Friday, February 26, 2010

Astronaut Makes Sushi in Space

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi may be far from home, but not from his country's trademark dish. He is making sushi in space while floating weightless aboard his current post on the International Space Station, and even wears a chef's hat while he does it. In a demonstration, Noguchi held a piece of seaweed in one hand and used a spoon to nudge a floating clump of rice into it. With a few quick twists, he wrapped it all up in a neat roll.

"The first hand-rolled sushi in space, there you go," a proud Noguchi told Fuji TV reporters after making a sushi roll while floating inside the space station's Japanese-built Kibo laboratory. "It has salmon inside."

Noguchi made the sushi during a space-to-ground video interview with Fuji TV reporters on Wednesday. He spoke Japanese, with an interpreter on Earth providing an English translation.

"You have a gourmet cooking corner in your show, too, so I would actually like to cook here for you," he told them before wowing the reporters with his zero gravity culinary skill.

Food in space is a precious commodity for astronauts, particularly those living on the space station for up to six months at a time. But since astronauts live in weightlessness, the food floats around like everything else. Shuttle astronauts, for example, use tortillas, powdered eggs and sausage patties to make space burritos. Bread, they said, leads to troublesome crumbs.

Noguchi has lived aboard the space station since December and is one of five astronauts from three countries staffing the orbiting laboratory. He represents the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Two Russians and two Americans round out the rest of the current crew. Noguchi did not mention if he had any wasabi to go with his space sushi. ...

via Astronaut Makes Sushi in Space - Yahoo! News.

The world's five youngest billionaires (2009-2010)

I just got curious about this and started looking around. Forbes had some interesting things: Here is a complete list of the world's billionaires in 2009. Youngest billionaire 2008:   Marc Zuckerberg – United States, Age: 23.
He and his friend Andrew McCollum along with two other roommates, Dustin Moskovits and Chris Hughes started Facebook. Mark is the CEO of Facebook and his net worth is said to be $1.5 billion. - link

Youngest billionaires in 2009:

Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis

Net worth: $2.1 billion
Age: 25

"The youngest billionaire in the world is 25-year-old German Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis, who is worth $2.1 billion. Von Thurn und Taxis first appeared on our list of the world's billionaires at age 8, but he officially inherited his family's fortune in 2001 on his 18th birthday. ... German prince reclaims the title of world's youngest billionaire as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg drops out of the billionaires' club."


Sergey Brin

Sergey Brin

Net worth: $12 billion
Age: 35

Google co-founder continues to dominate search business despite facing strong headwinds. Company's stock is down 30% in the past 12 months, slicing $6.7 billion from personal balance sheet. ...


Larry Page

Larry Page

Net Worth: $12 billion
Age: 36

Professor's son, heads Google's product division. Met partner Sergey Brin in a computer science Ph.D. program at Stanford University. Duo dropped out in 1998 to start Google from a friend's garage...


Sheik Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahayan

Net Worth: $4.9 billion
Age: 39

Investor with hoards of cash is a member of Abu Dhabi's royal family. Last September, he shelled out $300 million for soccer team Manchester City. One month later, he rescued British bank Barclays from possible nationalization with a controversial $5 billion cash investment.


Jerry Yang

Jerry Yang

Net Worth: $1.1 billion
Age: 40

Embattled Yahoo! co-founder quit as chief executive in January. Settled proxy contest with shareholder activist Carl Icahn for control of company. Icahn won three board seats. Yahoo! stock is down nearly 55% since original Microsoft offer last February.

83 year old billionaire sets record, buys rough diamond for $35 million

A 507-carat diamond that sold for $35.3 million on Friday is ...A 507-carat diamond that sold for $35.3 million on Friday is shown in an undated photo courtesy of Petra Diamonds.

Petra Diamonds sold a 507-carat diamond for $35.3 million on Friday, breaking a record as the highest price ever paid for a rough diamond.

Analysts had estimated the value of the stone, one of the 20 biggest high-quality rough diamonds, at around $25 million.

"It is fitting that the Cullinan Heritage should achieve a sale price of $35.3 million, the highest sale price on record ever achieved for a rough diamond, as it has the potential to produce one of the world's most important polished gems," Chief Executive Johan Dippenaar said.

London-listed Petra said in a statement the gem was purchased in a tender by Chow Tai Fook Jewelry Co Ltd in Hong Kong.

Proceeds will help boost Petra's profit for its fiscal year to end-June after the firm swung to a first-half profit on higher production and sales.

AIM-listed Petra found the gem last September at its 74 percent owned Cullinan mine in South Africa, which it bought from sector giant De Beers in 2007.

The Cullinan mine has been the source of many large diamonds, including the world's largest rough diamond -- the Cullinan -- at 3,106 carats. That gem was cut into the Star of Africa stones that are now set in Britain's Crown Jewels.

Petra was a member of a consortium that paid $148 million when buying the Cullinan mine from De Beers, which is 45 percent owned by mining group Anglo American.

via Petra sets record, sells diamond for $35 million - Yahoo! News.

From wikipedia:
Chow Tai Fook Enterprises Ltd. is a diversified, Hong Kong-based company engaged in the property development, hotel, casino, transportation, jewelry, port and telecommunications businesses.

Chow Tai Fook is a private company owned by Dr. Cheng Yu-tung, who is its chairman, as well as the chairman of New World Development Co. Ltd.

Chow Tai Fook is the major shareholder of New World Development Co. Ltd. (HKSE: 0017). It owns the Marina hotel property in Manila, the Philippines.

... Cheng Yu-tung GBM ... is a Hong Kong billionaire with extensive business dealings and real estate interests in Hong Kong and Macau. He owns the privately-held Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, a conglomerate which operates the Sheraton Marina hotel and controls the publicly listed New World group. He also has interests in Shun Tak Holdings, and the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, owned by Stanley Ho.

Cheng also serves on the board of the Hang Seng Bank, Hong Kong's third-largest bank.

He represents the Kingdom of Bhutan in Hong Kong, serving as the honorary consul for the country.

Net Worth:$4.0 bil
self made
Source:real estate
Marital Status:married, 4 children


Scientists Unravel Mysteries of Intelligence's not a particular brain region that makes someone smart or not smart.

Nor is it the strength and speed of the connections throughout the brain or such features as total brain volume.

Instead, new research shows, it's the connections between very specific areas of the brain that determine intelligence and often, by extension, how well someone does in life.

"General intelligence actually relies on a specific network inside the brain, and this is the connections between the gray matter, or cell bodies, and the white matter, or connecting fibers between neurons," said Jan Glascher, lead author of a paper appearing in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "General intelligence relies on the connection between the frontal and the parietal [situated behind the frontal] parts of the brain."

The results weren't entirely unexpected, said Keith Young, vice chairman of research in psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Temple, but "it is confirmation of the idea that good communication between various parts of brain are very important for this generalized intelligence."

via Scientists Unravel Mysteries of Intelligence - Yahoo! News.

Iceberg breaks in Antarctica not where expected

In this satellite image released by Commonwealth of Australia, ...With the dramatic crash of an iceberg against a glacier that dislodged a massive new chunk of ice, the mysterious continent of Antarctica once again did the unexpected.

A big chunk of ice, slightly smaller than Oahu, broke off from a place it wasn't supposed to and in a way that wasn't quite anticipated, scientists reported Friday.

The new iceberg broke off from the cooler eastern end of Antarctica, the result of tidal forces that caused a longer but thinner iceberg that stretches for 60 miles to hammer it free. The new chunk broke off a long tongue of ice that had been building for decades, but will unlikely cause future ice loss problems on the continent, scientists said.

This happened as researchers have focused attention on the western side of Antactica, a continent about 1 1/2 times larger than the United States. Concern has grown over warmer temperatures there and especially the region's shrinking peninsula, which sticks out into the water like a broken pinky finger.

Remarkably, that peninsula, where last year one ice shelf was said to be hanging by a thread, has had an unusually cool summer. It's hit pause on ice loss, said Ted Scambos, senior scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

In a satellite phone interview this week from the western peninsula where he's working, Scambos predicted no major ice calving. His comments were made Thursday.

