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Complex Insight  - Understanding our world
Latest news on complex systems in life sciences, engineering, education and government
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Not yet gone, but effectively extinct

Not yet gone, but effectively extinct | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
A small drop in one species' population can drive others to actually die out.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Functional extinction is an important concept in ecological modeling and i suspect an increasingly important one in other systems modeling domains. Good overview article from arstechnica on why this is important.

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The Case of the Missing Human Ancestor

The Case of the Missing Human Ancestor | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
DNA from a cave in Russia adds a mysterious new member to the human family.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Interesting article on the discovery of Denisovan DNA by the evolutionary genetics team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. 

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Want to Understand Mortality? Look to the Chimps.

Want to Understand Mortality? Look to the Chimps. | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
What scientists can learn by observing how primates respond to death.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Anyone who has lived or worked with animals knows they are sentient. However how we define animal sentience and how we discuss and categorize animal actions and responses to events is still an area of intense debate. Interesting article from the New York Times.

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Diseases become art under a microscope

Diseases become art under a microscope | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
A doctor and medial photographer have collaborated on a book that showcases striking images of diseases up close.
ComplexInsight's insight:

BBC article on Dr Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue and Norman Baker's book Hidden Beauty - Exploring the Aesthetics of Medical Science.  The stunning beauty of the human body - even with disease and medical problems-  is portrayed from an artistic sense accompanied by explanations of the images shown and how visualisation is also used in modern medical science.. Short video with Dr Lacobusio-Donahue certainly made me curious about the book - one for the reading list.

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Researcher decodes prairie dog language, discovers they've been talking about us (Video)

Researcher decodes prairie dog language, discovers they've been talking about us (Video) | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
The results show that praire dogs aren't only extremely effective communicators, they also pay close attention to detail.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Great article - watch the embedded video - it helps explain the methodology and the approach and how they verified the alarm call classification using statistical analysis. Awesome research. 

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First-ever high-resolution images of a molecule as it breaks and reforms chemical bonds

First-ever high-resolution images of a molecule as it breaks and reforms chemical bonds | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
When Felix Fischer of the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) set out to develop nanostructures made of graphene using a new, controlled approach to chemical reactions, the first result was a surprise:...
ComplexInsight's insight:

Stunning imagery of , single-bond-resolved  individual molecules, right before and immediately after a complex organic reaction . simply stunning.

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Scientists discover workings of brain's 'GPS System' - Indian Express

Scientists discover workings of brain's 'GPS System' - Indian Express | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Scientists discover workings of brain's 'GPS System' - Scientists have discovered how the brain's internal system works to determine the body's location as it moves through its sur
ComplexInsight's insight:

The study from researchers at Princeton University found that certain position-tracking neurons - called grid cells - ramp their activity up and down by working together in a collective way to determine location. Grid cells are neurons that become electrically active, or "fire," as animals travel in an environment. First discovered in the mid-2000s, each cell fires when the body moves to specific locations, for example in a room. The neuronal locations are arranged in a hexagonal pattern like spaces on a Chinese checker board and together the grid cells form a representation of space according to David Tank, Princeton's Henry L Hillman Professor in Molecular Biology and leader of the study. Click on the image or title to learn more.

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Thriving cancer's 'chaos' explained

Thriving cancer's 'chaos' explained | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
The way cancer cells can make a completely chaotic mess of their genetic code in order to thrive has been explained by UK researchers.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Excellent article on BBC Science regarding diversity of cancer DNA in a tumour and research at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute and the University College London. This has been a major problem in finding effective approaches to treating cancers. Prof Swanton told the BBC: "It is like constructing a building without enough bricks or cement for the foundations.

"However, if you can provide the building blocks of DNA you can reduce the replication stress to limit the diversity in tumours, which could be therapeutic."

He admitted that it "just seems wrong" that providing the fuel for a cancer to grow could be therapeutic.However, he said this proved that replication stress was the problem and that new tools could be developed to tackle it.

Future studies will investigate whether the same stress causes diversity in other types of tumour.

