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News Bytes of the Week—Creationists Lose an Unwitting Ally

Shaken rodent syndrome, You only live twice—or maybe 13 times—and more…
Scientist to creationists: Don't quote me
Former chemistry professor Homer Jacobson has requested that two passages be retracted from a 1955 paper he wrote on the origins of life after discovering that creationists were using them to support their arguments. The 84-year-old scientist told the New York Times that he made the discovery when, on a whim, he decided to Google himself and quotes from his paper popped up on creationist sites such as Darwinismrefuted.com and Evolution-facts.org. To bolster their case, the sites zeroed in on his statements that amino acids couldn't form spontaneously without energy—Jacobson says today that he failed to mention that energy sources most surely existed billions of years ago—and that life could arise only under very specific conditions, which he now calls "a dumb mistake." His retraction request appears in the November / December issue of American Scientist, which published the original paper. (NYTimes; American Scientist)

White House redacts CDC climate testimony
Democrats accused the White House again this week of sacrificing scientific reasoning to politics when it redacted six paragraphs of congressional testimony from Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, on the potential public health effects of global warming. The White House said the testimony conflicted with findings by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but Democratic senators pointed out that the U.N. panel had raised nearly identical concerns as Gerberding, including a greater risk of severe wildfires such as those that swept southern California this week. (Associated Press)

China launches first moon orbiter
China moved a step closer to landing on the moon this week, when it launched its first lunar probe, the Chang'e 1. Named for a Chinese goddess who legend has it traveled to the moon, Chang'e is set to orbit Earth's neighbor for a year snapping images, gathering data and mapping the lunar surface. China was the third nation after the U.S.S.R. and U.S. to send people into space, but Japan beat it to the lunar punch last month by sending up its own orbiter. (Washington Post; New York Times)

Rodents shaken, not stout
Maybe the people who came up with those vibrating weight-loss belts were on to something. Researchers report that mice who jiggled 15 minutes a day on a gently vibrating platform for 15 weeks came out 28 percent leaner—although not much lighter—than unshaken mice. The team members, who have filed a patent on the method and, in one case, started a company based on it, say the vibrating may have prevented stem cells from turning into fat, although other researchers are skeptical. A Harvard University fat cell expert told New Scientist that the group had not kept close enough tabs on the animals' food intake. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA; New Scientist)

First land animals had Technicolor vision
When the ancestors of the lungfish dragged themselves from shallow pools onto dry land for a look-see, it appears they brought color vision with them. Researchers previously assumed that lungfish, believed to be the closest relatives to the first landlubbing vertebrates, saw dimly through their beady eyes. But a team found that the five visual pigment genes expressed in the lungfish retina were more similar to those of amphibians than to fish pigments, suggesting their ancestors enjoyed a colorful view. (BMC Evolutionary Biology)

Finding the brain's happy place
If you're happy and you know it, then your amygdala will surely show it, according to a new study. Subjects inside an fMRI scanner were asked to imagine positive events (such as birthday parties) or negative events (such as funerals). When thinking happy thoughts the amygdala, an almond-shaped piece of the midbrain, went haywire, as did the rostral anterior cingulate in the frontal cortex, both of which are associated with emotion processing and are disrupted in many cases of depression. (Nature)

To break addiction, nix the insular cortex
Now, if you're happy because you just got a fix of your favorite narcotic, look to the insular cortex, deep in the center of the brain. A team of Chilean researchers got rats hooked on amphetamines (uppers) and lithium (downers), then put them into withdrawal (bummer) and injected a drug that inactivates the insular cortex. Rats jonesing for amphetamines suddenly went from anxiety-ridden to adventurous, whereas rodents strung out on lithium were roused from their lethargy. Earlier this year, researchers found that stroke patients who had sustained damage to their insular cortices were able to kick their previous cigarette addictions with ease. (Science)

Saturn ringed by wrecked moon's rubble
A new study adds to the evidence that a narrow belt of Saturn's "A" ring—one of the thick, dense inner rings—consists of fragments of a long lost moon that may have been shattered by a wayward asteroid or comet. NASA's Cassini orbiter returned images revealing a series of eight new propeller-shaped wakes (building on four others discovered last year) that indicate the presence of up to thousands of "moonlets" ranging from the size of a semitrailer to a sports arena. The 2,000-mile- (3,200-kilometer-) wide belt makes up one eightieth of the total width of the rings, which together would span two thirds of the distance from Earth to the moon. (Nature)

In spreading HIV, less is more
Most HIV infections may come from people with moderate amounts of the virus in their blood, according to a new study. Researchers analyzed two groups of untreated HIV-positive people and concluded that individuals with high viral loads are more infectious but develop AIDS symptoms relatively quickly, limiting the time they can spread the disease, whereas those with an intermediate viral load are less infectious but remain symptom-free longer. The group notes that strategies to prevent infection typically focus on patients with high viral loads, which could be a mistake. (PNAS; press release)

That's biggest small black hole, got it?
News accounts of the reported discovery of an unusually massive black hole last week may have left some readers with the wrong impression unless they paid close attention. Astronomers identified a 16–solar mass black hole orbiting a massive blue star 2.7 million light-years away in a system called M33 X-7. It marks the largest ever stellar black hole, formed from the collapse of a single star of about 20 solar masses, as opposed to the supermassive black holes that lurk in the cores of the Milky Way and other galaxies, thought to comprise up to millions of solar masses. (Nature)

Heart attack victim resurrected 12 times
Lazarus had nothing on Keith Rosser, 58, a Welsh businessman whose heart stopped on the way to the hospital this past weekend as he suffered a massive heart attack. Paramedics quickly shocked his heart back into action, only to have it crash on them a second time. So they jumpstarted it again. And again. And again. Emergency technicians revived Rosser's tetchy ticker a total of 12 times in 40 minutes, keeping him alive long enough to receive a stent to prop open a damaged artery. He is now recovering at home after a six-day hospital stay and a brief readmission, according to London's Daily Mail. And if you think Rosser had it bad, the newspaper notes that two years ago, a father of four "died"—and was brought back to life—32 times. (Daily Mail)

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