Jun 18, 2011

Ovarian cancer cells 'bully' their way to other organs

A TIME-LAPSE movie of the cells from an ovarian tumour has shown how they force their way into other organs.

When tumours form in the ovaries, parts may break off and attach to the peritoneum - the membrane that holds organs in place in the abdominal cavity. To find out how they get through the membrane and spread to other organs, Marcin Iwanicki and colleagues at Harvard Medical School in Boston attached the cancer cells to membrane cells and filmed their interaction in Petri dishes for up to 14 hours.

More at New Scientist

Time-Traveling Male Sea Monkeys Make Bad Mates

Evolutionary ecologists have discovered that having sex with a male sea monkey from the future can be hazardous to a female sea monkey’s health.

Nicolas Rode from the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology took advantage of sea monkeys’ ability to weather droughts by remaining in their eggs for years before hatching once the water returns. He gathered eggs from layers of dirt formed in 1985, 1996 and 2007, and then reared them in their lab — having females mate with males from their own time, as well as from other years.

The conclusion was disturbing. The further away in time the male sea monkey was from, the sooner his female sexual partner died. A male from 22 years away (about 160 generations) cut short the life of his baby-mother on average by 12 percent.

The reason is that male sea monkeys, like the males of many animal species, compete violently over who gets to mate with a particular female. The males evolve all kinds of weaponry to achieve this, from scoops to get rid of sperm from other males to the injection of “anti-aphrodisiacs” to stop the ladies having any desire to mate further.

That’s not good news for the females. From an evolutionary perspective, the health of a single female is completely unimportant to a male, so long as they live long enough to birth another generation of offspring. As a result, some of the weaponry developed by the males can be downright toxic.

But the females fight back, evolving antidotes to the males’ weaponry, which then force the males to evolve countermeasures, which in turn makes the females evolve more antidotes, culminating in an escalating arms race of sexual conflict, at least in theory.

Unfortunately the data from Rode’s experiment wasn’t clear-cut enough to determine whether that conflict does indeed escalate indefinitely or whether — as some evolutionary ecologists suggest — different sexual weaponry goes in and out of fashion over time, like an evolutionary merry-go-round.

Read more at Wired

We’re All Mutants: The Average Human Has 60 New Genetic Mutations

When parents pass their genes down to their children, an average of 60 errors are introduced to the genetic code in the process, according to a new study. Any of those five dozen mutations could be the source of major differences in a person’s appearance or behavior as compared to his or her parents — and altogether, the mistakes are the driving force of evolution.

Sixty mutations may sound like a lot, but according to the international team of geneticists behind the new research, it is actually fewer than expected. “We had previously estimated that parents would contribute an average of 100 to 200 mistakes to their child,” Philip Awadella, a geneticist at the University of Montreal who co-led the project, said in a press release. “Our genetic study, the first of its kind, shows that actually much fewer mistakes, or mutations, are made.”

That means human evolution happens more slowly than they previously thought.

The researchers analyzed the complete genetic sequences of two families that had previously been collected as part of the 1,000 Genomes Project. They looked for new mutations present in the children’s DNA that were absent from their parents’ genomes. “Like very small needles in a very large haystack,” Awadalla said, there was only one new mutation in every 100 million letters of DNA.

The number of mutations that came from each parent was drastically different in the two different families. In one family, 92 percent of the mutations in the child’s genes derived from the father, whereas in the other family, 64 percent came from the mother.

“This was a surprise: many people expected that in all families, most mutations would come from the father, due to the additional number of times that the genome needs to be copied to make a sperm, as opposed to an egg,” said Matt Hurles, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K. More work must be done to explain the disparity.

More at YahooNews

Jun 17, 2011

A funny bit of research reveals how laughter is contagious

According to a new study, laughter truly is contagious: the brain responds to the sound of laughter and preps the muscles in the face to join in the mirth.

“It seems that it’s absolutely true that ‘laugh and the whole world laughs with you,” said Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at the University College London. “We’ve known for some time that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behavior, copying the words they use and mimicking their gestures. Now we’ve shown that the same appears to apply to laughter, too–at least at the level of the brain.”

