Mice Become Smarter With Addition of Single Human Gene

By Carl Engelking | September 16, 2014 2:39 pm


In an experiment that could explain the origin of the maniacal mouse in “Pinky and the Brain,” researchers spliced a human brain gene into lab mice, and it made them smarter.

These mice aren’t taking over the world any time soon, but they are certainly adept at getting through mazes. Mice genetically modified to carry a human gene associated with speech and language, called Foxp2, learned how to find a reward in a maze significantly faster than normal mice. While this is good news for the modified mice, the findings also reveal clues about how this particular gene contributes to humans’ unique intellectual abilities. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Sticky Nanobeads Can Strip Bacteria, Viruses From Blood

By Carl Engelking | September 16, 2014 8:59 am
Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding (in green) from cultured lymphocyte (Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding (in green) from cultured lymphocyte. Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A new device uses magnetism to rid the bloodstream of pathogens that are the source of deadly infections.

Bioengineers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have developed a blood filter that quickly grabs toxins, such as E.coli or Ebola, from the bloodstream using protein-coated nanobeads and magnets. In early tests, the biomechanical treatment removed more than 90 percent of toxins from infected human blood within a few hours. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

Those Crickets In Your Basement? They Probably Came From Asia

By Madeline Bodin | September 12, 2014 1:48 pm
camel cricket Diestrammena asynamora

The banded legs and thin body indicate that this is Diestrammena asynamora, a non-native cricket from Asia. Image by Steve Fernie via Flickr

If you have them in your basement, you know it – these large, seemingly spider-cricket hybrids that multiply like mad and have a freaky habit of jumping right at you when you approach. But it took some brave citizen scientists to reveal something new about so-called camel crickets: The variety that lives in our basements is overwhelmingly made up of non-native species.

If these invaders are shown to have elbowed out native crickets, they would be branded full-fledged invasive species – but more research will be needed to figure that out.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Researchers Unveil Exoskeleton That Fits Like Skinny Jeans

By Carl Engelking | September 12, 2014 12:51 pm

(Credit: Wyss Institute)

You heard it here first: robotic exoskeletons are poised to become 2014’s hottest fashion trend. Scientists are perfecting a prototype of the exoskeleton equivalent of skinny jeans.

Robotic exoskeletons are certainly carving out useful niches in the real world: from helping paralyzed people walk again to making shipbuilders stronger. But most of these devices are built of heavy, bulky materials.

Now, researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have created an exoskeleton that uses soft materials to work with the body’s own movements, and which you can pull on like a tight-fitting pair of Levis. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

Lasers Reveal Underground Secrets of Stonehenge

By Carl Engelking | September 11, 2014 3:55 pm


Stonehenge was constructed more than 4,600 years ago, but its mysterious aura continues to fascinate scientists and Druids alike. Now, new research finds that the story of this ancient site is far deeper than we thought — literally.

British researchers used high-tech archaeological sensing techniques to reveal hundreds of new features hidden beneath the dirt in lands surrounding Stonehenge, including 17 previously unknown circular monuments. Far from a solitary structure, Stonehenge appears to have been just one part of a much larger landscape of shrines. The results are being announced in a BBC feature to air tonight.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

Spinosaurus is First Known Semi-Aquatic Dinosaur

By Jon Tennant | September 11, 2014 1:00 pm
Spinosaurus aegyptiacus trawls for mesozoic fish. Illustration by Brian Engh

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus trawls for mesozoic fish. Illustration by Brian Engh

The meat-eating dinosaur Spinosaurus rose to terrifying fame in Jurassic Park III, when it took down the comparatively small Tyrannosaurus rex. Now, thanks to a newly discovered partial skeleton, Spinosaurus has an even greater claim to fame: this fearsome sail-backed beast spent much of its time in the water, a definitive first for dinosaurs.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs

Fossil Discovery Confirms Mammals’ Original Ancestors

By Carl Engelking | September 10, 2014 12:17 pm
xianshou songae

Reconstruction of a new mammal species, Xianshou songae. This mouse-sized animal was a tree dweller in the Jurassic forests. (Credit: Zhao Chuang)

What looks like a rat, climbs trees and has a tail like a lemur? It’s your cousin, of course!

Before you take offense to that statement, please note that we’re referring to Xianshou songae, one of three newly discovered, extinct species that lived roughly 160 million years ago. This trio of species, unearthed in China, helps settle a long debate regarding the origin and earliest evolution of mammals. So by your cousin, we mean the earliest relatives of all mammals. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Blue Heron Kills, Swallows a Gopher In Cold Blood (Video)

By Lisa Raffensperger | September 10, 2014 11:42 am

When Jesse Garza trained a video camera on his backyard earlier this summer he was trying to get to the bottom of a simple mystery — why a blue heron was hanging around his suburban neighborhood. But it didn’t take long for him to discover the answer: This statuesque, water-loving bird was on a hunt for lawn gophers.

Thanks to a well-timed video shoot Garza captured the whole thing on camera. “Huh!” he’s heard to exclaim. “I didn’t know that that’s what they ate.” Neither did we, Jesse.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Iceland Eruption, Largest for a Century, Shows No Signs of Stopping

By Robin Wylie | September 10, 2014 10:57 am

The Bardarbunga eruptive fissure on September 1, 2014. Credit: University of Iceland/Ármann Höskuldsson

Update 9/11/14: This article has been amended to clarify that this is the most extensive eruption by area covered, not necessarily lava volume.

The most extensive lava eruption for over a century is currently underway in central Iceland.

Since August 31, liquid rock has been streaming from a mile-long fissure northeast of Bardarbunga, the country’s second highest volcano. Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist from the University of Iceland, says that the fissure has now spewed more lava, by area, than any Icelandic eruption since the 19th century. The university’s most recent estimate puts the amount of lava at nearly eight square miles — enough to cover a quarter of the island of Manhattan.

The fissure has been erupting regularly and vigorously since it opened, shooting lava fountains more than 300ft into the air; the associated lava flows stretch for up to seven miles.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Whale Pelvis Isn’t Useless After All – It Maneuvers the Penis

By Carl Engelking | September 9, 2014 2:29 pm


Elvis Presley earned the moniker of “Elvis the Pelvis” for his tendency to gyrate his hips in erotic fashion. It turns out that whales and dolphins, known as cetaceans, also use their pelvic bones in the most sexual of ways.

Forty million years ago, whales’ and dolphins’ ancestors walked the Earth and a pelvis was crucial for that task. Today, cetaceans, of course, are ocean dwellers, but their anatomy still includes pelvic bones. Marine biologists had thought that the pelvic bones were purposeless in the marine environment, and would eventually disappear given another million or so years of evolution. But now, a comparative look at different species’ pelvic bones reveals that they may have an unsung benefit: helping maneuver cetaceans’ penises. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, evolution, ocean

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