Archive for September, 2011

Brain Scans Suggest a New, Objective Way to Measure Pain

By Valerie Ross | September 22, 2011 1:27 pm

What’s the News: The best way doctors have to find out how much pain a patient’s in is to ask—but that approach can fall short when someone’s unable to speak, exaggerating or downplaying their condition, or just plain unsure how to rate their pain on a 10-point scale. Because of these problems with self-reporting, scientists have long been looking for an objective, physiological measure to quantify pain. A recent brain scanning study, in which the researchers could pick out painful experiences based on neural activity, brings that goal closer.

Read More

MORE ABOUT: fMRI, MRI, neuroscience, pain

Preliminary Results of Trial Using Gene Therapy Against HIV Show Potential

By Veronique Greenwood | September 22, 2011 11:35 am

genes

What’s the News: After a bone marrow transplant cured a Berlin man of HIV in 2008, scientists have been working to see whether similar, though less drastic, measures could be a treatment for the disease. And judging from the results of a recent clinical trial that used gene therapy to accomplish the goal, there’s potential.

What’s the Context:

  • In the original case, an HIV-positive patient was diagnosed with leukemia, and after having chemotherapy to knock down his cancer, he received multiple transplants of blood stem cells from a donor, which took up permanent residency in his body.
  • Those stem cells had a rare mutation that deactivated the CCR5 receptor, which the HIV virus uses to enter the blood cells it destroys. The end result was that the patient became the first person in the world to be cured of HIV—with that receptor out of commission, the virus couldn’t grow, and he longer has any detectible levels of HIV.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: AIDS, gene therapy, HIV, leukemia

Newly Discovered Plant Bows Down and Buries Its Own Seeds

By Douglas Main | September 22, 2011 9:28 am

A botanist has discovered a new species of plant in eastern Brazil whose branches bend down upon bearing fruit and deposit seeds on the ground, often burying them in a covering of soft soil or moss. This trick is an example of geocarpy, a rare adaptation to survival in harsh or short-lived environments with small favorable patches. The adaptation ensures seedlings germinate near their parents, helping them stay within the choice spots or microclimates in which they thrive. One well-known practitioner of geocarpy is the peanut, which also buries its fruit in the soil [PDF].

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

What You Eat Affects Your Genes: RNA from Rice Can Survive Digestion and Alter Gene Expression

By Veronique Greenwood | September 21, 2011 1:59 pm

rice
RNAs from rice can survive digestion and make their way into mammalian tissues, where they change the expression of genes.

What’s the News: It’s no secret that having lunch messes with your biochemistry. Once that sandwich hits your stomach, genes related to digestion have been activated and are causing the production of the many molecules that help break food down. But a new study suggests that the connection between your food’s biochemistry and your own may be more intimate than we thought. Tiny RNAs usually found in plants have been discovered circulating in blood, and animal studies indicate that they are directly manipulating the expression of genes.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Resurrected Woolly Mammoth Protein Proves to Work Well in the Cold

By Douglas Main | September 21, 2011 12:50 pm

Scientists have often wondered how woolly mammoths survived and thrived in the frigid climes of the far north in Earth’s last ice age. The hemoglobin in elephant (and human) blood cannot easily transfer oxygen to other cells in the body at low temperatures. Instead, the blood’s hemoglobin holds onto its oxygen in icy extremities and the tissue eventually dies; that’s the main reason we get frostbite. There must, then, have been something special about mammoth hemoglobin.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Shark-Produced Steroid Shows Promise for Fighting Human Viruses

By Douglas Main | September 20, 2011 5:41 pm



The spiny dogfish

What’s the News: Researchers found that squalamine, a steroid present in the bodies of the dogfish shark, has a protective effect against several human viruses, all of which are difficult or impossible to cure with existing drugs. The chemical has so far been shown to be relatively safe in humans and can be synthesized, suggesting it could have promise as an antiviral drug in humans.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Overestimating Your Own Abilities May Be an Evolutionary Boost

By Valerie Ross | September 20, 2011 2:16 pm

What’s the News: We may strive for humility, but we benefit from a little hubris, too, according to a study published last week in Nature. Overconfidence in your abilities can help you triumph in competitions you might not have won otherwise, the study found, and can impart an evolutionary advantage when the potential payoff is high compared to the cost of conflict.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Mind & Brain

A Big Eruption in Iceland Could Kill Tens of Thousands in Europe, Model Predicts

By Veronique Greenwood | September 20, 2011 2:01 pm

laki
The Laki fissure’s eruption in Iceland was behind tens of thousands of deaths in the 1780s.

What’s the News: Iceland’s busy volcanoes have caused their share of air traffic snafus in Europe lately, but they have the potential to be deadly, not just inconvenient. A new model examining how air quality would change should the volcanoes erupt as spectacularly as they occasionally have in the past suggests that increased particulates in the air could kill more than 140,000 people in Europe in the year following the eruption.

Read More

To Clean Out Tumors During Surgery, Make Them Glow

By Veronique Greenwood | September 20, 2011 12:15 pm

ovarian
Under a laser light, tumor cells light up.

What’s the News: Getting out every last bit of a tumor can be difficult–when you’ve got a patient open on the operating table, cancer cells don’t look any different from normal ones. But tag tumor cells with a glowing protein and turn the lights off, as scientists did in a recent study, and those things stand out like glo-sticks on the Fourth of July.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts

Rats, Not Recklessness, May Have Done Easter Islanders In

By Valerie Ross | September 19, 2011 5:45 pm


Enormous stone statues, called moai, on Easter Island

What’s the News: Easter Island is often held up as an example of what can happen when human profligacy and population outpace ecology: Wanton deforestation led to soil erosion and famine, the story goes, and the islanders’ society declined into chaos and cannibalism. But through their research on Easter Island, paleoecologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo have unearthed evidence that contradicts this version of events. The Polynesian settlers of Easter Island prospered through careful use of the scant available resources, they argue in their new book The Statues That Walked; the island’s forests were done in not by greedy humans, but by hungry rats.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Human Origins, Top Posts
NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »