Author Archive | Pelliciari

Fossils Reveal A New Ancestor On The Family Tree

Photo: Lee Berger of University of Witwatersrand

Photo: University of Witwatersrand

We may have some relatives we didn’t know about. Jeffrey Kluger writes onTIME:

One August day in 2008, a pair of nine-year-old boys crossed paths at a cave in South Africa. The boys didn’t play, didn’t speak, didn’t even smile at each other. One of them was Matthew Berger, the young son of paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, accompanying his dad into the field for an expedition. The other boy was known only as Australopithecus sediba, a pre-human child who died 1.977 million years ago, leaving only his fossilized bones behind.

The site, 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg, had been visited before and other bones had been found, but the remains Matthew stumbled across, along with those of an adult female, are the subject of no fewer than five papers in this week’s issue of the journal Science — and with good reason.

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Gene Found That Controls Chronic Pain

800px-Back-decompressionPopping pain killers may not be the answer, not if you can isolate and alter the gene which regulates chronic pain. Via Reuters:
British scientists have identified a gene responsible for regulating chronic pain, called HCN2, and say their discovery should help drug researchers in their search for more effective, targeted pain-killing medicines. "Our research lays the groundwork for the development of new drugs to treat chronic pain by blocking HCN2." Scientists from Cambridge University said that if drugs could be designed to block the protein produced by the gene, they could treat a type of pain known as neuropathic pain, which is linked to nerve damage and often very difficult to control with currently available drugs. "Individuals suffering from neuropathic pain often have little or no respite because of the lack of effective medications," said Peter McNaughton of Cambridge's pharmacology department, who led the study.
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Chemical Agent Turns Tissue Transparent

Screen shot 2011-09-07 at 10.14.35.png.jpegOlivia Solon writes on Wired:

Japanese researchers have developed a chemical agent that turns biological tissue transparent, allowing for vivid imaging of neurons and blood vessels deep inside mouse brains.

The aqueous reagent — referred to as Scale — offers a way of analyzing complex organs and networks in tissue samples, without having to dissect them into smaller pieces. Developed by Atsushi Miyawaki and his team at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Scale performs better than other clearing reagents because it doesn’t affect the shape or proportions of the sample. It also manages to avoid decreasing the strength of signals emitted by genetically-encoded fluorescent proteins in the tissue, which are frequently used by researchers as markers to flag up specific cells.

This means that neuroscientists can visualise fluorescently-labelled brain samples at a depth of several millimetres (as opposed to just one millimetre) and see neural networks at sub-cellular resolution.

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New Shark Species Found In Food Market

Photo: Laurent Bugnion (CC)

Photo: Laurent Bugnion (CC)

Biologists are finding new species constantly, but it took a hungry market and working fishermen to find this new shark species. The National Geographic reports:

It’s unlikely anyone’s ever complained, “Waiter, there’s a new species in my soup.” But the situation isn’t as rare as you might think.

A monkey, a lizard, and an “extinct” bird have all been discovered en route to the dinner plate, and now a new shark species joins their ranks, scientists report.

Fish taxonomists found the previously unknown shark at a market in Taiwan—no big surprise, according to study co-author William White.

“Most fish markets in the region will regularly contain sharks,” White, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Hobart, Australia, said via email.

[Continues at National Geographic]

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Federal Regulators Sue Big Banks Over Mortgages

resize_bank_of_america_signWill the Obama administration finally approach national banks with an iron fist? The New York Times reports:

A bruising legal fight pitting the country’s most powerful banks against the full force of the United States government began Friday, as federal regulators filed suits against 17 financial institutions that sold the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac nearly $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities that later soured.

The suits are the latest legal salvo fired at the banks accusing them of misdeeds during the housing boom. Investors fled financial shares Friday amid growing concern that the litigation could last for years and undermine earnings and balance sheets in the process.

The complaints were filed just as the stock market closed Friday afternoon, but with word leaking out of the impending legal action during the trading session, shares of Bank of America fell more than 8.3 percent, while JPMorgan Chase dropped 4.6 percent and Goldman fell 4.5 percent.

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Ikea Used Political Prisoners As Slave Labor

Photo: Alexander Kaiser (CC)

Photo: Alexander Kaiser (CC)

Like many global companies mass producing goods, Ikea has a past of unjust labor. The Telegraph reports:

Ikea developed strong links with the communist state in the 1970s, opening a number of manufacturing facilities, one of which, according to Stasi records discovered by German television company WDR, used political prisoners to construct sofas.

The factory in Waldheim stood next to a prison, and inmates were used as unpaid labour, it is claimed. Gaols in the Democratic Republic housed significant numbers of political prisoners, with some estimates indicating they made up at least 20 per cent of the entire prison population.

Quoted in a Stasi file, Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea’s founder, said while he had no official knowledge of the use of prison labour, if it did indeed exist “in the opinion of Ikea it would be in society’s interests.”

[Continues at The Telegraph]

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Dolphin Whisperer Could Help Us Speak To E.T.

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Photo: Auntie Rain (CC)

Could talking to animals guide us to talking to extraterrestrials? Discovery News reports:

For 27 years, marine biologist Denise Herzing and colleagues have been regular visitors in the Atlantic Ocean home of a 200-member pod of spotted dolphins living north of the Bahama Islands.

Understanding the relationships between the members of the pod is key to unraveling what their dozens of whistles, clicks and other signals mean.

“The large goal of this project is to tell the story of what it’s like to be a dolphin,” Herzing, a researcher with Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and the founder and head of the Wild Dolphin Project, told Discovery News.

[Continues at Discovery News]

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Study Of Coral May Lead To Sunburn Pill

463px-Coral_Garden

Photo: Richard Ling (CC)

What happened to remembering to apply sunscreen? The Bangkok Post reports:

The research team hope within the next two years to test a compound based on one which shields coral against harmful ultraviolet rays.

“We already knew that coral and some algae can protect themselves from the harsh UV rays in tropical climates by producing their own sunscreens but, until now, we didn?t know how,” said Dr Paul Long, head of the team.

“What we have found is that the algae living within the coral makes a compound that we think is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae.

“Not only does this protect them both from UV damage, but we have seen that fish that feed on the coral also benefit from this sunscreen protection, so it is clearly passed up the food chain,” the King’s team leader added.

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