Recycling the Energy of Waste
Sam Jaffe | Jun 20, 2004
Every resource carried onto a manned spaceship is precious, because it costs hundreds of dollars to lift each pound of material past Earth's surly bonds. Now that NASA is in the process of planning a trip to Mars that might take up to two years, no type of recycling can be overlooked. One thing that can provide three basic raw materials (water, energy, and fertilizer) needed for a long space journey: human waste.Most methods of recycling organic waste involve the production of methane, a flammab
The Physics of Double-Dutch
Mirella Bucci | Jun 20, 2004
If you were twirling double-dutch ropes and someone shook the ropes back and forth from the middle, you and your partner would be pulled together. These are the kinds of large-scale behaviors of cellular polymers that David Weitz studies at Harvard University.To measure the flexibility of actin, Weitz and his colleagues exploited the stiffness of scruin, a glue-like protein that holds the actin fibers together.1 In this scenario, "the joints are stiffer than the fibers, so the properties of the
Blocking Bitterness
Ricki Lewis | Jun 6, 2004
Drowning bitter-tasting pharmaceuticals in sweeteners or dispersing them into liposomes, microcapsules, or gums are standard ways to get people to swallow medications such as antibiotics, cold remedies, and ulcer medications. Cranbury, NJ-based Linguagen is developing a new approach using the signal transduction pathways that underlie taste: The company is screening libraries of small, natural molecules to be used as additives that would block the binding of bitter-tasting compounds before the b
Humor and Handedness
Mike May | Jun 6, 2004
When Seana Coulson, assistant professor of cognitive science, and her graduate student, Christopher Lovett, looked for a high-level language task to study brain responses in right- and left-handers, the investigators turned to humor. The University of California, San Diego, researchers recorded brainwaves in 16 righties and 16 lefties while they read jokes, such as "I still miss my ex-wife, but I am improving my aim"; or nonsequiturs, such as "I still miss my ex-wife, but I am improving my ego."
Seaweed's Role in Bioremediation
Silvia Sanides | May 23, 2004
It was during a walk along the coast that Ravi Naidu found the answer to his problem: "Seaweed! The idea just popped up." The ubiquitous and cheap plant material held the solution to his biore-mediation experiments DDT-contaminated soils. He and colleague Mallavarapu Megharaj of the University of South Australia found that sodium enhances bacteria's ability to degrade DDT in anaerobic environments. Throwing in some organic matter as fertilizer further accelerated the process. "Seaweed contains s
Marshalling Bio-IT in the Name of Preparedness
Myrna Watanabe | May 23, 2004
Discerning whether a biological threat comes from terrorism or an emerging infectious disease is one problem that researchers at the Courant Bioinformatics Group at New York University (NYU) want to solve. Bhubaneswar Mishra's multidisciplinary team has created a series of complex software programs that allow researchers who deal with intricate, real-world bioinformatics problems to develop their own algorithms. This allows them to use mathematics to solve real issues in biology.With one interac
A Tick-Slimming Secret
Karen Heyman | May 9, 2004
Reuben Kaufman and graduate student Brian Weiss have found that for females, the secret to staying slim is staying virginal. Fortunately for males, human and otherwise, this works only if you're a special type of tick. Kaufman and Weiss have isolated the engorgement factor protein (EF) in the semen of the tick family ixodidae; this protein inspires gluttony in inseminated females. They have dubbed it "voraxin," from the Latin vorare, to devour.Tick blood lust is ghastly: Some can consume up to 4
Economic Progress, Medical Regress
Maria Anderson | May 9, 2004
ACTIONS AND REACTIONS:©Wiley-Liss, IncBlood pressure of Samoan males, by age, in the 1979 and 1991–93 samples.Modernization has changed the Samoans' lifestyle, and their cardiovascular health as well. A study by Stephen McGarvey, director of Brown University's International Health Institute, and colleagues found that youngsters between the ages of 10 and 18 in American Samoa and independent Samoa had higher blood pressures in 1991–1993 than did the same age group in 1979; they a
Reading Eukaryotic Barcodes
Myrna Watanabe | Apr 25, 2004
If cereal can be barcoded, so can Daphnia or a butterfly, or a hummingbird, or any eukaryotes. A worldwide consortium of research organizations, led by the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), has begun a 2 1/2-year project with $669,000 in seed money from the Sloan Foundation, which they hope will lead to a relatively simple, fast, and cheap way of identifying eukaryotic organisms in the field.The point of the Barcode of Life Initiative, to be based at NMNH, is to sequence o
The Physics of Footwear
Caryn Evilia | Apr 25, 2004
Erica P. JohnsonTo bring scientific concepts into the mainstream, sometimes explaining popular culture helps. Inspired by TV's Sex and the City and its heroine, Carrie, who often wobbles around in designer shoes, Paul Stevenson at the UK-based Institute of Physics developed a formula to determine the maximum "safe" height for such footwear. Stevenson, of the University of Surrey, wanted to see just how high Carrie could go. "As you get up in a high heel," Stevenson says, "your base of support is