- Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
It has been a long-standing mystery as to how and why the giant “Preseli” bluestones from southwest Wales ended up nearly 200 miles away at Stonehenge. While a number of theories persist on how they got there, there isn’t much in the way of why.
Researchers from the Royal College of Art in London now think they have that answer. In a recent study, published in the Journal of Time & Mind, the team reports that these giant stones may have been chosen for their unique acoustic properties, possibly making Stonehenge a prehistoric amphitheater.
The study, which was released in December, shortly before the opening of the new Stonehenge Visitor Center, was conducted as part of the College’s Landscape & Perception Project (L&P), which itself is a study of the visual and acoustic elements of the landscape on and around Pembrokeshire, areas where most of the bluestones originated.
Jon Wozencroft, a sound specialist at RCA, and ‘archeo-acoustic’ expert Paul Devereux, along with a diverse team of scientists from several fields and from several different institutions, took on a study to demonstrate to design students how direct sensory material for their digital work can be used – by incorporating sights and sounds of the Stone Age.
It was during this study that the team uncovered the fact that the area where the Stonehenge bluestones derived was a natural soundscape. Knowing this led the team to surmise that the bluestones were taken from this area with this prehistoric acoustic knowledge in mind – a knowledge that could have a greater understanding today of why Stonehenge was built.
Rocks that seem to make music or have sonic capabilities are generally referred to as ‘ringing rocks’ or ‘lithophones.’ A significant amount of the rocks found on Carn Menyn in Pembrokeshire have been found to produce metallic sounds like bells, gongs or tin drums when struck with small hammerstones. The team found an even higher percentage of sonic stones at quarries in the area as well.
Interestingly, the Preseli village of Maenclochog, which itself means ‘ringing stones,’ used bluestones as church bells until the eighteenth century. These lithophones have long been known of and used by peoples of the region and a great number of Neolithic monuments created by lithophones still exist in the region. The new evidence by the L&P team suggests that sounds made the landscape sacred to Stone Age people.
This study is not the first to point to the regions stones as having acoustic properties. British archaeologist Bernard Fagg suspected the rocks around Preseli were of acoustic nature and suggested there was a link between these rocks and the sacred Neolithic monuments and landscapes.
Last July, the L&P team was given unprecedented special access to Stonehenge to test the bluestones. With accompaniment from Bournemouth and Bristol Universities, the team set out to test the acoustic properties of the ancient megaliths.
But because of the way the rocks at Stonehenge were placed – some set deep into the Earth and others supported by concrete – the researchers were not expecting to find much, noting that lithophones require ‘resonant space’ where sound waves have enough room to vibrate to produce pure sounds.
Surprisingly, several of the bluestones at the monument had made distinctive, albeit muted, sounds. The team was sure this was an indication that the rocks would have been fully lithophonic if they had sufficient resonating space. While there also exists evidence that a number of the Stonehenge bluestones have been previously struck, perhaps in order to create an acoustic environment, Wozencroft maintains that more research would be needed to fully understand the nature of the markings on these ancient lithophones.
The team suggests it seems these stones were chosen because of their mystical, musical and perhaps, magical, qualities – there are plentiful rocks around the Salisbury Plain where Stonehenge was erected, yet the bluestones were clearly considered something special in the eyes of the Stone Age people.
While lithophones today are solely considered as melodical curiosities, the peoples of ancient history thought much differently of these stones, based on cross-cultural research. The echoes and sounds made from rocks, cliffs and caves were often deemed as created by spirits trapped with the rocks or other magical forces.
Since, lithophones of the time were held in high regard for their unique properties, it is safe to assume the architects of Stonehenge had similar beliefs.
- Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Giant viruses may seem like the latest creation in a Hollywood B movie production, but the recent discovery of a larger-than-life virus buried in ice is definitely no science-fiction tale. A husband-and-wife team from Aix-Marseille University in France have discovered a monster virus that has been buried in Siberia’s permafrost for the past 30,000 years.
Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, who led the discovery, have named this new creature Pithovirus sibericum, inspired by the Greek word ‘pithos’ for the large container used by ancient Greeks for food and wine. “We’re French, so we had to put wine in the story,” joked Claverie.
While the discovery is significant for science, it is more so for health, as the virus has been found to still be infectious. However, this predator only preys on amoebae.
