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Science | The Guardian

Latest Science news, comment and analysis from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice

Published: Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:13:53 GMT2016-09-29T14:13:53Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2016

Internal 'clock' makes some people age faster and die younger – regardless of lifestyle

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 16:00:03 GMT2016-09-28T16:00:03Z

Study could explain why even with healthy lifestyles some people die younger than others, and raises future possibility of extending the human lifespan

Scientists have found the most definitive evidence yet that some people are destined to age quicker and die younger than others - regardless of their lifestyle.

The findings could explain the seemingly random and unfair way that death is sometimes dealt out, and raise the intriguing future possibility of being able to extend the natural human lifespan.

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Secret of connection between dogs and humans could be genetic

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:20:08 GMT2016-09-29T13:20:08Z

Scientists have found a handful of genes that they may be linked to the tendency for dogs to seek human help and contact

The secret of why dogs are man’s best friend could be lurking in their genes, according to new research.

Scientists say they have found a handful of genes that appear to be linked to the tendency for dogs to seek human help and contact.

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Natural born killers: humans predisposed to murder, study suggests

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 17:06:11 GMT2016-09-28T17:06:11Z

Although it’s unclear whether genetics or other factors are responsible, new study suggests that lethal violence is part of our evolutionary history

Humans are predisposed to murder each other, new research suggests, although it remains unclear if it’s down to genetics or other factors.

Researchers from Spain have found that a tendency to bump off members of the same species is particularly common among primates, and have estimated that around 2% of human deaths at the origin of our species were down to such lethal spats.

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Birth weight influenced by genes linked to disease risk, study reveals

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 17:00:19 GMT2016-09-28T17:00:19Z

Birth weight partly shaped by genes which are also implicated in risk of later-life diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, findings show

Birth weight of babies is influenced by genes that are also linked to the risk of developing a range of diseases later in life, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, research has revealed.

Scientists say that around a sixth of the variation in birth weight between babies is down to the baby’s genetics, with many of the genetic regions matching those linked to adult diseases and traits from high blood pressure to adult height.

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Synthetic blood vessel breakthrough could transform children's heart surgery

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:00:38 GMT2016-09-27T15:00:38Z

Children born with serious heart defects could be treated in a single operation as researchers create artificial blood vessels that grow normally with age

A breakthrough in the manufacture of synthetic blood vessels has raised hopes that children born with serious heart defects could be treated in a single operation instead of multiple rounds of open heart surgery.

The landmark work comes from researchers in the US who made synthetic arteries that grow when they are implanted in the body, unlike the standard tissue grafts which are now used to correct faulty blood vessels.

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The eureka moment: how scientists learn to trust their gut – podcast

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 10:11:22 GMT2016-09-29T10:11:22Z

In the final episode of Brain waves, Dr Kevin Fong and Nathalie Nahai move from the science of emotion to the emotion of science. We learn about the years of research behind a flash of inspiration – and ask where the stereotype of the unemotional scientist came from

In our final episode, Dr Kevin Fong and Nathalie Nahai turn from the science of emotion to explore the emotion of science. Has the idea of the “cold and unemotional” scientist ever been true? Or does that hide how much subjectivity goes into research?

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World's first baby born from new procedure using DNA of three people

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 16:12:05 GMT2016-09-27T16:12:05Z

Experts welcome news of successful mitochondrial transfer but caution against operating in countries beyond regulations

The world’s first baby to be born from a new procedure that combines the DNA of three people appears to be healthy, according to doctors in the US who oversaw the treatment.

The baby was born on 6 April after his Jordanian parents travelled to Mexico where they were cared for by US fertility specialists.

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This delicate flower was created in a lab – and could revolutionise surgery

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:00:38 GMT2016-09-27T15:00:38Z

Scientists create polymer sheets that can be programmed to change shape over time, which could be used to make the next generation of medical implants

The delicate flower bud bursts into life, opening layer after layer of brightly coloured petals, first large and red, then small and purple, and finally the innermost ones - tiny and orange.

But as convincing as the bloom may seem, it is not a work of nature. Scientists created the flowering bud after learning how to make polymer sheets that can be programmed to change shape over time.

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Jupiter's moon Europa may expel water plumes from under icy shell, Nasa says

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 20:16:55 GMT2016-09-26T20:16:55Z

Evidence shows that moon’s liquid water bursts out into space, meaning that scientists can test samples for signs of life without drilling through miles of ice

Scientists have found tantalizing evidence of a liquid water ocean swirling under the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa, Nasa announced on Monday, with new evidence of water plumes bursting out into space.

With Jupiter as a bright light behind the moon, the scientists observed Europa in silhouette, and with ultraviolet light saw what appeared to be evidence of the plumes.

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Elon Musk has ambitious plans for Mars. Are they as crazy as they sound?

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 11:00:27 GMT2016-09-27T11:00:27Z

The SpaceX founder has become the face of entrepreneurial space exploration – and ambition. What does the established space science community think of him?

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has set himself an ambitious timeline for the colonization of Mars. The South Africa-born magnate estimates that his private space company, SpaceX, will launch its first manned mission in 2024 – one decade sooner than Nasa’s ambitions.

Musk will grace the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Tuesday, unveiling his plans to send humans to Mars in a keynote talk titled Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species. He will outline what SpaceX deems to be a “good approach” for establishing a city on the red planet.

