Monday, April 30, 2007

Quantum cryptography is hacked

"A team of researchers has, for the first time, hacked into a network protected by quantum encryption.

Quantum cryptography uses the laws of quantum mechanics to encode data securely. Most researchers consider such quantum networks to be nearly 100% uncrackable. But a group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge was able to 'listen in' using a sort of quantum-mechanical wiretap. The trick allowed them to tease out about half of the data, in a way that couldn't be detected by those transmitting or receiving the message.

The group admits that their hack isn't yet capable of eavesdropping on a real network. "It is not something that currently could attack a commercial system," says Jeffrey Shapiro, a physicist at MIT and one of the authors on the study.

But they expect that one day it will be able to do so, if quantum encryption isn't adequately adapted to stop such hackers from succeeding.

Tangled message

Most quantum networks send secret data in the polarization of photons. The sender encodes each photon's polarization such that the receiver who tries to measure it will only get the right information out about half of the time. When this information does come through, the duo can agree to use that particular bit of data as a key to encode and decode a message.

The system ensures secrecy because anyone intercepting a transmitted photon will disrupt its polarization, and affect the rate at which the receiver can correctly measure it. So the sender and receiver can detect the eavesdropper by noticing a spike in the transmission error rate. They can then stop communicating or try again on a different network.

Shapiro and his co-authors have successfully executed a trick that gets at least part-way around this. To listen in, the team used a quantum-mechanical principle known as entanglement, which can link together two different traits of a particle. Using an optical setup, the team was able to entangle the transmitted photon's polarization with its momentum. The eavesdropper could then measure the momentum in order to get information about the polarization, without affecting the original polarization.

But the tap isn't perfect, says co-author Franco Wong. The entanglement does sometimes perturb the polarization, and Wong says that the team can only extract about 40% of the transmitted data without causing the error rate to rise noticeably.

The idea for this cunning trick has been around since 1998, but nobody had put it into practice until now. The team's experimental proof-of-concept is published in the 25 April issue of the journal Physical Review.

Simulated attack

Aside from the occasional perturbation to the polarization, there is a more important reason why the team's particular setup wouldn't work in the real world, says Hoi-Kwong Lo, a quantum cryptographer at the University of Toronto in Canada. Their apparatus destroys the photon by measuring its momentum. So in this setup, the detector has to measure both polarization and momentum simultaneously, giving one bit of information to the eavesdropper and the other bit to the receiver. This means both people have to be sitting in the same room, using the same photon detector, notes Lo. That might just give the eavesdropper away.

To grab the information en-route would require a 'quantum non-demolition box' — a theoretically possible but as-yet-unbuilt device that could measure the photon and pass it along. "What they have done is a simulation of an attack, not a real one," says Lo.

Shapiro and Wong agree. And they add that a quantum cryptographic network can be simply tweaked to beat their attack. By making the key out of a lot of photons instead of just a few, the sender and receiver could ensure that the eavesdropper never got enough of the key to use it. Still, they say, the work shows that secrets — even quantum ones — are never entirely safe."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hawking Flies Weightless Aboard Jet

"Free of his wheelchair and tethered only to heart rate and blood pressure monitors, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking on Thursday fulfilled a dream of floating weightless on a zero-gravity jet, a step he hopes leads to further space adventures.

The modified jet carrying Hawking, a handful of his physicians and nurses, and dozens of others first flew up to 24,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean off Florida. Nurses lifted Hawking and carried him to the front of the jet, where they placed him on his back atop a special foam pillow.

The jet then climbed to around 32,000 feet and made a parabolic dive back to 24,000 feet, allowing Hawking and the other passengers to experience weightlessness for about 25 seconds.

Hawking, a mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge who has done groundbreaking work on black holes and the origins of the universe, has the paralyzing disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The 65-year-old was the first person with a disability to experience the flight by Zero Gravity Corp., which has flown about 2,700 people out of Florida since late 2004 and began offering the flights in Las Vegas this week.

