Turns out, people become very concerned with your footwear.
Posted by science intern Madeline Reddington
Today, science is using dogs to study an endangered animal, investigating the bioweaponry of ladybugs, developing printable astronaut food, and learning the ins and outs of the bathroom on the Solar Impulse.
A local dog is helping scientists save Orca whales—by smelling their poop
It's not too unusual for a dog to have a penchant for poop, but the abilities of this eight-year-old black lab called Tucker are extraordinary—Tucker can detect Orca feces from up to a mile away, and with his help, the UW Center for Conservation Biology has been able to pin down what’s been harming local killer whales. Using body language, Tucker indicates the direction the smell is coming from so that researchers can drive the boat to the sample and collect the poop, which usually floats on the surface of the water. (A recent poop analysis revealed that a dearth of Chinook Salmon is behind the Orca population decline.)
Through sample analysis researchers can learn about the sex, diet, hormones, diseases, and habitat of the whale in question. This allows scientists to keep tabs on endangered animals without hunting, trapping, and tagging them. Tucker, and other gifted sniffers like him, are trained at Seattle’s Conservation Canines.
Asian lady beetles (aka ladybugs) are proliferating uncontrollably in the US and UK
Originally from native to China and Japan, these ladybugs were introduced to greenhouses in the 1990s to keep aphid populations in check. But their population has since boomed beyond the greenhouse and they are beginning to displace native beetles. A new study shows these ladybugs carry a fungus to which they are immune, but is deadly to other beetle species.
NASA grants company $125,000 to developing 3D-printable foods
The grant goes to a research corporation that hopes to arm a 3D printer with proteins, carbohydrates, and other raw materials to create “tasty” synthetic foods that astronauts can print on-demand. While astronauts are the focus right now, the company ultimately believes printable food will play a role in everyday diet and nutrition for the world population. That idea comes with a healthy dose of skepticism for many. Either way, you’re probably a long way from using “ctrl+p” to make yourself dinner.
The art of the in-flight restroom
Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg have been taking turns in the cockpit of the Swiss-made Solar Impulse as it makes a record-breaking odyssey across America this month. They’ve fielded a lot of questions about their adventure along the way, but obviously the one we’re all secretly thinking about is this:
You probably suspected it was true. Now a study says: It's true.
Posted by intern Madeline Reddington
Today, science is puzzling out mental illness, contemplating the ins and outs of mass extinction, trying out nano-gardening, and training honeybees to seek out live landmines.
The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was released Saturday, to mixed reactions
Published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the DSM is often used by doctors to diagnose mental health conditions in patients that meet specific sets of criteria. Among other changes, the fifth edition drops Asperger’s syndrome as a distinct condition and includes it under the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, revises diagnostic criteria for mental health disorders, and adds several new disorders, including “Binge Eating Disorder.”
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is not at all happy with DSM-5, noting particularly that the diagnoses are based on “clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure,” and can hamper new research using genetics, cognitive science, imaging and other avenues to learn more about mental health. Critics also say the DSM-5 tends to “overpathologize” human behavior, but there are strong opinions on both sides.
Would humanity survive a mass extinction? Listen in at Town Hall Wednesday
Who: Annalee Newitz—Science and tech journalist, editor-in-chief of science-fiction/science blog io9, author of Scatter, Adapt, and Remember
What: Newitz talks about human history of dodging extinction, the one we could be on the cusp of, and suggests how we might survive again.
Where: Downstairs at Town Hall (enter on Seneca)
When: Wednesday, 7:30 – 9:00
Advance tickets are $5 online, and at the door starting at 6:30. Read more here.
Harvard researchers “grow” micron-scale crystal flowers
Wim Noorduin, a postdoctoral researcher, makes tiny gardens in a beaker of fluid. To make the flowers, Noorduin uses chemical gradients to shape the direction in which crystals grow. One of his gardens is around the base of the Lincoln Memorial on a penny.
Honeybees could help find unexploded mines
Using a sugar solution, scientists in Croatia are training honeybees to associate the scent of TNT explosive with the scent of their food. They hope these bees could help find unexploded mines that are sometimes missed by de-mining and pose a threat to citizens. Theoretically, heat-seeking cameras would follow the bees as they gathered around areas that smell of TNT. Go bees!