The next day Australian researchers alerted the world to the iceberg crash with the Mertz Glacier on the other side of the continent. They said it had probably occurred around Feb. 12 or 13.

"There are some crazy things going down in Antarctica," said Mark Serreze, director of the snow and ice data center, based in Boulder, Colo. "It seems kind of weird, but weird things happen." ...

via Iceberg breaks in Antarctica not where expected - Yahoo! News.

Nouns and Verbs Learned in Different Brain Regions and verbs may go hand and hand in a sentence, but they are learned in different regions of our brains, a new study suggests.

The work could explain why children learn nouns before verbs, and adults also perform better and react faster to nouns during cognitive tests.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to look at the brain activity of 21 people as they learned 160 new nouns and verbs.

The subjects had to work out the meaning of a new term based on the context provided in two sentences. For example, in the phrases "The girl got a jat for Christmas" and "The best man was so nervous he forgot the jat," the noun jat means "ring." Similarly, with "The student is nising noodles for breakfast," and "The man nised a delicious meal for her," the made-up verb would mean "to cook."

The task was meant to simulate how we acquire new vocabulary over the course of our lives, said study author Rodríguez-Fornells, a psychologist at the University of Barcelona.

The brain imaging showed that when participants were learning new nouns, the left fusiform gyrus, which is associated with visual and object processing, was activated. New verbs activated part of the left posterior medial temporal gyrus (associated with semantic and conceptual aspects) and the left inferior frontal gyrus (involved in processing grammar).

In addition, activation of other specific parts of the brain was associated with how well people learned new nouns, but not verbs.

The results were published this month in the journal Neuroimage.

via Nouns and Verbs Learned in Different Brain Regions - Yahoo! News.

The image is from a different but also interesting Brain article: A Neurosemantic Theory of Concrete Noun Representation Based on the Underlying Brain Codes.

SnakeOil? Scientific evidence for health supplements

SnakeOil? The scientific evidence for health supplements

A generative data-visualisation of all the scientific evidence for popular health supplements by David McCandless and Andy Perkins.

I’m a bit of a health nut. Keeping fit. Streamlining my diet. I plan to live to the age of 150 in fact. But I get frustrated by constant, conflicting reports and studies about health supplements.

Is Vitamin C worth taking or not? Does Echinacea kill colds? Am I missing out not drinking litres of Goji juice, wheatgrass extract and flaxseed oil every day?

In an effort to give myself a quick reference guide, I dove into the scientific evidence and created a visualization for my book. And then worked with the awesome Andy Perkins on a further interactive, generative “living image”.

Play with interactive version | See the still image

This visualisation generates itself from this Google Doc. So when new research comes out, we can quickly update the data and regenerate the image. (How cool is that??) Hopefully then this should be a useful web resources for years to come.

... This image is a “balloon race”. The higher a bubble, the greater the evidence for its effectiveness. But the supplements are only effective for the conditions listed inside the bubble.

You might also see multiple bubbles for certain supps. These is because some supps affect a range of conditions, but the evidence quality varies from condition to condition. For example, there’s strong evidence that Green Tea is good for cholesterol levels. But evidence for its anti-cancer effects is conflicting. In these cases, we give a supp another bubble.

The evidence

We only considered large, human, randomized placebo-controlled trials in our data scrape – wherever possible. No animal trials. No cell studies. Many of the health claims made by the $23 billion supplements industry are based on non-human trials. We wanted to cut through that. ...

via SnakeOil? Scientific evidence for health supplements | Information Is Beautiful. ( source: PubMed, Cochrane )

Perhaps I should add some brewer's yeast to my morning shake and eat more Shitake mushrooms since beta-glucan gets such high marks as an anti-viral and anti-cancer agent in the above data.

Radio Orangevale

I made a note two years ago to check out Radio Orangevale, a Sacramento area band once known as Las Pesadillas.

Ocean robot plans its own experiments

AUV (MBARI)Scientists in the US are using an underwater vehicle that can "plan its own experiments" on the seafloor.

The "Gulper AUV" is programmed to look for the information that scientists want and plan its own route, avoiding hazardous currents and obstacles.

The research team described this advance at the Ocean Sciences meeting in Portland.

The group explained how it could "train" the robot to bring the best science back to the surface.

Thom Maughan from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California was one of the engineers on the project.

He explained how the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) used a piece of software called "T rex", which operates in a similar way to the software used to control Nasa's Mars Exploration Rovers - helping them to avoid obstacles on the surface of the Red Planet.

One main difference between the two pieces of software is that for the Mars rovers, the software ran in the control centre on Earth. With this marine vehicle, it runs onboard the robotic vehicle.

"You can tell it what to do before you put it in the water," Dr Maughan said.

"We tell it, 'here's the range of tasks that we want you to perform', and it goes off and assesses what is happening in the ocean, making decisions about how much of the range it will cover to get back the data we want." ...

via BBC News - Ocean robot 'plans experiments'.

Scanning for skin cancer: Infrared system looks for deadly melanoma

Johns Hopkins researchers have developed a noninvasive infrared scanning system to help doctors determine whether pigmented skin growths are benign moles or melanoma, a lethal form of cancer.

The prototype system works by looking for the tiny temperature difference between healthy tissue and a growing tumor.

The researchers have begun a pilot study of 50 patients at Johns Hopkins to help determine how specific and sensitive the device is in evaluating melanomas and precancerous lesions. Further patient testing and refinement of the technology are needed, but if the system works as envisioned, it could help physicians address a serious health problem: The National Cancer Institute estimated that 68,720 new cases of melanoma were reported in the United States in 2009; it attributed 8,650 deaths to the disease.

To avert such deaths, doctors need to identify a mole that may be melanoma at an early, treatable stage. To do this, doctors now look for subjective clues such as the size, shape and coloring of a mole, but the process is not perfect.

"The problem with diagnosing melanoma in the year 2010 is that we don't have any objective way to diagnose this disease," said Rhoda Alani, adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and professor and chair of dermatology at the Boston University School of Medicine. "Our goal is to give an objective measurement as to whether a lesion may be malignant. It could take much of the guesswork out of screening patients for skin cancer."

With this goal in mind, Alani teamed with heat transfer expert Cila Herman, a professor of mechanical engineering in Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering. Three years ago, Herman obtained a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop new ways to detect subsurface changes in temperature. Working with Muge Pirtini, a mechanical engineering doctoral student, Herman aimed her research at measuring heat differences just below the surface of the skin.

Because cancer cells divide more rapidly than normal cells, they typically generate more metabolic activity and release more energy as heat. ...

via Scanning for skin cancer: Infrared system looks for deadly melanoma.

Offering hope for tissue regeneration at Rhode Island Hospital have discovered how cells communicate with each other during times of cellular injury. The findings shed new light on how the body repairs itself when organs become diseased, through small particles known as microvesicles, and offers hope for tissue regeneration. The paper is published in the March 2010 edition of the journal Experimental Hematology and is now available online in advance of publication.

Lead author Jason Aliotta, MD, a physician researcher in the pulmonary/critical care and hematology/oncology departments at Rhode Island Hospital, and his colleagues focused their work on the microvesicles. These particles are several times smaller than a normal cell and contain genetic information such as messenger ribonucleic acid (RNA), other species of RNA and protein. The paper shows a novel mechanism by which the cells communicate with each other through these microvesicles. During times of cellular injury or stress, or with certain diseases like cancer, infections and cardiovascular disease, these particles are shed and then taken up by other cells in the body. The genetic information and protein in the microvesicles helps to reprogram the accepting cell to behave more like the cell from which the particle was derived.

Aliotta is also an assistant professor of medicine at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a physician with University Medicine Foundation, Inc. He says, "What we attempted to understand is how cells within the bone marrow are able to repair organs that are unrelated to those bone marrow cells, such as the lung. Our work suggests that when the lung is injured or diseased and cells within the lung are stressed or dying, they shed microvesicles. Those microvesicles are then consumed by cells within the bone marrow, including stem cells, which are present in small numbers within the circulatory system. Those bone marrow cells then turn into lung cells."

