Recent Science News Stories and Science Articles

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Offline neilep

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Recent Science News Stories and Science Articles
« on: 23/02/2006 18:05:29 »
Hi Everybody.

I've noticed that some of you have been posting some science news articles and I thought it might be a good idea to collate them all in one thread......so, if you see anything that you feel is of interest to the site then please feel free to add them here.

When you do, please credit the source.

Thanks

Neil

« Last Edit: 18/01/2012 15:25:55 by BenV »
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Offline neilep

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Hot alien world is the closest directly detected
NASA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: February 22, 2006

A NASA-led team of astronomers have used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to detect a strong flow of heat radiation from a toasty planet orbiting a nearby star. The findings allowed the team to "take the temperature" of the planet.

"This is the closest extrasolar planet to Earth that has ever been detected directly, and it presents the strongest heat emission ever seen from an exoplanet," said Drake Deming of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Deming is the lead author of a paper on this observation to be published in the Astrophysical Journal on June 10. An advance copy of the paper will be posted on the astro-ph website on Feb. 22.

The planet "HD 189733b" orbits a star that is a near cosmic neighbor to our sun, at a distance of 63 light years in the direction of the Dumbbell Nebula. It orbits the star very closely, just slightly more than three percent of the distance between Earth and the sun. Such close proximity keeps the planet roasting at about 844 Celsius (about 1,551 Fahrenheit), according to the team's measurement.

The planet was discovered last year by François Bouchy of the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory, France, and his team. The discovery observations allowed Bouchy's team to determine the planet's size (about 1.26 times Jupiter's diameter), mass (1.15 times Jupiter), and density (about 0.75 grams per cubic centimeter). The low density indicates the planet is a gas giant like Jupiter.

The observations also revealed the orbital period (2.219 days) and the distance from the parent star. From this distance and the temperature of the parent star, Bouchy's team estimated the planet's temperature was at least several hundred degrees Celsius, but they were not able to measure heat or light emitted directly from the planet.

"Our direct measurement confirms this estimate," said Deming. This temperature is too high for liquid water to exist on the planet or any moons it might have. Since known forms of life require liquid water, it is unlikely to have emerged there.

Last year, Deming's team and another group based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used Spitzer to make the first direct detection of light from alien worlds, by observing the warm infrared glows of two other previously detected "Hot Jupiter" planets, designated HD 209458b and TrES-1.

Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, but detectable by special instruments. Some infrared light is perceived as heat. Hot Jupiter planets are alien gas giants that zip closely around their parent stars, like HD 189733b. From their close orbits, they soak up ample starlight and shine brightly in infrared wavelengths.

Deming's team used the same method to observe HD 189733b. To distinguish the planet's glow from its hot parent star, the astronomers used an elegant method. First, they used Spitzer to collect the total infrared light from both the star and its planet. Then, when the planet dipped behind the star as part of its regular orbit, the astronomers measured the infrared light coming from just the star. This pinpointed exactly how much infrared light belonged to the planet. Under optimal circumstances this same method can be used to make a crude temperature map of the planet itself.

"The heat signal from this planet is so strong that Spitzer was able to resolve its disk, in the sense that our team could tell we were seeing a round object in the data, not a mere point of light," said Deming. "The current Spitzer observations cannot yet make a temperature map of this world, but more observations by Spitzer or future infrared telescopes in space may be able to do that."

Deming's team includes Joseph Harrington, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; Sara Seager, Carnegie Institution of Washington; and Jeremy Richardson, NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at Goddard, in the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech. JPL is a division of Caltech

Source: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


Men are the same as women.... just inside out !!
Men are the same as women, just inside out !

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Offline Ray hinton

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going through these pages im constantly reminded of just how small and insignificant we really are,like a speck of dust in the vastness of space.
its the drugs,y-know.

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Offline neilep

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Birds that make teeth

Gone does not necessarily mean forgotten, especially in biology. A recent finding by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and colleagues from the University of Manchester have found new evidence that the ability to form previously lost organs--in this case, teeth--can be maintained millions of years after the last known ancestor possessed them.
Birds do not have teeth. However, their ancestors did--about 70–80 million years ago. The evolutionary loss of teeth corresponded to the formation of the beak that is present in all living birds. Nonetheless, it has been known that if mouse tooth-forming tissue is in contact with bird jaw tissue, the bird tissue is able to follow the instructions given by the mouse tissue and participate in making teeth, and that these teeth look very much like those of mammals. However, Drs. Matthew Harris and John F. Fallon and colleagues have found that modern birds retain the ability to make teeth even without instruction from their tooth-bearing cousins.

In the new work, the researchers show that the talpid2 strain of chicken harbors a genetic change that permits tooth formation in both the upper and lower jaw of embryonic birds. These teeth show similar developmental position as mammalian teeth and are associated with similar molecular instructions. Furthermore, when comparing the initial development of the structures, the researchers realized that the teeth forming in the chicken did not look like mammalian teeth, but resembled those of the alligator, the closest living relative of modern birds.

The findings strongly suggest that the birds were initiating developmental programs similar to those of their reptilian ancestors. In addition, the authors found that the capacity to form teeth still resides in normal chickens and can be triggered experimentally by molecular signals. Taken together, the new findings indicate that even though modern birds lost teeth millions of years ago, the potential to form them persists.


SOURCE: EUREKAALERT.ORG


Men are the same as women.... just inside out !!
Men are the same as women, just inside out !

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Offline Ray hinton

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i got a couple of birds next door that make teeth,they work for the dentist i said about,ones quite nice,called wendy.
i might feint a tooth ache one day just to get her to spend time with me !!!!!!!!!![xx(]

RE-HAB IS FOR QUITTERS.
its the drugs,y-know.

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Offline ariel

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ray
you and your animals...[:p]
ariel

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Offline ariel

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Beaver or Otter, It Lived in Dinosaurs' Time

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
Published: February 24, 2006
In the conventional view, the earliest mammals were small, primitive, shrewlike creatures that did not begin to explore the world's varied environments until the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.
 
Mark A. Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Scientists have found a fossil of a mammal — part beaver, part otter, part platypus — that lived in China 164 million years ago.
But scientists are reporting today that they have uncovered fossils of a swimming, fish-eating mammal that lived in China fully 164 million years ago, well before it was thought that some mammals could have spent much of their lives in water.

The extinct species appears to have been an amalgam of animals. It had a broad, scaly tail, flat like a beaver's. Its sharp teeth seemed ideal for eating fish, like an otter's. Its likely lifestyle — burrowing in tunnels on shore and dog-paddling in water — reminds scientists of the modern platypus.

Its skeleton suggests that it was about 20 inches long, from snout to the tip of its tail, about the length of a small house cat.

The surprising discovery, made in 2004 in the abundant fossil beds of Liaoning Province, China, is being reported in the journal Science by an international team led by Ji Qiang of Nanjing University.

In the article, Dr. Ji and other researchers from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh said the fossil skeleton showed that some mammals occupied more diverse ecological niches than had been suspected in the Jurassic Period, an age dominated by dinosaurs.

Thomas Martin, an authority on early mammals at Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, said the find pushed back "the mammalian conquest of the waters by more than 100 million years" and "impressively contradicts" the conventional view.

"This exciting fossil," he wrote in a commentary accompanying the report, "is a further jigsaw puzzle piece in a series of recent discoveries, demonstrating that the diversity and early evolutionary history of mammals were much more complex than perceived less than a decade ago."

Despite similarities with some modern animals, the Jurassic mammal has no modern descendants and is not related to any existing species. The discoverers have given it the name Castorocauda lutrasimilis, Latin for beaver tail and similarity to the otter.

Zhe-Xi Luo, one of the discoverers and the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie museum, said the specimen was well preserved, unlike the surviving fragments of bone and tooth of most mammals from the dinosaur age.

The skeleton is accompanied by fur and scale imprints and the suggestion of soft-tissue webbing in the hind limbs. Dr. Luo said the fur was to keep water from the animal's skin. It is the most primitive known mammal to be preserved with hair, evidence for its evolution before the appearance of more complex mammals.

The scientists said the tail and limbs of the newfound specimen were well developed for aquatic life. They surmised that like the platypus, Castorocauda swam in rivers and lakes, ate aquatic animals and insects and built nests in burrows along the shore. The animal had molars specialized for feeding on small fish and small aquatic invertebrates.

"So far, it is the only semiaquatic mammal from the Jurassic," Dr. Luo said.

The skeleton was found by peasants in Liaoning, the province in northeast China that in recent years has produced several notable discoveries of mammal diversity. The semiaquatic mammal was uncovered in the same hilly country where paleontologists have collected fossils of feathered dinosaurs and two 130-million-year-old animals that did not fit the lowly image of mammals of that period. One of them, the size of an opossum, had feasted on a small dinosaur just before dying.

Jin Meng of the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, one of the discoverers of previous Liaoning mammals but who was not involved in the most recent one, said in a telephone interview that more than a dozen new mammals from that area had recently produced "real evidence to show the diversity of lifestyles and behaviors of mammals" in the age of dinosaurs.

"We have been seeing mammals at that time that were larger than a mouse or rat, some that climbed trees, and now we see some that could swim in water," Dr. Meng said.

That was from AOL News
ariel

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Offline neilep

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Thank you for your contribution Ariel. please continue, your posts are welcome.

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« Last Edit: 25/02/2006 17:33:49 by neilep »
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Parthenon sculptures were coloured blue, red and green
AFP Friday February 24, 05:53 PM

   

Parthenon sculptures were coloured blue, red and green
ATHENS (AFP) - Its austere white is on every postcard, but the Athens Parthenon was originally daubed with red, blue and green, the Greek archaeologist supervising conservation work on the 2,400-year-old temple said.

"A recent cleaning operation by laser revealed traces of haematite (red), Egyptian blue and malachite-azurite (green-blue) on the sculptures of the western frieze," senior archaeologist Evi Papakonstantinou-Zioti told AFP.

While archaeologists had found traces of the first two colours elsewhere on the temple years ago, the malachite-azurite colouring was only revealed in the latest restoration process, Papakonstantinou-Zioti said.

Given the testimony of ancient writers, it is not unlikely that the Parthenon's trademark columns were also coloured, she added.

Archaeologists have been trying since 1987 to remedy damage wrought on the Parthenon's marble structure by centuries of weather exposure and decades of smog pollution.

Principal restoration work on the entire Acropolis citadel, which stands in the centre of the modern Greek capital, is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

Dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess Athena, patron of the ancient city of Athens, the Parthenon was badly damaged during a Venetian siege of occupying Ottoman Turkish forces in 1687.

Much of the temple's eastern frieze was removed in the early 19th century by agents of Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Elgin subsequently sold the sculptures to the British Museum in London, where they are still on display, despite persistent efforts by the Greek government to secure their return for the past 20 years.

SOURCE: AFP via YAHOO NEWS

Men are the same as women.... just inside out !!
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another_someone

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quote:
Originally posted by neilep

Parthenon sculptures were coloured blue, red and green
AFP Friday February 24, 05:53 PM

   

Parthenon sculptures were coloured blue, red and green
ATHENS (AFP) - Its austere white is on every postcard, but the Athens Parthenon was originally daubed with red, blue and green, the Greek archaeologist supervising conservation work on the 2,400-year-old temple said.

"A recent cleaning operation by laser revealed traces of haematite (red), Egyptian blue and malachite-azurite (green-blue) on the sculptures of the western frieze," senior archaeologist Evi Papakonstantinou-Zioti told AFP.

While archaeologists had found traces of the first two colours elsewhere on the temple years ago, the malachite-azurite colouring was only revealed in the latest restoration process, Papakonstantinou-Zioti said.

Given the testimony of ancient writers, it is not unlikely that the Parthenon's trademark columns were also coloured, she added.

Archaeologists have been trying since 1987 to remedy damage wrought on the Parthenon's marble structure by centuries of weather exposure and decades of smog pollution.

Principal restoration work on the entire Acropolis citadel, which stands in the centre of the modern Greek capital, is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

Dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess Athena, patron of the ancient city of Athens, the Parthenon was badly damaged during a Venetian siege of occupying Ottoman Turkish forces in 1687.

Much of the temple's eastern frieze was removed in the early 19th century by agents of Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Elgin subsequently sold the sculptures to the British Museum in London, where they are still on display, despite persistent efforts by the Greek government to secure their return for the past 20 years.

SOURCE: AFP via YAHOO NEWS

Men are the same as women.... just inside out !!



Lord Elgin bought the Elgin marbles from the Turkish government, who had legal jurisdiction over Greece at the time (by right of conquest).  The fact that after the Greeks successfully rebelled against their Turkish overlords (facilitated by the general state of collapse of the Ottoman empire, and European support for Greek 'terrorist' activity) they then declared the sale illegal after the fact is something else.

(and, yes, I am being deliberately provocative – simple saying there are two sides to every story).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bruce%2C_7th_Earl_of_Elgin
quote:

Elgin was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803. He had a great enthusiasm for antiquities, and was shocked by the indifference of the ruling Turks to the worsening condition of the sculptures. His motive in removing them was to preserve them, but his workers did considerable damage in the process. Even at the time, his actions were controversial. Elgin spent vast amounts of money in having them shipped home to Britain, which he never recouped.



