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Black Cat 2

More functions for 'junk DNA' discovered

junk dna
It's not exactly Ferguson, Mo., but the battle between ENCODE researchers and junk-DNA holdouts goes on. Our ongoing coverage of the hostilities left off with the latter sending over their latest salvo. Now, ENCODE is back. Confident that genomes are not mostly junk, they have set their latest contender in the ring: a mouse.
The mouse genome was sequenced in 2002 as a primary model in which to study gene function and human diseases and to develop drugs. This was followed by maps of transcribed messenger RNA molecules and of long, non-protein-coding RNAs, which facilitated such experiments and analysis. Yet although 17 mouse strains have been sequenced, genome function and regulation cannot be understood by sequence analysis alone. Now, in four papers published in this issue, the Mouse ENCODE Consortium presents data sets that dramatically enhance our understanding of the regulation of the mouse genome, and of the similarities and differences compared with the human genome. (Emphasis added.)
The four papers in Nature announce the findings from the Mouse ENCODE Consortium:

Comment: So where did the genetic information in DNA come from to begin with? And what about the information that itself regulates DNA expression and development, and is not reducible to DNA sequence? As stubborn as neo-Darwinist materialists are to admit it, the more we learn about DNA, the more we know we don't know, suggesting a worldview completely at odds with traditional materialism.

Sun

Sun's shifting magnetic field may predict lightning strikes

Lightning
© arhip4/Shutterstock
The sun may be partly responsible for lightning strikes on Earth, and scientists think fluctuations in the sun's magnetic field could be used to predict lightning storms weeks in advance.

The sun's magnetic field can bend Earth's own magnetic field, and this twisting and turning may be allowing an influx of high-energy particles into the planet's atmosphere. These particles can cause a buildup of electric charge that can trigger lightning strikes.

From 2001 to 2006, during a period when the sun's magnetic field was severely skewing the Earth's magnetic field, the United Kingdom saw 50 percent more lightning strikes than normal, according to the new study.

This severe skewing happens regularly as the sun's magnetic field shifts. Scientists say this suggests the sun's magnetic field could be used to predict the occurrence of lightning.

"We now plan to combine regular weather forecasts, which predict when and where thunderclouds will form, with solar magnetic field predictions," Matt Owens, a professor of space environment physics at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. "This means a reliable lightning forecast could now be a genuine possibility."

Earth would be a barren wasteland without a magnetic field. The magnetic field shields the planet from blasts of particles from space, such as high-energy cosmic rays and dangerous solar winds.
Better Earth

Soil, the most diverse place on Earth

© Valerie Behan-Pelletier
Soil fauna from a soil in Alabama, USA.
A new study has pulled together research into the most diverse place on earth to demonstrate how the organisms below-ground could hold the key to understanding how the worlds ecosystems function and how they are responding to climate change.

Published in Nature, the paper by Professor Richard Bardgett from The University of Manchester and Professor Wim van der Putten of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, brings together new knowledge on this previously neglected area.

The paper not only highlights the sheer diversity of life that lives below-ground, but also how rapid responses of soil organisms to climate change could have far reaching impacts on future ecosystems. The paper also explores how the below-ground world can be utilised for sustainable land management.

Professor Bardgett explains: "The soil beneath our feet arguably represents the most diverse place on Earth. Soil communities are extremely complex with literally millions of species and billions of individual organisms within a single grassland or forest, ranging from microscopic bacteria and fungi through to larger organisms such as earthworms, ants and moles.

"Despite this plethora of life the underground world had been largely neglected by research, it certainly used to be a case of out of sight out of mind, although over the last decade we have seen a significant increase in work in this area."

The increase in research on below-ground organisms has helped to explain how they interact with each other and crucially how they influence the above-ground flora and fauna.

Comment: What the authors fails to mention is the effect agriculture has had on the soil. Agriculture is the single most destructive thing on earth. It destroys entire ecosystems and kills millions of plants, animals and microorganisms every year. Agriculture is just another form of genocide (and mass extinction) courtesy of greedy psychopaths.
  • Original 'Fall of Eden'? Agriculture is a "profoundly unnatural activity" and the "worst mistake in human history"
  • Agriculture: The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race


Info

Social networking sites misrepresents the real world, computer scientists warn

Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest, are populated by a very narrow section of society, scientists warn

Twitter
© Alamy
Twitter trends do not represent what the public actually cares about, scientists warn.
Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook should not be used to gauge human behaviour or trends because they are too biased, scientists have warned.

