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Siegfried Holle's curator insight, July 4, 2014 8:45 AM

Your knowledge is your strength and power 

Saberes Sin Fronteras OVS's curator insight, November 30, 2014 5:33 PM

Acceso gratuito a documentos de las mejores universidades del mundo

♥ princess leia ♥'s curator insight, December 28, 2014 11:58 AM

WoW  .. Expand  your mind!! It has room to grow!!! 

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Earth's spin is slowing, but not as much as it should

Earth's spin is slowing, but not as much as it should | Amazing Science |
Ancient texts help piece together the planet's rotational history. Belinda Smith reports.


When ancient and medieval astronomers dutifully jotted details about lunar and solar eclipses onto clay tablets and parchment, little did they know that information would one day be used to calculate the Earth’s spin – and how it’s slowed over the millennia.


A trio of physicists in the UK gathered records from 720 BCE to 1600 CE which describe partial or total eclipses. From these, they calculated the planet’s rate of rotation at the time.

Writing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, they found that an Earth day grew by an average of less than two-thousandths of a second each century.


That the Earth’s spin is slowing isn’t new. It should be, after all – a little of the planet’s rotational momentum is constantly transferred to the moon’s orbital momentum. This means the moon speeds up slightly and slowly pulls away from Earth – at around four centimeters each year – while the planet takes a little longer to complete one full rotation (or a day).


Richard Stephenson from the University of Durham and Leslie Morrison have examined historical eclipses for clues about the Earth’s rotation for nearly four decades.

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ALX3 gene gives mice and chipmunks their pinstripes

ALX3 gene gives mice and chipmunks their pinstripes | Amazing Science |
A recycled regulator paints on rodents’ light stripes.


Chipmunks and other rodents’ light stripes are painted with a recycled brush, a new study suggests. A protein previously known to guide facial development was repurposed at least twice during evolution to create light-colored stripes on rodents, researchers report November 2 in Nature. The protein, called ALX3, could be an important regulator of stripes in other mammals, including cats and raccoons, says Michael Levine, a developmental biologist at Princeton University who was not involved in the new study.


Some research has shown how butterflies and other insects create their often elaborate wing patterns (SN: 7/17/10, p. 28). But scientists still don’t understand the biological machinery used by mammals to generate the dots, spots, splotches and stripes that decorate their coats. Uncovering the molecular equipment may shed light on the evolutionary processes that help animals camouflage themselves and adapt to their environments. 


In the new study, evolutionary developmental biologist Ricardo Mallarino of Harvard University and colleagues examined the multicolored stripes of African striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio). Two light-colored stripes, each flanked by black stripes, run down the mice’s backs. A strip of fur the same brownish color as most of the rest of the body separates the dark-light-dark striping. The patterns are created by three types of hair: Hairs with banded yellow shafts growing from a black base populate the strip in the middle, while completely black hairs from base to tip are found in the black stripes. Hairs with a black base but no pigment in the shaft make up the light stripes.

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Third kind of "impossible" quasicrystal found in Russian meteorite

Third kind of "impossible" quasicrystal found in Russian meteorite | Amazing Science |

Another “impossible” crystal has been found locked inside a Russian meteorite. The specimen is a quasicrystal, a type of material that shatters the rules of crystallography by having an ordered — yet never-repeating — arrangement of atoms. The new find is only the third natural quasicrystal ever found and is the first discovered in nature before being synthesized in a lab, researchers report online December 8 in Scientific Reports.


All three natural quasicrystals came from the same meteorite, discovered in a far-flung region of eastern Russia (SN: 11/3/12, p. 24). University of Florence geologist Luca Bindi and colleagues found micrometers-wide bits of the new quasicrystal in a grain of the meteorite collected during a 2011 expedition to the site. Probing the quasicrystal with electrons showed that the mineral is composed of aluminum, copper and iron atoms arranged in a way that’s similar to the pentagon-based pattern on a soccer ball.


Like its siblings, the new quasicrystal formed before landing on Earth when a cosmic fender bender between two space rocks caused rapid melting and cooling under extreme pressures, the researchers propose. While natural quasicrystals remain rare, companies have tinkered with using lab-made versions in everything from electronics to frying pan coatings.

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Greenland's ice sheet more vulnerable to melting, research finds

Greenland's ice sheet more vulnerable to melting, research finds | Amazing Science |
Worrying news for sea level rise: the massive ice sheet melted several times between ice ages, meaning it's less stable and less likely to survive the rapidly rising temperatures of global warming.