One of my favorite scientists is Deborah Gordon. She teaches at Stanford and studies harvester ants in the desert of southeast Arizona. She has published two excellent books, Ants At Work: How An Insect Society Is Organized and Ant Encounters: Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior. Yesterday, she published a paper in Nature about how ants forage when conditions are ideal and stay put when they are not. The decision to stay or go is made collectively. The Nature paper is summarized in this post on Science Daily:
"Natural selection is not favoring the behavior that sends out the most ants to get the most food, but instead regulating foraging to hold back when conditions are bad," Gordon said. "This is natural selection shaping a collective behavior exhibited by the entire colony."Gordon has also discovered that colonies change their behavior as they age—meaning, young colonies make different collective decisions than older ones. This discovery allows one to see the ant colony as a kind of primitive (or even phantom) form of, say, an individual ant, which itself is an advanced multicellular organism.
Gordon's group is still investigating how the ants gauge humidity, but they have determined that the collective response of the colony to conditions is heritable from parent colony to offspring colony. Even though a daughter queen will establish her new colony so far from the parent colony that the two colonies will never interact, the offspring colonies resemble parent colonies in their sensitivity to conditions.
Posted by intern Madeline Reddington.
Today, science is finding ruins in the jungle, making new stem cells, watching out for solar flares, and learning about the unique potential of the autistic brain.
Oregon scientists are the first to clone human stem cells
Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University fused human skin cells with donated human eggs, and then were able to extract stem cells genetically identical to the skin donor. This process of cloning embryos has been done with several species of animals over the past 15 years, but never with humans—the process for humans previously involved a fertilized cell that wasn’t genetically identical.
There is another a method for creating stem cells called “induced pluripotent stem” (iPS) cells that doesn’t require embryos. Scientists aren’t sure if embryonic cells might be more versatile than iPS cells, but iPS cells are less controversial and don’t depend on the limited supply of human eggs. The new process from Oregon could rekindle the debate about “reproductive cloning” in humans, though that’s not its intended purpose.
Temple Grandin comes to town hall to talk about autism on Monday
Who: Temple Grandin—Time top 100 Hero, writer and speaker, autistic adult, author of The Autistic Brain
What: Grandin talks about research on brains and behavior, neuroimaging, and the talents of autistic individuals
Where: Great Hall (enter on 8th Ave)
When: Monday, 7:30 – 9:00
This talk is sold out, but a limited number of standby or “limited view” tickets may be available day of, at 7:15. $5. More info here.
Scientists and filmmakers might have found a lost city in a Honduran rain forest
In the depth of a jungle in Honduras, there may be the ruins of a centuries-old city called “la Ciudad Blanca.” Tales of it have circulated since at least 1526, which prompted a documentary filmmaker to search for it using “lidar”—a technique that involves a plane bouncing light off the terrain below as it flies, gathering readings based on reflections. The 3D map it generated showed square and rounded structures underneath the vegetation that could be the remains of pyramids, houses and palaces.
The sun has released four solar flares, and more are expected over the next several days
Active sunspot AR1748 emitted the flares, and possibly a coronal mass ejection (CME)—an eruption of super hot plasma that spews forth charged solar material into space. The spot currently faces away from the earth, but could be facing towards us by this weekend. At this point any future CMEs could impact various communications signals, including GPS. Actually I’ve already been hearing a bit about them acting “wonky” this week. If yours is, well, it’s probably the sun’s fault.
Posted by intern Madeline Reddington
Today, science is worried. Bournemouth University releases potentially unsettling news about dementia and MIT reports that yet another flu strain could pose a serious health risk. In lovelier news, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center recently released a sun video three years in the making.
People are developing dementia and related neurological diseases younger than ever
A study by Bournemouth University reveals a sharp increase in the number of deaths from dementia and related brain diseases in people under 74 in the ten biggest Western countries from 1979-2010. Not only do these diseases now affect a proportionally larger number of older people, they're presenting an all-time high of earlier-onset cases.
With neurological deaths up 66% in men and 92% in women, the USA is the worst of the countries in question. Study researchers say the cause of this is likely environmental, but while concerned parties have speculated on everything from pollution to smartphones and antiperspirant, scientists haven’t identified a specific culprit or combination of culprits. Perhaps one such environmental factor could be the recently uncovered connection between middle aged obesity and dementia risk.
Now here's a note from me: I'm a bit skeptical of this story because in spite of it making statements that seem quite plausible, I've only found a few sites reporting on it. That being said, if what this study implies is indeed the case, major yikes!
