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Would you sit on the edge of the Preachers Pulpit?

Preikestolen-The-Preachers-Pulpit-Norway Preikestolen-The-Preachers-Pulpit

Preikestolen, also known by the English translations of Preacher’s Pulpit or Pulpit Rock, is a famous tourist attraction in Forsand, Ryfylke, Norway. It consists of a steep cliff which rises 604 metres (1982 feet) above Lysefjorden, opposite the Kjerag plateau, with an almost flat top of approximately 25 by 25 metres (82 by 82 feet).

Tourism at the site has been increasing in recent years, with between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors in 2012 making it one of the most visited natural tourist attractions in Norway. Due to its increased popularity, there is currently a project under way to improve the path to the site, which is only accessible via a 3.8 km (2.4 mi.) hike. Image credit Arjan Veen.

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Scientists show type-1 and type-2 diabetes are caused by same underlying mechanism

Work by scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Auckland suggest that both major forms of diabetes are the result of the same mechanism. The findings, published today in the FASEB Journal (20 August), provide compelling evidence that juvenile-onset or type-1 diabetes and type-2 diabetes are both caused by the formation of toxic clumps of a hormone called amylin. The results, based on 20 years’ work in New Zealand, suggest that type-1 and type-2 diabetes could both be slowed down and potentially reversed by medicines that stop amylin forming these toxic clumps.

Professor Garth Cooper, from The University of Manchester working with his University of Auckland-based research team, led the study. As well as producing insulin, cells in the pancreas also produce another hormone called amylin. Insulin and amylin normally work together to regulate the body’s response to food intake. If they are no longer produced, then levels of sugar in the blood rise resulting in diabetes and causing damage to organs such as the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves if blood sugar levels aren’t properly controlled. However, some of the amylin that is produced can get deposited around cells in the pancreas as toxic clumps, which then, in turn, destroy those cells that produce insulin and amylin. The consequence of this cell death is diabetes.

Research published previously by Professor Cooper suggested that this is the causative mechanism in type-2 diabetes. This new research provides strong evidence that type-1 diabetes results from the same mechanism. The difference is that the disease starts at an earlier age and progresses more rapidly in type-1 compared to type-2 diabetes because there is more rapid deposition of toxic amylin clumps in the pancreas. Professor Cooper’s group expects to have potential medicines ready to go into clinical trials in the next two years and it is anticipated that these will be tested in both type-1 and type-2 diabetic patients. These clinical trials are being planned with research groups in England and Scotland. Via Scientists show type-1 and type-2 diabetes are caused by same underlying mechanism.

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Why global warming is taking a break

The average temperature on Earth has barely risen over the past 16 years. ETH researchers have now found out why. And they believe that global warming is likely to continue again soon.

Global warming is currently taking a break: whereas global temperatures rose drastically into the late 1990s, the global average temperature has risen only slightly since 1998 – surprising, considering scientific climate models predicted considerable warming due to rising greenhouse gas emissions. Climate sceptics used this apparent contradiction to question climate change per se – or at least the harm potential caused by greenhouse gases – as well as the validity of the climate models. Meanwhile, the majority of climate researchers continued to emphasise that the short-term ‘warming hiatus’ could largely be explained on the basis of current scientific understanding and did not contradict longer term warming.

Researchers have been looking into the possible causes of the warming hiatus over the past few years. For the first time, Reto Knutti, Professor of Climate Physics at ETH Zurich, has systematically examined all current hypotheses together with a colleague. In a study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers conclude that two important factors are equally responsible for the hiatus.

    • El Niño warmed the Earth
    • Longer solar cycles

Read more here Why global warming is taking a break.

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Pulmonary alveoli seen under the microscope

An alveolus (plural: alveoli, from Latin alveolus, “little cavity”) is an anatomical structure that has the form of a hollow cavity. Found in the lung parenchyma, the pulmonary alveoli are the terminal ends of the respiratory tree, which outcrop from either alveolar sacs or alveolar ducts, which are both sites of gas exchange with the blood as well. Via Facebook.

Posted in Biology, Human Body | 3 Comments

Mummy-Making Began Long Before Pharaohs

The ancient Egyptians began mummifying bodies as far back as 6,000 years ago, analysis of Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic funerary wrappings has revealed. The finding predates the origins of mummification in ancient Egypt by 1,500 years, indicating that resin-soaked textiles used in the prehistoric period (c. 4500 – 3350 B.C.) are the true antecedents of Egyptian mummification.