Other researchers have reported similar findings over the last couple of years, however, microvesicles have been known about for over 40 years and have often been considered irrelevant.

Aliotta adds, "We are now recognizing the relevance of microvesicles: They are important mediators of cell-to-cell communication. What is unique to our research is the finding that microvesicles not only supply information to stem cells with lung injury, but this process also occurs in other organs as well, like the heart, liver and brain."

The researchers report unique findings, noting that the change in those stem cells that have consumed microvesicles made by injured lung cells is very stable – the change appears to be permanent. Stem cells are reprogrammed due to the transfer of microvesicle-based transcription factors. These factors cause cells to behave atypically. As Aliotta says, "This would be relevant to any type of disease – if you want to repair damaged tissue, these microvesicles potentially provide a durable fix, and the hope is that it would be fixed forever."

The study is part of ongoing stem cell research at Rhode Island Hospital under the direction of Peter Quesenberry, MD, director of hematology/oncology at Rhode Island Hospital, who is a co-author on the paper. He is the principal investigator for a recent $11 million Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant to Rhode Island Hospital from the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). ...

via Offering hope for tissue regeneration.

Image from Pimm blog:
Pimm – Partial immortalization is a weblog about personal genetics, stem cells and mitochondria, regenerative medicine, biotechnology, indefinite life extension, science hacks and bioDIY amongst others.

The most frequent error in medicine

The most frequent error in medicine seems to occur nearly one out of three times a patient is referred to a specialist. A new study found that nearly a third of patients age 65 and older referred to a specialist are not scheduled for appointments and therefore do not receive the treatment their primary care doctor intended.

According to a new study appearing in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, only 71 percent of patients age 65 or older who are referred to a specialist are actually scheduled to be seen by that physician. Furthermore, only 70 percent of those with an appointment actually went to the specialist's office. Thus, only 50 percent (70 percent of 71 percent) of those referred to a specialist had the opportunity to receive the treatment their primary care doctor intended them to have, according to the findings by researchers from the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University School of Medicine.

The Institute of Medicine, in its seminal report "To Err is Human," defines a medical error as a "wrong plan" or a failure of a planned action to be completed.

"Patients fail to complete referrals with specialists for a variety of reasons, including those that the health care system can correct, such as failure of the primary care doctor's office to make the appointment; failure of the specialist's office to receive the request for a consultation—which can be caused by something as simple as a fax machine without paper – or a failure to confirm availability with the patient," said Michael Weiner M.D., M.P.H., first author of the study.

"There will always be reasons – health issues or lack of transportation, for example – why a referred patient cannot make it to the specialist he or she needs, but there are many problems we found to be correctable using health information technology to provide more coordinated and patient-focused care. Using electronic medical records and other health IT to address the malfunction of the referral process, we were able to reduce the 50 percent lack of completion of referrals rate to less than 20 percent, a significant decrease in the medical error rate," said Dr. Weiner.

The JECP study followed 6,785 primary care patients seen at an urban medical institution, all over age 65, with a mean age of 72. Nearly all (91 percent) of the patients were covered by Medicare. ...

via The most frequent error in medicine.

Surprising. My HMO seems on the ball with their referral process. What is the most frequent error by the doctors themselves?

Increasing neurogenesis might prevent drug addiction and relapse at UT Southwestern Medical Center hope they have begun paving a new pathway in the fight against drug dependence. Their hypothesis – that increasing the normally occurring process of making nerve cells might prevent addiction – is based on a rodent study demonstrating that blocking new growth of specific brain nerve cells increases vulnerability for cocaine addiction and relapse.

The study's findings, available in the Journal of Neuroscience, are the first to directly link addiction with the process, called neurogenesis, in the region of the brain called the hippocampus.

While the research specifically focused on what happens when neurogenesis is blocked, the scientists said the results suggest that increasing adult neurogenesis might be a potential way to combat drug addiction and relapse.

"More research will be needed to test this hypothesis, but treatments that increase adult neurogenesis may prevent addiction before it starts, which would be especially important for patients treated with potentially addictive medications," said Dr. Amelia Eisch, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. "Additionally, treatments that increase adult neurogenesis during abstinence might prevent relapse."

Increasingly, addiction researchers have recognized that some aspects of the condition – such as forming drug-context associations – might involve the hippocampus, which is a region of the brain associated with learning and memory. Only with recent technological advances have scientists been able to test their theories in animals by manipulating the birth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus of the adult brain.

Physical activity and novel and enriched environments have been shown in animal studies to be good for the brain in general, but more research is needed to see if they can increase human adult neurogenesis. ...

via Increasing neurogenesis might prevent drug addiction and relapse.

Strange as it may sound, the road to addiction recovery might start on a treadmill.

A series of studies evaluating the relationship between exercise and substance abuse has produced promising results, prompting the National Institute on Drug Abuse to offer $4 million in grant money for additional research into whether regular vigorous activity can prevent addiction.

“Exercise has been shown to be beneficial in so many areas of physical and mental health,” NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow said in a press release announcing a two-day conference on the role of physical activity in addiction prevention. “This cross-disciplinary meeting is designed to get scientists thinking creatively about [exercise’s] potential role in substance abuse prevention.” -

I recommend visiting this blog once a day to be certain you are getting  your dose of new information, aka environmental enrichment. ;-)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why symptoms of schizophrenia emerge in young adulthood

File:Schizophrenia PET scan.jpgIn reports of two new studies, researchers led by Johns Hopkins say they have identified the mechanisms rooted in two anatomical brain abnormalities that may explain the onset of schizophrenia and the reason symptoms don't develop until young adulthood. Both types of anatomical glitches are influenced by a gene known as DISC1, whose mutant form was first identified in a Scottish family with a strong history of schizophrenia and related mental disorders. The findings could lead to new ways to treat, prevent or modify the disorder or its symptoms.

In one of the studies, published in the March issue of Nature Neuroscience, researchers examined DISC1's role in forming connections between nerve cells. Numerous studies have suggested that schizophrenia results from abnormal connectivity. The fact that symptoms typically arise soon after adolescence, a time of massive reorganization of connections between nerve cells, supports this idea.

The scientists began their study by surveying rat nerve cells to see where DISC1 was most active. Unsurprisingly, they found the highest DISC1 activity in connections between nerve cells. To determine what DISC1 was doing in this location, the researchers used a technique called RNA interference to partially shut off DISC1 activity. Consequently, they saw a transient increase and eventual reduction in size and number of dendritic spines, spikes on nerve cells' branch-like extensions that receive input from other nerve cells.

To determine how DISC1 regulates dendritic spine formation, the researchers studied which brain proteins interact with the protein expressed by the DISC1 gene. They identified one, called Kal-7, which earlier studies suggested is critical for proper dendritic spine formation. Further experiments suggested that the DISC1 protein acts as temporary holding place for Kal-7, binding it until it can be released to trigger a molecular cascade that results in dendritic spine formation.

Study leader Akira Sawa, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the program in molecular psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says it is becoming clear that having a defective DISC1 gene might lead to an abnormally small number and size of dendritic spines, which could lead nerve cells to maintain weaker connections with unusually low numbers of neighboring neurons. Such abnormal connectivity has long been seen in autopsied brains from schizophrenia patients.

"Connections between neurons are constantly being made and broken throughout life, with a massive amount of broken connections, or 'pruning,' happening in adolescence," Sawa says. "If this pruning doesn't happen correctly, it may be one reason for the pathogenesis of schizophrenia," he adds. ....

via Why symptoms of schizophrenia emerge in young adulthood.