Scientists found that Greenland rocks now buried under 10,000 feet of ice were ice-free for long stretches during the past 1.4 million years, leading them to predict the Greenland Ice Sheet could melt more suddenly than previously believed. That could raise global sea level far beyond current projections over the next few centuries, including recent estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The research challenges the prevailing idea that the ice sheet remained relatively intact during the recent geological past, showing even the thickest ice had vanished during warm periods between ice ages.


Columbia University paleoclimatologist Joerg Schaefer, who co-authored the study, said the findings show the Greenland Ice Sheet may be much less stable than scientists thought.

"Over the last 15 years, it looked like we wouldn't have to worry too much about the Greenland ice sheet melting too fast," Schaefer said. "Most of the climate models treated it as a solid ice cube sitting on bedrock. With climate warming, it melts off the top, but it takes a long time. Compared to other ice sheets like West Antarctica, is looked pretty strong and resilient to warming."

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Genetically Engineered Yeast Is Resistant to Caffeine

Genetically Engineered Yeast Is Resistant to Caffeine | Amazing Science |

The proliferation of coffee shops and energy drinks bears testimony to the fact that caffeine is in high demand. The stimulant is even added to some medicine, like Excedrin Migraine. However, because only a handful of plants produce it, there has been some interest in creating caffeine synthetically. One approach would be to genetically engineer microbes capable of producing the molecule.


The trouble with this method is that caffeine is toxic to many microorganisms. (Caffeine is also a natural insecticide.) So, if microbes are to be used as tiny caffeine factories, they will first need to be made resistant to its noxious effects. A team of molecular biologists based mostly in China has accomplished just that using baker's yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.


The researchers were aware that some kinds of yeast contain special membrane proteins that confer antibiotic resistance by pumping the antibiotics out of the cells. One of these proteins is encoded by a gene called bfr1. The team isolated this gene and randomly introduced mutations into it, with the hope that they would create an altered gene that was capable of pumping caffeine out of yeast cells.


After screening one million mutants, the authors identified one that conferred yeast cells with an amazing ability to resist caffeine.

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Feathered dinosaur tail captured in amber found in Myanmar

The newly discovered dinosaur tail was preserved in amber about 99 million years ago. One year ago, a researcher from the China University of Geosciences found the specimen at an amber market in Myanmar. In its lifetime, the dinosaur was the size of a sparrow and likely belonged to the same group as Tyrannosaurus and modern birds, the researchers report in their new study. One of the co-authors of the study, Ryan McKellar from Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, talks about this finding.

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In the Deep of the Oceans, Clues Hide about How Life Makes Light

In the Deep of the Oceans, Clues Hide about How Life Makes Light | Amazing Science |

Bioluminescent organisms have evolved dozens of times over the course of life’s history. Recent studies are narrowing in on the complicated biochemistry needed.


Dive deep enough under the surface of the ocean, and light reigns. Some 90 percent of the fish and crustaceans that dwell at depths of 100 to 1,000 meters are capable of making their own light. Flashlight fish hunt and communicate with a flashing Morse code sent by light pockets that pulse under their eyes.


Tubeshoulder fish shoot luminous ink at their attackers. Hatchetfish make themselves appear invisible by generating light on their underbellies to mimic downwelling sunlight; predators prowling below look up to see only a continuous glow.

Scientists have indexed thousands of bioluminescent organisms across the tree of life, and they expect to add many more. Yet researchers have long wondered how bioluminescence came to be. Now, as explained in several recently released studies, researchers have made significant progress in understanding the origins of bioluminescence — both evolutionary and chemical. The new understanding may one day allow bioluminescence to be used as a tool in biology and medical research.


One longstanding challenge has been determining how many separate times bioluminescence arose. How many species came to the same conclusion, independent of one another Though some of the most familiar examples of light from living organisms are terrestrial — think of fireflies, glowworms and foxfire — the bulk of evolutionary events involving bioluminescence took place in the ocean. Bioluminescence is in fact markedly absent from all terrestrial vertebrates and flowering plants.


In the deep ocean, light gives organisms a unique way to attract prey, communicate and defend themselves, said Matthew Davis, a biologist at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. In a study released in June, he and his colleagues found that fish that use light for communication and courtship signaling were especially diverse. Over a period of about 150 million years — brief by evolutionary standards —such fish proliferated into more species than other groups of fish. Bioluminescent species that used their light exclusively for camouflage, on the other hand, were no more diverse.

