Many deep-sea animals such as anglerfish use parts of their body as lures to attract prey. Researchers have now described a deep-sea squid whose tentacle tips flap and flutter as if swimming on their own.
A NASA spacecraft that discovered and characterized tens of thousands of asteroids throughout the solar system before being placed in hibernation will return to service for three more years starting in September, assisting the agency in its effort...
Scientists create living embryo of extinct frog that gives birth through its mouth. Although the resulting embryos lived for just a few days, the groundbreaking research by an international team has brought the 'de-extinction' of creatures like woolly mammoths a step closer. The scientists working for the so-called Lazarus Project are yet to publish their results, but say future barriers to bringing the frog back to life are 'technological, not biological'.
The last of the bizarre gastric-brooding frog, Rheobatrachus silus – which uniquely swallowed its eggs, brooded its young in its stomach and gave birth through its mouth – died out in 1983.
The woolly mammoth could again be walking the Siberian steppes in less than 20 years, scientists say. Teams from around the world are racing to sequence the mammoth genome from an analysis of DNA from remains found frozen in the ice of northern Russia.
George Church, a geneticist at Harvard University, says that despite the animals dying out nearly 4,000 years ago, it could still be possible to extract usable DNA from mammoths preserved in the permafrost.
An exact picture of the mammoth genome would be used as a template to edit and rewrite the genetic make-up of the closely related Asian elephant until it matched, the Siberian Times reported him as saying.
Hendrik Poinar, associate professor at McMaster University in Canada, added: 'We can actually pull out and rejig all these small mammoth fragments and match them against the genome of an Asian or African elephant chromosome and find all the little points of difference.
'So that means we can take Asian elephant chromosomes, modify them to match that of a mammoth and then create an embryo by inseminating an Asian elephant egg.
'It would be long and arduous but eventually we would have something that looked like a mammoth. It would not be an exact replica but it would look and feel much like a woolly mammoth did.'
The last mammoths died out some 4,000 years ago on Wrangel Island, between the East Siberian and Chukchi seas. The most likely habitats for re-born mammoths would be north-eastern Russia and northern Canada.
But researchers were able to recover cell nuclei from R. silus tissues collected in the Seventies and kept for 40 years in a conventional deep freezer. In repeated experiments over five years, the researchers used a laboratory technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Using a method similar to that imagined in the blockbuster Jurassic Park, they took fresh eggs from the distantly related Great Barred Frog, deactivated their nuclei and replaced them with genes from the extinct frog.
Some of the eggs spontaneously began to divide and grow to early embryo stage – a tiny ball of many living cells from a creature extinct for 30 years.
Although none of the embryos survived beyond a few days, genetic tests confirmed that the dividing cells contain the genetic material from the extinct frog.
'We are watching Lazarus arise from the dead, step by exciting step,' said Mike Archer, a professor at the University of New South Wales and the leader of the Lazarus Project team.
'We’ve reactivated dead cells into living ones and revived the extinct frog’s genome in the process. Now we have fresh cryo-preserved cells of the extinct frog to use in future cloning experiments.
The discovery of "super-tornadoes" rising above the surface of the sun may help solve the mystery of how our home star heats it wispy outer atmosphere to a million degrees. There is plenty of energy below the 5780° visible surface to do the job, but solar physicists have long argued about how that energy heats the corona, seen as an encircling crown of light that emerges during a total solar eclipse. Now a group reports online today in Nature that, using both spaceborne and ground-based telescopes, it has detected 1500-kilometer-wide swirls of solar atmosphere rising from the surface into the corona.
Each lasts 10 to 15 minutes, and there are about 11,000 of them on the sun at a time. Computer simulations (picture) show how similar-looking the twisting magnetic field lines of a solar tornado are to real tornadoes. Now solar physicists must figure out how much energy super-tornadoes deliver compared with other proposed energy sources.
PH is the first case of a person who hears speech before seeing a speaker's lips move. His badly dubbed world reveals timing mechanisms in the brain.
"I was staying with my daughter and they like to have the television on in their house. I turned to my daughter and said 'you ought to get a decent telly, one where the sound and programme are synchronised'. I gave a little chuckle. But they said 'there's nothing wrong with the TV'." Puzzled, he went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. "They've got another telly up on the wall and it was the same. I went into the lounge and I said to her 'hey you've got two TVs that need sorting!'." That was when he started to notice that his daughter's speech was out of time with her lip movements too. "It wasn't the TV, it was me. It was happening in real life."
