Latest research news

February 26, 2003

Medical hopes for tiny DNA computer
A computing machine composed solely of DNA molecules and enzymes has been recognised by Guinness World Records as the smallest biological computing device. Around 60 trillion of these devices could fit in a teardrop. In terms of speed and size, DNA computers may eventually surpass computers that use silicon microchips and could find uses in medicine. The research, conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .
(Daily Telegraph)

Oil on water
The government is subsidising the profits of the oil and gas industries by up to £40 million, through the public funding of research projects in UK universities, according to a report, Degrees of Capture , published last week by the New Economics Foundation, Corporate Watch and Platform.

Nasa slow to build commercial prospects
Commercial research aboard Nasa's manned space vehicles has produced better car parts, a new perfume and disease-free seed potatoes, but the effort to recruit fresh business and attract more private money has stagnated. Nasa got roughly $48.1 million (£30 million) from industry members and "research partner centers" in its Space Product Development Program in 2001, the most recent figures available. It drew about $48.6 million from those sources in 1997.

Rainforest tree eats up pollution
A botanist in Brazil has found a plant that he claims may hold the key to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. Jatoba, or hymenaea, a rainforest tree, has been found to grow much faster in atmospheres with high levels of carbon dioxide. This could be important in fighting climate change, as carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that is making the planet warmer.

Deadliest breast cancer cells found
It has long been suspected that only a minority of cancer cells can seed new tumours, and now the theory has finally been confirmed. The discovery promises to open up new avenues for developing more effective cancer therapies.
(New Scientist)

Costa Rica's digital nature
Costa Rica is putting all its animal and plant life online to create a digital record of its rich natural wealth. The National Biodiversity Institute has developed an information management system called Atta to catalogue species at risk from farming and logging. "The key issue is that we know less than 10 per cent of what we have here and we don't have much time to learn about the 90 per cent that remains," explained Dr Erick Mata Montero, coordinator of information management for the institute.

Bugs build tiny balls
Three different primitive organisms combine to weave tiny, intricate spheres, German researchers have found. The balls are some of the most complex microbial structures known, says ecologist David Paterson of the University of St Andrews. They are similar to lichens, where a fungus and an alga team up. They may show how such alliances get started.

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