Archaeology: New excavations begin at Bulgaria's medieval Urvich fortressThe Sofia GlobeArchaeologists began new excavations at the medieval Urvich fortress 20km from Bulgaria's capital city Sofia at the beginning of October 2012, with the first...
Marine worms reveal the deepest evolutionary patternsPhys.OrgThe research, carried out by evolutionary biologists Dr Matthew Wills, Dr Sylvain Gerber, Mr Martin Hughes (all University of Bath) and Dr Marcello Ruta (University of Lincoln), features...
The discovery by NASA rover Curiosity of evidence that water once flowed on Mars - the most Earth-like planet in the solar system - should intensify interest in what the future could hold for mankind. The only thing stopping Earth having a lifeless environment like Mars is the magnetic field that shields us from deadly solar radiation and helps some animals migrate, and it may be a lot more fragile and febrile than one might think.
Scientists say Earth's magnetic field is weakening and could all but disappear in as little as 500 years as a precursor to flipping upside down. While the effects are hard to predict, the consequences may be enormous. The loss of the magnetic field on Mars billions of years ago put an end to life on the planet if there ever was any, scientists say.
Mac Niocaill said Mars probably lost its magnetic field 3.5-4.0 billion years ago, based on observations that rocks in the planet's southern hemisphere have magnetization. The northern half of Mars looks younger because it has fewer impact craters, and has no magnetic structure to speak of, so the field must have shut down before the rocks there were formed - which would have been about 3.8 billion years ago. "With the field dying away, the solar wind was then able to strip the atmosphere away, and you would also have an increase in the cosmic radiation making it to the surface," he said.
Dutch linguists have developed a new method using Bayesian phylogenetic approaches to analyze the evolution of structural features in more than 50 language families.
The study explores how stable over time the structural features of languages are – aspects like word order, the inventory of sounds, or plural marking of nouns. “If at least some of them are relatively stable over long time periods, they promise a way to get at ancient language relationships,” the linguists stated in the paper. “But opinion has been divided, some researchers holding that universally there is a hierarchy of stability for such features, others claiming that individual language families show their own idiosyncrasies in what features are stable and which not.”
Using a large database and many alternative methods they show that both positions are right: there are universal tendencies for some features to be more stable than others, but individual language families have their own distinctive profile. These distinctive profiles can then be used to probe ancient relations between what are today independent language families. This work thus has implications for our understanding of differential rates of language change, and by identifying distinctive patterns of change it provides a new window into very old historical processes that have shaped the linguistic map of the world. It shows that there is no conflict between the existence of universal tendencies and factors specific to a language family or geographic area.
A skeleton uncovered north of Vienna is forcing archaeologists to take a fresh look at prehistoric gender roles after it appeared to be that of a female fine metal worker - a profession that was previously thought to have been carried out exclusively by men.
Schrödinger's cat, the enduring icon of quantum mechanics, has been defied. By making constant but weak measurements of a quantum system, physicists have managed to probe a delicate quantum state without destroying it – the equivalent of taking a peek at Schrodinger's metaphorical cat without killing it. The result should make it easier to handle systems such as quantum computers that exploit the exotic properties of the quantum world.
Quantum objects have the bizarre but useful property of being able to exist in multiple states at once, a phenomenon called superposition. Physicist Erwin Schrödinger illustrated the strange implications of superposition by imagining a cat in a box whose fate depends on a radioactive atom. Because the atom's decay is governed by quantum mechanics – and so only takes a definite value when it is measured – the cat is, somehow, both dead and alive until the box is opened.
Researchers had suggested it should be possible, in principle, to make measurements that are "gentle" enough not to destroy the superposition. The idea was to measure something less direct than whether the bit is a 1 or a 0 – the equivalent of looking at Schrödinger's cat through blurry glasses. This wouldn't allow you to gain a "strong" piece of information – whether the cat was alive or dead – but you might be able to detect other properties.
Now, R. Vijay of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues have managed to create a working equivalent of those blurry glasses. "We only partially open the box," says Vijay. The team started with a tiny superconducting circuit commonly used as a qubit in quantum computers, and put it in a superposition by cycling its state between 0 and 1 so that it repeatedly hit all the possible mixtures of states.
Vijay and colleagues used a new kind of amplifier that let them turn up the signal without contaminating it. They found that their qubit stayed in its oscillating state for the entire run of the experiment. That was only about a hundredth of a second – but, crucially, it meant that the qubit had survived the measuring process.
"This demonstration shows we are almost there, in terms of being able to implement quantum error controls," Vijay says. Such controls could be used to prolong the superpositions of qubits in quantum computing, he says, by automatically nudging qubits that were about to collapse. The result is not perfect, points out Howard Wiseman of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, in an article accompanying the team's paper. "But compared with the no-feedback result of complete unpredictability within several microseconds, the observed stabilization of the qubit's cycling is a big step forward in the feedback control of an individual qubit."
