Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Friday, 26 October 2007

How polution sepparates the fishes

A contaminant found in rivers and estuaries the world over can "rob" fish of their ability to sense each other and stay in a tight, cohesive shoal, say researchers.

The chemical, 4-nonylphenol, does this by overpowering the fish's natural smell-signatures, say researchers. And because these signatures are critical to helping the fish form in groups, the chemical effectively weakens their "strength in numbers" defence against predators.

"The loss of the ability to shoal cohesively is serious business for fish. It's a defensive strategy. If fish can't shoal properly, they are extremely vulnerable to predation," says Ashley Ward at the University of Sydney, Australia, who led the study.

Nonylphenol or 4-NP is widely used in soaps, sewage treatment, and in some pesticides. They are known to affect human and animal hormonal systems, and can "feminise" fish, causing males to produce typically female proteins.

In developed nations, the maximum concentration deemed "permissible" is between 0.5 and 1 microgram per litre of water, because fish do not show signs of stress at this level. In European rivers, typical concentrations range from 0.1 to 340 micrograms per litre.

Other experiments suggested that the reason the fish shoals were not as tightly grouped in the presence of 4-NP was that the chemical was masking the fish's own smell. "Shoaling fish develop a chemical profile based on their recent habitat and diet – they smell of what they eat and where they have been, just like us," explains Ward. "They prefer to shoal with fish that smell similar to themselves."

But 4-NP is a lipophillic compound, meaning it tends to stick to oily surfaces – a fish, for example. "It seems that it might 'coat' the fish," says Ward. This changes their individual chemical signature and breaks down recognition among the fish.

Ward and his team point out that other chemicals, heavy metals for example, damage the olfactory organs of fish. They say that in polluted waters, chemicals like 4-NP and heavy metals could both be present, one affecting the way that fish smell, the other their ability to smell.

My comment: I think it's particularly important for humans to understand the global effect of their actions on the surrounding medium. Because we're used to judje only by what we see, but in Nature everything is connected and even small deviations can lead to drastic changes. This survey is good example of which. I hope this will make people think again before polluting water with all kind of sh*t. We have to protect what we have, because we're gonna lose it!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The origin of happiness...

Brain scans obtained using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that reflecting on both past and future events activated the amygdala and the the rostral anterior cingulated cortex (rACC) areas, both of which sit deep in the middle of the brain. However, positive events – and particularly those imagined in the future – elicited a significantly bigger brain response in these regions than reflecting on negative events.

Tali Sharot, a co-author of the new study now based at the University College London, UK, notes that the more pessimistic subjects in the trial had less activation of these brain areas than their optimistic counterparts when imagining happy events.

All this has led the researchers to suspect that the amygdala and rACC play an important role in signalling cheerful thoughts.

"What's striking is that these appear to be the same areas implicated in depression," says Phelps. Previous research has suggested that patients with depression have decreased nerve signalling in the rACC and amygdala.

Drevets notes that autopsies performed on severely depressed patients found fewer cells than normal in the rACC and amygdala. He says the new findings from Phelps’s study could perhaps explain why people with depression often have an absence of positive thoughts.

If future studies of depressed patients confirm a link between this mood disorder and abnormal activity in the amygdala and rACC, then doctors might one day use brain scans to diagnose this illness and alter therapy to act more directly on these brain regions, the researchers speculate.
My comment: You know how in sci fi novels people can see/hear/feel/taste via their virtual drive? I think such researches set us on the right foot for such experiences. Because we can't even start creating such technologies before becoming aware of the way our brain process infromation and create our perception of reality. So, let's see how far that research will take us.

The beginning of telemedecine

The European Commission has called for experts to share their views on telemedicine as part of policy proposals on innovative technologies for chronic disease management due next year.

In view of publishing a communication on telemedicine and innovative technologies for chronic disease management in September next year, the Commission launched, on 11 October, a public consultation to gather expertise from different member states on the issue.

