The Sixth Sense You Didn’t Know You Had

By Juliette McGregor, University of Leicester | July 1, 2015 12:59 pm

eyes

Ever fancied having a superpower? Something you can call upon when you need it, to hand you extra information about the world? OK, it’s not X-ray vision, but your eyes do have abilities that you might not be aware of.

We are all familiar with color and brightness, but there is a third property of light: “polarization,” which tells us the orientation in which light waves are oscillating. Animals, like bees and ants, use the polarization patterns in the sky as a navigation aid. But few people, even in the scientific community, are aware that humans can sense the polarization of light with the naked eye.

In research we’ve just published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, we used an experiment that was originally designed to test the visual abilities of octopuses and cuttlefish to investigate our human ability to perceive this polarized light.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: senses

Falling Into a Black Hole Might Turn You Into a Hologram

By Marika Taylor, University of Southampton | June 25, 2015 10:16 am

black hole

Many scientists believe that anything sent into a black hole would probably be destroyed. But a new study suggests that this might not be the case after all.

The research says that, rather than being devoured, a person falling into a black hole would actually be absorbed into a hologram – without even noticing. The paper challenges a rival theory stating that anybody falling into a black hole hits a “firewall” and is immediately destroyed.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: black hole

Grown Adults, Stop Drinking Breast Milk. Seriously.

By Sarah Steele and Andreas Freitag | June 22, 2015 4:05 pm

man drinking milk

“Breast is best”. So goes the message from the international and clinical guidance on what milk mothers should feed their babies. But it’s also more worryingly been adopted by a growing online community of adults wanting to buy and consume expressed breast milk for its perceived health benefits – or due to sexual fetishes.

Some online forums suggest cancer patients should drink breast milk because it is supposedly easier to digest, better tolerated, and full of immune benefits, including immunoglobulin (a protein used by the immune system). Meanwhile, fitness and diet forums preach the nutritional, energy or recovery benefits of such milk, suggesting it can work as a supplement to workout or bulking regimes.

A number of websites and online forums cater to those wishing to buy, sell and trade breast milk, alongside the use of more general social media platforms. This online marketplace allows women who are expressing milk to advertise with text and images, communicating details such as cost per ounce and a description of mother, milk and baby. Buyers can also advertise on such forums, detailing their own needs and volume requirements.

Individuals can then contact each other either to meet or arrange transport for the milk, which is often frozen or packed in dry ice, and shipped by express post or courier. Notably, the quality of packaging greatly varies, and studies have shown high levels of damage in transit.

The popularity of these sites varies by country depending on the availability of government-subsidized milk banks. But in the US, where regulated milk banks are costly, and the UK, where adult buyers are not catered for, online selling communities have been growing. New country-specific websites are now being launched, including using .co.uk addresses. Such growth has led commentators to label online breast milk sale a “booming market” around the world.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: nutrition

Early Humans Became More Feminine, Which Led to the Birth of Culture

By Mark Maslin, UCL | June 22, 2015 10:43 am

homo sapiens skull

I have always wondered why our species Homo sapiens, that evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago, seemed to do nothing special for the first 150,000 years. Because it is not until about 50,000 years ago that the first sign of creative thinking emerged with beautiful cave paintings found in Spain, France and Indonesia.

Around the same time a new sub-species referred to as anatomically modern humans or Homo sapiens sapiens appears. Anatomically modern humans were more slender than their earlier ancestors; they had less hair, smaller skulls. They looked basically like us.

But these changes weren’t just cosmetic. Two recent papers throw some light on how the revolutionary development of smaller and more fine-boned humans influenced the growth of cooperative culture, the birth of agriculture and human dominance of the planet.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: human origins

5 Amazing Extinct Creatures That Aren’t Dinosaurs

By Charlotte Stephenson, University of Hull | June 18, 2015 4:55 pm

The release of Jurassic World has reignited our love for paleontology. Many of us share a longing to understand the dinosaurs that roamed the Earth long before we arrived. But paleontology is a discipline much broader than this.

Dinosaurs dominated the land for 135 million years, but what happened during the rest of the Earth’s 4.6 billion-year history? The role of paleontologists past and present has been to unravel the mysteries of life on Earth, and in doing so they’ve found a lot more than just dinosaur bones.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: unusual organisms

Kennewick Man’s Genome Reignites Decades-Old Cultural Dispute

By Carl Engelking | June 18, 2015 12:00 pm
Members of the Confederated Colville tribe participate in the First Salmon Ceremony. The Colville were among five tribes who were involved in a lawsuit to obtain Kennewick Man's remains. (Credit: USDA/Flickr)

Members of the Confederated Colville tribe participate in the First Salmon Ceremony. The Colville were among five tribes who were involved in a lawsuit to obtain Kennewick Man’s remains. (Credit: USDA/Flickr)

Depending on who you talk to, Kennewick Man is either among the most important archaeological finds in North American history, or the desecrated body of a distant forebear known as “The Ancient One.”

Kennewick Man’s remains have fueled a nearly two-decade-long showdown between science and cultural rights, and now those tensions are at the forefront once again. On Thursday, archaeologists who sequenced Kennewick Man’s genome announced that he is more closely related to modern Native Americans than any other population on the planet.

The finding, scientifically speaking, appears to settle a fierce, decades-old debate among researchers regarding the man’s lineage. 

But for the Pacific Northwest tribes demanding a proper burial for Kennewick Man, the results corroborate what they already knew from their oral traditions, and may renew their call for repatriation.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts

How to Train Your Velociraptor, ‘Jurassic World’ Style

By Robin George Andrews | June 14, 2015 5:39 pm

raptors

No Jurassic Park franchise film would be complete without an appearance by T. rex, but in both the original films and the new Jurassic World, the real terror over the course of the film is carried on much smaller forelimbs: the bloodthirsty, agile, intelligent velociraptors.

