Scientific tests have shown that ice from high street restaurants, including a Burger King in Basingstoke, Hants., all had higher levels of bacteria than samples of water taken from their lavatory bowls.
Gardeners sometimes encounter them in their backyards—spongy yellow masses squatting in the dirt or slowly swallowing wood chips. Hikers often spot them clinging to the sides of rotting logs like spilled bowls of extra cheesy macaroni. In Mexico some people reportedly scrape their tender bodies from trees and rocks and scramble them like eggs. They are slime molds: gelatinous amoebae that have little to do with the kinds of fungal mold that ruin sourdough and pumpernickel. Biologists currently classify slime molds as protists, a taxonomic group reserved for "everything we don't really understand," says Chris Reid of the University of Sydney.
Something scientists have come to understand is that slime molds are much smarter than they look. One species in particular, the SpongeBob SquarePants–yellow Physarum polycephalum, can solve mazes, mimic the layout of man-made transportation networks and choose the healthiest food from a diverse menu—and all this without a brain or nervous system. "Slime molds are redefining what you need to have to qualify as intelligent," Reid says.
In the wild, P. polycephalum rummages through leaf litter and oozes along logs searching for the bacteria, fungal spores and other microbes that it envelops and digests à la the amorphous alien in the 1958 horror film The Blob. Although P. polycephalum often acts like a colony of cooperative individuals foraging together, it in fact spends most of its life as a single cell containing millions of nuclei, small sacs of DNA, enzymes and proteins. This one cell is a master shape-shifter. P. polycephalum takes on different appearances depending on where and how it is growing: In the forest it might fatten itself into giant yellow globs or remain as unassuming as a smear of mustard on the underside of a leaf; in the lab, confined to a petri dish, it usually spreads itself thin across the agar, branching like coral. Biologists first brought the slime mold into the lab more than three decades ago to study the way it moves—which has a lot in common with they way muscles work on the molecular level—and to examine the way it reattaches itself when split. "In the earliest research, no one thought it could make choices or behave in seemingly intelligent ways," Reid explains. That thinking has completely changed.
Navigating a maze is a pretty impressive feat for a slime mold, but the protist is in fact capable of solving more complex spatial problems: Inside laboratories slime molds have effectively re-created Tokyo's railway network in miniature as well as the highways of Canada, the U.K. and Spain. When researchers placed oat flakes or other bits of food in the same positions as big cities and urban areas, slime molds first engulfed the entirety of the edible maps. Within a matter of days, however, the protists thinned themselves away, leaving behind interconnected branches of slime that linked the pieces of food in almost exactly the same way that man-made roads and rail lines connect major hubs in Tokyo, Europe and Canada. In other words, a single-celled brainless amoebae did not grow living branches between pieces of food in a random manner; rather, they behaved like a team of human engineers, growing the most efficient networks possible. Just as engineers design railways to get people from one city to another as quickly as possible, given the terrain—only laying down the building materials that are needed—the slime molds hit upon the most economical routes from one morsel to another, conserving energy. Andrew Adamatzky of the University of the West of England Bristol and other researchers were so impressed with the protists' behaviors that they have proposed using slime molds to help plan future roadway construction, either with a living protist or a computer program that adopts its decision-making process. Researchers have also simulated real-world geographic constraints like volcanoes and bodies of water by confronting the slime mold with deterrents that it must circumvent, such as bits of salt or beams of light.
Compared with most organisms, slime molds have been on the planet for a very long time—they first evolved at least 600 million years ago and perhaps as long as one billion years ago. At the time, no organisms had yet evolved brains or even simple nervous systems. Yet slime molds do not blindly ooze from one place to another—they carefully explore their environments, seeking the most efficient routes between resources. They do not accept whatever circumstances they find themselves in, but rather choose conditions most amenable to their survival. They remember, anticipate and decide. By doing so much with so little, slime molds represent a successful and admirable alternative to convoluted brain-based intelligence. You might say that they break the mold.
Residents of the Pacific Northwest who observe an airship hovering in the skies above need not be alarmed. It's just a team of researchers searching for Sasquatch using cameras mounted on a remote-controlled blimp.