MIT study says H3N2 has pandemic potential
Scientists at MIT have found that many strains of H3N2 currently present in birds and pigs are genetically similar to the one from Hong Kong that killed an estimated 1 million people globally in 1968. Like 2009's H1N1 strain, their similarity to the older virus means they could be similarly dangerous, and also that many individuals will be susceptible because they haven't been exposed to them before. If any of these strains makes the leap to humans, current vaccines may not be effective against them.
Also on the topic of flus, this NPR post does a great job of breaking down how the various viruses are named and what that tells you about their mutations.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has been recording images of the sun since Spring 2010
Through three-year period, the observatory captured pictures of the sun every 12 seconds. This beautiful video shows that evolution in the space of about 3 minutes:
Behold, the artificial hamburger, created in a plastic cylinder for your enjoyment:
The hamburger, assembled from tiny bits of beef muscle tissue grown in a laboratory and to be cooked and eaten at an event in London, perhaps in a few weeks, is meant to show the world — including potential sources of research funds — that so-called in-Vitro meat, or cultured meat, is a reality.
Does it make it extra appetizing to know that it's environmentally friendly?
America still leads the world...
Despite America's overall decline, major cities and urban centers on the east and west coast remain the leading centers of physics over this period. The U.S. had 17 of the top 20 cities in 1990 and 14 in 2009. Several U.S. cities frequently rank among the top 20: Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area (Palo Alto and Berkeley), Los Angeles and Southern California, the New York metropolitan area (Piscataway, where Rutgers is located, and Princeton), New Haven, Philadelphia, Lemont, Illinois (Argonne National Laboratory), Chicago, Urbana (home to the University of Illinois), Rochester, Madison (the University of Wisconsin–Madison), and Columbus (Ohio State University). Interestingly, New York City proper fell out of the 2009 top-20 ranking altogether.China is on the rise, but it still has a long way to go before one of its cities becomes a member of this club. (And, yes, Seattle is not a member of this club.)
Outside the United States, Tokyo, Japan; London and Oxford, England; France's Paris and Orsay (home to the main campus of University of Paris-Sud, known for its concentration of science labs); and Rome, Italy numbered among the world's 20 leading scientific centers in 2009.
Posted by intern Madeline Reddington
Today, science discusses plants using the buddy system, the pending cicada invasion, the value of urban forests, and rapid DNA extraction.
Plants grow faster when they can “talk” to each other
Scientists at the University of Western Australia have observed that chili plants, when grown near other chili plants or basil, germinate faster than when grown alone. But the real surprise is that when grown next to basil plants—but separated by black plastic to prevent transmission of light or chemical signals—the chili plants still grow faster, as though communicating acoustically with the basil. One study scientist says the plants could be using nanomechanical oscillations inside cells to rapidly communicate with each other.
After a 17-year wait, billions of underground cicadas lie poised to swarm across the East Coast by the end of the month
While it sounds a tad apocalyptic, and has been dubbed the horror-film-esque "Brood II" by scientists, this year's noisy emergence is likely to be mostly harmless—and is nothing new. These characteristically red-eyed have been feeding on roots while preparing to burst forth for their mating season, which will last about 4-6 weeks until their death. This will mean dense swarms, followed by blankets of dead cicadas across the East Coast, though some areas may hardly see anything. After the mating season, their offspring will burrow underground to await the next emergence in 2030.
Scientists aren't sure how the cicadas know when to come above ground, but one theory is that they detect the passage of time based on the roots of trees. The Brood II mating season is expected to have an especially large number of participants, outnumbering residents from North Carolina to Connecticut by at least 600 to 1.
US urban forests store about 780 million tons of carbon, study says
According to a recent study in the journal Environmental Pollution, city trees and forests provide an estimated $1.5 billion in economic benefit to the country annually by storing carbon. Texas tops the chart, with just over 49 million tons stored.
UW and a Bellevue company created a method to extract DNA from samples in minutes
Engineers from UW and Bellevue's Nanofacture have developed a device that can separate DNA from bodily fluids much faster than the current method that takes 20-30 minutes. Instead of a centrifuge or microfilter, the device uses microscopic probes that dip into samples and use an electric field to attract particles to concentrate around them.
We know you’re tempted, but we can’t say we recommend eating them:
Communism is not something you go to; it's something you come from...
With 35 days left in their Kickstarter campaign, the guys who want to light the way with glowing plants have raised more than $200,000, blowing away their initial goal of $65,000. And they’re not wasting any time resting on their laurels. I spoke with the project’s manager Antony Evans. He told me what the team has already set its sights beyond the user-friendly but unremarkable Arabidopsis. If the campaign raises more than $400,000, they’ll not only complete the Arabidopsis work, but bring illumination to the already beautiful rose as well.
