UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

June 23, 2010 at 5:44 PM

3.6 million-year-old 'Lucy' relative found

CLEVELAND, June 23 (UPI) -- U.S.-led scientists say they've discovered a 3.6-million-year-old partial skeleton in Ethiopia, making it 400,000 years older than the famous "Lucy" skeleton.

Scientists from The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Kent State University, Case Western Reserve University, Ethiopia's Addis Ababa University and the Berkeley Geochronology Center said the find suggests advanced human-like, upright walking occurred much earlier than previously thought.

The researchers, led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland museum, said the partial skeleton belongs to "Lucy's" species -- Australopithecus afarensis. It was excavated during a five-year period following the discovery of a fragment of its lower arm bone in 2005.

The specimen was nicknamed "Kadanuumuu" (kah-dah-nuu-muu) by the researchers. "Kadanuumuu" means "big man" in the Afar language and reflects its large size, the scientists said, noting the male hominid stood between 5 and 5 1/2 feet tall, while "Lucy" stood at about 3 1/2 feet.

"This individual was fully bipedal and had the ability to walk almost like modern humans," said Haile-Selassie. "As a result of this discovery, we can now confidently say 'Lucy' and her relatives were almost as proficient as we are walking on two legs, and the elongation of our legs came earlier in our evolution than previously thought," Haile-Selassie said.

The study appears in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Remission of rheumatoid arthritis sought

ROME, June 23 (UPI) -- Rheumatoid arthritis remission provides superior outcomes across socioeconomic categories such as productivity and quality of life, researchers in Austria say.

Dr. Helga Radner of the Medical University Vienna and colleagues found significant improvements in quality of life in those in remission vs. those with low disease activity. Overall activity impairment and physical disability were greater in those with low disease activity, the study said.

"The findings reveal that remission is even superior to an almost perfect disease activity state, namely low-disease activity, therefore our major task in treating rheumatoid arthritis patients should be its achievement and maintenance," Radner, the lead author, said in a statement.

Radner and colleagues said the study involved 356 patients, 34 who were in remission and 66 with low disease activity.

The findings were reported in Rome at the annual congress of the European League Against Rheumatism.


Quantum computing moves closer to reality

LONDON, June 23 (UPI) -- British and Dutch scientists say they have, for the first time, demonstrated the ability of an electron to exist in two places at once in silicon.

Scientists at the University of Surrey; University College London; Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland; and the Institute for Plasma Physics near Utrecht in The Netherlands said their accomplishment marks a significant step toward the making of an affordable quantum computer.

"This is a real breakthrough for modern electronics and has huge potential for the future," Professor Ben Murdin at the University of Surrey said. "Lasers have had an ever increasing impact on technology, especially for the transmission of processed information between computers, and this development illustrates their potential power for processing information inside the computer itself."

The complex research is detailed in the journal Nature.


Genetic septet controls blood clotting

BALTIMORE, June 23 (UPI) -- U.S. medical investigators say they've identified seven genes that likely control blood platelet clotting, thereby affecting development of arterial disease.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Harvard Medical School said their study is one of the largest of the human genetic code involving blood clotting and their findings offer new targets in developing diagnostic tests and treatments for arterial disease.

"Our results give us a clear set of new molecular targets, the proteins produced from these genes, to develop tests that could help us identify people more at risk for blood clots and for whom certain blood-thinning drugs may work best or not," said co-senior study investigator Dr. Lewis Becker, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "We can even look toward testing new treatments that may speed up how the body fights infection or recovers from wounds."

Becker and Dr. Christopher O'Donnell from Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, the study's other lead investigator, said they found the seven genes to be hugely significant in affecting how fast or how long it took for platelets to stick together or how many platelets would clump. The seven were more than 500 million times more likely than other genes to impact clumping, the researchers said.

The study is reported in the early online edition of the journal Nature Genetics.

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