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Science

River dolphin fossil could reveal evolutionary secrets

Scientists from the Smithsonian Museum excavating off the coast of Panama have made a discovery that is shedding light on the evolutionary past of dolphins.  They have unearthed an ancient dolphin fossil they are calling Isthminia panamensis, which is a member of a brand new species and genus of dolphin who lived around 6 million years ago.

According to The Washington Post, although excavated in an ancient sea Isthminia panamensis more closely resembles modern river dolphins than their more common, oceanic cousins.  Found in rivers around the world, the four existing river dolphin species are all endangered, with the Chinese river dolphin believed to be extinct.  The transition from ocean-dwelling dolphins into rivers has long been puzzling to scientists, and this discovery sheds new light.

Isthminia panamensis exhibits characteristics similar to river dolphins, with a long, thin snout, paddle-like flippers, and flexible neck.  These features allowed them to leave the busy oceans and travel up rivers in search of prey.  This is an interesting evolutionary transition because dolphins originally evolved from terrestrial mammals who moved to the sea in search of better prey.  Researcher Nicholas Pyenson of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History said, “many other iconic freshwater species in the Amazon, such as manatees, turtles, and stingrays, have marine ancestors, but until now, the fossil record of river dolphins in this basin has not revealed much about their marine ancestry.  Isthminia now gives us a clear boundary in geologic time for understanding when this lineage invaded Amazonia.”

The time period that Isthminia existed on Earth, 6 million years ago, is the same period during which the oceans began to rise.  This could be a clue about how animals on our planet adapted to changing conditions, and could shed light on how modern animals could be impacted by our changing planet today.

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HEALTH

Scientists reveal how to fight germs in your sleep

We are living on a planet covered in germs.  From the things we touch to the air we breathe, we are constantly coming into contact with germs.  But even with constant germ exposure, we are not always getting sick.  It turns out, there are many factors that contribute to how our immune systems fight off germs and keep us healthy.

According to NPR.com, researchers from the University of California, San Fransisco, have been looking into the various ways our behaviors affect our health.  Dr. Arik Prather and a team of colleagues decided to test specifically the link between getting a good night’s sleep, and the immune system’s ability to fight off germs.  The study was conducted on 164 healthy men and women, 30 years old on average, and monitored their sleep.

Over the course of one week, the subjects used sleep diaries and sleep trackers similar to FitBits to record their sleep patterns.  Then researchers exposed each person in the study to a live cold virus.  After exposure, the results were clear.  According to Prather, “What we found was that individuals who were sleeping the least were substantially more likely to develop a cold.”

The data revealed a tipping point for the amount of sleep needed for the immune system to best combat the cold virus.  Of the people who slept less than six hours per night, 39% got sick.  Of the people who got more than six hours of sleep per night, only 18% got sick.  Scientists think this may be because people who do not get enough sleep have high levels of inflammation, making them more susceptible to germs.

While other factors like activity level, age, and stress can also impact the immune system, this seems to be one more example of why everyone should be getting a good night’s sleep.

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Science

Ancient sea-scorpion may be the world’s first predator

Scientists have discovered earth’s first predator to dominate the seas, oceans and land: a terrifyingly huge sea scorpion.

The giant sea scorpion, named the Penetcopterus decorahensis, was earth’s first ever big predator, according to scientists. The analysis of dozens of fossils unearthed in Iowa led to the predator’s discovery.

The fossils were found by researchers from the Iowa Geological Survey from below the Upper Iowa River. Through carbon dating and analysis, the scientists were able to accurately determine how the predator looked.

The pentecopterus lived in the Ordovician period when much of Northern America was under water. The sea scorpion was determined by scientists to be at least 460 million years old.

The scorpion had a dozen massive clawed arms emerging from its head and a giant spiked tail that towered above it. At 1.83 meters long, it was the largest creature many miles over.

“This is the first real big predator,” said Yale geologist James Lamsdell, author of the study published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. “It was a big angry bug.”

The pentecopterus’ large legs were covered with hairs to sense their environment while their claws were used for both walking and swimming. Its forward facing front limbs were used for grabbing prey.

Lamsdell said the team was very impressed at how well preserved the fossils were, including their hard exoskeleton. “At times it seems like you are studying the shed skin of a modern animal, an incredibly exciting opportunity for any paleontologist,” said the scientist.

Joe Hannibal, curator at Cleveland Museum of Natural History praised the discovery while expressing relief that the sea scorpions died millions of years ago, “I wouldn’t have wanted to be swimming with it. There’s something about bugs. When they’re a certain size, they shouldn’t be allowed to get bigger.”

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NONE PHYS

New CERN results reveal more about Higgs boson

Results rolling in from CERN are shedding new light on the Higgs boson particle.

