Brainiac Whatâ€™s inside? Environment Space Culture Technology Animals Health Weird and Wacky April 2009 R27. 50
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Environment Heat-Tolerant Corn Could Prevent Future Starvation By Stuart Michael Hutson In the poorest nations of the tropics and subtropics – areas that are home to nearly half of the human population – rising temperatures from global climate change promise to devastate staple crops, such as rice and maize, by the end of the century. “There is a chance that we might be able to stem the effects on plant yield from this climate change,” said L. Curtis Hannah, a plant molecular biology researcher at the University of Florida. “But a betting man knows that our best chance is to learn to adapt – to develop crops that will feed people in a hotter climate.” That is exactly what Hannah and his colleagues are working to do. They are developing gene variants of wheat, rice and maize that produce increased yields under heat stress. Through this effort, Hannah and his colleagues are also uncovering the inner mechanisms of the crops that have fed people for thousands of years. Certain gene variants code for enzymes called AGPases, which control how much starch a plant stores within seeds that people can harvest for food. The AGPases are typically undercut by heat stress, resulting in plants that produce dramatically lower nutritional yields. However, Hannah developed two heat-stable variants of AGPase genes Sh2 and Bt2. Under hot environmental conditions, the Sh2 variant increased the yield of wheat by 38 percent and increased the yield for rice by 23 percent. The combination of the two variants provided a 68 percent increase in yield for maize. Field tests conducted in Florida showed that the Sh2 variant increased the yield of commercially produced corn by 42 percent. This is a dramatic increase, especially given that traditional breeding pro-
grams typically only produce a 1 percent increase in yield per year. The mechanism behind these increases, however, is still somewhat of a mystery. For example, the plants produce more seeds, rather than larger seeds packed with more starch. Data from the Hannah group show that only half of the ovaries on maize ears eventually become viable kernels. So, the gene variants are simply blocking some mechanism that would normally abort some seeds before they can develop. However, there is still a possibility that there is another effect somewhere within the plant’s growth cycle. The gene variants are strongest when they are derived maternally, not when they are introduced via pollination. Also, not all kernels on the higher-yield plants carried the gene variant, so the reason for the increase is likely found somewhere within the plant’s mechanism for channeling resources to the seeds, rather than in the seeds themselves. “Man has been growing these crops for thousands of years, but we’ve only had the tools to try to understand what really makes them grow for a relatively short amount of time,” Hannah said. “There’s a long way to go before we have a truly comprehensive picture of why they do what they do.” “We’re going to keep looking at different combinations that will give us better and better yields,” Hannah said. “Meanwhile, by watching what happens when we make these changes, we learn more and more about what makes these plants tick.” “Some people are really concerned about genetically modified crops, but the truth is that the climate is changing faster than plants can adapt,” she said. “If our technology helped lead us into this, why can’t it help lead us out?”
Strange 1761 Atmospheric Phenomenon Explained By Harvey Leifert Unusual atmospheric phenomena were recorded worldwide in 1761, unexplained at the time. Now independent astronomer Kevin D. Pang of La Cañada, California, says he’s figured out the cause – and he credits Benjamin Franklin with a conceptual assist. While serving as American ambassador in Paris, Franklin first made the connection between a “dry fog” that had obscured the Sun for months in 1784, the extremely cold weather in Europe and North America that same year,
Seal With “Arms” Discovered By Brian Handwerk A newly discovered prehistoric seal with “arms” is the no-longer missing link between seals’ landbased ancestors and the ocean-dwelling, flippered creatures we know, a new study says. Perhaps spurred by amplified global warming and cooling in the ancient Arctic, the freshwater, amphibious seal is an example of the region as a hotbed of evolution, researchers say. Measuring about three and a half feet (110 centimetres) long, the 20- to 24-million-year-old “walking seal” had heavy, muscular limbs like those of a land mammal, a long tail, and webbed feet. Unlike the shuffling seals of today, the newfound species may have walked as gracefully as it swam, researchers say.
and the 1783 eruption of Iceland’s Laki volcano. The fog was, we now know, droplets of sulphuric acid, called vog (volcanic fog). Pang learned that on May 18, 1761, astronomers could not see the fully eclipsed Moon, which usually glows faintly with refracted Earthlight. Suspecting vog, he checked other sources, which corroborated his hunch. Chinese history books and weather logs documented bitter cold over subtropical parts of the country the following winter. In the Sierra Nevada of the United States, tree-ring studies of bristlecone
pines revealed frost damage and stunted growth in 1761. Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica showed abnormally high concentrations of sulphuric acid that year and the next. A massive volcanic eruption at low latitude in late 1760 or early 1761 must have caused the worldwide cooling, Pang asserts. A likely culprit is Indonesia’s Makian volcano, which blew its top in 1761, he says, but some other, unidentified eruption could be to blame. The research was presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting in last week.