As for the perils of preservation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Marbles
quote:

The housing of the marbles in the British Museum has been a mixed blessing. While the artifacts held in London, unlike those on the Parthenon, have been saved from the hazards of the elements, they have also been irrevocably damaged by the "cleaning" methods employed by the British Museum in the 1930s. Acting under the erroneous belief that the marbles were originally bright white, the marbles were cleaned with metal tools and caustics, causing serious damage and altering the marbles' coloring. (The Pentelicon marble on which the carvings were made naturally acquire a tan color similar to honey when exposed to air.) In addition, the process scraped away all traces of surface coloring that the marbles originally held. As such, the marbles in both locations have suffered: while the marbles of the Parthenon have been damaged by weather, the ones held in Britain have been damaged by faulty methods.





George

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Amber reveals ecology of 30 million year old spiders

Scientists at The University of Manchester and the Manchester Metropolitan University have carried out the first comparative scientific study of ancient spiders trapped in amber more than 30 millions years ago.

The study of fossilised spiders from the Baltic (Poland) and the Dominican (Caribbean) regions has revealed new insights into the ecologies of spiders dating back to the Cenozoic period.

It is the first time ancient spiders from different parts of the world have been compared on such a large scale. 671 species of spiders were compared in the study which is published in the March issue of the Royal Society's Journal Biology Letters.

Palaeoarachnologist Dr David Penney, of The University of Manchester's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences who led the research, said: "Amber provides a unique window into past forest ecosystems. It retains an incredible amount of information, not just about the spiders themselves, but also about the environment in which they lived.

"We have not only been able to compare the size distributions of over 600 spiders but we have also been able to gain unique insights into the forest in which they lived."

By analysing the size distributions of the spiders and comparing the distinct hunting traits of each species, Dr Penney found that web-spinning spiders were bigger in Baltic amber than in Dominican amber, but that there was no difference between hunting spiders in either region. It was also found the fauna of the amber producing trees in each region accounted for this difference in size.

"Several lines of evidence show that greater structural complexity of Baltic compared to Dominican amber trees explains the presence of larger web-spinners. The Dominican trees are long, thin and smooth whereas the Baltic trees are wide and bushy, providing a much better environment for web-spinners to prosper," says Dr Penney.

The study demonstrates for the first time that spiders trapped in amber can be scientifically compared across deep time (30 million years). This is due to the fact that until now it was unknown whether the amber resins were trapping organisms uniformly. This study proves they were.

SOURCE: EUREKALERT

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Offline JimBob

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Largest Crater In The Great Sahara Discovered By Boston University Scientists



Researchers from Boston University have discovered the remnants of the largest crater of the Great Sahara of North Africa, which may have been formed by a meteorite impact tens of millions of years ago. Dr. Farouk El-Baz made the discovery while studying satellite images of the Western Desert of Egypt with his colleague, Dr. Eman Ghoneim, at BU's Center for Remote Sensing.

The double-ringed crater – which has an outer rim surrounding an inner ring – is approximately 31 kilometers in diameter. Prior to the latest finding, the Sahara's biggest known crater, in Chad, measured just over 12 kilometers. According to El-Baz, the Center's director, the crater’s vast area suggests the location may have been hit by a meteorite the entire size of the famous Meteor (Barringer) Crater in Arizona which is 1.2 kilometers wide.

El-Baz named his find “Kebira,” which means “large” in Arabic and also relates to the crater’s physical location on the northern tip of the Gilf Kebir region in southwestern Egypt. The reason why a crater this big had never been found before is something the scientists are speculating.

“Kebira may have escaped recognition because it is so large – equivalent to the total expanse of the Cairo urban region from its airport in the northeast to the Pyramids of Giza in the southwest,” said Dr. El-Baz. “Also, the search for craters typically concentrates on small features, especially those that can be identified on the ground. The advantage of a view from space is that it allows us to see regional patterns and the big picture.”

The researchers also found evidence that Kebira suffered significant water and wind erosion which may have helped keep its features unrecognizable to others. “The courses of two ancient rivers run through it from the east and west,” added Ghoneim.

The terrain in which the crater resides is composed of 100 million year-old sandstone – the same material that lies under much of the eastern Sahara. The researchers hope that field investigations and samples of the host rock will help in determining the exact age of the crater and its surroundings.

Kebira's shape is reminiscent of the many double-ringed craters on the Moon, which Dr. El-Baz remembers from his years of work with the Apollo program. Because of this, he believes the crater will figure prominently in future research in comparative planetology. And, since its shape points to an origin of extraterrestrial impact, it will likely prove to be the event responsible for the extensive field of “Desert Glass” – yellow-green silica glass fragments found on the desert surface between the giant dunes of the Great Sand Sea in southwestern Egypt.

Dr. El-Baz is research professor and Director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University. He is a renowned geologist who over the past 30 years has conducted studies in all the major deserts of the world. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the Geological Society of America. The latter established the “Farouk El-Baz Award for Desert Research” to reward excellence in arid land studies.

Dr. Eman Ghoneim is a research associate at the Center for Remote Sensing. She is an expert in hydrological modeling and now conducts research on arid land geomorphology with emphasis on groundwater concentration under the direction of Dr. El-Baz.

The Boston University Center for Remote Sensing is a research facility that was established in 1986. Researchers at the Center apply techniques of remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) to research in the fields of archaeology, geography and geology. In 1997, the Center was recognized by NASA as a “Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing.”

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes, which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303204735.htm
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Offline neilep

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Thanks JimBob...excellent post...keep em coming !
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Offline DoctorBeaver

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quote:
Originally posted by ariel

Beaver or Otter, It Lived in Dinosaurs' Time

By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD






Oh come on, no way is that 1st pic a beaver. Any fool can see the difference!
Fledgling science site at http://www.sciencefile.org/SF/content/view/54/98/ needs members and original articles. If you can help, please join.

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Offline neilep

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This is an article which the esteemed DoctorBeaver posted as a separate thread..I thought it would be good here too..thanks Doctor Castor Fiber !!

----------------------------------

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency)
has taken another page from science fiction writer William Gibson's book by creating a neural implant to enable engineers to remotely manipulate a shark's brain signals. This would eventually allow them to control the animal's movements and possibly decode their perceptions.

Given that sharks have senses that humans don't have (like the ability to sense electromagnetic fields), it could open up some interesting uses.

The implant consists of multi-channel neural ensemble readers and stimulators, diverse controllers and sensors. In addition, the DARPA researchers want to use their setup to detect and decipher the neural patterns that correspond to shark activities like sensing an ocean current, a particular scent in the water or an electrical field. If they can succeed in these experiments, it might be possible to control a free-swimming shark; it could be trained to track enemy ships or submarines, or to detect underwater mines or cables.

In the abstract for their presentation to the 2006 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center summarized the implant in the following way:

NUWC is developing a fish tag whose goal is attaining behavior control of host animals via neural implants. This talk discusses a shark tag ... intended for long-term open ocean field efforts investigating viability of animal behavior control and its utility for networked sensing and data acquisition. The tag is centered on a multi-channel neural ensemble reader, a processor to interpret the readings in real-time, and a multi-channel stimulator, intended for both micro and macro stimulation.
(From Autonomous Shark Tag with Neural Reading and Stimulation Capability for Open-ocean Experiments)
In his 1981 short story Johnny Mnemonic, author William Gibson wrote about Jones, a military surplus dolphin cyborg that has equipment that is surprisingly similar to the DARPA sharks.

He rose out of the water, showing us the crusted plates along his sides, a kind of visual pun, his grace nearly lost under armor, clumsy and prehistoric. Twin deformities on either side of his skull had been engineered to house sensor units. Silver lesions gleamed on exposed sections of his gray-white hide.
(Read more about William Gibson's cyborg dolphin)
Of course, there is only so much you can do with a friendly dolphin. Maybe that's why DARPA's military sponsors have chosen sharks. Take a look at these related stories about scientists who have used implants to 'jack' into a cat's brain to see what the cat is seeing, or other researchers who have implanted RFID chips in birds to warn of Avian flu.



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World's oldest ship timbers found in Egyptian desert

The oldest remains of seafaring ships in the world have been found in caves at the edge of the Egyptian desert along with cargo boxes that suggest ancient Egyptians sailed nearly 1,000 miles on rough waters to get treasures from a place they called God's Land, or Punt.
Florida State University anthropology professor Cheryl Ward has determined that wooden planks found in the manmade caves are about 4,000 years old - making them the world's most ancient ship timbers. Shipworms that had tunneled into the planks indicated the ships had weathered a long voyage of a few months, likely to the fabled southern Red Sea trading center of Punt, a place referenced in hieroglyphics on empty cargo boxes found in the caves, Ward said.

"The archaeological site is like a mothballed military base, and the artifacts there tell a story of some of the best organized administrators the world has ever seen," she said. "It's a site that has kept its secrets for 40 centuries."

Ward, an expert on ancient shipbuilding who previously was a member of famed Titanic explorer Robert Ballard's Black Sea project team, joined archaeologists Kathryn Bard of Boston University and Rodolfo Fattovich of the University of Naples l'Orientale as the chief maritime archaeologist at the site, a sand-covered bluff along the Red Sea called Wadi Gawasis, in December. The project, which Ward will detail in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, was conducted with the support of Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Scholars have long known that Egyptians traveled to Punt but they have debated its exact location and whether the Egyptians reached Punt by land or by sea. Some had thought the ancient Egyptians did not have the naval technology to travel long distances by sea, but the findings at the Wadi Gawasis confirm that Egyptians sailed a 2,000-mile round trip voyage to Punt, putting it in what is today Ethiopia or Yemen, Ward said.

The Wadi Gawasis site, located about 13 miles south of the modern city of Port Safaga, was an industrial shipyard of sorts with six rock-cut caves that the ancient Egyptians used as work and storage rooms to protect their equipment from the harsh desert conditions, Ward said. Along with timber and cargo boxes, the archaeologists found large stone anchors, shards of storage jars and more than 80 perfectly preserved coils of rope in the caves that had been sealed off until the next expedition - one that obviously never came.

The team also found a stela, or limestone tablet, of Pharaoh Amenemhat III, who ruled between 1844-1797 B.C., inscribed with all five of his royal names. The plaque provided further evidence that discoveries found at the site date to Egypt's Middle Kingdom period. A period of civil unrest and political instability likely put a halt to further exploration, Ward said, and the Wadi Gawasis site was long forgotten.

While in use, though, the ancient shipyard was central to a sophisticated government operation for the expeditions to Punt that Ward likened to NASA's space program. She theorized that ships were originally built at a Nile shipyard, then disassembled and carried across 90 miles of desert to the Red Sea, where they were put back together and launched on the voyage.

Upon the fleet's return several months later, the crews unloaded the cargo and began breaking down the ship piece by piece. Shipwrights inspected the vessels and marked unsatisfactory pieces with red paint. Others were cleaned, rid of shipworm and recycled. As many as 3,700 men may have taken part in the expeditions.

"The scale of the organization astounds me," Ward said. "They had men carry kits with pieces 10 feet long and 8 to 12 inches thick across the desert to reassemble into ships on the edge of a sea that is still difficult to sail today. To have the manpower and supply line to equip the shipyard there and sail five or so ships on the Red Sea, and to have the knowledge to use the currents and winds to return safely, would be tough today, and they achieved it without GPS, cell phones or computers, not to mention the combustion engine."

Ward will return to the Wadi Gawasis site next year to continue to excavate and record ship timbers and the ship assembly and break-up process and to reconstruct the vessels as they were originally configured.

SOURCE:EUREKALERT.ORG


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Scientists piece together the most distant explosion
PENN STATE UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 8, 2006

It came from the edge of the visible universe, the most distant explosion ever detected.

In this week's issue of Nature, scientists at Penn State University and their U.S. and European colleagues discuss how this explosion, detected on 4 September 2005, was the result of a massive star collapsing into a black hole.

The explosion, called a gamma-ray burst, comes from an era soon after stars and galaxies first formed, about 500 million to 1 billion years after the Big Bang. The universe is now 13.7 billion years old, so the September burst serves as a probe to study the conditions of the early universe.

"This was a massive star that lived fast and died young," said David Burrows, senior scientist and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, a co-author on one of the three reports about this explosion published this week in Nature. "This star was probably quite different from the kind we see today, the type that only could have existed in the early universe."

The burst, named GRB 050904 after the date it was spotted, was detected by NASA's Swift satellite, which is operated by Penn State. Swift provided the burst coordinates so that other satellites and ground-based telescopes could observe the burst. Bursts typically last only 10 seconds, but the afterglow will linger for a few days.

GRB 050904 originated 13 billion light years from Earth, which means it occurred 13 billion years ago, for it took that long for the light to reach us. Scientists have detected only a few objects more than 12 billion light years away, so the burst is extremely important in understanding the universe beyond the reach of the largest telescopes.

"Because the burst was brighter than a billion suns, many telescopes could study it even from such a huge distance," said Burrows, whose analysis focuses mainly on Swift data from its three telescopes, covering a range of gamma-rays, X-rays, and ultraviolet/optical wavelengths, respectively. Burrows is the lead scientist for Swift's X-ray telescope.

The Swift team found several unique features in GRB 050904. The burst was long, lasting about 500 seconds; and the tail end of the burst exhibited multiple flares. These characteristics imply that the newly created black hole didn't form instantly, as some scientists have thought, but rather it was a longer, chaotic event.

Closer gamma-ray bursts do not have as much flaring, implying that the earliest black holes may have formed differently from ones in the modern era, Burrows said. The difference could be because the first stars were more massive than modern stars. Or, it could be the result of the environment of the early universe when the first stars began to convert hydrogen and helium (created in the Big Bang) into heavier elements.