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Physicists confirm the precision of magnetic fields in the most advanced stellarator in the world

Physicists confirm the precision of magnetic fields in the most advanced stellarator in the world | Amazing Science |

Physicist Sam Lazerson of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has teamed with German scientists to confirm that the Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) fusion energy device called a stellarator in Greifswald, Germany, produces high-quality magnetic fields that are consistent with their complex design.

The findings, published in the November 30 issue of Nature Communications , revealed an error field—or deviation from the designed configuration—of less than one part in 100,000. Such results could become a key step toward verifying the feasibility of stellarators as models for future fusion reactors.


W7-X, for which PPPL is the leading U.S. collaborator, is the largest and most sophisticated stellarator in the world. Built by the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald, it was completed in 2015 as the vanguard of the stellarator design. Other collaborators on the U.S. team include DOE's Oak Ridge and Los Alamos National Laboratories, along with Auburn University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Xanthos Technologies.


Stellarators confine the hot, charged gas, otherwise known as plasma, that fuels fusion reactions in twisty—or 3-D—magnetic fields, compared with the symmetrical—or 2D —fields that the more widely used tokamaks create. The twisty configuration enables stellarators to control the plasma with no need for the current that tokamaks must induce in the gas to complete the magnetic field. Stellarator plasmas thus run little risk of disrupting, as can happen in tokamaks, causing the internal current to abruptly halt and fusion reactions to shut down.


PPPL has played key roles in the W7-X project. The Laboratory designed and delivered five barn door-sized trim coils that fine-tune the stellarator's magnetic fields and made their measurement possible. "We've confirmed that the magnetic cage that we've built works as designed," said Lazerson, who led roughly half the experiments that validated the configuration of the field. "This reflects U.S. contributions to W7-X," he added, "and highlights PPPL's ability to conduct international collaborations." Support for this work comes from Euratom and the DOE Office of Science.

Via Mariaschnee
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High-precision magnetic field sensing

High-precision magnetic field sensing | Amazing Science |
Scientists have developed a highly sensitive sensor to detect tiny changes in strong magnetic fields. The sensor may find widespread use in medicine and other areas.


Researchers from the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, which is operated jointly by ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, have succeeded in measuring tiny changes in strong magnetic fields with unprecedented precision. In their experiments, the scientists magnetised a water droplet inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, a device that is used for medical imaging. The researchers were able to detect even the tiniest variations of the magnetic field strength within the droplet. These changes were up to a trillion times smaller than the seven tesla field strength of the MRI scanner used in the experiment.


"Until now, it was possible only to measure such small variations in weak magnetic fields," says Klaas Prüssmann, Professor of Bioimaging at ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich. An example of a weak magnetic field is that of the Earth, where the field strength is just a few dozen microtesla. For fields of this kind, highly sensitive measurement methods are already able to detect variations of about a trillionth of the field strength, says Prüssmann. "Now, we have a similarly sensitive method for strong fields of more than one tesla, such as those used, inter alia, in medical imaging."


The scientists based the sensing technique on the principle of nuclear magnetic resonance, which also serves as the basis for magnetic resonance imaging and the spectroscopic methods that biologists use to elucidate the 3D structure of molecules.


However, to measure the variations, the scientists had to build a new high-precision sensor, part of which is a highly sensitive digital radio receiver. "This allowed us to reduce background noise to an extremely low level during the measurements," says Simon Gross. Gross wrote his doctoral thesis on this topic in Prüssmann's group and is lead author of the paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

Via Mariaschnee
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Map of drugs reveals uncharted waters in search for new treatments

Map of drugs reveals uncharted waters in search for new treatments | Amazing Science |

Scientists have created a map of all 1,578 licensed drugs and their mechanisms of action - as a means of identifying 'uncharted waters' in the search for future treatments.

Their analysis of drugs licensed through the Food and Drug Administration reveals that 667 separate proteins in the human body have had drugs developed against them - just an estimated 3.5% of the 20,000 human proteins. And as many as 70 per cent of all targeted drugs created so far work by acting on just four families of proteins - leaving vast swathes of human biology untouched by drug discovery programs.


The study is the most comprehensive analysis of existing drug treatments across all diseases ever conducted. It was jointly led by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, which also funded the research.


The new map reveals areas where human genes and the proteins they encode could be promising targets for new treatments - and could also be used to identify where a treatment for one disease could be effective against another.


The new data, published in a paper in the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, could be used to improve treatments for all human aliments - as diverse as cancer, mental illness, chronic pain and infectious disease.


