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October 2002

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Hal Graboske

Sending Up Signals for Genetic Variation

SiMM Is Anything But Simple

World's Most Powerful Solid-State Laser

Stepping Up to Extreme Lithography

Relief for Acute and Chronic Pain

Energy and Environment: Understanding Our World




The Laboratory
in the News

Stardust theory may not hold
Scientists study grains of dust that predate the solar system to obtain insight into the early evolution of the Sun. Nanodiamonds (also known as stardust) recovered from meteorites have been thought to be the most abundant type of presolar dust. If that is true, then nanodiamonds should be at least equally abundant in comets, which are also made of presolar material.
Understandably, the experts were puzzled when, in examining interplanetary dust particles that entered our atmosphere at speeds equivalent to those of cometary meteors, they found a dearth of nanodiamonds. Says John Bradley, director of the Livermore branch of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP), “We presumed that if we studied [micro]meteorites (also known as interplanetary dust particles) from comets further out in our solar system, we would find more nanodiamonds. But we’re just not seeing them. One theory is that some, perhaps most, nanodiamonds are formed within the inner solar system and are not presolar after all.” An alternative explanation offered by the study is that all meteoritic nanodiamonds are presolar, but their abundance decreases the farther they are from the Sun.
The study and its conclusions were published in July 2002 in Nature. Bradley was one of the study’s authors, which was conducted by IGPP in conjunction with scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Washington, the Goddard Space Flight Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Natural History Museum in London.
Contact: John P. Bradley (925) 423-0666 (

Pufferfish DNA helps identify more human genes
An international research consortium led by the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) reported that it has completed the draft sequence, assembly, and analysis of the genome of the Japanese pufferfish, Fugu rubripes. Fugu is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine that can be poisonous if improperly prepared. Its scientific value, however, comes from its compact genome. Fugu has roughly the same number of genes as the human genome, without the “junk” DNA that fills much of the human sequence. Furthermore, nearly three-fourths of the genes in the human genome have identifiable counterparts in fugu, highlighting the anatomy and physiology common to all vertebrates.
By comparing the human and pufferfish genomes, researchers have been able to predict the existence of nearly 1,000 previously unidentified human genes. Although their functions are largely unknown, the more complete determination of the existence and location of these genes will help scientists to characterize how the genes are regulated and function in the human body. “Comparative genomics research like the fugu project are a key to understanding the biology of the human genome,” says JGI Director Eddy Rubin. “The fugu is kind of a Cliffs Notes for a really complicated book, and it’s telling us a lot of what we would not understand without it,” he adds.
Contact: Charles Osolin (925) 296-5643 (

After PEREGRINE comes Minerva
Laboratory researchers are developing a “daughter” method to PEREGRINE, the cancer therapy system that calculates radiation dosage accurately so that the maximum radiation dose can be directed at a tumor while damage to nearby healthy tissue is minimized. Christine Hartmann-Siantar, a principal developer of PEREGRINE, says that Minerva, the new method, is for planning treatment for molecular targeted radiotherapy, which is a type of treatment for metastasized cancer. “Metastastic cancer kills 35,000 Americans every month,” notes Hartmann-Siantar, adding that 70 percent of all cancers are metastatic.
With the Minerva targeting method, scientists can inject molecules of radiation specifically diagnosed for individual patients into the body where the molecules attach onto spreading cancer cells. In addition to accurate targeting of the cancer cells, the therapy causes fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
Researchers are in the early prototype stages of developing the Minerva method and expect it to be available in a few years. PEREGRINE received FDA approval in 2000 and currently is installed and being tested at centers in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and various European countries.
Contact:Christine Hartmann-Siantar (925) 422-4619 (


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UCRL-52000-02-10 | November 15, 2002