GRB 050904, in fact, shows hints of newly minted heavier elements, according to data from ground-based telescopes. This discovery is the subject of a second Nature article by a Japanese group led by Nobuyuki Kawai at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

GRB 050904 also exhibited time dilation, a result of the vast expansion of the universe during the 13 billion years that it took the light to reach us on Earth. This dilation results in the light appearing much redder than when it was emitted in the burst, and it also alters our perception of time as compared to the burst's internal clock.

These factors worked in the scientists' favor. The Penn State team turned Swift's instruments onto the burst about 2 minutes after the event began. The burst, however, was evolving as if it were in slow-motion and was only about 23 seconds into the bursting. So scientists could see the burst at a very early stage.

Only one quasar has been discovered at a greater distance. Yet, whereas quasars are supermassive black holes containing the mass of billions of stars, this burst comes from a single star. The detection of GRB 050904 confirms that massive stars mingled with the oldest quasars. It also confirms that even more distant star explosions -- perhaps from the first stars, theorists say--can be studied through a combination of observations with Swift and other world-class telescopes.

"We designed Swift to look for faint bursts coming from the edge of the universe," said Neil Gehrels of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Swift's principal investigator. "Now we've got one and it's fascinating. For the first time we can learn about individual stars from near the beginning of time. There are surely many more out there."

Swift was launched in November 2004 and was fully operational by January 2005. Swift carries three main instruments: the Burst Alert Telescope, the X-ray Telescope, and the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope. Swift's gamma-ray detector, the Burst Alert Telescope, provides the rapid initial location and was built primarily by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and Los Alamos National Laboratory and constructed at GSFC. Swift's X-Ray Telescope and UV/Optical Telescope were developed and built by international teams led by Penn State and drew heavily on each institution's experience with previous space missions. The X-ray Telescope resulted from Penn State's collaboration with the University of Leicester in England and the Brera Astronomical Observatory in Italy. The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope resulted from Penn State's collaboration with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of the University College-London. These three telescopes give Swift the ability to do almost immediate follow-up observations of most gamma-ray bursts because Swift can rotate so quickly to point toward the source of the gamma-ray signal.


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Mass Extinctions - A Threat from Outer Space or Our Own Planet's Detox?
University scientists suggest extraterrestrial theories are flawed and that more down to earth factors could have accounted for past mass extinctions

Earth history has been punctuated by several mass extinctions rapidly wiping out nearly all life forms on our planet. What causes these catastrophic events? Are they really due to meteorite impacts? Current research suggests that the cause may come from within our own planet – the eruption of vast amounts of lava that brings a cocktail of gases from deep inside the Earth and vents them into the atmosphere.

University of Leicester geologists, Professor Andy Saunders and Dr Marc Reichow, are taking a fresh look at what may actually have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and caused other similarly cataclysmic events, aware they may end up exploding a few popular myths.

The idea that meteorite impacts caused mass extinctions has been in vogue over the last 25 years, since Louis Alverez’s research team in Berkeley, California published their work about an extraterrestrial iridium anomaly found in 65-million-year-old layers at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. This anomaly only could be explained by an extraterrestrial source, a large meteorite, hitting the Earth and ultimately wiping the dinosaurs – and many other organisms - off the Earth’s surface.

Professor Saunders commented:

    “Impacts are suitably apocalyptic. They are the stuff of Hollywood. It seems that every kid’s dinosaur book ends with a bang. But are they the real killers and are they solely responsible for every mass extinction on earth? There is scant evidence of impacts at the time of other major extinctions e.g., at the end of the Permian, 250 million years ago, and at the end of the Triassic, 200 million years ago. The evidence that has been found does not seem large enough to have triggered an extinction at these times.”

Flood basalt eruptions are – he says - an alternative kill mechanism. These do correspond with all main mass extinctions, within error of the techniques used to determine the age of the volcanism. Furthermore, they may have released enough greenhouse gases (SO2 and CO2) to dramatically change the climate. The largest flood basalts on Earth (Siberian Traps and Deccan Traps) coincide with the largest extinctions (end-Permian, and end-Cretaceous). “Pure coincidence?”, ask Saunders and Reichow.

While this is unlikely to be pure chance, the Leicester researchers are interested in precisely what the kill mechanism may be. One possibility is that the gases released by volcanic activity lead to a prolonged volcanic winter induced by sulphur-rich aerosols, followed by a period of CO2-induced warming.

Professor Andy Saunders and Dr. Marc Reichow at Leicester, in collaboration with Anthony Cohen, Steve Self, and Mike Widdowson at the Open University, have recently been awarded a NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) grant to study the Siberian Traps and their environmental impact.

The Siberian Traps are the largest known continental flood basalt province. Erupted about 250 million years ago at high latitude in the northern hemisphere, they are one of many known flood basalts provinces - vast outpourings of lava that covered large areas of the Earth's surface. A major debate is underway concerning the origin of these provinces –including the Siberian Traps - and their environmental impact.

Using radiometric dating techniques, they hope to constrain the age and, combined with geochemical analysis, the extent, of the Siberian Traps. Measuring how much gas was released during these eruptions 250 million years ago is a considerable challenge. The researchers will study microscopic inclusions trapped in minerals of the Siberian Traps rocks to estimate the original gas contents. Using these data they hope to be able to assess the amount of SO2 and CO2 released into the atmosphere 250 million years ago, and whether or not this caused climatic havoc, wiping out nearly all life on earth. By studying the composition of sedimentary rocks laid down at the time of the mass extinction, they also hope to detect changes to seawater chemistry that resulted from major changes in climate.

From these data Professor Saunders and his team hope to link the volcanism to the extinction event. He explained:

    “If we can show, for example, that the full extent of the Siberian Traps was erupted at the same time, we can be confident that their environmental effects were powerful. Understanding the actual kill mechanism is the next stage….watch this space.”

SOURCE: UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER PRESS RELEASE

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Is it April 1st already? This is from AOL news March 13th, 2006

Never mind tilting trains or the end of slam doors, British Rail once entertained hopes of transporting passengers by nuclear-powered "flying saucer'', it has emerged.
Rail managers filed an application for a patent in December 1970 for a space vehicle powered by "controlled thermonuclear fusion reaction ignited by one or more pulsed laser beams''.
The space vehicle, with its passenger compartment upstairs, like the pod of a jumbo jet, would have been cheap to run and super-fast, according to inventor Charles Osmond Frederick.
The detailed plans, made on behalf of the British Railways Board, were found on the European Patent Office Web site with the patent granted in March 1973.
A patent document reads: "The present invention relates to a space vehicle. More particularly it relates to a power supply for a space vehicle which offers a source of sustained thrust for the loss of a very small mass of fuel.
"Thus it would enable very high velocities to be attained in a space vehicle and in fact the prolonged acceleration of the vehicle may in some circumstances be used to simulate gravity.''
The high-tech world envisaged by rail bosses failed to go further than the drawing board. The patent lapsed because of non-payment of renewal fees.
Space experts dismissed the design as a pure science fiction and based on a fusion process that does not exist yet.
Michel van Baal, of the European Space Agency in the Netherlands told The Times: "I have had a look at the plans and they don't look very serious to me at all."


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River of stars streams across the northern sky
CALTECH NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 15, 2006

Astronomers have discovered a narrow stream of stars extending at least 45 degrees across the northern sky. The stream is about 76,000 light-years distant from Earth and forms a giant arc over the disk of the Milky Way galaxy.


An artist's depiction of the river of stars. On an evening in early April, the new stream rises 45 degrees from the eastern horizon, passing just under the bowl of the Big Dipper. The North Star Polaris is at far left. Credit: Caltech
 
 
In the March issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Carl Grillmair, an associate research scientist at the California Institute of Technology's Spitzer Science Center, and Roberta Johnson, a graduate student at California State University Long Beach, report on the discovery.

"We were blown away by just how long this thing is," says Grillmair. "As one end of the stream clears the horizon this evening, the other will already be halfway up the sky."

The stream begins just south of the bowl of the Big Dipper and continues in an almost straight line to a point about 12 degrees east of the bright star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. The stream emanates from a cluster of about 50,000 stars known as NGC 5466.

The newly discovered stream extends both ahead and behind NGC 5466 in its orbit around the galaxy. This is due to a process called tidal stripping, which results when the force of the Milky Way's gravity is markedly different from one side of the cluster to the other. This tends to stretch the cluster, which is normally almost spherical, along a line pointing towards the galactic center.

At some point, particularly when its orbit takes it close to the galactic center, the cluster can no longer hang onto its most outlying stars, and these stars drift off into orbits of their own. The lost stars that find themselves between the cluster and the galactic center begin to move slowly ahead of the cluster in its orbit, while the stars that drift outwards, away from the galactic center, fall slowly behind.

Ocean tides are caused by exactly the same phenomenon, though in this case it's the difference in the moon's gravity from one side of Earth to the other that stretches the oceans. If the gravity at the surface of Earth were very much weaker, then the oceans would be pulled from the planet, just like the stars in NGC 5466's stream.

Despite its size, the stream has never previously been seen because it is so completely overwhelmed by the vast sea of foreground stars that make up the disk of the Milky Way. Grillmair and Johnson found the stream by examining the colors and brightnesses of more than nine million stars in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey public database.

"It turns out that, because they were all born at the same time and are situated at roughly the same distance, the stars in globular clusters have a fairly unique signature when you look at how their colors and brightnesses are distributed," says Grillmair.

Using a technique called matched filtering, Grillmair and Johnson assigned to each star a probability that it might once have belonged to NGC 5466. By looking at the distribution of these probabilities across the sky, "the stream just sort of reached out and smacked us.

"The new stream may be even longer than we know, as we are limited at the southern end by the extent of the currently available data," he adds. "Larger surveys in the future should be able to extend the known length of the stream substantially, possibly even right around the whole sky."

The stars that make up the stream are much too faint to be seen by the unaided human eye. Owing to the vast distances involved, they are about three million times fainter than even the faintest stars that we can see on a clear night.

Grillmair says that such discoveries are important for our understanding of what makes up the Milky Way galaxy. Like earthbound rivers, such tidal streams can tell us which way is "down," how steep is the slope, and where the mountains and valleys are located.

By measuring the positions and velocities of the stars in these streams, astronomers hope to determine how much "dark matter" the Milky Way contains, and whether the dark matter is distributed smoothly, or in enormous orbiting chunks.


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« Last Edit: 16/03/2006 20:27:16 by neilep »
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" Wasp performs roach-brain-surgery to make zombie slave-roaches

Ampulex compressa is a wasp that has evolved to tackle roaches, insert a stinger into their brains and disable their escape reflexes. This lets the wasp use the roach's antennae to steer the roach to its lair, where it can lay its egg in it. "Parasite Rex" author Carl Zimmer tells the story in gooey, graphic detail:
The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently use sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.
From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it--in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex--like a dog on a leash. "

http://www.boingboing.net/2006/02/03/wasp_performs_roachb.html

« Last Edit: 20/03/2006 15:01:31 by ROBERT »

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Old-World Primates Evolved Color Vision To Better See Each Other Blush, Study Reveals

Your emotions can easily be read by others when you blush--at least by others familiar with your skin color. What's more, the blood rushing out of your face when you're terrified is just as telling. And when it comes to our evolutionary cousins the chimpanzees, they not only can see color changes in each other's faces, but in each other's rumps as well.
Now, a team of California Institute of Technology researchers has published a paper suggesting that we primates evolved our particular brand of color vision so that we could subtly discriminate slight changes in skin tone due to blushing and blanching. The work may answer a long-standing question about why trichromat vision (that is, color via three cone receptors) evolved in the first place in primates.
"For a hundred years, we've thought that color vision was for finding the right fruit to eat when it was ripe," says Mark Changizi, a theoretical neurobiologist and postdoctoral researcher at Caltech. "But if you look at the variety of diets of all the primates having trichromat vision, the evidence is not overwhelming."
Reporting in the current issue of the journal Biology Letters, Changizi and his coauthors show that our color cones are optimized to be sensitive to subtle changes in skin tone due to varying amounts of oxygenated hemoglobin in the blood.
The spectral sensitivity of the color cones is somewhat odd, Changizi says. Bees, for example, have four color cones that are evenly spread across the visible spectrum, with the high-frequency end extending into the ultraviolet. Birds have three color cones that are also evenly distributed in the visible spectrum.
The old-world primates, by contrast, have an "S" cone at about 440 nanometers (the wavelength of visible light roughly corresponding to blue light), an "M" cone sensitive at slightly less than 550 nanometers, and an "L" cone sensitive at slightly above 550 nanometers.
"This seems like a bad idea to have two cones so close together," Changizi says. "But it turns out that the closeness of the M and L cone sensitivities allows for an additional dimension of sensitivity to spectral modulation. Also, their spacing maximizes sensitivity for discriminating variations in blood oxygen saturation." As a result, a very slight lowering or rising of the oxygen in the blood is easily discriminated by any primate with this type of cone arrangement.
In fact, trichromat vision is sensitive not only for the perception of these subtle changes in color, but also for the perception of the absence or presence of blood. As a result, primates with trichromat vision are not only able to tell if a potential partner is having a rush of emotion due to the anticipation of mating, but also if an enemy's blood has drained out of his face due to fear.
"Also, ecologically, when you're more oxygenated, you're in better shape," Changizi adds, explaining that a naturally rosy complexion might be a positive thing for purposes of courtship.
Adding to the confidence of the hypothesis is the fact that the old-world trichromats tend to be bare-faced and bare-butted as well. "There's no sense in being able to see the slight color variations in skin if you can't see the skin," Changizi says. "And what we find is that the trichromats have bare spots on their faces, while the dichromats have furry faces."
"This could connect up with why we're the 'naked ape,'" he concludes. The few human spots that are not capable of signaling, because they are in secluded regions, tend to be hairy-such as the top of the head, the armpits, and the crotch. And when the groin occasionally does tend to exhibit bare skin, it occurs in circumstances in which a potential mate may be able to see that region.
"Our speculation is that the newly bare spots are for color signaling."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060320221839.htm


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Mass extinctions – a threat from outer space or our own planet's detox?


