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Thu, 23 Nov 2017
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Science & Technology


Face of courageous woman accused of 'witchcraft' is digitally reconstructed 300 years later

© PA
Lilias Adie as she may have appeared in the early 1700s
The face of an 18th-century 'witch' who died in jail before she could be burned for her 'crimes' has been digitally reconstructed. Lilias Adie, from Torryburn, Fife, died in 1704 while held in prison for her 'confessed' crimes of being a witch and having sex with the devil.

BBC Radio Scotland's Time Travels programme has now unmasked her face by working with a forensic artist at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee.

The team believes it is likely to be the only accurate likeness of a Scottish "witch" in existence as most were burned, destroying any hope of reconstructing their faces from skulls.

Presenter Susan Morrison said: "It was a truly eerie moment when the face of Lilias suddenly appeared.

Comment: Real-life 'Hobbit' face revealed


Five new asteroids found orbiting belt between Mars and Jupiter

© NASA, ESA, and B. Sunnquist and J. Mack (STScI)
Five previously unknown asteroids in our solar system have photobombed new Hubble Space Telescope images. Astronomers spotted the space rocks - plus another two that had been previously cataloged - in images collected as part of the Frontier Fields project, which observed six clusters of galaxies billions of light-years away.

When multiple exposures obtained at different times were stacked together to produce the image above, the asteroids showed up as trails because they had moved between exposures, and some of the asteroids were spotted more than once. The five new asteroids orbit within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Previous studies missed them because they're extremely faint.


MRIs reveal the effects of microgravity on astronauts' brains

© China.org.cn
Astronauts living and working in space will experience the detrimental effects of microgravity on the human body. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station, for example, have experienced altered vision and increased pressure inside their heads, symptoms termed as visual impairment intracranial pressure (VIIP) syndrome.

VIIP syndrome is thought to be related to the redistribution of body fluid toward the head during long-term microgravity exposure, but the exact cause is unknown. To investigate the impact of microgravity on the human brain, neuroradiologist Donna Roberts, from the Medical University of South Carolina, has used MRI to investigate the anatomy of the brain following space flight (N. Engl. J. Med. 377 1746).

"Exposure to the space environment has permanent effects on humans that we simply do not understand," said Roberts. "What astronauts experience in space must be mitigated to produce safer space travel for the public."

Comment: More on the health of astronauts in space:


4 ways NASA plans to save us from Earth-bound asteroids

An Earth-bound asteroid would need to be spotted decades in advance if scientists are to have a chance of stopping a disaster.
Hollywood movies have long dramatised the threat of Earth being wiped out in by an asteroid discovered at the 11th hour, only for disaster to be averted by all-American heroes such as Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck or a gristly Robert Duvall.

As NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office uses the asteroid "2012 TC4" to test its ability to respond to the existential threat posed by Near Earth Objects (NEOs), we look at four methods the international community hopes could one day help us avoid going the way of the dinosaurs.


How the North Russian regions adapt to permafrost

Scientists have developed technologies to strengthen the soil and selected plants, which may decorate the extreme North's regions

© Kirill Kukhmar/TASS
Permafrost causes certain problems and inconveniences in development of soil and use of its deposits, but Russian scientists and engineers adapt projects to those severe conditions. For example, specialists in St. Petersburg suggest adding pine resin into cement for construction in the Arctic, and experts in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District (Yamal) have found more than a hundred plants, which may decorate the extreme North's regions.

Scientists, representatives of businesses and authorities tell TASS about how the northern regions get adapted to the permafrost conditions.



The genetics of people living at high altitudes

© Wikimedia/Kilobug
Aymara-speaking people of the Andean Altiplano in Copacabana, on the border of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia.
People who both travel to and live at high altitudes typically cope with lower oxygen levels by increasing red blood cell production, which can help get more oxygenated blood to organs and tissues. But the increase in red blood cells also makes blood thicker, stickier, and more difficult to pump, putting a strain on the cardiovascular system and leading to health issues, including heart failure and high blood pressure.

Some populations that live at high altitudes, such as Tibetan highlanders, have evolved to limit increases in red blood cell numbers. In contrast, Andeans that live at high altitudes overproduce red blood cells, yet manage to avoid the negative consequences. In a study published today (November 2) in The American Journal of Human Genetics, researchers report the first clues as to how they skirt the risks of extra red blood cells: variants in sequences related to genes that regulate cardiovascular function and heart development.

The authors "look at a specific population that has a unique evolutionary history," says Tatum Simonson, who did not participate in the work but studies the physiology and genetics of high-altitude adaptation at the University of California, San Diego. "Because of that history, we can learn a lot about the genes that are involved in some of these responses to low oxygen and the phenotypes that are associated with them."

The researchers studied a group of Andean highlanders who speak a language called Aymara and live at elevations topping 3,600 meters. "We can't experiment genetically with humans, but nature has sometimes [done] experiments for us," says coauthor Rasmus Nielsen of the University of California, Berkeley. By examining what happens when humans live with different environmental stressors, "we can learn something about the interactions between our genetics and the environment."


Critical for survival: Researchers discover brain circuitry essential for alertness and vigilance

© Credit: Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University
Using a molecular method likely to become widely adopted by the field, researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health have discovered brain circuitry essential for alertness, or vigilance - and for brain states more generally. Strikingly, the same cell types and circuits are engaged during alertness in zebra fish and mice, species whose evolutionary forebears parted ways hundreads of millions of years ago. This suggests that the human brain is likely similarly wired for this state critical to survival.

"Vigilance gone awry marks states such as mania and those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression," explained Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, co-funded the study. "Gaining familiarity with the molecular players in a behavior - as this new tool promises - may someday lead to clinical interventions targeting dysfunctional brain states."


Mad scientists ready to make men pregnant

© Global Look Press
Men could get pregnant as early as "tomorrow" due to huge leaps in the transplantation of wombs, according to the outgoing president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Dr. Richard Paulson told the society's annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas that there was no anatomical reason why a womb could not be successfully implanted into a transgender woman.

"You could do it tomorrow," he reportedly said in his address. "There would be additional challenges, but I don't see any obvious problem that would preclude it," he added, emphasizing that it was still a very complicated procedure.

Comment: Mary Shelley probably never dreamed that her designs of a Frankenstein monster to create life would actually be sought by modern mad scientists. Scarier still is that there is so much support around such a selfish and demented pursuit.

Cow Skull

Why are so many fossils of woolly mammoths young males?

© The Siberian Times
A whooly mammoth inside a permafrost cave in Yakutsk.
Scientists studying the fossils of ancient woolly mammoths believe they've cracked the mystery of why so many are young males - and the answer is surprisingly close to home.

It appears that woolly mammoths and today's young males have at least one thing in common - without their moms, they were destined to wander the world alone before succumbing to an accidental death.

Many of the clueless young male mammoths got themselves into risky situations, and were swept into rivers, or fell through ice or bogs where they remained until scientists found them thousands of years later. That's according to research published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Comment: For a fascinating discussion on woolly mammoths and what happened to them, read Pierre Lescaudron's article Of Flash Frozen Mammoths and Cosmic Catastrophes.


Researchers document transformation of graphite into hexagonal diamond

The DCS two-stage gas gun used for experiments is linked to the APS x-ray beam
A new study by Washington State University researchers answers longstanding questions about the formation of a rare type of diamond during major meteorite strikes.

Comment: Let's all look on the bright side, if/when a major space rock slams in to the planet, there's be lots of diamonds to keep the survivors happy in the rubble-strewn planet in which must now live.