Spotlights, web extra

Author: John Monczunski

Malaria mosquito mapped

Researchers now have a blueprint of the genes of the primary mosquito that transmits the malaria parasite to humans, and Notre Dame biologist Frank Collins helped create it.

Collins, the Clark Professor of Biological Sciences, and Robert E. Holt of Celera Genonimcs Inc., the company that mapped the human genome, were the corresponding authors of a study that determined the genetic sequence of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. Their findings appeared last October 4 in the journal Science.

Malaria is thought to afflict well over 500 million people and cause nearly 3 million deaths each year; more than 90 percent occur in infants and young children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Science study. Now, for the first time, scientists have complete genetic information on an infectious organism (the malaria parasite), its natural host (humans), and the insect that transmits the disease. The information is likely to help scientists develop new mosquito repellants, insecticides, and mosquito vaccines to fight malaria.

Ultimate dorm fridge

What would a college student want in a dorm-size refrigerator?

Leftover pizza, for one thing. So it’s no surprise that a potential new mini-refrigerator designed with input from a group of Notre Dame marketing students is wide enough and deep enough to hold a 16-inch pizza box level.

The concept fridge, similar to one test-marketed by Whirlpool in three cities earlier this year, also has a tray on top for a TV, CD player or microwave oven, and it comes with large wheels to make it easier to move in and out of an apartment or dorm.

Whirlpool, based about an hour north of campus in Benton Harbor, Michigan, picked the students’ brains because it is considering launching a line of products geared to the needs of younger buyers. About 24 students in two groups contributed to the fridge design. They were treated to pizza parties and paid about $20 each, said Kevin Bradford, marketing professor.

Thanks for the megahertz

It’s possible to get other people’s computers to do work for you without getting permission from the machines’ owners or hacking through security fire walls.

The technique is called “parasitic computing,” and it relies on protocols that allow computers to communicate over the Internet. In an experiment, a team of Notre Dame researchers discovered a way to use the protocols to get Internet servers all over the world to solve parts of a complex computational problem. They reported their findings last August in the journal Nature.

The idea of tying computers together to solve a problem has been around for years in the form of distributed computing, a technique sometimes used on difficult tasks like cracking encryptions. The difference with parasitic computing is that the work can be carried out merely by engaging the target computer in communication. Because of that, it can be done without the server owner’s knowledge or permission, although the researchers had both for their experiment.

The technique doesn’t violate the security because it uses only areas of a server earmarked for public access. In terms of sabotage value, parasitic computing is a weak weapon compared with alternative methods. According to the researchers, about all it can do is distract the server from intended business.

As for practical and productive applications, they’ll have to wait for refinements. According to the researchers it would have been 200 times quicker to do the same computations used in the experiment on a single desktop computer.

Voice of ‘Doomsday’

When the journal the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its symbolic Doomsday Clock forward two minutes last February because of more pessimistic outlook for nuclear peace, the announcement came from the lips of Notre Dame’s George A. Lopez.

Lopez is director of policy studies in Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and chair of the board of directors of the bulletin.

The Doomsday Clock is part of the journal’s logo and serves as a barometer for concern about nuclear weapons use. The latest change brought the minute hand forward to seven minutes before “midnight” or nuclear apocalypse, the position at which the clock was originally set in 1947.

The journal said the change reflected developments including terrorist efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, the crisis between nuclear powers Pakistan and India, and the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The clock has been reset 17 times. The closest it’s been to midnight was two minutes from 1953 to 1960, when the U.S. and Soviet Union stepped up testing of thermonuclear devices. The fathers it has been away was 17 minutes, from 1991 to 1995, after the after the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.