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Tue, 17 Oct 2017
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Science & Technology


The Vika: Mythical monster rat found in the Solomon Islands

© Tyrone Lavery
Vika rat
A favorite tale among residents of the Solomon Islands is the legend of the mythical monster rat known as Vika, who can climb trees, break open rock-shelled nuts with its teeth and cause cats to die in fright with just a look. That last legend is mine, but the rest are no longer scary campfire tales - the mythical Vika has been discovered alive and well on Vangunu Island.
"When I first met with the people from Vangunu Island in the Solomons, they told me about a rat native to the island that they called vika, which lived in the trees."
Mammalogist Tyrone Lavery reports in the Journal of Mammalology first came to the Solomon Islands in 2010 to look for new species in this isolated country of 900 islands east of Papua New Guinea and best known to most people for the World War II naval battles fought there, especially on Guadalcanal. Lavery immediately heard rumors of a giant tree-climbing nut-cracking rat but he doubted its existence, thinking at first that the native people were making up stories about common black rats.

"If you're looking for something that can live in 30-foot-tall trees, then there's a whole new dimension that you need to search."

For more of this article, go here.


Uncovering deep sleep's role in visual learning

A new study looks into the mechanism behind sleep-dependent neuroplasticity in the process of assimilating new visual information.
Researchers from the University of Michigan have conducted a study in mice to investigate how deep sleep influences visual learning. Brain activity during this phase of sleep is crucial to consolidating new visual information, they found.

An important part of how we relate to the world is perceptual learning, which refers to our ability to "make sense" of various stimuli - visual, auditory, or related to taste, smell, and touch - through repeated exposure to them.

Perceptual learning improves the way in which we relate to stimuli, helping us to unpick ambiguous ones. Research had already shown that for consolidating perceptual learning, immersion in slow-wave - or non-rapid eye movement (NREM) - sleep is required.


Stephen Hawkins vs METI: Is it safe to call Aliens?

© NASA/Paul. E. Alers
Calling All Aliens

As autumn brings with it cooler temperatures and clearer night skies, Douglas Vakoch, president of Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI), wants you to take the opportunity to survey the glory of our galaxy - and to contemplate the existence of alien life.

"You look at the night sky - virtually all of those stars have planets," Rosenberg said in an exclusive interview with Futurism. "Maybe one out of five has it at just the right zone where there's liquid water. And so we know there are a lot of places that there could be life. Now the big question is, are they actually trying to make contact, or do they want us to try?"


Global wind speeds slowing since 1960, but nobody knows why

© Pixabay/Free-Photos
The average terrestrial wind speed has slowed down half a kilometre per hour every decade since the 1960s.
Wind speeds around the world seem to be decreasing in a phenomenon known as 'stilling' and European scientists are hoping to find out why.

Few people have probably noticed, but the world's winds are getting slower. It is something that cannot be picked up by watching the billowing of dust or listening to the rustle of leaves on nearby trees.

Instead, it is a phenomenon occurring on a different scale, as the average global wind speed close to the surface of the land decreases. And while it is not affecting the whole earth evenly, the average terrestrial wind speed has decreased by 0.5 kilometres per hour (0.3 miles per hour) every decade, according to data starting in the 1960s.

Known as 'stilling', it has only been discovered in the last decade. And while it may sound deceptively calm, it could be a vital, missing piece of the climate change puzzle and a serious threat to our societies.

Dr Cesar Azorin-Molina, a climatologist at Sweden's University of Gothenburg and lead researcher of the EU-funded STILLING project, believes there is an urgent need to determine the causes of stilling in a changing climate.

While 0.5 kilometre per hour might barely seem enough to ruffle any feathers, he warns that prolonged stilling will have serious impacts.

'There are serious implications of wind changes in areas like agriculture and hydrology, basically because of the influence of wind on evaporation,' said Dr Azorin-Molina. 'A declining trend in wind speed can impact long-term power generation, and weaker winds can also mean less dispersion of pollutants in big cities, exacerbating air quality problems and therefore impacting human health.'


New Google AI almost perfectly mimics human speech


Last year, artificial intelligence (AI) research company DeepMind shared details on WaveNet, a deep neural network used to synthesize realistic human speech. Now, an improved version of the technology is being rolled out for use with Google Assistant.

A system for speech synthesis - otherwise known as text-to-speech (TTS) - typically utilizes one of two techniques.

Concatenative TTS involves the piecing together of chunks of recordings from a voice actor. The drawback of this method is that audio libraries must be replaced whenever upgrades or changes are made.

The other technique, parametric TTS, uses a set of parameters to produce computer-generated speech, but this speech can sometimes sound unnatural and robotic.

WaveNet, on the other hand, produces waveforms from scratch based on a system developed using a convolutional neural network.

Eye 1

Law takes aim at stem cell treatments not approved by the FDA

© Andy Alfaro Modesto Bee file
Escalon Physical Medicine in Escalon, Calif.
A new state law aims to warn consumers about potentially harmful stem cell treatments that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Stem cell research holds promise for treating numerous medical conditions by restoring or replacing the "master cells" that mature into the bones, blood and the organs of the human body. The FDA has warned that untested stem-cell cures are being marketed to patients and may have harmful effects. FDA approval guarantees that a drug or medical treatment has gone through a rigorous review process and clinical trials.