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The man who lost touch – Science Weekly podcast

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 06:30:19 GMT2016-09-27T06:30:19Z

What happens without proprioception, our innate ability to know where and how our body is moving through space? And what can we learn from those who have lost it?

Subscribe & Review on iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud & Acast

When he was 19 years old, Ian Waterman contracted a viral fever that would change his life forever. This week, we hear his story. Featuring friend, collaborator, and neurologist Professor Jonathan Cole, and World-renowned choreographer and dancer Siobhan Davies CBE, we also hear Ian’s story, as told through their eyes.

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European Space Agency accused of 'having a problem with promoting women'

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 11:00:32 GMT2016-09-25T11:00:32Z

Rita Schulz says she was ‘shafted’ by management when she was dropped as lead scientist on Rosetta mission six months before its culmination

A leading space scientist has accused the European Space Agency of having a “problem with promoting women” that has led to men holding almost every top job at the agency.

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When it comes to winning book prizes, gender has nothing to do with it

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 06:30:27 GMT2016-09-25T06:30:27Z

Suggestions that winners of major literary prizes have benefitted from their gender is insulting to the judges, to the prizes and most of all, to the writers

Gaia Vince won the prestigious Royal Society Book Prize in 2015 for her outstanding travelogue ‘Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet we Made’. She was the first woman to win outright in the prize’s 28-year history. The 2016 prize went to Andrea Wulf for her book ‘The Invention of Nature’. Reflecting on these writer’s successes in Friday’s Guardian, associate media editor Jon Dugdale made a number of insidious insinuations that I wish to correct with bald facts as my allies.

I was honored to be on the jury in 2015. It was chaired by the mathematician Ian Stewart, and my fellow judges included the novelist Sarah Waters, the Guardian’s book editor Claire Armitstead, Channel 4 journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, and scientist Jo Shien Ng.

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China starts up world’s largest single-dish radio telescope

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 11:35:43 GMT2016-09-25T11:35:43Z

Dish with reflector as large as 30 football pitches will listen for signs of intelligent life and is one of several ‘world-class’ projects

The world’s largest radio telescope has begun operating in south-western China, a project Beijing says will help humanity search for alien life.

The five-hundred-metre aperture spherical radio telescope (acronym: Fast), nestled between hills in the mountainous region of Guizhou, began working about noon on Sunday, the official news agency, Xinhua, reported.

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First recording of computer-generated music – created by Alan Turing – restored

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 07:47:09 GMT2016-09-26T07:47:09Z

Researchers restore 1951 recording generated on machine built by computer scientist famous for breaking Enigma code

Researchers in New Zealand say they have restored the first recording of computer-generated music, created in 1951 on a gigantic contraption built by the British computer scientist Alan Turing.

The aural artefact, which paved the way for everything from synthesisers to modern electronica, opens with a staunchly conservative tune – the British national anthem.

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Is a moon village the next step for space exploration? ESA's chief thinks so

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 11:45:02 GMT2016-09-23T11:45:02Z

Could an outpost on the moon be the next logical step towards the know-how and infrastructure we need to head into the farther reaches of the solar system?

The danger in having a moon village as your vision for the future is that people get the wrong impression. The mind leaps ahead and lands on a movie set: a giant dome shelters a huddle of homes, a bank of generators, and a modestly-stocked shop that doubles as the post office. A lost spacefarer with a PhD in botany clings to life by growing spuds in human faeces.

The idea is so easily misconstrued that Jan Woerner, the director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), makes clear from the start what the moon village is not. “Let me tell you what it won’t mean,” he says. “Single houses, a school, a church, a swimming pool, a bakery, an undertaker. This is not what I’m thinking about.”

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Stephen Hawking warns against seeking out aliens in new film

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:58:07 GMT2016-09-23T14:58:07Z

Beware responding to signals from far off stars, physicist tells viewers in Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places – a virtual journey across the cosmos

“We come in peace” might be the traditional opening gambit for aliens in science fiction, but we should be wary about beaming back a response to any advanced life-forms in real life, Stephen Hawking has warned.

Our first contact from an advanced civilisation could be equivalent to when Native Americans first encountered Christopher Columbus and things “didn’t turn out so well”, he cautioned.

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'We need to talk about shit': six bugs cause 78% of diarrhoea cases

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 22:30:23 GMT2016-09-22T22:30:23Z

Pathogens are to blame for twice as many cases as thought, study finds, paving way for more effective vaccines and antibiotics

The role of microorganisms in childhood diarrhoea has been greatly underestimated, with pathogens including bacteria, viruses and parasites responsible for almost twice as many cases as previously thought, research shows.

A study published in the Lancet journal, which involved the analysis of stool samples from more than 10,000 children in countries across Africa and south Asia, found that nearly 78% of cases of diarrhoea were caused by six bugs, an insight that could help tackle the problem, scientists believe.

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Rosetta mission to end with audacious controlled impact

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 11:33:53 GMT2016-09-23T11:33:53Z

Spacecraft’s 15-hour controlled crash will give scientists a unique insight into the geological history of a comet

Europe’s pioneering Rosetta mission will conclude next week with an audacious piece of deep space parking.

The Rosetta mission has been studying comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko since its arrival there in August 2014. In November of that year it captured the world’s imagination by placing the Philae lander on the icy surface. Now it is time for Rosetta to attempt a landing to bring the mission to a close.

