Monday, December 16, 2013

Millions of Microbeads from Soap Have Contaminated the Great Lakes


Millions of Microbeads from Soap Have Contaminated the Great Lakes

Who doesn't like smooth, exfoliated skin? How about fish living in the Great Lakes?


Thursday, December 5, 2013

400,000-Year-Old Hominin DNA Throws Everything We Know About Human Evolution Into Disarray


The Sima de los Huesos hominins ancient humans

Four-hundred-thousand-year-old human remains found deep in the Pit of Bones — a cave 43 feet under the ground in northern Spain — could hold the secrets of our origin. For now, however, the first analysis of ancient human genetic material has created more questions than answers.

"Right now, we've basically generated a big question mark," study researcher Matthias Meyer, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, told The New York Times.

ancient human Skeleton of a Homo heidelbergensis from Sima de los Huesos,

The Pit of Bones was discovered in the 1970s and scientists have been studying it and the bones it contains ever since. So far they've found the bones of 28 ancient humans, tentatively classified as Homo heidelbergensis, dating back hundreds of thousands of years.

The 400,000-year-old bones were originally thought to belong to ancient relatives of Neanderthals, a species of ancient hominin on a different branch of the evolutionary tree than our ancestors, based on their size and shape.

But the new genetic information published Dec. 4 in the journal Nature has thrown that assumption into question.

The researchers used a completely new technique to isolate the DNA from a thigh bone, which they say wouldn't even have been possible a year ago.

Previously, the oldest human DNA ever sequenced was a paltry 100,000 years old.

The genetic material they sequenced is not the DNA we traditionally think o! f but th e specialized DNA that runs our cell's energy-making machine (the mitochondria) and is passed down only from the mother.

This mitochondrial DNA indicated that these ancient humans, though they looked like Neanderthals, were more genetically related (or, at least their mitochondria were) to another ancient human species, the Denisovians.

The Denisovians are a completely different, also dead, branch of the human evolutionary tree. They are known to have lived about 80,000 years ago in East Asia. The bones from those Denisovians don't look like Neanderthals or like the 400,000-year-old bones that researchers have found in the pit.

The thigh bone of a 400,000-year-old ancient human hominin from Sima de los Huesos, SpainFinding their DNA thousands of miles and hundreds of thousands of years away from where we thought Denisovians evolved throws everything we know about ancient humans and how they spread out around the globe and evolved into distinct species into question.

"It's extremely hard to make sense of," Meyer told The NYT. "We still are a bit lost here."

The DNA isolated from these ancient bones suggests that there could have been many more species of ancient humans than we thought.

Another possibility is that these mysterious people found in the Pit of Bones were the evolutionary ancestors of both the Neanderthals and Denisovians. The mitochondrial DNA might have disappeared from the Neanderthals at some point but remained with the Denisovians, the researchers said.

This builds upon other findings, presented Nov. 18 at a meeting on ancient DNA at the Royal Society and reported by Nature News, that indicated that ancient humans interbred with not just Neanderthals and Denisovians, but also another mystery relative. The researchers on that study suggest that it could have been the ancient human species Homo erectus, which came along a few million years ago, then disappeared from the fossil record right before modern humans.

Ben Shapiro, an ancient DNA researcher from the University of California, Santa Cruz, suggested to The New York Times that Homo erectus could be the species in the Pit of Bones as well.

The only way to find answers is to sequence more of the ancient DNA in the pit and from other ancient human fossils.

SEE ALSO: An Incredible New Skull Is Forcing Us To Rethink The Evolution Of Early Humans

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Screw Salt, Wisconsin Is De-Icing Its Roads With Cheese Brine


Screw Salt, Wisconsin Is De-Icing Its Roads With Cheese Brine

Life handed Wisconsin lemons, and Wisconsin has come right back with the cheesiest lemonade you ever did see. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to dispose of cheese brine every year, Wisconsin will be putting that liquid provolone gold right back to use by pouring it onto the roads—which, in turn, is making them safer than ever before.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Artificial Photosynthesis: Making Cheap Hydrogen From Water and Light


Artificial Photosynthesis: Making Cheap Hydrogen From Water and Light

Hydrogen is one of the most promising fuels of the future but right now it's expensive to produce in bulk. Enter the work of a team of Stanford researchers who believe they can make it as cheap as fossil fuels—using just some water and sunlight.


The actual probability of Earth going to hell in the next few decades


The actual probability of Earth going to hell in the next few decades

We know that climate change is already affecting Earth's weather in a major way, but we don't exactly know how bad things are going to get. However, scientists have a pretty good idea of the probabilities of Earth going to hell in the next few decades. This video shows them.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Maps Show Where Earth's Forests Are Being Destroyed


Forest change cover

The first high-resolution global map of changes in forest cover over the last 12 years shows which parts of the world are losing forests at an alarming rate.

Using Landsat satellite images of Earth's surface provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (this data had previously not been available for free) combined with cloud computing support from Google, researchers mapped global tree cover, loss, and gain between 2000 and 2012.

More than 650,000 Landsat images were used to build the map at a spatial resolution of around 100 feet, meaning that one pixel represents an area of 100 feet by 100 feet on the ground.

The study, published online in the journal Science on Thursday, Nov. 14, revealed many key trends about worldwide forest change.

Between 2000 and 2012, 888,000 square miles (an area roughly the size of Mexico and Arizona combined) of forest was lost, while 309,000 square miles (an area about half the size of Alaska) of new forest was established.

You can see an interactive global map of forest change here.

"Losses or gains in forest cover shape many important aspects of an ecosystem including, climate regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity and water supplies, but until now there has not been a way to get detailed, accurate, satellite-based and readily available data on forest cover change from local to global scales," Matthew Hansen, a professor at the University of Maryland and co-author of the study, said in statement.

