dryriver sends this excerpt from the Guardian: "Scientists have pinpointed a new treasure trove in our oceans: micro-organisms that contain millions of previously unknown genes and thousands of new families of proteins. These tiny marine wonders offer a chance to exploit a vast pool of material that could be used to create innovative medicines, industrial solvents, chemical treatments and other processes, scientists say. Researchers have already created new enzymes for treating sewage and chemicals for making soaps from material they have found in ocean organisms. 'The potential for marine biotechnology is almost infinite,' says Curtis Suttle, professor of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Columbia. 'It has become clear that most of the biological and genetic diversity on Earth is – by far – tied up in marine ecosystems, and in particular in their microbial components. By weight, more than 95% of all living organisms found in the oceans are microbial. This is an incredible resource.'"
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grrlscientist writes with news of a cockatoo named Figaro, who was observed to construct and use his own tools to retrieve objects that were outside of his cage. Quoting: "One day, a student caregiver noticed Figaro pushing a stone pebble through the aviary wire mesh, where it fell on a wood structural beam. Unable to retrieve the stone with his foot, Figaro then fetched a piece of bamboo and again attempted to retrieve the stone using the bamboo stick. ... During the next three days, the researchers ran trials of the original scenario, which was repeated ten times but substituting a cashew nut for the pebble. All trials were captured on video and the process of tool manufacture and use was documented photographically. ... 'Figaro made a new tool for every nut we placed there and each time the bird was successful in obtaining it,' reports cognitive biologist Alice Auersperg of the University of Vienna, who led the study (PDF). During these trials, Figaro used 10 tools, nine of which he manufactured and one of which was ready-made."
WOOFYGOOFY writes "The NY Times and Voice Of America are reporting on a study by the U.S. National Research Council (PDF) which was released Friday linking global climate change to national security. The report, which was developed at the request of the C.I.A., characterizes the threats posed by climate change as 'similar to and in many cases greater than those posed by terrorist attacks. 'Climate-driven crises could lead to internal instability or international conflict and might force the United States to provide humanitarian assistance or, in some cases, military force to protect vital energy, economic or other interests, the study said.' If the effect of unaddressed climate change is the functional equivalent of terrorist attacks on the nation, does the Executive Branch, as a matter of national security, have a duty and a right to begin to act unilaterally against climate change irrespective of what Congress currently believes?"
Hugh Pickens writes "Coffee is the world's favorite beverage and the second-most traded commodity after oil. Now Nick Collins reports that rising global temperatures and subtle changes in seasonal conditions could make 99.7 per cent of Arabica-growing areas unsuitable for the plant before the end of the century and in some areas as soon as 2020. Even if the beans do not disappear completely from the wild, climate change is highly likely to impact yields. The taste of coffee, a beverage of choice among Slashdot readers, will change in future decades. 'The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080,' says Justin Moat. 'This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.'" Read more, below.
sciencehabit writes "It's a good 130 years too late to answer that question empirically, but at least symbolically Charles Darwin has won support from more than 4000 voters in the 10th congressional district of Georgia, thanks to an initiative headed by James Leebens-Mack, a plant biologist at the University of Georgia in Athens. Like many others, Leebens-Mack was deeply troubled by a speech his Congressman, Paul Broun (R-GA), gave at an Athens church in October deriding teachings on evolution, embryology, and the big bang theory as 'lies straight from the pit of Hell.' Broun, a medical doctor, is a member of the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and chair of its Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Leebens-Mack says the 'protest vote should make it clear to future opponents that there are a lot of people in the district who are not happy with antiscience statements.'"