Spam Increases Global Carbon Footprint By Cliff Saran The annual energy used to transmit, process and filter spam totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), according to security software company McAfee. This is equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes, and represents the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 3.1 million cars using two billion gallons of petrol. Jeff Green, senior vice-president of product development and McAfee Avert Labs, said, “Spam has an immense financial, personal and environmental impact on businesses and individuals. Stopping spam at its source, as well investing in filtering technology, will save time and money, and will pay dividends to the planet by reducing carbon emissions as well.” The Carbon Footprint of Spam study from McAfee looked at global energy expended to create, store, view and filter spam across 11 countries, including Australia, Brazil,
Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Mexico, Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom. The study calculated the average greenhouse gas emission associated with a single spam message at 0.3 grams of CO2. McAfee said this was equivalent to driving three feet; but when multiplied by the yearly volume of spam, it is equivalent to driving around the earth 1.6 million times. McAfee, which produces its own spam filtering technology said that spam filtering would save 135TWh of electricity per year, which is equivalent to taking 13 million cars off the road.
Former Astronaut: Man Not Alone in Universe
Signs of Spring on Mars
By Gustav Swart
By Shannon Dalton
A Martian orbiter has spotted seasonal footprints of spring creeping up on the red planet. Seasonal polar caps formed from carbon dioxide have begun vaporizing or changing directly from solid ice to gas, and have kicked off a chain of events detected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). “Spring on Mars is quite different from spring on Earth because Mars has not just permanent ice caps, but also seasonal polar caps of carbon dioxide,” said Candice HansenKoharcheck, an MRO scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Ice caps form each Martian winter as carbon dioxide changes directly to frost and builds dry ice layers more than three feet thick. The arrival of warmer spring temperatures thaws the solid carbon dioxide and thins the ice cap from both top and bottom. The carbon dioxide gas beneath the ice cap often flows in the same places each year, eventually creating channels or troughs in the planet’s surface. MRO has spotted many such spidery networks of cracks that remain even after the ice caps have vanished. Pressure from the newly thawed gas also builds up beneath the thinning ice cap, which can lead to puffs of escaping gas and dust where the ice cap has cracked. “What happens on Mars, we think, is that as the seasonal ice cap thins from the bottom, gas underneath the cap builds up pressure,” Hansen-Koharcheck said. “And where gas under the ice finds a weak spot or a crack, it will flow out of the opening, often carrying a little dust from the surface below.” That dust ends up swirling about in the wind before settling in fanlike or starburst patterns. The Martian process differs from springtime thaws on Earth, where frozen water melts from solid to liquid and becomes runoff. Scientists have yet to spot flowing water on the Martian surface, though some suspect liquids may lie beneath the surface or even inside a volcano.
Earth Day may fallen a few weeks ago, but as far as former NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell and other UFO enthusiasts are concerned, the real story is happening elsewhere. Mitchell, who was part of the 1971 Apollo 14 moon mission, asserted Monday that extraterrestrial life exists, and that the truth is being concealed by the U.S. and other governments. He delivered his remarks during an appearance at the National Press Club following the conclusion of the fifth annual X-Conference, a meeting of UFO activists and researchers studying the possibility of alien life forms. Mankind has long wondered if we're "alone in the universe. [But] only in our period do we really have evidence. No, we're not alone," Mitchell said. "Our destiny, in my opinion, and we might as well get started with it, is to become a part of the planetary
community... We should be ready to reach out beyond our planet and beyond our solar system to find out what is really going on out there." Mitchell grew up in Roswell, New Mexico, which some UFO believers maintain was the site of a UFO crash in 1947. He said residents of his hometown "had been hushed and told not to talk about their experience by military authorities." They had been warned of "dire consequences" if they did so. "NASA does not track UFOs. NASA is not involved in any sort of coverup about alien life on this planet or anywhere else – period," Michael Cabbage said Monday. Debates have continued about what happened at Roswell. The U.S. Air Force said in 1994 that wreckage recovered there in 1947 was most likely from a balloonlaunched classified government project. Stephen Bassett, head of the Paradigm Research Group (PRG), which hosted the X-Conference, said that
Apollo 14 astronauts’ listen to official greetings from the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the USS New Orleans following their safe return from the third manned lunar landing mission. Pictured (from left to right) are Stuart A. Roosa, Command Module pilot ; Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Mission commander; and Edgar D. Mitchell, Lunar . Pic: Nina Lewis the truth about extraterrestrial life is being suppressed because it is politically explosive. "There is a third rail [in American
Hubble Photographs Cosmic Fountain
Q and A
True or False? Organisms have been found thriving in scalding water with temperatures as high as 235 degrees Fahrenheit.
By Kathryn Loots To commemorate almost two decades of photographing the wonders of the universe, the Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of a peculiar group of interacting galaxies that contains a “cosmic fountain” of stars, gas and dust that stretches about 100,000 light years. Over the past 19 years, Hubble has taken many images of galactic collisions and close encounters. The new image of a trio of galaxies, called Arp 194, looks as if of the galaxies has sprung a leak. The bright blue streamer seen in the image is really a stretched spiral arm full of newborn blue stars. This stellar activity typically happens when two galaxies interact and gravitationally tug at each other. Hubble’s resolution shows clearly that the stream of material lies in front of the southern component of Arp 194, as shown by the dust that is silhouetted around the star cluster complexes. Resembling a pair of owl’s eyes, the two nuclei of the colliding galaxies can be seen in the process of merging at the upper left of the image. The bizarre blue bridge of material extending out from the northern component looks as if it connects to a third galaxy but in reality this galaxy is in the background and not connected at all. The details of the interactions among the multiple galaxies that make up Arp 194 are complex. The system was most likely disrupted by a previous collision or
politics], and that is the UFO question. It is many magnitudes more radioactive than Social Security ever dreamed to be," Bassett said.