"As you can imagine, I'm very excited," Hawking told reporters before the flight. "I have been wheelchair bound for almost four decades. The chance to float free in zero-g will be wonderful."

Unable to talk or move his hands and legs, Hawking can only make tiny facial expressions using the muscles around his eyes, eyebrows, cheek and mouth. He uses a computer attached to his wheelchair to talk for him in a synthesized voice by choosing words on a computer screen through an infrared sensor on a headpiece that detects motion in his cheek.

He raises an eyebrow to signal "yes" and tenses his mouth to the side to indicate "no."

"I want to demonstrate to the public that anybody can participate in this type of weightless experience," Hawking said Thursday.

Hawking's personal physicians were on hand to make sure nothing went wrong. The physicist was attached to heart, blood pressure and oxygen-measuring monitors during the flight. Medical equipment sufficient for a mini-intensive care unit also was on board, said Dr. Edwin Chilvers, Hawking's personal physician.

"I'm anticipating everything to nothing," Chilvers said before the flight.

Others on the flight included financial backers of Zero Gravity and passengers who bid a total of $150,000 toward charities to go on the flight.

The jet's interior is padded to protect the weightless fliers and equipped with cameras to record their adventure. Normally, the plane conducts 10 to 15 plunges for its passengers, who pay $3,750 for the ride, although that fee was waived for Hawking.

On Hawking's flight, the jet made eight parabolic dives.

"We had a wonderful time. It was incredible, far beyond our expectations," said Peter H. Diamandis, the chairman and CEO of Zero Gravity, after he exited the jet with Hawking at his side.

As a further safety precaution, Zero Gravity founders Peter H. Diamandis and Byron Lichtenberg, who has flown on the space shuttle, were on either side of Hawking so they could lower him to the ground gently at the end of the parabola. Hawking also took a motion sickness pill as a precaution.

The astrophysicist hopes the zero-gravity flight is a step toward going on a suborbital flight, which may be offered by private space companies by the end of the decade.

"It's a test to see how well he can handle the g-forces that would be necessary in order to leave the atmosphere," said Sam Blackburn, Hawking's assistant. 'That is very much one of the major purposes of this flight.'"

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Potentially Habitable Planet Found

"For the first time astronomers have discovered a planet outside our solar system that is potentially habitable, with Earth-like temperatures, a find researchers described Tuesday as a big step in the search for "life in the universe."

The planet is just the right size, might have water in liquid form, and in galactic terms is relatively nearby at 120 trillion miles away. But the star it closely orbits, known as a "red dwarf," is much smaller, dimmer and cooler than our sun.

artist's rendering

There's still a lot that is unknown about the new planet, which could be deemed inhospitable to life once more is known about it. And it's worth noting that scientists' requirements for habitability count Mars in that category: a size relatively similar to Earth's with temperatures that would permit liquid water. However, this is the first outside our solar system that meets those standards.

"It's a significant step on the way to finding possible life in the universe," said University of Geneva astronomer Michel Mayor, one of 11 European scientists on the team that found the planet. "It's a nice discovery. We still have a lot of questions."

The results of the discovery have not been published but have been submitted to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Alan Boss, who works at the Carnegie Institution of Washington where a U.S. team of astronomers competed in the hunt for an Earth-like planet, called it "a major milestone in this business."

The planet was discovered by the European Southern Observatory's telescope in La Silla, Chile, which has a special instrument that splits light to find wobbles in different wave lengths. Those wobbles can reveal the existence of other worlds.

What they revealed is a planet circling the red dwarf star, Gliese 581. Red dwarfs are low-energy, tiny stars that give off dim red light and last longer than stars like our sun. Until a few years ago, astronomers didn't consider these stars as possible hosts of planets that might sustain life.

The discovery of the new planet, named 581 c, is sure to fuel studies of planets circling similar dim stars. About 80 percent of the stars near Earth are red dwarfs.

