Science & Technology


Discovery of Neandertal trait in ancient skull raises new questions about human evolution

 Temporal bone
© Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Science
The Xujiayao 15 late archaic human temporal bone from northern China, with the extracted temporal labyrinth, is superimposed on a view of the Xujiayao site.
Re-examination of a circa 100,000-year-old archaic early human skull found 35 years ago in Northern China has revealed the surprising presence of an inner-ear formation long thought to occur only in Neandertals.

"The discovery places into question a whole suite of scenarios of later Pleistocene human population dispersals and interconnections based on tracing isolated anatomical or genetic features in fragmentary fossils," said study co-author Erik Trinkaus, PhD, a physical anthropology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

"It suggests, instead, that the later phases of human evolution were more of a labyrinth of biology and peoples than simple lines on maps would suggest."

The study, forthcoming in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is based on recent micro-CT scans revealing the interior configuration of a temporal bone in a fossilized human skull found during 1970s excavations at the Xujiayao site in China's Nihewan Basin.

Trinkaus, the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor in Arts & Sciences, is a leading authority on early human evolution and among the first to offer compelling evidence for interbreeding and gene transfer between Neandertals and modern human ancestors.

His co-authors on this study are Xiu-Jie Wu, Wu Liu and Song Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, and Isabelle Crevecoeur of PACEA, Université de Bordeaux.

Rewriting the history of volcanic forcing during the past 2,000 years

Ice Cire Section
© Joseph McConnell
An ice core section is simultaneously analyzed for a variety of elements and chemical species in DRI's ultra-trace ice core laboratory while slowly melting the ice on a heated melter plate.
A team of scientists led by Michael Sigl and Joe McConnell of Nevada's Desert Research Institute (DRI) has completed the most accurate and precise reconstruction to date of historic volcanic sulfate emissions in the Southern Hemisphere.

The new record, described in a manuscript published today in the online edition of Nature Climate Change, is derived from a large number of individual ice cores collected at various locations across Antarctica and is the first annually resolved record extending through the Common Era (the last 2,000 years of human history).

"This record provides the basis for a dramatic improvement in existing reconstructions of volcanic emissions during recent centuries and millennia," said the report's lead author Michael Sigl, a postdoctoral fellow and specialist in DRI's unique ultra-trace ice core analytical laboratory, located on the Institute's campus in Reno, Nevada.

These reconstructions are critical to accurate model simulations used to assess past natural and anthropogenic climate forcing. Such model simulations underpin environmental policy decisions including those aimed at regulating greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions to mitigate projected global warming.

Powerful volcanic eruptions are one of the most significant causes of climate variability in the past because of the large amounts of sulfur dioxide they emit, leading to formation of microscopic particles known as volcanic sulfate aerosols. These aerosols reflect more of the sun's radiation back to space, cooling the Earth. Past volcanic events are measured through sulfate deposition records found in ice cores and have been linked to short-term global and regional cooling.

Frankenfoods: Food produced in the laboratory might sound appealing but researchers are finding slim pickings

© Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts
Engineered steak: The first attempt to use tissue engineering for meat production without the need to slaughter animals, part of Oron Catts' research at Harvard.
Much like hoverboards and personal jet-packs, the promise of cheap and abundant lab-grown food always seems to be just around the corner.

According to the narrative, we will enjoy a future in which supply is assured, greenhouse-gas-farting cows are greatly reduced in number, and supermarket shelves around the world groan beneath the weight of products born in petri dishes.

Right now, the vision of plenty is being driven by start-ups intending to use 3D-printing as the technology by which well-established in-vitro food-growing methods can be scaled up to industrial levels.

One such start-up is Modern Meadow, a US-based company aiming to 3D-print leather and meat. The business is funded by PayPal founder Peter Thiel. Its CEO, Andras Forgacs corr, aims to create ''the future of humanely sourced meat''.

In Britain a company called Dovetailed is trumpeting its ability to 3D-print edible fruit. ''We have re-invented the concept of fresh fruit on demand,'' creative director Vaiva Kalnikaite recently told a grocery trade publication.

But well-credentialled skeptics stand ready in the wings, happy to puncture the dream of a digitally made cornucopia.

''I think in-vitro meat is a fantastic way of introducing novelty foods for the rich,'' says Oron Catts, who heads a world-renowned bio-art laboratory called SymbioticA, based at the University of Western Australia.

''It's never going to be a way to feed the world - there's no way to upscale the process to that level,'' he says. ''The world will never be fed by factory-grown meat.''

Comment: Food is much more than just a mixture of nutrients - proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. Food is part of the living system and is produced by it to nourish and sustain its inhabitants in a finely balanced and tuned manner. The push for in-vitro meat is another plot by the big corporations to destroy our meat supply and our health.

After all, one movie comes to mind - Soylent Green ...


Thunderbolts Space News: NASA warns astronauts of electric asteroids - Has the U.S. space agency suddenly seen the light?