Here's the promotional video for the project:
On the one hand, science is incredible. On the other hand, this makes me feel kind of like a supporting character at the beginning of a 1950's sci-fi movie, the guy who shouts "These glowing plants will be the death of us all!" What does Slog think?
Posted by intern Madeline Reddington
Cinco de Mayo is a whole bunch of fun! But science doesn’t stop exploring just because you’re having fun in the sun! On this (likely hungover) Monday, we present you with a solar-powered plane, a a promising potential treatment for diabetics, atoms playing “zone defense,” and the Earth’s hot creamy center.
Solar-powered plane finishes leg one of its first flight across the US
“It’s a little bit like being in a dream,” said pilot Bertrand Piccard after landing Solar Impulse—considered to be the world’ most advanced sun-powered plane—in Phoenix Saturday. His flight from San Francisco is the first leg of a journey across the US on a plane that can fly day and night without fuel.
While its wingspan is larger than a Boeing 747’s, the Impulse weighs about as much as a car. It’s vulnerable to bad weather, and has a top speed of just more than 40mph. Developers hope to make a zero-emissions flight around the world in 2015. After a 20-hour flight, the plane—which looks almost like a giant glider—still retained 75% of its battery power.
A network of nanoscale particles could control blood sugar levels in diabetics
Researchers have developed an injectable nano-network that releases insulin in response to blood sugar changes in animal-based laboratory experiments. The particles have an insulin core, and are structured so that exposure to glucose causes their exteriors to break down and release the insulin. A single injection can keep a mouse’s blood sugar levels for up to 10 days.
“White graphene” soaks up pollutants from contaminated water
Made from boron nitride, white graphene is a flat, hexagonally-bonded structure of atoms laid out in large sheets—think of a teeny tiny chain-link fence—that can absorb organic pollutants from contaminated water. These would be substances like industrial chemicals and engine oils. Not only that, the material can be heat “cleaned” and reused.
Turns out, we miscalculated the temperature of the Earth’s core—by 1800 degrees
A recent study based on the melting point of iron shows that the core of the Earth is actually as hot as the surface of the sun (about 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit). This clarification about the difference in temperature between the Earth’s core and mantle helps shed light on Earth’s generation of its own magnetic field.
Starship Solar Impulse lands in Phoenix:
Astronauts on money! How do you like our hundred dollar bill now?
Posted by intern Madeline Reddington.
Today, science is concerned about: CO2, neutrinos and such at Town Hall, a skull archaeologists dug up, and how IBM has made the world’s smallest stop-motion film.
Jamestown skull confirms cannibalism by early settlers
When the settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, faced a deadly winter from 1609 to 1610, known as the “starving time,” they surrendered their hunger to cannibalism. One victim of this ultimate desperation appears to have been a 14-year-old girl, who was butchered and eaten. Marks on the skull and leg bone of the individual, now being called "Jane," indicate she was likely dismembered and her skull cracked, presumably to eat her flesh and brain.
Speaker series at Town Hall provides interesting ideas about the nature of everything you've ever seen and will see: Two talks at Town Hall.
The first features two UW graduate students:
Physics PhD candidate Alan Jamison explores the unique, sometimes confounding properties of atoms and a particular method of analyzing them: using lasers to cool them to a temperature “10 billion times colder than a winter’s day in Antarctica.” Then UW researcher Jared Kofron takes you on a journey through the history of the neutrino, the lightest known particle. Since the early 20th century, physicists have been trying to determine and explore its properties.
The second features theoretical physicist Lee Smolin:
Smolin tackles the reality of time and takes a very different side from the one indicated by most physicists, from Newton to Einstein. While the generally accepted concept is that people think time passes, but it’s an illusion, Smolin argues that time might be the ONLY thing that’s actually real. Read more on Smolin here.
Where: Downstairs at Town Hall (enter on Seneca)
When: Tuesday, May 7 at 6:00 & 7:30 pm, respectively. One ticket ($5 adv) is good for both talks.
Global CO2 measurements likely to reach a landmark high this month
For 55 years, an infrared laser near the summit of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii has been taking hourly readings of CO2 concentration. Because of its long record and location away from major pacific ocean pollution sources, this observatory is considered the “gold standard” of global CO2 measurement. Scientists expect it to surpass 400 parts-per-million this month—a concentration that hasn’t been reached in several million years.
