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Oceanographers Study Gulf Oil Plumes

ARLINGTON, Va., June 24 (UPI) — The National Science Foundation says it’s funding a 12-day research project aimed at characterizing subsurface oil plumes in the Gulf of Mexico.

Officials said a multidisciplinary team of investigators from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution embarked June 17 aboard the research vessel Endeavor, conducting three simultaneous projects.

The research involves the oil being vented into the gulf from the Deepwater Horizon well head.

Four WHOI principal investigators are each focusing on different but complementary problems associated with the oil spill.

In addition to coordinating all the research efforts, Chief Scientist Rich Camilli is using underwater mass spectrometers, an enhanced water sampler and the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry to investigate the hydrocarbon plumes.

“We have studied archived oil spill reports stretching back over 40 years, and have received data and advice from colleagues at other institutions who have recently surveyed the site. … Our team will build on their results using our own unique scientific tools to better understand the spill’s extent, composition and impact in the marine subsurface,” Camilli said.

WHOI Senior Scientist Dana Yoerger, a principal developer of the underwater vehicle, said Sentry will follow the hydrocarbon signal throughout the water column and build three-dimensional maps of hydrocarbons in real time “not only to define their shape, but to identify individual chemicals within the plume.”

“Oceanographers usually have a year or more to prepare for an expedition of this magnitude, but these are extraordinary times,” Camilli said. “We have gone from a concept to operational state in less than two weeks. It is a great credit to the National Science Foundation, University of Rhode Island, the numerous Federal agencies, our colleagues at WHOI and elsewhere, all working in high gear to make this expedition successful.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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NASA Measures Quake's Impact on the Planet

PASADENA, Calif., June 24 (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says it has recorded the first airborne radar images of the deformation of the Earth’s surface caused by a major earthquake.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said the research involves the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that occurred in Mexico’s state of Baja California on April 4. Scientists said the data reveal the earthquake moved the Calexico, Calif., region in a downward and southerly direction approximately 31 inches,

The science team said it used a JPL-developed radar system — the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar– to measure the surface deformation. The maps the system generates show minute changes in the distance between the aircraft, which flies at 41,000 feet, and the ground during repeated global positioning system-guided flights.

The April 4 quake — the area’s largest in 120 years — was centered 32 miles south-southeast of Calexico, Calif., along the boundary between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates, scientists said.

“The goal of the ongoing study is to understand the relative hazard of the San Andreas and faults to its west like the Elsinore and San Jacinto faults, and capture ground displacements from larger quakes,” said JPL geophysicist Andrea Donnellan, who is leading the research.

The newly release maps are available at http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/UAVSARimage20100623.html.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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NASA Measures Quake's Impact on the Planet

PASADENA, Calif., June 24 (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says it has recorded the first airborne radar images of the deformation of the Earth’s surface caused by a major earthquake.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said the data involves the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that occurred in Mexico’s state of Baja California on April 4. Scientists said the images reveal the earthquake moved the Calexico, Calif., region in a downward and southerly direction approximately 31 inches,

The science team said it used a JPL-developed radar system — the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar– to measure the surface deformation. The maps the system generates show minute changes in the distance between the aircraft, which flies at 41,000 feet, and the ground during repeated global positioning system-guided flights.

The April 4 quake — the area’s largest in 120 years — was centered 32 miles south-southeast of Calexico, Calif., along the boundary between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates, scientists said.

“The goal of the ongoing study is to understand the relative hazard of the San Andreas and faults to its west like the Elsinore and San Jacinto faults, and capture ground displacements from larger quakes,” said JPL geophysicist Andrea Donnellan, who is leading the research.

The newly release maps are available at http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/UAVSARimage20100623.html.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Genomic Sequence of Atlantic Salmon Sought

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, June 16 (UPI) — An international team of researchers says it is one step closer to sequencing the genome of the economically important Atlantic salmon.

Researchers, funding agencies and industries from British Columbia, Chile and Norway formed the International Cooperation to Sequence the Atlantic Salmon Genome — an organization usually referred to as “The Cooperation.”

