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By Eddie Austin,2014-07-20 05:12
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Listen_Script

2010/5/2

    Unless your father was a prince with a shady past, you probably haven't thought much about how

    related you are to a frog lately. But it turns out that about 80 percent of the genes known to cause diseases in humans have counterparts in the genome of Xenopus tropicalisthe western clawed frog

    native to sub-Saharan Africa.

    Scientists at the Joint Genome Institute in California revealed the Xenopus genome in the April 30

    issue of Science. It's the first frog to have its genetic code cracked and the first amphibian. The researchers compared the frog's roughly 20,000 genes to those of humans and chickens. They

    were looking for areas of so-called "conserved synteny." That's science-speak for strikingly similar stretches of genetic code in these distantly related animals.

    The sequences shed light on the last common ancestor of amphibians, birds and, yes, humans. Which

    our current best estimates say was an animal that lived roughly 360 million years ago. Unfortunately, frogs the world over are suffering a mass extinction. Perhaps something in the newly

    cracked genetic code can help save them before they croak.

    2010/5/3

    When my toddler hears a strange noise, he‘ll say, ―Mom, what does that sound look like?‖ His amusing phrasing innocently mixes sight and sound. But now a study in the journal Nature

    Neuroscience suggests that the brain actually links the audio with the visual. Because simply seeing a vase shatter activates the part of the brain that handles sound.

    If I asked you to imagine a rooster crowing, you‘d probably hear the [audio of rooster crowing] in your head. But what‘s happening in your brain? We know which brain regions handle sound waves that come in through your ears. Are the same areas active when you simply imagine the sound? Scientists [Antonio Damasio et al.] placed volunteers in an MRI scanner and showed them a series of nine silent videos. The clips showed things like the breaking vase, a cow mooing or a violin being played. And in the subjects‘ brains, the auditory cortex—which handles soundswas not only

    activated by the sights, but it would categorize them. So the patterns of activity that represent a howling dog and a chainsaw were distinct.

    That means that Hamlet could hear the difference between a hawk and a handsaweven if he only

    saw them.

    2010/5/3

    Say a teenager takes the car without permission and crashes it. Or pole jumps off a bridge into white water. Bruised, broken or worse, arrested, the first words out of a parent's mouth are: What were you thinking?

    And the inevitable response from the teen: I don't know. Nothing.

    Prior studies have suggested that increased risk-taking in teenagers has to do with the late development of executive functions in the brain that control impulsivity.

    But research out of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

    shows it might not always be about a delay in cognitive function. For four years they tracked the risky moves and executive brain function (here they tested for working memory as one indicator of impulsivity control) of almost 400 youths of mixed race and backgrounds.

    The researchers found that different kinds of impulsivity correlated with working memory. Sure, those who "acted without thinking" did tend to have poor working memory. But there was another group, who tended toward sensation-seeking behavior, who appear to have more awareness of what they're doing. This group had significantly more developed working memory.

    The researchers note that many adolescents do have the capacity to control their risk-taking, and we will need to find ways for them to channel sensation-seeking drives toward safer activities. Like staying in regulated skateboard parks instead of trying to latch their skateboard to a car on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

    2010/5/4

    A couple million years ago, mammoths migrated north from Africa to colonize Eurasia. Sometime around then a massive ice age kicked inand it was stay warm or die. So their tails and

    heat-shedding ears shrunk, and they grew thick coats of oily fur.

    But if you're out in the cold all day you also need some biochemical adjustments. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells

    that delivers oxygen to your tissues. And it doesn't off-load oxygen well at low temperatures; it just clings to it more tightly. So mammoths solved that problem by evolving hemoglobin that releases oxygen more easily in the cold. That‘s according to a study published in the journal Nature Genetics.

    Researchers got the DNA that codes for hemoglobin from a 43,000-year-old mammoth specimen.

They then used E. coli bacteria to produce actual mammoth hemoglobin. Then they compared

    mammoth hemoglobin to that of their living cousins, Asian elephants, at 37, 25 and 10 degrees Celsius. Due to just a few key structural changes, mammoth hemoglobin can release oxygen more readily at cold temperatures. Which was just the thing to help mammoths keep their cool. 2010/5/5

    This podcast is one minute long. If you listen while going for a walk in a park or working in a garden, you‘re 20 percent of the way to giving your mental health a good boost.

    Because exercising in natural areas is not only good for your physical healthit can improve your

    mood and sense of well-being in as little as five minutes. So says research in the journal Environmental Health and Technology.

    Exercise alone is known to make you happier. So is being in a natural setting. So scientists at the University of Essex wanted to see the effect of combining the two. They evaluated 10 different UK studies involving more than 1,200 people.

    Participants had taken part in activities such as gardening, sailing and country walks, and rated their mood and self-esteem.

    The research showed that both areas get a significant boost with as little as five minutes of outdoor exercise. And people with mental disorders benefitted the most. The study authors say this is the first study to quantify the amount of time needed to get a positive effect. So download a few podcasts and head out for a walk in the park.

    2010/5/6

    The big dream for neuroscientists is to be able to watch our brain cells in action, in real time. Well, new research has maybe found the most promising tool yeta technique to watch individual

    neurons light up in response to a stimulus, like flipping on a light switch.

    Scientists at the Max Planck Institute inserted a light-sensitive protein into a lab mouse. When a neuron fires, calcium ions flood through special cell channels. And when this light-sensitive protein binds to calcium, it radiates yellow light. So when the neuron fires it glows yellow. When scientists shot a puff of air at the mouse‘s whiskers, the brain cells in the sensory areas of the cortex glowed yellow. They watch this via thin glass fibers inserted into that brain region. With this technique scientists now have a way to watch single cell activity in many different regions of the brain at once.

    The hope is to investigate how the brain forms and loses neural connections during life experiences and when suffering from illnesses such as Alzheimer‘s, Parkinson‘s and schizophrenia.

    2010/5/7

    [Clip of Rodney Dangerfield saying “It‟s not easy being me; when I was born the doctor told my mother, „I did all I could, but he pulled through anyway.‟”]

    Rodney mighta felt bad…but he should make you feel good, because a new study shows that laughter

    can produce the same health benefits as physical exercise. That euphoric finding was presented at the 2010 Experimental Biology conference in Anaheim.

    The idea that a good guffaw might be good for you surfaced in the 1970s. Since then, mirth has been shown to reduce stress and even boost immunity

    To continue cataloguing the health benefits of hilarity, scientists at Loma Linda University had volunteers watch a video: either 20 minutes from a funny movie or stand-up routine. And the researchers found that laughing along with some light-hearted comedy actually lowered volunteers‘

    blood pressure. And it altered their appetite hormones in the same way that moderate exercise would. Like a good joke, the study bears repeating. But the results suggest you might make giggling part of your fitness regime. So go ahead, LOL. Or for a full workout, ROTFL. But if you‘re gonna ROTFLPMP, well, you should wear extra-absorbent workout pants.

    2010/5/10

    We‘ve all agonized over difficult decisions. Go to college or backpack around Europe? Buy or rent? Apple pie or death by chocolate?

    Well, agonize no morebecause a study in the journal Science suggests that simply washing your

    hands after making a tough choice can keep you from second-guessing.

    Washing your hands of a situation is a powerful metaphor. But scientists got to wondering, could it be something more? Previous studies had shown that washing can remove the guilt people feel about past misdeeds. But is that because the brain somehow links physical and moral cleanliness? Or because ablution washes away the past?

    To find out, psychologists removed any moral implications from a forced decision. They asked students to choose between things like a pair of CDs or two flavors of jam.

    They found that subjects who washed their hands right after making their choice didn't look back. They made peace with their picks and moved onwhereas those who didn't have access to soap

    spent more time trying to justify which jam they took home.

    So if you want to avoid rethinking the past, lather and rinse. And if necessary, repeat 2010/5/11

    We‘ve all agonized over difficult decisions. Go to college or backpack around Europe? Buy or

    rent? Apple pie or death by chocolate?

    Well, agonize no morebecause a study in the journal Science suggests that simply washing your

    hands after making a tough choice can keep you from second-guessing.

    Washing your hands of a situation is a powerful metaphor. But scientists got to wondering, could it be something more? Previous studies had shown that washing can remove the guilt people feel about past misdeeds. But is that because the brain somehow links physical and moral cleanliness? Or because ablution washes away the past?

    To find out, psychologists removed any moral implications from a forced decision. They asked students to choose between things like a pair of CDs or two flavors of jam.

    They found that subjects who washed their hands right after making their choice didn't look back. They made peace with their picks and moved onwhereas those who didn't have access to soap

    spent more time trying to justify which jam they took home.

    So if you want to avoid rethinking the past, lather and rinse. And if necessary, repeat 2010/5/12

    Time for M.I.T.‘s Clean Energy Prize. The annual competition gives teams of university students a chance to compete for $200,000 to kick-start their new clean energy business. One finalist designed a compression technology for natural gas wells that will allow so-called marginal wells to produce much longer than they can today. They say this will reduce costs and increase production.

    Another came up with a new technique to reengineer concrete at the molecular scale––a process they

    say makes it stronger and uses significantly less energy. The students say their technology could save the equivalent output of 100 nuclear power plants per year.

