Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
A new study suggests that babies can learn a melody they hear while still in the womb, and recognize it after they are born.
For the study, published online last week by PLOS One, Finnish researchers divided 24 pregnant women into two groups. Five times a week, the “learning group” played a CD that included a one-minute rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” which the unborn children heard an average of 170 times before birth. The control group did not hear the recording.
Then the scientists did EEG tests on the children at birth and again at 4 months as they listened to the original tune and a version in which several notes were altered.
The learning group had a larger response to the melody than the control group did, and the difference was still apparent at 4 months. And the amplitude of response to the changed melody correlated with the number of times the infants were exposed to the original melody in utero.
The lead author, Eino Partanen, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, urged parents not to make too much of the finding. “A baby can be relaxed and soothed by melodies it hears before birth,” he said. “But there is no evidence that it will get your baby into Harvard.”
Or Berklee College of Music – which makes more sense.
Maybe that’s why I love Chopin as much as my mom did.
Recently Zac Goldsmith MP – a former editor of The Ecologist, no less – branded the views of Australian Environment Secretary Owen Patterson as “grotesque” after the minister called anti-GM campaigners “wicked”. Mr Goldsmith stated: GM has never been about feeding the world, or tackling environmental problems. It is and has always been about control of the global food economy by a tiny handful of giant corporations. It’s not wicked to question that process. It is wicked not to.
…Golden rice is a bio-fortified, genetically modified Oryza sativa rice crop that offers a nutritionally enriched staple for those who cannot afford or obtain a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Golden rice can be produced by subsistence farmers in developing countries using varieties adapted to local conditions. Access to the technology is free.
Lack of vitamin A causes blindness and death in over a million children under five that do not have access to a balanced diet, every year. For many their staple diet is rice, but rice does not produce vitamin A in the grain even though it has all the genes necessary to do so (and in fact does so in the leaves).
The inventors of golden rice, Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, worked out how to “turn on” the synthesis of vitamin A in the edible grain itself by inserting two genes, resulting in a rice variety with boosted vitamin A levels. Widespread adoption of golden rice could decrease deaths due to vitamin A deficiency by an estimated 25% or more. This is a result, and a crop, that could not be achieved using conventional breeding.
From the outset golden rice was a public good project governed by the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board. Swiss biotech company Syngenta contributed to the project by developing improved varieties in their labs but arranged that any intellectual property associated with golden rice was licensed free of charge to allow the technology to be available to resource-poor farmers who are permitted to save seed.
Yet protestors continue to promote misinformation and destroy field trials. Many refuse to engage in a meaningful dialogue and discuss GM issues on a case-by-case, evidential basis. For the first time since the introduction of GM crops almost two decades ago, developing countries now grow more than industrialised countries, contributing to food security and alleviating poverty in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions. The technology is not forced onto growers. Today over 17m farmers in 29 countries grow GM crops.
Virtually all the anti-GM crop opposition I have confronted are little different in substance from so-called climate skeptics. They don’t read a damned thing other than declarations from pundits fitting preconceived notions. Little or no examination of peer-reviewed scientific discussion enters the equation. In the rare instance of a publication accepting an article they can pull useful quotes from – they ignore responses, criticism and contrary proof from scientists.
The science utilized by independent university researchers to create most GM crops is not owned by corporations like Monsanto. It is often patented with provisos for free use or a requirement that any profits be returned to universities to further research. The anti-GM movement has become a religion as damned by know-nothing ideology as the conspiracy-laden crowd of Birthers and Tea Party mousies. Sad to say, that condemns their good intentions to the same cul-de-sac in history as Luddites.
Back in June the world got its first glimpse of the iStruct, a robot ape developed at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and the University of Bremen. We predicted that in addition to the stability afforded by walking on all fours, the robot ape could feasibly stand up to free its hands for other kinds of work. Now the team has published a video that shows how their robot accomplishes this maneuver with the help of its flexible spine and sensitive feet.
