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+ - Why a pandemic flu shot caused narcolepsy->

sciencehabit writes: The 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic left a troubling legacy in Europe: More than 1300 people who received a vaccine to prevent the flu developed narcolepsy, an incurable, debilitating condition that causes overpowering daytime sleepiness, sometimes accompanied by a sudden muscle weakness in response to strong emotions such as laughter or anger. The manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has acknowledged the link, and some patients and their families have already been awarded cpmpensation. But how the vaccine might have triggered the condition has been unclear.

In a paper in Science Translational Medicine (STM) this week, researchers offer a possible explanation. They show that the vaccine, called Pandemrix, triggers antibodies that can also bind to a receptor in brain cells that help regulate sleepiness. The work strongly suggests that Pandemrix, which was given to more than 30 million Europeans, triggered an autoimmune re action that led to narcolepsy in some people who are genetically at risk.

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+ - Saber-tooth teeth grew at lightning speed->

sciencehabit writes: The fearsome saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis, roamed North and South America from about 700,000 years to 11,000 years ago. Its daggerlike canine teeth, which protruded up to 18 centimeters from its upper jaw, could easily shred any bison, camel, or other prey that crossed its path. Using a new technique that combines isotopic analysis with x-ray imaging, scientists have found that the permanent canines of S. fatalis grew at a rate of 6 millimeters per month, about twice as fast as an African lion’s teeth--and almost twice as fast as human fingernails.
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+ - Giving buildings a cosmic CT scan->

sciencehabit writes: Subatomic particles that naturally bombard Earth could be used to make 3D images of industrial equipment akin to medical CT scans made with x-rays, a new study suggests. The technique could reveal the corrosion of pipes or the degradation within thick layers of concrete. It could also enable routine inspections of pipes and valves that are buried, wrapped in insulation, or otherwise inaccessible, even while the equipment is in use—and even if it lies deep within a heavily shielded nuclear reactor, scientists say.
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+ - The secret to groovy drumming may be math->

sciencehabit writes: People have long known that professional musicians don’t keep time with the dogged precision of a metronome. However, in deviating from a perfectly steady beat, one professional drummer makes patterns in his timing and loudness that have a particular mathematical form—a fractal—a new study shows. Previous research has shown that the fractal nature of time deviations makes music sound distinctly human.
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+ - Protesters block effort to restart work on controversial Hawaii telescope->

sciencehabit writes: An attempt to restart construction on what would be one of the world’s largest telescopes was blocked yesterday, after state authorities escorting construction vehicles clashed with protesters blockading the road to the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano. Officers from Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and construction workers for the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), turned back from the summit shortly after noon Wednesday, citing concerns for public safety after finding the road blocked by boulders. The withdrawal followed several hours of clashes with Native Hawaiian protesters blockading the road, culminating in the arrests of 11 men and women, including several protest organizers. The protestors have said the $1.4 billion TMT would desecrate sacred land.
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+ - Controversial trial of genetically modified wheat ends in disappointment->

sciencehabit writes: A genetically engineered wheat designed to scare away aphids has, in the end, just not proved scary enough. Researchers had hoped that the wheat modified to emit a warning pheromone would ward off aphids while also attracting their natural enemies, thereby allowing farmers to spray less insecticide. Despite promising signs in the laboratory, the field trial—which made headlines in 2012 after opponents of genetic modification (GM) threatened to obstruct it—failed to show any effect.
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+ - Final step in sugar-to-morphine conversion deciphered->

sciencehabit writes: The last piece of the poppy puzzle is now in hand: Plant geneticists have isolated the gene in the plant that carries out the last unknown step in converting glucose and other simple compounds into codeine, morphine, and a wide variety of other medicines. The discovery sets the stage for splicing the full suite of genes needed to produce these drugs into yeast, which could then produce safer and cheaper versions.
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+ - Why last year's flu vaccine didn't work so well->

sciencehabit writes: If you had a flu shot last fall or winter, you might have learned the hard way that the vaccine didn’t work as well as usual. The vaccine conferred only 19% protection, versus as much as 60% in other years.Now, researchers think they know why: a mutation that enabled some flu viruses to beat the vaccine.
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+ - 'Armored lizard' was ancestor of today's turtles->