Alternate “life” styles: scientists predict the possibility of a Shadow Biosphere

image of a crystalline life-formThe possibility of strange forms of alien life seems to have just got a whole lot closer to home. Astrobiologists from Arizona State University, Florida, UC Boulder, NASA, Harvard and Australia have recently theorized about a “shadow biosphere” – a biosphere within a biosphere where alternative biochemistry may be thriving in a way that we haven’t yet thought to examine. Such “weird life” may have had, for hundreds of millions of years, their own ecologies right here in our own backyard. Indeed, like Dark Energy and neutrinos, “weird life” may be all around us even now, only in a non-obvious way. Some astrobiologists are now suggesting that “weird life” is just as likely to be found here on Earth as it is in the Martian regolith, the seas of Europa , or certainly the complex bio-hadronistry on the surface of a neutron star.

I have included a link to their full article here: Davies_etal_Astrobio2009.pdf

Now, while I think that shadow organisms and shadow biospheres are certainly cool enough to blog about, please allow me to take the logical next step by citing yet another intriguing astrobiology paper that came out of the Santa Fe Institute. Published nearly a decade ago in an astrobiology related Nature commentary article titled, “Where are the dolphins?” scientists Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart realized (and showed mathematically that it’s already happening here on Earth) that as a civilization advances they begin to use the available electromagnetic spectrum for communication more fully and efficiently until ultimately their radiative emissions are indistinguishable from blackbody radiation. In other words, when we look out into space with telescopes to search for signs of alien life (SETI for example) we will likely mistake it for being just a regular old hot rock! So either three things must be true to find life through a telescope: 1. The civilization is at a very precise moment in its development,2. The civilization wants to be found and so sets aside some broadcast space for a message, 3. We know their decompression algorithm and what frequency band to apply it to.

It’s this last possibility that relates to the shadow biosphere in a philosophical sense. Unless we know how to interpret the signs of such life, we may not be able to distinguish it from the natural background.

via Alternate “life” styles: scientists predict the possibility of a Shadow Biosphere | The Biology Blog.

Gene-based stem cell therapy specifically removes cell receptor that attracts HIV AIDS Institute researchers successfully removed CCR5 — a cell receptor to which HIV-1 binds for infection but which the human body does not need — from human cells. Individuals who naturally lack the CCR5 receptor have been found to be essentially resistant to HIV.

Using a humanized mouse model, the researchers transplanted a small RNA molecule known as short hairpin RNA (shRNA), which induced RNA interference into human blood stem cells to inhibit the expression of CCR5 in human immune cells.

The findings provide evidence that this strategy can be an effective way to treat HIV-infected individuals, by prompting long-term and stable reduction of CCR5.

via Gene-based stem cell therapy specifically removes cell receptor that attracts HIV.

Largest Lightsaber Battle Ever: Bristol Flashmob (video)

Hundreds of wannabe Jedi warriors took the fight against evil to a galaxy not very far away by unleashing their lightsabers in a shopping center in England, The Sun reported Wednesday.

Dozens of shoppers smuggled imitation weapons into the Cabot Circus shopping center in Bristol, southern England, to take part in what was dubbed "the world's largest lightsaber fight."

The spontaneous event, organized on Facebook, saw Luke Skywalker fans dressed in brown robes clash with supporters of his sworn enemy Darth Vader.

A four-minute video of the flashmob, complete with Star Wars theme tune, was viewed more than 124,000 times after being posted on YouTube. The video was filmed and edited by Scott Waller, Benjamin Gabb and Dan Tonkin.

The clip even made it onto the official Star Wars website in the U.S.

Student Scott Waller, who filmed the Feb. 13 event, was among the sci-fi devotees at the fight.

The 20-year-old, from Bristol, said: "It was quite spontaneous.

"The organizers had just said take your lightsaber and go at it with whoever was stood next to you ... There was slight police presence, but that was more to do with stopping any trouble that might have happened.

"The comments we've had on the website have been really good, and we've had a massive response from people in America saying that (they) should have something like that there," Waller said.

Source: The Sun

The Lightsaber Flashmob in Bristols Cabot Circus on 13th February 2010.  The Video was filmed and edited by Scott Waller, Benjamin Gabb and Dan Tonkin. Flashmob Organiser-
Tom Merchant-Locke, Daniel Morgan Jones, Liam Penn - youtube

Could electronics be what's causing runaway cars? of unintended acceleration by Toyota models that are not part of the recall and by cars from other automakers have revived debate over whether electromagnetic interference is the cause of such incidents.

The theory is that electrical signals — from sources as diverse as cellphones, airport radar and even a car's own systems — briefly and unpredictably wreak havoc with sensitive electronic controls in vehicles. It's an argument trial lawyers and consumer advocates have made for years.

Automakers contend that vehicle systems are designed with sufficient shielding and redundancy to prevent such malfunctions. They have tested for electromagnetic interference (EMI) and found no evidence of it for as long as plaintiff lawyers have blamed it for crashes. Several acceleration suits filed against Toyota claim an EMI link.

It's virtually impossible to prove EMI caused a crash. Plaintiffs have won just one case arguing that issue alone. But there are enough unexplainable crashes and acceleration incidents to keep the door open to allegations.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now is investigating whether EMI could be a factor in Toyota's sudden-acceleration problems. It is NHTSA's first serious look at EMI in decades, and members of Congress will explore it in Toyota hearings beginning today.

"If these congressional hearings probe deeply enough, they'll discover that the car industry has known from the beginning that the most likely cause of sudden acceleration is internal electromagnetic interference," charges Tom Murray, a Sandusky, Ohio, attorney who has brought dozens of acceleration lawsuits and is writing a book on sudden acceleration.

Toyota, however, says floor mat interference and sticky gas pedals are the causes of unintended acceleration in the more than 8 million vehicles it has recalled in the USA for either problem. It commissioned an outside company, Exponent, in December to look at the electronic throttle controls, which have replaced mechanical gas pedal and throttle systems in most vehicles of all makes since the 1990s.

According to a draft report obtained by USA TODAY, Exponent says it could not induce unintended acceleration through "electrical disturbances."

But Keith Armstrong, a United Kingdom-based EMI expert, argues that the tests weren't comprehensive enough to find whether EMI could be to blame. Two experts consulted by the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which is holding today's hearing, were similarly critical. The panel's leadership called it a flawed report, but Toyota says it is far from final and will be peer-reviewed.

NHTSA says it "has no reason at this point to believe" EMI is causing unintended acceleration in Toyotas. Still, looking at it anew is a turnabout. In 1975, a NHTSA report warned that EMI was a potential problem as electronics, just then being used in cars, became more common. Since then, however, its acceleration studies concluded that driver behavior was to blame and didn't address EMI.

Murray, who says he was contacted by NHTSA defect investigators last month, believes that is a mistake. He blames EMI for all but "1% to 2% of all Toyota sudden-acceleration cases" and most of those in other vehicles, too. At least 14 sudden-acceleration lawsuits alleging EMI are pending, including ones against Toyota.

Onboard EMI sources

While EMI from external sources, such as traffic lights or radar, is possible, it is unlikely because it would require an unusually strong signal, says Brian Kirk, a U.K.-based consultant in software safety systems who advises in auto lawsuits. More likely sources are onboard components, he says, because even very low-power electromagnetic radiation from the car's electronics could cause a problem. He says, for example, that EMI from poorly designed ignition wiring could disrupt signals in the electronic throttle or engine controls.

Internal EMI has been linked, Armstrong says, to high-voltage spikes when current in a wire or coil is switched, such as when the headlights or brake lights go off.

Automakers' move to electronic engine controls, including throttles, has been driven by the need to meet tighter federal fuel and emissions regulations. They allow far more precise control of the engine operation and fuel use. Recent years have seen so-called drive-by-wire systems replacing mechanical control of other critical functions, such as steering assist. ...

Dozens of EMI testing centers

Automakers say they try to test for all possible electronic signals that could affect cars. There are dozens of EMI auto testing facilities in the U.S. and Mexico, including centers owned by GM and Ford. ...

Proving anything is tough

Certainty may remain elusive.

Mukul Verma, formerly one of GM's top safety experts, points out that electronic throttle controls may be affected by other electrical and electronic systems, including those in the car, and that unintended acceleration may result from car sensor malfunctions, software glitches or from "electromagnetic interferences, which are random and still not fully understood."

