Category Archives: News about science

From the “cool things to do with glowing animals” department:

What do light-emitting squid have to do with your gut?  Unless you lunched on some really exotic calamari, I’m talking about symbiotic animal-bacteria relationships.

Researchers at UW-Madison are taking advantage of the symbiotic relationship between the Hawaiian bobtail squid and a luminescent bacteria, Vibrio fischeri, as a model for beneficial microbe-host interactions like those that help us digest our food and regulate our immune systems.  Humans host thousands of bacterial species, the vast majority of which are innocuous or even beneficial.  Only a handful pose a threat.  So what sets a platonic relationship apart from a pathogenic one?

A new paper out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the answer lies not with the bacteria, but with the host itself.  Researchers identify a slew of microbe-induced genetic changes in the tiny squid, including a set of evolutionarily conserved genes that may hold the secrets to developing a mutually beneficial relationship.

The results – including the involvement of several genes typically associated with responses to bacterial infection – suggest we may need to rethink our understanding of the main purpose of the immune system, according to the lead scientist.  Perhaps the common signaling pathways we think of as “anti-pathogen” pathways actually evolved as symbiosis pathways.

Take a moment to appreciate your resident microbe community, and read the full story.

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Any Faculty Bloggers About?

From Karl Bates at Duke:

This post from Duke blogger Tom Burroughs bears repeating – how can we get faculty to share what they’re thinking in blogs? If they’re spending two hours a day on email (not unusual), what would an occasional blog posting add to that, really?

Word

Double thanks to a couple of comrades.

The incomparable and insomniatic Bora recently interviewed Karl Bates from Duke about his nifty new Webzine.

Karl was kind enough to mention this blog.

There’s a really cool video on Bora’s site now of a giant windmill exploding.

~ Clinton

It’s the science policy, stupid

Well, well.

The presidential campaigns might finally get around to talking about science. And, maybe, just maybe, they won’t limit the discussion to stem cells.

The NYTimes’ Andrew Revkin reported yesterday   that a group called Sciencedebate 2008 , comprised of some very smart people, including science bloggers Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney, has scheduled a science debate and invited the presidential candidates.

Gee, do you think the wanna-be leaders of the free world might recognize that science is important?

Hmmmm. Let’s see. They all talk about healthcare reform. That involves, uh, health care, which usually includes medicine, and sometimes biomedical science.

How about the environment? Despite the fact that environment stories often turn into stories about Hollywood personalities, I’m pretty sure science is part of understanding why the Arctic ice cap is melting, which just might carry over to this energy, global warming stuff.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the perpetual war on terrorism, are top priorities. But what about the technological gadgetry that enables us to wage war and defend our military? An engineer or two might have been involved in creating drone aircraft or satellite imaging. Oh, and there’s the whole battlefield medicine and psychiatry angle, but that’s stretching it a bit.

There’s been a big fuss recently about how far behind the rest of the world the U.S. (No. 17) lags in Internet broadband speed. Korea is killing us. Canada — Canada! — is more advanced. But the Internet isn’t an important part of commerce or national security or anything like that.

And then there’s the workforce. All those people depending on medical care, manufacturing, energy … that’s inconsequential. Never mind that some of those sectors might actually improve our quality of life, much less keep us alive.

The candidates have science policies. Obama, Hillary and McCain list science topics on their “issues” pages. They all talk about healthcare reform, which is about the same for all of them. Obama’s is the only one that addresses technology. Hillary lists an “innovation agenda,” whatever that is. McCain adds the environment. Read them and draw your own conclusions.

Also check out the NSF’s wish list.

And let’s hope that science and technology come out of the shadows and take a prominent role in national initiatives.

Smoking Dope Kills Your Gums

Wanna see something really gross?

Well, let’s set up the clip first: Researchers in New Zealand, at Duke and at the University of North Carolina collaborated on a large study that found a link between smoking marijuana more than once a week for years and having gum disease. The article ran in JAMA last week, and the good folks at JAMA made a movie of some really bad-looking gums.

When Doing Well Isn’t Good Enough

Interesting twist from newly-hired Duke biologist Katia Koelle, who’s really more like an epidemiologist:

If Thailand successfully reduced the infection rate of Dengue virus, how come more people were dying of the worst version of the infection?

Aedes aegyptiThe answer – after a lot of brutal number-crunching — lies in the way people develop immunity to the dengue virus. Basically, once you’ve had the fever, you’ve got about a year to run around unprotected in every mosquito-filled swamp you can find, trying to pick up the other three strains of the bug. If you don’t get your subsequent “challenges” quickly enough, the next time you get bitten, the virus uses your own antibodies to attack you. Charming things, viruses. Just charming.

String theory meets particle physics

OK, we’ve eased into the week long enough.

When the world’s most powerful particle accelerator starts up later this year, exotic new particles may offer a glimpse of the existence and shapes of extra dimensions.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Berkeley say that the telltale signatures left by a new class of particles could distinguish between possible shapes of the extra spatial dimensions predicted by string theory.

Much as the shape of a musical instrument determines its sound, the shape of these dimensions determines the properties and behavior of our four-dimensional universe, says Wisconsin physicist Gary Shiu, lead author of a paper in the Jan. 25 issue of Physical Review Letters.

“There are myriad possibilities for the shapes of the extra dimensions out there,” he says. “It would be useful to know a way to distinguish one from another and perhaps use experimental data to narrow down the set of possibilities.”

Such experimental evidence could appear in data from a new particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, scheduled to begin operating later this year near Geneva, Switzerland.

How? Read the full story on UW-Madison’s news page.