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Can Jellyfish Help Fight Alzheimer's?

Researchers routinely use a luminescent protein from jellyfish Aequorea victoria to tag brain tissue to help investigate neurodegen-erative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's. Experiments suggest the protein may have a new use: It could actually help combat these afflictions.

Brain diseases such as Alzheimer's are associated with a loss of calcium-binding proteins that protect nerve cells. The jellyfish protein could be a substitute, says Mark Underwood, president of Quincy Bioscience in Madison, Wis. The company, working with scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has tested the aequorin protein by injecting it in the brains of dozens of lab rats and then inducing the equivalent of a stroke. Between 28% to 45% more brain cells survived this trauma in those rats that were dosed with the jellyfish protein vs. a control group. The researchers were pleased to observe that the protein has no toxicity, at least in rats. They are now testing the protein in healthy young animals to assess whether it helps them learn and retain their memory as they age.

A woman is brutally murdered. DNA recovered from the attacker's blood resembles that of a convicted felon whose genes are in a state database, but it's not a perfect match. The police then investigate the felon's immediate family. The DNA is matched against a sample taken from the felon's brother and proves identical -- prompting the brother to confess.

Kinship analysis of the sort described above is already widely used to identify the remains of victims in terrorist bombings and other catastrophes. It has been employed in just a few criminal cases so far. But its use in the U.S. is likely to expand, thanks to growing databases of DNA samples collected by federal and state authorities, which now total more than 3 million. The practice may also prove controversial, as it could throw suspicion on people simply because they have a relative behind bars. Frederick R. Bieber, a medical geneticist at Brigham & Women's Hospital, discusses kinship analysis in criminal investigations in an article in the May 11 issue of Science.

Utilities frequently run computer simulations of potential crises, but operators can still get hit with a cascade of outages, as in the massive blackout in the summer of 2003. When such emergencies occur, the computer analysis typically is of little use. Past simulations don't help, and new ones take hours to run, while decisions must be made in minutes.

In a research project funded by the Homeland Security Dept., the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has reduced the simulation time from hours to mere seconds. One key was tweaking the algorithms so that the computer is able to quickly discard scenarios that are the least likely. Using the new system, an operator should be able to analyze changing conditions on the fly, thus learning how best to manage the flow of power in order to keep individual outages from escalating into a major blackout.

-- The jet stream is shifting slowly to the north. Because the eastward-flowing river of air wriggles around from day to day, the position of the fast-moving current is difficult to plot with precision. But according to a report in Science (May 26), it has crept northward by about 1 degree latitude, or 69 miles, over the past 25 years. Its twin in the southern hemisphere has moved similarly toward the South Pole. The cause, says the article, is the relative warming of the lower atmosphere in the middle latitudes, together with a cooling at higher altitudes. Since the stream acts as a conveyor belt for weather systems, the shift has an impact at ground level: Dry zones below the air currents are migrating north as well.

-- A bandage developed for U.S. soldiers could become standard issue for civilians, too. Made by HemCon, in Portland, Ore., the bandage is derived from chitosan, a natural compound found in the shells of shrimp and other crustaceans. When applied to wounds, the material interacts with red blood cells to stanch the bleeding. Some emergency rooms are now stocking the bandages, and HemCon is planning to market them over the counter to consumers.

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