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Friday, May 4, 2007

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Vol. 4, no. 8
May 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

April science news:
* When artificial intelligence is first violin -- and second, and third
* The mathematics of bursting bubbles
* Doing auxin research does have its rewards...

* SLIS Asso. Prof. Katy Börner maps science for Bloomington Science Cafe

April science news

"Auxin Receptor Hides in Plain Sight" (BIOLOGY)
The Scientist
May 2007

EXCERPT: Auxin does it all in plants. The hormone is absolutely pervasive in plant biology, regulating aspects of cell growth, division, and specialization. Charles Darwin and his son Francis noted its influence on the bending of plants toward light in 1880. Despite years of interest in how auxin (or indole-3-acetic acid, which was discovered in the 1930s) signaling works, the hormone has held its molecular secrets tightly. "Plants have been tricky biochemically to deal with," says Richard Napier, from University of Warwick. "Until a couple of years ago there were almost no auxin receptors known."

* Indiana University Bloomington plant biologist Mark Estelle has made great strides forward recently in learning how auxin influences plant growth and other developmental processes. Estelle was elected to the National Academy of Sciences this week.

Also see:

IU press releases:


American Scientist
May 2007

EXCERPT: Douglas Hofstadter suffers from the grave disadvantage of having written a masterpiece as a young man: the utterly unique Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. This exhilarating intellectual and rhetorical extravaganza, published in 1979, was focused on the new ways of studying life and minds that were being offered by cognitive science. The book spanned mathematical logic, artificial intelligence, artificial life, psychology, neuroscience and the philosophy of mind. Along the way, it provided deep insights into mathematics, music and creativity—plus countless deliciously outrageous puns. Despite the puns, it was translated many times and became a cult book worldwide.

* In her positive review of IU cognitive scientist Doug Hofstadter's latest book, I Am a Strange Loop, University of Sussex cognitive scientist Margaret Boden says she sometimes does not agree with Hofstadter's arguments but deems them all satisfyingly provocative.


"The Machine's Got Rhythm" (INFORMATICS)
Science News
April 28, 2007

EXCERPT: Christopher Raphael begins the third movement of a Mozart oboe quartet. As his oboe sounds its second note, his three fellow musicians come in right on cue. Later, he slows down and embellishes with a trill, and the other players stay right with him. His accompanists don't complain or tire when he practices a passage over and over. And when he's done, he switches them off.

* This profile of oboist and computer scientist Chris Raphael poses questions about how music and technology should interact. Raphael has written a program, "Music Plus One," that enables soloists to practice concerti with a pre-recorded orchestra. The program adjusts the orchestra's speed in accordance with the soloist's behavior. "Technology is changing our sense of what music can be," Raphael tells Science News's Julie Rehmeyer. "The effect is profound."


"Solution to Bubble Puzzle Pops Out" (PHYSICS)
April 25, 2007

EXCERPT: With a key mathematical insight, a pair of theorists has solved a 5-decades-old puzzle as easily as you might burst a soap bubble with a pin. The new result lets researchers predict whether a bubble in foam will grow or shrink. More than a mere curiosity, the mathematical relation could aid engineers designing foamy materials, biologists studying the architecture of tissues, and physicists probing how crystalline grains are arranged within a solid.

* IUB physicist James Glazier tells Science reporter Adrian Cho that a tougher problem will be describing how the overall structure of the foam develops as bubbles disappear and merge. "We still have many more years of difficult work ahead before we can truly say we understand coarsening foams," Glazier says.
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"Cancer Vaccines Are Proving Their Mettle" (MEDICINE)
April 17, 2007

EXCERPT: Vaccines against deadly pancreatic and head and neck cancers are showing real promise and may one day become an important part of treatment, researchers report.

* The vaccines aren't set directly against the cancers, of course, but against viruses known (or believed) to contribute to the development of certain cancers. A recent report by IU School of Medicine researcher Darron Brown found Merck Inc.'s Gardasil is 99 percent to 100 percent effective in preventing cervical cancer from HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) types 16 and 18. The study involved more than 12,000 women.