Verma, an adjunct professor of mechatronics (the relationship between mechanical and electronic components) at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., points up the difficulty in being able to "rule in or rule out" EMI as a factor in sudden acceleration. "It's just too hard to prove either way. The thing with electrical currents is, once they are done and gone, there's no trace level. You can't reconstruct any phenomenon caused by electrical current going into a computer."

via Could electronics be what's causing runaway cars? -

Brain's 'Fairness' Spot Found some point in our lives, we've all cried "It's not fair!" In fact, it's human nature for us to dislike unequal situations, and we often try to avoid or remedy them. Now, scientists have identified the first evidence of this behavior's neurological underpinnings in the human brain.

The results show that the brain's reward center responds to unequal situations involving money in a way that indicates people prefer a level playing field, and may suggest why we care about the circumstances of others in the first place.

"Our study shows that the brain doesn’t just reflect self-interested goals, but instead, these basic reward processing regions of the brain seem to be affected by social information," said study author Elizabeth Tricomi, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "That might explain why what happens to other people seems to matter so much to us, even when it might not actually directly affect our own situation."

The study will be published Feb. 25 in the journal Nature.

Social science research indicates that humans are attuned to inequality, and we just don't like it. For instance, people donate to charity to help those not as fortunate as them, and societies provide welfare.

... The researchers monitored signals in the striatum and prefrontal cortex, parts of the brain thought to be involved in how people evaluate rewards. he researchers monitored signals in the striatum and prefrontal cortex, parts of the brain thought to be involved in how people evaluate rewards.

via Brain's 'Fairness' Spot Found | LiveScience.

Image: The seemingly unfairly priced $190 Equalizer Multi-Blade Rocker Pizza Cutter

New stingray discovered at Ningaloo, Australia

[stingray.jpg]Scientists have discovered a new species of stingray at the World Heritage-nominated Ningaloo Marine Park.

Environment Minister Donna Faragher said the new ray was part of the maskray family and with a wingspan of 30cm, it was much smaller than most rays found at Ningaloo.

Mrs Faragher said the find highlighted the importance of the Ningaloo Marine Park.

"It is an area of outstanding beauty, biological richness and international geological significance," she said. "We need to ensure it is protected and conserved."

The Ningaloo Marine Park was part of a 710,000ha area of land and sea, including the Ningaloo Reef, Cape Range and the Muiron Islands off Exmouth which was nominated for the World Heritage list last month.

The Paris-based United Nations World Heritage Committee will spend 18 months evaluating the nomination before deciding whether to grant Ningaloo World Heritage status.

If successful, it will join 17 Australian sites already on the list, including Shark Bay and Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Parks.

The discovery of the new ray at Ningaloo was made during a series of dive surveys conducted by the CSIRO in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Conservation and the WA Marine Science Institution.

CSIRO scientist Will White said the discovery proved there was still a lot to learn about sharks and rays which live in the area. ...

via New stingray discovered at Ningaloo, Australia.

How the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition. Although mostly forgotten today, the "chemist's war of Prohibition" remains one of the strangest and most deadly decisions in American law-enforcement history. As one of its most outspoken opponents, Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City during the 1920s, liked to say, it was "our national experiment in extermination." Poisonous alcohol still kills—16 people died just this month after drinking lethal booze in Indonesia, where bootleggers make their own brews to avoid steep taxes—but that's due to unscrupulous businessmen rather than government order.

... During Prohibition, however, an official sense of higher purpose kept the poisoning program in place. As the Chicago Tribune editorialized in 1927: "Normally, no American government would engage in such business. … It is only in the curious fanaticism of Prohibition that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified." Others, however, accused lawmakers opposed to the poisoning plan of being in cahoots with criminals and argued that bootleggers and their law-breaking alcoholic customers deserved no sympathy. "Must Uncle Sam guarantee safety first for souses?" asked Nebraska's Omaha Bee. ...

The saga began with ratification of the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States.* High-minded crusaders and anti-alcohol organizations had helped push the amendment through in 1919, playing on fears of moral decay in a country just emerging from war. The Volstead Act, spelling out the rules for enforcement, passed shortly later, and Prohibition itself went into effect on Jan. 1, 1920.

But people continued to drink—and in large quantities. Alcoholism rates soared during the 1920s; insurance companies charted the increase at more than 300 more percent. Speakeasies promptly opened for business. By the decade's end, some 30,000 existed in New York City alone. Street gangs grew into bootlegging empires built on smuggling, stealing, and manufacturing illegal alcohol. The country's defiant response to the new laws shocked those who sincerely (and naively) believed that the amendment would usher in a new era of upright behavior.

Rigorous enforcement had managed to slow the smuggling of alcohol from Canada and other countries. But crime syndicates responded by stealing massive quantities of industrial alcohol—used in paints and solvents, fuels and medical supplies—and redistilling it to make it potable.

Well, sort of. Industrial alcohol is basically grain alcohol with some unpleasant chemicals mixed in to render it undrinkable. The U.S. government started requiring this "denaturing" process in 1906 for manufacturers who wanted to avoid the taxes levied on potable spirits. The U.S. Treasury Department, charged with overseeing alcohol enforcement, estimated that by the mid-1920s, some 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen annually to supply the country's drinkers. In response, in 1926, President Calvin Coolidge's government decided to turn to chemistry as an enforcement tool. Some 70 denaturing formulas existed by the 1920s. Most simply added poisonous methyl alcohol into the mix. Others used bitter-tasting compounds that were less lethal, designed to make the alcohol taste so awful that it became undrinkable.

To sell the stolen industrial alcohol, the liquor syndicates employed chemists to "renature" the products, returning them to a drinkable state. The bootleggers paid their chemists a lot more than the government did, and they excelled at their job. Stolen and redistilled alcohol became the primary source of liquor in the country. So federal officials ordered manufacturers to make their products far more deadly.

By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly. ...

Most of those sickened and dying were those "who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low grade stuff."

And the numbers were not trivial. In 1926, in New York City, 1,200 were sickened by poisonous alcohol; 400 died. The following year, deaths climbed to 700. These numbers were repeated in cities around the country as public-health officials nationwide joined in the angry clamor. Furious anti-Prohibition legislators pushed for a halt in the use of lethal chemistry. "Only one possessing the instincts of a wild beast would desire to kill or make blind the man who takes a drink of liquor, even if he purchased it from one violating the Prohibition statutes," proclaimed Sen. James Reed of Missouri.

Officially, the special denaturing program ended only once the 18th Amendment was repealed in December 1933. ... And when Prohibition ended and good grain whiskey reappeared, it was almost as if the craziness of Prohibition—and the poisonous measures taken to enforce it—had never quite happened.

... Deborah Blum is a professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin and author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.

via The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition. - By Deborah Blum - Slate Magazine.

Senators to NASA chief: Go somewhere specific

Graphic shows some possible future NASA missions ...NASA needs to go somewhere specific, not just talk about it, skeptical U.S. senators told the space agency chief Wednesday.

President Barack Obama's proposed budget kills the previous administration's return-to-the-moon mission, sometimes nicknamed "Apollo on steroids." That leaves the space agency adrift without a goal or destination, senators and outside experts said at a Senate Commerce science and space subcommittee hearing, the first since Obama unveiled his new space plan this month.

On top of that the nation's space shuttle fleet is only months away from long-planned retirement, an issue for senators from Florida, where NASA is a major employer. And while the new NASA plan includes extra money — $6 billion over five years — for private spaceships and developing new rocket technology, NASA shouldn't be just about spending, the senators said. It should be about John F. Kennedy-like vision.

"Resources without vision is a waste of time and money," Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said, calling the Obama space plan a "radical change of vision and approach." He vowed to fight the plan "with every ounce of energy I have."

And former chief astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson said the new plan "has no clear path, no destination, no milestones and no program focus."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said after the hearing that critics were confusing the lack of a specific destination or timetable with the lack of a goal.