New submitter Joiseybill writes "Now that the election is over, any voters that may have been influenced can rest easy. Space.com reports that the agency has been 'thinking about setting up a manned outpost beyond the moon's far side, both to establish a human presence in deep space and to build momentum toward a planned visit to an asteroid in 2025.' Space policy expert John Logsdon said, 'NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan. They've been holding off announcing that until after the election.' According to the article, 'Rumors currently point toward parking a spacecraft at the Earth-moon L2 gateway, so NASA (and perhaps international partners) can learn more about supporting humans in deep space. Astronauts stationed there could also aid in lunar exploration — by teleoperating rovers on the moon's surface, for example.'"
cylonlover writes "Our ears work by converting the vibrations of the eardrum into electrochemical signals that can be interpreted by the brain. The current for those signals is supplied by an ion-filled chamber deep within the inner ear – it's essentially a natural battery. Scientists are now looking at using that battery to power devices that could be implanted in the ear, without affecting the recipient's hearing. The 'battery chamber' is located in the cochlea. It is internally divided by a membrane, some of the cells of which are designed to pump ions. The arrangement of those specialized cells, combined with an imbalance of potassium and sodium ions on opposite sides of the membrane, are what creates the electrical voltage. A team of scientists from MIT, the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology have recently succeeded in running an ultra-low-power radio-transmitting chip using power from these battery chambers – in guinea pigs' ears."
ananyo writes "Proteins are an enormous molecular achievement: chains of amino acids that fold spontaneously into a precise conformation, time after time, optimized by evolution for their particular function. Yet given the exponential number of contortions possible for any chain of amino acids, dictating a sequence that will fold into a predictable structure has been a daunting task. Now researchers report that they can do just that. By following a set of rules described in a paper published in Nature (abstract), a husband and wife team from David Baker's laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle has designed five proteins from scratch that fold reliably into predicted conformations. The work could eventually allow scientists to custom design proteins with specific functions."
Freshly Exhumed writes "In a 7-to-0 decision, the Supreme Court Of Canada has ruled that Pfizer Canada Inc.'s patent on well-known erectile dysfunction remedy Viagra is now invalid due to insufficient information in Pfizer's patent application. The upshot is that competitors can now manufacture cheaper, generic versions of Viagra for sale in Canada."
coondoggie writes "NASA said today it had teamed with the European Space Agency to successfully test an experimental version of an 'interplanetary Internet' to control a robot on the ground in Germany from a laptop onboard the International Space Station."
kkleiner writes "For the last few months, the political pundit class has been at war with NYT/FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver. Joe Scarborough of MSNBC called him a "joke," while an op-ed in the LA Times accused him of running a "numbers racket." But last night, Silver triumphed: every one of his state-level presidential predictions proved true. "
jfruh writes "Among the winners of last night's election: marijuana users. Voters in both Washington and Colorado approved referenda that legalized marijuana for recreational use, though the drug remains illegal under federal law. There's been a long-standing debate among programmers as to whether recreational drugs, including pot and hallucinagens like LSD, can actually help programmers code. Don't forget, there was a substantial overlap between the wave of computer professionals who came of age in the '60s and that era's counterculture." (There's even a good book on that topic.)
SternisheFan writes in with a story about early humans passing down their tool making skills. "Sophisticated bladelets suggest that humans passed on their technological skill down the generations. A haul of stone blades from a cave in South Africa suggests that early humans were already masters of complex technology more than 70,000 years ago . The tiny blades — no more than about 3 centimeters long on average — were probably used as tips for throwable spears, or as spiky additions to club-like weapons, says Curtis Marean, an archaeologist at Arizona State University in Tempe who led the team that found the bladelets. Twenty-seven such blades, called microliths by archaeologists, were found in layers of sand and soil dating as far back as 71,000 years ago and representing a time-span of about 11,000 years, showing how long humans were manufacturing the blades. Clever crafters The find lends credence to the idea that early humans were capable of passing on their clever ideas to the next generation of artisans, creating complex technologies that endured over time. John Shea, a palaeoanthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, says that it also suggests that 'previous hypotheses that 'early' Homo sapiens differed from 'modern' ones in these respects are probably wrong'."
astroengine writes "The family of planets circling a relatively close dwarf star has grown to six, including a potential rocky world at least seven times more massive than Earth that is properly located for liquid water to exist on its surface, a condition believed to be necessary for life. Scientists added three new planets to three discovered in 2008 orbiting an orange star called HD 40307, which is roughly three-quarters as massive as the sun and located about 42 light-years away in the constellation Pictor. Of particular interest is the outermost planet, which is believed to fly around its parent star over 320 days, a distance that places it within HD 40307's so-called "habitable zone.""