Senate Bill 512, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this week, requires medical practices to post notices and provide handouts to patients if their stem cell treatments are not FDA-approved.

Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, said more than 100 clinics in the state are offering non-approved stem cell therapies. "Patients spend thousands of dollars on these treatments, but are totally unaware of the potential risks and dangerous side effects," said Hernandez, the bill's author.

The primary purpose of stem cells is to maintain, heal and regenerate tissues wherever they reside in your body. This is a continuous process that occurs inside your body throughout your life. If you didn't have stem cells, your lifespan would be about an hour, because there would be nothing to replace exhausted cells or damaged tissue. In addition, any time your body is exposed to any sort of toxin, the inflammatory process causes stem cells to swarm the area to repair the damage.

So far, what has been discovered is that the autologous cells, meaning your own cells, will outperform somebody else's cells inside your body. Now, this is not fully understood at this point. It may be that the environment that your cells function in, they're used to that environment. They recognize it. It's the same DNA and they can function well.
See also:
Stem cell therapy: The innovations and potential to help repair and regenerate your body
Researchers use the 'Tooth Cracker 5000' to extract stem cells from wisdom teeth

Control Panel

Scientists have witnessed directed teleportation of physical objects, but 'mainstream' individuals are reluctant to accept its validity or implications

If you haven't already heard, quantum teleportation has actually been achieved, and in fact, scientists from China recently set the record for the farthest quantum teleportation ever, when they beamed a photon in its quantum state into orbit. This brings several quantum mechanical concepts into the equation, including quantum entanglement. When "teleportation" is referenced here, it's also a verification that comes from recent studies which have confirmed entanglement to be real, something Einstein referred to as "spooky action at a distance." Action at a distance implies that a physical object can be moved by non-physical means, so not by touch or physical force, but other forces, including mental forces, as this article suggests. With entanglement, it means that either information is traveling faster than the speed of light, or better yet, instantaneously.

These findings contradict some laws that provide the foundation of modern physics, but the rate at which more is discovered is accelerating exponentially, and the foundations of what we call science needs a big time change. It's happened before, and it is happening now.

Comment: There is probably no better example of how conventional "scientific" thinking has railed against, undercut and denigrated the science of 'the true nature of reality' than in the case of Rupert Sheldrake's work:


Researchers use the 'Tooth Cracker 5000' to extract stem cells from wisdom teeth

© alexisdc/Adobe Stock
A collaboration of dentists and engineers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) made a discovery that could potentially revolutionize how and where we harvest, preserve, and use stem cells. In a study published in Biomaterials and Biomechanics in Bioengineering, the team led by UNLV biomedical sciences professor Karl Kingsley and advanced education program in orthodontics director James Mah turned to root pulps in teeth, specifically wisdom teeth, as an abundant source of stem cells.

"More and more adults-approximately 5 million throughout the country-have their wisdom teeth, or third molars, removed," Kingsley said in a piece appearing in the 2017 issue of UNLV's Innovation magaizine. "Extracting teeth is relatively common among patients undergoing orthodontic treatments. And the majority of those teeth are healthy, containing viable tooth root pulp that offers opportunities for reproducing cells that have been damaged or destroyed by injuries or disease."

The discovery was the result of rather tedious work. First, the team had to figure out an effective way to harvest stem cells from the tooth pulps. Conventional methods of extraction (drilling, shattering, etc.) often destroy a tooth and its pulp, making it difficult to collect enough stem cell samples. So, they developed an instrument they jestingly called the Tooth Cracker 5000, which cuts a tooth in half. Tests showed a 100 percent success rate in fracturing teeth.

Comment: A Smart Use for Wisdom Teeth: Making Stem Cells


New material developed that efficiently extracts hydrogen fuel from seawater

© Pixabay
Previously, it has been cost-intensive, inefficient, and harmful to the environment to create hydrogen fuel. But a new technique developed at the University of Central Florida efficiently creates hydrogen fuel from seawater.


There exists a wide range of renewable energy sources support our increasingly energy-intensive lives as fossil fuels are ultimately phased out. One of these new potential sources of energy is as promising as it is strange. University of Central Florida (UCF) researcher and assistant professor Yang Yang has developed a breakthrough hybrid nanomaterial that uses the power of an existing green energy source, solar energy, to turn seawater into hydrogen fuel.

A faculty member of both the NanoScience Technology Center and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UCF, Yang's breakthrough has been 10 years in the making. Current materials being used to create hydrogen fuel are fairly costly and not all that efficient - a sharp contrast to Yang's new method.

The success is exciting: solar hydrogen splitting is something that many researchers, including Yang, have been working tirelessly towards for years. "We've opened a new window to splitting real water, not just purified water in a lab," Yang said. "This really works well in seawater."

Wedding Rings

Genetics may explain intergenerational divorce rates

© Getty Images
Children of divorced parents are more likely to get divorced when compared to those who grew up in two-parent families - and genetic factors are the primary explanation, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden.

"Genetics, the Rearing Environment, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce: A Swedish National Adoption Study," which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, analyzed Swedish population registries and found that people who were adopted resembled their biological - but not adoptive - parents and siblings in their histories of divorce.

"We were trying to answer the basic question: Why does divorce run in families?" said the study's first author, Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU. "Across a series of designs using Swedish national registry data, we found consistent evidence that genetic factors primarily explained the intergenerational transmission of divorce."

Comment: The four things that kill a relationship stone dead