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Pesticides Turn Bumblebees Into Poor Pollinators ( 93

MTorrice writes about a new study that suggests neonicotinoids, one of the most widely used insecticides in the world, turn bumblebees into poor pollinators, leading to lower yields of apples and other plants. Chemical & Engineering News reports: "Neonicotinoid pesticides have been blamed for declines in bee populations worldwide. The chemicals don't kill bees, instead neonicotinoids impair the insects' abilities to learn, navigate, forage for nectar, and reproduce, according to studies published over the past several years. Now, researchers report that bees exposed to the pesticides also become less effective pollinators for crops. The study is the first to demonstrate that neonicotinoids can decrease the quality of a food crop by affecting bee pollination. About 30% of our food comes from crops, including fruits, nuts, seeds, and oils, that depend on insect pollinators, according to Dara A. Stanley of Royal Holloway, University of London, who led the new study. 'Basically,' she says, 'you can't have a balanced diet without insect pollination.'"
United States

US and China Setting Up "Space Hotline" ( 15

Taco Cowboy writes: Washington and Beijing have established an emergency 'space hotline' to reduce the risk of accidental conflict. Several international initiatives are already in train to seal a space treaty to avoid a further build-up of weapons beyond the atmosphere. However, security experts say the initiatives have little chance of success. A joint Russia-China proposal wending its way through the UN was not acceptable to the US. An EU proposal, for a "code of conduct" in space, was having diplomatic "difficulties" but was closer to Washington's position.

A Post-Antibiotic Future Is Looming ( 136

New submitter radaos writes: A gene enabling resistance to polymyxins, the antibiotics of last resort, has been found to be widespread in pigs and already present in some hospital patients. The research, from South China Agricultural University, has been published in The Lancet. According to research Jian-Hua Liu, "Our results reveal the emergence of the first polymyxin resistance gene that is readily passed between common bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Klesbsiella pneumoniae, suggesting that the progression from extensive drug resistance to pandrug resistance is inevitable." Work on alternatives is progressing — Dr. Richard James, former director of the University of Nottingham's center for healthcare associated infections, writes, "Until last month I was still pessimistic about our chances of avoiding the antibiotics nightmare. But that changed when I attended a workshop in Beijing on a new approach to antibiotic development based on bacteriocins – protein antibiotics produced by bacteria to kill closely related species, and exquisitely narrow-spectrum."

New Spectroscope Perfect For Asteroid Mining, Planetary Research ( 56

Science_afficionado writes: Scientists at Fisk and Vanderbilt Universities are developing a new generation of gamma-ray spectroscope that is light weight, compact and don't require much power but have the capability for detecting veins of gold, platinum, rare earths and other valuable materials hidden within asteroids, comets, moons and other airless objects floating about the solar system. "A gamma-ray spectroscope records the intensity and wavelengths of the gamma rays coming from a surface. This spectrum can be analyzed to determine the concentration of a number of important, rock-forming elements ... The key to the new instrument is a recently discovered material, europium-doped strontium iodide (SrI2). This is a transparent crystal that can act as an extremely efficient gamma-ray detector. It registers the passage of gamma rays by giving off flashes of light that can be detected and recorded."

Florida Group Wants To Make Space a 2016 Presidential Campaign Issue ( 118

MarkWhittington writes: According to a story on News 13, an Orlando TV station, Space Florida is working to make space a political issue in the 2016 presidential election. Thus far the campaign for the presidency has been dominated by more mundane issues such as the economy, illegal immigration, and the threat of terrorism. Space Florida, which is "the State of Florida's aerospace economic development agency," is said to be "working with three other battleground states to make sure America's space program is a part of the campaign for president." Presumably one of those states is Texas, which has lots of electoral votes
The Military

Satellite Wars ( 98

schwit1 writes: Sixty years after the space race began, an orbital arms race is again in development. Military officials from the U.S., Europe and Asia confirm in private what the Kettering Group and other amateur stargazers have been watching publicly. Almost every country with strategically important satellite constellations and its own launch facilities is considering how to defend — and weaponize — their extraterrestrial assets. "I don't think there is a single G7 nation that isn't now looking at space security as one of its highest military priorities and areas of strategic concern," says one senior European intelligence official.

The U.S. is spending billions improving its defenses — primarily by building more capacity into its constellations and improving its tracking abilities. A $900m contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin in 2014 to develop a radar system capable of tracking objects as small as baseballs in space in real time. But there are also hints that the U.S. may be looking to equip its satellites with active defenses and countermeasures of their own, such as jamming devices and the ability to evade interceptions. A purely offensive anti-satellite program is in fast development as well. High-energy weapons and maneuverable orbiters such as space planes all open the possibility of the U.S. being able to rapidly weaponize the domain beyond the atmosphere, should it feel the need to do so.


