Science & Technology


Number of websites has burst above one billion (and counting)

The number of websites has burst above one billion and is growing apace, according to figures updated in real time by online tracker Internet Live Stats.

Tim Berners-Lee, considered the father of the World Wide Web, touted the milestone on Twitter - one of the most prominent websites in the mushrooming but sometimes murky Internet world.

It comes as the agency responsible for managing addresses on the Internet expands choices far beyond ".com" and ".net" to provide more online real estate for the booming ranks of websites.

The World Wide Web turned 25 in April this year.

It was born from an idea in a technical paper from Berners-Lee, then an obscure, young computer scientist at a European physics lab.

Berners-Lee was working at CERN lab in Switzerland when he outlined a way to easily access files on linked computers, paving the way for a global phenomenon that has touched the lives of billions of people.

Internet Live Stats can be found at

Europeans are descendants of at least 3 ancient human groups: Study

© HealthDay News
Present-day Europeans are the descendants of at least three groups of ancient humans, according to a new study.

Previous research suggested that Europeans descended from indigenous hunter-gatherers and early European farmers. But, a new genetic analysis involving ancient bone samples revealed they are also the descendants of Ancient North Eurasians. Nearly all present-day Europeans have genetic material from this third ancestral group, researchers from Harvard Medical School said.

In conducting its investigation into Europeans' heritage, the team of researchers collected and sequenced the DNA of more than 2,300 people currently living around the world. They also examined DNA from nine ancient humans from Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden.

The ancient samples were taken from the bones of eight hunter-gatherers who lived about 8,000 years ago, and one farmer who lived about 7,000 years ago.

"Ancient DNA has emerged as a powerful technology that makes it possible to go back in time to understand how people in the past relate to people today," study co-senior author, David Reich, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said in a university news release.

About 7,500 years ago in Europe, agriculture from the Near East brought early farmers into contact with hunter-gatherers who had been living in Europe for tens of thousands of years. Nearly all Europeans are the result of the mixing of these two ancient populations.

As above so below: Pathogens specifically target 'good networking' proteins

© Credit: Jeffery L. Dangl / UNC
A fungal infestation on a leaf of the model plant thale cress.
Proteins form either small or large networks to perform their functions. How these protein networks are subverted by pathogens, has been investigated on a plant model by a research team headed by Technische Universität München. Distinct pathogens like fungi and bacteria were found to use the same tactic, launching targeted attacks on highly networked proteins that have multiple functions. The researchers' findings are published in the current issue of Cell Host & Microbe.

Proteins are responsible for practically all vital functions in an organism. For example, they catalyze metabolic reactions, forward signals, transport particular substances and control immune system responses. Researchers established some years ago that proteins do not function independently of each other, but instead form complex networks.

"When you examine the protein networks, you find many similarities with online social networks," says Dr. Pascal Falter-Braun from TUM's Chair of Plant Systems Biology. "Some proteins are good networkers that maintain contact with many other protein molecules, while others are less interactive."

Comment: For information on how pathology is reflected on our societal level:

Global Pathocracy, Authoritarian Followers and the Hope of the World

"Humanity is a Cosmic body and each individual is a cell in that body. But the humanity we see today is a disease-ridden idiot - a shambling, ragged beast covered with oozing pustules of corruption representing science, religions and government - stumbling from one self-inflicted disaster to another. There can be only one outcome and this is documented in ancient literature describing how other 'mighty' cultures have ended."


Do tiny diamonds prove that the 'Big Freeze' was caused by a cosmic impact 12,800 years ago?

