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(Gen) Top Science Stories of the Year

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2005 9:34 am    Post subject: (Gen) Top Science Stories of the Year Reply with quote

Top Science Stories of 2005: A Year of Incredible Impact
Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Managing Editor
Fri Dec 16, 4:00 PM ET

Rarely have science and nature dominated daily life and generated so much debate as in 2005. It was a year of clashes, between nature and man, science and religion, and sometimes even between scientists. Along the way, some important and amazing discoveries were made.

Did one issue emerge as the top story? LiveScience invites you to vote on the most significant development in science and nature this year.

The Hurricane Nightmare Comes True

The busiest hurricane season on record brought the most intense Atlantic storm ever recorded and ran several days beyond its official Nov. 30 end, while scientists provided the first solid evidence that global warming might be fueling more powerful storms. These were all big stories in and of themselves, yet none will stick with us like the memory of Katrina, the most destructive storm ever to strike the United States and a long-predicted nightmare for resident of New Orleans. Nature's wrath forced scientists and officials to assess preparedness for other dramatic natural threats the country could face.

Evolution on Trial

Intelligent design, which posits that an intelligent being and not Darwin's theory of natural selection is responsible for some of the most incredible variations in species, exploded into public view. The Kansas school board voted against science, as did Alabama's when it voted to tell students that evolution is controversial. Eight families in Pennsylvania sued over the whole thing. And voters in one district ousted school board members for inserting religion into science classes. Meanwhile, scientific leaders broke a longstanding silence to defend evolution and discredit intelligent design as being unscientific, impossible to prove, and nothing more than cloaked creationism. Even the Vatican weighed in. The issue promises to permeate discussions of science and religion as long as the two exist.

The 10th Planet?

You might think the discovery of an object larger than Pluto orbiting the Sun would automatically be hailed as the long-sought 10th planet. Not so fast, many astronomers said. This new world is one of perhaps thousands out there that await discovery. Will we call them all planets? Should Pluto even be considered a planet? In a weird twist to the debate, the discoverer of the controversial object suggests we all ignore the scientific debate and let culture decide. One has to wonder if that's the sort of ambiguity science ought to promote.

The Apocalypse, or Just Mother Nature?

It's not your imagination: Natural disasters are becoming more common. But don't blame Mother Nature; we humans are moving in droves to disaster-prone coastlines and living in substandard structures. The magnitude 7.6-earthquake that struck Pakistan and killed upwards of 80,000 people was just another example of our inability to deal with events that are statistically normal. Christian televangelist Pat Robertson didn't let science cloud his vision, however, when he said the quake and a busy hurricane season might be signs that the Biblical apocalypse is near.

Signs of Life on Mars?

This story extends back to last year and looks like the sort of mystery that'll keep scientists scratching their heads for years to come. The air of Mars seems to contain pockets of methane in doses that should not exist. Perhaps it's the belchings of subsurface microbes, European astronomers said early this year. They support that view with new evidence for blocks of underground ice in the same region as the methane. The ice could be supplying the precious liquid water needed to support the biology, they figure. Other astronomers think the reasoning is very speculative, however.

Rebuilding Humans

The "Six Million Dollar Man." would appreciate the printable skin that's coming out of special inkjet printers now. The fictional bionic man, Steve Austin, was way ahead of scientists on synthetic body parts, but he'd be pleased to see the progress in 2005 on prosthetic limbs that humans might one day control with their minds. Monkeys were made to operate a robotic arm with just their thoughts via a computer attached to their brains. Further study found they treat the device as if it were a natural appendage. Meanwhile, the U.S. Military said further research into these devices would become a priority. No "fixing humans" story gained more attention this year than the first partial face transplant.

