Daily Archives: December 18, 2007

Science News Tidbits

Male Semen Makes HIV More Potent

More than 80 percent of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections are transmitted via sexual intercourse. And researchers may have discovered at least one reason why. According to a new study published in Cell, a component of human semen may facilitate the spread of the virus by targeting immune system cells, in some cases making the pathogen up to 100,000 times more virulent.

Researchers develop 2-D invisibility cloak from PhysOrg.com
Harry Potter may not have talked much about plasmonics in J. K. Rowling’s fantasy series, but University of Maryland researchers are using this emerging technology to develop an invisibility cloak that exists beyond the world of bespectacled teenage wizards.[]

Cold feeling traced to source from PhysOrg.com
For the first time, neuroscientists have visualized cold fibers – strands reaching from sensory neurons near the spinal cord to nerve endings in the skin tuned to sense different types of cold. The study and pictures appear in the Dec. 19 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.[]

Bacteria-Tainted Syringes Sicken Dozens from PhysOrg.com
(AP) — Federal health officials said Tuesday they are investigating dozens of blood infections in at least two states that have been linked to medical syringes contaminated with bacteria.[]

Science News: Ancient Climate Change and Modern Macroevolution

I’m putting this bit of human biogeography under the “species coming and going” category:

Greenland DNA could hold key to migration mysteries: researchers from PhysOrg.com
Danish researchers are to sieve through human and skeletal remains on Greenland in a quest to explain an enduring enigma over the island’s settlement over thousands of years, one of the scientists said Tuesday.[]

This is a very large change in diet over a very short period of time. I call Macro Evolution!

Study links success of invasive Argentine ants to diet shifts from PhysOrg.com
The ability of Argentine ants to change from carnivorous insect eaters to plant sap-loving creatures has helped these invasive social insects rapidly spread throughout coastal California, according to a new study, displacing many native insects and creating ant infestations familiar to most coastal residents.[]

My Linux Calendar

Dec 18
Konrad Zuse died in Hünfeld, 1995. Zuse was an engineer and a pioneer in the computer field. He developed the world’s first functional program-controlled computer, the Z3, in 1941. He also designed the first high-level programming language, Plankaklul in 1948, although the langauge was never implemented during his lifetime. He also founded the first dot-com, before there were dot-coms, in 1946. source
Dec 18
Republic Day in Niger. Niger is a landlocked nation in West Africa (barely … almost Central Africa). The official language is French, and it includes 1.26 million square kilometers of land.

Not all days are spectacular, so I removed the non-English and padded what was left.

Don’t be fooled … this is just more robots, and other matters

Before I sign on to this, I want to know what happens when the vehicles become self aware and take over the planet:

Vehicles That Talk to Each Other Know What Lanes They’re In from PhysOrg.com
A standard GPS receiver has an average 2D-positioning accuracy of about 13 meters. While this precision is high enough to direct you to your hotel, it’s quite a bit lower than the accuracy required to determine which lane your car is in while driving down the highway.[]

But wait, this could also be robots. Robots fighting in outer space:

Intergalactic ‘shot in the dark’ shocks astronomers from PhysOrg.com
A team of astronomers has discovered a cosmic explosion that seems to have come from the middle of nowhere — thousands of light-years from the nearest galaxy-sized collection of stars, gas, and dust. This “shot in the dark” is surprising because the type of explosion, a long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB), is thought to be powered by the death of a massive star.[]

And are we sure this is not just robots building their own immune system?

Biochip mimics the body to reveal toxicity of industrial compounds from PhysOrg.com
A new biochip technology could eliminate animal testing in the chemicals and cosmetics industries, and drastically curtail its use in the development of new pharmaceuticals, according to new findings from a team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of California at Berkeley, and Solidus Biosciences Inc.[]

Cooking and Human Evolution

From Scientific American, a piece on the “Cooking Hypothesis” (which yours truly helped develop some years back).

Our hominid ancestors could never have eaten enough raw food to support our large, calorie-hungry brains, Richard Wrangham claims. The secret to our evolution, he says, is cooking

Cooking does indeed turn a lot of stuff that is not edible to humans (or any primate) into usable energy. We think the increase in body size that comes along with the genus Homo (with Homo erectus and kin) is itself a biological signal of cooking.

The problem with his idea: proof is slim that any human could control fire that far back. Other researchers believe cooking did not occur until perhaps only 500,000 years ago. Consistent signs of cooking came even later, when Neandertals were coping with an ice age. “They developed earth oven cookery,” says C. Loring Brace, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “And that only goes back a couple hundred thousand years.” He and others postulate that the introduction of energy-rich, softer animal products, not cooking, was what led to H. erectus’s bigger brain and smaller teeth.

Continue reading Cooking and Human Evolution

The E-Word

Pursuant to a discussion here regarding the use of the word “evolution” in various scholarly contexts, consider the article in PLoS: Evolution by Any Other Name: Antibiotic Resistance and Avoidance of the E-Word

The increase in resistance of human pathogens to antimicrobial agents is one of the best-documented examples of evolution in action at the present time, and because it has direct life-and-death consequences, it provides the strongest rationale for teaching evolutionary biology as a rigorous science in high school biology curricula, universities, and medical schools. In spite of the importance of antimicrobial resistance, we show that the actual word “evolution” is rarely used in the papers describing this research. Instead, antimicrobial resistance is said to “emerge,” “arise,” or “spread” rather than “evolve.” Moreover, we show that the failure to use the word “evolution” by the scientific community may have a direct impact on the public perception of the importance of evolutionary biology in our everyday lives.

This graph summarizes the study very nicely:
Continue reading The E-Word

Where The Cooties Go To Die

OK, so you are vacuuming the house, and along the way, you suck up a couple of spiders, some spier eggs, a beetle or two, and as the cat or dog walks by, you figure you’re probably sucking up some fleas and flea eggs, and so on and so forth.SO you know all these cooties are now in the vacuum cleaner bag. When you are done vacuuming, you put the vacuum cleaner away. The thought is in your brain… all these creepy crawlers are now going to slowly work their way out of the vacuum cleaner and go back to their crawly creepy business. But you stop yourself from thinking further about it and live your life in denial of what might be a horrific reality. Continue reading Where The Cooties Go To Die

Tunguska Modeled: There’s good news and there’s bad news

The good news is that the object that hit the earth at Tunguska 1908 was much smaller than previously thought. The bad news is that the object that hit the earth at Tunguska 1908 was much smaller than previously thought. In other words, if such a small object can do so much damage, then the prospect of something bad happens goes up orders of magnitude… Continue reading Tunguska Modeled: There’s good news and there’s bad news