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Wednesday, October 4, 2006

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Vol. 4, no. 1
October 4, 2006

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

September science news:
* Possible carcinogen imported by breast cancer cells
* Beastly climate changes during the Mesozoic
* The very model of a modern football juke and run

* Plale and Gannon storm the Bloomington Science Cafe

September science news

"The pollution within" (ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE)
National Geographic
October 2006

EXCERPT: My journalist-as-guinea-pig experiment is taking a disturbing turn. A Swedish chemist is on the phone, talking about flame retardants, chemicals added for safety to just about any product that can burn. Found in mattresses, carpets, the plastic casing of televisions, electronic circuit boards, and automobiles, flame retardants save hundreds of lives a year in the United States alone. These, however, are where they should not be: inside my body.

* The article refers to a review by Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (Bloomington) Distinguished Professor Ron Hites on the concentrations of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) in humans. Hites himself published a 2003 paper in Environmental Health Perspectives showing elevated levels of PBDEs in Indiana and California mothers and their infants.


"Study: Dinosaur's climate also shifted" (GEOLOGY)
United Press International
Sept. 25, 2006

EXCERPT: A U.S.-led research team says rocks from the Pacific Ocean floor suggest dramatic climate changes occurred during the dinosaur-dominated Mesozoic Era... Researchers from Indiana University-Bloomington and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research said they've determined ocean surface temperatures varied about 11 degrees Fahrenheit during the Aptian Epoch of the Cretaceous Period 120 million years ago.

* The finding adds to a growing body of literature that pieces together pre-human climate estimates. The apparent stochasticity of ocean surface temperatures may have implications for the current climate discussion. "If there are big, inherent fluctuations in the system, as paleoclimate studies are showing, it could make determining Earth's climatic future even harder than it is," IUB geochemist Simon Brassell says. We're learning our climate, throughout time, has been a wild beast."

IU press release:


"Scientists turn dead cells into live tissue" (MEDICINE)
Washington Post
Sept. 24, 2006

EXCERPT: Researchers reported Thursday that they had cultivated a colony of human embryonic stem cells from an apparently dead embryo, a strategy some have suggested might be less controversial than conventional approaches that require the destruction of living embryos.

* Never mind necromancy in moonlit graveyards. IU School of Medicine bioethicist Eric Meslin anticipates more immediate ethical dilemmas. Regarding the use of naturally or artificially aborted embryonic tissue for stem cell research, Meslin asks, "How do you know when an embryo is dead?" Meslin is the director of the IU Center for Bioethics in Indianapolis.


"Football equipment just got smarter" (COMPUTER SCIENCE)
Christian Science Monitor
Sept. 21, 2006

EXCERPT: Armchair football fans view clear evidence that technology is influencing their favorite sport. They watch as TV networks mark first downs with computer-generated yellow lines and scroll instant game scores and myriad other statistics across the top and bottom of their screens.

* IUB physics researcher and computer modeler Charles Bower has written a program that analyzes data from past football games and assesses the likelihood of success of a particular play under particular circumstances. Explaining the software he wrote with two colleagues, Bower tells CSM reporter Gregory M. Lamb, "... this is a tool. It doesn't tell you what you have to do. It doesn't replace the coach. What it does is give you more valuable information."

IU press release:


"Plasticizer BPA metabolite may accumulate in breast cancer cells" (MEDICINE)
Reuters Health
Sept. 11, 2006

EXCERPT: In vitro studies suggest that bisphenol A (BPA), a plasticizer widely found in food packaging, can accumulate in breast cancer cells via a process of sulfation and desulfation, researchers report in the August 28th issue of Chemistry and Biology.

* The finding explains why BPA is found at elevated levels in breast cancer cells, but is absent or at low levels in other bodily tissues. IUB biochemist Theodore Widlanski tells Reuters Health reporter David Douglas, "This is potentially worrisome... On the flip side, we have not demonstrated that this phenomenon takes place in vivo, and we did need to use high concentrations of BPA sulfate to elicit these effects. We needed to do this because the time course of the experiments was quite short."

IU press release:


"'Trailblazing' video game offers model for human behavior" (COGNITIVE SCIENCE)
McClatchy-Tribune wire
Sept. 10, 2006

EXCERPT: The road less traveled doesn't stay that way for long, say researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington... A group of researchers led by Robert Goldstone, a cognitive scientist at the university, devised a video game that multiple people could play at once over the Internet.

* Goldstone's research suggests that it only takes one trailblazer to influence the behavior of others. What Goldstone is learning may be applicable to proximal matters -- the placement and design of pedestrian pathways is a constant source of frustration for campus planners.

IU press release:


"Wandering Fly Gene Supports New Model of Speciation" (BIOLOGY)
Scientific American
Sept. 8, 2006

EXCERPT: The jumping of a gene from one chromosome to another can likely contribute to the birth of new species, a genetic analysis of flies reveals. The result validates an underappreciated mechanism of so-called reproductive isolation, a key component of speciation.

* New research by University of Rochester scientists suggests a mechanism for sympatric speciation that involves the movement of transposable elements from one chromosome to another, specifically genetic material containing the gene jy-alpha. Commenting on the research, IUB biologist Michael Lynch told Scientific American reporter J.R. Minkel, "The fly people have been extremely skeptical of this model. It's probably going to dramatically change people's views of speciation."


"Passport To Science" (CHEMISTRY)
Chemical & Engineering News
Vol. 84, no. 36
Sept. 4, 2006

EXCERPT: In May, Katie Lomberk graduated from Arcadia University, Glenside, Pa., with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and mathematics. She got her degree in just three years and still found time to study abroad, in London. Add to that Ireland, Greece, Turkey, Mexico, China, and Egypt. Lomberk's globe-trotting adventure is not typical among chemistry students, but she is no longer the exception.

* IU Bloomington chemistry graduate student Scott Wallace studied in Italy as an undergrad. He told C&EN reporter Linda Wang that the experience made him more sensitive to foreign students studying in the U.S. "I'm sympathetic, and I'm patient. I know what it's like," he said.
(This article can be viewed from computers on IU campuses)


"Auxin Begins to Give Up Its Secrets" (BIOLOGY)
Vol. 313. no. 5791
Sept. 1, 2006

EXCERPT: Next time you bite into a deliciously juicy strawberry or tomato, thank the seeds. As a fruit forms, its seeds produce a plant hormone called auxin, prompting the fruit to grow and ripen. Without seeds--and without auxin--fruit stays shrunken on the stem.

* In her review of recent research on the important plant hormone auxin, Science reporter Gretchen Vogel notes a study coauthored by IUB biologist Mark Estelle that identified the hormone's receptor in Arabidopsis. The path between hormone absorption and gene regulation turned out to be unexpectedly short. The finding "has really simplified things," Estelle tells Vogel.

IU press release:



Plale and Gannon storm the Bloomington Science Cafe
The next Science Cafe will take place on Thursday, Oct. 12, at Borders on 3rd St. from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The next climate-related topic for discussion is the storm, the "super storm," and the computer-assisted prediction of both. Invited speakers are computer scientists Beth Plale and Dennis Gannon, who are currently developing software that predicts weather in real time. For more information, please visit


* * * * 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,

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