Category: Science


Black death was not spread by rat fleas, say researchers

Black death

Black death researchers extracted plague DNA from 14th century skulls found in east London. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

Archaeologists and forensic scientists who have examined 25 skeletons unearthed in the Clerkenwell area of London a year ago believe they have uncovered the truth about the nature of the Black Death that ravaged Britain and Europe in the mid-14th century.

Analysis of the bodies and of wills registered in London at the time has cast doubt on “facts” that every schoolchild has learned for decades: that the epidemic was caused by a highly contagious strain spread by the fleas on rats.

Now evidence taken from the human remains found in Charterhouse Square, to the north of the City of London, during excavations carried out as part of the construction of the Crossrail train line, have suggested a different cause: only an airborne infection could have spread so fast and killed so quickly.

The Black Death arrived in Britain from central Asia in the autumn of 1348 and by late spring the following year it had killed six out of every 10 people in London. Such a rate of destruction would kill five million now. By extracting the DNA of the disease bacterium, Yersinia pestis, from the largest teeth in some of the skulls retrieved from the square, the scientists were able to compare the strain of bubonic plague preserved there with that which was recently responsible for killing 60 people in Madagascar. To their surprise, the 14th-century strain, the cause of the most lethal catastrophe in recorded history, was no more virulent than today’s disease. The DNA codes were an almost perfect match.

 

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March 31, 2014

Organic Ejecta –Clues to Violent Events in the History of the Universe

 

Pinwheel_Spitzer

 

Exploding stars, random impacts involving comets and meteorites, and even near misses between two bodies can create regions of great heat and high pressure. Researchers from Imperial College London have now developed a method for analysing the pressure experienced by tiny samples of organic material that may have been ejected from dying stars before making a long journey through the cosmos. The researchers have investigated a type of aromatic hydrocarbon called dimethylnaphthalene, which should enable them to identify violent events in the history of the universe.

The team also believe that their new technique could be applied on Mars, potentially using the existing technology on-board roving laboratories such as the one on the Mars Science Laboratory Mission to glean information about sources of organic matter on the red planet. Recognising the pressures recorded in the aromatic hydrocarbons can help to reveal whether it came from processes generated from ancient living organisms.Samples of dimethylnaphthalene are found in meteorites. Previously, scientists have only had the ability to investigate how they have been affected by heat. The Imperial researchers say their method for detecting periods when dimethylnaphthalenes have experienced high pressure will now allow for a much more comprehensive analysis of organic materials.

 

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Study: Dogs Understand How We’re Feeling

By George Putic – Researchers in Hungary have confirmed something many dog owners have long suspected: that canines understand our feelings.

Using a Magnetic Resonance Scanner, or MRI, scientists found that when it comes to emotions, dogs’ brains are similar to those of humans.Dogs are usually not relaxed in a lab environment, but with a little petting and lots of treats they can be trained to sit still even in an MRI scanner. That’s how researchers in Hungary’s ELTE University were able to get images of their brains at work.

Research fellow Attila Andics says it helped them better understand the dogs’ relationship with humans.

“We have known for a long time that dogs and humans share similar social environment, but now our results show that dogs and humans also have similar brain mechanisms to process social information,” said Andics.

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File:Boomstronken.jpg

Description  :  Boomstronken; foto door Fruggo, juni 2003.

Attribution: Fruggo from nl

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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New Research Shows Tree Roots Regulate CO2, Keep Climate Stable

Climate News Network | February 19, 2014 8:30 am

The argument, put forward by a team from Oxford and Sheffield Universities in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, begins with temperature. Warmer climates mean more vigorous tree growth and more leaf litter, and more organic content in the soil. So the tree’s roots grow more vigorously, said Dr. Christopher Doughty of Oxford and colleagues.

They get into the bedrock, and break up the rock into its constituent minerals. Once that happens, the rock starts to weather, combining with carbon dioxide. This weathering draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and in the process cools the planet down a little. So mountain ecosystems—mountain forests are usually wet and on conspicuous layers of rock—are in effect part of the global thermostat, preventing catastrophic overheating.

The tree is more than just a sink for carbon, it is an agency for chemical weathering that removes carbon from the air and locks it up in carbonate rock.

That mountain weathering and forest growth are part of the climate system has never been in much doubt: the questions have always been about how big a forest’s role might be, and how to calculate its contribution.

Keeping climate stable

U.S. scientists recently studied the rainy slopes of New Zealand’s Southern Alps to begin to put a value on mountain ecosystem processes. Dr. Doughty and his colleagues measured tree roots at varying altitudes in the tropical rain forests of Peru, from the Amazon lowlands to 3,000 meters of altitude in the higher Andes.