Organization officials said they are they are “well under way” on a multimillion dollar, multi-phased project that will produce a genome sequence that identifies and maps all of the genes in the Atlantic salmon genome and can act as a reference/guide sequence for the genomes of other salmonids, including Pacific salmon, rainbow trout and more distantly related fish such as smelt and pike.

Phase One of the project is expected to be complete in January.

“The Cooperation is gearing up for Phase Two which will result in a high definition and well-annotated genome using primarily next generation sequencing technologies. The Cooperation is seeking interested parties — publicly or privately funded genome sequencing centers or public/private partnerships — to undertake Phase two.”

More information concerning Phase two is available online at www.genomebc.ca/partners/international-collaborators/.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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U.S, Germany Sign Space Mission Extension

WASHINGTON, June 10 (UPI) — The U.S. and German space agencies say they have signed an agreement to extend the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment space mission.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and German Aerospace Center Executive Board Chairman Johann-Dietrich Worner signed the agreement Thursday in Berlin,

The two-satellite mission, known as GRACE, was launched in 2002 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia to track changes in Earth’s gravity field by measuring changes in the distance between the spacecraft to one-hundredth the width of a human hair. The spacecraft are in the same polar orbit approximately 137 miles apart and 200 miles above the Earth, with their on-orbit life expected to end in 2015.

The United States and Germany jointly developed the the twin satellite mission. NASA provided the instruments and selected satellite components, plus data validation and archiving. Germany provided the primary satellite components, launch services and operations.

Officials said GRACE’s monthly maps are as much as 100 times more accurate than existing maps, substantially improving the accuracy of techniques used by oceanographers, hydrologists, glaciologists, geologists and climate scientists.

More information about the GRACE mission is available at http://science.nasa.gov/missions/grace.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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NASA TV to cover Soyuz landing

WASHINGTON, May 24 (UPI) — NASA TV says it will telecast the June 1 return to Earth of three International Space Station crew members aboard the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft.

NASA said it will also televise the June 15 launch of the newest three ISS residents — the 24th crew to live and work on the orbiting laboratory.

Expedition 23 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov, NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi are to land their Soyuz spacecraft June 1 on the southern region steppe of Kazakhstan, completing nearly six months on the station.

On June 15, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker will launch on Soyuz TMA-19 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They will dock at the station June 17, joining Expedition 24 Commander Alexander Skvortsov, NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who have been aboard the station since April 4.

NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information is available at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv.

Key to child’s success: Books in the home

RENO, Nev., May 24 (UPI) — A U.S. sociologist says books in the home are key to a child’s success — whether in China or the United States.

Mariah Evans of the University of Nevada in Reno says books in the parents’ home were more important than the country of residence or parental economic status in determining a child’s educational level.

“The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed,” Evans says in a statement.

Evans and colleagues conducted a 20-year study of more than 70,000 cases in 27 countries.

The study, published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, found being raised in a home with a 500-book library had as great an effect on the level of education attained by a child as having a parent with a university education. Both the home library and a parent’s education propelled a child on average 3.2 years further in education versus a child in a home without books or with parents who have less than three years of higher education.

Evans suggested having as few as 20 books in the home has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, but the more books added, the greater the benefit.

“You get a lot of ‘bang for your book,’” she said.

SMOS begins its operational mission

PARIS, May 24 (UPI) — The European Space Agency says its SMOS satellite has completed its six-month commissioning and is now fully operational.

The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite is designed to provide global images of soil moisture and ocean salinity to improve science’s understanding of the water cycle, the ESA said. The satellite was launched in November.

SMOS will produce global maps of soil moisture every three days and maps of ocean salinity averaged over 30 days. By consistently mapping those two variables, SMOS will advance our knowledge of the exchange processes between Earth’s surface and atmosphere and also help to improve weather and climate models and be used in such areas as agriculture and water resource management, ESA scientists said.

The ESA has placed three of its Earth Explorer satellites in orbit within little more than a year — the GOCE gravity mission launched in March 2009, followed by SMOS in November and the CryoSat ice mission last month.

Results from the three missions are to be presented during the Living Planet Symposium at the end of June in Bergen, Norway.

Scientists identify a new cancer gene

LONDON, May 24 (UPI) — British and U.S. scientists say they’ve identified a new cancer gene that could lead to more effective treatments for pediatric glioma.