Scott and her fellow researchers played a series of sounds to volunteers and measured the responses in their brain with an fMRI scanner. Some sounds, like laughter or a triumphant shout, were positive, while others, like screaming or retching, were negative. All of the sounds triggered responses in the premotor cortical region of the brain, which prepares the muscles in the face to move in a way that corresponds to the sound. The response was much higher for positive sounds, suggesting they are more contagious than negative sounds–which could explain our involuntary smiles when we see people laughing.

More lolz at unikz

Man regains sight in eye after 55 years

The man was left completely blind in his right eye after an accident in th 1950s when he was just eight-years-old.

Last year, aged 63, he entered the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary complaining of persistent pain and redness in the eye.

Doctors found he had glaucoma and high eye pressure. After treating the eye pressure and, using a technique called monoclonal antibody therapy, treating the glaucoma, he told them that he could perceive light again.

Encouraged, the doctors suggested they try to reattach the retina. They performed an operation to do so and afterwards, the man had recovered his sight to such an extent that he could count fingers more than 15ft (five metres).

When a retina has been detached for so long, degenerative changes usually occur that make restoring sight impossible.

Dr Olusola Olawoye, of the infirmary, said: "To the best of our knowledge this is the first report of visual recovery in a patient with long-standing traumatic retinal detachment."

He added: "This is not only a great result for our patient but has implications for restoring eyesight in other patients."

In the future retinal reattachments after long periods could be aided with the use of stem cells to regenerate diseased retinas, he added.

Read more at The Telegraph

Kon-Tiki explorer was partly right – Polynesians had South American roots

Thor Heyerdahl clung to Kon-Tiki, his balsa wood raft, for 4,300 miles to show that Polynesia could have been colonised from South America rather than Asia as commonly thought.

But despite achieving his goal – sustaining his 101 day voyage with sharks caught with his bare hands – the Norwegian failed to sway the scientific community.

Now – 64 years later- new research has finally proved the adventurer was at least partly right after all.

A team of scientists have tested the genetic make up of descendants of the original islanders and found it includes DNA that could have only come from native Americans.

That means that some time before the remote islands – including Easter Island – were colonised by Europeans the locals had interbred with people from South America.

The Polynesian islands are some of the most remote in the world – lying thousands of miles west of South America and thousands of miles east of Asia.

The established theory has always been that Polynesia was colonised via Asia around 5,500 years ago.

This has been backed up by archaeology, linguistics and some genetic studies.

But in 1947, Heyerdahl controversially claimed that Easter Island's famous statues were similar to those at Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and sailed a raft from Peru to French Polynesia to prove it could have been colonised from America.

Now Professor Erik Thorsby of the University of Oslo in Norway has found clear evidence to support elements of Heyerdahl's hypothesis.

In 1971 and 2008 he collected blood samples from Easter Islanders whose ancestors had not interbred with Europeans and other visitors to the island.

Prof Thorsby looked at the genes, which vary greatly from person to person.

Most of the islanders' genes were Polynesian, but a few of them also carried genes only previously found in indigenous American populations.

Prof Thorsby found that in some cases the Polynesian and American genes were shuffled together, the result of a process known "recombination".

This means the American genes would need to be around for a certain amount of time for it to happen.

Prof Thorsby can't put a precise date on it, but says it is likely that Americans reached Easter Island before it was "discovered" by Europeans in 1722.

Prof Thorsby believes there may have been a Kon-Tiki-style voyage from South America to Polynesia.

Alternatively, Polynesians may have travelled east to South America, and then returned.

However, Prof Thorsby said that his new evidence does not confirm Heyerdahl's theory that the islanders were originally all from South America.

Read more at The Telegraph

Jun 16, 2011

Breeding with Neanderthals helped humans go global

WHEN the first modern humans left Africa they were ill-equipped to cope with unfamiliar diseases. But by interbreeding with the local hominins, it seems they picked up genes that protected them and helped them eventually spread across the planet.

The publication of the Neanderthal genome last year offered proof that Homo sapiens bred with Neanderthals after leaving Africa. There is also evidence that suggests they enjoyed intimate relations with other hominins including the Denisovans, a species identified last year from a Siberian fossil.

But what wasn't known is whether the interbreeding made any difference to their evolution. To find out Peter Parham of Stanford University in California took a closer look at the genes they picked up along the way.

