Clues to gigantism provided by family in Borneo Mountains

Washington, August 22 (ANI): An indigenous family living in a mountainous area of Malaysian Borneo has helped Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) scientists to discover information about genetic mutations associated with acromegaly, a form of gigantism that often results in enlarged hands, feet, and facial features.

The information could lead to better screening for the disease, which most often results from a benign pituitary gland tumor that can be deadly if left untreated, but which is difficult to detect until later stages when features become pronounced.

Researchers located a 31-member aboriginal family that included individuals with acromegaly living in a mountainous region of Borneo, Malaysia, when the effects of the family patriarch’s growing pituitary tumor necessitated medical treatment.

A medical team including VARI Distinguished Scientific Investigator Bin Tean Teh, and staff from the Department of Medicine at the University of Malaya Medical Centre and the Department of Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Malaysia subsequently traveled to the family’s village several times to collect blood samples for testing.

“Researchers had recently found a mutation in the AIP gene associated with acromegaly, but we found that several family members who didn’t have visible symptoms of acromegaly had this mutation as well,” said Dr. The.

“This increases the importance of screening for families with cases of acromegaly since anyone could be a carrier. On one side of the family, at least two generations carried the gene before someone showed any symptoms,” he added.

The later stages of acromegaly often produce enlarged hands and feet, protruding brows and lower jaws, thick voice and slowed speech from swelling of vocal cords, and other symptoms.

When diagnosed, the tumor and entire pituitary gland are usually removed, followed by hormone therapy for the rest of the patient’s life. owever, because the progression of the disease is so gradual, it is difficult to detect. If left unchecked, patients can die from complications such as heart or kidney failure.

Sok Kean Khoo, VARI Research Scientist and lead author of the study, led researchers in scanning DNA in the family’s blood to find other factors that might explain why only some family members with the genetic mutation had visible symptoms of the disease.

They found regions on a few chromosomes that might lead to further insight.The sooner we know how and why people are affected differently by this disease, the sooner we can help families who have it,” said Dr. Teh. (ANI)

Scientists use titanium dioxide nanoparticles to kill cancer cells, sparing healthy ones

Washington, August 20 (ANI): Scientists in America have developed a way to target brain cancer cells using inorganic titanium dioxide nanoparticles bonded to soft biological material.

This achievement is a result of the joint efforts of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) and the University of Chicago’s Brain Tumor Center.

Thousands of people die from malignant brain tumours every year, and the tumors are resistant to conventional therapies.

The researchers say that their nano-bio technology may eventually provide an alternative form of therapy, which targets only cancer cells and does not affect normal living tissue.

“It is a real example of how nano and biological interfacing can be used for biomedical application. We chose brain cancer because of its difficulty in treatment and its unique receptors,” said scientist Elena Rozhkova with the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory.

The novel approach relies upon a two-pronged approach.

The researchers describe titanium dioxide as a versatile photoreactive nanomaterial that can be bonded with biomolecules.

When linked to an antibody, they say, nanoparticles recognize and bind specifically to cancer cells.

When focused visible light is shined onto the affected region, the researchers add, the localized titanium dioxide reacts to the light by creating free oxygen radicals that interact with the mitochondria in the cancer cells.

Mitochondria act as cellular energy plants, and when free radicals interfere with their biochemical pathways, mitochondria receive a signal to start cell death.

“The significance of this work lies in our ability to effectively target nanoparticles to specific cell surface receptors expressed on brain cancer cells,” said Dr. Maciej S. Lesniak, Director of Neurosurgical Oncology at University of Chicago Brain Tumor Center.

“In so doing, we have overcome a major limitation involving the application of nanoparticles in medicine, namely the potential of these agents to distribute throughout the body. We are now in a position to develop this exciting technology in preclinical models of brain tumours, with the hope of one day employing this new technology in patients,” Lesniak added.

Using X-ray fluorescence microscopy at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, the researchers have also found that the tumours’ invadopodia, actin-rich micron scale protrusions that allow the cancer to invade surrounding healthy cells, can be also attacked by the titanium dioxide.

The researchers have thus far carried out tests on cells in a laboratory setting, but animal testing is planned for the next phase.

Results show an almost 100 percent cancer cell toxicity rate after six hours of illumination, and 80 percent after 48 hours.

