New addiction-blocking therapy targets protein buildup in the brain
French researchers have discovered a protein that accumulates in the brain in response to addictive substances. The scientists report that cells in the striatum and nucleus accumbens (the brain's reward centers) accelerated production a substance called DARPP-32 in mice given cocaine and amphetamines. The team found that the animals were less likely to perform well in tasks involving food or drug rewards when they had a flawed version of the protein. The mice were trained to poke a lever a certain number of times to receive a food pellet; as the trials continued, the mice had to tap more times to get the same reward. The researchers observed, however, that the mice with a disrupted DARPP-32 gave up on getting food quicker than their unaltered counterparts. They say the finding paves the way for a therapy designed to target the protein to help drug, food and other addicts kick their habits. Jean-Antoine Girault, a neuroscientist at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, told the Telegraph in London that targeting the protein—so that less accumulates or it's function is disrupted—might even help alcoholics give up the bottle.
Kangaroos gone wild
The kangaroo has become Down Under's version of North America's deer. It has especially gotten out of control around Canberra, Australia's capital—now outnumbering human inhabitants there by three to one. The rampant 'roos have overgrazed most of the scant remaining grassland in the country's southeast, threatening other creatures such as the grassland earless dragon, one of the world's rarest lizards. This tiny reptile vanished for about 30 years, and now only a few populations exist in Canberra's outskirts. To preserve the earless dragon and other endangered species, the Australian defense department has begun a kangaroo eradication program. Among plans: give lethal injections to 400 of 600 pouched pests that make up a local population around a military base near Canberra. Researchers are also looking into some form of birth control for the bountiful bouncers. (AlphaGalileo.org; Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research)
Creationism in the classroom
A new survey in the online journal PLoS Biology finds that creationism may have lost a few legal battles, but it hasn't lost its allure with some high school biology teachers. Political scientists from Pennsylvania State University in University Park surveyed 939 teachers in public schools nationwide. Overall, only 23 percent said that evolution was the unifying theme of their course. Of the 224 instructors (24 percent) who devoted at least an hour or two of class time to creationism, nearly half agreed that creationism was a "valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species" and that "many reputable scientists view [creationism and intelligent design] as valid alternatives to Darwinian theory." Things could be worse for evolutionists, of course: a 2005 poll found that 38 percent of Americans would prefer that creationism—not evolution—be taught in public schools as the explanation for how we got here.
Why are coded messages always such a letdown?
On March 5, 2007, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., home to researchers who have peeled back some of the biggest mysteries of particle physics, received a mysterious coded message in the mail. This week, not knowing what else to do, the lab put the code online and told code breakers to have at it, which they did, quickly deciphering two of the letter's three parts. Was it aliens saying "hi"? Or perhaps warning of world-destroying black holes? Alas, no. The first portion read, "Frank Shoemaker would call this noise." Shoemaker is a retired Fermilab physicist who worked on the neutrino experiment MiniBooNE; in statistics, noise is data that obscures a signal of interest. That burning message was followed by "employee number basse [sic] sixteen," apparently in reference to a third, still-undeciphered sequence of hieroglyphiclike symbols in between the two statements. Fermilab suspects it will spell out the identity of the sender—Yawn.