Science & Technology


Surprise! Scientists behind official pro-GMO report in UK all have strong ties to the industry

Opposition: Critics of GM described the 'independent' report as 'biased and downright dangerous'. Pictured is an anti-GM protest in 2002
The authors of a study calling for GM crops to be fast-tracked into Britain's farms and kitchens all have links to the industry, it can be revealed.

The report was presented as the work of 'independent' scientists and was published on Thursday by a government advisory body.

It was used to support a bid to speed up the development of the controversial crops in the UK, but it has emerged that all five authors have a vested interest in promoting GM crops and food - and some are part-funded by the industry.
Comet 2

New Comet: C/2014 E2 (JACQUES)

Cbet nr. 3828, issued on 2014, March 14, announces the discovery of a comet on CCD images taken by C. Jacques, E. Pimentel and J. Barros using a 0.45-m f/2.9 reflector at the SONEAR Observatory near Oliveira, Brazil. The new comet has been designated C/2014 E2 (JACQUES).

We performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 19 unfiltered exposures, 30-sec each, obtained remotely from MPC code Q62 (iTelescope, Siding Spring) on 2014, March 13.6 through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD, shows that this object is a comet: very bright coma nearly 2 arcmin in diameter elongated in PA 10.

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version).
C/2014 E2 (Jacques)
© Remanzacco Observatory
M.P.E.C. 2014-E84 assigns the following very preliminary parabolic orbital elements to comet C/2014 E2: 2014 June 29.52; e= 1.0; Peri. = 349.10; q = 0.60; Incl.= 157.19

Big Congrats to our friend Cristovao Jacques and all the SONEAR team for the discovery of their second comet! Click here to find more info about their first comet.
Cell Phone

Phone metadata does betray sensitive details about your life sez study‏

What does who you call say about you?
Warnings that phone call "metadata" can betray detailed information about your life has been confirmed by research at Stanford University. Researchers there successfully identified a cannabis cultivator, multiple sclerosis sufferer and a visitor to an abortion clinic using nothing more than the timing and destination of their phone calls.

Jonathan Mayer and Patrick Mutchler, the researchers behind the finding, used data gleaned from 546 volunteers to assess the extent to which information about who they had called and when revealed personally sensitive information.

The research aimed to answer questions raised by the NSA wiretapping revelations, where it was revealed that the US intelligence agency collects metadata - but not content - of millions of phone calls on mobile networks.

NASA fighting to recover operations of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

  Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
© AFP Photo / NASA
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
After a glitch forced NASA's long-running Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to switch from normal operations into "safe mode," scientists are hard at work attempting to recover the spacecraft.

The incident occurred after the MRO made an unscheduled switch from its main computer to a backup system, an occurrence that officials still don't have an explanation for. As a result, the satellite was sidelined and operations were suspended while scientists worked out a solution.

Specifically, the MRO has been sending data back to Earth regarding seasonal and atmospheric changes on Mars since its arrival in the planet's orbit in 2006. It also relays information from the two rovers currently exploring the Red Planet, though data from those vehicles is still being sent to NASA via a second satellite, the 2001-era Odyssey.

Rough 'super-deep diamond' gives clues Earth may have 'wet zone' 410km down

water in diamond
© University of Alberta
The diamond is pitted from its violent journey, which ended with the stone shooting up through the Earth's crust at around 70km/h.
Battle-scarred diamond provides evidence of 'wet zone' 410km below the surface where water is locked up inside minerals

A small, battered diamond found in the gravel strewn along a shallow riverbed in Brazil has provided evidence of a vast "wet zone" deep inside the Earth that could hold as much water as all the world's oceans put together.

The water is not sloshing around inside the planet, but is held fast within minerals in what is known as the Earth's transition zone, which stretches from 410 to 660km (250-400 miles) beneath the surface.

"It's not a Jules Verne-style ocean you can sail a boat on," said Graham Pearson, a geologist who studied the stone at the University of Alberta. The water-rich zone could transform scientists' understanding of how some of the Earth's geological features arose.

Tests on the diamond revealed that it contained a water-rich mineral formed in the zone. Researchers believe that the gemstone, which is oblong and about 5mm long, was blasted to the surface from a depth of about 500km by a volcanic eruption of molten rock called kimberlite.

The battle-scarred gem has a delicate metallic sheen, but is pitted and etched from its violent journey, which probably took several days and ended with the stone shooting up through the Earth's crust at a speed of about 70km/h (40mph).

"It's a fairly ugly diamond. It looks like it's been to hell and back," said Pearson, adding that the gem was worth about $20 at most. The stone was found in 2008 by artisan miners working the Juína riverbeds in Mato Grosso in western Brazil.

Children to Order: The ethics of 'Designer Babies'

Baby and Doctor
© Shutterstock
Creating designer babies who are free from disease and super athletic or smart may finally be around the corner.