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Lab notes: Antikythera reveals more secrets – plus, the Ig Noble prizes

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:13:33 GMT2016-09-23T12:13:33Z

Last week, we gazed up the sky and sized up the Milky Way as never before, this week we are at the bottom of the sea peering down at 2,000-year-old human bones found at the famous Antikythera shipwreck site. Ever since 1901 when the shipwreck was first discovered near the Greek island, it has had many a mention in science journals. Among its treasure trove of finds was an extraordinary geared device – the Antikythera mechanism – which modelled the heavens. But archaeologists have now recovered bones from a nearly complete skeleton, giving hopes of sequencing DNA from the 1st century BC shipwreck victim. In other news, a DNA study has confirmed that indigenous Australians are the most ancient civilisation on Earth. The analysis shows that their ancestors were probably the first humans to cross an ocean, and reveals evidence of prehistoric liaisons with an unknown hominin cousin.

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‘Three-eyed’ extinct reptile was a bone-headed dinosaur mimic 100 million years early

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 07:30:59 GMT2016-09-28T07:30:59Z

Newly discovered Triopticus primus is one of many copy-cat animals

A bizarre new extinct reptile with a domed skull of solid bone has been unearthed in Texas. If this sounds familiar, it could be because you have heard of a group of dinosaurs called the pachycephalosaurs that possessed very similar characteristics. One could almost call Triopticus a mimic were it not for the fact that it dates to 228-220 million years ago, meaning that it predates the pachycephalosaurs by over 100 million years. Moreover, Triopticus is one of numerous animals from this period (the Late Triassic) that were in some way copies of other reptiles that evolved later.

Triopticus is a small animal – the preserved dome of the skull is only around 5 cm long even though it is from an adult animal, but what there is of it is very unusual. There is a large pit in the skull that resembles the eye sockets of reptiles and gave rise to the animal’s name, as Triopticus means “three eyes”. This hole does not represent an extra eye, however, but may simply be a result of the surrounding bones having enlarged and expanded leaving this space behind, rather than there being a bit missing.

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Scientists are giving advice, but are governments listening?

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 06:14:21 GMT2016-09-28T06:14:21Z

This week a global summit will take stock of the impact of evidence and expertise on government policy. But it’s already clear that there’s still a long way to go

Tomorrow, six hundred policymakers, practitioners and researchers from seventy-two countries will assemble in Brussels for a meeting of the International Network for Government Science Advice. All this week, hundreds more have been participating in the What Works Global Summit in London. If conferences are anything to go by, these are boom times for evidence and expertise in policymaking. But the mood of many participants will be sober rather than celebratory.

There’s certainly progress to point to. In the past decade, policymakers from Beijing to Brussels, Prague to Pretoria, and Wellington to Washington D.C., have experimented with new institutions for scientific advice and evidence-informed decision-making. More established advisory bodies – such as the US Office for Science and Technology Policy, which recently celebrated its fortieth birthday – have become increasingly sophisticated and multi-disciplinary. An expanding cohort of scientific academies and learned societies is investing in policy capacity at a national level, and networking to influence global agendas, through new collaborations like the InterAcademy Partnership and the European SAPEA platform.

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Did you solve it? Are you smarter than the Gogglebox brainbox?

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 16:00:01 GMT2016-09-26T16:00:01Z

The answers to today’s teasers

Earlier today I set you the following puzzles, each penned by William Hartston, aka Bill off Gogglebox:

1) What is the next number in the following series?

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A matter of some gravity: how to have an argument on the internet

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 11:16:18 GMT2016-09-26T11:16:18Z

It seems harder than ever to have a decent debate on the web, as Ukip’s Douglas Carswell discovered when he made a Twitter gaffe about gravity

Poor Douglas Carswell. On Twitter last week he confused the gravitational effects of the sun and the moon and got crushed by the far stronger forces of social media.

It all happened so quickly. To illustrate the point that Britain trades more with its near neighbours in Europe than larger but more distant economies such as the US or China, Paul Nightingale, professor of science policy at the University of Sussex, tweeted a gravitational analogy that drew a brisk response from Carswell:

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Can you solve it? Are you smarter than the Gogglebox brainbox?

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 06:15:23 GMT2016-09-26T06:15:23Z

Bill from the telly will boggle your noddle

UPDATE: Solutions now posted here

Hello guzzlers,

In the the week that Gogglebox is back on the telly, we’re all going to try our hands at some brilliant puzzles.

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Grants, cupcakes and the delicate balance of being a scientist mother

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 07:30:44 GMT2016-09-22T07:30:44Z

Child-rearing and a career in research are not easy bedfellows. But you have to make time to bake

Before becoming a mother, one of my biggest fears was that I wouldn’t be able to do it right.

I am sure that all prospective parents suffer from such doubts. But I’m equally sure there is something especially pernicious about being a research scientist. Despite many years of earnest effort, academic science remains a less-than-ideal vocation for women as well as for parents overall. This may go some way towards explaining the scarcity of women at the higher levels, an uncomfortable truth that has lingered for more than a generation.

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By failing to update their warnings, drug regulators are letting patients down

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 06:45:19 GMT2016-09-21T06:45:19Z

Varenicline could help smokers quit, but misleading warnings might stop people trying it. Should regulators like the FDA be better at communicating research?

US drug regulator the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings about possible side effects of taking varenicline. Varenicline (marketed as Chantix in the US, and Champix in the UK) is a drug which can help people stop smoking. The FDA’s warnings are out of date, do not reflect the scientific evidence, and urgently need to be updated. They may have led the public and clinicians to incorrectly believe that there was strong scientific evidence that varenicline causes or exacerbates mental health problems. Given varenicline is the most effective way to successfully stop smoking, these safety concerns may have resulted in fewer people successfully stopping smoking.

