Science & Technology

Cloud Lightning

Electric wound care developed in England

© Thinkstock
Hospitals might need to capture this in the future.
Researchers at the University of Manchester are developing a shocking new solution to an age old problem: A medical method that can improve wound healing by electrifying a patient's skin.

Dr. Ardeshir Bayat and his colleagues recruited 40 volunteers and gave each of them a harmless, half-centimeter cut on their upper arm. Those study participants were then divided randomly into two groups - one group that was left to heal normally, and another which was treated with electrical pulses over a two-week period.

The researchers found that those pulses stimulated angiogenesis—or the process of forming new blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the wounded area. As a result, individuals receiving this type of treatment saw their wounds heal significantly faster than the control group. The authors published their findings in a recent edition of the journal PLOS One.


First views of Pluto's tiniest moons emerge


Artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons probe zooming through the Pluto system in July 2015.
As NASA's Pluto probe nears the planet, it managed to grab some spectacular photos of its small moons for the first time. The New Horizons spacecraft is now in position to view the entire Pluto family.

"Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer's team of moon and ring hunters," principal investigator Alan Stern remarked on the discoveries and the people behind them.

The moons themselves have been glimpsed only in the space of the last two years, though scientists knew of their existence before: the gigantic Charon - in July 2013; Hydra and Nix - in July of the following year and January 2015, respectively. We're now up to Kerberos and Styx - the smallest and faintest of the Pluto family that NASA has released.

"New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery," mission member John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, says. "If the spacecraft observes any additional moons as we get closer to Pluto, they will be worlds that no one has seen before."


What's going on? Russian Proton rocket feared lost after another botched launch

© Still from Roskosmos video
The launch of Russian Proton-M rocket went bad when its telemetry stopped, sources told media. There is concern that the rocket and its payload, a Mexican communication satellite, may be lost.

Telemetry stopped a minute before the MexSat-1 satellite was due to be placed into orbit. Roscosmos agency specialists are working to determine what exactly happened.

"It's not known yet what happened, but apparently the detachment of the third stage of the vehicle did not go as scheduled," a source in the space agency told RIA Novosti.

Another source said the third stage's engines shut down after Proton had spent 498 seconds in flight.

"Preliminary data indicate that the third stage and the Mexican satellite may fall in the Chita region [of Russia]. The emergencies ministry has been notified," the source told Interfax.

Comment: Interestingly enough, exactly a year ago a Proton-M rocket carrying Russia's most advanced satellite also failed after reaching the third stage. And in April 2013 another Proton-M rocket crashed, apparently due to the foreign matter that has been deliberately placed into crucial components of the booster in order to provoke malfunction. Coincidence?


First warm-blooded fish found

© NOAA Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science Center
Southwest Fisheries Science Center biologist Nick Wegner holds a captured opah, the first-ever warm-blooded fish..
The car-tire-size opah is striking enough thanks to its rotund, silver body. But now, researchers have discovered something surprising about this deep-sea dweller: It's got warm blood.

That makes the opah (Lampris guttatus) the first warm-blooded fish every discovered. Most fish are exotherms, meaning they require heat from the environment to stay toasty. The opah, as an endotherm, keeps its own temperature elevated even as it dives to chilly depths of 1,300 feet (396 meters) in temperate and tropical oceans around the world.

"Increased temperature speeds up physiological processes within the body," study leader Nicholas Wegner, a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California told Live Science. "As a result, the muscles can contract faster, the temporal resolution of the eye is increased, and neurological transmissions are sped up. This results in faster swimming speeds, better vision and faster response times."

The result, Wegner said, is a fast-swimming fish with an advantage for hunting slow, cold-blooded prey. [See Photos of the Gigantic Warm-Blooded Opah (Moonfish)]


Scientists genetically modify chicken to have the features of a Velociraptor

© Reuters
Scientists for the first time have created animals with dinosaur features using fossils as a guide. They have transformed chicken beaks into something similar to a dinosaur snout.

Many have pondered the idea of recreating dinosaurs while novelists and sci-fi film directors tempted our imagination with such as creations the Jurassic park film and novel series.

A research team led by Yale paleontologist and developmental biologist Bhart-Anjan S. Bhullar and Harvard developmental biologist Arhat Abzhanov, have conducted a successful experiment which allowed them to create chickens with dinosaur-like features. They published their discoveries in a study in the journal "Evolution" on Tuesday.

Comment: Also see: Old fossils solve mystery of earliest bird extinction

Arrow Down

Sperm grown in lab for first time ever

© Thinkstock
Good ol' lab-grown sperm.
In what is being hailed as a potential breakthrough in the treatment of male infertility, a team of researchers from a private French research center has grown human sperm cells in a laboratory for the first time ever.

While the findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, scientists at the Kallistem laboratory in Lyon have allegedly turned spermatogonia into mature sperm in a test tube - doing something that researchers have been trying to do for 15 years, according to Discovery News.

Kallistem plans to conduct pre-clinical trials next year. If those trials are successful, they will be able to take an immature spermatogonia sample from a man, change that genetic material into mature sperm, then either use it for IVF or freeze it for later use.

Bizarro Earth

Scientists image gravity waves through atmosphere

© Hanli Liu, NCAR
A model simulation illustrates how gravity waves kicked off by a cyclone east of Australia build as they travel toward space.
Whether it's a drunk camper diving carelessly into a river, or a mass of air rising over a mountain, the rule is the same: What goes up must come down.

