GENE SPLICING AIMED AT CANCER CELLS
Using genetic engineering, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School have corrected defective molecular splicing pathways that otherwise would contribute to cancer, genetic diseases and other disorders. The researchers inserted short strands of genetic material that target portions of RNA into the cell of antisense oligonucleotides to eradicate cancer cells or increase their sensitivity to treatment. RNA carries the DNA blueprint for cellular protein production in gene expression. Tumors initially respond to radiation or chemotherapy but frequently become resistant to subsequent treatments. One form of resistance develops when cancer cells no longer respond to signaling molecules that tell the cells to die. Researchers said RNA splicing of the gene that controls this process was targeted with antisense oligonucleotides.
BIG BURP CREATES MOON GEOLOGIC MYSTERIES
University of California Berkeley researchers have created a computer model of the lunar interior to show a big burp about 4 billion years ago, early in the moon's history, could account for some of its geologic mysteries. The burp of hot rock, like a blob rising to the top of a lava lamp, would have lifted a blanket covering the moon's core, allowing the core to cool quickly enough to produce a magnetic field. The moon has cooled and the global magnetic field disappeared, leaving the magnetized rocks picked up during the Apollo missions. "This 3-D convection model produces an elegant explanation for the magnetic field astronauts discovered on the moon," says graduate student Dave Stegman, who developed the lunar model. "If this model is correct, this would be the first full understanding of the thermal history of any planet, including the Earth, and would be a cornerstone for understanding the histories of all the other planets, such as Mars and Earth." The theoretical burp predicted by the computer model would also explain the lunar mare -- seas of metal-rich volcanic rock, or basalt, that cover much of the near side of the moon but little of the far side.
ASTRONOMERS FIND STAR NURSERY
Astronomers at the University of Colorado Boulder have found dozens of potential stellar cocoons within a giant star-forming region that also could hold disks of dust and gas for creating future planetary systems. "This is the first large population of so-called 'proplyd' objects to be found outside of the Orion Nebula, the closest region to Earth known to be forming massive stars," says postdoctoral researcher Nathan Smith. The proplyds are in the Carina Nebula, some 7,300 light-years from Earth and are roughly 100 times the diameter of our solar system. In 2001, astrophysicists found evidence that particles orbiting in dusty disks around several young sun-like stars in Orion were clumping together and growing. "These observations may indicate the first phases of planetary growth in Orion's proto-planetary disks," says Professor John Bally. In star nurseries like the Orion Nebula, researchers say, stars more than 20 times as massive as the sun can make planetary formation difficult because their ultraviolet light evaporates the gas and removes the dust from the circumstellar disks of the smaller stars, Bally says. The Carina Nebula, however, contains about 60 very hot and massive stars, suggesting planetary disks may be more resilient or more common than previously thought, Smith says.
SCIENTISTS DEVELOP NEW SOLAR CELLS
Nanotechnology is being developed to help power large solar power stations in space that could beam electricity to Earth. Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology are developing the next generation of solar cells that could put a solar power system into Earth's orbit. This type of solar cell is a thin-film device that will sandwich tiny granules of semi-conductor material, known as Quantum dots, and carbon nanotubes. Researchers say large arrays in space must be light and flexible yet withstand the rigors on space and ultra-tiny nanomaterials could provide that flexibility and strength.
(EDITORS: For more information on GENES, contact Leslie Lang at (919) 843-9687 or e-mail LLANG@MED.UNC.EDU. For MOON, Robert Sanders (510) 643-6998 or firstname.lastname@example.org, for COCOONS, Nathan Smith (303) 735-5221 or email@example.com, and for SOLAR CELLS, Susan Murphy, (585) 475-5061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)