Earth

There's a Logic To How Squirrels Bury Their Nuts (berkeley.edu) 93

sandbagger shares an announcement from the University of California: Like trick-or-treaters sorting their Halloween candy haul, fox squirrels apparently organize their stashes of nuts by variety, quality and possibly even preference, according to new UC Berkeley research... Fox squirrels stockpile at least 3,000 to 10,000 nuts a year and, under certain conditions, separate each cache into quasi "subfolders," one for each type of nut, researchers said... Over a two-year period, the research team tracked the caching patterns of 45 male and female fox squirrels as the reddish gray, bushy-tailed rodents buried almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts in various wooded locations on the UC Berkeley campus...

Using hand-held GPS navigators, researchers tracked the squirrels from their starting location to their caching location, then mapped the distribution of nut types and caching locations to detect patterns. They found that the squirrels who foraged at a single location frequently organized their caches by nut species, returning to, say, the almond area, if that was the type of nut they were gathering, and keeping each category of nut that they buried separate. Meanwhile, the squirrels foraging in multiple locations deliberately avoided caching in areas where they had already buried nuts, rather than organizing nuts by type.

Space

Idaho Wants To Establish America's First 'Dark Sky Preserve' (idahostatesman.com) 136

schwit1 shares a story from the AP: Tourists heading to central Idaho will be in the dark if local officials get their way. The first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States would fill a chunk of the state's sparsely populated region that contains night skies so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way... Supporters say excess artificial light causes sleeping problems for people and disrupts nocturnal wildlife and that a dark sky can solve those problems, boost home values and draw tourists. Opposition to dark sky measures elsewhere in the U.S. have come from the outdoor advertising industry and those against additional government regulations.

Researchers say 80 percent of North Americans live in areas where light pollution blots out the night sky. Central Idaho contains one of the few places in the contiguous United States large enough and dark enough to attain reserve status, Barentine said. Only 11 such reserves exist in the world... The proposed Idaho reserve is mainly land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and contains the wilderness of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area... Leaders in the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, the tiny mountain town of Stanley, other local and federal officials, and a conservation group have been working for several years to apply this fall to designate 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) as a reserve. A final decision by the association would come about 10 weeks after the application is submitted.

Medicine

Chinese Scientists Are Developing A Vaccine Against Cavities (nature.com) 119

A vaccine against tooth decay "is urgently needed" writes Nature -- and a team of Chinese scientists is getting close. hackingbear writes: Scientists at Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences developed low side effects and high protective efficiency using flagellin-rPAc fusion protein KFD2-rPAc, a promising vaccine candidate. In rat challenge models, KFD2-rPAc induces a robust rPAc-specific IgA response, and confers efficient prophylactic and therapeutic efficiency as does KF-rPAc, while the flagellin-specific inflammatory antibody responses are highly reduced.
Medicine

Sedentary Lifestyle Study Called 'A Raging Dumpster Fire' (arstechnica.com) 153

Ars Technica's health reporter argues that a new study suggesting sitting will kill you "is kind of a raging dumpster fire. It's funded by Big Soda and riddled with weaknesses -- including not measuring sitting." An anonymous reader quotes this report: Let's start with the money: It was funded in part by Coca-Cola... [I]t's hard to look past the fact that this is exactly the type of health and nutrition research Coke wants. In fact, Coca-Cola secretly spent $1.5 million to fund an entire network of academic researchers whose goal was to shift the national health conversation away from the harms of sugary beverages. Instead, their research focused on the benefits of exercise -- i.e., the health risks of sedentary and inactive lifestyles. The research network disbanded after The New York Times published an investigation on the network's funding in 2015...

It didn't actually measure sitting... In their words, "Our study has several limitations. First, the Actical accelerometer cannot distinguish between postures (such as sitting vs. standing); thus, we relied on an intensity-only definition of sedentary behavior." The "intensity-only" definition of sedentary behavior is based on metabolic equivalents, basically units defined by how much oxygen a person uses up doing various activities. But those definitions are also not cut and dried. There are no clear lines between lying down, sitting, standing in place, or light movement... Then there's the participant data: It's not representative -- like, at all... At the time of wearing the accelerometer, the most active group's mean age was 65. The mean age of the least active group: 75.

Groups were assigned based on just a week's worth of data -- or less. And the people placed in the least-active group were already more likely to be smokers, to have diabetes and hypertension, and to have a history of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Education

2017 'Ig Nobel' Prizes Recognize Funny Research On Cats, Crocodiles, and Cheese (improbable.com) 20

An anonymous reader writes: "The 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony" happened Thursday at Harvard's Sanders theatre, recognizing real (but unusual) research papers from all over the world "that make people laugh, then think." This year's prize in the physics category went to Marc-Antoine Fardin, who used fluid dynamics to probe the question "Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?"