PH is the first confirmed case of someone who hears people speak before registering the movement of their lips. His situation is giving unique insights into how our brains unify what we hear and see. It's unclear why PH's problem started when it did – but it may have had something to do with having acute pericarditis, inflammation of the sac around the heart, or the surgery he had to treat it.
Brain scans after the timing problems appeared showed two lesions in areas thought to play a role in hearing, timing and movement. "Where these came from is anyone's guess," says PH. "They may have been there all my life or as a result of being in intensive care."
Several weeks later, PH realised that it wasn't just other people who were out of sync: when he spoke, he registered his words before he felt his jaw make the movement. "It felt like a significant delay, it sort of snuck up on me. It was very disconcerting. At the time I didn't know whether the delay was going to get bigger, but it seems to have stuck at about a quarter of a second."
Light and sound travel at different speeds, so when someone speaks, visual and auditory inputs arrive at our eyes and ears at different times. The signals are then processed at different rates in the brain. Despite this, we normally perceive the events as happening simultaneously – but how the brain achieves this is unclear.
To investigate PH's situation, Elliot Freeman at City University London and colleagues performed a temporal order judgement test. PH was shown clips of people talking and was asked whether the voice came before or after the lip movements. Sure enough, he said it came before, and to perceive them as synchronous the team had to play the voice about 200 milliseconds later than the lip movements.
The team then carried out a second, more objective test based on the McGurk illusion. This involves listening to one syllable while watching someone mouth another; the combination makes you perceive a third syllable.
Since PH hears people speaking before he sees their lips move, the team expected the illusion to work when they delayed the voice. So they were surprised to get the opposite result: presenting the voice 200 ms earlier than the lip movements triggered the illusion, suggesting that his brain was processing the sight before the sound in this particular task.
And it wasn't only PH who gave these results. When 37 others were tested on both tasks, many showed a similar pattern, though none of the mismatches were noticeable in everyday life.
Sprites, also known as red lightning, are electrical discharges that appear as bursts of red light above clouds during thunderstorms.Because the weather phenomenon is so fleeting (sprites flash for just milliseconds) and for the most part not visible from the ground, they are difficult to observe and even more difficult to photograph, rather like the mischievous air spirits of the fantasy realm that they’re named for. Ahrns and his colleagues, however, have captured extremely rare photographs of the red lightning, using DSLR cameras and high speed video cameras positioned in the plane’s window. The researchers hope to learn more about the physical and chemical processes that give rise to sprites and other forms of upper atmospheric lightning.
What’s it like to capture images of some of nature’s most short-lived and erratic features? I questioned Ahrns over email, and he explained what sprites are, why they occur, how scientists find them and why he’s so interested in the elusive phenomena.
A sprite is a kind of upper atmosphere electrical discharge associated with thunderstorms. A large electric field, generated by some lightning strokes, ionizes the air high above the cloud, which then emits the light we see in the pictures. They obviously beg comparison to the regular lightning bolts we see all the time, but I like to point out that the sprites are much higher, with the tops reaching up to around 100 kilometers, and higher. A lightning bolt might stretch around 10 kilometers from the cloud to the ground, but a sprite can reach 50 kilometers tall.
Are black holes surrounded by walls of fire? Does this imply that one (or more) of our most cherished physical principles–and here I’m talking about biggies like quantum theory, the conservation of information or Einstein’s equivalence principle–is wrong? Any may our savior come in the form of wormholes? These are the questions consuming some of the world’s foremost theoretical particle physicists as they argue about potential solutions to what has become known as the “black hole firewall” problem–perhaps the most important paradox in physics since Stephen Hawking proposed his first black hole information paradox nearly four decades ago.
The black hole firewall paradox has caused no small amount of wonder and confusion amongst particle physicists. It appears as though one of our core beliefs about the universe is wrong: Either particles can be promiscuously entangled, leading to quantum disaster (basically no one takes this option seriously; quantum theory and the no-promiscuous-entanglement rule are far too well supported by decades of experimental evidence), or information is not conserved (another non-starter), or black holes have firewalls (even Polchinski considers this a reductio ad absurdum), or… we just don’t fully understand what’s really going on.
And so in an effort to sort the mess out, physicists gathered this week at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB to talk over the options. One of the most intriguing possibilities for a solution comes from Juan Maldacena and Leonard Susskind, building on the ideas of Mark Van Raamsdonk and Brian Swingle. Maldacena and Susskind posit that the solution to the firewall problem may come in the form of wormholes.