They measured the growth to 30 cm below the surface every three months and did so for a period of years. They recorded the thickness of the soil’s organic layer, and they matched their observations with local temperatures, and began to calculate the rate at which tree roots might turn Andean granite into soil.

Then they scaled up the process, and extended it through long periods of time. Their conclusion: that forests served to moderate temperatures in a much hotter world 65 million years ago.

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New maps show how habitats may shift with climate change

This map shows how marine habitat ranges will shift likely in a segment of the Northern Hemisphere. The length of the black arrows indicates the velocity of temperature change, and the color schemes correspond with the nature of the habitat migration, as follows. SINK: Migrations terminate due to some barrier, such as coastlines. SOURCE: Migrations do not terminate. CORRIDOR: Many migrations passing through. DIVERGENCE: Fewer migrations end than start. CONVERGENCE: More migrations start than end. Credit: Michael Burrows and Jorge Garcia Molinosor (Credit: Michael Burrows and Jorge Garcia Molinosor)

This map shows how marine habitat ranges will shift likely in a segment of the Northern Hemisphere. The length of the black arrows indicates the velocity of temperature change, and the color schemes correspond with the nature of the habitat migration, as follows. SINK: Migrations terminate due to some barrier, such as coastlines. SOURCE: Migrations do not terminate. CORRIDOR: Many migrations passing through. DIVERGENCE: Fewer migrations end than start. CONVERGENCE: More migrations start than end. Credit: Michael Burrows and Jorge Garcia Molinosor

As regional temperatures shift with climate change, many plants and animals will need to relocate to make sure they stay in the range of temperatures they’re used to.

For some species, this shift will mean a fairly direct adjustment toward higher latitudes to stay with cooler temperatures, but for many others, the path will take twists and turns due to differences in the rate at which temperatures change around the world, scientists say.

Now, a team of 21 international researchers has identified potential paths of these twists and turns by mapping out climate velocities— the speed and intensity with which climate change occurs in a given region — averaged from 50 years of satellite data from 1960 through 2009, and projected for the duration of the 21st century.

MSN Weather: What causes global warming?
MSN Weather: How global warming can make cold snaps even worse

“We are taking physical data that we have had for a long time and representing them in a way that is more relevant to other disciplines, like ecology,” said co-author Michael Burrows, a researcher at the Scottish Marine Institute. “This is a relatively simple approach to understanding how climate is going to influence ocean and land systems.”

Where species come and go

The resulting maps indicate regions likely to experience an influx or exodus of new species, or behave as a corridor or, conversely, a barrier, to migration. Barriers, such as coastlines or mountain ranges, could cause local extinctions if they prevent species from relocating, the team says.  [Maps: Habitat Shifts Due to Climate Change]

“For example, because those environments are not adjacent to or directly connected to a warmer place, those species from warmer places won’t be able to get there very easily,” Burrows told Live Science. “They might still get there in other ways, like on the bottoms of ships, but they won’t get there as easily.”

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Human-animal hybrids, disasters in the making

Human-animal hybrids, disasters in the making

Scientists worldwide are creating bizarre human-animal hybrids that could wreak havoc on society. In the past ten years alone, unforgettable advances in the field of genetic modifications have left researchers and on-lookers stunned.

Nowadays, it is possible for a couple of university-age students to concoct new life forms in the comfort of their own basement. Regrettably so, laws have not been able to keep up with the pace at which scientists have been toying around with their creations.

In turn, the entities being created are not at all illegal but by all means could pose a risk to society by and large. There is no telling what may happen if these life forms are allowed to mate. Still, eagerness can be seen in the eyes and minds of scientists on a global level just waiting to unleash their next creation to the world, that all seemed liked fantasy just a short time ago.

To give a concrete example, scientists have made mice with an artificial human chromosome “in every cell of their bodies”. Such an act is being praised as a “breakthrough” which may lead to different cures for a wide scope of disease. As reported by Lifenews.com, University of Wisconsin researchers have had much success by transferring cells from human embryos into the brains of mice. These very cells began to grow, and in time made the mice more intelligent.

The mice showed that they were able to solve a simple maze and learn conditioning signals at a more enhanced level than if compared to before their transformation. Critics are quick to question whether a practice of injecting parts of humans in animals carries more benefits than risks.

