A Few Things that Caught My Eye

Scientists follow the money to predict epidemics

“LONDON (Reuters) – A popular U.S. Web site that tracks the geographical circulation of money could offer new insights into predicting the spread of infectious diseases like bird flu.

Money, like diseases, is carried by people around the world, so what better way to plot the spread of a potential influenza pandemic than to track the circulation of dollar bills, researchers reasoned.

Researchers in Germany and the United States did just that to develop a mathematical model of human travel that can be used to plot the spread of future pandemics.

“There are some universal rules governing human travel and they can be used to develop a new class of model for the spread of infectious disease,” said Dr Dirk Brockmann, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organisation in Gottingen, Germany.

Health experts fear the H5N1 bird flu virus that has killed at least 82 people in six countries since 2003 could mutate into a highly infectious strain in humans that could cause the next pandemic.

“We can now plug in the parameter ranges that we think will apply to influenza and then simulate a pandemic that runs through Europe and see what happens,” said Brockmann, who reported the findings in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

In addition to giving insights into how an infectious disease would spread, mathematical models and computer simulations could help to develop measures to take against it, he added.”

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Scorpion Survives Inside Fossil Sample

“SALT LAKE CITY – A scorpion lived for 15 months without food or water inside the plaster mold of a dinosaur fossil, breaking free only when a scientist broke open the mold.

Don DeBlieux, a paleontologist for the Utah Geological Survey, said he was sawing open the plaster mold when the scorpion wriggled from a crack in a sandstone block.

DeBlieux is still chipping away at the 1,000-pound rock to expose the horned skull of an 80-million-year-old plant eater — a species of dinosaur he says is new to science.

The scorpion “must have been hanging out in a crack the day we plastered him,” DeBlieux said Thursday.

He discovered the two-inch critter on Jan. 5 after spending two months carefully removing the plaster mold. DeBlieux said he’ll spend more than 500 hours cutting the fossilized skull out of sandstone using tiny pneumatic jackhammers.

It took three and a half years to cut the sandstone block in the field, where researchers encased it with plaster. They moved it by helicopter from the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument to a laboratory in Salt Lake City.

Scorpions, which eat insects, are capable of surviving for months without feeding or moving in a sleep period known as diapause, said Richard Baumann, a Brigham Young University zoologist.”

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