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Wed, 21 Feb 2018
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UK: Archaeologists Unearth Iron Age Settlement in Kent

© Unknown
Archaeologists also found evidence of a medieval enclosure at the site
The remains of an Iron Age settlement have been unearthed by archaeologists working along the route of a new £1.3m water pipeline in Kent.

Evidence of a dwelling, postholes, pits, ancient hearths and pieces of pottery were found on land in Pembury.

South East Water plans to lay a 4.6km (2.9 mile) pipe between Kipping's Cross Service Reservoir and Pembury.

The archaeologists, who were employed by the firm to survey the route, will now record and preserve the finds.

The period known as the Iron Age took place in Britain between about 750BC and about AD40.


Scientists Find Survival Factor for Keeping Nerve Cells Healthy

Scientists at the Babraham Institute have discovered a novel survival factor whose rapid transport along nerve cells is crucial for keeping them alive. The same factor seems likely to be needed to keep our nerves healthy as we age.

These findings, published in the online, open-access journal PLoS Biology, show that a molecule known as Nmnat2 provides a protective function; in its absence healthy, uninjured nerve cells start to degenerate and boosting levels of Nmnat2 can delay degeneration when the cells are injured. This suggests an exciting new therapeutic avenue for protecting nerves from disease and injury-induced degeneration.

This breakthrough by Drs Jon Gilley and Michael Coleman at Babraham, an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), furthers our understanding of the basic biology of our nerves and provides new insight into the factors causing neurodegenerative diseases like Motor Neurone Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.


Benevolent hackers poke holes in e-banking

© Frazer Hudson
Security could be lacking.
Online banking fraud doesn't just affect the naive. Last year, Robert Mueller, a director at the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, admitted he'd come within a mouse-click of being a victim himself. Now the extent of the problem has been brought into sharp relief, with computer scientists warning that banking culture is increasing the likelihood that customers are using vulnerable systems.

The convenience of online banking and electronic money has led to a revolution in the way we save and spend our earnings. Banking websites and payment systems are relentlessly targeted by criminals, though, so continuous improvements in security are needed to prevent fraud. But as was revealed at this week's Financial Cryptography and Data Security conference in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, some of the best-known security systems can still be compromised relatively easily.

All too often, banks' security systems are developed in secret, so their flaws are only identified when they are deployed, says Steven Murdoch, a security researcher at the University of Cambridge. This opens a window of opportunity for criminals.


Firefly Mission to Study Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes

© NASA/Robert Kilgore
An artist's concept of TGFs.
High-energy bursts of gamma rays typically occur far out in space, perhaps near black holes or other high-energy cosmic phenomena. So imagine scientists' surprise in the mid-1990s when they found these powerful gamma ray flashes happening right here on Earth, in the skies overhead.

They're called Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes, or TGFs, and very little is known about them. They seem to have a connection with lightning, but TGFs themselves are something entirely different.

"In fact," says Doug Rowland of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, "before the 1990s nobody knew they even existed. And yet they're the most potent natural particle accelerators on Earth."

Individual particles in a TGF acquire a huge amount of energy, sometimes in excess of 20 mega-electron volts (MeV). In contrast, the colorful auroras that light up the skies at high latitudes are powered by particles with less than one thousandth as much energy.


Northern Lights

A solar wind stream hit Earth on January 30th. It was a minor gust, but enough to spark these Northern Lights over Tromsø, Norway:

© Helge Mortensen
I was out taking some pictures of the landscape in full moonlight when the auroras decided to show up!" says photographer Helge Mortensen. "A 2.5 second exposure with my Canon 40D at ISO 800 nicely revealed the lights through the clouds."


Neurons May Function More Solo Than Thought

Surprising observations of neuron firing patterns raise new questions about how the brain works

Neurons vote independently.

Brain cells hardly ever follow their neighbors in spouting electrically charged opinions despite being wired together, two studies published January 29 in Science suggest. This fierce independence could change the view of how the brain codes information.