Of course, much of the attention on the new film has been devoted to the Indominus Rex, a terrifying fictional dino genetically engineered to be bigger and scarier than T. rex.

But once again, the makers of Jurassic World rely on velociraptors for the low-level guerilla warfare in the depths of the island – this time with a twist. The velociraptors are on the good guys’ side.

We’re not giving anything away that’s not in the previews to say that leading man Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has an unusual talent: he is a velociraptor trainer. Using a clicker-and-treat method evocative of trainers at Sea World, Owen has trained his four velociraptors to come, stay, and crucially, to not do what would come naturally when a human enters their cage: pounce and kill with their razor-sharp teeth and horrifying sickle claws.

But would it really be possible, based on what we know about velociraptors, for them to be tamed by humans? This sounds highly implausible, but there are many things about Jurassic World that are – according to Jack Horner, the paleontologist that advises these films – more “scientifically plausible” than the original. So what would it take?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts

A Better Way to Forecast Dangerous Solar Storms

This August 2012 coronal mass ejection produced aurorae on Earth. Credit: NASA

This August 2012 coronal mass ejection produced aurorae on Earth. Credit: NASA

Solar storms start their lives as violent explosions from the sun’s surface. They’re made up of energetic charged particles wrapped in a complex magnetic cloud. As they erupt from the sun’s surface, they can shoot out into interplanetary space at speeds of up to 3,000 kilometers per second (that’s 6.7 million miles per hour). Depending on their direction of travel, these energetic storms can journey past Earth and other planets.

If a solar storm makes it to Earth, it can disrupt a variety of modern technologies including GPS and high-frequency communications, and even power grids on the ground, causing radio blackouts and citywide loss of power. It can also wreak havoc within the aviation industry by disrupting communication methods.

To combat related potential economic losses, affected industries have been seeking a solution that can provide them with at least 24 hours of warning. With enough lead time, they can safely change their operational procedures. For example, passenger planes can be rerouted or power grid transformers can begin the slow process of “winding down,” all of which require at least a day’s notice – a huge jump beyond the 60-minute advance warning currently common. By building on earlier research, my colleagues and I have come up with a technique we think can meet that 24-hour warning goal.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Sun

This Laboratory Invents the Flavors in Nearly Everything You Eat

By Mark Schatzker | June 5, 2015 12:01 pm

test kitchen

A national chain restaurant once approached McCormick & Company because it wasn’t getting the kind of fajitas sell-through it expected. When VP of applied research Marianne Gillette and her colleagues visited the restaurant, they observed the ritual of the fajita moment: An awe-struck silence would sweep across the dining room as a waiter carried a sizzling fajita skillet to some lucky table. They went back to the office and brainstormed. How can we make this moment even more dramatic? They created a “sizzle sauce,” which made the sizzle louder and the aroma more intense. Sales spiked.

McCormick once made a cedar-plank flavor for a restaurant that didn’t want the bother of cooking salmon on actual cedar planks. Using the same technology it used to create the imitation vanilla, McCormick has created “Ultimate Lemon,” which was formulated using aroma chemicals found in lemon peel, Meyer lemon, lemon thyme, and Limoncello (a refreshing and highly drinkable Italian liqueur). Ultimate Lemon might show up in a beverage, dessert, or salad dressing.

Not that you’ll ever know. Whether it says so on the label or not—and it usually does not—McCormick is in every aisle and on every shelf of the supermarket. The company provides “custom flavor solutions” for nine of the top ten American food companies and eight of the top ten food service companies. (Food service refers to large chain restaurants, companies that sell to smaller restaurants, school cafeterias, hospitals, and so forth.) McCormick is in your pantry, your fridge, your freezer, and nearly every restaurant. Unless you are a hunter-gatherer or have spent your life obtaining calories via feeding tube, McCormick has used the science and psychology of food to make you happy. It’s probably happened in the last week.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: food

Why Hospitals Aren’t Always the Best Place to Give Birth

By Neel Shah, Harvard Medical School | June 4, 2015 11:38 am

baby birth

There is a good chance that your grandparents were born at home. I am going to go ahead and assume they turned out fine, or at least fine enough, since you were eventually born too and are now reading this.

But since the late 1960s, very few babies in the United States or the UK have been born outside of hospitals. As a result, you may find the new guidelines from the UK’s National Institutes for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) just as surprising as I did. For many healthy women, the NICE guidelines authors believe, there may be significant benefits to going back to the way things were.

Shortly after the NICE guidelines were issued, the New England Journal of Medicine invited me to write a response. The idea that any pregnant patient might be safer giving birth outside the hospital seemed heretical, at least to an American obstetrician like me. Knowing that no study or guideline is foolproof, I began my task by looking for holes to form a rebuttal.

I soon realized that this rebuttal largely hinged on flaws in the American system, not the British one. While we take excellent care of sick patients, we do less well for healthy patients with routine pregnancies – largely in the form of turning to medical interventions more than strictly necessary.

As the guidelines suggest, some women in the UK with low-risk pregnancies may be better off staying out of the hospital. Why? Because the significant risks of over-intervention in hospitals, such as unnecessary C-sections, may be far more likely (and therefore more dangerous) for patients than the risks of under-intervention at home or in birth centers. But women in the UK have access to greater range of settings where they can give birth. For women in much of the US, the choice is often the hospital or nothing.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: sex & reproduction
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