sciencehabit writes "To humans, all fire ants may look alike. But the tiny, red, stinging bugs known as Solenopsis invicta have two types of social organization, and these factions are as recognizable to the ants as rival football teams are to us. Researchers once thought that the groups' distinct physiological and behavioral profiles stemmed from a variant in a single gene. Now, a new study (abstract) provides the first evidence that the gene in question is bound up in a bundle of some 600 other genes, versions of which are all inherited together. This 'supergene' takes up a large chunk of what may be the first known social chromosome, analogous to the chromosomes that determine sex in humans."
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gbrumfiel writes "Experts believe that the many thousands who fled from the Fukushima nuclear disaster received very low doses of radiation. But that doesn't mean there won't be health consequences. Nature magazine traveled to Fukushima prefecture and found evidence of an enormous mental strain from the accident. Levels of anxiety and PTSD-like symptoms are high among evacuees. Researchers fear that, in the long run, the mental problems could lead to depression and substance abuse among those who lost their homes. In other words, even if no one develops cancer as a direct result of radiation, the health effects could still be very real."
sciencehabit writes "Soot is bad stuff all around, whether you're breathing it into your lungs or it's heating the atmosphere by absorbing more of the sun's energy. But a new 4-year, 232-page assessment (PDF) of soot's role in climate finds that the combustion product could be warming the world twice as much as previously thought. The study points policymakers toward the best targets for reducing climate-warming soot emissions while at the same time improving the health of billions of people."
kkleiner writes "Twenty-year-old Brooke Greenberg hasn't grown since age five. For the last 15 years, mystified doctors have been unable to explain the cause for Brooke's disorder that has kept her aging in check. At age twenty, she maintains the physical and mental appearance of a toddler. The researchers are now are painstakingly analyzing Brooke’s entire genome in search of unique mutations. Needless to say, it is a formidable undertaking. 'Cracking the code on Brooke’s condition,' [Dr. Eric Shadt] wrote, 'is the proverbial searching for a needle in a haystack, since likely there is one or a small number of letters changed in Brooke’s genome that has caused her condition.' To find the mutation Shadt and his team are using the latest genome sequencing and analysis tools. The strategy is to compare Brooke’s genome to the genomes of her parents and three normal sisters, as well as to other available sequences from the general population, and identify gene mutations that only Brooke has."
Lasrick writes "Physicist Lawrence Krauss has a great piece in the NY Times today about the lack of influence scientists wield on global security issues, to the world's detriment. He writes, 'To our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security. Perhaps this is because the best scientists today are not directly responsible for the very weapons that threaten our safety, and are therefore no longer the high priests of destruction, to be consulted as oracles as they were after World War II. The problems scientists confront today are actually much harder than they were at the dawn of the nuclear age, and their successes more heartily earned. This is why it is so distressing that even Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most famous living scientist, gets more attention for his views on space aliens than his views on nuclear weapons. Scientists' voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren't being heard.'"
innocent_white_lamb writes "A researcher says that some letters are over valued and some are under-valued in Scrabble, due to recent changes to the lists of allowable words. Z and X are now much easier to play and should be worth less, while U, M and G should be worth more than they are now. Joshua Lewis wrote a program to re-calculate the value of each letter to better reflect the current usage. The co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association says that he often hears criticism of Scrabble's scoring system, but any change would bring about 'catastrophic outrage'. A spokesman for Mattel says that they have no plans to change the game."
An anonymous reader writes "Curiosity has wheeled its way over to the low point in Yellowknife Bay and has found veined rocks, evidence that water once percolated through this area. Scientists are excited because it is the first evidence of precipitation of minerals and water. There is also cross bedding that can be seen, thin layers of rocks oriented in different directions. The grains are apparently too coarse for the wind to have created, alluding to flowing water. Even with this discovery, much is still not known about Mars' past." Rather than quickly moving along to Mount Sharp as planned, they're going to spend some time drilling into the rock.
hypnosec writes "Korean scientists have developed a 'fluid-like' polymer electrolyte used in lithium-ion batteries that would pave way for flexible batteries and flexible smartphones. The discovery was made by a joint team of researchers that was led by Professor Lee Sang-young of Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology. The new electrolyte, though flexible, is made of solid materials hence making the batteries more stable than the lithium-ion batteries used today." Paper, but full text is paywalled.
cylonlover writes "The two Star franchises (Wars and Trek) and countless science fiction movies have given generations of armchair space travelers an idea of what to expect when looking out the window of a spaceship that's traveling faster than the speed of light. But it appears these views are – if you'll excuse the pun – a bit warped. Four students from the University of Leicester have used Einstein's theory of Special Relativity to calculate what faster than light travel would actually look like to Han and Chewie at the controls of the Millennium Falcon. The fourth year physics students – Riley Connors, Katie Dexter, Joshua Argyle, and Cameron Scoular – say that the crew wouldn't see star lines (PDF) stretching out past the ship during the jump to hyperspace, but would actually see a central disc of bright light."
