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Ovvuru Friendum theva macha... - NEW AIRTEL SONG BY AR RAHMAN


Velayutham Smashes all records - BY SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

The audio launch of Vijay's upcoming superhero film 'Velayudham' was held in the presence of more than one lakh fans of Ilayathalapathy, from across the state. The audio launch took place at Madurai where most of 'Velayudham' scenes were shot. The music CDs that were launched has met with an overwhelming response from Vijay fans and music lovers from across the state.
Vijay Antony has scored the music for 'Velayudham.' Here we have the six tracks in the film for you to listen to:

Rathathin Rathamay (Haricharan, Madhumitha),

Molachu Moonu (Prasanna, Supriya Joshi),

Chillax (Karthik, Charulatha Mani Mayam),

Seidhayo (Sangeetha Rajeshwaran),

Sonna Puriyadhu (Vijay Antony, Veera Shankar),

Vela Vela... (Vijay Antony, Mark).

Sony Music Entertainment which acquired the rights for Velayudham music were in for a very pleasant surprise of the day the music launched when all the music CDs were sold out on the very first day, thereby creating a new record.

Ashok Parwani of Sony Music Entertainment Chennai, revealed and we quote "We are overwhelmed with the response the movie and the music have received. 'Velayudham' has broken all records and we have sold all our units within a day of its launch. The soundtracks are original, soulful and memorable. We're sure that the compositions will go down in history as some of the best melodies of our times."

'Velayudham' with a huge star cast is banking on high expectations from Vijay fans and movie goers in general. If the sales of the audio CDs could be a precursor to the film which will be released in the near future, then we guess 'Velayudham' will truly prove to be a super hit at the box-office


Death From Above: Parasite Wasps Attacking Ants From The Air Filmed For The First Time

Flight attacks of small parasitoid wasps (no larger than 2.0 mm in size) on ant workers have been filmed by José María Gómez Duránfrom Madrid. The four species of wasps show amazing adaptations and enormous differences in the tactics they use. 

Females of the parasitoid wasp Kollasmosoma sentum oviposit in workers of the ant Cataglyphis ibericus.

Credit: José María Gómez Durán

Two of the four filmed species are new to science and are described by Dr Kees van Achterberg from NCB Naturalis Leiden. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

A female parasitoid wasp of Kollasmosoma sentum new species attacks an ant worker of Cataglyphis ibericus; all in 0.05 seconds.

Credit: José María Gómez Durán

Ants are a very dominant group in nature and well-equipped to defend themselves. Only a few small parasitoids manage to break through their defence, thanks to very different and amazing adaptations. The four filmed species belong to four different genera and two different families of wasps (Braconidaeand Ichneumonidae). 

Females of the parasitoid wasp Neoneurus vesculus oviposit in workers of the ant Formica cunicularia.

Credit: José María Gómez Durán

The eggs of the Braconidae develop inside adult ants. The eggs of the Ichneumonidae, however, develop in the larvae of ants. How the newly developed young wasps manage to survive inside the ant nest is still unknown. One of the possible explanations is that dead ants may be deposited outside the entrance of the ant nest, thus giving the young wasps a chance to emerge, avoiding a lethal attack on themselves.

Here are links to four movies from Pensoft's YouTube channel:

Parasitoid wasp (Hybrizon buccatus) ovipositing in ants (Lasius grandis)

Parasitoid wasp (Elasmosoma luxemburgense) ovipositing in ants (Formica rufibarbis)

Parasitoid wasp (Neoneurus vesculus) ovipositing in ants (Formica cunicularia)

Parasitoid wasp (Kollasmosoma sentum) ovipositing in ants (Cataglyphis ibericus)

Citation: Durán JMG, van Achterberg C (2011) Oviposition behaviour of four ant parasitoids (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Euphorinae, Neoneurini and Ichneumonidae, Hybrizontinae), with the description of three new European species. ZooKeys 125: 59-106. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.125.1754


'The Dish' Finds A 'Diamond Planet' Orbiting Pulsar

Astronomers using 'The Dish' – CSIRO's radio telescope near Parkes, NSW – believe they've found a small planet made of diamond, orbiting an unusual star.

An artist's visualisation of the pulsar and its orbiting planet. 

An artist's visualisation of the pulsar and its orbiting planet. (Swinburne Astronomy Productions)

Credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions

The discovery was made by an international research team, led by Professor Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and is reported today in the journal Science.

"Although bizarre, this planet is evidence that we've got the right understanding of how these binary systems evolve," said Dr Michael Keith of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, one of the research team members.

The researchers, from Australia, Germany, Italy, the UK and the USA, first found an unusual star called a pulsar, now named PSR J1719-1438, using the 64-m Parkes radio telescope in eastern Australia.

Pulsars are small spinning stars about 20 km in diameter – the size of a small city – that emit a beam of radio waves. As the star spins and the radio beam sweeps repeatedly over Earth, radio telescopes detect a regular pattern of radio pulses.

The researchers followed up their discovery with the Lovell radio telescope in the UK and one of the Keck telescopes in Hawaii, and noticed that the arrival times of the pulsar's pulses were systematically altered – in a way that must be caused by the gravitational pull of a small planet orbiting the pulsar.

The modulations of the radio pulses reveal several things about the planet.

First, it orbits the pulsar in just two hours and ten minutes, and the distance between the two objects is 600,000 km – a little less than the radius of our Sun.

Second, the companion must be small, less than 60,000 km (that's about five times the Earth's diameter). The planet is so close to the pulsar that, if it were any bigger, it would be ripped apart by the pulsar's gravity.

