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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:31pm | IP Logged
Fur Color Linked to Dog Personality
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
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Canine behaviorist and trainer Wendy Volhard and professional breeder Carolyn Sisson, who is president of the English Cocker Spaniel Club of San Diego, California, both told Discovery News they're not surprised by the findings. They said that coat color's link with behavior has been "a well-known, old wives' tale" for years.

Although they both think there is "some truth to the recent findings," Sisson believes a dog's genetic lineage, going back many generations, is a better indicator of temperament than color.
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Sisson explained that there are 29 recognized different coat colors for English cocker spaniels, and combinations other than golds mating with golds can result in a golden dog.

"It's the line breeding out of puppy mills in England that probably resulted in the dominant traits," Sisson said.

She added, "The very best and worst of my dogs have been spaniels. They seem to cover every behavioral extreme."

Prez-Guisado and his colleagues next plan to study the English springer spaniel and English cocker spaniel genomes to pinpoint common genes associated with so-called dog "rage" and coloration.

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:43pm | IP Logged
lying Mammals Lived With Dinos
Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press
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Dec. 13, 2006 — A new fossil discovery from China shows that a tiny squirrel-like creature glided through the air during the age of dinosaurs, more than 75 million years earlier than scientists had documented that ability in a mammal.

The creature might have even beaten birds into the air.

Like today's flying squirrels, it stretched a furry membrane between its limbs to provide an airfoil for gliding after it jumped from a tree. But it's not related to anything living today.
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Scientists don't know exactly when the animal lived. Its remains could be anywhere from 130 million to 164 million years old, said Jin Meng of the American Museum of Natural History. He and colleagues from Beijing report the discovery in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

So it's clearly older than the 51 million-year-old bat that used to be the oldest evidence of flying or gliding in a mammal. And it has a chance of preceding the earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx, which flew about 150 million years ago.

It is much younger than flying reptiles called pterosaurs, which are dated from 230 million years ago.

Still, added to a recent find in the same locale in northeastern China that revealed a semi-aquatic creature, the discovery shows that early mammals were a lot more varied than the land-loving creatures scientists have traditionally envisioned, Meng said.

He and colleagues dubbed the animal Volaticotherium antiquus, which is Latin and Greek for "ancient flying (or winged) beast."

   

They believe it was nocturnal, like other mammals of the time were thought to be, and like gliding mammals are today. It was the size of a flying squirrel or a bat — less than three ounces. Its stiff tail might have been longer than the trunk of its body.

The find includes not only bones, but also impressions left in rock that reveal the furry membrane the creature used for gliding. Its teeth show it ate mostly insects, researchers said. But it probably couldn't hunt insects while gliding because it was too clumsy a flier and couldn't stay airborne long enough, researchers said.

So why glide? It's hard to draw conclusions for this creature specifically, Meng said, but in general, scientists think that gliding is an energy-saving way to get from tree to tree, compared to repeatedly climbing up and down trunks. Gliding probably increased the foraging range of the creature and maybe helped it escape predators in the trees, he said.
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Larry Heaney, curator of mammals at the Field Museum in Chicago who has long studied gliding mammals, said the new creature "has taken the first step" toward powered flight like a bat exhibits.

But from its anatomy, "I would say this animal probably was not very far along the path to true flight," Heaney said. "It was not on the road to the kinds of modifications we see in bats that allow them to actually fly."

Meng said it's not clear whether descendants of the creature gained the ability to fly.
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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:44pm | IP Logged
olar Array Retracted From Space Station
Mike Schneider, Associated Press
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Dec. 13, 2006 — NASA began retracting via remote control a 115-foot solar panel on the International Space Station Wednesday, likening the tricky task to folding a road map back up and stuffing it in the glove compartment.

The electricity-generating solar array served as a temporary power source aboard the orbiting outpost. NASA needed to move it out of the way so that a new, permanent pair of solar wings could rotate in the direction of the sun.

The folding-up began shortly before 1:30 p.m. EST and was expected to take about five hours. A crease developed when the array was about a quarter of the way retracted, forcing controllers and astronauts to stop work for about an hour. They eventually decided to release the array slightly in hopes the crease would smooth out.
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Because it had been six years since the array was last folded up, flight controllers and astronauts were not sure how easy it would be.

