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Dec. 16, 2009 at 5:44 PM
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Bacteria used to power simple machines

ARGONNE, Ill., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. Department of Energy scientists say they've used common bacteria to power simple machines, providing insight for creating bio-inspired energy production.

The researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University said they discovered bacteria can turn microgears when suspended in a solution.

"The gears are a million times more massive than the bacteria," said physicist Igor Aronson, who led the study. "The ability to harness and control the power of bacterial motions is an important requirement for further development of hybrid biomechanical systems driven by microorganisms."

The scientists discovered the aerobic bacteria, Bacillus subtilis, appear to swim around the solution randomly, but occasionally the organisms will collide with the spokes of the gear and begin turning it in a definite direction. The researchers then added a few hundred bacteria which worked together to turn the gear.

When multiple gears are placed in the solution with the spokes connected, the bacteria will begin turning both gears in opposite directions and it will cause the gears to rotate in synchrony for a long time, the scientists said.

"Our discovery demonstrates how microscopic swimming agents, such as bacteria or man-made nanorobots, in combination with hard materials can constitute a 'smart material' which can dynamically alter its microstructures, repair damage or power microdevices," Aronson said.

The research is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Statins tested to treat H1N1 lung distress

SAN ANTONIO, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio are studying treating H1N1-caused acute respiratory distress syndrome with statins.

"We are studying patients with H1N1 who are in their 20s and 30s and become severely sick, even to the point of having lungs that are white with inflammation," lead investigator Dr. Antonio Anzueto, a pulmonologist and professor in the Health Science Center School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Susceptible individuals include women in the last trimester of pregnancy, and men and women with underlying conditions such as asthma, obesity, diabetes and heart disease."

Statin drugs are approved for lowering cholesterol for heart disease but are not currently used for acute respiratory distress syndrome. However, there is scientific evidence they can decrease the severe respiratory swelling seen in patients with the disease.

Anzueto said H1N1 is a very lethal disease and patients require very aggressive therapy.

"Statin therapy is something we can do above and beyond what we are doing now," Anzueto said.

Alaska coast eroding by 45 feet annually

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 16 (UPI) -- University of Colorado-Boulder scientists say they've discovered part of Alaska's northern coast is eroding at a rate of up to 45 feet annually.

The study showed the erosion is being caused by declining sea ice, warming seawater and increased wave activity between Point Barrow and Prudhoe Bay, toppling 12-foot-high bluffs consisting of up to 80 percent ice into the Beaufort Sea.

"What we are seeing now is a triple whammy effect," said Associate Professor Robert Anderson, a co-author of the research. "Since the summer arctic sea ice cover continues to decline and arctic air and sea temperatures continue to rise, we really don't see any prospect for this process ending."

According to a separate university study, this year's arctic sea ice during the annual September minimum was declining at a rate of 11.2 percent per decade. Only 19 percent of the ice cover was more than two years old -- the least ever recorded in the satellite record and far below the 1981-2000 summer average of 48 percent.

The study included Gary Clow and Frank Urban of the U.S. Geological Survey. Tim Stanton of the Naval Postgraduate School, Cameron Wobus of Stratus Consulting and Irina Overeem of the university's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

The research was presented this week in San Francisco during the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

New nanoparticle might find, treat cancer

HOUSTON, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've created a nanoparticle that might be able to allow both cancer diagnosis and treatment during one hospital visit.

Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine researchers said their single nanoparticle can be tracked in real time with magnetic resonance imaging as it homes in on cancer cells, tags them with a fluorescent dye and then kills them with heat.

"Some of the most essential questions in nanomedicine today are about biodistribution -- where particles go inside the body and how they get there," said study co-author Professor Naomi Halas. "Non-invasive tests for biodistribution will be enormously useful on the path to FDA approval, and this technique -- adding MRI functionality to the particle you're testing and using for therapy -- is a very promising way of doing this."

The new research that included graduate student, Rizia Bardhan and Baylor Assistant Professor Amit Joshi appears online in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

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