The Commission is thus inviting experts to share their experience and give concrete examples of their main achievements in the field. Experts are encouraged to detail their reasons - geographical, skills shortages or the need for complementary expertise.

Another aim of the consultation is to consider eventual obstacles linked to patient reimbursement, acceptance from the medical community and legal problems encountered in developing these technologies.

The consultation is open until 26 October and the responses will help structure the TeleHealth 2007 conference, due to take place on 11 December. source

My comment: I'm very very pro this idea! Because waiting for ours for your GP to see you and doing so just to take a paper for a regular on the gynecologist or regular blood test, it's just outrages. Such a waste of time. And not to mention all the retired people who has to go there every month to get the same medicines, because nothing has changed for them. It's the ultimate idiotisme. It would be so easy if you just make a video chat with your doctor, explain what you want and if all it's fine, just move to the next level. It'll save money, time and common respect to all involved.

Monday, 22 October 2007

News from NewScientist

Speeding up fat metabolism may prevent diabetes

RAMPING up fat metabolism doesn't just stop weight gain - it could also prevent type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies had shown that mice engineered to lack an enzyme called acetyl-CoA carboxylase 2 (ACC2) deposited less fat in their tissues, despite eating up to 40 per cent more than normal mice. Because fatty deposits around the liver can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, removing ACC2 should also protect mice from diabetes.

There was a catch, however. For years, researchers had thought that burning more fat meant less carbohydrate would be used up. "This is the Randle hypothesis," says James Ntambi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "In one metabolic pathway you generate intermediates that inhibit the enzymes of the other metabolic pathway."

If this was the case, removing ACC2 could cause carbohydrate levels to rise - leading to excessively high blood sugar, insulin resistance and so on...


Lap dancers 'in heat' are the ones to watch

Last month, biologist Randy Thornhill challenged the orthodoxy that women do not undergo regular bouts of hormone-induced oestrus, or "heat", when they are at their most fertile - something most female mammals experience (New Scientist, 15 September, p 18). Now a study of the tips men give to lap dancers, conducted by a colleague of Thornhill's, lends further support to the argument for oestrus.

Geoffrey Miller and his team at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, compared the earnings of lap dancers who were menstruating naturally with those of dancers taking the hormonal contraceptive pill. During the non-fertile periods of their menstrual cycle, both sets of dancers earned similar tips. But when naturally cycling lap dancers entered their fertile period they earned significantly more in tips than their co-workers on the pill.

This is the first evidence that oestrus, and its influence on attractiveness, has "a real effect on women's earnings", says Miller.

However, even on non-fertile days lap dancers with natural menstrual cycles still earned reasonable tips, reinforcing the idea that men are clearly paying for the lap-dancing experience rather than for any perceived opportunity to procreate.

"Previous research has shown that women's faces, scent and clothing become more attractive in oestrus," Miller notes. For example, earlier this year, Martie Haselton at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that women were judged to dress more attractively during their fertile periods, although the correlation was slight. Other studies show women become more confident during oestrus, says Thornhill. In the context of lap dancing, that may subtly change their behaviour and make them more appealing to clients.


Virtual human has a roving eye

Virtual characters that meet your gaze just like a human have been developed by speech and cognition scientists in France.

New software lets them to look at scenes and people the way humans do. The goal is to make virtual humans and perhaps humanoid robots easier to relate to. A video (see right) shows one of their characters playing a game that involves looking at cards and a researcher.

We all know how uncomfortable it feels when we talk to someone who doesn't hold eye contact with us, or holds it too much. Virtual characters and robots are even worse – leading to stilted encounters.

Humans and other animals do not steadily scan a scene. Instead, our eyes constantly dart around in rapid unconscious jerks known as 'saccades'. They pin-point interesting parts of the scene the brain uses to build up a 'mental map'.