He focused on human leukocyte antigens (HLAs), a family of about 200 genes that is essential to our immune system. It also contains some of the most variable human genes: hundreds of versions - or alleles - exist of each gene in the population, allowing our bodies to react to a huge number of disease-causing agents and adapt to new ones.

The humans that left Africa probably carried only a limited number of HLA alleles as they likely travelled in small groups. Worse, their HLAs would have been adapted to African diseases.

When Parham compared the HLA genes of people from different regions of the world with the Neanderthal and Denisovan HLAs, he found evidence that non-African humans picked up new alleles from the hominins they interbred with.

One allele, HLA-C*0702, is common in modern Europeans and Asians but never seen in Africans; Parham found it in the Neanderthal genome, suggesting it made its way into H. sapiens of non-African descent through interbreeding. HLA-A*11 had a similar story: it is mostly found in Asians and never in Africans, and Parham found it in the Denisovan genome, again suggesting its source was interbreeding outside of Africa.

Parham points out that because Neanderthals and Denisovans had lived outside Africa for over 200,000 years by the time they encountered H. sapiens, their HLAs would have been well suited to local diseases, helping to protect migrating H. sapiens too.

While only 6 per cent of the non-African modern human genome comes from other hominins, the share of HLAs acquired during interbreeding is much higher. Half of European HLA-A alleles come from other hominins, says Parham, and that figure rises to 72 per cent for people in China, and over 90 per cent for those in Papua New Guinea.

Read more at New Scientist

People Grew Shorter Growing Crops

The dawn of agriculture around the world was accompanied by a surprising trend. From China to South America and everywhere in between, people in farming cultures became shorter and less healthy than their hunter-gathering ancestors.

Amanda Mummert, an anthropology graduate student at Emory University, led a first of its kind review of health and height statistics from the days when agriculture sprouted around the world.

“Many people have this image of the rise of agriculture and the dawn of modern civilization, and they just assume that a more stable food source makes you healthier,” Mummert said in an Emory press release.

“But early agriculturalists experienced nutritional deficiencies and had a harder time adapting to stress, probably because they became dependent on particular food crops, rather than having a more significantly diverse diet,” Mummert said.

“Culturally, we’re agricultural chauvinists. We tend to think that producing food is always beneficial, but the picture is much more complex than that,” says Emory anthropologist George Armelagos, professor of anthropology and co-author of the study.

Starting around 10,000 years ago, and continuing to relatively recently, no matter where and what crop, the pattern was the same. Agriculture led to shorter, less healthy people.

The spread of disease in concentrated settlements, as well as transmission of diseases from animals may have also played a part.

Gradually the trend reversed, especially after the dawn of mechanized agriculture in the developed world about 75 years ago, noted the authors.

“This broad and consistent pattern holds up when you look at standardized studies of whole skeletons in populations,” Mummert said.

Mummert reviewed literature studying factors like adult height, dental cavities and abscesses, bone density, healed fractures, and other indicators of health from populations around the world as they started farming. The populations came from far-flung areas of the globe, including China, Southeast Asia, North and South America, and Europe.

Read more at Discovery News

Nasa reveal black hole breakthrough

Black holes have been around since the start of the universe, and, in fact, some 30 million of them came into existence when the universe was 1 billion years old, according to a new study.

"We found evidence for the existence of a very large number of massive black holes in the early universe when it was less than a billion years old. We performed this study in the Chandra Deep Field South," Ezequiel Treister, a University of Hawaii astrophysicist and lead author of the study, told a Washington news conference.

Along with their "host galaxies," young black holes grew faster than originally thought, a statement from NASA said.

"This detection of X-rays from these galaxies is very important because it tells us that there are super massive black holes growing in them," Treister said.

Using Chandra to examine a section of the sky for six weeks, astronomers observed what is known as "Chandra Deep Field South."

They then combined imagery from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope with data obtained from Chandra to search for black holes in 200 distant galaxies.

"What we have seen are baby black holes in very young galaxies at the dawn of the universe. As you will see in the next figure, these black holes are feeding on material, gas, at the centre of these galaxies and they will continue to grow through their adolescence to adulthood," Kevin Schawinski, an astrophysicist with Yale University and co-author of the report, said.

Between 30 and 100 per cent of these galaxies contain "growing supermassive black holes," NASA said. Until now, young black holes had been predicted but not observed.