(Way) Back to Nature

In one of the year's more offbeat suggestions, scientists proposed introducing elephants, lions and camels to create a U.S. Ecological History Park that would return parts of the country to conditions similar to the distant past while also preserving animals that are threatened in Africa. In Siberia, a similar project is already underway. Scientists are working to restore a large area of wetlands and forest to the dry landscape that existed more than 10,000 years ago by re-introducing herbivores and predators they think will alter the biology and ecology. One goal: learn what caused the woolly mammoths to go extinct. Meanwhile, another group announced plans to search for frozen woolly mammoth sperm DNA, which they would inject into a female elephant; after several generations of offspring by controlled procedures, they would create a beast that is 88 percent mammoth. Amid all this, another team decoded part of the genome of an extinct bear!

Our Lowly Ancestors

A fresh analysis of two previously found skulls determined they're 200,000 old, making them the oldest known examples of our species. Yet fossil records indicate musical instruments, drawings, needles and other sophisticated tools didn't appear until about 50,000 years ago, suggesting Homo sapiens had a pretty lowbrow culture for 150,000 years. Well, evolution takes time. Another team found the fossilized remains of what they think is humankind's first walking ancestor, from 4 million years ago. Other research confirmed that the oldest human ancestor, from the time when we split with the apes, lived around 6 million years ago. Oh, and you have to respect our relatively recent ancestors (the lowbrow folks) who we now know lived among 10-foot-tall gorillas that have since gone extinct. Maybe they were so busy running they had no time to paint or create alphabets.

Total Neanderthals

Anthropologists scrounged around museum halls to put together bones from various specimens to make the first Neanderthal skeleton. And the result surprised them: "As we stood back, we noticed one interesting thing was that these are kind of a short, squat people," said Gary Sawyer of the American Natural History Museum in New York. "These guys had no waist at all—they were compact, dwarfy-like beings." Meantime another team announced plans to reconstruct the Neanderthal genome from fossil fragments.

Super-Earth Discovered

Astronomers expect to eventually find many Earth-sized planets around other stars. But technology can't spot such small objects yet. Pushing the limits of existing methods, researchers detected a world just 7.5 times the mass of Earth orbiting another star and said it must be rocky. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the first extrasolar planet around a normal star, and astronomers have gathered enough data on about 150 planets since then to say, in the words of Geoff Marcy, "I imagine most stars have terrestrial planets. It seems hard not to form them."

The Reality of Myths

Finally, visual proof of the longstanding myth. Japanese scientists got the first images of a giant squid in its natural environment. In California, meanwhile, hundreds of huge squid washed ashore. And another new species of large squid was captured on video. Otherwise, it was a typical year for creatures of myth (some of which, like the squid, turn out to be real, by the way), with Bigfoot fans staging a conference and scientists exploring claims of a giant lake monster in Canada. Seems even scientists like a good tale; one team found an ancient sea creature that looks to be part crocodile, part T. rex and dubbed it Godzilla.

Decoding the Software of Life

It was a big year for genome decoding. Scientists deciphered the DNA of man's best friend, along with humankind's closest relative, the chimp. Such findings are becoming so routine, however, that you might not have even noticed that the genome of rice was revealed, too. The ongoing investigation into our own DNA, meanwhile, revealed that identical twins are not so identical. Other researchers reported that about 9 percent of human genes are undergoing rapid evolution.

Shrinking the Invisible

In the world of nanotechnology, which is measured in molecules, engineers crafted some nifty miniature machinery this year. Different teams created the world's smallest car, motor, robot, refrigerator and fountain pen. One hope is that these tiny machines, invisible to the human eye, will one day be used to deliver drugs into cells, perhaps to destroy cancer or cure other ills. Technology tasks are envisioned too. In one nifty breakthrough, researchers merged microbe and machine for the first time, creating gold-plated bacteria that sense humidity.

Birth of a Black Hole

An explosion 2.2 billion years ago, whose light just arrived at Earth this year, was detected and then monitored by an unprecedented array of telescopes on the ground and in space operated by astronomers furiously exchanging emails. Within moments, the scientists suspected they had seen the birth of a black hole as it happened (well, except for that previously mentioned time delay). The event was triggered by the merger of two neutron stars, the thinking goes.

Advancing Humanoids

A longstanding goal of robotics is to make them more humanlike. Several small steps in that direction were achieved this year. One team developed robots that walk like us. A NASA researcher announced robotic skin that can feel things. Another bot looks so humanlike you might want researchers to stop this trend. Then again, who could complain about a robotic bartender that pours and listens.