University of Leicester scientists suggest extraterrestrial theories are flawed and that more down to earth factors could have accounted for past mass extinctions
Earth history has been punctuated by several mass extinctions rapidly wiping out nearly all life forms on our planet. What causes these catastrophic events? Are they really due to meteorite impacts? Current research suggests that the cause may come from within our own planet – the eruption of vast amounts of lava that brings a cocktail of gases from deep inside the Earth and vents them into the atmosphere.
University of Leicester geologists, Professor Andy Saunders and Dr Marc Reichow, are taking a fresh look at what may actually have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and caused other similarly cataclysmic events, aware they may end up exploding a few popular myths.

The idea that meteorite impacts caused mass extinctions has been in vogue over the last 25 years, since Louis Alverez's research team in Berkeley, California published their work about an extraterrestrial iridium anomaly found in 65-million-year-old layers at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. This anomaly only could be explained by an extraterrestrial source, a large meteorite, hitting the Earth and ultimately wiping the dinosaurs – and many other organisms - off the Earth's surface.

Professor Saunders commented: "Impacts are suitably apocalyptic. They are the stuff of Hollywood. It seems that every kid's dinosaur book ends with a bang. But are they the real killers and are they solely responsible for every mass extinction on earth? There is scant evidence of impacts at the time of other major extinctions e.g., at the end of the Permian, 250 million years ago, and at the end of the Triassic, 200 million years ago. The evidence that has been found does not seem large enough to have triggered an extinction at these times."

Flood basalt eruptions are – he says - an alternative kill mechanism. These do correspond with all main mass extinctions, within error of the techniques used to determine the age of the volcanism. Furthermore, they may have released enough greenhouse gases (SO2 and CO2) to dramatically change the climate. The largest flood basalts on Earth (Siberian Traps and Deccan Traps) coincide with the largest extinctions (end-Permian, and end-Cretaceous). "Pure coincidence?", ask Saunders and Reichow.

While this is unlikely to be pure chance, the Leicester researchers are interested in precisely what the kill mechanism may be. One possibility is that the gases released by volcanic activity lead to a prolonged volcanic winter induced by sulphur-rich aerosols, followed by a period of CO2-induced warming.

Professor Andy Saunders and Dr. Marc Reichow at Leicester, in collaboration with Anthony Cohen, Steve Self, and Mike Widdowson at the Open University, have recently been awarded a NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) grant to study the Siberian Traps and their environmental impact.

The Siberian Traps are the largest known continental flood basalt province. Erupted about 250 million years ago at high latitude in the northern hemisphere, they are one of many known flood basalts provinces - vast outpourings of lava that covered large areas of the Earth's surface. A major debate is underway concerning the origin of these provinces –including the Siberian Traps - and their environmental impact.

Using radiometric dating techniques, they hope to constrain the age and, combined with geochemical analysis, the extent, of the Siberian Traps. Measuring how much gas was released during these eruptions 250 million years ago is a considerable challenge. The researchers will study microscopic inclusions trapped in minerals of the Siberian Traps rocks to estimate the original gas contents. Using these data they hope to be able to assess the amount of SO2 and CO2 released into the atmosphere 250 million years ago, and whether or not this caused climatic havoc, wiping out nearly all life on earth. By studying the composition of sedimentary rocks laid down at the time of the mass extinction, they also hope to detect changes to seawater chemistry that resulted from major changes in climate.

From these data Professor Saunders and his team hope to link the volcanism to the extinction event. He explained: "If we can show, for example, that the full extent of the Siberian Traps was erupted at the same time, we can be confident that their environmental effects were powerful. Understanding the actual kill mechanism is the next stage….watch this space."

SOURCE: EUREKALERT.ORG



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Mars meteorite similar to bacteria-etched Earth rocks
OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE
Posted: March 28, 2006

A new study of a meteorite that originated from Mars has revealed a series of microscopic tunnels that are similar in size, shape and distribution to tracks left on Earth rocks by feeding bacteria.

And though researchers were unable to extract DNA from the Martian rocks, the finding nonetheless adds intrigue to the search for life beyond Earth.

Results of the study were published in the latest edition of the journal Astrobiology.

Martin Fisk, a professor of marine geology in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University and lead author of the study, said the discovery of the tiny burrows do not confirm that there is life on Mars, nor does the lack of DNA from the meteorite discount the possibility.

"Virtually all of the tunnel marks on Earth rocks that we have examined were the result of bacterial invasion," Fisk said. "In every instance, we've been able to extract DNA from these Earth rocks, but we have not yet been able to do that with the Martian samples.

"There are two possible explanations," he added. "One is that there is an abiotic way to create those tunnels in rock on Earth, and we just haven't found it yet. The second possibility is that the tunnels on Martian rocks are indeed biological in nature, but the conditions are such on Mars that the DNA was not preserved."

More than 30 meteorites that originated on Mars have been identified. These rocks from Mars have a unique chemical signature based on the gases trapped within. These rocks were "blasted off" the planet when Mars was struck by asteroids or comets and eventually these Martian meteorites crossed Earth's orbit and plummeted to the ground.

One of these is Nakhla, which landed in Egypt in 1911, and provided the source material for Fisk's study. Scientists have dated the igneous rock fragment from Nakhla - which weighs about 20 pounds - at 1.3 billion years in age. They believe that the rock was exposed to water about 600 million years ago, based on the age of clay found inside the rocks.

"It is commonly believed that water is a necessary ingredient for life," Fisk said, "so if bacteria laid down the tunnels in the rock when the rock was wet, they may have died 600 million years ago. That may explain why we can't find DNA - it is an organic compound that can break down."

Other authors on the paper include Olivia Mason, an OSU graduate student; Radu Popa, of Portland State University; Michael Storrie-Lombardi, of the Kinohi Institute in Pasadena, Calif.; and Edward Vicenci, from the Smithsonian Institution.

Fisk and his colleagues have spent much of the past 15 years studying microbes that can break down igneous rock and live in the obsidian-like volcanic glass. They first identified the bacteria through their signature tunnels then were able to extract DNA from the rock samples - which have been found in such diverse environments on Earth as below the ocean floor, in deserts and on dry mountaintops.

They even found bacteria 4,000 feet below the surface in Hawaii that they reached by drilling through solid rock.

In all of these Earth rock samples that contain tunnels, the biological activity began at a fracture in the rock or the edge of a mineral where the water was present. Igneous rocks are initially sterile because they erupt at temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees C. - and life cannot establish itself until the rocks cool. Bacteria may be introduced into the rock via dust or water, Fisk pointed out.

"Several types of bacteria are capable of using the chemical energy of rocks as a food source," he said. "One group of bacteria in particular is capable of getting all of its energy from chemicals alone, and one of the elements they use is iron - which typically comprises 5 to 10 percent of volcanic rock."

Another group of OSU researchers, led by microbiologist Stephen Giovannoni, has collected rocks from the deep ocean and begun developing cultures to see if they can replicate the rock-eating bacteria. Similar environments usually produce similar strains of bacteria, Fisk said, with variable factors including temperature, pH levels, salt levels, and the presence of oxygen.

The igneous rocks from Mars are similar to many of those found on Earth, and virtually identical to those found in a handful of environments, including a volcanic field found in Canada.

One question the OSU researchers hope to answer is whether the bacteria begin devouring the rock as soon as they are introduced. Such a discovery would help them estimate when water - and possibly life - may have been introduced on Mars

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM


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Preserved in crystal

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science recently discovered a new source of well-preserved ancient DNA in fossil bones. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Fossil DNA is a potential source of information on the evolution, population dynamics, migrations, diets and diseases of animals and humans. But if it is not well preserved or becomes contaminated by modern DNA, the results are uninterpretable.

The scientists, Prof. Steve Weiner and Michal Salamon of the Institute's Structural Biology Department, working in collaboration with Profs. Baruch Arensburg, Tel Aviv University, and Noreen Tuross, Harvard University, may have found a way to overcome these problems.

It was in 1986 that Weiner first reported the existence of crystal clusters in fresh bones. Even when these bones are ground up and treated with sodium hypochlorite – a substance that removes all traces of organic matter – the clusters of crystals remain intact and the organic material embedded in them is unaffected. Now, almost 20 years later, Weiner and Salamon have returned to these findings, reasoning that fossil bones might possess such crystal structures containing preserved ancient DNA.

After treating two modern and six fossil animal bones with the sodium hypo-chlorite, they found that DNA could be extracted from most of these crystal aggregates that is better preserved and contains longer fragments than DNA from untreated ground bone. The technique for reading the DNA worked better, as well, and the use of sodium hypochlorite reduces the possibility of modern contamination.

The crystal aggregates act as a "privileged niche in fossil bone," protecting the DNA from hostile environments and leaving it relatively undamaged over time. The team's findings suggest that the DNA in these aggregates should be preferred, whenever possible, over DNA from untreated bone.

This method holds much promise for the future analysis of ancient DNA in bones in yielding more reliable and authentic results than has previously been possible, and may help in unearthing the mysteries of our ancestral past.


SOURCE: EUREKALERT.ORG

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XXL from Too Few Zs? Skimping on sleep might cause obesity, diabetes
Ben Harder

Widespread sleep deprivation could partly explain the current epidemics of both obesity and diabetes, emerging data suggest.

Too little sleep may contribute to long-term health problems by changing the concentrations of hormones that control appetite, increasing food intake, and disrupting the biological clock, according to Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago.

Van Cauter and other researchers discussed possible links between sleep deprivation, expanding waistlines, and obesity-related problems this week in Washington, D.C., at a meeting titled A Scientific Workshop on Sleep Loss and Obesity: Interacting Epidemics.

Researchers have observed that people who sleep less than 7 to 8 hours a night have elevated rates of obesity and diabetes. In late 2004, Karine Spiegel of the Free University of Brussels in Belgium and Van Cauter conducted experiments in healthy men showing that forced sleep restriction for 2 days increased appetite and triggered changes in the appetite-related hormones ghrelin and leptin.The observed ghrelin elevation and leptin suppression may have encouraged food intake, Spiegel says.

Before that pivotal study, tests had demonstrated that obesity could disrupt sleep, but few experiments had investigated whether lack of sleep could contribute to obesity.

Preliminary results close in on an independent relationship between sleep loss and diabetes. Spiegel, Van Cauter, and their colleagues collected data from 13 volunteers who habitually sleep about 5 hours per night and from 14 others who sleep about 8 hours per night. The groups had similar body weights and ages.

Spiegel reported at the conference that the people who sleep less produce markedly elevated quantities of the hormone insulin. Their high insulin production reflects a state, called insulin resistance, that can be a harbinger of diabetes, Spiegel says.

In another new study reported at the conference, Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University Medical School and his colleagues tested about 2,000 employees of Wisconsin government agencies. Obesity was common in that population, and volunteers who slept either significantly less or more than the overall average tended to be heavier than people getting a moderate amount of sleep, Mignot reports. Compared with people who slept 8 hours a night, those who slept 5 hours had 16 percent lower leptin concentrations and 15 percent higher ghrelin concentrations in their blood.

Mignot and his colleagues have launched a yearlong trial that will test whether prescribing extra sleep can make some obese people lose weight. He hypothesizes that an extra 1.5 hours of sleep per night might produce weight losses of 3 to 4 percent.

But Van Cauter says that when her team previously asked patients to increase nightly sleep for extended periods of time, the changes in behavior lasted only a few days.

Short sleep might encourage overeating independent of its hormonal effects, says Mignot. "When people sleep less, they have more time for eating," he notes.


SOURCE: SCIENCENEWS.ORG

Oh Joy !!..lucky me !!...though the conclusion that if you're awake more means you'll eat more is obvious isn't it ?

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Google to advertise on the moon
VNUnet Saturday April 1, 09:00 AM

 
By Arif Pollo

In the most wide-scale advertising attempt ever known,Google plans to brand itslogo into the surface of the moon so that it is visible from Earth.

The search giant will pay the US government an estimated $1bn for the rightsto the lunar land.

"You've heard of GoogleMars and GoogleEarth, where we show you maps of those planets? Well this is Google Moon,where we become the world's biggest brand," said an unnamed source at thecompany.

The Americans were the first to lay claim to the moon back in July 1969 whenNeilArmstrong took "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind".

Planting the flag on the Moon's surface has always been considered a gestureof being there first, but that claim has now paid off in real money terms forthe US government.

Google announced this week that it would sell afurther 5.3 billion shares to raise $2.1bn.

Google's official filing to theSecurities and ExchangeCommission said that the sale of shares was designed to raise additionalcapital for future acquisitions, but the company declined to be morespecific about any current agreements or commitments.

