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Sun, 21 Jul 2019
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Elon Musk claims brain microchip has allowed monkey to "control a computer"

© Neuralink/YouTube
The Neuralink chip sits behind the ear, while electrodes are threaded into the brain.
Elon Musk took his colleagues by surprise with an unplanned announcement at a presentation by his secretive neurotechnology company, Neuralink, on Tuesday.

Musk cofounded Neuralink in 2016. Its goal is to create a chip that could enable a "brain-computer interface." And according to Musk, the company has already had some success — with monkeys.

During the 90-minute event, Musk and various senior staffers at Neuralink presented the company's ambition to design a chip capable of being implanted in the human brain that could receive and transmit signals to the organ.

The near-term goal would be to treat various serious brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, although ultimately Musk's ambition is to achieve "symbiosis with artificial intelligence."

Comment: See also: Also check out SOTT radio's: The Health & Wellness Show: Extreme Biohacking, Transhumanism and the Singularity

Cloud Lightning

Space-station cameras reveal how thunderstorms trigger gamma-ray bursts

Lightning flashes over Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in this photo taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
A cluster of cameras peering down at Earth from the International Space Station has spotted hundreds of gamma-ray flashes going off in the hearts of thunderstorms over the past year. By comparing those enigmatic flashes with lightning rippling through the same storms, space physicists have begun to unravel the decades-old mystery of what causes the high-energy bursts.

The researchers have found that the bursts, known as terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs), form when powerful electric fields course through the atmosphere, just before a lightning bolt travels along the same path. The charged electrical particles interact with the atmosphere to produce a super-fast flickering of gamma rays, which cannot be seen by the naked eye but are visible to the specialized cameras looking down from the space station.

Comment: See also:

Microscope 2

Plant viruses may be essential for maintaining biodiversity and helping plants adapt to their environment


Mysteries abound in the viral world. Scientists still aren't quite sure where they came from. The illustration describes three leading theories.
The community of viruses is staggeringly vast. Occupying every conceivable biological niche, from searing undersea vents to frigid tundra, these enigmatic invaders, hovering between inert matter and life, circumnavigate the globe in the hundreds of trillions. They are the most abundant life forms on earth.

Viruses are justly feared as ingenious pathogens, causing diseases in everything they invade, including virtually all bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. Recent advances in the field of virology, however, suggest that viruses play a more significant and complex role than previously appreciated, and may be essential to the functioning of diverse ecosystems.

We now know that humans contain roughly 100,000 pieces of viral DNA elements, which make up around 8 percent of our genome. Speculation on the role of these ancient viral fragments ranges from protection against disease to increasing the risk of cancer or other serious illnesses, though researchers acknowledge they have barely scratched the surface of this enigma

A new review article appearing in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology highlights the evolution and ecology of plant viruses. Arvind Varsani, a researcher at ASU's Biodesign Institute joins an international team to explore many details of viral dynamics. They describe the subtle interplay between three components of the viral infection process, the virus itself, the plant cell hosts infected by the virus and the vectors that act as go-betweens — an intricate system evolving over some 450 million years. All three elements are embedded within wider relations of the surrounding ecosystem.

Recent studies in the field of virology have shown that viruses are sometimes beneficial to the organisms they infect. "Prior to this people have always seen viruses as disease-causing entities," Varsani says. "This breaks all the dogmas of how we study viruses. We have a section where we review mutualism and symbiosis and also how some of the symbiotic relationships are being uncoupled."

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Microscope 2

Shocker! The single-celled organisms prior to animals were "amazingly complex"

© Klaus Stiefel
Ancient animals still alive today, such as the sponge and hydroids shown above, hold important clues about how multicellular animal life evolved.
From one came many. Some 700 million years ago, a single cell gave rise to the first animal, a multicellular organism that would eventually spawn the incredible complexity and diversity seen in animals today. New research is now offering scientists a fresh perspective on what that cell looked like, and how multicellularity could have emerged from it — a transition that marks one of the most pivotal events in the history of life on Earth.

Comment: "Gave rise to" - the passive voice of Darwinian assumptions. No, even the first single-celled organism did not "spawn" the incredible complexity that came after. That required intelligence, just as did the genesis of the first cell.

For well over a century, it has been widely assumed that the ancestors from which the first animal evolved were simple blobs of identical cells. Only later, after the animals formed their own branch on the tree of life, did those cells start to differentiate into various cell types with specialized functions. But now, painstaking genomic analyses and comparisons between the most ancient animals alive today and their closest non-animal relatives are starting to overturn that theory.

The recent work paints a picture of ancestral single-celled organisms that were already amazingly complex. They possessed the plasticity and versatility to slip back and forth between several states — to differentiate as today's stem cells do and then dedifferentiate back to a less specialized form. The research implies that mechanisms of cellular differentiation predated the gradual rise of multicellular animals.

Comment: And that simple fact seemingly doesn't disturb Darwinian biologists - that the FIRST life (not just animal life) was "amazingly complex". Complexity doesn't arise out of nothing. But that suggests Darwinism cannot explain the first life. So the only response can be "nothing to see here - moving on."