"This discovery was enabled by two of NASA's great observatories, Chandra and Hubble. They make an excellent team and we have only just scratched the surface of the first billion years of the universe with their help and there are great prospects for further discoveries in the coming years with the help of these two great space observatories," Schawinski said.

Read more and see the video at The Telegraph

Jun 15, 2011

Op-Ed: Why Science Drama Would Make Great TV

No matter what new sitcoms and dramas the networks dream up this coming fall, I can almost guarantee the absence of one type of show: a show about academia. But a television show about academics — professors, scientist and graduate students — is more necessary than ever before. And with a film being made out of Piled Higher and Deeper — an online comic about the trials and tribulations of graduate students — the time may be right to fill this gaping hole on the small screen.

The West Wing was a great success because the creators used White House staff as advisors, giving viewers a riveting window into the way policy and politics occur in our country. But this desire to see how the sausage is made should not be limited to our government. It can also be extended to how we think about the creation of knowledge.

The interplay between the objective quest for knowledge and the all-too-human drama that surrounds it is something that the average viewer has probably heard of, but does not know much about.

And there’s no shortage of real drama to fuel story lines. This show, which I would call The Ivory Tower, would be packed with backstabbing and gossip, glimpses into the intellectual servitude of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, the agony of dissertation defenses, the thrill of scientific discoveries, the ulcer-creating tenure process, professors’ quests for 15 minutes of fame, and, of course, the inevitable lab love affairs.

Episodes could revolve around topics ranging from the conflict-of-interest riddled nature of how scientific ideas are vetted by peers, to those rare but gut-wrenching cases of academic dishonesty and faking data, to the intense deliberations over thesis defenses. Academia is a very non-rational endeavor.

Academics know all too well that their world can be quite vicious and petty, occasionally inspiring, sometimes sloppy, but altogether human. A show portraying this would be therapeutic to those of us inside this world, and insightful to those of us who are not.

The Ivory Tower would be in the grand tradition of the television world’s obsession with shows that are based around professions. We already have the staples of law, medicine and law enforcement — all of which are extremely well represented. While about 40,000 law students graduate in the United States each year, and there are only about 16,000 yearly medical graduates, there are many shows depicting the lives of such graduates: Law and Order, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Perry Mason, Scrubs, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House, M*A*S*H, St. Elswhere, and so on.

On the other hand, nearly 50,000 doctoral degrees are granted each year, with plenty more master’s degrees granted. And yet, there isn’t really a show about academia. There’s Numb3rs, but that’s actually a combination of mathematics and FBI work. There’s also The Big Bang Theory, but I am hard pressed to even determine what the positions are of the main characters. Are they postdocs? Research scientists? It’s unclear, because the whole academic component behind the show is almost beside the point.

And this is true of many shows — their setting is irrelevant to the stories. Interpersonal dramas can take place in hospitals or on space stations. But The West Wing only works with a government setting. And The Ivory Tower would only work in a university.

Many people have written about life in the academy, sometimes referred to as “lab lit,” from the novels of C.P. Snow to Jorge Cham’s inimitable comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper. However, it is time that we bring this world to the water cooler, through the cool glow of the small screen.

So, what would be in store in the world of intrigue on The Ivory Tower? Here are some sample topics and plot lines that could be explored:

What does a professor do when someone publishes the same finding first, wiping out years of research? The competitive and closed nature of exploring new ideas is starkest when multiple research teams discover they have been working on the same project for the better part of a decade, only to realize that only a single team can be successful.

Or what about talking with the press? Far from being a mundane activity, for many scientists interacting with the media is relatively uncommon and quite exciting. But it’s also something most scientists are entirely untrained to do. This can lead to some strange, funny or sometimes very bad situations. Behold the statement said in haste or taken out of context and the ensuing kerfuffle, disapproval of colleagues and scramble for clarification.

Read more at Wired Science

Iceman Had Bad Teeth

Ötzi the Iceman, the 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Italian Alps 20 years ago, suffered from cavities, worn teeth and periodontal diseases.

Presented at the 7th world congress on mummy studies in San Diego, Calif., the research dismisses the assumption that dental pathologies did not afflict the Tyrolean Iceman.