Researchers led by neuroscientist Andreas Tolias of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston measured electrical activity in pairs of neurons in the V1 visual processing centers of macaques. The researchers found that the neurons almost never synchronize their firing patterns with those of neighboring cells, even when the cells are very close together and detect the same sort of visual information. While previous studies have also detected low levels of coordination, even those studies showed 10 times higher levels of coordination in neuronal activity patterns than Tolias and his colleagues report.


I, Virus: Why You're Only Half human

© NewScientist
Part of our DNA (Image: Mehau Kulyk/SPL/Getty)
When, in 2001, the human genome was sequenced for the first time, we were confronted by several surprises. One was the sheer lack of genes: where we had anticipated perhaps 100,000 there were actually as few as 20,000. A bigger surprise came from analysis of the genetic sequences, which revealed that these genes made up a mere 1.5 per cent of the genome. This is dwarfed by DNA deriving from viruses, which amounts to roughly 9 per cent.

On top of that, huge chunks of the genome are made up of mysterious virus-like entities called retrotransposons, pieces of selfish DNA that appear to serve no function other than to make copies of themselves. These account for no less than 34 per cent of our genome.

All in all, the virus-like components of the human genome amount to almost half of our DNA. This would once have been dismissed as mere "junk DNA", but we now know that some of it plays a critical role in our biology. As to the origins and function of the rest, we simply do not know.


Peering Inside an Artificial Sun

Peering inside the sun
© PhysOrg.com
A tiny chamber made of gold, called a hohlraum, is used to contain the pellet of heavy hydrogen fuel at the center of a fusion reaction at the National Ignition Facility. Laser beams enter through the two open ends of the hohlraum and are reflected in toward the fuel, heating it up to produce the fusion reaction. Image: National Ignition Facility
After more than five decades of research, a major milestone toward the harnessing of fusion power is expected within the next year or two. This milestone, known as "fusion ignition," should take place at an experimental facility built for that purpose in California. Known as the National Ignition Facility, or NIF, it started initial experiments last fall.

Researchers at MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) have played an important part in making this pivotal event possible, and that role is outlined this week in a paper published in the journal Science. In a nutshell, they've figured out how to use a second fusion reaction as a kind of backlight, allowing them to see the details of what's happening inside the primary reaction.

Fusion, the merging of two small atoms into one with a prodigious release of energy, is the process that powers the sun, and is seen as a potential long-term solution to the world's energy needs because in principle it could supply vast amounts of energy without any greenhouse gas emissions. But the practical harnessing of this powerhouse is thought to remain decades away.


Study Offers an Insight Into Dinosaur Colors

© New York Times
What color were dinosaurs? Well, at least one of them had a feathered mohawk tail in a subdued palette of chestnut and white stripes.

That is what a team of Chinese and British scientists reported Wednesday in Nature, providing the first clear evidence of dinosaur colors from studies of 125-million-year-old fossils of a dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx.

"We might be able to start painting a picture in color of what these things looked like," said Lawrence M. Witmer, a paleontologist at Ohio University, who was not involved in the study.

Of course, such pictures have been painted many times, but the colors were products of a painter's imagination, not a scientist's laboratory.


An Organic Transistor that Mimics a Brain Synapse

© Mil-Tech.com
For the first time, nanotechnology researchers in France have developed a hybrid nano-particle-organic transistor that can mimic the main functionalities of a synapse.

The NOMFET (Nanoparticle Organic Memory Field-Effect Transistor), as it's known, is an organic device made of a molecule called pentacene (an organic semiconductor) and gold nano-particles. It exhibits the main behavior of a biological spiking synapse and can lead to a new generation of neuro-inspired computers, capable of responding in a manner similar to the nervous system.

As Mil-Tech reports, Dominique Vuillaume, a research director at CNRS (the French National Science Agency) involved with the project said; "Basically, we have demonstrated that electric charges flowing through a mixture of an organic semiconductor and metallic nano-particles can behave the same way as neurotransmitters through a synaptic connection in the brain."