07/08/2009

HIV/AIDS is back in the news this week with two new discoveries. First, scientists have unravelled the structure of HIV’s genome, that’s the genetic code that contains all the information for the virus to spread. And by creating a model of how the genetic information folds up within the virus, they can predict with far greater accuracy how it will behave. This opens the door for new and better therapies.

HIV was also in the news this week with the discovery of an infection in a Cameroonian woman, which is clearly linked to a gorilla strain of the virus. Until now, it was assumed that HIV had crossed the species barrier from chimpanzees to humans, but it now appears that that jump can come from gorillas too.

ORIGINS OF MALARIA
It’s that ability of disease to jump species that is key to understanding the origins of one of the diseases facing humankind: Malaria. With more than 500 million cases each year, Malaria places enormous health strains on many countries, most extensively in Africa. The disease is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium which is carried by mosquitoes. But while we have a good knowledge of how the disease infects people, understanding how humans became susceptible to it in the first place has, until now, remained a mystery. And knowing its origins could lead to new ways to combat the disease.

DOMESTICATION OF DOGS
The dog - ‘man’s best friend’. Dogs have been with us for longer than civilisation itself, having evolved from the grey wolf. Humans domesticated dogs at least 15,000 years ago, and our four legged companions have been present in every human population ever since. Where this first happened was thought to be in Asia, but a new study is challenging that idea.

MINDS OF PSYCHOPATHS
Now, Psychopaths crop up in scary movies showing violent, cold and murderous behaviour. And in the real world, they are no different. Their behaviour often results in criminal activity with devastating consequences.

Until now psychiatrists have relied on defining the characteristics of a psychopath largely by their behaviour. By using the latest brain scanning technology, researchers this week have found a physical characteristic in the brains of psychopathic patients, which could lead to new approaches to diagnosis and treatment.

ARCTIC TUNDRA, FIRE, PERMAFROST AND CLIMATE CHANGE
This week scientists’ meeting at the Ecological Society of America have been warning of the global threat from wildfires in a surprising place – the Arctic. Though currently rare, fires on the Arctic Tundra -a vast area of grassland - could become more common as climate change increases the chances of lightening strikes on warmer and drier grasslands. From the USA to Canada & Russia there’s about 5 million square kilometres of tundra. Frozen beneath the surface, permafrost stores twice as much carbon as is in the atmosphere. This week the scientists revealed how much of that carbon is turned into greenhouse gases when fire strikes. Science in Action’s reporter Tracey Logan joined one of them on a field trip to collect the data behind the headlines.

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Last on

Sun 9 Aug 2009 03:32 GMT

Gravitational Waves

'Ripples' from black holes detected

Gravity and ripples in the fabric of space time - what do these mean for us?