The Hubble Telescope celebrates it’s 20th Anniversary this year. Pic: Supplied close encounter. The shapes of all the galaxies involved have been distorted by their gravitational interactions with one another. Arp 194, located in the constellation of Cepheus, resides approximately 600 million light-years away from Earth. Arp 194 is one of thousands of interacting and merging galaxies known in our nearby Universe. The new picture was issued to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, a joint NASA/ESA venture, aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990. The last planned servicing of the telescope is scheduled for May. Hubble has made more than 880,000 observations and snapped over 570,000 images of 29,000 celestial objects over the past 19 years.
More than 50 heat-loving microorganisms, or hyperthermophiles, have been found thriving at very high temperatures in such locations as hot springs in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park and on the walls of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Some of these species multiply best at 221 degrees Fahrenheit, and can reproduce at up to 235 degrees. Bacteria have also been found thriving under ice near the poles, in a highly alkaline lake, and deep underground, feeding off rock.
Culture Litter on British beaches soars Smiles Predict Marriage Success By Clara Moskowitz If you want to know whether your marriage will survive, look at your spouse’s yearbook photos. Psychologists have found that how much people smile in old photographs can predict their later success in marriage. In one test, the researchers looked at people’s college yearbook photos, and rated their smile intensity from 1 to 10. None of the people who fell within the top 10 percent of smile strength had divorced, while within the bottom 10 percent of smilers, almost one in four had had a marriage that ended, the researchers say. In a second trial, the research team asked people over age 65 to provide photos from their childhood (the average age in the pictures was 10 years old). The researchers
Scientists have found that the success rate for marriage is connected to how much people smiled in old photographs. Pic: Supplied
scored each person’s smile, and found that only 11 percent of the biggest smilers had been divorced, while 31 percent of the frowners had experienced a broken marriage. Overall, the results indicate that people who frown in photos are five times more likely to get a divorce than people who smile.
By Nicky Mullins The amount of litter dumped on beaches across Britain has more than doubled in the last 15 years to its highest ever level, endangering the health of wildlife and humans, according to a survey on Wednesday. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said its beachwatch 2008 annual survey had found an average of 2,195 items of litter per kilometre of beach, a rise of 110 percent since 1994. Over 5,000 volunteers cleaned and surveyed 374 beaches for its survey, uncovering 385,659 items of litter in the process. Items such as food packaging and cigarette butts dropped by the public make up more than a third of all litter, The MCS said marine animals and seabirds often ingest litter or accidentally eat plastic, leading to infections or death. Discarded fishing nets and lines were also a common cause of
entanglement for marine wildlife, it added. Humans were also affected as some plastics can attract toxic chemicals, while filter-feeding animals that ingested plastic particles could see pollutants ultimately entering the human food chain. Furthermore, council and taxpayers had to pay out millions of pounds to clear up litter from the beaches. The MCS said it wanted to halve the litter on Britain’s beaches by 2015 and called on the government to take action. However environment minister Huw Irranca-Davies said it was up to the public not the government. ‘Litter goes in our bins, not on our beaches – and ultimately this is an issue of personal responsibility,’ he added. ‘This is a problem caused by a minority who spoil things for everyone else, and campaigns against this behaviour can help us to make this unacceptable to everyone.’
Great Wall of China Grows Longer By Shaun Lopez The Great Wall of China is even greater than once thought. A two-year government mapping study has uncovered new sections of the ancient Chinese monument which makes it more than 2,551 kilometres (1,585 miles) longer. The Ming Dynasty Great Wall is 8,851.8 kilometres (5,500 miles) long, said the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. Using infra-red range finders and GPS devices, scientists have discovered the Great Wall of China is longer by 1,585 miles Using mapping technologies such as infra-red range finders and GPS devices, experts discovered portions of the wall – concealed by hills, trenches and rivers - that stretch from Hu Mountain in northern Liaoning province to Jiayu Pass in western Gansu province. The Ming portion of the Great Wall is the most visually striking and well-preserved portion of the worldfamous monument. The newly mapped parts of the
wall were built during the Ming Dynasy (1368-1644) to protect against northern invaders and were submerged over time by sandstorms that moved across the arid region,according to a report posted on the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping Web site. The additional parts mean the Great Wall – which Chinese emperors began constructing 2,000 years ago to keep out Monguls and invaders – spans about 6,300 kilometres (3,900 miles) through the northern part of the country. The joint project, conducted by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, will continue for another year in order to map sections of the wall built during the Qin (221 B.C.-206 B.C.) and Han (206 B.C.-9 A.D.) Dynasties, the report said. Recent studies by Chinese archaeologists have shown that sections of the wall in Gansu are being reduced to ‘mounds of dirt’ by sandstorms and may disappear entirely in 20 years. They blamed destructive farming methods in the 1950s that deserti-
Using infra-red range finders and GPS devices, scientists have discovered the Great Wall of China is longer by 1,585 miles. Pic: Tamara Smith fied large areas of northern China. In addition, portions of the wall in Gansu were made of packed earth, which proved less resilient that brick and stone used in much of the wall’s construction. China in recent years has begun restoring parts of the wall as well as trying to rein in commercial development on and around it. The wall’s modern sections around the Chinese capital date from the Ming Dynasty, including
those restored since the Communist Party took power in 1949, and several areas - including the most popular, Badaling, just north of Beijing – draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Tourist encroachment also has been a problem in recent years, with state media saying that near Badaling almost every brick on a popular section of the wall has been carved with people’s names or other graffiti.