Gérard Bailly and colleagues in the GIPSA Lab at the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, France, have developed software that mimics human gaze patterns. Their characters are capable of saccades, tracking moving objects like humans, and fixing their gaze on the same features as humans for similar periods.


Are mirrors the best way to deflect asteroids?

Focusing sunlight onto an asteroid with space-based mirrors is the best way to deflect Earth-bound space rocks, a new study finds. The mirrors beat out nuclear blasts and "gravity tractors" in the study, which compared nine different deflection methods.

Asteroids larger than 5 kilometres across – such as the one that killed off the dinosaurs – hit Earth about once every 6 million years. But smaller space rocks spanning about 140 metres strike more often, about once every 5000, and they can cause significant damage.

Now, researchers led by Massimiliano Vasile of the University of Glasgow in Scotland have compared nine of the many methods proposed to ward off such objects, including blasting them with nuclear explosions.

The team assessed the methods according to three performance criteria: the amount of change each method would make to the asteroid's orbit, the amount of warning time needed and the mass of the spacecraft needed for the mission.

The method that came out on top was a swarm of mirror-carrying spacecraft. The spacecraft would be launched from Earth to hover near the asteroid and concentrate sunlight onto a point on the asteroid's surface.

Vaporise surface

In this way, they would heat the asteroid's surface to more than 2100° C, enough to start vaporising it. As the gases spewed from the asteroid, they would create a small thrust in the opposite direction, altering the asteroid's orbit.

The scientists found that 10 of these spacecraft, each bearing a 20-metre-wide inflatable mirror, could deflect a 150-metre asteroid in about six months. With 100 spacecraft, it would take just a few days, once the spacecraft are in position.

To deflect a 20-kilometre asteroid, about the size of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, it would take the combined work of 5000 mirror spacecraft focusing sunlight on the asteroid for three or more years.

Vasile admits that launching and controlling 5000 spacecraft is a daunting prospect. "I must say honestly that 5000 is really a lot," he told New Scientist. But he says launching a few dozen spacecraft to deflect a smaller asteroid is within our capabilities, pointing out that this many spacecraft were launched to create the Global Positioning System.

The mirrors came out ahead of the so-called gravity tractor option, in which a spacecraft simply flies alongside an asteroid and nudges it off course using the tiny force of the spacecraft's own gravity.


UK changes position on animal-human hybrids

WHAT a difference a year makes. Just 12 months ago, the British government said it would maintain a ban on creating embryos that contain both animal and human material. Now it is proposing that regulatory authorities be allowed to consider the creation of four types of hybrid embryo, including so-called true hybrids.

In 1990, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act banned researchers from creating hybrid embryos, but after a year of consultation, the government announced on 8 October its latest plans to update this legislation. The new proposals would allow researchers to create "chimeras" by adding animal cells to human embryos, "cybrids" by replacing the nuclear DNA of an animal egg with human DNA, true hybrid embryos by mixing human and animal sperm and eggs, as well as adding animal genes to human embryos.


My comment: Eeewk :(

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Libya to create Green resort on Mediterranean sea

In an area the size of Wales centered on the Greek ruin here, the younger Qaddafi, a group of wealthy Libyans and a bevy of consultants are planning a carbon neutral green-development zone, catering to tourism and serving as a model for environmentally friendly design, they say.

The plan will protect Libya’s fantastic Greek and Roman ruins from haphazard developments as it protects the coastal ecosystem, one of the last remaining natural areas of the Mediterranean. Waters off Libya are the last remaining breeding grounds for a number of Mediterranean species, environmentalists say. The idea is that as Libya opens to the outside world it will not become “like the Spanish coast,” said the project’s financial adviser, Mahmoud A. Khosman. (It will also be a good investment.)But the intention is clearly broader than that. “They want to show the world that Libya has turned a corner, that they can fit into the modern world,” said George Joffe, a research fellow at Cambridge who specializes in the region.