According to Phys.org, both ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider collected data leading to the new insight. The two collaborative projects presented combined measurements of many of the particle’s properties, leading to a clearer picture of the boson than was previously achieved.

The Higgs boson, long-theorized and then discovered three years ago, is known in the realm of quantum physics for lending credence to the idea that the universe is permeated by the Higgs field, which is responsible for explaining how matter has mass. One can think of the Higgs boson as a force carrier of gravity.

The newly shared data shows more about how the Higgs is formed and how it decays, as well as its interactions with other particles. So far, all of the boson’s measured properties are in line with the Standard Model of physics, making it a useful measure marker for future experiments.

“The Higgs boson is a fantastic new tool to test the Standard Model of particle physics and study the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism that gives mass to elementary particles,” CERN Director Rolf Heuer said. “There is much benefit in combining the results of large experiments to reach the high precision needed for the next breakthrough in our field. By doing so, we achieve what for a single experiment would have meant running for at least two more years.”

“Combining results from two large experiments was a real challenge,” CMS researcher Tiziano Camporesi said. “With such a result and the flow of new data at the new energy level at the LHC, we are in a good position to look at the Higgs boson from every possible angle.”

The combined research teams were able to pinpoint the rates of the particle’s most common decays, which are linked to the strength of inter-particle interactions between the Higgs and elementary particles.

Further testing based on what is now known of the Higgs boson may reveal how far the Standard Model will go in terms of predicting results, and at what point, if any, a new realm of physics beyond the Standard Model may emerge.

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NONE

World’s most powerful digital camera will be placed in space telescope

The most advanced digital camera in the world will be built to power a space telescope.

According to Engadget, the U.S. Department of Energy has authorized the building of a 3.2-gigapixel digital camera for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

The camera will be capable of photographing areas of the sky 40 times larger than the moon. The telescope will also be able to pick up more light than any optical telescope in existence.

Geek reports that the finished product will be about the size of a small car and weigh over three tons. One of its features will be a filter-changing mechanism which will allow the camera to switch easily between recording different wavelengths of light ranging from infrared to ultraviolet.

The capabilities of the camera should help researchers capture images that may shed more light on the early universe and the workings of dark matter. The telescope may also prove useful for tracking asteroids and other dark space objects.

The primary mirror system of the telescope has already been shaped, after a six-year precision grinding process. The camera lenses are under construction, and contracts for the creation of the optical components are being distributed. The bulk of the assembly work will occur at the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

The development team plans to have the camera up and running in 2019, with the telescope taking on full functionality in 2022. The installment site in Chile is already undergoing preparations for the telescope’s arrival.

Categories
HEALTH

New study paves the way for innovative Parkinson’s treatment

Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disease that affects movement and can lead to the development of nasty tremors, has been linked to a “burnout” in brain cells that need high amounts of energy for controlling movement. According to a report from Medical News Today, the inability of these cells to energize themselves causes them to short out, paving the way for greater neurological problems like Parkinson’s.

A study from doctors at the University of Montreal in Canada shows that the neurons in the brain that control movement have a tendency to “exhaust themselves and die prematurely.”

Lead researcher Louis-Eric Trudeau, a professor of pharmacology and neurosciences, has spent the last 17 years researching the parts of the brain that can lead to Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and drug addiction. Trudeau hopes that the study will offer insights into new possible treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

It has proven difficult for doctors to devise a useable treatment for Parkinson’s disease in mice, even after incorporating human genes. The new study points towards a possible treatment that helps brain cells become more energy-efficient, minimizing the wear and tear over time.

Parkinson’s disease results from the death of brain cells in the substantia nigra, an area that controls the relsease of dopamine, which helps regulate movement and emotions, among other things.

Trudeau notes that as people live longer, the neurons in the brain that break down first may not be designed to last 90 or 100 years. By developing a medicine that could slow down the degradation of these neurons, Trudeau may be on the verge of a discovery that can eliminate Parkinson’s disease for good.

Categories
Science

Could it be? Low-calorie, slow-melt ice cream!

Answering the pleas of small children and adults alike, scientists at the University of Edinburgh have made a groundbreaking discovery in ice cream production.  According to TheGuardian.com, researchers from Edinburgh’s physics and astronomy department have discovered a protein that melts more slowly than ice cream current recipes, allowing for longer lasting ice cream.

This protein is called BslA, and is naturally found in certain foods.  It works by binding to fat droplets and air bubbles, making a more stable mixture.  These stable bonds act together to produce an ice cream with an incredibly smooth consistency.

