Monday, May 26, 2008
ScienceDaily (May 26, 2008) — A NASA spacecraft has sent pictures showing itself in good condition after making the first successful landing in a polar region of Mars.
The images from NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander also provided a glimpse of the flat valley floor expected to have water-rich permafrost within reach of the lander’s robotic arm. The landing ends a 422-million-mile journey from Earth and begins a three-month mission that will use instruments to taste and sniff the northern polar site’s soil and ice.
“We see the lack of rocks that we expected, we see the polygons that we saw from space, we don’t see ice on the surface, but we think we will see it beneath the surface. It looks great to me,” said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission.
Radio signals received May 25 at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed that the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. In the intervening time, those signals crossed the distance from Mars to Earth at the speed of light. The confirmation ignited cheers by mission team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona.
As planned, Phoenix stopped transmitting one minute after landing and focused its limited battery power on opening its solar arrays, and other critical activities. About two hours after touchdown, it sent more good news. The first pictures confirmed that the solar arrays needed for the mission’s energy supply had unfolded properly, and masts for the stereo camera and weather station had swung into vertical position.
“Seeing these images after a successful landing reaffirmed the thorough work over the past five years by a great team,” said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of JPL. A key milestone still ahead is the first use of the lander’s 7.7-foot-long robotic arm, not planned before Tuesday.
“Only five of our planet’s 11 previous attempts to land on the Red Planet have succeeded. In exploring the universe, we accept some risk in exchange for the potential of great scientific rewards,” said Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Phoenix carries science instruments to assess whether ice just below the surface ever thaws and whether some chemical ingredients of life are preserved in the icy soil. These are key questions in evaluating whether the environment has ever been favorable for microbial life. Phoenix will also study other aspects of the soil and atmosphere with instrument capabilities never before used on Mars. Canada supplied the lander’s weather station.
Transmissions from Phoenix have reported results after a check of several components and systems on the spacecraft. “Phoenix is an amazing machine, and it was built and flown by an amazing team. Through the entire entry, descent and landing phase, it performed flawlessly,” said Ed Sedivy, Phoenix program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “The spacecraft stayed in contact with Earth during that critical period, and we received a lot of data about its health and performance. I’m happy to report it’s in great shape.”
Phoenix uses hardware from a spacecraft built for a 2001 launch that was canceled in response to the loss of a similar Mars spacecraft during a 1999 landing attempt. Researchers who proposed the Phoenix mission in 2002 saw the unused spacecraft as a resource for pursuing a new science opportunity. A few months earlier, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter discovered that plentiful water ice lies just beneath the surface throughout much of high-latitude Mars. NASA chose the Phoenix proposal over 24 other proposals to become the first endeavor in the Mars Scout program of competitively selected missions.
The signal confirming that Phoenix had survived touchdown and the transmission of the first pictures were relayed via Mars Odyssey and received on Earth at the Goldstone, Calif., antenna station of NASA’s Deep Space Network.
The Phoenix mission is led by Smith at the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix .
ScienceDaily (May 25, 2008) — A potential new therapeutic use for anti-HIV drugs known as protease inhibitors has been suggested by a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School, Boston, and Inserm U848, France, as a result of their work in a mouse model of retinal detachment.
An important cause of vision loss in many diseases of the eye is the death (by a process known as apoptosis) of nerve cells in the eye (known as photoreceptors) after retinal detachment. In the study, administration of HIV protease inhibitors by mouth markedly decreased photoreceptor apoptosis in the mouse model of retinal detachment.
Mechanistic analysis in mouse retinal cell cultures and in mice expressing decreased amounts of specific proteins established that the HIV protease inhibitors disrupted two molecular pathways that cause apoptotic cell death, both of which affect the cell compartments known as mitochondria.
As the same apoptotic cell death–inducing pathways were shown to be activated in human retinas after retinal detachment, the authors suggest that although the HIV protease inhibitors cannot reattach the retina, they might be of clinical benefit through their ability to prevent the photoreceptor apoptosis that has a central role in vision loss after retinal detachment.
ScienceDaily (May 26, 2008) — A mapmaker and a mathematician may seem like an unlikely duo, but together they worked out a way to measure longitude — and kept millions of sailors from getting lost at sea. Now, another unlikely duo, a virologist and a biophysicist at Rockefeller University, is making history of their own. By using a specialized microscope that only illuminates the cell’s surface, they have become the first to see, in real time and in plain view, hundreds of thousands of molecules coming together in a living cell to form a single particle of the virus that has, in less than 25 years, claimed more than 25 million lives: HIV.
This work, published in the May 25 advanced online issue of Nature, may not only prove useful in developing treatments for the millions around the globe still living with the lethal virus but the technique created to image its assembly may also change the way scientists think about and approach their own research.
“The use of this technique is almost unlimited,” says Nolwenn Jouvenet, a postdoc who spearheaded this project under the direction of HIV expert Paul Bieniasz and cellular biophysicist Sandy Simon, who has been developing the imaging technique since 1992. “Now that we can actually see a virus being born, it gives us the opportunity to answer previously unanswered questions, not only in virology but in biology in general.”