Increasingly, social researchers and media organisations use sites to glean information about public views and interests. But computer scientists at McGill University in Montreal and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh warn that the data omits the opinion of large portions of the population who are either under-represented, or who choose not to engage in social media.

They claim the sites 'misrepresent the real world.'

One of the major problems with sites like Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook is 'population bias' where platforms are populated by a very narrow section of society.

Latest figures on Twitter suggest that just five per cent of over 65s use the platform compared with 35 per cent for those aged 18-29. Similarly far more men use the social networking site than women.

Instagram has a particular appeal to younger adults, urban dwellers, and non-whites.
Info

Making fuel out of thin air

Fuel Cells
© Manchester University
The discovery of how to filter hydrogen ions through graphene could change the future of fuel cells.
In a discovery that experts say could revolutionise fuel cell technology, scientists have found that graphene, the world's thinnest, strongest and most impermeable material, can allow protons to pass through it.

The new discovery reported in the journal Nature raises the possibility that graphene membranes could one day be used to "sieve" hydrogen gas directly from the atmosphere to generate electricity.

"We are very excited about this result because it opens a whole new area of promising applications for graphene in clean energy harvesting and hydrogen-based technologies," says study co-author Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo of Manchester University.

Graphene was first isolated in 2004 by the leader of this study, Professor Andre Geim who, with fellow researchers was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2010 for the work.

At just one atom thick graphene is renowned for being the thinnest material on Earth.

It is 200 times stronger than steel, and impermeable to all gases and liquids, giving it the potential for a range of uses such as corrosion-proof coatings, impermeable packaging and even super-thin condoms.
Galaxy

Star Trek-like invisible shield found thousands of miles above Earth puzzles scientists

© Andy Kale, University of Alberta
Scientists have discovered an invisible shield roughly 7,200 miles above Earth.
A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered an invisible shield some 7,200 miles above Earth that blocks so-called "killer electrons," which whip around the planet at near-light speed and have been known to threaten astronauts, fry satellites and degrade space systems during intense solar storms.

The barrier to the particle motion was discovered in the Van Allen radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped rings above Earth that are filled with high-energy electrons and protons, said Distinguished Professor Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Held in place by Earth's magnetic field, the Van Allen radiation belts periodically swell and shrink in response to incoming energy disturbances from the sun.

As the first significant discovery of the space age, the Van Allen radiation belts were detected in 1958 by Professor James Van Allen and his team at the University of Iowa and were found to be comprised of an inner and outer belt extending up to 25,000 miles above Earth's surface. In 2013, Baker - who received his doctorate under Van Allen - led a team that used the twin Van Allen Probes launched by NASA in 2012 to discover a third, transient "storage ring" between the inner and outer Van Allen radiation belts that seems to come and go with the intensity of space weather.

The latest mystery revolves around an "extremely sharp" boundary at the inner edge of the outer belt at roughly 7,200 miles in altitude that appears to block the ultrafast electrons from breeching the shield and moving deeper towards Earth's atmosphere.

"It's almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space," said Baker, the study's lead author. "Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It's an extremely puzzling phenomenon."

Comment: See Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection for in depth explanations of the winning Electric Universe theory, plasma (one characteristic of which is the creation of an 'insulating bubble' around charged bodies), discharge modes and much more.

Magnify

Parasites use 'trojan horse' stealth tactics to suppress immune systems

Illustration of parasitic worm
© Credit: © 3drenderings / Fotolia
Illustration of parasitic worm (stock image). Scientists have shown that parasites are able to secrete tiny sealed packages of genetic material into the cells of their victims, in order to suppress the immune response to infection.

Parasites use Trojan horse subterfuge to suppress the immunity of their victims when causing infection, according to a study.


The finding, which shows a new trick parasites can play, paves the way to possible treatments for infectious diseases and allergies.

Scientists have shown that parasites are able to secrete tiny sealed packages of genetic material into the cells of their victims, in order to suppress the immune response to infection.

