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David Bricker
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2007

Indiana Science Monthly flag

Vol. 4, no. 6
March 8, 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

February science news:
* Pharming and malware, the next wave of online ID theft
* Research, large for-profit corporate grants, and ethics
* Why are all the amino acids in our proteins bent the same way?

* Randall Beer, professor of cognitive science and informatics, talks robots at Bloomington Science Cafe

February science news

"Reviews: A New Journey into Hofstadter's Mind" (COGNITIVE SCIENCE)
Scientific American
March 2007

EXCERPT: To get into a properly loopy mind-set for Douglas R. Hofstadter's new book on consciousness, I plugged a Webcam into my desktop computer and pointed it at the screen. In the first instant, an image of the screen appeared on the screen and then the screen inside the screen. Cycling round and round, the video signal rapidly gave rise to a long corridor leading toward a patch of shimmering blue, beckoning like the light at the end of death's tunnel.

* Among the themes in Hofstadter's I am a Strange Loop is a biggie: human identity. Scientific American reviewer George Johnson excerpts: "... the typical human brain perceives its very own 'I' as a pusher and a mover, never entertaining for a moment the idea that its star player might merely be a useful shorthand standing for a myriad infinitesimal entities and the invisible chemical transactions taking place among them."


"Electric switch could turn on limb regeneration" (BIOLOGY)
News @ Nature
Feb. 28, 2007

EXCERPT: Tadpoles can achieve something that humans may only dream of: pull off a tadpole's thick tail or a tiny developing leg, and it'll grow right back — spinal cord, muscles, blood vessels and all. Now researchers have discovered the key regulator of the electrical signal that convinces Xenopus pollywogs to regenerate amputated tails.

* Totipotency isn't just for (some) stem cells anymore. In some cases, it appears possible to coax relatively mature cells into taking on a vastly different developmental fate. IU Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine Director David Stocum tells News @ Nature reporter Heidi Ledford, "People used to pooh-pooh the idea... but now there's renewed interest in it."


"Is an economist qualified to solve the puzzle of autism?" (PSYCHOLOGY)
Wall Street Journal
Feb. 27, 2007

EXCERPT: In the spring of 2005, Cornell University economist Michael Waldman noticed a strange correlation in Washington, Oregon and California. The more it rained or snowed, the more likely children were to be diagnosed with autism... Last October, Cornell announced the resulting paper in a news release headlined, "Early childhood TV viewing may trigger autism, data analysis suggests."

* Waldman, IPFW economist Nodir Adilov, and Cornell health economist Sean Nicholson, coauthored the report, which assigned a causality to the correlation between TV exposure and the development of autism in Pacific Northwest kids. The report was received with considerable skepticism.
(Access to full article requires a subscription)


"When Germs Talk, Maybe Humans Can Answer" (BIOLOGY/INFORMATICS)
New York Times
Feb. 25, 2007

EXCERPT: It can take years, sometimes decades, for the commercial applications of a scientific or intellectual breakthrough to become apparent -- like the notion that brainless bacteria communicate through networks to cause diseases that can also wreak social or economic havoc.

* A bevy of simulation projects is intended to predict the emergent properties of social networks where bacteria, tissue cells, and even chattering humans are the players. Even now, "we're still in a very early stage" when it comes to understanding social networks in humans, IU Bloomington social psychologist Stanley Wasserman tells New York Times reporter Michael Fitzgerald.


"Scientists identify yeast protein" (BIOLOGY)
United Press International
Feb. 19, 2007

EXCERPT: U.S. scientists studying how yeast makes cholesterol have identified a protein whose human counterpart controls cholesterol production and metabolism.

* Scientists from the IU School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Eli Lilly Inc., and Vanderbilt University identified a gene in Saccharomyces, dap1, that appears to play a similar role to a gene that controls cholesterol production in humans.


"New 'Pharming' Attack Targets Your Router" (INFORMATICS)
PC Magazine
Feb. 15, 2007

EXCERPT: ... today I heard about a new threat discovered by Symantec and Indiana University that could be a real doozy. It's especially pernicious in that normal security software doesn't detect it. But you don't have to buy anything to protect yourself. That's doubly unusual.

* Markus Jakobsson led a panel of malware experts at the AAAS annual meeting in San Francisco last month.

IU Informatics press release:


"Serine: simply sublime" (CHEMISTRY)
Chemical Science
Feb. 15, 2007

EXCERPT: Researchers in the US have come a step closer to understanding how some of the earliest biochemistry on Earth began.

* IU Bloomington analytical chemist David Clemmer comments on another laboratory's determination that serine's unique chemical properties may explain why most amino acids found in today's organisms are of the "L-" optical isomer variety, a great mystery (among other great mysteries) associated with life's origins on Earth. Clemmer tells Chemical Science's May Copsey, "This adds to the mounting evidence that some amino acid clusters appear to be especially stable, readily formed and should be considered in models that aim to explain homochirogenesis."


"Searching for Lipid Antigens" (MEDICINE)
The Scientist
Vol. 21, iss. 2
Feb. 14, 2007

EXCERPT: In the two decades following the discovery of natural killer T (NKT) cells, a major question loomed: Why did these cells exist? The only natural ligand for the CD1d antigen-presenting molecule found on these cells appeared to be α-galactosylceramide (α-Gal-Cer) from marine sponges, hardly an infectious threat.

* A "hot paper" by IU School of Medicine microbiologist and immunologist Randy Brutkiewicz and colleagues identified Sphingomonas bacteria as one possible pathogen that does initiate production of NKTs.


"Ancient Chimps May Have Used Hammers" (ANTHROPOLOGY)
Associated Press
Feb. 13, 2007

EXCERPT: Chimpanzees may have been using stone "hammers" as long as 4,300 years ago. An international research team, led by archaeologist Julio Mercader of the University of Calgary, Canada, said Monday it had uncovered the hammers, dated to that time, in the West African country Ivory Coast. It would be the earliest known use of tools by chimpanzees.

* IU Bloomington anthropologist Jeanne Sept is skeptical of the findings. She tells AP reporter Randolphe Schmid that the researchers' "... interpretations of the starch grains recovered from the specimens are incomplete, and somewhat circular... For example, they do not describe which surfaces of the rock fragments the starch grains were obtained from, which makes it difficult to judge whether the grains were left on the tools as a result of tool-use, or if the grains merely naturally stuck to the stones after they became buried in the soil.",4670,ChimpsWithHammers,00.html


"BP Bets Big on UC Berkeley for Novel Biofuels Center" (GENERAL SCIENCE)
Vol. 315, no. 5813
Feb. 9, 2007

EXCERPT: Can an oil company take the lead in the biofuels revolution through an unprecedented investment in academic research? BP last week made a 10-year, $500 million bet on such a corporate-funded, big-science approach. It chose the University of California (UC), Berkeley, to host its new Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a venture that BP's Jim Breson calls "a privately funded national lab."

* IU Bloomington economist David Audretsch tells Science's Eli Kintisch that amount given to Berkeley raises questions about the proper role of industry on campus, saying, "We need companies to be working with campuses, but we don't want industry-driven universities. This is right on that line."



Randall Beer, professor of cognitive science and informatics, talks robots at Bloomington Science Cafe
March. 8 (tonight), from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Borders book store on E. 3rd St. The title of Lame's talk is "Robots 'R' Us." Beer will discuss how current work in robotics influences how we think about human cognition and what progress has been made in building human-like robots. More information about the Science Cafe is available at


* * * * 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,