"It's kind of like folding a map up," space shuttle Discovery commander Mark Polansky radioed Mission Control after the crease appeared. "You start folding it and the folding goes the wrong way. ... There's nothing you can do to it other than pop it back in place or unfold it and try again."

NASA needed the old solar array to be retracted at least 40 percent to provide enough clearance for a pair of giant solar wings that were delivered by space shuttle Atlantis in September. The old array will be moved to another spot during a later shuttle mission.



The space agency hoped to fit the old array into a 21-inch-high box. If it didn't fold up properly, NASA had the option of using spacewalkers to manually retract it at another time.

Flight controllers also watched to see whether the silicone coating on the 32,800 solar cells flaked off as the array was folded up. It would look like a "small, little snowstorm" but would be no reason for concern, said Joel Montalbano, a space station flight director.

During two spacewalks on Thursday and Saturday, astronauts will rewire connectors from the old solar array to the new solar wings. Reconfiguring the power system will enable the station to provide electricity to laboratories that will be added to the structure over the next few years.
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NASA had the shuttle astronauts and space station crew members sleep in highly protected areas of the two spacecraft Tuesday night as a precaution against radiation from a solar flare eruption. Such measures are taken from time to time in space.

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:45pm | IP Logged
Genetic Defect Prevents Pain
Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press
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Dec. 13, 2006 —Scientists have identified a genetic defect that prevents some people from feeling any physical pain, while leaving them perfectly normal otherwise. Sound like a blessing? It's not.

In Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, scientists who found the gene describe six related children who have never felt pain in their lives because of the very rare disorder. The children come from three families with roots in northern Pakistan.

Their experience illustrates that pain is an important warning of injury, disease or danger that signals people to save themselves from further injury. Life without that signal, the report shows, is dangerous.
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Because the children felt no pain from biting themselves, for example, all six had injuries to their lips, some requiring later plastic surgery. Two had lost one-third of their tongues.

Most had suffered fractures or bone infections that were diagnosed only later on because of limping or lack of using a limb.

Some also had been scalded by boiling liquids or steam, or burned from sitting on radiators, said C. Geoffrey Woods, a geneticist at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research in England. He and colleagues wrote the Nature report.

Woods had been asked to see another patient, a boy who took advantage of the condition by performing street theater, piercing his arms with knives and walking on burning coals. But the boy died before Woods saw him, after jumping off the roof of a house on his 14th birthday.

Detailed examinations of the six children showed that their nervous systems appeared otherwise normal. They could perceive touch, warm and cold, tickle and pressure, for example.

DNA from the children and their parents was used to track down the genetic defect, which sabotages the ability of a protein to perform a key job in pain signaling.

Medical journals have recorded only a handful of people with a lifelong inability to feel pain. The first report was apparently in 1932, about a patient who made a living as a human pincushion act. A crucifixion had to be canceled after a spike was driven through one hand, because a woman in the audience fainted.

It's not clear whether any of the previously reported cases were caused by the newly identified genetic defect, Woods said. Nor is it clear how many people have this defect, although it's probably very rare, he added.

Still, knowledge about the defect and its impact might help scientists develop better painkillers, he and colleagues suggested.
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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:47pm | IP Logged
lzheimer's Mark Traced in Spinal Fluid
Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press
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Dec. 12, 2006 — Scientists appear to have found a fingerprint of Alzheimer's disease lurking in patients' spinal fluid, a step toward a long-awaited test for the memory-robbing disease that today can be diagnosed definitively only at autopsy.

Researchers at New York's Weill Cornell Medical College discovered a pattern of 23 proteins floating in spinal fluid that, in very preliminary testing, seems to identify Alzheimer's — not perfectly, but with pretty good accuracy.

Far more research is needed before doctors could try spinal-tap tests in people worried they have Alzheimer's, specialists caution.
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But the scientists already are preparing for larger studies to see if this potential "biomarker" of Alzheimer's, reported Tuesday in the journal Annals of Neurology, holds up.

