Wind At Sea Is Strangely Van Goghish, Says NASA

5:16:37 PM, Tuesday, April 10, 2012

“… Most of the surface currents in the ocean are shaped by wind. In this visualization from the folks at NASA, the ocean is rich with lazy spirals that move in great circular sweeps (called "gyres") clockwise in the northern hemisphere, counterclockwise in the south. Think of the ocean surface here as a reflection of the winds above, a kind of watery mirror (though the spinning of the Earth, tugs of sun and moon and obstruction of continents play a part.) Click on this video, and you'll see the dance of wind-on-water everywhere.

I like watching the Gulf Stream roar past the tip of Florida in the beginning, all white and purposeful, heading up the North American coast. There's something playful about water and wind bumping into large land masses likeAfrica, breaking into whirligig spirals, spinning along the shore. Then there's the equator, which in this version seems almost wall-like. As the winds approach it, they flatten into jet like streams racing along a corridor.

What this map doesn't show is the newest discovery created by ocean gyres. It's called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast, Texas-sized clump of human garbage floating in the Pacific. Created by a convergence of ocean currents and wind somewhere betweenHawaii andCalifornia, it's not visible from satellites. Apparently, a thick blanket of pop bottles and chemical sludge sinks a little below the surface so it can't be seen from above and, anyway, it turns out garbage doesn't clump in a spiral; it looks more like a Nickelodeon splat, so if we could see the Garbage Patch, it would ruin the mood created here.

This is an image of wild wind, water and spiral beauty. And what does it say about us that our first human mark is a splat that feels like we've dropped some mud onto a van Gogh painting?”

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Discovery Could Improve Vaccines

3:37:14 AM, Tuesday, April 10, 2012

“The discovery of how a vital immune cell recognises dead and damaged body cells could modernise vaccine technology by ‘tricking’ cells into launching an immune response, leading to next-generation vaccines that are more specific, more effective and have fewer side-effects.

Scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have identified, for the first time, how a protein found on the surface of immune cells called dendritic cells recognises dangerous damage and trauma that could signify infection.

Dendritic cells are critical for raising the alarm about the presence of foreign invaders in the body such as viruses, bacteria and parasites as well as tumour cells and other dead or damaged cells. Also known as antigen-presenting cells, they digest and present molecules from damaged cells to other immune cells that recognise foreign invaders and launch an immune response.

The research was a collaborative effort that involved a team of immunologists, protein chemists and structural biologists. The research team was led by Dr Mireille Lahoud (formerly from the Immunology division), Dr Jian-Guo Zhang (Cancer and Haematology division), Dr Peter Czabotar (Structural Biology division) and Professor Ken Shortman (Immunology division).

Dr Lahoud said the study, published today in the journal Immunity, demonstrated that the immune system has evolved a very clever way of detecting damaged and dead cells to help promote an immune response.

“Dr Irina Caminschi and I previously identified a protein called Clec9A (C-type lectin domain family 9A) that sits on the surface of specialised types of dendritic cells and responds to damaged and dying cells,” Dr Lahoud said. “In this study we discovered that Clec9A recognises and binds to fibres of actin, internal cell proteins that are found in all cells of the body. Actin is only exposed when the cell membrane is damaged or destroyed, so it is an excellent way of finding cells that could harbour potentially dangerous infections and exposing them to the immune system.”

Professor Shortman said that exploiting Clec9A could be used to generate a new, more modern class of vaccines that are more effective and have fewer side-effects. “The Clec9A protein is one of the best targets currently known for improving immune responses,” he said. “By creating vaccines that bind to Clec9A, we can trick dendritic cells to think they have encountered a damaged cell and help to launch an immune response to the infectious agent of our choice.”

Professor Shortman said targeting Clec9A could decrease the amount of vaccine needed by 100 to 1000 times. “Traditional vaccine technology for generating immunity, such as using inactivated whole viruses or parasites for immune recognition, requires large amounts of vaccine in the hopes it will encounter the correct immune cells, and incorporates other substances (adjuvants) that are needed to signal to the immune system that something foreign is happening. We are proposing a new type of vaccine that we know will head directly to the right cell to help stimulate an immune response, and doesn’t cause the same side-effects because it is more specific,” Professor Shortman said.