Scientists brought together vast amounts of information from huge datasets including the canSAR database at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), the ChEMBL database from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) in Cambridge and the University of New Mexico's DrugCentral database. They matched each drug with prescribing information and data from published scientific papers, and built up a comprehensive picture of how existing medicines work - and where the gaps and opportunities for the future lie.


The researchers discovered that there are 667 unique human proteins targeted by existing approved drugs, and identified a further 189 drug targets in organisms that are harmful to humans, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Via Mariaschnee
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Astronomers unveil the farthest galaxy ever discovered

Astronomers unveil the farthest galaxy ever discovered | Amazing Science |

An international team of astronomers led by Yale University and the University of California-Santa Cruz have pushed back the cosmic frontier of galaxy exploration to a time when the universe was only 5% of its present age.


The team discovered an exceptionally luminous galaxy more than 13 billion years in the past and determined its exact distance from Earth using the powerful MOSFIRE instrument on the W.M. Keck Observatory’s 10-meter telescope, in Hawaii. It is the most distant galaxy currently measured.


The galaxy, EGS-zs8-1, was originally identified based on its particular colors in images from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. It is one of the brightest and most massive objects in the early universe.


Age and distance are vitally connected in any discussion of the universe. The light we see from our Sun takes just eight minutes to reach us, while the light from distant galaxies we see via today’s advanced telescopes travels for billions of years before it reaches us — so we’re seeing what those galaxies looked like billions of years ago.


“It has already built more than 15% of the mass of our own Milky Way today,” said Pascal Oesch, a Yale astronomer and lead author of a study published online May 5 in Astrophysical Journal Letters. “But it had only 670 million years to do so. The universe was still very young then.” The new distance measurement also enabled the astronomers to determine that EGS-zs8-1 is still forming stars rapidly, about 80 times faster than our galaxy.

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Researchers Developed World's First Water-Wave Laser

Researchers Developed World's First Water-Wave Laser | Amazing Science |

Technion researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, that laser emissions can be created through the interaction of light and water waves. This “water-wave laser” could someday be used in tiny sensors that combine light waves, sound and water waves, or as a feature on microfluidic “lab-on-a-chip” devices used to study cell biology and to test new drug therapies.


For now, the water-wave laser offers a “playground” for scientists studying the interaction of light and fluid at a scale smaller than the width of a human hair, the researchers write in the new report, published November 21 in the journal Nature Photonics.

The study was conducted by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology students Shmuel Kaminski, Leopoldo Martin, and Shai Maayani, under the supervision of Professor Tal Carmon, head of the Optomechanics Center at the Mechanical Engineering Faculty at Technion. Carmon said the study is the first bridge between two areas of research that were previously considered unrelated to one another: nonlinear optics and water waves.


A typical laser can be created when the electrons in atoms become “excited” by energy absorbed from an outside source, causing them to emit radiation in the form of laser light. Professor Carmon and his colleagues now show for the first time that water wave oscillations within a liquid device can also generate laser radiation.


The possibility of creating a laser through the interaction of light with water waves has not been examined, Carmon said, mainly due to the huge difference between the low frequency of water waves on the surface of a liquid (approximately 1,000 oscillations per second) and the high frequency of light wave oscillations (10^14 oscillations per second). This frequency difference reduces the efficiency of the energy transfer between light and water waves, which is needed to produce the laser emission.


To compensate for this low efficiency, the researchers created a device in which an optical fiber delivers light into a tiny droplet of octane and water. Light waves and water waves pass through each other many times (approximately one million times) inside the droplet, generating the energy that leaves the droplet as the emission of the water-wave laser.


The interaction between the fiber optic light and the miniscule vibrations on the surface of the droplet are like an echo, the researchers noted, where the interaction of sound waves and the surface they pass through can make a single scream audible several times. In order to increase this echo effect in their device, the researchers used highly transparent, runny liquids, to encourage light and droplet interactions.

Carlos Garcia Pando's comment, December 9, 6:14 AM
Looks very interesting as optomechanics amplifier
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How a tiny mutation in the ARHGAP11B gene helped grow our big human brain

How a tiny mutation in the ARHGAP11B gene helped grow our big human brain | Amazing Science |

After splitting from the chimpanzee lineage, a single letter of our genome switched to another – and likely shaped the evolutionary expansion of the human.


The gene ARHGAP11B promotes basal progenitor amplification and is implicated in neocortex expansion. It arose on the human evolutionary lineage by partial duplication ofARHGAP11A, which encodes a Rho guanosine triphosphatase–activating protein (RhoGAP). However, a lack of 55 nucleotides in ARHGAP11B mRNA leads to loss of RhoGAP activity by GAP domain truncation and addition of a human-specific carboxy-terminal amino acid sequence.


