Stories of modern science ... from UPI

By ELLEN BECK, United Press International   |   Nov. 14, 2002 at 7:45 AM
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A Canadian research team recently set the world record for high-speed disk-to-disk transfer of research data. The team, led by Bryan Caron of the University of Alberta's Centre for Subatomic Research, reached rates equivalent to transferring all the data from a full-length DVD movie from one part of the world to another in less than 60 seconds, or a full compact disk in less than eight seconds. Within three hours, Caron's group successfully moved one terabyte of research data -- roughly 1,500 CDs --from TRIUMF, the particle physics lab in Vancouver, to CERN, the international particle physics lab in Geneva. The team created a dedicated "light path" to bypass the public Internet and establish a new transatlantic superhighway, doubling the speed record previously set by a U.S. team.


University of California-San Diego bioengineers are using a computer model to link genetic mutations to exact disease variations. The Jacobs School of Engineering team reviewed genetic information from patients with an enzyme deficiency that causes hemolytic anemia, finding 150 DNA sequence variations. They put those sequences into a computer model for red blood cell metabolism to predict which mutations would result in chronic hemolytic anemia and which would cause a less severe version of the disease. The model is based on extensive research about metabolism in the red blood cell, one of the human body's simplest and most well-understood cell types. The researchers say the model could lead to a databank of genetic mutations for disease variations, which could be a powerful tool for drug development. Until now, researchers have had to rely on statistical correlations between reported mutations and the actual occurrence of the mutations.


In the next 10 to 20 years, microorganisms could have Boston Harbor entirely cleansed of toxic and cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- barring some major spill or leak into the water. University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers say PAHs biodegrade if they are suspended in water but it had been believed once they sank to the bottom mud, they remained intact. Now they say, the microorganisms get rid of them. The key to the cleanup is sulfate in the water, which allow the PAHs to degrade slowly. The microorganisms use sulfate similar to the way humans use oxygen -- oxidizing PAHs and their other food sources with it. This allows the microorganisms to live in the mud at the bottom of the harbor where there is no oxygen. The study found the PAHs in collected sediments broke down by about 25 percent over 338 days.


National Space Biomedical Research Institute researchers have developed new technology to identify bacteria in space and believe it also eventually can be used on Earth to help diagnose medical conditions and detect biological hazards. "Understanding the bacterial environment is important for astronauts' health," says Professor George Fox of the University of Houston. "Astronauts spend months in the same quarters, breathe recycled air and potentially drink recycled water; conditions that create a bacterial breeding ground." Studies show being in space suppresses the human immune system, making the body more susceptible to infection and the weightlessness and higher levels of radiation could increase bacteria mutation rates. The researchers found a way to identify DNA sequences unique to small groups of bacteria as opposed to current detection systems that require testing for an exact organism. Rather than getting a negative reading on just one organism, this system allows scientists to narrow the search for the culprit bacteria to an organism family, zeroing in on a likely source -- such as a faulty air filter or water purifier.


(EDITORS: For more information about DATA TRANSFER, contact Phoebe Dey at 780-492-0437 or e-mail For VARIATIONS, Denine Hagen, 858-534-2920 or, for HARBOR, Derek Lovley, 413-545-9651 or, and for SPACE BACTERIA, Christine Graham, 713-798-5893 or

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