Science & Society

Scientists have identified the receptor in cells of the peripheral nervous system that is most responsible for the body's ability to sense cold.

The findings reveal one of the key mechanisms by which the body detects temperature sensation. But in so doing it also illuminates a mechanism that mediates how the body experiences intense stimuli – temperature, in this case – that can cause pain.


Menthol and TRPM8

Too many weird stories to blog about today so here are some links:

Poland inquiry to probe 'gay' teletubbies
Poland's conservative government sees the teletubbies as homosexual propaganda on the small screen, and is taking aim at Tinky Winky and his friends. Ewa Sowinska, government-appointed children rights watchdog, told a local magazine published on Monday she was concerned the popular BBC children's show promoted homosexuality.

Scientists in New Zealand have discovered that some cows have genes that give them the ability to produce skimmed milk naturally. They say they can use this information to breed herds of milkers producing only skimmed milk.

Even better, they said they can breed herds producing milk with the unique characteristics required to make a butter that is spreadable straight from the fridge.

They have already identified a cow, Marge, with the genes required to do this and say a commercial herd is likely by 2011. The milk is very low in saturated fats and so should be high in polyunsaturates and monounsaturated fats.

HIV treatment can be delivered even in settings of armed conflict, and humanitarian health agencies should not wait until a conflict is over before launching HIV care programs, say a team from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in this week’s PLoS Medicine.

Heather Culbert and colleagues report their results of three years’ experience of providing HIV care, including antiretroviral therapy (ART), to a conflict-affected population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The reported treatment outcomes were similar to those in HIV projects in non-conflict settings.

Patterns of human behavior and movement in crowded cities – the tipping point at which agitated crowds become anti-social mobs, the configuration of civic areas as defensible spaces that also promote free speech, the design of retail space that fosters active walking – are at the core of an immersive 3-D computational model under development by an Arizona State University geographer.

Scientists at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), in cooperation with the CSIC, have developed a new electro-chemical biosensor which detects the presence, in food, of very small amounts of atrazine –one of the most widely used herbicides in agriculture and which also has very long lasting effects on the environment- as well as antibiotics in food.

The biosensor is faster, more portable and economic than the expensive laboratory methods which are used to detect contaminants, while having a very similar sensitivity. The system has been tested successfully to detect pesticides in samples of drinking water and commercial orange juice, as well as to detect traces of antibiotics in cow's milk.

Now that the genome sequences of hundreds of bacteria and viruses are known, we can design tests that will rapidly detect the presence of these species based solely on their DNA. These tests can detect a pathogen in a complex mixture of organic material by recognizing short, distinguishing sequences—called DNA signatures—that occur in the pathogen and not in any other species.

Adam Phillippy and colleagues from the University of Maryland, USA, have developed a computer program that can identify these signatures with a higher degree of accuracy than ever before. They describe this new computational system, called Insignia, and the results of its successful application on 46 Vibrio cholerae strains this week in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

Imagine being able to rapidly identify tiny biological molecules such as DNA and toxins using less than a drop of salt water in a system that can fit on a microchip.

In a paper appearing next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,* the team proves for the first time that a single nanometer-scale pore in a thin membrane can be used to accurately detect and sort different-sized polymer chains (a model for biomolecules) that pass through or block the channel.


Graphic showing a lipid bilayer membrane (blue) with an alpha-hemolysin nanopore.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a simple and economical technique for imaging and mapping fruit fly chromosomes. This new approach will enable them to construct the first accurate map of the chromosomes and tease out the secrets hidden in their stripes.


Developers of the new approach use a technology called Computer Vision to analyze hundreds of crisp images of the same chromosomes. This will allow the production of a much more precise map of the chromosome bands. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dmitri Novikov

Solar powered mobility scooters could soon be on the streets thanks to the work of a student at The University of Nottingham. Matt Alvey, who is studying Architecture and Environmental Design, says the photovoltaic (solar electric) recharging system will turn the mobility vehicles truly green.