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Maize 'was key in Andean society'

Maize 'was key in Andean society' | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
New evidence strengthens the argument that maize played an important role in ancient Peruvian civilisation 5,000 years ago, a study suggests.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Science continues to unravel more and more clues about our past and evolution illustrating that the more data and analysis and qualitative processes you have the more robust ideas can become. Interesting discovery reinforcing role of agriculture driving societal evolution.

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Parasitic fly spotted on honeybees, causes workers to abandon colonies

Parasitic fly spotted on honeybees, causes workers to abandon colonies | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it

Throughout North America, honeybees are abandoning their hives. The workers are often found dead, some distance away. Meanwhile, the hives are like honeycombed Marie Celestes, with honey and pollen left uneaten, and larvae still trapped in their chambers.

 

There are many possible causes of this “colony collapse disorder” (CCD). These include various viruses, a single-celled parasite called Nosema apis, a dramatically named mite called Varroa destructor, exposure to pesticides, or a combination of all of the above. Any or all of these factors could explain why the bees die, but why do the workers abandon the hive?

 

Andrew Core from San Francisco State University has a possible answer, and a new suspect for CCD. He has shown that a parasitic fly, usually known for attacking bumblebees, also targets honeybees. The fly, Apocephalus borealis, lays up to a dozen eggs in bee workers. Its grubs eventually eat the bees from the inside-out. And the infected workers, for whatever reason, abandon their hives to die.

 

There are hundreds of species of Apocephalus flies, and they’re best known for decapitating ants from the inside. The larvae, laid within an ant, migrate to the head and devour the tissue inside. The brainless ant wanders aimlessly for weeks, before the larvae release an enzyme that dissolves the connection between the ant’s head and body. The head falls off, and adult flies emerge from it.

 

A. borealis has a similar modus operandi, but it targets bees not ants. Core discovered its penchant for honeybees by sampling workers that had been stranded in the lights of his faculty building, and other locations throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The fly was everywhere. It was parasitizing bees in three-quarters of the places that Core studied, and its DNA confirmed that the species that attacked honeybees was the same one that kills bumblebees.

 

When Core exposed honeybees to the flies in his lab, he saw the same events that befall unfortunate ants. The flies lay eggs in a bee’s body and weeks later, larvae burst out from behind the insect’s head. It’s no surprise that the infected bees, with up to 13 larvae feasting on their brains, seem a little disoriented. They walk round like zombies, pacing in circles and often unable to stand up.

 

They also abandon their hives. Core found that the dying insects literally head towards the light. Large numbers of them become stranded within bright lights. Many flying insects show a similar attraction, but the stranded bees were stock still rather than buzzing about. They would also head towards lights on cold, rainy nights when other insects seek shelter.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald, Robin Lott
ComplexInsight's insight:

Awesome catch by Robin Lott and a good article.

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Keith Wayne Brown's curator insight, February 6, 2013 8:40 AM

Can nature ever cease to amaze or to cause wonder?

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DNA 'perfect for digital storage'

DNA 'perfect for digital storage' | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
UK scientists demonstrate how DNA could be used to archive digital data, encoding Shakespeare's sonnets and other information in the "life molecule".
ComplexInsight's insight:

Using DNA as an archive mechanism is a deeply interesing idea. all digital data storage so far has a limited lifespan related to the technologies used to create, write and read the storage medium. Anyone who has migrated files from tape drives, floppy drives, hardiscs to cd-roms and dvd's know this intimately. The research by the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) at Hinxton near Cambridge uses DNA as an archiving mechansim encoding data into specific nucleobases. The approach uses current generation DBA synthesis machines to generate the encoded DNA and potential data storage lifespan time is several thousand years. Click image or title to learn more.

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Antibiotic 'apocalypse' warning

Antibiotic 'apocalypse' warning | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
The rise in drug resistant infections is comparable to the threat of global warming, according to the chief medical officer for England.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Perhaps appropriate that Prof Sally Davies used the comparison to global warming in that at least popular press coverage of antibiotic resitatnce tends to either saw from the dismissive to the apocalyptic. Good interview by the BBC - worth reading.

