Science is the poetry of Nature.

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Posts tagged "research"


Mapping the Light of the Cosmos

Figuring out what the structure of the universe is surprisingly hard. Most of the matter that makes up the cosmos is totally dark, and much of what is left is in tiny, dim galaxies that are virtually impossible to detect.

Image: The first image above shows one possible scenario for the distribution of light in the cosmos. Credit: Andrew Pontzen/Fabio Governato

This image shows a computer simulation of one possible scenario for the large-scale distribution of light sources in the universe. The details of how light (and hence galaxies and quasars) is distributed through the cosmos is still not a settled question – in particular, the relative contributions of (faint but numerous) galaxies and (bright but rare) quasars is unknown.

(New research from UCL cosmologists published last week shows how we should be able to find out soon.)

However, astronomers know that on the largest scales, the universe is structured as a vast web made up of filaments and clusters of galaxies, gas and dark matter separated by huge, dark voids. Observational astronomy is making strides forward in mapping out these structures in gas and light, but the smallest galaxies – less than a pixel across in the image above – might never be seen directly because they are simply too faint.

A Hubble image of a nearby faint dwarf galaxy (bottom image) shows the challenge involved in observing these objects even when they are in our galaxy’s vicinity.

These computer models are one way of trying to extrapolate from what we know to what is really there. New research from UCL now shows how we can also use future observations of gas to find out more about this elusive population of tiny galaxies.

This simulated image shows the distribution of light in an area of space over 50 million light-years across. The simulation was created by Andrew Pontzen of UCL and Fabio Governato of the University of Washington.


In Walking with Giants, we follow 167-million-year-old dinosaur tracks in the ancient ocean shores of…Wyoming?

For part of the Middle Jurassic, Wyoming was covered periodically by an ancient ocean called the Sundance Sea. Until the tracks were found, scientists thought that only sea-dwelling creatures could have lived in the area which would mean there shouldn’t be any dinosaur footprints here at all. But there are thousands of tracks in the 40-acre area. 

CLICK HERE to read Walking with Giants - a feature article by Sarah Beckwith in the BLM’s My Public Lands Magazine, Summer 2014


Citizen Scientists Save Lives

Citizen scientists are saving the lives of people living in the shadow of deadly volcanoes according to new research from the Univ. of East Anglia.

A report, published today in the Journal of Applied Volcanology, reveals the success of a volunteer group set up to safeguard communities around the “Throat of Fire” Tungurahua volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. More than 600 million people live close to active volcanoes worldwide. The research shows that living safely in these dangerous areas can depend on effective communication and collaboration between volcanologists, risk managers and vulnerable communities.

Read more:

Researchers tracked the rise and fall of cultural centers in Europe and North America over hundreds of years. Here a visualization of notable people being born and moving toward their death locations in Europe, through 2012. [x]


Garden snail glow-paint dance party! 

Corni aspersum are marked with LED lights and UV paint to help researchers track their movements. This is the humble garden snail who munches your lettuce throughout the temperate parts of the world, and is eaten itself as escargot. It turns out that they have a great homing and roaming instinct (bad news for your seedlings).

Time-lapse photography revealed that snails move faster and further than most imagine, reaching speeds of 1 metre an hour and able to cover 10 metres a night. In wet weather, they form convoys, sliding along the slime trails of preceding snails.

When not raving it up with the boffins, these snails are better known for their hermaphrodite love-dart marathon sex.

source: newscientist

Snail parties for science!

(via afro-dominicano)


Fat Corals Fare Best As Climate Changes

Corals don’t live solitary lives. Their existence depends on one-celled algae called zooxanthellae that take up residence inside those ornate structures. The tiny algae give corals oxygen and other nutrients (as well as their beautiful colors), and in return, the corals give the algae carbon dioxide—a symbiotic arrangement.

With global waters warming and increasing in acidity, it’s well known coral reefs are in trouble. Warmer waters cause corals to expel the life-enabling symbiotic algae that they normally pair with, triggering a suicidal process referred to as coral bleaching. Increasing acidity, on the other hand, prevents corals from absorbing the calcium carbonate they need to maintain their skeletons.

