Thursday, March 09, 2006

Science News

Mass extinctions: a threat from outer space or our own planet's detox?
University of Leicester scientists suggest extraterrestrial theories are flawed and that more down to earth factors could have accounted for past mass extinctions. Earth history has been punctuated by several mass extinctions rapidly wiping out nearly all life forms on our planet. What causes these catastrophic events? Are they really due to meteorite impacts? Current research suggests that the cause may come from within our own planet the eruption of vast amounts of lava that brings a cocktail of gases from deep inside the Earth and vents them into the atmosphere.

Worm hormone discovery may aid fight against parasitic disease
New research at UT Southwestern Medical Center shows that on a biochemical level, hormone-like molecules in tiny worms called nematodes work similarly to the way in which certain hormones work in humans: findings that one day may help eradicate worm infections that afflict a third of the world's population. UT Southwestern researchers have discovered a molecule that activates genes involved in the development and reproduction of Caenorhabditis elegans, a common research worm about the size of a pinhead. In a study available online and appearing in the March 24 issue of the journal Cell, UT Southwestern scientists describe how the molecule, called a ligand, acts like a hormone, the first such hormonal ligand identified in C. elegans.

For the first time: Longevity modulated without disrupting life-sustaining function
Within a hormone-triggered cascade of molecular signals that plays a crucial for a wide range of physiological functions, researchers for the very first time have identified a protein that functions specifically to extend lifespan and youthfulness -- without disrupting fertility, immunity or the organism's response to stress.

Invasive exotic plants helped by natural enemies
Although conventional wisdom suggests that invasive exotic plants thrive because they escape the natural enemies that kept them in check in their native ranges, a new study in the journal Science suggests the opposite. Exotic plants that are in the presence of their natural enemies actually do better in their introduced ranges.

'Hands free' isn't mind free: Performing even easy tasks impairs driving
Despite the well-intended laws requiring the use of hands-free devices, a driver's performance is impaired when distracted by even the simplest tasks, whether or not both hands are on the steering wheel. A new research study presents a unique perspective of how the psychological-refractory-period effect pertains to driving, perhaps the most ubiquitous real-world task where non-optimal performance can have serious consequences.

NYU scientists ID key factor in how fruit fly color receptor cells 'decide' their type
Biologists at New York University have identified a key factor that enables photoreceptor cells to decide their color sensitivity. The findings, which were uncovered by researchers in Professor Claude Desplan's laboratory in NYU's Center for Developmental Genetics, were published in the March 9th issue of the journal Nature.

Leave it to salmon to leave no stone unturned
Like an armada of small rototillers, female salmon can industriously churn up entire stream beds from end to end, sometimes more than once, using just their tails. A University of Washington researcher writes in this month's BioScience journal that the silt, minerals and nutrients that are unleashed cause changes in rivers and lakes far from the nest building.

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