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11 December 2007
Dark stars, stem cells, and chimps remember

Chimps and elephants were to the fore in the science news this week, with research showing the quality of their memories. Three young chimps performed better than humans at remembering complex patterns of numbers across a screen. And elephants were shown to be able to keep track of all the members of their family group - up to 20 or 30 individuals. They use the smell of urine on the earth to guide them.

A dinosaur fossil was found in such a complete state that its stripey skin pattern could be seen. The skin itself was fossilised on the hadrosaur, a plant-eater. The state of preservation showed that its vertebrae were separated by soft tissue and so that it a typical specimen may have been was overall around two metres longer than previously thought.

The new stem cell technique announced last month is making rapid progress. It works by reprogramming human skin cells. Now researchers have reprogrammed mouse skin cells to take the role of bone marrow cells which produce blood cells. They have then replaced a defective gene that was causing sickle cell anaemia in the mice - and by injecting it back into them, they have reversed the symptoms.

A 3D image of a human skin cell has been made. Te cell was frozen, and then scanned at multiple levels. The team worked with a class of proteins called cadherins, which play a key role in interactions between one cell and another. They hold tissues together - and it is they who are challenged when cancer tumour cells spread. So the interaction between two cadherins has deep interest.

The source of solar wind has been traced. The wind is electrically-charged gas that bursts out of the Sun in great gouts. A high-resolution X-ray telescope on the Hinode satellite suggests that the cause lies in magnetic waves rippling through the Sun's plasma.

It's been suggested that the first stars in existence were 'dark stars' - huge stars of much greated diameter than the Sun, powered by dark matter annihilation. They would have poured out gamma rays, heat and antimatter. The question is: if they did exist, could some still surviver? Possibly, says researchers, in globular clusters, spiral galaxies, or elliptical gaaxies.

Fuller details of all these news stories can be found on the BA News Digest.

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