Scientists Re-evaluating the Meaning of 'Desertification'

A Duke University ecologist is leading an international scientific reassessment of the causes and effects of desertification, a term he said has been subject to misinterpretation and oversimplification. In a new book he co-edited, and as organizer of a new ARIDnet research network that will study desertification worldwide, James F. Reynolds is seeking to better explain the interconnected factors that cause sensitive dry land environments to sometimes degrade to points of no return.

Fly mutation suggests link to human brain disease

Greater insight into human brain disease may emerge from studies of a new genetic mutation that causes adult fruit flies to develop symptoms akin to Alzheimer’s disease. “This is the first fruit fly mutant to show some of the outward, physical manifestations common to certain major human neurodegenerative diseases,” said principal investigator Michael McKeown, a biology professor at Brown University. A research team found the mutation in a gene they named “blue cheese.”

Bloodworm shows new use for copper

The lowly and somewhat gruesome bloodworm may have a few lessons to teach material scientists.The critter apparently is the first ever to be found to use a copper-containing mineral structure as part of its skeleton. The finding is remarkable first because the amount of copper detected in the jaw tip of the marine worm would normally be toxic to an organism. Second, the copper also occurs in non-mineral form in the bloodworm jaw where it may act as a sort of bridge, cross-linking long chains of fibrous proteins. And that has appealing commercial posibilities. “The marriage of protein with copper mineral as well as with bound copper ions is an intriguing concept per se but may also serve as a design prototype for new materials that need to be hard, lightweight, and durable.”