Autism Heredity

Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood. It is one of three recognized disorders in the autism spectrum (ASDs. Researchers who compared the DNA of patients with autism and intellectual disability to that of their unaffected siblings found that the affected siblings had significantly more “runs of homozygosity,” or blocks of DNA that are the same from both parents. The finding suggests a role for recessive inheritance in this autism subgroup and highlights homozygosity as a new approach to understanding genetic mechanisms in autism.

Weather Extremes UN Report

It is hard to tell how bad or good the weather really is. One has to look back over a period of time to perceive true changes. The world experienced unprecedented high-impact climate extremes between 2001 and 2010 and more national temperature records were broken during that period than in any other decade, according to a new United Nations report. The report (The Global Climate 2001-2010, A Decade of Extremes) says the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest for both hemispheres and for both land and ocean temperatures since measurements began in 1850. High temperatures were accompanied by a rapid decline in Arctic sea ice, and an accelerating loss of the ice sheets of the world's glaciers.

What Color was that Dinosaur?

The past is in black and white. It is very hard to tell what color was a dinosaur from looking at its fossilized bones. In the past, experts have basically guessed what color ancient animals were as colors are rarely preserved in fossils. But recent discoveries of color-producing structures in fossil insects and feathers are helping scientists solve this mystery and learn about the evolution of color and its role in communication. The cutting-edge science and technology which has uncovered this new knowledge will be demonstrated at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which runs from 2 to 7 July in London and attracts 15,000 visitors each year.

Cloudy Worlds Climate

Clouds are pretty to see. They are also much more potent than previously perceived in modifying climate. This is particularly important when considering habitable planets near red dwarf stars. A new study that calculates the influence of cloud behavior on climate doubles the number of potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarfs, the most common type of stars in the universe. This finding means that in the Milky Way galaxy alone, 60 billion planets may be orbiting red dwarf stars in the habitable zone. Researchers at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University based their study, which appears in Astrophysical Journal Letters, on rigorous computer simulations of cloud behavior on alien planets. This cloud behavior dramatically expanded the estimated habitable zone of red dwarfs, which are much smaller and fainter than stars like the sun.

Fruit Fly Propagation

Fruit flies, to humans, are an annoying batch of little critters. But to other fruit flies, there is a different picture. A team led by University California researchers has discovered a sensory system in the foreleg of the fruit fly that tells male flies whether a potential mate is from a different species. The work addresses a central problem in evolution that's poorly understood: how animals of one species know not to mate with animals of other species.

Dinosaur Growth

Tracking the growth of dinosaurs and how they changed as they grew is difficult since all the evidence there is consists of fossils. Using a combination of biomechanical analysis and bone histology, palaeontologists from Beijing, Bristol, and Bonn have shown how one of the best-known dinosaurs switched from four feet to two as it grew. Psittacosaurus, the 'parrot dinosaur' is known from more than 1000 specimens from the Cretaceous, 100 million years ago, of China and other parts of east Asia. As part of his PhD thesis at the University of Bristol, Qi Zhao, now on the staff of the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology in Beijing, carried out the intricate study on the bones of babies, juveniles and adults.

Knobby Pareiasaurs

During the Permian era, the Earth was dominated by a single supercontinent called Pangea – "All-Earth". Animal and plant life dispersed broadly across this land, as documented by identical fossil species found on multiple modern continents. But a new study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology supports the idea that there was an isolated desert in the middle of Pangea with a fauna all its own. Roaming this desert in what is now northern Niger was a very distinctive creature known as a pareiasaur.

Plant Math

Humans do math or at least some humans can do so. New research shows that to prevent starvation at night, plants perform accurate arithmetic division. The calculation allows them to use up their starch reserves at a constant rate so that they run out almost precisely at dawn. Plants feed themselves during the day by using energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and starch. Once the sun has set, they must depend on a store of starch to prevent starvation.

A Catalyst to Convert CO2 to Fuel

Carbon dioxide is the result of burning fuel to make things like cars work. Plants slowly convert that CO2 back to something organic to begin the process again. Working in his lab in the University of Delaware's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Joel Rosenthal and doctoral student John DiMeglio have developed an inexpensive catalyst that uses the electricity generated from solar energy to convert carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into synthetic fuels in a far faster manner for powering cars, homes and businesses.

The Jet Stream and Greenland

There are many dynamics in the world. There are many global phenomena. Add the the jet stream to climate change. Research from the University of Sheffield has shown that unusual changes in atmospheric jet stream circulation caused the exceptional surface melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) in the summer 2012. An international team led by Professor Edward Hanna from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography used a computer model simulation (called SnowModel) and satellite data to confirm a record surface melting of the GrIS for at least the last 50 years - when on 11 July 2012, more than 90 percent of the ice-sheet surface melted. This far exceeded the previous surface melt extent record of 52 percent in 2010.