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David Bricker
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007

Indiana Science Monthly flag

Vol. 4, no. 4
January 4, 2007

Indiana Science Monthly is a selection of recent news stories about Indiana University scientists and their research. Comments or questions about this newsletter may be directed to David Bricker, Office of Media Relations (812-856-9035 or

December science news:
* A new genetic comparison of humans and chimps
* Unearthed: an expansion of the biosphere
* The hormone switch for cold-weather celibacy

December science news

"Notebook: Hormone Signals Mating Season" (BIOLOGY)
Washington Post
Dec. 31, 2006

EXCERPT: A hormone associated with the onset of puberty in humans appears to play an important role in telling rodents whether it is the proper season to reproduce. The recently discovered hormone, called kisspeptin, is different in people and in hamsters but seems to serve a related reproductive function.

* IU Bloomington biologist Gregory Demas says the serendipitously named hormone "kisspeptin" plays an important function during the cooling of seasonal rodents' breeding activities in the fall. Demas tells Washington Post reporter Marc Kaufman, "We've known that hamsters turn off their reproduction as the amount of light decreases, but we haven't known how it happens -- what was switching the switch."

IU press release:


"Human-Chimp Gene Gap Widens from Tally of Duplicate Genes" (BIOLOGY)
Scientific American
Dec. 19, 2006

EXCERPT: A lot more genes may separate humans from their chimp relatives than earlier studies let on. Researchers studying changes in the number of copies of genes in the two species found that their mix of genes is only 94 percent identical. The 6 percent difference is considerably larger than the commonly cited figure of 1.5 percent.

* How humans and chimps should be compared (and contrasted) genetically is a matter for some philosophical discussion. You could compare expressing sequences between humans and modern chimps, but how do you account for the genes chimps and humans have acquired and lost since their divergence from a common ancestor? On the subject of a complete genetic picture, Hahn tells Scientific American reporter J.R. Minkel, "You have to pay attention to more than just the genes that are shared."

IU press release:


"Obituaries: John F. Bonner Jr." (CHEMISTRY/MEDICINE)
C&E News
Vol. 170, no. 21
Dec. 18, 2006

EXCERPT: John F. Bonner Jr., 89, a biochemistry professor emeritus at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, died on Nov. 10... He graduated in 1938 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in New York, with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. In 1940, he received his master's degree in biochemistry and in 1948, a doctorate in biophysics from the University of Rochester, also in New York.

* Bonner was a professor of biochemistry at the IU School of Medicine between 1961 and 1986. Bonner had worked on the Manhattan Project as a radiation biologist.
(Access may require a subscription)


"Do u txt ur kdz?" (INFORMATION SCIENCE)
Boston Globe
Dec. 17, 2006

EXCERPT: Lynne O'Connell and her teenage daughter have discovered a new way to bridge the generation gap: a cell phone screen... She and Annie, 15, send text messages to each other throughout the day, scheduling rides, sending reminders and sometimes just talking.

* More parents are using text messaging to keep track of technophilic children. Texting may improve communication. IU School of Library and Information Science Internet culture expert Susan Herring tells Globe reporter Carolyn Johnson, "The adults always think when they ask at the dinner table what happened, and the kids say nothing, that the kids don't tell them because they are holding it back. But in some cases the kids aren't thinking about it at that moment... It's not fresh in their minds, and when it is, they think to share at that moment."


"Plugging in to science" (INFORMATICS)
The Scientist
Dec. 15, 2006

EXCERPT: In a prototype Web-based game for high school students called CO2FX , three players balance the agendas of a politician, a scientist, and an economist while trying to keep the globe cool. The game, under development with funding from the National Science Foundation, is designed to help students explore how policy decisions affect global warming, and it challenges them to make tough choices and then carefully evaluate the results.

