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Mon, 26 Sep 2016
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Sherlock

DNA from mysterious ancient fossil rewrites elephant family tree

© Jens Meyer/AP Photo
Artist Peter Luckner with a model of a straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), for an exhibition in Braunsbedra, central Germany. This animal is thought to have roamed Germany's Geisel Valley some 200,000 years ago.
The genome of a mysterious ancient fossil has shaken up the elephant family tree.

Modern elephants are classified into three species: the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and two African elephants — the forest-dwellers (Loxodonta cyclotis) and those that live in the savannah (Loxodonta africana). The division of the African elephants, originally considered a single species, was confirmed only in 2010.

Scientists had assumed from fossil evidence that an ancient predecessor called the straight-tusked elephant (Paleoloxodon antiquus), which lived in European forests until around 100,000 years ago, was a close relative of Asian elephants.

In fact, this ancient species is most closely related to African forest elephants, a genetic analysis now reveals. Even more surprising, living forest elephants in the Congo Basin are closer kin to the extinct species than they are to today's African savannah-dwellers. And, together with newly announced genomes from ancient mammoths, the analysis also reveals that many different elephant and mammoth species interbred in the past.

"It's mind blowing," says Tom Gilbert, an evolutionary geneticist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. The straight-tusked elephant is little-known even among experts, he says. "And the first thing we hear about it is: here's the genome."

Robot

Tiny under-skin implants replace keys, business info, medical data and eventually a lot more

© Henrik Andree, Telefónica Basecamp/Digiwell.com
Members of the so-called bodyhacker movement have been implanting RFID chips under their skin, programming them to perform various tasks.
Patrick Paumen doesn't have to worry about forgetting his keys and being locked out of his apartment. That is because he doesn't need a key anymore—he simply unlocks the door with a wave of his hand. The 32-year-old IT expert from the Dutch city of Heerlen is one of a growing number of people with electronic implants under their skin, mostly to use as keys or for identification.

Mr. Paumen has several such implants, or tags, embedded in the fatty tissue of his hands and his lower arm. He uses separate tags to unlock not only his apartment door, but also his office and the gate to a secure parking lot at work. Another stores information he would otherwise put on a business card—name and contact details—and yet another holds similar information for nonbusiness encounters.

The implants can be activated and scanned by readers that use radio frequency identification technology, or RFID. Those include ordinary smartphones and readers already installed in office buildings to allow entrance with a common ID card.

Mr. Paumen says the tiny devices simplify his life. When nearing the secure office parking lot, he says, "I just roll down the window, stick my arm out and let the reader at the gates scan the implant, which is just below my little finger. I don't have to worry about losing my access card."

Done in seconds

There is no comprehensive data on how many people have RFID implants in their bodies, but retailers estimate the total is 30,000 to 50,000 people globally. The fact that the tags can't be lost is one attraction. Another, users say, is that the tags don't operate under their own power but rather are activated when they're read by a scanner. That means they can never be rendered useless by a dead battery like smartphones.

Info

Dolphins appear to be capable of constructing sentences

© Wikimedia Commons
Tursiops truncatus. Bottlenose dolphins are facing several significant threats in the Gulf region.
Dolphins are super-smart and they have a language. New research has probed the complexity of this language and concludes that dolphins not only communicate words with each other, but they are also capable of constructing sentences.

The research comes via the Russian Academy of Scientists from a study of Black Sea bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus.) Here a pair of dolphins were observed communicating with each other in a manner that was sophisticated, had a form of structure and is seen as akin to a sentence. Exactly what the dolphins were communicating to each other is uncertain.

Bottlenose dolphins are a common type of dolphin, living groups (or 'pods') typically of 10 - 30 members. These dolphins have a has a grey color, with the shade of grey varying among populations. Dolphins are remarkable in that they search for prey primarily using echolocation (a type of sonar).

Microscope 2

Is consciousness an attribute of matter?

Consciousness isn't something scientists like to talk about much. You can't see it, you can't touch it, and despite the best efforts of certain researchers, you can't quantify it. And in science, if you can't measure something, you're going to have a tough time explaining it.

But consciousness exists, and it's one of the most fundamental aspects of what makes us human. And just like dark matter and dark energy have been used to fill some otherwise gaping holes in the standard model of physics, researchers have also proposed that it's possible to consider consciousness as a new state of matter.

To be clear, this is just a hypothesis, and one to be taken with a huge grain of salt, because we're squarely in the realm of the hypothetical here, and there's plenty of room for holes to be poked.

But it's part of a quietly bubbling movement within theoretical physics and neuroscience to try and attach certain basic principles to consciousness in order to make it more observable.

Comment: See also:


Rocket

5G fighter T-50's rapid-fire cannon test-fired in Russia

© UACRussia / YouTube
A live test-fire of a rapid-firing autocannon designed for the T-50 fifth-generation fighter jet has been filmed by Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). The short but stunning footage conveys the power of the new weapon.

The test took place at a testing ground for aircraft systems located outside Moscow.

The one-minute footage, uploaded to UAC's website and the official YouTube channel, shows the gun - reportedly called 9-А1-4071K - mounted on a fixed stand simulating the front part of the T-50.

Critical information regarding Russia's newest and most advanced fifth-generation fighter jet remains classified, but it has been revealed that the autocannon is fitted to fire 30mm rounds.

Better Earth

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."

Fish

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."

Robot

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.

Heart

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.