Given all these dire findings, it’s no surprise that coral reef research is a hot topic these days (so to speak). Most studies reveal fascinating portents of doom, such as the fact that stressed corals glow brightly before they die, or that sperm and embryonic cell banks might be many coral species’ last hope. A few, however, offer more promising results—such as the fact that one species of coral, at least, seems to be able to tolerate toastier conditions than previously thought.

Now, a new study published in Global Change Biology joins the coral literature, this one offering a mix of good and bad news. The good news is that some corals—specifically, fatty corals that are less discriminating about which algae they pair with—fare better when confronted with warming waters. But the overall message, unfortunately, remains unchanged: Worldwide, global warming will almost certainly cause a decline in coral diversity and reefs.

Researchers from The Ohio State University decided to see what would happen to Caribbean corals that they subjected to warm waters for two years in a row. Other studies have only tested coral bleaching as a single rather than recurring event, reflecting the fact that bleaching normally occurs in nature only rarely. But some studies predict that by 2025, it might be an annual event in the Caribbean.

The researchers collected three types of corals—finger corals, mustard hill corals and boulder corals—from Puerto Morelos Reef National Park in Mexico. They brought the corals back to an outdoor lab, where they increased the water temperature until the delicate organisms bleached. Then, they put the stressed corals back into the ocean to let them recover naturally. To quantify that recovery, they measured things such as the number of algae present in corals cells; the type of algae that came back; and how much fat those cells contained. A year later, they repeated the same process.


How Magic Mushrooms Really ‘Expand the Mind’

Your brain on psychedelic drugs looks similar to your brain when you’re dreaming, suggests a new study that may also explain why people on psychedelics feel they are expanding their mind.

In the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 15 people before and after they received an injection of psilocybin, the hallucinogen found in magic mushrooms.

Under psilocybin, the activity of primitive brain areas thought to be involved in emotion and memory — including the hippocampus and the anterior cingulate cortex — become more synchronized, suggesting these areas were working together, the researchers said.

This pattern of brain activity is similar to that seen in people who are dreaming, the researchers said.

"I was fascinated to see similarities between the pattern of brain activity in a psychedelic state and the pattern of brain activity during dream sleep," study researcher Robin Carhart-Harris, of Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. "People often describe taking psilocybin as producing a dreamlike state and our findings have, for the first time, provided a physical representation for the experience in the brain."

In contrast, the activity in brain areas involved in “high-level” thinking (such as self-consciousness) were less coordinated under psilocybin, the study found.

Finally, using a new technique to analyze the brain data, the researchers found that there were more possible patterns of brain activity when participants were under the influence of psilocybin, compared with when they were not taking the drug. This may be one reason why people who use psychedelic drugs feel that their mind has expanded — their brain has more possible states of activity to explore, the researchers said.

The researchers caution that, because some techniques used in the study are new, more research is needed to confirm the findings. The study is published today (July 3) in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

You literally cannot make this stuff up. (for those of you who are confused, look at the authors and the journal name)

You literally cannot make this stuff up.

(for those of you who are confused, look at the authors and the journal name)

Bias against minority researchers is not a new subject. In 2011, Donna K. Ginthner and her associates published a study about the NIH and grants to minority researchers. (The NIH, or National Institute of Health, is a government agency that serves as one of the prime supporters of scientific research.)

The Ginther study examined the rates at which grants were given to 83,000 researchers. Unfortunately, they found that the funding agency is biased against African Americans who submitted grant applications. According to the study, blacks are 13% less likely than equally-qualified white candidates to receive funding that is initiated by an NIH investigator.


Why Researchers Are Putting 3-D Glasses On Praying Mantises

In a move that’s sure to shake up the burgeoning IMAX-for-insects industry, researchers have got funding to study the vision of praying mantises and are affixing the world’s smallest 3-D glasses onto the creatures to better understand their superb ocular abilities.

