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Jan. 7, 2013 at 7:01 PM
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Study suggests worlds may be life sites

OXFORD, England, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- New planet candidates orbiting in the habitable zones of other stars suggest a "traffic jam" of worlds in such regions, British and U.S. scientists say.

Volunteers using the Planethunters.org website, part of the Oxford University-led Zooniverse project, have discovered 15 new planet candidates, and one of them, a Jupiter-sized world dubbed PH2 b, has been confirmed as a planet by follow-up observations by the Keck telescope in Hawaii, an Oxford release reported Monday.

"There's an obsession with finding Earth-like planets but what we are discovering, with planets such as PH2 b, is far stranger," Zooniverse leader Chris Lintott said.

"Jupiter has several large water-rich moons -- imagine dragging that system into the comfortably warm region where the Earth is. If such a planet had Earth size moons, we'd see not Europa and Callisto but worlds with rivers, lakes and all sorts of habitats -- a surprising scenario that might just be common."

Moons often accompany larger planets, the researchers said.

"We can speculate that PH2 b might have a rocky moon that would be suitable for life," lead study author Ji Wang of Yale University said.

"I can't wait for the day when astronomers report detecting signs of life on other worlds instead of just locating potentially habitable environments. That could happen any day now."

Library of Congress has archive of tweets

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Library of Congress says it has compiled more than 170 billion tweets, which will be available to researchers and other interested parties.

The library and Twitter entered into an agreement in 2010 giving the library access to all public tweets since Twitter's founding in 2006.

"Twitter is a new kind of collection for the Library of Congress but an important one to its mission," Gayle Osterberg, the library's director of communications, wrote in a blog post. "As society turns to social media as a primary method of communication and creative expression, social media is supplementing, and in some cases supplanting, letters, journals, serial publications and other sources routinely collected by research libraries."

The library archived all of the tweets it currently possesses in digital form and is now working on plans to make them available for researchers, CNN reported Monday.

The library gathers roughly 500 million tweets per day, but making the archive publicly available is proving difficult, library officials said.

"It is clear that technology to allow for scholarship access to large data sets is lagging behind technology for creating and distributing such data," library executives wrote last week in a government white paper discussing the effort. "Even the private sector has not yet implemented cost-effective commercial solutions because of the complexity and resource requirements of such a task."

Since 2000, the library has also been archiving pages from websites dealing with government information and activity, creating a database of more than 300 terabytes in size.

Ancient birds had teeth -- strong ones

DEERFIELD, Ill., Jan. 7 (UPI) -- An early ancestor of today's birds had teeth -- and not just any teeth, but ones evolved for a special diet, U.S. paleontologists say.

Writing in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, researchers say a study of a species of early bird, Sulcavis geeorum, suggests it had a durophagous diet, meaning the bird's teeth were capable of eating prey with hard exoskeletons like insects or crabs.

The new specimen, a fossil from the the Early Cretaceous period of 121 million to 125 million years ago, greatly increases the known diversity of tooth shape in early birds and hints at previously unrecognized ecological diversity, they said.

The fossil from an early group of birds known as enantiornithines was found in China and has robust teeth with grooves on the inside surface that likely made them stronger to deal with harder food items, researchers said.

No previous bird species have been found with such grooves, ridges, striations, serrated edges or any other form of dental ornamentation, researchers said.

"While other birds were losing their teeth, enantiornithines were evolving new morphologies and dental specializations," lead study author Jingmai O'Connor said.

"We still don't understand why enantiornithines were so successful in the Cretaceous but then died out -- maybe differences in diet played a part."

DNA research seeks vaccine for malaria

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say a vaccine based on genetically engineered DNA could induce an immune response in humans to protect against malaria parasite infection.

The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced a partnership to combine DNA research aimed at developing malaria vaccines with an innovative vaccine delivery technology called electroporation.

Electroporation uses controlled electrical impulses to create temporary pores in a cell membrane, allowing uptake of the synthetic DNA that then causes the cell to produce proteins mimicking the presence of the malaria pathogen. The goal is to induce an immune response that provides protection against malaria, a deadly disease that still kills more than 500,000 children under age 5 every year, a PATH MVI release reported Monday.

"We are excited to bring this innovative delivery technology into clinical testing to see whether the compelling immune responses seen in animal models translate to humans," Dr. David C. Kaslow, director of MVI, said. "Determining if and how these potent immune responses lead to protection against infection with the most deadly form of malaria is a high priority in our efforts to develop a next generation malaria vaccine."

MVI is a global program established with an initial grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, conducting research to accelerate the development of malaria vaccines for the developing world.

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