Random Samples

Science  15 Apr 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5720, pp. 350

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  1. Tsunami Uncovers Indian Shrines

    Carved rock has emerged from the waves. For all the disaster the tsunami of last 26 December left in its wake, it also uncovered treasures: the remains of ancient, long-buried Indian seacoast shrines.

    As the waters receded, three large rocks with elaborate carvings of animals as well as the vestiges of two temples emerged from the sands near the coastal town of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu. They appear to be from a port city built in the 7th century.

    Mahabalipuram is well-known for its ancient, intricately carved stone temples along the shore. According to descriptions by early European writers, the area was home to seven temples, six of which were supposedly submerged.


    The 2-meter rocks include an elaborately sculpted head of an elephant and a horse in flight. Above the elephant's head is a small niche with a statue of a deity. Another rock has a reclining lion. According to archaeologists, lions, elephants, and peacocks decorated temples during the Pallava period in the 7th and 8th centuries. Archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India are continuing excavations. Director of excavations Alok Tripathi says “there can be no doubt” that the finds are from 8th century Hindu religious structures.

  2. Politics of Light

    A scheme to celebrate the Einstein Centennial with an around-the-world light signal has been hijacked by a group of physicists hoping to shine a political spotlight on a little-known cluster of islets claimed by both Japan and South Korea.

    The international undertaking, dubbed “Physics Enlightens the World,” will relay light signals—using everything from flashlights to lasers—around the planet, starting in Princeton, New Jersey, on 18 April, the day Einstein died (Science, 15 October 2004, p. 403).

    But a rogue group of South Korean researchers plans to extend the activities to a group of rocky islets long the subject of dispute between South Korea, where they are known as Dokdo, and Japan, which calls them Takeshima. A flotilla of fishing vessels will shine lights “signaling to the world that this territory is indisputably owned by Korea,” according to a South Korean newspaper.

    The incident is embarrassing the official sponsors. Max Lippitsch of the University of Graz, Austria, says he has “expressed my deep concern” to the South Korea coordinator of the venture, Chang Gil Han, a physicist at Pusan National University. Han's response: “We have no intention of using this peaceful and cooperative world event for any kind of political purposes.” The Japanese have not yet responded. But Kazuo Kitahara, a physicist at International Christian University in Tokyo, notes Einstein's pacifism, adding, “If he saw what was going on, he would be disappointed.”

  3. Fly Mind Control

    A fly's trajectory switches from lazy (L) to adventurous (R). Remote control isn't just for gadgets. Researchers have now made genetically engineered flies that can be ordered to leap, fly, and walk at the flash of a laser.

    Neurobiologists Susana Lima and Gero Miesenböck of Yale University School of Medicine developed the new technique because they found traditional methods for studying the neural bases of behavior, such as electrode stimulation of neurons, cumbersome and unable to reach networks of cells. “Through this combination of optics and genetics, we can talk to whole populations of cells,” says Miesenböck.

    CREDIT: LIMA ET AL., CELL, 121, 148 (2005)

    The scientists first inserted a rat's ion channel gene into the flies. This particular ion channel transmits electrical impulses by allowing charged particles to cross cell membranes in the presence of ATP, the ubiquitous energy-carrying molecule. The researchers then injected the flies with ATP inactivated by encaging it within another molecule. When hit with the laser, the ATP was released, triggering the ion channels and causing the neurons to fire, they report in the 8 April issue of Cell.

    If the rat ion channel was expressed in the dopaminergic neurons, for example, the laser caused sedentary flies to become hyperactive. If the ion channel was expressed in the giant fiber neurons, which control the so-called escape pathway, the flies could be made to leap about, buzz their wings, and fly. The method could be used to study behaviors including mating and feeding, the authors say.

  4. The Beauty of Electromagnetism


    Reminiscent of designs by painter Gustav Klimt, this image by freshman Dan Yuan is one of the prizewinners in the annual “weird fields” contest for students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's introductory course on electricity and magnetism. Physicist John Belcher and colleagues developed a computer program into which his students can plug mathematical equations describing electromagnetic fields. The computer then churns out dramatic visual representations of the formulas.

  5. Jobs


    Extended visit. German mathematical biologist Andreas Dress has been tapped to be one of the founding directors of a new computational biology institute in Shanghai, China. Dress, who is touring the country this month to learn more about China and its science, says he hasn't made a final decision, but “the people here are making it very difficult to decline.” Leadership duties will be shared with Chinese population geneticist Li Jin, now at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, and possibly a third co-director with expertise in computational neuroscience.

    The institute, which will receive $11.5 million over 5 years from the Max Planck Society and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is scheduled to open in October. If Dress accepts the position, he plans to continue collaborations with a group in Magdeburg, Germany, that uses antibodies to visualize the activity of hundreds of proteins in a suite of cells. Antibodies costing $1500 in Germany can be had for $15 in China, he notes.

    Homecoming. Neurobiologist Arlene Chiu, a research administrator at the National Institutes of Health, has become the first scientist appointed to the new California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The 59-year-old California native will serve as the institute's director of scientific programs and review.

    Chiu, currently associate director of the Office of Research Administration of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, serves on the NIH Stem Cell Task Force and has overseen NIH-funded stem cell research programs aimed at treating neurological diseases. She calls the CIRM position “an incredible opportunity” as well as a chance to return home. She starts work on 1 May.

  6. Deaths


    Exuding warmth. A disease to which he devoted his life has claimed cancer researcher Stanley Korsmeyer. He was 54.

    Korsmeyer, who had directed the molecular oncology department at Harvard University's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute since 1998, was best known for his work linking apoptosis, or programmed cell death, to cancer. Korsmeyer's research earned him membership in the National Academy of Sciences and a host of other honors, including the General Motors Mott Award. And his optimism and warmth earned him many friends.

    “He was admired and loved for who he was even more than for what he accomplished,” says Edward Benz, Dana-Farber's president.

  7. They Said It

    “What's happening at NIH? Is it just a shell of its former self?”

    —Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) at a 6 April Senate hearing on the National Institutes of Health's budget. Harkin was expressing concern about the recent departure of some topflight researchers from NIH in the wake of new conflict-of-interest rules.

  8. Celebrating History

    French idols. Three scientists have made the top 10 in a television competition to name the greatest French citizen of all time. Last week, microbiologist Louis Pasteur grabbed second place, trailing only the revered founder of the Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle. Polish-born two-time Nobelist and feminist icon Marie Curie took the fourth spot, and oceanographer-filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau came in ninth, topping singer Edith Piaf.

    France is not alone in honoring its scientists. In 2002, British viewers ranked Charles Darwin fourth and Isaac Newton sixth on a similar all-time list, and microscope pioneer and microbiologist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus ran fourth and fifth, respectively, in a 2004 Dutch election. German voters were less reverential in a 2003 poll, however, consigning Albert Einstein to 10th place—far behind Karl Marx, who came in third.