Unlike a classical microscope, which shines light through a whole cell, the technique called total internal reflection microscopy only illuminates the cell’s surface where HIV assembles. “The result is that you can see, in exquisite detail, only events at the cell surface. You never even illuminate anything inside of the cell so you can focus on what you are interested in seeing the moment it is happening,” says Simon, professor and head of the Laboratory of Cellular Biophysics.
When a beam of light passes through a piece of glass to a cell’s surface, the energy from the light propagates upward, illuminating the entire cell. But when that beam is brought to a steeper angle, the light’s energy reflects off the cell’s surface, illuminating only the events going on at its most outer membrane. By zeroing in at the cell’s surface, the team became the first to document the time it takes for each HIV particle, or virion, to assemble: five to six minutes. “At first, we had no idea whether it would take milliseconds or hours,” says Jouvenet. “We just didn’t know.”
“This is the first time anyone has seen a virus particle being born,” says Bieniasz, who is an associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Retrovirology at Rockefeller and a scientist at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. “Not just HIV,” he clarifies, “any virus.”
To prove that what they were watching was virus particles assembling at the surface (rather than an already assembled virion coming into their field of view from inside the cell), the group tagged a major viral protein, called the Gag protein, with molecules that fluoresce, but whose color would change as they packed closer together. Although many different components gather to form a single virion, the Gag protein is the only one necessary for assembly. It attaches to the inner face of the cell’s outer membrane and when enough Gag molecules flood an area, they coalesce in a way that spontaneously forms a sphere.
Simon, Bieniasz and Jouvenet found that the Gag molecules are recruited from the inside of the cell and travel to the cell’s surface. When enough Gag molecules get close and start bumping into each other, the cell’s outer membrane starts to bulge outward into a budding virion and then pinches off to form an individual, infectious particle. At this point, the researchers showed that the virion is a lone entity, no longer exchanging resources with the cell. By using tricks from optics and physiology, they were able to watch the steps of viral assembly, budding, and even scission off the cell surface. With such a view they can start to describe the entire lifeline in the birth of the virus.
“I think that you can begin to understand events on a different level if you actually watch them happen instead of inferring that they might occur using other techniques,” says Bieniasz. “This technique and this collaboration made that possible.”
This research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and amFAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.
Adapted from materials provided by Rockefeller University.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
You have just brought a new kitten, or possibly a full grown cat, into your home. Get ready for the little one to rip and roar through your house, chasing who knows what. Get used to having someone follow you around the house, especially when its feeding time. If it’s a kitten, it may trail directly at your feet even when you go to the bathroom. Cats grow an ever-devoted love to those that feed them and don’t harm them.
If this is your first feline friend, you will probably be wondering, “what the heck do I buy for this cat?” Here are some cat supplies that every cat owner should have in the house.
The basics for any living creature after shelter is food and water. So the first set of cat supplies you will want to purchase for your cat is a bag of cat food and two bowls - one for water and the other for dry food. You may also want to purchase an additional bowl or dish for wet food, otherwise known as canned cat food.
Litter Box and Litter
The same day you buy your first bag of cat food, you should be buying a litter box and litter as well. After all, what goes in most certainly will come out, and you don’t want that last part to happen on your carpet. Most cats are trained by their mother to go to the bathroom in a litter box, or somewhere they can cover their mess. It is kind of cool how cats just know by instinct where they are supposed to go to the bathroom, and that they need to cover it up. If they don’t have a litter box, they will probably find a discrete corner of your house to do their business - maybe your shoe. So basically, make sure they have a litter box!
There are many different types of litter on the market. Some are crystal, some are rocks, some are sand. The type I prefer for my cats is sand because it is easily scoopable, and it doesn’t hurt their feet like rocks and crystals do. I also find that sand litter minimizes odor. Buy litter in bulk - they have 30 to 40 pound buckets. It saves money and time since you will not have to run back and forth to the store every few days. Tip: use empty litter buckets to consolidate and dispose of cat waste.
Litter boxes come with and without covers. If you don’t want your house smelling like ten week old garbage, you will get one with a cover on it to keep most of the smell inside of the box. The Litter Maid is a new but expensive product on the market that automatically cleans your cat’s litter box at a designated time of day. This is ideal for those who are forgetful about cleaning out their cat’s litter regularly.
The next purchase after the basics of food and shelter have been covered is entertainment. Just as we humans love television and computers for our amusement, cats need something to keep them occupied between meals and sleep as well.
Cardboard boxes - cats love to jump inside and “hide” Lord knows why, but they do!
Wrapping paper - cats go crazy at Christmas when there is wrapping paper strewn across the floor. In fact, any paper that makes a “crinkly” sound paper or plastic - is interesting to a cat.
Water bottle twisty ties - the plastic tie that comes off when you open a gallon of water is very amusing to cats. They will paw at and “chase” this item around for hours, or until it gets lost under a dresser.
Cords – run with an iron around the house and your cats will happily chase the plug. They liken it to a mouse.
Once you have the three basic cat supplies in your home, you can then start thinking about other miscellaneous items as time goes along, such as a cat bed, nail clippers, and flea collars and medication. In the meantime, trial and error is sometimes your best bet when deciding on the right supplies for your beloved kitty.
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