Science & Technology

Evil Rays

Electric eels can remotely control the bodily movements of their prey

© Kenneth Catania
Electric eel (Electrophorus electricus)
Electric eels are badass. Not only can they produce an incapacitating 600-volt zap -- five times that of a U.S. wall socket -- they can also remotely control their prey through water. The predatory eels create a variety of electric discharges that range from lower-voltage ones sent out as environmental sensors to high-voltage strikes that allow them to hijack the nerves of their prey -- immobilizing the muscles and preventing escape. They can even send out short pulses that force the prey to give up their location. The findings were published in Science this week.

To understand the mechanism of the eel's shocking strike, Vanderbilt University's Kenneth Catania conducted a series of experiments in large aquariums equipped with various detectors. When placed in tanks with delectable fish and worms, the scale-less Amazonian Electrophorus electricus releases pulses of electricity that appear to stun the prey and freeze them in place. Using a high-speed video system, he observed that an eel begins an attack with a high-frequency volley of high-voltage pulses up to 15 milliseconds before striking. In just three milliseconds, the fish are completely paralyzed. They regain mobility after a short period, and they could swim away if the eel doesn't get to them first.

Study shows environmental contamination from BigPharma drugs significantly impacts plant growth

© University of Exeter
Lettuce roots are affected by Ibuprofen
The drugs we release into the environment are likely to have a significant impact on plant growth, a new study has revealed.

By assessing the impacts of a range of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and Plymouth University have shown that the growth of edible crops can be affected by these chemicals - even at the very low concentrations found in the environment.

Published in the Journal of Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, the research focused its analysis on lettuce and radish plants and tested the effects of several commonly prescribed drugs, including diclofenac and ibuprofen. These drugs are among the most common and widely used group of pharmaceuticals, with more than 30 million prescribed across the world every day.

Comment: With the global rise in pharmaceutical consumption, recent studies have revealed pharmaceutical residues in a wide range of ecosystems and organisms. In 2002, federal scientists discovered that pharmaceutical drugs are being dumped into the sewer systems and potentially finding their ways back into the drinking water. Ultimately they find their way into the soils, thereby contaminating the food supply. We are unwittingly changing the natural evolution of our ecosystem, with perhaps devastating consequences


New Physics theory of life formation?

Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, thinks he has found the underlying physics driving the origin and evolution of life.
© Katherine Taylor for Quanta Magazine

Comment: The following is a "new" scientific theory that's only marginally less stupid than all preceding theories of the same kind. Maybe that's proof of evolution, maybe not.

Why does life exist?

Comment: SPOILER ALERT!!! Don't want to read all the way down? Here's the quick answer: To dissipate energy, or heat. Yup. That's it. All this for just that. It's kind of like saying people drink water to urinate.

Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and "should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill."

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

Engineer reimagines solar energy with stick-on panels

The catalyst for Xiaolin Zheng's groundbreaking work in solar energy began with an offhand comment her father made years ago at her parents' apartment, a 13-story complex in the northeast China city of Anshan.

"In China, the rooftops of many buildings are packed with solar energy devices," says Zheng. "One day my father mentioned how great it would be if a building's entire surface could be used for solar power, not just the roof, but also walls and windows."

An invention from Zheng's research team at Stanford University might someday make that possible. They have created a type of solar cell that is thin, flexible, and adhesive - a solar sticker, in effect, that could help power everything from buildings to airplanes.

"By making solar cells extremely thin and flexible, they can be used in all kinds of new ways," says Zheng, an associate professor at Stanford and recipient of the U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. "I hope our discovery will dramatically expand the affordable, practical, widespread application of solar power."

In 2010, a decade after her father's initial comment, Zheng read a research paper that triggered the idea again. It described an experiment in which the nanomaterial graphene was grown on a layer of nickel atop a silicon wafer. When submerged in water, the nickel separated from the surface, along with the graphene.

"It sounded unbelievable, like a magic trick," she recalls, "But they had achieved very reliable results." What if, she wondered, the same principle could be used to yield a thinner, more flexible solar cell that could peel off, attach to adhesive, and stick to virtually any surface?

Comment: This is certainly wonderful news. This technology has so many practical applications that it truly could transform our world.