But despite its small size, the planet has slightly more mass than Jupiter.

"This high density of the planet provides a clue to its origin," Professor Bailes said.

The team thinks that the 'diamond planet' is all that remains of a once-massive star, most of whose matter was siphoned off towards the pulsar.

But pulsar J1719-1438 and its companion are so close together that the companion can only be a very stripped-down 'white dwarf' star, one that has lost its outer layers and over 99.9 per cent of its original mass.

"This remnant is likely to be largely carbon and oxygen, because a star made of lighter elements like hydrogen and helium would be too big to fit the measured orbit," said CSIRO's Dr Keith.

The density means that this material is certain to be crystalline – that is, a large part of the star may be similar to a diamond.

The pulsar and its planet lie 4,000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (the Snake). The system is about an eighth of the way towards the Galactic Centre from the Earth.

Contacts and sources:
Helen Sim 
CSIRO Australia


Its Official, Laughter Is Medicine: Laughter Has A Positive Impact On Vascular Function

Watching a funny movie or sitcom that produces laughter has a positive effect on vascular function and is opposite to that observed after watching a movie that causes mental stress according to research conducted at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

"The idea to study positive emotions, such as laughter came about after studies had shown that mental stress caused blood vessels to constrict", says Dr. Michael Miller, Professor of Medicine and lead investigator.

In their initial study more than 10 years ago, 300 men and women with or without heart disease completed a questionnaire related to situational-humor. For example, if you went to a party and saw someone wearing the same clothes as you, on a scale of 1 to 5 (ranging from not funny at all to very funny) how would you respond? The volunteers with heart disease were 40% less likely to find these situations funny. Even though this study was unable to prove whether a humorous response to situations in daily life may protect against heart disease, (or the lack of such a response is more common after a heart attack), it led to the next series of studies testing whether laughter may directly affect vessel function.

In this manner, volunteers watched segments of a funny movie, such as "There's something about Mary" on one day and on another day watched the opening segment of the stressful movie "Saving Private Ryan". Each volunteer served as his or her own control.

When study volunteers watched the stressful movie, their blood vessel lining developed a potentially unhealthy response called vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow. This finding confirms previous studies, which suggested there was a link between mental stress and the narrowing of blood vessels. However, after watching the funny movie, the blood vessel lining expanded.

Overall, more than 300 measurements were made with a 30-50% difference in blood vessel diameter between the laughter (blood vessel expansion) and mental stress (blood vessel constriction) phases. “The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium after laughing was consistent and similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic exercise or statin use” says Dr. Miller.

The endothelium has a powerful effect on blood vessel tone and regulates blood flow, adjusts coagulation and blood thickening, and produces chemicals in response to injury and inflammation. It also plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.

“The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, so it is very possible that laughing on a regular basis may be useful to incorporate as part of an overall healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease. In other words, eat your veggies, exercise and get a good belly laugh every day" says Dr. Miller.

Although the results of the brachial artery blood flow measurements appear to make a connection between laughter and vascular health, more studies are needed. "What we really need is a randomized clinical trial to determine whether positive emotions reduce cardiovascular events above and beyond today's standard of care therapies", concluded Dr. Miller.

Contacts and sources:
Jacqueline Partarrieu
European Society of Cardiology


Streaming Video Of Sea Floor Volcano Off Oregon Coast

Last spring, a volcano erupted 425 kilometers (about 265 miles) off the Oregon coast and far below the surface, at Axial Seamount. No one was aware for months.

Oceanographers are now investigating the aftermath of seafloor volcanic eruption on the VISIONS '11 expedition

This image looks into the subsurface at Axial Seamount and shows a "snowblower" vent, a collapsed lobate lava flow about 1 meter (3 feet) across with white materials (bacterial mats and biofilm materials that coat the surfaces) thriving in nutrient-rich waters that are slightly above ambient (2 degrees C) temperature. White, dense accumulations of filamentous bacteria surround the snowblower.

Photo of Axial Seamount subshowing showing vent surrounded with bacterial mats.

Credit: Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility and the University of Washington

Now, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) will survey the site and stream live video of the volcano. It's the first live video since the volcano spewed massive amounts of lava on April 6.

When NSF-funded Oregon State University geologist William Chadwick first discovered evidence of the April eruption on Axial in late July, he immediately communicated the information to a team of University of Washington (UW) scientists and engineers currently on an OOI expedition very near the recent eruption.

Axial Seamount on the Juan de Fuca Ridge is the site of surveys during the OOI VISIONS '11 cruise.

Image showing Axial Seamount on the Juan de Fuca Ridge.

Credit: Center for Environmental Visualization and OOI-RSN program, University of Washington

The team, aboard the research vessel Thomas G. Thompson, is conducting site surveys for the deployment of a sensor infrastructure that's part of OOI.

Surveying this site is just one example of the ways in which OOI will revolutionize the way oceanography is conducted. UW oceanographers John Delaney and Deborah Kelley are leading the expedition, known as VISIONS '11.

VISIONS '11 cruise track/work areas for installation of NSF OOI regional cabled network component.

Map showing VISIONS '11 cruise track/work areas for NSF OOI regional cabled network component.

Credit: Center for Environmental Visualization and OOI-RSN program, University of Washington

The submarine volcano is one of OOI's primary study sites. OOI, a multi-scale ocean observing system, will deploy sensors in the ocean and provide a networked system that will allow open access to data from the air-sea interface through the water column to the seafloor.