"Chimpanzees Underwent More Evolution Than Humans, Study Says " (BIOLOGY)
Bloomberg News
April 16, 2007

EXCERPT: Humans might use tools better, but chimps are more highly evolved, an analysis of chimpanzee and human genetic sequences found... Chimpanzees have 233 genes that underwent natural selection -- the process in evolution where positive survival traits propagate across a species -- since splitting with the common ancestor shared with humans.

* In his assessment of the report, IU Bloomington computational biologist Matthew Hahn tells Bloomberg News reporter Elizabeth Lopatto, "The really interesting thing is that the varying genes, they're not necessarily the most obvious genes... It wasn't just brain-related genes.''


"Birds Do It. Bees Do It. People Seek the Keys to It." (BIOLOGY)
New York Times
April 10, 2007

EXCERPT: Sexual desire. The phrase alone holds such loaded, voluptuous power that the mere expression of it sounds like a come-on -- a little pungent, a little smutty, a little comical and possibly indictable... Everybody with a pair of currently or formerly active gonads knows about sexual desire.

* IU Kinsey Institute researcher Stephanie Sanders tells New York Times reporter Natalie Angier that surveys of women reveal the female equivalent of an erection is hard to pin down. "[Women surveyed] mentioned a heightened sense of awareness, genital tingling, butterflies in the stomach, increased heart rate and skin sensitivity, muscle tightness," Sanders says. "Then we asked them if they thought the female parallel to an erection is genital lubrication, and they said no, no, you can get wet when you're not aroused, it changes with the menstrual cycle, it's not a meaningful measure."


"Super Faster" (BIOLOGY)
Science Friday (NPR)
April 9, 2007

EXCERPT: The Burmese python can survive on just a few meals a year, according to Robert Pope, a researcher at Indiana University South Bend. Pope and his colleague Jean-Hervé Lignot, from Louis Pasteur University in France, have discovered a new type of cell in the snake's digestive system that may help it live on so little. They presented the research at the Society for Experimental Biology's Annual Meeting in Glasgow in the United Kingdom.

* IU South Bend biologist Robert Pope identified a cell in Burmese python stomachs that secretes enzymes that allow the digestion of bones. What makes this finding super special? New cells are rarely found, Pope says.


"Making the paper: Ning Zheng" (BIOLOGY)
Vol. 446, no. 7136
April 4, 2007

EXCERPT: Four years after becoming head of a lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, Ning Zheng received an e-mail that opened up a whole new area of research. Up to that point, Zheng had been studying the structure and function of mammalian ubiquitin ligases, a family of enzymes. Now he is immersed in the world of plants.

* In this companion article to the April 4 cover article, Ning Zheng, a University of Washington medical researcher, explains that he received an e-mail from IUB plant biologist Mark Estelle about ubiquitin ligases, TIR1 in particular. Zheng enthusiastically assented to Estelle's suggestion of a collaboration.

IU press release:


"Leveraging Disorder" (CHEMISTRY)
C&E News
Vol. 85, no. 14
April 2, 2007

EXCERPT: Ask biochemists to catalog their major benchtop aggravations, and unstructured proteins are sure to make the list. These proteins have long sections of amino acids that flail about in ways that cause protein aggregation, messy nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra, and general malaise in those inquisitive enough to study them. But there's more to these unruly proteins than the vexation they cause.

* IUPUI theoretical biologist Keith Dunker tells C&E News reporter Sarah Everts that a majority of the cancer gene p53's protein-binding sites are located within the 29% of its amino acid sequence that is intrinsically disordered.


School of Library and Information Science Asso. Prof. Katy Börner maps science for Bloomington Science Cafe
Thursday, May 10, 2007, at 7 pm. Borders Bookstore on 3rd St. Want to see science from above? Curious to see what impact one single person or invention can have? Are you simply fascinated by maps? Katy Börner's talk presents a visual feast of local and global, static and dynamic maps of science and a discussion of the data integration, analysis, modeling, and visualization techniques used to generate them. See: More information about the BSC:


* * * * 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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