Researchers said their discovery was one of a number of significant genetic differences found between the adult and youth form of the disease. Gliomas are the most common form of brain tumor.

Clinicians and scientists at The U.K. Institute of Cancer Research, the University of Nottingham, the U.K. Children’s Cancer and Leukemia Group and the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States said they conducted the most comprehensive analysis to date of pediatric high-grade glioma, making a detailed scan of the genome of 78 newly-diagnosed patients, comparing pediatric tumor samples with the genome of adult gliomas.

“We found significant differences between the genomes of adult and young people’s gliomas,” said Dr. Chris Jones of the IRC. “This is an important finding because it means studies on adult gliomas cannot simply be applied to younger patients, and it has particular implications for drug trials.”

The discovery is reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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SMOS Begins Its Operational Mission

PARIS, May 24 (UPI) — The European Space Agency says its SMOS satellite has completed its six-month commissioning and is now fully operational.

The Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite is designed to provide global images of soil moisture and ocean salinity to improve science’s understanding of the water cycle, the ESA said. The satellite was launched in November.

SMOS will produce global maps of soil moisture every three days and maps of ocean salinity averaged over 30 days. By consistently mapping those two variables, SMOS will advance our knowledge of the exchange processes between Earth’s surface and atmosphere and also help to improve weather and climate models and be used in such areas as agriculture and water resource management, ESA scientists said.

The ESA has placed three of its Earth Explorer satellites in orbit within little more than a year — the GOCE gravity mission launched in March 2009, followed by SMOS in November and the CryoSat ice mission last month.

Results from the three missions are to be presented during the Living Planet Symposium at the end of June in Bergen, Norway.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Obesity Gene Linked to Brain Shrinkage

LOS ANGELES, April 20 (UPI) — More than one-third of the U.S. population is at risk for diseases such as Alzheimer’s due to a variant of the obesity gene, U.S. researchers said.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found the same gene — allele, from the fat mass and obesity associated gene, the FTO gene, which increases risk of gaining weight — is also linked to brain shrinkage.

Senior study author Paul Thompson, a UCLA professor of neurology and colleagues said the FTO variant puts more than one-third of the U.S. population at risk for a disease, such as Alzheimer’s.

The researchers generated three-dimensional “maps” of brain volume differences in 206 healthy elderly subjects using magnetic resonance imaging from 58 sites in the United States.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found consistently less brain tissue — up to less than 12 percent of some parts of the brain — in those with the FTO allele compared with non-carriers of the variant.

In addition, the study said the differences of brain volume could not be directly attributed to other obesity-related factors such as cholesterol levels, diabetes or high blood pressure.

“If you have the bad FTO gene, your weight affects your brain adversely in terms of tissue loss,” Thompson said in a statement. “If you don’t carry FTO, higher body weight doesn’t translate into brain deficits.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Obama outlines his vision for NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 15 (UPI) — President Barack Obama outlined his vision for the U.S. space program Thursday during a speech at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

“I believe that space exploration is not a luxury, it’s not an afterthought in America’s quest for a brighter future — it is an essential part of that quest,” the president told a select audience of about 200 elected officials, space workers and invited guests.

“But while the measure of our achievements has changed a great deal over the past 50 years, what we do — or fail to do — in seeking new frontiers is no less consequential for our future in space and here on Earth.”

Declaring himself “100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future,” Obama said his strategy includes increasing NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years.

“We will increase Earth-based observation to improve our understanding of our climate and our world — science that will garner tangible benefits, helping us to protect our environment for future generations. And we will extend the life of the International Space Station likely by more than five years, while actually using it for its intended purpose — conducting advanced research that can help improve the daily lives of people here on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space.”

He said the United States will also invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced “heavy lift rocket” needed for deep space exploration.

“The bottom line is nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space than I am. But we’ve got to do it in a smart way, and we can’t just keep on doing the same old things that we’ve been doing and thinking that, somehow, is going to get us to where we want to go.”

He noted it has been little more than 40 years ago that NASA astronauts set foot on the moon.

“This was the culmination of a daring and perilous gambit — of an endeavor that pushed the boundaries of our knowledge, of our technological prowess, of our very capacity as human beings to solve problems. It wasn’t just the greatest achievement in NASA’s history — it was one of the greatest achievements in human history.