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From concrete to coral: breeze blocks make a splash regenerating reefs

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:27:44 GMT2016-09-20T12:27:44Z

There hasn’t been much good news about coral recently, but in Grenada, one project is using towers of concrete to encourage marine life and create new reefs

The outboard motor roared into life and the rope snapped tight, flicking sand across the beach. For a fraction of a second, the inertia of half a ton of concrete held sway before the entire construction slid down the runners and into the surf. I fully expected it to sink, leaving a tattered rope to skip across the wave tops, but the team from Grenada’s Grand Anse Reef Regeneration Project (GARRP) had done this before and all was well.

As the boat picked up speed, I was reminded of Douglas Adams’ line about the Vogon spaceships, that hung in the air in “exactly the same way bricks don’t”. The concrete tower on its plywood pallet was rising from the water, its bulk taken by the water beneath it as it water-skied over the surface, gaining speed and rising higher as the implausible structure headed out to sea.

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The idea of a 'post-truth society' is elitist and obnoxious

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 07:00:40 GMT2016-09-19T07:00:40Z

People’s attraction to the Brexit camp’s dodgiest claims is not an invitation to those in authority to abandon truthfulness

One offshoot of the Brexit aftermath that is particularly disturbing is a growing obsession with the “post-truth” society. This has allegedly sprung into being because politicians who made stuff up polled well in the EU referendum and, in Michael Gove’s catchy line, “people in this country have had enough of experts”.

Related: You’re wrong Michael Gove – experts are trusted far more than you | Anand Menon and Jonathan Portes

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Rosetta space mission: a European success story – video explainer

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 12:55:21 GMT2016-09-29T12:55:21Z

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission is about to come to a dramatic end. It has spent years successfully gathering data on 67P, a comet 317 million miles away from Earth that scientists hope may contain clues on the creation of the universe. This week it will be set on a collision course with the comet to end the mission

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Mystery Zika case in Utah may have been spread via tears or sweat

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 11:37:19 GMT2016-09-29T11:37:19Z

Experts examine whether virus can be passed on in sweat or tears after man appears to catch Zika at father’s bedside

Experts are investigating the possibility that the Zika virus can be passed on in sweat or tears, after the infection of a 38-year-old man in the US who appears to have caught the virus at his father’s hospital bedside.

Related: Miami Beach protests against use of Naled to fight Zika-carrying mosquitos

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The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 09:00:23 GMT2016-09-28T09:00:23Z

We are now living in a 400ppm world with levels unlikely to drop below the symbolic milestone in our lifetimes, say scientists. Climate Central reports

In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate. At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million (ppm).

That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists.

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SpaceX founder Elon Musk plans to get humans to Mars in six years

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 06:42:09 GMT2016-09-28T06:42:09Z

SpaceX founder tells meeting of astronautical experts that his only purpose is to ‘make life interplanetary’, revealing plans for reusable ship to Mars

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has outlined his highly ambitious vision for manned missions to Mars, which he said could begin as soon as 2022 – three years sooner than his previous estimates.

However, the question of how such extravagantly expensive missions would be funded remains largely in the dark.

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Elon Musk outlines Mars colonisation plan – video

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 06:34:43 GMT2016-09-28T06:34:43Z

SpaceX founder Elon Musk describes his highly ambitious vision for manned missions to Mars at a conference in Mexico. ‘The key is making this affordable to almost anyone who wants to go,’ he says. The first flights would be ‘fairly expensive’ but ticket prices could later drop to as little as $100,000. One day he hopes the transport system will give ‘full access to he entire greater solar system’ once refuelling stops are established

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Gardeners may be spreading lethal frog disease throughout UK, study warns

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 05:00:56 GMT2016-09-28T05:00:56Z

Suburban homeowners stocking their garden ponds with frogs, fish or spawn from other ponds or aquatic centres are helping the ranavirus move around

British suburban gardeners may be unknowingly driving the spread of a lethal frog disease by stocking their ponds with exotic or wild aquatic species, research shows.

Scientists from ZSL and Queen Mary University of London say their findings could explain the rapid spread of ranavirus across UK amphibian populations in recent decades.

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Concern over bowel cancer patients with symptoms year before diagnosis

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 23:01:49 GMT2016-09-27T23:01:49Z

Researchers found a fifth of those who received an emergency diagnosis had symptoms that might have seen disease caught earlier

A fifth of bowel cancer patients who received an emergency diagnosis in one year in England had characteristic symptoms the year before, suggesting their disease could have been caught earlier, researchers say.

With the majority of patients having seen a doctor in the 12 months before their diagnosis, whether emergency or non-emergency, the authors of the new study say multiple factors could be behind the finding.

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Elon Musk reveals how he wants to colonise Mars – video

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:54:55 GMT2016-09-27T20:54:55Z

SpaceX, Elon Musk’s project to colonise Mars, has released a video demonstrating his hopes for space travel. Musk has said that he wants to make it possible for ‘anyone who wanted to go’ to Mars to be able to get there but predicts it could take between 40 and 100 years to establish a large colony of people. The new rocket involved in this would be the largest in history.

