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Tue, 25 Apr 2017
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Science & Technology


Mystery Solved? Scientists Now Know How Smallpox Kills

A team of researchers working in a high containment laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA, have solved a fundamental mystery about smallpox that has puzzled scientists long after the natural disease was eradicated by vaccination.: they know how it kills us. In a new research report appearing online in The FASEB Journal, researchers describe how the virus cripples immune systems by attacking molecules made by our bodies to block viral replication.

This discovery fills a major gap in the scientific understanding of pox diseases and lays the foundation for the development of antiviral treatments, should smallpox or related viruses re-emerge through accident, viral evolution, or terrorist action.

"These studies demonstrate the production of an interferon binding protein by variola virus and monkeypox virus, and point at this viral anti-interferon protein as a target to develop new therapeutics and protect people from smallpox and related viruses," said Antonio Alcami, Ph.D., a collaborator on the study from Madrid, Spain. "A better understanding of how variola virus, one of the most virulent viruses known to humans, evades host defenses will help us to understand the molecular mechanisms that cause disease in other viral infections."


See sunspots run

The sun is showing signs of life. There are no fewer than five active regions on the sun's surface, shown here in an extreme ultraviolet photo taken this morning by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO):

© SOHO/Spaceweather.com
Each circle contains a sunspot or proto-sunspot belonging to new Solar Cycle 24. After two years of record-low sunspot numbers and many month-long stretches of utter quiet, this is a notable outbreak. Whether it heralds a genuine trend or merely marks a temporary, statistical uptick in activity remains to be seen.


An inexpensive 'dipstick' test for pesticides in foods

© The American Chemical Society
A test strip shows a visible color change indicating the presence of pesticides, and advance toward a dipstick test for foods and beverages.
Scientists in Canada are reporting the development of a fast, inexpensive "dipstick" test to identify small amounts of pesticides that may exist in foods and beverages. Their paper-strip test is more practical than conventional pesticide tests, producing results in minutes rather than hours by means of an easy-to-read color-change, they say.


Brown Dwarf Pair Mystifies Astronomers

Artist's rendition of a brown dwarf and its moon orbiting a triple star system
Two brown dwarf-sized objects orbiting a giant old star show that planets may assemble around stars more quickly and efficiently than anyone thought possible, according to an international team of astronomers.

"We have found two brown dwarf-sized masses around an ordinary star, which is very rare," said Alex Wolszczan, Evan Pugh professor of astronomy and astrophysics, Penn State and lead scientist on the project.

The star, BD +20 2457, is a K2 giant -- an old bloated star nearing the end of its life. Seeing a pair of brown dwarfs around a K-type giant is a first for astronomers and offers a unique window into how they can be produced. The researchers from the Torun Center for Astronomy, Poland and the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, Penn State report their findings in the current issue of the Astrophysical Journal.


Microsoft Word 2007 Sales Face U.S. Ban

An appeals court on Tuesday ordered Microsoft to stop selling Microsoft Word 2007 and other Office 2007 products by Jan. 11 because the software infringes on a patent held by a Canadian company. The judge also hit Microsoft with a $290 million fine.

In ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down Microsoft's appeal of a lower court's finding that Word 2007, the most current version of the product, infringes on a patent held by Toronto-based i4i Inc.

I4i originally sued Microsoft in 2007, claiming that an XML editor built into Word steps on its patent. In August, the U.S. District Court for Eastern Texas found in favor of i4i, prompting Microsoft's appeal. The appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Texas decision.


Dinosaur May Have Used Venom To Kill Prey

© Wikimedia Commons
A fossil cast of what's believed to be a Sinornithosaurus is seen at the American Natural History museum in New York in this file photo.
If the thought of a voracious, razor-toothed dinosaur ripping into its prey isn't scary enough, consider a venomous dinosaur. That's what some scientists propose after discovering an unusual fossil in China.

Sinornithosaurus was petite as dinosaurs go - think of a turkey with teeth. It ran with a tough crowd, though; it was cousin to the oh-so-scary velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame.

Paleontologist David Burnham from the University of Kansas and a Chinese colleague were puzzled by a 125-million-year-old Sinornithosaurus fossil in a museum - specifically, by its upper teeth.

"We finally realized that we're looking at the outside of these teeth and they're grooved," Burnham recalls. "And we both looked at each other and thought,
'What? Why would an animal have grooved teeth?' "


Scientists Shed Light on a Mysterious Particle, the Neutrino

Starting from the end of November, Queen Mary's Particle Physics Research Centre is the sole recipient of the T2K experiment data. The T2K Collaboration is a 500-strong alliance of scientists in 12 countries, who have come together to investigate the ghostly neutrino.

Physicist Dr Francesca Di Lodovico said: "Trillions of neutrinos pass through our bodies every second, but you don't notice; they pass through space and the Earth with almost no effect. This makes neutrinos very difficult to study and yet they are thought to play a fundamental role in the formation of the Universe and understanding where we came from."

Neutrinos come from outer space, either shot out from the Sun, or left over from the Big Bang. But despite their abundance, techniques to understand their nature have only been developed in the last few decades, giving surprising results.


Microcephaly Genes Associated With Human Brain Size

A group of Norwegian and American researchers have shown that common variations in genes associated with microcephaly -- a neuro-developmental disorder in which brain size is dramatically reduced -- may explain differences in brain size in healthy individuals as well as in patients with neurological and psychiatric disorders.

The study, which involved collaboration between researchers from the University of Oslo, the University of California, San Diego and Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, will be published online the week of December 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

In relation to body size, brain size has expanded dramatically throughout primate and human evolution. In fact, in proportion to body size, the brain of modern humans is three times larger than that of non-human primates. The cerebral cortex in particular has undergone a dramatic increase in surface area during the course of primate evolution.


Jesus-era home found in Nazareth

Archaeologists in Israel say they have uncovered the remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth believed to date back to the time of Jesus Christ.

The discovery sheds light on how people lived 2,000 years ago, when Christians believe Jesus was growing up there, Israel's Antiquities Authority said.

A spokeswoman said Jesus and his childhood friends likely knew the home.

It was found near the place where angel Gabriel is believed to have told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.


Science's breakthrough of the year: Uncovering 'Ardi'

Fossil of early hominid heads the journal's list of top 10 scientific advances of 2009.

The research that brought to light the fossils of Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid species that lived 4.4 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia, has topped Science's list of this year's most significant scientific breakthroughs. The monumental find predates "Lucy," - previously the most ancient partial skeleton of a hominid on record - by more than one million years, and it inches researchers ever-closer to the last common ancestor shared by humans and chimpanzees.