Of the four climate domains — tropical, subtropical, temperate, and boreal — the tropics experienced the greatest forest loss with an estimated increase in loss of 811 square miles per year. Tropical rainforests accounted for 32% of the world's forest loss — half of whic! h occurr ed in South American rainforests.

Although historically, Brazil has accounted for half of global tropical rainforest loss, the country has cut their deforestation rate in half over the last decade. Brazil's reduction in forest clearing (partly a result of stronger efforts to document trends in deforestation using Landsat data) was offset by increasing forest loss in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia, Angola, and other countries. 

The animation below shows forest loss in Sumatra's Riau province in Indonesia. The country is a major target of giant logging, mining, and palm companies and showed the greatest forest loss over the study period.

hansen1.gifIn boreal forests — spanning northern regions of Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, and Alaska — fire is the biggest reason for forest loss.

This animation shows forest fires near Yakutsk, Russia, between 2000 and 2012.


In the southeastern United States, an area of intensive forestry, 31% of forest cover was either lost or regrown. Fire, logging, and disease are largely responsible for forest loss in western North America, according to the study. 

Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 1.54.53 PM

SEE ALSO: American Forests Look Nothing Like They Did 400 Years Ago

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An 8-Year Old Girl Has Become China's Youngest Lung Cancer Patient, And The Doctors Are Blaming Air Pollution


Beijing Smog

An eight-year-old girl has become China's youngest lung cancer patient, reports said, with doctors blaming pollution as the direct cause of her illness.

The girl, whose name was not given, lives near a major road in the eastern province of Jiangsu, said Xinhuanet, the website of China's official news agency.

It quoted Jie Fengdong, a doctor at Jiangsu Cancer Hospital in Nanjing, as saying she had been exposed to harmful particles and dust over a long period of time.

Lung cancer cases among children are extremely rare, with the average age for diagnosis at about 70, according to the American Cancer Society.

But the incidence of the disease has skyrocketed in China as the country's rapid development has brought with it deteriorating air quality, particularly in urban areas.

Lung cancer deaths in China have multiplied more than four times over the past 30 years, according to Beijing's health ministry. Cancer is now the leading cause of death in the smog-ridden capital.

The report of the eight-year-old girl's diagnosis comes after choking smog enveloped the northeastern city of Harbin two weeks ago, bringing flights and ground transport to a standstill and forcing schools to shut for several days, with visibility in some areas reduced to less than 50 metres.

At the height of the smog, the city's levels of PM2.5 -- the smallest, most dangerous type of airborne particle -- reached 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre, 40 times the World Health Organization's recommended standard.

High levels of PM2.5 have been linked to health problems including lung cancer and heart disease.

Copyright (2013) AFP. All rights reserved.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Handie prosthetic uses 3D printing and smartphones for much cheaper bionic hands (video)


Handie prosthetic uses 3D printing, your smartphone for substantially cheaper bionic hands video

The main aim of Handie, already a James Dyson award nominee, was to develop an artificial hand that offered a large degree of functionality without the brutal prices associated with prosthetics. With the latest model, it apparently skirts below a $400 price tag, substituting a smartphone for previously dedicated processing hardware as well as 3D printing. The use of printable parts makes Handie repairable, meaning it should last as long (or possibly longer) as models that use substantially more expensive materials. Because all the components (aside from the motors) can be printed, it means customization, design improvements and repairs are all possible -- and cheaply too. The team also has a customized mechanism for finger flexing, reducing the number of motors needed to just one per three-segment digit.

These single motors are still able to passively change direction of fingers depending on the shape of an object. The heavy thinking is all assigned to a companion app on a nearby smartphone, which cuts the costs once again. The prosthetic makers demonstrated the Handie's capabilities at an early press event for this weekend's Maker Faire Tokyo. After working on prosthetics in college, development has focused on the fact that high functionality might not be the biggest priority, especially for users that may require two hand replacements, bringing us back to Handie's simple aim: "sufficient functions at an affordable price." Compare and contrast the rougher fresh-from-the-3D-printer model against a glossier Portal-ish version in our gallery below, and check out the full video explanation after the break. %Gallery-slideshow102887%

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Incredible sky event looks like alien spaceships coming to Earth


Incredible sky event looks like alien spaceships coming to Earth

It looks like a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but it's real—an awesome view of one of the weirdest sky phenomena you can watch from Earth, witnessed near the town of Sirkka, in the Finnish lapland.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

This Multi-Colored Corn Is Real And There's A Fantastic Story Behind It


Glass gems originalGlass Gem corn, a unique variety of rainbow-colored corn, became an Internet sensation in 2012 when a photo of the dazzling cob was posted to Facebook.

Since then, the Arizona-based company that sells the rare seed, Native Seeds/SEARCH, has been ramping up production to meet the high demand.

A Facebook page devoted to Glass Gem allows growers to share pictures of the vibrant corn variety. It has nearly 4,000 likes.  

But the story behind Glass Gem is just as remarkable. It begins with one man, Carl Barnes, who set out to explore his Native American roots.

The history was largely retold by Barnes' protegee, Greg Schoen, in 2012, when the corn gained national attention. We've broken out the highlights.  

The story of Glass Gem corn begins with an Oklahoma farmer named Carl Barnes. Barnes, now in his 80s, is half-Cherokee. He began growing older corn varieties in his adult years (no one is exactly sure when this began) as a way to reconnect with his heritage.

In growing these older corn varieties, Barnes was able to isolate ancestral types that had been lost to Native American tribes when they were relocated to what is now Oklahoma in the 1800s. This led to an exchange of ancient corn seed with people he had met and made friends with all over the country.

At the same time, Barnes began selecting, saving, and replanting seeds from particularly colorful cobs.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider