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Scientists said Wednesday they had unravelled the oldest DNA ever retrieved from a Homo sapiens bone, a feat that sheds light on modern humans’ colonisation of the planet. A femur found by chance on the banks of a west Siberian river in 2008 is that of a man who died around 45,000 years ago, they said. Teased out of collagen in the ancient bone, the genome contains traces from Neanderthals—a cousin species who lived in Eurasia alongside H. sapiens before mysteriously disappearing. Previous research has found that Neanderthals and H. sapiens interbred, leaving a tiny Neanderthal imprint of just about two percent in humans today, except for Africans.
The discovery has a bearing on the so-called “Out of Africa” scenario: the theory that H. sapiens evolved in East Africa around 200,000 years ago and then ventured out of the continent. Dating when Neanderthals and H. sapiens interbred would also indicate when H. sapiens embarked on a key phase of this trek—the push out of Eurasia and into South and later Southeast Asia.
The new study, published in the journal Nature, was headed by Svante Paabo, a renowned geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who has pioneered research into Neanderthals. More here Oldest DNA ever found sheds light on humans’ global trek.
Neural activity maps frequently present an incomplete picture of how a brain works; you can measure electrical activity, stimulate it or visualize the anatomy, but you can’t do all three. DARPA and the University of Wisconsin might just pull off that seemingly impossible feat, however. They recently built a hybrid brain sensor that combines both electrical and optical techniques to present a vivid picture of what’s happening inside the mind. The sensor is primarily made of ultra-thin graphene (just four atoms thick) that both conducts electricity and lets light through. By putting this device on top of neural tissue, you can simultaneously create brain activity and monitor virtually every aspect of it. Graphene is safe for your body, too, so you shouldn’t face the same risks you see with metal alloys.
It’s still early days for the project, so you won’t be getting graphene-based implants in the near future. However, a finished version might do wonders for medicine. Doctors and scientists could see tighter correlations between activity in certain parts of the brain and related behavior, which could help them study and hopefully treat diseases that previously remained a mystery. Via Atom-scale brain sensors will show exactly how your mind works.
“There is an ethereal, otherworldly feeling to this photograph, as this little island in the middle of Tumuch Lake in northern British Columbia appears as if it’s floating in the clouds,” says Shane Kalyn, who submitted this photo to the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest. “To bring us back to Earth, a fish has left a ripple in the water on the left-hand side of the shot. The scene was amazing to witness, let alone be lucky enough to photograph—totally the right place at the right time.” Via Tumuch Lake Picture
Scientists say they have identified the underlying reason why some people are prone to the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People with Sad have an unhelpful way of controlling the “happy” brain signalling compound serotonin during winter months, brain scans reveal. As the nights draw in, production of a transporter protein ramps up in Sad, lowering available serotonin. The work will be presented this week at a neuropsychopharmacology conference.
The University of Copenhagen researchers who carried out the trial say their findings confirm what others have suspected – although they only studied 11 people with Sad and 23 healthy volunteers for comparison. Using positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans, they were able to show significant summer-to-winter differences in the levels of the serotonin transporter (SERT) protein in Sad patients. The Sad volunteers had higher levels of SERT in the winter months, corresponding to a greater removal of serotonin in winter, while the healthy volunteers did not.
Lead researcher, Dr Brenda Mc Mahon, said: “We believe that we have found the dial the brain turns when it has to adjust serotonin to the changing seasons. “The serotonin transporter (SERT) carries serotonin back into the nerve cells where it is not active – so the higher the SERT activity, the lower the activity of serotonin. “Sunlight keeps this setting naturally low, but when the nights grow longer during the autumn, the SERT levels increase, resulting in diminishing active serotonin levels. “Many individuals are not really affected by Sad, and we have found that these people don’t have this increase in SERT activity, so their active serotonin levels remain high throughout the winter.” Edited from Brain scans show cause of seasonal affective disorder.