    And the winner? A team from Stanford called C3Nano. They‘ve developed a novel material––a

    transparent electrode, like the screens on computer monitors and phones. But while our screens are brittle, theirs is flexible––at what they say is one tenth the price. The young inventors note that the somewhat transparent electrode used today in solar cells absorbs as much as 20 percent of available light––but theirs is significantly more transparent and will gobble up more light. Greater efficiency for less money? That‘s an idea worth 200K.

    2010/5/12

    The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico worsens literally by the minute, with the addition of an estimated 3.5 barrels of crude. That's more than 200,000 gallons of oil a day adding to a slick that now covers an area roughly the size of Delaware. And some experts estimate the spill could actually be as much as 10 times worse.

    That would make BP's Gulf spill already worse than the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which

    discharged roughly 11 million gallons of oil off Alaska. But it would take two more years of spillage to catch up to another deep-water catastrophe: a blowout in an exploratory well off the coast of

    Mexico in 1979.

    That spill took more than a year to stop, spewing an estimated 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

    And that is dwarfed by the willful spill of oil by Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who dumped roughly one

    billion gallons of oil during the 1991 Gulf War, at least a quarter of it into the Arabian Gulf.

    Regardless, the aftereffects of an oil spill are likely to last for a long time. Twenty years after Exxon

    Valdez, puddles of crude oil can still be found in Prince William Sound.

    2010/5/12

    We know someone is in pain just by looking at their face. Winced eyes, grimacing smile. We recognize it immediately. But can we see pain in nonhuman faces?

    Well, recent research published in the journal Nature Methods shows that mice show the facial

    expressions of pain just like humans do.

    Scientists injected mice with inflammatory drugs, which led to pain similar to a headache or a swollen finger. Then they videotaped the mice and had the video images analyzed by expert facial-expression decoders. The researchers scored five distinct mouse pain expressions. Eyes close and squint, nose bulges, cheeks bulge and mice also pull back their little round ears and move their whiskers. All of this led to the creation of a "mouse grimace scale".

    It's a bit surprising that this is the first study of facial expressions of pain in nonhumans. Prior to this, scientists detected pain in mice from reflex reactions, like heat to the tail makes the tail flick. Next up is to see whether this scale can translate to other mammals. Pain research depends on mouse

    studies, so having a method to measure a mouse's pain will help researchers understand chronic and spontaneous pain in humans

    This research also opens up the possibility of studying mouse social behavior, like to see if mice respond to the facial cues of other mice. Won't that be interestingto see if or how a mouse consoles

    another mouse in pain?

    2010/5/13

    Twelve men have walked on the moon. And now you can, too. Virtually, that is. Because planetary researchers are enlisting everyday citizens in scientific exploration of the surface of the moon. At the Web site moonzoo.org, you can check out new high-resolution images taken by NASA‘s Lunar

    Reconnaisance Orbiter Camera. And the team at Citizen Science Alliance, based at Oxford University, says you‘ll then be one of the first to see the moon‘s surface in what they call unprecedented detail.

    This lunar project is a spin-off of the popular Galaxy Zoo, which has gotten more than 250,000 people around the world involved in actual astronomical research. For the moon exploration effort, you might, for example, count craters as you stroll. The researchers say that‘s important because it

    can help them determine the age and depth of the lunar surface. Newer craters could give them clues about recent meteor impactsand hints about what might be in store for us on Earth. And remember the podcast from April 27th, about a Soviet reflector found on the moon‘s surface after forty years? Who knows what strange object you might find. That‘s at moozoo.org.

    2010/5/14

    Bisphenol A. Also called BPA, it's used to make shatter-proof plastic known as polycarbonate, found in everything from water bottles to medical devices to the lining of food packaging. As much as 2.7 million tons of plastics are manufactured each year with BPA. But it's also an endocrine disruptor posing a threat to fetuses and young children. And it‘s been linked to cancer and metabolic disorders

    leading to obesity.

    So how can plastics be properly disposed of to avoid releasing BPA into the environment? Some fungus may help. So say researchers publishing in the journal Biomacromolecules. [Trishul Artham

    and Mukesh Doble, http://bit.ly/9hEfIw]

    The scientists selected three fungi that are already used for environmental cleanup. They wanted to optimize conditions for the fungi to break down polycarbonate, so first they treated the plastic with ultraviolet light and heat. Untreated polycarbonate served as a control.

    After 12 months, the untreated plastic hadn‘t decomposed at all. But the fungi had munched through the treated plastic and used it all as an energy source. Even better, the BPA had been entirely broken down as well. Tests of the sample found no BPA residue. That‘s good news in the effort to mop up a persistant pollutant.

    2010/5/16

    The sharp edges of the blue spiny lizard will not protect it against climate change. New research shows that it has gone extinct at 24 out of 200 sites in Mexico since 1975. The cause was not loss of habitat to spreading agriculture or sprawling cities. Rather, it was hotter springs, according to research published in the May 14 issue of Science