Also, since the antibody only targets the cancer cells, surrounding healthy cells are not affected, unlike other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Rozhkova said that a proof of concept is demonstrated, and other cancers can be treated as well using different targeting molecules.

The expert, however, admits that the research is presently in the early stages. (ANI)

Swine Flue cases rise to 211 in Karnataka, as 17 test positive for HINI

Bangalore, Aug.19 (ANI): The total number of the confirmed swine flu affected cases risen to 211 in Karnataka on Wednesday with 17 individuals testing positive for H1NI virus.

According to sources in the health department, out of the 17 positive cases, 12 were reported in Bangalore while two each were reported in Davangere and Belgaum and one in Gadag.

118 cases are under treatment in various hospitals in the state, with Bangalore seeing most cases (106) and other districts (12) while remaining 93 patients have been discharged. (ANI)

NASA scientists make first discovery of life’s building block in comet

Washington, August 18 (ANI): NASA scientists have discovered glycine, a fundamental building block of life, in samples of comet Wild 2 returned by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft.

“Glycine is an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a comet,” said Dr. Jamie Elsila of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“Our discovery supports the theory that some of life’s ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts,” he added.

“The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare,” said Dr. Carl Pilcher, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, which co-funded the research.

Stardust passed through dense gas and dust surrounding the icy nucleus of Wild 2 on January 2, 2004.

As the spacecraft flew through this material, a special collection grid filled with aerogel – a novel sponge-like material that’s more than 99 percent empty space – gently captured samples of the comet’s gas and dust.

The grid was stowed in a capsule, which detached from the spacecraft and parachuted to Earth on January 15, 2006.

Since then, scientists around the world have been busy analyzing the samples to learn the secrets of comet formation and our solar system’s history.

“We actually analyzed aluminum foil from the sides of tiny chambers that hold the aerogel in the collection grid,” said Elsila.

“As gas molecules passed through the aerogel, some stuck to the foil. We spent two years testing and developing our equipment to make it accurate and sensitive enough to analyze such incredibly tiny samples,” he added.

Earlier, preliminary analysis in the Goddard labs detected glycine in both the foil and a sample of the aerogel.

However, since glycine is used by terrestrial life, at first the team was unable to rule out contamination from sources on Earth.

The new research used isotopic analysis of the foil to rule out that possibility.

“We discovered that the Stardust-returned glycine has an extraterrestrial carbon isotope signature, indicating that it originated on the comet,” said Elsila.

According to Dr. Daniel Glavin of NASA Goddard, “Based on the foil and aerogel results it is highly probable that the entire comet-exposed side of the Stardust sample collection grid is coated with glycine that formed in space.” (ANI)

Condition of three swine flu suspects better, says RML doctor

New Delhi, Aug 13 (ANI): The condition of the three swine flu suspects, who are admitted to the Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital, was reported to be much better on Thursday.

“The condition of three patients who were serious is improving well. We are awaiting the report from NICD, ” said Dr. N K Chaturvedi, Medical Superintendent, RML.

The three patients were admitted to RML on Wednesday with swine flu like symptoms.

Of the three, one is a 29-year-old man, who is also suffering from renal failure, another a 40-year-old man, who is suffering from pneumonia and a two-year-old child suffering from cough and cold.

The patients have been put under treatment and are responding well.

Though the reports of their samples are still awaited, the doctors at the hospital are hopeful of their recovery.

RML is one of the government certified testing centres for the symptoms of H1N1 virus.

Till Wednesday, a total of 654 people were screened at the RML, of which 584 are adults and rest 70 are children.

The RML doctors took samples of eleven patients, but no one has been advised admission. Of the 11 patients in the isolation ward, four have already been discharged.

The toll of H1N1 positive cases has risen to 312 in New Delhi.

As on Thursday, the fatal cases of swine flu had touched the mark of 20. (ANI)

Radiation from massive stars may trigger many more stars than previously thought

Washington, August 13 (ANI): A new study from two of NASA’s Great Observatories has shown that radiation from massive stars may trigger the formation of many more stars than previously thought.

While astronomers have long understood that stars and planets form from the collapse of a cloud of gas, the question of the main causes of this process has remained open.

One option is that the cloud cools, gravity gets the upper hand, and the cloud falls in on itself.

The other possibility is that a “trigger” from some external source – like radiation from a massive star or a shock from a supernova – initiates the collapse.

Some previous studies have noted a combination of triggering mechanisms in effect.