UCLA astronomers report the discovery of a remarkable star that orbits the enormous black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy in a blistering 11-and-a-half years — the shortest known orbit of any star near this black hole. The star, known as S0-102, may help astronomers discover whether Albert Einstein was right in his fundamental prediction of how black holes warp space and time.
Before this discovery, astronomers knew of only one star with a very short orbit near the black hole: S0-2, which Ghez used to call her "favorite star" and whose orbit is 16 years. (The "S" is for Sagittarius, the constellation containing the galactic center and the black hole). Black holes, which form out of the collapse of matter, have such high density that nothing can escape their gravitational pull, not even light. They cannot be seen directly, but their influence on nearby stars is visible and provides a signature, said Ghez, a 2008 MacArthur Fellow. Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that mass distorts space and time and therefore not only slows down the flow of time but also stretches or shrinks distances.
According to general relativity, the elliptical orbits of objects like S0-2 and S0-102 should themselves “rotate,” creating a rosette-pattern over time. This motion is known as precession and is most easily observed in bodies orbiting close to massive objects. But the mass of other stars near the galaxy’s center creates a different type of precession that is difficult to separate from precession caused by general relativity. By studying the orbits of S0-02 and S0-102 together, the Galactic Center Group will be able to distinguish between the two precessions.
And according to Ghez, “It is conceivable that we will be able to observe deviations from Einstein’s theory in regions where S0-102 and other short period stars reside.” S0-102 was discovered using images taken with the twin 10-metre telescopes of the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i, the largest optical telescopes on the planet. These included observations with the Keck II telescope using adaptive optics and laser guide-star technology that corrects for distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. With a resolution greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope, the observations allow Ghez, Do, and the group to resolve individual stars in the crowded region.
A new comet has been discovered that is predicted to blaze incredibly brilliantly in the skies during late 2013. With a perihelion passage of less than two million kilometres from the Sun on 28 November 2013, current predictions are of an object that will dazzle the eye at up to magnitude —16. That's far brighter than the full Moon.
An international team of astronomers has reported the discovery of the strongest magnetic field ever found around a massive star. NGC 1624-2, also known as 2MASS J04403728+5027410, is an O-type star with a mass of 30 times that of the Sun. The star lies in the open star cluster NGC 1624 some 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Perseus. The star’s magnetic field is 20,000 times stronger than the Sun’s, and almost 10 times stronger than that detected around any other high-mass star. Additionally, despite their short lives – NGC 1624-2 will live only about five million years – massive stars shape the galaxies in which they live. “Their strong winds, intense radiation fields, and dramatic supernova explosions make them the primary sculptors of the structure, chemistry, and evolution of galaxies.
"The web is the Grand Oracle. It sees all and answers all. I wish we had the educational and self-learning edge it gives to today’s generation. In a snap, you can tap it to ask anything about the world we live in, and generally it is pretty accurate answering back. Perhaps, apart from the ‘question of life’ it can answer anything. Who knows, someone might come up with that answer too in due time. But for now, from the purely scientific point of view, you can ask away about life sciences…and all the associated disciplines. We have our own platform for questions and answers, and that’s where a reader asked us about some good websites on questions related to science, particularly physics and chemistry? He got the help he needed. Perhaps, with the help of this post and the seven websites mentioned here, you will too...."
"New DNA evidence has been discovered in the genomes of modern hunter-gatherers of Africa. This evidence suggests that the development of the human species was driven by ethnic groups interbreeding rather than a superior original species."
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2012 to Serge Haroche Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France and David J. Wineland National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado Boulder "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems."
The frozen remains of a woolly mammoth discovered by a young Russia boy is a well-preserved carcass of a teenage mammoth that lived in the Siberian Tundra 30,000 years ago, Russian scientists announced. Yevgeny Salinder, a 11-year-old-boy, found the mammoth near the Sopochnaya Karga cape, 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, with the animal's limbs out of the frozen mud.
The carcass was transported via a helicopter to the town of Dudinka in Russia for further analysis. Experts have already determined some key details of the animal. The 16-year-old mammoth, named unofficially as Zhenya after the boy, was just about 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed only 1,100 pounds which is "pretty small for his age," Alexei Tikhonov, the deputy head of the Zoological Institute in the Russian Academy of Sciences.
