Mosquito Bites Leave A Lasting Impression On Our Immune System

By Roni Dengler | May 17, 2018 1:06 pm
(Credit: Kokhanchikov/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Kokhanchikov/Shutterstock)

Mosquito bites are like a gross form of French kissing — the insects swap your blood with their saliva, and leave a trail of salivary secretions behind like mosquito cooties. Some of those compounds prevent clotting as the insects slurp up your blood. Now researchers find mosquito spit aggravates your immune system for days afterward. The findings could help scientists develop vaccines for mosquito-born diseases like Zika.

Rebecca Rico-Hesse, a virologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, wanted to know how mosquitoes exploit our immune systems with their drool. So, she and her team exposed mice with human-like immune systems to live mosquitoes. Then, they sized up the mice’s immune response as it reacted to the mosquito spittle. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World

Your Emergency Contact Does More Than You Think

By Lauren Sigfusson | May 17, 2018 12:57 pm
(Credit: Shutterstock)

(Credit: Shutterstock)

You know when you’re filling out your medical paperwork and it asks for your emergency contact? Sure, the process might be annoying, but that emergency contact could actually be put to good use by researchers.

Since many of us use a family member, those contacts can help scientists create family trees. And they can also be used for genetics and disease research, according to a study released Thursday in Cell. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Uncovering Roman History With Ice Cores and Lead

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 16, 2018 4:58 pm
(Credit: Bukhta Yurii/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Bukhta Yurii/Shutterstock)

Scientists today are searching for the “Golden Spike,” evidence for the presence of man that will show up even hundreds of thousands of years from now. Such a marker would officially kick off the Anthropocene, the epoch of man, and candidates include the presence of radiation from nuclear bomb tests in geological samples and elevated levels of CO2 preserved in ice cores.

But even today, we can look back into the layers of Earth’s past and see evidence of humanity. Researchers have peered into an ice core from Greenland and found that they can track the fortunes of the Roman Empire over a period of almost 2,000 years. Elevated levels of lead gave the Romans away — a byproduct of the silver smelting used to make their unique coinage. The Romans, by proxy of lead, show up clearly in the ice, and fluctuations in the lead levels match up with periods of good fortune and bad luck for the empire. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

Researchers Close In On Birthdate of First Stars

By Jake Parks | May 16, 2018 1:15 pm
With the help of the Atacama large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, astronomers have detected the earliest signs of oxygen (red) distributed in the galaxy MACS1149-JD1. The discovery provides the strongest evidence yet that stars in the fledgling universe started forming earlier than previously thought — when it was less than 2 percent its current age. (Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, W. Zheng (JHU), M. Postman (STScI), the CLASH Team, Hashimoto et al.)

With the help of the Atacama large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, astronomers have detected the earliest signs of oxygen (red) distributed in the galaxy MACS1149-JD1. The discovery provides the strongest evidence yet that stars in the fledgling universe started forming earlier than previously thought — when it was less than 2 percent its current age. (Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, W. Zheng (JHU), M. Postman (STScI), the CLASH Team, Hashimoto et al.)

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is not your standard, run-of-the-mill telescope. Instead, ALMA, which is located in the high-and-dry Atacama Desert of northern Chile, is a radio telescope made up of 66 high-precision antennas that operate in perfect harmony. When ALMA’s antennas (which range from 7 to 12 meters in diameter) are configured in different ways, the array is capable of zooming in on some of the most distant cosmic objects in the universe, as well as capturing images that are clearer than those produced by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: stars

What Makes A Hit Song?

By Mark Barna | May 16, 2018 12:58 pm
(Credit: Apple Records)

(Credit: Apple Records)

How successful would the 1968 hit “Hey Jude” be if not recorded by The Beatles? At over 7 minutes long, the song shattered the notion pop tunes need be 3 minutes or less. More than half of “Hey Jude” is a fade-out coda of “na, na, nas,” a first for pop music. The song was No. 1 on the Billboard charts for nine weeks.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers from the University of California, Irvine try to answer what makes a song a chart-topping success. They examine the hits and misses to learn the ingredients of a blockbuster tune. Though there are trends, the researchers find, mystery still remains about what makes a song rise in the charts. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Is it Yanny, or Is It Laurel? Either Way, You’re Right