Analysts speculated at the time that the company must have a major purchasein mind and it is now clear where the funds will be heading.

SOURCE: YAHOO.

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Study claims ice, not water, kept Jesus afloat


University professor attempts to explain miracles with science


Tuesday, April 4, 2006; Posted: 6:54 p.m. EDT (22:54 GMT)

MIAMI, Florida (Reuters) -- The New Testament says that Jesus walked on water, but a Florida university professor believes there could be a less miraculous explanation -- he walked on a floating piece of ice.

Professor Doron Nof also theorized in the early 1990s that Moses's parting of the Red Sea had solid science behind it.

Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said on Tuesday that his study found an unusual combination of water and atmospheric conditions in what is now northern Israel could have led to ice formation on the Sea of Galilee.

Nof used records of the Mediterranean Sea's surface temperatures and statistical models to examine the dynamics of the Sea of Galilee, which Israelis know now as Lake Kinneret.

The study found that a period of cooler temperatures in the area between 1,500 and 2,600 years ago could have included the decades in which Jesus lived.

A drop in temperature below freezing could have caused ice -- thick enough to support a human -- to form on the surface of the freshwater lake near the western shore, Nof said. It might have been nearly impossible for distant observers to see a piece of floating ice surrounded by water.

Nof said he offered his study -- published in the April edition of the Journal of Paleolimnology -- as a "possible explanation" for Jesus' walk on water.

"If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don't," Nof said. "Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don't know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it."

"We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account."

When he offered his theory 14 years ago that wind and sea conditions could explain the parting of the Red Sea, Nof said he received some hate mail, even though he noted that the idea could support the biblical description of the event.

And as his theory of Jesus' walk on ice began to circulate, he had more hate mail in his e-mail inbox.

"They asked me if I'm going to try next to explain the resurrection," he said.



http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/science/04/04/jesus.science.reut/index.html

ariel
« Last Edit: 05/04/2006 01:31:27 by ariel »
ariel

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Offline DoctorBeaver

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Oh bugger, he's sussed me [:(!]

Brand new forum at
http://beaverlandforum.d4a.com
More than just science
Fledgling science site at http://www.sciencefile.org/SF/content/view/54/98/ needs members and original articles. If you can help, please join.

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Offline JimBob

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I bow in awe and reverence.

Jim

The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.  -- A. Einstein
The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.  -- A. Einstein

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ROBERT

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" Testicle cells may aid research  
 
Stem cells hold the promise of many new treatments
Scientists believe the human testicle may provide a less controversial source of cells for stem cell research.
Stem cells hold great promise for new treatments for many conditions as they have the ability to become many different types of adult tissue.

But at present the most flexible type is found in human embryos - and their use is mired in controversy.

A German team describes in the journal Nature how it isolated cells from mice testes that seem equally useful.

  The possibility of using cells from the testes as an alternative to embryonic stem cells for therapy is intriguing

Scientists already knew certain cells in the testes of newborn mice were able, like embryonic stem cells, to generate numerous different tissue types.

But until now they had not been able to show the same cells existed in adults."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4841786.stm

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From http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-04/iodp-spf041906.php

Public release date: 20-Apr-2006

Contact: Nancy Light
nlight@iodp.org
202-465-7511
Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Management International

Scientists penetrate fossil magma chamber beneath intact ocean crust



-- achieving scientific 'first'
PACIFIC OCEAN, approximately 800 km west of Costa Rica¡ªAn international team of scientists aboard the research drilling ship JOIDES Resolution has¡--for the first time¡--recovered black rocks known as gabbros from intact ocean crust. Supported by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), the scientists drilled through the volcanic rock that forms the Earth's crust to reach a fossil magma chamber lying 1.4 kilometers beneath the seafloor.

"By sampling a complete section of the upper oceanic crust, we've achieved a goal scientists have pursued for over 40 years, since the days of Project MoHole," says Damon Teagle, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, UK, and co-chief scientist of this drilling expedition. "Our accomplishment will ultimately help science answer the important question, 'how is new ocean crust formed?'"

Formation of ocean crust is a key process in the cycle of plate tectonics; it constantly 'repaves' the Earth's surface, builds mountains, and leads to earthquakes and volcanoes. Project MoHole, begun in the 1950s, aimed to drill all the way through the ocean crust, into the Earth's mantle.

Jeffrey Alt of the University of Michigan and co-chief scientist on an earlier leg of this mission, explains that "having this sample from the deep fossil magma chamber allows us to compare its composition to the overlying lavas. It will help explain," he says, "whether ocean crust, which is about six- to seven- kilometers thick, is formed from one high-level magma chamber, or from a series of stacked magma lenses." He emphasizes that "the size and geometry of the melt lens affects not only the composition and thermal structure of the ocean crust, but also the vigor of hydrothermal circulation of seawater through the crust." Alt states that such systems lead to spectacular black-smoker vents--modern analogs of ancient copper deposits and deep-ocean oases that support exotic life.

IODP Program Director James Allan at the U.S. National Science Foundation, which co-funds IODP research with Japan, further clarifies what the expedition's discovery represents. "These results," he says, "coming from the structural heart of Pacific crust, confirm ideas from seismologic interpretation about how fast-spreading oceanic crust is built. They refine our understanding of the relationship between seismic velocity and crustal rock composition, and open new vistas for investigating the origin of lower oceanic crust, best addressed by deeper drilling." NSF and Japan each provide a scientific drilling vessel to IODP for research teams.

Geophysical theories have long projected that oceanic magma chambers freeze to form coarse-grained, black rocks known as gabbros, commonly used for facing stones on buildings and kitchen countertops. Although gabbros have been sampled elsewhere in the oceans, where faulting and tectonic movement have brought them closer to the seafloor, this is the first time that gabbros have been recovered from intact ocean crust.

"Drilling this deep hole in the eastern Pacific is a rare opportunity to calibrate remote geophysical measurements such as seismic travel time or magnetic field with direct observations of real rocks," says geophysicist Doug Wilson, University of California, Santa Barbara. Co-chief scientist on an earlier expedition to the same drilling site, Wilson was instrumental in helping to select the site drilled. His contributed to the research mission thorough study of the ocean crust's magnetic properties.

"Finding the right place to drill was probably key to our success," Wilson asserts. The research team identified a 15-million-year-old region of the Pacific Ocean that formed when the East Pacific Rise was spreading at a 'superfast' rate (more than 200 millimeters per year), faster than any mid-ocean ridge on Earth today. "We planned to exploit a partially tested geophysical observation that magma chambers should be closest to the Earth's surface, in crust formed at the fastest spreading rate. If that theory were to be correct," reasoned Wilson, "then we should only need to drill a relatively shallow hole--compared to anywhere else--to reach gabbros." Wilson and colleagues proved the theory correct.

Following three years of research and multiple trips to the site in question, the borehole that rendered the magma chamber is now more than 1,500 meters deep; it took nearly five months at sea to drill. Twenty-five hardened steel and tungsten carbide drill bits were used before the scientists' work was complete. The rocks directly above the frozen magma chamber were extremely hard because they had been baked by the underlying magmas, much like tempered steel.

IODP scientists want to return to the site of the unearthed magma chamber to explore deeper, in hopes of finding more secrets hidden deep within the ocean's crust.

###


The Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) is an international marine research program dedicated to advancing scientific understanding of the Earth, the deep biosphere, climate change, and Earth processes by sampling and monitoring sub-seafloor environments. IODP is supported by two lead agencies: the U.S. National Science Foundation, and Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, with support from a European consortium of 17 countries, and the People's Republic of China. IODP's U.S.-sponsored drilling operations are conducted by the JOI Alliance; comprised of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Texas A & M University Research Foundation, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

To access a list of research participants on IODP Expedition 312 and the countries they represent, or to see photos from the expedition, go to http://iodp.tamu.edu/scienceops/expeditions/exp312.html.

Note to Editors: A paper authored by the IODP research party is to be published online in Science Express on April 20, 2006. To obtain a copy of the embargoed paper, contact AAAS Office of Public Programs, +1-202-326-6440 or scipak@aaas.org

CONTACTS:

Nancy Light, IODP Management International
Tel: 202-465-7511, 202-361-3325

Jon Corsiglia, Joint Oceanographic Institutions, JOI Alliance
Tel: 202-232-3900 ext. 1644

Cheryl Dybas, U.S. National Science Foundation
Tel: 703-292-7734



The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.  -- A. Einstein
The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.  -- A. Einstein

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Offline Ophiolite

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As you can tell from my user name JimBob, this interests me. Thank you for posting it.

Observe; collate; conjecture; analyse; hypothesise; test; validate; theorise. Repeat until complete.
Observe; collate; conjecture; analyse; hypothesise; test; validate; theorise. Repeat until complete.

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Offline elegantlywasted

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MRI helps spot problems before birth
21/04/2006 3:59:24 PM  

Some infants and their families in Alberta are benefiting from the use of MRIs to catch problems before birth.

"An ultrasound just has limits on the type of detailed picture it can obtain," said Dr. Radha Chari, a professor at the University of Alberta's faculty of medicine. "The MRI seems better for us to define things a little bit better."

Chari uses MRIs to help prepare for births that are high-risk.

In the case of six-month-old Taliesin Schultz, doctors in the rural community of Barrhead first spotted a problem with his lungs when his mother had an ultrasound.

She was sent to Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital for an MRI, which allowed the medical team to take a closer look at the spot on the lungs.

"There was a few times that we were considering the fact that we might not ever be able to see him," recalled Taliesin's father, Rick Shultz.

MRI is particularly useful for monitoring how the lungs of a fetus are developing.

For Taliesin, radiologist Dr. Ravi Bhargava was able to determine what was causing the mass in the baby's chest. Taliesin's lungs repaired themselves and he was born without complications.

But if the cyst is larger or the abnormality is different then a child may need surgery after birth, the doctor said.

Knowing what treatment the baby will need ahead of time allows doctors to prepare resources for the child's family, such as counselling or the services of a specialist.

Parents may also learn the location of delivery and its timing beforehand.

Chari and Bhargava first started using the technology several years ago as part of a study on fetal lung development. MRIs are now used for about one in 100 high-risk pregnancies at the hospital.

The results of the study helped to set new standards for lung development for 16- to 40-week-old fetuses, which were published in the journal Radiology.

http://www.cbc.ca

My Question to you is- Isnt radiology (Xrays) toxic to a developing feuts? Why subjec high risk babies to more risks??

-Meg
« Last Edit: 24/04/2006 14:14:31 by elegantlywasted »
-Meg

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ROBERT

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quote:
Originally posted by elegantlywasted

MRI helps spot problems before birth
21/04/2006 3:59:24 PM  

Some infants and their families in Alberta are benefiting from the use of MRIs to catch problems before birth.

http://www.cbc.ca

My Question to you is- Isnt radiology (Xrays) toxic to a developing feuts? Why subjec high risk babies to more risks??

-Meg



Hi Meg,
MRIs do not use X-rays, they use radio waves and a strong magnetic field:-

"  The Basic Idea
If you have ever seen an MRI machine, you know that the basic design used in most is a giant cube. The cube in a typical system might be 7 feet tall by 7 feet wide by 10 feet long (2 m by 2 m by 3 m), although new models are rapidly shrinking. There is a horizontal tube running through the magnet from front to back. This tube is known as the bore of the magnet. The patient, lying on his or her back, slides into the bore on a special table. Whether or not the patient goes in head first or feet first, as well as how far in the magnet they will go, is determined by the type of exam to be performed. MRI scanners vary in size and shape, and newer models have some degree of openness around the sides, but the basic design is the same. Once the body part to be scanned is in the exact center or isocenter of the magnetic field, the scan can begin.
In conjunction with radio wave pulses of energy, the MRI scanner can pick out a very small point inside the patient's body and ask it, essentially, "What type of tissue are you?" The point might be a cube that is half a millimeter on each side. The MRI system goes through the patient's body point by point, building up a 2-D or 3-D map of tissue types. It then integrates all of this information together to create 2-D images or 3-D models. "
http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/mri1.htm

 
 
« Last Edit: 24/04/2006 17:10:54 by ROBERT »

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Hominid fossils from Ethiopia link ape-men to more distant human ancestors

Berkeley -- New fossils discovered in the Afar desert of eastern
Ethiopia are a missing link between our ape-man ancestors some 3.5
million years ago and more primitive hominids a million years older,
according to an international team led by the University of
California, Berkeley, and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New
Mexico.


The fossils are from the most primitive species of Australopithecus,
 known as Au. anamensis, and date from about 4.1 million years ago,
 said Tim White, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and
one of the team's leaders. The hominid Australopithecus has often
been called an ape-man because, though short-statured, small-brained
and big-toothed, it walked on two legs unlike the great apes.


More primitive hominids in the genus Ardipithecus date from between
4.4 million and 7 million years ago and were much more ape-like,
though they, too, walked on two legs.


"This new discovery closes the gap between the fully blown
Australopithecines and earlier forms we call Ardipithecus," White
said. "We now know where Australopithecus came from before 4 million
years ago."


The fossil finds and an analysis of the hominid's habitat and
evolutionary position are reported by White and co-authors from
Ethiopia, Japan, France and the United States in the April 13 issue
of Nature.


Since the first Australopithecus skull, the famous Taung child, was
discovered in South Africa 82 years ago by Raymond Dart, fossils of
this hominid have been found all over eastern Africa spanning a 3-
million-year time period. Seven separate species have been named,
including the most primitive, Au. anamensis, which dates from 4.2
million years ago, and Au. africanus, Dart's find. The most
specialized species, Au. boisei, died out about 1.2 million years
ago, long after the genus Homo had spread throughout the Old World.


