Random Samples

Science  06 Oct 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5796, pp. 29

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    Over the next few years, a full-scale replica of the Alhambra—the famed 14th century Moorish fortress in Spain—will rise in the bucolic hills south of San Jose, California. This summer, the city of Morgan Hill approved the building, which will house the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM). The castle is the brainchild of John Fry of Fry's Electronics, who in 1994 founded AIM and bought the 77-hectare grounds. For the past 9 years, as his dream—cost undisclosed—made its way past legal and technical hurdles, AIM has been running 24 seminars a year from a windowless warehouse in Palo Alto, California.

    AIM Director Brian Conrey now expects the institute to move into its new 15,000-m2 quarters by autumn 2009. Facilities will include a 150-seat lecture hall, a golf course, and eight gardens, including a reconstruction of Monet's garden in Giverny. The building's grandest space is reserved for a library with rare books and artifacts. Fry, who likes to model his stores on historical themes, “has talked for years about building this immense mathematical library—the equivalent of the Alexandrian library in the ancient world,” says AIM board chair Gerald Alexanderson of Santa Clara University in California.


    Scientists in Canada claim that trout exposed to x-rays can pass on the effects to nonirradiated fish.

    Research in cell cultures has shown that low doses of ionizing radiation have “bystander” effects—causing damage to nearby, unexposed tissues. But there's been little evidence of this in live animals. A team led by radiation biologists Colin Seymour and Carmel Mothersill of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, theorized that this effect might also occur in fish, via the chemicals they release in the water. They gave a moderate dose of x-rays to eight rainbow trout swimming in a tank. They then put these fish in a tank with eight untreated trout and put eight other fish into the water that had held the irradiated fish.

    After 2 hours, the scientists killed the fish. They found similar radiation effects in all three groups: Cells in several organs had died, and other cells were expressing proteins indicating radiation damage. The data suggest that bystander effects should be taken into account in assessing radiation risks to humans and animals, the team reports online 27 September in Environmental Science & Technology. Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff, a biologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, says it's possible “that such a phenomenon occurs between fish.” But to prove it, the chemicals involved need to be identified.


    As the globe continues to heat up, the U.S. Congress holds more and more hearings that address the issue—including six last month. As of this week, according to the National Environmental Trust, Congress has held 233 hearings on global climate change since 1975. But although it's been authorizing more research, some complain that bold action to limit greenhouse gas emissions has been scarce. “Hearings don't do anything,” says David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C. “Legislation changes the marketplace, and that's what we need.”


    A couple of years ago, an elephant trainer at South Korea's zoo in Everland Resort outside Seoul thought he heard a human voice coming out of an elephant stall. The sounds turned out to be coming from one of his charges, Kosik.

    Putting the end of his trunk into his mouth, the 15-year-old Indian elephant can say short words such as bal (foot), joa (good), and anja (sit). Elephants normally make sounds through their trunks, without using their mouths. Scientists believe that Kosik blows air out of his trunk, modifying its flow by aiming at different places in his mouth and thereby generating sounds through friction with molars, inner tusks, and tongue.

    Zoo veterinarians and engineers from Soongsil University in Seoul have conducted tests with Kosik. The acoustical properties of the sounds he makes are similar to those of sounds made by his trainer, Jong Gap Kim. In effect, the scientists say, Kosik is acting like a parrot. Scientists plan to conduct further studies to find out how Kosik came to mimic his trainer. Veterinarian Yang Bum Kim says elephants, who are about as smart as human toddlers, are very group-oriented and tend to copy those closest to them, suggesting that Kosik has a strong bond with trainer Kim.

    Kosik and trainer Kim.CREDIT: EVERLAND RESORT

    Kosik's parroting is not the first case of elephant mimicry. Last year, Nature published a paper on an African elephant that made “rumbling” sounds like a truck.