The new planet is about five times heavier than Earth. Its discoverers aren't certain if it is rocky like Earth or if its a frozen ice ball with liquid water on the surface. If it is rocky like Earth, which is what the prevailing theory proposes, it has a diameter about 1 1/2 times bigger than our planet. If it is an iceball, as Mayor suggests, it would be even bigger.

Based on theory, 581 c should have an atmosphere, but what's in that atmosphere is still a mystery and if it's too thick that could make the planet's surface temperature too hot, Mayor said.

However, the research team believes the average temperature to be somewhere between 32 and 104 degrees and that set off celebrations among astronomers.

Until now, all 220 planets astronomers have found outside our solar system have had the "Goldilocks problem." They've been too hot, too cold or just plain too big and gaseous, like uninhabitable Jupiter.

The new planet seems just right - or at least that's what scientists think.

"This could be very important," said NASA astrobiology expert Chris McKay, who was not part of the discovery team. "It doesn't mean there is life, but it means it's an Earth-like planet in terms of potential habitability."

Eventually astronomers will rack up discoveries of dozens, maybe even hundreds of planets considered habitable, the astronomers said. But this one - simply called "c" by its discoverers when they talk among themselves - will go down in cosmic history as No. 1.

Besides having the right temperature, the new planet is probably full of liquid water, hypothesizes Stephane Udry, the discovery team's lead author and another Geneva astronomer. But that is based on theory about how planets form, not on any evidence, he said.

"Liquid water is critical to life as we know it," co-author Xavier Delfosse of Grenoble University in France, said in a statement. "Because of its temperature and relative proximity, this planet will most probably be a very important target of the future space missions dedicated to the search for extraterrestrial life. On the treasure map of the Universe, one would be tempted to mark this planet with an X."

Other astronomers cautioned it's too early to tell whether there is water.

"You need more work to say it's got water or it doesn't have water," said retired NASA astronomer Steve Maran, press officer for the American Astronomical Society. "You wouldn't send a crew there assuming that when you get there, they'll have enough water to get back."

The new planet's star system is a mere 20.5 light years away, making Gliese 581 one of the 100 closest stars to Earth. It's so dim, you can't see it without a telescope, but it's somewhere in the constellation Libra, which is low in the southeastern sky during the midevening in the Northern Hemisphere.

Before you book your extrastellar flight to 581 c, a few caveats about how alien that world probably is: Anyone sitting on the planet would get heavier quickly, and birthdays would add up fast since it orbits its star every 13 days.

Gravity is 1.6 times as strong as Earth's so a 150-pound person would feel like 240 pounds.

But oh, the view. The planet is 14 times closer to the star it orbits. Udry figures the red dwarf star would hang in the sky at a size 20 times larger than our moon. And it's likely, but still not known, that the planet doesn't rotate, so one side would always be sunlit and the other dark.

Distance is another problem. "We don't know how to get to those places in a human lifetime," Maran said.

Two teams of astronomers, one in Europe and one in the United States, have been racing to be the first to find a planet like 581 c outside the solar system.

The European team looked at 100 different stars using a tool called HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity for Planetary Searcher) to find this one planet, said Xavier Bonfils of the Lisbon Observatory, one of the co-discoverers.

Much of the effort to find Earth-like planets has focused on stars like our sun with the challenge being to find a planet the right distance from the star it orbits. About 90 percent of the time, the European telescope focused its search more on sun-like stars, Udry said.

A few weeks before the European discovery earlier this month, a scientific paper in the journal Astrobiology theorized a few days that red dwarf stars were good candidates.

"Now we have the possibility to find many more," Bonfils said."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Termites actually social cockroaches

"Scientists had long known that cockroaches and termites were related to each other and to praying mantises. Features they all share include specialized cases that enclose their eggs and perforations in the internal parts of their heads.

What researchers have debated for decades is whether or not termites evolved from cockroaches. Evidence suggesting this possibility included symbiotic microbes that certain termites and wood roaches had in common, as well as physical similarities between their young.