Dr Lahoud said that the finding could develop or increase the efficacy of vaccines for diseases that do not currently have good preventive options, such as malaria, or HIV. “There is also the possibility that the system could be used to develop therapeutic vaccines for treating diseases, such as some forms of cancer, as well as for preventing them,” she said.

Since completing this research, Dr Lahoud and Dr Caminschi have accepted positions at the Burnet Institute.

This work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Australian Research Council and the Victorian Government.”

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Evolution at Sea: Long-Term Experiments Indicate Phytoplankton Can Adapt to Ocean Acidification

10:27:23 AM, Monday, April 09, 2012

“ScienceDaily (Apr. 8, 2012) — Fossil fuel derived carbon dioxide has a serious impact on global climate but also a disturbing effect on the oceans, know as the other CO2 problem. When CO2 dissolves in seawater it forms carbonic acid and results in a drop in pH, the oceans acidify. A wealth of short-term experiments has shown that calcifying organisms, such as corals, clams and snails, but also micron size phytoplankton are affected by ocean acidification. The potential for organisms to cope with acidified oceanic conditions via evolutionary adaptations has so far been unresolved.

Scientists of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR) have now for the first demonstrated the potential of the unicellular algae Emiliania huxleyi to adapt to changing pH conditions and thereby at least partly to mitigate negative effects of ocean acidification. These results raised by the biologists Kai Lohbeck, Prof. Ulf Riebesell and Prof. Thorsten Reusch are published in the current issue of Nature Geoscience.

Experimental Emiliania huxleyi strains were isolated in Norwegian coastal waters and cultured in the laboratory under projected future ocean CO2 conditions. After about one year, which translates into 500 generations in this rapidly reproducing species, the biologists detected adaptation to high CO2 – adapted populations grew and calcified significantly better than non adapted control populations when tested under ocean acidification condition.

“From a biogeochemical perspective the most interesting finding was probably a partly restoration in calcification rates” GEOMAR scientist Prof. Ulf Riebesell notes. Emiliania huxleyi covers its cell surface with minute calcite scales that were found to decrease in weight under increased CO2 concentrations. “This is what we expected from the literature. But we were fascinated to find impaired calcification to partly recover after only 500 generations” says biologist Kai Lohbeck…”

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Sun's Sibling Stars Could Host Cousins of Earth Life

10:22:08 AM, Monday, April 09, 2012

“Some scientists are searching not just for any life out there in the universe, but for our distant relatives.

Earth may have seeded life on other planets if an asteroid smacking into Earth sprayed DNA into space, researchers suggest. Now a team of researchers is searching for siblings of the sun — stars born from the same parent star cluster — whose planets could have been impregnated with Earth life this way.

The sun's birth cluster

The sun is thought to have formed around 4.5 billion years ago within a cluster of thousands of baby stars. After around 1 billion years, this cluster broke up and the sibling stars went their separate ways. But before that point, researchers say, some of these stars may have shared life in the form of bacteria or DNA molecules.

"The idea is if a planet has life, like Earth, and if you hit it with an asteroid, it will create debris, some of which will escape into space," said astronomer Mauri Valtonen of the University of Turku in Finland. "And if the debris is big enough, like 1 meter across, it can shield life inside from radiation, and that life can survive inside for millions of years until that debris lands somewhere. If it happens to land on a planet with suitable conditions, life can start there."

hat means that somewhere out there in the galaxy might be your long-lost cousin.

If such a process ever happened, it was probably while the sun was still in its birth cluster, near enough to other stars that the chances were not negligible that debris bearing samples of Earth microorganisms might smash into another planet.

During the time of the birth cluster, objects in the solar system were under heavy bombardment by comets and asteroids, so researchers say material could have been fairly easily transferred between planets…”

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The Bomb Before It Exploded Over Nagasaki

1:21:00 AM, Sunday, April 08, 2012

"It seems so obvious that before the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki it had to exist, whole, somewhere, yet seeing a picture of it in that pre-exploded state, with all its attendant destructive power still locked inside, is shocking, horrifying, in a way distinct from the more familiar images of the mushroom cloud. The picture above, from the National Archives contribution to Wikimedia, shows three men as they transport Fat Man, as the bomb was called, on the island of Tinian in August of 1945. U.S. Air Force pilot Charles Sweeney flew over Nagasaki on August 9th and dropped it on the city, killing some 39,000 people and injuring thousands more."