Six prize-winning Swiss researchers also demonstrated that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring, while two Australians tested how contact with a live crocodile affects a person's willingness to gamble. And five French researchers won the medicine prize for their use of advanced brain-scanning technology to investigate "the neural basis of disugst for cheese."

You can watch the ceremony online -- and Reuters got an interesting quote from the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, who founded the awards ceremony 27 years ago. "We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think."
Medicine

Poor Diet Is a Factor In One In Five Deaths, Global Disease Study Reveals (theguardian.com) 110

schwit1 shares a report from The Guardian: Millions of people are eating the wrong sorts of food for good health. Eating a diet that is low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and fish oils and high in salt raises the risk of an early death, according to the huge and ongoing study Global Burden of Disease. The study, based at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, compiles data from every country in the world and makes informed estimates where there are gaps. Five papers on life expectancy and the causes and risk factors of death and ill health have been published by the Lancet medical journal. Diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. Other high risks are high blood glucose which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of obesity, and high total cholesterol. All of these can be related to eating the wrong foods, although there are also other causes.
Earth

Elon Musk Releases Supercut of SpaceX Rocket Explosions (hardocp.com) 61

Eloking shares a report from HardOCP: Elon Musk is demonstrating how one should not land an orbital rocket booster: the video, currently trending on YouTube, is essentially a blooper reel of SpaceX rocket tests that went explosive. While the company has more or less perfected launching Falcon 9 rockets, it is still working hard on recovering as much of the multi-million-dollar system as possible.
The Military

Mystery of Sonic Weapon Attacks At US Embassy In Cuba Deepens (theguardian.com) 214

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he'd walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room. Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba. The top U.S. diplomat has called them "health attacks." New details learned by the Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don't add up.

Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the state department and U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the investigation. Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the U.S. government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August -- nine months after symptoms were first reported.

Earth

Mind-Altering Cat Parasite Linked To a Whole Lot of Neurological Disorders (sciencealert.com) 209

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: The brain-dwelling parasite Toxoplasma gondii is estimated to be hosted by at least 2 billion people around the world, and new evidence suggests the lodger could be more dangerous than we think. While the protozoan invader poses the greatest risk to developing fetuses infected in the womb, new research suggests the parasite could alter and amplify a range of neurological disorders, including epilepsy, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's, and also cancer. "This study is a paradigm shifter," says one of the team, neuroscientist Dennis Steindler from Tufts University. "We now have to insert infectious disease into the equation of neurodegenerative diseases, epilepsy, and neural cancers." The findings are part of an emerging field of research looking into how T. gondii, which is usually transmitted to humans via contact with cat faeces (or by eating uncooked meat), produces proteins that alter and manipulate the brain chemistry of their infected hosts.
AI

Many Machine Learning Studies Don't Actually Show Anything Meaningful, But They Spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (theoutline.com) 98

Michael Byrne, writing for the Outline: Here's what you need to know about every way-cool and-or way-creepy machine learning study that has ever been or will ever be published: Anything that can be represented in some fashion by patterns within data -- any abstract-able thing that exists in the objective world, from online restaurant reviews to geopolitics -- can be "predicted" by machine learning models given sufficient historical data. At the heart of nearly every foaming news article starting with the words "AI knows ..." is some machine learning paper exploiting this basic realization. "AI knows if you have skin cancer." "AI beats doctors at predicting heart attacks." "AI predicts future crime." "AI knows how many calories are in that cookie." There is no real magic behind these findings. The findings themselves are often taken as profound simply for having way-cool concepts like deep learning and artificial intelligence and neural networks attached to them, rather than because they are offering some great insight or utility -- which most of the time, they are not.
Space

Cassini's Saturn Mission Goes Out In A Blaze Of Glory (npr.org) 74

An anonymous reader shares a report: Controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent a final command Friday morning to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Not long after, accounting for the vast distance the message traveled, the order was received, putting the craft into a suicidal swan dive, plummeting into the ringed planet's atmosphere. Flight Director Julie Webster called "loss of signal" at about 7:55 a.m. ET, followed by Project Manager Earl Maize announcing "end of mission" as the spacecraft began to break up in Saturn's atmosphere. "Congratulations to you all," Maize announced to applause. "It's been an incredible mission, incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team." With Cassini running on empty and no gas station for about a billion miles, NASA decided to go out Thelma & Louise-style. But rather than careen into a canyon, the plucky probe took a final plunge into the object of its obsession. Just how obsessed? Its 13-year mission to explore the strange world of Saturn went on nearly a decade longer than planned. It completed 293 orbits of the planet, snapped 400,000 photos, collected 600 gigabytes of data, discovered at least seven new moons, descending into the famed rings and sent its Huygens lander to a successful 2005 touchdown on the surface of yet another moon, Titan. Also read: Cassini's Best Discoveries of Saturn and Its Moons.
Medicine