On paper, at least, Green Mountain is ambitious. But paper is the sole place it exists, and many people here voiced skepticism that it would materialize. Its energy would come from wind and solar power. Its waste would be recycled, and its trash converted to biofuel. Resorts, hotels, villas and residents’ villages would blend into the rugged landscape.
source-NY Times

My comment:This is a great idea, I really hope they'll follow trough and really do it. And that Saif is not only smooth-talker, but that he'll actually bring the change to Libya. He looks like a good person, if he is, then...awesome :)

Monday, 15 October 2007

New visions of Green and Tech Europe

Because you know I love Europe, I'm gonna post some news on EU from time to time. Today, you can read how Europe plans to deal with inovations in medicine and also, about the help EU plans to give to small companies to go green. And I write it here, because I believe those changes are part of the bright future, I'm hunting for in this blog.

New institute to assess value of medical technology

A new institute will aim to bridge the gap between medical technology, innovation and healthcare policy to provide policymakers with evidence of the social and economic value of medical technology, and medical devices in particular.

The European Health Technology Institute for Socio-Economic Research (Research Institute) was officially launched on 6 October 2007,the most important annual health policy event in the EU.

Founded and funded by the European medical technology industry association for an initial three-year period, the institute will bring together industry and the health departments of three European universities - Technische Universität Berlin, Università Bocconi and London School of Economics (LSE) - to conduct socio-economic research on the impact of medical technology. Each university will be granted €200,000 a year, bringing the total budget of the institute to some €1.8 million. According to the consortium, researchers will "have complete scientific and editorial independence".

There are two main research topics. The first topic will examine how medical technologies are currently financed in major European countries and consider how existing financing systems could be improved.

The second will review the benefits of technological innovations in the healthcare sector. The aim is to provide evidence of, for example, improving quality of life and decreasing disability and mortality rates, as well as higher employee productivity or higher GDP output per worker.source

My comment: I think the second topic is the important one. There should be an agency to look for medical appliance of the innovations appearing every day. Science should be brought closer to people and their lives, because in the moment, there are many fancy new ideas that are doomed to stay only in science journals. We have to change that if we want to face the bright society of the Future.

EU to help small businesses to go GREEN

The Commission has announced new measures aimed at helping small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) cope with increasingly burdensome environmental legislation and take advantage of the potential economic benefits offered by improved environmental management.

The 'Environmental Compliance Assistance Programme' (ECAP), announced by the EU executive on 4 October, aims to wise up Europe's 23 million SMEs to the negative impact that their daily business can have on the environment.

"A majority [of companies] actually think that their activities have little or no impact [on the environment]," explained the Commission in a statement, adding: "SMEs also tend to believe that they are complying with legislation unless told otherwise."

However, with SMEs representing 99% of all EU enterprises, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas stressed: "To successfully tackle the environmental challenges we face and to achieve our targets on greenhouse emissions, renewable energy and energy efficiency, all European companies must be on board."

The seven year, €5 million programme will thus concentrate on disseminating information to SMEs about the environmental threat their activities can pose, as well as about the economic benefits they can reap from better resource management and eco-innovation. It will also provide financial assistance for training activities and support programmes aimed at reducing the burden of compliance.

My comment: It's nice to see people thinking on different scales. It's obvious that small companies are not the biggest polluters, but every little bit counts. And even more, if the small one get green, that will create a social attitude on the issues. And as we know, production follow the needs of the market. If people want greener production, they ought to have it and even the biggest companies will have to make up with that. Go Europe!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Defeating the cancer, AI

COULD the immune system be reprogrammed to fight cancer? It seems that macrophages - immune cells roped in by tumours to help them grow - can be turned into cancer killers.

Macrophages normally clean up dead and dying cells after an infection. In theory, macrophages should gobble up cancer cells too. "They should [swallow] dead and dying cancer cells, and stimulate an immune response against the tumour," says David Ian Stott of the University of Glasgow, UK.