A study by the University of Chicago says a cosmic impact (illustrated) is the best explanation for the 'Big Freeze' 12,800 years ago. They say evidence for this comes from nanodiamonds scattered across 11 countries that could only have come from space

* A study by the University of Chicago says a cosmic impact is the best explanation for the 'Big Freeze' 12,800 years ago

* They say evidence for this comes from nanodiamonds scattered across 11 countries that could only have come from space

* The material is found in a thin layer just a few metres below the surface

* And they also formed at temperatures in excess of 2,200°C (4,000°F)

* This suggests they were likely created by a major impact event

* Several other theories have been suggested for this Younger Dryas period nearly 13,000 years ago, including wildfires and a solar flare

* But this latest evidence suggests a cosmic impact is the best theory

Around 12,800 years ago Earth was plunged into a 'Big Freeze', resulting in the extinction of many species. What caused this event, however, is not known.

One theory is that Earth was struck by a comet or asteroid at the time and now new research supporting the theory has been released.

By studying nanodiamonds scattered across Europe, North America and South America, the researchers say the impact theory is right.

ESA's Gaia Observatory locates its first supernova

Type Ia supernova
© ESA/ATG medialab/C. Carreau
An artist’s impression of a Type Ia supernova – the explosion of a white dwarf locked in a binary system with a companion star.
Less than two months after it first began repeatedly scanning the sky, the ESA's Gaia space observatory has discovered its first supernova - a powerful stellar explosion that had occurred in a distant galaxy located some 500 million light-years from Earth, the agency announced on Friday.

According to the ESA, the supernova was located during a sudden rise in the galaxy's brightness that occurred between two Gaia observations made a month apart. This anomalous spike in light was observed by a team of astronomers during a routine sky survey on August 30, and the supernova was given the name Gaia14aaa.

Since beginning its scientific work on July 25, Gaia has been repeatedly scanning the sky in order to examine a catalogue of nearly one billion stars an average of 70 times over the next five years. Dr. Simon Hodgkin from the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge explained that there were many benefits to this approach.

"This kind of repeated survey comes in handy for studying the changeable nature of the sky," said Dr. Hodgkin, a member of Gaia's Science Alert Team. "As Gaia goes back to each patch of the sky over and over, we have a chance to spot thousands of 'guest stars' on the celestial tapestry. These transient sources can be signposts to some of the most powerful phenomena in the Universe, like this supernova."

'Bio-spleen' uses magnets to clean bad blood

© Wyss Institute/Harvard University
The rat study shows a variety of pathogens can be 'pulled out' from blood that is circulated through the external bio-spleen.
A device that uses magnets to extract bacteria, fungi and toxins from blood could one day throw a lifeline to patients with sepsis and other infections, researchers say.

They say the external gadget - tested so far in rats but not yet humans - might also eventually be modified to strip Ebola and other viruses from blood.

The device was inspired by the spleen, which can continuously remove pathogens and toxins from blood without first identifying the infectious agent.

Dubbed a 'bio-spleen', the invention uses magnetic nanobeads coated with a genetically-engineered human blood protein called mannose-binding lectin (MBL).

The MBL binds to pathogens and toxins, which can then be "pulled out" with a magnet, the developers wrote in the journal Nature Medicine.

The bio-spleen was developed to treat sepsis, or blood infection, which affects 18 million people in the world every year, with a 30-50 per cent mortality rate.

The microbes that cause it are often resistant to antibiotics, and spread fast.
2 + 2 = 4

What does information theory have to do with the origins of life?

What is life? Information
Understanding the origin of life is perhaps the most important outstanding problem in science. Just where did life begin, what conditions does it need and how likely is it to emerge from pre-biotic soups elsewhere in the universe are questions that occupy a great many researchers.

Although fascinating questions, they are particularly hard to formulate in ways that are amenable to scientific investigation. Most research focuses on life-bearing molecules and self-supporting, or autocatalytic, chemistries. But even then, it is hard to agree even on a definition of life. So it is no surprise that progress is slow.

Today, Christoph Adami at Michigan State University in East Lansing sidesteps many of these problems by analysing the origin of life from an entirely different point of view. The basis for Adami's new approach is the idea that life is fundamentally a phenomenon of information. This allows Adami to ignore all the messy details of chemistry and instead consider life's most basic properties as ones determined by the nature of information and the laws of physics that govern it.