By combining observations of Cepheus B from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope, researchers have taken an important step in addressing this question.

Cepheus B is a cloud of mainly cool molecular hydrogen located about 2,400 light years from the Earth.

There are hundreds of very young stars inside and around the cloud – ranging from a few millions years old outside the cloud to less than a million in the interior – making it an important testing ground for star formation.

“Astronomers have generally believed that it’s somewhat rare for stars and planets to be triggered into formation by radiation from massive stars,” said Konstantin Getman of Penn State University, and lead author of the study. “Our new result shows this belief is likely to be wrong,” he added.

This particular type of triggered star formation had previously been seen in small populations of a few dozen stars, but the latest result is the first time it has been clearly observed in a rich population of several hundred stars.

The new study suggests that star formation in Cepheus B is mainly triggered by radiation from one bright, massive star outside the molecular cloud.

According to theoretical models, radiation from this star would drive a compression wave into the cloud triggering star formation in the interior, while evaporating the cloud’s outer layers.

The Chandra-Spitzer analysis revealed slightly older stars outside the cloud while the youngest stars with the most protoplanetary disks congregate in the cloud interior – exactly what is predicted from the triggered star formation scenario.

“We essentially see a wave of star and planet formation that is rippling through this cloud,” said co-author Eric Feigelson, also of Penn State. “Outside the cloud, the stars probably have newly born planets while inside the cloud the planets are still gestating,” he added. (ANI)

New book debunks myths about lying, deception

Washington, Aug 8 (ANI): Defying conventional wisdom about how and why people lie, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts has said in his new book that lying is common, and people willingly accept and often welcome the lies they are told because it takes a lot of work to identify lying and liars.

Robert Feldman has offered his insights into the world of lying in his new book, titled ‘The Liar in Your Life’, published on August 3.

In the book, Feldman has debunked many myths and has said that we are not only bad at detecting falsehoods, but in fact are strongly and unconsciously willing to believe other people’s lies to make our lives easier.

Feldman also made some other revelations- for example, he said that despite what most of us would like to believe, even young children lie, and they get better at it over time.

In fact, parents consciously teach their children to lie.

He also said that it is very difficult to detect liars, even cops and detectives have trouble and can be easily fooled.

Feldman concluded that we all frequently practice some form of deception, from outright falsehoods to “little white lies,” in our daily lives.

He said that in the new interconnected world, use of e-mail and the Internet tends weaken our existing standards of honesty.

“We’re always managing what we say. I’ve found that ‘white lies’ do have consequences and that the danger of telling them is they lead us toward being more dishonest,” said Feldman.

He also said that although it is probably not reasonable to expect people to stop lying, it is possible to monitor our own behaviour to curtail the process as much as possible.

One of the most important finding of his research is what he calls the “liar’s advantage”-that is made up of several components, some of which are that lying is easy and it is very hard to detect.

He said that the belief that an individual who averts his or her gaze, acts nervous and perspires is probably not telling the truth, is false.

And neither is it accurate that someone who looks you straight in the eye will be telling the truth. He said that polygraph testing is also a poor judge of whether someone is telling the truth.

“Despite the beliefs of many law enforcement personnel. The scientific research shows that polygraphs are unreliable at detecting lies,” said Feldman.

Feldman said that he found that people don’t recognize how common it is to tell a socially acceptable “white lie,” or how easy it is for total strangers to begin twisting the truth even in a casual conversation.

The study found that strangers meeting face-to-face for the first time will tell lies three times within 10 minutes.

And if strangers meet through a computer conversation they are even more likely to lie, according to a new study reported in the book. (ANI)

New water desalination system helps cut costs, time in producing clean water

Washington, July 14 (ANI): Scientists have developed a new water desalination and filtration system that helps cut costs and time in producing clean water.

The new mini-mobile-modular (M3) “smart” water desalination and filtration system has been made by researchers at the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

In designing and constructing new desalination plants, creating and testing pilot facilities is one of the most expensive and time-consuming steps.

Traditionally, small yet very expensive stationary pilot plants are constructed to determine the feasibility of using available water as a source for a large-scale desalination plant.

The M3 system helps cut both costs and time.

“Our M3 water desalination system provides an all-in-one mobile testing plant that can be used to test almost any water source,” said Alex Bartman, a graduate student on the M3 team who helped to design the sensor networks and data acquisition computer hardware in the system.