New Theory: People Need to Play More By Marco Mini Goofing around goes way back, according to a new theory that suggests society can break down when we don’t take time to play. Early hunter-gatherers used playtime, humour and inclusive joking around to overcome the innate tendencies toward aggression and dominance, the thinking goes, and all that play was necessary to make a cooperative society possible. “Play and humour were not just means of adding fun to their lives,”explains Boston College developmental psychologist Peter Gray. “They were means of maintaining the band’s existence – means of promoting actively the egalitarian attitude, intense sharing, and relative peacefulness for which huntergatherers are justly famous and upon which they depended for survival.” Other research has shown that humour makes us hopeful. And a recent study indicated that sarcasm is part of human nature and probably an evolutionarily good thing. Other researchers have shown that choosing to work while foregoing vacations and other play leads to regret among adults, and the regrets grow as we age. Social play counteracts tendencies toward greed and arrogance, and promotes concern for the feelings and well being of others, Gray writes in the current issue of the American Journal of Play. But, he thinks, we’ve gotten away from our roots. “People are beginning to realize that we have gone too far in the direction of teaching children to compete,” Gray said in a statement this week. “We have been depriving children of the normal, noncompetitive forms of social play that are essential for developing a sense of equality, connectedness, and concern for others.”
Are You Addicted to Facebook? By Luke Percy One day recently, Cynthia Newton’s 12-year-old daughter asked her for help with homework, but Newton didn’t want to help her, because she was too busy on Facebook. So her daughter went upstairs to her room and sent an e-mail asking her for help, but Newton didn’t see the e-mail, because, well, she was too busy on Facebook. “I’m an addict. I just get lost in Facebook,” Newton said. “My daughter gets so PO’d at me, and really it is kind of pathetic. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I just get so sucked in.” Newton says she spends about 20 hours a week on the social networking site. She’s tried to cut down on her Facebook use but failed. “I can go a whole day without Facebook,” she said. “But I’ve never made it through an entire weekend.” Although there are no statistics on “Facebook addiction” – it isn’t an actual medical diagnosis – therapists say they’re seeing more and more people like Newton who’ve crossed the line from social networking to social dysfunction. “Last Friday, I had three clients in
my office with Facebook problems,” said Paula Pile, a marriage and family therapist in Greensboro, North Carolina. “It’s turned into a compulsion – a compulsion to dissociate from your real world and go live in the Facebook world.” Pile and the other therapists interviewed for this article were quick to say that Facebook itself isn’t the problem and that the vast majority of its 200 million users probably function just fine. She says problems arise when users ignore family and work obligations because they find the Facebook world a more enjoyable place to spend time than the real world. Newton says she checks Facebook first thing when she wakes up, and then she checks her Facebook page as many as seven times while at work, and then she’ll check Facebook again when she gets home and one more time before she goes to sleep. If you’ve been keeping count, that’s about 10 times a day. A single parent, Newton includes “Facebook flirting” with men and meeting up with old schoolmates among her favorite activities. The problem is that it’s not real, says Joanna Lipari, a clinical
psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Facebook is a fun, pleasant, happy, beautiful world. People only present the crème de la crème of their lives on Facebook. And these people want to be your friends! It’s very seductive.” “In real life, people have morning breath, and you have to pay bills with them, and you argue about who’s going to change the baby’s diaper,” she said. “But Facebook is happyland. You don’t have to deal with any of that.”
