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Stories from Modern Science...from UPI

By ALEX CUKAN, UPI Science Writer   |   Nov. 5, 2001 at 2:11 AM   |   Comments

HOW GENES AFFECT BRAIN STRUCTURE

UCLA brain mapping researchers in California have created the first images to show how an individual's genes can influence brain structure and intelligence. Published in Nature Neuroscience, the findings offer new insight on how parents pass on personality traits and cognitive abilities, and how brain diseases run in families. The team found that the amount of gray matter in the frontal parts of the brain is determined by the genetic make-up of an individual's parents. Brain regions controlling language and reading skills were virtually identical in identical twins, who share exactly the same genes, while siblings showed only 60 percent of the normal brain differences. "This tight structural similarity in the brains of family members helps explain why brain diseases, including schizophrenia and some types of dementia, run in families," says Paul Thompson. "We were stunned to see that the amount of gray matter in frontal brain regions was strongly inherited, and also predicted an individual's IQ score."


WORLD'S SMALLEST SELF-PROPELLED SATELLITE

University of Washington students have nearly completed the world's smallest self-propelled satellite and they are preparing to deliver it to the Air Force and NASA for launch. The nanosatellite, dubbed "Dawgstar" and tentatively scheduled for launch from the Space Shuttle in early 2003, will take samples from the Earth's ionosphere and conduct experiments in formation flying with two other satellites. "It's very unusual for students, particularly undergraduates, to have an opportunity to work on something that is actually going into space," says Mark Campbell, who recently joined for Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "This isn't a class exercise, it's the real thing and they're getting great experience by being part of it." The nanosatellite project is intended to encourage universities to work together to explore low-cost alternatives to large, expensive satellites. Nanosatellites, because of their small size, are cheaper to build and their low weight makes for less expensive launches. Dawgstar resembles a small six-sided box, measuring 18-inches across and 12-inches high, and weighing less than 40 pounds. It will fly with companion satellites and with the aid of eight tiny plasma thrusters it is capable of maneuvering itself.


TINY BUBBLES USED TO DETERMINE ROCK FORMATION TEMPS

The central Appalachian basin in West Virginia and western Maryland has been drilled and mined for oil, natural gas, and coal over many years. Jason Reed, a geological sciences doctoral student at Parkersburg, W.Va., is using a technique called "fluid inclusion micro thermometry" to determine the formation temperature for quartz cement to define the thermal history of Carboniferous, 300-million-year-old, quartz sandstones from the Appalachian plateau. The research will be presented during the 113th annual meeting Geological Society of American meeting in Boston Nov. 1-10. Quartz cement, which holds sandstone together, is formed under heat and pressure. However, it is not entirely solid. Tiny, rare pockets in the cement contain fluids trapped millions of years ago. "These fluid inclusions are being used to determine the temperature at which the quartz cement formed -- temperatures greater than 140-degrees centigrade (284-degrees F)," says Reed. Fluid inclusions record a snapshot of the sandstone's history, according to Reed. The cement-bounded fluid may have begun as drops of ancient ocean or river water, or be leftover from an underground reservoir that formed as the sandstone was buried.


STRESSED? UNHEALTHY? GET A PET!

It might be the prescription of the future: Take two aspirin and get a pet immediately.

Numerous studies have shown that pets -- or at least the presence of animals -- can have medical benefits ranging from lowering blood pressure to lessening anxiety and depression and even to faster healing times after surgery. "We have known for many years that the company of a pet can be of benefit in a variety of ways, but exactly why this is, no one seems to have the answer," says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, of Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "For example, the long-term survival rates of heart attack victims who had a pet have been shown to be significantly longer than for those who did not." Numerous studies have shown clear health benefits of pet ownership. Studies have shown that: seniors who own dogs go to the doctor less; pet owners have lower blood pressure; pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than

non-owners; and children exposed to pets during their first year of life have a lower frequency of some allergies and asthma.

(EDITOR: For more information, about BRAIN, call 310 794-2265; about SATELLITE, call 206 543-2580; about BUBBLES, call 540 231-8162; about PETS 979 845-4644.)

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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