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Oct. 2, 2012 at 6:55 PM
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False toe world's earliest prosthetic?

MANCHESTER, England, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- A study of two ancient Egyptian artificial toes suggests they were more than cosmetic and likely were the world's first prosthetic body parts, researchers say.

Scientists at Britain's University of Manchester examined a three-part, wood-and-leather toe dating from between 950 to 710 B.C. found on a female mummy buried in Egypt and a later artificial toe from before 600 B.C. to determine if they could have been practical tools to help their owners to walk.

"Several experts have examined these objects and had suggested that they were the earliest prosthetic devices in existence," researcher Jacky Finch said in a Manchester release. "There are many instances of the ancient Egyptians creating false body parts for burial but the wear plus their design both suggest they were used by people to help them to walk."

In a test, two volunteers who were both missing their right big toe wore design replicas of the ancient toes along with replicas of ancient leather Egyptian style sandals.

Their movement while walking was tracked using special cameras and the pressure of their footsteps was measured using a special mat.

"The pressure data tells us that it would have been very difficult for an ancient Egyptian missing a big toe to walk normally wearing traditional sandals," Finch said. "They could of course have remained bare foot or perhaps have worn some sort of sock or boot over the false toe, but our research suggests that wearing these false toes made walking in a sandal more comfortable."

Misconduct behind most science retractions

NEW YORK, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Misconduct, not research errors, accounts for the majority of scientific paper retractions by journals, an analysis by U.S. scientists found.

Such misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud, duplicate publication and plagiarism, is responsible for two-thirds of all retractions, they said.

The review of 2,047 papers retracted from biomedical literature through May determined reasons for the retractions through the use of sources such as the National Institutes of Health Office of Research Integrity and Retractionwatch.com, which investigate scientific misconduct.

"Biomedical research has become a winner-take-all game -- one with perverse incentives that entice scientists to cut corners and, in some instances, falsify data or commit other acts of misconduct," senior study author Arturo Casadevall said.

Casadevall is a professor of microbiology & immunology and professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, and is also editor in chief of the journal mBio.

Journals with higher influence in scientific circles had especially high rates of retractions, he said, because the prevailing culture in science disproportionately rewards scientists for publishing large numbers of papers and getting them published in prestigious journals.

"Particularly if you get your papers accepted in certain journals, you're much more likely to get recognition, grants, prizes, and better jobs or promotions," he said in a release. "Scientists are human, and some of them will succumb to this pressure, especially when there's so much competition for funding."

Scientists work on smartphone security

LIVERMORE, Calif., Oct. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've built an Android-based virtual network to study and help prevent disruptions to computer networks on the Internet.

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories in California have turned their attention to smartphones and other hand-held computing devices running the Android operating system to analyze large networks of smartphones and find ways to make them more reliable and secure, a U.S. Department of Energy release reported Tuesday.

"Smartphones are now ubiquitous and used as general-purpose computing devices as much as desktop or laptop computers," Sandia researcher David Fritz said. "But even though they are easy targets, no one appears to be studying them at the scale we're attempting."

Sandia cyber researchers linked together 300,000 virtual hand-held computing devices running Android, which dominates the smartphone industry and runs on a range of computing devices.

They said they hope the network, dubbed MegaDroid, will allow them to understand and limit the damage from network disruptions due to glitches in software or protocols, natural disasters, acts of terrorism or other causes.

"You can't defend against something you don't understand," researcher John Floren said.

The larger the scale of the test the better, he said, since more computer nodes offer more data for researchers to observe and study.

The work could result in a software tool that will enable the computing industry to better protect hand-held devices from malicious intent, the researchers said.

Modified crops bringing on weed problems

PULLMAN, Wash., Oct. 2 (UPI) -- The use of herbicides in the production of three genetically modified crops has increased as "superweeds" are showing up, a U.S. researcher says.

A study by Washington State University scientist Charles Benbrook on the impacts of three genetically engineered herbicide-resistant crops -- cotton, soybeans and corn -- on herbicide usage found the emergence and spread of resistant weeds is strongly linked to the increased use of glyphosphate pesticides.

Marketed as Roundup and under other trade names, glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds and is extensively used with crops that have been genetically modified to be herbicide resistant.

However, the study found, use of glyphosate has had to be increased each year with shifts in weed communities and the emergency of more herbicide-resistant varieties.

"Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops, and are now driving up the volume of herbicide needed each year by about 25 percent," Benbrook said in a university release Tuesday.

While herbicide-tolerant crops worked extremely well in the first few years of use, Benbrook said, over-reliance may have led to the creation of "superweeds" that force farmers to increase herbicide application rates and spray more often.

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