Research Report: UCSD team finds autism link to brain overgrowth

By Lynne Friedmann

A study by researchers at the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence shows that brain overgrowth in boys with autism involves an abnormal, excess number of neurons in areas of the brain associated with social, communication, and cognitive development.

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

Relying on meticulous, direct cell counting, scientists discovered a 67 percent excess of cortical cells — a type of brain cell only made before birth — in children with autism.

The findings suggest that the disorder may arise from prenatal processes gone awry and confirms a relatively recent theory about possible causes of autism. Small head circumference at birth, followed by a sudden and excessive increase in head circumference during the first year of life, was first linked to development of autism in 2003.

The current study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Society (JAMA). News release at

Forecasting solar power production

The space shuttle program may have ended, but data collected by astronauts during the past three decades are still helping advance science, this time with the assistance of the Triton Resource, a supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

For example, researchers at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering recently used measurements from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission to predict how changes in elevation, such as hills and valleys, and the shadows they create, impact power output in California’s solar grid. Heretofore, large-scale models used to calculate solar power output did not take elevation into account.

The researchers used 60,000 processor hours to run calculations on Triton Resource to create a new model that includes detailed elevation data. The model is being made available publicly on a large scale, including all of Southern California, as well as the San Francisco Bay Area. Utility companies and homeowners can use the model to get a more realistic picture of the solar power output they can typically expect to produce. More information at

Pollution intensifies cyclones

Pollution is making Arabian Sea cyclones more intense. Traditionally, prevailing wind shear patterns prohibit cyclones in the Arabian Sea from becoming major storms. A study, involving scientists at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, suggests the weakening of winds aloft has enabled the formation of stronger cyclones in recent years — including storms in 2007 and 2010 that were the first recorded ever to enter the Gulf of Oman.

The researchers note that the weakening wind pattern over the past 30 years has corresponded with a buildup of aerosols in the atmosphere over India. This aerosol buildup creates formations known as atmospheric brown clouds (ABCs) in which smog from diesel emissions, soot, and other by-products of biomass burning accumulate and become widespread to a degree significant enough to be a force in regional climate. More information at

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Posted by Staff on Nov 15, 2011. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, Health & Science, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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