A new NASA report describes the potential dangers that electrical environments of asteroids could pose for astronauts in future space missions. NASA scientists are now attempting to create models that will successfully predict dangerous electrical interactions between an approaching spacecraft and an asteroid. The report begins with a brief, surprising description of space rarely seen in official press releases.

Comet 2

New Comet: C/2014 M3 (Catalina)

Discovery Date: June 26, 2014

Magnitude: 19.2 mag

Discoverer: R. A. Kowalski (Catalina Sky Survey)
C/2014 M3 (Catalina)
© Aerith Net
Magnitudes Graph
The orbital elements are published on M.P.E.C. 2014-N03.

New Comet: C/2014 M2 (Christensen)

Discovery Date: June 25, 2014

Magnitude: 19.4 mag

Discoverer: E. J. Christensen (Mount Lemmon)
C/2014 M2 (Christensen)
© Aerith Net
Magnitudes Graph
The orbital elements are published on M.P.E.C. 2014-N02.
Comet 2

New Comet: C/2014 M1 (PanSTARRS)

Discovery Date: June 24, 2014

Magnitude: 20.8 mag

Discoverer: Pan-STARRS 1 telescope (Haleakala)
C/2014 M1 (PanStarrs)
© Aerith Net
Magnitudes Graph
The orbital elements are published on M.P.E.C. 2014-N01.

Evidence that Earth-like worlds can form in two-star solar systems

© NASA/Tod Strohmayer (GSFC)/Dana Berry (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)
A new planet has provided scientists with the first evidence that liveable, Earth-like worlds can exist in binary, or two-star, solar systems. As half the universe's planets are in binary systems, the chances of life on other planets just got better.

The new planet, dubbed OGLE-2013-BLG-0341 by scientists, is twice the size of Earth and orbits one of the stars in a binary star system - where two stars orbit around their common center of mass - at a distance of around 90 million miles, which is the same distance between Earth and our sun. However, the big difference is that the heat source is 400 times dimmer than our own sun.

There is no chance that there could be any forms of life as we knew it on the planet, as the temperature on the new discovery is a chilly -213 Celsius, which is colder than Jupiter's moon Europa. Even though there are two suns orbiting the planet, very little warmth is omitted from either heat source.

A single molecule superconductor emerges under pressure

Three decades ago, researchers discovered that certain organic molecules become superconducting at low temperatures. This finding sparked numerous investigations into the properties of these lightweight, low-cost and easy-to-modify materials. Despite much recent progress, chemists remain puzzled by one aspect of these compounds: all known molecular superconductors need the cooperative action of two or more different molecular species to move electrons without resistance.
© 2014 American Chemical Society
The diamond anvil cell used to induce superconductivity in a single-component nickel–organic molecule.
HengBo Cui and Reizo Kato from the RIKEN Condensed Molecular Materials Laboratory in collaboration with Hayao Kobayashi and Akiko Kobayashi from Nihon University have now realized a crucial goal in the search for metal-like organic molecules by uncovering the first molecular superconductor containing only one component.

Superconducting organic crystals are designed around the principle of charge-transfer complexes, where strong interactions between distinct 'donor' and 'acceptor' components move electrons through normally insulating carbon bonds. By squeezing the charge-transfer structures together using diamond anvil cells - tools that allow crystals to be compressed at pressures of up to millions of atmospheres - resistance-free electrical transport can occur at temperatures near absolute zero.

The electron donors and acceptors in molecular superconductors are normally individual ionic compounds. However, Kobayashi's team has recently spearheaded investigations into metal - dithiolate complexes that contain a complete charge-transfer system in a single molecule. These crystals, in which a central gold or nickel acceptor atom is flanked on two sides by extended aromatic donor rings infused with sulfur atoms, have a high intrinsic conductivity and exhibit metallic behavior at low temperatures.
Cloud Lightning

World energy crisis solution? Russian scientists raising funds to rebuild Tesla Tower

tesla coil
© Reuters/Sheng Li
Two Russian physicists are fundraising to realize their project for wireless energy transmission once proposed by brilliant 20th-century scientist Nikola Tesla. Solar panels and an upgraded Tesla Tower could solve global energy hunger, they say.

Leonid and Sergey Plekhanov, graduates of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, claim they have spent years scrutinizing the Nikola Tesla's patents and diaries and they believe that with his most ambitious project - transcontinental wireless energy transmissions - Tesla came very close to unprecedented scientific discovery that could be brought to fruition.

The enthusiasts say they need about $800,000 to reconstruct the famous Wardenclyffe Tower once created by Tesla himself to implement his ideas and find a commercial application for his ideas on long-distance wireless energy transmission.

The Plekhanov brothers are raising money through IndieGogo kickstarter. The campaign will last until July 25. So far the project has managed to collect only 2 percent of the desired sum (about $18,000 out of the desired $800,000 as we publish this article).

According to the authors of the project, as of today all human civilization's electric energy needs could be covered with a single installation of solar panel measured approximately 316 by 316 kilometers (100,000 square kilometers altogether) positioned in a desert somewhere near the equator.