The packages, known as vesicles, mimic those that are produced naturally in most organisms to carry out everyday functions such as transporting nutrients and chemical messages to and from cells. The parasite uses vesicles to hide its material inside a seemingly friendly exterior, like a Trojan horse.

The study, carried out on a parasite found in mice, showed that the material in the packages is able to interact with the mouse's own genes. It manipulates the cell's machinery to suppress products linked to immunity, so reducing resistance to infection.

Researchers say the discovery could inform new strategies for treating diseases caused by parasitic worms, which affect hundreds of millions of people and animals. The findings also offer a possible way to treat allergies, such as hayfever, because the immune mechanism that parasites block is also linked to allergic reactions.
Magnify

Vultures evolved an extreme gut to cope with disgusting dietary habits

© Stutterstock
Vultures have special digestive systems adapted to deal with putrid carcasses that would be toxic to many other animals.
How is it that vultures can live on a diet of carrion that would at least lead to severe food-poisoning, and more likely kill most other animals? This is the key question behind a recent collaboration between a team of international researchers from Denmark's Centre for GeoGenetics and Biological Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University, the Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution in the USA. An "acidic" answer to this question is now published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

When vultures eat lunch they happily strip the rotting carcasses they find back to the bone. And if, however, the animal's hide is too tough to easily pierce with their beak, they don't hesitate to enter it using other routes, among them the back entrance - so to speak: via the anus. Although their diet of meat that is both rotting and liberally contaminated with feces would likely kill most other animals, they are apparently immune to the cocktail of deadly microbes within their dinner such as Clostridia, Fuso- and Anthrax-bacteria.

"To investigate vultures' ability to survive eating this putrid cocktail, we generated DNA profiles from the community of bacteria living on the face and gut of 50 vultures from the USA. Our findings enable us to reconstruct both the similarities, and differences, between the bacteria found in turkey vultures and black vultures, distributed widely in the Western Hemisphere. Apparently something radical happens to the bacteria ingested during passage through their digestive system," says Lars Hestbjerg Hansen, a professor at Aarhus University who together with Ph.D.-student Michael Roggenbuck lead the study while he was at the University of Copenhagen.
Bug

Female termites found to clone themselves via asexual reproduction

© Wikipedia common
A soldier termite (Macrotermitinae) in the Okavango Delta.
A pair of researches with Kyoto University has found how the queen of one species of termite, Reticulitermes speratus, ensures her genetic lineage continues by creating duplicate copies of herself. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Toshihisa Yashiro and Kenji Matsuura describe the study they carried out that showed how queens in such colonies reproduce themselves.

Scientists have known since 2009 that R. speratus queens created fatherless offspring which became queens themselves, but until now, the mechanism by which that came about has been a mystery. In this new effort, the researchers took a new look at the structure of the eggs laid by the queen to discover the difference between future queens and ordinary termites. Close inspection revealed tiny channels through the outer lining of the eggs called micropyles. The channels serve as an entry point for sperm, which the queen deposits on the eggs (after obtaining it from a male).

Interestingly, the research pair found that the number of micropyles for any given egg appeared to be random, from one to more than thirty - the average was nine. Even more interesting was that the team soon learned that sometimes there were no micropyles at all in some eggs, which would of course mean that no sperm could enter to fertilize its contents - and the egg still matured and wound up in the creation of offspring. That offspring, because it had no DNA from a male, grew into a new queen. Such a process means that the females are fully in control of both sexual and asexual reproduction.
Magnify

Researchers identify receptors activated by odors

© Petr Kratochvil
A group of physiologists led by University of Kentucky's Tim McClintock have identified the receptors activated by two odors using a new method that tracks responses to smells in live mice.

Their research was published in the latest edition of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Using a fluorescent protein to mark nerve cells activated by odors, McClintock and his colleagues identified receptors that allow mouse nerve cells to respond to two odors: eugenol, which is a component of several spices, most notably cloves, and muscone, known as musk.

"This new method could help us understand how these receptors allow mice, and eventually humans, to detect and discriminate odors, similar to the way in which the three receptors in the retinas of our eyes allow us to discriminate colors," McClintock said. "But unlike vision and hearing, the details of how the odor receptors discriminate odors, much like color in vision or pitch in sound, are unknown."

"Before we have a medical application in mind, we must first create a roadmap for these receptors."
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