With the sad news today of the death of Raphael Ravenscroft we thought you might like to hear from the man himself talking about his work and one of the all time great saxophone solos from Jerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. – Deskarati
I have lately been getting my moons mixed up! This is somewhat understandable for someone with only a poor knowledge of Greek Mythology and Shakespeare and not helped when three of them sound very similar. Titan, Titania and Triton. So as an aid memoir to me and any of you with a similar problem, I am posting this great graphic showing all the major moons alongside the Earth to help gauge the sizes. – Deskarati
A team led by astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has created the first three-dimensional map of the ‘adolescent’ Universe, just 3 billion years after the Big Bang. This map, built from data collected from the W. M. Keck Observatory, is millions of light-years across and provides a tantalizing glimpse of large structures in the ‘cosmic web’ – the backbone of cosmic structure.
On the largest scales, matter in the Universe is arranged in a vast network of filamentary structures known as the ‘cosmic web’, its tangled strands spanning hundreds of millions of light-years. Dark matter, which emits no light, forms the backbone of this web, which is also suffused with primordial hydrogen gas left over from the Big Bang. Galaxies like our own Milky Way are embedded inside this web, but fill only a tiny fraction of its volume.
Now a team of astronomers led by Khee-Gan Lee, a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, has created a map of hydrogen absorption revealing a three-dimensional section of the universe 11 billions light years away – the first time the cosmic web has been mapped at such a vast distance. Since observing to such immense distances is also looking back in time, the map reveals the early stages of cosmic structure formation when the Universe was only a quarter of its current age, during an era when the galaxies were undergoing a major ‘growth spurt’. Via Scientists build first map of hidden universe.
If there ever comes a day I can ditch my wallet and use my phone to pay for everything, I’ll look back to my first purchase through Apple Pay: a Big Mac and medium fries for $5.44. That wallet-free day won’t be coming for a while, if ever, but Apple’s new payments system brings us much closer.
There were a few unexpected steps setting up Apple Pay on Monday, and the employee at a local McDonald’s looked befuddled as I stood there after waving an iPhone 6 over the wireless reader in front of the cash register. The transaction hadn’t gone through, so she was waiting for me to pay. I thought I had, but I had pressed the phone’s fingerprint ID sensor too hard, getting me out of the transaction instead of authorizing it.
Apple Pay will take getting used to—for consumers and merchants alike. These aren’t insurmountable hurdles. The biggest difficulty is general acceptance, and Apple has managed to boost interest in mobile payments in a way Google and other rivals haven’t been able to for years. Via Review: Apple Pay in action.
Investors are seeking funding from the UK government for an ambitious plan to import solar energy generated in North Africa. Under the scheme, up to 2.5 million UK homes could be powered by Tunisian sunshine by 2018. The company involved says they have already spent 10 million euros developing the site.
A number of overseas energy producers are competing to bring green energy to the UK from 2017. The TuNur project aims to bring two gigawatts of solar power to the UK from Tunisia if the company wins a contract for difference (CFD) from the British government. Under new rules published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) in the Summer, the government will allow developers of renewable energy projects that are not based in the UK to bid for contracts that guarantee subsidies to supply power.
TuNur, which is a partnership between British renewables investor Low Carbon, developer Nur Energie, and Tunisian investors, says it has already spent 10 million euros developing the site in the southern area of the country. The company has gathered three years of solar data from the location, which it says has been independently verified. Legislation has also been passed in the Tunisian parliament to facilitate the export of the energy, and an agreement has been reached with the Italian network operator to connect a dedicated undersea cable to a substation near Rome. Via Cheap African solar energy could power UK homes in 2018.
Personal electronics such as cell phones and laptops could get a boost from some of the lightest materials in the world. Lawrence Livermore researchers have turned to graphene aerogel for enhanced electrical energy storage that eventually could be used to smooth out power fluctuations in the energy grid. The team found that graphene aerogel-based supercapacitor electrodes could be particularly useful in the electric vehicle sector because they feature high surface area, good electrical conductivity, chemical inertness and long-term cycling stability.
Energy storage systems for electric vehicles have especially demanding requirements because they must combine high power and energy density, cyclability, safety and low cost. Supercapacitors (also known as ultracapacitors or electrical double-layer capacitors) can help to meet these requirements due to their high power density and excellent cycling stability.