A boy and his atom
IBM created the world’s smallest stop-motion video using two scanning tunneling microscopes cooled to -450 degrees fahrenheit. The microscope’s tiny needle attracts the atoms. The frame you’re seeing is magnified about 100 million times.
Here is a link to the actual stop-motion film, A Boy and His Atom, but their short documentary is actually more interesting than the movie itself:
By Intern Madeline Reddington
This week, science is discussing and deciding about about bees and space, as well as messing about with nanosponges and beans.
The EU votes today on banning pesticides that threaten bee populations
The European Union is expected to make a decision today regarding a ban on neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides said to be contributing the global problem of bees dying off due to colony collapse disorder. Developed in the late 90s as an alternative to other pesticides that are harmful to humans, neonicotinoids kill insects by binding to receptors in their nervous systems. The ban would prevent their use only on plants that bees are attracted to.
Imidacloprid, the world’s most popular pesticide, is one of the ones in question. A Harvard University study showed a direct link between dietary exposure to imidacloprid and hive health. The issue, however, is far from settled, as it's hotly debated on all sides, including these protesters in full bee attire.
Experts say Earthlings need to clean up after ourselves, and soon
Members of the Sixth European Conference on Space Debris say large pieces of junk need to be removed from around Earth in the near future—or we’ll be risking damage to some $1.3 billion worth of active equipment orbiting our planet, including further incidents like the piece of Chinese space debris that essentially disabled a Russian satellite in January.
Nanosponge disguises itself as a red blood cell and “soaks up” toxins
Researchers at UCSD found that nanosponges (microscopic, spherical particles “cloaked” in the membrane of red blood cells) can trick toxins that attack by puncturing red blood cells. The sponges trap the toxins when they attack. Read more at Scientific American.
UW biology doctoral student messes up an experiment, awesomely
What Frederick Dooley did was use 1/10 of the amount of the toxin hydrogen sulfide that he meant to in an experiment with beans and other plants. Hydrogen sulfide, also called "sewer gas" (characteristically smells like rotten eggs), is implicated in several mass extinctions and is very poisonous. But instead of killing the plants in the experiment, the low dose of the toxin surprisingly caused them to grow a whole lot faster. Care for some sewer beans with your poop steak?
Ok, to be fair this is far less unsettling than the steak. This video of two seeds of dwarf wheat demonstrates the accelerated growth (on the right), which nearly doubles crop yields:
By Intern Madeline Reddington
Today, science is developing itsy bitsy heroes for the world of surgery, recruiting strains of E. coli bacteria to produce diesel fuel, making plans to eradicate polio, and gearing up for this weekend’s Engineering Discovery Days at UW.
Tiny new surgical tools are heat activated and retrieved with magnets
John’s Hopkins engineers and doctors are testing “mu grippers”—star-shaped, dust particle-sized devices that obtain tissue samples by closing their tiny “fingers” on clusters of cells. (Think of the popular claw arcade game, but astronomically more precise, with the gripper part dropping untethered into the “prize bucket.”)
The grippers are stored on ice before being used for biopsies and then inserted into the target area via endoscopy. As the body’s heat warms the grippers, their fingers curl inwards, capturing cells. The grippers contain magnetic material, and are then pulled out through an existing body orifice using a magnetic catheter. Scientists have successfully used the mu grippers on live animals, but they have yet to be tested on humans.
Some E. coli bacteria can produce diesel fuel on demand
A team from the University of Exeter has found a way to use specific strains of E. coli bacteria to produce diesel that’s nearly the same as conventional diesel fuel. So far only small amounts have been created in labs, but the team hopes to expand the project towards replacing conventional diesel with “carbon neutral biofuel.”
Health experts plan to eradicate polio by 2018
On April 25, the strategy for eradicating polio forever is to be presented at an international health meeting in Abu Dhabi. International efforts to administer vaccines have steadily reduced the case rate, with just 223 confirmed cases of paralytic polio in 2012.
Engineering Discovery Days are this weekend at UW
What: Robots, solar-powered toy cars, DNA extraction from fruit, electromagnetic fishing poles, a beloved glowing pickle, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and more.
Where: The promenade along Rainier Vista and Drumheller Fountain, and engineering buildings.
When: Friday & Saturday, 9am - 2pm
The events on Friday are at capacity, and mainly geared towards children, but everyone is welcome to come explore on both days. More info here.
