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Stories of modern science ... from UPI

By ELLEN BECK, United Press International

WORM BREAKS SPEED RECORDS

The Sapphire or Slammer computer worm that attacked the Internet recently was the fastest ever recorded, say University of California-San Diego scientists. The worm doubled its numbers every 8.5 seconds during the first minute of its attack and within 10 minutes it had infected more than 75,000 hosts, which spewed billions of copies of the worm into cyberspace. The result was a slowing of Web traffic and a headache for business services that rely on the Internet. Sapphire's tiny size enabled it to reproduce rapidly and also fit into a type of network "packet" that was sent one-way to potential victims, an aggressive approach designed to infect all vulnerable machines rapidly and saturate the Internet's bandwidth, the experts said. In comparison, the Code Red worm spread much more slowly not only because it took longer to replicate, but also because infected machines sent a different type of message to potential victims that required them to wait for responses before attacking other machines.

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COMPUTER FINDS NOVEL GENES

Researchers led be computer scientist Michael Brent at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a method for predicting novel genes in human and mouse genomes. So far they have discovered 1,019 in both man and mouse. "Whereas it might have taken 7,000 experiments to verify a thousand genes, with our method it now will take only about 1,500," Brent says. The computer programs the team developed use patterns of evolutionary conservation -- DNA sequences that have not changed since the common ancestor of mouse and man -- to improve the accuracy of gene prediction. TWINSCAN is one such program, developed by Brent, that predicts genes by looking at both the alignment between the two genomes and statistical patterns in the individual DNA sequences of each genome.


HEATING UP FLOUNDER TO CONTROL SEX

A Sea Grant research team at North Carolina State University is trying to produce all-female Southern flounder stocks through a controlled-breeding method that uses water temperature manipulation to control sex during the early development. Much of the previous temperature-dependent sex determination studies have been documented in reptiles. The work has implications for commercial fishing because the female flounder grows two to three times larger than male flounder within two years. Reports of dwindling Southern flounder stocks by both national and state marine fisheries groups have resulted in more regulations -- and less profit for commercial fishing fleets.

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NEW MIRROR MAKES STAR GAZING CLEARER

Scientists have come up with a mirror that can sharpen images from large ground-based telescopes. An international research team including University of Arizona astronomers tested the equipment at the 21-foot telescope at the MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Ariz. Large ground-based telescopes can make images as sharp only if atmospheric blurring is corrected. Deformable mirrors that do this are small, flat and inflexible and could be used only with complex instruments attached to conventional telescopes. The new approach has one of the two mirrors that make up the telescope optics make the correction directly, with no other optics required. Like other secondary mirrors, it is glass and more than 2 feet in diameter. It has a steeply curved dome shape but under the surface the glass is less than eight-hundredths of an inch think. It floats in a magnetic field and changes shape in milliseconds. Electro-magnetically gripped by 336 computer-controlled "actuators" that tweak it into place, the mirror focuses star light as steadily as if Earth had no atmosphere.

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(EDITORS: For more information on SAPPHIRE, Conctact Rex Graham at (858) 822-5408. For GENES, Tony Fitzpatrick (314)935-5272 or tony_fitzpatrick@aismail.wustl.edu, for FLOUNDER, Ben Sherman (202) 662-7095 or sherman@nasw.org, and for TELESCOPE, Michael Lloyd-Hart, (520) 621-8353 or mhart@as.arizona.edu)

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