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8,000-year-old mutation key to human life at high altitudes

Tibetans
© Tsewang Tashi, M.D.
This image depicts Tibetan locals living at 4,300m.
In an environment where others struggle to survive, Tibetans thrive in the thin air on the Tibetan Plateau, with an average elevation of 14,800 feet. A University of Utah led discovery that hinged as much on strides in cultural diplomacy as on scientific advancements, is the first to identify a genetic variation, or mutation, that contributes to the adaptation, and to reveal how it works. The research appeared online in the journal Nature Genetics on Aug. 17, 2014.

"These findings help us understand the unique aspects of Tibetan adaptation to high altitudes, and to better understand human evolution," said Josef Prchal, M.D., senior author and University of Utah professor of internal medicine.

For his research, Prchal needed Tibetans to donate blood, from which he could extract their DNA, a task that turned out to be more difficult than he ever imagined. It took several trips to Asia, meeting with Chinese officials and representatives of exiled Tibetans in India, to get the necessary permissions to recruit subjects for the study. But he quickly learned that official documents would not be enough. Wary of foreigners, the Tibetans refused to participate.
Saturn

In space, astronauts' immune systems get totally confused

drawing blood in space
© NASA
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, Expedition 32 flight engineer, poses for a photo after undergoing a blood draw in space
Can an astronaut survive a long-term spaceflight? With NASA looking ahead to missions on Mars and beyond, it's an important question - and one we haven't even come close to answering through practice. The longest space flight ever only lasted 437.7 days, and most astronauts have spent less than a year at the space station during their longest stretches.

But a NASA study published in the Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research has taken a small step for man's journey to distant planets. NASA scientists analyzed blood samples taken before, during, and after missions to the International Space Station, looking for indications of how astronauts' immune systems handle the unusual environment. The results indicate that things get a little bit wonky.
Light Saber

Five-O: Phone app launched by three teenagers to keep tabs on police brutality

© Reuters / Joshua Lott
Police brutality may seem like a subject best handled by lawmakers and political advocates, but three teenagers from Georgia are hoping to shed light on the problem and promote good behavior with a new app they've developed.

Called "Five-O," the app has been designed specifically for mobile phones and encourages users to record and document every encounter they have with police officers. By doing so, users can submit ratings for local law enforcement, allowing people to see how each area's police departments stack up in terms of civil behavior.

Speaking with Business Insider, 16-year-old Ima Christian of Decatur, Georgia, said her siblings came up with the idea after regularly hearing reports of police abuse around the United States.

"We've been hearing about the negative instances in the news, for instance most recently the Michael Brown case, and we always talk about these issues with our parents," she said. "They always try to reinforce that we should focus on solutions. It's important to talk about the issues, but they try to make us focus on finding solutions. That made us think why don't we create an app to help us solve this problem."

Comment: The Five-O app is available for Android devices here.

Rose

Evil talking plants communicate by DNA

dodder plant
© www.natureworldnews.com
The dodder plant is a parasite that attacks its host.
Scientists have discovered what seems like a new form of plant communication between a "vampire" plant and its prey.

As described in a study recently published in the journal Science, weed science expert Jim Westwood of Virginia Tech took a close look at how the parasitic plant called a dodder attacks his host.

Haustoria diagram
© www.wikipedy.com
The dodder sends suckers called haustoria into a nettle stem to tap its host's tissues.
Westwood specifically looked at how the dodder interacted with two host plants, Arabidopsis and tomatoes. It has long been known that dodders are "vampire-like" parasitic plants. Like a nightmare from an alien horror film, the dodder wraps itself around its host. It then uses a long probe to literally tap into its victim and drain their fluids.

Researchers had done previous work that found that when the dodder first sinks its "fang" into its victim, it also begins to transport RNA - a sort-of DNA translator - between it and its host.

Comment: We've all had relationships like this! In fact, psychopaths, in today's society, operate on the same premise: speak with a silver tongue, sweet-talk the victim, lower defenses, suck the life force out, leave a mess and move on. However, once you learn to recognize the mojo, you can be the one that walks away.

Comet

Where's the ice: 3 surprising comet facts we've already learned from Rosetta

Comet 67P August 7
© ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko imaged by Rosetta's OSIRIS narrow angle camera on 7 August from a distance of 104 km.
Today, after 10 years of space travel, the Rosetta explorer became the first to orbit a comet. The best is yet to come - the scientists behind the satellite are preparing to land a harpoon-like probe on the surface this November. Yet new information is already pouring in. What scientists have discovered is already starting to transform our understanding of Rosetta's target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G for short), and cometary science.

