Science Briefs: All ages welcome at Raleigh fossil event

November 10, 2013 

All ages welcome at Raleigh fossil event

Fossil Fair at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences – billed as the state’s largest event dedicated to paleontology – will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Raleigh museum, 11 W. Jones St. At the all-ages fair, held in collaboration with the N.C. Fossil Club, you could uncover (and keep) prehistoric artifacts by sifting through a load of fossil-filled gravel trucked in from a phosphate miles in Aurora; bring your own fossils for identification by experts, meet experts, listen to presentations and get a look at ancient creatures unearthed by in-state scientists. The event is free. Details: www.naturalsciences.org. Staff reports

Intel funds new computer code work

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has received funding from computer chipmaker Intel to develop computer codes to make personalized medicine and other transformative scientific discoveries possible.

The funding will open an Intel Parallel Computing Center at the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Parallel computing, used in supercomputers, is a form of computation in which many calculations are carried out simultaneously.

The center will initially focus on two projects in computational biology that may lead to medical advances. The first project will enable a team to optimize a molecular dynamics code called GROMACS to operate on next-generation Intel machines. GROMACS is primarily used to study the interactions of biochemical molecules, enabling drug discovery and metabolic research.

The second project will enable a team to optimize a gene sequence analysis code called BLAST to operate efficiently on future computing platforms. BLAST is key to genomics and the future of biotechnology and personalized medicine.

The Intel Parallel Computing Center began operations in October. There are four other Intel centers, at Purdue University, the University of Texas, plus two in Europe. jics.tennessee.edu

Study: Was clay the birthplace of life?

Clay, a seemingly infertile blend of minerals, might have been the birthplace of life on Earth. Or at least of the complex biochemicals that make life possible, Cornell University biological engineers report in the online issue of the journal Scientific Reports.

“We propose that in early geological history, clay hydrogel provided a confinement function for biomolecules and biochemical reactions,” said Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering and a member of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science.

In simulated ancient seawater, clay forms a hydrogel – a mass of microscopic spaces capable of soaking up liquids like a sponge. Over billions of years, chemicals confined in those spaces could have carried out the complex reactions that formed proteins, DNA and eventually all the machinery that makes a living cell work. Clay hydrogels could have confined and protected those chemical processes until the membrane that surrounds living cells developed.

Clay is a promising possibility because biomolecules tend to attach to its surface, and theorists have shown that cytoplasm – the interior environment of a cell – behaves much like a hydrogel. cornell.edu

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