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Tue, 23 Jul 2019
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Rose

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

flowers
© 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.

Galaxy

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.

Biohazard

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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HAL9000

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.

Health

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

infant
© 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.

Nuke

Resurgence of wildlife at Chernobyl disaster site a boost for Intelligent Design

Chernobyl reactor No. 4
© Carl Montgomery
Chernobyl reactor No. 4
To evolutionists, radiation is like manna from heaven. It feeds the engine of Darwinian evolution — random mutation — providing variations that evolution's Tinkerer, natural selection, can use to build new watches blindfolded. Well, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 gave evolutionary biologists an unexpected natural lab to test their view, and this experiment has been going on for two years longer than Richard Lenski's Long-Term Evolution Experiment with E. coli.

The recent HBO miniseries Chernobyl brought back memories of the event that seems synonymous with "disaster." Experts had predicted a high death toll on all life as a result of the radiation bath. People were quickly evacuated from a 3500-km area, and the cities closest to the nuclear plant quickly became ghost towns (see the video "Postcards from Pripyat"). A 30-km Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) was enforced. To everyone's surprise, though, life in the CEZ is thriving 33 years later. Therein is a story worth investigating: which view of biology scored, Darwin or intelligent design?

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Clipboard

A crisis of bad data analysis and replication in scientific studies

video gamer
© Alexander Andrews
In 2014, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics linked playing aggressive video games to real-life aggression in a large sample of Singaporean youth. The study attracted considerable news media attention. For instance, a sympathetic article in Time magazine breathlessly reported its findings and suggested that brain imaging research found aggressive games change kids' brains. But was the evidence from the Singapore study reliable?

In recent years, concerns about the Singapore dataset have grown. UK scholars Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein recently wrote that the way the dataset had been used by the primary authors was problematic. The analyses from the same dataset kept changing across published articles in suspicious ways. These shifting analyses can be a red flag for the data massaging that may produce statistically significant outcomes and hide outcomes that didn't work out. Such practices may be unintentional or unconscious (scholars are only human after all). But they do suggest that the results could do with further scrutiny.

When the dataset became available to my colleague John Wang and me, we re-analyzed the data using more rigorous methods. We publicly pre-registered our analyses, which meant we couldn't subsequently alter them to fit our hypotheses. Our results were strikingly different from the 2014 paper: in fact, there was no evidence in the dataset that aggressive game play was related to later aggression at all. So, what happened? How did a dataset come to show links that don't exist between aggressive video games and youth aggression?

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Rose

115 million year old lily found in Brazil is world's oldest, has fossilised flower and intact cells

lily

The world's oldest preserved lily which dates back to around 115 million years ago has been unearthed from a stone quarry in Brazil
The world's oldest preserved lily has been unearthed from a stone quarry in Brazil and dates back to around 115 million years ago.

The fossil is exceptionally well-preserved — and includes the plant's roots, a flower and even individual cells.

It is thought to have originally have grown along the banks of a freshwater lake in what is today the city of Crato in northeastern Brazil.

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Info

New protein powder created from air, water, and bacteria could feed millions

New Type of Food
© Solar Foods
If a post-scarcity society is ever realized, it will likely not involve the redistribution of wealth and a populace of leisured gluttons feasting on filet mignon and songbirds drowned in armagnac. As the global population increases amidst a background of climate change and the effects it has on agriculture and clean water, the types of food that we consume will change according to scarcity and availability. Fortunately, humans are relatively adaptable - both from a social and evolutionary perspective - when it comes to their diets, as evidenced by the sudden popularity of non-meat "meats" like the Impossible Burger.

The problem with plant-based foods, however, is that they require fertile earth, land space, and water: three resources put at risk by ever-growing populations, their waste output, and changing climate patterns. Moreover, 60% of our plant-based foods come from just three sources: rice, maize (corn), and wheat, all of which have huge agricultural demands.

Fortunately, Solar Foods, a Finnish food start-up company, has developed a novel solution to this problem: Solein, a protein powder made using renewable electricity, carbon dioxide, and water laced with special bacteria. According to the company, Solein looks and tastes just like wheat flour and is composed of 50% protein, 5-10% fat, and 20-25% carbohydrates.

Info

Alternative theory of gravity makes a nearly testable prediction

Galaxy Cluster
© IllustrisTNG
Galaxy clusters generated by the Universe simulator IllustrisTNG.
From our current perspective, the Universe seems to be dominated by two things we find frustratingly difficult to understand. One of these is dark matter, which describes the fact that everything from galaxies on up behaves as if it has more mass than we can detect. While that has spawned extensive searches for particles that could account for the visual discrepancy, it has also triggered the development of alternative theories of gravity, ones that can replace relativity while accounting for the discrepancies in apparent mass.

So far, these proposals have fallen well short of replacing general relativity. And they say nothing about the other big mystery, dark energy, which appears to be accelerating the expansion of the Universe. Instead, researchers have developed an entirely separate class of theories that could modify gravity in a way that eliminates the need for dark energy. Now, researchers have run simulations of galaxy and star formation using this alternative version of physics, and they found we might be on the cusp of testing some of them.