You know you’re a Facebook addict when: 1. You lose sleep over Facebook 2. You spend more than an hour a day on Facebook 3. You become obsessed with old loves 4. You ignore work in favour of Facebook 5. The thought of getting off Facebook leaves you in a cold sweat
San Jose Street Lights Get Smarter By Jeffrey M. O’Brien How much would you guess it costs to power a city’s streetlights for a year? In the case of San Jose, Calif., the tenth largest city in the country, the answer is $3.5 million. Add in the price of maintaining and replacing those lights, and that dollar figure rises much higher. Street lights are a great example of a wasteful, age-old system where we don’t know about a failing component until it’s too late. Far too much energy is expended keeping lights on when they aren’t needed, and all it takes is some bird droppings on a photo sensor to make everything go kablooey. San Jose faces another problem, too. In the 1980’s, the city replaced inefficient mercury vapor lights with low-pressure sodium bulbs, hoping both to save energy and to lessen light pollution a bit to aid astronomical research at the nearby Lick Observatory. “San Jose leaders at the time thought the overall benefit of darker skies, improved astronomical research, greater energy savings and improved lamp life was the right decisision,” says San Jose director of transportation Jim Helmer. Only problem: the sodium lights are yellow – often confusing motorists by distorting the colours of cars, curbs and
stoplights, while hampering traffic cameras. So, as part of its so-called “Green Vision,” a 15-year plan to cut per-capita energy consumption in half and derive all energy from renewable sources, San Jose announced this week a trial of smarter, more energy-efficient street lights, which will be powered by low-energy LED bulbs and monitored across a smart network. The 125-light test, due to launch this summer, will be implemented by hometown smart-grid company Echelon (ELON). The company is known primarily for the smart meters – essentially, thermostats that convey real-time energy usage information to the consumer and supplier - it has deployed in various European cities. The streetlight network will function in a similar way to a smart electricity grid. Using the city’s wi-fi network, Echelon’s networking technology enables the lights to transfer real-time data about the status and performance of any given bulb. That way, maintenance crews won’t have to search for a fried bulb. (For cities without a wi-fi network, Echelon’s technology also works over power lines.) The city will be able to monitor energy consumption, anticipate outages and dim lights to save energy at the flip of a master switch.
Cell Phone Unlocks with Arm Swing By Bill Christensen We all have cell phones that will lock out unauthorized users. But few of us use this feature because it is a pain in the neck. Who wants to type in a code when you want to make a call? Thanks to some new software from KDDI R&D Laboratories, you can authenticate with an arm swinging gesture when using your cell phone. The technology activates the acceleration sensor used in some phones to gather biometric data about how the user swings the phone. You wouldn’t think that the way you swing your phone is that distinctive. However, a variety of individual characteristics, including physical factors like the length of your arm and your muscle structure, as well as action patterns such as holding methods and other habits, are reflected in the acceleration signals recorded during arm swinging motion. This results in a reading of an arm swing pattern that is extremely resistant to spoofing; the authentication is more than 96% accurate. The phone performs a live biometric data capture each time you swing your arm after opening the phone, and then compares it to a stored template. I really like hand-waving gesture interfaces. And this KDDI system
will (according to the company) progress until it becomes possible to open applications and perform other actions on the phone with a recognized and recorded gesture. Douglas Adams wrote about a gesture-controlled system in his 1979 blockbuster novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Even better, he also illustrated some potential problems with such a system. “The machine was rather difficult to operate. For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive--you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same program. Zaphod waved a hand and the channel switched again.” It’s time to get working on your gestures, and what they will mean to your cell phone. You might also consider making sure that you stand clear of people authenticating themselves to their cell phones.
Cheaper Beef for Everybody? By John Roach A genome is the full set of genes that gives rise to a particular species. Genes are combinations of chemical “letters” that determine animals’ and plants’ physical traits, from hair colour to body shape. Using the newly decoded cow genome, “you are going to be able to predict an animal’s perform-
ance on the basis of its [genetic makeup],” biologist Harris Lewin said. This “genomic selection” should enable breeders to raise cows that require less feed and produce lean meat, for example. Less feed means lower costs for farmers – savings that presumably would be passed on to the consumer.
New ‘Dracula Fish’ Has Fake Fangs By Jeremy Hsu
Fish ‘can get seasick’ By Steve Khan Fish are susceptible to seasickness, a zoologist has claimed. Dr Reinhold Hilbig studied the effects of weightlessness in water as part of research into how humans are affected in space. An aquarium containing 49 fish was sent up in a plane that went into a steep dive, simulating the loss of gravity astronauts encounter in space flight. Eight of the fish began turning around and around in circles. ‘The fish lost their orientation... They completely lost their sense of balance, behaving like humans who get seasick,’ said the Stuttgart-based scientist. ‘In the wild such “seasick” fish would become prey for other sea life because they would be rendered incapable of fleeing
from danger.’ It is unclear why Dr Hilbig chose to conduct his experiment on fish, but the eight ill-fated creatures were later culled and their brains examined in order to determine the exact cause of their sickness. ‘It would seem the loss of eye contact with water movement and vibrations plays a large part in their disorientation,’ added Dr. Hilbig.
3 easy steps to Make Fish Seasick. Here goes:
1- Put fish in aquarium. 2- Take fish on airplane. 3- Do a nosedive to simulate weightlessness.