NASA has a goal, a big one, Bolden said. It's going to Mars. But Bolden added that getting astronauts to Mars is more than a decade away and NASA needs to upgrade its technology or else it never will get there.

"We want to go to Mars," Bolden said. "We can't get there right now because we don't have the technology to do it."

That is why he said the new NASA plan invests in developing in-orbit fuel depots, inflatable spaceship parts, new types of propulsion and other technology.

via Senators to NASA chief: Go somewhere specific - Yahoo! News.

Her Facebook status changed to "single?" Ur dumped

Single StatusDigital dumping is on the rise, according to a survey, with growing numbers of people preferring to use email and social networking Web sites to break up with their partners.

Over one third of 2,000 people polled (34 percent) said they had ended a relationship by email, 13 percent had changed their status on Facebook without telling their partners and six percent had released the news unilaterally on Twitter.

By contrast, only two percent had broken up via a mobile phone text.

The rest had split up the old-fashioned way by face-to-face conversation (38 percent) and by telephone (eight percent).

"Digital Dumping will soon take over when it comes to ending a relationship," said Sean Wood, Marketing Manager for DateTheUk dating service for whom the survey was carried out.

"It's often easier, quicker and avoids any misunderstandings."

via Her Facebook status changed to "single?" Ur dumped - Yahoo! News.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Heart Stem Cells Move Closer to Human Treatments are moving ahead -- although sometimes ploddingly -- toward the goal of using stem cell therapies to rescue people with cardiovascular disease, the leading killer of men and women in the United States.

Although much of the gains thus far have been in basic science, stem cells do seem close to actually being able to help actual humans.

"We have seen consistent but modest effects of stem cells in improving heart function and reverse remodeling of heart," said Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, a spokesman for the American Heart Association and an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"I think there's great hope," added Dr. Darwin J. Prockop, director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Scott & White in Temple.

Several studies presented last November at the annual scientific sessions of the American Heart Association in Orlando serve as examples.

In one study, out of Germany, 35 patients who received bone-marrow stem cell transplantation during coronary artery bypass surgery achieved "excellent long-term safety and survival."

Ten patients who received similar transplantations after repair of mitral valves also fared well, with improvements in the heart's pumping capacity.

Slovenian investigators had similar success, with improvements seen in patients with advanced heart failure who received bone-marrow derived stem cells.

There were also advances in gene therapy reported, with Singaporean researchers using nanotechnology to deliver genetically modified cells to help heal heart attack damage in rabbits.

The stem cell promise hinges on the ability to produce unlimited supplies of human cardiac cells, experts say.

Kevin Eggan, chief scientific officer for the New York Stem Cell Foundation and associate professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University, noted two breakthrough treatments that would require steady production of stem cells.

One is a future "patch" made out of these cells to fix a damaged heart after a heart attack. Researchers also hope to fashion blood vessels out of stem cells for use in bypass surgery and other procedures.

"People are making very substantial progress in being able to make those various vascular cells you would need," Eggan said. "Transplanting those is something that will come from all of this." ...

via Heart Stem Cells Move Closer to Human Treatments - Yahoo! News.

The image is from this 2008 article:
Donated hearts for lifesaving transplants are scarce, but now researchers may have hit upon a way to generate the blood-pumping organs in the lab--at least in rats. The approach, which involves transplanting cells from a newborn rat onto the framework of an adult heart, produced an organ that could beat and pump fluid. Further refinement will be necessary before the technique is ready for people, but it could also generate other organs.

Approximately 3000 patients in the United States are on the waiting list for a heart transplant, but only about 2000 donor organs become available each year. Stem cells, which can give rise to heart tissue, offer a potential solution. But to form an entire heart, the cells require a framework, or scaffolding, to grow on, and finding an adequate structure has proven difficult. Now, a team led by bioengineer Doris Taylor of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, has shown that old hearts stripped of their cells may provide a fix for the scaffolding problem.

... To apply this method to people, the heart scaffolding could come from either human cadavers or pigs, Taylor says. Adult stem cells, such as those found in bone marrow, could be taken from patients awaiting transplants and used to grow the new heart. - sciencemag

Watch this movie and win $10,000?

Phoonk 2, Sudeep,Neeru BajwaA Bollywood filmmaker has issued a lucrative challenge to horror movie fans: a $10,000 reward for anyone who can watch his latest supernatural thriller, alone, in a cinema until the closing credits.

Ram Gopal Varma's "Phoonk 2," a sequel to his 2008 film of the same name, is about an evil spirit that traumatizes a family. "Anyone who says the movie cannot scare him is going to be put in a theater by himself," Varma told reporters in Mumbai at an event to promote the movie.

Varma said the film fan who steps up to the challenge will be wired up to a heart monitoring machine as well as a camera that ensures they keep their eyes open during the whole movie.

Readings from the machines will be shown live on a screen outside the cinema, Varma said, and if the contestant succeeds, they will win 500,000 rupees (approximately $10,850).

Varma issued a similar challenge ahead of the release of the original "Phoonk" but the promotional contest was withdrawn after allegations the selection process was rigged.

Varma said the contest winner ran out 30 minutes after the film started, but newspaper reports said a film fan in the southern Indian city of Bangalore booked an entire cinema to prove the director wrong and watched the film alone with a doctor on call and security personnel stationed outside.

via Watch this movie and win $10,000? - Yahoo! News.

I've already seen enough horror movies for one lifetime.  I avoid them now, but I did find this challenge interesting.

Italy convicts 3 Google execs in abuse video case

File - In an Oct. 14, 2009 file photo a sign designates the  Google headquarters It seems that when it comes to letting the Web be the Web, it could be the United States against the world.

An Italian judge on Wednesday held three Google executives criminally responsible for an online video of an autistic teenager being bullied — a verdict that raises concerns that the Internet giant, and others like it, may be forced to police their content in Italy, and even beyond.

The reaction to the verdict in the United States was swift and nearly unanimous in its condemnation of a dangerous precedent experts said threatens the principle of a free and open Internet.

However, Milan Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo reflected a European concern with privacy when he expressed satisfaction with a decision he said protected a fundamental right, putting the interests of an individual before those of a business.

"This is the big principal affirmed by this verdict," Robledo said. "It is fundamental, because a person's identity is a primary good. If we give that up, anything can happen and that is not OK."

The charges stemmed from a complaint by Vivi Down, an advocacy group for people with Down syndrome that was named in the 2006 video posted on Google Video, a video-sharing service Google ran before acquiring YouTube later that year.

The footage showed an autistic student in Turin being pushed, pummeled with objects, including a pack of tissues, and insulted by classmates, who called him a "mongoloid."

The prosecutor's case emphasized that the video had been viewed 5,500 times over the two months it was online, when it climbed to the top of Google Italy's "most entertaining" video list and had more than 80 comments, including users urging its removal.

Google argued that it was unaware of the offensive material and acted swiftly to remove it after being notified by authorities, taking the video down within two hours.

Those convicted of violating Italy's privacy laws were Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, its senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond and retired chief financial officer George Reyes. They were given six-month suspended sentences.

via Italy convicts 3 Google execs in abuse video case - Yahoo! News.

Scientists Determine Massive Planet is Being Torn Apart by Its Own Tides, Providing Opportunity to Watch a Planetary “Death March”

Illustration of WASP-12b in orbit about its host star (Illustration: ESA/C Carreau)Illustration of WASP-12b in orbit about its host star (Credit: ESA/C Carreau)

An international group of astrophysicists has determined that a massive planet outside our Solar System is being distorted and destroyed by its host star – a finding that helps explain the unexpectedly large size of the planet, WASP-12b.

It’s a discovery that not only explains what’s happening to WASP-12b; it also means scientists have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to observe how a planet enters this final stage of its life. “This is the first time that astronomers are witnessing the ongoing disruption and death march of a planet,” says UC Santa Cruz professor Douglas N.C. Lin,. Lin is a co-author of the new study and the founding director of the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (KIAA) at Peking University, which was deeply involved with the research.