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More evidence of crustacean pain

More evidence of crustacean pain | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Scientists find further evidence that crabs and other crustaceans feel pain and then take steps to avoid it.
ComplexInsight's insight:

While perhaps unlikely to change food industry and eating habits in the short term, I suspect as we develop more understanding of sensory systems and related perception mechanisms our understanding of sentience and animal perception is going to go through a radical overhall in the coming decade.

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Gene therapy trial 'cures children'

Gene therapy trial 'cures children' | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
A disease which robs children of the ability to walk and talk has been cured by pioneering gene therapy to correct errors in their DNA, say doctors.
ComplexInsight's insight:

After the initial hype around gene therapy, fast solutions failed to meet expectations.  Following a death in one trial and other patients developed leukaemia  studies showed that  introducing new and modified genes could activate cancer genes. Since then safety concerns have been high. The first gene therapy trials in europe were not approved until 2012.  The BBC article describes a new technique developed at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy  for children born with metachromatic leukodystrophy.  Babies born with metachromatic leukodystrophy appear healthy, but their development starts to reverse between the ages of one and two as part of their brain is destroyed. Three children  with the disease underwent the treatment and have so far showed normal development with  no side effects. While the patients will continue to be followed, the treatment shows that some of the potential promises of gene therapy may come true. 

 

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Climate change: A prehistoric window on Earth's future?

Climate change: A prehistoric window on Earth's future? | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Scientists believe they have identified a time in history that provides the most complete picture of how the planet might respond to rising CO2 levels.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Yet another good article from the BBC future team - worth a read.The Pliocene era happened on earth just over 3.2 million years ago. UK scientists believe that it could be the best chance so far of revealing the consequences of human-induced climate change, since its a period in Earth’s climate history, where everything like the planet’s orbit and the position of the continents closely match conditions of today, but with slightly higher levels of CO2 –similar to those we are predicted to see by the end of the century. As a result they think geological information trapped in rock and sediment layers could help modelers understand and make informed predications about how the planet will respond to expected climate change. click on the image or title to learn more. 

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Evolution of Mammalian Diving Capacity Traced by Myoglobin Net Surface Charge

Evolution of Mammalian Diving Capacity Traced by Myoglobin Net Surface Charge | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Evolution of Mammalian Diving Capacity Traced by Myoglobin Net Surface Charge
ComplexInsight's insight:

A new study published in Science shows marine mammals evolutionary adaptations to store oxygen for deep dives.  Extended breath-hold endurance enabled marine mammals to expand their range and ecological niche. However to achieve this their bodies have had to evolve mechanisms to store elevated body oxygen and use it hyper efficiently.The new study highlights the molecular and biochemical adaptations to marine mammal muscle myoglobin to enable extended dive capacity. Worth reading

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Tiny, insect-eating animal becomes earliest known primate

Tiny, insect-eating animal becomes earliest known primate | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Archicebus achilles lived 55m years ago in what is now China and is the ancestor of all monkeys, apes and humans
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Fossil shows how turtle got a shell

Fossil shows how turtle got a shell | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
How the turtle shell evolved has puzzled scientists for years, but new research sheds light on how their hard shells were formed.
ComplexInsight's insight:

The discovery of a translational fossil has helped identifiy the series of evolutionary steps and small changes that gradually add up to the evolution of the turtle shell. 

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Why A Hoosier State Scientist Is Stuck On Oysters : NPR

Why A Hoosier State Scientist Is Stuck On Oysters : NPR | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
How do oysters attach themselves to rocks? They need a glue, but a glue that can set in a watery environment. In this installment of "Joe's Big Idea," NPR's Joe Palca reports that glue could lead to medical advances.
ComplexInsight's insight:

I'm rather partial to Joe Palca's reports and this one is awesome. Joe interviews Jonathan Wilker, a chemist at West Lafayette who is studying how oysters create the natural adhesive they use to stick to rocks. Might not sound interesting but the research will likely help create adhesives for surgery, new non-posionous coatings that marine animals such as barnacles cannot stick too and other applications. Worth reading.

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Mummy scans reveal heart disease plagued our ancestors BEFORE the emergence of junk food and cigarettes

Mummy scans reveal heart disease plagued our ancestors BEFORE the emergence of junk food and cigarettes | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Researchers say their findings suggest heart disease may be more a natural part of ageing rather than being directly tied to modern vices.
ComplexInsight's insight:

While modern lifestyles and diet certainly excerbate problems of heart disease - these findings indicate that we still need a fuller system level  understsnding of heart disease and the cellular dynamic processes involved.