“The advantages of this type of system are that it can cut costs, and because it is mobile, only one M3 system needs to be built to test multiple sources. Also, it will give an extensive amount of information that can be used to design the larger-scale desalination plant,” he added.

The M3 demonstrated its effectiveness in a recent field study in the San Joaquin Valley in which it desalted agricultural drainage water that was nearly saturated with calcium sulfate salts, accomplishing this with just one reverse osmosis (RO) stage.

“In this specific field study by our team, in the first part of the reverse osmosis process, 65 percent of the water that was fed in was recovered as drinking water, or potable water,” said Yoram Cohen, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and lead investigator on the team.

“We can potentially go up to 95 percent recovery using an accelerated chemical demineralization process that was also developed here at UCLA,” he added.

According to Bartman, the M3 could also be deployed to various locations and used to produce fresh water in emergency situations.

“The M3′s ‘smart’ nature means it can autonomously adapt to almost any variation in source water, allowing the M3 system to operate in situations where traditional RO desalination systems would fail almost immediately,” he said.

Though the system is compact enough to be transported anywhere in the back of a van, it can generate 6,000 gallons of drinking water per day from the sea or 8,000 to 9,000 gallons per day from brackish groundwater.

By Cohen’s estimate, that means producing enough drinking water daily for up to 6,000 to 12,000 people. (ANI)

Panama may hold cures to cancer, malaria and dengue fever

Washington, July 11 (ANI): A team of scientists is exploring the length and breadth of Panama in search of exotic molecules that could one day lead to new treatments for human diseases like cancer, malaria and dengue fever.

The team is being led by William Gerwick from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC (University of California) San Diego.

It was at the island of Coiba off Panama’s Pacific coast, where in June 2004, Kerry McPhail, then a postdoctoral scientist working with Gerwick, discovered a cyanobacterium in shallow water, a primitive photosynthetic organism with features unlike any previously encountered by scientists.

Laboratory analysis and testing revealed that the organism naturally produces a potent cancer-fighting compound.

“To the full extent that we can tell, the compound is working by a novel mechanism to kill cancer cells,” said Gerwick, a scientist with the Scripps Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine and the UCSD Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“It has a very unusual molecular structure unlike any we’ve seen before,” he added.

Panama’s location as a bridge between North and South America and a natural thoroughfare for a diverse assortment of migratory land and water species gives it a unique appeal to scientists.

“Despite the fact that we all know Panama because of its famous canal, I have been struck by how remote and primitive and relatively unspoiled large stretches of Panama remain today,” said Gerwick.

Lena Gerwick, a biologist and fellow Scripps researcher, believes that in addition to cancer, the Panamanian environment could be holding biomedically promising sources for treating malaria and tropical diseases such as Chagas’ disease, leishmaniasis, and dengue fever.

Such diseases have been labeled as “neglected” afflictions because they impact millions of people, but have been largely forgotten by the developed world and pharmaceutical companies due to the anticipation of poor returns, and thus few resources are made available to find new treatments for these diseases.

“If you have a lot of diverse organisms, as you find in the tropics, they produce a large diversity of natural products,” said Lena Gerwick.

“There is high competition for every species to carve out its own niche and survive. With that you find a lot of compounds used in defense and other diverse activities. Within this biodiversity might be the next cure for malaria or the next cure for tuberculosis, so there is a great need to conserve it,” she added. (ANI)

Scientists develop faster, more cost-effective DNA test for crime scenes

Washington, July 9 (ANI): Scientists in Japan are reporting development of a faster, less expensive version of the fabled polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is a DNA test widely used in criminal investigations, disease diagnosis, biological research and other applications.

According to the researchers, the new method could lead to expanded use of PCR in medicine, the criminal justice system and elsewhere.

In the new study, scientist Naohiro Noda and his team note that PCR works by “amplifying” previously undetectable traces of DNA almost like photocopiers produce multiple copies of documents.

With PCR, crime scene investigators can change traces of DNA into amounts that can be identified and linked to a suspect.

Biologists can produce multiple copies of individual genes to study gene function, evolution, and other topics.

Doctors can amplify the DNA from microbes in a patient’s blood to diagnose an infection.

Current PCR methods, however, are too expensive and cumbersome for wide use.

The scientists describe development and testing of a new PCR method, called the universal QProbe system, which overcomes these problems.