Image: A mantis with 3D glasses Credit: Newcastle University

It may sound like one of those projects that gets called out by conservative politicians as a waste of money, but it could actually teach us about the evolution of 3-D vision, answering questions such as: How is the mantis’ 3-D vision different from ours, or that of other vertebrates? Did it arise independently? How can an insect with a tiny brain see so well and react to its environment so quickly?

If you aren’t impressed with the abilities and/or chutzpa of praying mantises, check out this one attacking a hummingbird. Another YouTube video purports to show a mantis eating a bird it just snagged.

Here’s a video describing the research

"Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency," project lead Jenny Read, a researcher at Newcastle University in England, said in a statement. “We can learn a lot by studying how they perceive the world.”

After putting the glass on the mantises, researchers show them a series of shapes on a screen that are designed to look 3-D with the glasses on. The goal is to fool "a mantis into believing it’s seeing something that’s a likely prey object," project researcher Vivek Nityananda told PRI. "Just a black dot on a white screen, or a black square, that moves around in a particular way.” This will allow researchers to judge their depth perception and other aspects of their vision. Results from the study could help researchers design 3-D technology for animals, humans, and robots.

(via afro-dominicano)


Obama Honors Memory of Girl with Cancer Research BillA 10-year-old girl who died of brain cancer is leaving a legacy for other sick children in a new law signed by President Barack Obama.Obama signed the bipartisan Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act. It directs $126 million in federal money to be spent over the next decade to research pediatric cancer and other childhood disorders. Her parents and brother watched Obama sign the bill.Read more:


Obama Honors Memory of Girl with Cancer Research Bill

A 10-year-old girl who died of brain cancer is leaving a legacy for other sick children in a new law signed by President Barack Obama.

Obama signed the bipartisan Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act. It directs $126 million in federal money to be spent over the next decade to research pediatric cancer and other childhood disorders. Her parents and brother watched Obama sign the bill.

Read more:


"Race doesn’t matter!" , "Isn’t science just science?! why bring race into it!!", "It is not about the colour of skin!" meanwhile in the real world:

Is There a Bias Against Black Scientists? Funding Sparse for Minority Researchers

Black researchers and other minorities face nearly insurmountable barriers against career success, according to new research.

A February 2014 article in the Journal of Career Development details the work experiences of minority researchers in the social sciences.

Rebecca R. Kameny of the 3-C Institute for Social Development in North Carolina, directed the study, which collected data from people of color who attended a workshop on the topic of career barriers.

An astounding 72 percent of participants reported encountering workplace barriers due to their race or ethnicity.

Racism: A Sad History

Bias against minority researchers is not a new subject. In 2011, Donna K. Ginthner and her associates published a study about the NIH and grants to minority researchers. (The NIH, or National Institute of Health, is a government agency that serves as one of the prime supporters of scientific research.)

The Ginther study examined the rates at which grants were given to 83,000 researchers. Unfortunately, they found that the funding agency is biased against African Americans who submitted grant applications. According to the study, blacks are 13% less likely than equally-qualified white candidates to receive funding that is initiated by an NIH investigator.

The study’s writers explained that the researchers’ race is not always written on the application, but the applications’ reviewers could infer race from the applicants’ names and places of study. Without receiving federal funding, a researcher is less likely to receive a teaching position, less likely to be given tenure, and has more difficulty procuring funding to produce research and publish in scholarly journals. Ultimately, the repercussions of grant refusal are reflected in the face of academia.

When the study was published, the director of the NIH noted that the data is troubling and the situation is unacceptable. The NIH launched a $500 million, 10-year program to support young minorities in science. It is also considering changing its review process to review grant proposals anonymously to prevent this issue in the future.

Bias Against Blacks: Misinterpreted Data?

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Informetrics, however, contradicts the premise of bias against black researchers. The study, led by Jiansheng Yang of Virginia Tech, paints a different picture, concluding that the NIH review process contains no inherent racial bias.

