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Scientists at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research have, for the first time, genetically programmed embryonic stem (ES) cells to become nerve cells when transplanted into the brain, according to a study published today in The Journal of Neuroscience.

The research, an important step toward developing new treatments for stroke, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurological conditions showed that mice afflicted by stroke showed tangible therapeutic improvement following transplantation of these cells. None of the mice formed tumors, which had been a major setback in prior attempts at stem cell transplantation.

The team was led by Stuart A. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the Del E. Webb Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research Center at Burnham. Dr. Lipton is also a clinical neurologist who treats patients with these disorders. Collaborators included investigators from The Scripps Research Institute.

Biologists at Harvard University have determined that some African frogs puncture their own skin with sharp bones in their toes when threatened, using the bones as claws capable of wounding predators. It's not quite the X-Men's Wolverine (they can't cut through Magneto) but it's a nifty defensive mechanism.

"Most vertebrates do a much better job of keeping their skeletons inside," said David C. Blackburn, a doctoral student in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. "It's surprising enough to find a frog with claws. The fact that those claws work by cutting through the skin of the frogs' feet is even more astonishing. These are the only vertebrate claws known to pierce their way to functionality."


Homer's Odyssey, be it history or fiction, had one potentially true part that has fascinated readers throughout the ages - namely whether Odysseus returned home to experience a total solar eclipse.

Total eclipses, when the moon briefly but completely blocks the sun, happen pretty rarely. In fact, they're so rare that if what Homer describes is truly an eclipse, it could potentially help historians date the fall of Troy, which was purported to occur around the time of the events described in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

After arguing about the point for hundreds of years, historians, astronomers and classicists finally agreed that there was no corroborating evidence and tabled the discussion. Now, Marcelo O. Magnasco, head of the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at Rockefeller, and Constantino Baikouzis of the Proyecto Observatorio at the Observatorio Astronómico in La Plata, Argentina, believe they have found some overlooked passages that, taken together, may shed new light on the timing of an epic journey.

Want to put your computer to good use while you sleep? Muhammad Zaman, assistant professor in biomedical engineering, recently introduced Cellular Environment in Living Systems @Home or CELS@Home for short. The program already has more than 1,000 computer users worldwide contributing to the project and the numbers are growing.

The idea is based on grid computing so instead of using local computing resources, which are almost always limited, Internet users worldwide can contribute their idle computer time, creating a "virtual" supercomputer to solve a difficult problem. In this case, the grid computing program is calculating cellular interactions in different environments to help understand the principles of cell migration and cancer cell metastasis, or the spread of cancer from the original tumor to other parts of the body.

Rachel Carson wasn't all that happy with DDT. I bet she really wouldn't like a gel bait insecticide that can kill three generations of cockroaches as they feed off of each other and transfer the poison. Unless she hated cockroaches as much as the rest of us do.

It is the first time that scientists have shown that a pest control bait will remain effective when it's transferred twice after the first killing dose, said Grzegorz "Grzesiek" Buczkowski, assistant professor of entomology. Passing the insecticide from one cockroach to the next is called horizontal transfer.

"Our findings are exciting because cockroaches are difficult to control since they multiply so rapidly," Buczkowski said. "They are especially bad in urban housing, and they can cause health problems."


An archaeological excavation at a site near Pulborough, West Sussex, has thrown remarkable new light on the life of northern Europe's last Neanderthals. It provides a snapshot of a thriving, developing population, rather than communities on the verge of extinction.

The team, led by Dr Matthew Pope of Archaeology South East based at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, is undertaking the first modern, scientific investigation of the site since its original discovery in 1900. During the construction of a monumental house known as 'Beedings' some 2,300 perfectly preserved stone tools were removed from fissures encountered in the foundation trenches.

"The tools we've found at the site are technologically advanced and potentially older than tools in Britain belonging to our own species, Homo sapiens," says Pope. "It's exciting to think that there's a real possibility these were left by some of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy northern Europe. The impression they give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology - not a people on the edge of extinction."