We leave you with an electric pickle (to see one in person, check out Engineering Discovery Days):
On this gray and somber morning, a little story that contains three of my favorite things—women in science, kids at the grown-up table, and yummy organic produce—is brightening things just a bit. Dallas teenager Ria Chhabra, who started this project in middle school and is now 16, has had her research on organic foods published in a peer-reviewed journal after winning honors at national science competitions.
From Tara Parker-Pope on the NYT Well blog:
The research, titled “Organically Grown Food Provides Health Benefits to Drosophila melanogaster,” tracked the effects of organic and conventional diets on the health of fruit flies. By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce.
She's been working with a Southern Methodist University professor, Dr. Johannes Bauer, in his lab. According to Pope, "Dr. Bauer said that he was happy to have her working in his lab and that her biggest problem was that 'she has too many ideas for her own good.'" Bless you, internet, for the good stuff.
Posted by intern Madeline Reddington.
Science today is fighting over genes, finding out all that extra “junk” DNA is actually pretty important (who knew!), strapping in for potential increases in flight turbulence, digging up baby dinos and concocting see-through brains (for research, not props on next week’s Dr. Who).
Patenting Human Genes
Can a research company patent a building block of human biology? The US Supreme Court considers this question this month as biotech and pharmaceutical leaders go head-to-head with leading medical groups and scientists over patents on two genes highly associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
Myriad genetics, the biotech company in question, and its supporters claim that patents like these incentivize research, and opponents say the patents prevent more research from being done by other parties, as well as denying patients the ability to get a second opinion on Myriad test results and access to information from clinical trials. The patents are set to expire in 2015.
Junk DNA Is Looking Less and Less Like Junk
Most of our DNA is not in our genes. More than 98% of the human genome is made up of this non-coding “junk” DNA, which is considered by many in the scientific community to be of little genetic purpose. A UCSF study published this week says that, in fact, stretches of “long noncoding RNA” are actually associated with brain diseases like Huntington’s, Alzheimer's, major depressive disorder and much more. Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it's junk.
The Future of Flight Turbulence
Scientists say that climate change, if it continues to follow current trends, will increase the intensity and frequency of turbulence on transatlantic flights by the mid-century. By drawing the jet stream further north, global warming will likely increase the frequency of moderate turbulence by 10-40%, and moderate-or-greater turbulence by 40-170%. The greater turbulence is enough to spill drinks and make walking difficult.
Oldest Dinosaur Embryo Fossils Found in China
Paleontologists working in China are studying the earliest collection of fossilized dinosaur embryos to date. These 190-million-year-old fossils were Lufengosauruses, plant-eating dinosaurs that reach up to 30 feet in length as adults. The 20 fossils showcase the animals at various stages of development, showing they grew rapidly in their eggs and flexed their muscles while inside, just like birds today.
Welcome the Transparent Brain
Stanford neuroscientist Dr. Karl Deisseroth's developed a new process that replaces the lipids in brain cells (which block the passage of light) with a clear hydrogel similar to what’s used in contact lenses. The thalamus, brainstem, cortex and hippocampus are visible to the naked eye, and smaller structures can be dyed for better analysis, even singling out specific types of cells and proteins. This ability to analyze neural circuits in detail is invaluable in the study of diseases like alzheimer's, schizophrenia and autism. The study, published in Nature, includes a video tour of a dyed mouse brain...
Posted by intern Madeline Reddington.
The sound that rang out through the developing universe in the millennia after the Big Bang didn’t sound like an echo, but more like a deep, transfixing hum of decelerating oscillations. In fact, it was so deep that the frequency would have to be boosted 100 septillion times to be heard by human ears.
Ten years ago, a science fair question from an 11-year-old prompted John Cramer, a UW physics professor, to create a simulation of this sound using Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation recorded by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). This radiation is a ghostly imprint left behind by the original “recording” of the sound, which was a series of compressed and rarefied stretches of matter shaped by the sound wave as it travelled through the universe. The compressed areas were hotter, and the rarefied ones cooler, creating a heat map.
It would fit into one baseball...
NASA is planning for a robotic spaceship to lasso a small asteroid and park it near the moon for astronauts to explore, a top senator revealed Friday.
The robotic ship would capture the 500-ton 25-foot asteroid in 2019. Then using an Orion space capsule, now being developed, a crew of about four astronauts would nuzzle up next to the rock in 2021 for spacewalking exploration, according to a government document obtained by The Associated Press.