Existing PCR processes require several “fluorescent probes” to seek out DNA.

QProbe substitutes a single “fluorescent probe” that can detect virtually any target, saving time and cutting costs.

The new method also is more specific, accurately detecting DNA even in the presence of unfavorable PCR products in the samples that may interfere with quantification results. (ANI)

Limited-colour screens may improve your mobile phones’ battery life

London, July 8 (ANI): Scientists have come up with a way to make limited-coloured screens for mobile phones, which can improve batter life.

Johnson Chuang of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, has shown that OLEDs can be made frugal by carefully choosing the balance of colours used to make up an image.

The researcher says that each pixel in an OLED screen is made from a spot of polymer that emits coloured light when supplied with power, and each uses different amounts of energy depending on the colour being displayed.

According to him, yellow colour uses less energy than magenta at the same brightness.

“Colours with equal perceived brightness don’t necessarily use the same amount of energy,” New Scientist magazine quoted the researcher as saying.

The researcher further said that LCD panels use the same amount of energy no matter what hue the screen, as the backlights in the display always remain switched on.

Chuang and his colleagues have now successfully designed sets of colours that slash the power consumption of an OLED panel by up to 40 per cent, with minimal effect on how people perceive an image.

They have revealed that their colour choice resulted in energy savings of between 37 and 41 per cent over a traditional colour palette, depending on the scene being shown.

The new colour palette could help the designers of mobile devices like cellphones extend their battery life.

Presently, about 50 per cent of the stored power of a mobile device, such as a cellular phone, is typically used to run its LCD display.

“Say you’re running low on battery and you want to use Google maps to get home. Switching to an energy-aware colour set could make your battery last longer,” says Chuang.

Chuang now plans to start testing how much energy the new colour palettes can save on physical devices.

He says that the energy savings will depend on the specific display, the content, and user preference, but should be significant over OLED displays that use a full colour set.

“It depends on how much the user wants to sacrifice,” he says. (ANI)

Child labour rampant in Firozabad’s famous bangle industry

Firozabad (UP), June 28 (ANI): The Sadar Bazar of Firozabad is not only famous for the clinking colourful bangles, but also for the infamous ‘Child Labour Market’ where one can hire the children a-la the Roman slave market of yore.

Defying anti-child labour laws, the bangle industry continues to exploit the rights of hundreds of children here.

“I work in bangle factory, work for eight hours and manage to earn 30 to 35 rupees day. I have no time for studies and I do not have an option,” said Vikrant, a child labour.

As for the reports of children being hired for labour, the concerned authorities feigned ignorance and even refuted any such practices in their jurisdiction.

“Well it is not in my knowledge but if you are saying then I will check. Last year some children were found to be working in bangle warehouses and basically they are in the testing units where the bangles are tested. I have gone and seen them and I must tell you that they go to school and after school they come and work for 2 or 2 and half hours,” said Madhur Singh, Assistant Labour Commissioner.

Although there is no confirmed data available on the total number of children employed in Firozabad’s bangle industry, but it is estimated that hundreds of child laborers are currently working in some 400 registered bangle units of the city.

Millions of children across the nation work under hazardous conditions to produce firecrackers, textile ancillaries, hand-rolled cigarettes and glass industries.

They are often exposed to chemicals and open furnaces spewing toxic gases. (ANI)

Jacko’s final autopsy report to take four to six weeks

Washington, June 27 (ANI): Late singer Michael Jackson’s final autopsy reports are likely to take up to six weeks, according to the chief coroner investigating his death.

The cops have seized vials of prescription drugs from the King Of Pop’s rented house in Los Angeles as part of their ongoing investigation.

The coroner officials have not found any evidence of foul play in Jackson’s death.

They are taking extra time to complete toxicology, neuropathology and pulmonary tests before determining the exact cause.

“The cause of death has been deferred, which means that the medical examiner has ordered additional testing, such as toxicology and other studies, and those tests we anticipate will take approximately four to six weeks to complete,” Contactmusic quoted Chief coroner and investigator Craig Harvey as saying.

“At that time, once those test results have been completed, we anticipate being able to close the case and issue a final cause of death.

“There was no indication of any external trauma and no indication of foul play on the body Mr. Michael Jackson,” he added. (ANI)

Traces of microbes in shallow ice layers may help find life on icy worlds

Washington, June 26 (ANI): A new research has indicated that living microorganisms and the food that sustained them can be detected in shallow ice layers, which will help find life on icy worlds.

