Monday, March 13, 2006

Vesuvian footprints

Two recent items published in The Economist:

A bronze-age burial
Mar 9th 2006
Vesuvius is more destructive than previously thought

THERE was barely any warning. To the citizens of Pompeii, the eruption of Vesuvius was a deadly surprise. Earlier in the month the town's wells had dried up, but then one afternoon a huge eruption blotted out the sky and buried the city. For archaeologists, such great human misfortune has been useful; today, Pompeii offers a remarkable snapshot of 1st-century Roman life. But it would be a mistake to think that what happened to it is typical of a Vesuvian eruption. The discovery, a few years ago, of several dozen entombed Bronze Age settlements, about 15km north-north-west of the volcano, is today showing that Vesuvius is able to devastate a far wider region than succumbed in 79AD. (more... subscription required)

The Avellino 3780-yr-B.P. catastrophe as a worst-case scenario for a future eruption at Vesuvius by Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, Pierpaolo Petrone, Lucia Pappalardo, and Michael F. Sheridan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To be published in the online early edition in the week March 6-10, 2006.

Dr Michael Sheridan's research pages.

Gold fingered

Mar 2nd 2006
An unexpected discovery may help explain how old arthritis drugs work

JOURNALISTS wishing to hype a medical discovery often reach for the cliché “silver bullet”. Well, here is a story where the bullets are made of gold and platinum, as well.
Those bullets' targets are a range of ailments known as autoimmune diseases. These diseases, which include juvenile diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, are the result of the body's immune system turning on its host. Instead of recognising and attacking foreign objects, it recognises and attacks its owner's own cells. Such diseases are hard to treat and there is, as a consequence, a need to find new drugs that will suppress the parts of the immune system that generate this unwanted response—and, as he writes in Nature Chemical Biology, Brian DeDecker, a cell biologist at Harvard Medical School, thinks he may have a clue to the answer. (more...)