows a correlation between use of acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol) during pregnancy and the development of ADHD in children.

New process turns algae into biogas compatible with our natural gas infrastructure. “While it takes nature millions of years to transform biomass into biogas, it takes the SunCHem process less than an hour.”

Among single-celled organisms like algae, programmed suicide can benefit relatives while suppressing the growth of non-relatives.

Off-shore wind turbines could significantly slow hurricane winds and decrease storm surges, all while generating electricity.

Novel aerogel made from wood and polymer could be thrown on an oil spill, absorbing nearly 100 times its own weight before being wrung out and used again.

Five-year-olds spanked by their mothers showed increased behavioral problems at age 9.  Those spanked by their fathers showed reduced vocabulary.

During a musical “conversation,” a jazz musician scanned by fMRI showed activation of language and rhythmic centers in the brain, hemispheric mirrors that “perform syntactic processing for both music and speech.”  At the same time, there was a marked deactivation of the angular gyrus, which is involved in interpreting the meaning of words if not their syntactic structure.

And finally if you want to be considered a great artist, it might be worth cultivating an eccentric persona in the most sincere manner possible.

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