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Bad sleep 'dramatically' alters body

Bad sleep 'dramatically' alters body | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
A run of poor sleep can have a dramatic effect on the internal workings of the human body, say UK researchers.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Good article on BBC health:Researchers at the University of Surrey analysed the blood of 26 people after they had had plenty of sleep, up to 10 hours each night for a week, and compared the results with samples after a week of fewer than six hours a night. More than 700 genes were altered by the sleep shift. Each contains the instructions for building a protein, so those that became more active produced more proteins - changing body chemistry in response to reduced sleep. These results help indicate the role of sleep in regulating body chemistry and how regular sleep is important to maintain body functions such as replenishing and replacing cells. 

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Unique Microscope Captures Motion of DNA Structures in Space, Time

Unique Microscope Captures Motion of DNA Structures in Space, Time | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Pasadena, CA (Scicasts) – Every great structure, from the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, depends on specific mechanical properties to remain strong and reliable.
ComplexInsight's insight:

 

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have recently developed techniques for visualizing the behaviour of biological nanostructures in both space and time, allowing them to directly measure stiffness and map its variation throughout the network. Given that the behaviour of biological materials are partly determined by their structure (the arrangement of atoms in three dimensional space and how the structure changes over time) this type of visualization holds a huge amount of promise for revealing insights into biomaterials that were previously hidden. Knowing the mechanical properties of DNA structures is crucial to building sturdy biological networks and understanding subcellular structural formation. The researchers say that this type of visualization of biomechanics in space and time should be applicable to the study of other biological nanomaterials, including the abnormal protein assemblies that underlie diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.  Click on the image or title to read the full article.


 

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Scientists discover genetic key to efficient crops - Cornell (2013)

Scientists discover genetic key to efficient crops - Cornell (2013) | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it

With projections of 9.5 billion people by 2050, humankind faces the challenge of feeding modern diets to additional mouths while using the same amounts of water, fertilizer and arable land as today. Cornell researchers have taken a leap toward meeting those needs by discovering a gene that could lead to new varieties of staple crops with 50 percent higher yields. 

 

The gene, called Scarecrow, is the first discovered to control a special leaf structure, known as Kranz anatomy, which leads to more efficient photosynthesis. Plants photosynthesize using one of two methods: C3, a less efficient, ancient method found in most plants, including wheat and rice; and C4, a more efficient adaptation employed by grasses, maize, sorghum and sugarcane that is better suited to drought, intense sunlight, heat and low nitrogen... If C4 photosynthesis is successfully transferred to C3 plants through genetic engineering, farmers could grow wheat and rice in hotter, dryer environments with less fertilizer, while possibly increasing yields by half... 

 

Underlying study: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/pcp/pcs147 ;


Via Alexander J. Stein
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Dung beetles guided by Milky Way

Dung beetles guided by Milky Way | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
Scientists show how the lowly dung beetle will use the Milky Way's band of light in the night sky as a compass.
ComplexInsight's insight:

Possibly my favourite science article of 2013 so far. It makes sense in terms of evolutionary adaption since astral light sources would be an evolutionary environmental constant so adapting to utilize them makes a lot of sense. Proving that dung beetles do this - is just a wow. cool artile worth reading. 

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Was life inevitable? New paper pieces together metabolism’s beginnings | Santa Fe Institute

Was life inevitable? New paper pieces together metabolism’s beginnings | Santa Fe Institute | Complex Insight  - Understanding our world | Scoop.it
ComplexInsight's insight:

A new synthesis by two Santa Fe Institute researchers offers a coherent picture of how metabolism, and thus all life, arose. The study, published December 12, 2012, in the journal Physical Biology, offers new insights into how the complex chemistry of metabolism cobbled itself together, the likelihood of life emerging and evolving as it did on Earth, and the chances of finding life elsewhere. Click on the image or the title to see the Sante Fe article or go to http://iopscience.iop.org/1478-3975/10/1/011001/article to see the paper which is worth a read.

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