pigrabbitbear writes "There's a reason why Elon Musk is being called the next Steve Jobs. Like Jobs, he's a visionary, a super successful serial entrepreneur, having made his initial fortune with a company he sold to Compaq before starting Paypal. Like Jobs, he saved his beloved baby Tesla Motors from the brink of oblivion. Like Jobs, [he has] a knack for paradigm-shifting industry disruption. Which means he's also demanding. 'Like Jobs, Elon does not tolerate C or D players,' SpaceX board member and early Tesla investor Steve Jurvetson told BusinessWeek. But while Jobs was slinging multi-colored music players and touchable smartphones, Musk is building rocket ships and electric-powered supercars. It's why his friends describe him as not just Steve Jobs but also John D. Rockefeller and Howard Hughes all wrapped in one. His friend Jon Favreau used Musk as the real-life inspiration for the big screen version of Tony Stark. Elon Musk is a badass."
SternisheFan sends this quote from Wired: "An international team of astronomers used three telescopes — the UK Infrared Telescope and the Subaru Telescope, both in Hawaii, and Chile's Very Large Telescope — to study trends in star formation, from the earliest days of the universe. Extrapolating their findings has revealed that half of all the stars that have ever existed were created between 9 and 11 billion years ago, with the other half created in the years since. That means the rate at which new stars are born has dropped off massively, to the extent that (if this trend continues) 95 percent of all the stars that this universe will ever see have already been born. Several studies have looked at specific time 'epochs', but the different methods used by each study has restricted the ability to compare their findings and discern a fuller model of how stars have evolved over the course of the entire universe's lifespan."
An anonymous reader writes "In Britain, where it is custom and practice to charge around £10 for a copy of your medical results, a patient has discovered that his copy will cost him £2,000 because the records are stored on an obsolete system that the current IT systems cannot access. Can this be good for patient care if no-one can access records dating back from a previous filing system? Perhaps we need to require all current systems to store data in a way that is vendor independent, and DRM-free, too?"
New submitter schirra writes "Researchers at MIT Game Lab have created a free video game that accurately simulates the effects of Einstein's relativity. 'A Slower Speed of Light' challenges players to collect objects strewn throughout a level to artificially lower the speed of light. As light speed slows to walking pace, it makes visible the unusual effects one encounters when traveling close to the speed of light, such as the Doppler effect, searchlight effect and Lorentz transformation. The effects are, in a word, trippy. The team plans to release an open-source Unity3D toolkit called OpenRelativity to allow others to include the same relativistic effects in other games." They also plan to release the source code sometime next year (despite reports that it is open source already).
Zothecula writes "Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a laser the size of a virus particle that can operate at room temperature. The 'nanolaser,' which uses gold nanoparticles instead of mirrors, is claimed to be the first demonstration to make use of a so-called bowtie arrangement of metal nanoparticles, though nano-scale lasers have been previously demonstrated." Original paper (paywalled, unfortunately).
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Western University in Canada: "The first human applied clinical study (SAV CT 01) using a genetically modified killed whole-virus vaccine (SAV001-H) to evaluate its safety and tolerability was initiated in March 2012. This study is a randomized, observer-blinded, placebo-controlled study of killed whole HIV-1 vaccine (SAV001-H) following intramuscular (IM) administration. Infected men and women, 18-50 years of age, have been enrolled in this study and randomized into two treatment groups to administer killed whole HIV-1 vaccine (SAV001-H) or placebo. Sumagen announced today the patient enrollment has progressed smoothly and there have been no adverse effects observed including local reactions, signs/symptoms and laboratory toxicities after SAV001-H injection in all enrolled patients to date. With these interim results, the SAV001-H has proven safety and tolerability in humans and given Sumagen confidence for the next clinical trials to prove its immunogenicity and efficacy evaluation."