THIS WEEK'S MAGAZINE ISSUE DATE: 22 MAY 2004 (Vol. 181 No 2448)


ARE NANOBACTERIA ALIVE OR JUST STRANGE CRYSTALS?After four years' work, an American team has come up with the best evidence yet that nanobacteria " a possible new life form " do actually exist. The team isolated these nanobacteria-like structures from diseased human arteries and observed them self-replicating in culture. The particles have previously been implicated in a range of human diseases. Many remain unconvinced by the research though, dismissing it as "scientific nonsense" . Pages 6-7

THE ID CARD THAT DOES NOT PUT YOUR DATA AT RISKWith ID card schemes such as the one being proposed by the UK government, a person's unique biometric, such as an iris, is scanned and turned into "digits" - that person's biometric reference template. This is then stored on a central database. Security experts have always feared that criminals could easily capture and use someone's reference template illicitly. Now, a British group have devised a new technique which avoids having to match a person's biometric characteristics to data stored either on the card or on a database. Page 23

CLIMATE CHANGE HERALDS THIRSTY TIMESA new climate model suggests that as temperature rises with global warming, the world will be in shorter supply of fresh water. US researchers found that both precipitation and evaporation would significantly increase with climate change. So while greater rainfall will increase the flow of some rivers, evaporation will reduce the moisture content of soils in many parts of the world. The researchers say the net effect would be to take water away from where the people are. Pages 16-17

LIFE BEGAN WITH A KNACK FOR COPYINGScientists have long been divided over how life first emerged. Was it through replication or by metabolising nutrients for energy? The latest contribution to the argument, by Israeli scientists, puts replication firmly as the essence of life, with everything else, such as metabolism, as secondary. Page 15

IT'S A SMALL WORLD INSIDE YOUR HEADAn American team of scientists have built a computer model that reproduces the simple network of neurons used for short-term memory. The key, they say is adding short cuts in the network to form a "small world" network. Page 12

FOUR-WINGED BIRDS WERE FIRST TO TAKE TO THE AIRThe first birds were probably four-winged gliders, and only later evolved into the two-winged flappers with skeletons we know today. This idea is supported by a new study of Archaeopteryx, the famous bird fossil, which confirms it had feathers on its back and legs as well as on its wings. These could be remnants of ancestral hind wings. Page 8

TOXIC CHEMICALS FROM ICE-BREAKERSIce-breaking ships used for cutting paths for tourists and scientists are polluting Antarctica's seas with toxic chemicals. Australian researchers collected samples from the ocean floor and found high levels of a key component of antifouling paints - used to coat the ships' hulls. Page 18

COSMIC DARK AGE FOUND IN SHADOWSThe earliest structures in the universe may be visible by the shadows they cast in the afterglow of the big bang. The objects have been hidden before now because they formed in the dark age before the first stars were switched on. Researchers believe that hydrogen gas absorbed radiation left over after the big bang and would have created shadows which astronomers should be able to detect today. Page 9


FANNING THE FLAMESInflammation is the body's first line of defence after an injury or infection, but it is also known to be implicated in a whole array of diseases such as asthma, allergies and rheumatoid arthritis. So why is this healing response lingering in some cases to help perpetuate disease? Pages 41-43

OUT OF ASIAThe general consensus on the ancestors of modern humans is that they almost certainly evolved in Africa. However, the discovery of a few teeth set in a jaw which is claimed to be from a higher primate, has led one scientist to believe our roots lie elsewhere " in Asia. Pages 36-39

INTO THE DARK STATEPhysicists know what light is, and they know what matter is. But somewhere between the two is the "dark state" , a mysterious state which could prove to be a precious commodity. Dark states can slow light down or stop it altogether, and could even revolutionise the way we build computers. Pages 32-35

LAYING SIEGE TO THE GRIDHuge networks of powerful supercomputers are becoming tempting targets for hackers. So why are the hackers bothering? Usually to steal processing time or to crack passwords, says David Cohen. Pages 28-29


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