A newly discovered minnow species called the dracula fish apparently spent 30 million years redeveloping superficial fangs after losing its vampire-looking teeth earlier in its evolution. The tiny freshwater fish finding may reveal more about how lost structures re-evolve, as well as how evolution can cause some species to mature early. Scientists named the fish Danionella dracula in honor of its large, tooth-like jaw structures. “This fish is one of the most extraordinary vertebrates discovered in the last few decades,” said Ralf Britz, a fish researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, UK. Britz found the minnow in a stream in northern Myanmar, during a collecting trip. The transparent fish measures somewhat less than one inch long and represents one of the smallest fishes and vertebrates. All other 3,700 species in the Cypriniform group lost their teeth about 50 million years ago. Biologically, D. dracula’s redeveloped “teeth” represent outgrowths of
Do Animals Enjoy Sex? By Robin Nixon Animals obviously hook up, at least during mating season. But do they like it? According to experts, there are two answers: “yes” and “it is impossible to know.” “Mosquitoes, I don’t know,” hedged Mark Bekoff, a University of Colorado biologist and author of “The Emotional Lives of Animals” (New World Library), “but across mammals, they enjoy sex.” In fact the enjoyment of sex among humans and among animals may be similar in that it’s all experienced in very primitive parts of the brain. Not only do animals enjoy the deed, they also likely have orgasms, he said. They are difficult to measure directly but by watching facial expressions, body movements and muscle relaxation, many scientists have concluded that animals reach a pleasurable climax, he said. Then why do, say, wolves abstain most of the year? “It is not that they don’t like it, it is just who they are,”
Bekoff said. In the wild, having sex makes one vulnerable to attack. For example, a male wolf gets “locked” inside the female for up to a half hour, he said. Besides, if wolves got it on during the summer, it would be poor family planning; their delicate pups would be born in the dead of winter, he said. Humans, though, are not alone in wanting sex regardless of reproductive timing. Bonobos and possibly dolphins also pursue sex recreationally, Bekoff said. Kent Berridge, a biopsychologist at the University of Michigan, compared the brain activity and facial expressions of animals to that of a more readable creature: human infants. When given something pleasurable to taste, both rats and humans make almost identical mouth shapes and sucking motions. Their brain reactions also mirror one another. If we believe the infant “enjoys” the sweet taste based on her pleasant expression, it follows that the rat likely enjoys it too. Sweets and sex — as well as
drugs, winning the lotto and every other rewarding experience – stimulate the same brain circuit, said Berridge, and this pleasure circuit is common to both human and nonhuman animals. His experiments suggest a further homology, one of emotional experience. “Our chief anatomical difference from [other animals] is up in the prefrontal cortex,” explained Berridge, but the generation of pleasure is happening at “lower” brain structures. The human cortex may interpret pleasurable sensations and assign them special meaning (or not). In this way, a human’s experience of sex may be qualitatively different than an animal’s, but no less (or more) enjoyable. And of course, Nature offers her own proof that sex is pleasurable: plentiful offspring. “There are damn good evolutionary reasons for animals to enjoy sex and have orgasms,” said Bekoff. “My null hypothesis is that they do,” he said, adding a challenge: “Prove that they don’t.”
the jaw bone, rather than truly reevolved jaw teeth. However, male and female members of this species don’t boast the same bite – only the guys get the fanged face. Males also have larger pelvic fins and a forward-shifted anus and genital opening between those fins. Males seem to use their fangs during territorial fights, when they nudge and “bite” each other, Britz told LiveScience. Their lower jaws can open to a wide degree and form an angle of 45-60 degrees with the main body axis. D. dracula also stands out because of its “eternally young” physical development. The fish matures at an earlier developmental stage, with the result that its skeleton is missing more than 40 bones compared to its zebrafish relative. “Its skeleton is for the most part that of a larval fish,” Britz explained. The small D. dracula is not alone – other Danionella species and related fish also share this unusual characteristic. Researchers call the phenomenon developmental truncation, and have debated what
Image of the head of carp-like fish, Danionella dracula. Unlike the 3700 species in its group, the males have tooth-like structures, shown in this image of the stained fish. Pic: Supplied it means in evolutionary terms. “One may argue, as some have, that developmental truncation is an evolutionary dead end street,” Britz noted. “But I rather think that developmental truncation frees the body plan from constraints and provides the potential to go down new routes and alter your body plan considerably.”
Mass Death of Champion Horses By Robert Claud A flurry of mysterious deaths felled a team of champion horses, just moments before a polo match at the United States Open Polo Championships in Wellington, Florida. Veterinarians failed to save 14 horses which collapsed prior to the match, and a total of 21 horses from the same Venezuelan team died within 24 hours. Scientists have ruled out infectious disease as a cause, and
have begun examining the horse feed and supplements as well as screening blood for toxins. Outside experts say that sabotage is only a remote possibility behind the deaths of the horses, each worth more than $100,000. “These are the best horses in the world,” Dr. Scott Swerdlin told The Takeaway. He is a horse veterinarian at the Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Florida. “If you were looking at athletes, it’d be like a plane crash of the greatest football players in the world.”
5 Crazy Animal Facts 1) SNAILS have 14175 teeth laid along 135 rows on their tongue. 2) A BUTTERFLY has 12,000 eyes. 3) DOLPHINS sleep with 1 eye open. 4) A BLUE WHALE can eat as much as 3 tones of food everyday, but at the same time can live without food for 6 months. 5) The EARTH has over 12,00,000 species of animals, 3,00,000 species of plants & 1,00,000 other species.
