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Sun, 21 Apr 2019
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Global AI development threatened by Boeing's recent crashes

plane cockpit
© Getty Images / Reinier Snijders
Two deadly crashes involving Boeing's newest airplane in less than six months puts in jeopardy not only the credibility of the manufacturer, but also new technologies actively being pushed by the world's top tech firms.

All Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes operated by global carriers were grounded earlier this month after an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft crashed shortly after take-off, taking a steep nosedive not far from Nairobi.

The fatal accident which claimed 157 lives followed a similar crash in Indonesia, which killed all 189 people on board in October.

The two crashes appear to have something in common. The crews of both aircraft reportedly struggled with the MAX 8 autopilot system which pointed the nose of the airplane down before the crash.


Electricity-eating microbes fix carbon dioxide using electrons

microbes eat electricity
© Bose laboratory, Washington University
A Washington University team showed how a phototrophic microbe called Rhodopseudomonas palustris takes up electrons from conductive substances like metal oxides or rust to reduce carbon dioxide.
New research from Washington University in St. Louis explains the cellular processes that allow a sun-loving microbe to "eat" electricity-transferring electrons to fix carbon dioxide to fuel its growth.

Led by Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and Michael Guzman, a Ph.D. candidate in her laboratory, a Washington University team showed how a naturally occurring strain of Rhodopseudomonas palustris takes up electrons from conductive substances like metal oxides or rust. The work is described in a March 22 paper in the journal Nature Communications.

The study builds on Bose's previous discovery that R. palustris TIE-1 can consume electrons from rust proxies like poised electrodes, a process called extracellular electron uptake. R. palustris is phototrophic, which means that it uses energy from light to carry out certain metabolic processes. The new research explains the cellular sinks where this microbe dumps the electrons it eats from electricity.


"Mindblowing" haul of fossils over 500 million years old unearthed in China

fossils Danshui
© Supplied
Scientists have found a treasure trove of fossils that date back more than half a billion years on the banks of the Danshui river in Hubei province.
A "mindblowing" haul of fossils that captures the riot of evolution that kickstarted the diversity of life on Earth more than half a billion years ago has been discovered by researchers in China.

Paleontologists found thousands of fossils in rocks on the bank of the Danshui river in Hubei province in southern China, where primitive forms of jellyfish, sponges, algae, anemones, worms and arthropods with thin whip-like feelers were entombed in an ancient underwater mudslide.

The creatures are so well preserved in the fossils that the soft tissues of their bodies, including the muscles, guts, eyes, gills, mouths and other openings are all still visible. The 4,351 separate fossils excavated so far represent 101 species, 53 of them new.

Comment: For more on the Cambrian period and how evolution probably didn't 'stumble' into anything, see: See also: And check out SOTT radio's:


Michael Behe responds to his Lehigh colleagues' inability to grasp the first rule of adaptive evolution

Lehigh University ca
© Joseph Giansante ’76 / Wikimedia Commons
Recently in the journal Evolution, two of my colleagues in the Lehigh University Department of Biological Sciences published a seven-page critical review of Darwin Devolves. As I'll show below, it pretty much completely misses the mark. Nonetheless, it is a good illustration of how sincere-yet-perplexed professional evolutionary biologists view the data, as well as how they see opposition to their views, and so it is a possible opening to mutual understanding. This is the first of a three-part reply.

I'd like to begin by enthusiastically affirming that the co-authors of the review, Greg Lang and Amber Rice, are terrific young scientists. Greg's research is on the experimental laboratory evolution of yeast, and he's an associate editor at the Journal of Molecular Evolution. Amber studies the evolutionary effects of the hybridization of two species of chickadee, and she's an associate editor for Evolution. Not surprisingly, the review is well written and the authors have done a lot of homework, not only reading the book itself but also digging into other material I have written and relevant literature. What's more, Greg and Amber are both salt-of-the-earth folks, cheerful, friendly, and great colleagues. The additional Lehigh people they cite in the Acknowledgements section share all those qualities. There is no reason for anyone to take any of the remarks in their review as anything other than their best honest professional opinions of the matter. So let's get to the substance of the review.

"Two Critical Errors of Logic"

After introductory remarks, Lang and Rice begin by deferring to the review of my book in Science and a follow-up web post to show that the book contains "a few factual errors and many errors of omission." (I along with others have dealt at length with those already; see here, here, here, here, here, and here) Instead, in their own review they focus on what they see as two logical errors of the book: 1) that I wrongly equate "the prevalence of loss of function mutations to the inevitable degradation of biological systems and the impossibility of evolution to produce novelty"; and 2) that I wrongly confuse proteins with machines, and use that misguided metaphor to mislead readers. I'll take those two points and their many subparts mostly in turn.


Dynamic genome discovery: Harvard scientists uncover 'DNA switch' that could lead to human limb regrowth

Gene switch
A team of scientists at Harvard University has discovered the "master gene" that enables animals such as lizards, geckos and jellyfish the ability to regrow large appendages of their body such as limbs and tails-if not their entire body-and they're hoping that the discovery could be a crucial first step to humans one day being able to regenerate their lost limbs.

