Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
The Bad Astronomer writes "The asteroid 2011 AG5 is 140 meters across: football-stadium-sized. Its orbit isn't nailed down well enough to say yet, but using what's currently known, there's a 1 in 625 chance it will impact the Earth in 2040. It's behind the Sun until September 2013, and more observations taken then will probably reduce the odds of impact to something close to 0. But does it make sense to wait until then to start investigating a mission to deflect it away our planet? Astronomers are debating this right now, and what they conclude may pave the way for how we deal with an asteroid threat in the future."
ananyo writes "A trip to the gym could mean not just losing pounds — but also chemical modifications from DNA in the form of methyl groups. The presence (or absence) of methyl groups at certain positions on DNA can affect gene expression. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm looked at the methylation status of genes in small biopsies taken from the thigh muscles of healthy young adults before and after a stint on an exercise bike. They found that, for some genes involved in energy metabolism, the workout demethylated the promoter regions (stretches of DNA that facilitate the transcription of particular genes). Genes unrelated to metabolism remained methylated. Furthermore, similar demethylation could be seen when cultured muscle cells were given a massive (probably lethal) dose of caffeine."
S810 writes with an excerpt from an article on the X-37B in at Discovery News: "The military won't say what it has been doing with its experimental miniature space shuttle, but the pilotless spaceship, known as the X-37B, has been in orbit for a year now. The 29-foot robotic spacecraft, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, was launched on March 5, 2011, on a follow-up flight to extend capabilities demonstrated by a sister ship during a 244-day debut mission in 2010. 'We are very pleased with the results of ongoing X-37B experiments,' Tom McIntyre, with the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office..."
LilaG writes "Not just a way to transport trains at high speed, magnetic levitation could find use in diagnosing disease. Researchers at Harvard have shown that they can detect proteins in blood using MagLev. The researchers, led by George Whitesides, use levitation to detect a change in the density of porous gel beads that occurs when a protein binds to ligands inside the beads. The lower the bead levitates, the more protein it holds. The method (abstract of paywalled article) could work for detecting disease proteins in people's blood samples in the developing world: The magnets cost only about $5 each, and the device requires no electricity or batteries. Because the beads are visible to the naked eye, researchers can make measurements with a simple ruler with a millimeter scale."
ananyo writes "A landmark study involving U.S. miners that links cancer rates to diesel fume exposure has been published after a seventeen-year legal battle with an industry group. A February 27 Slashdot story had reported that lawyers for the mining industry had sent threatening letters to scientific journals advising them against publishing the study. Initiated in 1998, after the first of many legal delays, the study analyzed exposures in detail for more than 12,000 workers while controlling for smoking and other risk factors. In the end, the scientists found that miners faced a threefold risk of lethal lung cancer, and underground workers who were heavily exposed to diesel fumes faced a fivefold risk. The two concluding papers from the study are available in full."
schwit1 writes "If you think redheads are inherently different, well, you'd be right; they're better than you. In fact, they have a higher pain threshold than most of us, and can handle spicier food, too. It turns out that gingers are less sensitive to stinging pain in the skin, according to researchers who injected capsicum, the active ingredient in chilies, into the arms of patients. Professor Lars Arendt-Nielsen, one of the researchers, said, 'Our tests showed that redheads are less sensitive to this particular type of pain. They react less to pressure close to the injected area, or to a pinprick. They seem to be a bit better protected, and that is a really interesting finding.' The finding also means redheads can handle spicier food, reports Science Nordic. It lends some scientific weight to previous suggestions that gingers have a different pain response to the rest of, which were even investigated by MythBusters."
