What causes Obesity, Extreme Bacteria, and Mars Update

04 January 2004
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An update on the on-going mars exploration, extreme bacteria found in Hawaiian volcanic rock, knighthood for internet inventor, caveman wine discovered, apple peeling prevents dementia, stardust probe collects comet samples, plus advice from Professor Steve O'Rahilly on "how to lose weight and what causes obesity ?"

In this episode

Deepest Extreme Bacteria Discovered

Scientists have discovered bacteria in a hole drilled more than 4000 feet deep in volcanic rock in Hawaii, in an environment that could be very similar to the conditions on Mars and other planets. Professor Martin Fisk, from Oregon State University and who led the research, said "the latest discovery is one of the deepest drill holes in which scientists have discovered living organisms encased within volcanic rock". When the researchers first looked at rock samples from the drill hole they saw what looked like signs that the rocks had been 'eaten' or changed by the activity of microbes. Analysing the samples further showed that the rocks also contained the chemical building blocks of life, including DNA and proteins, and then, with a very powerful electron microscope, they saw tiny bacteria-sized shapes. The tiny microbes only seemed to be in the regions of the rocks containing the highest levels of the DNA and protein building blocks. Analysis of the DNA from these microbes has revealed that they are a previously-undiscovered species, but are very similar ones collected from below the sea floor, from deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and from the deepest part of the ocean - the Mariana Trench. The study is important, researchers say, because it provides scientists with another theory about where life may be found on other planets.

Knighthood For The Creator of The Internet

The unsung hero of the modern age, Tim Berners-Lee, was named in this year's new years honours list for his "services to the internet". Did you know that in 1991, the English Physicist devised the world-wide-web in his spare time while working as a researcher at the European particle research lab in Cern. Crucially, Sir Berners Lee gave his invention away free, rather than trying to patent or restrict it's use, and this paved the way for the web growing at an incredibly fast rate to be the vast size it is today- and if things had been different the internet might still have been the exclusive domain of a handful of computer experts. Berners Lee has tried to point out though that he didn't really invent the internet, but just worked out a method for more easily accessing what was there.

How Do You Fancy a Glass of 8000 Year Old Wine ?

Do you fancy a glass of 8000 year old wine? The world's oldest wine has been discovered- a vintage produced by Stone Age people 8000 years ago, which means wine is several hundred years older that we used to think. However, I'm afraid we won't be able to have a taste of this ancient wine because no liquid wine remains, but scientists have found residues of wine inside 8000 year old ceramic storage jars in the former soviet republic of Georgia. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, led by Professor Patrick McGovern have found that Neolithic man used tree resin as a preservative for grape juice, so their wines could be kept for longer after fermentation. They think the wine could have tasted something like retsina, the resin-preserved wine that's still popular in Greece. Prof McGovern's team have also found evidence of the cultural and possible religious importance of early vintage wine. They've found the pottery jars used to store wine were decorated with tiny, stylised images of Stone Age people celebrating the vine. It's possible that these images represent the prehistoric origins of what much later evolved into the wine cults like those of the Greek god Dionysus and the Roman god Bacchus.

An Apple a Day Keeps Dementia At Bay

You've heard the saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" but that might have to change to "an apple a day keeps dementia at bay" following recent research by scientists at Japan's National Food Research Institute. The researchers monitored the blood flow to different parts of the brains of adult volunteers who were asked to peel apples with a knife. They found that when the volunteers peeled an apple, as opposed to just touching or rubbing it, the blood flow increased significantly in the brain's frontal lobes, showing that these parts of the brain were becoming much more active. The research team, led by Ippeita Dan, have suggested that peeling an apple with a potentially dangerous tool is a complex task which, like most "executive functions" - decisions with major consequences – are controlled by the brain's frontal lobes. However, although scientists think that where the brain is concerned we either use it or lose it as we get older, the Japanese researchers caution that it is still too early to conclude that peeling apples "makes you smarter" or staves off dementia.

Stardust Probe Collects Samples of Comet

On 2nd January a NASA space probe called STARDUST successfully intercepted Comet Wild 2 and collected samples interstellar particles and dust which will now be returned to the earth for analysis. Comets are essentially 'icy dirt balls' and provide a valuable snapshot of our past, rather like a time-capsule, because their low temperature means that they contain well-preserved raw materials which gave rise to our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Analysis of the dust samples that they contain will help to answer important questions about how the solar system formed. So how did STARDUST collect the samples from Wild 2 ? The 5 metre long probe got to within 186 miles of the 3 and a half mile wide comet which sailed past at a speed of over 13,000 miles an hour. Before the encounter the probe deployed a collector with a tennis-racket shaped grid containing a substance called aerogel, a porous material that allows the particles to become embedded with minimum damage. This means that on their return to Earth they will be as near as possible to their original state. After the samples were captured a clam like shell closed around them. The capsule then returns to Earth in January 2006 where it will land at the US Air Force Utah Test and Training Range. The UK's Open University, which also helped to build one of the instruments on board the probe, hope to be involved in the analysis of the comet dust.


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