Talking Point

Written by Reuters | Updated: Jan 12 2010, 03:56am hrs
Music Therapy

Individually designed music therapy may help reduce noise levels in people suffering from tinnitus, or ear ringing, German scientists said. The researchers designed musical treatments adapted to the musical tastes of patients with ear-ringing and then stripped out sound frequencies that matched the individuals tinnitus frequency. After a year of listening to these notched musical therapies, patients reported a distinct decrease in the loudness of ringing compared with those who had listened to non-tailored placebo music, the researchers said.

Tinnitus is a common hearing problem in industrialised countries and the ear-ringing can be loud enough to harm quality of life in between 1 and 3% of the general population, the researchers said. A European Union (EU) health panel recently raised the alarm about the potential hearing damage caused by young people playing their MP3 players too loud.

The EU scientific committee on emerging and newly identified health risks warned that listening to personal music devices at high volume for long periods could cause hearing loss and tinnitus, and their warning prompted the European Commission to issue new safe volume standards for MP3 players.

The German researchers said the precise cause of tinnitus is not known, but the auditory cortexthe region of the brain that processes soundis often distorted in those who have it. The researchers from the Institute for Biomagnetism and Biosignalanalysis at Westfalian Wilhelms-University said their findings on targeted listening suggested that tinnitus volume could be significantly diminished by an enjoyable, low-cost, custom tailored notched music treatment.


Water drug

One of the most daunting challenges for synthetic chemists has finally been conquered. The effort to make palau amine in the lab sparked heated competition for more than a decade between leading researchers, even though it may have little potential as a drug. The yield of the 25-step synthesis, which was led by Phil Baran at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, was just 0.015%: fewer than 2 in every 10,000 molecules of starting material made it through to the final product. Phil and his students have set a standard against which all future work in the area will be judged. The synthesis is more than a technical achievement. The procedure demonstrates the effectiveness of a set of guiding principles for efficient organic synthesis that was articulated by Barans group several years ago and is now gaining adherents for its focus on brevity and simplicity.

Palau amine was isolated from the sponge Stylotella agminata, which is found in the waters around the Republic of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean. First reported in 1993, it is part of a family of compounds known as pyrrole-imidazole alkaloids, which may help to deter fish from snacking on the sponge or prevent microbes from taking up residence. The molecule has antitumour, antibacterial and antifungal activity.

The efforts to synthesise palau amine have forced chemists to develop new reactions and techniques for assembling complicated molecules.

Part of Barans synthesis relies on a silver-based reagent, for example, that his lab invented to gently oxidise the half-built palau amine molecule without disrupting its nitrogen atoms. That reagent is already being used by a pharmaceutical company to make a range of drug candidates.

Light Touch

Aside from taking public transportation, one of the best ways to increase fuel economy and decrease emissions is, of course, to use a light touch on the accelerator pedal. Hypermilers know this, which is why some of them go so far as to drive without shoes. The rest of us might get a little help from Continental.

The German auto parts giant is working on an active gas pedal that pushes back when pushed too hard. Its a variation on Contis Accelerator Force Feedback Pedal, which helps avoid rear-end collisions by applying back pressure or vibrating the pedal to alert the driver when a crash is imminent. Now its testing the gadget to see if it can be used to tell drivers theyre leadfoots. Conti says the technology could prove more effective than a warning light on the dash or an annoying buzzer.

The first studies show that using it as a gear-shift indicator led to a reduction in CO2 and fuel use of 5 to 10%, Peter Laier, executive vice-president of Continentals chassis components business unit said. Therefore we see 5% as realistic. Those figures jibe with what Nissan expects to see with its ECO Pedal, an option slated to appear in the next-gen Infiniti M sedan. The pedal, developed by Japanese supplier Mikuni, is wired into the cars engine management system and provides some resistance when accelerating too hard for maximum fuel efficiency.

Of course, there are timessay, when getting on the freewaywhen you want to stomp on it. Nothing about the systems designed by Mikuni or Continental will prevent you from doing that.

The driver can easily disregard the resistance or turn it off altogether. But if you heed the signal and do as prompted, it can improve fuel economy.

Source: Nature, & Wired