"In the past twenty years, the mummy has been examined thoroughly both anthropologically and medically. However, oral pathologies were not found," said Roger Seiler, of the Center for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Using the latest CT scan technologies, Seiler and colleagues Albert Zink, at the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Paul Gostner and Eduard Egarter-Vigl, at Bolzano hospital, analyzed the mummy's facial bones, discovering several dental problems.

"Although the Iceman did not lose a single tooth until the his death at an age of about 40 years, he had an advanced abrasion of his teeth, profound carious lesions, and a moderate to severe periodontitis," the researchers said.

In particular, the molars of the upper jaw showed loss of alveolar bone as a sign of periodontitis (inflammation of the ligaments and bones that support the teeth), while evidence of "mechanical trauma" was found on two teeth.

According to Seiler and colleagues, the most surprising find is the high frequency of cavities.

"These dental pathologies are a sign of change in the Neolithic diet," Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at EURAC in Bolzano, told Discovery News.

Zink hopes to find further clues for Ötzi's teeth problems as he conducts molecular analyses of the mummy's stomach material.

"We already know that he was eating grains, such as einkorn or emmer. The contained carbohydrates clearly increased the risk of developing dental diseases," Zink said.

Read more at Discovery News

Iron Age Beer-Making Operation Discovered

France today may be renowned for its fine wines, but it has at least a 2,500-year-old history of beer-making, suggests an Iron Age beer operation recently discovered in the Provence region.

The early beer-making items, described in the latest issue of the journal Human Ecology, provide the oldest direct archeological evidence for beer brewing in France. The home brewery is also one of the most ancient in all of Europe.

There's a chance that beer then was about the same as it is today.

"From what we can tell, it was processed in a way that was close to traditional beer-brewing techniques and was not so different from modern home-made beers," lead author Laurent Bouby told Discovery News.

"It is, however, still difficult to know what the taste was of this beer," added Bouby, a researcher in the Institute of Botany at Montpellier. "We know nothing, for example, about possible additives used in brewing, such as hops. We know nothing about possible lactic fermentation, which would give a sour taste to the beer."

Bouby and colleagues Philippe Boissinot and Philippe Marinval analyzed three samples of sediment from a fifth century B.C. house at a site called Roquepertuse in the Provence region of southeastern France. The area had been settled by people of Celtic heritage. One sample came from the dwelling's floor, near a hearth and oven. Another came from a ceramic vessel, while the third sample was found in a pit.

All three of the samples contained carbonized barley, 90 percent of which had sprouted. The barley had been carefully sorted, with no weed seeds present, eliminating the possibility that it had germinated by accident during storage.

Based on the barley remains, its location and the equipment, the researchers believe the home's inhabitants soaked the grain in vessels, spread it out during germination on a flat area of the paved floor, dried the grain in the oven to stop germination, and used grindstones to pulverize the malted barley. Hearths and containers were then probably used for fermentation and storage.

The brewmaster may have shared his beer.

"Being a domestic production does not necessarily imply that it was consumed at a single family level," Bouby said. "It could have been dedicated to collective drinking or feasts. In traditional societies, the consumption of alcoholic beverages often bears strong social and symbolic meanings. ... This is why grain could have been used to brew beer instead of being preserved for human or animal consumption."

At the time, people from southern France used to consume wine imported from the Mediterranean region, frequently from Greeks in the city of Massalia, Bouby explained. Local wines were also being made.

Based on historical writings, the Greeks and the Romans often turned their noses up to beer then, so it is unlikely that the French beer-maker was able to trade the brew for wine. The raw grain itself, or materials like metals, might have been traded for wine.

Read more at Discovery News

Jun 14, 2011

Shrunken Head DNA Proves Horrific Folklore True

A remarkably well-preserved shrunken head has just been authenticated by DNA analysis, which provides strong evidence that anecdotal accounts of violent head-hunting in South America were true.

The study, published in the latest issue of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, marks the first successful effort to unveil the genetic make-up of a shrunken head.

"The shrunken heads were made from enemies' heads cut on the battlefield," co-author Gila Kahila Bar-Gal told Discovery News. "Then, during spiritual ceremonies, enemies' heads were carefully reduced through boiling and heating, in the attempt to lock the enemy's spirit and protect the killers from spiritual revenge."