For patients chronically debilitated by colitis, transplanting feces from a healthy donor can offer a lifelong cure. Visit Discover Magazine to read this article and other exclusive science and technology news stories.
Currently there are six potential habitable exoplanets -- four of these objects have been detected in the last year, from September 2011 to September 2012. Gliese 163c is a rock-water world of 2.4 Earth radii, however, it could be as small as 1.8 Earth radii if composed mostly of rock, like Earth.
New data suggests the confirmation of the exoplanet Gliese 581g and the best candidate so far of a potential habitable exoplanet. The nearby star Gliese 581 is well known for having four planets with the outermost planet, Gliese 581d, already suspected habitable. This will be the first time evidence for any two potential habitable exoplanets orbiting the same star. Gliese 581g will be included, together with Gliese 667Cc, Kepler-22b, HD85512, and Gliese 581d, in the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog of the PHL @ UPR Arecibo as the best five objects of interest for Earth-like exoplanets.
All along the rice shelf at the grocery store, where brown and white rice sit alongside rice-based breakfast cereals, rice pastas, rice drinks and rice crackers, there’s arsenic, and often at troubling levels.
From annual flu shots to childhood immunizations, needle injections are among the least popular staples of medical care. Though various techniques have been developed in hopes of taking the "ouch" out of injections, hypodermic needles are still the first choice for ease-of-use, precision, and control.
A new laser-based system, however, that blasts microscopic jets of drugs into the skin could soon make getting a shot as painless as being hit with a puff of air. The system uses an erbium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet, or Er:YAG, laser to propel a tiny, precise stream of medicine with just the right amount of force.
At the moment, wind power supplies about 4.1 percent of electric power in the United States. Still a bit player. Yet there’s a whole lot of untapped wind left in the world. Wind whipping through the Great Plains. Wind gusting off the shores. Wind circulating high up in the sky. So what would happen if we tried to harvest all of that wind?
We’d have enough energy to power the world. At least in theory. A new study published this week in Nature Climate Change finds that there’s enough wind potential both on the Earth’s surface and up in the atmosphere to power human civilization 100 times over. Right now, humans use about 18 terawatts of power worldwide. And, technically, the study found, we could extract about 400 terawatts of wind power from the Earth’s surface and 1,800 terawatts of power from the upper atmosphere.
Even the most optimistic near-term projections for wind power, however, tend to be more restrained. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy released a comprehensive report estimating that wind power could provide, at most, 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030. And for that to happen, the cost of wind power would have to keep plunging, the number of turbines built would have to steadily increase by about 14 percent each year, and utilities would have to build new transmission lines to accommodate the extra energy.
The term "cyborg" literally means "cybernetic organism" -- a being constructed of both mechanical and organic material. Although traditionally confined to the realms of science fiction, modern medicine and in particular prosthetics have made the term applicable to a number of human beings. Many people who could technically be labelled part-cybernetic, part-organic, have become so as the result of complex medical procedures, usually stemming from medical necessity. Some, however, chose to grant themselves cyborg status in the name of scientific advancement.
In laboratories around the world, genetic researchers using tools that are ever more sophisticated to peer into the DNA of cells are increasingly finding things they were not looking for, including information that could make a big difference to an anonymous donor. The federal government is hurrying to develop policy options. It has made the issue a priority, holding meetings and workshops and spending millions of dollars on research on how to deal with questions unique to this new genomics era.
The quandaries arise from the conditions that medical research studies typically set out. Volunteers usually sign forms saying that they agree only to provide tissue samples, and that they will not be contacted. Only now have some studies started asking the participants whether they want to be contacted, but that leads to more questions: What sort of information should they get? What if the person dies before the study is completed?
The complications are procedural as well as ethical. Often, the research labs that make the surprise discoveries are not certified to provide clinical information to patients. The consent forms the patients signed were approved by ethics boards, which would have to approve any changes to the agreements — if the patients could even be found.
Sometimes the findings indicate that unexpected treatments might help. In a newly published federal study of 224 gene sequences of colon cancers, for example, researchers found genetic changes in 5 percent that were the same as changes in breast cancer patients whose prognosis is drastically improved with a drug, Herceptin. About 15 percent had a particular gene mutation that is common in melanoma. Once again, there is a drug, approved for melanoma, that might help. But under the rules of the study, none of the research subjects could ever know.