Repeat: The United States of America is going to go fucking lasso a fucking asteroid with our fucking space robot, motherfuckers!
A week or so ago, Smithsonianmag.com posted a story about how cliff swallows in Nebraska are adapting to roads. Cliff swallows build their nests on cliffs; sometimes these cliffs are natural and sometimes they are not—they’re bridges or overpasses. Cliff swallows also like to sit on roads that are close to their nests. Roads have cars. Cars are dangerous. The rest is up to Darwin.
For the last thirty years, the researchers at the University of Tulsa have driven a set of roads in Nebraska, collecting little bird bodies. Not only have those bird bodies decreased, but the population’s wing span has decreased with it. The paper writes:
"Our results indicate that these birds since then have become increasingly less likely to collide with cars and that road mortality is not indiscriminate. One possible explanation is that selection has favored individuals whose wing morphology allows for better escape. Longer wings have lower wing loading and do not allow as vertical a take-off as shorter, more rounded wings. Thus, individuals sitting on a road, as cliff swallows often do, who are able to ﬂy upward more vertically may be better able to avoid or more effectively pivot away from an oncoming vehicle."
These changes in death rates aren’t explained by changes in traffic patterns or population of the birds, the researchers say. And they’re calling this change in wing span “vehicular selection.” But it might not be the only force at play. New Scientist writes:
"However, Brown says that encounters with traffic may not be the only force at work. After a particularly cold May in 1996 killed about half the nesting population through starvation, wing lengths dropped markedly, perhaps because birds with shorter wings were better able to capture the remaining insects still on the wing."
As the post points out, cliff swallows are not the first wild animal to evolve under some kind of human pressure or condition...
Fish mature more quickly due to fishing, and finches are evolving back into one species due to the bird feeders. And now it seems that our love affair with the road could mean a whole new kind of swallow.
On Tuesday, President Obama provided more information about his plan to invest $100 million in 2014 to map the human brain. The goal of the project, referred to as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative and the Brain Activity Map project, is to develop technologies that can document the interactions between nerve cells and the complex network of circuits that are at the root of human thoughts, behavior and functions. The knowledge will better inform scientists about diseases like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, autism and traumatic brain injury, and hopefully lead to new treatments for these conditions. President Obama referred to the project in this year’s State of the Union address.
This project is based on the Human Genome Project, and I don't understand how you could interpret it as anything but the start of something great. On the other hand, I can't wait to read about all the Republican theories about how President Obama is researching mind control.
Ever read/like/repost things from the Facebook page I Fucking Love Science? It's highly likely you have, since the page has 4.2 million "Likes" and posts smart, interesting, funny science facts and stories multiple times a day, in easy-to-digest meme-style images that get shared thousands of times apiece. They show up in my feed all the time.
Well, this week, the admin of the page, Elise Andrew, posted a link to her brand-new Twitter feed. If you didn't just LOSE YOUR MIND when you noticed that's a female first name, congratulations! You win the internet today. Thousands of commenters on her page, however, appear to have nearly died with shock. A woman?!? Who likes science?!? Also: She appears to be young and pretty. OH, SHIT.
From the Guardian (she's a Brit):
The post provoked an onslaught of comments discussing her gender and looks. "F.ck me! This is a babe ?!!" wrote commenter Can Durace. "holy hell, youre a HOTTIE!" wrote Douglas Pistone Linares.
Lou Forbes said: "you mean you're a girl, AND you're beautiful? wow, i just liked science a lil bit more today ^^"
When she reposted that Guardian story on Twitter, it went like this:
@Elise_Andrew: A Guardian blogger wrote about all the sexist comments I got on my post earlier, check it out.
@charlespratt: @Elise_Andrew A lot of those comments were just compliments. I mean you are an attractive woman. Doesn't make it sexist, dear.
Good lord, jerks. This shit is tiring. But Andrew seems wonderful. A recent tweet: "Bored of the whole sexism thing. For the rest of the day I will only be tweeting photos of nudibranchs."
