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Tue, 27 Sep 2016
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New isthmus timeline between North and South American landmasses

© www.lolwot.com
Long ago, one great ocean flowed between North and South America. When the narrow Isthmus of Panama joined the continents about 3 million years ago, it also separated the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean. If this took place millions of years earlier, as recently asserted by some, the implications for both land and sea life would be revolutionary. Aaron O'Dea, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), and colleagues writing in Science Advances firmly set the date at 2.8 million years ago.

"Recent scientific publications proposing the isolation of the two oceans between 23 to 6 million years ago rocked the generally held model of the continental connection to its foundations," said Jeremy Jackson, emeritus staff scientist at the Smithsonian. "O'Dea and his team set out to reevaluate in unprecedented, rigorous detail, all of the available lines of evidence -- geologic, oceanographic, genetic and ecological data and the analyses that bear on the question of when the Isthmus formed."

"The timing of the connection between continents and the isolation of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans is important for so many reasons," O'Dea said. "Estimates of rates of evolutionary change, models of global oceans, the origin of modern-day animals and plants of the Americas and why Caribbean reefs became established all depend upon knowing how and when the isthmus formed."


Deep-Sea volcano a hotspot for mysterious life

© AP Photo/Caleb Jones
A deep sea shark and several eels are attracted to bait placed at the summit of the Cook seamount, seen from the Pisces V submersible during a dive to the previously unexplored seamount off the coast of Hawaii's Big Island on Sept. 6, 2016. Seamounts are hotspots for marine life because they carry nutrient-rich water upward from the sea floor.
The turquoise waters became darker and darker, and squiggly glow-in-dark marine creatures began to glide past in the inky depths like ghosts.

The three-man submarine went down, down, down into the abyss and drew within sight of something no human had ever laid eyes on: Cook seamount, a 13,000-foot extinct volcano at the bottom of the sea.

Scientists aboard the vessel Pisces V visited the volcano earlier this month to examine its geological features and its rich variety of marine life, and an Associated Press reporter was given exclusive access to the dive. It was the first-ever expedition to the Cook seamount by a manned submersible.

2 + 2 = 4

A dog's dilemma: Do canine's prefer praise or food?

© Gregory Berns
Chowhound: Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix, was the only dog in the experiments that chose food over his owner's praise 100 percent of the time. "Ozzie was a bit of an outlier," Berns says, "but Ozzie's owner understands him and still loves him."
Given the choice, many dogs prefer praise from their owners over food, suggests a new study published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. The study is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore canine reward preferences.

"We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it's mainly about food, or about the relationship itself," says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and lead author of the research. "Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food."


Stealthy underwater sensor drone for nuclear submarines tested in Russia

© Великая Россия / Twitter
A novel robotic vehicle that includes a floating buoy and an underwater glider is being tested by the Russian military. The watercraft is a sensor and communication platform, which the Navy may find handy for submarine patrol missions.

Dubbed Fugu, the vehicle is an unusual combination. It has a floating part that looks like a surfboard, and an underwater part which serves as an engine for both of them.

The underwater part is a glider. It is a vehicle that changes its buoyancy to go up and down and uses fins to translate this seesaw-like motion into propulsion.


Memory of a heart attack is stored in our genes

© DigitalGenetics / Fotolia
DNA structure (stock image). We inherit our genes from our parents at birth. During our lifetime, chemical modifications of DNA that turn off or on our genes, so-called epigenetic changes, occur.
Both heredity and environmental factors influence our risk of cardiovascular disease. A new study, by researches at Uppsala University, shows now that the memory of a heart attack can be stored in our genes through epigenetic changes. The results have been published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.

We inherit our genes from our parents at birth. During our lifetime, chemical modifications of DNA that turn off or on our genes, so-called epigenetic changes, occur. These changes can lead to the development of various diseases. In the current study, the researchers examined epigenetic changes in people who have had a previous heart attack.

