Oct 8 at 4:04pm by Aileen
News this week from the rarified realm of science research is both interesting and far-reaching. And no, by far-reaching I’m not talking about discovery that the planet Saturn has a huge, invisible ring nobody noticed before.
In the field of physics, some may have heard of Paul Dirac’s postulated magnetic monopoles – the quantum of the magnetic force, with a single pole instead of two. Dirac postulated that these must exist, and led to his famous ‘strings’ (which eventually led to some current GUT models). But nobody has ever actually ‘seen’ a monopole, so it’s been an open question of whether such beasties exist. Now, an NIST research team believe they’ve found the next best thing, monopoles the size of molecules!
They of course aren’t real monopoles, but apparently behave the same predicted way. Thus these synthetic compounds could allow scientists to do further research in the lab rather than just on paper napkins. They will be testing monopole predictions with these spin ice molecules, such as whether the postulated particles obey Coulomb’s Law. Stay tuned, this could get fascinating quickly!
Next up is a study about the ubiquitous BPA body burdens 93% of us carry around these days. BPA is a common chemical found in some plastics and epoxy resins. A paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives this week from researchers at Simon Fraser University, UNC-CH and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital linked prenatal BPA exposure to unusually aggressive, hyperactive behavior in 2-year old girls.
Neurodevelopmental disorders – ADD, ADHD, the Autism spectrum, etc. – have been most prevalent in young boys, who represent some 80% of the diagnoses. Further research on this environmental contaminant should be watched, as if the connection is solid, we can expect more and more young girls to suffer the same sorts of problems. BPA has also been linked to fertility problems, growth retardation and learning disorders as well as permanent changes to DNA in mice.
Speaking of Autism’s spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders, researchers from MIT and the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered that a single letter change in DNA may be indicative of Autism. This is known as a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism [SNP], and researchers tied it to chromosomes 5, 6, 20. The gene on chromosome 5 is associated with neuron development and autistic children showed lower expression.
This is just one piece of what researchers expect is a highly complex genetic puzzle, but it might lead to tests that can identify those at risk of producing autistic children, and identifying it in children very early. It also could help lead to specific treatments in the future. Progress is being made at last in dealing with this spectrum as a real medical condition and not just an indicator of lousy parenting skills. Which has been one of the most hurtful urban myths ever propagated by people who had no idea what they were talking about. That some of them were psychologists and physicians is sad, so we can all be thankful that some real answers are coming in.