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Greenland's receding icecap to expose top-secret US nuclear project

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 18:06:51 GMT2016-09-27T18:06:51Z

Camp Century – part of Project Iceworm – is an underground cold war network that was thought to have been buried forever

A top-secret US military project from the cold war and the toxic waste it conceals, thought to have been buried forever beneath the Greenland icecap, are likely to be uncovered by rising temperatures within decades, scientists have said.

The US army engineering corps excavated Camp Century in 1959 around 200km (124 miles) from the coast of Greenland, which was then a county of Denmark.

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Single clothes wash may release 700,000 microplastic fibres, study finds

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 00:00:11 GMT2016-09-27T00:00:11Z

Tiny plastic particles released by synthetic fabrics can cause harm to marine life when they enter rivers and oceans

Each cycle of a washing machine could release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres into the environment, according to a study.

Related: Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you've never heard of

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US emissions set to miss 2025 target in Paris climate change deal, research finds

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 15:00:00 GMT2016-09-26T15:00:00Z

Even if US implements emissions-cutting proposals it could still overshoot target by nearly 1bn tonnes of greenhouse gases, according to scientific study

The US is on course to miss its emissions reduction target agreed in the Paris climate accord nine months ago, with new research finding that the world’s largest historical emitter doesn’t currently have the policies in place to meet its pledge.

Even if the US implements a range of emissions-slashing proposals that have yet to be introduced, the nation could still overshoot its 2025 target by nearly 1bn tonnes of greenhouse gases. This failure would have profound consequences for the US’s position as a climate leader, as well for the global effort to stave off the dangerous heatwaves, sea level rise and extreme weather associated with climate change.

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RSB photographer of the year shortlist and young photographer of the year winner – in pictures

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:00:42 GMT2016-09-29T13:00:42Z

Fighting elk bulls and a microscopic image of shark’s skin are among the shortlisted images for the Royal Society of Biology’s photographer of the year award, which this year takes the theme Biology: from Big to Small

The winner will be announced at the Royal Society of Biology awards ceremony on 13 October at Charles Darwin House, London

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Anti-radicalisation strategy lacks evidence base in science | Letters

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 23:01:26 GMT2016-09-28T23:01:26Z

We are concerned with the implementation of “radicalisation” policies within the UK Prevent strategy, internationally referred to as countering violence extremism. Tools that purport to have a psychology evidence base are being developed and placed under statutory duty while their “science” has not been subjected to proper scientific scrutiny or public critique.

Of particular concern is the Extremism Risk Guidance 22+ (ERG22+) framework that is being used as the basis for assessing risk of “radicalisation” and referral to the Channel programme. More than 500,000 public servants have been placed under a duty to implement the tool and several dozen children have been directly affected, through the courts, based on assessments using the tool. The impact is significant and cannot be emphasised enough.

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Current affairs: the mystery of Langmuir circulation

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:30:23 GMT2016-09-28T20:30:23Z

Steady winds produce a pattern on the sea’s surface like parallel furrows in a field

Researchers are still trying to unravel the complex interactions between wind, waves and currents. One of the most visible results of these interactions is Langmuir circulation, which produces a pattern on the water surface like parallel furrows in a field. These lines are known as wind streaks or windrows, and occur only in steady winds of more than 7mph.

Related: The oceans are heating up. That's a big problem on a blue planet | Bill McKibben

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Are you 'prepared to die' for the chance to visit Mars? We want to hear from you

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 16:29:44 GMT2016-09-28T16:29:44Z

SpaceX founder Elon Musk says he’ll send 100 passengers toward the red planet by 2022. Are you willing to go on a trip that could cost you your life?

SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced his plan on Tuesday to launch manned missions to Mars by 2022.

One small problem: you might die.

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Charles Darwin on discovering seasickness

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 20:30:06 GMT2016-09-26T20:30:06Z

‘I speak from experience: it is no trifling evil which may be cured in a week’

Late in September 1836, a five-year voyage came to an end, and a young naturalist stepped ashore at Falmouth on 2 October and looked back in rueful contemplation of the severe privations that he – unlike Captain Cook’s men – never faced.

“A yacht now with every luxury of life might circumnavigate the globe,” Charles Darwin wrote in his conclusion to Voyage of the Beagle (1839). But – the want of room, the lack of small luxuries, the missed comforts of civilisation, domestic society and even music aside – he had a serious reservation.

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Starwatch: The October night sky​

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 20:30:11 GMT2016-09-25T20:30:11Z

What to look out for during the coming month, with an Orionids meteor shower peaking from the 21st to 24th

Our October nights begin with the Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair high in Britain’s S sky as the Square of Pegasus climbs in the E and the Plough is unmistakable in the NW. By our map times, though, the Triangle has toppled over into the W to be replaced in the S by the Square while the Plough is nearing its familiar autumnal low-point below Polaris in the N.

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John Lane obituary

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 15:53:07 GMT2016-09-25T15:53:07Z

My friend John Lane, who has died aged 85, was a dedicated racing cyclist, a scientist with a wide knowledge of insects and, in particular, an authority on mosquitoes.

Son of Jack, a joiner, and Alice, John was born in Jersey, and was always proud to be a Jerseyman. As a boy, he was evacuated to Lancashire during the German occupation, then returned to his native island where he found work at the States Experimental Farm. He also began his cycling life with a previously banned local club. Cycling, with its emphasis on freedom and camaraderie, was a growing sport and pastime in the Channel Islands. John cycled every day until the age of 82.