After conducting the most exhaustive genetic analyses yet into the subject, studying 107 different species of termites, cockroaches and mantises from across the globe, entomologist Paul Eggleton at the Natural History Museum in London and his colleagues now conclude termites are indeed a family of cockroaches, findings detailed online April 5 in the journal Biology Letters.

"This finally establishes where termites belong within the insects," Eggleton told LiveScience.

At first these results might appear unlikely, given the extraordinary differences in behavior and diet between these insects. Although cockroaches are somewhat convivial, they cannot hold a candle to the astonishingly complex societies termites can form, with colonies including up to millions of insects specialized into workers, soldiers, kings and queens. And termites are renowned for eating dead wood, while cockroaches are well-known coprophages, or feces-eaters.

Eggleton and his colleagues note, however, that ants and bees, which are likewise social, evolved from solitary wasps. They added that cockroach traits such as their gregariousness and their coprophagy might have set the stage for the evolution of termites.

When termite ancestors devoured each other's droppings, they could have shared the microbes that eventually led to a key termite feature, the ability to break down wood. Ensuring such wood-digesting microbes get passed on to offspring requires a close relationship between parents and their young, laying the groundwork for "their whole complex social system to have evolved," Eggleton said. "

The Inseide Dope: Sweets for the sweet … oldies for the …

The following is excerpted from a piece in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

"For years, people have accused me of being a technophobe, and like many accusations, there’s some truth in it. But, also like many rumors, there’s falsehood in it as well. It all depends, of course, on what technology you’re talking about.

Some technologies are absolutely fabulous. For example, there’s modern medicine. Today, people routinely survive conditions and procedures that not all that many years ago routinely killed them. As for medicine’s sister art, dentistry? All I’ll say is, anyone who extols the virtues of old-time dentists and dentistry never dealt with either one.

Other technologies were always good but now are much improved. Two of my favorites are fountain pens and radios.

Fountain pens? Does anyone actually use them anymore? I sure do, and I’m not alone. Before ballpoint pens, fountain pens were the only game in town, if not the world. But once ballpoints came out, fountain pens pretty much went the way of walking sticks, smoking jackets and silk stockings. But it’s a shame, because nothing can compare with them.

First, they write incredibly smoothly, and second, they never skip. Now, I realize pen skippage may not mean much to most people, but to someone who writes every day, like me, it’s a huge issue. I think a pen skipping — even only a little bit now and then — aggravates me as much as an engine skipping would aggravate a racecar driver.

Plus, all the problems with the old fountain pens — that they leaked or their fill mechanisms malfunctioned — don’t happen with the new ones. Further, not only are fountain pens not disposable, but if properly cared for, they’ll write for generations.

And finally, let’s face it, fountain pens have class. Anyone who whips out a fountain pen can write with real flourish and panache. No one, however, can do it with a ball point."

Read the rest of Mr. Seidenstein's article by clicking the title above

Chemistry puts the color back in art

"When white masquerades as yellow and green might actually be blue, a call goes out to Henry DePhillips.

DePhillips, a Trinity College chemistry professor, is among a cadre of specialists using cutting-edge science to solve the color mysteries of paintings and other cultural treasures often several centuries old.

Art collectors and museums, including Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, increasingly are turning to DePhillips and other experts to analyze artwork that has deteriorated over time.

With tiny samples invisible to the naked eye, they use special microscopes and other equipment to sleuth out the compounds that comprise the color pigments and materials.

The result: a glimpse into the long-ago artist’s materials and methods, and a road map to preserve or restore the piece as close to its original state as possible.

DePhillips, 69, has projects under way or slated for the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, the Mark Twain and Noah Webster houses, the Yale Center for British Art, and other institutions in Connecticut and nationwide.

“The whole goal of art conservation is to preserve the original vision of the artist, not my vision of what it could or should be,” said DePhillips, who also uses chemistry to sniff out frauds as an authentication specialist.

“If you’re going to restore a piece of art to the way it was on the day it was finished, you need to know exactly what materials they used.”