Still, the researchers warn that as Earth’s ice caps and glaciers melt around the world, more and more viruses, perhaps buried for thousands or millions of years, could reemerge and potentially become global human health risks.
The newly discovered P. sibericum is not only a giant virus – it is the largest one ever found. At 1.5 micrometers long, it is about 50 percent larger than the previous record holder (Pandoraviruses), which were also discovered by Claverie and Abergel. The husband-and-wife team discovered their first giant virus in 2003, named Mimivirus.
While these viruses are by no means giant in the normal sense of the word, which may conjure up images of mammoths, dinosaurs and whales, they are loosely defined as giants because of the fact that they can be seen using a standard microscope, according to the team.
“Once again, this group has opened our eyes to the enormous diversity that exists in giant viruses,” Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who was not involved in the work, told Nature’s Ed Yong.
Claveria and Abergel’s latest work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is based partly on a study from a few years earlier.
After learning that Russian scientists had resurrected an ancient plant from fruits entombed in Siberia’s permafrost for the past 30,000 years, they wondered if would be “possible to revive a virus.”
Using the permafrost samples provided by the Russian team, Claverie, Abergel and their colleagues fished for giant viruses using amoebae as bait. The team discovered the giant virus particles inside these amoebae as they started dying.
Surprisingly, these newly discovered pathogens are not only large in size, but very complex as well. P. sibericum has been found to contain 500 genes. Despite being larger than the previously discovered Pandoravirus, it pales in comparison to that pathogen’s 2,500 genes.
Still, these viruses are off the chart when compared to other more common viruses. James Van Etten, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Nebraska, explained to NatGeo’s Stefan Sirucek that the HIV virus has only about 12 genes.
The researchers noted that giant viruses are not only bigger, they are also much hardier than others. They surmise that this hardiness, along with a favorable environment, helped P. sibericum remain intact in its ice entombment. More often than not, viruses are either destroyed or rendered inactive by several factors – light and biochemical degradation are two main factors.
"Among known viruses, the giant viruses tend to be very tough, almost impossible to break open," said Claverie and Abergel in the Nature article. "Special environments such as deep ocean sediments and permafrost are very good preservers of microbes [and viruses] because they are cold, anoxic [lacking oxygen], and in the dark."
The study of this new pathogen has revealed some pretty surprising properties.
Looking at the virus under a microscope, P. sibericum appears as a thick-walled oval with an opening at one end, very similar to Pandoraviruses. But despite their similar shapes, Pithoviruses are “totally different viruses,” said Abergel.
Pithovirus has a ‘cork’ with a honeycomb structure capping the opening. Contrary to other viruses, which copies themselves by taking over the nucleus, this giant builds replication factories in its host’s cytoplasm. The team noted it was surprising to find that the Pithovirus genome is so much smaller than that of the Pandoravirus, despite its larger size.
“That huge particle is basically empty,” says Claverie. “We thought it was a property of viruses that they pack DNA extremely tightly into the smallest particle possible, but this guy is 150 times less compacted than any bacteriophage [viruses that infect bacteria]. We don’t understand anything anymore!”
IMPACT ON HUMAN HEALTH
Although giant viruses are known to mainly attack amoebae, at least one giant virus was discovered that could pose a threat to human health.
Christelle Desnues, a virologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Marseille, discovered in 2013 that the giant Marseillevirus had infected an 11-month-old boy.
The boy had been hospitalized with inflamed lymph nodes and upon a blood analysis, Desnues and her team discovered traces of the virus’ DNA. They then found the virus itself in the lymph nodes.
“It is clear that giant viruses cannot be seen as stand-alone freaks of nature,” she told Yong. “They constitute an integral part of the virosphere with implications in diversity, evolution and even human health.”
Discoveries like these are alarming, and scientists, Claverie and Abergel included, are concerned about the continuing rise in temperatures, as well as the mining and drilling operations in the Arctic. Together, these factors offer the chance for more ancient infectious viruses to emerge and become threats to human health around the world.
However, Suttle said that the likelihood of a killer virus emerging from the Arctic ice is very remote. People already are bombarded by millions of viruses on a daily basis and to think that the melting ice would release harmful viruses that could circulate enough to impact human health, “stretches scientific rationality to the breaking point,” he noted.