Wormholes are theoretical objects that connect two different points in space. They’re allowed as possible solutions to Einstein’s equations for general relativity–indeed, Einstein and his colleague Nathan Rosen first discovered wormholes, which is why they’re also called Einstein-Rosen bridges. Unfortunately, wormholes aren’t perfect–Einstein’s equations also imply that nothing with nonnegative energy (that is to say: nothing that we know of) can traverse a wormhole, so they’re not going to make for useful intergalactic portals anytime soon.
Maldacena and Susskind, following Van Raamsdonk, posit that any time two quantum particles are entangled, they’re connected by a wormhole. They then go on to say that the wormhole connection between particles inside a black hole (the infalling virtual particles) and the particles outside of a black hole (the Hawking radiation) soothes out the entanglement problems enough so that we can avoid the firewall at the event horizon.
Note that this requires a profound rethinking of the fundamental stuff of the universe. Entanglement, a deeply quantum phenomenon, is fundamentally wound into to the geometry of the universe. Or, to flip it around, quantum weirdness may be stuff that creates the substrate of spacetime.
Of course, nothing is settled yet. As Maldacena and Susskind write towards the end of their paper: "At the moment we do not know enough about Einstein-Rosen bridges involving clouds of Hawking radiation to come to a definite conclusion…. The AMPS paradox is an extremely subtle one whose resolution, we believe, will have much to teach us about the connection between geometry and entanglement. AMPS pointed out a deep and genuine paradox about the interior of black holes."
And if there’s one great thing about paradox, it’s that their resolutions require radical breakthroughs. The equipment we build for the job may take us to places we’ve never dreamed.
Network analysis suggests geography makes grid inherently unstable. Facebook can lose a few users and remain a perfectly stable network, but where the national grid is concerned simple geography dictates that it is always just a few transmission lines from collapse.
That is according to a mathematical study of spatial networks by physicists in Israel and the United States. Study co-author Shlomo Havlin of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, says that the research builds on earlier work by incorporating a more explicit analysis of how the spatial nature of physical networks affects their fundamental stability. The upshot, published today in Nature Physics, is that spatial networks are necessarily dependent on any number of critical nodes whose failure can lead to abrupt — and unpredictable — collapse.
The electric grid, which operates as a series of networks that are defined by geography, is a prime example, says Havlin. “Whenever you have such dependencies in the system, failure in one place leads to failure in another place, which cascades into collapse.”
The warning comes ten years after a blackout that crippled parts of the midwest and northeastern United States and parts of Canada. In that case, a series of errors resulted in the loss of three transmission lines in Ohio over the course of about an hour. Once the third line went down, the outage cascaded towards the coast, cutting power to some 50 million people. Havlin says that this outage is an example of the inherent instability his study describes, but others question whether the team’s conclusions can really be extrapolated to the real world.
“I suppose I should be open-minded to new research, but I'm not convinced,” says Jeff Dagle, an electrical engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, who served on the government task force that investigated the 2003 outage. “The problem is that this doesn’t reflect the physics of how the power grid operates.”
One of the most massive volcanic eruptions in the solar system has been spotted on Jupiter's moon Io – by a telescope perched on a volcano on Earth.
On 15 August the Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii recorded fountains of lava gushing from fissures in the Rarog Patera region of Io. Heated by gravitational squeezing from Jupiter and its other moons, Io is covered in volcanoes that erupt almost continuously. This event is easily in the top 10 yet seen on Io by humans, says Ashley Davies of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"We try to look at Io at every opportunity, in the hope of seeing something like this," says Davies. "This time we got lucky." The lava fountains spouted molten rock hundreds of metres above Io's surface, erupting over an area totalling 31 square kilometers.
The Galileo spacecraft, which toured the Jovian system from 1995 to 2003, was the last mission to get a close, near-constant view of the action on Io. But other monitoring efforts like the Keck programme have helped make it clear just how much violence Io is capable of.
In 50 years of conservation, we have never seen wildlife crime on such a scale. Wildlife crime is now the most urgent threat to three of the world’s best-loved species—elephants, rhinos and tigers. Learn how you can join us to stop wildlife crime.
A beginner's guide to black holes, warped spacetime, gravitational waves, and other bizarre ideas from astrophysics: From Galileo's first telescope to today's most sensitive neutrino telescopes, astronomers have been developing new eyes with which to see the night sky, allowing them to discover new worlds while better understanding our own. Now, for the first time, astronomers are creating new earswith which to hear the Universe around us.
The sounds we hear in our ears are carried through the air around us. Anything giving off sound gives the air more pressure, then less pressure. These changes in pressure travel as waves, until they reach our ears and push on our eardrums. The waves don't move our heads very much, but they move our eardrums, which allows the delicate mechanisms in our ears to pick up these movements relative to our heads.
