Archive for September, 2011

What is Amazon Silk?

By Veronique Greenwood | September 29, 2011 2:21 pm

What’s the News: Along with a whole passel of new Kindles, Amazon yesterday announced a new browser to accompany them, named Silk. And it’s got some unusual characteristics that have some crowing about the next big thing in mobile browsing and others wondering about privacy implications.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

China Launches the First Module of Its Space Station Program

By Veronique Greenwood | September 29, 2011 11:46 am

tiangong
Artist’s rendering of the Tiangog-1 docking
with another craft.

Today, with much fanfare, China launched its Tiangong-1 space craft into orbit from a site in the Gobi Desert. The unmanned craft is set to dock with later Chinese ships, allowing engineers to practice and experiment with the techniques they’ll need to assemble the space station China plans to build by 2020. Reports from earlier this year suggested that the Tiangong-1 will be converted to taikonaut living quarters in the station, but more recent news indicates that it will be primarily a testing device. For more details about China’s space station dreams, including scientific goals, questions about the military’s intentions, and more, check out our coverage here.

Image courtesy of Xinhua News Agency

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

Listeria-Laden Cantaloupes Kill At Least 13; Toll Likely To Grow

By Douglas Main | September 28, 2011 2:33 pm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 13 people have died as a result of a listeria outbreak linked to Colorado cantaloupes, making it the deadliest American case of food-borne illness in more than a decade, according to the Associated Press. The death toll could soon reach 16, health officials say, as investigators look into additional deaths in New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming. The CDC announced yesterday that 72 people in 18 states had been infected by several strains of Listeria monocytogenes. The bacterium has been traced to “Rocky Ford Cantaloupes” grown by Jensen Farms in Granada, Colo.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

How Did Researchers Manage to Read Movie Clips From the Brain?

By Valerie Ross | September 28, 2011 2:06 pm

What’s the news:  In a study published last week, researchers showed they could reconstruct video clips by watching viewers’ brain activity. The video of the study’s results, below, is pretty amazing, showing the original clips and their reconstructions side by side. How does it work, and does it mean mind-reading is on its way in?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Marijuana for PTSD? That's Leaving Out a Lot of Steps

By Douglas Main | September 28, 2011 8:07 am

When rats were injected with a chemical similar to marijuana’s main ingredient, THC, shortly after a undergoing a severely stressful event, they showed a significant reduction in symptoms like those seen in people with post-traumatic stress disorder. The study tested a synthetic cannabinoid called WIN 55,212-2, which was injected directly into the animals’ amygdala, a brain region involved in the regulation of emotions like fear and anxiety. Timing was important. Rats given the drug two and 24 hours after the stressor—being forced to swim for 15 minutes—appeared less “traumatized” when tested a week later, compared with those given the drug 48 hours later or given no drug at all. While the study adds to the already large and complex pile of evidence that the cannabinoid system has a vital role in regulating emotions like anxiety, it’s far from proving that cannabinoids will be useful for treating PTSD in humans.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain

Coffee May Help Ward Off Depression in Women, Study Finds

By Douglas Main | September 27, 2011 1:38 pm

A couple cups of coffee a day may help keep the blues away. A large epidemiological study of 50,000 women published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that subjects who drink two or more cups of coffee on a daily basis were slightly less likely to be diagnosed with depression over a 10-year span compared to their less-caffeinated peers. Women who drank two to three cups of coffee were 15 percent less likely to be treated for the blues; those who drank four or more had a 20 percent lower risk.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain

Exoplanet's Surprising Detour Reignites Astronomical Debate

By Veronique Greenwood | September 27, 2011 1:09 pm

spacing is important
When Fomalhaut b was announced in 2008, images showed it following a clear orbit around its star.

What’s the News: Even if you don’t know an exoplanet from an exoskeleton, you probably saw the gorgeous images of Fomalhaut, aka “Sauron’s Eye,” making their way around the web in 2008. A tiny, bright dot in the star’s surrounding dust cloud had moved, showing itself to be a planet—the first planet beyond our solar system to actually be seen, rather than detected with nonoptical instruments. Cue the champagne!

But new pictures show something odd: Fomalhaut b, as the planet was named, is veering off in an unexpected direction. Does this mean it’s not a planet after all, or is there another explanation? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

Junk DNA Gave Us the Modern Uterus, in a Giant Genetic Cut-and-Paste Operation

By Veronique Greenwood | September 27, 2011 8:00 am

What’s the News: A new analysis finds that many of the genes behind the development of modern mammalian pregnancy are controlled by mysterious genetic elements called transposons, long referred to as “junk DNA.” The results suggest that the placental uterus did not evolve gradually but instead arose from a massive, transposon-driven genetic rewiring.

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DNA in the Dirt Reveals the Number and Species of Animals in the Area

By Veronique Greenwood | September 26, 2011 3:01 pm

wildebeest

Sequencing the DNA in a scoop of dirt can tell scientists what creatures are living nearby, a new study using soil from safari parks shows, and the amount of DNA present can even tell how many individuals of each species there are, which could allow field biologists to get preliminary surveys of species. But though the team managed to identify nearly all the species they had expected in the parks, from wildebeest to elephants, they are still addressing how to take samples that accurately represent the area’s biodiversity—one would have to avoid elephant latrines or wildebeest sleeping areas, for instance—and there is the additional problem that rare or small creatures, like insects, might easily be missed. That said, it’s still an unusual and interesting way to take a look at an area’s inhabitants without actually tracking them down.

Read more at Scientific American.

Image courtesy of malcyzk / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

UPDATE: Atlas: Greenland is a Different Color Now, Thanks to Warming

By Veronique Greenwood | September 23, 2011 11:10 am

greenland
On the left, in the 1999 edition; on the right, in 2011. Click to embiggenate.

[Originally published 9/16] Greenland glaciers have had a hard time of it lately, what with all the warming and disintegrating, and in their latest edition, the folks at the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World have decided to illustrate the island’s new look: as you can see above, lots and lots less white. The warming has even created a new island off the east coast: look closely just under the “Gr” in “Greenland Sea,” and you can see the words “Uunartoq Qeqertoq (Warming I.)

If we are looking at a radically reshaped world in the next hundred years or more, maybe atlases will have to be more like dictionaries from here on out, recording the dynamic nature of their subject matter.

[Update 9/19: Scientists at the UK's Scott Polar Institute have written a letter to the Times saying that the image above is inaccurate; less ice has melted in the last 15 years than the atlas's image shows. The atlas's publishers, HarperCollins, respond that they created the image using data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, and that it represents not only changes due to warming but also "much more accurate data and in-depth research" than had previously been available.  Regardless of the causes, however, the image doesn't resemble current satellite images, the Scott Polar group says. Check out a comparison of the images here. What do you think?]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
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