By Cody Cottier | May 16, 2018 10:03 am
Yanny! Laurel! (Credit: Tiko Aramyan/Shutterstock)

Yanny! Laurel! (Credit: Tiko Aramyan/Shutterstock)

The infamous color-changing dress has been reincarnated in sound. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain
MORE ABOUT: Senses

Bitcoin Will Soon Use More Energy Than Austria

By Eric Betz | May 16, 2018 10:00 am
(Credit: yuRomanovich/Shutterstock)

(Credit: yuRomanovich/Shutterstock)

By now, we’re all tired of hearing about the virtual currency turned investment craze known as Bitcoin. Created in response to the 2008 financial crisis, anarcho-capitalists hailed it as the decentralized future of commerce.

But as prices soared and the biggest names on Wall Street bought in, Bitcoin became mostly known as a speculative, unregulated investment. Think Beanie Babies, but you can also use them to buy drugs and engage in human trafficking.

Perhaps the most remarkable Bitcoin storyline recently has been just how much computational horsepower it takes to create the virtual currency: some 26 quintillion calculations per second. That adds up to tremendous energy bills.

But it’s been tough to put exact numbers on Bitcoin’s massive energy consumption. Most estimates have been “back-of-the-envelope” type calculations. A study published Wednesday in the journal Joule attempts to change that. Economist and digital currency expert Alex de Vries applied traditional economics to better understand Bitcoin’s current and future energy consumption.

His results are staggering: Bitcoin uses roughly as much electricity annually as Ireland. And just one Bitcoin transaction requires as much electricity as an average household in his native Netherlands uses in a month.

Projecting forward, the power drain becomes even more alarming. By year’s end, Bitcoin could consume as much electricity as Austria — or roughly one half of one percent of humanity’s total power needs. If the cryptocurrency’s price grows as some expect, it could eventually chew up 5 percent of global electricity.

“This increasing electricity demand is definitely not going to help us reach our climate goals,” says de Vries, who’s also the founder of Digiconomist, in a media release.

Always-On Technology

Bitcoin’s intense energy consumption is baked into its design.

To stop people from fraudulently spending their virtual money more than once, each Bitcoin transaction gets a precise timestamp. This public ledger is known as the blockchain. It underpins all consumer confidence in the system.

To create it, computers around the world continuously crank away at calculations, generating numbers as they compete to process transactions. If your computer gets selected to process a Bitcoin transaction, you’re rewarded 12.5 new coins plus a transaction fee.

This means that the computers processing Bitcoin are chugging away at calculations non-stop — even when they’re not involved in an actual transaction. The more calculations you do, the more chances you have to get a transaction fee.

In Bitcoin’s early days, the need was small and many transactions happened on home computers. But now some 200,000 Bitcoin transactions transpire every day.

“If you want to get a bigger slice of the pie, you need to increase your computing power,” de Vries says. “So there’s a big incentive for people to increase how much they’re spending on electricity and on machines.”

The growth and increased complexity, paired with the reward, has led to a worldwide rush to build vast Bitcoin mining operations. You can see this across Eastern Europe, China, Russia and Siberia, where Bitcoin server farms are so big that their excess energy is literally warming houses. Or, for example, the Russian nuclear scientists caught trying to use a government supercomputer for mining cryptocurrency.

de Vries’ study tries to figure out when the expense will level off with the reward, slowing the industry’s growth and energy consumption. And he admits his estimates are shaky. Bitcoin mining is a secretive business, and so some of the information he relies on came from eyewitness accounts. But the results are important for understanding the industry’s sustainability and passing effective regulations.

“I’m doing this research,” he says, “but a lot of people should be doing it.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
MORE ABOUT: sustainability

New App Lets You Invent A Language for Science

By Amber Jorgenson | May 15, 2018 3:20 pm
(Credit: Shutterstock)

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Phone apps often get a bad rap for being distracting time-wasters (I’m looking at you, Reddit), but some seek to challenge the minds of their users and put the resulting data to good use. And maybe even invent a new language in the process.

