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Black Magic

Google-funded university aims to make DNA a consumer product

DNA
© unknown
Over the past five years we've seen technologies like 3D printing go from making plastic cubes, to making plastic firearms. It's a huge game changer that allows the individual to make tools that once required a factory full of workers to build. It has essentially lowered the barrier to entry for the manufacturing industry, and as this technology progresses, it could fundamentally change the world we live in.

But does 3D printing stand alone in this regard? Are there other emerging technologies that might democratize fields beyond manufacturing, such as medicine or energy production? Surely, we could benefit from devices that allow the every man to diagnose their own ailments, or cheaply produce all their energy needs. But what about genetic engineering? What if everyone could access the tools required to modify DNA, and do so in the comfort of their own home?

Comment: The evil ramifications of this device are too numerous to list. Anyone ever read Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake series?

Comet 2

Comet Finlay surprise outburst, visible in binoculars ... again!

Comet Finlay
© Michael Mattiazzo
Comet Finlay’s up to its old shenanigans again. Here we see it in outburst with a bright, compact head and a half-degree-long tail pointing northeast on Friday, January 16th.
Lost sleep at night, fingers tapping on the keyboard by day. Darn comets are keeping me busy! But of course that's a good problem. Comet 15P/Finlay, which had been languishing in the western sky at dusk at magnitude +10, has suddenly come to life ... for a second time.

Two nights ago, Australian comet observer Michael Mattiazzo took a routine picture of Finlay and discovered it at magnitude +8. Today it's a magnitude brighter and now joins Comet Lovejoy as the second binocular comet of 2015. Comet-wise, we've gone from zero to 60 and the new year's fewer than 3 weeks old!
Fish

Scientists warn ocean life on massive verge of extinction caused by humans

© Marco De Swart/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A dead whale in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2011. As container ships multiply, more whales are being harmed, a study said.
A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

"We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event," said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

"We're lucky in many ways," said Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University and another author of the new report. "The impacts are accelerating, but they're not so bad we can't reverse them."

Scientific assessments of the oceans' health are dogged by uncertainty: It's much harder for researchers to judge the well-being of a species living underwater, over thousands of miles, than to track the health of a species on land. And changes that scientists observe in particular ocean ecosystems may not reflect trends across the planet.

Comment: This is another sign that humans are expanding far beyond what the Earth can handle. One way or another, Mother Nature is going to balance out, and unfortunately right now that is happening through the loss of flora and fauna. How long before humanity becomes a victim of its own excess? Based on how the world's weather has been lately, it might not be long before earth changes intervene to halt the sprawl of humanity.

Evil Rays

Infrasound: "There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres"

As thunderous tones deepen, their power seemingly intensifies over frail barriers such as glass windows. Certain abrupt thunder peals often shatter windows into tiny fragments. In the apparent absence of thunderous tones we may observe the strong and continuous vibration of glass window panes during storms. A sudden eerie silence, and the window is shattered before our eyes.

Natural phenomena are prodigious generators of infrasound. The potent distal effects produced when natural explosions occur produce legendary effects. When Krakatoa exploded, windows were shattered hundreds of miles away by the infrasonic wave. Wind was not the causative agent of these occurrences, as no wind was felt or detected. Seismographic stations registered the blast, and barometers measured the shockwaves. The "ringing" of both earth and atmosphere continued for hours. It is believed that infrasound actually formed the upper pitch of this natural volcanic explosion, tones unmeasurably deep forming the actual "central harmonic" of the event. The island of Krakatoa was literally lifted into orbit in the fatal blast. Brilliant sunsets followed for many years thereafter, the sad memorial of all the souls who perished.

The power of explosives, in shattering and devastating property, lies in two zones. The first zone is that with which we are principally familiar; the actual blast site, where chemically released gases and metal fragments push back everything in their perimeter. The second less familiar zone extends very much further from the blast site than can be imagined. It is in the powerful sonic wave which expands outward that an equally destructive danger lies. Thick pressure walls of incredible momentum, interspaced with equally thick walls of reduced air pressure, travel far away from the blast site. The blast site is the small destructive zone by comparison. Few objects can survive this destructive tide.
Info

Sea turtles utilise Earth's magnetic field to find home

© J. Roger Brothers
A loggerhead sea turtle nests at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne Beach, Florida.
Female sea turtles, known to swim thousands of miles before returning to their birthplace to lay eggs, find their way home by relying on unique magnetic signatures along the coast, a new study finds.

For more than 50 years, scientists have been mystified by how sea turtles do this, said the study's lead researcher, J. Roger Brothers, a graduate student of biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Our results provide evidence that turtles imprint on the unique magnetic field of their natal beach as hatchlings, and then use this information to return as adults," Brothers said in a statement.

Comment: See also: Seals may use 'natural GPS'

Info

New species of sulphate breathing bug discovered deep under ocean crust

© USC Dornsife
Researchers lowered this robolab complete with drill through two miles of ocean and bored through several hundred feet of ocean sediment and into the rock where the aquifer flows.
Two miles below the surface of the ocean, researchers have discovered new microbes that 'breathe' sulfate.