Copycat Cloning

Making replicas of animals has become so routine since Dolly the sheep in 1996 that the story about Snuppy, the first cloned dog, didn't have the bite it might once have had. Meanwhile, Dolly's creator this year got a license to clone humans. Apparently one day your double can walk your dog's double. All the advances in mucking with the formulas for life led to an interesting clinical trial in which parents will pick the sex of their babies (other research shows most women would choose if given the option, but overall there was no clear preference). The year ended on a notable down note (dare we say duplicitous?) when a South Korean cloning pioneer admitted the ethically questionable practice of using some of his own employee's eggs and then admitted there were errors in his landmark science paper about having cloned human stem cells.

First Photo of an Extrasolar Planet?

A series of announcements about the possible first picture of a planet around another star ended up in a debate that has yet to be resolved. The pictures are real, but astronomers can't agree on the masses of the objects in the images or, for that matter, how to state the difference between large planets and small stars. We'll have to wait for history to tell us if this was a big story or not.

Toward Immortality

"I think it's reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate between being biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely." That's what eccentric researcher Aubrey de Gray, who thinks aging can be cured, told LiveScience in an interview this year. De Grey also runs the Methuselah Mouse prize for breakthroughs in extending the lives of mice, which researchers hope will spill over into progress to slow human aging. The purse of the M Prize, as it is called, grew beyond $1 million in 2005. As for hard science, one study showed that the buildup of mutated DNA triggers aging in mice. Another found stimulation of a certain gene in mice seems to delay bone weakening, artery clogging and loss of muscle fitness. Modern medicine is already allowing life expectancy to creep up, and it hit an all-time high in America this year. Ray Kurzweil, a computer scientist and writer, explained that his plan to live forever involves not tailgating, but taking 250 supplements and drinking lots of alkaline water and green tea.

Protecting Ourselves

Some day, scientists have been telling us for some years now, we'll have to deal with an incoming asteroid or comet that would destroy civilization at worst or wipe out a city at least. Big impacts have occurred before, and there will be more. But we don't know enough about space rocks and their composition to plan properly for deflecting or destroying such a menace. Turnabout proved to be fair play when NASA's Deep Impact mission slammed a probe into Comet Tempel 1 on the 4th of July. The upshot? This comet was fluffy, unlike others that have been studied up close. Meanwhile, a group of astronauts and scientists prodded NASA to visit asteroid Apophis, which has a slight chance of hitting us a few decades hence. NASA's response: A purely scientific mission might be considered, but we have plenty of time to mount a diversion if further observations show this thing would really hit.

Global Warming Heats Up

We can all stop arguing about whether the climate is changing. Evidence is overwhelming, from shrinking glaciers to melting polar ice caps and seas rising at twice the rate of the pre-industrial era. Animals are changing migration and mating patterns; in the North, 125 lakes disappeared; river ice is melting sooner in spring. This year is expected to be the hottest, stormiest and driest on record. The big remaining question is how much of the trend is natural (scientists admitted they know little about the Sun's role!) and how much is exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, a host of studies made dire predictions about the inevitability of rising temperatures and swamped coastlines over the next century. Nasty side effects were predicted: more intense rainstorms; worse droughts; stronger hurricanes; increased allergies; ice-free arctic summers; and economic costs. A couple novel solutions were proposed: altering airline flights and lofting a ring of miniature satellites to shade the equator. Tempers rose in 2005, too, with the year closing on a low note from the perspective of more than 150 nations who pledged to do something about the problem, without the support of the United States or China.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2006 1:21 am    Post subject: QES COMPUTER Class first batch Reply with quote


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 23, 2006 8:49 am    Post subject: Science News of the Year 2006 Reply with quote

Science News of the Year 2006
Compiled by the staff of Science News
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2007 9:53 pm    Post subject: Human genetic variation -- Science's 'Breakthrough of the Ye Reply with quote

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Human genetic variation -- Science's 'Breakthrough of the Year'
20 December 2007

In 2007, researchers were dazzled by the degree to which genomes differ from one human to another and began to understand the role of these variations in disease and personal traits. Science and its publisher, AAAS, the nonprofit science society, recognize “Human Genetic Variation” as the Breakthrough of the Year, and identify nine other of the year’s most significant scientific accomplishments in the 21 December issue.

