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Scienceology: Regional science news for the week of February 8

Post by Christie Taylor on 2/8/2011 2:10pm

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Scienceology is a weekly roundup of local science news and happenings.

Climate change report predicts 6-degree increase in Wisconsin temperatures by 2050:

A statewide panel of scientists and stakeholders has created recommendations for protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources and economy from a warmer and wetter future climate. In the past 60 years, Wisconsin’s average temperature has already increased 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Imapcts (WICCI) reports, and the frequency of heavy rainfall has also increased.

Predicting less winter ice cover, more runoff into lakes, and longer, more frequent summer heat waves, not to mention changing food chains and eroding shorelines, the group recommends many measures that, they say, would have payoffs no matter how much climate change the state sees. For example, if the state monitors forest ecosystems more closely, the data could also help commercial timber producers choose the best species mix for changing conditions.

The full report is available at the WICCI’s home page.

New stem cells created in UW lab:

A UW researcher has successfully turned mature leukemia cells in bone marrow into stem cells, using a method first pioneered by UW professor James Thomson and a Japanese scientist in 2007 with skin cells. Cell researcher Igor Sluvkin says the cells could provide insights into cancer cells which have so far proved tough to kill.

The altered cells, called “induced” pluripotent (having the potential to develop into many types of tissue) stem cells because they started out in a mature state, behave much like embryonic stem cells. Though, another UW study recently reported in the journal Nature, these cells are still very different from true embryonic cells. Still, the breakthrough with leukemia cells could help researchers discover why some cancer stem cells so effectively resist drugs that kill more mature cancer cells. 

Next, Sluvkin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, researchers plan to inject the leukemia stem cells into mice to hunt down that particular subset of hard-to-kill cells. Once they find these, they can begin testing the effectiveness of different types of drugs.

Deer prions could jump to humans:

Recent studies of prions, the infectious proteins that cause brain diseases such as chronic wasting disease, suggest they are remarkably effective at infecting mammals when airborne, a state they don’t naturally achieve. Furthermore, chronic wasting disease, discovered in Wisconsin deer in 2002, has not been documented in humans. But a team from four universities has found chronic wasting disease prions were more likely to be able to convert normal human proteins into infectious prions the longer they were run through a test tube process that mimics how prions jump from deer to deer. This suggests the disease is more dangerous to humans the longer it persists in the environment, researchers say.  There’s no proof yet that it can actually infect humans, but is another factor to consider as the disease remains in Wisconsin deer populations – especially when so many of us eat venison.

Be careful about those sweet potatoes. 200 cows who died suddenly in Portage county earlier this month, adding to the barrage of mass animal deaths and fears of apocalypse, were actually poisoned by a toxin in moldy sweet potatoes, the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory found.

New microscope shows infrared images in unprecedented levels of detail. Possible applications for the UW-Milwaukee/Madison collaboration range from art analysis to prostate cancer detection.

Also neat:
Wired: Use science to manage bike sharing.
MJS: Small predators most effective killers of deer in upper Midwest.
UW: Global Health Initiative incubator series brings unlikely elements into discussion of global infectious disease.
MJS: Genes lead researchers to source of rare disease

Get Educated!
Now through Sept. 9: Satellite views of Wisconsin on display at the Dane County Regional Airport.

Tonight: Science Night at Glenn Stephens Elementary. UW experts will join budding young scientists in experiments and demonstrations that cover geology, stem cells, robotics, and a plethora of other topics. 6-8 p.m. Free.

Feb. 9: Wednesday Nite at the Lab –  Explorations in Chocolate -  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the UW Alumni Association invites you to learn the science of chocolate. Food Science Professor Rich Hartel will teach you how food scientists use rheology, the study of the flow of matter, to characterize and tune chocolate to fit all of its delicious uses, from candy bars to drops to molding pieces. You’ll also learn how chocolate is tempered to ensure it cools into the proper solid state, as well as the process by which cocoa butter crystallizes and blooms. At the UW Biotechnology Center Auditorium, 425 Henry Mall. , 7-8:15 p.m. Free.

Feb 10-12: UW-Madison celebrates Charles Darwin’s birthday. Darwin turns a venerable 402 years old on Feb. 12, and the annual celebration of his birthday will cover three days. Hosted by the J.F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution, the festivities include a keynote address from an Iowa State University anthropologist, public talks by UW professors Friday afternoon, a (ticketed) film screening Friday night and, on Saturday, family activities and speakers. The theme this year is “Know Thyself: Humans and Evolution.” For a complete lineup of events, visit the Institute’s web page.  All events except the film are free, and held at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

Anytime, anywhere: Tired of the snow? Measure it! is crowdsourcing data for a project on climate change, in conjunction with NBC’s Changing Planet series of projects. Put on your boots, grab a ruler (or yardstick), and send in your results. Valid even if you have zero inches!

Bonus: Watch this video demonstration.

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Christie Taylor


Christie Taylor (@ctaylsaurus) covers science, environment, and, depending on the season, state politics for dane101. She verbs a lot of nouns, including rollerskates, radio, and Kurt Vonnegut. A Madison native, she's not sure she'll ever quite manage to leave Wisconsin, and that's just fine by her. Contact her at