Experts have long assumed that in the 5th and 4th millennia B.C. preservation of soft tissues was due to natural processes, since buried bodies were naturally desiccated in the hot, dry desert sand. The start of true Egyptian mummification is generally dated to the Old Kingdom (2500 B.C.), although the use of preservative resinous recipes became evident centuries later during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 – 1600 B.C.). Via Mummy-Making Began Long Before Pharaohs

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Mouth bacteria can change its diet

Bacteria inside your mouth drastically change how they act when you’re diseased, according to research using supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). Scientists say these surprising findings might lead to better ways to prevent or even reverse the gum disease periodontitis, diabetes, and Crohn’s disease.

Marvin Whiteley, professor of molecular biosciences and director of the Center for Infectious Disease at The University of Texas at Austin, led the study published in April 2014 in the journal mBio.

“What we were trying to figure out,” said Whiteley, “is how do these bacteria act when you’re healthy, and how do they act when they’re in a diseased state. The really big finding is that they do act very differently.”

Bacteria share nutrients, and one species will even feed on another as they constantly interact. “The thing that we found in this paper,” said Whiteley, “is that this sharing, and how they interact with each other changes quite drastically in disease than it does in health.” Via Mouth bacteria can change its diet, supercomputers reveal.

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Stunning image from Saturn

This stunning image of the Saturn system was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. This one shows the planet’s third largest moon, Rhea, in conjunction with one of the planet’s small, inner moons, Epimetheus. Credit NASA

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How bacteria “talk”

Thanks again to Phil Krause for pointing out this terrific TED talk by Bonnie Bassler

Bonnie Bassler discovered that bacteria “talk” to each other, using a chemical language that lets them coordinate defense and mount attacks. The find has stunning implications for medicine, industry — and our understanding of ourselves.

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Do Atoms Ever Touch?

From Brady Haran on this video… In anticipation of questions and comments, I thought I’d write this in the description (where no-one will ever see it!!!)

Prof Moriarty and I have discussed the issue of “atoms touching” many times off camera. We’ve shared different views on the best definitions and tools used by various online “explainers” over the years. Clearly it is an issue close to Professor Moriarty’s heart because it involves his main area of research. And I am mindful he is a professional on the topic. I am not.

We jointly decided to make a Sixty Symbols video that reflected our previous discussions, so included more than my usual fill of provocative questions. And regardless, I see it as my role to be a “devil’s advocate” and ensure we challenge our scientists and get the best possible explanations. I can assure everyone it was done in good spirit and we had a laugh afterwards. Via Do Atoms Ever Touch?

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Why can’t astronauts sleep?


Most of the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) find it difficult to get a proper night’s sleep, and many get less that five hours a night. The space men hop into their bunks, strap themselves in (so they don’t float away as they sleep) and try to get a good, solid eight-and-a-half hours, but to no avail. It would appear that, for some unknown reason, humans develop insomnia in zero gravity.

Researchers tracking the 85 crew members aboard the ISS found that sleep was so difficult that three-quarters were using sleep medication. The study was published in The Lancet this week. This is, perhaps, intuitively unsurprising given that the ISS hurtles through space at incredible speeds such that the Sun rises and falls every 90 minutes. However, astronauts need every brain cell they can muster to do their jobs and further research is urgently required to determine what is causing this restlessness. Via Why can’t astronauts sleep?

Come on Deskarati regulars we can figure this one out. What do you think?

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Injected bacteria found to reduce tumors in rats, dogs and humans

Bacteria found in soil called Clostridium novyi (C. novyi) is known to cause tissue-damaging infections. But researchers from John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a modified version that triggers an anti-tumor response in rats, dogs and humans. The breakthrough could complement existing methods to provide better targeted treatment of cancerous growths.

Led by associate professor of oncology, Shibin Zhou, the team first began investigating the potential of C. noyvi more than 10 years ago. The research was inspired by studies of century-old accounts detailing an immunotherapy called Coley toxins. This treatment arose from observations that some cancer patients demonstrated remission after acquiring certain bacterial infections.

The C. noyvi microbe relies on low-oxygen environments to thrive. This makes it a good candidate for the targeting of oxygen-starved cells in tumors, which can prove difficult to treat with chemotherapy and radiation. The team modified the bacteria to eliminate one of the toxin-producing genes and make it safer for therapeutic use, then observed its effects through a series of studies. More here Injected bacteria found to reduce tumors in rats, dogs and humans.

