Ants carried to the International Space Station were still able to use teamwork to search new areas, despite falling off the walls of their containers for up to eight seconds at a time.
Their "collective search" was hampered but still took place, biologists said.
The insects also showed an impressive knack for regaining their footing after taking a zero-g tumble.
Researchers want to learn from the ants' cooperative methods and develop search algorithms for groups of robots
The ants were sent aloft in a supply rocket in January 2014, and results from the experiments are now published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
Speaking to the BBC's Science in Action, senior author Deborah Gordon said that ants have demonstrated their remarkable collective abilities in myriad environments on Earth, but the results from the microgravity conditions of the Space Station were something new.
"We had no idea what the ants would do. We didn't know if they would be able to search at all," said Prof Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University.
As it turned out, although they had a little difficulty maintaining contact as they crawled, once adrift the ants showed a "remarkable ability" to get their six feet back on solid ground.
Study shows humans are evolving faster than previously thought
Results of largest ever genetics study of a single population could also help refine dates for major events during human evolution
Humans are evolving more rapidly than previously thought, according to the largest ever genetics study of a single population.
Scientists reached the conclusion after showing that almost every man alive can trace his origins to one common male ancestor who lived about 250,000 years ago. The discovery that so-called “genetic Adam”, lived about 100,000 years more recently than previously understood suggests that humans must have been genetically diverging at a more rapid rate than thought.
Kári Stefánsson, of the company deCODE Genetics and senior author of the study, said: “It means we have evolved faster than we thought.”
The study also shows that the most recent common male ancestor was alive at around the same time as “mitochondrial Eve” - the last woman to whom all females alive today can trace their mitochondrial DNA.
Unlike their biblical counterparts, genetic Adam and Eve were by no means the only humans alive, and although they almost certainly never met, the latest estimate which gives a closer match between their dates makes more sense, according to the researchers.
A penguin-shaped anomaly first detected two years ago has survived a comprehensive new analysis of data from the first run of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), scientists revealed today at a meeting in La Thuile, Italy.
The anomaly, an unexpected measurement of rare particle decays called “penguin processes,” isn’t statistically significant enough to constitute a discovery, but if the signal strengthens in the LHC’s upcoming second run, it will imply the existence of new elementary particles beyond those of the Standard Model — the precise but incomplete equations that have governed particle physics for 40 years.
“What we find is that this anomaly has persisted,” said Guy Wilkinson, a physicist at the University of Oxford and the spokesperson for the LHCb collaboration, which first detected the statistical bump in penguin decays in 2013. “This is extremely interesting.”
The finding comes as the LHC sputters back to life after a two-year upgrade that will nearly double its previous operating energy. The hopes of thousands of particle physicists are riding on the protons that in the coming years will collide there, shattering into petabytes of data that may carry long-awaited answers to fundamental questions about nature, and the penguin anomaly is one reason for optimism.
Scientists have their best view yet of the status of Antarctica's floating ice shelves and they find them to be thinning at an accelerating rate.
Fernando Paolo and colleagues used 18 years of data from European radar satellites to compile their assessment.
In the first half of that period, the total losses from these tongues of ice that jut out from the continent amounted to 25 cubic km per year.
But by the second half, this had jumped to 310 cubic km per annum.
"For the decade before 2003, ice-shelf volume for all Antarctica did not change much," said Mr Paolo from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, US.
"Since then, volume loss has been significant. The western ice shelves have been persistently thinning for two decades, and earlier gains in the eastern ice shelves ceased in the most recent decade," he told BBC News.
The satellite research is published in Science Magazine. It is a step up from previous studies, which provided only short snapshots of behaviour. Here, the team has combined the data from three successive orbiting altimeter missions operated by the European Space Agency (Esa).
What is behind the so-called Flynn Effect - the pattern of rising IQ scores around the world?
IQ is rising in many parts of the world. What's behind the change and does it really mean people are cleverer than their grandparents?
