Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Headline Science

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Headline Science

Article excerpt

Mummy Sheds Light on Hepatitis Migration

A mummified Korean child with relatively well-preserved organs may help researchers study the evolution of chronic hepatitis B. It also may shed light on the migratory pathway of the virus from China and Japan to Korea as well as to other regions in Asia and Australia, where it's a major cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer.

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A joint Israeli--South Korean scientific team analyzed a liver biopsy of the mummy, which revealed a unique hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype common in Southeast Asia. Carbon 14 tests of the mummy's clothing suggests that the boy lived around the 16th century during the Korean Joseon Dynasty. The viral DNA sequences recovered from the liver biopsy enabled the scientists to map the entire ancient hepatitis B viral genome, as reported in the journal Hepatology by the team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Seoul National University, and other institutions.

Based on the observed mutations rates over time, the analysis suggests that the mummy's hepatitis B virus DNA had its origin between 3,000 to 100,000 years ago.

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through contact with infected body fluids such as from mothers to their babies, through sexual contact or intravenous drug abuse. According to the World Health Organization, there are over 400 million carriers of the virus worldwide, predominantly in Africa, China, and South Korea, where up to 15% of the population carries the virus. In recent years, universal immunization of newborns against hepatitis B in Israel and South Korea has led to a massive decline in the incidence of infection. (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) http://bit.ly/JMf4Ii

Engineers Develop Intelligent "Copilot" for Cars

A driver remotely steers a modified vehicle around barrels and cones in an open field until a researcher tells him to steer the vehicle into a barrel. But instead of crashing, the vehicle steers itself around the obstacle, giving control back to the driver only after the danger has passed.

The "brains" behind this maneuver is a new semiautonomous safety system developed by Sterling Anderson, a PhD engineering student, and Karl Iagnemma, a research scientist, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The system uses an onboard camera and laser rangefinder to identify hazards in a vehicle's environment. The team devised an algorithm that acts like an intelligent copilot, instructing the system to take the wheel if the driver is about to exit a safe zone.

"The real innovation is enabling the car to share [control] with you," Anderson says. "If you want to drive, it'll just make sure you don't hit anything."

The system reportedly has advantages over the fully autonomous selfdriving cars developed by Google and Ford, which are loaded with expensive sensors and require vast amounts of computation to plan out safe routes, according to an expert.

How would the MIT system feel for someone unaware of it? "You would likely just think you're a talented driver," Anderson says. He acknowledges that this isn't necessarily good for beginning drivers, who may gain false confidence. The team is now exploring ways to tailor the system to various levels of driving experience.

The team is also hoping to pare down the system to identify obstacles using a single cellphone. "You could stick your cellphone on the dashboard, and it would use the camera, accelerometers, and gyro to provide the feedback needed by the system," Anderson says. "I think we'll find better ways of doing it that will be simpler and cheaper and allow more users access to the technology." (MIT) Story and related video: http://bit.ly/LUomrf

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Vultures Make a Stand

Vultures Make a Stand

Despite a slide toward extinction across much of Asia, vultures have survived in Cambodia, according to a new study published in the online edition of Bird Conservation International. …

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