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Who Is Waging Cyberwar Against the Jihadi Networks?

1:09:44 AM, Sunday, April 08, 2012

“”The enemies of Allah who boast of their freedoms have not spared any effort to eradicate our blessed media." After two weeks of silence, the jihadist forum Shamukh al Islam came back online yesterday with a gloat: an apparent cyberattack against Shamukh and four similar sites had failed to shut it down permanently. But terrorism analysts see the event in a different light. As they investigate the mystery of who caused the outage and why, most can't help seeing in the blackout one more piece of evidence that al-Qaeda is in disarray.

Websites like Shamukh al Islam perform a critical function in jihadist circles. Loaded with videos that depict alleged Western atrocities against Muslims, they recruit supporters, while their chat rooms and forums allow jihadists around the globe to communicate with one another and exchange information, including instructions on bomb construction and chemical warfare.

So when Shamukh al Islam, perhaps the most prominent jihadist forum, suddenly fell silent on March 22 or 23, terrorism analysts took notice. That interest only grew over the next few days as four other sites went down and, with one exception, stayed that way. "For four of these sites to be off-line for two weeks is unprecedented," says Aaron Zelin, a researcher at Brandeis University. "We've seen other cyberattacks on these sites before, but they've never managed to keep them down for that long."

However significant the outage may be, no one is quite sure who caused it or why.

Because Shamukh went down right after French authorities cornered and killed Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old jihadist who shot seven people in Toulouse, some analysts have suggested a connection. "Our first suspicion was that the blackout was somehow connected to Merah, just based on the timing," says Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst at Flashpoint Partners, a consulting agency. "The presumption here is that someone is intent on thwarting, or at least complicating, al-Qaeda's efforts to release a particular piece of media" — perhaps the Merah video that was sent to al-Jazeera but never aired…”

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Scientists Redraw the Blueprint of the Body's Biological Clock

12:20:13 AM, Sunday, April 08, 2012

“ScienceDaily (Apr. 5, 2012) — The discovery of a major gear in the biological clock that tells the body when to sleep and metabolize food may lead to new drugs to treat sleep problems and metabolic disorders, including diabetes.

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, led by Ronald M. Evans, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory, showed that two cellular switches found on the nucleus of mouse cells, known as REV-ERBa and REV-ERBß, are essential for maintaining normal sleeping and eating cycles and for metabolism of nutrients from food.

The findings, reported March 29 in Nature, describe a powerful link between circadian rhythms and metabolism and suggest a new avenue for treating disorders of both systems, including jet lag, sleep disorders, obesity and diabetes.

"This fundamentally changes our knowledge about the workings of the circadian clock and how it orchestrates our sleep-wake cycles, when we eat and even the times our bodies metabolize nutrients," says Evans. "Nuclear receptors can be targeted with drugs, which suggests we might be able to target REV-ERBa and ß to treat disorders of sleep and metabolism."

Nurses, emergency personnel and others who work shifts that alter the normal 24-hour cycle of waking and sleeping are at much higher risk for a number of diseases, including metabolic disorders such as diabetes. To address this, scientists are trying to understand precisely how the biological clock works and uncover possible targets for drugs that could adjust the circadian rhythm in people with sleep disorders and circadian-associated metabolic disorders…”

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FEMEN Protest Islam Oppression of Women in Paris

2:52:42 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

-- So this happened.

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Organics Probably Formed Easily in Early Solar System

2:43:08 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2012) — Complex organic compounds, including many important to life on Earth, were readily produced under conditions that likely prevailed in the primordial solar system. Scientists at the University of Chicago and NASA Ames Research Center came to this conclusion after linking computer simulations to laboratory experiments.

Fred Ciesla, assistant professor in geophysical sciences at UChicago, simulated the dynamics of the solar nebula, the cloud of gas and dust from which the sun and the planets formed. Although every dust particle within the nebula behaved differently, they all experienced the conditions needed for organics to form over a simulated million-year period.