 

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Starving hives: Pesticides cause bees to collect 57% less pollen, study says

Published time: February 02, 2014 21:15
Edited time: February 04, 2014 09:23

Reuters / Leonhard Foeger

Reuters / Leonhard Foeger

While some scientists hailed the findings, pesticide makers remained unimpressed

In a spin-off of their earlier study, a team of British scientists have revealed how the neurotoxic chemicals contained in agricultural neonicotinoids affect the very basic function of the honeybees – the gathering of pollen, or flower nectar.

“Pollen is the only source of protein that bees have, and it is vital for rearing their young. Collecting it is fiddly, slow work for the bees and intoxicated bees become much worse at it. Without much pollen, nests will inevitably struggle,” explained University of Sussex professor Dave Goulson, who has led the study. His comments were made in a statement released alongside the research.

Goulson’s latest paper called “Field realistic doses of pesticide imidacloprid reduce bumblebee pollen foraging efficiency” was published at the end of January in peer-reviewed journal Ecotoxicology.

The scientists exposed some of the studied bees to low doses of imidacloprid and tracked their movement with the help of electronic tags. Unexposed bees were also tracked, and each insect flying out and returning to a hive was weighed to find out the amount of pollen it gathered.

It turned out that bees exposed to the neonicotinoid brought back pollen from only 40 percent of their trips asopposed to 63 percent of useful trips which their “healthy” counterparts undertook.
Intoxicated bees cut the amount of pollen gathered by nearly a third – overall, the comparative study showed that the hives exposed to the pesticide received 57 percent less pollen.

“Even near-infinitesimal doses of these neurotoxins seem to be enough to mess up the ability of bees to gather food. Given the vital importance of bumblebees as pollinators, this is surely a cause for concern,” Hannah Feltham of the University of Stirling, another member of the research team, stated.

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kvue.com

Professor to live in dumpster for year

by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on February 4, 2014 at 6:28 PM

Updated today at 9:27 AM

AUSTIN — Dumpster diving is taking on a whole new meaning at Huston-Tillotson University. It’s all about a professor and the number “one.” The dean of Huston Tillotson’s University College will live on campus for the next year.

His goal is to live in a space one percent the size of the average home, while using one percent of the water and energy used by an average home and producing only one percent of the waste an average home produces.

“This is what’s called an eight cubic yard dumpster, also with windows and doors,” said Huston-Tillitson environmental science professor Jeff Wilson, Ph.D.

Wilson made those comments back in October when he checked out dumpsters, not for trash or treasure, but rather to size them up as a future home.

“Telling people you have life dreams, you want to live in a dumpster, it brings sympathy your way,” Wilson said.

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Texas university professor moves into a DUMPSTER on school campus for a year to show students that they can live with less

  • Dr. Jeff Wilson, a Harvard-educated environmental science professor at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, moved into the dumpster Tuesday
  • The experiment is designed to show students, and the world, that humans can live on a smaller scale and lessen our environmental footprint
  • Thankfully for Wilson, who’s now known as Professor Dumpster, his new home isn’t your ordinary smelly dumpster
  • It will be getting kitted out by his students so it includes creature comforts like a shower, kitchen, bed, WiFi and toilet

By Helen Pow

|

A university professor in Austin, Texas, has moved into a 33sq ft dumpster, which he plans to call home for an entire year. 

Dr. Jeff Wilson, a Harvard-educated environmental science professor, took up residence in the trash can Tuesday in an effort to show students at Huston-Tillotson University, and the world, that humans can live on a smaller scale and lessen our environmental impact.

Thankfully for Wilson, who’s now known as Professor Dumpster, his new home isn’t your ordinary smelly dumpster but will be getting kitted out by his students so it includes creature comforts like a shower, kitchen, bed, WiFi and toilet.

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Dumpster time: Dr. Jeff Wilson, pictured Tuesday, Dean of the University College and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Huston-Tillotson University, moved into a 33-square foot dumpster on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas on Tuesday

Dumpster time: Dr. Jeff Wilson, pictured Tuesday, Dean of the University College and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Huston-Tillotson University, moved into a 33-square foot dumpster on the campus of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas on Tuesday

Outfitting the tiny space is step one in the trash can challenge, and the goal is to design the dumpster to be as energy efficient as possible, with solar panels and an energy producing toilet.

‘The idea here is to ultimately show one can have a pretty good life in a dumpster,’ Wilson told Fast Company.

However, the dumpster is starting off modestly. Tuesday night, the 6ft 1in Professor Dumpster posted a picture of his new abode on Twitter with a maroon sleeping bag laid out tightly in the small space with little else in view.

If occasionally Wilson needs a break from the box, students can opt to take his place for the night.

One student, Evette Jackson, has already signed up.

