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A Caterpillar May Lead To a 'Plastic Pollution' Solution ( 70

New submitter FatdogHaiku quotes a report from BBC: Researchers at Cambridge University have discovered that the larvae of the moth, which eats wax in bee hives, can also degrade plastic. Experiments show the insect can break down the chemical bonds of plastic in a similar way to digesting beeswax. The plastic is used to make shopping bags and food packaging, among other things, but it can take hundreds of years to decompose completely. However, caterpillars of the moth (Galleria mellonella) can make holes in a plastic bag in under an hour. They think microbes in the caterpillar -- as well as the insect itself -- might play a role in breaking down plastic. If the chemical process can be identified, it could lead to a solution to managing plastic waste in the environment.

The EPA Won't Be Shutting Down Its Open Data Website After All ( 43

An anonymous reader shares an article: Scientists and data experts are closely tracking the websites of federal agencies, noting changes to pages dealing with climate change and energy since President Donald Trump took office. On Monday, they noticed an alarming message posted to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) open data website, indicating it would shut down on Friday, April 28. [...] By Monday afternoon, visitors to Open Data received a different pop-up notification, which clarifies that data on the site will still be available come Friday.

World's First Vaccine Against Malaria To Arrive Next Year, Says WHO ( 84

An anonymous reader shares a report: The world's first vaccine against malaria will be introduced in three countries -- Ghana, Kenya and Malawi -- starting in 2018. The RTS,S vaccine trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is spread by mosquito bites. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the jab had the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. But it is not yet clear if it will be feasible to use in the poorest parts of the world. The vaccine needs to be given four times -- once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later.

Aurora Enthusiasts Discover A Strange New Light In The Sky And Named It Steve ( 56

An anonymous reader quotes the BBC: A group of aurora enthusiasts have found a new type of light in the night sky and named it Steve. Eric Donovan from the University of Calgary in Canada spotted the feature in photos shared on a Facebook group. He did not recognise it as a catalogued phenomenon and although the group were calling it a proton arc, he knew proton auroras were not visible. Testing showed it appeared to be a hot stream of fast-flowing gas in the higher reaches of the atmosphere.

The European Space Agency sent electric field instruments to measure it 300km (190 miles) above the surface of the Earth and found the temperature of the air was 3,000C (5,400F) hotter inside the gas stream than outside it. Inside, the 25km-wide ribbon of gas was flowing at 6 km/s (13,000mph), 600 times faster than the air on either side.

One official at the European Space Agency made sure to thank the "army of citizen scientists" who helped with the discovery, saying "It turns out that Steve is actually remarkably common, but we hadn't noticed it before." The name apparently came from a scene in the movie "Over the Hedge."

Scientists Consider 'Cloud Brightening' To Preserve Australia's Great Barrier Reef ( 108

An anonymous reader quotes MIT Technology Review: A group of Australian marine scientists believe that altering clouds might offer one of the best hopes for saving the Great Barrier Reef. For the last six months, researchers at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the University of Sydney School of Geosciences have been meeting regularly to explore the possibility of making low-lying clouds off the northeastern coast of Australia more reflective in order to cool the waters surrounding the world's biggest coral reef system...

Last year, as El Nino events cranked up ocean temperatures, at least 20% of the reef died and more than 90% of it was damaged. The Australian researchers took a hard look at a number of potential ways to preserve the reefs. But at this point, making clouds more reflective looks like the most feasible way to protect an ecosystem that stretches across more than 130,000 square miles, says Daniel Harrison, a postdoctoral research associate with the Ocean Technology Group at the University of Sydney. Cloud brightening is the only thing we've identified that's scalable, sensible, and relatively environmentally benign," he says... Next month, he plans to start computer climate modeling to explore whether cloud brightening could make a big enough temperature difference to help.

They're collaborating with Silicon Valley's Marine Cloud Brightening Project, which has spent the last seven years "developing a nozzle that they believe can spray salt particles of just the right size and quantity to alter the clouds. They're attempting to raise several million dollars to build full-scale sprayers." The article describes them as "one of several research groups that have started to explore whether cloud brightening, generally discussed as a potential tool to alter the climate as a whole, could be applied in more targeted ways."

'Detergent' Hydroxl Molecules May Affect Methane Levels In The Atmosphere ( 68

An anonymous reader quotes Caltech's announcement about the results of a study funded by NASA and the Department of Energy: During the early 2000s, environmental scientists studying methane emissions noticed something unexpected: the global concentrations of atmospheric methane -- which had increased for decades, driven by methane emissions from fossil fuels and agriculture -- inexplicably leveled off. The methane levels remained stable for a few years, then started rising again in 2007... New modeling by researchers at Caltech and Harvard University suggests that methane emissions might not have increased dramatically in 2007 after all. Instead, the most likely explanation has less to do with methane emissions and more to do with changes in the availability of the hydroxyl radical, which breaks down methane in the atmosphere... If global levels of hydroxyl decrease, global methane concentrations will increase -- even if methane emissions remain constant, the researchers say...