“And the question for us now is whether that was the beginning of something or the end of something. I choose to believe it was only the beginning.”

Robotic prostate removal, better outcomes

NEW YORK, April 15 (UPI) — Prostate cancer patients who have their prostates removed by robots appear to have better outcomes, U.S. researchers found.

Dr. David B. Samadi, chief of the division of robotics and minimally invasive surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, compared 575 patients who had robotic prostatectomy with 106 patients who had prostatectomy done by surgeons.

The study, published online ahead of print in the Journal of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons, found the robotically assisted procedures were associated with 45 percent shorter median anesthesia time, 51 percent shorter surgical time and 96 percent less estimated blood loss.

In addition, those who had the robotic prostatectomy — via the da Vinci system — had 67 percent shorter hospital stays, the study said.

The robotic prostatectomy reduces trauma and reduces the risk of surgical side-effects of incontinence and sexual dysfunction, Samadi said.

“Our goal, is not just survival, but to improve the patient’s quality of life,” Samadi said.

Software might help predict disease spread

WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) — A U.S. geographer says he has created a user-friendly software program that allows the discovery of geographic patterns and trends.

Pennsylvania State University scientist Frank Hardisty said disease statistics contained in patient records or detailed in newspaper clippings can be sorted and organized by his computer program to depict geographic patterns.

“The use of interactive maps and graphs, combined with word search interfaces, can lead to greater insight into complex events like the spread of swine flu,” he said.

Hardisty describes his GeoViz Toolkit as a user-friendly application that combines text mining with geographical mapping, allowing a user to search publicly available data to identify and visualize specific patterns.

“Potential applications range from research in public health — infectious disease dynamics, cancer etiology, surveillance and control — through analysis of socioeconomic and demographic data, to exploration of patterns of incidents related to terrorism or crime,” Hardisty said.

The research, supported by the Department of Homeland Security and the Gates Foundation, was presented Thursday in Washington during the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers.

New insulin molecule reduces cancer risk

CLEVELAND, April 15 (UPI) — Case Western Reserve University scientists in Cleveland say they’ve developed an insulin molecule that significantly reduces insulin-related cancer risks.

Previous studies have shown obesity and excess insulin — whether naturally produced by the body or injected in synthetic form — are associated with an increased incidence of some common cancers, the researchers said.

But they said their invention of a “smart” insulin protein molecule that binds considerably less to cancer receptors solves that problem.

Led by Dr. Michael Weiss, a professor of cancer research, the scientists said the analog self-assembles under the skin by a means of “stapling” itself by bridging zinc ions, thereby providing a slow-release form of insulin.

“It’s quite a novel mechanism,” said Weiss. “Our team has applied the perspective of biomedical engineering to the biochemistry of a therapeutic protein. We regard the injected insulin solution as forming a new biomaterial that can be engineered to optimize its nano-scale properties. The notion of engineered zinc staples may find application to improve diverse injectable protein drugs to address a variety of conditions from cancer to immune deficiency.”

The research that included Professor Faramarz Ismail-Beigi, Associate Professor Nelson Phillips, Associate Professor Jonathan Whittaker and X-ray crystallographer Zhu-li Wan appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Software Might Help Predict Disease Spread

WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) — A U.S. geographer says he has created a user-friendly software program that allows the discovery of geographic patterns and trends.

Pennsylvania State University scientist Frank Hardisty said disease statistics contained in patient records or detailed in newspaper clippings can be sorted and organized by his computer program to depict geographic patterns.

“The use of interactive maps and graphs, combined with word search interfaces, can lead to greater insight into complex events like the spread of swine flu,” he said.

Hardisty describes his GeoViz Toolkit as a user-friendly application that combines text mining with geographical mapping, allowing a user to search publicly available data to identify and visualize specific patterns.

“Potential applications range from research in public health — infectious disease dynamics, cancer etiology, surveillance and control — through analysis of socioeconomic and demographic data, to exploration of patterns of incidents related to terrorism or crime,” Hardisty said.

The research, supported by the Department of Homeland Security and the Gates Foundation, was presented Thursday in Washington during the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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