sciencehabit writes: It’s a primitive turtle, but it looks nothing like today’s dome-shelled reptiles. Resembling a broad-bodied, short-snouted lizard, the 240-million-year-old creature—dubbed Pappochelys rosinae—appears to be a missing link between prototurtles and their modern relatives, according to a new study. If so, the find could fill in a number of pieces about turtle evolution.
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+ - 'Hot Neptune' sports a tail millions of kilometers long->

sciencehabit writes: The Hubble Space Telescope has discerned signs of distress in a world 33 light-years away. The planet is as large as Neptune but hotter than Mercury, whirling around a red dwarf every 2.64 days. When the planet passes in front of its sun, hydrogen atoms spewing from the planet's atmosphere obscure 56% of the star's disk and absorb its ultraviolet light. The hydrogen atoms form a tail resembling a comet's that stretches millions of kilometers behind the planet, which the astronomers estimate has lost up to a tenth of its original atmosphere. In more extreme cases—when a Neptune-sized planet is closer to its sun and thus even hotter—it may shed so much material that it becomes a rocky world like Earth, albeit far hotter than the planet we call home.
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+ - Ancient fish sheds light on how teeth evolved->

sciencehabit writes: The earliest teeth were not individual structures, but rather tough, bumpy plates that ancient fish used like sandpaper to crush and shred their food. Now, a new study reveals that for at least one species those so-called tooth plates didn’t form all at once: They expanded gradually with the accumulation of toothlike tissue as the fish grew in size. That’s the conclusion of the first detailed analysis of the tooth plates of a 400-million-year-old creature known as Romundina stellina, an armored fish that may have been among the first animals to sport teeth. A better understanding of how teeth evolved may provide clues about how other tissues—such as hearts, kidneys, and other major organs—might have developed.
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+ - Volcanic activity spotted on Venus->

sciencehabit writes: Venus, Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor, is volcanically active, new research suggests. In 2010, researchers reported that several regions on Venus appeared to be relatively fresh lava flows (which they estimated as having formed within the past 2.5 million years), but they couldn’t pin down their precise age. Then, in 2012, astronomers reported another hint of volcanic activity: a 2007 spike in atmospheric sulfur dioxide that faded during the 5 years that followed. Now, scientists have the strongest evidence yet for ongoing volcanism: relatively small “hot spots” on the venusian surface that displayed big changes in temperature over just a few days. These spots lie along the edge of an area called Ganiki Chasma, a feature long suspected to be a volcanic rift zone.
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+ - Mystery solved: 8500-year-old Kennewick Man is a Native American after all->

sciencehabit writes: To scientists, he is “Kennewick Man.” To Native Americans, he is the “Ancient One.” More than a decade ago, Native Americans lost their claim for custody of this 8500-year-old skeleton from Washington state, when a federal appeals court ruled there was no evidence he was related to any modern tribe. Now, after several false starts, researchers have succeeded in sequencing Kennewick Man’s genome. Their conclusion: The Ancient One is closely related to at least one of the five tribes that originally fought to rebury him on spiritual grounds.
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+ - Earth's core is brimming with brimstone->

sciencehabit writes: The old tales may be true: There is brimstone in the underworld, and lots of it. Brimstone, the biblical name for sulfur, is often found near hot springs and volcanic fissures on Earth’s surface (above). But scientists studying the formation of Earth’s core have shown that the lightweight nonmetal might also be present there in vast quantities, answering a question that has long troubled earth scientists: How could Earth’s core—predominantly made of the heavy elements iron and nickel—appear as light as it does when analyzed using seismic waves?
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+ - Astronomers spot first-generation stars, made from big bang->

sciencehabit writes: A team of astronomers has found the best evidence yet for the very first generation of stars, ones made only from ingredients provided directly by the big bang. Made of essentially only hydrogen and helium, these so-called population III stars are predicted to be enormous in size and to live fast and die young. Until recently, many astronomers had thought they would never be able to see such stars, because they would have all burned and died in the universe’s early history—too far for us to see. But using new instruments on the world’s top telescopes, the team found a uniquely bright galaxy that seems to bear all the hallmarks of containing population III stars.
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