“I would be much more concerned about the hundreds of millions of people who will be displaced by rising sea levels,” he told Nature’s Yong.
Claverie and Abergel have maintained that they are not attempting to “revive” Pithovirus, or any other giant virus for that matter, but rather hoping to determine the potential danger from such pathogens.
"If we find some [human pathogens], then the risk will become more real. If not, we will be safe," they concluded.
- Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Usain Bolt, who holds records as the fastest man on Earth on two feet, may be so fast that he could fly if he was dropped off on Saturn’s moon Titan and given a wingsuit.
Physics students from the University of Leicester have calculated that, based on the world-record holder’s superhuman speeds, he would be able to take flight on the distant moon.
Bolt has been recorded reaching speeds of up to 40.25 feet per second, or about 28 mph. At these speeds, the Olympic gold medalist would be able to soar above the planet with no need for a propulsion system.
The physics students made the calculations as part of their final year paper, which has been published in the University’s Journal of Physics Special Topics.
Based on the physics of Saturn’s largest moon, experts have previously suggested that humans would be able to lift off from the moon’s surface if they had wings on their arms. This is because Titan has a dense, nitrogen-rich atmosphere with a surface pressure almost 50 percent stronger than Earth’s.
However, the Leicester physics students have shown that it would even be possible to achieve liftoff with a regular wingsuit like the ones used by skydivers if the person wearing the suit could achieve a fast enough speed.
To figure out the required amount of speed for propulsion-less flight to occur, the team calculated several factors, including density and air at the surface of Titan; acceleration due to gravity; wingsuit wing area; and the ratio of the streamline path of the air above the aerofoil to that below the aerofoil.
The students determined that an average person with a normal-sized (1.4 meters squared) wingsuit, would need to achieve speeds of 36.09 feet per second, or about 24.5 mph, to become airborne. While humans are not built to run this fast, some sprinters have been recorded reaching these speeds and Bolt has been recorded moving even faster.
The team found that flying on Titan would not be limited to those with the fastest footwork. Any average person could possibly spread their arms and take flight on Titan – although it would be much less comfortable and may look rather silly.
The team found that people could possibly take off on Titan if they could reach a more manageable speed of 19.68 feet per second, or about 13.4 mph, and as long as they were wearing a wingsuit with a surface area more than three times larger than a normal-sized one.
While the numbers look right on paper, putting it to practice could be more of a challenge.
Student Hannah Lerman, 21, from Mill Hill, North London, said: “I had seen a lot of claims online that humans would be able to fly on Titan, but no one had given the physics behind it.
“I thought it would be interesting to try it with a wingsuit – something that you actually use on earth. It is a really exciting idea that someone like Usain Bolt could actually fly unaided. It would give a whole new dimension to travelling,” she said in a statement. “I am really interested in the journal side of science, and it was really interesting to see how that was run as part of this module.”
The students’ paper was part of a larger module aimed at helping them learn about peer review and scientific publishing.
“The students are encouraged to be imaginative with their topics, and find ways to apply basic physics to the weird, the wonderful and the everyday,” said course tutor Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer at Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.
- [ Watch the Video: Digging Up A New Mite Species ]
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
It may resemble a worm, but it's actually a previously undiscovered microscopic species of mite discovered on The Ohio State University campus.
Discovered by Samuel Bolton, a graduate student at Ohio State, the mite was officially named Osperalycus tenerphagus (or as it is affectionately known - the "Buckeye Dragon Mite"). Osperalycus tenerphagus is Latin for “mouth purse” and “tender feeding,” referring to its complex and highly unusual oral structure.
Rather than the mythological winged dragon, the mite resembles the snake-like Chinese dancing dragons that appear in New Year festivals. It does not, however, resemble the typical mite, which is characterized by a large round body and tough external surface. The adult O. tenerphagus is just 600 microns, or just over half a millimeter and cannot be seen by the naked eye.
“It is incredibly intricate despite being the same size as some single-cell organisms,” Bolton, who is a doctoral student in evolution, ecology and organismal biology, told Ohio State's Emily Caldwell. “That’s the fascinating thing about mites and arthropods – mites have taken the same primitive and complex form and structure that they’ve inherited and shrunken everything down. So we’re dealing with complexity at an incredibly small scale.” Bolton described his discovery online in the Journal of Natural History. O. tenerphagus is the fifth species from the worm-like family Nematalycidae to be described, and only the second in North America.