Some Children Are Addicted to Video Games By William Yung The definition of addiction is murky. In fact, many psychologists prefer the term “pathological use” for excessive consumption of drugs, alcohol and other stuff. By that fancier definition, about 8.5 percent of youth age 8 to 18 who play video games look to be what most of us would call addicted, a new study finds. “This is the first study to tell us the national prevalence of pathological play among youth gamers, and it is almost 1 in 10,” said Douglas Gentile, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University “What we mean by pathological use is that something someone is doing – in this case, playing video games – is damaging to their functioning,” Gentile said. “It’s not simply doing it a lot. It has to harm functioning in multiple ways.” Gentile compared the 2007 Harris Poll survey to standards and symptoms established for pathological gambling – causing family, social, school or psychological damage because of their video game playing habits. Gamers were classified as “pathological” if they exhibited at least six of 11 symptoms. The pathological gamers in the study played video games 24 hours per week, about twice as much as nonpathological gamers. They also were more likely to have video game systems in their bedrooms, reported having more trouble paying attention in school, received poorer grades in school, had more health problems, were more likely to feel “addicted,” and even stole to support their habit. The study also found that pathological gamers were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with attention problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder.
Are Fat People Destroying Earth? By Robert Roy Britt Obese people cause the generation of more carbon dioxide and other pollutants as they drive or fly to work or vacations. But should they be penalized for their girth? The news that fat people could help save Earth by eating less generated big headlines yesterday. But many people question whether it’s good science or bad manners to pin the planet’s woes on the overweight. The news was based on a report from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which says: “Because food production is a major contributor to global warming, a lean population, such as that seen in Vietnam, will consume almost 20 percent less food and produce fewer
greenhouse gases than a population in which 40 percent of people are obese (close to that seen in the USA today). Transport-related emissions will also be lower because it takes less energy to transport slim people. The researchers estimate that a lean population of 1 billion people would emit 1.0 GT (1,000 million tons) less carbon dioxide equivalents per year compared with a fat one.” The researchers, Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts, note that obesity is on the rise all over the world. All medical experts agree this is a health problem. Obesity has been linked to everything from deadly diabetes to increased risk of cancer. Many analysts fear the U.S. healthcare system – already in bad shape – could crumble under the weight
of what many doctors see as the obesity epidemic. The scientists are not the first to point out that heavier people have a bigger carbon footprint. But in putting some numbers to it, they’ve pulled no punches. “When it comes to food consumption, moving about in a heavy body is like driving around in a gas guzzler,” Edwards and Roberts said in a statement. “The heavier our bodies become the harder and more unpleasant it is to move about in them and the more dependent we become on our cars. Staying slim is good for health and for the environment. We need to be doing a lot more to reverse the global trend towards fatness, and recognize it as a key factor in the battle to reduce emissions and slow climate change.”
New Contact Lenses Go Bionic By Clara Moskowitz If you’ve ever wanted to be the Bionic Woman or a Terminator, new research may at least let you see with their eyes. Scientists have taken the first step’s toward creating digital contact lenses that can zoom in on distant objects and display useful facts. For the first time, engineers have installed an electronic circuit and lights on a regular contact lens. The prototype they created does not actually light up or display information. But it proves that it is possible to build an electronic lens that is safe to wear and doesn’t obstruct vision. “Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside,” said Babak Parviz, an electrical engineer at the University of Washington who worked on the project. “This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it’s extremely promising.” The project was led by Harvey Ho, a former graduate student of Parviz’s now working at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif., who presented the results this week at the Institute of Electri-
cal and Electronics Engineers’ international conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems in Tucson, AZ. It was difficult for the researchers to graft the tiny electrical circuits, built from layers of metal only a few nanometers thick (for comparison, the width of a typical human hair is about 80,000 nanometers), onto the contact lenses, which are made of organic materials that are safe for the body. The engineers tested the finished lenses on rabbits for up to 20 minutes and the animals showed no problems. Eventually, the technique could yield a plethora of gadgets. Perhaps drivers and pilots could see their direction and speed projected across their view, or people could surf the Web without looking at an external device’s screen. Video gamers could immerse themselves in game landscapes directly in front of their eyes. Maybe the technique could even create sight aids for visually-impaired people. “People may find all sorts of applications for it that we have not thought about,” Parviz said. “Our goal is to demonstrate the basic technology and make sure it works and that it’s safe.”
Every Cloud has a Silver Lining By Jenny Hope
Contact lenses with metal connectors for electronic circuits were safely worn by rabbits in lab tests. Pic: Supplied
Next time you find yourself drenched in an unexpected downpour, look on the bright side - it’ll be a memorable experience. While wet weather may make us feel gloomy, it sharpens the memory and improves our recall, psychologists say. But those who feel in a good mood because it’s a sunny day are able to remember less well, Professor Joe Forgas, who led the research, said: ‘It seems counterintuitive but a little bit of sadness is a good thing. ‘People performed much better on our memory test when the weather was unpleasant and they were in a slightly negative mood. On bright sunny days, when they were more likely to be happy and carefree, they flunked it.’ The tests were carried out on shoppers, where researchers randomly placed ten small ornamental objects on the check-out counter.
