Throughout North America, honeybees are abandoning their hives. The workers are often found dead, some distance away. Meanwhile, the hives are like honeycombed Marie Celestes, with honey and pollen left uneaten, and larvae still trapped in their chambers.
There are many possible causes of this “colony collapse disorder” (CCD). These include various viruses, a single-celled parasite called Nosema apis, a dramatically named mite called Varroa destructor, exposure to pesticides, or a combination of all of the above. Any or all of these factors could explain why the bees die, but why do the workers abandon the hive?
Andrew Core from San Francisco State University has a possible answer, and a new suspect for CCD. He has shown that a parasitic fly, usually known for attacking bumblebees, also targets honeybees. The fly, Apocephalus borealis, lays up to a dozen eggs in bee workers. Its grubs eventually eat the bees from the inside-out. And the infected workers, for whatever reason, abandon their hives to die.
There are hundreds of species of Apocephalus flies, and they’re best known for decapitating ants from the inside. The larvae, laid within an ant, migrate to the head and devour the tissue inside. The brainless ant wanders aimlessly for weeks, before the larvae release an enzyme that dissolves the connection between the ant’s head and body. The head falls off, and adult flies emerge from it.
A. borealis has a similar modus operandi, but it targets bees not ants. Core discovered its penchant for honeybees by sampling workers that had been stranded in the lights of his faculty building, and other locations throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The fly was everywhere. It was parasitizing bees in three-quarters of the places that Core studied, and its DNA confirmed that the species that attacked honeybees was the same one that kills bumblebees.
When Core exposed honeybees to the flies in his lab, he saw the same events that befall unfortunate ants. The flies lay eggs in a bee’s body and weeks later, larvae burst out from behind the insect’s head. It’s no surprise that the infected bees, with up to 13 larvae feasting on their brains, seem a little disoriented. They walk round like zombies, pacing in circles and often unable to stand up.
They also abandon their hives. Core found that the dying insects literally head towards the light. Large numbers of them become stranded within bright lights. Many flying insects show a similar attraction, but the stranded bees were stock still rather than buzzing about. They would also head towards lights on cold, rainy nights when other insects seek shelter.
ZocDoc, Healthgrades, Vitals, Yelp and other sites can tell you what patients think of their doctors. But finding out in any aggregate way what doctors think of their peers has been much harder, if not near impossible, for patients — up until now. By accessing information in government databases through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, healthcare innovators are now able to share connections between doctors that are based on millions of physician referrals — a valuable indicator of who doctors hold in esteem.
Last month, Fred Trotter, a self-identified “hacktivist,” revealed that he had obtained a dataset of Medicare physician referrals through a FOIA request and was making the initial data available to those who supported a Medstartr crowdfunding campaign meant to build out his “DocGraph” and make it freely available. This week, he announced that he not only blew past his $15,000 funding goal, but was launching a second campaign to integrate his current data with an additional dataset.
The new tool, which reflects 25 million doctor referral connections, enables patients to see how many doctors are linked to a particular doctor, as well as their locations. As patients search for new physicians and specialists, being able to see who their current doctors are linked with could help them decide who to visit. It also gives doctors an opportunity to build online networks that reflect their offline networks, Gutman said. In a post about his “DocGraph” project, Trotter said that his data wasn’t strictly a “referral” data set because, in some cases, doctors might be linked through a patient they both happened to see at the same time, not through an active referral. But Gutman emphasized that HealthTap’s DOConnect considered more than Medicare referrals in mapping connections between doctors.
New images from the Hubble Space Telescope have captured a surprising development in the "zombie planet" orbiting the Fomalhaut star. On Tuesday, NASA released images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope which show a massive debris ring and mysterious planet orbiting the Fomalhaut star. The planet, which is officially known as Fomalhaut b, but is commonly dubbed "the zombie planet", has appeared and disappeared from view over time. Astronomers now believe that the planet's "hide and seek" activity is due to its extreme orbit.
According to a Hubble Telescope news release, the unusual orbit of the planet will bring it to within 4.6 billion miles of its star at one point, while later being as far as 27 billion miles from the star. The extreme orbit means it takes the planet 2,000 years to completely orbit its sun. The Earth is 92.96 million miles from the sun, and a complete orbit only takes 365 days. Pluto, the most distant planet in our solar system, has an orbit of 3.67 billion miles away from the sun and a complete orbit takes 248 years.