Since sound needs air (or some other matter) to compress, sound can't travel through empty space. Gravitational waves, on the other hand, don't need air to travel; they just need spacetime. They travel across the Universe from its deepest reaches, never stopping or slowing down—regardless of the presence or absence of air. Nonetheless, they have a similar effect on our ears. As a gravitational wave passes through your head, the positions of your eardrums change relative to the position of your head. Again, the delicate mechanisms in your ears would pick up these movements, and your brain would turn them into sounds. But why aren't we kept up at night with the noise from black holes everywhere falling into each other?
It turns out that, by the time gravitational waves from these distant sources reach us, they are incredibly quiet. The smallest sound that a human with good ears can hear is roughly the sound of a mosquito buzzing 10 feet away. Gravitational waves reaching the Earth are typically another three trillion times quieter than this. To put it another way, consider the sound of an atomic blast 20 feet away. That sound (though you wouldn't be around to hear it if you were there) is as much louder than the mosquito as gravitational waves are quieter.
A small, native-Irish marine animal with remarkable powers of regeneration has provided stem cell scientists studying congenital defects and cancer biology with significant new leads.
Hydractinia echinata has the power to regenerate any lost body part, can clone itself, does not age biologically, and, according to Dr Uri Frank, who is leading the research at NUI Galway’s regenerative medicine institute, “in theory - lives forever”.
The tiny creature, which is a relative of jellyfish and sea anemones, is “perfect for understanding the role of stem cells in development, ageing and disease,” says Dr Frank.
“Hydractinia has some stem cells which remain at an embryonic-like stage throughout its life. It sounds gruesome, but if it has its head bitten off, it simply grows another one within a few days using its embryonic or ‘pluripotent’ stem cells”, explains Frank. “So the potential for research is immense”, he adds.
The Galway team has discovered an unknown link between ‘heat-shock’ proteins and a cell-signalling pathway, known as Wnt signalling, in Hydractinia stem cells. “These two cellular signalling mechanisms are known to play important roles in development and disease, so they have been widely, though separately, studied. We have shown that they talk to each other, providing a new perspective for all scientists in this field,” says Dr Frank. “We found the link coincidentally - we weren’t looking for it.”
We all have trillions of microbes inside our guts, which outnumber our own cells by a factor of 10. Now, a team from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (WUSTL) has shown that this microscopic community is extraordinarily stable. In healthy people, once these microbes are established in the gut early in life, presumably due to contact from close family members, most strains are unwavering in their presence, staying in the gut for decades or longer.
“We have this part of ourselves that’s assembled from outside but stays inside for decades and decades, and it contributes to our uniqueness as individuals and our health,” said WUSTL’s Jeffrey Gordon who led the study.
Although the team only studied healthy adults, their results have big implications for our understanding of disease, Gordon added. Many studies have shown that conditions such as obesity or autoimmune disorders are associated with dramatic changes in the gut microbiota. But, Gordon said, “if we don’t know what the normal variations are in healthy people, we can’t tell how an individual with disease deviates.”
If these communities are usually steady, it may be possible to monitor a person’s health by analyzing stool samples each year, said Jacques Ravel, a microbiologist from the University of Maryland School of Medicine who was not involved in the study. “This is the future of medicine: a genome once and a microbiome at each annual exam.”
While other studies have tracked changes in the gut microbiota over time, Gordon’s team wanted to get a more detailed picture. “In the past, people have gone down to the species level,” said former postdoc Jeremiah Faith, now at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “But everyone has E. coli in their guts for sure. The difference between those E. coli strains can be pretty big,”
Current techniques have such a high error rate that it can be unclear if a variation in sequence is due to the presence of a new strain or a mistake in the sequencing. Faith surmounted this problem by developing a new technique called LEA-Seq (low-error amplicon sequencing). It tags a small fraction of the DNA fragments within a sample and makes exponentially more copies of them than traditional sequencing methods, so that each can be sequenced many times over greatly improving the accuracy of the resulting sequences.
Two years ago, Faith first tested his new technique on stool samples collected from a single volunteer on multiple occasions. “I was completely floored,” he said. “Over the course of 3 months, they had virtually identical sets of microbes.” This pattern held when he looked at 175 stool samples, taken from 37 healthy US adults over 5 years.
On average, each volunteer harboured around 200 strains representing 100 different bacterial species. More than 70 percent of these stayed the same after a year, and 60 percent remained across the entire 5-year span. “If you extrapolate from the rate of change, it looks like the strains we harbor in our guts last decades or maybe a lifespan,” said Gordon.