“Commercial carbon-based supercapacitors are used to recover braking energy in numerous vehicles (cars, buses, trains, etc.) and to open the emergency exits of the Airbus A380,” LLNL’s Patrick Campbell said. “Our materials can potentially improve on the performance of these commercial supercapacitors by more than 100 percent.”
Compared to traditional carbon-based supercapacitor electrodes fabricated from carbon black and binder materials, graphene aerogels offer many advantages such as control of density and pore size distribution, and increased conductivity due to carbon linkers between the active carbon sheets and the absence of binder materials. Via Energy storage of the future.
Oscar Reutersvärd, “the father of the impossible figures,” met with many challenges growing up, but that didn’t stop him from establishing an identity for himself in the world of art. Reutersvärd came into this world on November 29, 1915 in Stockholm, Sweden, and by 1934, he had pioneered in the art of 3D drawings. However, the world wouldn’t have heard of him if it wasn’t for his parents and his determination to overcome challenges. Reutersvärd was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, which prevented him from accurately estimating the size and distance of objects, but he was determined to follow in the footsteps of his artistic family who encouraged him throughout his life. So, he spent his youth practising painting and sculpting at home, overcoming his disability.
Reutersvärd’s efforts paid off and early on in his life, he created the “Impossible triangle” at the age of 18. The idea of creating the infamous figure came to him when he was sitting idle in Latin Class. Realizing the importance of the figure and historical impact, he continued to design thousands of impossible figures, which earned him the title of “the father of the impossible figures.” He left the world on February 2, 2002, but his collection of figures stayed behind.
Now, artists study his work to create more derivatives of his original creations and honor him in their own special ways. Reutersvärd’s artistic legacy has stayed behind, but what gave birth to his legacy was the “Impossible Triangle.” Via Oscar Reutersvärd and the Impossible Triangle – Optical Spy.
This is the Pieter Schelte, which is now the largest ship sailing the seas, surpassing even the Maersk Triple-E*. Built by Daewoo in Korea, this catamaran is so huge that it can lift entire oil platforms off their base, pick up the base itself, and then transport it all to port—which is exactly what it’s designed to do.
This is why this 1,253 x 384 feet (382 x 117 meters) $1.7-billion titan is powered by eight 11.2 megawatt engines connected to 13 Rolls Royce 5.5 megawatt thrusters. Via This is now Earth’s largest ship—so big it can lift oil rigs off the sea.
Your genome is the same right now as it was yesterday, last week, last year, or the day you were born. But your microbiomes—the combined genes of all the trillions of microbes that share your body—have shifted since the sun came up this morning. And they will change again before the next sunrise. Christoph Thaiss from the Weizmann Institute of Science has discovered that the communities of microbes in out guts vary on a daily cycle. Some species rise to the fore during daylight hours and recede into the background at night, while others show the opposite pattern.
These cycles are a lot like our own body clocks, or circadian rhythms. Over a 24 hour period, the levels of many molecules in our body rise and fall in predictable fashion. These rhythms affect everything from our body temperature to our brain activity to how well we respond to medicine. But these clocks tick by themselves. You can reset them by exposing yourself to light at different times of day (which is what we do when we cross time zones and get jetlag), but they are still self-sustaining.
Our microbiome clock is not. The microbes aren’t waxing and waning of their own accord. Their world is completely dark. There’s no way for them to tell what time of the day it is, except for clues provided by us. The most important of these clues is food. Thanks to our own rhythms, we eat at regular times of the day, and it’s these feeding patterns that drive the cycles in our microbiome. Diet is the gear that synchronises the ticks of our clocks with those of our microbes. More here How Jetlag Disrupts The Ticks of Your Microbial Clock
Brain surgery for those suffering with severe epilepsy could soon be performed by robots through the cheek. The only way doctors can currently treat patients with uncontrollable epilepsy is through brain surgery, which involves isolating or removing the part of the brain that is responsible for seizures. The procedure is extremely invasive and dangerous, as it involves drilling deep into the skull. A team of Vanderbilt University engineers in the US were determined to develop a less intrusive method of surgery – and five years later they have successfully developed a robotic device capable of performing the procedure less invasively.