Oscar Schofield and Scott Glenn, oceanographers onshore in the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, watch the VISIONS '11 live video feed from Axial Seamount on the display wall in the Coastal Ocean Observation Lab (COOL) at the institute.

Photo of oceanographers watching the live video feed onshore at Rutgers University.

Credit: Coastal Ocean Observation Lab, Rutgers University, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences

Scientists and engineers have been putting the finishing touches on the construction design phase of the cabled ocean observing system that forms a backbone of OOI.

This major component of the OOI program, with the formal name of the Regional Scale Nodes, is located off the Oregon and Washington coasts.

The Axial eruption has offered a rare opportunity to use this next-generation ocean-observing technology in innovative ways.

Investigating the seamount and its environs will allow the best decisions to be made on how to construct a long-term observatory at such active seafloor sites.

Hydrate Ridge, an area of gas hydrate deposits located off Oregon, is an OOI VISIONS '11 site.

Image showing the VISIONS '11 site Hydrate Ridge, an area of gas hydrate deposits off Oregon.

Credit: Center for Environmental Visualization and OOI-RSN program, University of Washington

The crew on the Thompson is now using a host of modern seagoing research tools to examine the Axial site.

Their activities are focused in the short-term on using and producing new maps of the volcanic changes that have taken place since the eruption.

In another portion of the region off Oregon, other members of the OOI team on board the cable-laying ship TE Subcom Dependable are deploying and burying electro-optical cable as part of the current OOI installation activity.

NSF's OOI regional cabled network will carry electrical power and telecommunications bandwidth.

Map showing NSF's OOI regional cabled network.

Credit: Center for Environmental Visualization and OOI-RSN program, University of Washington

"OOI is transforming our ability to study the global ocean," says Delaney. "We're fitting the Juan de Fuca Plate [off Oregon and Washington] and overlying ocean with myriad sensor arrays connected to a fiber optic-electrical network. This infrastructure will allow scientists to track changes taking place on a 24/7/365 basis for many decades."

Axial Seamount appears to be quiet at the moment, but viewers will see images of "frozen" eruptions with cooling lava flows blanketing the seafloor.

"We are excited to be working at Axial so soon after the latest eruption," said Kelley. "Using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with a high-definition underwater video camera, we are able to conduct surveys that will help determine the extent and amount of new lava flows, and assess the life forms that are already beginning to re-appear at the site."

It's a preview of the kinds of information OOI will enable researchers to collect.

OOI deployments will be on coastal, regional and global scales. OOI's planned operational timeframe is 25 years.

The data will be available to the public, educators and researchers, making oceanography possible for citizens and scholars who might never go to sea.

Sustained, time-series data provided by OOI will enable researchers to study complex, interlinked physical, chemical, biological and geological processes operating throughout the global ocean--processes such as those happening at Axial Seamount.

The OOI is managed under a cooperative agreement with NSF by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that represents 95 of the leading public and private ocean research and education institutions, aquaria and industry with the mission to advance research, education and sound ocean policy.

The major implementing organizations and their partners for the OOI include the University of California at San Diego, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Oregon State University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Washington, and Rutgers University.

Contacts and sources:

National Science Foundation 


He Plotted To Kill Jesus: 2,000-Year-Old Burial Box Could Reveal Location Of The Family Of Caiaphas

In Jerusalem and Judah, ancient limestone burial boxes containing skeletal remains — called ossuaries — are fairly common archaeological finds from the 1st century BCE to the 1st century AD period.

Joseph, son of Caiaphas, or Yosef Bar Kayafa, commonly known simply as Caiaphas in the New Testament, was the Roman-appointed Jewish high priest who is said to have organized the plot to kill Jesus. Caiaphas is also said to have been involved in the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus

The ossuary thought to reveal the home of Caiaphas' family

Credit: TAU

Forgers have also added inscriptions or decorations to fraudulently increase their value. So three years ago, when the Israel Antiquities Authority confiscated an ossuary with a rare inscription from antiquities looters, they turned to Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeologyto authenticate the fascinating discovery.

Christ Before Caiaphas, by Matthias Stom.

File:Mattias Stom, Christ before Caiaphas.jpg

Image: Wikipedia

Prof. Goren, who worked in collaboration with Prof. Boaz Zissu from Bar Ilan University, now confirms that both the ossuary and its inscription are authentic. The ossuary's inscription, which is unusually detailed, could reveal the home of the family of the biblical figure and high priest Caiaphas prior to their exodus to Galilee after 70 AD. Caiaphas is infamous for his involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Prof. Goren's finding has been reported in the Israel Exploration Journal.

The ossuary marks the spot

Ossuaries have recently been in the news — an ossuary marked with a fraudulent inscription claiming the deceased to be James son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus, made worldwide headlines. Taking this recent hoax into account, it was imperative to establish whether the Caiaphas-related ossuary and its inscription represented a genuine artefact, Prof. Goren says.

A detail of the ossuary's inscription

Credit: TAU

Most ancient ossuaries are either unmarked or mention only the name of the deceased. The inscription on this ossuary is extraordinary in that the deceased is named within the context of three generations and a potential location. The full inscription reads: "Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphus, priest of Maaziah from Beth Imri."

The Maaziah refers to a clan that was the last mentioned order of 24 orders of high priests during the second temple period, Prof. Goren explains. While there are some records of the clan in Talmudic sources that detail their lives after they spread into the Galilee in 70 AD, the reference to Beit Imri gives new insight into the family's location prior to their migration. Though it is possible that Beit Imri refers to another priestly order, say the researchers, it more probably refers to a geographical location, likely that of Caiaphus' family's village of origin.

