Time to adjust the compass?

Working high in the Canadian Arctic, researchers from the University of Rochester say they’ve found that several aspects of the powerhouse that drives the Earth’s magnetic field may be related. That’s new in itself. But the team also thinks it may indicate our planet’s about ready for a pole reversal, in which all compasses will begin pointing south.

Neural stem cells used to hunt, kill brain cancer

Using neural stem cells to hunt down and kill cancer cells, researchers have successfully tested a new treatment for brain cancer. They now hope the technique will lead to an effective treatment for glioma, the most aggressive form of primary brain tumor in humans. As the Cedars-Sianai researchers note, the prognosis has historically been extremely poor for patients diagnosed with malignant gliomas. The tumors have poorly defined margins, and glioma cells often spread deep into healthy brain tissue making their surgical removal difficult. Often, pockets of tumor cells break off from the main tumor and migrate deep into non-tumorous areas of the brain. Therefore, even if the original tumor is completely removed or destroyed, the risk of recurrence is high as cells in these distant “satellites” multiply and eventually re-form a new brain tumor. Due to these characteristics, treating brain cancer has been extremely difficult.

Kilimanjaro ice reveals devastating history, future

Researchers analyzing ice cores taken from Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro say they’ve found evidence of several catastrophic droughts that plagued the tropic over the millennia, and strong signs the ice field itself will disappear within 20 years, the victim of global warming.

Misfolding key to prion’s ability to kill brain cells

Researchers may have discovered the mechanism behind how prions ? pieces of protein molecules? can kill nerve cells in the brain and lead to some serious degenerative diseases. The key seems to lie in how one particular protein misfolds within an organelle inside the cell, transforming itself into a new agent and then poisoning the neuron in which it was made.

Speeding star indicates mondo black hole in middle of Milky Way

Researchers say they’ve successfully tracked a star racing around a dark mass at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, offering strong support for the theory that a black hole is at the center of our little corner of space. Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics tracked the orbit of the closest known star to the black hole candidate Sagittarius A*, a dark mass 3,000,000 times the mass of the sun. Following the star for 10 years, they found that it does indeed orbit Sagittarius A*. Approaching the black hole’s maw, the star reaches its highest velocity, whizzing past it at 5,000 kilometers per second.

Test could reduce need for biopsies in prostate disease

Men who test positive for elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels sometimes freak out because they think it means they have cancer. To find out, a surgeon will often perform a biopsy. But researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration report that a new test using a single drop of blood could help distinguish between prostate cancer and benign conditions. The trick is identifying patterns of proteins found in patients’ blood serum.

New technique cuts risks of gene therapy

Stanford researchers have developed a technique that could cut the risks associated with gene therapy. Traditionally, gene therapy involves sneaking a snippet of genes into a person’s DNA via a virus messenger. But the result is the new sequence gets randomly placed within the patient’s existing genes, sometimes triggering other illnesses, such as leukemia. The new technique eliminates the need for a virus delivery system and places the genes in precise locations.

Code-breaking bugs crack plants’ defenses

Researchers have found that plant-eating insects use a form of molecular code-breaking to protect themselves against repellants employed by their dinner. Scientists in Illinois have detailed how corn earworms (Helicoverpa zea) intercept defensive chemical signals used by their hosts and then produce detoxifying agents to partially counter the threat against them.

Biologist Offers a Solution to the ‘Freeloaders Paradox’

Freeloaders ?? individuals eager to join social groups, but who once in, tend to avoid pulling their fair share of the chores ?? have long posed something of a problem for evolutionary biologists. In theory, because freeloaders don?t expend the efforts and energy of their more civic-minded neighbors, they should be able to translate that energy into more offspring, spreading their “slacker genes” and overrunning the world with offspring of similar ilk. But that doesn’t happen, and an Arizona researcher thinks she knows why.