Latest research news

February 8, 2006

Genes of deadly bird flu reveal Chinese origin
The H5N1 flu virus has been circulating continuously in poultry in south-eastern China for a decade, scientists have found. A massive genetic analysis shows the virus has mainly been spread by poultry, but also that wild birds carried it from southeast China to Turkey. Yi Guan and colleagues at Shantou University, plus scientists in Xiamen and Hong Kong, say the only way to stop the virus is to control it in southeast China. The Chinese authorities have denied the country is the epicentre of the virus and opposed independent flu research. The researchers analysed samples taken from 13,000 migratory birds and 50,000 market poultry in southeast China between January 2004 and June 2005, when the Chinese government banned independent sampling. In the markets, they found H5N1 in about 2 per cent of apparently healthy ducks and geese, and some chickens, in all but two of the months in the sampling period.
New Scientist

Scientists hail discovery of hundreds of new species in remote New Guinea
An astonishing mist-shrouded "lost world" of previously unknown and rare animals and plants high in the mountain rainforests of New Guinea has been uncovered by an international team of scientists. Among the new species of birds, frogs, butterflies and palms discovered in the expedition through this pristine environment, untouched by man, was the spectacular Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise. The scientists are the first outsiders to see it. They could only reach the remote mountainous area by helicopter, which they described it as akin to finding a "Garden of Eden". In a jungle camp site, surrounded by giant flowers and unknown plants, the researchers watched rare bowerbirds perform elaborate courtship rituals. The surrounding forest was full of strange mammals, such as tree kangaroos and spiny anteaters, which appeared totally unafraid, suggesting no previous contact with humans.
The Independent, The Times

'Parachuting' krill may provide bumper carbon sink
Antarctic krill appear to feed at the surface of the ocean and “parachute” down to deep waters more often than previously thought, a new study reveals, suggesting they take a bigger bite out of the carbon that contributes to global warming. These tiny, shrimp-like animals float down to lower depths after each meal at the surface, where they excrete the remains of what they digest. The more often the krill parachute down, the less of their faecal output remains near the surface, where bacteria are more likely to pick up the carbon it contains and cycle this back into the atmosphere, say the researchers.
New Scientist

Potato is music to a slimmer's ear
A "slimmer's potato", with as few as half the calories of the normal variety, has been discovered by scientists. Routine nutritional tests on the Vivaldi , a strain introduced to Britain five years ago, showed that it also had a third less carbohydrate. The company that promotes the Vivaldi said it was developed purely for its buttery flavour and that the findings had come as a surprise. Tests by the Allied Laboratory Services found that, on average, the potato had 26 per cent less carbohydrate and 33 per cent fewer calories. That means that a typical 170g Vivaldi has around 29g of carbohydrates and 128 calories. However, because the nutritional value can vary from potato to potato, some have up to 56 fewer calories and 38 per cent less carbohydrate.
The Daily Telegraph

'Tepid' temperature of dark matter revealed
Dark matter is not too cold and not too hot, but just right, researchers have found. Furthermore, its lukewarm temperature may help pinpoint just what the mysterious material is. Dark matter cannot be seen but can be inferred from the gravitational forces needed to explain the rotation of galaxies - it is thought to make up a substantial part of the universe. Astronomers at Cambridge University in the UK worked out the temperature of dark matter by using the Very Large Telescope array in Paranal, Chile, to observe how 12 dwarf galaxies circling the Milky Way move. The movements allowed the researchers to calculate how much dark matter must be holding them together.
New Scientist

Cell study could be crucial step
A study into cell development could be a crucial step towards future cell replacement therapies, researchers said. The study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh using mouse cells found that protein Mbd3 plays a crucial role in the process by which embryonic stem cells become specialised cells, such as brain or skin cells. The research shows that cells require Mbd3 to stop self-renewing and become specialised cells. It was already known the protein is necessary for an embryo to develop, but the study shows the precise stage that protein is needed.
The Scotsman

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