The team released their study in Science journal this week that reveals the "DNA switches" that animals have used to control their genes and regenerate parts of their body.


Michael Behe: One man's battle with Darwinian evolution

Dr. Michael J. Behe
© Discovery Institute
Still from the film: Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines
When a man knows something's true, when it's obvious to him, but his peers and his colleagues believe something else, what does he do? Especially if it has to do with a subject considered to be very important, even foundational for the work he does, what does he do?

Does he decide to set his ideas on paper for the whole world to see? This guarantees fierce opposition and sometimes personal attack. To choose this path requires a willingness to face that opposition and stand firm. Such intellectual courage is rare but not vanishingly so. This is the story of a man who has that courage.

The Concept of Irreducible Complexity

By the early 1990s, Dr. Michael J. Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, had come to doubt the efficacy of Darwinian evolution. (Behe uses the term Darwinian evolution to distinguish it from evolution meaning simply change over time, which is not controversial and which he accepts. Darwinian evolution, on the other hand, is claimed to be the result of unguided, naturalistic processes of random mutation and natural selection, which he sees as severely limited.)

Comment: Watch: Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines - to get a better glimpse of who Behe is and just what he's been up against:


Roscosmos chief Rogozin: The new space race has begun

Dmitry Rogozin/Flag
© SpaceNews/KREMLIN.RU
Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin
Russia has entered a new space competition, according to the head of the country's space agency, Roscosmos. The new "competition" is focused on manned space flight and deep space exploration.

"Now we are entering a new stage of a certain competition with leading space powers, related to future manned programs, including in deep space," Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said Friday. Rogozin also revealed that he recently talked to the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeev and discussed the details of the Moon program and specifications of payloads needed for that.

The first Russian cosmonauts are expected to walk on the surface of the Earth's only natural satellite by 2030. The Moon program involves development of a super-heavy lifter and landing/ take-off module.


Robots used to aid communication between bees and fish

bees and fish
Robotics spies capable of interspecies translation helped groups of bees and fish talk to each other.
Bees and fish can now converse with each other thanks to new robotics technology designed by researchers in Europe.

Scientists developed robots to translate and deliver signals from groups of bees and schools of fish. The robots traded signals across an international border, allowing bees in Austria to talk to fish a few hundred miles away in Switzerland.

"We created an unprecedented bridge between the two animal communities, enabling them to exchange some of their dynamics," Frank Bonnet, a robotics engineer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, or EPFL, said in a news release.

Previously, researchers at EPFL's Mobile Robots Group have designed and deployed "spy" robots that blend in with groups of animals. Most recently, the team used a robot to infiltrate a school of zebrafish and influence its swimming direction.

For the latest experiment, scientists decided to use the fish spy to help different species communicate.

Comment: Interspecies communication: Beluga rooming with dolphins learns their language


Can zapping the brain with lasers cure alcoholism? Scripps scientists think so

Man drinking alcohol
© Getty Images/IStock
Anyone who has ever had first-hand experience of substance abuse will know that, however much a person might want to quit, ending this kind of dependency isn't a simple on/off mechanism. But what if it could be? While science has not yet advanced to that point with humans, researchers from Scripps Research have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the desire to drink in alcohol-dependent rats - by targeting a part of the brain using lasers.

"This research identifies a specific neuronal population in a deep region of the brain that is activated during alcohol withdrawal and which controls alcohol drinking in a rodent model of alcoholism," Olivier George, an associate professor at Scripps Research, told Digital Trends. "We also identify by which downstream pathways these neurons control the rest of the brain to produce addiction-like behaviors. What is so exciting about these findings is that we were able to control the motivation to drink alcohol in severely dependent individuals with the flip of a switch. By implanting fiber optics deep in the brain and turning on a laser that inhibits these neurons specifically we could dramatically decrease alcohol drinking and the physical symptoms of withdrawal."


Scientists meet to investigate the 'Great Silence': Are we in a 'galactic zoo'?

meti telescope
© Getty
Should we be sending more messages to aliens?
Are we alone? Probably not. After all, astronomers have already found 4,001 confirmed exoplanets in our Milky Way galaxy, and expect there to be over 50 billion exoplanets out there. For scientists gathering in Paris today, the question is different: why haven't we made contact with alien civilizations?

What is the Fermi Paradox and the "Great Silence?"

Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked 'where is everybody?' back in 1950 in what's now called the Fermi Paradox. It addresses a contradiction in astronomy, and can be summarized thus: if extraterrestrial life and even intelligent alien civilizations are not just likely, but highly probable, then why have none of them been in contact with us? Are there biological or sociological explanations for this "Great Silence?"

"We are very interested in the scientific approach used in the analysis of the Fermi Paradox and the search for intelligent life in the universe," said Cyril Birnbaum and Brigitte David at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (Cité), the science museum in Paris that's hosting today's meeting. "The question 'Are we alone?' affects us all, because it is directly related to humanity and our place in the cosmos."

Comment: It's rather curious that it's often supposed that the overseers of this zoo are benevolent. Particularly when other notable, although much less publicized, perspectives have been put forward, and with supporting evidence: Also check out SOTT radio's: