March 16, 2004
STEM CELLS MAY LEAD TO BALDNESS CURE
showing that bald mice can grow hair after being implanted with a type
of stem cell could lead to a cure for baldness, a group of scientists
says. The project marks the first time that "blank slate" stem cells
were able to induce hair growth, according to Dr George Cotsarelis, a
University of Pennsylvania dermatologist and co-author of the study. He
says, "We've shown for the first time these cells have the ability to
generate hair when taken from one animal and put into another.
You can envision a process of isolating existing stem cells and re-implanting them in the areas where guys are bald." The study confirms what scientists suspected for years: hair follicles contain "blank slate" stem cells that give most humans a full head of hair for life. Although they are called stem cells, they differ from embryonic stem cells, the research on which has sparked a political debate because embryos are destroyed in the process.
RAPESEED-FED COWS PRODUCE HEALTHIER MILK
milk that's better for the heart can be produced by changing the diet
of cows. Researchers have found that feeding cows rapeseed oil seeds
generated milk with lower levels of high cholesterol saturated fat. The
milk also contained raised amounts of unsaturated fatty acids, the low
cholesterol fat found in vegetable oils. Cows eating 600 grams (1.3
pounds) of rapeseed oil a day produced milk with 35 per cent extra
oleic acid. The mono-unsaturated fat is present in olive oil and is
said to contribute to healthiness of Mediterranean diets. Levels of the
potentially harmful saturated fat palmitic acid were also
26 per cent lower than in the milk of conventionally fed cows.
The secret of healthier milk was discovered accidentally by scientists in Northern Ireland investigating ways to make butter that spreads more easily. Chief scientist Dr Ann Fearon says, "At the moment it is used to make a spreadable, creamy butter.
But this kind of tailored milk production could in future be applied to make any dairy product healthier, from cheese to ice cream."
ASTRONOMERS DISCOVER 'NEW PLANET'
have detected what could be the Solar System's 10th planet. Found
further away than other planets by the recently launched Spitzer Space
Telescope, it has been called Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the
ocean. Observations show it is about 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles)
across and it may even be larger than Pluto, which is 2,250 kilometres
(1,400 miles) across.
There is likely to be debate about whether it qualifies as a true planet, but some astronomers are already saying it re-defines the Solar System. The Hubble Space Telescope has also seen it. Sedna is the largest object found circling the Sun since the discovery of Pluto in 1930 - but its actual size is uncertain. One astronomer says it may be larger than Pluto itself. It was found during the course of a survey led by Dr Michael Brown, of the California Institute of Technology.
March 15, 2004
ROCKS PICKED FOR ROSETTA MEETING
two asteroids to be visited by the Rosetta mission have just been
named. Europe's space scientists are to direct their recently launched
spacecraft to flyby rocks called Steins and Lutetia. Steins is only a
few kilometres across and will be studied in September 2008; while
Lutetia, a 100 kilometre (60 mile)-wide asteroid, will be inspected
from close up in July 2010. The $1,080,000 (GBP600 million) Rosetta
mission was blasted into space on 2 March (04) with the ultimate goal
of orbiting and landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014.
Its outward 10-year journey around the Solar System will include two passes into the asteroid belt, the band of rocky debris between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter left over from the formation of the planets. Only a few asteroids have so far been observed from nearby.
SCIENTISTS CREATE GLOW-IN-THE-DARK BUTTERFLY
American scientists have created the first glowing butterfly by inserting jellyfish genes into its DNA. The genetically modified African butterfly glows luminous green in the dark. The researchers used a technique called germ-line transformation to insert a marker gene that codes for the green fluorescent protein that make jellyfish fluorescent. By inserting the marker gene into the eggs of the African butterfly Bicyclus anynana, they created mutant butterflies. Dr Antonia Monteiro, of the State University of New York, says it is part of a project to understand how wing patterns emerged. He says, "We want to know how the colours and patterns were expressed in those places in the first place. It's up to sexual selection, predator interaction, thermoregulation. There's all kinds of environmental factors that eventually determine which pattern is better for the species."
