NASA Mission Control Center Status Report #21

NASA engineers continued to review data and recover debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia today as the analysis of what caused the orbiter to break up Saturday en route to landing continued. Space Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore told an afternoon briefing that several teams of engineers are making progress in their study of data and video from Columbia’s launch and entry, but cautioned that it is a “massive job” requiring round-the-clock efforts to piece together the events that led to a loss of communications with the Shuttle over north central Texas 16 minutes prior to touchdown.

Sapphire/slammer worm shatters previous Internet speed records

A team of network security experts in San Diego, Eureka and Berkeley, Calif., has determined that the computer worm that attacked and hobbled the global Internet 11 days ago was the fastest computer worm ever recorded. In a technical paper released today, the experts report that the speed and nature of the Sapphire worm, also called Slammer, represent significant and worrisome milestones in the evolution of computer worms. Computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego and its San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), Eureka-based Silicon Defense, the University of California, Berkeley, and the nonprofit International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, found that the Sapphire worm doubled its numbers every 8.5 seconds during the explosive first minute of its attack.

Patients benefit when doctors use computers, not paper

Hospitals may be able to significantly cut the time it takes to deliver medications to patients and complete X-rays and lab tests by having doctors fill out orders via computer rather than by hand, a new study suggests. Results showed that computerized ordering also eliminated prescription drug errors that occurred when doctors’ handwritten prescriptions were misread. The study found that computerizing physician orders cut medication turn-around times by 64 percent, cut turn-around times for X-rays and other radiology procedures by 43 percent, and reduced turn-around times for lab tests by 25 percent.

Chronic self-doubters likely to face wide range of problems

People who chronically doubt their judgments lead psychologically impoverished lives in a variety of ways, a new study suggests.
Such individuals often feel anxious, are prone to sadness and mood swings, and are likely to procrastinate and avoid thinking about difficult problems. “People who are dubious about their judgment are highly vulnerable,” said Herbert Mirels, primary author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University. “They see every important decision they make as a trial in which they are likely to find themselves deficient or to be found deficient by others.”

Researchers Combine Dietary Supplement, Antibiotic to Treat Lou Gehrig's disease

A new study shows that combining the supplement creatine and the antibiotic minocycline significantly slows disease progression and prolongs survival in a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The combined treatment was significantly more effective than either compound administered alone. Both creatine and minocycline have previously been shown to improve outcomes in a mouse model of this disabling neurological disease, but this study is the first to test a combination of the two.

NSF Seeks 2004 Budget of $5.48 Billion

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has sent to Congress a fiscal 2004 budget request of $5.48 billion — an investment representing what the agency believes will “sustain and build U.S. global leadership in science, engineering and technology, and help the United States address priorities of immediate national importance.” The increase sought in 2004 over NSF’s 2003 request would amount to about 9 percent. Although NSF’s 2004 request calls for a 60 percent hike in major research equipment and facilities, the overall 8.5 percent increase sought for core research and related activities (people, ideas and tools) is at the heart of NSF’s overall budget priorities for the coming year.

New 'library' aids detection of antibodies

U.S. Department of Energy scientists and an MIT colleague have created a library of 1 billion human antibodies on the surface of yeast cells. The work will speed the search for new antibodies, proteins that are effective tools for recognizing specific molecules. It also promises to make the hunt less expensive. “Antibodies are assuming increasingly important roles in such diverse fields as sensors, proteomics, diagnostics, and therapeutics. We have captured a broad sample of the antibody diversity present in adult humans, and expressed it on the surface of yeast cells in a format suitable for quantitative screening,” said K. Dane Wittrup, J.R. Mares Professor of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. The technology, reported in the February issue of Nature Biotechnology, “provides a robust and direct route to the isolation of useful antibodies” outside a living body, he continued. As a result, it could replace the need to produce antibodies within animals, such as mice. It also opens up new possibilities for rapidly designing medical treatments more acceptable to the human immune system.

Protein Research Provides Clues to How Blood Clots, Wounds Heal

They are proteins that cut other proteins, enabling a wide range of essential functions such as wound healing, blood clotting and formation of muscle and nerve cells.
But serine proteases also can cut a path of destruction, contributing to the plaques involved in heart disease and Alzheimer’s and to extensive birth defects as well when something goes awry. Understanding this sort of physiological crescendo called a protease cascade is a goal of Dr. Ellen K. LeMosy, developmental biologist at the Medical College of Georgia.

Abnormal Number of Chromosomes is One Step in Cancer Development

Researchers have produced the first laboratory evidence to show that a cell’s possession of an abnormal numbers of chromosomes contributes to the development of cancers. Their report on the role of this chromosomal instability, known as aneuploidy, appears in today’s online edition of the Feb. 3 Journal of Cell Biology. Because 85 percent of human cancer cells possess an abnormal number of chromosomes, researchers have long been curious about the role of aneuploidy in the multistep cancer process.

Structure of cog at the hub of metabolism reveals anti-ageing function

The structure of a key energy-releasing enzyme found in all animals is designed to minimise free radical production, an international team of researchers has reported in the journal Science. In a startling feat of structural biology, the team visualised the entire molecular structure of succinate dehydrogenase in the bacterium E. coli, allowing them to see for the first time how the protein’s three-dimensional shape helps prevent the formation of large quantities of these destructive oxygen atoms.

Protein Linked to Movement Disorders

Using a tiny worm to model a severe childhood movement disorder, researchers have discovered the role of a protein that may have implications for a number of neurological syndromes such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. The scientists found that a mutated gene associated with early onset dystonia, a severe hereditary movement disorder, normally helps manage protein folding.

Oxygen Key Switch in Transforming Adult Stem Cells From Fat Into Cartilage

In their ongoing research on turning adult stem cells isolated from fat into cartilage, researchers have demonstrated that the level of oxygen present during the transformation process is a key switch in stimulating the stem cells to change. Using a biochemical cocktail of steroids and growth factors, the researchers have “retrained” specific adult stem cells that would normally form the structure of fat into another type of cell known as a chondrocyte, or cartilage cell. During this process, if the cells were grown in the presence of “room air,” which is about 20 percent oxygen, the stem cells tended to proliferate; however, if the level of oxygen was reduced to 5 percent, the stem cells transformed into chondrocytes.