sciencehabit writes "Analysis of the oldest known genetic material ever to be recovered from an early human reveals an unexpected chapter in the story of human evolution. Researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA from the femur of a 400,000-year-old hominin found in the Sima de los Huesos ('pit of bones'), an underground cave in the Sierra de Atapuerca in northern Spain. Because the early hominins looked a little like Neanderthals, researchers expected their mitochondrial DNA to share a common ancestor. However, mitochondrial DNA from the Spanish hominin was found to share a common ancestor with an enigmatic eastern Eurasian sister group to the Neanderthals, the Denisovans."
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An anonymous reader writes "A medical radioactive material truck has been stolen just outside Mexico City. From the article: 'BBC world affairs correspondent Rajesh Mirchandani says Cobalt-60 could theoretically be used in a so-called "dirty bomb" - an explosive device that could spread radioactive material over a wide area - although there is no official suggestion this was the purpose of the theft. Mexican police are currently conducting a search for the truck and its contents and have issued a press release to alert the public to its potential dangers.'"
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "The Telegraph reports that NASA plans to send turnip, cress, and basil seeds to the Moon inside a specially constructed canister, known as the Lunar Plant Growth Chamber. The chamber will carry enough air for 10 days and NASA says the air in the chamber would be adequate to allow the seeds to sprout and grow for five days. It is hoped that the latest experiment will help to pave the way for astronauts to grow their own food while living on a lunar base. NASA says it will use natural sunlight to germinate the plants inside the chamber and the seeds will grow on pieces of filter paper laden with nutrients. 'If we send plants and they thrive, then we probably can. Thriving plants are needed for life support — food, air, water — for colonists. And plants provide psychological comfort, as the popularity of the greenhouses in Antarctica and on the Space Station show.' The Lunar Plant Growth Chamber is expected to weigh around 2.2lbs and will also carry 10 seeds each of basil and turnips. Upon landing on the Moon a trigger would release a small reservoir of water to wet the filter paper and initiate the germination of the seeds. Photographs of the seedlings would be taken at regular intervals to monitor their progress and compare them to seedlings being growing in similar conditions on Earth."
Rambo Tribble writes "An article in Current Biology (abstract) details the finding that minute particles of plastic waste are affecting marine worms, potentially having grave impacts on marine biodiversity (PDF) and leading to the accumulation of toxins in marine animals. 'The team found that the tiny bits of plastic, which measure 1mm or smaller, transferred pollutants and additive chemicals — such as flame-retardants — into the guts of lugworms (Arenicola marina). This process results in the chemical reaching the creatures' tissue, causing a range of biological effects such as thermal stress and the inability to consume as much sediment.' Unfortunately, policymakers have routinely treated such wastes as benign. The BBC provides more approachable coverage of the findings."
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket this afternoon in a bid to deliver a large commercial satellite into geostationary orbit. The flight was successful: "Approximately 185 seconds into flight, Falcon 9’s second stage’s single Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8 satellite into its parking orbit. Eighteen minutes after injection into the parking orbit, the second stage engine relit for just over one minute to carry the SES-8 satellite to its final geostationary transfer orbit. The restart of the Falcon 9 second stage is a requirement for all geostationary transfer missions." This is a significant milestone for SpaceX, and it fulfills another of the three objectives set forth by the U.S. Air Force to certify SpaceX flights for National Security Space missions.
sciencehabit writes "Theoretical physicists have forged a connection between the concept of entanglement — itself a mysterious quantum mechanical connection between two widely separated particles — and that of a wormhole — a hypothetical connection between black holes that serves as a shortcut through space (first abstract, second abstract). The insight could help physicists reconcile quantum mechanics and Einstein's general theory of relativity, perhaps the grandest goal in theoretical physics."
Rambo Tribble writes "Research out of the University of Philadelphia concludes there are major differences in the neural pathways in the brains of men and women. Men, they say, are wired more front-to-back, women more side-to-side. 'The results establish that male brains are optimized for intrahemispheric and female brains for interhemispheric communication. The developmental trajectories of males and females separate at a young age, demonstrating wide differences during adolescence and adulthood. The observations suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.' They propose this may explain why women have been found to be better multitaskers. Of course, this may also have ramifications for what skill and career proclivities each sex exhibits."
jones_supa writes "The latest PISA (Programme for International Assessment) results are out today. Since 2000, the OECD has attempted to evaluate the knowledge and skills of 15-year olds across the world through its PISA test. More than 510,000 students in 65 economies took part in the latest test, which covered math, reading and science, with the main focus on math — which the OECD state is a 'strong predictor of participation in post-secondary education and future success.' Asian countries outperform the rest of the world, according to the OECD, with Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and Japan amongst the top performing countries and economies. Students in Shanghai performed so well in math that the OECD report compares their scoring to the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling above most OECD countries. The study shows also a slight gender cap: in all countries, boys generally perform a bit better than girls, but this applies only to math." Here's a spreadsheet listing each country's results. The U.S. ranked 26th in math (below average), 17th in reading (slightly above average), and 21st in science (slightly below average).