Here are three surprising facts we've already learned:
Meteor

Asteroid defense - Casualty in chilled US-Russia relations

Space cooperation and even asteroid defense agreements between the United States and Russian governments have been sacrificed as a result of poor international relations, but according to a spokeswoman for the private space foundation, B612, those political tensions will not change the future possibility of the pursuit of private partnerships with Russia.

"Russia has a great space program. Currently, as a private entity, we don't have any collaboration but it doesn't mean we might not in the future," Diane Murphy of B612 told RIA Novosti on Friday. "We have not had discussions with any Russian entity, not that we might not want to."

The B612 Foundation is working towards the launch of its Sentinal Mission, a deep space telescope that will be capable of identifying asteroids that may threaten Earth. In late July, as a result of political tensions over Ukraine and Crimea, the governments of Russia and the United States called off an agreement signed last September for increased cooperation in nuclear and energy-related science research. The agreement included defense from asteroids.

Comment: More on this : Astronauts reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts: Since 2001, 26 atomic-bomb-scale explosions have occurred in remote locations around the world

Eye 1

Will CGI actors replace human ones?

Robin Wright
© Drafthouse Films/Everett/REX
Robin Wright is turned into a digital scan in Ari Folman's The Congress.
Robin Wright is standing in the middle of a huge geodesic dome of LEDs and cameras, giving her very last performance. As she sobs bitterly, her every move and micro-expression is scanned. Later an artificial version of the actress will be created to take her place in all of her future films; the real Robin Wright will be redundant.

Princess Bride fans needn't panic just yet, though. The scene is from Ari Folman's new film The Congress - a trippy, dystopian vision of a future in which artifice has displaced reality. But it is a future that may be closer than we think.

Virtual characters in films are nothing new. The first - a computer-generated knight - appeared in The Young Sherlock in 1985, and since then we've seen everything from artificial extras in Titanic to detailed motion-capture characters such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. And while some virtual human faces still creep us out (Polar Express, anyone?), a few have graced our screens without us even realising. Brad Pitt's reverse-ageing process in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for example, was created not with prosthetics but with computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Fireball

Are governments ready to respond to a real asteroid threat?

© ESA/P. Carril
Asteroids have pounded Earth in the past and will continue to do so in the future. If a big one lines the planet up in its crosshairs, civilization itself could be imperiled.

Now, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has taken a step toward combating the asteroid threat. A special U.N. action team on near-Earth objects (NEOs) has recommended the creation of an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), which is designed to gather and analyze NEO data and provide timely warnings to national authorities if a potentially hazardous NEO were to threaten Earth.

A number of components of an IAWN already exist and are working together. Now, the objective is to pool together the expertise of the world's many relevant scientific organizations, to discover and track objects and generate early warnings of potential impacts.
Bulb

Brain notes: Neurons in the brain tune into different frequencies for different spatial memory tasks

© Laura Colgin/University of Texas at Austin
Researchers recorded gamma waves in the brains of rats navigating through a simple environment to understand how current and past locations are represented in the brain.
Your brain transmits information about your current location and memories of past locations over the same neural pathways using different frequencies of a rhythmic electrical activity called gamma waves, report neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Austin.

The research, published in the journal Neuron on April 17, may provide insight into the cognitive and memory disruptions seen in diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, in which gamma waves are disturbed.

Previous research has shown that the same brain region is activated whether we're storing memories of a new place or recalling past places we've been.

"Many of us leave our cars in a parking garage on a daily basis. Every morning, we create a memory of where we parked our car, which we retrieve in the evening when we pick it up," said Laura Colgin, assistant professor of neuroscience and member of the Center for Learning and Memory in The University of Texas at Austin's College of Natural Sciences. "How then do our brains distinguish between current location and the memory of a location? Our new findings suggest a mechanism for distinguishing these different representations."
Airplane

Get panoramic views from this windowless jet

IXION Windowless Jet
© Technicon Design
You don't need a window for these views. Paris-based design company Technicon Design recently won an award for their IXION Windowless Jet Concept. The idea is to provide a 360-degree view using cameras mounted on the plane's exterior to capture the scenery and then project that on high-res screen on the interior cabin walls and ceiling.

And actually any scene could be displayed on the interior. Let's say the view is mostly clouds or ocean. How about displaying a rainforest? A flight through the Grand Canyon? A trip to the Moon?

Solar panels on the exterior would help power the displays.

Removing windows has its advantages, too. It reduces the materials and cost needed as well as reducing the weight of the plane. Not having windows allows for a greater flexibility of the interior design of the aircraft, too.
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