The microbes, which have yet to be classified and named, exist in massive undersea aquifers - networks of channels in porous rock beneath the ocean where water continually churns, researchers say.

About one-third of the Earth's biomass is thought to exist in this largely uncharted environment.
Info

Astronomers are predicting at least two more large planets in the Solar System

Unknown Planets
© NASA/JPL-Caltech
At least two unknown planets could exist in our solar system beyond Pluto.
Could there be another Pluto-like object out in the far reaches of the Solar System? How about two or more?

Earlier this week, we discussed a recent paper from planet-hunter Mike Brown, who said that while there aren't likely to be any bright, easy-to-find objects, there could be dark ones "lurking far away." Now, a group of astronomers from the UK and Spain maintain at least two planets must exist beyond Neptune and Pluto in order to explain the orbital behavior of objects that are even farther out, called extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNO).
Robot

Welcome to the machine: People conform to norm, even if it's a computer

© Art Of Pic
Often enough, it is human nature to conform. This tendency makes us follow the lead of computers, even if the machines give us the wrong advice. This is the finding of a study in Springer's journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review that investigates how people make judgment calls after playing role-playing video games. The research was led by Ulrich Weger of the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany.

Real-life encounters and face-to-face contact with other people are on the decline in a world that is becoming increasingly computerized. Many routine tasks are delegated to virtual characters. People spend hours role-playing through virtual-reality video games by taking on the persona of a virtual character or avatar.

Such video games can even lead people to acquire and practice real-life skills and new viewpoints. Weger and his fellow researchers therefore explored how role-playing video gaming influences social behavior and decision-making. Participants in their study first played an immersive game for seven minutes as an avatar. Afterwards, they completed a job selection task in which they had the option of overriding incorrect choices made by a computer.

It was found that role-playing as the avatar in an immersive video game, compared to merely watching others play, makes people identify with a computer. They do so to such an extent that they actually start to conform to its decisions and follow its judgment -- sometimes even if it is downright wrong. This shows that people conform, even when opinions are voiced by nonhuman agents. This is especially prevalent in ambiguous cases.
Heart

Your blood type may put you at risk for heart disease

Blood Type
© Lightspring/Shutterstock
People whose blood type is A, B or AB have an increased risk of heart disease and shorter life spans than people who have type O blood, according to a new study.

But that doesn't mean people with blood types other than O should be overly concerned, because heart disease risk and life span are influenced by multiple factors, including exercise and overall health, experts said.

In the study, researchers followed about 50,000 middle-age and elderly people in northeastern Iran for an average of seven years. They found that people with non-O blood types were 9 percent more likely to die during the study for any health-related reason, and 15 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, compared with people with blood type O.

"It was very interesting to me to find out that people with certain blood groups - non-O blood groups - have a higher risk of dying of certain diseases," said the study's lead investigator, Dr. Arash Etemadi, an epidemiologist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The researchers also examined whether people's blood type may be linked with their risk of gastric cancer, which has a relatively high incidence rate among the people living in northeastern Iran. They found that people with non-O blood types had a 55 percent increased risk of gastric cancer compared with people with type O blood, according to the study, published online today (Jan. 14) in the journal BMC Medicine.

The association between blood type and people's disease risk and life span held even when the researchers accounted for other factors, including age, sex, smoking, socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

Previous studies have shown that people with non-O blood types may be at higher risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease, but it was less clear whether blood type is linked with life span, Etemadi told Live Science.
Chalkboard

How well can information be stored over time?

Plot of the transmissivity
© Mancini, et al. CC-BY-3.0
Plot of the transmissivity, η, of information as it travels through spacetime, shown as a function of the momentum, k, with which the universe expands.

Information can never be stored perfectly. Whether on a CD, a hard disk drive, or a piece of papyrus, technological imperfections create noise that limits the preservation of information over time. But even if you had a perfect storage medium with zero imperfections, there would still be fundamental limits placed on information storage due to the laws of physics that govern the evolution of the universe ever since the Big Bang. But what exactly these fundamental limits are is still unclear.

In a new paper published in the New Journal of Physics, Stefano Mancini and Roberto Pierini at the University of Camerino and INFN in Italy, along with Mark M. Wilde at Louisiana State University, have investigated these fundamental limits to preserving information on a literally cosmic scale.

Specifically, they wanted to know how well a given amount of information can be preserved from the beginning to the end of time, with limitations only from physical laws and not technological imperfections in the specific storage medium.

"The motivation that has led us to consider this goal, though it may appear unrealistic, was the discovery of ultimate limitations in information processing," Mancini told Phys.org. "Above all, we want to try to understand if and how spacetime dynamics affects information storage."

Comment: For more on information theory and consciousness, and how they may apply to everyday life, read: Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection. Also:

A meta law to rule them all - can-information theory lead the way to a real theory of everything

SOTT Talk Radio Information theory or why your brain is not your mind

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