It is not unusual for parents to comment that their children are brainier than they are. In doing so, they hide a boastful remark about their offspring behind a self-deprecating one about themselves. But a new study, published in the journal Intelligence, provides fresh evidence that in many cases this may actually be true.
The researchers - Peera Wongupparaj, Veena Kumari and Robin Morris at Kings College London - did not themselves ask anyone to sit an IQ test, but they analysed data from 405 previous studies. Altogether, they harvested IQ test data from more than 200,000 participants, captured over 64 years and from 48 countries.
Focusing on one part of the IQ test, the Raven's Progressive Matrices, they found that on average intelligence has risen the equivalent of 20 IQ points since 1950. IQ tests are designed to ensure that the average result is always 100, so this is a significant jump.
The Simons Foundation awarded a grant to a team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz to develop a graph-based human reference genome.
In 2003, the Human Genome Project (HGP) successfully mapped a large portion of the human genome. Since that time, the HGP’s genomic map — a linear sequence of the four DNA bases — has served as a single reference genome for all novel sequencing data. But while immensely valuable, the HGP’s reference genome does not account for all genomic variation, making it inadequate for representing humanity as a whole, which encompasses many and complicated genetic variants.
“In the decade since the HGP announced the completion of a major portion of their work, the vast improvement in our understanding of the complexity of the genome, the rapid improvement of technology for sequencing genomes and the increasingly broad application of this technology have created a need to rethink how scientists describe to one another the rich patterns of genomic variations uncovered by cutting-edge experiments,” says Nick Carriero, group leader for software development at the Simons Center for Data Analysis. “Given that study of variation is at the heart of most medical and life sciences genome-based research, addressing this challenge is critical to advancing these fields.”
A startup called Clarifai is able to search video images in a matter of seconds and figure out what's inside them. Watch how it works in this demo video.
We’ve glimpsed the future of online search, and here it is: a 17-second video of a puppy brought to you by Clarifai, a tiny startup that specializes in artificial intelligence.
The video (above) shows the puppy looking very cute as it nuzzles with its female owner, but the interesting stuff is happening in the squiggly lines below. Using a database of 10,000 visual categories Clarifai has built over the past six months, the company’s software tracks the images that appear in the video, automatically describing it with words like “dog,” “female,” “eyes,” and even “cute.”
The idea is that you can then search for these words, and the software will tell you when the corresponding images appear.
It’s part of a trend in artificial intelligence, called deep learning, that’s sweeping through technology giants, giving us software that approaches human levels of perception. Google uses it to boost Android’s voice recognition. Microsoft uses it in a Star Trek-like instant language translator. Facebook is using it to improve its automatic tagging of everyone in your photos. And soon, deep learning will change how we search through videos, making it possible for machines to analyze clips and quickly understand what’s within them.
The Earth’s climate has always changed. All species eventually become extinct. But a new study has brought into sharp relief the fact that humans have, in the context of geological timescales, produced near instantaneous planetary-scale disruption. We are sowing the seeds of havoc on the Earth, it suggests, and the time is fast approaching when we will reap this harvest.
This in the year that the UN climate change circus will pitch its tents in Paris. December’s Conference of the Parties will be the first time individual nations submit their proposals for their carbon emission reduction targets. Sparks are sure to fly.
The research, published in the journal Science, should focus the minds of delegates and their nations as it lays out in authoritative fashion how far we are driving the climate and other vital Earth systems beyond any safe operating space. The paper, headed by Will Steffen of the Australian National University and Stockholm Resilience Centre, concludes that our industrialised civilisation is driving a number of key planetary processes into areas of high risk.
It argues climate change along with “biodiversity integrity” should be recognised as core elements of the Earth system. These are two of nine planetary boundaries that we must remain within if we are to avoid undermining the biophysical systems our species depends upon.
The original planetary boundaries were conceived in 2009 by a team lead by Johan Rockstrom, also of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Together with his co-authors, Rockstrom produced a list of nine human-driven changes to the Earth’s system: climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, alteration of nitrogen and phosphorus cycling, freshwater consumption, land use change, biodiversity loss, aerosol and chemical pollution. Each of these nine, if driven hard enough, could alter the planet to the point where it becomes a much less hospitable place on which to live.