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Harold Hillman obituary

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 15:43:51 GMT2016-09-25T15:43:51Z

My brother Harold Hillman, who has died aged 85, was a biological scientist whose research had application in resuscitation, animal slaughter, execution techniques and the use of electric stun guns. He found that the lives of people and animals, such as newborn calves, could be saved with a device similar to the one used to inflate airbeds, and that a lethal injection rather than the electric chair was a more “humane” method of execution.

He repeatedly challenged the orthodox scientific community in its interpretations of the effects on cell structures of extracting, dehydrating and staining under the electron microscope. In the book The Living Cell (1980), which Harold wrote with Peter Sartory, he argued that the technique resulted in fundamental changes to the cells themselves, and was thus unreliable, a view rejected by most of his peers, and for which he paid a high price in career terms.

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In praise of the humble fruit fly

Sun, 25 Sep 2016 07:45:28 GMT2016-09-25T07:45:28Z

Drosophila, the hard-working fruit fly widely used in genetics research, is a lot more like us than we might care to think. Time we got to know the little pest

In a series of rooms in the Fly Facility of the Department of Genetics at Cambridge University, around 5m fruit flies are kept in test tubes at any given time. They’re stored at different temperatures to determine varying lengths of life cycle – at 25C, it’s about 10 days; at cooler temperatures as long as five weeks.

Out in the wild, there is no pest quite so sympathetic to human needs as the humble fruit fly. It may have spent the summer feasting on the contents of your fruit bowl, but not until your assembled plums and peaches were starting to rot. But while gastronomic sensitivity is a characteristic to be applauded in a fly, the drosophila, to give it its official title, has more going for it than good table manners.

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Where will the out-of-control Chinese space station land?

Sat, 24 Sep 2016 07:00:26 GMT2016-09-24T07:00:26Z

Scientists have admitted that they have no way of safely guiding Tiangong-1 back to Earth, and say it is moving too fast to accurately predict where debris from the 8.5-tonne module will crash

What is happening with the Chinese space station?

The nation’s first prototype space station, Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace”, launched into orbit in September 2011. The module reached the end of its service life earlier this year and was due to splashdown – eventually – in the Pacific Ocean. But at a recent press conference, the Chinese space agency admitted it had lost contact with the station. They did not explain what had gone wrong.

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Time to sample the bounty of sun and rain

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 20:30:30 GMT2016-09-21T20:30:30Z

Summer’s mild conditions mean the trees remain in leaf while berries are ready to enjoy in gardens and in the wild

Thursday is the autumn equinox and, even though it feels autumnal, there’s little sign of leaves on the big trees changing colour, except for horse chestnut trees turning prematurely brown because of leaf miners infesting the leaves.

Despite a host of other pests and diseases, it’s been a good growing year for trees. Plenty of rain, spells of warm sunshine and the astonishingly warm September all gave trees a big boost. If the days are sunny and the nights cool, without frost, there could be some excellent leaf colours and, if the weather also carries on being mild, the leaves could hang on well into November.

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Another discovery of water in space – how boring. We must search for alien life | Stuart Clark

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 11:20:30 GMT2016-09-28T11:20:30Z

The latest find on Jupiter’s moon Europa offers the potential to really look for life. It’s not time to shy away – and Nasa needs to rise to the challenge

For a decade now, the Nasa mantra for looking for life in outer space is to “follow the water”. In the beginning, this was a valid way to identify the places where we should then start searching. Each new discovery of “water” is automatically paired with a statement that this increases the chance of finding alien life. But in recent years – the latest example being the discovery of water this week on Jupiter’s moon Europa – we have been hearing it so often that it is starting to become boring.

The evidence for water on celestial bodies such as Mars, Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus is now overwhelming. It is time to take the next step and actually look for life itself.

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Why Stephen Hawking is light years from the truth about ‘dangerous aliens’ | Seth Shostak

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 07:00:20 GMT2016-09-27T07:00:20Z

Hawking fears that if we made contact with unearthly beings, they could respond with hostility. It’s a bit late to worry about that

The physicist Stephen Hawking is convinced that intelligent extraterrestrials populate space, a view shared by many scientists. But his ruminations on this prospect have shifted from the aliens’ existence to their deportment. Maybe they’re dangerous.

In a film recently released online, Hawking points to the potential peril in broadcasting signals to other star systems. After all, we don’t know who is out there, and they might not be well-intentioned. If we betray our presence with signals, maybe the aliens will fire up their interstellar artillery and take us out.

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I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go to space

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:24:10 GMT2016-09-26T12:24:10Z

In this extract from How To Make A Spaceship, the physicist explains why he said yes when offered a seat on Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo and why we need a new generation of explorers

I have no fear of adventure. I have taken daredevil opportunities when they presented themselves. Years ago I barrelled down the steepest hills of San Francisco in my motorised wheelchair. I travel widely and have been to Antarctica and Easter Island and down in a submarine.

On April 26, 2007, three months after my sixty-fifth birthday, I did something special: I experienced zero gravity. It temporarily stripped me of my disability and gave me a feeling of true freedom. After forty years in a wheelchair, I was floating. I had four wonderful minutes of weightlessness, thanks to Peter Diamandis and the team at the Zero Gravity Corporation. I rode in a modified Boeing 727 jet, which traveled over the ocean off Florida and did a series of manoeuvres that took me into this state of welcome weightlessness.