Yang and his associates reviewed the work of 40 black faculty members and 80 white faculty members at U.S. medical schools. They assessed the scientists’ productivity, based on the number of publications they wrote, their role on each paper, and the prominence of the journals in which they published. Overall, Wang’s team found that the black faculty members were less productive than their white colleagues.

The researchers then reviewed the work of 11 of those black researchers and 11 of those white researchers who had received NIH funding. When they compared blacks and whites who had the same level of productivity, they found that people of both races received the same level of NIH funding. Wang concluded that funding is determined by level of success, and not by race.

Not Apples to Apples

Ginther, who found ample evidence of the NIH’s racial bias, argued in Science that Wang did not study the same aspects of the process that she did, so he cannot refute her claim. She noted that Wang’s study examined only a small number of researchers, and also looked only at how much funding they received, instead of whether they had a chance of receiving funding in the first place.

Ginther also noted that the black scientists’ lower level of productivity pointed to their difficulty in receiving positive mentoring, which is a further function of bias.

Discrimination is Not Dead

It seems that a majority of African Americans would agree with Ginther’s point about bias. A 2013 Pew Research study about discrimination in America found that a full 88% of blacks reported that there is discrimination against blacks. 46 % believe that there is a lot of discrimination, and the rest report feeling some discrimination.

Interestingly, white Americans agree that blacks are discriminated against, but to a lesser degree. Only 16% of whites feel that there is a lot of discrimination, but 41% sense some discrimination.

Regardless of percentages and perceptions, race-based barriers to success have no place in academia or the workplace.

(via afro-dominicano)


Rejection Reconsidered

Paradigms Lost

Frankly, a lot of people are going to give a damn about new findings by Fadi Lakkis and colleagues. It turns out that organ rejection in transplantation doesn’t happen for the reasons scientists had assumed.

Fadi Lakkis, an MD and scientific director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, appreciates the elegance of simplicity. He has an affinity for the simpler question. He savors a good, clean, simple answer. One summer, before he started medical school at the American University of Beirut, he spent his time reading several books on immunology. One of the books was extremely well, and simply, written, he remembers. “That attracted my attention that someone can explain things in a very simple way,” he says. “It turned out to be quite exciting.”

As the young man progressed through his medical education, the intricacies of kidney disease also captured his imagination, again for the straight- forwardness of the physiology. “I found that in nephrology you can diagnose a problem just by understanding the science behind it,” he says. “Instead of having to memorize a set of symptoms and signs and then make a diagnosis, I thought, ‘Oh, if I understood how the kidney handles sodium, I [could] understand why this patient’s sodium is low and what to do to treat it.’ To me it was very appealing that you can start with a very simple thing and then make a very complex diagnosis.”

More recently, Lakkis (professor of surgery, immunology, and medicine, who holds the Frank and Athena Sarris Chair in Transplantation Biology at the University of Pittsburgh) asked a simple biological question about organ rejection in transplant patients. The answer surprised everyone, turned a long-held assumption on end—and just may pave the way for better, and much-hoped-for, antirejection therapies.

Finding a way to achieve tolerance is a lofty goal for many people. For transplant immunologists, it’s the quest of a lifetime. Many a transplant scientist has spent a career looking for a way for the human body to accept an organ without having to resort to immunosuppressive medication.

That’s not to say that contemporary immunosuppressive medication hasn’t been a godsend. It’s allowed for countless successful transplants, legions of lives saved. And over the years the regimen has been finessed, most notably by Pitt’s Thomas E. Starzl. Starzl developed a two-pronged immunosuppressive approach that reduces the amount of drugs a transplant patient takes. Even at the minimum effective dosage, though, the side effects can be unpleasant—and a suppressed immune system lacks the basic ammunition to fight off opportunistic infections and other attacks on the body, such as malignancies.