The familiar button battery is the workhorse of small electronics. While it is likely to continue to power our existing watches and calculators for a little while, it has become the limiting factor for many key design points of these devices. Like a shipping container in a world of instant messaging, it has no future. One company, Imprint Energy, has assembled the total assault package which might sound the death knell — a rechargeable, flexible, customizable, and printable battery that is cheaper, safer and more powerful.
The key technology developed by Imprint Energy is a polymer electrolyte that allows zinc-based batteries to be recharged. It prevents the formation of fingers which typically bridge across typical liquid electrolytes over time and make charging impossible. The flexible and customizable zinc anode, electrolyte, and metal oxide cathode of the battery are printed in the form of electrochemical inks. The printing process is similar to old-fashioned silk-screening where material is deposited in a pattern by squeezing it through a mesh over a template. While this screen printing is different from what we tend to think of nowadays as3D printing, the use of inkjets and other technologies are driving new convergent, hybrid techniques.
After SARS broke out in China in 2002, it reached 29 countries in seven months. Air travel is a major reason why such infectious diseases spread throughout the globe so quickly. And yet even with such examples to study, scientists have had no way to precisely predict how the next infectious disease might spread through the nexus of world air terminals—until now.
In 2010 MIT engineer Ruben Juanes set out to model the movement of a pathogen from a single site of departure to junctions worldwide. If he could predict the flow of disease from a given airport and rank the most contagious ones, government officials could more effectively predict outbreaks and issue lifesaving warnings and vaccines. So Juanes and his team used a computer simulation to seed 40 major U.S. airports with virtual infected travelers. Then they mimicked the individual itineraries of millions of real passengers to model how people move through the system. The travel data included flights, wait times between flights, number of connections to international hubs, flight duration, and length of stay at destinations.
JFK International in New York—one of the world’s most heavily trafficked airports—emerged as the biggest culprit in disease spread. Honolulu, despite having just 40 percent of JFK’s traffic, came in third because of its many long-distance flights. The biggest surprise: The number of passengers per day did not directly correlate to contagion risk.
Products that could make it common to control a computer, TV, or something else using eye gaze, gesture, voice, and even facial expression were launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. The technology promises to make computers and other devices easier to use, let devices do new things, and perhaps boost the prospects of companies reliant on PC sales. Industry figures suggest that interest in laptop and desktop computers is waning as consumers’ heads are turned by smartphones and tablets.
Intel led the charge, using its press briefing Monday to announce a new webcam-like device and supporting software intended to bring gesture, voice control, and facial expression recognition to PCs.
“This will be available as a low-cost peripheral this year,” said Kirk Skaugen, vice president for Intel’s PC client group. “Rest assured that Intel’s working to integrate this with all-in-ones and Ultrabooks, too.”
Intel also announced that, before the end of the year, it would release software that adds a voice-activated assistant to PCs, powered by technology from voice-recognition company Nuance.
Intel’s new gesture-sensing hardware device, made in partnership with the software company SoftKinetic and webcam maker Creative, has a combination of conventional and infrared cameras, and several microphones. The supporting software enables applications on a computer to track each of a person’s 10 fingers, recognize faces, and interpret words spoken in nine languages.
Next-generation sequencing allows detection of minor variants in a heterogeneous sample. However, errors in PCR and sequencing pose limits on its sensitivity. A group at University of Washington developed a method, called Duplex Sequencing, to dramatically improve accuracy by sequencing both strands of each DNA duplex. Mutations that are detected in the consensus sequence of one strand but not the other are discounted as technical errors.
The authors adopted the method to Illumina sequencing. It involves the use of modified adaptors that have a tag with random sequence attached. After ligation of these modified adaptors, each duplex DNA fragment is flanked by two different tags and subjected to paired-end sequencing. Sequences of the same duplex from the complementary strands can therefore be uniquely identified by having the same tags on either ends. Comparing sequences of the two strands allows identification of true mutations. The authors estimated that Duplex sequencing has a theoretical background error rate of less than one per 10^9 nucleotides sequenced.
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