NONE SCI Science

African dogs use sneezes to make pack decisions

African wild dogs use sneezing as a way to determine how many members of the pack are ready to move and hunt, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

There are many ways animals communicate, but there is no doubt this is one of the more unusual. Researchers first noted the behavior while conducting a separate study on the dog’s characteristics.

Researchers found that the more sneezes — or “audible rapid nasal exhalations” — the dogs emitted, the more likely the pack would be to set out on its next hunt. The team came to this conclusion after watching five packs in Botswana engage in a total of 68 gatherings.

Not only are the sneezes used for communication, but they differ based on an individual dog’s social standing as well.

“Rallies never failed when a dominant…individual initiated and there were at least three sneezes, whereas rallies initiated by lower ranking individuals required a minimum of 10 sneezes to achieve the same level of success,” stated the study’s authors, according to NPR.

However, while this process is interesting, the sneezes are hard to properly analyze because they do not count as true votes. This is because each dog is not limited to one sneeze and scientists are not sure if each one is voluntary or some are a natural reaction.

Even so, the findings are important because they shed light on a new process. While the dominant members of a pack hold more power than others, every member has a say in certain decisions depending on how many sneezes they can muster.

African wild dogs are not the only species that makes unique sounds to help with decision making, but they are the only one that uses sneezing as their voting method. Researchers seek to follow up on the study by looking at other animals, and they hope the new findings will bring light to the canines, which are one of the most endangered species in the world.

“They’re absolutely gorgeous animals focused on cooperation and their pack family unit,” says study co-author Reena Walker, a student at Brown University, according to National Geographic. “The more people who are aware [of] how amazing these animals are, the better.”


Cosby accuser consistent on cross-examination

Andrea Constand, the woman who has accused actor and comedian Bill Cosby of aggravated indecent assault some ten years ago, stuck by her story during long hours of cross-examination on Wednesday.

Constand, 44, has testified that Cosby, 79, drugged her and sexually assaulted her in 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia home. She said that the actor gave her three blue pills and then violated her with his fingers as she lay physically incapacitated.

During cross-examination, defense attorneys tried to get Constand to admit she and Cosby had a romantic relationship prior to the 2004 incident, according to a report by SF Gate. But Constand calmly denied it, explaining the many phone conversations they had later by saying she just returned Cosby’s messages about women’s basketball at Temple University, where she was director of team operations and he was a member of the board of trustees.

Constand testified that she continued a cordial relationship with Cosby after the alleged sexual assault because she believed it was important to Temple’s athletic department and was afraid of losing her job, reports the Associated Press.

Because Constand was bound by the terms of a 2006 confidential settlement agreement, Tuesday was the first time she spoke about Cosby publicly. Although as many as 60 women have accused the man once called “America’s Dad” of sexual misconduct, the statute of limitations has expired in just about every case.

Cosby could get 10 years in prison if convicted.

HEALTH Science

Amazing device can heal with single touch

Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have developed a chip that can heal damaged body functions with a single touch.

The technique, called Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), slips genetic code into skin cells, transforming them into other types of cells needed for treating disease.

The study is published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

“It takes just a fraction of a second,” said co-author Chandan Sen, Ph.D., in a statement. “You simply touch the chip to the wounded area, then remove it. At that point, the cell reprogramming begins.”

Researchers applied the chip to injured legs of mice that had little or no blood flow.

“We reprogrammed their skin cells to become vascular cells,” Sen said. “Within a week we began noticing the transformation.” By the third week, active blood vessels had formed and the legs of the mice were saved.

The incredible chip contains certain genetic code or proteins and is placed directly on the skin, where a tiny electric current creates channels in the tissue. DNA or RNA flowing into those channels takes hold and begins reprogramming the cells. The technique worked up to 98 percent of the time.

“What’s even more exciting is that it not only works on the skin, but on any type of tissue,” said Sen.

In one lab test, the researchers grew brain cells on a mouse’s skin, collected them, then injected them into the animal’s brain after it had a stroke. Just a few weeks later, the mouse’s brain function was restored.

The team expects to be able to start clinical trials within a year.


Illinois professor and accomplice sought in Chicago stabbing death

Northwestern University associate professor Wyndham Lathem, 42, and University of Oxford employee Andrew Warren, 56, are being sought in connection with arrest warrants for the stabbing death of a man in a Near North Side Chicago apartment.

The dead man is 26-year-old Trenton Cornell-Duranleau, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune. He was found Thursday at about 8:30 p.m. on June 27 after an anonymous caller notified a maintenance worker that a crime had been committed in the building.

Cornell-Duranleau died of multiple stab wounds, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Lathem’s home address is listed at the same apartment where Cornell-Duranleau’s body was found, the Tribune said.

Cornell-Duranleau was from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area and moved to Chicago to work as a hair stylist after getting his cosmetology license.

Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, said Thursday that investigators believe they are closing in on the suspects, who officials say could be armed and dangerous. Guglielmi urged the duo to surrender.

Frank Giancamilli, another police spokesman, described the attack on Cornell-Duranleau as “domestic in nature,” according to a report by the Associated Press. He said the attack was so violent that the blade of the weapon used appeared to have broken.