* Indiana University Bloomington is one of a handful of academic institutions worldwide that teaches the modeling of natural and social phenomena through computer simulation. Some of the simulations devised by students in these courses take on the form of games.
(Access may require a subscription)


"Robo-music gives musicians the jitters" (INFORMATICS)
Christian Science Monitor
Dec. 14, 2006

EXCERPT: The Venice (Fla.) Little Theater has a tiny orchestra pit, with room for only a handful of players, and a modest budget. So when it mounts a big musical like Beauty and the Beast, it brings in an electronic ringer.

* IUB computer scientist and musician Christopher Raphael has been developing software that allows a soloist to interact with orchestral recordings in, say, preparation for the performance of a concerto. On the general subject of the integration of information technology and live performance, Raphael tells Christian Science Monitor reporter Gregory Lamb that he is "totally opposed to the musicians' union position" against the virtual enhancement of orchestras, and, "Ultimately, what they do ends up giving the world less music, not more music."


Onthophagus beetles

Photo by: Allison Cooke

Horned beetles from the genus Onthophagus are found all over the world, including the U.S.

Print-Quality Photo

"Horny beetles" (BIOLOGY)
Vol. 444, no. 7121
Dec. 13, 2006

EXCERPT: The function of horns on Onthophagus beetles (pictured) isn't just for combat or sexual prowess, but also so that the animals can break out of their larval shells.

* IUB biologist Armin Moczek and colleagues have found the nubile horns of Onthophagus beetles help the insects molt into young adulthood. He also predicts that the accounting of this developmental feature will instigate a dramatic re-drawing of the genus's phylogeny.
(Access may require a subscription)

IU press release:


"Study: Fast Colonoscopies Miss Growths" (MEDICINE)
Associated Press
Dec. 13, 2006

EXCERPT: Tell your doctor to take his time during your next colonoscopy. Those who spent less than the recommended six minutes on the crucial part of the exam found four times fewer precancerous growths than those who lingered longer with the scope, a study found.

* The finding will disappoint those who want their colonoscopies to end quickly. IU School of Medicine endoscopist Douglas Rex said the private study's conclusions made sense. Rex tells AP reporter Marilynn Marchione, "It's a reasonable thing for people to start asking their doctor... Say: 'I want you to be really careful and slow in examining my colon.'"


"A new kind of life" (GEOLOGY/BIOLOGY)
Philadelphia Inquirer
Dec. 11, 2006

EXCERPT: Down, down, two miles underground went the elevator - if you could call it that - a steel cage, really, dropping at nearly 40 miles an hour into the hot, sulfurous blackness... Most of the people aboard, near the town of Carletonville in South Africa, were miners in search of gold.

* IUB biogeochemist Lisa Pratt, Princeton University geochemist Tullis Onstott, and colleagues have identified a community of bacteria below the Earth's surface that appear to be entirely disconnected from surface ecologies. The same cannot be said for other known "extremophile" communities, such as those that thrive around hydrothermal vents. Even those are linked to surface ecologies via a steady rain of organic material. The bacterial communities Pratt helped discover depend on radiation as their ultimate source of energy, not sunlight or highly reduced, sulfur-containing molecules.

IU press release:

PU press release:


"25 Greatest Science Books of All Time" (BIOLOGY)
Vol. 27, no. 12
December 2006

EXCERPT: The first of two books known collectively as the Kinsey Report, this treatise became an improbable best seller. With raw, technical descriptions of sexual acts, distilled from thousands of interviews, it documented for the first time what people really do behind closed doors.

* Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) by IUB biologist Alfred Kinsey and others shattered the taboo of studying human sexuality. Discover magazine ranks the book 21st among the 25 "greatest" science books of all time, between #20, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, and #22, Dian Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist. It's not clear what Discover means by "greatest." Given their selections, I'd guess the editors mean "influential."


* * * * Do you have an important and/or interesting paper in press? A major event or presentation coming up? Please contact IU Office of Media Relations science writers David Bricker at 812-856-9035,, or Hal Kibbey at 812-855-0074,

Indiana Science Monthly is produced for internal use only. If you have received this eMail in error, or do not wish not to receive this monthly eMail, or if you have a news item for the next edition of ISM, please contact David Bricker at 812-856-9035,