“For years we've been hearing about how similar people are to one another and even to other apes,” said Robert Coontz, deputy news editor for physical sciences who managed the selection process. “In 2007, advances on several fronts drove home for the first time how much DNA differs from person to person, too. It’s a huge conceptual leap that will affect everything from how doctors treat diseases to how we see ourselves and protect our privacy.”

The genomes of several individuals have already been sequenced. As technologies advance, many of us will have some, perhaps all, of our own genomes sequenced and will be able to learn the diseases for which we are at risk.

Since the sequencing of the human genome, biologists have been charting minute variations as small as one base, called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). These variations were key to a dozen research projects in 2007 called genome-wide association studies in which researchers compared the DNA of thousands of individuals with and without a disease to determine which small genetic variants pose risks. This information can help lead researchers to disease-related genes, as in the case of several type 2 diabetes genes found this year.

Genome-wide association studies this year provided insight into many diseases, including atrial fibrillation, autoimmune disease, bipolar disorder, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, type 1 and 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

In 2007, biologists also learned that within DNA’s billions of bases, thousands to millions of them can get lost, added or copied in ways that can change genetic activity within a few generations. The effects of these “copy number variants” have been shown in populations with high-starch diets, as they have more copies of a gene for digesting starch than members of societies of hunter gatherers. Geneticists who studied the genomes of children with and without autism have found a new DNA modification that leads to increased risk for autism.

The first runner-up in Science’s special feature on the top scientific advances of 2007 is the technology to reprogram cells. Japanese and American teams announced in June that they had made “induced pluripotent stem” (iPS) cells from mouse skin that could be used to produce all of the body’s cells including eggs and sperm, thereby demonstrating that iPS cells have the same capabilities as embryonic stem cells. In November two teams reported making iPS cells from human skin cells. This research could alter the science and politics of stem cell research.

“Like the main breakthrough, Coontz said, “reprogramming cells could open new avenues of biomedical research once scientists clear a few more hurdles. It was a strong contender for our main breakthrough, but we gave the nod to human genetic variation because it's so fast-moving and so sweeping.”

Other notable research advances include:

Tracing Cosmic Bullets: Cosmic rays that strike our atmosphere appear to hail from areas of the sky that are populated by Active Galactic Nuclei, report researchers at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina. The cosmic rays’ acceleration may come from passing by the magnetic fields around the black holes.

Receptor Visions: Researchers determined the structure of the human Beta2-adrenergic receptor, an important G protein-coupled receptor that manages internal human systems by relaying messages in the body from hormones, serotonin and other molecules. Medicines from antihistamines to beta blockers target these receptors, and this structural knowledge could bring about improved drugs.

Beyond Silicon?: Advances in transition metal oxides may herald the next materials revolution as teams in 2007 grew pairs of oxides together to produce interfaces with a wide assortment of potentially useful electrical and magnetic properties.

Electrons Take a News Spin: Theoretical and experimental physicists produced the predicted quantum spin Hall effect, an odd way electrons behave when flowing through certain materials subjected to external electric fields. If this effect works at room temperature, it could lead to new low-power “spintronic” computing equipment.

Divide to Conquer: Improved vaccines may be the fruit of research that shows that T cells that fight off viruses and tumors specialize to provide either immediate or long-term protection. Researchers found that when they caught a T-cell just after it divided, two different types of proteins were generated on opposite poles of the T cell. One side bore the molecular hallmark of “soldiers,” and the other showed signatures of “memory cells” that could lie in wait for years to fight off the intruder another day.

Doing More With Less: Synthetic chemists developed an array of efficient, and therefore cost-saving, techniques for pharmaceuticals and electronic compounds.

