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News Bytes of the Week--Imagine there's no evolution: Yoko says oh no to Expelled

Anthropologists say women prized since 5000 B.C.; New mega-Earth discovered; Making fuel from car exhaust; and more...



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Imagine there's no evolution: Yoko says oh no to Expelled
Yoko Ono is incensed that the antiscience film Expelled: No Intelligence used a snippet of late husband John Lennon's 1971 paean to peace Imagine sans permission. So she sued the film's producers and distributors, demanding that they yank the track from the controversial movie, which stars Nixon-speechwriter-cum-actor-cum-pitchman Ben Stein. The BBC reports that the former Beatle's widow balked when, among other things, the film triggered a blogospheric backlash against her, because it appeared that she had authorized the song's use and, so, endorsed the movie's creationist antievolution claims. Joining Ono in the lawsuit against Premise Media Corporation; C&S Production, LP; and Rocky Mountain Pictures: Lennon's sons, Julian and Sean, and publisher EMI Blackwood Music, Inc. A federal judge in Manhattan this week nixed the complaint citing the "fair use" doctrine, which allows the use of copyrighted materials for the purposes of commentary and criticism. Can the two sides work it out? Apparently not—at least not yet. Ono says she plans to appeal the ruling. "It’s a pity that this decision weakens the rights of all copyright owners," she said in a statement. "One of the most basic rights I control by reviewing and choosing licenses is the right to say no. The filmmakers simply looted me of the ability to do so." 

Dumb and dumber—a real plus if you're a fly
So much for smart living. At least if you're a fruit fly. Swiss scientists report in the International Journal of Organic Evolution  that the mental giants (and here we speak relatively) among a bunch of flies they studied died at earlier ages than their blissfully ignorant compeers. Researchers Joep Burger and Tadeusz Kawecki at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland split a gaggle of fruit flies into two groups: one in which the critters remained in their natural state and the other, where flies were taught to associate smells with tastes such as sweet and sour and to expect an unpleasant experience if they, say, zipped into a rattling box. Over 30 to 40 generations, the researchers report, the learned insects developed better recall and the ability to avoid the shaking boxes. The downside: They only lived for 50 to 60 days whereas their stupid brethren lived an average of 80 to 85 days. The researchers told Bloomberg News that it's possible the flies with active brains burn more energy than the others; they note their findings may explain why flies, and other animals, never increased their mental capacity. The scientists said there's no indication the findings would hold in humans. (Good to know.) 

Anthropological analysis: Women have been prized since 5000 B.C.
An analysis of a mass grave in southwest Germany led anthropologists at Durham University in England to conclude that men have considered women trophies for at least the past 7,000 years. The researchers report in the journal Antiquity that they analyzed the remains of 34 skeletons found in the plot and determined that the bones belonged to members of two rival tribes. Interestingly, the grave only contained the bones of men and children from the clans local to the area, but there were no female skeletons in the bunch. Their absence led to speculation that the area had been invaded and ransacked by a marauding group, believed to be made up of cattle herders who made off with the local women. "It seems this community was specifically targeted, as could happen in a cycle of revenge between rival groups," study co-author Alex Bentley said in a statement. "Our analysis points to the local women being regarded as somehow special and were therefore kept alive."

Even trade?: Treatment stops cancer, although it may make you blind
National Cancer Institute researchers report that an experimental cancer treatment successfully stopped the spread of malignant cells in mice but, on the downside, also destroyed healthy eye cells causing vision loss. The scientists report the mixed results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. The study involved a therapy that involved extracting immunity-boosting T cells from patients (in this case mice), having them replicate in the lab, and then injecting them back into the subjects to target a substance made by melanomas. The latter, the most fatal type of skin cancer, affects melanocytes—cells that produce pigment, or melanin, responsible for skin and eye color. The injections successfully attacked the tumor cells but also went after healthy ones. Joan Stein-Streilein, an ophthalmologist at Harvard Medical School's Schepens Eye Research Institute who was not involved in the study, says that if enough pigment-producing cells in the eye's iris (colored part) are destroyed, it can lead to blindness. Also, destruction of healthy melanocytes in the skin can result in a condition known vitiligo, which causes white patches. The researchers note that steroid eye drops appeared to stave off destruction of the iris cells, but they warned researchers to heed the findings in designing new immunotherapies.

