Science & Technology


Parasitically infected bumblebees self-medicate by changing dietary preferences

© Leif Richardson
A Dartmouth-led study finds that bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, suggesting that plant chemistry could help combat the decline of bee species.
Bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a Dartmouth-led study shows. The findings suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline of bee species.

The researchers previously found in lab studies that nectar containing nicotine and other natural chemicals in plants significantly reduced the number of parasites in sickened bees, but the new study shows parasitized bees already are taking advantage of natural chemicals in the wild.

The study is to appear in the journal Ecology but may be reported now by the media. A PDF of the preprint is available on request. The study was conducted by researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Comment: Ants are able to 'self-medicate' by changing diet when they are unwell


Neurodegenerative disease risk as new prion is discovered

© Jens Maus
A top-down PET-scan image of the human brain emitting energy from various regions.
The first new human prion in almost 50 years has been discovered, a team of scientists report. The prion is called alpha-synuclein and it is believed to the the causative agent for a rare neurodegenerative disease in people.

Prions are types of protein that fold in unusual and complex ways. Some prions are, due to the way they are folded, able to replicate by instructing other proteins to misfold in the same way.

The way that a prion replicates is similar to the way that a virus replicates and transmits. Despite the ability to replicate, prions are not classed as living entities. The term prion, which was coined in 1982, is an abbreviation for "proteinaceous infectious particle."

The first prion to be reported was termed "major prion protein" (abbreviated to PrP.) This prion causes a range of diseases: transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), what is called "mad cow disease" by many in the media; scrapie in sheep; and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a type of human dementia along with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).

To add to these there are other rare conditions that can affect people like Gerstmann - Sträussler - Scheinker syndrome, Fatal Familial Insomnia and kuru. All of these infectious diseases, which affect the brain, are untreatable and fatal.

Comet 2

New Comet: P/2015 Q2 (PIMENTEL)

CBET nr. 4140, issued on 2015, September 02, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~18.5) by Eduardo Pimentel on Aug. 24.2 UT with a 0.45-m f/2.9 reflector of the SONEAR Observatory at Oliveira. Follow-up observations to confirm the object were obtained by C. Jacques, E. Pimentel, and J. Barros with the same telescope on Aug. 27.3 and31.3. The new comet has been designated P/2015 Q2 (PIMENTEL).

We performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. COM Stacking of 30 unfiltered exposures, 30 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2015, August 31.7 from Q62 (iTelescope network - Siding Spring) through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + f/4.5 focal reducer, shows that this object is a comet with a sharp central condensation surrounded by diffuse irregular coma 5" in diameter and a tail about 10" in PA 315

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)

© Remanzacco Observatory
M.P.E.C. 2015-R02 assigns the following preliminary elliptical orbital elements to comet P/2015 Q2: T 2015 Sept. 10.23; e= 0.76; Peri. = 244.36; q = 1.82; Incl.= 146.18


Real-life 'Jurassic Park'? Siberian lab set to clone extinct mammals

Russian scientists have begun their quest to clone pre-historic animals, including but not limited to a woolly mammoth, hoping that Siberian permafrost will give them a competitive advantage and the good possibly of finding undamaged DNA samples to resurrect the ancient species.

The new laboratory at the Mammoth Museum of the Institute of Applied Ecology at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk has begun searching through its vast library of samples that were found nearly perfectly preserved in the extreme cold conditions of the Arctic, according to Ogonek magazine.

Scientists hope to extract live DNA by carefully scanning through more than 2,000 rare exhibits contained in the lab, which is especially equipped to preserve tissue samples in freezers of -87 degrees Celsius. The new lab will also be used to swiftly analyze any newly found samples, without the risk of damaging them while transferring them to a distant laboratory.


Fossils from 460 million year old human-sized sea scorpion unearthed in Iowa

© Yale University / James Lamsdell
Earth's first big predator may have been an underwater scorpion that grew to nearly six feet in length, according to a new study.

Some 150 pieces of previously unknown fossils were recovered from the site of a meteor impact by Iowa Geological Survey geologists, under the Upper Iowa River. The creature is estimated to have lived 460 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs reigned, when Iowa was still an ocean.

First described Monday in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, the scorpion - named Pentecopterus decorahensis, after an ancient Greek warship - could grow to 5ft 7 inches long (170 centimeters) and had a dozen arms sprouting from its head, which it used to grab prey and push it into its mouth.

Ice Cream Bar

Ice cream resistant to the rays of the sun invented by scientists

© Toby Melville / Reuters
Will your sundae last till Monday? Ice cream resistant to the melting rays of the sun could possibly hit the stores within the next three to five years, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Dundee and Edinburgh believe they have found a new recipe, which should whip fans of frozen treats into a frenzy.

The new ingredient is based on a protein that binds together air, fat and water in ice cream to make it lick hot weather conditions, rendering it more immune to melting.

