Forensic Genomics Solves Case of the Red Abalone Die-off
In August 2011, thousands of dead red abalone washed up on the beaches of Sonoma County in Northern California. At the time, the cause was unknown. Now, scientists, including a biologist from UC Davis, have learned that a harmful algal bloom was to blame: the causative agent Yessotoxin.
While discovery of the cause itself is noteworthy, the method by which it was determined could have a profound effect on how wildlife mortality events are investigated in the future. Described in a study published in Nature Communications, the researchers call this new approach “forensic genomics.” It involves a combination of field surveys, toxin testing and genomic scans.
Submarine Search is Successful, Yet Yields No Results
Investigators have been analyzing data collected by a robotic submarine that completed its first successful scan of the seabed Thursday in the hunt for the missing Malaysian plane, but say tests have ruled out that a nearby oil slick came from the aircraft.
The unmanned sub’s first two missions were cut short by technical problems and deep water, but the Bluefin 21 finally managed to complete a full 16-hour scan of the silt-covered seabed far off Australia’s west coast, the search coordination center says. While data collected during the mission, which ended overnight, were still being analyzed, nothing of note had yet been discovered, the center says. The sub has now covered 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of seafloor.
These days, Hugh Herr, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, gets about 100 emails daily from people across the world interested in his bionic limbs. Messages pour in from amputees seeking prostheses and from media outlets pursuing interviews. Then there are students looking to join Herr’s research group. “The technology inspires young people to get into the field, which is wonderful,” Herr says.
It’s a mark of the groundbreaking work Herr has done at the MIT Media Lab over the past two decades. An amputee himself, Herr has been designing — and wearing — bionic leg prostheses that, he says, “emulate nature,” by mimicking the functions and power of biological knees, ankles and calves.
In the midst of the diabetes epidemic, a glimmer of good news: heart attacks, strokes and other complications from the disease are plummeting.
Over the last two decades, the rates of heart attacks and strokes among diabetics fell by more than 60 percent, a new federal study shows. The research also confirms earlier reports of drastic declines in diabetes-related kidney failure and amputations.
With California experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, grocery shoppers across the country can expect to see a short supply of certain fruits and vegetables in stores, and to pay higher prices for those items. Prof. Timothy Richards of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State Univ. recently completed research on which crops will likely be most affected and what the price boosts might be.
“You’re probably going to see the biggest produce price increases on avocados, berries, broccoli, grapes, lettuce, melons, peppers, tomatoes and packaged salads,” says Richards, the Morrison Chair at the Morrison School of Agribusiness. “We can expect to see the biggest percentage jumps in prices for avocados and lettuce – 28 percent and 34 percent, respectively. People are the least price-sensitive when it comes to those items, and they’re more willing to pay what it takes to get them.”
Reservoir to Flush Millions of Gallons Because of Urine
Call it the Big Flush 2, and this time the sequel promises to be much bigger than the original.
Portland officials say they are flushing away millions of gallons of treated water, for the second time in less than three years, because someone urinated into a city reservoir. In June 2011, the city drained a 7.5 million-gallon reservoir at Mount Tabor in southeast Portland. This time, 38 million gallons from a different reservoir at the same location will be discarded after a 19-year-old was videotaped in the act.
It has been reported that new archeological finds have pushed back the age of Rome. A team of archeologists discovered the remains of a wall built to channel water, which dates back to the ninth century BC.
Media attention has focused on the fact that the dating is significantly earlier than the traditional idea that Rome was founded on April 21, 753 BC by the twins Romulus and Remus. With Rome due to celebrate its 2,767th birthday, the timing makes for a particularly good story.
Today in Lab History: April 17, 1930- Synthetic Rubber
On April 17, 1930, the discovery of a new rubber-like compound was recorded by Arnold Collins in his laboratory notebook. He had noticed that a mixture that had stood from some weeks before, had solidified, “to white, somewhat rubber-like masses,” from polymerization of monovinylacetylene mixed with concentrated HCl. He theorized the new compound was 2-chloro-1,3-butadiene.
LabChat: Automation System Use Expected to Skyrocket
Today on LabChat, we are traveling five years down the road to what labs will look like in 2019. To get an accurate description of what the lab of the future is expected to entail, Laboratory Equipment recently surveyed its readership and analyzed the results.
Every Thursday, Laboratory Equipment features a Scientist of the Week, chosen from the science industry’s latest headlines. This week’s scientist is Thiago Verano-Braga from the Univ. of Southern Denmark. He and a team discovered that nanosilver can penetrate our cells and cause damage.
Florida State Univ. researchers have identified a new syndrome called “osteosarcopenic obesity” that links the deterioration of bone density and muscle mass with obesity.
"It used to be the thinking that the heavier you were the better your bones would be because the bones were supporting more weight," says Jasminka Ilich-Ernst, the Hazel Stiebeling Professor of Nutrition at Florida State. "But, that’s only true to a certain extent."
A quasiparticle called an exciton — responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs and semiconductor circuits — has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within materials has never been directly observed.
Now scientists at MIT and the City College of New York have achieved that feat, imaging excitons’ motions directly. This could enable research leading to significant advances in electronics, they say, as well as a better understanding of natural energy-transfer processes, such as photosynthesis.
Scans May Help Predict Recovery from Vegetative State
When patients suffer from a brain injury and are unresponsive, we often don’t know whether they have suffered irreversible damage from which they will never recover, or whether the damage is a temporary problem (perhaps even an important part of the brain’s healing process).
In patients with substantial swelling of the brain, working out whether they might wake up is usually done through clinical examination – testing whether they respond to stimuli such as light shone in the eyes – and structural brain imaging. But in many cases the accuracy of predicting the outcome is no better than flipping a coin.
Research Yields Better, Greener Polyester from Cork
On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you’d be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out how to extract a natural, waterproof, antibacterial version of the former from the latter. Their new technique, which could have applications in medical devices, appears in the ACS journal Biomacromolecules.
Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars have unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published today in the journal Nature, shows that the atmospheres of Mars and Earth diverged in important ways very early in the 4.6 billion year evolution of our solar system.
The results will help guide researchers’ next steps in understanding whether life exists, or has ever existed, on Mars and how water — now absent from the Martian surface — flowed there in the past.