The ossuary is thought to come from a burial site in the Valley of Elah, southwest of Jerusalem, the legendary location of the battle between David and Goliath. Beit Imri was probably located on the slopes of Mount Hebron.

A genuine among fakes

In the Laboratory for Comparative Microarchaeology, Prof. Goren conducted a thorough examination of the limestone box, which boasts decorative rosettes in addition to the inscription. "When a rock is deposited in the ground for millennia, it is affected by the surrounding environment and affects the surrounding environment," he notes. Processes such as erosion by acidic ground water and the accumulation of calcareous or siliceous coatings, biological activity such as the development of bacteria, algae, lichens, and the nearby activity of flora and fauna lead to a coating of the stone. Most of these features are impossible to replicate in the lab.

Conclusive evidence of these natural processes was found not only on the stone of the ossuary, but also above and below the inscriptions. "Beyond any reasonable doubt, the inscription is authentic," says Prof. Goren.

Contacts and sources:

George Hunka

American Friends of Tel Aviv University


"Smelling" The Heart Failure, Evaluation Of An Electronic Nose

A German team has developed a completely new non-invasive method to identify heart failure. It consists of an "electronic nose" which could make the "smelling" of heart failure possible. The projet was presented at the ESC Congress 2011 today. “The early detection of chronic heart failure (CHF) through periodical screening facilitates early treatment application” said investigator Vasileios Kechagias from the University Hospital Jena.

Heart failure is a common, costly, disabling and potentially deadly condition. In developed countries, around 2% of adults suffer from heart failure, but in those over the age of 65, this increases to 6–10%. Mostly due to costs of hospitalisation, it is associated with high health expenditure. Heart failure is associated with significantly reduced physical and mental health, resulting in a markedly decreased quality of life. Although some people survive many years, progressive disease is associated with an overall increased mortality and morbidity.

“We conducted a daily screening of patients with different degrees of heart failure. For the study, eligible patients were enrolled after informed consent, and the collected data was anonymous. Measurements were made in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences, Jena. The participating physicians of the Department of Internal Medicine I, University Hospital of Jena, were responsible for patient recruitment and analysis of clinical data,” explained Kechagias.

In particular, the relevant laboratory parameters for heart failure (BNP, minerals, creatinine, blood gas analysis) were collected and a clinical assessment of heart failure based on the available parameters (clinical history, laboratory, echocardiography, and exercise stress test) was performed. In 2010, we screened a total of 250 patients and included 126 in the clinical study. In the course of the study, testing was optimized through a standardized skin preparation.

The assignment of patients to the different groups (no heart failure vs moderate heart failure vs decompensated heart failure) was performed by physicians blinded for the measured values through the electronic nose.

Two groups were formed with CHF patients: one with decompensated (n=27) heart failure and one with compensated (n=25) heart failure. As clinical manifestation of the decompensated heart failure investigators evaluated the marked limitation of any activity where the patient is comfortable only at rest (Class III) or the state in which any physical activity brings on discomfort and symptoms occur at rest (Class IV). Furthermore they screened a control group of patients without heart failure symptoms (n=28). Then the measurement with the "electronic nose" randomly took place, from 10 cycles of 3 min. each and a subsequent offline-data-analysis.

The “electronic nose” system consists of an array of three thick-film metal oxide based gas sensors with heater elements. Each of the sensors has a slightly different sensitivity to various odorant molecular types. Interactions between molecules and the sensor are caused by reactions with oxygen on the heated sensor surface leading to a change of the free charge carrier concentrations and thus to a change in conductivity in the metal oxide layer. The odour components are divided by a statistical analysis into two principal components.

Credit: European Society of Cardiology (ESC)

In all patients, data acquisition was possible. The patients with decompensated heart failure could be divided from compensated heart failure with 89% sensitivity and 88% specificity. Cardiovascular drug use was not different in these groups. On the other hand, patients without heart failure (control group) were different from the patients with heart failure in the principal-component analysis (89% sensitivity and 84% specificity).

Further work is in progress to identify the responsible components.

Our primary objective is to create and establish a minimal invasive method, which will help to rapidly screen, diagnose, group and monitor the CHF.

Source: European Society of Cardiology (ESC)


Giant Underground River 'Rio Hamza' Discovered 4km Beneath The Amazon

A giant hidden river flows beneath the jungles of Brazil.

A river hidden underground has surfaced. Scientists estimate a subterranean river, called Rio Hamza, may be 6,000km long and hundreds of times wider than the Amazon

The territory in Brazil has 20% of freshwater on the planet, but apparently, this number may be even greater. According to the State agency, Researchers at the National Observatory (ON) found evidence of an underground river of 6,000 km in length, which runs down the Amazon River, at a depth of 4000 meters.

The two streams still have the same flow direction, ie from west to east, but its features are quite different.Brazilian scientists have discovered the existence of an underground river about 6,000 kilometers long running 4,000 meters deep below the Amazon River.

The discovery is the result of a decade of investigations conducted between 1970 and 1980 involving the drilling of 241 wells along the Amazon basin in search of hydrocarbons, gas and oil, conducted by the Brazilian Oil Company Petrobras in collaboration with the Department of Geophysics of the National Observatory and the Amazonas Federal University.

The underground river runs about 4,000 meters deep in a course similar to the Amazon River and has a caudal estimated at about 3,000 cubic meters per second. This flow represents about 2 percent of the volume carried by the Amazon River which is estimated at 133,000 cubic meters of water per second. The Amazon River, considered the world's longest and largest river (highest water flow), has its headwaters near Arequipa in Perú and runs for about 6,990 kilometers to empty in the Atlantic Ocean at a broad estuary about 240 kilometres wide in the far north of Brazil.