The most famous of the Australopithecine fossils was "Lucy," a 3.5-
foot adult skeleton discovered in the Afar depression in 1974. Her
analytical team included White. Subsequently named Au. afarensis,
this hominid, which lived between 3.6 and 3 million years ago, was
also discovered in the Middle Awash study area, where the new Au.
anamensis fossils were found.


Ardipithecus, on the other hand, was discovered by White and his
team in 1992, based on fossils from Aramis, a village in the Awash
Valley of Ethiopia's Afar rift. White and his team named the 4. 4
million-year-old fossils Ardipithecus ramidus.


The relationship between Australopithecus and Ardipithecus remained
unclear, however, because of a million-year gap between these two
genera. The new fossil finds, jawbones and teeth from each of two
localities, bridge that gap. With Ardipithecus in older rocks and
Au. afarensis in overlying rocks, the newly announced fossils are
intermediate in time and anatomy.


The teeth tell a story about the organism's diet, White said.
Australopithecus's large cheek teeth - anthropologists refer to the
hominid as a megadont, meaning large-toothed - allowed it to subsist
on a broader diet of tough, fibrous plants. The teeth of
Ardipithecus were smaller, restricting it to a diet of softer, less
abrasive food, White said.


"Australopithecus became a superior omnivore, able to eat tubers and
roots with more fiber and grit, adapting it better to times of
scarcity during periods of extended drought," he said. "They may
have been small brained, but they stuck around a long time, fully
half of our zoological family's 6-million-year existence on the
planet."


White and his Middle Awash team are cautious about claiming that the
new fossils are closely related to the most recent member of the
genus Ardipithecus, Ar. ramidus, since the two are separated by only
300,000 years. While Au. anamensis could have rapidly evolved from
Ar. ramidus, contemporary fossils may yet be found. Nevertheless,
White said, the new fossils show clear descent from the genus
Ardipithecus, two species of which have been identified over the
genus's 2 million years of existence. The fact that fossils of Ar.
ramidus, Au. anamensis and Au. afarensis have been found in
successive sediment layers in the same area of the Middle Awash site
also indicates an evolutionary sequence, said White.


"It is fair to say that some species of Ardipithecus gave rise to
Australopithecus," he said.


The first of the newly reported fossils, an upper jawbone with
teeth, was discovered in November 1994 at Aramis, the site of
earlier fossil finds of Au. anamensis. In 2000, 2003 and again in
both January and December 2005, the team found additional teeth and
jaw fragments at Asa Issie, about 10 kilometers west of Aramis. Many
of the teeth were completely shattered, but by water-sieving the
surface sediments, they were able to collect nearly all the
fragments, which White painstakingly reassembled.


In all, teeth and jawbones of eight individuals were found at Asa
Issie, all from about 4.1 million years ago as dated by
paleomagnetic and argon-argon methods by a team led by geologist
Paul Renne, UC Berkeley adjunct professor of earth and planetary
science and director of the independent Berkeley Geochronology
Center. A partial thigh bone and hand and foot bones were very
similar to the Lucy bones found 60 kilometers away in Hadar and
dating from 3 million to 3.4 million years ago. The large, thick
-enameled teeth were judged by the research team to be closest to
Au. anamensis, and ancestral to Au. afarensis.


Hundreds of mammal fossils also were found, allowing the team to
reconstruct the habitat as closed woodland with lots of colobus
monkeys, kudus, pigs, birds and rodents, as well as a collection of
carnivores, primarily hyenas and big cats.


"The abundance of monkeys, kudus and other mammals, and petrified
wood found both at Aramis and Asa Issie shows that a closed, wooded
habitat type persisted over a long period in this part of the Afar
and was favored by early hominids between 4 and 6 million years
ago," said Giday WoldeGabriel of Los Alamos National Laboratory, a
geologist and co-leader of the Middle Awash project.


The Middle Awash team, consisting of 60 scientists from 17
countries, brings expertise in geology, archaeology, paleontology
and evolutionary biology to the study of fossils unearthed in
Ethiopia spanning nearly 6 million years of evolution - from the
first hominids that split from chimpanzees to modern humans, Homo
sapiens sapiens. The team continues to unearth fossils from what
White describes as "the world's best window on human evolution."


SOURCE:EUREKERALERT.ORG

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Apollo lunar rocks suggest meteorite shower
OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE


New age measurements of lunar rocks returned by the Apollo space missions have revealed that a surprising number of the rocks show signs of melting about 3.9 billion years ago, suggesting that the moon - and its nearby neighbor Earth - were bombarded by a series of large meteorites at that time.

The idea that meteorites have hammered the moon's surface isn't news to scientists. The lunar surface is pock-marked with large craters carved out by the impact of crashing asteroids and meteorites, said Robert Duncan, a professor and associate dean in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.

But the narrow range of the impact dates suggests to researchers that a large spike in meteorite activity took place during a 100-million year interval - possibly the result of collisions in the asteroid belt with comets coming from just beyond our solar system.

Results of the study are being published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, the journal of the international Meteoritical Society. Co-authors with Duncan are Marc Norman of the Australian National University and John Huard, also an oceanographer at OSU. The study was funded by NASA.

Tiny melted fragments from the lunar rocks were dated at the noble gas geochronology laboratory at Oregon State. Duncan and Huard were able to use radiometric dating techniques to determine when the rocks had melted after being struck by meteorites. What is particularly intriguing, Duncan says, is that this apparent spike in meteorite activity took place about 3.8 to 4 billion years ago - an era that roughly coincides with when scientists believe life first began on Earth, as evidenced by the fossil record of primitive one-cell bacteria.

It is possible that life was introduced to Earth from one of these meteorites, Duncan said. Or it could have developed spontaneously once the bombardment subsided, or developed beneath the ocean near life-nurturing hydrothermal vents. The lack of evidence on Earth makes the analysis of moon rocks much more compelling. The meteorite activity that bombarded the moon likely struck our planet as well.

"Unfortunately, we haven't found many very old rocks on Earth because of our planet's surface is constantly renewed by plate tectonics, coupled with erosion," Duncan said. "By comparison, the moon is dead, has no atmosphere and provides a record of meteorite bombardment that we can only assume is similar to that on Earth."

When the solar system was formed, scientists say, it spun away from the sun like a huge, hot disk that subsequently condensed into planets. At least nine planets survived, sucking in loose space matter from around them. Those planets closer to the sun were more solid, while those farther away were comprised primarily of gases.

Over time, the space debris has lessened, either being gravitationally collected into the planets, or smashed into cosmic dust through collisions with other objects. The discovery of this apparent spike in meteorite activity suggests to the authors that a major event took place.

"We may have had a 10th and 11th planet that collided," Duncan said, "or it's possible that the outward migration of Neptune may have scattered comets and small planet bodies, inducing collisions in the asteroid belt. The close passing of a neighboring star could have had a similar effect."

Duncan and his colleagues examined about 50 different rock samples scooped up by astronauts on the Apollo missions. All but a few of them produced ages close to 3.9 billion years and they exhibited different chemical "fingerprints," indicating that they had melted from different meteorites and lunar surface rocks.

"The evidence is clear that there was repeated bombardment by meteorites," Duncan said.

When meteorites collide with the moon, the surface rock and the meteorites partially melt, and then turn to glass. After the glasses quenched, they slowly began to accumulate argon gas that scientists can measure and calculate from the known isotopic decay rate (from potassium) to determine age.

"The formation of glass from the melting is like starting a clock," Duncan said. "It resets the time for us to determine billions of years later."

Duncan and his colleagues say the intense bombardment ended about 3.85 billion years ago, and there has been a slowly declining pattern of meteorite activity since. Many of the prominent craters found on the moon date back to that era, including Imbrium, at 3.84 billion years; Serenitatis, 3.89 billion years; and Nectaris, 3.92 billion years.

Many of the moon's craters are 10 to 100 kilometers across and scientists say that meteorites of that size or larger may have struck the Earth in the past. Such meteorites impacts may have been responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and a mass extinction that wiped out an estimated 75 percent of the Earth's plant and animal species 250 million years ago.

However, Duncan said, these mass extinctions could also be linked to climate, disease and volcanism - or a combination of such factors.

"It is clear that there was a spike of meteorite activity on the moon about 3.9 billion years ago, and that it lasted for roughly 100 million years," Duncan said. "The moon provides important information about the early history of our solar system that is missing from the Earth's geologic record."

SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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Mobile DNA part of evolution's toolbox
The repeated copying of a small segment of DNA in the genome of a primeval fish may have been crucial to the transition of ancient animals from sea to land, or to later key evolutionary changes in land vertebrates. The discovery is "tantalizing evidence" that copied DNA elements known as retroposons could be an important source of evolutionary innovations, says the director of the research, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator David Haussler.
"The big question is whether this is a special case or whether it's the tip of the iceberg," says Haussler, who is at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A report on the research is published in the May 4, 2006, issue of the journal Nature.

Haussler and his colleagues were led to the discovery through their work on what they call "ultraconserved elements" -- segments of DNA hundreds of nucleotides long that are almost exactly the same in a wide variety of vertebrate organisms. Haussler and postdoctoral fellow Gill Bejerano discovered the ultraconserved elements in 2003, and since then they have been trying to figure out how they arose and what function they serve.

One ultraconserved element in particular caught their eye. "We were very interested in this sequence, because it had a number of copies elsewhere in the genome," says Bejerano, who is the first author of the study. Close copies of the sequence were ubiquitous in amphibians, birds, and mammals, indicating that it served an important function. "We found it in every species for which we have genomes, from frogs to humans," says Bejerano.

Comparing the sequence to other species also turned up a big surprise. When the researchers compared the human ultraconserved element to all the DNA sequences in the public database GenBank, the closest match was to DNA from the coelacanth -- an ancient fish thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago until a live specimen was caught in 1938 off the east coast of South Africa. The coelacanth is a descendant of the ancient marine organism that gave rise to the terrestrial vertebrates more than 360 million years ago. Humans are therefore separated from the coelacanth by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, yet the two organisms still share critical DNA sequences.

In the coelacanth, the ultraconserved segments were produced by a retroposon known as a short interspersed repetitive element, or SINE, which is a piece of DNA that can make copies of itself and insert those copies elsewhere in an organism's genome. Haussler and his colleagues called this SINE the LF-SINE, where LF stands for lobe-finned fishes--the group of fishes that gave rise to both the coelacanth and terrestrial vertebrates.

The LF-SINE was very active in the evolutionary lineage leading to the terrestrial vertebrates, but much less active after animals moved onto land. Humans have 245 recognizable copies of the LF-SINE, most or all of which probably were in place before the origins of the mammals. But in the lineage leading to the coelacanth, the LF-SINE remained active, so that the coelacanth genome is now estimated to contain hundreds of thousands of copies of the sequence.

The close copies of the ultraconserved element scattered around vertebrate genomes have changed less than would be expected over evolutionary time, indicating that they are functionally important. But relatively few of the copies contain parts that code for proteins, which suggests they instead are helping to regulate when genes are turned on and off. Furthermore, when Bejerano analyzed the locations of the copies, he found that they tended to be near genes that control the development of the brain.

Haussler and his colleagues then looked at a particular example -- a copy of the ultraconserved element that is near a gene called Islet 1 (ISL1). ISL1 produces a protein that helps control the growth and differentiation of motor neurons. In the laboratory of Edward Rubin at the University of California, Berkeley, postdoctoral fellow Nadav Ahituv combined the human version of the LF-SINE sequence with a "reporter" gene that would produce an easily recognizable protein if the LF-SINE were serving as its on-off switch. He then injected the resulting DNA into the nuclei of fertilized mouse eggs. Eleven days later, he examined the mouse embryos to see whether and where the reporter gene was switched on. Sure enough, the gene was active in the embryos' developing nervous systems, as would be expected if the LF-SINE copy were regulating the activity of ISL1.

The discoverer of mobile DNA elements, Barbara McClintock, suggested in 1950 that they might play a role in the regulation of genes -- a hypothesis that was more fully developed by Roy Britten and Eric Davidson in about 1970, when it was discovered that more than half of the human genome consists of remnants of mobile elements. But the mechanisms underlying this process remained obscure. Haussler's work provides direct evidence that even when they land at some distance from a gene, mobile elements like SINEs can be adapted to serve as regulatory elements that have powerful effects in their new locations. "When you activate a gene in a new context," Bejerano points out, "you get processes that did not occur before."

Bejerano and Haussler's results support the hypothesis that the movement of retroposons can generate evolutionary experiments by adding new regulatory modules to genes. Most of these experiments will have no effects or will harm an organism. But every once in a while, the movement of a regulatory element will give an organism an evolutionary advantage. "And to the extent that [such changes] improve the fitness of an organism," says Haussler, "they eventually will become fixed in a population."

"This suggests a lot of exciting evolutionary avenues," says Haussler, "but we don't yet know how prevalent this kind of evolution is." Other labs have found similar examples of mobile elements that have changed the regulation of genes, and Haussler expects the number of reports to grow. "It's a very exciting time to be looking at the human genome, because there's an enormous amount of DNA that we know is important, but we don't yet know what it's doing."