2 + 2 = 4

Tasty letters? Sensory connections spill over in synesthesia

© letters ojele / Fotolia
Synesthesia is a stable trait, and estimated to be present in 1 to 4 percent of people. It can be inherited, although the precise genes have not been identified. One of the most common forms of synesthesia is when people involuntarily see particular colors in connection with letters, numbers or sounds.
Neuroscientists at Emory University have found that people who experience a mixing of the senses, known as synesthesia, are more sensitive to associations everyone has between the sounds of words and visual shapes. The results are published in the European Journal of Neuroscience.

Synesthesia is a stable trait, and estimated to be present in 1 to 4 percent of people. It can be inherited, although the precise genes have not been identified. One of the most common forms of synesthesia is when people involuntarily see particular colors in connection with letters, numbers or sounds.

Comment: Synesthesia: When Tuesday is the color red


Expert claims bioenhancements will lead to 'superhumans' in less than 100 years

Professor Kevin Warwick a/k/a "Captain Cyborg" - named so because a hundred electrode array was surgically implanted into the median nerve fibers of his left arm.
Imagine a person who can play tennis like Andy Murray, think like Professor Stephen Hawking and can live to 150 - all in a body that looks and feels like it belongs to a 40-year-old.

With human bioenhancements, this vision of a 'superhuman' could become a reality in fewer than a hundred years.

This is according to expert in the social and cultural impacts of technology, Professor Michael Bess, who told MailOnline exactly how he thinks technology will enhance humans in the future.

Human bioenhancement technologies fall into three main categories pharmaceuticals, bioelectronics, and genetics.

We are already using all three to some extent.

'Through the use of pharmaceuticals, we are learning how to control our moods, boost our physical and mental performance, increase our longevity and vitality, Professor Bess said.

Comment: "Re-designing the human platform"?? Western civilization has become so fascinated with technology and synthetic enhancement, that it continues to ignore the most basic ideas of what it means to be a human being.


Moon's phase may correlate with big earthquakes

© Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The seaside town of Pelluhue, Chile, in 2010 after a magnitude 8.8 earthquake and the resulting tsunami.
Big earthquakes, such as the ones that devastated Chile in 2010 and Japan in 2011, are more likely to occur during full and new moons — the two times each month when tidal stresses are highest.

Earth's tides, which are caused by a gravitational tug-of-war involving the Moon and the Sun, put extra strain on geological faults. Seismologists have tried for decades to understand whether that stress could trigger quakes. They generally agree that the ocean's twice-daily high tides can affect tiny, slow-motion tremors in certain places, including California's San Andreas fault and the Cascadia region of the North American west coast.

Comment: tidal stress may be one factor contributing to the triggering of big earthquakes among many others. One additional factor could be the electromagnetic stress around those periods as well.


What could go wrong? FAA sees possibility of millions of drones crowding U.S. skies

© Francois Lenoir / Reuters
So many people are registering drones and applying for drone pilot licenses that federal aviation officials said Friday they are contemplating the possibility of millions of unmanned aircraft crowding the nation's skies in the not-too-distant future.

In the nine months since the Federal Aviation Administration created a drone registration system, more than 550,000 unmanned aircraft have been registered with the agency, said Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA's drone office.

Speaking at the first meeting of a new government-industry drone advisory committee, Lawrence said new registrations are coming in at a rate of 2,000 a day. By comparison, the FAA says there are 260,165 manned aircraft registered in the U.S.


From crows to elephants, species utilise DIY tools in every day life

© Getty
New Caledonian crows can fashion hooks out of wire to grab titbits
Man always likes to think he's a cut above the rest of the natural world.

And one of the ways he likes to set himself apart is by his use of tools. Now, on that yardstick I'm barely human.

I am to DIY what the New York Yankees are to football. But the rest of humankind is far from alone in being a dab hand with tools.

This week an endangered crow from sun-soaked Hawaii became the latest species to be proclaimed a tool-user. Nature magazine said the Alala was observed by St Andrews University researchers winkling tasty grubs out of dead wood with a twig held in its beak.

It is following in the footsteps of New Caledonian crows, which can fashion hooks out of wire to grab titbits.

A fascinating new book by ecologist Carl Safina says tool use is widespread. Birds do it, elephants do it, even educated gorillas do it.