Yale University Quarterly Science News Tips

1. Ancient Andean Metallurgy May Have Started a Millennium Earlier

2. Roots of Unconscious Prejudice Found in 90-95 Percent of People

3. Billion-year-old Worms Show “Slow Burn” Before Cambrian Explosion

4. Water Squeezed from Rocks May Trigger Repeated Earthquakes

5. Structure of RNA Enzyme Solved for Hepatitis Delta Virus

6. UN Leader Named Dean of Yale Forestry and Environmental Studies

7. Finding Could Enhance New Cancer Drugs that Block Tumor Growth

Electronic News Releases: Yale science and medical 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. Ancient Andean Metallurgy May Have Started a Millennium Earlier

In a Peruvian valley only recently touched by the pressures of urbanization, Yale scientists have found evidence of ancient Andean metallurgy dating as far back as 3,400 years ago, almost a millennium earlier than previously thought. Thin copper foils – some of them gilded with gold foil – discovered just south of Lima show heating and hammering of natural metal ores began long before the introduction of smelting roughly 2,000 years ago. Anthropologist Richard L. Burger says the discovery supports theories that the Central Andes were the “hearth of metalworking” in Latin America. Skills perfected by artisans there later became important in the religious life of the Incas of Peru and may have influenced the Aztec and Maya civilizations in Mexico beginning about 2,000 years ago. (Science, Vol. 282, No. 5391: 1108-1112, Nov. 6, 1998. Also see Perspectives piece, pages 1058-1059). News release, effigy photo, color slides.

2. Roots of Unconscious Prejudice Found in 90-95 Percent of People

The disturbing pervasiveness of prejudice can be measured with a new psychological tool called the Implicit Association Test, which taps into unconscious attitudes on race, age, religion, gender and self-esteem. Through quick word associations, the test reveals that 90 to 95 percent of people harbor a variety of negative stereotypes. “An important example is automatic race preference,” says Yale psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, co-developer of the test. “A person may not be aware of his or her negative reactions to a racial group and may even regard such feelings as objectionable when expressed by others. Nevertheless, many people who consider themselves nonprejudiced possess these automatic negative feelings.” The test, which is available on the web (test yourself at http://www.yale.edu/implicit/), has revealed hidden attitudes of whites toward blacks, Germans toward Turks, Poles toward Germans, Australians toward aboriginals, young toward old, and men and women toward each other. News release.

3. Billion-year-old Worms Show “Slow Burn” Before Cambrian Explosion

Geologists have discovered what appears to be evidence of worm-like animals in rocks that are more than 1 billion years old – about twice as old as any other signs of multicellular life yet discovered. Burrows left behind as the worms wriggled through sand beds underneath an ancient shallow sea in Central India were preserved as Rtrace fossilsS when the beds solidified into rock. The oldest previously known fossil evidence of multicellular life dates to 580 million years ago, just before the Cambrian period in which the Rbig bangS of animal evolution is thought to have occurred. The new findings, reported by Adolf Seilacher, add to the body of evidence suggesting that diversification of animal designs was part of a Rslow burnS occurring well before the Cambrian explosion. (Science, Vol. 282, No. 5386: 80-83, Oct. 2, 1998. Also see Perspectives piece, pages 19-21). News release, color photos.

4. Water Squeezed from Rocks May Trigger Repeated Earthquakes

Chemical reactions in the Earth’s middle crust that cause rocks to dehydrate and fracture under pressure may trigger repeated earthquakes along some fault zones. The finding, based on a computer model, eventually could help scientists predict earthquakes in active fault areas, such as along California’s San Andreas fault. The release of water by rocks within fault zones can occur relatively rapidly – in decades or centuries rather than eons – when downward fault motion transports water-bearing rocks to depths where temperatures are high. The model, developed by three Yale geologists, indicates that saline fluid and pressure released as rocks fracture may give warning before complete rupture of the fault zone. The theory also could explain why friction between continental plates so often is linked to increased seismic activity. (Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 25, No. 22: 4221-4224, Nov. 15, 1998). News release.

5. Structure of RNA Enzyme Solved for Hepatitis Delta Virus

The discovery nearly two decades ago of naturally occurring ribonucleic acid (RNA) enzymes, which can carry out chemical reactions necessary for cell growth, exploded the myth that RNA is merely a passive carrier of genetic code and earned Yale biochemist Sidney Altman and University of Colorado scientist Thomas Cech the 1989 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Following up on that stunning discovery, Yale biochemist Jennifer Doudna solved the three-dimensional chemical structure of a large part of an RNA enzyme. Now Doudna has added to the growing storehouse of molecular information with X-ray crystallography images of an enzyme that plays a role in the replication of the hepatitis delta virus – the first example of an RNA catalyst in a human pathogen. The virus is a problem primarily in developing countries, where it often is fatal. (Nature, Vol. 395, No. 6702: 567-574, Oct. 8, 1998). News release.

6. UN Leader Named Dean of Yale Forestry and Environmental Studies

James Gustave Speth, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, has been named dean of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, effective July 1, 1999. The UNDP, which manages about $2 billion annually through offices in 132 developing countries, focuses primarily on poverty elimination, good governance and environmental regeneration. Speth is a graduate of Yale College and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University before attending Yale Law School, where he received an LL.B. degree in 1969. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black and was one of the founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Before joining the UNDP, he founded and headed the World Resources Institute, a center for policy research and technical assistance on environmental and development issues. The Yale forestry school, the oldest in the nation, was founded in 1900. News release.

7. Finding Could Enhance New Cancer Drugs that Block Tumor Growth

Yale and Cornell University biochemists have unveiled the three-dimensional chemical structure of a key protein that is the target of TNP-470, an experimental drug that shows promise for starving cancerous tumors. The discovery could help pharmaceutical firms find or design more effective medications in a new class of anti-cancer drugs called angiogenesis blockers, which appear to work by blocking the growth of blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to tumors. “The beauty of these medications is that they all block the same basic mechanism – blood vessel growth – which makes them effective against a wide range of tumors, including lung, brain, prostate and breast tumors,” said Yale biologist Craig M. Crews “They also appear to be far less toxic to patients than radiation or chemotherapy.” Knowing how a drug binds with its target is an important step in tweaking its chemical structure. (Science, Vol. 282, No. 5392: 1324-1327, Nov. 13, 1998). News release, color slides.

Cynthia L. Atwood

Assistant Director for Medical and Science Information

Yale University Office of Public Affairs

433 Temple St.

New Haven, CT 06520

(203) 432-1326, fax (203) 432-1323

Cynthia.Atwood@Yale.edu

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