Initial examination of the mites collected from silty clay loam soil across the street from the acarology lab suggested that Bolton had discovered a novel species. Bolton collected his mites from a soil depth of about 20 inches. When he examined them under a compound microscope, he found that they had numerous straight hairs all along their bodies (known as setae) that didn't match any of the known members of this family. The mites use these hairs to feel their way around.
Bolton was surprised to find the mites in a clay-like patch of earth as Nematalycidae are more closely linked to sandy soils. He thinks the key to finding the mites was digging 20 inches down.
Bolton was unable to learn all the details of his extraordinary find until a year later when he was able to examine the mite in a low-temperature scanning electron microscope (LT-SEM) run by the US Department of Agriculture.
Bolton used LT-SEM to capture high-resolution images of these tiny creatures. He marveled at the machinery of their mouths, which had structures called rutella, which typically function in a similar way to teeth in other mites. In these mites, the rutella instead support a pouch-like vessel in the front of the mouth. Bolton believes that the pouch acts like a nutcracker, holding microorganisms in place while the internal pincers puncture them and suck up their fluid contents.
To obtain images of mites of this size and body type, cold-temperature scanning is necessary so that they aren't crushed by the intense vacuum effect of a normal electron microscope. The research team, which included Hans Klompen, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State, Gary Bauchan of the USDA Electron and Confocal Microscope Unit and Ronald Ochoa of the USDA Systematic Entomology Laboratory, used liquid nitrogen to freeze the mites immediately upon collection. This allowed the team to obtain images of the mites just as they appeared in their natural habitat.
They found that although the mite's movement and muscle pattern do resemble a worm's, it is unable to alter its diameter the way a worm can.
The mites have an external surface that resembles abacus beads. They “are like miniature accordions,” Bolton said. “It’s a case of convergent evolution – they have the same basic way of moving as worms, insofar as their cuticle extends and contracts, but they also have legs and, to some extent, still use them. The worm-like motion helps them move around through tight spaces.”
The Neatalycidae family of mites are the evolutionary descendants of ancient groups of mites whose fossils date back 400 million years, when the environment was arid throughout much of the world.
“They’re well adapted to living in extremely adverse environments – which makes them extremophiles. They’re also fascinating to look at, and are interesting for addressing ecological and evolutionary questions,” he said. “Because of their small size, there is very little understanding of how mites interact with their environment or other organisms.”
Bolton will continue his research by describing the mite's complex oral structure, and he hopes to identify specifically what it uses for food.
- [ Watch the Video: What's That Smell? Lady Goats Love It At Least ]
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Most goats have a certain unpleasant odor that does a number on the olfactory system of any passing humans. But a new study published in the journal Current Biology has identified a chemical released by the male goat that causes the female of the species to get excited.
This seemingly unpleasant stench may not get our juices flowing, but to female goats, it is enough to put their brain into overdrive and trigger their reproductive systems.
This study, led by Ken Murata and Yuji Mori at the University of Tokyo, is the first to uncover a specific pheromone that activates the central reproductive axis in female goats. And although this study was conducted solely on goats, the researchers say the findings may be translatable to other livestock as well. They even go as far as to say it may even work in humans, due to the fact that the action and structure of the brain’s reproductive center is highly conserved in mammals.
Researchers had previously determined that it is the hair of male goats, not the urine, which drives their pheromone activity. While it was discovered that organic solvent extracts of the male’s hair retain the pheromone activity, a specific primer pheromone remained unidentified. Primer pheromones elicit long-term physiological events required for ovulation and reproduction, as opposed to releaser pheromones, which induce immediate sexual behaviors.
For their study, the team decided to focus their attention on components of the male essence, along with the largely unexplored neutral fraction. They found that the male goat’s pheromone is synthesized in the head skin. With this knowledge, they collected the scent from the goat using a custom-made head cap. After a week of collecting samples from both normal and castrated male goats, the team analyzed what they had.
Of the chemicals produced by both sets of goats, the team found several that were specific to the intact males only, including 4-ethyloctanal, which has the power to activate the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) pulse generator in the female goat’s brain, which in turn governs the reproductive endocrine system.