Kahila Bar-Gal is a senior lecturer in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also a faculty member within the university's department of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

For the study, she and her colleagues used DNA testing and other techniques to examine the authenticity and possible cultural provenance of a shrunken head displayed at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. The head remains in an incredible state of preservation, with the deceased man's hair, facial features and other physical characteristics intact.

Many shrunken heads are forgeries, with some 80 percent suspected to be fakes. The late 19th through the 20th centuries saw a rise in manufacture of such fakes for profit.

The shrunken head at the Israeli museum, however, turns out to be legit.

"The shrunken head we studied was made from a real human skin," Kahila Bar-Gal said. "The people who made it knew exactly how to peel the skin from the skull, including the hair," she added, mentioning that it was also salted and boiled.

The researchers determined that the skin belonged to a man who lived and died in South America "probably in the Afro-Ecuadorian population." The genes reveal the victim's ancestors were from West Africa, but his DNA profile matches that of modern populations from Ecuador with African admixture.

According to the scientists, he was probably a member of a group that fought the Jivaro-Shuar tribes of Ecuador. These tribes also lived in Peru during the post-Columbian period, and were thought to make ritual shrunken heads out of their enemies.

Although Kahila Bar-Gal said the DNA could not pinpoint the exact age of the shrunken head, the scientists estimate the individual was killed between 1600-1898 A.D. The early date marks the entry of Africans into the region, while the latter date was when the last major nomadic populations of hunters and gatherers in Ecuador were thought to have existed.

Accounts of what happened to shrunken heads after the post-battle spiritual ceremonies vary. There are accounts that the Jivaro-Shuar warriors kept the shrunken heads as "keepsakes or personal adornments," even wearing them at certain times. Leonard Clark, who traveled to the region in 1948, however, said that he saw a shrunken head, called a "tsantsa," used in a ceremony and then stuffed in an old earthenware pot that was placed in the thatched ceiling of the house.

"Robbed of its soul, the savagely beautiful trophy no longer had any spiritual value," Clark wrote in a 1953 account.

Read more at Discovery News

10 Ways Our Minds Warp Time

The mind does funny things to our experience of time. Just ask French cave expert Michel Siffre.

In 1962 Siffre went to live in a cave that was completely isolated from mechanical clocks and natural light. He soon began to experience a huge change in his experience of time.

When he tried to measure out two minutes by counting up to 120 at one-second intervals, it took him 5 minutes. After emerging from the cave he guessed the trip had lasted 34 days. He’d actually been down there for 59 days. His experience of time was rapidly changing. From an outside perspective he was slowing down, but the psychological experience for Siffre was that time was speeding up.

But you don’t have to hide out in a cave for a couple of months to warp time, it happens to us all the time. Our experience of time is flexible; it depends on attention, motivation, the emotions and more. The 10 listed in the following article are: Life-threatening situations, having fun, the stopped clock illusion, tiredness, regulating emotions, hypnosis and drugs, your age, negative feelings, body temperature and your own individual “tempo”.

For full explanations of all 10 head over to PsyBlog

Jun 13, 2011

The Eyez Have It

The first commercial pair of ‘spy glasses’ is set to shake things up. Thousands of spy movie geeks can expect to be blown away when they find out just how powerful the Eyez video recording glasses are expected to be.

The glasses, which are produced by the Seattle-based company ZionEyez, have a built-in camera that captures video at a high-definition resolution of 1280 × 720 pixels. The ‘Buddy Holly’ style glasses are embedded with an 8-gigabyte Flash memory card and are designed to have 3 hours of recording time.

The video recording capabilities are impressive enough but the company has added some other features ensuring that the glasses will pack a powerful punch. The product is designed for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity so that the video can be transmitted. More significantly, the company which prides itself in being a ‘social media company’ has created an ‘Eyez’ smart phone and table app that allows users to wirelessly transmit the video they are recording in real time to social media websites.

According to PhysOrg.com, the glasses are currently in the prototype stage and the company is in the process of selecting the actual camera hardware. The product can currently be pre-ordered from the ZionEyez website.

Read more at Discovery News

Ancient Fossils Have Evolution’s First Shells

A series of spectacularly preserved, 750 million-year-old fossils represent the microscopic origins of biomineralization, or the ability to convert minerals into hard, physical structures. This process is what makes bones, shells, teeth and hair possible, literally shaping the  animal kingdom and even Earth itself.