Latham is a respected professor who has spoken frequently about bubonic plague and has published articles in the best scientific journals. The nature and extent of his relationship with Cornell-Duranleau is currently unknown.

Warren was in charge of pensions and payroll at the University of Oxford’s Somerville College.

NONE SCI Science

Weak sense of smell may be tied to dementia risk, study reports

Losing your sense of smell with age could be an early sign of dementia, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

A few years ago, a team of scientists at the University of Chicago conducted a study where they used Sniffin’ Sticks — sticks infused with different scents — to measure how well subjects could identify a range of smells. This showed how smell and health are related and revealed a strong link between olfactory damage and an increased risk of death within five years following the test.

In the recent study, the same team turned to the Sniffin’ Sticks method again, this time to find a link between olfactory damage and dementia diagnosis. To do this, they surveyed 2,906 participants between the ages of 57 and 85 and asked them to identify five different scents: orange, peppermint, rose, fish, and leather.

Data showed that 78.1 percent of the subjects had a normal sense of smell. Nearly 49 percent correctly identified all five scents, and 29.4 percent accurately identified four out of five. However, they also found that 18.7 percent of subjects could only discern two or three of the five, 2.2 percent could only identify one, and 1 percent could not identify any.

After five years time, all of the participants who could not identify a single scent in the study had developed dementia, as did 80 percent of the subjects who could smell only one or two scents. This showed that older adults with olfactory dysfunction were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia within the next five years.

This research falls in line with previous studies and gives further evidence that the loss of olfactory sense could be a sign of cognitive decline. It also reinforces the importance of losing your sense of smell, a condition that has been linked to various diseases and mental problems.

“Being unable to smell is closely associated with depression as people don’t get as much pleasure in life,” said study co-author Jayant M. Pinto, a researcher from the University of Chicago, according to Tech Times.

While the results are strong, the team believes it could take time before they can put a clinical-use olfactory test into place. Even so, there is no doubt the new study could help shed more light on the topic and may well lead to better medical procedures in the future.

“Our test simply marks someone for closer attention,” said lead author Jayant Pinto, a researcher from the University of Chicago, according to New York Daily News.  “Much more work would need to be done to make it a clinical test. But it could help find people who are at risk. Then we could enroll them in early-stage prevention trials.”


Underwater octopus “city” discovered off Australian coast

A newly discovered octopus commune suggests the unique animals are not as solitary as researchers once assumed them to be, a new study published in Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology reports.

The “city” — known as Octlantis — is home to 15 octopi. It sits 33 to 49 feet below the surface and features a series of dens created from both sand and shells. After discovering the area, a team of international researchers filmed the unique area for 10 straight hours. The footage revealed the cephalopods meeting up, living together, communicating with each other, evicting certain ones from the group, and even chasing away unwelcome visitors. 

“These behaviors are the product of natural selection, and may be remarkably similar to vertebrate complex social behavior,” lead author David Scheel, a researcher at Alaska Pacific University, told Quartz. “This suggests that when the right conditions occur, evolution may produce very similar outcomes in diverse groups of organisms.”

The strange colony lies in Jervis Bay off the coastline of eastern Australia. While it is unique, it is not the first instance of a octopus city. Researchers found another settlement, called Octopolis, off the same coast in 2009.

Both areas suggest that octopi are more social than they are typically given credit for. However, as there are only two findings, there is little information on the cities. Nobody is sure how common they are, or even how they get started in the first place.

Octopolis appears to be centered around an unidentified human-made object, but there is no such object in Octlantis. As a result, the team postulates the jutting rocks present in both areas are what attracted the creatures to the shore.

Typically, octopi only get together to mate, which is why researchers are not yet sure why they would gather in groups like at Octlantis. While there is a lot of food at each site, both areas also attract predators. There is a chance such places are common and are just now being discovered, but more research is going to be needed before those claims can be made.

“We still don’t really know much about octopus behavior,” said study co-author Stephanie Chancellor, a Ph.D. student in biological sciences at the University of Illinois, according to Science Alert. “More research will be needed to determine what these actions might mean.”

Business NONE SCI TECH TECH_Technology

New modular robots can join to form one large unit

A group of researchers at the artificial intelligence lab of the University Libre de Bruxelles have created autonomous modular robots that are able to join together and form a single machine, a new study in Nature Communications reports.

Swarming insects — such as ants and termites — are able to perform tasks in large groups that they cannot do on their own. That includes activities like carrying large objects, taking out predators, and creating intricate structures. These new robots act in a similar manner, where they can perform simple activities by themselves and much more complex ones when paired together.

“Take moving on a very rocky terrain, for example,” explained lead author Marco Dorigo, a research director at the University Libre de Bruxelles, according to Popular Science. “One alone would get stuck, but attached to each other they become more stable and they can move on the rough terrain.”

This new system is beneficial because swarm robots are much more flexible than single units. They do not need to be reprogrammed for new tasks, can be mass produced, and are also less fragile. In addition, the bots also provide redundancy, which means they can continue to work even if other robots in the system break down.

