Science News: Gautham Venugopalan, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, reports in a new study that applying pressure to lab-grown cancer cells forces them to behave like normal cells. Venugopalan and his coworkers believe that the phenomenon may have to do with the presence of a protein called E-cadherin. When they added antibodies that interfered with that protein, applying pressure to the tumors had no effect. Although the surprising finding doesn’t provide an immediate cure for cancer, it may point the way to the development of a drug to treat the disease. “You don’t necessarily have to kill a cancer cell,” Venugopalan said, “you just need to make it behave noncancerous.”
Science: Tau Ceti, at 12 light-years away, is the closest single star system with a temperature and luminosity similar to those of the Sun. From an analysis of more than 6000 observations, Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire in the UK and his colleagues have determined that there may be as many as five planets orbiting Tau Ceti. Slight changes in the star’s motion through space indicate that all five have masses between 2 and 7 times that of Earth, and all are located closer to their star than Mars is to our Sun. The fourth planet from Tau Ceti orbits at a distance similar to that of Venus. Because Tau Ceti emits only 45% as much light as the Sun, this puts the fourth planet in the habitable zone—the region of space where water can exist in liquid form. Because of the small size of the variations in Tau Ceti’s motion, confirmation that the variations are caused by orbiting planets—rather than disturbances on the star itself—will require an improvement in our ability to identify low-mass planets.
Nature: Flexible rings that fold up on themselves into saddle shapes or stacks of interlinked loops are most recognizable in such everyday items as pop-up tents and laundry baskets. A group of researchers led by Alain Jonas of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium has determined that the way these rings behave depends on a single characteristic known as overcurvature, or how much more curved the ring is than a flat circle of the same circumference. By modeling overcurvature, the researchers were able to predict what shape a given ring would take and the path it would take to get there, which depends on how much energy was applied. A three-ring stack of interlocked loops required more energy at the start, but settled into position much more easily than forms that required less energy at the start. Jonas believes that his team’s findings regarding overcurvature may also apply to molecular rings such as plasmids or various polymers.
Chronicle of Higher Education: Although massive open online courses (MOOCs) have become extremely popular in the US, the UK has been slow to embrace that educational model. MOOCs are defined by several key features: They are open to anyone, don’t cost anything, allow any number of participants, and don’t usually offer college credit. Now, however, two schools in the UK—the University of Edinburgh and the University of London—have started offering such courses through an American company called Coursera. Next year more schools will be signing on through a new company, called FutureLearn, that is being created by the UK’s Open University. Yet, according to Martin Bean, the OU’s vice chancellor, the UK version will feature a “distinctly British” twist on the American model.