Yale University Quarterly Science News Tips Sheet

1. Powerful Microlasers Demonstrated by Yale, Bell Labs Scientists

2. Biochemical “Jurassic Park” Inhabited by Probable Early Life Forms

3. Studies of Two Female Hormone Receptors Could Aid Drug Design

4. Better Telescopes, Microscopes with World’s Fastest Electrometer

5. Yale Takes More Active Role in Starting Biotech Firms in New Haven

6. Lyme Disease Vaccine Developed at Yale Could Be First on Market

7. New Species of Winged Dinosaur Named in Honor of Yale Professor

Electronic News Releases: Yale science news releases are posted on the World Wide Web at http://www.yale.edu/opa. Send electronic news release requests to Cynthia.Atwood@yale.edu.

1. Powerful Microlasers Demonstrated by Yale, Bell Labs Scientists

Using chaos theory, Yale and Bell Labs researchers have demonstrated novel semiconductor microlasers with more than 1,000 times the power of conventional, disk-shaped microlasers. The lasers, in which light creates a bow-tie pattern as it bounces around inside the disk before being emitted as a laser beam, are only 0.05 millimeters in diameter, or roughly the width of a human hair. The discovery brings scientists a step closer to developing faster computers that use light instead of electrons in some components to shuttle information, says Yale applied physicist A. Douglas Stone, who first proposed the microlaser shape. The new microlasers also could increase the speed of voice, video, Internet and other data transmission via existing fiber-optic networks, or could become the basis for entirely new architectures for local-area optical networks. Science, Vol. 280, No. 5369: 1556-1563, June 5, 1998. News release, color photos.

2. Biochemical “Jurassic Park” Inhabited by Probable Early Life Forms

Yale scientists have synthesized molecules like those that probably gave rise to the earliest life forms on Earth nearly 4 billion years ago, thus creating a biochemist’s version of “Jurassic Park” populated by exotic molecular “fossils” that have long since become extinct. One of these “fossils,” an unusual hybrid molecule made up of a scaffold from deoxyribonucleic acid – DNA – with chemical “scissors” attached to it, is the first known nucleic acid enzyme that uses an amino acid to trigger chemical activity. Ronald R. Breaker, co-creator of the first DNA enzymes in 1994 , said he “looted the tool box of proteins” to get the amino acid “scissors.” The discovery could mean scientists are very near to finding the precursor of all life – a single molecule containing both genetic code and an enzyme capable of triggering self-replication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 95, No. 11: 6027-31, May 26, 1998. News release.

3. Studies of Two Female Hormone Receptors Could Aid Drug Design

Scientists hope to design better medications to treat breast cancer, ease the symptoms of menopause and prevent unwanted pregnancies now that Yale scientists have visualized in atomic detail how two important female sex hormones, progesterone and estrogen, bind to their receptors. Drugs such as tamoxifin and raloxifene that bind to the estrogen receptor and block estrogen’s uptake have been shown to be effective in treating and even preventing breast cancer. Even better estrogen blockers could be created using the three-dimensional, computerized “snapshot” of the estrogen receptor captured at Yale, said biochemist Paul B. Sigler, who has made the crucial data available to the worldwide research community by sending his findings to the Protein Data Bank at Brookhaven National Laboratories on Long Island. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 95, No. 11: 5998-6003, May 26. 1998; Nature, Vol. 393, No. 12: 392-396, May 28, 1998. News release, color photos.

4. Better Telescopes, Microscopes with World’s Fastest Electrometer

The world’s best electrometer, a tiny transistor so fast and sensitive that it can count individual electrons as they pass through a circuit, has been developed by Yale scientists. The device could be useful for research on highly miniaturized computer circuits as well as for improved light sensors in more powerful telescopes and microscopes. It also could help establish a standard of electrical current. The Radio Frequency Single-Electron Transistor, or RF-SET, is about 1,000 times faster than the previous record holder and 1 million times faster than a typical single-electron transistor. It has the sensitivity to detect charges as small as 15-millionths of an electron, said applied physicist Robert J. Schoelkopf. By creating computer components that exploit unusual quantum properties, scientists hope to vastly increase the power of computers. Science, Vol. 280, No. 5367: 1238-1241, May 22, 1998. News release.

5. Yale Takes More Active Role in Starting Biotech Firms in New Haven

Yale recently helped launch Molecular Staging Inc., a promising new biotech firm based on innovative genetic technologies developed at Yale that could revolutionize medical diagnostics. The firm is one of four companies based on Yale research launched in the New Haven area this year, said Gregory E. Gardiner, director of Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research – OCR, who hopes to maintain a pace of launching three or four new companies each year. “Yale is taking a more active role in forming start-up companies in an effort to make sure the New Haven area reaps economic benefits from the University’s research,” he said. Aside from creating jobs for about 70 people, the four companies are developing technologies that have the potential to significantly benefit human health throughout the world. News release.

6. Lyme Disease Vaccine Developed at Yale Could Be First on Market

Yale School of Medicine researchers first identified Lyme disease 23 years ago, and another team of Yale researchers more recently discovered a potential vaccine to prevent the debilitating tick-borne disease. The vaccine, which is called LYMErix and is being developed by SmithKline Beecham, was approved May 26 by a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel. The FDA’s final decision is imminent. If approved by the FDA, LYMErix would become the first vaccine for Lyme disease to reach the market. Yale’s Lyme Disease Consortium, established in 1991 with funding from the National Institutes of Health, has emerged as the foremost center for Lyme disease research and treatment in the world. Efforts have focused on public health initiatives, such as controlling the carrier deer tick, and on exquisitely precise basic research into the activities of the bacterial cells that infect the body and cause the disease. Yale Medicine reprint plus Lyme disease timeline of key Yale discoveries.

7. New Species of Winged Dinosaur Named in Honor of Yale Professor

A newly discovered species of a winged dinosaur has been named in honor of Yale paleontologist John Ostrom, one of the earliest proponents of the controversial theory that modern-day birds are descended from dinosaurs. Dubbed Rahona ostromi “Ostrom’s menace from the clouds”, the fossil is thought to date back 65 million to 70 million years, to about the time dinosaurs faced mass extinction. Uncovered in 1995 on the island of Madagascar, the fossil is of a creature that had a two-foot wingspan, feathers and a sickle-shaped claw on its second toe designed for slashing prey. Such “killing claws” have been found previously only on certain types of therapod two-legged dinosaurs, such as deinonychus – literally “terrible claw”, a species of dinosaur discovered by Ostrom in Montana in 1964. News release.

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