Back to the Future: Studies in humans and rats suggest that memory and imagination are rooted in the hippocampus, which is a critical center of memory in the brain. Researchers infer that the brain’s memory may rearrange past experiences to create future scenarios.

Game Over: In a tour de force of artificial-intelligence programming, checkers became the most complex game ever “solved” by computers. Researchers show that the game will end in a draw if neither player makes a mistake.

Areas to Watch in 2008 include microRNA, human-made microbes, new computer-chip material, genomes of human bacteria and the Neandertal, human neural circuitry and data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2007 5:29 pm    Post subject: Planet Earth 2007: Top 10 Science Revelations Reply with quote

Planet Earth 2007: Top 10 Science Revelations

From the damning climate report by the IPCC to projections of an impending peak in global oil production, 2007 was full of startling findings and prognostications about the blue marble we call home. Here are the stories we think could reverberate most significantly for years to come. – Andrea Thompson

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 7:52 pm    Post subject: Climate change, gender differences, health among EurekAlert! Reply with quote

American Association for the Advancement of Science
10 January 2008

Climate change, gender differences, health among EurekAlert! 10 Most Popular Stories in 2007

Global climate change was a leading topic of interest for EurekAlert! users in 2007. This interest was reflected through two stories that portrayed significantly different messages about the future of Earth’s climate.

The EurekAlert! 10 Most Popular Stories in 2007 were identified by monitoring Web site traffic and isolating the news releases that received the highest total number of visits between January and December of 2007. The most popular story of the year received over 180,000 visits.

Aside from global climate change, other topics of most interest to users included studies into the health risks associated with prostate cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, the prevention of Down syndrome, new theories involving matter and the speed of light, the discovery of a dinosaur species in Antarctica, and gender differences across a range of activities from the handling of anxiety to pornography use. The full compilation is listed at the end of the release while highlights and trends follow below.

Global Climate Change

The most popular story in 2007 focused on a study conducted by NASA scientists that suggested greenhouse-gas warming may raise average summer temperatures in the eastern United States by nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080. Meanwhile, the third most popular story was based on an Ohio State University study that showed temperatures in Antarctica during the late 20th century did not climb as had been predicted by many global climate models. Most models predict that both precipitation and temperature will increase over Antarctica with a warming of the planet.

The NASA weather model, one of the models used in the recently issued climate report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, showed that extreme summertime surface temperatures developed when carbon dioxide emissions were assumed to increase about 2 percent a year, the “business as usual” scenario.

David Bromwich, professor of atmospheric sciences in the Department of Geography, and researcher with the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, reported however, “It’s hard to see a global warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica right now.”

Bromwich said “the best we can say right now is that the climate models are somewhat inconsistent with the evidence that we have for the last 50 years from continental Antarctica.” Bromwich explained that disagreement between climate model predictions and the snowfall and temperature records doesn’t necessarily mean that the models are wrong.

Health and Disease Prevention

Millions of Americans take multivitamins because of a belief in their potential health benefits, even though there is limited scientific evidence that they prevent chronic disease. Investigating this line of thinking, a National Cancer Institute study, led by Karen Lawson, found no association between multivitamin use and the risk of localized prostate cancer -- the second most popular story in 2007. However, they did find an increased risk of advanced and fatal prostate cancer among men who used multivitamins more than seven times a week, compared with men who did not use multivitamins.

The association was strongest in men with a family history of prostate cancer and men who also took selenium, beta-carotene or zinc supplements.

Another story among the most popular in 2007 focused on two Swedish studies that identified smoking, a low formal level of education and certain metabolic indicators as important risk factors in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. These findings represent a significant step towards better understanding of the risk factors for RA and may contribute to improved future prevention and treatment. The second study similarly highlights the link between smoking and RA, but -- contrary to previously noted relationships between RA with active inflammation and impaired glucose tolerance -- observes better glucose tolerance as a predictor of RA. Thus the authors suggest that factors such as diet and genetics influencing metabolism may play an important part in RA development.