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Support for renewable energy up, trust in political action down | John Connor

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 00:46:17 GMT2016-09-26T00:46:17Z

The scare campaign heydays are over. Support for action on climate change has rebounded to 2008 levels as frustration at the lack of political leadership grows

If we were to try to repair the lost public trust in our political system, you may think that climate change and energy seem the most unlikely place to start. How do we get past carbon price scare campaigns of “$100 lamb roasts”, city and industry “wipeouts”, that “broken” carbon tax promise and the constant government policy changes. Surely this is the last place to start?

Yet, unbeknown to those still wanting to relive the scare campaign heydays of 2011-12, there is mounting evidence that Australian community has largely moved on.

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Money isn't enough. Medical research needs a cultural revolution | Celine Goudner

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 15:33:20 GMT2016-09-23T15:33:20Z

If Zuckerberg and Chan want to get some bang for their buck, they’ll need to break down the structures that hold brilliant young scientists backThis week, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr Priscilla Chan pledged $3bn to “cure, manage and prevent all diseases” by the end of the century. While $3bn sounds like a lot of money, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends more than 10 times as much on biomedical research per year. Since 2003, the US has spent more than 20 times as much through the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief to end HIV/Aids worldwide. Bill Gates, whose foundation has donated well over $3bn to the fight against HIV alone, recently acknowledged that despite all that’s been done to date, “we have not turned the corner on Aids”. It seems like tremendous hubris for Chan and Zuckerberg to set such a lofty goal.Zuckerberg made his first major foray into philanthropy in 2010, when he gave $100m to help reform failing schools in Newark, NJ, hoping this would become a model for the nation. But because he didn’t understand the challenges posed by the regulatory environment and culture of the city’s public schools, his gift as well as an additional $100m in matching funds didn’t have the desired impact. But Zuckerberg says he’s learned from some of his initial mistakes. More recently, he invested another $120m in schools in his own backyard where he’s better able to engage with the community and understand the urban education crisis. Continue reading...[...]

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Cure all diseases? The Chan Zuckerberg plan is brilliantly bold | Ian Sample

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 10:33:21 GMT2016-09-23T10:33:21Z

It’s easy to dismiss the initiative of the Facebook founder and his wife as hubris. But audacious, aspirational goals are precisely what are needed

There is ambition and there is Silicon Valley ambition. For where else on a map could a pin be placed when asked to guess where billionaire philanthropists had declared their intention to cure, prevent or manage all human disease before the end of the century?

It was clear from the start that the announcement from Priscilla Chan and her husband, Mark Zuckerberg, nudged at the boundaries of belief. Writing in praise in the US journal, Science, David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate at California Institute of Technology concedes the goal “may raise eyebrows”. Even Cori Bargmann, the renowned neurobiologist who will lead the charge, is aware how it might be perceived. It is “ambitious”, she says, “but not completely ridiculous”.

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Eye contact is good for you. But can you put your phone down for long enough? | Jonathan Shehee

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 10:00:01 GMT2016-09-23T10:00:01Z

There are surprising benefits to locking gazes with another person, but that’s easy to forget in the age of scrolls and swipes

Everyone from early mesmerists to contemporary self-help gurus have understood the power of looking someone deep in the eyes. Now, compelling new research is shedding light on the powerful positive effects of eye contact.

Related: At your next concert: stop filming, start listening | David Sax

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Four Saturn days captured on video by Nasa – video report

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 10:49:02 GMT2016-09-19T10:49:02Z

Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft filmed Saturn for almost 44 hours in April 2016 to create this video showing four Saturnian days as the planet turns. A day on Saturn is about 10-and-a-half hours. Cassini captures storms on Saturn’s surface and its many rings as they unfold. In April 2017 Cassini will move towards Saturn’s rings and then to the planet itself

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Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016 winners – in pictures

Thu, 15 Sep 2016 23:01:00 GMT2016-09-15T23:01:00Z

Spectacular views of the universe have been unveiled at the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016 awards ceremony, held at the Royal Greenwich Observatory

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Microscopic world: RPS Scientific Imaging Award 2016 – in pictures

Thu, 15 Sep 2016 19:30:51 GMT2016-09-15T19:30:51Z

From the parasitic ‘fairy fly’ to paracetamol as you’ve never seen before, Spike Walker, winner of Royal Photographic Society’s new award, shines a light on the hidden world of microscopic forms and structures

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European Space Agency releases highly detailed map of Milky Way – video report

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 16:26:52 GMT2016-09-14T16:26:52Z

The European Space Agency has released the most detailed map of the Milky Way galaxy to date, based on the first delivery of data from the ESA’s Gaia probe, which was launched in 2013. The map represents 1% of the Milky Way’s stars, but this map is at least 20 times more complete than any previous representations

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Nasa launches Osiris-Rex space probe to collect asteroid samples – video

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 11:49:24 GMT2016-09-09T11:49:24Z

Nasa launches the Osiris-Rex spacecraft into space on Thursday, on an unprecedented seven-year quest to collect samples from the asteroid Bennu. The United Launch Alliance booster lifts off from Cape Canaveral air force station in Florida, as part of Nasa’s New Frontiers missions. The probe will reach its destination in August 2018, spend two years mapping the asteroid and send back interstellar material that could date back to the origins of the solar system.