There is increasing evidence that bilingualism can affect how the brain works. Older, lifelong bilinguals have demonstrated better cognitive skills in tasks that require increased cognitive control. These cognitive effects are most pronounced in bilingual people who speak two languages in their everyday life for many years, compared to those who speak a second language but don’t use it often. Our new research has now highlighted the structural improvements on the brain observed in bilingual people who immerse themselves in two languages.
Bilingualism affects the structure of the brain including both major types of brain tissue – the grey matter and the white matter. The neurons in our brain have two distinct anatomical features: their cell bodies, where all the processing of information, thinking and planning happens, and their axons, which are the main avenues that connect brain areas and transfer information between them. The cell bodies are organised around the surface of the brain – the grey matter – and all the axons converge and interconnect underneath this into the white matter.
We call it white matter because the axons are wrapped in a fatty layer, the myelin, which ensures better neuronal communication – the way information is transferred around the brain. The myelin functions as an “insulation” that prevents information “leaking” from the axon during transfer.
When Elon Musk unveiled his idea for the Hyperloop in August of 2013, no one seemed sure what the next step would be. The Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO dropped a 57-page alpha white paper on us, noting he didn’t really have the time to build a revolutionary transit system that would shoot pods full of people around the country in above-ground tubes at 800 mph.
Fortunately for futurists and people who enjoy picking apart complicated plans, an El Segundo, California-based startup has taken Musk up on his challenge to develop and build the Hyperloop. JumpStartFund combines elements of crowdfunding and crowd-sourcing—bringing money and ideas in from all over the place—to take ambitious ideas and move them toward reality.
When Musk proposed his idea, JumpStartFund was fresh off its beta launch, and taking on the Hyperloop seemed like the perfect way to test the company’s approach (and drum up headlines), says CEO Dirk Ahlborn. So they reached out to SpaceX, proposed the project on their online platform, and created a subsidiary company to get to work: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc.
The incorporated entity has a fancy name and all, but it’s less a standard company than a group of about 100 engineers all over the country who spend their free time spitballing ideas in exchange for stock options. That said, this isn’t a Subreddit trying to solve the Boston Marathon bombing. These gals and guys applied for the right to work on the project (another 100 or so were rejected) and nearly all of them have day jobs at companies like Boeing, NASA, Yahoo!, Airbus, SpaceX, and Salesforce. They’re smart. And they’re organized.
Owing to the extreme conditions on the Venusian surface, it's going to be quite some time before a human ever steps foot on that planet. That's why NASA is developing a plan to deploy human-occupied airships in Venus's upper atmosphere. And yes, permanent occupation is the ultimate goal.
Stem-cell technology is being used to grow fresh human blood in the laboratory – but don’t hand in your donor card just yet-
In 2007, a team of researchers from the UK and Irish Blood services responded to an oddly specific call from the US military. They wanted scientists to help them build a machine, no bigger than two and a half washing machines, that could be dropped from a helicopter on to a battle field and generate stem-cell-derived blood for injured soldiers.
The team’s application was not successful, but they refocused their efforts and set off on a more utopian mission – to develop a similar technology to create a limitless supply of clean, laboratory-grown blood for use in clinics around the world. Using blood made from stem cells would unshackle blood services from the limits of human supply, and any risk of infection would be removed.
They’ve been working with embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells, which, given the right culture conditions, can differentiate into any type of cells. Still at least a year from human testing, the team have tweaked their protocol to select only red blood cells.
“Because we make them from human cells they are as nature intended,” says Joanne Mountford, of the University of Glasgow, who leads the project along with Marc Turner, the medical director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.
“It’s the same thing your body makes but we’re just doing it in a lab.”