The iStruct’s primary innovation is its active spine, which gives its added flexibility an…A close-up of the iStruct’s active spineiStruct’s upper-body can tilt and turn thanks to its spineBy standing upright, the robot can put its arms and hands to work.
In email correspondences with Daniel Kühn, iStruct’s primary researcher, he explained that while it’s referred to as a “space robot” (and is being tested in a mock lunar landscape), his focus was designing biologically-inspired robotic structures…
Currently, it may only stand and maintain its balance. However, its multi-contact feet could provide the necessary data to maintain the robot’s balance as it transitions from a quadrupedal to bipedal gait. “There are only a few robots out there with an actuated spine that are actually moving and walking around,” Kühn says. “We want to investigate whether it is beneficial for the locomotion or not – but we think it is. For example, in a two legged posture we have an increased arm range of motion, since the spine is active…”
Helluva beginning. Since it can evolve faster than a Darwinian pace, I expect we’ll see a lot more progress over something short of geologic time.
One year of erosion, 2011-2012, Muostakh cliffs
The high cliffs of Eastern Siberia – which mainly consist of permafrost – continue to erode at an ever quickening pace. This is the conclusion which scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute…have reached after their evaluation of data and aerial photographs of the coastal regions for the last 40 years.
According to the researchers, the reasons for this increasing erosion are rising summer temperatures in the Russian permafrost regions as well the retreat of the Arctic sea ice. This coastal protection recedes more and more on an annual basis. As a result, waves undermine the shores. At the same time, the land surface begins to sink. The small island of Muostakh east of the Lena Delta is especially affected by these changes. Experts fear that it might even disappear altogether should the loss of land continue.
The interconnectedness is clear and unambiguous: The warmer the east Siberian permafrost regions become, the quicker the coast erodes. “If the average temperature rises by 1 degree Celsius in the summer, erosion accelerates by 1.2 metres annually,“ says AWI geographer Frank Günther, who investigates the causes of the coastal breakdown in Eastern Siberia together with German and Russian colleagues, and who has published his findings in two scientific articles.
In these studies, he and his team evaluated high resolution air and satellite photos from 1951 to 2012 as well as measurements of the past four years. In addition, the researchers surveyed four coastal sections along the Laptev Sea and on the island of Muostakh…
For the little island of Muostakh east of the harbour town of Tiksi, this may well mean extinction. “In fewer than one hundred years, the island will break up into several sections, and then it will disappear quickly,“ predicts Frank Günther. On its northern tip, the island shows fluctuating annual erosion rates between 10 and 20 meters per year, and it has already lost 24 per cent of its area in the past 60 years. Because the subsurface here consists of more than 80 per cent of ice that has formed within the soil, and since the ice is gradually melting, the island’s surface collapses as well.
RTFA for details and analysis. I put my time in over a decade ago learning – and deciding to back the overwhelming science -about climate change.
If you want additional up-to-date evidence from scientists and their peer-reviewed studies, I suggest you click the link in the RH sidebar for RealClimate.
It’s nearly Halloween and even the lobsters are getting in on the fun.
Pinchy, a half-orange, half-black lobster was first brought to the New England Aquarium in Boston last year and is now on display.
“By 2070, the passenger road market could be nearly oil-free.” That’s the key line…in a report out from Shell titled New Lens Scenarios. The oil giant is trying to understand the future…and to do that, it envisioned two possible futures, one called “Mountains” and the other “Oceans.”
The two scenarios have some things in common: the idea of a world population at nine billion by 2050, increased prosperity and global energy demand. Given those situations, what’s the world going to come to? No one knows for sure, but here are Shell’s guesses, in short:
“Mountains” implies “a strong role for government” that is not afraid to implement “far-reaching policy measures.” These measures mean that cities will develop in more compact ways and “new policies unlock plentiful natural gas resources – making it the largest global energy source by the 2030s – and accelerate carbon capture and storage technology, supporting a cleaner energy system.” That sounds like it has some potential, but the problem is that, “nevertheless, the global average temperature rise overshoots the current 2°C goal.”