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From the depths to the web: artefacts of the Mary Rose - in pictures

Mon, 05 Sep 2016 07:20:23 GMT2016-09-05T07:20:23Z

In a new website launching today, the public and scientists alike will be able to explore interactive 3D models of skulls and artefacts rescued from the wreck

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Nasa releases first close-up images of Jupiter taken by Juno spacecraft – video

Sat, 03 Sep 2016 11:05:49 GMT2016-09-03T11:05:49Z

NASA released the first images of Jupiter taken by its Juno spacecraft on Friday almost two months after it arrived in an orbit around the biggest planet in the solar system. The images were taken on 27 August when the mission had completed its first of 36 orbital flybys of the massive planet. The images reveal Jupiter’s north pole, as well as its bands of clouds and sound recording of its auroras

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Common painkillers linked to increased risk of heart failure, BMJ finds

Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:30:25 GMT2016-09-28T21:30:25Z

Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen add to dangers, particularly in the elderly, study of 10 million users concludes

Common painkillers such as ibuprofen used by millions of people in the UK are linked to an increased risk of heart failure, experts have said.

Non-selective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could increase the risk of being admitted to hospital. Previous studies have linked the drugs to abnormal heart rhythm – which can cause heart failure – and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke if taken regularly.

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Cassini reveals Saturn's true colours

Mon, 11 Nov 2013 13:59:00 GMT2013-11-11T13:59:00Z

A new view of Saturn, revealed by reprieved space probe, has provided the most accurate depiction of the planet's colour along with startling details of its 'stupendous' rings

"There is not perhaps another object in the heavens that presents us with such a variety of extraordinary phenomena as the planet Saturn," William Herschel once remarked. "It is a magnificent globe, encompassed by a stupendous double ring; attended by seven satellites; ornamented with equatorial belts; compressed at the poles; turning upon its axis; mutually eclipsing its ring and satellites, and eclipsed by them."

These words, we should note, were written by the great astronomer after he had observed the planet using only basic 18th- and 19th-century telescopes. Modern visions of the solar system's second-largest planet, mostly obtained from space probes, have revealed a world of far greater complexity and beauty. And of all these new views of Saturn, this version, created from photographs taken by the space probe Cassini on 10 October, ranks as one of the most breathtaking images of any planet created by astronomers. Herschel would have been overwhelmed.

Continue reading...Image of Saturn, created from 36 filtered images taken from space probe Cassini. Photograph: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute/Gordan UgarkovicImage of Saturn, created from 36 filtered images taken from space probe Cassini. Photograph: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute/Gordan Ugarkovic

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Tall story? Men and women have grown taller over last century, study shows

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 23:01:57 GMT2016-07-25T23:01:57Z

Dutch men and Latvian women are now the tallest in the world, height study reveals. Where do you stand on the global height chart?

Men and women have grown taller over the last century, with South Korean women shooting up by more than 20cm (7.9in) on average, and Iranian men gaining 16.5 cm (6.5in). A comprehensive global study looked at the average height of 18-year old men and women in 200 countries between 1914 and 2014.

The results reveal that while Swedes were the tallest people in the world in 1914, Dutch men have risen from 12th place to claim top spot with an average height of 182.5cm (5ft 11.9 inches).

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Smoke signals: DNA adaptation helped early humans deal with toxic fumes

Tue, 02 Aug 2016 21:00:29 GMT2016-08-02T21:00:29Z

US researchers claim genetic mutation may have made our ancestors less sensitive to smoke’s harmful effects and gave them advantage over Neanderthal cousins

A genetic mutation may have helped early humans fend off toxic fumes that wafted into the air from ancient cave fires, a team of researchers claim.

The scientists say the altered DNA was found in humans but not Neanderthals, and may have given our early human ancestors an edge over our extinct cousins, who had also learned to control fire.

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Man v rat: could the long war soon be over? | Jordan Kisner

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 05:00:51 GMT2016-09-20T05:00:51Z

Rats spread disease, decimate crops and very occasionally eat people alive. For centuries, we have struggled to find an effective way of controlling their numbers. Until now …

First, the myths. There are no “super rats”. Apart from a specific subtropical breed, they do not get much bigger than 20 inches long, including the tail. They are not blind, nor are they afraid of cats. They do not carry rabies. They do not, as was reported in 1969 regarding an island in Indonesia, fall from the sky. Their communities are not led by elusive, giant “king rats”. Rat skeletons cannot liquefy and reconstitute at will. (For some otherwise rational people, this is a genuine concern.) They are not indestructible, and there are not as many of them as we think. The one-rat-per-human in New York City estimate is pure fiction. Consider this the good news.

In most other respects, “the rat problem”, as it has come to be known, is a perfect nightmare. Wherever humans go, rats follow, forming shadow cities under our metropolises and hollows beneath our farmlands. They thrive in our squalor, making homes of our sewers, abandoned alleys, and neglected parks. They poison food, bite babies, undermine buildings, spread disease, decimate crop yields, and very occasionally eat people alive. A male and female left to their own devices for one year – the average lifespan of a city rat – can beget 15,000 descendants.

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Stretchy 'second skin' could make wrinkles a thing of the past

Mon, 09 May 2016 15:00:19 GMT2016-05-09T15:00:19Z

Wearable film improves skin’s elasticity, reduces appearance of wrinkles and could be used to cover birthmarks or treat conditions such as eczema

For those concerned about wrinkly old skin, it might be an ingenious solution: a stretchy “second skin” that can be smoothed on to make aged tissue look more youthful.

The wearable film developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown promise in a series of small trials where it was applied to wrinkles, under-eye bags and patches of dry skin.

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