Representation of Underground Hamza River

Credit: Department of Geophysics of the National Observatory and the Amazonas Federal University.

The researchers decided to name the underground river as Hamza, a tribute to the scientist of Indian origin Mannathal Valiya Hamza, living in Brazil since 1974, who has dedicated about 40 years of his life to the study of Brazilian rivers and collaborated in the discovery of this underground river, said the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo.(in Portuguese).

The results of this research were presented last week in Rio de Janeiro at the 12th Congress of the Brazilian Geophysical Society.

The discovery was made possible by information provided by Petrobras for operation for oil.Through the data, scientists Valiya Hamza, the Department of Geophysics of the National Observatory, and Professor Elizabeth Tavares Pimentel, Federal University of Amazonas, identified the movement of groundwater at depths of up to 4000 meters.

Mouths of the Amazon

Image: Wikipedia

The case was further developed in the doctoral professor Elizabeth, under the guidance of Hamza. The work was presented last week at the 12th International Congress of Brazilian Geophysical Society, in Rio de Janeiro.

The groundwater flow has only 2% of the Amazon River, but has increased the flow of the Rio Sao Francisco, Minas Gerais and the Northeast and cut benefits 13 million people. Hamza The width of the river varies from 200 to 400 miles, but its waters run very slowly, because there is a tunnel through which flow freely Possani. Gradually, they overcome resistance of sediments that act as a giant sponge, the liquid moves through the pores of the rock toward the sea.

Sources of the Amazon

Image: Wikipedia

It is interesting to recall that two years ago, Italian scientists have discovered an underground river that runs beneath Rome, longer than the Tiber - the third largest in Italy, with 392 km. Like Brazil, the Italian underground river found thanks to data from drilling for oil.

In Brazil, another reserve of groundwater is the Guarani Aquifer, with 45 million liters. Most is in Brazil, but it also extends into Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. (ED



Nitrogen's Hidden Health Hazards

Billions of people owe their lives to nitrogen fertilizers — a pillar of the fabled Green Revolution in agriculture that averted global famine in the 20th century — but few are aware that nitrogen pollution from fertilizers and other sources has become a major environmental problem that threatens human health and welfare in multiple ways, a scientist said here today.

“It’s been said that nitrogen pollution is the biggest environmental disaster that nobody has heard of,” Alan Townsend, Ph.D., observed at the 242ndNational Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), being held here this week. Townsend, an authority on how human activity has changed the natural cycling of nitrogen to create a friend-turned-foe dilemma, called for greater public awareness of nitrogen pollution and concerted global action to control it. He spoke at a symposium on the topic, which included almost a dozen reports (abstracts of each presentation appear below) by other experts.

“Awareness has grown, but nitrogen pollution remains such a little-recognized environmental problem because it lacks the visibility of other kinds of pollution,” Townsend explained. “People can see an oil slick on the ocean, but hundreds of tons of nitrogen spill invisibly into the soil, water and air every day from farms, smokestacks and automobile tailpipes. But the impact is there — unhealthy air, unsafe drinking water, dead zones in the ocean, degraded ecosystems and implications for climate change. But people don’t see the nitrogen spilling out, so it is difficult to connect the problems to their source.”

The use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which has doubled in the past century, contributes to a rapidly growing environmental threat.

Townsend described the scope and the intensification of the nitrogen pollution problem as “startling.” He noted that nitrogen inputs to the terrestrial environment have doubled worldwide during the past century. This increase is due largely to the invention and widespread use of synthetic fertilizer, which has revolutionized agriculture and boosted the food supply.

The concern focuses on so-called “reactive” nitrogen. Air contains about 78 percent nitrogen. But this nitrogen is unreactive or “inert,” and plants can’t use the gas as a nutrient. In 1909, chemist Fritz Haber developed a way to transform this unreactive gas into ammonia, the active ingredient of synthetic fertilizer. By 2005, human activity was producing about 400 billion pounds of reactive nitrogen each year.

“A single atom of reactive nitrogen can contribute to air pollution, climate change, ecosystem degradation and several human health concerns,” Townsend said. He is an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Damage to the ecosystem — a biological community interacting with its nonliving environment — includes water pollution and reduced biological diversity, including the loss of certain plant species.

Though the full extent is currently unknown, nitrogen pollution can impact human health. Reactive nitrogen is a key contributor to air pollution, including the formation of ground-level ozone, which is a well-known health risk. Recent estimates suggest that nitrogen-related air pollution costs the U.S. well over $10 billion per year in both health costs and reduced crop growth. And though less well studied, high nitrogen levels in water can cause a variety of health concerns, ranging from the effects of drinking water nitrate to the potential to alter the risks of several human diseases.

Increased nitrogen levels also have implications for climate change, Townsend noted. Excess nitrogen can affect the rate of climate change in multiple and opposing ways. One the one hand, it leads to more warming via the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, but on the other hand, it can reduce warming by fueling extra plant growth and by forming substances called reflective aerosols in the atmosphere, the scientists noted.

“The net effect of these processes remains uncertain, but appears to result in minor cooling presently,” Townsend said. However, he noted that excess nitrogen also has large and clear consequences for some worrisome impacts of a changing climate, notably air and water pollution.

“Climate change is expected to worsen each of these problems worldwide, but reduction of nitrogen pollution could go a long way toward lessening such climate-driven risks,” he added.