SOURCE: EUREKALERT


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World-leading microscope shows more detail than ever


A unique 3-dimensional microscope that works in a new way is giving unprecedented insight into microscopic internal structure and chemical composition. It is revealing how materials are affected, over time, by changes in temperature, humidity, weight load and other conditions.
The device could lead to advances in a range of areas, such as healthcare (in furthering, for instance, the understanding of conditions such as osteoporosis), the development of better construction materials, improved oil extraction methods and even the study of fossils.

Like a number of other microscopes, the new microscope harnesses X-rays to provide information about an object's internal structure down to micron scale. (A micron is a millionth of a metre.) What makes it unique, however, is its innovative use of a technique called 'time delay integration', which enables it to generate much better images of larger objects than any other device. This means that microscopic structure can be studied with greater accuracy.

With EPSRC funding, a multi-disciplinary team drawn from six UK universities has been developing and utilising the microscope, which, although similar to the CT scanners used in healthcare, can view things in much greater detail.

X-ray microscopes can produce 3-d internal pictures of an object by taking a large number of 2-d images from different angles – this is known as X-ray microtomography. However, the new microscope's combining of this technique with time delay integration is completely unique. Through averaging out imperfections in the image across all pixels, this approach enables the microscope to produce clearer and bigger pictures than previously possible (see 'Notes for Editors').

Some of the microscope's many potential uses include:

Studying how bone and tooth tissue behave in conditions such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and tooth decay. By improving understanding of these conditions, the microscope could aid prevention, earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment.
Observing how crude oil is held in sandstone pores. This knowledge could assist the development of more efficient ways of exploiting both offshore and onshore oil resources.
Investigating the mechanical behaviour of metals at a microscopic level. This could contribute to development of more reliable, more resilient and lower weight materials for use in construction, aviation and the storage & transportation of dangerous substances.
Detailed study of fossils embedded in rocks without having to remove and risk damaging them.
Professor Jim Elliott of Queen Mary, University of London led the project. "As well as developing these microscopes to study subtle variations in internal structure, a main aim of ours is to work with the wider scientific community to identify problems where they could make a real contribution," he says. "There's no limit to what it would be useful or interesting to look at."

The microscope looks set to be a valuable research tool that many different organisations in a wide range of sectors could benefit from using. The team is currently planning to seek funding to support the development of a radical new design that could be even more effective.

SOURCE: EUREKALERT


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Man may have caused pre-historic extinctions

New research shows that pre-historic horses in Alaska may have been hunted into extinction by man, rather than by climate change as previously thought.

The discovery by Andrew Solow of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, US, David Roberts of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew and Karen Robbirt of the University of East Anglia (UEA) is published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The accepted view had previously been that the wild horses became extinct long before the extinction of mammoths and the arrival of humans from Asia - ruling out the possibility that they were over-hunted by man. One theory had been that a period of climate cooling wiped them out.

However, the researchers have discovered that uncertainties in dating fossil remains and the incompleteness of fossil records mean that the survival of the horse beyond the arrival of humans cannot be ruled out.

The PNAS paper develops a new statistical method to help resolve the inherent problems associated with dating fossils from the Pleistocene period. The aim is to provide a far more accurate timetable for the extinction of caballoid horses and mammoths and, ultimately, the cause.

"This research is exciting because it throws open the debate as to whether climate change or over-hunting may have led to the extinction of pre-historic horses in North America," said UEA's Karen Robbirt.

The Pleistocene period refers to the first epoch of the Quarternary period between 1.64 million and 10,000 years ago. It was characterised by extensive glaciation of the northern hemisphere and the evolution of modern man around 100,000 years ago.

It is known that the end of the Pleistocene period was a time of large-scale extinctions of animals and plants in North America and elsewhere but the factors responsible have remained open to question, with climate change and over-hunting by humans the prime suspects. Ends

SOURCE: EUREKALERT.

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Last Update: Tuesday, May 9, 2006. 9:00am (AEST)
New neighbours: Two dwarf galaxies have been found near the Milky Way. [File photo]

New neighbours: Two dwarf galaxies have been found near the Milky Way. [File photo] (Reuters)
   
Astronomers spy two dwarf galaxies

Two dim dwarf galaxies are the Milky Way's newest known galactic companions, astronomers studying a vast swath of the sky say.

This brings the total number of dwarf galaxies in the Milky Way's cosmic neighbourhood to 14, but theorists believe there could conceivably be hundreds more.

Scientists studying the Sloan Digital Sky Survey say the two newly-detected dwarfs have been found in the direction of the constellations Canes Venatici (the hunting dogs) and Bootes (the herdsman).

The little galaxy found in Canes Venatici is about 640,000 light years from the sun, a stone's throw in cosmic terms.

A light year is about 10 trillion kilometres, the distance light travels in a year.

The dwarf found in Bootes is about the same distance from the sun.

Even though they are close, the galaxies are hard to spot because they are so dim, a defining characteristic of dwarf galaxies.

The new galaxy in Bootes is the faintest discovered, with a total luminosity of 100,000 suns.
Cold dark matter

Some astronomers theorise that there should be hundreds of clumps of so-called cold dark matter - slow-moving subatomic particles left over from the earliest period of the universe - orbiting the Milky Way, which contains earth.

Each of these clumps should be massive enough to host a dwarf galaxy, but so far only 14 have been found.

The two newest discoveries are among 12 spheroidal dwarf galaxies, two more are the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud, a pair of irregular dwarfs.

A galaxy is considered a dwarf if it is less than 10 per cent as luminous as the Milky Way, since luminosity is mostly a matter of the total number of stars.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which is managed by a global consortium of museums, universities and other astronomical institutions, aims to ultimately provide detailed images of more than one-quarter of the sky for use by the scientists.

- Reuters

URL = http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200605/s1633825.htm



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Dragonfly migration resembles that of birds, scientists say.

Princeton, N.J. - Scientists have discovered that migrating dragonflies and songbirds exhibit many of the same behaviors, suggesting the rules that govern such long-distance travel may be simpler and more ancient than was once thought.

The research, published in the May 11 Biology Letters, is based on data generated by tracking 14 green darner dragonflies with radio transmitters weighing only 300 milligrams -- about a third as much as a paper clip. Green darners are among the 25 to 50 species of dragonflies thought to be migratory among about 5200 species worldwide.

The team of researchers that made the discovery, led by Princeton University's Martin Wikelski, tracked the insects for up to 10 days from both aircraft and handheld devices on the ground. They found that the dragonflies' flight patterns showed many similarities to those of birds that migrate over the same regions of coastal New Jersey.

"The dragonflies' routes have showed distinct stopover and migration days, just as the birds' did," said Wikelski, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "Additionally, groups of both birds and dragonflies did not migrate on very windy days and only moved after two successive nights of falling temperatures. We saw other similarities as well, which makes us wonder just how far back in Earth's history the rules for migration were established in its animals."

According to fossil records, dragonflies appeared about 285 million years ago, predating the first birds by about 140 million years.

Wikelski said that the findings could also be an important demonstration of how to track small animals over great distances, a technique that could be useful in agriculture and ecological management.

"These small transmitters could enable us to track animals from space all around the globe if satellites were available," Wikelski said. "Though nearly everyone has heard of animal migration, we actually know very little about how animals move. It could tell us a lot about the way species respond to climate change and other disturbances. Because the economies of many nations are still largely agrarian, a better understanding of how, say, locust swarms travel could assist us with managing both local agriculture and the world economy that hinges upon it."

SOURCE: EUREKALERT.ORG

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We will be able to live to 1,000'
By Dr Aubrey de Grey
University of Cambridge

Life expectancy is increasing in the developed world. But Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey believes it will soon extend dramatically to 1,000. Here, he explains why.

Ageing is a physical phenomenon happening to our bodies, so at some point in the future, as medicine becomes more and more powerful, we will inevitably be able to address ageing just as effectively as we address many diseases today.

I claim that we are close to that point because of the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) project to prevent and cure ageing.

It is not just an idea: it's a very detailed plan to repair all the types of molecular and cellular damage that happen to us over time.

And each method to do this is either already working in a preliminary form (in clinical trials) or is based on technologies that already exist and just need to be combined.

This means that all parts of the project should be fully working in mice within just 10 years and we might take only another 10 years to get them all working in humans.

When we get these therapies, we will no longer all get frail and decrepit and dependent as we get older, and eventually succumb to the innumerable ghastly progressive diseases of old age.

We will still die, of course - from crossing the road carelessly, being bitten by snakes, catching a new flu variant etcetera - but not in the drawn-out way in which most of us die at present.

 So, will this happen in time for some people alive today? Probably. Since these therapies repair accumulated damage, they are applicable to people in middle age or older who have a fair amount of that damage.

I think the first person to live to 1,000 might be 60 already.

It is very complicated, because ageing is. There are seven major types of molecular and cellular damage that eventually become bad for us - including cells being lost without replacement and mutations in our chromosomes.

Each of these things is potentially fixable by technology that either already exists or is in active development.

'Youthful not frail'

The length of life will be much more variable than now, when most people die at a narrow range of ages (65 to 90 or so), because people won't be getting frailer as time passes.

The average age will be in the region of a few thousand years. These numbers are guesses, of course, but they're guided by the rate at which the young die these days.

If you are a reasonably risk-aware teenager today in an affluent, non-violent neighbourhood, you have a risk of dying in the next year of well under one in 1,000, which means that if you stayed that way forever you would have a 50/50 chance of living to over 1,000.

And remember, none of that time would be lived in frailty and debility and dependence - you would be youthful, both physically and mentally, right up to the day you mis-time the speed of that oncoming lorry.

Should we cure ageing?

Curing ageing will change society in innumerable ways. Some people are so scared of this that they think we should accept ageing as it is.

I think that is diabolical - it says we should deny people the right to life.

The right to choose to live or to die is the most fundamental right there is; conversely, the duty to give others that opportunity to the best of our ability is the most fundamental duty there is.

There is no difference between saving lives and extending lives, because in both cases we are giving people the chance of more life. To say that we shouldn't cure ageing is ageism, saying that old people are unworthy of medical care.

Playing God?

People also say we will get terribly bored but I say we will have the resources to improve everyone's ability to get the most out of life.

People with a good education and the time to use it never get bored today and can't imagine ever running out of new things they'd like to do.

And finally some people are worried that it would mean playing God and going against nature. But it's unnatural for us to accept the world as we find it.

Ever since we invented fire and the wheel, we've been demonstrating both our ability and our inherent desire to fix things that we don't like about ourselves and our environment.

We would be going against that most fundamental aspect of what it is to be human if we decided that something so horrible as everyone getting frail and decrepit and dependent was something we should live with forever.

If changing our world is playing God, it is just one more way in which God made us in His image.

SOURCE: story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/uk/4003063.stm

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Light's most exotic trick yet: So fast it goes ... backwards?
UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER NEWS RELEASE
Posted: May 14, 2006

In the past few years, scientists have found ways to make light go both faster and slower than its usual speed limit, but now researchers at the University of Rochester published a paper on May 12 in Science on how they've gone one step further: pushing light into reverse. As if to defy common sense, the backward-moving pulse of light travels faster than light.

Confused? You're not alone.

"I've had some of the world's experts scratching their heads over this one," says Robert Boyd, the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester. "Theory predicted that we could send light backwards, but nobody knew if the theory would hold up or even if it could be observed in laboratory conditions."

Boyd recently showed how he can slow down a pulse of light to slower than an airplane, or speed it up faster than its breakneck pace, using exotic techniques and materials. But he's now taken what was once just a mathematical oddity-negative speed-and shown it working in the real world.

"It's weird stuff," says Boyd. "We sent a pulse through an optical fiber, and before its peak even entered the fiber, it was exiting the other end. Through experiments we were able to see that the pulse inside the fiber was actually moving backward, linking the input and output pulses."

So, wouldn't Einstein shake a finger at all these strange goings-on? After all, this seems to violate Einstein's sacred tenet that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

"Einstein said information can't travel faster than light, and in this case, as with all fast-light experiments, no information is truly moving faster than light," says Boyd. "The pulse of light is shaped like a hump with a peak and long leading and trailing edges. The leading edge carries with it all the information about the pulse and enters the fiber first. By the time the peak enters the fiber, the leading edge is already well ahead, exiting. From the information in that leading edge, the fiber essentially 'reconstructs' the pulse at the far end, sending one version out the fiber, and another backward toward the beginning of the fiber."

Boyd is already working on ways to see what will happen if he can design a pulse without a leading edge. Einstein says the entire faster-than-light and reverse-light phenomena will disappear. Boyd is eager to put Einstein to the test.

So how does light go backwards?

Boyd, along with Rochester graduate students George M. Gehring and Aaron Schweinsberg, and undergraduates Christopher Barsi of Manhattan College and Natalie Kostinski of the University of Michigan, sent a burst of laser light through an optical fiber that had been laced with the element erbium. As the pulse exited the laser, it was split into two. One pulse went into the erbium fiber and the second traveled along undisturbed as a reference. The peak of the pulse emerged from the other end of the fiber before the peak entered the front of the fiber, and well ahead of the peak of the reference pulse.

But to find out if the pulse was truly traveling backward within the fiber, Boyd and his students had to cut back the fiber every few inches and re-measure the pulse peaks when they exited each pared-back section of the fiber. By arranging that data and playing it back in a time sequence, Boyd was able to depict, for the first time, that the pulse of light was moving backward within the fiber.

