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In work that could dramatically boost the capabilities of "lab on a chip" devices, MIT researchers have created a way to use tiny bubbles to mimic the capabilities of a computer.

The team, based at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, reports that the bubbles in their microfluidic device can carry on-chip process control information, just like the electronic circuits of a traditional microprocessor, while also performing chemical reactions. The work will appear in the Feb. 9 issue of Science.


MIT researchers have developed a computer chip that runs on microbubbles like these. (Photo courtesy of Manu Prakash)

Although no two brains are alike, they can display a comparable pattern of neural activity when exposed to similar sensory input. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen have now developed a mathematical method to design networks from neural cells which exhibit a predefined pattern dynamics. The researchers hope that their method will assist them in getting closer to understanding which of the possible network configurations was privileged by evolution -- and why (Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, December, 2006).


Different neuronal networks can bear the same pattern of activity -- as shown in this example of a network made of 16 neurons.

For cells that hold so much promise, stem cells' potential has so far gone largely untapped. But new research from Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists now shows that adult stem cells taken from skin can be used to clone mice using a procedure called nuclear transfer. The findings are reported in the Feb. 12 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Using a technique called nuclear transfer, mice were cloned using adult skin stem cells (right) and a more differentiated type of skin cell (left). The mouse on the right is almost two years old and the mouse on the right is one and a half.

The Scripps Research team, led by neuroscientists Manuel Sanchez-Alavez and Tamas Bartfai, discovered that mice genetically altered to lack a molecule known as the EP3 receptor tend to be more active during their normal sleep cycle and to eat more. In the study, this led to weight increases of up to 30 percent relative to mice with the receptors.

The EP3 receptor is one of four types of receptors for prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), the most important inflammatory mediator that controls a variety of physiological functions including fever, fertility, and blood pressure.

Some breaking news, just in time for Valentine's Day: Researchers have identified something called "sperm competition" that they think has evolved to ensure a genetic future. In sexual reproduction, natural selection is generally thought of as something that happens prior to – and in fact leads to -- the Big Event. This thinking holds, for example, that we are drawn to physical features that tell us our partner is healthy and will give us a fighting chance to carry on our genetic lineage.

Two of Greenland's largest glaciers shrank dramatically and dumped twice as much ice into the sea during a period of less than a year between 2004 and 2005. And then, less than two years later, they returned to near their previous rates of discharge.

The variability over such a short time, reported online Feb. 9 on Science magazine's Science Express, underlines the problem in assuming that glacial melting and sea level rise will necessarily occur at a steady upward trajectory, according to lead author Ian Howat, a post-doctoral researcher with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory and the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center.