What really separates us from the rest? We are the animal that generalizes everything. From Who's In Charge:
One of the major dissimilarities... is that the abilities of other animals do not generalize: Each species has an extremely limited set of abilities and these abilities are adaptations restricted to a single goal: Scrub jays plan for the single goal of future food but not for other things, nor do they teach or make tools in the wild. Crows make tools in the wild but only for obtaining food, and they do not plan or teach. Meerkats don't plan or make tools in the wild, but they teach their young one thing only: how to eat poisonous scorpions without being stung. None can take their skill and adapt it across many domains. The meerkat teaches its young how to safely eat scorpions. Humans, on the other hand, teach everything to their young, and what is taught usually generalizes to other skills. In short, teaching and learning have been generalized.And where does this generalizing have its roots in the human body? The hands. Our legs are specialized for walking; but ours hands are up for anything. One of the first thinkers to see the importance of hands was, of course, a Marxist (Engles);
[When] these apes began to lose the habit of using their hands to walk and adopted a more and more erect posture. This was the decisive step in the transition from ape to man.I'm of the opinion that our hands are behind our big brain.
Let's look at this report:
Neanderthals' keen vision may explain why they couldn't cope with environmental change and died out, despite having the same sized brains as modern humans, new research suggests.Some scientists believe that the brains of Neanderthals were not just equal to but considerably larger than those of anatomically modern humans. (Neanderthals had 300 grams more than our standard 1300 grams—indeed, many people of European descent see in this difference a possible reason for white specialness and black slowness, as "all Non-African are part Neanderthal"). But now it's looking like the Neanderthal brain was used for other, more immediate/direct/basic purposes than intelligence and deep social processing. What can all of this mean? Thinking that big brains means more power for thinking is not good thinking.
The findings, published today (March 12) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that Neanderthals developed massive visual regions in their brains to compensate for Europe's low light levels. That, however, reduced the brain space available for social cognition.
"We have a social brain, whereas Neanderthals appear to have a visual brain," said Clive Gamble, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the study.
If one reads Gazzaniga's latest book, Who's In Charge, they will find this interesting piece of informaiton: Only 19 percent of the neurons in the human brain are located in the cerebral cortex, and the vast majority of the neurons, 72 percent, are located in the cerebellum. The cortex is responsible for "human thought and culture"; the cerebellum for "refining motor control." And it breaks down even further:
The frontal lobes and prefrontal cortex—the part of the human brain that is involved with memory and planning, cognitive flexibility, abstract thinking, initiating appropriate behavior and inhibiting inappropriate behavior, learning rules, and picking out relevant information perceived through the senses—have vastly fewer neurons than the number in the visual areas, the other sensory areas, and the motor areas
of the cortex...
With that in mind...
Neanderthal skulls suggest that the extinct hominids had elongated regions in the back of their brains, called the "Neanderthal bun," where the visual cortex lies.It's now looking like the modern human that the African continent produced 250,000 or so years ago had made greater biological investments in human social processing. And it is this investment that made the greatest difference.
"It looks like a Victorian lady's head," Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford told LiveScience.
Anatomically modern humans, meanwhile, evolved in Africa, where the bright light required no extra visual processing, leaving humans free to evolve larger frontal lobes.
It's the earthquake that will, in many ways, "mirror" the one that devastated Japan in 2011:
More than 10,000 people could die when—not if—a monster earthquake and tsunami occur just off the Pacific Northwest coast, researchers told Oregon legislators Thursday.
Coastal towns would be inundated. Schools, buildings and bridges would collapse, and economic damage could hit $32 billion.
The last time a monster earthquake happened in the Cascadia Subduction Zone was in 1700. Which means, according to the experts, we're "overdue."
Billions of humans are in the world because of the industrial fixing of nitrogen...
Modern agriculture was born when an abundant supply of synthetic nitrogen started flowing at Oppau. The Haber-Bosch process busted wide open the natural limits on plant growth. Nitrogen is a building block of all proteins and other molecules necessary for life, including DNA, and a critical nutrient for all plants and animals. Most of the nitrogen naturally fixed from the atmosphere for plant use is captured by bacteria that grow on the roots of legumes like peas and bean plants. Ammonia is transformed by these symbiotic bacteria into nitrates, which are then taken up by plants. Until 1913, cultivating legumes, recycling manure and crop residues, and mining deposits of bird droppings in South America were the primary sources of nitrogen in agriculture.Artificial nitrogen now accounts for half the nitrogen in our bodies. 3 percent of the human body is nitrogen. The natural process for fixing nitrogen could only sustain 3.5 billion of us. Humans are already a form of artificial life.
Quick note: The Haber-Bosch process has its roots in the destruction rather than the creation of human beings. It was invented in the 1910s by Germans because they didn't have access to natural ammonia, which is used in gun powder and explosives. It is often argued that had there been no Haber-Bosch there would have been no World War I—which cost over 40 million lives. There are now 3.5 billion humans who are only alive because of this process with a violent past.