Tracking decadal trends in both methane and hydroxyl, Christian Frankenberg and his colleagues noted that fluctuations in hydroxyl concentrations correlated strongly with fluctuations in methane... "Think of the atmosphere like a kitchen sink with the faucet running," Frankenberg explains. "When the water level inside the sink rises, that can mean that you've opened up the faucet more. Or it can mean that the drain is blocking up. You have to look at both."

So what's changing the level of hydroxl in the atmosphere? The researchers say they have no idea.

Pioneering Researchers Track Sudden Learning 'Epiphanies' ( 30

wisebabo quotes Science Daily: Until now, researchers had not had a good way to study how people actually experienced what is called "epiphany learning." In new research, scientists at The Ohio State University used eye-tracking and pupil dilation technology to see what happens as people figured out how to win a strategy game on a computer. "We could see our study participants figuring out the solution through their eye movements as they considered their options," said Ian Krajbich, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology and economics at Ohio State. "We could predict they were about to have an epiphany before they even knew it was coming."
The original submission suggests, "This might be useful to determine when you are trying to teach a difficult subject to someone who you're afraid might be inclined to just nod their head. Or maybe this is how the Voight-Kampff test works. (Are you a replicant?)"

Can Geoengineering Drones Fight Global Warming? ( 280

MIT Technology Review reports: David Mitchell, a lanky, soft-spoken atmospheric physicist, believes frigid clouds in the upper troposphere may offer one of our best fallback plans for combating climate change... Fleets of large drones would crisscross the upper latitudes of the globe during winter months, sprinkling the skies with tons of extremely fine dust-like materials every year. If Mitchell is right, this would produce larger ice crystals than normal, creating thinner cirrus clouds that dissipate faster. "That would allow more radiation into space, cooling the earth," Mitchell says...

Increasingly grim climate projections have convinced a growing number of scientists it's time to start conducting experiments to find out what might work. In addition, an impressive list of institutions including Harvard University, the Carnegie Council, and the University of California, Los Angeles, have recently established research initiatives... By this time next year, Harvard professors David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to launch a high-altitude balloon from a site in Tucson, Arizona. This will mark the beginning of a research project to explore the feasibility and risks of an approach known as solar radiation management. The basic idea is that spraying materials into the stratosphere could help reflect more heat back into space, mimicking a natural cooling phenomenon that occurs after volcanoes blast tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the sky.

"I don't really know what the answer is," says a former associate director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "But I do believe we need to keep saying what the truth is, and the truth is, we might need it."

Can Parents Sue If Their Kid Is Born With the 'Wrong' DNA? ( 267

Long-time reader randomErr quotes Gizmodo: It's a nightmare scenario straight out of a primetime drama: a child-seeking couple visits a fertility clinic to try their luck with in-vitro fertilization, only to wind up accidentally impregnated by the wrong sperm. In a fascinating legal case out of Singapore, the country's Supreme Court ruled that this situation doesn't just constitute medical malpractice. The fertility clinic, the court recently ruled, must pay the parents 30% of upkeep costs for the child for a loss of 'genetic affinity.' In other words, the clinic must pay the parents' child support not only because they made a terrible medical mistake, but because the child didn't wind up with the right genes...

"It's suggesting that the child itself has something wrong with it, genetically, and that it has monetary value attached to it," Todd Kuiken, a senior research scholar with the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, told Gizmodo. "They attached damages to the genetic makeup of the child, rather than the mistake. That's the part that makes it uncomfortable. This can take you in all sort of fucked up directions."


107 Cancer Papers Retracted Due To Peer Review Fraud ( 149

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The journal Tumor Biology is retracting 107 research papers after discovering that the authors faked the peer review process. This isn't the journal's first rodeo. Late last year, 58 papers were retracted from seven different journals -- 25 came from Tumor Biology for the same reason. It's possible to fake peer review because authors are often asked to suggest potential reviewers for their own papers. This is done because research subjects are often blindingly niche; a researcher working in a sub-sub-field may be more aware than the journal editor of who is best-placed to assess the work. But some journals go further and request, or allow, authors to submit the contact details of these potential reviewers. If the editor isn't aware of the potential for a scam, they then merrily send the requests for review out to fake e-mail addresses, often using the names of actual researchers. And at the other end of the fake e-mail address is someone who's in on the game and happy to send in a friendly review. This most recent avalanche of fake-reviewed papers was discovered because of extra screening at the journal. According to an official statement from Springer, the company that published Tumor Biology until this year, "the decision was made to screen new papers before they are released to production." The extra screening turned up the names of fake reviewers that hadn't previously been detected, and "in order to clean up our scientific records, we will now start retracting these affected articles...Springer will continue to proactively investigate these issues."