Thanks to recent advances in synthetic biology — a hybrid discipline of engineering and biology that makes possible the manipulation of DNA of microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria, fungi and algae — a new generation of “organism engineers” has already started experimenting with the creation of new flavors and ingredients. In doing so, they have the potential to transform synthetic biology into a new creative platform to enable chefs, bakers or brewers to create new flavor profiles for food and drink.
Imagine being able to create the next acclaimed ingredient that makes foods more savory, harnessing the power of the “noble rot” to make a wine the equal of a bottle of Château d’Yquem, or fermenting a new cheese that has more flavor complexity than Roquefort. Creative types in foodie capitals around the nation would no doubt be interested in experimenting with these new products and tastes, just as visionary chefs Ferran Adrià, Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz experimented with the molecular gastronomy trend when it first started to go mainstream.
We can think of the history of physics as an attempt to unify the world around us: Gradually, over many centuries, we’ve come to see that seemingly unrelated phenomena are intimately connected. The physicist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, Austin, received his Nobel Prize in 1979 for a major breakthrough in that quest — showing how electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force are manifestations of the same underlying theory (he shared the prize with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow). That work became a cornerstone of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes how the fundamental building blocks of the universe come together to create the world we see.
In his new book To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Weinberg examines how modern science was born. By tracing the development of what we now call the “scientific method” — an approach, developed over centuries, that emphasizes experiments and observations rather than reasoning from first principles — he makes the argument that science, unlike other ways of interpreting the world around us, can offer true progress. Through science, our understanding of the world improves over time, building on what has come before. Mistakes can happen, but are eventually corrected. Weinberg spoke with Quanta Magazine about the past and future of physics, the role of philosophy within science, and the startling possibility that the universe we see around us is a tiny sliver of a much larger multiverse. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.
High-performance computing and genetic engineering could boost crop photosynthetic efficiency enough to feed a planet expected to have 9.5 billion people on it by 2050, researchers report in an open-access paper in the journal Cell.
“We now know every step in the processes that drive photosynthesis in plants such as soybeans and maize,” said University of Illinois plant biology professor Stephen P. Long, who wrote the report with colleagues from Illinois and the CAS-MPG Partner Institute of Computational Biology in Shanghai.
“We have unprecedented computational resources that allow us to model every stage of photosynthesis and determine where the bottlenecks are, and advances in genetic engineering will help us augment or circumvent those steps that impede efficiency. Long suggested several strategies.
Add pigments. “Our lab and others have put a gene from cyanobacteria into crop plants and found that it boosts the photosynthetic rate by 30 percent. ” But Long says we could improve that. “Some bacteria and algae contain pigments that utilize more of the solar spectrum than plant pigments do. If added to plants, those pigments could bolster the plants’ access to solar energy.
Add the blue-green algae system. Some scientists are trying to engineer C4 photosynthesis in C3 plants, but this means altering plant anatomy, changing the expression of many genes and inserting new genes from C4 plants, Long said. “Another, possibly simpler approach is to add to the C3 chloroplast the system used by ,” he said. This would increase the activity of Rubisco, an enzyme that catalyzes a vital step of the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide into plant biomass. Computer models suggest adding this system would increase photosynthesis as much as 60 percent, Long said.
More sunlight for lower leaves. Computer analyses of the way plant leaves intercept sunlight have revealed other ways to improve photosynthesis. Many plants intercept too much light in their topmost leaves and too little in lower leaves; this probably allows them to outcompete their neighbors, but in a farmer’s field such competition is counterproductive, Long said. Studies headed by U. of I. plant biology professor Donald Ort aim to make plants’ upper leaves lighter, allowing more sunlight to penetrate to the light-starved lower leaves.
Derived from petrochemicals boiled into being from the black oil of a trillion ancient bacterioles, the plastic used in 3D Additive manufacturing is a metaphor before it has even been layered into shape. Its potential belies the complications of its history: that matter is the sum and prolongation of our ancestry; that creativity is brutal, sensual, rude, coarse, and cruel. 1 We declare that the world’s splendour has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of crap, kipple 2 and detritus. A planet crystallised with great plastic tendrils like serpents with pixellated breath 3 …for a revolution that runs on disposable armaments is more desirable than the contents of Edward Snowden’s briefcase; more breathtaking than The United Nations Legislative Series.
