More than just a bump on the head

A bump on the head never makes you happy, and a paper in the Archives of General Psychiatry just discovered why. The article, led by Alain Ptito of the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University, has identified neurological changes in the brain following head trauma which can result in depression. This study goes some way toward explaining why 40% of head trauma patients suffer from depression, compared with 5% in the general population.

Genetic analyses may identify hidden' species

Two studies suggest that what appear to be unified animal species can in fact include genetically separate subpopulations that may more accurately be classified as multiple "cryptic" species, potentially greatly increasing the number of species yet to be identified. A study published in December in the online journal BMC Evolutionary Biology found three distinct species in Ecuador that had previously been grouped as the terrestrial leaflitter frog. Another study that was published simultaneously in BMC Biology determined that African giraffes have at least six genetic strains showing such few traces of interbreeding that they may also be individual species.

Another Sign of Global Warming? Underwater Deserts Expand Alarmingly Fast

Anyone who has tried to cross a desert will tell you that the lack of water is the biggest challenge you will face. But for some deserts, the problem isn't a lack of water: it's an abundance of water. According to images taken from the SeaStar spacecraft, the world's underwater deserts are expanding alarmingly fast.

Stormy Weather on the Horizon: NASA explores El Nino

Have you noticed that the storm season seems to be growing more severe? Or perhaps you've noticed that the winter has been particularly cold and wet in California this winter? These weather patterns are attributed to the phenomenon called El Niño (Spanish for "The Christ Child" since the phenomenon occurs around Christmas time). El Niño is a weather pattern that brings wet winter weather and strong storms to the West Coast, Gulf States and the South East. Recently, a NASA research team has released a study that sheds new light on this phenomenon.

To Drive-Through or Not To Drive-Through.That Is the Question

In recent studies led by Sheryl Szienbach professor of Pharmacy Practice and Administration at Ohio State University, pharmacists have begun to notice a decline in the level of service offered to consumers, who pick-up their prescriptions at the pharmacy's drive-through windows. Such a decline has been indicated to be responsible for delays in processing, reduction in efficiency of pharmacists, and errors in medication dispensing.

Mitochondrial Diseases: the Cracked Bottleneck of Inheritance

Patrick Chinnery at Newcastle University and a team of international scientists have opened a new door into predicting a child's risk of inheriting a mitochondrial disease that can result in stroke, diabetes, heart failure, cognitive impairment and dementia. They've discovered how diseases caused by mutant mitochondrial DNA (mutant mtDNA) pass down from mother to child, and why the severity of mtDNA diseases differs widely between siblings and amongst individuals.

Novel Prostate Cancer Biomarker Surpass Existing Prognostic Tools

Researchers at the University of Michigan recently discovered a more reliable and expedient method to detect prostate cancer. This biomarker test challenges the standard PSA test in terms of accuracy, and may be the most accurate detector of prostate cancer available today. The increasing emphasis on preventive medicine among healthcare progressives has prompted investigations into more efficient and non-invasive prognosis tools for detecting cancer.

"Hold still, I can feel your liver!" New Technology Allows Radiologists to Feel Organs

New technology by Erink Vidholm of Uppsala University could lead to more effective cancer treatment by allowing radiologists to virtually feel organs. This technology, which comes in the form of a special pen, will allow for an easier diagnosis and treatment plan development for diseases such as cancer. The magic behind this technology, called "haptics," lies in a special pen, called "haptic pen" that acts as a sort of three-dimensional mouse that allows the user to feel virtual organs. Computerized image analysis is used to determine the size of and even construct three-dimensional models of the organs prior to radiation or surgery.

The New Da Vinci Code: Detecting Hidden Artworks with Terahertz Rays

Ever wondered about hidden Renaissance frescoes? Optical engineering researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, describe a novel imaging technique. This innovation could allow art historians to see murals previously hidden under coats of plaster in century-old churches. The finding is published in the February issue of Optic Communications.

Carbon cycle in the rivers; a drop from the ocean

Professor Aaron Packman of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, teamed up with ecologists and microbiologists to study a segment in the global carbon cycle; river carbon cycle. Their work has been published in the online journal Nature Geoscience recently.

The carbon cycle, the biochemical cycle which explains how carbon is exchanged between the elements in the earth, now attracts many researchers due to the significant contribution of carbon dioxide in global warming and climate change. However, studying the global carbon cycle is a huge challenge. Professor Packman and his team has contributed to it by studying the carbon cycle in rivers.

