Killer hot peppers? Jalapeños join tomatoes as salmonella suspect
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials are now investigating whether jalapeño peppers (as well as closely related serrano peppers) may be linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak first reported in April. Until now, tomatoes were the prime suspects in the largest U.S. food-borne outbreak in the past decade. More than 1,000 people have been affected in more than 40 states and in Canada. Salmonella poisoning causes diarrhea, vomiting, body aches and fever; it is most dangerous in infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. During a news conference yesterday, officials said they believe that both peppers and tomatoes are culprits and that they are trying to pinpoint the source, such as farms that grew both crops. For updates and a list of foods to avoid, check out the FDA's Web site.
Implant for children promises to straighten young spines
Scientists in Spain and France have developed a new implant designed to help children with scoliosis, abnormal curvature of the spine. Developed at NADAR Computerized Medical Systems in Langreo, Spain, the implant uses a hydraulic piston to apply a force between two points along the spine—gradually straightening the excess bend, according to New Scientist. As the child grows and the spine expands, doctors would send a wireless signal to adjust the implant—which has been tested in sheep but is at least three years away from human trials—opening a valve that moves fluid from the implant's reservoir into the piston to increase the implant's hydraulic pressure. The device, described in the journal Mechatronics, is removed completely once the spine is straight. If successful, this hydraulic implant could replace back braces or, in more extreme cases, spinal fusion surgery to graft sections of bone or metal rods onto the spine to help straighten it. The hydraulic implant can be used in young children and can be adjusted as they grow, whereas these other approaches cannot be performed until a child is almost fully grown (by then their scoliosis has worsened over time). Scoliosis affects up to four children in every thousand, with girls accounting for 80 percent of the cases.
Apple's latest line: New 3G iPhone hits the streets
The wait is over. Apple's new iPhone 3G goes on sale today, promising to download information twice as fast as its predecessor, featuring a built-in global-positioning system (GPS) and running hundreds of new software programs, including one from the Associated Press that uses the GPS to determine the iPhone owner's location and automatically send him or her local news articles. Other software includes eBay Mobile, which allows iPhone users to shop and to track bids on any items they are selling as well as programs from Facebook, MySpace, Sega and Travelocity specifically designed to work on the device's touch screen. Also, unlike its predecessor, which debuted in June 2007 retailing at $599, the new iPhone will cost a more reasonable $199 for the eight-gigabyte model and $299 for the 16-gigabyte model, if your sign a two-year contract with network provider AT&T (the only phone company licensed to support the iPhone in the U.S.).
Who's afraid? Not these brain cells
Brown University researchers have found brain cells responsible for helping people overcome fear of things they once found scary. The finding, published in Nature, could pave the way for these so-called intercalated cells in the amygdala, a brain region that processes fear, to become drug targets for treating phobias (such as fear of heights and closed spaces) as well as post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers and others. Scientists trained two rat populations—one with these cells intact and the other with them disabled—to fear a certain sound by giving them a mild shock every time it was played. After awhile, the animals would freeze in their tracks when they heard the noise, bracing for pain. The team then played the tone sans the shock. When they sounded the note again a week later, rats with healthy intercalated cells weren't bothered, whereas the others froze. The scientists believe that intercalated cells form "extinction memories," which associate something previously feared (such as an air raid siren or a car backfiring) with a harmless outcome.
Mosquito moms prefer laying eggs in bacteria-filled water
Scientists may be a step closer to winning the war with disease-spreading mosquitoes. Entomologists at North Carolina State University in Raleigh say they have figured out where and why yellow-fever mosquitoes—carriers of diseases including dengue fever and chikungunya fever—decide to lay their eggs. They report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA this week that the pests lay more than 90 percent of their eggs in stagnant water infused with leaves that pool inside everything from flower pots to junked tires. The reason: they are apparently attracted by chemical cues sent out by the bacteria residing in the decomposing leaves. Seems the blood-sucking breeders are lured by the availability of food for their future spawn, which feast on the yummy microorganisms. The scientists hope to turn the tables on the prickly varmints by setting insecticide traps for the unsuspecting mosquito mommies in likely egg-laying venues.
Dark energy permeates the universe--and now even the dictionary
It took 10 years, but Merriam-Webster has finally recognized "dark energy," adding the term—used to describe the perplexing force that is causing galaxies to accelerate away from one another—to some 100 other new dictionary entries this year. Some hesitation was appropriate: As with any new discovery, researchers needed time to digest and confirm the 1998 finding of dark energy, made by analyzing the light coming from distant supernovae. The origin of dark energy is one of the biggest mysteries in physics, but its existence is now well accepted. Researchers believe it will eventually leave individual galaxies isolated in vast oceans of empty space. Among this year's other geeky dictionary-worthy words: dwarf planet (Pluto and other smallish round bodies in the solar system, recently rechristened "plutoids"); malware (harmful computer software); norovirus (which causes stomach flu); phytonutrient (a plant substance beneficial to human health); and air quotes, the gesture you no doubt made if you read this out loud.
Hybrid car gets a sunroof—literally
The Prius gas-electric hybrid car will become even more environmentally friendly now that Toyota will be adding solar panels to its popular model's roof, according to Nikkei, Japan's financial newspaper. The publication reported that the next generation of the iconic "green" car will be launched in May and may draw enough power from such solar panels—on a sunny day—to power its air conditioner. The solar panels, or photovoltaics, would likely only be included on a limited number of more expensive models. And Toyota will also begin cutting down on shipping pollution associated with the popular hybrids; the company plans to begin producing the Prius in its new Mississippi production plant beginning in 2010.
G-8 vows to stem climate change—But how?
The leaders of the world's Group of Eight richest nations this week pledged to work toward halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 but did not announce exactly how they plan to achieve this. Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. did note that they bore a large share of responsibility for the greenhouse gas pollution currently in Earth's atmosphere and its resulting warming effect. Environmental groups and the U.N. criticized the G-8 leaders for failing to announce a concrete plan of action.
Space shuttle: 10 flights to go before retirement
NASA has set target launch dates for the final eight space shuttle flights before the program is mothballed in 2010. That makes a total of 10 flights between now and retirement: one mission in October to upgrade and repair the Hubble Space Telescope, followed by nine more to finish assembly of the International Space Station (ISS), starting in November with a mission to repair faulty rotary joints in the station's movable solar panels. Five missions are scheduled for next year, including deliveries of the station's final solar panels and the remaining components of the Japanese "Kibo" laboratory module. Three flights are set for 2010, with the final one slated to go up on May 31. The shuttle program will be officially retired on September 30, 2010, to make way for the Constellation program, designed to take U.S. astronauts back to the moon by 2020.
A sewing machine for genetic material?
Talk about the fabric of life. Scientists at the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University in Japan have announced a new way of manipulating strands of delicate genetic material like thread in a "sewing machine" that may make it easier to spot genes and genetic flaws at the root of disorders such as Down's syndrome. Researchers report in the journal Lab on a Chip that they were able to tame unwieldy DNA chains by winding them around micro "bobbins" and locking them in place with micro "hooks." This helped them examine the fragile genetic links without breaking them. "When a DNA molecule is manipulated and straightened by microhooks and bobbins," said study co-author Kyohei Terao of Kyoto University, "the gene location can be determined easily with high-spatial resolution."