“Oceans,” on the other hand takes place in “a more prosperous and volatile world.” This is the scenario where solar overtakes natural gas as the world’s largest energy source as “power is more widely distributed and governments take longer to agree major decisions.” Oil and coal power stick around, but they’re slowly replaced by renewable energy. This, too, isn’t an ideal solution, since “these measures are not sufficient to address environmental concerns, as greenhouse gas emissions follow a pathway towards a high degree of climate change.”
By 2070, the passenger road market could be nearly oil-free and towards the end of the century an extensive hydrogen infrastructure rollout displaces oil demand for long haul and heavy loads. By this time, electricity and hydrogen may dominate, and affordable, plug-in, hybrid hydrogen vehicles offer the ultimate in flexibility and efficiency.
The future is only a shock to the people afraid or too thoughtless to participate. As an optimist – particularly one who participates to a small extent with devotees of the discipline who would also combine philosophy, social and political activism with their lives – I’m confident in our capacity to deal with the problems we confront, the questions needing to be answered.
As a cynic…just not in my remaining lifetime.
A good night’s rest may literally clear the mind. Using mice, researchers showed for the first time that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. These results suggest a new role for sleep in health and disease…
“Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,” said Maiken Nedergaard…a leader of the study.
For centuries, scientists and philosophers have wondered why people sleep and how it affects the brain. Only recently have scientists shown that sleep is important for storing memories. In this study, Dr. Nedergaard and her colleagues unexpectedly found that sleep may be also be the period when the brain cleanses itself of toxic molecules.
Their results, published in Science, show that during sleep a “plumbing” system, called the glymphatic system, may open, letting fluid flow rapidly through brain. Dr. Nedergaard’s lab recently discovered the glymphatic system helps control whether cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, flows through the brain.
“It’s as if Dr. Nedergaard and her colleagues have uncovered a network of hidden caves and these exciting results highlight the potential importance of the network in normal brain function,” said Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D….
The results may also highlight the importance of sleep…“We need sleep. It cleans up the brain,” said Dr. Nedergaard.
RTFA for details of testing and discovery. Sleep studies, the rate of expansion of specialized testing and treatment of ailments like sleep apnea surprise and please me. When I did the testing – nine years ago – that resulted in my CPAP sleeping gear I had to drive fifty miles for the overnight hookup. Now, I can send folks who ask me about treatment to a few local choices.
As treatment and experience accumulate a body of data, more and better treatment continues to develop. Science and healthcare have another avenue opened to improve life.
Plaster handprints from kindergarten, handprint turkeys, handprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood — are all part of modern life, but ancient people also left their handprints on rocks and cave walls. Now, a Penn State anthropologist can determine the sex of some of the people who left their prints, and the majority of them were women.
The assumption has been that hand prints, whether stencils — paint blown around the hand — or actual paint-dipped prints, were produced by men because other images on cave walls were often hunting scenes. The smaller handprints were assumed to be adolescent boys.
Dean Snow, emeritus professor of anthropology, came across the work of John Manning, a British biologist who about 10 years ago tried to use the relationships of various hand measurements to determine not only sex, but such things as sexual preference or susceptibility to heart disease. Snow wondered if he could apply this method to the handprints left in cave sites in France and Spain.
“Manning probably went way beyond what the data could infer, but the basic observation that men and women have differing finger ratios was interesting,” said Snow. “I thought here was a neat little one off science problem that can be solved by applications of archaeological science…”
Snow found he needed a two-step process for the modern hands to successfully differentiate men from women. He first measured the overall size of the hand using five different measurements. This separated the adult male hands from the rest. Snow found that step one was 79 percent successful in determining sex, but adolescent males were classified as female.
Step two compares the ratios of the index finger to the ring finger and the index finger to the pinky to distinguish between adolescent males and females. For the known hands, the success rate, though statistically significant, was only 60 percent. There is too much overlap between males and females in modern populations.