The research is a part of the Project SLIce, which means, Signatures of Life in Ice.

Dominique Tobler and Jennifer Eigenbrode of NASA Goddard Space Science Laboratory, and Liane Benning of the University of Leeds, UK, show that not only living micro-organisms, but also traces of long-dead ones, and the food that sustained them can be detected in shallow ice layers, using methods rigorously tested in one of our own planet’s most extreme environments.

“With SLIce, we wanted to figure out the nature of the organic matter in ice and how what we find on Earth can be the basis for comparisons with organic matter on Mars,” explained Benning.

“The organic matter we find could be alive or dead, representing extant or extinct life, or even the nutrients that made life possible, and we want to identify the biological signals that point towards ice-dwelling life,” she added.

The SLIce team went to a glacial region of Svalbard to try taking ice samples in exactly the way it would be done on Mars, using a sequence of procedures and tests that they had developed as part of the AMASE project, a long-running international research program that has established Svalbard as a test bed for planetary exploration.

“We’re using sample devices, primarily to be operated from a rover, but we’re also testing how we go about taking and testing samples and keeping them separate,” said Benning.

“For SLIce, we applied the protocol we had developed to take ice cores, process them and analyze them in the field just as would happen on a rover on Mars, and then of course we took them back to the lab and did a much wider range of tests, so we really knew what we had found,” she said.

“There could be microbes living in the ice, but there could also be the dead bodies of microbes that used to live there, and there could be biological molecules that blew in from dust and micrometeorites. We need to identify what we’ve got, so that we know what it’s telling us,” she added. (ANI)

New handheld device detects anthrax with outstanding accuracy and reliability

Washington, June 26 (ANI): Scientists have developed a handheld device that can detect anthrax with outstanding accuracy and reliability.

The device, called Ceeker (pronounced “seeker”), was made by scientists at Veritide Ltd., a developer of innovative biological identification and detection solutions.

It can discriminate between anthrax spores and similar-looking hoax substances.

The data show that in over two weeks of testing at the Midwest Research Institute in Florida, the company’s Ceeker scanner accurately identified 100 percent of the anthrax samples used and was correct in 95 percent of tests involving hoax substances.

“We knew that our innovative Ceeker is capable of producing outstanding results in distinguishing between anthrax and look-alike hoax substances, and now we have definitive data confirming its performancem,” said Andrew Rudge, Chief Executive Officer of Veritide.

“Even better, these extraordinary results were generated by a small portable handheld system that requires no special skills or training to operate and that can produce a result within minutes, enabling first responders to rapidly determine whether the situation is a nuisance or a major threat to public health,” he added.

The Ceeker employs optical detection technology developed at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury.

It uses ultraviolet light and special algorithms to detect bacterial spores and provides test results within minutes, without the need for wet chemistry or analytic processes that can be difficult to handle in the field.

The Ceeker is capable of producing test results from very small amounts of sample and does not consume or destroy the sample being tested, allowing it to be re-analyzed later for forensic applications.

In contrast, existing detection approaches require longer and more complex processing to distinguish anthrax from other substances (between 30 minutes and three days). Their accuracy is inferior to the Ceeker and the sample is typically destroyed during testing.

According to Professor Lou Reinisch, an inventor of the Ceeker technology, “These new data definitively confirm the validity of the detection concepts underlying the Ceeker and should help fuel its wider use among such first responders as fire and police departments, HazMat teams, postal services, port and airport security, and defense and military authorities.”

The Ceeker has also been previously validated by forensic laboratory ESR, which conducted multiple rounds of testing using anthrax simulants and hoax substances.

The successful US test results have triggered significant sales from US customers who had pre-ordered the Ceeker but were waiting for positive direct anthrax testing results before proceeding. (ANI)

Patterns of genetic changes in mental retardation uncovered

Washington, June 26 (ANI): An international team of researchers claims to have uncovered the patterns of genetic changes in mental retardation.

Mental retardation is caused by many different, yet individually rare DNA deletions and duplications.

The researchers have identified certain DNA changes responsible for the condition.

During the study, the scientists took DNA from over 150 individuals with mental retardation and compared it with the genomes of 5,000 mice, each had single genes disrupted.

They found that the DNA changes associated with mental retardation contained greater than expected numbers of genes whose loss in mice also affected the nervous system.