Using a method they developed in the lab -- real-time electrophysiological monitoring -- the team was able to show the effects of the chemical on a key region of the goat’s brains.
"In 4-ethyloctanal, we identified a novel chemical that had never been demonstrated in nature before. This was our first surprise," Yukari Takeuchi, a coauthor of the paper from University of Tokyo, said in a statement.
Also, the 4-ethyloctanal oxidizes to 4-ethyloctanoic acid, which is a main ingredient of the “goaty odor” that has been known for decades to attract the ladies to their counterparts.
"We are tempted to speculate that this is a clever reproductive strategy of the male goat to alter behavior and activity of the reproduction center in the female for mating by a single molecule," Takeuchi said.
Commenting on the study, Peter Brennan from the University of Bristol finds the discovery of importance.
“There are relatively few instances in mammals where an individual compound has been positively identified as having a pheromonal effect,” he says. “There are fewer still in non-rodent species that have commercial importance,” he told Ed Yong of National Geographic.
With more work, farmers may be able to use this chemical to more precisely control the reproduction of their herds. Murata and his team are also now looking to find a similar pheromone in the cow, which would be of even more importance.
“I would expect that what they find in the goat will be true for other mammals and can be more easily studied in more traditional scientific models such as the mouse,” Lisa Stowers, of the Scripps Research Institute, told NatGeo.
While Murata’s team thinks their findings could translate to humans, Stowers doesn’t see it happening.
“This finding is unlikely to translate to human reproduction,” since we don’t seem to have any pheromone-detecting neurons similar to the ones that Murata studied in his goats, she said.
She also noted that the team did not show how the pheromone actually affects the GnRH neurons or how a brief sniff can lead to long-lasting changes over several days.
Takeuchi agreed, noting the team is currently building a device that would release the pheromone continually so they can study how the female’s reproductive behavior changes in the absence of actual males.
- [ Watch the Video: Do Selfies Spread Lice? ]
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Posing with your friends for a selfie may seem harmless enough, but at least one expert suggests that such innocent behavior could be more harmful than one may think. While teens everywhere smoosh their heads together to get the perfect picture, they could be unleashing an army of head lice upon each other’s scalps.
This is the claim of lice-treatment expert Mary McQuillan, who heads two Nitless Noggins treatment centers in California. According to McQuillan, a dramatic uptick in the incidence of lice among the younger generation is due to heads being mashed together to grab that selfie.
"Head lice are spread through head-to-head contact. Lice don't jump or fly, so you actually have to touch heads," said McQuillan in a statement Monday. "Every teen I've treated, I ask about selfies, and they admit that they are taking them every day."
McQuillan said she has seen a huge increase in lice in teens. Usually, lice is more common in younger children, because they are at a higher risk of head-to-head contact. But now, teens are mashing their heads together for selfie shots.
In an interview with SFist, McQuillan said she has seen a tenfold jump in business over the past few years, which coincides with selfies, which have been quickly becoming viral since about 2010.
"Here's the problem," she explains to SFist, "we're getting more of the high school and college kids than middle schoolers."
"Every teen I've treated, I ask about selfies, and they admit that they are taking them every day...I think parents need to be aware, and teenagers need to be aware too. Selfies are fun, but the consequences are real," she added.
McQuillan’s theory led to an alarming amount of media attention on Monday, with the story going viral. However, CNET questioned the validity of the claims and reached out to another lice expert to seek some truth.
"That makes a lot of sense. In order to get it, you have to be direct contact -- sitting on the same towel, sharing headphones together, or using someone else's hair curler, sharing hats, sweaters, and scarves," Vanessa Mor, supervisor at Lice Control in Oakland, Calif., told CNET’s Michael Fracno.
Mor said she has seen an increase in lice among teens and young adults in her area, although made no specific connection to selfies.
While lice need head-to-head contact for transmission, the amount of time a typical selfie sitting occurs is generally too short of a period for widespread transmission, Dr. Nick Celano, a resident in dermatology at USC Medical Center.
"The way we're taught," Celano said of his medical schooling, "is that it takes contact for an extended period of time, and 10 seconds is not what I'd consider an extended period of time. We're in rooms with patients that have lice, and we don't really worry about getting it transmitted from one person to the other while in the room."