"Whenever you make a new planetary system, these kinds of things should go on," said Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at NASA Ames. "This potential to make organics and then dump them on the surfaces of any planet you make is probably a universal process."

Although organic compounds are commonly found in meteorites and cometary samples, their origins presented a mystery. Now Ciesla and Sandford describe how the compounds possibly evolved in the March 29 edition of Science Express. How important a role these compounds may have played in giving rise to the origin of life remains poorly understood, however.

Sandford has devoted many years of laboratory research to the chemical processes that occur when high-energy ultraviolet radiation bombards simple ices like those seen in space. "We've found that a surprisingly rich mixture of organics is made," Sandford said.

These include molecules of biological interest, such as amino acids, nucleobases and amphiphiles, which make up the building blocks of proteins, RNA and DNA, and cellular membranes, respectively. Irradiated ices should have produced these same sorts of molecules during the formation of the solar system, he said…”

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Survey Gets a Grip on Dark Energy

2:38:01 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“Astronomers have measured the precise distance to over a quarter of a million galaxies to gain new insights into a key period in cosmic history.

The 3D map of the sky allows scientists to probe the time six billion years ago when dark energy became the dominant influence on the Universe's expansion.

No-one knows the true nature of this repulsive force, but the exquisite data in the international BOSS survey will help test various theories.

The analysis appears in six papers.

These have all been posted on the arXiv preprint server.

"This is an incredibly exciting time to be working in cosmology, and we're all privileged to be part of the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS)," said Prof Will Percival from the University of Portsmouth - a UK member of the international research group.

"What we've done is measure the 3D positions for just over 250,000 galaxies, covering the largest volume of the Universe ever surveyed. That gives us an amazing map that we can then analyse to try to understand how and why the Universe's expansion is accelerating," he told BBC News.

Prof Percival was speaking here in Manchester at the UK National Astronomy Meeting (NAM).

Preferred separation

The discovery that everything in the cosmos is moving apart at a faster and faster rate was one of the major breakthroughs of the 20th Century.

It went against all preconceptions. Up until the discovery, it was thought the Universe's expansion would most likely have been decelerating under the influence of gravity.

Scientists now find themselves grasping for new physics to try to explain what is going on…”

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Scientists Solve the Mystery of How Beer Goggles Work

2:14:47 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“(www.independent.co.uk) If you've ever had one too many and tumbled into bed with a vision, only to be greeted in the morning by a sight you'd gnaw off your own arm to escape, take heart. It won't make the memory any less painful, but you can take comfort from the fact that there is now academic underpinning for the effect known commonly as "beer goggles".

In scientific terms, even a little alcohol reduces the ability to assess facial symmetry, which plays a key role in attractiveness and human mate selection.

The effect is particularly pronounced in women, with female drinkers less able to distinguish between attractive and not so attractive men after just a couple of vodkas.

Facial symmetry, where one side of the face mirrors the other, is thought to have evolved as a mark of attractiveness as it signifies good genes. Both sexes select outward signs of genetic quality to ensure better offspring. Ratings of attractiveness in the opposite sex are highest when symmetry is at its greatest, research has shown. It's also known that attractiveness rises when people have had a drink or three: the beer goggles effect.

Male and female volunteers at Roehampton University were subjected to a battery of tests before and after consuming various drinks. The tests included studying images of 20 paired faces that had been manipulated so that one was symmetrical and the other asymmetrical. Results showed alcohol drinkers made significant errors in distinguishing between symmetrical and asymmetrical faces. The study also found that women drinkers made more errors than men. The results are to be published in the scientific journal Addiction.

"The people in our study were not drinking heavily, and the effects we have found seem to increase with the amount of alcohol consumed," said Dr Lewis Halsey, who led the study.

"What we have shown is that people's ability to detect symmetry is part of the explanation for the beer goggle effects.

"The consequences could be considerable. A lot of people say they met their partner when they were drunk. Are their marriages shorter or longer lasting? Does it change the nature of the relationship?"”

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Childbirth Takes Longer Now Than 50 Years Ago: Study

1:34:41 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“(Reuters) - Many tasks can be tackled more quickly now than 50 years ago, but delivering a baby naturally it seems is not one of them, according to a U.S. government study.