DePhillips’ latest project, an analysis of an 1848 painting by Emanuel Leutze at the Wadsworth, is particularly ambitious because of its massive size — 8 feet wide and 7 feet high (2.4 by 2.1 meters) — and historical significance.

“The Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and His Troops,” which Leutze painted four years before his classic “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” is one of the museum’s gems. But it also is showing its age — yellowing varnish discolors white backgrounds, fading blue skies have a greenish tint and blotches are evident from past restoration efforts by previous owners.

DePhillips is analyzing samples to help Stephen Kornhauser, the Atheneum’s chief conservator of paintings, determine how to slow or stop the deterioration. When in doubt, conservators often choose to simply clean and revarnish a piece rather than break out the paints and brushes for a full-scale restoration.

“Once we clean the piece, we really want it to look as it did the day it left Leutze’s studio,” Kornhauser said. “But we try to do as little as possible that produces the best results.”

Until a few decades ago, most restoration and preservation was done by artists who used their best guesses on the original paints, varnishes and other substances used by the creators.

The results were sometimes good, but more often simply adequate, or, in the worst cases, left obvious signs such as mismatched blotches or brush strokes.

Using minuscule samples from the pieces, chemists can now pinpoint the blends of iron oxide, mercury, titanium dioxide, lapis lazuli and other substances that make up certain colors.

Mercury, for example, is key to the reddish-orange hue of vermilion.

And even when a painting’s cloud seems dingy, the presence of titanium dioxide proves that when it left the artist’s easel, it was the bright white associated with that substance.

The implications go beyond aesthetics to cold cash. For example, the use of pure Prussian blue — the first synthetic color of the Industrial Revolution — can cause a painting’s value to skyrocket."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chimps more evolved than humans

"Since the human-chimp split about 6 million years ago, chimpanzee genes can be said to have evolved more than human genes, a new study suggests.

The results, detailed online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradict the conventional wisdom that humans are the result of a high degree of genetic selection, evidenced by our relatively large brains, cognitive abilities and bipedalism.

Jianzhi Zhang of the University of Michigan and his colleagues analyzed strings of DNA from nearly 14,000 protein-coding genes shared by chimps and humans. They looked for differences gene by gene and whether they caused changes in the generated proteins.

Genes act as instructions that organisms use to make proteins and thus are integral to carrying out biological functions, such as transporting oxygen to the body’s cells. Different versions of the same gene are called alleles.

Changes in DNA that affect the making of proteins are considered functional changes, while “silent” changes do not affect the proteins. “If we see an excess of functional changes (compared to silent changes) the inference is these functional changes occurred because they were positively selected, because they were useful in some way to the organism,” said study team member Margaret Bakewell, also of UM.

Bakewell, Zhang and a colleague found that substantially more genes in chimps evolved in ways that were beneficial than was the case with human genes.

The results could be due to the fact that over the long term humans have had a smaller effective population size compared with chimps.

“Although there are now many more humans than chimps, in the past, human populations were much smaller, and may have been fragmented into even smaller groups,” Bakewell told LiveScience. So random events would play a more dominant role than natural selection in humans.

Here is why: Under the process of natural selection, gene variants that are beneficial get selected for and become more common in a population over time. But genetic drift, a random process in which chance “decides” which alleles survive, also occurs. In smaller populations, a fortuitous break for one or two alleles can have a disproportionately greater impact on the overall genes of that population compared with a larger one.

Chance events could also explain why the scientists found more gene variants that were either neutral and had no functional impact or negative changes that are involved in diseases.

There is still much to learn, the scientists say, about human and chimp evolution. “There are possibly a lot of differences between human and chimps that we don’t know about, [perhaps] because there are differences in chimps that nobody has studied; a lot of studies tend to focus on humans,” Bakewell said."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

Scientists claim radiation from handsets are to blame for mysterious 'colony collapse' of bees

" It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world - the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon - which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe - was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.

CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK."

The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left".