The Bad Astronomer writes "Planets orbiting other stars are usually found indirectly (by blocking their stars' light or inducing a Doppler shift in the light as they orbit, for example), but direct images of exoplanets are extremely rare. However, using the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have taken photographs of three nearby exoplanets, all young, massive, and hot. One may be massive enough to count as a brown dwarf, but the other two are more likely in the planet-mass range. All three are very far from their stars, which means they may have formed differently than the planets in our solar system."
KentuckyFC writes "Epidemiologists have long known how to model the way disease spreads through a population using a computer simulation. This generally involves three populations of individuals: those who are susceptible to disease, those who are infected and those who recover, return to the population and are no longer susceptible. Researchers then feed data about the number of infections and so on into the model which can then work out the disease characteristics such as infection rates. And with this information, they can predict the future evolution of the disease. Now researchers have used a similar model to simulate the spread of infection during a zombie epidemic. They've gathered infection data from real zombie movies, put this into the model and used it to predict the disease characteristics. The results show two clear types of zombie infection which differ in what happens to people after they die. In the first, epitomized by Night of the Living Dead, everybody who dies becomes a zombie. In the second, as in Shaun of the Dead, not everyone who dies becomes a zombie--contact with a zombie beforehand is required. This allows the interesting dynamic of escaping zombification by committing suicide. It also shows how close these zombies have come to winning. The research isn't entirely frivolous. The researchers say exactly the same process of model-building, data gathering and simulation works equally well on real diseases such as influenza. So their approach is a useful teaching tool for budding epidemiologists of the future."
smf28 writes "In a recent research paper published in Science, a team of researchers at MIT describe a new imaging technique that produces three-dimensional photos with only a single photon per pixel, using essentially one-hundredth the light of the best existing imaging technologies. The researchers say the technology could have a wide variety of low-light imaging applications from military to biological use."
First time accepted submitter Josiah Zayner writes "Katie Drummond at The Verge reports that 'the Infectious Diseases Society of America warned that the pipeline of new antibiotics was "on life support," with only seven drugs in advanced stages of development to treat multidrug-resistant gram-negative superbugs. That's in part because, unlike drugs prescribed to treat chronic conditions, antibiotics are only taken for a few days or weeks at a time — meaning they're less profitable for pharmaceutical companies.' Dr. Josiah Zayner, a synthetic biology fellow at NASA, and Dr. Mark Opal, a neurobiologist and drug development specialist have started an Indiegogo campaign: The ILIAD Project. ILIAD stands for the International Laboratory for Identification of Antibacterial Drugs. Contributors to the project will receive Science kits with all the materials needed for testing environmental samples, such as plants, insects, and bacteria, for antibiotic properties. The information will then be documented in Open manner on Wiki-style website to create the first Massively Multi-Scientist Open Experiment."
ckwu writes "As a way to generate renewable electricity, researchers have designed methods that harvest the energy released when fresh and saline water mix, such as when a river meets the sea. One such method is called pressure-retarded osmosis, where two streams of water, one saline and one fresh, meet in a cell divided by a semipermeable membrane. Osmosis drives the freshwater across the membrane to the saltier side, increasing the pressure in the saline solution. The system keeps this salty water pressurized and then releases the pressure to spin a turbine to generate electricity. Now a team at Yale University has created a prototype device that increases the power output of pressure-retarded osmosis by an order of magnitude. At a full-scale facility, the estimated cost of the electricity generated by such a system could be 20 to 30 cents per kWh, approaching the cost of other conventional renewable energy technologies."
sciencehabit writes "This morning, an animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed a lawsuit in a New York court in an attempt to get a judge to declare that chimpanzees are legal persons and should be freed from captivity. The suit is the first of three to be filed in three New York counties this week. They target two research chimps at Stony Brook University and two chimps on private property, and are the opening salvo in a coordinated effort to grant 'legal personhood' to a variety of animals across the United States. If NhRP is successful in New York, it would upend millennia of law defining animals as property and could set off a 'chain reaction' that could bleed over to other jurisdictions, says Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and a prominent critic of animal rights. 'But if they lose it could be a giant step backward for the movement. They're playing with fire.'"
New submitter Raging Bool writes "The BBC is reporting that acquired phobias or aversions by mice can be passed on to subsequent generations. From the article: 'Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behavior of subsequent generations. A Nature Neuroscience study shows mice trained to avoid a smell passed their aversion on to their 'grandchildren.''"