Weird and wacky At a Towering 8ft, is this the World’s New Tallest Man?
Big Foot Britain By Rebecca Camber Once, a man’s size 14 would have been considered the footprint of a giant. But what was seen as enormous is apparently becoming quite normal. According to the latest sales figures, the average man’s shoe has gone up a size in the past five years. Half a decade ago, the average was a UK size 8. Now it is 9 and, to underline the trend, demand for size 12s has soared, retailers say. Requests for size 14 and above have also leapt in the past few years as men’s feet appear to becoming broader and longer, according to research by Debenhams. The high street chain is now considering stocking size 13 and 14 as a standard fitting across all of its ranges. Currently, the largest shoe it
stocks as standard is a 12, but demand for this size has now outstripped size 7, which was the standard measurement 30 years ago. Medical experts believe that Britain’s obesity epidemic is fuelling the increase in shoe size. They say eating high-density foods such as pizza and processed foods during puberty can stimulate the growth hormone not only making their waist larger, but also other parts of the body including the hands and feet. British Chiropody and Podiatry Association chairman Michael Paynton said: ‘I have been in practice 42 years and in that time standard foot sizes have changed dramatically. ‘It’s part of the process of evolution, as generally people are getting bigger and taller. Youngsters being 6ft or over is now common, and their feet are also getting bigger.
By Andrew Sinfield At 8ft tall, Zhao Liang stands head and shoulders above the competition. Which is lucky, as the 27-yearold is in the running to be the world’s tallest man. The current title holder is Bao Xishun (‘the Mongolian mast’), who measures in at a measly 7ft 9in a whole three inches shorter. Mr Liang’s claim came to light when he was admitted to Tianjin hospital, in China, for a routine operation on an old muscle tendon injury to his left foot. Doctors confirmed his height as 8ft 0.7in. But his claim to be the world’s tallest man has not yet been verified by Guinness World Records. Mr Liang, who is now seeking official recognition, had been training as a basketball player when he sustained the foot injury over a decade ago. He remained unemployed until 2006, when an art troupe in Jilin province employed him to perform magic tricks and play the saxophone and flute. Mr Liang’s parents are of normal
Record breaker: 27-year-old Zhao Liang is 8ft 0.7in tall, beating the current record holder by more than three inches Pic: Beko Chonco height, with his father measuring 5ft 9in and his mother, 5ft 5in. His mother Wang Keyun said that her son had a big appetite, eating eight hamburger-sized steamed buns as part of a three-course dinner. ‘But I am so worried about his marriage, job and his health that my hair has turned white,’ she added.
Fir Tree Found Inside Man’s Lung By Will Stewart
An X-ray that apparently shows a fir tree growing inside a 28-year-old man’s lung. Doctors initially believed it was a tumour. Pic: Supplied
A fir tree has been found growing inside a man’s lung by surgeons who were operating on him for suspected cancer. The tree, measuring , was discovered by Russian doctors when they opened up Artyom Sidorkin, 28, to remove what they thought was a tumour. An X-ray that apparently shows a fir tree growing inside a 28-year-old man’s lung. Doctors initially believed it was a tumour Medical staff believe that Mr Sidorkin somehow inhaled a seed, which later sprouted into a small fir tree inside his lung. The patient had complained of extreme pain in his chest and had been coughing up blood. Doctors were convinced he had cancer. ‘We were 100 per cent sure,’ said surgeon Vladimir Kamashev from Izhevsk in the Urals. ‘We did X-rays and found what looked exactly
like a tumour. I had seen hundreds before, so we decided on surgery.’ ‘So relieved it’s not cancer’: Left, Artyom Sidorkin, who apparently had a fir tree growing in his lung. Right, doctors display the fir tree Before removing the major part of the man’s lung, the surgeon investigated the tissue taken in a biopsy. ‘I thought I was hallucinating,’ said Dr Kamashev. ‘I asked my assistant to have a look: “Come and see this - we’ve got a fir tree here”. ‘He nodded in shock. I blinked three times as I was sure I was seeing things.’ They believed the coughing of blood was caused by the tiny pine needles piercing blood capillaries. ‘It was very painful. But to be honest I did not feel any foreign object inside me,’ said Mr Sidorkin. ‘I’m so relieved it’s not cancer.’ The report appeared in popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Gazeta, and was picked up by Russian news service Novosti.
Liu Yuchen, a surgeon at the hospital, declared the operation on Mr Liang’s foot a success. He said that he would be able to walk normally in two months’ time, but advised against any intense physical exercise. Dr Yuchen said that Mr Liang was in good health and has no complications in relation to his height.
Judge: OK to Collect Dead Son’s Sperm By Robert Roy Britt After 21-year-old Nikolas Colton Evans was killed in a barrelated altercation in Texas, his mother said her son had always wanted children and asked to have his sperm preserved so that someone might bear said children. Docs said no. Judge said yes, adding: “There were other body [that is, body parts] harvesting that was going to take place, and I didn’t see why this additional body harvesting shouldn’t take place, it is a decision for the family, and no-one else to make.”
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