Europe: Galileo GPS system is back online after a six-day outage failure

Galileo satellite
Galileo Satellite
Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system, a rival of the American GPS network, is back in service after a six-day outage, its oversight agency said on Thursday.

"Commercial users can already see signs of recovery of the Galileo navigation and timing services, although some fluctuations may be experienced until further notice," the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency said in a statement.

The system of 22 orbiting satellites, which helps to pinpoint and track mobile telephone users and vehicles, began experiencing problems last Friday. Only the search and rescue function, which helps locate boat crews or hikers in distress, was unaffected.

The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency said the problem was due to an equipment malfunction in the ground control centres that make time and orbit predictions for the satellites.

Galileo has been in a pilot phase since December 2016 and devices that use its signal should be able to switch to GPS or Glonass, the Russian satellite navigation system. It is due to become fully operational next year, offering a civilian, European alternative to the US and Russian-controlled networks.

Comment: See also: EU's GPS satellites down four days in mysterious outage, nearing 100 hours downtime


The sweetest sound: Flowers can hear buzzing bees and it makes their nectar sweeter

© Dennis Frates Alamy
The bowl-shaped flowers of evening primrose may be key to their acoustic capabilities.
"I'd like people to understand that hearing is not only for ears."

Even on the quietest days, the world is full of sounds: birds chirping, wind rustling through trees, and insects humming about their business. The ears of both predator and prey are attuned to one another's presence.

Sound is so elemental to life and survival that it prompted Tel Aviv University researcher Lilach Hadany to ask: What if it wasn't just animals that could sense sound - what if plants could, too? The first experiments to test this hypothesis, published recently on the pre-print server bioRxiv, suggest that in at least one case, plants can hear, and it confers a real evolutionary advantage.


Astronomers come up with a new way to measure how fast the universe is expanding

spiral universe
Astronomers have made a new measurement of how fast the universe is expanding, using an entirely different kind of star than previous endeavors. The revised measurement, which comes from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, falls in the center of a hotly debated question in astrophysics that may lead to a new interpretation of the universe's fundamental properties.

Scientists have known for almost a century that the universe is expanding, meaning the distance between galaxies across the universe is becoming ever more vast every second. But exactly how fast space is stretching, a value known as the Hubble constant, has remained stubbornly elusive.

Now, University of Chicago professor Wendy Freedman and colleagues have a new measurement for the rate of expansion in the modern universe, suggesting the space between galaxies is stretching faster than scientists would expect. Freedman's is one of several recent studies that point to a nagging discrepancy between modern expansion measurements and predictions based on the universe as it was more than 13 billion years ago, as measured by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite.


Coral reefs dying because of pollution, 30 years of unique data reveals

coral reef
© Larry Lipsky
A snorkeler swims among healthy Elkhorn corals off Key Largo in the Florida Keys in the early 1980s. Named for its antler-like shape for its colonies, the Elkhorn coral is one of the most important corals in the Caribbean. Current populations are struggling to recover from coral disease and bleaching. Elkhorn coral once dominated coral reefs in the Florida Keys. Today, less than 5 percent of these corals remain in the Florida Keys.
Coral reefs are considered one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet and are dying at alarming rates around the world. Scientists attribute coral bleaching and ultimately massive coral death to a number of environmental stressors, in particular, warming water temperatures due to climate change.

A study published in the international journal Marine Biology, reveals what's really killing coral reefs. With 30 years of unique data from Looe Key Reef in the lower Florida Keys, researchers from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and collaborators have discovered that the problem of coral bleaching is not just due to a warming planet, but also a planet that is simultaneously being enriched with reactive nitrogen from multiple sources.

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Facebook AI's "alt text" feature likely to be abused by spooks & hackers

facebook zuckerberg
© AP Photo / Jeff Chiu
Facebook's "automatic alternative text" feature silently implemented by the IT giant on its social media platforms may be used to track users and could potentially be abused by hackers and intelligence agencies, say cyber security experts, suggesting that EU authorities may roast the tech giant for violating the bloc's data protection rules.

Massive outage and loading problems have unexpectedly revealed that Facebook's AI is adding a text description to every photo posted on its social media platforms, including Instagram.

According to Facebook, this feature, called an "automatic alternative (alt) text" uses "object recognition technology to create a description of a photo for the blind and vision-loss community".

Cyber security experts, however, believe that there is more to the tech giant's software than meets the eye.


11-month old infant becomes youngest patient to receive novel treatment for rare lung disease

© Yves Herman / Reuters
An Indian doctor has claimed to have performed a novel Bronchoscopic Cryobiopsy Technique to treat a rare form of interstitial lung disease (ILD) for the first time in the world on an 11-month old infant. So far the youngest person treated using this procedure was a 7-year-old in Europe.

ILD is a progressive lung disorder which if not detected at an early stage can cause significant damage to the lungs. It often occurs in adults in the age group of 40 and above who are exposed to chemicals, fumes, fungal spores related to farming. This disease is also seen in people who suffer from various forms of arthritis as well. In children, however, it's an extremely rare occurrence.

"Recently there has been an increase in the trend of this disease in persons exposed to pigeons and poultry droppings also", Dr Tinku Joseph, Interventional Pulmonologist, at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre in the southern Indian city of Kochi told Sputnik.