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SciTech Briefs

Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Natural particle accelerator found

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has been gaining distinction as the most powerful particle accelerator created by man, but what about those formed by Mother Nature? At the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, researchers have discovered that during thunderstorms, particle accelerators can be created in thunderclouds. The existence of these natural particle accelerators has been theorized since 1925, but they were only recently detected by the radio waves they emitted.

The earth is constantly bombarded by high-energy particles from space in the form of cosmic rays. These can remove electrons from molecules in the air. Free electrons can then be accelerated upwards when they interact with the electric field from lightning. When many of these electrons accelerate upward, they form a sort of particle beam that traverses many atmospheric layers. The energy from a nuclear power plant would be needed to generate such a beam artificially. Scientists are worried that these electrons may be harmful to orbiting satellites.

Source: Scientific American

Scientists battle genetic disease

By transferring DNA between eggs, researchers have managed to prevent genetic diseases involving mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria are parts of all cells that create energy for the cell to use.

Under the direction of Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton, researchers performed experiments on rhesus monkeys, removing the cell nucleus from one egg and replacing it with the cell nucleus of another egg. By doing so, they did not have to transfer any of the other cellular components between the eggs, which includes mitochondrial DNA.

This discovery can be significant in medical research, since defects in mitochondrial DNA have been linked to diseases such as diabetes. Researchers believe that one out of every 200 births is somehow affected by mitochondrial DNA mutations. Before tests can be performed on humans, ethical concerns and regulations on human egg experimentation must be addressed.

Source: www.nature.com

Study reveals how brain multitasks

A French research group has discovered that multitasking causes the brain to split into two halves, with each half focusing on one task. They monitored brain activity in a group of participants who were told to perform a certain task. When only one task was being done, one side of the frontal lobe showed activity. When two tasks were being performed, both sides of the frontal lobe were active.

This may explain why multitasking is a difficult process for the brain, or why performing more than two tasks at a time causes one task to be forgotten. When subjects had to perform more than two tasks, their accuracy decreased. The study may also explain why choosing from a long list of items may cause irrational decisions, because the brain forgets about earlier items as it reads new ones.

Source: www.bbc.co.uk