Science_afficionado writes "An engineering grad student at Vanderbilt has developed an app for Android tablets equipped with haptic feedback that turns them into a valuable tool for teaching mathematics and other STEM subjects to visually impaired students. 'Gorlewicz has programmed these tablets so they vibrate or generate a specific tone when the student’s fingertip touches a line, curve or shape displayed on the screen. The devices can generate vibrations with a number of different frequencies and hundreds of different sounds. This allows Gorlewicz to assign different tactile or audio signals to different features. For example, in an exercise that includes an X-Y grid, she can set the horizontal and vertical lines to vibrate at different frequencies and set points to make a certain tone. In this way, it’s easier for the students to distinguish between the gridlines and the points on the grid.'"
jones_supa writes "A Japanese researcher wanted to see how spider silk would convert to strings of a violin. Dr. Shigeyoshi Osaki of Nara Medical University used 300 female Nephila maculata spiders to provide the dragline silk. For each string, Osaki twisted thousands of individual strands of silk in one direction to form a bundle. The strings were then prepared from three of these bundles twisted together in the opposite direction. The final product withstood less tension before breaking than a traditional gut string, but more than an aluminum-coated, nylon-core string. This kind of spider-string is described as having a 'soft and profound timbre.'"
New submitter SchrodingerZ writes "'The world's most precise measurement of the mass of the W Boson, one of nature's elementary particles, has been achieved by scientists from the CDF and DZero collaborations at the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.' This new number (80387 +- 17 MeV/c^2) puts more constraint on the mass of the theorized Higgs Boson, which is theorized to give mass to all other things, supporting the standard model. 'Scientists employ two techniques to find the hiding place of the Higgs particle: the direct production of Higgs particles and precision measurements of other particles and forces that could be influenced by the existence of a Higgs particle.'"
wired_parrot writes "The international credibility of Australia's universities is being undermined by the increase in the 'pseudoscientific' health courses they offer, two academics write in a recent article decrying that a third of Australian universities now offer courses in such subjects as homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine, which undermines science-based medicine. 'As the number of alternative practitioners graduating from tertiary education institutions increases, further health-care resources are wasted, while the potential for harm increases.'"
smoothjazz writes "Researchers describe a new, freely available Web-based program called Spliceman for predicting whether genetic mutations are likely to disrupt the splicing of messenger RNA, potentially leading to disease. From the article: 'Spliceman makes its predictions about mutations by calculating that distance. It has successfully predicted the known effect of many mutations. The software has genomic information about 11 species: humans, chimpanzees, rhesus monkeys, mice, rats, dogs, cats, chickens, guinea pigs, frogs, and zebra fish.'"
cylonlover writes "Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have announced a breakthrough in prosthetics that may one day allow artificial limbs to be controlled by their wearers as naturally as organic ones, as well as providing sensations of touch and feeling. The scientists have developed a new interface consisting of a porous, flexible, conductive, biocompatible material through which nerve fibers can grow and act as a sort of junction through which nerve impulses can pass to the prosthesis and data from the prosthesis back to the nerve. If this new interface is successful, it has the potential to one day allow nerves to be connected directly to artificial limbs."
cold fjord writes "The inability of the incompetent to recognize their own limitations is a story that has been covered before on Slashdot. But, what happens when you apply that finding to politics? From the article: 'The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies. The research shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. If people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments...democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they "effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders."'"
The Bad Astronomer writes "News is starting to spread about a small 45-meter-wide asteroid called 2012 DA14 that will make a close pass to Earth on February 15, 2013. However, some of these articles are claiming it has 'a good chance' of impacting the Earth. This is simply incorrect; the odds of an impact next year are essentially zero. Farther in the future the odds are unclear; another near pass may occur in 2020, but right now the uncertainties in the asteroid's orbit are too large to know much about that. More observations of DA14 are being made, and we should have better information about future encounters soon."
qeorqe writes "The Center for PostNatural History is a museum and research library about organisms that have been created either by genetic engineering or selective breeding. Included in the collection are Sea Monkeys and GloFish. From the article: 'One of the cool things about natural history museums is that they show you how nature has changed over time, adapting to volatile conditions and extreme challenges. And nothing is more volatile, extreme, or challenging than the human race, so it makes sense that there would be a museum to chronicle just how much we’ve messed with plants, animals, the climate, and in general the world around us. The Center for PostNatural History, opening this week in Pittsburgh, is that museum.'"