Compared with the 1960s, U.S. women have in recent years spent two to three hours longer in labor, according to researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, who said the findings suggest doctors may need to rethink the definition of "normal" labor.

The extra time is spent in the first stage of labor - the longest part of the process, before the "pushing" stage, according to findings published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Mothers are different as well. On average, they're older and weigh more, and their newborns are bigger too.

"But even when we take these changing demographics into account, labor is still longer," said lead researcher Katherine Laughon, at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Though Laughon said the study wasn't able to fully address the potential reasons for the difference, one partial explanation may be epidural pain relief, which is far more common now than 50 years ago. Epidurals are known to slow labor down by about 40 to 90 minutes…”

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Boston Dynamics Lies Down with BigDog, Gets Giant Fleas: Robot that Jumps up to One Story

1:16:33 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“Remember what it was like when you first fell in love with Boston Dynamics' rocky terrain traversing BigDog robot? Get ready to fall in love all over again. Meet the Sand Flea, a plucky little 11-pound robot that can jump a mind-boggling 30 feet in a single bound, while an on-board stabilization system helps make landings a bit smoother. The RC four-wheeler's development is being funded by the Army's Rapid Equipping Force. Your move, iRobot. Check out some rad video of the big-wheeled 'bot after the break.”

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US Coast Guard Fires on Tsunami 'Ghost Ship'

12:18:49 AM, Friday, April 06, 2012

“(BBC) The US Coast Guard has used cannon to fire on a crewless Japanese ship that drifted to Alaska after the 2011 tsunami.

The coast guard earlier said they would hold off scuttling the Ryou-Un Maru after a Canadian fishing boat claimed salvage rights.

But a Canadian official later said that the Bernice C was unable to tow the 200ft (61m) Japanese "ghost ship".

The boat has no lights or power and was viewed as a danger to other ships.

It is thought to be at the vanguard of a stream of tsunami debris that has been drifting east since last year's disaster hit Japan.

The Anacapa gunnery ship of the 17th US Coast Guard began shadowing the empty ship on Wednesday afternoon.

Owner contacted

The Ryou-Un Maru was first spotted off the coast of Canadian British Columbia on 23 March.

It is currently about 170 nautical miles (196 miles; 315km) south-west of Sitka, Alaska.

The vessel was moving at about 1km/h in a maritime transport corridor that separates US and Canadian waters.

The gunnery ship would use a 25mm cannon on board the Anacapa to scuttle the ghost ship, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow told the BBC earlier.

A Hercules C-130 air crew was ready to participate in the operation, broadcasting to mariners and air traffic to alert them and help clear the surrounding area before the demolition of the ship began.

CPO Wadlow said it would be too expensive to try to salvage the ship, and too dangerous to put anyone on board.

The ship has about 8,000 litres (2,113 gallons) of diesel on board.

The Ryou-Un Maru, a shrimping boat, has been traced to the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Alaskan Senator Mark Begich suggested that the boat's owner had been identified, but the owner did not want the vessel back.

On 11 March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan, triggering a tsunami that swamped a power station, prompting the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.”

-- Was that really the best way to handle that? Was it?...

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Ancient Egyptian Cotton Unveils Secrets of Domesticated Crop Evolution

7:24:02 PM, Thursday, April 05, 2012

“ScienceDaily (Apr. 2, 2012) — Scientists studying 1,600-year-old cotton from the banks of the Nile have found what they believe is the first evidence that punctuated evolution has occurred in a major crop group within the relatively short history of plant domestication.

The findings offer an insight into the dynamics of agriculture in the ancient world and could also help today's domestic crops face challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

The researchers, led by Dr Robin Allaby from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, examined the remains of ancient cotton at Qasr Ibrim in Egypt's Upper Nile using high throughput sequencing technologies.

This is the first time such technology has been used on ancient plants and also the first time the technique has been applied to archaeological samples in such hot countries.

The site is located about 40 km from Abu Simbel and 70 km from the modern Sudanese border on the east bank of what is now Lake Nasser.

They also studied South American samples from sites in Peru and Brazil aged between 800 and nearly 4,000 years old…”

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