Dr. Ulf Bergström from the Malmö University Hospital, Sweden, lead investigator on both studies said “The determinants for developing RA in any population are clearly complex and often unrelated. These studies help us to add more pieces to the giant jigsaw of risk factors for one of the most common autoimmune diseases, affecting approximately 1 percent of adults worldwide.”

A third story related to health -- ranked sixth most popular -- featured a Denmark study showing that noninvasive screening of pregnant women using ultrasound early in pregnancy, combined with maternal blood analysis, reduced the number of children born with Down syndrome by 50 percent.

Karen Brøndum-Nielsen, of the Kennedy Institute, Glostrup, Denmark, and lead study author, noted that following a change in national health guidelines making the screening procedures more widely available, localities with women using the screenings showed a marked difference in the prevalence of Down syndrome. Brøndum-Nielsen and her team looked at the effects of the new guidelines in 2004, 2005 and 2006, in three counties in Denmark with a total population of 1.1 million inhabitants, or about one-fifth of the population of the country. They compared these findings with national figures obtained from the Central Cytogenetic Registry, which confirmed the reduction in invasive procedures and the number of children born with Down syndrome at national level.

Gender Differences

In the fourth most popular story, a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that girls who talk extensively about their problems with friends are likely to become more anxious and depressed. The six-month study, which included boys and girls, examined the effects of co-rumination -- excessively talking with friends about problems and concerns. The study revealed that girls co-ruminate more than boys, especially in adolescence, and that girls who co-ruminated the most in the fall of the school year were most likely to be more depressed and anxious by the spring.

Amanda Rose, associate professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Science, conducted the study and said “What’s intriguing about these findings is that co-rumination likely represents too much of a good thing. Some kids, especially girls, are taking talking about problems to an extreme. When that happens, the balance tips, and talking about problems with friends can become emotionally unhealthy.”

Meanwhile, a University of Alberta study -- the final story in the list -- showed that boys aged 13 and 14 living in rural areas, are the most likely of their age group to access pornography. A total of 429 students aged 13 and 14, from 17 urban and rural schools across Alberta, Canada, were surveyed anonymously about if, how and how often they accessed sexually explicit media content on digital or satellite television, video and DVD and the Internet.

Ninety percent of males and 70 percent of females reported accessing sexually explicit media content at least once. More than one third of the boys reported viewing pornographic DVDs or videos “too many times to count,” compared to eight percent of the girls surveyed.

The study also revealed different patterns of use between males and females, with boys doing the majority of deliberate viewing, and a significant minority planning social time around viewing pornography with male friends. Girls reported more accidental or unwanted exposure online and tend to view pornography in same-gender pairs or with mixed groups.

Two stories -- both published in New Scientist -- about new theories involving the state of matter and the speed of light, and a story about the discovery of a new genus and species of dinosaur, Glacialisaurus hammeri, rounded out the list.

10 Most Popular Stories List

The titles of the 10 most popular stories in 2007 follow below in order of popularity, with the most-viewed story listed first:

NASA study suggests extreme summer warming in the future
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Heavy multivitamin use may be linked to advanced prostate cancer
Journal of the National Cancer Institute

Antarctic temperatures disagree with climate model predictions
Ohio State University

Girls who complain about their problems at greater risk of developing anxiety and depression
University of Missouri-Columbia

Smoking, low levels of education and glucose tolerance increase risk of rheumatoid arthritis
European League Against Rheumatism

Noninvasive screening in early pregnancy reduces Down’s births by 50 percent
European Society of Human Genetics

Massive dinosaur discovered in Antarctica sheds light on life, distribution of sauropodomorphs
Field Museum

Have researchers found a new state of matter?
New Scientist

Light seems to defy its own speed limit
New Scientist

1 in 3 boys heavy porn users, study shows
University of Alberta

About EurekAlert!

Founded by AAAS in 1996, EurekAlert! is an editorially independent, online news service focused on science, medicine and technology. Thousands of reporters around the globe use EurekAlert! to access news and resources from the world’s top research organizations. For free access to EurekAlert!, visit
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