There are some reports of patients, a handful, becoming tolerant of grafted organs on their own. In other cases, bone marrow trans- plants have convinced the immune system to halt the attack on the organ. “It’s a little bit drastic,” Lakkis says of that approach. Patients have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation to eliminate their own bone marrow, which leaves them at great risk for infection until the donor bone marrow starts to kick in. “It’s a bit too much for someone coming in for a kidney transplant,” says Lakkis, especially knowing that the immunosuppressive medications are a feasible, if not perfect, course of action.

So the search for tolerance continues. A few years ago, Lakkis decided to go about it from a different angle. “When something has been resistant to good solutions for so many years,” he says, “you start worrying a bit that you’ve been missing something.” He decided to question the fundamental mechanisms of rejection—starting with a paradigm that has been accepted for the past 25 years.

“Organ rejection may seem quite complex,” he says. “In reality, it’s dependent on a single cell type—without that cell type, rejection will not happen. That cell is the T cell. If you take an animal or human that does not have T cells, they will not reject.” The T cell is a lymphocyte, a type of white blood cell originating in the thymus (hence the “T”). It has to get activated—prepared for duty—before it can go to the transplanted organ and initiate rejection. Some T cells are memory cells; they’re already primed by past infections or vaccinations to fight the foreign tissue. Other T cells are naïve and have to be turned into effector T cells before they’re ready to go up against what they perceive to be the enemy—the grafted tissue.

Lakkis was interested in taking another look at exactly how the activated T cells got to the graft. The paradigm involved chemokines—a flexible set of small proteins that can handily fold themselves up and pass through from one side of a membrane to the other. When tissue is inflamed, certain chemokines are present in droves. And a transplanted organ will inevitably result in lots of inflammation, particularly in the delicate endothelium lining of blood vessels.

The long-held assumption was that the crowd of chemokines signaled the T cells to get their attention. An inflamed endothelium is a sticky place. The T cells would slowly roll through the endothelium to the chemokines. Once they met up, receptors on the T cells would bind to the chemokines. With the T cell firmly adhered to the chemokine, the T cells slide smoothly through the barrier of the endothelium and into the grafted tissue where the T cells can initiate the rejection process. You can see how it would follow that if you blocked the chemokines from signaling, you would stop the rejection process. However, attempts to do that had been unsuccessful.

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How Social Networks Are Making Us Smarter

Many believe the secret to why some cultures thrive and others disappear may lie in our social networks and our ability to imitate — more important qualities than individual intelligence, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia.

As published by the Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences, investigators show that when people can observe and learn from a wider range of teachers, groups can better maintain technical skills and even increase the group’s average skill over successive generations.

“This is the first study to demonstrate in a laboratory setting what archeologists and evolutionary theorists have long suggested: that there is an important link between a society’s sociality and the sophistication of its technology,” says Muthukrishna, who co-authored the research with UBC Prof. Joseph Henrich.

image via flickr:CC | hanspoldoja

(via afro-dominicano)

Hermaphrodite Sea Slug Stabs Mate in Head During Sex

Cats may bite, and geese may have barbed penises, but one newly described hermaphroditic sea slug has taken violent animal sex to a new level by stabbing its mates in the head.

The perpetrator of this bizarre act, Siphotperon sp. 1, is a small sea slug found off the northeast coast of Australia. A simultaneous hermaphrodite, it has both male and female reproductive organs that it uses simultaneously during sex.

For its male organ, the slug has a two-pronged penis consisting of a penile bulb that transfers sperm, and a separate, needlelike appendage called a penile stylet that stabs and injects partners with prostate fluid-containing sex hormones called allohormones.

This stabbing behavior, known as traumatic secretion transfer, is fairly common amongst hermaphroditic sea slugs, and does not actually traumatize the slug — the term trauma refers to the Greek translation as “wound.” The behavior is well documented, but still not very well understood. It is thought to help individuals increase reproductive success by either inhibiting fertilization by others or increasing fertilization by their own sperm, but this remains unclear.

Researchers have also noted that different species, and even members within the same species, stab mates in different regions of the body, raising the question of how these individuals decide where to aim their shots.