When scientists examined the carcass of the mammoth, they found that the animal was a male. They were able to retrieve the skin, hair, tusk, bones and the reproductive organs of the mammoth all well-preserved and intact. However, the DNA of the mammoth was found damaged making it unsuitable for cloning. For long, researchers have been planning to clone the woolly mammoth. Scientists have been hoping to find out the living cells required for the cloning process. Recent discovery of a well-preserved mammoth recovered from the northeastern province of Yakutia in Siberia has already raised hopes for cloning the animal.
In the hot, dark water of a South African mine, scientists have found the world’s loneliest species - Desulforudis audaxviator. Everywhere else biologists have studied life on our planet, they’ve found communities of life, but today, biologists announced they have discovered an ecosystem that contains just a single species of bacteria.
In all other known ecosystems, the key functions of life — harvesting energy and elements like carbon and nitrogen from the environment — have been shared among different species. But in the water of the Mponeng gold mine, two miles under the earth’s surface, Desulforudis audaxviator carries out all of those functions by itself. In short, it’s the tidiest package of life found yet.
All known life forms need carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and an energy source to live. Plants need nitrogen, but can’t just pull it from the atmosphere and start using it to make amino acids. Instead, they rely on archaea for that task. Interconnections like these form the basis of an ecosystem, often cheesily called the ‘web of life’. What makes D. audaxviator so special is that its genome, cobbled together from bacterial and archaeal genes, can carry out all life’s functions by itself.
That could make the bug a prime candidate for any attempt to see if Earth’s microbes could live in some other extreme environment within the solar system.
A faster DNA sequencing machine and streamlined analysis of the results can diagnose genetic disorders in days rather than weeks.
Up to a third of the babies admitted to neonatal intensive care units have a genetic disease. Although symptoms may be severe, the genetic cause can be hard to pin down. Thousands of genetic diseases have been described, but relatively few tests are available, and even these may detect only the most common mutations.
Whole-genome sequencing could test for many diseases at once, but its cost, the complexity of the results and the turnaround time are prohibitive. In what they hope will be a prototype for other hospitals, a research team led by Stephen Kingsmore at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, has implemented a much faster, simpler system for finding relevant mutations in whole-genome sequences that is designed for physicians without specialized genetic training.
These kinds of innovation will help more hospitals bring sequencing into clinical care, says Richard Gibbs, director of the human genome sequencing centre at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “A lot of people are going to realize from this that the future is now.”
Sequencing has been used before to pinpoint the cause of mysterious diseases. In 2011, Gibbs led a team that sequenced 14-year-old twins with a neurological movement disorder and found a way to improve their treatment2. In another instance, whole-genome sequencing suggested that a mysterious case of severe inflammatory bowel disease had a genetic cause and could be relieved through a bone marrow transplant3. But both these examples required several weeks and a team of experts to resolve. The Children’s Mercy Hospital plans to offer routine sequencing in the neonatal intensive care unit by the end of the year.
To order a test, physicians will choose terms from pull-down boxes to describe the infant's symptoms. Software then compiles a list of potential suspect genes. After the genome is sequenced, the software hunts for and analyses mutations in only those genes, which allows it to compile a list of possible causative mutations more quickly. The team had early access to a new DNA sequencing machine from sequencing company Illumina, based in San DIego, California, that could generate a whole genome within 25 hours. The entire process, from obtaining consent to preliminary diagnosis, took 50 hours, not counting the time taken to ship DNA samples and computer hard drives between Illumina's lab in the UK, where the DNA sequencing was carried out, and the hospital, where analysis was conducted. Kingsmore estimates that the cost of sequence and analysis is $13,500 per child, including costs to verify variants in a laboratory certified to perform clinical tests.
Fast sequencing cannot diagnose all genetic diseases. Current sequencing technology tend to overlook mutations such as duplicated genes, for example. Nonetheless, deep sequencing will be able to provide diagnoses for many cases that would otherwise remain harrowing mysteries.
Daskyleion, a first-millennium B.C.E. site in northwestern Turkey, may have been more cosmopolitan than previously believed. The site’s long history is known from decades of excavation, as well as texts by Strabo and other classical authors, and while early accounts of the population may be rooted in mythology, Daskyleion is thought to have been a Lydian city during the first half of the first millennium B.C.E. Herodotus famously records how the rich Lydian king Croesus was defeated by the Persians in the sixth century B.C.E, and Daskyleion was converted into a regional Achaemenid capital.
A stem cell gel made by embedding neural stem cells in a mixture of blood clotting protein and growth chemicals. The gel can regenerate broken spinal cord nerves, research has shown. The gel is applied to the site of an injury. In rats with completely severed spinal cords, it produced an 'astonishing degree' of nerve growth. Treated animals which were previously paralysed experienced 'significant' functional improvement and were able to move all the joints of their affected legs.
Using this method, after six weeks the number of axons (nerve fibres) emerging from the injury site exceeded by 200-fold something never seen before.
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