This new protein (BslA) lends itself to such a creamy texture that the modified ice cream would need less saturated fat to add creaminess, meaning a lower calorie ice cream.  Scientists from the BslA development team say that this new type of ice cream could be available in as little as three to five years.

Another attractive aspect of BslA is that it’s structure inhibits the growth of gritty ice-crystals, meaning the ice cream stays smooth and creamy longer.  Better yet, it is thought that the use of BslA in ice cream production not only benefits consumers but ice cream manufacturers as well.

It can be produced using sustainable, raw materials, and can be easily substituted without changing much else of the manufacturing process.  Bring on the heat!

Categories
HEALTH

Artificial joint replacements increase heart attack risk

Scientists at the Boston University School of Medicine have found people suffering from osteoarthritis and needed to have a joint replacement surgery face a serious short term risk. According to a report from News Medical, people who receive arthroplasty, a hip or knee replacement surgery, saw a higher short term risk of a heart attack immediately after the procedure.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, and reveal that the risk of venous thromboembolism, or a blood clot that forms in the brain and lungs, stayed behind sometimes years after the procedure.

Osteoarthritis is the country’s most common type of arthritis, and affects more than 27 million Americans over the age of 25 every year. Knee and hip replacement surgeries can restore deteroirated joint cartilage and bones, relieving pain and restoring mobility to promote an active lifestyle. An estimated 1.8 million arthroplasty procedures are carried out each year.

The study analyzed 13,849 patients that received total knee replacement surgery and compared them with a control group of 13,849 people that didn’t have surgery. The patients were all over the age of 50 and were suffering from osteoarthritis.

The results showed that 306 of the patients in the group treated with surgery and 286 people in the non-surgery group all went on to experience heart attacks. The group that surgical faced an elevated risk of heart attacks in the fist month following the procedure, but the risk diminished significantly soon after.

The study didn’t reveal much about the long term risk of heart attacks following an arthroplasty surgery, further research will be needed to confirm how the procedures affect cardiovascular health over time.

Categories
TECH_Social

Airport bomb plot lands Kansas man 20 year sentence

Terry Lee Loewen, a man from Kansas who has planned to bomb an airport in Wichita has been sentenced to 20 years behind bars, reports Chron.

Loewen, a 60-year-old former avionics technician, was arrested in December 2013 after a sting operation that lasted for several months, with two FBI agents posing as co-plotters.

Last June, he finally pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, that would have caused “maximum carnage” at the airport.

In his short courtroom statement, Loewen expressed his affection for his wife and two sons, and apologized for the ordeal they’re going through.

“I love you all and I realize the pain and suffering I caused you is enormous … I do not ask for forgiveness because I deserve none,” stated Loewen.

On May 2014, Loewen came under the FBI’s radar when he befriended an individual who regularly shared posts regarding violent jihad on the popular social networking site Facebook. Aside from his contacting the individual, due to his own concerning Facebook posts, an undercover agent contacted Loewen and presented the opportunity of leading him to someone who can help him take part in jihad activities.

Loewen, who was then an employee for Hawkers Beechcraft’s facility at the current Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, attempted to use his employee ID on a card reader to sneak in the fake bomb onto the tarmac.

Categories
Science

Hurricanes of more epic proportions highly likely, study finds

At the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most detrimental hurricanes to ever hit the U.S. was commemorated last week, new studies show that the possibility of a hurricane of even bigger proportions could come, reports the Washington Post.

According to Princeton’s Ning Lin and MIT’s Kerry Emanuel, a big storm that has not yet happened in recent world history may possibly hit these three cities in the world: Tampa in Florida, Cairns in Australia, and Dubain in the United Arab Emirates.

Based on the study published in Nature Climate Change, the researchers intended “to raise awareness of what a very low probability, very high impact hurricane event might look like,” stated Emanuel.

Introducing the concept of “gray swan,” referring to the possible storms that are highly unlikely to occur, but still can be predicted, regardless of its very rare nature.

The so-called “gray swan” storms were created by a computer program that melded a very high resolution storm model together with a global climate model, giving the researchers the ability to populate the program with several “storms”.

Tampa, Florida has a vulnerable spot as it sits at the top of Tampa Bay, far from barrier islands that receive the Gulf of Mexico’s waves. According to Emanuel, shallow offshore waters can get much more bigger surges.

As for Cairns, Australia, an 18-foot hurricane is possible in their current climate – however, it would happen less than once in the span of 10,000 years. The researchers have also suggested that a powerful hurricane is possible – in theory – to happen in the Persian Gulf, which has never happened before in history.

With the researchers’ simulating more than 3,100 events using the world’s current climate, a snow storm that is 24-feet high may affect Dubai, with winds of over 250 miles per hour – possibly the strongest storm we have yet to see on Earth.