"We're looking to an era in which the kinds of uncertainties that many patients and their families face about the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease will no longer be a problem," predicts Dr. Norman Relkin, a neurologist and the study's senior researcher.

About 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, a toll expected to more than triple by 2050 as the population grays. The creeping brain disease gradually robs sufferers of their memories and ability to care for themselves, eventually killing them. There is no known cure; today's drugs only temporarily alleviate symptoms.

Currently, doctors diagnose Alzheimer's mainly by symptoms. That makes early diagnosis particularly difficult, and even more advanced disease can be confused with other forms of dementia. Nor is there a good way to track the disease's progression, important both for decisions about patient care as well as in testing the effectiveness of new drugs.

Major research is under way to try to change that, including a $60 million study now under way to give brain scans to 800 older Americans and try to pin down the earliest brain changes associated with Alzheimer's.

At the same time, scientists also are hunting what they call biomarkers - signs of the disease in areas other than hard-to-test brain tissue.

"A valid biomarker for Alzheimer's disease is sorely needed," said Dr. Sam Gandy, a neuroscientist at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University and spokesman for the Alzheimer's Association.

But the new protein pattern requires "rigorous validation" by other researchers to make sure it really is linked to Alzheimer's, he cautioned.


By hunting for one protein at a time, scientists have discovered a few other biomarker candidates in cerebrospinal fluid. But Relkin and colleagues at Cornell University expanded the hunt: Using a technology called proteomics, they simultaneously examined 2,000 proteins found in the spinal fluid of 34 people who died with autopsy-proven Alzheimer's, comparing it to the spinal fluid of 34 non-demented people.

What emerged were 23 proteins, many that by themselves had never been linked to Alzheimer's but that together formed a fingerprint of the disease.

Then the researchers looked for that protein pattern in the spinal fluid of 28 more people - some with symptoms of Alzheimer's or other dementia, some healthy. The test indicated Alzheimer's in nine of the 10 patients that doctors suspect have it, and incorrectly fingered three people.
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What's next? That huge brain-scanning study is collecting spinal fluid samples from some participants, and Relkin has begun talks with those researchers about testing his results.

At his own hospital, he's using the protein test in a study of an experimental Alzheimer's treatment to see if changes in the fingerprint may predict when the drug does or doesn't work.

Scientists believe that Alzheimer's begins its insidious brain attack years, even decades, before forgetfulness appears - and if so, there should be evidence of those changes in the spinal fluid, Relkin explained.

"The spinal tap gives people pause," he acknowledged, agreeing that a blood test would be easier. But, "in expert hands ... it's not much more traumatic than having blood taken."
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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 8:51pm | IP Logged
Were the Pyramids Made With Concrete?
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
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Dec. 8, 2006 — Concrete was poured to build the Great Pyramids about 5,000 years ago, according to controversial research, which suggests the ancient Egyptans predated the Romans by thousands of years as the inventors of concrete.

Michel Barsoum, professor of materials engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and colleagues report in the current issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society that the pyramids were constructed with a combination of carved stones and blocks of limestone-based concrete.

The study, drawn on a research made in the mid-1980s by the French materials scientist, Joseph Davidovits, consists of a detailed examination of samples taken from the pyramids and their vicinity.
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The aim was to determine whether the pyramid materials are natural or synthetic.

"Davidovits proposed that the pyramid blocks were cast in situ, with a wet mix of limestone particles and a binder, tamped into molds," wrote the researchers.

In time, the French scientist claimed, the wet mix hardened into a concrete that featured the appearance and properties of native limestone.

But Davidovits' theory lacked hard evidence and was widely rejected by the Egyptologist community.

The longstanding belief is that the pyramids were built with blocks of limestone carved from nearby quarries. The blocks were cut to shape using copper tools, transported to the pyramid site and then hauled up huge ramps and set in place using wedges and levers.

Using scanning and transmission electron microscopy, Barsoum and his co-workers, Gilles Hug of the French National Aerospace Research Agency, and Adrish Ganguly of Drexel University, analyzed and compared the mineralogy of a number of pyramid samples with six different limestone samples from their vicinity.