The fossils were pried from ancient rock formations in Canada’s Yukon by earth scientists Francis Macdonald and Phoebe Cohen of Harvard University. In a June Geology paper, they describe their findings as providing “a unique window into the diversity of early eukaryotes.”

That window opens into an evolutionary period less celebrated than the kaleidoscopic radiations of the Cambrian, but in its own way no less impressive. The simple single-celled organisms that dominated life’s first few billion years were rapidly becoming more complex, building a store of innovations that sustained some through the so-called Snowball Earth period, when Earth’s climate turned so cold that the equator resembled Antarctica.

One such innovation was biomineralization, though evidence for its occurrence at this time was inconclusive. Using molecular clocks and genetic trees to reverse-engineer evolutionary histories, previous research placed the beginning of biomineralization at about 750 million years ago. Around that time, the fossil record gets suggestive, turning up vase-shaped amoebas with something like scales in their cell walls, algae with cell walls possibly made from calcium carbonate and sponge-like creatures with seemingly mineralized bodies. But in each of these examples, caveats abound. What appears to be biomineralization might be a fossil illusion produced as soft tissue turned to stone.

In the new study, Cohen and Macdonald examined hundreds of fossils under microscopes. They found three common species of algae, dubbed Archeoxybaphon, Bicorniculum and Characodictyon, bearing mineral traces suggestive of biological origins. Crucially, the shapes of these organisms didn’t vary between specimens. The fossils of soft-bodied creatures, by contrast, tend to be distorted by compaction.

Once identified, these standard-bearers for biomineralization raise a basic question: Why bones at all? After all, life did perfectly well for three billion years without them.

In a commentary accompanying the finding, paleontologist Susannah Porter of the University of California, Santa Barbara hazards an explanation: Bones evolved as a defense against predators. That’s the best guess for why, 200 million years later, skeletons evolved independently in at least two dozen separate animal clades. The same basic dynamics should apply to single-celled organisms, too.

Read more at Wired Science

Angels, Not Psychics, Gave False Murder Tip

In the latest strange twist to an already bizarre case that made headlines around the world, the woman who allegedly told police that dozens of dismembered bodies, including those of children, would be found on a Texas ranch last week says that her information came not from psychic powers but from angels.

The Houston Chronicle reported:

    “The 48-year-old woman, who asked to only be identified by her nickname of Angel, said she never wanted any attention and fears the worldwide interest in the case will destroy her life if her identity is known publicly. ... Angel described herself as a reverend for a ministry that helps the poor and the homeless, and said that while she is based in Texas, she spends much of her time traveling to do God's work.”

Angel insists that she never claimed to be psychic -- only a prophet of God -- and that she did not tell police about dozens of dismembered bodies, but instead three children (who she believes are still in danger).

“I didn’t file a false report,” Angel told KHOU News in Houston. “If they make it to be false, that’s up to them, you know. ... I did what I was told to do. I followed what Jesus and the angels told me to do. It’s up to them from there. ... They [the police] up front asked me how I got the information, and I am a reverend. I am a prophet and I get my information from Jesus and the angels, and I told them that I had 32 angels with me and they were giving me the information.”

The revelation puts the whole situation in a (slightly) more plausible light. Self-proclaimed psychics usually offer information on cases that have already been publicized in the news media. It’s much more rare for psychics to spontaneously offer information about a person or incident that has not been reported, as happened in this case.

Messages from Jesus and angels, however, are another matter. In Christian theology, angels serve primarily as divine messengers and as protectors. In this case, Angel apparently believed that the information she received through prayer fulfilled both of those roles: It was a divine message from Jesus that would help protect and save endangered children.

Angel’s explanation may also seem plausible to the public; more people believe in angels than in psychic abilities. According to authors Chris Bader, F. Carson Mencken and Joseph Baker in their book "Paranormal America," polls suggest that nearly 70 percent of Americans think angels exist, 53 percent believe they have personally been saved by a guardian angel, and 32 percent claim they have personally felt an angelic presence.

Read more at Discovery News

Pictured: astonishing image captures night sky in dazzling formation

The astonishing image, taken in the heart of the Australian outback, was used simply by taking advantage of the earth's rotation.