“We’re just now starting to recognize the scope of the problem,” said Townsend. “But the good news is that there are many opportunities for us to lessen the problems. These include ways in which chemists can help, ranging from the development of new technologies to reduce nitrogen’s impact to new measurement technologies and techniques that can better diagnose the problems we face with nitrogen.”

He outlined several possible solutions to the problem. They include continued and greater support for technologies that remove or reduce reactive nitrogen formation during fossil fuel burning and incentives that can encourage farmers to be more efficient with their fertilizer use. The latter could include subsidies that reward the application of environmental practices that reduce nitrogen levels, he said.

Several other solutions exist for improving the efficiency of agricultural nitrogen use, Townsend added. "In many ways, we already know how to do it —the problems are largely about finding the political and cultural means to implement these new practices," he said.

The National Science Foundation and the David & Lucile Packard Foundationprovided funding for Townsend’s research.

Contacts and sources:
Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society


Remembering MJ on his 53rd birthday

August 29, 1958: for many, it was the day music was born.
In the loving memory of Michael Joseph Jackson. The King of Pop! Happy 53rd Birthday! Rest in Peace. We thank you for bringing your fantastic music into our lives.
Michael Jackson with his stop-on-a-dime dance moves and sensual soprano influenced generations of musicians. The King of Pop stood for much more than pop greatness or tabloid weirdness. One of entertainment's greatest icons, he was a ridiculously gifted, equally troubled genius who kept us captivated at his most dazzling and his most appaling. Jackson had announced a series of comeback concerts at London's O2 arena before he passed away on June 25, 2009.


Food For Mars: Stocking For A Trip To The Red Planet

A green thumb and a little flair as a gourmet chef may be among the key skills for the first men and women who travel to the Red Planet later this century, according to a scientist who reported here today on preparations for the first manned missions to Mars.

Speaking at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Maya R. Cooper said that provisioning the astronauts with food stands as one of the greatest challenges in scripting the first manned mission to Mars. ACS, the world largest scientific society, opened the meeting today at the Colorado Convention Center and downtown hotels. With more than 7,500 reports on new advances in science and some 9,500 scientists and others expected in attendance, it will be one of 2011’s largest scientific gatherings.

Cooper explained that the challenges of provisioning space vehicles and Martian surface bases begin with tangible factors, such weight and nutrition, and encompass psychological nuances, such as providing a varied, tasty menu that wards off boredom. The solutions envisioned now include requiring astronauts to grow some of their own food and engage in much more food preparation than their counterparts on the International Space Station.

Astronauts en route to Mars may not have it as easy as this space shuttle astronaut — they may
have to grow their own food.

Credit: NASA Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC)

The major challenge is to balance weight, food acceptability and resource utilization, Cooper explained. She is a senior research scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center in the Space Food Systems Laboratory in Houston, Texas. For flights on the space shuttles and the International Space Station, astronauts get 3.8 pounds of food per day. For a 5-year round-trip mission to Mars, that would mean almost 7,000 pounds of food per person.

“That’s a clear impediment to a lot of mission scenarios,” Cooper said. “We need new approaches. Right now, we are looking at the possibility of implementing a bioregenerative system that would involve growing crops in space and possibly shipping some bulk commodities to a Mars habitat as well. This scenario involves much more food processing and meal preparation than the current food system developed for the space shuttles and the International Space Station.”

Bioregenerative systems involve growing plants that multi-task. They would supply food, of course. But just as plants do in natural environments on Earth, those growing in bioregenerative systems also would release oxygen for the astronauts to breathe, purify the air by removing the carbon dioxide that crews exhale and even purify water.

Ideally, these plants would have few inedible parts, would grow well with minimal tending and would not take up much room. Ten crops that fit those requirements have emerged as prime candidates for the Mars mission’s kitchen garden. They are lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, green onions, radishes, bell peppers, strawberries, fresh herbs and cabbages.

Cooper cited another option for these missions, the first of which could launch in the 2030s, according to some forecasts. Shipping bulk commodities to Mars could involve unmanned spacecraft launched a year or two before the astronauts depart to establish stashes of food with long shelf-lives that the crew could use while exploring the Red Planet.

Engaging astronauts in food production and preparation is the latest concept in a 50-year evolution of technology for filling astronauts’ and cosmonauts’ larders, Cooper noted. It began when Yuri Gagarin reportedly munched on paté and caviar during that first manned spaceflight in 1961.

Space food has come a long way since the days of freeze-dried food blocks and squeezing gooey foods out of toothpaste tubes that astronauts ate in the earliest days of space flight. By the late 1960s, astronauts for the first time could have hot food and eat their food with a spoon in a special bowl. Other utensils were introduced in the 1970s with Skylab — the U.S.’ first space station. These astronauts could choose from 72 different foods, some of which were stored in an on-board refrigerator or freezer — a first for space cuisine. In recent years, space shuttle astronauts could drink a coffee with their scrambled eggs for breakfast, snack on chocolates or a brownie and choose from chicken al a King, mushroom soup or rice pilaf among other foods for lunch and dinner — just like on Earth. These prepackaged foods take only a few minutes and little effort to prepare.

“The NASA Advanced Food Technology project is currently working to address the issues of food variety, weight, volume, nutrition and trash disposal through research and external academic and commercial collaborations,” Cooper noted.

Contacts and sources:
Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society


Mysteries About Carbon, Possible Oil Formation And More Deep Inside Earth

How do diamonds the size of potatoes shoot up at 40 miles per hour from their birthplace 100 miles below Earth's surface? Does a secret realm of life exist inside the Earth? Is there more oil and natural gas than anyone dreams, with oil forming not from the remains of ancient fossilized plants and animals near the surface, but naturally deep, deep down there? Can the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, be transformed into a pure solid mineral?