While Celano doesn’t know the exact amount of time heads need to be in close contact for lice transmission to occur, he said it is much more common for lice to spread through the sharing of combs, hats and bedding. Of course, he does not go as far as saying the selfie theory is nonsense, either.
Celano said that until expert research can make a definitive claim on whether selfies are good or bad for lice transmission, it may be a good idea to keep your heads apart when snapping a selfie with friends.
Dr. Richard Pollack, of Harvard School of Public Health, sat down with NBC News to discuss the issue.
“This is a marketing ploy, pure and simple,” said Dr. Pollack, who also runs a pest identification business called IdentifyUS. “Wherever these louse salons open a new branch, there always seems to be an epidemic. It’s good for business.”
While reliable data on how many people get head lice each year in the US is unavailable, it is estimated that between six and 12 million infestations occur each year among children between the ages of three and 11, according to the CDC.
Pollack claims there is no evidence to show there is an uptick in head lice in the US and has pointed to a few reasons why selfie lice transmission in teens and young adults is unlikely:
Lice transmission in teens is nearly non-existent because teens almost never have it – it is most common in children up to fourth grade. And lice is spread via “direct and prolonged head-to-head contact.” While it is theoretically possible for teens to spread lice via a selfie shot, the theory that it is occurring now is extremely rare and unlikely; the idea that it is considered a widespread problem is “ridiculous.”
Pollack believes that more often than not, parents tend to mistake dandruff for lice. He told NBC News that the bigger problem is businesses charging concerned parents big bucks to rid children of lice they most likely do not have.
“I’m trying to prevent people from over-treating,” he said. “People should not be using insecticides on their kids unless there really is a reason to use them.”
For parents who have legitimate claims that their children have head lice, simple home treatments can effectively remove the tiny pests more inexpensively than seeing a so-called lice expert. Shampoos for lice treatment are available at pharmacies, as well as lice combs that remove the critters from hair. If home treatment is unsuccessful, then seeing a licensed dermatologist and getting a prescribed medication may be necessary.
- Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In a research project inspired by the movie “Avatar,” scientists from Cornell University and Harvard Medical School have designed a system that allows one monkey to control the paralyzed body of another monkey using only thoughts, according to a newly published report in the journal Nature Communications.
The study team said they hope their research will eventually allow for paralyzed individuals to regain control of their body.
“The goal is to take people with brain stem or spinal cord paralysis and bypass the injury,” study author Ziv Williams, from Harvard, told James Gallagher of BBC News.
For the study, the researchers connected the brain of one monkey to the spinal cord of another with electrodes. A computer between the two primates decoded and relayed neural transmissions from one to the other.
The first monkey, referred to as the 'master', was placed in a special chair in front of a computer screen showing a cursor and a green ‘target’ circle that switched between two locations. The second animal, or 'avatar', was fully sedated in an individual enclosure with its arm strapped to a joystick.
This joystick allowed the master to move the cursor of a computer screen and chase the circular objective to one of two locations. As the 'master' thought of moving the cursor, its neural signals were decoded to find out which of the two locations it was thinking about. The cognitive data was relayed in actual time to the spinal-cord of the avatar, which moved its arm as directed by the master.
When the cursor hit its target, the master received a squirt of juice as reward. In 98 percent of the trials, the master could effectively control the avatar's arm.
"The hope is ultimately to get completely natural movement, I think it's theoretically possible, but it will require an exponential additional effort to get to that point,” Williams said.
Some may worry about pathological uses for this technology, but Christopher James, of the University of Warwick, dismissed the idea of a dystopian future where people could control the bodies of others by using their thoughts.
"Some people may be concerned this might mean someone taking over control of someone else's body, but the risk of this is a no-brainer,” he said. "Whilst the control of limbs is sophisticated, it is still rather crude overall, plus of course in an able-bodied person their own control over their limbs remains anyway, so no-one is going to control anyone else's body against their wishes any time soon."
James added that the new development was "very important research [with profound implications] especially for controlling limbs in spinal cord injury, or controlling prosthetic limbs with limb amputees.”
One major challenge facing doctors looking to cure paralysis is the fact that the muscles of people suffering from the condition tend to become more rigid. Oscillating blood pressure could also complicate restoring control to once-paralyzed limbs.
