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     Volume 4 Issue 66 | October 7, 2005 |

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When Bird Meets Plane
Each day, the Smithsonian Institution's Feather Identification Laboratory receives about a dozen packages from around the country, each containing tissue swabs from bird/plane collisions. The lab's scientists have dubbed this bloody goo "snarge," and it is usually all that is left when bird meets plane. Scientists are analysing snarge DNA to track airplane bird strikes, with the hope of decreasing hazardous collisions. "It's bird ick," said Smithsonian snarge expert Carla Dove, who heads the lab. Technicians identify the snarge DNA using sequencing technology, then enter the sequences into a national database. Scientists can then tell what kinds of birds are commonly smashing into airplanes. Bird strikes have been a hazard since the dawn of aviation. The first officially recorded bird strike was by Wilbur Wright in 1905, and the first death by bird came in 1912. Now each year birds cause more than $600 million in damage to civilian and military aircraft, and 163 injuries and nine deaths have been reported for civilians since 1990, according to the FAA. The problem is even greater for the military. Its planes typically fly lower, much closer to bird airspace, and "we're flying faster and smaller planes," said Air Force biologist Eugene Leboeuf, who heads the military's Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard team or Bash. "A 4-pound bird can do a lot of damage." The military deals with feathered projectiles on a daily basis, and the most recent high-profile case came in 1995 when a flock of Canada geese brought down an AWACS, killing all 24 people on board. As a result, bird-strike DNA analysis has become a vital part of aviation safety. The trends show that the most damaging birds are turkey vultures, followed by Canada geese and white pelicans. The most common are mourning doves and horned larks, but strikes range all over the spectrum and reach their height during the spring and fall migrations.

Scientists grow hair on bald mices
A Baltimore scientist has used a protein called Hairless in hair progenitor cells to restore follicle growth in genetically hairless mice. Catherine Thompson and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University's Kennedy Krieger Institute explained the Hairless gene encodes a protein essential for hair follicle regeneration. In humans and mice with mutations in the Hairless gene, hair growth is initially normal, but once hair is shed, it does not grow back. Thompson found the Hairless protein is normally present in cells that play a critical role during the rest and early re-growth phases of hair follicles. In those cells, Hairless protein represses the production of another protein called Wise, Thompson explained. Wise hinders a key signaling pathway promoting new hair growth. Thus, in cells lacking Hairless, continual accumulation of Wise apparently prevents the hair cycle from switching from the rest to re-growth phase. The researchers found expressing Hairless in the appropriate progenitor cells restarted the cycle and the bald mice eventually grew thick fur.

Training improves attention in kids
University of Oregon-Eugene scientists say just a five-day educational intervention can improve attention and boost intelligence in young children. Michael Posner and colleagues explained the brain's executive attention network -- the area involved with higher level planning and organisational cognition -- helps a person voluntarily ignore irrelevant information and pay attention to meaningful stimuli. The researchers examined how attention training and certain genes influence development of executive attention in 4- and 6-year-old children. During the training, the children completed a series of increasingly difficult attention tasks. The researchers measured attention, brain activity, and intelligence before and after the intervention. They also determined what form of a particular gene (DAT 1), which had been previously linked to executive attention, the children carried. Compared with control groups, children receiving attention training more closely resembled adult performance on all measures. The gene studies indicated children with the long form of DAT 1 were better able to control their attention and, thus, might benefit less from such an intervention. The results suggest attention training might benefit children with attention deficits.

Robots to take over the battle front
This tentative designs released last September by the Defence Ministry show three different types of robots equipped with six or eight wheels or legs. South Korea is developing a highly sophisticated combat robot system worth 32.4 million dollars to be develop by 2011 that can complement the roles of human soldiers in battle fields, the government said.

Cars of the Future
Take a Ford Taurus and an Apollo mooncraft and smash them together and just maybe you end up with the automotive holy grail - a car that zips along without polluting. Well, just maybe. The product is a hydrogen-powered car that uses an absolutely non-polluting fuel and an electric motor for power. How clean is a hydrogen car? Clean enough that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley actually drank the exhaust. And unlike an electric car with its cumbersome batteries and limited juice, hydrogen is a very good energy carrier," according to Brad Bates, manager of the alternative fuels program at the Ford Motor Co. Utilising space technology, the hydrogen car doesn't rely on combustion. And it has hardly any moving parts. "It is an ideal solution," said James Cannon, author of the book Harnessing Hydrogen and a senior fellow with the environmental group INFORM. But wait a minute. Before running out to trade in the family gas-guzzler for a hydrogen-power roadster, know that the prototype's price tag was $180,000. Cheaper than a Maserati, but not cheap. Nevertheless, a host of auto makers - including all three American manufacturers, Japanese producers Toyota and Mazda, and Germany's Daimler-Benz and BMWare experimenting with hydrogen technology. Hydrogen - an odourless, colourless gas - is the lightest and simplest of all the elements in the universe. A hydrogen atom has a nucleus containing a single proton that is circled by a single electron. (An atom of uranium has a nucleus with 92 protons and 146 neutrons, surrounded by 7 shells containing 92 electrons.) Hydrogen is also highly volatile and flammable. It has been used to power rocket engines and make devastating bombs. But it is not the combustible nature of hydrogen that the fuel cell harnesses. Rather, it is a basic electrochemical reaction that scientists have understood for more than 150 years. Electricity can be used to split water molecules into their basic components - hydrogen and oxygen. This process of running electricity through a solution to separate materials is called electrolysis. In 1839, Sir William Grove demonstrated that if electrolysis was "run in reverse" - that is, if hydrogen and oxygen were combined to make water - the process would release electricity. The electrons are then screened-out using a substance called an electrolyte. The ions can pass through it; the electrons cannot. All the electrons are collected and sent through a wire. That stream of electrons is electricity, which can be used to power a motor. Hydrogen can also come in liquid and solid forms that require less space and do not leak as readily, but each has drawbacks in the ease of handling and cost of refuelling. "The bottom line is you don't go to your friendly local gas station to fill up with hydrogen," Bates said.

Source: AFP, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wired and Webindia123

Compiled by IMRAN H. KHAN


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