The team also found that people share gut microbe strains with relatives, but not unrelated people. This suggests that family members, through touching each other or sharing the same environments, are colonized by the same microbes during their early years. “There’s an early period of assembly for the gut microbe community, and your physiology as an adult is likely a legacy of this event,” said Gordon.
New research from Japan has suggested that it may be possible in the future for scientists to grow male and female reproductive cells from the opposite gender. In other words, to create sperm from women and eggs from men. Japanese researchers use skin cells from mice to create sperm and eggs that were later used to create a live birth.
Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyoto University in Japan has published research in which skin cells from mice were used to create primordial germ cells or PGCs. These cells, the common precursor of both male and female sex cells, were then developed into both sperm and eggs. Using these live-births were created via in vitro fertilisation.
Although the techniques involved are still in their infancy, the possibilities for reproductive medicine are startling. Not only could the research of Hayashi and his senior professor Mitinori Saitou allow infertile women to have babies by creating eggs from their skin cells, but it might make it possible for sperm and eggs cells to be created from either males or females.
The process begins by extracting pluripotent stem cells from early-stage embryos and somatic cells, and then converting these into PGCs using ‘signalling molecules’. These germ cells were transplanted into the ovaries and testes of living mice to develop. Once these cells were mature they were extracted and used to fertilise one another in vitro.
An international team of scientists has uncovered the remains of the world's largest fish. The 50ft Leedsichthys problematicus swam the oceans of the Jurassic era more than 160m years ago, sweeping up shoals of plankton through giant, mesh-covered gills. Leedsichthys was eventually wiped out by the same catastrophe that killed the dinosaurs 66m years ago.
The discovery by the team – led by Professor Jeff Liston of the National Museums of Scotland – is intriguing because it reveals that just as dinosaurs on land were going through major changes which saw the appearance of animals of vast dimensions – creatures that included Diplodocus, Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus – reptiles in the sea had also started to grow to vast proportions in the Jurassic.
"The process is known as gigantism," said Liston. "It was known about in land animals at the time but we had no way of knowing if a parallel process occurred in the oceans. We now know that it did – though the reason for appearance of these gigantic beasts, both on land and in the water, is not clear at present."
Pieces of Leedsichthys fossils were first found by the British collector Alfred Leeds in 1889. Similar remains were subsequently found at other sites, from northern Germany to Normandy, Mexico and the Atacama desert in Chile. However, knowledge of the fish remained sketchy because of the poor quality of these finds. Leedsichthys had a skeleton that was mostly made of cartilage and which does not fossilise easily. This paucity of evidence and lack of clarity about its dimensions led to the fish being given its second name: problematicus.
Rapidly rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are causing a potential catastrophe in our oceans as they become more acidic, scientists have warned.
Hans Poertner, professor of marine biology at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and co-author of a new study of the phenomenon, told the Guardian: "The current rate of change is likely to be more than 10 times faster than it has been in any of the evolutionary crises in the earth's history."
Seawater is naturally slightly alkaline, but as oceans absorb CO2 from the air, their pH level falls gradually. Under the rapid escalation of greenhouse gas emissions, ocean acidification is gathering pace and many forms of marine life – especially species that build calcium-based shells – are under threat.
Poertner said that if emissions continue to rise at "business as usual" rates, this would be potentially catastrophic for some species. Acidification is just one of a broader range of the problems facing the oceans and the combination of different effects is increasing the threat. Poertner said: "We are already seeing warm water coral reefs on a downslide due to a combination of various stressors, including rising temperature. Ocean acidification is still early in the process but it will exacerbate these effects as it develops and we will see more calcifying species suffering."
However, the process of acidification takes decades and the worst effects on some species could still be avoided if emissions are urgently reduced. "The ocean is changing already, mostly due to temperature – acidification will exacerbate those effects," Poertner said.
Evidence from prehistoric ocean life provides a comparison. "The effects observed among invertebrates resembles those seen during the Permian Triassic extinctions 250m years ago, when carbon dioxide was also involved. The carbon dioxide range at which we see this sensitivity [to acidification] kicking in are the ones expected for the later part of this century and beyond."
Oceans are one of the biggest areas of focus for current climate change research.
The gradual warming of the deep oceans, as warmer water from the surface circulates gradually to lower depths, is thought to be a significant factor in the earth's climate. New science suggests that the absorption of heat by the oceans is probably one of the reasons that the observed warming in the last 15 years has been at a slightly slower pace than previously, and this is likely to form an important part of next month's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
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