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Why the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle rollout may now succeed

A convergence of factors is propelling a market rollout of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, according to a new study from the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. A key to hydrogen’s potential success is a new smart solution that clusters hydrogen fuel infrastructure in urban or regional networks, limiting initial costs and enabling an early market for the technology before committing to a full national deployment, suggests the study.

The researchers behind the study, “The Hydrogen Transition,” probe the variety of factors combining to increase the likelihood of successful hydrogen-powered car commercialization. These include new thinking by government and industry on strategies for developing fuel station infrastructure, falling costs for fuel cell vehicle and hydrogen station components, a new array of sporty hydrogen cars about to come to market from major car makers, ample low cost natural gas for making hydrogen, and the strengthening U.S. interest in climate change solutions.

“We seem to be tantalizingly close to the beginning of a hydrogen transition,” said lead author Joan Ogden, professor of environmental science and policy and director of the Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (NextSTEPS). “The next three to four years will be critical for determining whether hydrogen vehicles are just a few years behind electric vehicles, rather than decades.”

Having sufficient hydrogen fueling locations has been a major challenge. It’s a “chicken or egg” dilemma where automakers are reluctant to market cars without infrastructure, and station providers are reluctant to build stations without cars. Recently, however, regional public-private partnerships are emerging to develop smart, comprehensive build-out strategies in different locations around the globe. These new infrastructure paradigms enable more efficient fueling networks, saving millions of dollars compared to earlier designs, and hold the promise of providing hydrogen conveniently and affordably. Via Why the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle rollout may now succeed.

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Do gut bacteria rule our minds?

It sounds like science fiction, but it seems that bacteria within us—which outnumber our own cells about 100-fold—may very well be affecting both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want, and often are driving us toward obesity.

In an article published this week in the journal BioEssays, researchers from UC San Francisco, Arizona State University and University of New Mexico concluded from a review of the recent scientific literature that microbes influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on, rather than simply passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way.

Bacterial species vary in the nutrients they need. Some prefer fat, and others sugar, for instance. But they not only vie with each other for food and to retain a niche within their ecosystem—our digestive tracts—they also often have different aims than we do when it comes to our own actions, according to senior author Athena Aktipis, PhD, co-founder of the Center for Evolution and Cancer with the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF.

While it is unclear exactly how this occurs, the authors believe this diverse community of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiome, may influence our decisions by releasing signaling molecules into our gut. Because the gut is linked to the immune system, the endocrine system and the nervous system, those signals could influence our physiologic and behavioral responses. Via Do gut bacteria rule our minds?.

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The incredible honey hunters of the Himalayan foothills


Growing up to 3 centimetres (1.2 inches) in length, the Himalayan cliff honey bee of Nepal is the world’s largest honeybee.

Found only in the foothills of the Himalayas, building their homes at altitudes of between 2,500 and 3,000 metres (8,200 and 9,800 feet) and foraging as high up as 4,100 metres (13,500 feet) above the ground, these insects have a unique ability to thrive at incredible heights. They’re so good at it, that the rest of the Himalayan honey bee population, called Apis dorsata, has stayed down in the lowlands of Nepal, and the lack of breeding between the two has seen the Himalayan cliff honey bee population classified into its own subspecies, Apis dorsata laboriosa.


The Himalayan cliff honey bee is the only species in the world to produce a type of honey called red spring honey, and it cannot be reproduced by commercial bee-keepers due to the high altitudes that give it its unique properties. Said to be “intoxicating and relaxing”, red spring honey is understandably very valuable, and twice a year, honey hunters from the Gurung population of Nepal risk their lives to harvest it up in the foothills. ViaThe incredible honey hunters of the Himalayan foothills. Image credit Andrew Newey

Posted in Adventure, Wild Life | 3 Comments

Synchronising Metronomes

Thanks to Phil Krause for sending us this mesmerising video.

And here is link to a video by the guys at Mythbusters explaining a bit about it.

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Why was Napoleon exiled to St Helena?

When he was defeated in 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte was given the Mediterranean island of Elba to rule with an army of 1,000 men. He escaped the next year, only to be defeated at Waterloo. This time, his enemies wanted to incarcerate him in a place from which he could definitely not escape. They chose St Helena. This island of 47 square miles lies in the South Atlantic Ocean, some 1,200 miles from the nearest land. It is one of the most remote places on Earth.

