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A new study in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research finds that it is rarely the case that highly influential individuals are responsible for bringing about shifts in public opinion.

Instead, using a number of computer simulations of public opinion change, Duncan J. Watts (Columbia University) and Peter Sheridan Dodds (University of Vermont), find that it is the presence of large numbers of “easily influenced” people who bring about major shifts by influencing other easy-to-influence people.

“Our study demonstrates not so much that the conventional wisdom is wrong ... but that it is insufficiently specified to be meaningful,” the researchers write.

A new study identifies how genes are silenced in cancer cells through distinct changes in the density of nucleosomes within the cells.

The findings will enable researchers to explore new therapies to switch the genes back on and may lead to novel treatments for human cancers, says study lead author Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc., director of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Distinguished Professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

"The study shows for the first time exactly how genes get shut down in cancer cells," Jones says. "It identifies what the target looks like so that new therapies can be designed to turn them back on."

A group of Scottish scientists at The Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen, have received funding to mass-produce a revolutionary food testing kit that will detect the presence of a host of potentially fatal contaminants from bugs such as Compylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella - but it will do it in five hours rather than the six days it currently takes, making it the fastest such technology in the world.

According to the Macaulay Institute’s Dr Brajesh Singh, who leads the project, the new technology could prevent thousands of deaths every year from food poisoning outbreaks.

“The conventional methods for detecting food contamination used by industries and regulatory agencies are labour intensive, time consuming and costly.

Since its discovery 30 years ago, Ebolavirus has struck repeatedly in several epidemics breaking out mainly in Central Africa. Gorillas and chimpanzees are also victims of the violent haemorrhagic fever attacks the virus triggers.

With the aim of understanding more of Ebola’s action mechanisms, scientists collect viral RNA samples from infected individuals at each outbreak. Hitherto it was only possible to analyse genetic sequences isolated from humans. Research scientists from the IRD and the International Medical Research Centre of Franceville in Gabon recently succeeded in mapping virus sequences from samples taken from anthropoid apes.

A group of Spanish researchers has made a new proposal for classifying mood swings in the current issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Although there is a great heterogeneity of depressive states in bipolar patients, there is only one definition in international classifications for describing them. However, this variety seems particularly important to recognize because of the possible exacerbation of some of these bipolar depressive states by antidepressants.

The researchers aimed at assessing whether it is possible to distinguish different forms of bipolar depression using a dimensional approach.

People paralyzed as the result of an accident or a serious illness are reliant on the help of others in many situations. In the Brain2Robot project, an international team of researchers has developed a robot control system based on EEG signals, which could in the future help very severely paralyzed patients to regain a certain degree of independence. You are cordially invited to attend a press demonstration of the Brain2Robot system:

Time: 14 November 2007, 12:30–1:30 p.m.

Place: Medica, Düsseldorf Trade Fair Centre, Hall 3, Booth F92 (BMBF)

To control the robot arm, the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) developed at Fraunhofer FIRST is combined with an eyetracker, which first of all determines the direction in which the arm should move.