To understand how light's speed can be manipulated, think of a funhouse mirror that makes you look fatter. As you first walk by the mirror, you look normal, but as you pass the curved portion in the center, your reflection stretches, with the far edge seeming to leap ahead of you (the reference walker) for a moment. In the same way, a pulse of light fired through special materials moves at normal speed until it hits the substance, where it is stretched out to reach and exit the material's other side.

Conversely, if the funhouse mirror were the kind that made you look skinny, your reflection would appear to suddenly squish together, with the leading edge of your reflection slowing as you passed the curved section. Similarly, a light pulse can be made to contract and slow inside a material, exiting the other side much later than it naturally would.

To visualize Boyd's reverse-traveling light pulse, replace the mirror with a big-screen TV and video camera. As you may have noticed when passing such a display in an electronics store window, as you walk past the camera, your on-screen image appears on the far side of the TV. It walks toward you, passes you in the middle, and continues moving in the opposite direction until it exits the other side of the screen.

A negative-speed pulse of light acts much the same way. As the pulse enters the material, a second pulse appears on the far end of the fiber and flows backward. The reversed pulse not only propagates backward, but it releases a forward pulse out the far end of the fiber. In this way, the pulse that enters the front of the fiber appears out the end almost instantly, apparently traveling faster than the regular speed of light. To use the TV analogy again-it's as if you walked by the shop window, saw your image stepping toward you from the opposite edge of the TV screen, and that TV image of you created a clone at that far edge, walking in the same direction as you, several paces ahead.

"I know this all sounds weird, but this is the way the world works," says Boyd.

SOURCE:SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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New scenario explains origin of Neptune's oddball moon
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-SANTA CRUZ NEWS RELEASE
Posted: May 14, 2006

Neptune's large moon Triton may have abandoned an earlier partner to arrive in its unusual orbit around Neptune. Triton is unique among all the large moons in the solar system because it orbits Neptune in a direction opposite to the planet's rotation (a "retrograde" orbit). It is unlikely to have formed in this configuration and was probably captured from elsewhere.

In the May 11 issue of the journal Nature, planetary scientists Craig Agnor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland describe a new model for the capture of planetary satellites involving a three-body gravitational encounter between a binary and a planet. According to this scenario, Triton was originally a member of a binary pair of objects orbiting the Sun. Gravitational interactions during a close approach to Neptune then pulled Triton away from its binary companion to become a satellite of Neptune.

"We've found a likely solution to the long-standing problem of how Triton arrived in its peculiar orbit. In addition, this mechanism introduces a new pathway for the capture of satellites by planets that may be relevant to other objects in the solar system," said Agnor, a researcher in UCSC's Center for the Origin, Dynamics, and Evolution of Planets.

With properties similar to the planet Pluto and about 40 percent more massive, Triton has an inclined, circular orbit that lies between a group of small inner moons with prograde orbits and an outer group of small satellites with both prograde and retrograde orbits. There are other retrograde moons in the solar system, including the small outer moons of Jupiter and Saturn, but all are tiny compared to Triton (less than a few thousandths of its mass) and have much larger and more eccentric orbits about their parent planets.

Triton may have come from a binary very similar to Pluto and its moon Charon, Agnor said. Charon is relatively massive, about one-eighth the mass of Pluto, he explained.

"It's not so much that Charon orbits Pluto, but rather both move around their mutual center of mass, which lies between the two objects," Agnor said.

In a close encounter with a giant planet like Neptune, such a system can be pulled apart by the planet's gravitational forces. The orbital motion of the binary usually causes one member to move more slowly than the other. Disruption of the binary leaves each object with residual motions that can result in a permanent change of orbital companions. This mechanism, known as an exchange reaction, could have delivered Triton to any of a variety of different orbits around Neptune, Agnor said.

An earlier scenario proposed for Triton is that it may have collided with another satellite near Neptune. But this mechanism requires the object involved in the collision to be large enough to slow Triton down, but small enough not to destroy it. The probability of such a collision is extremely small, Agnor said.

Another suggestion was that aerodynamic drag from a disk of gas around Neptune slowed Triton down enough for it to be captured. But this scenario puts constraints on the timing of the capture event, which would have to occur early in Neptune's history when the planet was surrounded by a gas disk, but late enough that the gas would disperse before it slowed Triton's orbit enough to send the moon crashing into the planet.

In the past decade, many binaries have been discovered in the Kuiper belt and elsewhere in the solar system. Recent surveys indicate that about 11 percent of Kuiper belt objects are binaries, as are about 16 percent of near-Earth asteroids.

"These discoveries pointed the way to our new explanation of Triton's capture," Hamilton said. "Binaries appear to be a ubiquitous feature of small-body populations."

The Pluto/Charon pair and binaries in the Kuiper belt are especially relevant for Triton, as their orbits abut Neptune's, he said.

"Similar objects have probably been around for billions of years, and their prevalence indicates that the binary-planet encounter that we propose for Triton's capture is not particularly restrictive," Hamilton said.

The exchange reaction described by Agnor and Hamilton may have broad applications in understanding the evolution of the solar system, which contains many irregular satellites. The researchers plan to explore the implications of their findings for other satellite systems.

This research was supported by grants from NASA's Planetary Geology and Geophysics, Outer Planet Research, and Origins of Solar Systems programs.


SOURCE: SPACEFLIGHTNOW.COM

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17 May 2006
" Q. Did humans and chimps once interbreed?

Tangled family tree
 By Bob Holmes

It goes to the heart of who we are and where we came from. Our human ancestors were still interbreeding with their chimp cousins long after first splitting from the chimpanzee lineage, a genetic study suggests. Early humans and chimps may even have hybridised completely before diverging a second time. If so, some of the earliest fossils of proto-humans might represent an abortive first attempt to diverge from chimps, rather than being our direct ancestors. "
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg19025525.000&feedId=online-news_rss20

A. YES, look at Wayne Rooney and President George W. Bush [:)].

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Apes shown to be able to plan ahead
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — They don't bring along an umbrella or sunglasses that might be needed later, but researchers say apes, like people, can plan ahead.

Both orangutans and bonobos were able to figure out which tool would work in an effort to retrieve grapes, and were able to remember to bring that tool along hours later, researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

In a series of laboratory tests the apes were shown the tools and grapes, allowed to retrieve grapes, and then removed from the area where the treats were available.

They were allowed back from one to 14 hours later and most were able to bring along the correct tool to get the treats, report Nicholas J. Mulcahy and Josep Call of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The researchers said the finding suggests that planning ahead arose at least 14 million years ago, when the last common ancestor of bonobos, orangutans and humans lived.

While the findings do not necessarily imply that the apes are able to anticipate a future state of mind, they are nonetheless groundbreaking, Thomas Suddendorf of the University of Queensland in Australia said in a commentary.

"By identifying what capacities our closest living relatives share with us, we can get a glimpse at our evolutionary past," Suddendorf said.

In a separate paper in ScienceExpress, the electronic version of Science, researchers report that scrub jays look over their shoulders when hiding food for future use and, if they think another bird saw where they put it, will relocate their cache.

The report by Nicola S. Clayton and colleagues at the University of Cambridge in England noted that relocating food was common when a bird thought it had been observed by a more dominant bird, but not when a partner was present.

The findings indicate that the birds act to avoid the possibility that a non-partner will raid their stored food, and remember who was around when they hid it, the researchers say.

SOURCE: CTV.CA


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Polar bear + Grizzly bear = Pizzly Bear

" DNA Tests Confirm Bear Was a Hybrid

Roger Kuptana, an Inuvialuit guide from Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories, was the first to suspect it had actually happened when he proposed that a strange-looking bear shot last month by an American sports hunter might be half polar bear, half grizzly.

Territorial officials seized the creature after noticing its white fur was scattered with brown patches and that it had the long claws and humped back of a grizzly. Now a DNA test has confirmed that it is indeed a hybrid - possibly the first documented in the wild.

"We've known it's possible, but actually most of us never thought it would happen," said Ian Stirling, a polar bear biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Edmonton. "
http://enews.earthlink.net/article/top?guid=20060511/4462b6c0_3ca6_15526200605112014489028

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Tamed 11,400 years ago, figs were likely first domesticated crop

Long before the grains, fig domestication may have marked a decisive shift in human history


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Archaeobotanists have found evidence that the dawn of agriculture may have come with the domestication of fig trees in the Near East some 11,400 years ago, roughly a thousand years before such staples as wheat, barley, and legumes were domesticated in the region. The discovery dates domesticated figs to a period some 5,000 years earlier than previously thought, making the fruit trees the oldest known domesticated crop.

Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University and Mordechai E. Kislev and Anat Hartmann of Bar-Ilan University report their findings in this week's issue of the journal Science.

"Eleven thousand years ago, there was a critical switch in the human mind -- from exploiting the earth as it is to actively changing the environment to suit our needs," says Bar-Yosef, professor of anthropology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and curator of Paleolithic archaeology at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. "People decided to intervene in nature and supply their own food rather than relying on what was provided by the gods. This shift to a sedentary lifestyle grounded in the growing of wild crops such as barley and wheat marked a dramatic change from 2.5 million years of human history as mobile hunter-gatherers."

The researchers found nine small figs and 313 fig drupelets (a small part of an aggregate fruit such as a fig) at Gilgal I, a village in the Lower Jordan Valley, just 8 miles north of ancient Jericho, known to have been inhabited for some 200 years before being abandoned roughly 11,200 years ago. The carbonized figs were not distorted, suggesting that they may have been dried for human consumption. Similar fig drupelets were found at a second site located some 1.5 kilometers west of Gilgal.

The scientists compared the ancient figs to modern wild and domesticated variants and determined that they were a mutant selectively propagated by humans. In this variety of fig, known as parthenocarpic, the fruit develops without insect pollination and is prevented from falling off the tree, allowing it to become soft, sweet, and edible. However, because such figs do not produce seeds, they are a reproductive dead end unless humans interfere by planting shoots from the parthenocarpic trees.

"Once the parthenocarpic mutation occurred, humans must have recognized that the resulting fruits do not produce new trees, and fig tree cultivation became a common practice," Bar-Yosef says. "In this intentional act of planting a specific variant of fig tree, we can see the beginnings of agriculture. This edible fig would not have survived if not for human intervention."

Figs are very easily propagated: A piece of stem stuck in the ground will sprout roots and grow into a plant. No grafting or seeds are necessary. Bar-Yosef, Kislev, and Hartmann suggest that this ease of planting, along with improved taste resulting from minor mutations, may explain why figs were domesticated some five millennia before other fruit trees, such as the grape, olive, and date.

"The reported Gilgal figs, stored together with other vegetal staples such as wild barley, wild oat, and acorns, indicate that the subsistence strategy of these early Neolithic farmers was a mixed exploitation of wild plants and initial fig domestication," Bar-Yosef says. "Apparently, this kind of economy, a mixture of cultivation of wild plants, planting fig trees and gathering other plant foods in nature, was widely practiced during the second half of the 12th millennium before present throughout the Levant, the western wing of the Fertile Crescent."

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Bar-Yosef, Kislev, and Hartmann's research was sponsored by the American School of Prehistoric Research at Harvard's Peabody Museum, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Shelby-White-Leon Levi Foundation, and the Koschitzky Foundation at Bar-Ilan University.

SOURCE; EUREKA ALERT

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" Source: Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry

Posted: June 2, 2006

Semiconductor Brain: Nerve Tissue Interfaced With A Computer Chip

For the first time, scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich coupled living brain tissue to a chip equivalent to the chips that run computers. The researchers under Peter Fromherz have reported this news in the online edition of the Journal of Neurophysiology (May 10, 2006).

Before informational input perceived by the mammalian brain is stored in the long-term memory, it is temporarily memorised in the hippocampus*. Understanding the function of the hippocampus as an important player in the memory process is a major topic of current brain research. Thin slices of this brain region provide the appropriate material to study the intact neural network of the hippocampus.

Methods commonly used in neurophysiology are invasive, restricted to a small number of cells or suffer from low spatial resolution. The scientists in Martinsried developed a revolutionary non- invasive technique that enables them to record neural communication between thousands of nerve cells in the tissue of a brain slice with high spatial resolution. This technique involves culturing razor-thin slices of the hippocampus region on semiconductor chips. These chips were developed in collaboration with Infineon Technologies AG and excel in their density of sensory transistors: 16384 transistors on an area of one square millimeter record the neural activity in the brain.

Recording the activity patterns of the united cell structure of an intact mammalian brain tissue represents a significant technological breakthrough. Employing the new technique, the biophysicists working under the direction of Peter Fromherz were able to visualize the influence of pharmaceutical compounds on the neural network. This makes the “brain-chip” from Martinsried a novel test system for brain and drug research.

As early as 1991, Peter Fromherz and his co-workers succeeded in interfacing single leech nerve cells with semiconductor chips. Subsequent research gave rise to bidirectional communication between chip and small networks of a few molluscan nerve cells. In this project, it was possible to detect the signalling between cells via their synapses. The chips used in these studies were developed and produced by the scientists themselves. The production requirements of the chip described above made collaboration with industry indispensable. With the resulting novel hybrid system of neural tissue and semiconductor, the scientists take a great step forward towards neurochip prosthetics and neurocomputation.

Original publication: M. Hutzler, A. Lambacher, B. Eversmann, M. Jenkner, R. Thewes, and P. Fromherz: High- resolution multi-transistor array recording of electrical field potentials in cultured brain slices. Journal of Neuropyhsiology "

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060602172512.htm
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