Scientists now show that these 55 nucleotides are deleted by mRNA splicing due to a single C→G substitution that creates a novel splice donor site. They reconstructed an ancestral ARHGAP11B complementary DNA without this substitution. Ancestral ARHGAP11B exhibits RhoGAP activity but has no ability to increase basal progenitors during neocortex development. Hence, a single nucleotide substitution underlies the specific properties of ARHGAP11B that likely contributed to the evolutionary expansion of the human neocortex.

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Alien life forms could thrive in the clouds of failed stars

Alien life forms could thrive in the clouds of failed stars | Amazing Science |

There’s an abundant new swath of cosmic real estate that life could call home—and the views would be spectacular. Floating out by themselves in the Milky Way galaxy are perhaps a billion cold brown dwarfs, objects many times as massive as Jupiter but not big enough to ignite as a star. According to a new study, layers of their upper atmospheres sit at temperatures and pressures resembling those on Earth, and could host microbes that surf on thermal updrafts. Mild temperatures provide a benefit to worlds more massive than Jupiter.


The idea expands the concept of a habitable zone to include a vast population of worlds that had previously gone unconsidered. “You don’t necessarily need to have a terrestrial planet with a surface,” says Jack Yates, a planetary scientist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who led the study.


Atmospheric life isn’t just for the birds. For decades, biologists have known about microbes that drift in the winds high above Earth’s surface. And in 1976, Carl Sagan envisioned the kind of ecosystem that could evolve in the upper layers of Jupiter, fueled by sunlight. You could have sky plankton: small organisms he called “sinkers.” Other organisms could be balloonlike “floaters,” which would rise and fall in the atmosphere by manipulating their body pressure. In the years since, astronomers have also considered the prospects of microbes in the carbon dioxide atmosphere above Venus’s inhospitable surface.


Yates and his colleagues applied the same thinking to a kind of world Sagan didn’t know about. Discovered in 2011, some cold brown dwarfs have surfaces roughly at room temperature or below; lower layers would be downright comfortable. In March 2013, astronomers discovered WISE 0855-0714, a brown dwarf only 7 light-years away that seems to have water clouds in its atmosphere. Yates and his colleagues set out to update Sagan’s calculations and to identify the sizes, densities, and life strategies of microbes that could manage to stay aloft in the habitable region of an enormous atmosphere of predominantly hydrogen gas. Sink too low and you are cooked or crushed. Rise too high and you might freeze.


On such a world, small sinkers like the microbes in Earth’s atmosphere or even smaller would have a better chance than Sagan’s floaters, the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. But a lot depends on the weather: If upwelling winds are powerful on free-floating brown dwarfs, as seems to be true in the bands of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, heavier creatures can carve out a niche. In the absence of sunlight, they could feed on chemical nutrients. Observations of cold brown dwarf atmospheres reveal most of the ingredients Earth life depends on: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, though perhaps not phosphorous.

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Graphene Silly Putty detects pitter-patter of spider footsteps

Graphene Silly Putty detects pitter-patter of spider footsteps | Amazing Science |
Sensor made of graphene and Silly Putty can detect pulse, breathing — and spider feet.


Despite its widespread use in nanocomposites, the effect of embedding graphene in highly viscoelastic polymer matrices is not well understood. Scientists now added graphene to a lightly cross-linked polysilicone, often encountered as Silly Putty, changing its electromechanical properties substantially. The resulting nanocomposites display unusual electromechanical behavior, such as postdeformation temporal relaxation of electrical resistance and nonmonotonic changes in resistivity with strain. These phenomena are associated with the mobility of the nanosheets in the low-viscosity polymer matrix. By considering both the connectivity and mobility of the nanosheets, the scientists developed a quantitative model that completely describes the electromechanical properties. These nanocomposites are sensitive electromechanical sensors with gauge factors >500 that can measure pulse, blood pressure, and even the impact associated with the footsteps of a small spider.

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The center of Earth is younger than the outer surface

The center of Earth is younger than the outer surface | Amazing Science |
Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts the center of the Earth is two years younger than the crust.