FUTURE COULD BE POWERED BY SEWAGE
Scientists say the homes of the future could be powered by electricity generated from their owners' sewage. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have already developed an electricity generator fuelled by sewage. The device also breaks down harmful organic matter, doing the job of a sewage-treatment plant. Bruce Rittmann, an environmental engineer at Northwestern University in Illinois, says, "There are extraordinary benefits if this technology can be made to work." It could help third world countries which urgently need sewage processing plants but cannot afford to pay for the power they use.
March 12, 2004
QUANTUM CODES DEBUT IN REAL WORLD
cryptography has emerged from the laboratory and into the real world.
Using properties of quantum physics, the technique encrypts data with
keys that reveal if they have been intercepted or tampered with.
American company Magiq and Swiss firm ID Quantique have already sold
hardware to several customers keen to protect data with quantum
Governments and armed forces are thought to be among the first users of the technology. Encryption usually involves scrambling data with long numeric keys that stop other people reading it.
The information inside the message is effectively kept secure because of the time it would take an eavesdropper to sort through all possible keys used to scramble the data. But quantum cryptography scrambles data in a different way by using the strange properties of the quantum world to guarantee that keys have been swapped securely. Information about the key is encoded on to a single photon of light. Quantum physics guarantees that the properties of the photon will change if anyone intercepts it and tries to read the information off it.
'GOD PARTICLE' MAY HAVE BEEN SEEN
A scientist says one of the most sought after particles in physics - the Higgs boson - may have been found, but the evidence is still relatively weak. Peter Renton, of the University of Oxford, England, says the particle may have been detected by researchers at an atom-smashing facility in Switzerland. The Higgs boson explains why all other particles have mass and is fundamental to a complete understanding of matter. Dr Renton says, "There's certainly evidence for something, whether it's the Higgs boson is questionable. It's compatible with the Higgs boson certainly, but only a direct observation would show that." If correct, Dr Renton's assessment would place the elusive particle's mass at about 115 gigaelectronvolts. This comes from a signal obtained at the large electron positron collider (LEP) in Geneva, Switzerland, which has now been dismantled to make way for its replacement - the large hadron collider (LHC). However, there is a nine per cent probability that the signal could be background "noise".
KODAK AND SONY IN DIGITAL LEGAL BATTLE
and Sony are locked in a legal battle over who invented digital
photography. Kodak claim in legal papers that it invented the medium
and is suing Sony for infringement of patents for digital cameras and
video recorders. Kodak says it had more than 1,000 patents to prove it
was behind digital photos. But Japanese-based Sony hit back, saying in
a statement it had "not violated any Kodak patent relating to digital
imaging and will vigorously defend any allegations". Other camera
manufacturers, such as Sanyo and Olympus, have produced digital picture
equipment, but under licensed Kodak patents.
Sony does not have such licences because, as it says, it has not violated Kodak patents. A spokesman for Kodak says the company had tried to resolve the issue with Sony for three years, without a breakthrough.
March 11, 2004
MARS ROVERS' LIFETIME BOOSTED
American space agency's Mars rovers may work for up to 240 days on the
Red Planet, about 150 more than the mission team had originally
projected. Mission engineers have analysed power data for both Spirit
and Opportunity which shows the vehicles are performing much better
than they had expected. It means the rovers can keep scouting Mars for
many more interesting rocks.
Lead scientist Professor Steve Squyres made the announcement by satellite link-up to a Mars conference in London. But the mission team adds that its original estimates of Mars'
environment and the rovers' performance were very conservative.
The rovers use energy from the Sun to power their batteries, using triangular solar panels that sit horizontally around their waists. The panels have proven to be very efficient. In addition, the rovers have not needed to use up as much power for heating because the Mars climate has been warmer than projections implied.