A new solution to the prisoner’s dilemma, a classic game theory scenario, has created new puzzles in evolutionary biology.
When the manuscript crossed his desk, Joshua Plotkin, a theoretical biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, was immediately intrigued. The physicist Freeman Dyson and the computer scientist William Press, both highly accomplished in their fields, had found a new solution to a famous, decades-old game theory scenario called the prisoner’s dilemma, in which players must decide whether to cheat or cooperate with a partner. The prisoner’s dilemma has long been used to help explain how cooperation might endure in nature. After all, natural selection is ruled by the survival of the fittest, so one might expect that selfish strategies benefiting the individual would be most likely to persist. But careful study of the prisoner’s dilemma revealed that organisms could act entirely in their own self-interest and still create a cooperative community.
Press and Dyson’s new solution to the problem, however, threw that rosy perspective into question. It suggested the best strategies were selfish ones that led to extortion, not cooperation.
Plotkin found the duo’s math remarkable in its elegance. But the outcome troubled him. Nature includes numerous examples of cooperative behavior. For example, vampire bats donate some of their blood meal to community members that fail to find prey. Some species of birds and social insects routinely help raise another’s brood. Even bacteria can cooperate, sticking to each other so that some may survive poison. If extortion reigns, what drives these and other acts of selflessness?
A new brain-scanning technique could change the way scientists think about human focus.
Human attention isn’t stable, ever, and it costs us: lives lost when drivers space out, billions of dollars wasted on inefficient work, and mental disorders that hijack focus. Much of the time, people don’t realize they’ve stopped paying attention until it’s too late. This “flight of the mind,” as Virginia Woolf called it, is often beyond conscious control.
So researchers at Princeton set out to build a tool that could show people what their brains are doing in real time, and signal the moments when their minds begin to wander. And they've largely succeeded, a paper published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience reports. The scientists who invented this attention machine, led by professor Nick Turk-Browne, are calling it a “mind booster.” It could, they say, change the way we think about paying attention—and even introduce new ways of treating illnesses like depression.
Here’s how the brain decoder works: You lie down in an a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI)—similar to the MRI machines used to diagnose diseases—which lets scientists track brain activity. Once you're in the scanner, you watch a series of pictures and press a button when you see certain targets. The task is like a video game—the dullest video game in the world, really, which is the point. You see a face, overlaid atop an image of a landscape. Your job is to press a button if the face is female, as it is 90 percent of the time, but not if it’s male. And ignore the landscape. (There’s also a reverse task, in which you’re asked to judge whether the scene is outside or inside, and ignore the faces.)
Extreme weather arising from a climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean will get much worse as the world warms, according to climate modelling.
Extreme weather arising from a climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean will get much worse as the world warms, according to climate modelling.
Parts of the world will have weather patterns that switch between extremes of wet and dry, say scientists.
The US will see more droughts while flooding will become more common in the western Pacific, research suggests.
The study, in Nature Climate Change, adds to a growing body of evidence over climate change and extreme weather.
The latest data - based on detailed climate modelling work - suggests extreme La Nina events in the Pacific Ocean will almost double with global warming, from one in 23 years to one in 13 years.
Most will follow extreme El Nino events, meaning frequent swings between opposite extremes from one year to the next.
Lead researcher Dr Wenju Cai from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia, said this would mean an increase in the occurrence of "devastating weather events with profound socio-economic consequences".
"El Nino and La Nina can be a major driver of extreme weather," he said. "We are going to see these extreme weather [events] become more frequent."
El Nino and La Nina are complex weather patterns arising from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. They can have large-scale impacts on global weather and climate.
La Niña is sometimes referred to as the cold phase and El Niño as the warm phase of this natural climate phenomenon.
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) researchers have discovered how to radically improve conversion of ambient energy (such as body movement) to electrical energy for powering wearable and portable devices.