Researchers Create Plant-Circuit Hybrid ( 39

sciencehabit writes: Researchers have crafted flexible electronic circuits inside a rose. Eventually such circuitry may help farmers eavesdrop on their crops and even control when they ripen. The advance may even allow people to harness energy from trees and shrubs not by cutting them down and using them for fuel, but by plugging directly into their photosynthesis machinery. The researchers used "an organic electronic building block called PEDOT-S:H. Each of these building blocks consists of a short, repeating chain of a conductive organic molecule with short arms coming off each link of the chain. Each of the arms sports a sulfur-containing group linked to a hydrogen atom. Berggren's group found that when they placed them in the water, the rose stems readily pulled the short polymer chains up the xylem channels (abstract). ... The upshot was that the myriad short polymer chains quickly linked themselves together into continuous strings as long as 10 centimeters. The researchers then added electronic probes to opposite ends of these strings, and found that they were, in fact, wires, conducting electricity all down the line."

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission To International Space Station ( 69

An anonymous reader writes: NASA has placed its first mission order for SpaceX to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. SpaceX is now in a race with Boeing, who received a similar order in May, to see which private space company can deliver astronauts to the ISS first. NASA said, "Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America's human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory." They anticipate dramatic reductions in cost for launching astronauts to orbit compared to similar missions aboard Russian rockets. "Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions. A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time."

Investigation Reveals How Easy It Is To Hijack a Science Journal Website ( 18

sciencehabit writes: With 20,000 journal websites producing millions of articles — and billions of dollars — it was probably inevitable that online criminals would take notice. An investigation by Science magazine finds that an old exploit is being used on academic publishers: domain snatching and website spoofing. The trick is to find the tiny number of journals whose domain registration has lapsed at any given time. But how do they track their prey? Science correspondent and grey-hat hacker John Bohannon (the same reporter who submitted hundreds of computer-generated fake scientific papers in a journal sting) proposes a method: Scrape the journal data from Web of Science (curated by Thomson Reuters) and run WHOIS queries on their URLs to generate an automatic hijack schedule.

He found 24 journals indexed by Thomson Reuters whose domains were snatched over the past year. Most are under construction or for sale, but 2 of them now host fake journals and ask for real money. And to prove his point, Bohannon snatched a journal domain himself and Rickrolled it. (It now hosts an xkcd cartoon and a link to the real journal.) Science is providing the article describing the investigation free of charge, as well as all the data and code. You can hijack a journal yourself, if you're so inclined: An IPython Notebook shows how to scrape Web of Science and automate WHOIS queries to find a victim. Science hopes that you return the domains to the real publishers after you snatch them.


You Can Look Forward To 8 More Years of Leap Second Problems ( 143

itwbennett writes: As previously discussed here, the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) met "for nearly the entire month of November, and one of the hot-button issues [was] what to do about the leap second." But, as they did at the 2012 conference, the WRC voted to postpone the decision — not just until the next WRC in 2019, but until the one after, in 2023, while the International Telecommunication Union conducts further studies into the impact of tinkering with the definition of Coordinated Universal Time.

First Images Ever Taken of a Planet Being Formed, 450 Light-Years From Earth ( 36

Zothecula writes: Of the many new exoplanets discovered over the past two decades, all have been identified as established, older planets – none have been acknowledged as newly-forming protoplanets. Now scientists working at the Keck observatory have spied just such a planet in the constellation of Taurus, some 450 light-years from Earth (abstract), that is only just beginning its life, collecting matter and spinning into a brand new world.

The Information Theory of Life ( 90

An anonymous reader writes with this story about Michigan State University Professor Cristop Adami and his quest to answer how life arose with mathematics. From the Quanta story: "Christoph Adami does not know how life got started, but he knows a lot of other things. His main expertise is in information theory, a branch of applied mathematics developed in the 1940s for understanding information transmissions over a wire. Since then, the field has found wide application, and few researchers have done more in that regard than Adami, who is a professor of physics and astronomy and also microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University. He takes the analytical perspective provided by information theory and transplants it into a great range of disciplines, including microbiology, genetics, physics, astronomy and neuroscience. Lately, he's been using it to pry open a statistical window onto the circumstances that might have existed at the moment life first clicked into place.

To do this, he begins with a mental leap: Life, he argues, should not be thought of as a chemical event. Instead, it should be thought of as information. The shift in perspective provides a tidy way in which to begin tackling a messy question. In the following interview, Adami defines information as 'the ability to make predictions with a likelihood better than chance,' and he says we should think of the human genome — or the genome of any organism — as a repository of information about the world gathered in small bits over time through the process of evolution. The repository includes information on everything we could possibly need to know, such as how to convert sugar into energy, how to evade a predator on the savannah, and, most critically for evolution, how to reproduce or self-replicate."