Mod cons: Thankfully for Wilson, pictured, his new home isn't your ordinary smelly dumpster but a special version customized by his students that includes creature comforts like a shower, kitchen, bed, WiFi and toilet

Mod cons: Thankfully for Wilson, pictured, his new home isn’t your ordinary smelly dumpster but a special version customized by his students that includes creature comforts like a shower, kitchen, bed, WiFi and toilet

Not very big: Wilson posted a picture of his new home on Twitter Tuesday with the comment 'Bird's eye view of dumpster home at bedtime'

Not very big: Wilson posted a picture of his new home on Twitter Tuesday with the comment ‘Bird’s eye view of dumpster home at bedtime’

‘I think it’s pretty intriguing,’ she told KVUE. ‘It’s pretty cool. I want to live in it too.’

After the year of dumpster living is up, Wilson plans on taking the bin across the United States, educating students about the possibility of following in his ‘less is more’ footsteps.

Wilson said the project idea came to him two years ago while he was sipping a latte at Starbucks.

‘I looked out the window into the parking lot and saw an eight-yard dumpster and had some sort of strange flash that I was definitely moving into a dumpster,’ he told Fast Company.

So when the lease ran out on his lovely, full-sized, apartment a year later, he posted an announcement on Facebook, which read: ‘Starting at 6pm, I will be selling all of my home furnishings, clothes, kitchen appliances, and everything else in the apartment for $1 an item.’

Help: Wilson, right, had help from students and other educators including Dr Karen Magid, pictured

Help: Wilson, right, had help from students and other educators including Dr Karen Magid, pictured

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LiveScience

Woolly Mammoths and Rhinos Ate Flowers

arctic
The Arctic had much more diverse flora than previously thought during the Pleistocene Era
Credit: Mauricio Anton

Woolly mammoths, rhinos and other ice age beasts may have munched on high-protein wildflowers called forbs, new research suggests.

And far from living in a monotonous grassland, the mega-beasts inhabited a colorful Arctic landscape filled with flowering plants and diverse vegetation, the study researchers found.

The new research “paints a different picture of the Arctic,” thousands of years ago, said study co-author Joseph Craine, an ecosystem ecologist at Kansas State University. “It makes us rethink how the vegetation looked and how those animals thrived on the landscape.”

The ancient ecosystem was detailed today (Feb. 5) in the journal Nature.

Pretty landscape

In the past, scientists imagined that the now-vast Arctic tundra was once a brown grassland steppe that teemed with wooly mammoths, rhinos and bison. But recreations of the ancient Arctic vegetation relied on fossilized pollen found in permafrost, or frozen soil. Because grasses and sedges tend to produce more pollen than other plants, those analyses produced a biased picture of the landscape. [Image Gallery: Ancient Beasts Roam an Arctic Landscape]

To understand the ancient landscape better, researchers analyzed the plant genetic material found in 242 samples of permafrost from across Siberia, Northern Europe and Alaska that dated as far back as 50,000 years ago.

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WOOD PILE

Warm winters let trees sleep longer

 

 


For their experiments, TUM researchers used twigs around 30 centimeters long from 36 different trees and shrubs, which they exposed to different temperature and light conditions in climate chambers. Each climate chamber experiment lasted six weeks. The twigs came from the “Weltwald” or “World Forest” near Freising, Germany, in which Bavarian state foresters have planted stands of trees from different climate regions. Credit: Photo by Julia Laube Copyright TU Muenchen.

by Staff Writers
Munich, Germany (SPX) Nov 04, 2013


In the temperate zones, vegetation follows the change of the seasons. After a winter pause, plants put out new growth in spring. Research has now brought a new correlation to light: The colder the winter, the earlier native plants begin to grow again.

Since warmer winters can be expected as the climate changes, the spring development phase for typical forest trees might start later and later – giving an advantage to shrubs and invasive trees that don’t depend on the cold.

In a recently published study, researchers at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) investigated 36 tree and shrub species.

Their work delivered a surprising result, as lead author Julia Laube explains: “Contrary to previous assumptions, the increasing length of the day in spring plays no big role in the timing of budding. An ample ‘cold sleep’ is what plants need in order to wake up on time in the spring.”

This applies above all to native tree species such as beech and oak, because they rely on resting in the cold to protect themselves from freezing by late spring frosts.

A different behavior is observed among pioneer species – including shrubs such as hazel bushes and primary settlers such as birch trees – and among species like locust and walnut that have moved in from warmer climate zones.

“These trees take the risk of starting earlier in the spring, because they are less strongly dependent on the cold periods,” Laube says, “and in addition they sprout more quickly as temperatures rise.”

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