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Sat, 06 Feb 2016
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Biological compass: Light receptor proteins are sensitive to the direction of geomagnetic fields

Many animals including birds and insects have been observed to perceive geomagnetic fields. Past studies have demonstrated that cryptochrome/photolyase family (CPF) light receptor proteins are involved in animal behavioral responses to the presence of geomagnetic fields, but so far, no studies have determined whether these proteins are linked with the direction of the magnetic field vector.

Recently, an international collaborative of researchers explored the possibility that CPF proteins provide directional magnetosensitivity in cockroaches. By combining behavioral and genetic approaches, they demonstrated the first evidence that animal-type cryptochrome (Cry2) proteins are sensitive to the direction of geomagnetic fields in two cockroach species. They've published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Magnet

Earth's magnetic field history

© Peter Driscoll and David Evans
This figure illustrates superchrons of both normal and reversed polarity over time as the Earth's molten core formed and solidified. It is provided courtesy of Peter Driscoll and David Evans.
Earth's magnetic field is generated by the motion of liquid iron in the planet's core. This "geodynamo" occasionally reverses its polarity—the magnetic north and south poles swap places. The switch occurs over a few thousand years, and the time between reversals can vary from some tens of thousands to tens of millions of years.

When magnetic polarity remains stable in one orientation for more than 10 million years the interval is dubbed a "superchron." Within the last 540 million years—the time when animals have roamed the Earth's land and seas—there are three known superchron periods, occurring about once every 200 million years.

The question of how frequently reversals and superchrons occurred over a longer segment of Earth's history is important for understanding the long-term evolution of the internal and surface conditions of our planet. But so far, such information has only been pieced together by fragmentary evidence. New work from Carnegie's Peter Driscoll and David Evans of Yale University now identifies as many as 10 additional superchrons over a 1.3 billion-year stretch of time during the Proterozoic Eon, or Earth's middle age, which occurred 2.5 to 0.54 billion years ago. Their work is published in the March 1st issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Records of magnetic field reversals can be found in rocks that maintain the magnetic polarity of the era in which they formed. In order to establish evidence of a polarity shift, this kind of ancient magnetic, or "paleomagnetic," data must be gathered from around the globe, ideally sampling every tectonic plate.

Fish

Pharmaceutical drug residues are devastating to aquatic life

Let's forget about the climate for a minute. Largely hidden from public view, another global change is causing increasing disruption. Residues of medicines in water can kill aquatic animals and play havoc with their food web and reproductive cycle. An international team of researchers led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) makes an urgent case for better wastewater treatment and biodegradable pharmaceuticals.

Algae that are becoming far less edible for water fleas and fish, leaving them to starve. Aquatic animals undergoing unwanted sex changes. And fish on their annual run struggling to locate their spawning ground. These are some of the disruptive effects of pharmaceutical residues on the aquatic environment.

"Chemical substances from pharmaceuticals wreak havoc on underwater chemical communication," says the head of the NIOO's department of Aquatic Ecology, Ellen van Donk. She's been heading a team of Dutch, German and US researchers, who take stock of the problem in the next issue of Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. "The effects are becoming more and more visible in lakes and ponds worldwide, if you know what to look for."

Comment: An ideal solution, but one that is unlikely to gain traction would be to reconsider the wholesale drugging of the population and indiscriminate prescribing of 'medicines' that are often ineffective, if not outright dangerous.


Nebula

Slow-motion Death Star: Super-massive black hole blast travels 300,000 light years (PHOTO)

© nasa.gov
Likened to a scene in the sci-fi epic Star Wars, a new image released by NASA shows what happens when a blast of energy beams across the galaxy from a super-massive black hole.

A composite photograph taken over the course of 15 years by the space agency's Chandra X-ray Observatory looks like the superlaser from the Death Star planet destroyer.

But fear not: the phenomenon is nearly 500 million light years from earth and is apparently part of the normal workings of the universe.

2 + 2 = 4

Ravens exhibit capacity for 'theory of mind'


Ravens are capable of imagining being spied on.
An experiment has proven that ravens can imagine being spied on and adapt their behaviour accordingly showing an ability to engage in abstract thinking, previously attributed exclusively to humans and apes.

Ravens have an understanding of what could be going on in another raven's mind, a study carried out by a group of Austrian and American scientists and published in the Nature Communication journal suggests. The birds are particularly capable of imagining being watched which comes in handy when hiding food.

It materialized that ravens, believed to be one of the most intelligent birds as it is, pay particular attention to the hiding process if there's any suspicion that another bird might be present.