As has been noted on KurzweilAI, energy-harvesting devices can convert ambient mechanical energy sources — including body movement, sound, and other forms of vibration — into electricity. The energy-harvesting devices or “nanogenerators” typically use piezoelectric materials such as zinc oxide* (ZnO) to convert mechanical energy to electricity. Uses of such devices include wearables and devices for portable communication, healthcare monitoring, environmental monitoring; and for medical implants.
The researchers explored ways to improve “vertically integrated nanogenerator” energy-harvesting chips based on ZnO. They inserted an aluminum-nitride insulating layer into a conventional energy-harvesting chip based on ZnO and found that the added layer increased the output voltage a whopping 140 to 200 times (from 7 millivolts to 1 volt, in one configuration). This increase was the result of the high dielectric constant (increasing the electric field) and large Young’s modulus (stiffness).
According to a new study published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers have tested a potential anti-aging drug called everolimus (AKA RAD001) — an analog (version) of the drug rapamycin (sirolimus)*.
In previous research, rapamycin extended the life span of mice by 9 to 14%, even when treatment was initiated late in life, and it improved a variety of aging-related conditions in old mice, including tendon stiffening, cardiac dysfunction, cognitive decline, and decreased mobility.
These findings raise the possibility that “mTOR inhibitors”* (like rapamycin and RAD001) may have beneficial effects on aging and aging-related conditions in humans.
Since it would take decades to test the effect of a drug on life span in humans, the researchers at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and affiliates used a proxy: the decline in immune function in seniors’ (age 65 and older) during aging, as assessed by their response to a flu vaccine.
Immune-system aging is a major cause of disease and death, making older people more susceptible to infections — and to have a weaker response to vaccines. In the research, the scientists found that R001 boosted immune systems response to a flu vaccine by 20 percent.
“The immune-enhancing effects of mTOR inhibitors need to be verified with additional studies,” the authors say. Although some scientists are reportedly already self-medicating, “the toxicity of RAD001 at doses used in oncology or organ transplantation results in adverse effects such as stomatitis, diarrhea, nausea, cytopenias, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia.”
Very soon now, a select group of Skype beta testers will have a new Microsoft technology that seems borrowed from the world of Star Trek. It’s called the Skype Translator—a Skype add-on that listens to the English words you speak into Microsoft’s internet phone-calling software and translates them into Spanish, or vice versa.
As you can see from demos like the one below, it’s an amazing technology, and it’s based on work that’s been going on quietly inside Microsoft’s research and development labs for more than a decade. Microsoft is already using some of the text translation technology underpinning Skype Translate to power its Bing Translate search engine translation service, and to jump start the foreign language translation of its products, manuals, and hundreds of thousands of support documents. “One of the largest, published, untouched machine translation repositories on the internet is the Microsoft customer support Knowledge Base,” says Vikram Dendi, strategy director with Microsoft Research.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls for net access to be treated as a basic right, following a report suggesting great inequalities online.
The web is becoming less free and more unequal, according to a report from the World Wide Web Foundation.
Its annual web index suggests web users are at increasing risk of government surveillance, with laws preventing mass snooping weak or non-existent in over 84% of countries.
It also indicates that online censorship is on the rise.
The report led web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee to call for net access to be recognised as a human right.
The World Wide Web Foundation, led by Sir Tim, measured the web's contribution to the social, economic and political progress of 86 countries.
Other headline findings from the report include:
74% of countries either lack clear and effective net neutrality rules and/or show evidence of traffic discrimination62% of countries report that the web plays a major role in sparking social or political action74% of countries are not doing enough to stop online harassment of women
The index ranked countries around the world in terms of:
universal accessrelevant content and usefreedom and opennessempowerment
Four of the top five were Scandinavian, with Denmark in first place, Finland second and Norway third. The UK came fourth, followed by Sweden.
"The richer and better educated people are, the more benefit they are gaining from the digital revolution," said Anne Jellema, chief executive of the World Wide Web Foundation, and the lead author of the report.
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