Our home planet is young at heart. According to new calculations, Earth’s center is more than two years younger than its surface. In Einstein’s general theory of relativity, massive objects warp the fabric of spacetime, creating a gravitational pull and slowing time nearby. So a clock placed at Earth’s center will tick ever-so-slightly slower than a clock at its surface. Such time shifts are determined by the gravitational potential, a measure of the amount of work it would take to move an object from one place to another. Since climbing up from Earth’s center would be a struggle against gravity, clocks down deep would run slow relative to surface time pieces.


Over the 4.5 billion years of Earth’s history, the gradual shaving off of fractions of a second adds up to a core that’s 2.5 years younger than the planet’s crust, researchers estimate in the May European Journal of Physics. Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman had suggested in the 1960s that the core was younger, but only by a few days.

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Child Mummy Found With Oldest Known Smallpox Virus

Child Mummy Found With Oldest Known Smallpox Virus | Amazing Science |
“The most terrible of all the ministers of death” may have started afflicting humans in the 1500s, altering our understanding of the disease.


A multinational team of researchers, headed by a group at the DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Ontario, have retrieved and sequenced smallpox DNA from the mummified body of a child interred in Lithuania in the 17th century. (See pictures of mummies found in the Lithuanian crypt.)


Comparing that genetic material with modern smallpox samples, they found them to be surprisingly alike. And by constructing a “molecular clock” that traces the strains’ evolution back to a common ancestor, they dated the virus’s time line no further back than about 1588.


That date is centuries after the cases of smallpox that have been identified in historical descriptions from India and China and construed from the appearance of Egyptian mummies.

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Plants can Learn Like Animals by Association

Plants can Learn Like Animals by Association | Amazing Science |

In complex and ever-changing environments, resources such as food are often scarce and unevenly distributed in space and time. Therefore, utilizing external cues to locate and remember high-quality sources allows more efficient foraging, thus increasing chances for survival. Associations between environmental cues and food are readily formed because of the tangible benefits they confer. While examples of the key role they play in shaping foraging behaviors are widespread in the animal world, the possibility that plants are also able to acquire learned associations to guide their foraging behavior has never been demonstrated.


Now scientists show that this type of learning occurs in the garden pea, Pisum sativum. By using a Y-maze task, they were able to demonstrate that the position of a neutral cue, predicting the location of a light source, affected the direction of plant growth. This learned behavior prevailed over innate phototropism. Notably, learning was successful only when it occurred during the subjective day, suggesting that behavioral performance is regulated by metabolic demands. These results show that associative learning is an essential component of plant behavior and that associative learning represents a universal adaptive mechanism shared by both animals and plants.

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A New Spin on the Quantum Brains

A New Spin on the Quantum Brains | Amazing Science |

A new theory explains how fragile quantum states may be able to exist for hours or even days in our warm, wet brain. Experiments should soon test the idea now.


The mere mention of “quantum consciousness” makes most physicists cringe, as the phrase seems to evoke the vague, insipid musings of a New Age guru. But if a new hypothesis proves to be correct, quantum effects might indeed play some role in human cognition. Matthew Fisher, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, raised eyebrows late last year when he published a paper in Annals of Physics proposing that the nuclear spins of phosphorus atoms could serve as rudimentary “qubits” in the brain — which would essentially enable the brain to function like a quantum computer.


As recently as 10 years ago, Fisher’s hypothesis would have been dismissed by many as nonsense. Physicists have been burned by this sort of thing before, most notably in 1989, when Roger Penrose proposed that mysterious protein structures called “microtubules” played a role in human consciousness by exploiting quantum effects. Few researchers believe such a hypothesis plausible. Patricia Churchland, a neurophilosopher at the University of California, San Diego, memorably opined that one might as well invoke “pixie dust in the synapses” to explain human cognition.


Fisher’s hypothesis faces the same daunting obstacle that has plagued microtubules: a phenomenon called quantum decoherence. To build an operating quantum computer, you need to connect qubits — quantum bits of information — in a process called entanglement. But entangled qubits exist in a fragile state. They must be carefully shielded from any noise in the surrounding environment. Just one photon bumping into your qubit would be enough to make the entire system “decohere,” destroying the entanglement and wiping out the quantum properties of the system. It’s challenging enough to do quantum processing in a carefully controlled laboratory environment, never mind the warm, wet, complicated mess that is human biology, where maintaining coherence for sufficiently long periods of time is well nigh impossible.


Over the past decade, however, growing evidence suggests that certain biological systems might employ quantum mechanics. In photosynthesis, for example, quantum effects help plants turn sunlight into fuel. Scientists have also proposed that migratory birds have a “quantum compass” enabling them to exploit Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation, or that the human sense of smell could be rooted in quantum mechanics.