Putting the heat on energy-efficiency in cars
One thing that cars are good at producing—in addition to pollution—is heat (just touch the hood of your car after a long drive). Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM are developing a thermoelectric converter that can turn heat from a car's exhaust fumes—which can reach 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit (700 degrees Celsius)—into electricity that the car can use to power itself and, in the process, cut fuel consumption by as much as 7 percent as well as reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  Two thirds of the energy produced when a car turns fuel into energy is emitted unused in the form of heat—with about 30 percent radiated from the engine block and another 30 to 35 percent escaping as exhaust fumes. The researchers envision a car that can use the heat generated by its exhaust pipe to produce and store an electric current—much like a battery does. If they're right, cars would be able to use this energy source to power their headlights, engine-cooling fans and air conditioners, thereby gulping down less fuel.

Fantastic voyage: Pill-cam allows doctors to tour esophagus and stomach
Miniature cameras that patients can swallow help doctors view interior images of intestines, but they've never been much good at taking pictures of the esophagus (where they spend only three or four seconds on their way to the stomach) or the stomach itself—where their 0.2-ounce (five-gram) weight causes them to quickly drop to the lower wall and obscure useful information. Physicians instead rely on endoscopy exams to get a look at a patient's esophagus or stomach. But a steerable camera (being developed by a team of researchers from Israeli-based technology company, Given Imaging, Ltd.; the Israelite Hospital in Hamburg, Germany; Imperial College London; and the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering) may give those leery of endoscopies another option: They can swallow a camera-bearing pill that also holds a transmitter to send images to an outside receiver, along with a battery and several light diodes that briefly flare up like a flashbulb every time a picture is snapped. The doctor controls the camera's movement using a magnet held over the patient's body. A prototype device has already demonstrated in an experiment that the camera can be kept in the esophagus for about 10 minutes, even if the patient is sitting upright.

Mega-Earth discovered around a mini sun
Scientists have spotted a new planet three times the size of Earth about 3,000 light-years away from our solar system. Given its size, astronomers believe the planet is made of rock and ice, unlike the Jupiter-size gas giants that comprise most of the exoplanets found so far. Monikered MOA-2007-BLG-192L b per NASA’s cataloguing guide, the planet tightly orbits a star that is 6 to 10 percent the mass of our own sun, making this the tiniest star known to have a planet. The finding, set for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, serves as a boon to hunters of both extrasolar worlds and extraterrestrial life by vastly increasing the number of stars that could potentially sport Earth-like planets. The host star and its planetary companion turned up when researchers observed microlensing, a phenomenon of general relativity that Albert Einstein predicted in which light is warped by the gravity of an object passing between Earth and a more distant star. The middle object bends light emanating from the star to an expected degree. If there are variances in this, then some other object or matter may be changing the way the light is warped, enabling astronomers to glean the presence of a planetary body as well as its mass and size. A team of scientists led by David Bennett of the University of Notre Dame presented the discovery at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St. Louis this week.

Disarming news for the Milky Way
Could our long-held views of the Milky Way be wrong? Since the 1950s, conventional wisdom has held that four star-filled spiral arms pinwheel about the center of our home galaxy. But new research reveals that the galaxy wields two—not four—major limbs. Researchers led by Robert Benjamin of the University of Wisconsin– Whitewater, used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to paint this new portrait of our galactic residence. Spitzer views the universe in dust-penetrating infrared light, providing scientists clearer views of the Milky Way's hub from which the spiral arms sprout. Other recent surveys have revealed the presence of a large bar of stars across our galaxy's middle, and the large spirals, called the Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus Arms, seem to match up with the ends of this bar. These major arms contain the most stars, both young and old, whereas other, subsidiary arms possess darker dust pockets and star-forming regions. So where is Earth in this sprawling cosmos-politan city? Our planet lies in a partial arm known as the Orion Arm or Spur, about halfway out from the center and halfway way in from the city limits—essentially a Milky Way suburb. The results of the study were announced at the 212th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St. Louis this week.

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