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Climate Change: A Sharper Picture


Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma seem to be clear evidence that climate change is upon us. In fact, stronger hurricanes are short-term phenomena; they'll weaken in a decade or so. Now for the bad news: the most detailed computer simulation yet predicts that climate change will disrupt weather patterns for at least the rest of this century.

Researchers at Purdue University doubled their model's resolution and improved its ability to analyze the interplay of such effects as snow reflecting solar energy back into space. After running the model nonstop for five months, the results are grim. "Climate change is going to be even more dramatic than we previously thought," says Purdue's Noah Diffenbaugh. Examples of what's in store over coming decades: In the Northeast, summers will be longer and hotter. In the Southwest, heat waves will be more intense, and less water will be available.

A tiny bug that lives in snow may hold the key to a longer shelf life for transplant organs. Scientists at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., isolated a so-called antifreeze protein made by the millimeter-long snow flea to defend itself against the cold. They discovered that it can lower the freezing point of liquids by about 11 degrees Fahrenheit.

Today, donated organs for transplant must be kept at the freezing point, or slightly warmer. Queen's biochemist Laurie Graham thinks an organ treated with the snow flea's protein could be stored at lower temperatures, keeping it fresh longer.

Graham first noticed the snow fleas while cross-country skiing. "It was serendipity," she says. "They looked like dots of pepper sprinkled on the snow." Their proteins might also be used to increase frost resistance in plants, and inhibit ice formation in frozen foods.

Polygraph tests are used with caution these days because they are known to be highly unreliable -- accuracy rates can dip below 70%. Cephos, a Pepperell (Mass.) startup, says that a standard MRI machine, used properly, could serve as a lie detector that tells the truth.

People use more brainpower when they lie, and that increased activity can be detected when the brain is scanned in a magnetic resonance imaging machine, says Cephos Chief Executive Steve Laken. In a recently completed test with the Medical University of South Carolina, 61 subjects were told to take a watch or a ring from a drawer. They then were asked a series of yes/no questions while undergoing a 40-minute MRI exam -- with some subjects instructed to lie. Using software developed by Cephos to analyze images of brain activity, researchers could tell who was lying 90% of the time. Cephos is now doing a follow-up study funded by the Defense Dept. to see whether it can improve the accuracy rate. Results are expected next spring.

-- Microscopic factories that assemble, atom by atom, new drugs or nano-scale computers are still a distant dream. But Rice University scientists have made a start, constructing a materials-handling system for such a factory. It's a molecular chassis just four nanometers in length. The Rice team has used the chassis to design a "nano truck" that can carry atom-size payloads.

-- Athletes bulking up with steroids can avoid getting nabbed -- as slugger Rafael Palmeiro did -- by using drugs not yet known to the authorities. Current testing methods screen blood or urine, but only look for known drugs. Scientists at City of Hope National Medical Center outside Los Angeles have created a new test that closes the loophole. It zeros in on portions of the cells in the blood or urine sample that all steroids bind to, and can thus spot suspicious molecules. So there's no need to be aware of a specific drug's existence prior to testing.


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