The findings are being published in the February 25 issue of Nature.

The research was led by Shu-lin Li of the National Astronomical Observatories of China. A graduate of KIAA, Li and a research team analyzed observational data on the planet to show how the gravity of its parent star is both inflating its size and spurring its rapid dissolution.

WASP 12-b, discovered in 2008, is one of the most enigmatic of 400-plus planets that have been found outside our Solar System over the past 15 years. It orbits a star, in the constellation Auriga, roughly similar in mass to our Sun. Like most known extra-solar planets, it is large and gaseous, resembling Jupiter and Saturn in this respect. But unlike Jupiter, Saturn or most other extra-solar planets, it orbits its parent star at extremely close range – 75 times closer than the Earth is to the Sun, or just over 1 million miles. It is also larger than astrophysical models would predict. Its mass is estimated to be almost 50% larger than Jupiter’s and its 80% larger, giving it six times Jupiter’s volume. It is also unusually hot, with a daytime temperature of more than 2500°C.

Some mechanism must be responsible for expanding this planet to such an unexpected size, say the researchers. They have focused their analysis on tidal forces, which they say are strong enough to produce the effects observed on WASP 12b.

via Scientists Determine Massive Planet is Being Torn Apart by Its Own Tides, Providing Opportunity to Watch a Planetary “Death March” | The Kavli Foundation.

NASA Desperately Looking for Soviet Moon Rover

[nasa+moon+rover.jpg]It is very unclear why the US specialists insist on finding an old Russia spacecraft.

The work conducted on the Moon in the last century allows scientists to measure the distance to it with high degree of precision, up to a millimeter. Thanks to the equipment left on the Moon, we found out that the natural satellite moves away from Earth 38 millimeters a year.

To measure the distance between Earth and the Moon, a powerful laser beam is directed from Earth to the Moon, and then the time is calculated spent for the light to travel back and forth. Knowing the speed of light, we can calculate the distance.

The beam is directed at the so-called corner reflector. Its basic model consists of three mutually perpendicular, intersecting mirror surfaces. Any beam that gets to the mirrors is reflected back towards the source.

The reflectors installed on the Moon are more complex. Instead of mirrors they have prisms serving as reflecting panels.

Three corner reflectors were left on the Moon by American astronauts who came with the missions “Apollo-11”, “14” and “15”. Two reflectors were sent by Russia.

The first Russian reflector arrived to the Moon along with the automatic station “Luna-17” and was installed on the self-moving robot "Lunokhod-1". The second one was installed on “Lunokhod -2", delivered to the Moon in 1973 along with the station "Luna-21".

All reflectors but the one installed on "Lunokhod-1" are still functioning. In 1971, after a number of successful experiments with the reflector, the robot seemed to be missing. It was known for fact that it stopped in Mare Imbrium (Latin for "Sea of Showers" or "Sea of Rains") because laser impulses were sent there, but no answers were received.

It did not seem like a big deal. Yet, the Americans are trying to find it for some reason, searching the Moon’s surface with a laser beam. It is hard to miss something because the area of the light spot can reach 25 square kilometers.

According to Vladislav Trushev with the Rocket Propulsion Paboratory, NASA failed to find "Lunokhod-1" three years ago. Now, specialists from University of California, San Diego, measure the distance to the Moon with the most precise equipment, a powerful telescope with a laser, in an observatory (Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico). They discovered that the work of the existing reflectors has worsened significantly.

It is very difficult to “catch millimeters” because it requires very sensitive equipment. Out of millions of billions of photons reflected from the Moon, only a few thousands come back to Earth detectors. This number constantly decreases .

According to Tom Murphy, head of research, efficiency of the reflectors has worsened more than ten-folds. The issues began between 1979 and 1984, and the situation keeps getting worse.

The scientist believes that soon it may be impossible to take measurements.

The only sound hypothesis suggests that the reflectors are either covered by the Moon dust or scratched, because the dust is abrasive. But what did make it move in four locations at the same time? It could not be the wind.

In any case, this does not explain why the Americans keep searching for the Russian robot. They may think that the reflectors installed on it could still work.

NASA is going to send its LRO now located in the Moon’s orbit to search for "Lunokhod-1". They plan to take high quality pictures of the spot where the Soviet equipment may be located to take a better look at it.

via World around us: NASA Desperately Looking for Soviet Moon Rover.

Peru poison frog reveals secret of monogamy

Mimic poison frog (Ranitomeya imitator)The first monogamous amphibian has been discovered living in the rainforest of South America.

Genetic tests have revealed that male and females of one species of Peruvian poison frog remain utterly faithful.

More surprising is the discovery that just one thing - the size of the pools of water in which they lay their tadpoles - prevents the frogs straying.

That constitutes the best evidence yet documented that monogamy can have a single cause, say scientists.

Details of the frog's sex life is to be published in the journal The American Naturalist.  ...

Many animals appear to be monogamous, with males and females forming pairs that can often last a lifetime.

But the recent explosion in genetic analyses has revealed many of these so-called monogamous relationships to be a sham.

While many animals might stay together and breed, they will often sneak off and cheat on their partners when they get a chance.

So Dr Brown and his colleagues decided to check out the mimic poison frog more closely.

They sampled the DNA of many pairs of adult frogs, and the subsequent generations of tadpoles they produced.

Of 12 frog families, 11 had males and females that remained continually faithful to one another, together producing all their offspring. In the twelfth family, a male frog mated with two females.

"Others have found evidence of social monogamy in amphibians where parents remain paired, however they didn't look at the genetics of these couples and their offspring to confirm this," Dr Brown told the BBC. ...

via BBC - Earth News - Peru poison frog reveals secret of monogamy.

Clifftop home in Torquay loses garden in rock fall days after sale

Ridgemont House in Torquay where a huge chuck of the garden fell away from the cliff, six days after the house had been soldThe six-bedroom property was sold last week for the bargain price because of its precarious position overlooking Oddicombe Beach in Torquay, Devon.

But just six days later more than 5,000 tonnes of rock at the bottom of the garden collapsed into the beach below.

Local residents said they heard a ''rumbling'' noise before the unstable sandstone cliffs crumbled, narrowly missing a row of beach huts.

Police and coastguards feared joggers or dog walkers were trapped underneath the rock and used thermal imaging equipment to hunt for survivors.

No-one was hurt but Ridgemont House lost a ''substantial'' chunk of its land and now sits just 50ft from the edge of the 300ft cliff.

One neighbour said: ''Apparently the cliff collapse was sparked when a large boulder the size of a Transit Van fell off and the whole lot went.

''It happened in the middle of the night so no-one saw how bad it was until daylight. It was a huge cliff fall.

''Ridgemont House lost a large chunk of its land - it was only sold last week. The timing was pretty terrible.''

The house was built in the late 1930s when Torquay and the English Riviera was popular with wealthy holidaymakers from London.

It, along with its gardens, were sold for £123,000 at auction last September and bought at another auction just days ago for £154,500 - just a fraction of the £1.5million for a similar sized beach front home in other British resorts.

It is understood to have been bought as a second home by a property developer from London named Sue Diamond, who paid a deposit with the sale to be finalised in March.

The new owner was said to be too upset to speak about the damage to her new property yesterday. ...

via Clifftop home in Torquay loses garden in rock fall days after sale - Telegraph.

Giant predatory shark fossil unearthed in Kansas fossilised remains of a gigantic 10m-long predatory shark have been unearthed in Kansas, US.

Scientists dug up a gigantic jawbone, teeth and scales belonging to the shark which lived 89 million years ago.

The bottom-dwelling predator had huge tooth plates, which it likely used to crush large shelled animals such as giant clams.

Palaeontologists already knew about the shark, but the new specimen suggests it was far bigger than previously thought.

The scientists who made the discovery, published in the journal Cretaceous Research, last week also released details of other newly discovered giant plankton-eating fish that swam in prehistoric seas for more than 100 million years.