The large amounts of data from humans and mice were critical in revealing a relatively small set of genes that are relevant to mental retardation in humans.

This study provides strong evidence that genomic deletions and duplications frequently cause mental retardation.

By narrowing down the list of genes linked to the disorder, the research will help to enable genetic testing and diagnosis.

In the future, the approach used in this study could also prove effective in highlighting genes altered in other medical conditions such as schizophrenia and autism.

The study is published in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics. (ANI)

Scientists create first acoustic metamaterial ‘superlens’

Washington, June 25 (ANI): A team of researchers at the University of Illinois (U. of I.) has created the world’s first acoustic “superlens,” an innovation that could have practical implications for high-resolution ultrasound imaging, non-destructive structural testing of buildings and bridges, and novel underwater stealth technology.

The team, led by Nicholas X. Fang, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at Illinois, successfully focused ultrasound waves through a flat metamaterial lens on a spot roughly half the width of a wavelength at 60.5 kHz using a network of fluid-filled Helmholtz resonators.

According to the results, the acoustic system is analogous to an inductor-capacitor circuit.

The transmission channels act as a series of inductors, and the Helmholtz resonators, which Fang describes as cavities that house resonating waves and oscillate at certain sonic frequencies almost as a musical instrument would, act as capacitors.

Fang said acoustic imaging is somewhat analogous to optical imaging in that bending sound is similar to bending light.

But, compared with optical and X-ray imaging, creating an image from sound is “a lot safer, which is why we use sonography on pregnant women,” said Shu Zhang, a U. of I. graduate student who along with Leilei Yin, a microscopist at the Beckman Institute, are co-authors of the research paper.

Acoustic imaging can be used for tumor detection.

“In the body, tumors are often surrounded by hard tissues with high contrast, so you can’t see them clearly, and acoustic imaging may provide more details than optical imaging methods,” said Fang.Fang said that the application of acoustic imaging technology goes beyond medicine.

Eventually, the technology could lead to “a completely new suite of data that previously wasn’t available to us using just natural materials,” he said.

In the field of non-destructive testing, the structural soundness of a building or a bridge could be checked for hairline cracks with acoustic imaging, as could other deeply embedded flaws invisible to the eye or unable to be detected by optical imaging.

“Acoustic imaging is a different means of detecting and probing things, beyond optical imaging,” Fang said.

Fang said acoustic imaging could also lead to better underwater stealth technology, possibly even an “acoustic cloak” that would act as camouflage for submarines.

“Right now, the goal is to bring this ‘lab science’ out of the lab and create a practical device or system that will allow us to use acoustic imaging in a variety of situations,” he said. (ANI)

Babies delivered before 39 weeks in womb have lower IQs

Toronto, June 24 (ANI): While babies born at 37 or 38 weeks are though to be full term, scientists have now found that such tots have slightly lower IQs, and a modestly higher risk of death in early infancy, as compared to those born after closer to 40 weeks in the womb.

Michael Kramer, a McGill University epidemiologist, says that the finding attains significance as births these days are increasingly induced after 37 or 38 weeks of pregnancy.

He points out that it has been assumed for years that a few weeks in the final month of pregnancy do not matter much to babies, his team have now found evidence that those extra weeks can make a difference.

While making a presentation at a conference in California this week, Dr. Kramer’s research associate Seungmi Yang revealed that the IQs of babies born at 37 weeks had been found to be 1.7 points lower than those of infants born at 39 or 40 weeks during their study.

Those seeing the presentation heard that the study involved 18,000 children who underwent cognitive testing at the age of six and a half.

“There was an increase in IQ from 37 to 40 weeks. The IQ score was highest at 40 weeks of gestational age,” the Globe and Mail quoted Dr. Yang, who works at the Research Institute of Montreal Children’s Hospital and McGill University Health Centre, as saying.

He further revealed that a similar finding surfaced when he and his colleague Xun Zhang examined the mortality rate of more 12 million babies born in the US, with those delivered at 37 and 38 weeks having a small, but significantly higher chance of dying as newborns.

The researcher revealed that infant mortality rates were highest for babies born at 37 weeks – 0.66 per 1,000 in the neonatal period and 1.68 per 1,000 in the post-neonatal period.

The rates decreased between 37 and 39 weeks, and remained stable for babies born at 40 weeks, at 0.34 per 1,000 for newborns and 1.03 per 1,000 later.