Fisher’s notion of quantum processing in the brain broadly fits into this emerging field of quantum biology. Call it quantum neuroscience. He has developed a complicated hypothesis, incorporating nuclear and quantum physics, organic chemistry, neuroscience and biology. While his ideas have met with plenty of justifiable skepticism, some researchers are starting to pay attention. “Those who read his paper (as I hope many will) are bound to conclude: This old guy’s not so crazy,” wrote John Preskill, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, after Fisher gave a talk there. “He may be on to something. At least he’s raising some very interesting questions.”


Senthil Todadri, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fisher’s longtime friend and colleague, is skeptical, but he thinks that Fisher has rephrased the central question — is quantum processing happening in the brain? — in such a way that it lays out a road map to test the hypothesis rigorously. “The general assumption has been that of course there is no quantum information processing that’s possible in the brain,” Todadri said. “He makes the case that there’s precisely one loophole. So the next step is to see if that loophole can be closed.” Indeed, Fisher has begun to bring together a team to do laboratory tests to answer this question once and for all.

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Fine-Tuning of Our Universe: Are We Special?

Fine-Tuning of Our Universe: Are We Special? | Amazing Science |
Why do the deep physical laws of our universe seem just right for our existence? What does a "fine-tuned" universe mean? What is the far future of intelligence, human or alien, in the universe?
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Exotic insulator may hold clue to key mystery of modern physics

Exotic insulator may hold clue to key mystery of modern physics | Amazing Science |

Experiments using laser light and pieces of gray material the size of fingernail clippings may offer clues to a fundamental scientific riddle: what is the relationship between the everyday world of classical physics and the hidden quantum realm that obeys entirely different rules?

"We found a particular material that is straddling these two regimes," said N. Peter Armitage, an associate professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University who led the research for the paper just published in the journal Science. Six scientists from Johns Hopkins and Rutgers University were involved in the work on materials called topological insulators, which can conduct electricity on their atoms-thin surface, but not in their insides.


Topological insulators were predicted in the 1980s, first observed in 2007 and have been studied intensively since. Made from any number of hundreds of elements, these materials have the capacity to show quantum properties that usually appear only at the microscopic level, but here appear in a material visible to the naked eye.


The experiments reported in Science establish these materials as a distinct state of matter "that exhibits macroscopic quantum mechanical effects," Armitage said. "Usually we think of quantum mechanics as a theory of small things, but in this system quantum mechanics is appearing on macroscopic length scales. The experiments are made possible by unique instrumentation developed in my laboratory."


In the experiments reported in Science, dark gray material samples made of the elements bismuth and selenium – each a few millimeters long and of different thicknesses—were hit with "THz" light beams that are invisible to the unaided eye. Researchers measured the reflected light as it moved through the material samples, and found fingerprints of a quantum state of matter.

Via Mariaschnee
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Magic mushroom's ingredient could help terminal cancer patients to face death

Magic mushroom's ingredient could help terminal cancer patients to face death | Amazing Science |

A science group are proposing that a psychedelic trip is the optimal way to end life. Here a single dose of psilocybin has been shown to increase the feeling of well-being with those with terminal cancer.


Psilocybin is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms and recent trials have shown the chemical, when combined with psychotherapy helps to reduce depression and anxiety for those with cancer. In addition the chemical and pyschological therpay helps to increase feelings of wellbeing in people, with the effects lasting for up to six-moths.


Studies of psilocybin formed part of legitimate scientific research until the early 1970s, when a reversal in U.S. policy brought studies to an end (this moratorium has recently been reversed.) Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms. Once ingested, psilocybin is transformed in the human body to psilocin, a compound that has has mind-altering effects which are similar to drugs like LSD, mescaline, and DMT.


The new research stems from studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore) and Langone Medical Center (New York), where researchers undertook trials of 80 people with cancer and symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to New Scientist, one of the the trials involved the volunteers laying on a couch wearing a blindfold and listening to music. Some subjects were given psilocybin and others placebos. Different psychological and physiological tests were performed.


With the subjects who were given psilocybin, there were notable decreases in depression and anxiety, accompanied by increases in measures of quality of life, life meaning, death acceptance and optimism. The lead researcher, Dr. Roland Griffiths explains: "fter this kind of experience, people feel that they’ve learned something that’s of deep meaning and value to them. They attribute changes in how they approach life, interact with people and to their value systems to that experience."