With respect to the latter, the rising and falling of air also generates gravity waves. While such atmospheric changes usually only have a regional impact on the lower atmosphere, these ripples can stretch all across the globe in the upper atmosphere and their impact is far more dramatic.

For the first time, researchers have found a way to observe what happens when gravity waves rise towards into the upper atmosphere. A team of researchers at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research led by Senior Scientist Hanli Liu improved upon the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model, pushing it to a resolution fine enough to pick up small gravity waves at their source.

Previously able to clearly view only phenomena that were 2,000 kilometers across, they are now able to view gravity waves when they are still relatively small—only 200 kilometers across—and accurately model how this activity appears later in the upper atmosphere.


Immune system genes may change with the season

© photoclicks/iStockphoto
Genes suppressing inflammation are more active in the Australian summer, while those promoting inflammation are more active in winter.
Our mood, metabolism and sex lives are dependent on the seasons, and now it seems, so is our immune system.

In a study published today, British and German researchers find almost a quarter of human genes are more or less active depending on the season.

The researchers say the discovery could help explain why people tend to be healthier in summer and diseases known to be seasonal such as cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis are more evident in winter.

"It helps explain why so many diseases, from heart disease to mental illness, are much worse in the winter months, but no one had appreciated the extent to which this actually occurred," says senior author Professor John Todd of the University of Cambridge.

The international team of researchers analysed blood and fat tissue samples from more than 16,000 people living in the northern and southern hemispheres including in the UK, the US, Iceland, Australia and the Republic of the Gambia.

The study, published in Nature Communications , found 23 per cent of human genes -- 5136 out of 22,822 genes tested -- change their expression levels depending on the season.

Genes that promoted inflammation were more active in the European winter months of December, January and February were less active in the same months in Australia, but more highly expressed in the southern hemisphere winter months of June, July and August. Meanwhile, genes that suppressed inflammation were more active in the summer months of each hemisphere.

Seasonality also affects the make-up of blood and fat tissue.


Children from multilingual homes better at interpreting a speaker's meaning and perspective

© University of Chicago
This image shows the game the study participants played. The monolingual children moved the correct object about 50 percent of the time. But mere exposure to another language improved children's ability to understand the adult's perspective and select the correct objects. The children in the exposure group selected correctly 76 percent of the time, and the bilingual group took the adult's perspective in the game correctly 77 percent of the time.
Young children who hear more than one language spoken at home become better communicators, a new study from University of Chicago psychologists finds. Effective communication requires the ability to take others' perspectives. Researchers discovered that children from multilingual environments are better at interpreting a speaker's meaning than children who are exposed only to their native tongue. The most novel finding is that the children do not even have to be bilingual themselves; it is the exposure to more than one language that is the key for building effective social communication skills.

Previous studies have examined the effects of being bilingual on cognitive development. This study, published online May 8 by the journal Psychological Science, is the first to demonstrate the social benefits of just being exposed to multiple languages.

"Children in multilingual environments have extensive social practice in monitoring who speaks what to whom, and observing the social patterns and allegiances that are formed based on language usage," explained Katherine Kinzler, associate professor of psychology and an expert on language and social development. "These early socio-linguistic experiences could hone children's skills at taking other people's perspectives and provide them tools for effective communication."

Comment: Researchers have discovered that speaking more than one language improves cognitive ability. Those who are bilingual have been shown to have better problem-solving skills, improved ability to think creatively and that they process information more efficiently and easily. Bilingualism also tends to forestall the onset of Alzheimer's by about five years.


Researchers discover Delta Cephei has a 'secret companion'

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/M
Bow shock around star Delta Cephei.
To measure distances in the universe, astronomers use cepheids, a family of variable stars whose luminosity varies with time. Their role as distance calibrators has brought them attention from researchers for more than a century. While it was thought that nearly everything was known about the prototype of cepheids, named Delta Cephei, a team of researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), the Johns Hopkins University, and the European Space Agency (ESA), have now discovered that this star has a hidden companion. They have published an article about the discovery in The Astrophysical Journal.

Delta Cephei, prototype of the cepheids, which has given its name to all similar variable stars, was discovered 230 years ago by the English astronomer John Goodricke. Since the early 20th century, scientists have been interested in measuring cosmic distances using a relationship between these stars' periods of pulsation and their luminosities (intrinsic brightness), discovered by the American Henrietta Leavitt. Today, researchers from the Astronomical Observatory of UNIGE, Johns Hopkins University and the ESA show that Delta Cephei is, in fact, a double star, made up of a cepheid-type variable star and a companion that had thus far escaped detection, probably because of its low luminosity. Yet, pairs of stars, called binaries, complicate the calibration of the period-luminosity relationship, and can bias the measurement of distances. This is a surprising discovery, since Delta Cephei is one of the most studied stars, of which scientists thought they knew almost everything.

Comment: Despite recent studies supporting the binary star system hypothesis, these researchers are still "shocked" at this discovery.

It may be time to incorporate the data they do have into the winning Electric Universe theory and review what they thought they knew about how the cosmos actually works.

Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection

It could be that such twin's are not always 'in sight'. Perhaps our own sun has a 'dark companion' - Nemesis?

Nemesis: Does the Sun Have a 'Companion'?