Researchers Find Antidepressants Increase Risk of Death (medicalxpress.com) 125

Artem Tashkinov shares a report from Medical Xpress: Antidepressant medications, most commonly prescribed to reduce depression and anxiety, increase the risk of death, according to new findings by a McMaster-led team of researchers. It's widely known that brain serotonin affects mood, and that most commonly used antidepressant treatment for depression blocks the absorption of serotonin by neurons. It is less widely known, though, that all the major organs of the body -- the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver -- use serotonin from the bloodstream. Antidepressants block the absorption of serotonin in these organs as well, and the researchers warn that antidepressants could increase the risk of death by preventing multiple organs from functioning properly.

Interestingly, the news about antidepressants is not all bad. The researchers found that antidepressants are not harmful for people with cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. This makes sense since these antidepressants have blood-thinning effects that are useful in treating such disorders. Unfortunately, this also means that for most people who are in otherwise good cardiovascular health, antidepressants tend to be harmful.
The study has been published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
Science

We're Eating Plastics From Our Own Dirty Laundry (vice.com) 172

Every time you wash your fleece jacket or other synthetic clothing, microscopic synthetic fibres are released and end up in our food supply and drinking water. From a report: These microfibres are so small -- visible only under a microscope -- that they bypass municipal filtration systems and are consumed by fish and other marine life. A team of women from Waterloo, Ontario is looking to solve that problem. They've designed something that looks a lot like a dryer sheet for your laundry machine. You'd be able to drop this reusable sheet, called PolyGone, into the laundry machine with your dirty clothes. It attracts and traps the microfibres so they can be recycled. They presented their work at the annual AquaHacking conference at the University of Waterloo on Wednesday. "With these fibres entering our food system and ending up on our plates, we are essentially eating polluted laundry," said co-founder Lauren Smith at the conference. The event saw five teams, including hers, compete for tens of thousands of dollars and entry into several local incubators and accelerator centres. Smith has a Masters degree in sustainability management from UW, specializing in water.
NASA

Cassini's Best Discoveries of Saturn and Its Moons (theverge.com) 25

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: Early tomorrow morning, NASA scientists will say goodbye to their Cassini spacecraft -- a hardy probe the size of a school bus that has been orbiting the Saturn system for the last 13 years. Launched in 1997, Cassini has spent a whopping 20 years in space, lasting through two mission extensions while going above and beyond what it was designed to do. But tomorrow, the probe will dive into Saturn's atmosphere, where it will break apart and cease operating. It's a sad time for the scientists who have worked on this mission for years, but also a triumphant one: Cassini leaves an impressive legacy of scientific discovery in its wake. Here's a nice video to go with it.
Earth

Climate Change Could Wipe Out a Third of Parasite Species, Study Finds (nytimes.com) 240

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled, alternative source): Recently, scientists carried out the first large-scale study of what climate change may do to the world's much-loathed parasites. The team came to a startling conclusion: as many as one in three parasite species may face extinction in the next century. As global warming raises the planet's temperature, the researchers found, many species will lose territory in which to survive. Some of their hosts will be lost, too. Researchers have begun carefully studying the roles that parasites play. They make up the majority of the biomass in some ecosystems, outweighing predators sharing their environments by a factor of 20 to 1. For decades, scientists who studied food webs drew lines between species -- between wildebeest and the grass they grazed on, for example, and between the wildebeest and the lions that ate them. In a major oversight, they didn't factor in the extent to which parasites feed on hosts. As it turns out, as much as 80 percent of the lines in a given food web are links to parasites. They are big players in the food supply.

Some researchers had already investigated the fate of a few parasite species, but Colin J. Carlson, lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues wanted to get a global view of the impact of climate change. Some kinds won't lose much in a warming world, the study found. For instance, thorny-headed worms are likely to be protected because their hosts, fish and birds, are common and widespread. But other types, such as fleas and tapeworms, may not be able to tolerate much change in temperature; many others infect only hosts that are facing extinction, as well. In all, roughly 30 percent of parasitic species could disappear, Mr. Carlson concluded. The impact of climate change will be as great or greater for these species as for any others studied so far.
The study has been published in Science Advances.

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