Andrew Brooks, an amateur photographer, took the image using his camera, a tripod, his neighbour's lounge room light and a little patience while letting gravity do the rest.

The image, taken in the remote town of Denial Bay, a fishing village on the edge of the Great Australian Bight, was taken using a special “time lapse” process.

It takes advantage of the earth’s natural rotation, which explains the circular appearance.

Each picture takes about 36 minutes to complete – the camera shutter is locked open for 18 minutes before it spends a similar amount of time processing what it has taken – which then produces what appears to be a moving image.

It shows the Milky Way and the Southern Cross constellation of stars, which is shown on the Australian flag.

“I went outside one night and looked up and was mesmerised at how clear the sky and stars were,” Mr Brooks told The Daily Telegraph.

“I set up the camera, open the shutters and went back inside the house, made a cup of tea and sat down and watched the football as it does take a bit of patience.

“ I came back and was pretty stoked with what I had got. It is a pretty amazing picture.”

Mr Brooks, 42, said he could take the image above the general store in the South Australian town – population 200 people – because of its remoteness.

The nearest major city is almost 500 miles (800km) away. This means the sky remains free from neon-light “reflection” from city lights, leaving stars even clearer to the naked eye.

Also due to the time of the year, the positioning of the earth was perfect for capturing such an image.

“Because of the remoteness of the area, we are able to see the sky much clearer,” he said.

Read more at The Telegraph

Jun 12, 2011

New Dino May Be World's Smallest

A new species of carnivorous non-avian dinosaur, described in the latest issue of Cretaceous Research, could be the world’s smallest known dinosaur.

The tiny dinosaur, dubbed the "Ashdown maniraptoran," measures about a foot in length and was unearthed in the United Kingdom. It lived during the Lower Cretaceous, a period lasting from 145 to 100 million years ago.

"It perhaps weighed as little as 200 grams (seven ounces)," co-author Darren Naish told Discovery News. "Like other maniraptoran theropods, this would have been a small, feathered, bird-like bipedal dinosaur with a fairly short tail, long neck, long slim hind legs, and feathered clawed forelimbs."

Naish is an honorary research associate in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth. He and colleague Steven Sweetman analyzed the remains of the dinosaur, unearthed in the Pivensey Pit at Ashdown Brickworks, a site located northwest of Bexhill, East Sussex.

"The Isle of Wight, Surrey and East Sussex are all hotspots that frequently reveal new dinosaur species, which is not bad for a country that has probably been more thoroughly explored and studied than any other in the world," Naish said.

He and Sweetman conclude that the discovered fossil, a posterior cervical vertebra, likely belonged to a previously undocumented dinosaur species, since there are no named dinos that were maniraptoran theropods from the same-aged rocks from the same region.

Because they haven’t unearthed the dinosaur’s skull yet, the researchers cannot make firm statements about the new dino’s diet.

"Based on other oviraptorosaurs and other small maniraptorans, it was perhaps an omnivore, eating small animals, including insects, as well as leaves and fruit," Naish said.

He added that, like most theropods, the Ashdown maniraptoran would have walked with its body and tail held in a horizontal position.

Its location adds to the growing body of evidence that during the Early Cretaceous, Southeast England and continental Europe were often home to similar dinosaurs and other animals.

"Land bridges that existed during part of the Early Cretaceous time also resulted in similarities between European dinosaurs and those of the U.S.A.," Naish continued.

Technically, the world’s smallest known dinosaurs are modern birds, since birds are dinosaurs. As such, the world’s smallest dinosaur is the Cuban bee hummingbird, which measures 2 inches in length and weighs only about .063 ounces.

The Ashdown maniraptoran’s greatest rival for "world’s smallest non-avian dinosaur" at the moment is Anchiornis from China. It has been estimated at being 30 to 40 centimeters long. Where it exactly fell within that range remains unclear.

Read more at Discovery News

The (new) World’s Shortest Man

Move over, Edward Nino Hernandez, there’s a new smallest man in town. Junrey Balawing of Zamboanga del Norte, who turns 18 today, measures only 24 inches from head to foot lying down and just over 23 inches standing up.

Balawing, the eldest of four siblings, is not only the shortest living man, but the shortest living man in history, the Guinness World Records said.

Happy Birthday dude.

More at Neatorama