Evidence persists in the psychological literature that people's bodies sometimes unconsciously "predict" unpredictable future events. These visceral responses don't appear to be the result of sheer chance.
Frozen water droplets take on a whole new shape when they freeze: Instead of staying round, they form a pointy tip, and eventually sprout a tiny forest of ice crystals on their surface. In order to observe these effects, researchers dripped tiny beads of water on a plate kept at a chilly -20°C. In the 18 seconds that it took the 4-millimeter-diameter droplets (top row) to solidify, researchers snapped photos of the water freezing from the bottom up. During the final stage of freezing, the ice drops developed a pointy tip (middle row), which continued to grow and eventually formed delicate ice crystals on the surface, the team reported last month in Physics of Fluids. Researchers believe the unusual pointy tip is caused by the vertical expansion of the ice combined with the surface tension on remaining liquid. Once frozen, the sharp tip of the drop attracts water vapor from the air, and produces treelike ice crystals (bottom row).
Humans have reached the moon and are planning to return samples from Mars, but when it comes to exploring the land deep beneath our feet, we have only scratched the surface of our planet. This may be about to change with a $1 billion mission to drill 6 km beneath the seafloor to reach the Earth's mantle -- a 3000 km-thick layer of slowly deforming rock between the crust and the core which makes up the majority of our planet -- and bring back the first ever fresh samples.
It could help answer some of our biggest questions about the origins and evolution of Earth itself, with almost all of the sea floor and continents that make up the Earth´s surface originating from the mantle. Geologists involved in the project are already comparing it to the Apollo Moon missions in terms of the value of the samples it could yield.
However, in order to reach those samples, the team of international scientists must first find a way to grind their way through ultra-hard rocks with 10 km-long drill pipes -- a technical challenge that one of the project co-leaders Damon Teagle, from the UK's University of Southampton calls, "the most challenging endeavor in the history of Earth science."
Their task will be all the more difficult for being conducted out in the middle of the ocean. It is here that the Earth´s crust is at its thinnest at around 6 km compared to as much as 60 km on land. The hole they will drill will be just 30cm in width all the way from the ocean floor to inside the mantle -- a monumental engineering feat. "It will be the equivalent of dangling a steel string the width of a human hair in the deep end of a swimming pool and inserting it into a thimble 1/10 mm wide on the bottom, and then drilling a few meters into the foundations," says Teagle.
In the future, globalization will destroy local races and lower rates of rare traits like blue eyes.
According to Stephen Stearns, a Yaleprofessor of ecology and evolutionary biology, before the invention of the bicycle, the average distance between the birthplaces of spouses in England was 1 mile (1.6 kilometers). During the latter half of the 19th century, bikes upped the distance men went courting to 30 miles (48 km), on average. Scholars have identified similar patterns in other European countries. Widespread use of bicycles stimulated the grading and paving of roads, lending credence to the Fugate clan's excuse and making way for the introduction of automobiles. Love's horizons have kept expanding ever since.
Stearns says globalization, immigration, cultural diffusion and the ease of modern travel will gradually homogenize the human population, averaging out more and more people's traits. Because recessive traits dependontwo copies of the same gene pairing up in order to get expressed, these traits will express themselves more rarely, and dominant traits will become the norm. In short, blue eyes and pale skin is out, brown eyes and dark skin is in. Already in the United States, another recessive trait, blue eyes, has grown far less common. A 2002 study by the epidemiologists Mark Grant and Diane Lauderdale found that only 1 in 6 non-Hispanic white Americans has blue eyes, down from more than half of the U.S. white population being blue-eyed just 100 years ago.
The genetic mixing under way in the United States is also happening to a greater or lesser degree in other parts of the world, the researchers said. In some places, unique physical traits tailored to the habitat still confer an evolutionary advantage and thus might not bow out so easily; in other places, immigration happens much more slowly than it does elsewhere. According to Stearns, perfect homogenization of the human race will probably never occur, but in general, Earth is becoming more and more of a melting pot. A population forged from the long-term mixing of Africans, Native Americans and Europeans serves as an archetype for the future of humanity, Stearns said: A few centuries from now, we're all going to look like Brazilians.