But American society hasn't fully thought out the ethical implications for the future of baby making or policies to regulate these techniques, an ethicist argues in an article published today (March 13) in the journal Science.

"We're on the cusp of having much more information, and the appearance of having much greater discretion, in choosing the traits of our children," said article author Thomas H. Murray, a bioethicist at the Hastings Center, a nonprofit research center in Garrison, N.Y.

People also need to think about what parents and doctors will do with the technology, he said. "What use will they make of it, and should there be limits?"

In fact, in February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) met to consider conducting clinical trials to test out genetic manipulation techniques to prevent mitochondrial disease from occurring in offspring.

Geneticists pinpoint IRX3 as the 'fat gene'

© AFP/File, Ronaldo Schemidt
Geneticists said they had pinpointed the most important obesity gene yet, throwing up a possible target for drugs to tackle a dangerous and growing epidemic
Mutations within the gene FTO have been implicated as the strongest genetic determinant of obesity risk in humans, but the mechanism behind this link remained unknown. Now, an international team of scientists has discovered that the obesity-associated elements within FTO interact with IRX3, a distant gene on the genome that appears to be the functional obesity gene. The FTO gene itself appears to have only a peripheral effect on obesity. The study appears online March 12 in Nature.

"Our data strongly suggest that IRX3 controls body mass and regulates body composition," said senior study author Marcelo Nobrega, PhD, associate professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago. "Any association between FTO and obesity appears due to the influence of IRX3."

Mutations to introns (noncoding portions) of the gene FTO have been widely investigated after genome-wide association studies revealed a strong link between FTO and obesity and diabetes. Yet over-expressing or deleting FTO in animal models affects whole body mass and composition, not just fat, and experiments have failed to show that these obesity-linked introns affect the function of the FTO gene itself.

Scientists reveal how microbe 'eats' electricity

© Girguis et al., 2014
Scanning electron microscope image of R. palustris TIE-1 WT, 3  μm scale bar
Some microbes, simple as they may be, have an ability to gather energy from extreme sources like sulfur, formic acid, minerals, and... electricity? Yes, electricity. A team led by Peter Girguis from Harvard has discovered how a certain bacteria gets its energetic needs from electrons pulled from the environment. The results of this study were published in Nature Communications.

Rhodopseudomonas palustris are gram-negative bacteria that has remarkable dexterity in obtaining energy and is able to take cues from the environment to employ photoautotropic, photoheterotrophic, chemoautotrophic, or chemoheterotrophic metabolism. This flexibility has baffled microbiologists for some time. Girguis's team focused on the phototrophic aspects of its metabolism in order to begin teasing out some answers.

Why HTTPS and SSL are not as secure as you think

In this day and age of well-known NSA spying, everyone keeps saying that the only way to be safe is to use SSL/TLS, commonly known as "browsing with https://".

The sad reality is that HTTPS does virtually nothing to protect you from the prying eyes of alphabet soup agencies - or anybody else with enough knowledge about how these supposedly "secure" connections actually work.

It's true that connecting to web sites with SSL will certainly prevent "script kiddies" and other more winky opponents from eavesdropping on your surfing or otherwise interfering in your affairs. But as for the Real Bad Guys, forget it...

We shall begin by taking a brief dive down the rabbit hole of SSL, hopefully in a way that will make sense to even the least technically inclined among us.

This issue is, after all, so extremely important that I think everyone needs to understand what is really going on, and how web security actually works, without needing a PhD in cryptography, computer science, or engineering!

Lie detectors are a hocus-pocus tool for our authoritarian state

© Illustration by Belle Mellor
'Does it matter if a purportedly ­'scientific' process is actually closer to astrology? Well, not really, no – unless they’re spending public money on what is basically a superstitious instrument.'
Buying voice risk analysis tools to root out benefit fraud is merely an authoritarian creation of suspicion for its own sake

Humankind has for centuries been trying to establish how to spot a liar without having to rely on language. The Chinese used to fill a man's mouth with dry rice, on the basis that the pressure of the untruth would interrupt his production of saliva, making the grains attach helpfully to his cheeks and tongue, to announce his mendacity. More recently we've had the polygraph test and, more recently still, voice risk analysis - they're a tiny bit more reliable than the rice, but really, there's not much in it.

They don't work for a number of reasons, but the main one is that they measure stress (on the basis that lying is more stressful than telling the truth). There's a huge variation in how we experience stress. A lot of people find any contact with a stranger stressful, whether they're lying or not; a lot of liars find it really difficult to become stressed, which is how they became delinquent in the first place, just chasing a thrill.

Overall, then, you have built a system in which the most dishonest actually perform pretty well, the least dishonest sometimes perform badly, and in the middle, there might be some whom you assess correctly on a good day.