But this new fish, called Ptychodus mortoni, is both bigger and more fierce, having a taste for flesh rather than plankton.

It may even have been the largest shellfish-eating animal ever to have roamed the Earth.

Dr Kenshu Shimada of DePaul university in Chicago, Illinois, US found the fossilized remains of the shark in rocks known as the Fort Hays Limestone in Kansas.  ...

via BBC - Earth News - Giant predatory shark fossil unearthed in Kansas.

Sculptures made from sticky tape

Sculptures made from sticky tapeThese see-through models of a fisherman, jelly fish and pregnant woman - all made from sticky tape - are entries in an art competition.

They are made by by sticking bits of tape together in a "free-form" style or by wrapping them around objects which are then removed from the piece.

The fisherman and pregnant woman are each made from four rolls of tape. But a drum set is made from a staggering 48 rolls and an office desk is made from 36.

There are also models of a dragon, a postman and a child on a swing.

Other materials, such as wire, cardboard and paint, can make up to 10 per cent of the model if used to support or enhance it. ...

via Sculptures made from sticky tape - Telegraph.

New Species Of Dinosaur Found In Utah Rock

Fossils of a previously undiscovered species of dinosaur have been found in slabs of Utah sandstone that were so hard that explosives had to be used to free some of the remains, scientists said Tuesday.

The bones found at Dinosaur National Monument belonged to a type of sauropod -- long-necked plant-eaters that were said to be the largest animal ever to roam land.

The discovery included two complete skulls from other types of sauropods -- an extremely rare find, scientists said.

The fossils offer fresh insight into lives of dinosaurs some 105 million years ago, including the evolution of sauropod teeth, which reveal eating habits and other information, said Dan Chure, a paleontologist at the monument that straddles the Utah-Colorado border.

"You can hardly overstate the significance of these fossils," he said.

Of the 120 or so known species of sauropods, complete skulls have been found for just eight. That's mostly because their skulls were made of thin, fragile bones bound by soft tissue that were easily destroyed after death.

"This is absolutely No. 1 in terms of projects I've had the opportunity to work on," said Brooks Britt, a Brigham Young University paleontologist who co-authored a study on the fossils along with University of Michigan researchers.

The new species is called Abydosaurus mcintoshi. Researchers say it's part of the larger brachiosaurus family, hulking four-legged vegetarians that include sauropods.

The findings are being published this week in the peer-reviewed science journal Naturwissenschaften.

via New Species Of Dinosaur Found In Utah Rock - Family News Story - WLWT Cincinnati.
Those are very sharp looking teeth for a plant eater.

Loud crash at 3 a.m.? It may be exploding head syndrome

Marie Raymond sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, freaked out by the sound of her name being shouted loud and clear. Other times she’ll be awakened by the sound of a huge crash, as if someone has broken a window or knocked over a set of dishes.

“The sound is terrifying — super loud, like someone has broken in,” says Raymond, a 38-year-old arts administrator from Seattle. “But when I get up to look around, nothing’s amiss and everything’s quiet.” After dealing with it off and on for the last several months, Raymond believes she may have exploding head syndrome. She hasn’t seen a doctor about it, but has done some research online.

As strange as the name sounds, exploding head syndrome is actually a rare and relatively undocumented sleep phenomenon. While sleeping or dozing, a person with the condition hears a terrifically loud sound in their head, such as a bomb exploding, a clash of cymbals or a gun going off.

“It’s usually described as a loud bang or pop that occurs in the first third of the night,” says Dr. Neil Kline, sleep physician and representative of the American Sleep Association in Wilmington, Del. “It’s a sensory phenomenon. The individual senses that some type of explosion has occurred nearby, but ultimately realizes it’s in their head. It’s not associated with pain or with any disorder that we know of and there are no physiological medical consequences that are associated with it.”

Thought to be brought on by anxiety or extreme fatigue and occurring in clusters during stressful periods, exploding head syndrome is not dangerous, according to the American Sleep Association Web site.

It can be disconcerting, though, stirring up images of a David Cronenberg movie. “Individuals can develop an aversion to falling asleep,” says Kline. “They’ll develop insomnia because they’re concerned by these occurrences. But they’re usually rare. I’ve never heard of it occurring regularly.”

First described in 1920 as a “snapping of the brain,” there is little to be found on the phenomenon in medical literature. Some patients experience a bright flash of light along with the loud explosion or crash, according to a 1989 study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry that looked at 50 patients suffering from the syndrome. In almost every case there are physical aftereffects, such as “a sense of alarm, together with a cold sweat, labored breathing and tachycardia” (a rapid heart rate). ...

via Loud crash at 3 a.m.? It may be your exploding head - The Body Odd -

Thousands Give Last Rites To Dead Whale of Vietnamese fishermen are giving a royal send-off to a 15-ton dead whale, gathering at a southern Vietnamese village to pay homage at a funeral for the creature they call "Your Excellency."

Nearly 10,000 people have converged in Bac Lieu province to bid farewell to the 52 foot (16-meter) whale since he was dragged ashore Monday, said coast guard official Do Tien Ha.

They burned incense in his honor and planned to build a temple at the site of his burial, which was scheduled for Tuesday. Nearly 3,000 people will attend the whale's last rites, to be held at the mouth of the Cai Cung River.

In Vietnam's fishing culture, whales are considered sacred. They are referred to by the title "ngai," the same honorific used for kings, emperors and other esteemed leaders.

"Whenever whales arrive, dead or alive, local fishermen believe they bring luck and safety," Ha said by phone from Bac Lieu.

The dead whale was spotted 26 miles (42 kilometers) off the coast Sunday, and several dozen fishermen on 10 boats spent a day hauling it ashore, he said.

via Thousands Give Last Rites To Dead Whale - Cincinnati News Story - WLWT Cincinnati.

Arizona dog is world's tallest

Arizona dog is world's tallestAn Arizona canine is now the world's Top Dog. Giant George -- all 43 inches (1.09 meters) tall and 245 pounds (111 kg) of him -- was named the world's Tallest Living Dog and Tallest Dog Ever by Guinness World Records on Monday.

The four-year-old gray Great Dane from Tucson, Arizona, made it into the record books after Guinness dispatched its own inspector to verify his height, measured from paw to shoulder.

Giant George, who has his own website -- -- as well as Facebook and Twitter pages, beat out his nearest rival, Titan, a Great Dane from San Diego, California.

And there's no dog house for this plentiful pooch, who consumes about 110 pounds (50 kg) of food each month. Owner Dave Nasser says George sleeps on his own queen-sized bed inside the house

via Arizona dog is world's tallest | Oddly Enough | STV News.

DNA evidence tells 'global story' of human history recent years, DNA evidence has added important new tools for scientists studying the human past. Now, a collection of reviews published by Cell Press in a special issue of Current Biology published online on February 22nd offers a timely update on how new genetic evidence, together with archaeological and linguistic evidence, has enriched our understanding of human history on earth. "To understand what it is to be human, it is essential to understand the human past," says Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge, who first coined the term "archaeogenetics" and is the author of a guest editorial in the special issue. "Nearly all civilizations have their own origin or creation myth. Now we can use archaeogenetics to tell a global story that is robust and applicable to all human communities everywhere."

The journey started around 60 to 70 thousand years ago in Africa, where modern humans evolved more than 150 thousand years ago, and where human diversity is still the highest among all continents in terms of genetic variation and languages. From there, humans settled Europe and South Asia and reached Oceania. The Americas (apart from the remote Oceanian islands) were settled last.

The course and the extent of these first migrations remains evident in the genetic makeup of humans living today, but later migrations and the cultural practices that people carried with them—farming in particular—have also left their legacy. That legacy looks remarkably similar wherever farming spread, in Europe, Africa, and East Asia. Natural selection also left its mark: A review by Jonathan Pritchard of the University of Chicago examines evidence for the genetic basis of human adaptations and the extent to which differences among human populations in characteristics such as lactose tolerance have been selected for over evolutionary time. ...

via Paleontology news: DNA evidence tells 'global story' of human history.