They also had an increased chance of neonatal seizures or other problems shortly after birth.

“Despite a low absolute risk of infant death at these gestational ages, the risks were more than 50 per cent higher at 37 weeks than at 40 weeks,” the researchers say in a research article, published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Dr. Kramer conceded that those differences were relatively small, but insisted that they raised serious questions about whether inducing births at 37 and 38 weeks does more harm than good.

He stressed the need for a large clinical trial that would compare the outcomes of term births induced at different gestational ages for a variety of reasons and births that weren’t induced in similar circumstances. (ANI)

New plasma torch may improve root canal treatment, reduce infection rates

Melbourne, June 24 (ANI): Scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) have come up with the world’s smallest plasma torch that may one day make root canal treatment faster and less painful, besides reducing the chance of infection after the procedure.

“Our goal is to guarantee that you won’t have to see a doctor for a follow-up visit,” ABC Science quoted says Professor Chunqi Jiang Jiang, who has reported this work in the online edition of the journal Plasma Processes and Polymers, as saying.

“One problem is that between 8 per cent and 10 per cent of patients have an infection post-operation. This is intended to eliminate the chance of an infection,” the researcher added.

Plasma, or ionized gas, is one of the four basic states of matter, the other three being solid, liquid and gas.

The researchers reveal that the trick to creating plasma at room temperature is to pulse it. They say that a continuous stream of plasma very quickly heats up the surrounding air.

According to them, pulsing the plasma allows the tiny electrons in it to heat up and move around, while keeping the much larger and heavier atom nucleus from heating up.

“If you have a piece of paper with bacteria on it and you apply cold plasma to it, the paper won’t burn but the bacteria will die,” says Professor Mounir Laroussi, of Old Dominion University in Virginia, who has studied the effect of cold plasmas for years.

“Cold plasma can kill bacteria on a variety of surfaces such as teeth or skin,” Laroussi adds.

The researchers say that upon being used in the mouth, the free electrons of plasma create single atoms of pure oxygen, ozone and other reactive forms of oxygen, all of which search for other atoms to bind with in the organic biofilms inside decayed teeth.

Biofilms are basically walled colonies of bacteria. In the human body, they can trigger the onset of an infection, and even protect the harmful bacteria from the most powerful antibiotics.

The researchers have revealed that cool, pulsed and purple plasma takes about five to ten minutes to clear an infected tooth of biofilms as compared to bleach, the conventional method for cleaning an infected tooth, which takes 30 minutes.

While about 10 per cent of patients treated with bleach are still infected, tests using the plasma torch on a few dozen human teeth have shown no signs of infection.

The plasma torch is also not as expensive as laser systems that are used as high-tech solutions to biofilms.

While laser systems costing up to 25,000 dollars, the plasma torch could retail for as little as 1,000 dollars, provided it passes official clinical trials.

Laroussi, who used to test cold plasmas effect on teeth, skin and wound healing, says that the trick to regulatory acceptance and commercialisation is ensuring that only harmful cells are killed.

“We can kill bacteria on teeth and on wounds. But we have to ensure that we are not creating a worse problem in nearby healthy cells as well,” says Laroussi.

Initial tests have shown that surrounding healthy tissue remains intact, although more testing is needed to definitively prove this.

Meanwhile, the USC researchers are concentrating on getting the funding necessary to continue with their research. (ANI)

Three fresh cases found positive for Swine Flu take toll to 59

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Chennai, June 22 (ANI): With three more persons including a Chennai couple who travelled to India from the US testing positive for Swine Flu on Monday, the toll of cases in the country to 59 in the country. /pp
While two cases were reported from Chennai, the third one was reported from Delhi where a 15-year-old boy tested positive for the disease./pp
A 29-year-old man and wife, 25, who travelled from North Carolina to Chennai on June 13, reported symptoms for swine flu five days later.They were tested positive today, a Health Ministry official said./pp
The case from Delhi was that of the teenager who reached the city on June 17 from New York./pp
Of the total 59 cases, 32 have been discharged while rest of the patients remain admitted to various hospitals across the country./pp
So far samples of 421 persons have been tested out of which 59 have been tested positive for novel Influenza A [H1N1]. Of these, six are indigenous cases who got the infection from people who travelled from abroad, the official said. (ANI)/p