Via CineversityTV
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Checkpoint Inhibitors at Work: Beating Cancer at Its Own Game

Checkpoint Inhibitors at Work: Beating Cancer at Its Own Game | Amazing Science |
How an iconoclastic cancer researcher gamed the immune system and unleashed a potent new weapon against the disease.
Via Krishan Maggon
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Global warming will drive the loss of 55 billion tons of carbon from the soil by 2050

Global warming will drive the loss of 55 billion tons of carbon from the soil by 2050 | Amazing Science |
A new global analysis finds that warming temperatures will trigger the release of trillions of kilograms of carbon from the planet’s soils, driven largely by the losses of carbon in the world’s colder


For decades scientists have speculated that rising global temperatures might alter the ability of soils to store carbon, potentially releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and triggering runaway climate change. Yet thousands of studies worldwide have produced mixed signals on whether this storage capacity will actually decrease — or even increase — as the planet warms. It turns out scientists might have been looking in the wrong places.


A new Yale-led study in the journal Nature finds that warming will drive the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century, or about 17% more than the projected emissions due to human-related activities during that period. That would be roughly the equivalent of adding to the planet another industrialized country the size of the United States.


Critically, the researchers found that carbon losses will be greatest in the world’s colder places, at high latitudes, locations that had largely been missing from previous research. In those regions, massive stocks of carbon have built up over thousands of years and slow microbial activity has kept them relatively secure.


Most of the previous research had been conducted in the world’s temperate regions, where there were smaller carbon stocks. Studies that focused only on these regions would have missed the vast proportion of potential carbon losses, said lead author Thomas Crowther, who conducted his research while a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.


“Carbon stores are greatest in places like the Arctic and the sub-Arctic, where the soil is cold and often frozen,” Crowther said. “In those conditions microbes are less active and so carbon has been allowed to build up over many centuries. “But as you start to warm, the activities of those microbes increase, and that’s when the losses start to happen,” Crowther said. “The scary thing is, these cold regions are the places that are expected to warm the most under climate change.”


The results are based on an analysis of raw data on stored soil carbon from dozens of studies conducted over the past 20 years in different regions of the world. The study predicts that for one degree of warming, about 30 petagrams of soil carbon will be released into the atmosphere, or about twice as much as is emitted annually due to human-related activities (A petagram is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 kilograms). This is particularly concerning, Crowther said, because previous climate studies predicted that the planet is likely to warm by 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century.

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Evolution occurs rapidly enough to be observed inside the laboratory

Evolution occurs rapidly enough to be observed inside the laboratory | Amazing Science |

Biologists have discovered that the evolution of a new species can occur rapidly enough for them to observe the process in a simple laboratory flask.


In a month-long experiment using a virus harmless to humans, biologists working at the University of California San Diego and at Michigan State University documented the evolution of a virus into two incipient species—a process known as speciation that Charles Darwin proposed to explain the branching in the tree of life, where one species splits into two distinct species during evolution.


“Many theories have been proposed to explain speciation, and they have been tested through analyzing the characteristics of fossils, genomes, and natural populations of plants and animals,” said Justin Meyer, an assistant professor of biology at UC San Diego and the first author of a study that will be published in the December 9 issue of Science.“However, speciation has been notoriously difficult to thoroughly investigate because it happens too slowly to directly observe. Without direct evidence for speciation, some people have doubted the importance of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection.”


Meyer’s study, which also appeared last week in an early online edition of Science, began while he was a doctoral student at Michigan State University, working in the laboratory of Richard Lenski, a professor of microbial ecology there who pioneered the use of microorganisms to study the dynamics of long-term evolution.


“Even though we set out to study speciation in the lab, I was surprised it happened so fast,” said Lenski, a co-author of the study. “Yet the deeper Justin dug into things—from how the viruses infected different hosts to their DNA sequences—the stronger the evidence became that we really were seeing the early stages of speciation.”


“With these experiments, no one can doubt whether speciation occurs,” Meyer added. “More importantly, we now have an experimental system to test many previously untestable ideas about the process.”


To conduct their experiment, Meyer, Lenski and their colleagues cultured a virus—known as “bacteriophage lambda”—capable of infecting E. coli bacteria using two receptors, molecules on the outside of the cell wall that viruses use to attach themselves and then infect cells.


When the biologists supplied the virus with two types of cells that varied in their receptors, the virus evolved into two new species, one specialized on each receptor type.


“The virus we started the experiment with, the one with the nondiscriminatory appetite, went extinct. During the process of speciation, it was replaced by its more evolved descendants with a more refined palette,” explained Meyer.

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