No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks.

German research has long shown that bees' behaviour changes near power lines.

Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause.

Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."

The case against handsets

Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. But proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up.

Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. But an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side as they held the handset.

Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today's teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.

Studies in India and the US have raised the possibility that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. And, more prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of "text thumb", a form of RSI from constant texting.

Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two official inquiries, warned that children under eight should not use mobiles and made a series of safety recommendations, largely ignored by ministers."

Other theories suggest that the primary cause for the mass disappearance of bees is related to beekeepers extensive use of 'pesticide cocktails', used to control mites that infect honeybees. Read more here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Protein links T. rex to chickens

"Protein extracted from 68 million-year-old T. rex bones has shed new light on the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds.

Researchers compared organic molecules preserved in the T. rex fossils with those of living animals, and found they were similar to chicken protein.

The discovery of protein in dinosaur bones is a surprise - organic material was not thought to survive this long.

A US team of researchers have published the finding in Science journal.

The team says their technique could help reveal evolutionary relationships between other living and extinct organisms.

The finding is consistent with the idea that birds can trace a direct evolutionary line to dinosaurs.

The proteins are original organic material from the dinosaur's soft tissue, and not contamination, the scientists argue.

According to theories of fossilisation, original organic material is not thought to survive as long as this; finding them in a fossil this old is a genuine surprise. They are by far the oldest such molecules extracted from fossils.

"It has always been assumed that preservation of [dinosaur bones] does not extend to the cellular and molecular level," said co-author Mary Schweitzer, from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, US.

"The pathways of cellular decay are well known for modern organisms. And extrapolations predict that all organics are going to be gone completely in 100,000 years, maximum."

Brooks Hanson, an editor at Science journal said: "The goal of obtaining sequences either from proteins or DNA for extinct [organisms] has been a long-standing goal to test evolutionary links and processes, or even functional information."

The work builds on an earlier discovery of soft tissue - including blood vessels - by Dr Schweitzer's team in the same, incredibly well-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossils."

Read the entire article by clicking on the title

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Is Gates eyeing a possible spaceflight?

"American billionaire and Microsoft mogul Bill Gates is eyeing the possibility of his own orbital spaceflight, according to the next commander of the international space station and Russian news reports.

Russia’s Interfax News Agency reported Wednesday that expedition commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, a Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut, and U.S space tourist Charles Simonyi discussed Gates’ interest in orbital spaceflight from their perch aboard the space station.

“Charles Simonyi told us that Bill Gates plans to conquer space,” Interfax quoted Yurchikhin as saying during a Russian news conference Wednesday. “Perhaps some of us will find himself in a company with the Microsoft head in orbit some day.”

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Disease Underlies Hatfield-McCoy Feud

"The most infamous feud in American folklore, the long-running battle between the Hatfields and McCoys, may be partly explained by a rare, inherited disease that can lead to hair-trigger rage and violent outbursts.

Dozens of McCoy descendants apparently have the disease, which causes high blood pressure, racing hearts, severe headaches and too much adrenaline and other "fight or flight" stress hormones.

No one blames the whole feud on this, but doctors say it could help explain some of the clan's notorious behavior.

"This condition can certainly make anybody short-tempered, and if they are prone because of their personality, it can add fuel to the fire," said Dr. Revi Mathew, a Vanderbilt University endocrinologist treating one of the family members.

The Hatfields and McCoys have a storied and deadly history dating to Civil War times. Their generations of fighting over land, timber rights and even a pig are the subject of dozens of books, songs and countless jokes. Unfortunately for Appalachia, the feud is one of its greatest sources of fame.

Several genetic experts have known about the disease plaguing some of the McCoys for decades, but kept it secret. The Associated Press learned of it after several family members revealed their history to Vanderbilt doctors, who are trying to find more McCoy relatives to warn them of the risk.

One doctor who had researched the family for decades called them the "McC kindred" in a 1998 medical journal article tracing the disease through four generations."

Click the title to read more