Archive for August, 2008

Viruses Might Be Valuable … at the Bottom of the Sea

By Andrew Moseman | August 21, 2008 12:53 pm

ventViruses, those strange, quasi-alive chunks of genetic material, are usually bad news for the cells that they invade. A virus uses its host’s genetic machinery to replicate itself, often sickening or destroying the host in the process. But scientists might have found helpful viruses deep in the ocean, in one of the world’s oddest ecosystems.

Eric Wommack from the University of Delaware was studying the hot waters around hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean when he found that viruses there, rather than replicating and destroying their hosts, often just hang around and cause no harm. When its bacterial host finds itself under stress, the virus comes alive. But while going about its business of replicating itself, the virus can interact and exchange DNA with the bacterium.

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MORE ABOUT: bacteria, Ocean

Sunken Ship Redux: Wreckage May Do More Harm than Good

By Andrew Moseman | August 20, 2008 2:50 pm

shipwreck underseaYesterday we wondered whether the U.S. Navy’s plan to intentionally sink some of its old warships, so that they’d become new homes for fish and attractions for recreational divers, would be such a great idea in the long run. Today, a new study looking at a different shipwreck suggests that not only might intentionally sinking old ships be a bad idea, but officials might have to remove shipwrecks from sensitive ecosystems before they cause too much harm.

Back in 1991, a 100-foot-long ship sank in Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge near Hawaii. Now, 17 years later, scientists studying the area say the coral reef is under attack by an organism called Rhodactis howesii. It is a corallimorph, a relative to anemones and corals that clears out competitors with it stinging tentacles. Rhodactis is an invasive species to the Palmyra Atoll, and it doubled its presence between 2006 and 2007, pushing out the diverse mix of corals that is native there.

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Surprise, Surprise: Bigfoot Finding is Yet Another Hoax

By Andrew Moseman | August 20, 2008 12:02 pm

bigfootJust like pretty much every supernatural claim subjected to scientific scrutiny, the newest “Bigfoot” finding has fallen apart.

Two men from Georgia claimed last week to have found the Sasquatch, going so far as to stage a Friday press conference in which they unveiled “DNA evidence” that their creature was part-human, part-opossum. Of course, the two didn’t bring their carcass to the event for scientists to inspect, with good reason: The “Bigfoot” in their freezer was just an empty Halloween costume.

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MORE ABOUT: monsters

The Navy's Old Ships Get a Second Life… As Fish Residences

By Andrew Moseman | August 19, 2008 4:21 pm

OriskanyHave you ever seen those aquarium ornaments that look like shipwrecks? Well, the U.S. Navy is applying that idea in real life.

In 2006, the Navy intentionally sank one of its old boats off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. The U.S.S. Oriskany, which had served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and launched the last bombing mission of Sen. John McCain, became an “artificial reef.” The Navy has 59 decommissioned ships sitting around and nothing to do with them—while most will become scraps, some might become reefs. But is sinking more old ships really a good idea?

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Scientists Create Flowing Locks for Cartoons

By Boonsri Dickinson | August 19, 2008 1:26 pm

hair-blog-220.jpgAs the paparazzi wait for celebrities to walk by with perfect hair, researchers have found a way to create perfect hair graphically. Scientists at the University of California at San Diego used cameras and light sources in a new way to create ultra-realistic hair on animated figures.

The researchers took 2,500 images with 16 cameras, used 150 light sources, and set up three projectors to determine the exact position of each strand of hair and imputed the data into a complex model. Most animated films shown in theaters today typically only show characters with treatment done to the top layer of their hair. The secret to this new model is that it looks at hairstyles from all angles to focus in on individual stands and reproduce the strands from the scalp.

The model shows how light reflects off of 100,000 hair strands —an important feature, especially when animators need their characters to look normal when the wind blows and when the sun shines. “We want to give movie and video game makers the tools necessary to animate actors and have their hair look and behave as it would in the real world,” says U.C. San Diego computer scientist Matthias Zwicker.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: computers, second life

Too Many Sweets Can Leave Young Horses Jittery

By Andrew Moseman | August 19, 2008 11:31 am

horseApparently sugar highs aren’t solely the domain of human adolescents—young horses get them, too.

Trainers give younger horses a mix of sweet foods, like molasses, corn, and barley, to make their coats shinier and to put a little extra spring in their step before they meet prospective buyers. But this meal is much sweeter than a horse’s normal hay diet, and the sugar rush makes them a little ansy.

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MORE ABOUT: horses

Allergy Sufferers of the World: Don't Stress, You'll Only Make It Worse

By Andrew Moseman | August 18, 2008 5:05 pm

sneezeA coughing, sniffling allergy attack can be bad enough on its own. But one thing may exacerbate allergies even more: stressing out. A team led by Jan Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University found that out when they put hay fever and seasonal allergy sufferers to the test, and found that people under high stress have much stronger and longer allergic reactions than people who stay relaxed.

First, Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues had 28 test subjects participate in fairly-low stress activities like reading aloud from a magazine, and then checked them for wheals—small swellings on the skin that are usually signs of an allergic reactions. When researchers put the same people through more stressful activities, like solving math problems in their heads or giving a speech in front of people they were told to be behavioral experts, many of the subjects’ allergy symptoms spiked.

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MORE ABOUT: allergies, asthma

Does Fighting Forest Fires Help Invasive Species?

By Andrew Moseman | August 18, 2008 12:56 pm

Malibu burnignOnce again it appears that sometimes, trying to suppress large forest fires might be creating unintended negative consequences.

Last month we wrote that fighting fires in the pine forests of the American West could actually decrease the amount of carbon the forest could sequester by allowing smaller trees to survive, and thus compete with the larger trees that absorb most of the CO2. Now, a new study says that huge, raging fires can be the best weapon to get rid of pesky and damaging invasive species in California’s chaparral.

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Enslaved Ants Revolt, Slaughter Their Captors' Children

By Andrew Moseman | August 18, 2008 10:22 am

temnothoraxMany ants are known to be slave masters—their raiding parties steal the young from colonies of rival ants and raise the foreigners as workers in their own nest. However, Susanne Foitzik of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich may be the first researcher to study an ant slave rebellion.

The rebels are Temnothorax, tiny ants only about the size of the comma in this sentence. Their captors are called Protomognathus americanus, and despite being only a little larger, these bullies enslave the smaller insects. Inside the larger ants’ nest, which is built inside an acorn, the smaller ants are put to work caring for their masters’ young. But sometimes, Temnothorax slaves revolt against their servile existence and slaughter the Protomognathus larvae they’re supposed to be babysitting, as well as some of the enemy workers.

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MORE ABOUT: ants, evolution, insects

We Call Bullsh*t on the Montauk Monster, the Goat-Sucker, Bigfoot, etc.

By Andrew Moseman | August 15, 2008 3:02 pm

cmonsterMaybe the new X-Files movie awakened all the hibernating conspiracy theorists. Maybe the cycles of the moon are making people crazy. Maybe everybody just wants to get an early start on Halloween this year. In any case, monster season is in full swing.

First came the “Montauk Monster,” the demonic-looking carcass that washed up on Long Island. We’ve been over this one before: It’s a raccoon, not a monster.

Then came the chupacabras—a deputy sheriff in Texas took video of what he believes to be the mythical goat-sucker. At the end of its excitement over the “vampire dog,” The Telegraph finally mentions that “Texan scientists who investigated the case said the animal was likely to be a coyote, potentially crossed with a grey fox.” Read More

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