In the past, such machines have been difficult to build because it is hard to get multiple pieces to work in unison. Typically, scientists would overcome that by programming the robots for self-organization, which would allow them to make decisions based on the information in their surroundings. Unfortunately, that is quite difficult to create. Some studies have also suggested the idea of a central control computer to tell the bots what to do, but that would likely leave the machines vulnerable to communication bottlenecks that could shut down the entire system if one thing goes wrong.

The team got around the above issues by programming the robots in a unique way. While the machines are on their own they remain autonomous, but as soon as they come together they all give control to a single bot in the swarm. This allows them to seamlessly turn into one larger unit.

While the machines are still in early trials, researchers believe there are many applications for the new technology. They could be used in the military, and one day may even find use in everyday life. Smart vacuums and self-driving vehicles are already becoming more and more popular each year, and this technology may help such systems operate at higher levels.

“The important thing is that the paper is not about these specific robots,” said Dorigo, UK Press From reports. “The robots that are presented in the paper are just one example. The paper is about the technology that makes the coordination and the self-healing that our robot displayed possible.”


Report: Obesity a problem for one-third of American adults

A new report released Thursday finds that one out of three adults in the United Stats is obese.

Using data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the report was prepared by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

West Virginia had the highest obesity rate at 37.7 percent, Mississippi came in second at 37.3 percent, while Alabama and Arkansas tied for third place at 35.7 percent.

For the first time in the 14 years of preparing the yearly report, however, some states’ rates of obesity have decreased and rates of increases in other states have started to decline, according to John Auerbach, President and CEO of Trust for American’s Health, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

“We concluded the report with a fair amount of optimism,” Auerbach said. “The adult rates are showing signs of leveling off and the childhood rates are stabilizing.”

The study analyzed CDC statistics on body mass index, or BMI. People with a BMI of 30 and above are considered obese.

The states with the highest obesity rates are in the South, while Northeastern and Western states had lower rates. Adults without a college education or with annual incomes less than $15,000 had higher obesity rates.

The report says efforts should focus on early childhood prevention, such as promoting the benefits of exercise, expanding community and school-based programs, and increasing healthcare coverage for obesity prevention and treatment.

“In our review of the policies and strategies, we found that many (states) show a lot of promise for reversing the trends and improving health if we make them a higher priority,” Auerbach said.

NONE SCI Science

New plant or animal species discovered in Amazon every two days, report says

A new report released Wednesday by the Word Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Mamiraua Institute for Sustainable Development says that 381 new plant and animal species were found in the Amazon rainforest during a two-year study conducted between 2014 and 2015. This averages to a new discovery every two days.

“We’re in 2017, verifying the existence of new species and even though resources are scarce, we are seeing an immense variety and richness of biodiversity,” said Ricardo Mello, coordinator of WWF-Brazil Amazon Program, in a statement. “This is a signal that we still have much to learn about the Amazon.”

Of great concern to conservationists is the adverse impact to the Amazon rainforest from continued logging and large construction projects, including road-building and hydroelectric dams.

“This biodiversity needs to be known and protected.” Mello said, adding that studies show the Amazon’s greatest economic potential could be reached by including biodiversity in the region’s technological development plans, such as finding new cures for diseases and new species for food.

The report cites the creation of protected areas as a key strategy to reduce the impact of development in the Amazon.

Some of researchers’ most fascinating discoveries are noted in the report, which includes an update on new species identified in an earlier 2010-2013 survey.

Among the highlights are a previously unknown species of pink river dolphin (Inia Araguaiaensis), the fire-tailed titi monkey (Plecturocebus moroni), which is threatened by deforestation, and a stingray that sports honeycomb structures on its body (Potamotrygon limai).


Is snorting chocolate a good idea?

After enjoying popularity in Europe for the past two years, “snorting chocolate” is now available in the U.S.

A product called Coco Loko, which is being advertised as a stimulant and way to reduce stress, is the creation of Nick Anderson, 29, who got the idea from Europe and founded an Orlando, Florida-based company called Legal Lean to manufacture it.

“You get a nice minor euphoric rush,” said Anderson, in a report by CNN. “You feel a calm energy and focus. You feel motivated to want to go out and dance or be social.”

Coco Loko is made primarily of raw cacao powder, but also contains taurine, gilko biloba, and guarana, which are common energy drink ingredients.

Anderson said he did not consult a medical expert when concocting his product because the European experience with snorting chocolate did not raise any significant health issues.

But some in the medical community are dubious about ingesting foreign substances, including chocolate.

“There’s a reason why our GI tract is completely separate from the breathing tract,” said Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency physician in Lexington, Kentucky, in the CNN report. “The stomach is designed to take in things and deal with them, whereas the lungs were designed for air, and that’s it. They’re not designed to deal with being a filter, which is basically what you’re asking them to do with these foreign substances.”

For now, the sale of snorting chocolate is legal, although New York Dem. Senator Chuck Schumer is urging the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the product.

Anderson says he wants Coco Loko to be available only to those over age 18.