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A team of European scientists has triggered electrical activity in thunderclouds for the first time - deliberately.

They did it by aiming high-power pulses of laser light into a thunderstorm. Next, they say, could be man-made lightning.

At the top of South Baldy Peak in New Mexico during two passing thunderstorms, the researchers used laser pulses to create plasma filaments that could conduct electricity akin to Benjamin Franklin's silk kite string. No air-to-ground lightning was triggered because the filaments were too short-lived, but the laser pulses generated discharges in the thunderclouds themselves.

The nature vs. nurture debate is familiar to most people, and modern conclusions usually predict a balance between the two. A new paper shows that there is a similar balance between inherited genes - nature - and the environment - nurture - in determining thousands of traits in yeast.

As we approach the age of personal genomics, in which each of us knows something about the genetic variations we carry, it is important to understand how genes and the environment interact in order to draw medically sound conclusions from the information available, e.g. whether exercise can reduce risks that are increased because of a genetic predisposition towards a certain illness.

Robot soccer is an ambitious high-tech competition for universities, research institutes and industry. Several major tournaments are planned for 2008, the biggest of which is the ‘RoboCup German Open.’

From April 21-25, over 80 teams of researchers from more than 15 countries are expected to face off in Hall 25 at the Hannover Messe. In a series of soccer matches in several leagues, they will be putting the latest technologies on display. The tournament is being organized and carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems IAIS in Sankt Augustin.


UK astronomers have produced the most sensitive infrared map of the distant Universe ever undertaken. Combining data over a period of three years, they have produced an image containing over 100,000 galaxies over an area four times the size of the full Moon. Some of the first results from the project were presented by Dr Sebastien Foucaud from the University of Nottingham at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast.

Due to the finite speed of light, these observations allow astronomers to look back in time over 10 billion years, producing images of galaxies in the Universe's infancy. The image is so large and so deep that thousands of galaxies can be studied at these early epochs for the first time. By observing in the infrared, astronomers can now peer further back in time, since light from the most distant galaxies is shifted towards redder wavelengths as it travels through the expanding Universe.


In research published in Nature, researchers at Rockefeller University and the University of Tokyo state that insects have adopted a strategy to detect odors that is radically different from those of other organisms -- an unexpected and controversial finding that may dissolve a dominant ideology in the field.

They state that insects use fast-acting ion channels to smell odors, a major break with current ideology, and that this means Darwin's tree of life will need to be redrawn.

Since 1991, researchers assumed that all vertebrates and invertebrates smell odors by using a complicated biological apparatus much like a Rube Goldberg device. For instance, someone pushing a doorbell would set off a series of elaborate, somewhat wacky, steps that culminate in the rather simple task of opening the door.

The amount of oxygen available to a baby in the womb can affect their susceptibility to developing particular diseases later in life. Research presented at the annual Society for Endocrinology BES meeting in Harrogate shows that your risk of developing cardiovascular disease can be predetermined before birth, not only by your genes, but also by their interaction with the quality of the environment you experience in the womb.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge, led by Dr Dino Giussani, examined the role that oxygen availability in the womb plays in programming your susceptibility to different diseases. His group found that babies that don’t receive enough oxygen in the womb (e.g. due to pre-eclampsia or placental insufficiency) are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease when they are adult.