"The work is a key step forward that demonstrates the potential of brain machine interfaces to be used in restoring purposeful movement to people affected by paralysis,” said Bernard Conway, head of biomedical engineering at the University of Strathclyde. "However, significant work still remains to be done before this technology will be able to be offered to the people who need it."
- redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Nike has announced plans to make the self-tying shoes featured in Back to the Future Part II a reality, as designer Tinker Hatfield has confirmed that the company will release a new pair of sneakers featuring the so-called “power laces” made famous by Michael J. Fox’s character Marty McFly in the 1989 film.
The announcement comes three years after the shoe company initially released a product based on the shoes worn by McFly, the Nike Air MAG, according to Robert Sorokanich of Gizmodo. A total of 1,500 pairs were produced and auctioned off, reportedly raising nearly $6 million for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.
However, those shoes lacked the special laces which allowed McFly to simply push a button and have his sneakers tie themselves. Now, though, Hatfield confirmed during an appearance in New Orleans late last week that the high-tech shoelaces would actually be produced next year, said SoleCollector.com’s Brandon Richard.
“Are we gonna see power laces in 2015? To that, I say YES!” Hatfield said, according to Richard. However, the Nike designer did not specify whether or not the laces would be released as part of a new line of Air MAGs or an all-new line of sneakers that would feature self-lacing technology.
Interestingly enough, New York Daily News reporter Joel Landau points out that, in the film, Fox’s character said that the shoes with the push-button tying technology were released in the year 2015. Based on Hatfield’s announcement, and barring any unforeseen setbacks, it appears as though he was right about that.
The original 2011 Nike Air MAGS featured an upper part constructed of reinforced mesh and an outer sole “lined with LED panels that'll light up just like all futuristic shoes imagined in the 80's should,” Sorokanich’s Gizmodo colleague Casey Chan explained in September 2011. It was also rechargeable and would remain lit for up to five hours.
“It's pretty much the exact replica of the pair of shoes Marty McFly famously wore with a few slight tweaks to add more support and comfort,” Chan added. “They're just a pair of shoes, yes, but they might as well be Doc Brown and a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor—I feel like a kid all over again. I can't wait to put them on.”
- [ Watch the Video: What Can Earwax Say About You? ]
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
The odor-producing chemical compounds found in a person’s earwax could help determine that individual’s ethnic origins, scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia report in a recent edition of the Journal of Chromatography B.
Lead author and Monell organic chemist Dr. George Preti and his colleagues identified the presence of this compound. They also found that the amount of those substances found in human earwax varied between individuals of East Asian origin and Caucasians.
“Our previous research has shown that underarm odors can convey a great deal of information about an individual, including personal identity, gender, sexual orientation, and health status,” Dr. Preti said in a statement Wednesday. “We think it possible that earwax may contain similar information.”
Also known by its scientific name cerumen, earwax is a mixture of secretions from specialized sweat glands with fatty substances secreted from the sebaceous glands, the researchers explained. It typically comes in one of two physical forms: wet with a yellowish-brown hue, or dry and white in color.
According to Dr. Preti, a small change in the ABCC11 gene is linked to both underarm odor production and to whether a person has dry or wet earwax. People of Chinese, Japanese or other East Asian descent, as well as those of Native American heritage, possess a form of the gene which codes both for dry earwax and a reduced amount of underarm body odor in relation to people of other ethnic groups, he noted.
[ Watch the Video: Monell Minutes: What does earwax have to do with body odor ]
In order to test whether or not cerumen types possessed a distinctive odor, Dr. Preti and his colleagues collected earwax from eight healthy Caucasian males, as well as eight men of East Asian descent. Each substance was placed in a vial and heated for 30 minutes, which promoted the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Since many VOCs cause odors, the investigators inserted an absorbent device into the vial’s cap to collect the molecules from the containers, and then analyzed the chemical compounds using chromatography-mass spectrometry techniques. They discovered 12 VOCs that were present in the earwax of all the men, but that Caucasians possessed greater amounts of 11 of the 12 VOCs than East Asians.
"In essence, we could obtain information about a person's ethnicity simply by looking in his ears. While the types of odorants were similar, the amounts were very different,” explained lead author Katharine Prokop-Prigge, a chemist and postdoctoral fellow at Monell.