In 1815, the British Royal Navy controlled the Atlantic, making escape from St Helena virtually impossible. Deciding that was not enough, the British put Napoleon under armed guard, stripped him of most of his companions and placed him a lonely, windswept house named Longwood. Despite such precautions there were plots to rescue Napoleon, including one hatched by a group of French ex-soldiers living in Texas (then a province of Mexico) who wanted to resurrect the Napoleonic Empire in North America. The plans came to nothing and Napoleon died on the island in 1821. Via Why was Napoleon exiled to St Helena?

Posted in Deskarati Q&A, History | 1 Comment

Cosmic grains pre-date Solar System

Scientists may have identified the first known dust particles from outside our Solar System, in samples returned to Earth by a Nasa space mission. A team of scientists, with the help of more than 30,000 worldwide citizens, has identified seven exotic grains. The material was captured by the Stardust spacecraft and brought back to Earth in 2006.

The region between stars – interstellar space – is not entirely empty, but is filled with microscopic particles. The material that forms interstellar dust is a product of the aeons of stellar birth, evolution and death that went into building our cosmic neighbourhood. These molecules originated in the extremely hot interior of other stars before the Sun was born, and were expelled into interstellar space where they condensed into tiny rocks as they cooled down. Having these particles on Earth means that scientists can characterise them in unprecedented detail. The composition and structure of the collected samples could help explain the origin and evolution of dust in space. Edited from Cosmic grains pre-date Solar System.

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Molecular engineers record an electron’s quantum behavior

These images show a diamond sample with a hemispherical lens (right and lower left), and the location of a single electron spin/quantum state visible through its light emission (upper left). The scale bar on the image at upper left measures five microns, the approximate diameter of a red blood cell. Credit: Courtesy of Awschalom Lab/University of Chicago

A team of researchers led by the University of Chicago has developed a technique to record the quantum mechanical behavior of an individual electron contained within a nanoscale defect in diamond. Their technique uses ultrafast pulses of laser light both to control the defect’s entire quantum state and observe how that single electron state changes over time. The work appears in this week’s online Science Express and will be published in print later this month in Science.

This research contributes to the emerging science of quantum information processing, which demands that science leave behind the unambiguous universe of traditional binary logic—0 or 1—and embrace the counterintuitive quantum world, where behavior is radically different from what humans experience every day. While people are generally content being in one place at a time, electrons can be in many states at once.

The team researches a quantum mechanical property of the electron known as spin. Much like conventional computers use the charge state of electrons to constitute bits of information, a quantum computer would use the spin state of a single electron as its quantum bit, or qubit. The work could accelerate development of quantum computing devices, and the extra computing power that would come with them, because it will be easier to identify materials that have appropriate quantum properties. Continue reading

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With all the news about the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa at the moment, I thought you might like to know a little more about the disease. – Deskarati

Ebola virus disease (EVD) or Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) is a disease of humans and other primates caused by the Ebola virus. Symptoms start two days to three weeks after contracting the virus, with a fever, sore throat, muscle pain, and headaches. Typically nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea follow, along with decreased functioning of the liver and kidneys. Around this time, some affected people may begin to bleed either within the body or externally. The risk of death among those infected is high.

The virus may be acquired upon contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected animal (commonly monkeys or fruit bats). Spread through the air has not been documented in the natural environment. Fruit bats are believed to carry and spread the virus without being affected. Once human infection occurs, the disease may spread between people as well. Male survivors may be able to transmit the disease via semen for nearly two months. In order to make the diagnosis, typically other diseases with similar symptoms such as malaria, cholera, and other viral haemorrhagic fevers are first excluded. To confirm the diagnosis, blood samples are tested for viral antibodies, viral RNA, or the virus itself.

ebola1Prevention includes decreasing the spread of disease from other infected animals to humans. This may be done by checking such animals for infection and killing and properly disposing of the bodies if the disease is discovered. Properly cooking meat and wearing protective clothing when handling meat may also be helpful, as are wearing protective clothing and washing hands when around a person with the disease. Samples of bodily fluids and tissues from people with the disease should be handled with special caution. Continue reading

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5 Fun Physics Phenomena: Explained

We recently posted a video showing five fun physics phenomena, we now have a second video explaining the reasons why they do what they do. – Deskarati

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