The scientists watched over 10 ravens that had been raised in captivity over six months. The birds were kept in separate rooms and could monitor each other through windows that initially had not been covered. The next step was covering the windows with cloth and leaving a peephole that could be closed or opened.

Ravens demonstrated extra carefulness while finding a place to hide their treats only when a peephole was open and they knew that other birds may be watching them.

"Ravens.. take into account the visual access of others, even when they cannot see a conspecific," the study states.

Comment: Ravens and their relatives the crows have shown the capacity for a wide variety of human-like behaviors.


Hearts

Study finds dog owners are happier and more conscientious than cat owners

© Rex Features
Dog owners are happier, more conscientious and less neurotic than cat owners, according to researchers at Mahattanville College, New York.

In a new study, Is Happiness a Warm Puppy? Examining the Relationship between Pets and Well-Being, academics surveyed 263 people in order to investigate the relationship between pet ownership and subjective well-being,

The results indicated that pet owners did not significantly differ from non-pet owners when it came to levels of happiness, positive emotions, negative emotions or major personality traits.

However, pet owners were found to be more satisfied with life than non-owners - and dog owners scored higher than cat owners on all measures of well-being.

Researchers said: "It's unclear whether the lack of differences between pet owners and non owners are due to adaptation to pet ownership or if pets do not have a strong effect on well-being.

Info

Mussels and oysters consume microplastic particles similar in size to their phytoplankton prey

Tiny pieces of plastic may endanger Pacific oysters by adversely affecting their reproduction, according to a new study. They may have similar effects on other marine bivalves, raising questions about their impacts on marine ecosystems more broadly.

The plastic pieces are known as microplastics are, which are defined as being anywhere from 5 mm in size to just 1 nanometer (0.000001 mm). Scientists refer to primary microplastics and secondary microplastics: the former are intentionally manufactured super-small, primarily used in cosmetics and personal care products, industrial scrubbers used for abrasive blast cleaning, microfibers used in textiles, and pellets used in plastic manufacturing processes; the latter are the result of larger pieces of plastic disintegrating over time.

Imagery of plastic pollution in the ocean often focuses on more visible impacts, such as trash that has become entangled around the neck of a marine mammal, or the appalling sight of vast amounts of plastic in the stomachs of seabirds on Midway Atoll. It is of course far harder to demonstrate the impacts of pollution that can not be seen, but those impacts are very real.

Comment:


Info

Scientist in Britain given go-ahead to genetically modify human embryos

© Reuters/Michael Daider
A scientist works with human genetic material at a laboratory.
Scientists in Britain have been given the go-ahead to edit the genes of human embryos for research, using a technique that some say could eventually be used to create "designer babies".

Less than a year after Chinese scientists caused an international furore by saying they had genetically modified human embryos, Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist from London's Francis Crick Institute, was granted a licence to carry out similar experiments.

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved a research application from the Francis Crick Institute to use new 'gene editing' techniques on human embryos," Ms Niakan's lab said on Monday.

It said the work carried out "will be for research purposes and will look at the first seven days of a fertilised egg's development, from a single cell to around 250 cells".

Ms Niakan plans to carry out her experiments using CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that is already the subject of fierce international debate because of fears that it could be used to create babies to order.

CRISPR can enable scientists to find and modify or replace genetic defects, and many of them have described it as "game-changing".

Moon

China posts hundreds of never-before-seen high-quality color photos of the moon

© China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Emily Lakdawalla
In a previously unseen act of information generosity, China has shared hundreds of photos taken by its Chang'e-3 lunar rover - leaving the world stunned by the detail of the high-quality color images.

The China National Space Administration published images, videos and scientific data on its website, making them available to anyone who registers.

China is the third nation after Russia and the US to land on the moon, and this was the first soft-landing on the Earth's only natural satellite in 37 years - the previous one being Russia's Luna 24 probe in 1976.

Eagle

Dutch National Police train eagles to take down drones

© www.ign.com
Eagles: the new drone patrol
No matter how many regulations are put in place, drones are cheap enough now that frequent misuse is becoming the norm. There's no good way of dealing with a dangerous drone: you can jam its radios to force it to autoland, or maybe try using an even bigger drone to capture it inside a giant net. In either of these cases, however, you run the risk of having the drone go completely out of control, which is even more dangerous. Or, you can be like the Dutch National Police, and train eagles to take down drones for you.




The video, as you probably noticed, is in Dutch, but here's what I've been able to piece together: the Dutch police (like police everywhere) know that drones are going to become even more of a problem than they already are, so they've been testing ways of dealing with a drone in an emergency, like if a drone is preventing an air ambulance from landing. The police are looking into electronic solutions, but also physical ones, including both nets and trained eagles.