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Thu, 11 Feb 2016
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Science & Technology


Technology overpowering us: People keep going to this home searching for their lost cellphones — and nobody knows why

© Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post
Christina Lee and Michael Saba live in an Atlanta house where several strangers come accusing them of having stolen their phones. Strangely, the phones are never there, and it's because missing-phone apps are mysteriously routing to this home.
For months now, angry strangers have been showing up at Christina Lee and Michael Saba's front door with a curious demand: "Give me back my stolen phone!"

Sometimes, families will show up; other times, it's groups of friends or a random person with a police officer in tow, according to Fusion. Despite using different service providers, everyone who bangs on their door has been led to the suburban Atlanta home by a phone-tracking app.

The problem — as the couple desperately tries to explain visitors — is that the missing phones aren't at the house and never have been.

They are not, in fact, thieves. Saba is an engineer; Lee is a journalist.

The pair doesn't understand why exactly, but both Android and iPhone users on various networks are being directed to their house by phone-tracking apps.

Comment: Another small but important sign of how the pace of technology seems to outstrip the foresight and resources required to employ technology wisely.


Study finds genes that influence cognitive skills are associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's and schizophrenia

© National Human Genome Research Institute / Reuters
People with better health are more likely to have higher levels of intelligence, according to a new study which found that genes associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and autism also affect cognitive functions.

The study, conducted by an international team led by the University of Edinburgh, analyzed data from around 100,000 people listed in the UK Biobank. The Biobank contains genetic data, and health and cognitive variables from more than 500,000 participants recruited between 2006 and 2010.

The team's mission was to investigate whether illness causes a loss of cognitive functioning, or if existing cognitive impairment symbolizes a higher risk of health problems, or if the same cause is responsible for both.

The cognitive level of the 100,000 people was assessed through mental test data - including reaction time, memory, and verbal-numerical reasoning - and compared with 22 health indicators and the results of their genome.


The kaleidoscopic microbiome of your mouth

© Mark Welch et al, 2016, PNAS
Magenta Corynebacterium filaments and green Streptococcus spheres.
The study of the human microbiome—the booming and much-hyped quest to understand the microbes that share our bodies—began in the mouth. Specifically, it began with dental plaque.

In 1683, Antony van Leeuwenhoek, the first human ever to see bacteria, became the first human ever to see his own bacteria. Untrained as a scholar but insatiably curious, he removed some of the thick plaque at the bottom of his teeth and examined it with his own hand-crafted microscopes. He saw multitudes of living things, "very prettily a-moving", from spheres that spun like a top to rods that darted through water like fish. Enthralled, he soon started collecting plaque from the local citizenry and finding similar microbes within.


Hooked on cheese: Study finds casein in cheese triggers opioid receptors in brain that produce feelings linked to hard drug addiction

© Gettty
If you regularly find yourself hovering around the cheese board at the Christmas dinner table, helping yourself to seconds or thirds, there may be a scientific explanation as to why you're unable to tear yourself away.

Researchers from the University of Michigan have revealed that cheese contains a chemical found in addictive drugs.

Using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, designed to measure a person's cravings, the study found that cheese is particularly moreish because it contains casein.

The chemical, which is found in all dairy products, can trigger the brain's opioid receptors, producing a feeling of euphoria linked to those of hard drug addiction.

500 students were asked to complete a questionnaire to identify food cravings, as part of the study, with pizza topping the list as the most addictive food of all.

Comment: See also:

2 + 2 = 4

Chinese researchers develop inexpensive 'invisible ink' for increased data security

© Unknown
Ciphers and invisible ink - many of us experimented with these when we were children. A team of Chinese scientists has now developed a clever, high-tech version of "invisible ink". As reported in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the ink is based on carbon nitride quantum dots. Information written with this ink is not visible under ambient or UV light; however, it can be seen with a fluorescence microplate reader. The writing can be further encrypted or decrypted by quenching or recovering the fluorescence with different reagents.

Fluorescing security inks are primarily used to ensure the authenticity of products or documents, such as certificates, stock certificates, transport documents, currency notes, or identity cards. Counterfeits may cost affected companies lost profits, and the poor quality of the false products may damage their reputations. In the case of sensitive products like pharmaceuticals and parts for airplanes and cars, human lives and health may be endangered. Counterfeiters have discovered how to imitate UV tags but it is significantly harder to copy security inks that are invisible under UV light.