“I thought the fact that we had so much overlap in the modern world would make it impossible to determine the sex of the ancient handprints,” said Snow. “But, old hands all fall at or beyond the extremes of the modern populations. Sexual dimorphism was greater then than it is now.”
Sexual dimorphism implies that males and females differ. Not only were male hands larger, Snow found that development of the fingers, how long they are relative each other, also differs significantly…
Snow also looked at modern American Indian hands and found that the rules and algorithms developed for Europeans did not work. He notes that different populations require separate analysis.
Times change. Our work changes. Our hands change. And look how long it took for someone to notice the difference between hands – men and women.
A team of Austrian researchers have made a discovery that would put those genealogy websites to shame: they have located several living descendants of a 5,300-year-old human mummy.
The prehistoric individual, known as Ötzi the Iceman, was originally found frozen in the Alps back in 1991, according to Steve Nolan of the Daily Mail. The so-called ice mummy suffered from the oldest case of Lyme disease recorded to date, and was also lactose intolerant and predisposed to cardiovascular disease.
Now, forensic scientist Walther Parson and colleagues from the Institute of Legal Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University have identified 19 men who share a specific genetic mutation with Ötzi. These individuals were identified following an analysis of DNA samples from approximately 3,700 blood donors in the state of Tyrol, which is located in the western part of Austria.
“The discovery was made during a broader study into determining the origins of the people who now inhabit the Alpine regions. Along with their blood the donors were asked to provide their place of birth and family history,” said Matthew Day of The Telegraph.
To date, none of the men identified have been informed of their genetic link to Ötzi, Parson told Day. He added his research team is working with colleagues in Italy and Switzerland who are attempting to uncover the same genetic mutation in residents of those two nations…
“Painstaking research revealed what his last meals were, where he lived and that he was about 45 years old when he met his demise high on the mountain,” Day added. “The ice had also preserved his clothes and a quiver of arrows, giving scientists a unique insight into the lives and technology of people from thousands of years ago.”
Wonderful work. Modern genetic testing makes determinations possible which previous generations of researchers couldn’t begin to consider. Can’t wait for the next couple of chapters from Switzerland and Italy.
Maybe he was one of my own uncles?
A dollop of peanut butter and a ruler can be used to confirm a diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease, University of Florida Health researchers have found.
Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student in the UF McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste, and her colleagues reported the findings of a small pilot study in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.
Stamps came up with the idea of using peanut butter to test for smell sensitivity while she was working with Dr. Kenneth Heilman…UF College of Medicine’s department of neurology…She noticed while shadowing in Heilman’s clinic that patients were not tested for their sense of smell. The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve and is often one of the first things to be affected in cognitive decline…
She thought of peanut butter because, she said, it is a “pure odorant” that is only detected by the olfactory nerve and is easy to access.
In the study, patients who were coming to the clinic for testing also sat down with a clinician, 14 grams of peanut butter — which equals about one tablespoon — and a metric ruler. The patient closed his or her eyes and mouth and blocked one nostril. The clinician opened the peanut butter container and held the ruler next to the open nostril while the patient breathed normally. The clinician then moved the peanut butter up the ruler one centimeter at a time during the patient’s exhale until the person could detect an odor. The distance was recorded and the procedure repeated on the other nostril after a 90-second delay.
The clinicians running the test did not know the patients’ diagnoses, which were not usually confirmed until weeks after the initial clinical testing.
The scientists found that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease had a dramatic difference in detecting odor between the left and right nostril — the left nostril was impaired and did not detect the smell until it was an average of 10 centimeters closer to the nose than the right nostril had made the detection in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This was not the case in patients with other kinds of dementia; instead, these patients had either no differences in odor detection between nostrils or the right nostril was worse at detecting odor than the left one…
Stamps and Heilman point out that this test could be used by clinics that don’t have access to the personnel or equipment to run other, more elaborate tests required for a specific diagnosis, which can lead to targeted treatment. At UF Health, the peanut butter test will be one more tool to add to a full suite of clinical tests for neurological function in patients with memory disorders.
OK. Get out the peanut butter. And no cheating.