Light Sail Propulsion Could Reach Sirius Sooner Than Alpha Centauri ( 171

RockDoctor writes: A recent proposition to launch probes to other star systems driven by lasers which remain in the Solar system has garnered considerable attention. But recently published work suggests that there are unexpected complexities to the system. One would think that the closest star systems would be the easiest to reach. But unless you are content with a fly-by examination of the star system, with much reduced science returns, you will need to decelerate the probe at the far end, without any infrastructure to assist with the braking. By combining both light-pressure braking and gravitational slingshots, a team of German, French and Chilean astronomers discover that the brightness of the destination star can significantly increase deceleration, and thus travel time (because higher flight velocities can be used). Slingshotting around a companion star to lengthen deceleration times can help shed flight velocity to allow capture into a stable orbit. The 4.37 light year distant binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B could be reached in 75 years from Earth. Covering the 0.24 light year distance to Proxima Centauri depends on arriving at the correct relative orientations of Alpha Centauri A and B in their mutual 80 year orbit for the sling shot to work. Without a companion star, Proxima Centauri can only absorb a final leg velocity of about 1280km/s, so that leg of the trip would take an additional 46 years. Using the same performance characteristics for the light sail, the corresponding duration for an approach to the Sirius system, almost twice as far away (8.58 lightyears), is a mere 68.9 years, making it (and it's white dwarf companion) possibly a more attractive target. Of course, none of this addresses the question of how to get any data from there to here. Or, indeed, how to manage a project that will last longer than a working lifetime. There are also issues of aiming -- the motion of the Alpha Centauri system isn't well-enough known at the moment to achieve the precise maneuvering needed without course corrections (and so, data transmission from there to here) en route.
United Kingdom

Britain Set For First Coal-Free Day Since Industrial Revolution ( 206

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The UK is set to have its first ever working day without coal power generation since the Industrial Revolution, according to the National Grid. The control room tweeted the predicted milestone on Friday, adding that it is also set to be the first 24-hour coal-free period in Britain. The UK has had shorter coal-free periods in 2016, as gas and renewables such as wind and solar play an increasing role in the power mix. The longest continuous period until now was 19 hours -- first achieved on a weekend last May, and matched on Thursday. Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, said: "The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition. A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years' time our energy system will have radically transformed again." Britain became the first country to use coal for electricity when Thomas Edison opened the Holborn Viaduct power station in London in 1882. It was reported in the Observer at the time that "a hundred weight of coal properly used will yield 50 horse power for an hour." And that each horse power "will supply at least a light equivalent to 150 candles."

Cycling To Work Can Cut Cancer and Heart Disease ( 232

randomErr quotes a report from BBC: Want to live longer? Reduce your risk of cancer? And heart disease? Then cycle to work, say scientists. The five-year study of 250,000 UK commuters also showed walking had some benefits over sitting on public transport or taking the car. Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) today, the University of Glasgow study compared those who had an "active" commute with those who were mostly stationary. Overall, 2,430 of those studied died, 3,748 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,110 had heart problems. But, during the course of the study, regular cycling cut the risk of death from any cause by 41%, the incidence of cancer by 45% and heart disease by 46%. The cyclists clocked an average of 30 miles per week, but the further they cycled the greater the health boon. However, the effect was still there even after adjusting the statistics to remove the effects of other potential explanations like smoking, diet or how heavy people are.
The Internet

Apple Hires Top Google Satellite Executives For New Hardware Team ( 12

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The iPhone maker has recruited a pair of top Google satellite executives for a new hardware team, according to people familiar with the matter. John Fenwick, who led Google's spacecraft operations, and Michael Trela, head of satellite engineering, left Alphabet Inc.'s Google for Apple in recent weeks, the people said. They report to Greg Duffy, co-founder of camera maker Dropcam, who joined Apple earlier this year, the people said. With the recruits, Apple is bringing into its ranks two experts in the demanding, expensive field of satellite design and operation. At the moment, these endeavors typically fall into two fields: satellites for collecting images and those for communications. In a regulatory filing last year, Boeing Co. detailed a plan to provide broadband access through more than 1,000 satellites in low-earth orbit. The aerospace company has talked with Apple about the technology company being an investor-partner in the project, a person familiar with the situation said. It's unclear if those talks will result in a deal. At the annual Satellite 2017 conference in Washington D.C. last month, industry insiders said Boeing's project was being funded by Apple, Tim Farrar, a satellite and telecom consultant at TMF Associates Inc., wrote in a recent blog. A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.