Scientists have discovered well-preserved frozen woolly mammoth fragments deep in Siberia that may contain living cells, edging a tad closer to the "Jurassic Park" possibility of cloning a prehistoric animal, the mission's organizer said Tuesday.
Russia's North-Eastern Federal University said an international team of researchers had discovered mammoth hair, soft tissues and bone marrow some 328 feet underground during a summer expedition in the northeastern province of Yakutia.
Expedition chief Semyon Grigoryev said Korean scientists with the team had set a goal of finding living cells in the hope of cloning a mammoth. Scientists have previously found bones and fragments but not living cells.
It’s not a magic trick and it’s not sleight of hand – scientists really are using levitation to improve the drug development process, eventually yielding more effective pharmaceuticals with fewer side effects.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a way to use sound waves to levitate individual droplets of solutions containing different pharmaceuticals. While the connection between levitation and drug development may not be immediately apparent, a special relationship emerges at the molecular level.
At the molecular level, pharmaceutical structures fall into one of two categories: amorphous or crystalline. Amorphous drugs typically are more efficiently taken up by the body than their crystalline cousins; this is because amorphous drugs are both more highly soluble and have a higher bioavailability, suggesting that a lower dose can produce the desired effect.
Unique blue fruit’s colour does not fade even after a century!
The ‘brightest’ thing in nature, the Pollia condensata fruit, does not get its blue color from pigment but instead uses structural color – a method of reflecting light of particular wavelengths- new research reveals. This obscure little plant has hit on a fantastic way of making an irresistible shiny, sparkly, multi-colored, iridescent signal to every bird in the vicinity.
Most colors around us are the result of pigments. However, a few examples in nature – including the peacock, the scarab beetle and now the Pollia condensata fruit – use structural colors as well. Fruits are made of cells, each of which is surrounded by a cell wall containing cellulose. However, the researchers found that in the Pollia condensata fruit the cellulose is laid down in layers, forming a chiral (asymmetrical) structure that is able to interact with light and provide selective reflection of only a specific color. As a result of this unique structure, it reflects predominately blue light. The scientists also discovered that each individual cell generates color independently, producing a pixelated or pointillist effect (like those in the paintings of Seurat). This color is produced by the reflection of light of particular wavelengths from layers of cellulose in the cell wall. The thickness of the layers determines which wavelength of light is reflected. As a result, some cells have thinner layers and reflect blue; others have thicker layers and reflect green or red.
Because of how it is created, the color of the Pollia condensata fruit does not fade. The researchers found that samples of the fruit in herbarium collections dating back to the 19th century were as colorful and shiny as ones grown today.
Melting of white Arctic ice, currently at its lowest level in recent history, is causing more absorption. Thirty years ago there was typically about eight million square kilometres of ice left in the Arctic in the summer, and by 2007 that had halved, it had gone down to about four million, and this year it has gone down below that. The volume of ice in the summer is only a quarter of what it was 30 years ago and that's really the prelude to this final collapse.
The polar ice cap acts as a giant parasol, reflecting sunlight back into the atmosphere in what is known as the albedo effect. But white ice and snow reflect far more of the sun's energy than the open water that is replacing it as the ice melts. Instead of being reflected away from the Earth, this energy is absorbed, and contributes to warming.
It's big, it's old and it lives under the sea and now an international research collaboration with The University of Western Australia's Ocean's Institute has confirmed an ancient seagrass to hold the secrets of the oldest living organism on earth.
Because ancient giant Posidonia oceanica reproduces asexually generating clones of itself, a single organism has been found to span up to 15 kilometers wide, reaching more than 6,000 metric tonnes in mass and may well be more than 100,000 years old.
Researchers analysed 40 meadows across 3,500 kilometres of the Mediterranean sea. Computer models helped demonstrate that the clonal spread mode of Posidonia oceanica, which as all other seagrasses can reproduce both sexually and asexually, allows them to spread and maintain highly-competent clones over millennia, whereas even the most competent genotypes of organisms that can only reproduce sexually are lost at every generation. The genus Posidonia occurs only in the Mediterranean and Australian waters.
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