The device enters through the patient’s cheek, where it can proceed into the brain, avoiding the need to drill through the skull. The prototype was revealed by David Comber, lead designer of the device, in a live demonstration earlier this week at the Fluid Power Innovation and Research Conference in Nashville, US. The nifty device is a shape-memory alloy needle (a metal that ‘remembers’ its original shape) that is able to steer along the curved pathway from the cheek into the brain. When operating, the robotic platform steers the needle using compressed air, inserting it in tiny steps, allowing its position to be tracked by progressive MRI scans. The needle itself is 1.14 mm thick, and made of nickel-titanium, which allows it to operate inside the powerful magnetic field created by the MRI scanner. The researchers tested the needle in the lab and found it to have a very high precision for the required operation. Via Robots could soon perform brain surgery through your cheek.
The plane spent nearly two years circling Earth on a classified mission. Known as the X-37B, it resembles a mini space shuttle. It safely touched down at 9:24 a.m. Friday, officials at Vandenberg Air Force Base said. Just what the plane was doing during its 674 days in orbit has been the subject of sometimes spectacular speculation.
Several experts have theorized it carried a payload of spy gear in its cargo bay. Other theories sound straight out of a James Bond film, including that the spacecraft would be able to capture the satellites of other nations or shadow China’s space lab. In a written release announcing the return of the craft, the Air Force only said it had been conducting “on-orbit experiments.” The X-37B program has been an orphan of sorts, bouncing since its inception in 1999 between several federal agencies, NASA among them. It now resides under the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office.
The plane that landed Friday is one of two built by Boeing. This is the program’s third mission, and began in December 2012. The plane stands 9 1/2 feet tall and is just over 29 feet long, with a wingspan under 15 feet. It weighs 11,000 pounds and has solar panels that unfurl to charge its batteries once in orbit. The Air Force said it plans to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida, next year. Via Top-secret space plane lands on California coast.
On October 19, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 88,000 miles of Mars – just one third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon! Traveling at 33 miles per second and weighing as much as a small mountain, the comet hails from the outer fringes of our solar system, originating in a region of icy debris known as the Oort cloud.
Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. Since this is Comet Siding Spring’s first trip through the inner solar system, scientists are excited to learn more about its composition and the effects of its gas and dust on the Mars upper atmosphere. NASA will be watching closely before, during, and after the flyby with its entire fleet of Mars orbiters and rovers, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and dozens of instruments on Earth. The encounter is certain to teach us more about Oort cloud comets, the Martian atmosphere, and the solar system’s earliest ingredients.
The discovery of an enormous tomb in northern Greece, dating to the time of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, has enthused Greeks, distracting them from a dire economic crisis. Who, they are asking, is buried within. In early August, a team of Greek archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri unearthed what officials say is the largest burial site ever to be discovered in the country. The mound is in ancient Amphipolis, a major city of the Macedonian kingdom, 100km (62 miles) east of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city.
The structure dates back to the late 4th Century BC and the wall surrounding it is 500m (1,600ft) in circumference, dwarfing the burial site of Alexander’s father, Philip II, in Vergina, west of Thessaloniki.
“We are watching in awe and with deep emotion the excavation in Amphipolis,” Greek Culture Minister Konstantinos Tasoulas told the BBC. “This is a burial monument of unique dimensions and impressive artistic mastery. The most beautiful secrets are hidden right underneath our feet.” More here Greeks captivated by Alexander-era tomb at Amphipolis.
On this day in 1604 Johannes Kepler began systematically observing a new, very bright star that had abruptly appeared in the constellation Ophiuchus. For three weeks, the star outshone all other heavenly bodies save the Sun, the Moon and Venus. The star was even visible during the day. We now know that the star was a supernova, the most recent one to have exploded in our own galaxy. The drawing is Kepler’s own of the new star (the star is marked N on the right ankle of Ophiucus, the serpent bearer). The image shows (in false color) the infrared emission from supernova remnant; it was made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope four centuries after the supernova first appeared in the sky. Via Physics Today.