Those are among the mysteries being tackled in a real-life version of the science fiction classic, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, that was among the topics of a presentation here today at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Russell Hemley, Ph.D., said that hundreds of scientists will work together on an international project, called the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), to probe the chemical element that's in the news more often than perhaps any other. That's carbon as in carbon dioxide.

"Concerns about climate change have made millions of people aware of carbon's role on the surface of the Earth, in the atmosphere and in the oceans," Hemley said. "The Deep Carbon Observatory will uncover critical information about the movement and fate of carbon hundreds and thousands of miles below Earth's surface. We call that the deep carbon cycle."

Hemley said this basic research could have practical implications in the future. Using laboratory equipment that reproduces pressures deep within the Earth, which are thousands to millions of times higher than on the surface, scientists in these labs have discovered a way to convert carbon dioxide into a rock-like material called polymeric carbon dioxide. With further refinements, scientists could enhance its stability closer to the Earth's surface.

The findings also may lead to new materials for commercial and industrial products. Hemley's laboratory, for instance, has developed a way to produce "super" diamonds, or high-quality diamonds that are bigger and better than existing ones. Natural diamonds form slowly under the high-pressure, high-temperature conditions that exist deep within the Earth, while today's synthetic diamonds form under similar conditions in the laboratory. Using a process called chemical vapor deposition, Hemley's research group made diamonds rapidly and at low pressure. The new diamonds have superior qualities, including extreme hardness, improved transparency and better electrical and temperature properties. The diamonds could lead to improved computer chips that run faster and generate less heat than existing silicon chips, Hemley said. They also show promise for use in advanced cutting-tools, more durable and heat-resistant windows for spacecraft and other applications, he noted.

The DCO project will probe the big mystery about the formation of natural diamonds, including their chemical composition and how they shoot up quickly from deep within the Earth. Scientists can't directly observe that process at present, as there's no practical way to travel down 100 miles beneath the surface of the planet. Observations are limited to laboratory simulations of this process for now, said Hemley, who is director of the Geophysical Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington, D.C. His laboratory specializes in the chemistry and physics of materials under extreme conditions. Hemley's presentation at the ACS meeting, entitled "Chemistry of Planetary Gases, Liquids, and Ices in Extreme Environments," focused on what happens to planetary material under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature, as well as other insights relevant to Earth.

Another area that the DCO will explore is energy. The extent to which hydrocarbons in the Earth form from inorganic processes deep within the Earth rather than only from the fossilized remains of plants and animals remains an important unanswered question. Exploring the nature of carbon deep within the Earth may provide clues on how and to what extent this abiotic process might contribute to energy reserves, Hemley said.

Finally, DCO research has implications in the search for other life forms on Earth and even outer space. Scientists have already identified microbes at about a mile or so deep within the Earth under high temperatures. They suspect that some forms may exist at even deeper levels.

Past studies suggest that bacteria and other life forms can't survive beyond several thousand atmospheres of pressure. But new studies by scientists in Hemley's lab show that some bacteria are capable of surviving pressures of up to 20,000 atmospheres. That supports the theory that life might exist in extreme extraterrestrial environments, Hemley noted.

Contacts and sources:
Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society


The First Nuclear Power Plants For Settlements On The Moon And Mars

The first nuclear power plant being considered for production of electricity for manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars and other planets may really look like it came from outer space, according to a leader of the project who spoke here today at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

James E. Werner said that innovative fission technology for surface power applications is far different from the familiar terrestrial nuclear power stations, which sprawl over huge tracts of land and have large structures such as cooling towers.

"People would never recognize the fission power system as a nuclear power reactor," said Werner. "The reactor itself may be about 1 ½ feet wide by 2 ½ feet high, about the size of a carry-on suitcase. There are no cooling towers. A fission power system is a compact, reliable, safe system that may be critical to the establishment of outposts or habitats on other planets. Fission power technology can be applied on Earth's Moon, on Mars, or wherever NASA sees the need for continuous power."

The team is scheduled to build a technology demonstration unit in 2012. This is a cooperative project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Werner leads the DOE's Idaho National Laboratory involvement in this effort, which includes participation in the reactor design and modeling teams, fuel development and fabrication and development of a small electrical pump for the liquid metal cooled system.

Sunlight and fuel cells were the mainstays for generating electricity for space missions in the past, but engineers realized that solar energy has limitations. Solar cells do a great job supplying electricity in near-Earth orbits and for satellite-borne equipment, but nuclear power offers some unique capabilities that could support manned outposts on other planets or moons.

"The biggest difference between solar and nuclear reactors is that nuclear reactors can produce power in any environment," Werner explained. "Fission power technology doesn't rely on sunlight, making it able to produce large, steady amounts of power at night or in harsh environments like those found on the Moon or Mars. A fission power system on the Moon could generate 40 kilowatts or more of electric power, approximately the same amount of energy needed to power eight houses on Earth." In addition, he said that a fission power system could operate in a variety of locations such as in craters, canyons or caves.

"The main point is that nuclear power has the ability to provide a power-rich environment to the astronauts or science packages anywhere in our solar system and that this technology is mature, affordable and safe to use," Werner said.

Fission power systems rely on energy generated from nuclear fission. Nuclear fission works by splitting uranium atoms to generate heat that is then converted into electric power. The primary components of a fission power system are similar to those found in the commercial reactors currently in use: a heat source, power conversion, heat rejection and power conditioning and distribution.