Comment: So far so good. If there's one thing that differentiates living organisms from basic chemistry, it is the information that codes for the materials that construct their bodies, not to mention 'epi-genetic' sources of information like body plans and cell structures.

Comment: Adami, like practically every other neo-Darwinist, is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. There's a reason you have to introduce 'simplifying assumptions' in order to make the probabilities higher than they actually are, in order to get the result you want (i.e. spontaneous emergence of self-replicating organisms): the probabilities themselves are astronomically small! The fact is, the only way we know of to search out those tiny probabilities with any success is with intelligence.

For more information on the subject, see Bryant Shiller's Origin of Life: The 5th Option.


Four additional Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) heading towards Earth

Four Earth-facing CME's heading our way

Comment: Wonder what's perturbing the Sun? Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection: The Secret History of the World - Book 3


Information 'eaters'? The entropy of black holes

© Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Yesterday I talked about black hole thermodynamics, specifically how you can write the laws of thermodynamics as laws about black holes. Central to the idea of thermodynamics is the property of entropy, which can be related to the amount of physical information a system has.

For classical black holes, this is a problem, because if you toss an object into such a black hole, the object (and all its physical information) is lost forever. It is as if the information of the object was erased, which would violate the basic principle that information cannot be destroyed. Now you might argue that being trapped is not the same thing as being destroyed, but for information it is. If you cannot recover the information, then it has been destroyed.

So it would seem that black holes "eat" information, even though the laws of thermodynamics say that shouldn't be possible. This is known as the black hole information paradox.

Spinosaurus: Giant swimming dinosaur fossil unearthed

Spinosaurus is thought to be the largest known carnivore and would have feasted on huge fish and sharks.
A giant fossil, unearthed in the Sahara desert, has given scientists an unprecedented look at the largest-known carnivorous dinosaur: Spinosaurus.

The 95-million-year-old remains confirm a long-held theory: that this is the first-known swimming dinosaur. Scientists say the beast had flat, paddle-like feet and nostrils on top of its crocodilian head that would allow it to submerge with ease.The research is published in the journal Science.

Spinosaurus skeleton
A life-size reconstruction of Spinosaurus is on display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC
Lead author Nizar Ibrahim, a palaeontologist from the University of Chicago, said: "It is a really bizarre dinosaur - there's no real blueprint for it. It has a long neck, a long trunk, a long tail, a 7ft (2m) sail on its back and a snout like a crocodile. And when we look at the body proportions, the animal was clearly not as agile on land as other dinosaurs were, so I think it spent a substantial amount of time in the water."

The team says that Spinosaurus was a fearsome beast. The researchers say that, at more than 15m (50ft) from nose to tail, it was potentially the largest of all the carnivorous dinosaurs - bigger even than the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex.

Comment: Spinosaurus (spine lizard) lived in North Africa from the lower Albian to lower Cenomanian stages of the Cretaceous period, 112 to 97 million years ago. The first remains were discovered in 1912 but were destroyed during WWII by a British bombing raid on Munich.

It is debatable whether the top "fin" was sail-like or covered in fat in the formation of a hump. Spinosaurus may be the longest and largest theropod dinosaur. Theropods could not pronate their "arms/hand" to rotate so the "palm" faced the ground, but could achieve a resting position on the side of the "hand" thereby qualifying as quadruped.

Varied specimens of the Spinosaurus come from Egypt, England, Niger, and Brazil and comprise two subfamilies: Baryonychinae and Spinosaurinae. Paleontologist John R. Horner was quoted as saying: "If we base the ferocious factor on the length of the animal, there was nothing that ever lived on this planet that could match this creature [Spinosaurus]. Also my hypothesis is that T-rex was actually a scavenger rather than a killer. Spinosaurus was really the predatory animal."