Researchers working with Xinchen Wang and Liangqia Guo at Fuzhou University have now introduced an inexpensive "invisible" ink that increases the security of encoded data while also making it possible to encrypt and decrypt secure information.

Arrow Down

Confined, isolated, killed: Primates used for secret 'Frankenstein-like' studies for over 15 years in Australia

© Stringer / Reuters
Hundreds of monkeys have been sent to Australia for what seem to be dubious medical experiments that raise "serious ethical questions," the local environmental authorities have warned, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.

More than 370 primates have been part of the research over the past 15 years, and the scientists who conduct the tests are most probably "entirely lacking" in expertise essential to care for such animals, Australia's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has said.

Millions of dollars from research grants were used to conduct the experiments, and hospitals connected with the studies refused to disclose the details about the number of primates which have been experimented on, and how many have died or had to be killed.

Comment: See more: Bioterror lab mishaps are cloaked in secrecy

Eye 1

On the road to mind control: DARPA's new program will use a chip to connect brains to computers

© istockphoto
For additional background to the latest press release from DARPA posted in full below, I encourage you to read the following selection of linked articles where I discuss the scope and chronology of what is being studied. Therein, you will find that the U.S. BRAIN Initiative and its European counterpart, the Human Brain Project, are not spending multi-billions of dollars on neuroscience research simply to help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and organic brain dysfunction. It is, perhaps first and foremost, a military endeavor that has wide ramifications if even 1/10th of what is being studied comes to fruition. In short, it's more about mind control than it is about brain restoration and improvement. Please keep this in mind when you read DARPA's emphasis on "new therapies."


140 years later, strange tree frog rediscovered in India

© AP
A tadpole of a frog named Frankixalus jerdonii, belonging to a newly found genus of frogs, as seen under microscope.
Last sighted in 1870, Jerdon's tree frog was thought to be long gone. But a three-year-old mission beginning in 2007 not only found the amphibian alive and well in India, new research also discovered that it belongs to a completely new genus of tree frog.

Jerdon's tree frog, also known as Frankixalus jerdonii, has a few unique quirks. The first is how the frog feeds its young. According to National Geographic, a female frog starts the process by laying her fertilized eggs in watery tree hollows. It isn't until the eggs hatch into tadpoles that things get weird.

Most tadpoles feed on plant material. However, The Verge reported that a female Jerdon's tree frog will return to her tadpoles and feed her young unfertilized eggs. The biologist who led the expedition, Sathyabhama Das Biju, told National Geographic that "It is very clear that [the tadpoles] are feeding purely on their mother's eggs."

Comment: New study finds frogs going extinct about 10K times faster than historical rate


Massive Apollo asteroid 1685 Toro, possible source of first recorded case of meteorite hitting an American, makes fly-by today

There are around 7,000 asteroids in the Apollo belt.
The space rock known as 1685 Toro is classed as an Apollo asteroid - a group of nearly 7,000 which cross the Earth's orbit and are known to often send large numbers of meteorites crashing to the surface of our planet.

The infamous meteorite which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013, injuring 1,000 people, is believed to have originated from an Apollo asteroid.

The monster rock is believed to be up to 4km-long (2.4miles) and although it passes us at the relatively safe distance of 14 million miles, NASA describes it as a "close approach" and is closely monitoring it to learn more about the asteroid that could one day threaten Earth.

It is thought to be the asteroid that was responsible for sending the first recorded event in the USA of a meteor crashing to Earth which hit and injured a human.

On November 30 1954 Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama, USA, was injured by a falling meteorite.

Comment: Chelyabinsk meteor strike - a wake-up call for the world


Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants can count

© Hugo A. Quintero/Flickr
A Venus flytrap captures a lizard victim.

Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants have the ability to count, according to a new study.

The discovery adds to the growing body of evidence that certain plants possess many animal-like abilities, even though they do not have brains. In this case, it's now known that meat-eating plants can count up to at least five.

As for why this would be useful, project leader Rainer Hedrich of Universität Würzburg explained: "The carnivorous plant Dionaea muscipula, also known as Venus flytrap, can count how often it has been touched by an insect visiting its capture organ in order to trap and consume the animal prey."

For the study, published in the journal Current Biology, Hedrich and his team used a machine to simulate an insect touching Venus flytraps. The machine emitted electric pulses to fool the plants into thinking an insect had just landed.