FDA Signs Off On Genetically Modified Salmon Without Labeling ( 514

kheldan writes: Today, in a historic decision, the FDA approved the marketing of genetically-engineered salmon for sale to the general public, without any sort of labeling to indicate to consumers they've been genetically altered. According to the article: "Though the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) gives the FDA the authority to require mandatory labeling of foods if there is a material difference between a GE product and its conventional counterpart, the agency says it is not requiring labeling of these GE fish 'Because the data and information evaluated show that AquAdvantage Salmon is not materially different from other Atlantic salmon.' In this case, the GE salmon use an rDNA construct composed of the growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon under the control of a promoter from another type of fish called an 'ocean pout.' According to the FDA, this tweak to the DNA allows the salmon to grow to market size faster than non-GE farm-raised salmon."
The Military

ISIS's Hunt For a Bogus Superweapon 330

schnell writes: The New York Times Magazine has a fascinating story about ISIS efforts to get their hands on a mysterious and powerful superweapon called Red Mercury. The problem is that by consensus among scientific authorities, Red Mercury doesn't exist. And yet that hasn't stopped the legend of Red Mercury, touted by sources from Nazi conspiracy theorists to former Manhattan Project scientists, as having magical properties. Middle East weapons traders have even spun elaborate stories for its properties (ranging from thermonuclear explosive properties to sexual enhancement) and origins and sources (from Soviet weapons labs to Roman graveyards). What can account for the enduring myth of Red Mercury — is it rampant scientific illiteracy, the power of urban legend and shared myth, or something else?

NASA Selects Universities To Develop Humanoid Robot Astronauts ( 21

MarkWhittington writes: NASA announced that it is sending copies of its R5 Valkyrie humanoid robot to two universities for software upgrades and other research and development. The effort is part of a continuing project to develop cybernetic astronauts that will assist human astronauts in exploring other worlds. The idea is that robot astronauts would initially scout potentially hazardous environments, say on Mars, and then actively collaborate with their human counterparts in exploration. NASA is paying each university chosen $250,000 per year for two years to perform the R&D. The university researchers will have access to NASA expertise and facilities to perform the upgrades. Spoiler alert: the robots are both going to Greater Boston, to teams at MIT and Northeastern University respectively.

Animal Rights Group Targets NIH Director's Home ( 222

sciencehabit writes: Late last month, hundreds of people in two Washington, D.C., suburbs received a letter in the mail claiming that one of their neighbors was tied to animal abuse at a government lab. Science has learned that the letters, sent by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), targeted U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and NIH researcher Stephen Suomi, revealing their home addresses and phone numbers and urging their neighbors to call and visit them. The tactic is the latest attempt by the animal rights group to shut down monkey behavioral experiments at Suomi's Poolesville, Maryland, laboratory, and critics say it crosses the line.

MIT Helping NASA Build Valkyrie Robots For Space Missions ( 35

An anonymous reader writes: NASA announced that MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is one of just two institutions that will receive "R5," a six-foot, 290-pound humanoid robot also known as "Valkyrie" that will serve on future space missions to Mars and beyond. A group led by CSAIL principal investigator Russ Tedrake will develop algorithms for the robot as part of NASA's upcoming Space Robotics Challenge, which aims to create more dexterous autonomous robots that can help or even take the place of humans "extreme space" missions. While R5 was initially designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers, its main goal is now to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain — deep space exploration.

Scientists Grow Working Vocal Cord Tissue In the Lab ( 25

sciencehabit writes that tissue engineers have for the first time grown vocal cords from human cells. Science reports: "For the first time, scientists have created vocal cord tissue starting with cells from human vocal cords. When tested in the lab, the bioengineered tissue vibrated—and even sounded—similar to the natural thing. The development could one day help those with severely damaged vocal cords regain their lost voices. 'It’s an exciting finding because those patients are the ones we have very few treatment options for,' says Jennifer Long, a voice doctor and scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, head and neck surgery department, who wasn’t involved in the study."

How Bill Nye Insulted NASCAR Fans About the Sport Being the "Anti-NASA" ( 387

MarkWhittington writes: Bill Nye, the former science guy and current head of the Planetary Society, is very depressed about NASA and NASCAR, according to a story in Business Insider. He believes that the red-state yokels pay too much attention to NASCAR, which employs gas guzzling cars in races, and not enough to NASA, which employs cutting edge and environmentally correct technology, to explore the universe. However, it is a meme that the space agency itself once disagreed with. Indeed, NASA has suggested that the exploration of space is like NASCAR only with rocket ships instead of souped up, high powered cars

First Liquid-Cooling Laser Could Advance Biological Research ( 55

Zothecula writes: In a world where lasers are sci-fi's weapon of choice for melting away an enemy spaceship, researchers at the University of Washington have swum against the current and produced the first laser capable of cooling liquids. " They demonstrated that the laser could refrigerate saline solution and cell culture media that are commonly used in genetic and molecular research. To achieve the breakthrough, the UW team used a material commonly found in commercial lasers but essentially ran the laser phenomenon in reverse. They illuminated a single microscopic crystal suspended in water with infrared laser light to excite a unique kind of glow that has slightly more energy than that amount of light absorbed. This higher-energy glow carries heat away from both the crystal and the water surrounding it." The technology could be especially useful for slowing down single cells and allowing scientists to study biological processes as they happen.