The Bad Astronomer writes "News is going around the web that a scientist in the UK has found life (in the form of microscopic diatoms) in a meteorite, and has even published a paper about it. However, there are a lot of reasons to strongly doubt the claim. While the diatoms appear to be real, they are certainly from Earth. The meteorite itself, on the other hand, does not appear to be real. Many of the basic scientific steps and claims made in the paper are very shaky. Also, the scientist making the claim, N. C. Wickramasinghe, has made many fringe claims like this in the past with little or no evidence (such as the flu and SARS being viruses from space). To top it off, the website that published the paper, the Journal of Cosmology, has an interesting history of publishing fringe claims unsupported by strong evidence. All in all, this claim of life in a space rock is at best highly doubtful, and in reality almost certainly not true."
ananyo writes "Back in August last year, we discussed a study reportedly showing heavy marijuana use in teenagers had been linked to a decline in IQ in later life. Now, a new analysis suggests that the study may have been flawed. Using the same data, the researchers found that they could explain the IQ drop by properly accounting for socioeconomic factors — such as individuals from poorer backgrounds being more likely to smoke cannabis as well as having reduced access to schooling."
NSD people at CES. If we were giving out a "best huckster" award, NSD booth dude Doug Lo would surely be a finalist for it. He's one heck of a talker. The exercise balls he's pushing? A number of companies have been making and selling similar products for many years. They seem to have some medical benefit as physical therapy aids for people with wrist or carpal tunnel problems, and may also be useful exercise devices for people who want to strengthen their hands and fingers. Have you used a gyroscope exercise ball? If so, did it help cure a wrist problem or help strengthen your hands and fingers? And which of these brands (if any) did you try?
chicksdaddy writes "The University of Michigan will be among the first to offer graduate students the opportunity to study the security of advanced medical devices. The course, EECS 598-008 'Medical Device Security' will teach graduate students in UMich's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program 'the engineering concepts and skills for creating more trustworthy software-based medical devices ranging from pacemakers to radiation planning software to mobile medical apps.' The new course comes amid rapid change in the market for sophisticated medical devices like insulin pumps, respirators and monitoring stations, which increasingly run on versions of the same operating systems that power desktops and servers. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that software failures were the root cause of a quarter of all medical device recalls (PDF)."
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from a look at the engine behind SpaceX's Falcon rocket, the Merlin: "The rockstar of SpaceX may be Elon Musk, but the lead man behind the fire power is Tom Mueller. He is the Vice President of Propulsion Development and founding employee at SpaceX. Musk sought Mueller out in 2001 when Musk decided to build his own rockets instead of buying some from the Russians. Musk caught wind of a rocket engine Mueller built in his garage and 'apparently had a religious experience' once he saw it. If you didn't know, Elon Musk used $100 million of his Paypal money to start SpaceX. That money was used to build the Merlin engine Mueller had designed. The Merlin engine is the first new American booster engine in ten years and only the second in the last 25 years."
Lasrick writes "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announces whether their Doomsday Clock has been moved with this open letter to President Obama, outlining progress on a number of fronts, but also detailing what still needs to be done to avoid various threats to humanity." From the article: "2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back. In the U.S. elections the focus was "the economy, stupid," with barely a word about the severe long-term trends that threaten the population's well-being to a far greater extent: climate change, the continuing menace of nuclear oblivion, and the vulnerabilities of the world's energy sources."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Back in 2005, RAND Corporation published an analysis suggesting that hospitals and other health-care facilities could save more than $81 billion a year by adopting electronic health records. While e-records have earned a ton of buzz, the reality hasn't quite worked out: seven years later, RAND's new study suggests that health care providers have largely failed to upgrade their respective IT systems in a way that allows them to take full advantage of e-records. Meanwhile, the health care system in the United States continues to waste hundreds of billions of dollars a year, by some estimates. 'The failure of health information technology to quickly deliver on its promise is not caused by its lack of potential, but rather because of the shortcomings in the design of the IT systems that are currently in place,' Dr. Art Kellerman, senior author of the RAND study, wrote in a Jan. 7 statement. Slow pace of adoption, he added, has further delayed the productivity gains from e-records."
First time accepted submitter JacobAlexander writes "Writing in PNAS, a University of Manchester physicist has discovered that some games are simply impossible to fully learn, or too complex for the human mind to understand. Dr Tobias Galla from The University of Manchester and Professor Doyne Farmer from Oxford University and the Santa Fe Institute, ran thousands of simulations of two-player games to see how human behavior affects their decision-making. From the article: 'In simple games with a small number of moves, such as Noughts and Crosses the optimal strategy is easy to guess, and the game quickly becomes uninteresting. However, when games became more complex and when there are a lot of moves, such as in chess, the board game Go or complex card games, the academics argue that players' actions become less rational and that it is hard to find optimal strategies.'"
launch of a $10 million X-Prize for Tricorder design. This year, at CES, Timothy Lord met Alan Zack, who works for the X PRIZE Foundation, and learned a little more about the Tricorder prize and what it's going to take to win it. "Ultimately," says the www.qualcommtricorderxprize.org page, "this tool will collect large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health states through a combination of wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements." If the success of the Ansari X PRIZE is any indication, it's a rational goal -- and the competition will be exciting to follow as it cranks up.
Zothecula writes "At about 100 times the strength of steel and a sixth the weight, with impressive electrical conductive properties, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have promised much since their discovery in 1991. The problem has been translating their impressive nanoscale properties into real-world applications on the macro scale. Researchers have now unveiled a new CNT fiber that conducts heat and electricity like a metal wire, is very strong like carbon fiber, and is flexible like a textile thread."
cylonlover writes "NASA has announced that it has awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide the International Space Station with an inflatable module. Details of the award will be discussed by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow at a press conference on January 16 at the Bigelow Aerospace facilities in North Las Vegas. However, based on previous talks, it's likely that the module in question could be the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM)."