Besides prolonging enjoyment, the development could mean ice cream is made with fewer calories and lower levels of saturated fat. The recipe is also said to prevent ice crystals from forming - ensuring a fine and smooth texture.

Solar Flares

Study: Jet of electric current amplifies space weather at equatorial regions

© Brett A. Carter
A naturally occurring electric current, called an electrojet, flows about 60 miles (100 km) above Earth's surface along the equator.
Solar explosions can threaten power grids even in areas near the equator, places long thought safe from such disruptions from the sun, say researchers who studied a weird flow of electricity pulsing above the equatorial regions.

Solar eruptions can blast Earth with super-heated electrically charged particles. When these explosions slam into Earth's magnetosphere— the shroud of electrically charged particles around Earth held together by the planet's magnetic field — they can trigger disturbances known as geomagnetic storms.

Geomagnetic storms can generate geomagnetically induced currents — electrical currents in power lines, telecommunications cables, oil and gas pipelines, and other long wires that can damage power grids. For example, in 1989, an extreme geomagnetic storm blacked out the Canadian province of Quebec in about 90 seconds, leaving 6 million customers in the dark for nine hours, damaging transformers as far away as New Jersey, and nearly taking down U.S. power grids from the Eastern Seaboard to the Pacific Northwest.

The impacts of geomagnetic storms are strongest at high latitudes near the poles. As such, there was previously little concern that solar activity could lead to blackouts in lower latitudes near the equator.

Now, scientists find that so-called interplanetary shocks — gusts of solar wind — can trigger damaging geomagnetically induced currents even in equatorial regions.

Comment: Another indicator of increased electrical activity moving towards equatorial regions may be recent aurorae sightings.

Aurorae occur when charged solar particles reach local magnetic field lines, where they enter the planetary atmosphere and excite its atoms and molecules. As they deactivate, the particles produce light emission.

The Aurora Borealis, the so called 'Northern lights' have been observed recently heading 'South', providing a spectacle in parts of England even. While the Aurora Australis, or the 'Southern lights' have been seen further north in New Zealand than usual.

The winning Electric Universe model, and much more related information, are explained in the book Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection by Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk.


Scientists track down the neural basis of multitasking

© Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
What makes someone better at switching between different tasks? Looking for the mechanisms behind cognitive flexibility, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Germany's Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim and Charité University Medicine Berlin have used brain scans to shed new light on this question.

By studying networks of activity in the brain's frontal cortex, a region associated with control over thoughts and actions, the researchers have shown that the degree to which these networks reconfigure themselves while switching from task to task predicts people's cognitive flexibility.

Experiment participants who performed best while alternating between a memory test and a control test showed the most rearrangement of connections within their frontal cortices as well as the most new connections with other areas of their brains.

Comment: Also see: Study shows why some types of multitasking are more dangerous than others


Android conversationalist reassures human interviewer he will keep him in his 'human zoo'

Androids are being developed that have an uncanny resemblance to people. A pinnacle example is an android crafted by roboticist David Hanson that resembles the famous and deceased science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. What makes android Dick so remarkable isn't so much his appearance as it is his ability to hold an intelligent conversation.

The creators of android Dick uploaded the deceased author's work onto the android's software, as well as conversations with other writers. If the android was asked a question that had been posed to the real Dick, the robot would answer the question as Dick would. The robot was also able to answer a series of complex questions. If the robot was asked a question that it was unfamiliar with, its software would attempt to answer the question using what is called "latent semantic analysis."(1)

Android Dick in conversation

Android Dick's speaking abilities were put to the test in an interview with a reporter from PBS NOVA. Android Dick's brain is comprised of a tapestry of wires that are connected to a laptop. As the conversation proceeded, Philip's facial recognition software kept track of the reporter's face. In addition, speech recognition software transcribed and sent the reporter's words to a database in order to assemble a response.

The questions posed to Dick were by no means trivial. When the reporter asked if the android could think, it responded, "A lot of humans ask me if I can make choices or if everything I do is programmed. The best way I can respond to that is to say that everything, humans, animals and robots, do is programmed to a degree." Some of the androids responses were pre-programmed, whereas others were assembled from the internet.(2)

Dick continued, "As technology improves, it is anticipated that I will be able to integrate new words that I hear online and in real time. I may not get everything right, say the wrong thing, and sometimes may not know what to say, but everyday I make progress. Pretty remarkable, huh?"(2)

Comment: Readers interested in Androids and the Turing test should check out the 2015 film, Ex Machina, the trailer below:

Solar Flares

Comet plunges into the Sun

On Friday, Aug.28th, the sun swallowed a comet. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spotted the icy visitor from the outer solar system making a headlong plunge into our star. One comet went in; none came out. Click to play the movie:

Heated by the sun at point blankrange, the comet's fragile ices vaporized, leaving at most a "rubble pile" of rock and gravel scattered along its sungrazing orbit. Any remains are invisible from Earth.

The comet, R.I.P., was probably a member of the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Several Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one (~10 m to 50 m) attracts attention.