GUEST ARTICLE - Biotechnologically Engineered Antimicrobial Peptides – Hope Against Multiresistant Bacteria

GUEST ARTICLE - Biotechnologically Engineered Antimicrobial Peptides – Hope Against Multiresistant Bacteria

Due to the widespread use of antibiotics and antibacterial products, many bacterial strains have developed a resistance against conventional therapeutics such as the penicillins methicillin and amoxicillin. Recent outbreaks of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in hospitals and schools have resulted in numerous fatalities which demonstrate the urgency for developing alternative antibiotics (Appelbaum, 2006).

Taming the "Flu" virus

Author:  Metcalfe David

Date:  February 2008

In the age of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, it is a bold scientist who stakes his research career on an everyday' illness like the flu. Nigel Dimmock, Emeritus Professor of Virology at the University of Warwick, is one such scientist. A virologist by training, Professor Dimmock has spent over forty years locked in combat with the influenza virus. Now, as the UN warns of a bird flu' pandemic with the potential to kill millions, Dimmock's team is poised to deliver their final strike against influenza. According to their paper published in the journal Vaccine, they have created a protecting virus' which tackles influenza within the body. Having successfully tested their virus on ferrets, the team is hoping to commence human clinical trials in the near future.

The influenza virus is a small infectious agent which can reproduce inside bird and mammalian cells. Under a powerful microscope, each virus particle can be observed as genetic material surrounded by a protective protein coat called a capsid'.

Most vaccinations work by injecting a small amount of capsid into the body. The immune system recognises the foreign capsid and creates antibodies, which destroy the foreign material. However, a small number of specific antibodies persist in the circulation even after the vaccine has eliminated their target. When the body becomes infected by a live virus, it is recognised by the remaining antibodies which set up an intense immune response and quickly end the infection. Although this vaccination strategy works for illnesses such as polio and smallpox, influenza makes many different capsids and so can evade antibody detection.

Now, scientists may have finally outsmarted influenza. Dimmock's vaccine is itself a type of influenza virus, except his strain has been genetically engineered so that it is harmless. The genes that the virus needs for replication have been removed and, as a result, the virus cannot spread through the body or infect other people.

Although unable to harm humans, Dimmock's creation can devastate other influenza infections. It does this by infecting potential host cells and lying in wait for a harmful virus to come along. When a normal influenza strain infects one of these protected' cells, it produces proteins which are required for the protecting virus to replicate. This exploits a technology known as defective interference RNA in which a tame viral strain is used to interfere with the actions of its harmful relative. In their paper the authors write "defective RNA can only replicate when the protein or proteins it is unable to synthesize are supplied . by infectious virus." As the protecting viral genome is smaller, it is produced faster than the normal strain which is unable to compete efficiently enough for resources. "Its small size", write the authors, "may confer a replication advantage over the full-length RNA, and is responsible for the interference phenomenon."

Once the harmful infection is slowed, the body has time to develop antibodies specific for the type of capsid used by the infecting strain. As a result, the protecting virus converts every new influenza infection into a vaccine against itself and so has little to fear from changes to the viral capsid.

"Because [the] interfering vaccine acts intracellularly and at a molecular level, it should be effective against all influenza A viruses regardless of subtype," wrote the authors in their paper. Furthermore, "This raises the possibility for this technology to be used against other highly mutating viruses such as HIV.

Written by David Metcalfe

Reviewed by Nira Datta, Pooja Ghatalia

Published by Pooja Ghatalia.

Powering Nations

In his monumental book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" published in 2004, Jared Diamond highlights spectacular cases of environmental mismanagement leading to the collapse of societies and entire civilizations. Easter Island which was once the site of a thriving society that sculpted huge stone statues facing inland (called Moai) is one famous example. It is now a sparsely resettled island with one of the worst cases of deforestation in the world. Diamond weaves together evidence from physical sciences, economics, politics, history, biogeography and others to make the compelling point that the fate of societies and civilizations depends on energy and environmental sustainability.

The emergence of the robot brain

The emergence of the robot brain

The first artificial mind is closer than we think: it is already here. Many researchers have built many different types of thinking machines, yet none so far have come to become the thinking, feeling, song-singing machines that we might expect. Nevertheless, scientists have given the next generation of robots new, remarkable features, the foremost being the ability to remember and to guess.

Editorial: Longevity in the Honeybee (Apis mellifera): Expression of Telomerase and Insulin Signaling Pathway Genes in Queen and Worker Bees

When you think about the lowly honeybee what comes to mind? Honey? Food? A little varmint that does nothing but sting you? To the average person, taking a look at this simple creature usually does not conjure up any sense of excitement or thrill. In fact, the most exciting thing about honeybees to a human may be chasing them around with a flyswatter or, better yet, spraying chemicals at them that typically leave you in worse condition than the bee.