- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

SINGLE PROTEIN SETS BIOLOGICAL CLOCK

A husband and wife research team from Purdue University has discovered our biological clock is a single protein that times out periods of activity and inactivity within cells. D. James and Dorothy Morre say if the protein is altered the body will experience days of different length — ranging from 22 to 42 hours. "Since the clock affects nearly every bodily activity, this discovery holds myriad potential applications, from minimizing jet lag to determining when best to administer cancer drugs," James Morre says. The Morres found cells enlarge for 12 minutes, then rest for 12 before growing again. James Morre theorized some undiscovered proteins were responsible for the 24-minute growth cycle. The team found a single cylinder-shaped protein molecule regulated the cycle. "Our model is that of a Janus-head protein with two opposing faces," he said. "One 'face' handles cell enlargement. Then the protein 'flips over,' allowing the second face to carry out other activities while cell enlargement rests.

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FROZEN CARBON DIOXIDE ON MARS

University of Melbourne geologist Nick Hoffman has found what could be the first active flow of fluids through gullies on Mars. Recent gully and channel development has been discovered near the polar regions from images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. Many scientists theorize the gullies were carved by liquid water but Hoffman says the channels he identified from the Surveyor images more likely were carved by avalanches of carbon dioxide and associated debris. "The consequences of this for life on Mars are shattering. If similar mechanisms are responsible for all the recent gullies on Mars then the near surface life NASA is so desperately searching for may not exist," says Hoffman. Hoffman says in the Martian spring, when carbon dioxide frost and snow at temperatures of minus-130 degrees Centigrade still fill the valleys, flow events occur, cutting through the frost at temperatures that would "turn battery acid into building stone." He says nothing based on water could flow at those temperatures "so the culprit must be defrosting carbon dioxide."

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FOREST POLLUTANTS OFFSET

Carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons emitted from agricultural forest trees are each pollutants but together they offset each other somewhat to lessen air quality problems. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder say carbon dioxide, a factor in greenhouse warming, reduces "agriforest" emissions of hydrocarbons. Researcher Todd Rosenstiel says commercial agriforests made up of trees including poplars, Eucalyptus and Acacia emit high levels of isoprene, a highly reactive chemical species believed to contribute heavily to ground-based ozone. He is cautious, however, because the effects of CO2 are unpredictable and the bigger picture is the rapidly growing number of agriforests worldwide emit hydrocarbons like isoprene in much larger volumes. The research suggests it could be possible to genetically engineer environmentally friendly poplar trees by lessening their isoprene output.

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BLACK HOLE HAS FREQUENT OUTBURSTS

New views from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show the Milky Way's central black hole is a bad boy — prone to frequent outbursts and occasional large explosions. The observations of Sagittarius A — or Sgr A — occurred over two weeks and covered 164 hours. During that time Sgr A flared up in X-ray intensity half a dozen or more times. Astronomers also found evidence that suggests it had an even more boisterous past. "We are getting a look at the everyday life of a supermassive black hole like never before," said Frederick K. Baganoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We see it flaring on an almost daily basis." The cause of the flares is not understood but the rapidity indicates they occur near the event horizon, or point of no return, around the black hole. Also, the intensity of the X-ray emission is relatively weak, suggesting Sgr A, weighing in at 3 million times the mass of the Sun, is a starved black hole. "Although it appears to snack often, this black hole is definitely on a severe diet," says Baganoff. "This could be because explosive events in the past blew away much of the gas from the neighborhood of the black hole."

(EDITORS: For more information on BIOLOGICAL CLOCK, contact D. James Morre, (765) 494-1388 or [email protected] For MARS, Nick Hoffman, 03 8344 3735 0438 397 366, or [email protected], for FOREST POLLUTANTS, Todd Rosentiel, (303) 492-5304, or [email protected], and for MILKY WAY, call Megan Watzke at (617) 496-7998.)




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