“The researchers suspect that the fatty nature of earwax makes it a likely repository for lipid-soluble odorants produced by certain diseases and the environment,” the Center added. Furthermore, the authors noted that the odor-producing metabolic diseases maple syrup urine disease and alkaptonuria can be identified in earwax before they can be diagnosed using blood tests, urinalysis and other traditional methods.
- University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor in the University of Tennessee at Knoxville Department of Psychology, is the first to thoroughly study the tree-climbing and -basking behavior
When most people envision crocodiles, they think of them waddling on the ground or wading in water — not climbing trees. However, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, study has found that the reptiles can climb trees as far as the crowns.
Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, is the first to thoroughly study the tree-climbing and -basking behavior. The research is published in the journal Herpetology Notes and can be found at http://bit.ly/Myi8yr.
Dinets and his colleagues observed crocodile species on three continents — Australia, Africa and North America — and examined previous studies and anecdotal observations. They found that four species climbed trees — usually above water — but how far they ventured upward and outward varied by their sizes. The smaller crocodiles were able to climb higher and further than the larger ones. Some species were observed climbing as far as four meters high in a tree and five meters down a branch.
"Climbing a steep hill or steep branch is mechanically similar, assuming the branch is wide enough to walk on," the authors wrote. "Still, the ability to climb vertically is a measure of crocodiles' spectacular agility on land."
The crocodiles seen climbing trees, whether at night or during the day, were skittish of being recognized, jumping or falling into the water when an approaching observer was as far as 10 meters away. This response led the researchers to believe that the tree climbing and basking are driven by two conditions: thermoregulation and surveillance of habitat.
"The most frequent observations of tree-basking were in areas where there were few places to bask on the ground, implying that the individuals needed alternatives for regulating their body temperature," the authors wrote. "Likewise, their wary nature suggests that climbing leads to improved site surveillance of potential threats and prey."
The data suggests that at least some crocodile species are able to climb trees despite lacking any obvious morphological adaptations to do so.
"These results should be taken into account by paleontologists who look at changes in fossils to shed light on behavior," said Dinets. "This is especially true for those studying extinct crocodiles or other Archosaurian taxa."
Dinets collaborated with Adam Britton from Charles Darwin University in Australia and Matthew Shirley from the University of Florida.
Research by Dinets published in 2013 found another surprising crocodile characteristic — the use of lures such as sticks to hunt prey. More of his crocodile research can be found in his book "Dragon Songs."
- [ Watch the Video: Where Has Nessie Gone? ]
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Accounts of the Loch Ness monster date back over 1,500 years, with modern sightings starting around 1933, according to History.com. The last 18 months, however, Nessie has been decidedly absent.
USA Today reports that the last 18 months has been the longest single stretch without a "confirmed" sighting since 1925, and it has Gary Campbell, the Scotsman who keeps a record of sightings, worried.
"It's very upsetting news and we don't know where she's gone," Gary Campbell told BBC News. "The number of sightings has been reducing since the turn of the century but this is the first time in almost 90 years that Nessie wasn't seen at all."
Last year's supposed photos of Nessie turned out to be a wave, a duck, and a picture not even taken on Loch Ness. Citing a total of 1,036 sightings, Campbell believes that the monster is just taking a break.
"I'm convinced that Nessie has just taken some time out and will be back with a vengeance this year," he says.
A chartered accountant from Inverness, Campbell has been recording sightings for the last 17 years, since he had an encounter himself. He has put together the definitive list of sightings, going back over 1,500 years to the Irish missionary, St. Columba, who is said to have encountered Nessie in 565 AD.
Nessie was placed ahead of the Yeti of the Himalayas (three and 12 respectively) in a list of "top 18 mysteries" for travelers to solve in 2014 from Wanderlust Magazine.
For perhaps the first time, a truly alternative explanation of Nessie has been put forth by Britain's "High Priest of White Witches."
"I personally believe Nessie is a ghost of a dinosaur, who has been regularly seen on the loch," he told The Scotsman. "But the spirit of the creature has been so exploited in recent years I decided to carry out an exorcism, hence no sightings of the monster."
The witch, unnamed in the Scotsman article, says he plans to lift the spell this summer.