Theranos Used Shell Company To Secretly Buy Outside Lab Equipment, Says Report ( 43

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company "allegedly misled company directors" regarding its lab tests and used a shell company to buy commercial lab gear. These are just a few of the new revelations made by the Journal, which also include fake demonstrations for potential investors. The new information came from unsealed depositions by 22 former Theranos employees or members of its board of directors. They were deposed by Partner Fund Management LP, a hedge fund currently suing Theranos in Delaware state court. Theranos is also facing multiple lawsuits in federal court in California and Arizona, among others. The Journal, which did not publish the new filings, quoted former Theranos director Admiral Gary Roughead (Ret.), as saying that he was not aware that the company was using "extensive commercial analyzers" until it was reported in the press. The Journal described the filings as "some of the first substantive details to emerge from several court proceedings against the company, though they include only short excerpts from the depositions."

Ocean Currents Are Sweeping Billions of Tiny Plastic Bits to the Arctic ( 49

The world's oceans are littered with trillions of pieces of plastic -- bottles, bags, toys, fishing nets and more, mostly in tiny particles -- and now this seaborne junk is making its way into the Arctic. From a report: The plastic was discovered by an international team of researchers who circumnavigated the Arctic on a five-month journey aboard the research vessel Tara in 2013. They sampled the ocean water along the way, looking at plastic pollution. And though the plastic concentrations were overall low, they located a specific region located north of the Greenland and the Barents seas with unusually high concentrations. They published their results in the journal Science Advances this week. It seems that the plastic is riding up to the pole with the Thermohaline Circulation, a "conveyor" belt ocean current that transports water from the lower latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean toward the poles. "[A]nd the Greenland and the Barents Seas act as a dead-end for this poleward conveyor belt," Andres Cozar Cabanas, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Cadiz, Spain, says in a press release.

Diet Sodas May Be Tied To Stroke, Dementia Risk ( 223

Gulping down an artificially sweetened beverage not only may be associated with health risks for your body, but also possibly your brain, a new study suggests. From a report: Artificially sweetened drinks, such as diet sodas, were tied to a higher risk of stroke and dementia in the study, which published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke on Thursday. The study sheds light only on an association, as the researchers were unable to determine an actual cause-and-effect relationship between sipping artificially sweetened drinks and an increased risk for stroke and dementia. Therefore, some experts caution that the findings should be interpreted carefully. No connection was found between those health risks and other sugary beverages, such as sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit juice and fruit drinks.

Louisiana's Governor Declares State Of Emergency Over Disappearing Coastline ( 307

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency over the state's rapidly eroding coastline. From a report on NPR: It's an effort to bring nationwide attention to the issue and speed up the federal permitting process for coastal restoration projects. "Decades of saltwater intrusion, subsidence and rising sea levels have made the Louisiana coast the nation's most rapidly deteriorating shoreline," WWNO's Travis Lux tells our Newscast unit. "It loses the equivalent of one football field of land every hour." More than half of the state's population lives on the coast, the declaration states. It adds that the pace of erosion is getting faster: "more than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone."

Inside Elon Musk's New Company Neuralink Which Aims To Fight Brain Conditions And Help Humanity Survive in the Age of AI ( 63

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has confirmed plans for his newest company, called Neuralink Corp, revealing he will be the chief executive of a startup that aims to merge computers with brains so humans could one day engage in "consensual telepathy." In an interview with explainer website Wait But Why (36,000-word), Musk said Neuralink aims to implant tiny brain electrodes that first would be used to fight brain conditions but later help humanity avoid subjugation at the hands of intelligent machines. From the report: "There are a bunch of concepts in your head that then your brain has to try to compress into this incredibly low data rate called speech or typing," Musk said. "That's what language is, your brain has executed a compression algorithm on thought, on concept transfer. If you have two brain interfaces, you could actually do an uncompressed direct conceptual communication with another person." Musk says he expects the project to take eight to 10 years before being usable by people with no disability. He anticipates tons of regulatory challenges in his way.

Neuroscientists Offer a Reality Check On Facebook's 'Typing By Brain' Project ( 58

the_newsbeagle writes: Yesterday, Facebook announced that it's working on a "typing by brain" project, promising a non-invasive technology that can decode signals from the brain's speech center and translate them directly to text (see the video beginning at 1:18:00). What's more, Facebook exec Regina Dugan said, the technology will achieve a typing rate of 100 words per minute. Here, a few neuroscientists are asked: Is such a thing remotely feasible? One neuroscientist points out that his team set the current speed record for brain-typing earlier this year: They enabled a paralyzed man to type 8 words per minute, and that was using an invasive brain implant that could get high-fidelity signals from neurons. To date, all non-invasive methods that read brain signals through the scalp and skull have performed much worse. Thomas Naselaris, an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, says, "Our understanding of the way the words and their phonological and semantic attributes are encoded in brain activity is actually pretty good currently, but much of this understanding has been enabled by fMRI, which is noninvasive but very slow and not at all portable," he said. "So I think that the bottleneck will be the [optical] imaging technology," which is what Facebook's gear will be using.

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