Scientists find DNA survives rocket flight in space

© Adrian Mettauer
Launch of the rocket TEXUS-49 from the Esrange Space Center in Kiruna, North Sweden
In something that only seems possible in a sci-fi movie, imagine scientists discovering life on another planet only to learn that the extraterrestrial life originated on Earth. New research suggests that life spreading planet to planet from space bodies contaminated with human DNA, or other earthly living objects, is possible.

First sea plankton were found living on the exterior of the International Space Station, now scientists have discovered that it is possible for DNA samples to survive at least a short space ride on the exterior of a rocket.

A new study published in PLOS One reports that DNA squirted onto the exterior of a TEXUS-49 sounding rocket remained functional following a 13-minute low-orbit flight to space. The lead author on the DNA study, and molecular biologist at University of Zurich, Cora Thiel, noted that findings were not expected and "made us a little bit worried."

Comment: Our living planet has faced cataclysms and extinctions many times before. It isn't a stretch to suggest that this could have resulted in the introduction of novel genetic information and mutations emerging on earth. Comets are excellent devices to transfer viruses and microbes through the space. Here's quote from a study on comets and contagion by C. Wickramasinghe and C. Joseph:
On average over 2 million pounds of cosmic dust falls to Earth every day (Wickramasinghe et al., 2010). Based on evidence reviewed by Joseph (2009c; Joseph and Schild 2010a,b) if microbes are attached to this stellar debris, most would likely survive.
It's interesting to speculate what type of effects this kind of DNA transference could have had, for instance, on human beings. It's peculiar that the middle paleolithic civilization was relatively static for over 200,000 years, then suddenly started to dramatically evolve during upper paleolithic era into a much more sophisticated direction when Cro-Magnon suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Laura Knight-Jadczyk writes in her article The Golden Age, Psychopathy and the Sixth Extinction:
Let us speculate that the genes that produced Cro-Magnon man may have been brought to earth as the result of a cometary impact. The simplest version of this panspermia theory is that proposed by Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe who suggest that life forms continue to enter the earth's atmosphere, and may be responsible for epidemic outbreaks, new diseases, and the genetic novelty necessary for macroevolution. The mechanisms proposed for interstellar panspermia may include radiation pressure and lithopanspermia (microorganisms in rocks), deliberate directed panspermia from space to seed Earth. Interplanetary transfer of material is well documented, as evidenced by meteorites of Martian origin found on Earth.
We recommend reading the whole article in order to really understand this theory and the information it's based on.

Other news relating to this topic:


Martian life is more probable than previously thought: Traces of possible Martian biological activity inside a meteorite

Did Mars ever have life? Does it still? A meteorite from Mars has reignited the old debate. An international team that includes scientists from EPFL has published a paper in the scientific journal Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, showing that martian life is more probable than previously thought.

"So far, there is no other theory that we find more compelling," says Philippe Gillet, director of EPFL's Earth and Planetary Sciences Laboratory. He and his colleagues from China, Japan and Germany performed a detailed analysis of organic carbon traces from a Martian meteorite, and have concluded that they have a very probable biological origin. The scientists argue that carbon could have been deposited into the fissures of the rock when it was still on Mars by the infiltration of fluid that was rich in organic matter.

Ejected from Mars after an asteroid crashed on its surface, the meteorite, named Tissint, fell on the Moroccan desert on July 18, 2011, in view of several eyewitnesses. Upon examination, the alien rock was found to have small fissures that were filled with carbon-containing matter. Several research teams have already shown that this component is organic in nature. But they are still debating where the carbon came from.

Maybe biological, but not from our planet

Chemical, microscopic and isotope analysis of the carbon material led the researchers to several possible explanations of its origin. They established characteristics that unequivocally excluded a terrestrial origin, and showed that the carbon content were deposited in the Tissint's fissures before it left Mars.

Comment: So there could have been "little green men" on Mars after all? How interesting. But what is more interesting is that after decades of adamant denial and ridicule, suddenly mainstream science is allowed to release information about a real possibility of extraterrestrial life on other planets? Even if this life is only some kind of "organic matter"? We don't want to take the conspiratorial route, we just wonder if this could be a preparation for much more "revealing" news? Or, perhaps, the psychopaths in power decided that concealing the real nature of all the recent Earth changes is much more important than life on Mars. In any case, if you are open minded enough, take a look at the following forum section and search for Mars for more clues.