The Color Game app uses colors and symbols to study the evolution of language. Created by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, the app is looking to uncover clues to an age-old question — how did human communication evolve? Unfortunately, we aren’t advanced enough to hop in our time machines and watch it happen, but we are advanced enough to request the help of citizens and their smartphones.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Nouns to Blame for Sputtered Speech

By Bill Andrews | May 15, 2018 12:44 pm
(Credit: Sofi photo/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Sofi photo/Shutterstock)

Sometimes, what’s not there can be just as important as what is. Jazz is famously all about the notes you don’t play, and Sherlock Holmes once solved a crime because of a dog that didn’t bark.

Scientists wanted to get in on that, so a paper appearing today in PNAS. takes a look at the sounds we don’t say — or, at least, don’t say as readily — with nouns winning out as the biggest obstacles to quick, unobstructed speech. It’s the kind of insight that helps researchers understand specific languages better, but also sheds light on language as a whole.

The Sound of Silence

The paper’s authors explain that it’s not just a study into verbal tics, but more of a window into how our brains process and create language. “When we speak, we unconsciously pronounce some words more slowly than others and sometimes pause. Such slowdown effects provide key evidence for human cognitive processes, reflecting increased planning load in speech production.” A gap between words, or having to result to filler words (such as uh or um), literally suggests certain words tax our mental faculties more than others.

And which words were those? Nouns (“a person place or thing,” as per Schoolhouse Rock), as opposed to verbs (which tell us “what’s happening”). Across languages and cultures, speakers universally slowed down before uttering nouns, and only one of the nine languages showed any slowdown before verbs, despite these often being more complex than nouns.

The authors went to great pains to make sure they studied speech from “linguistically and culturally diverse populations from around the world,” choosing languages from the Amazonian rainforest (Bora and Baure), Mexico (Texistepec), the North American Midwest (Hoocąk), Siberia (Even), the Himalayas (Chintang), and the Kalahari Desert (Nǁng)…  plus English and Dutch. They also wanted to make sure they studied examples of spontaneous, naturalistic speech — nothing read out loud or memorized.

Our Words, Ourselves

So, why nouns? The authors suspect it’s because these types of words usually represent new information. If you’re referring to a previously used noun, you can just use a pronoun (“I saw Jane. She said hi.”) or drop it altogether (“I saw Jane, who said hi.”). Verbs have no equivalent “pro-verbs,” so they work for new and old info alike. The new information nouns usually accompany thus seems to require more planning on our brains’ parts.

This study is cool for lots of reasons. First, there’s a nice P.C. lesson to take from the diverse language pool: The researchers found that English was a bit of an outlier. (It was the one that slowed down before verbs.) “Whatever the reason,” the authors wrote, “this result highlights the need for a diverse sample, such as that represented here, including languages other than English, which has been found to be exceptional in other studies also.”

But it’s also remarkable that so many different and seemingly unrelated lingos had something so basic in common. “This finding points to strong universals in how humans process language and manage referential information when communicating linguistically,” they wrote. This helps solve a longstanding question in linguistics, about why verbs were more likely to have complex prefixes than nouns — because the slowdowns right before nouns makes it harder to link those words with whatever came right before.

So the next time your find yourself tongue tied, trying to spit out whatever’s on your mind, consider that maybe you’re not just having a moment: Our entire construction of language could be working to slow down and stutter your speech.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain
MORE ABOUT: psychology

With RNA, Researchers Transfer Memories Between Sea Slugs

By Lacy Schley | May 15, 2018 12:17 pm
A sea slug. (Credit: Zuzha/Shutterstock)

A sea slug. (Credit: Zuzha/Shutterstock)

Sea slugs aren’t the most exciting critters, but they’re certainly helping researchers make exciting new discoveries. Biologists from the University of California Los Angeles published a study in the journal eNeuro explaining how they “implanted” a memory from one slug into another.

In the first chunk of their study, the team, led by David Glanzman, worked with groups of a marine slug called Aplysia. One group of slugs got shocked on the tail once every 20 minutes for a total of five shocks. The next day, they went through the same shock session. The point was to prime them to use what’s called a defensive withdraw reflex — basically, the slug version of a flinch. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain
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