They found that pyramid samples featured mineral ratios that did not exist in any known limestone sources.

"The most convincing argument is the presence of amorphous SiO2 (silica)," Barsoum told Discovery News. "In sedimentary rocks, the SiO2 is almost always crystalline."

He also noted that some samples of calcite and dolomite taken from pyramid samples featured water molecules trapped inside — again, he said, this is not a phenomenon found in nature.

The researchers believe that a limestone concrete, called a geopolymer, was used for, at most, 20 percent of the blocks — in the outer and inner casings and in the upper parts of the pyramids.

Davidovits, himself, tested a limestone-based concrete recipe at the Geopolymer Institute at Saint-Quentin.

He concluded that diatomaceous earth (a soil formed by the decay of tiny organisms called diatoms), dolomite and lime were mixed in water to produce a clay-like mixture. This was what the ancient Egyptians would have poured into wooden moulds at Giza to obtain concrete blocks in a few days.

Indeed, with this recipe, Davidovits produced a large concrete limestone block in ten days.

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The researchers point out that pouring concrete would have spared the ancient builders from using steep ramps to push stones to the summit of the pyramids.

Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, dismissed the theory as "unlikely."

He noted that concrete was widely used at the pyramids in modern restoration work, suggesting that team may have taken samples from these modern cuts.
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But Barsoum rejected such criticism.

"I would have to be a complete and utter fool to confuse Portland cement to what we saw," he said.

David Walker, a Columbia University geologist, said that Barsoum and colleagues have a strong case when considering the mineralogical constitution of the block chips they examined.

"Both sides in this controversy have good points. Some blocks are definitely natural and some are not," Walker said, adding that the mystery over how the ancient Egyptians may have poured concrete is "all the more intriguing.
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Egyptians Living Near Tombs Agree to Go
Sierra Millman, Associated Press
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Dec. 4, 2006 — After six decades of wrangling, Egyptians living in the hills near Luxor have agreed to move out and give tourists and archaeologists access to nearly 1,000 Pharaonic tombs that lie beneath their homes, the government said Saturday.

Officials said most of 3,200 families in the brightly painted, mud-brick houses have agreed to pack up and move to a $32 million residential complex being built three miles away. No deadline for moving has been set and there is no target date for finishing the complex.

"Most of them want to leave and they demand to leave," said Rania Yusuf, a spokeswoman for Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities in Luxor.
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Only a few families continue to resist, "and they will leave, believe me," Yusuf said.

The government began trying to get the families to leave after World War II, but talks repeatedly bogged down. Many residents, who depend on Luxor's tourist business to earn livings, argued that new homes being offered were too small and didn't come with new jobs.

Over time, though, many grew tired of the standoff.

In an effort to preserve the ancient tombs, authorities prohibited the homeowners from adding to their residences or installing modern plumbing, which forced people to bring water uphill using donkeys.

Many people expressed happiness with the government's latest offer, which includes giving residents either new homes or plots of land in the complex that will include a market, police station, cultural center and schools.

"We are happy, but at the same time we are not happy, because we leave the best place here," said Nadia Mohammad Qassem, who is unsure of when she and her family will move.

The area being vacated is near the Valley of the Kings and its famous collection of well-preserved tombs that draw thousands of tourists daily to Luxor. Egyptians moved into the Theban hills after the arrival of European antiquity hunters in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, offering jobs to help excavate — and loot — artifacts.

Elina Paulin-Grothe, an archaeologist involved in tomb excavation, said the best way to preserve the artifacts below is to move the residents.

"This cannot continue and the population is growing too fast," she said.

Advocates for the residents said many resisted moving over the decades not because they didn't want to live in more modern homes but because they wanted to move on their own terms.

"I mean, nobody wants to live in those conditions when they know that most of Egypt doesn't live like that and the world has moved on," said Caroline Simpson, a former archaeologist who coordinates a small cultural exhibition on the hillside.

Despite the agreement, some people are bittersweet about giving up their hillside homes, no matter that their living conditions are poor.

"For me, I don't want to even imagine what it would look like. Without houses, it's a dead place," said Abdo Osman Daramali.

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