Mice with half-human brains four times smarter than their peers

White lab mice
© Shutterstock
White lab mice
According to a paper published in the latest Journal of Neuroscience, scientists have successfully injected human glial cells - which support the communication between neurons - into mouse brains, creating hybrid mice four times smarter than their peers.

Steve Goldman and his team extracted glial cells from donated fetuses and injected them into mice. Within a year, the mouse glial cells had been significantly displaced by the human.

Glial cells - in this case, astrocytes - strengthen the synapses. The average human astrocyte is 10 to 20 times larger and has 100 times as many tendrils as a mouse astrocyte.

"We could see the human cells taking over the whole space," Goldman told New Scientist. "It seemed like the mouse counterparts were fleeing to the margins." The human cells only stopped when they reached the physical limit of the mouse's cranial capacity.

Comment: Isn't it ironic that they (the PTB) contaminate the drinking water with fluoride that destroys brain cells, feed us with GMO food that modify our DNA, vaccinate us with mercury that destroys our immune system, bombard us with mind-numbing TV programs that corrupt our brain and coerce us to dumb obedience and create mice that are smarter than their peers? Is this progress?

Fireball 4

Two Near Earth Asteroids to whiz pass Earth this week

© The Virtual Telescope Project
The live webcast starts tonite!
It's a dangerous universe out there, for a budding young space-faring species.

Killer comets, planet sterilizing gamma ray bursts, and death rocks from above are all potential hazards that an adolescent civilization has to watch out for.

This week offers two close shaves, as newly discovered Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) 2014 WC201 and 2014 WX202 pass by the Earth-Moon system.

The passage of 2014 WC201 is coming right up tonight, as the 27-metre space rock passes about 570,000 kilometres from the Earth. That's 1.4 times farther than the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
Better Earth

German-made 'miracle' machine turns water into gasoline

Gasoline machine
© Still from Ruptly video
There is as yet no method to mimic Jesus Christ and turn water into wine, but German chemical engineers have proved they can perform miracles of alchemy. They are now finalizing the assembly of a rig that changes water into gasoline.

The German company says it has developed an engineering installation capable of synthesizing petroleum-based fuels from water and carbon dioxide. The 'power-to-liquid' rig converts gases extracted from water into liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

"I would call it a miracle because it completely changes the way we are producing fuels for cars, planes and also the chemical industry," Nils Aldag, Chief Financial Officer and co-founder of Sunfire GmbH told RT's Ruptly video agency.

The Dresden-based company expects the technology to have a big impact on the future fuel market.

The electrically-powered installation uses a process known as Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, first developed by German chemists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch in 1925.

The Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) reaction converts colorless, odorless, incombustible carbon dioxide gas (CO2) extracted from water, and hydrogen gas generated from water vapor, by electrolysis into liquid fuels such as diesel, jet kerosene and other chemical products.

The "Potsdam gravity potato" shows variations in Earth's gravity

Earth’s gravity field_2
The Earth’s gravitational model (aka the “Potsdam Potato”) is based on data from the LAGEOS, GRACE, and GOCE satellites and surface data.
People tend to think of gravity here on Earth as a uniform and consistent thing. Stand anywhere on the globe, at any time of year, and you'll feel the same downward pull of a single G. But in fact, Earth's gravitational field is subject to variations that occur over time. This is due to a combination of factors, such as the uneven distributions of mass in the oceans, continents, and deep interior, as well as climate-related variables like the water balance of continents, and the melting or growing of glaciers.

And now, for the first time ever, these variations have been captured in the image known as the "Potsdam Gravity Potato" - a visualization of the Earth's gravity field model produced by the German Research Center for Geophysics' (GFZ) Helmholtz's Center in Potsdam, Germany.

And as you can see from the image above, it bears a striking resemblance to a potato. But what is more striking is the fact that through these models, the Earth's gravitational field is depicted not as a solid body, but as a dynamic surface that varies over time.This new gravity field model (which is designated EIGEN-6C) was made using measurements obtained from the LAGEOS, GRACE, and GOCE satellites, as well as ground-based gravity measurements and data from the satellite altimetry.