Werner added that despite the similarities in components, fission power systems for space applications feature a number of differences compared with commercial reactors.

"While the physics are the same, the low power levels, control of the reactor and the material used for neutron reflection back into the core are completely different," Werner said. "Weight is also a significant factor that must be minimized in a space reactor that is not considered in a commercial reactor."

Werner contends that once the technology is developed and validated, it may prove to be one of the most affordable and versatile options for providing long-term base power for the space exploration programs.

Contacts and sources:
Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society


Study Sheds Light On Stem Cell Role In Regenerating Fingers, Toes

Tissue-specific adult stem cells are responsible for the ability of mammals to re-grow the tips of fingers or toes lost to trauma or surgery, say researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The finding discredits a popular theory that holds that previously specialized cells regress, or dedifferentiate, in response to injury to form a pluripotent repair structure called a blastema.

“We’ve shown conclusively that what was thought to be a blastema is instead simply resident stem cells that are already committed to become specific tissue types,” said Irving Weissman, MD, director of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. “The controversy about limb regeneration in mammals should be over.”

The research is particularly meaningful because some scientists and national media reports have championed the idea that money allotted by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for stem cell studies would have been better funneled to blastema research, Weissman said.

Weissman, who is also the Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research and a member of Stanford’s Cancer Institute, is the senior author of the study, published Aug. 24 in Nature

Although it’s not well-known, mice and even some humans can re-grow finger or toe tips that have been lost in accidents. But, unlike salamanders or newts, their ability is limited to the repair of relatively minor damage. “While lower vertebrates can regenerate an entire limb within a matter of weeks, mice and humans have maintained only a vestige of this ability,” said Rinkevich. “The re-growth of amputated digit tips — a few millimeters in mice and up to the first joint in humans — is the only documented case of limb regeneration in mammals. We wanted to understand the basic mechanism of how this happens.”

Unlike salamanders, mice offered a genetically well-documented animal model with which to study limb regeneration. Specifically, Rinkevich, Weissman and their colleagues have shown that damage to a digit tip is repaired by specialized adult stem cells that spend their lives quietly nestled in each tissue type. Like master craftsmen, these cells spring into action at the first sign of damage, working independently yet side-by-side to regenerate bone, skin, tendon, vessels and nerves. But just as you wouldn’t ask a mason to wire your house, or an electrician to put on a new roof, the division of labor among these stem cells is strict. Each is responsible solely for its own tissue type.

In contrast, the blastema theory invokes a new pluripotent cell type formed out of urgency from previously specialized cells. This jack-of-all-trades cell discards its former profession and instead jumps in to indiscriminately regenerate all the tissue types of the limb.

A German group headed by stem cell scientist Elly Tanaka, PhD, published similar results in salamanders in 2009, but it was unclear whether the findings would hold true in mammals.

“This finding changes the current dogma of limb regeneration, from pluripotent blastema cells to tissue-specific stem and progenitor cells,” said Rinkevich.

Limb regeneration is governed by the action of tissue-specific adult stem cells. Here, a mouse has been engineered to have cells that express only one of four possible colors: red, green, yellow or blue. As the tip of an amputated digit re-grows, strict separations between the contributions of individual cells are apparent as distinct bands of color.


Credit: Yuval Rinkevich

For this study, Rinkevich used genetics to label specific tissue types in the mice with distinctive fluorescent colors that are easily seen through a microscope. He then surgically removed a small (a few millimeters) portion of the animals’ toe to mimic a naturally occurring amputation injury and waited for the tip to re-grow. (The animals were anesthetized during the procedure and were given analgesics after the procedure to relieve pain.)

After three months, Rinkevich and his colleagues examined the regenerated tissue.

“We found that each tissue type could only give rise to that type of tissue,” he said. “There was no cross contribution between tissue types or germ layers.” In other words, there were clear demarcations between areas of color that corresponded to structures such as the epidermis, tendon, nail, vessels, nerves and bone.

“I was extremely surprised,” said Rinkevich. “I began the experiment very eager to find something like a dedifferentiation or transdifferentiation phenomenon — that is, one tissue type becoming another. But this is clearly not the case.”

In addition to the blastema theory, there was one other possibility. Some researchers had suggested that stem cells circulating in the blood could contribute to this type of regeneration. To assess this possibility, Rinkevich connected the circulatory systems of two mice. One mouse was genetically bred to express a colorful marker in all its cells; the other had its toe tip removed. They found that the labeled cells did not contribute to the regenerated tissue, showing that circulating stem cells were unlikely to be involved in the regrowth of the limb.

The researchers work doesn’t discredit previous work by researchers at Stanford and elsewhere showing that it is possible using transferred genes to coax adult, specialized cells (such as those found in the skin) to become other types of cells, such as neurons. That line of study is still very important to the possible development of future therapies and the generation of cell lines for research, they say. However, the approach in the new study has some particular advantages.

“Here we are characterizing and learning about a naturally occurring regeneration phenomenon without adding other genes,” said Rinkevich. “That’s our strong point. We want to first understand how normal tissue regeneration works. Then we can try to exploit that knowledge to perhaps enhance the growth of digits or limbs in humans.”

In addition to Rinkevich and Weissman, other Stanford researchers involved in the study include research assistant Paul Lindau, postdoctoral scholar Hiroo Ueno, PhD, and professor of surgeryMichael Longaker, MD.

The research was supported by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the Smith Family Trust, the Oak Foundation, the Hagey Laboratory for Pediatric Regenerative Medicine, the

Contacts and sources:
By Krista Conger
Stanford University


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