Instead, cancer cells release chemical signals that persuade macrophages to turn traitor, releasing growth factors that feed the tumour rather than destroy it. "Macrophages are educated by cancer cells to promote tumour growth," says Thorsten Hagemann at Barts and The London Queen Mary's Medical School in London. "If you remove macrophages from mice that are susceptible to cancer, they develop fewer tumours."


My comment: Can't they just convince that cells to not communicate with the cancer cells? I thought there are such treatments already. Or at least the idea of them.


When your software crashes, you probably restart your PC and hope it doesn't happen again, or you get the bug fixed. But not Rachel Wood. When a program she was testing screwed up a task that a 2-year-old would find easy, she was elated.

The reason for this seemingly perverse reaction is that Wood's program didn't contain a bug, but had committed a famous cognitive goof identified by the psychology pioneer Jean Piaget. Known as the A-not-B error, it is made by babies between 7 and 12 months old and is seen as one of the hallmarks of fledgling human intelligence.

Wood's robot has a brain far simpler than a baby's. But unravelling the events that led to this human-like behaviour - something that is easier to do in a computer program than a real brain - could help improve our understanding of artificial intelligence.


My comment: Bravo. I can't wait to see a working AI, it will be truly historical moment. And then it gets scary.

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Friday, 5 October 2007

Vegeterian vampires, CO2 extraction and cool smart tables

The social stars

The new investigation also indicates that the most massive stars have gathered at the cluster's centre, something that has previously been observed in more massive groupings called globular star clusters. Globular clusters behave like cosmic sorting machines. Over time, interactions between the stars cause the most massive ones to settle near the centre of clusters, while less massive stars stay farther out.

Also appearing in the image are some dark and extremely cold "Bok globules" at top right. Bok globules are dense clouds of dust and gas with between 10 and 50 times the mass of the Sun. Among the coldest objects known in the universe, with temperatures just a few degrees above absolute zero, they are thought to be condensing and on their way to forming new stars.


Smart tables

YOU arrive home from work, drop your mobile phone, MP3 player and camera on the kitchen table and pour yourself a well-earned drink. Immediately, the music on your MP3 player begins blaring from your hi-fi, photos start downloading to your PC and texts and emails start flashing up on your TV screen.

What's going on? The phone, MP3 player and camera are sending information to the table, which passes it to the walls, which in turn route it to the hi-fi, television and PC.

Takao Someya, Tsuyoshi Sekitani and colleagues at the University of Tokyo, Japan, have developed a flexible, plastic electronic sheet that can be embedded in tables, walls and floors. Plastic transistors and copper wires that snake through the sheets allow gadgets placed on them to form spontaneous connections and swap data.

The sheets could free users from having to plug gadgets into each other.


My comment: Oh, yeah! That's what I'm talking about, baby! Although I don't have an mp3 player and my phone is in repair and the camera sucks but still! I love it.


Check out here- the question is if there can be a DNA free diet, because all the organisms on Earth share similar DNA-pool. And thus, you may eat only plants, but they are partly animal too. And the great idea in the article is to have red blood cells, because they don't have their nucleus and mitochondria thus- no DNA! Sweet, huh?

"One cheat that springs to mind is red blood cells. In many species, including humans, the nucleus and mitochondria are removed from these cells during the maturation process. This is to make room for more haemoglobin, the iron-bound protein that carries oxygen. Because the nucleus and mitochondria contain all the cell's DNA, you could argue that provided you don't kill the animals, drinking their blood is the ultimate vegetarian diet. You'd need to filter out the white blood cells, which still have plenty of DNA, but the rest of the blood components would be fine. They'd provide you with protein, some sugars and vitamins, but probably more iron than is healthy."

It looks like someone's going to win

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere is the subject of a prize announced earlier in 2007 by British entrepreneur Richard Branson. Branson pledged to award $25 million to anyone who can develop a scheme for removing at least one billion tonnes of the gas from the atmosphere every year, for a decade.

So, together with Klaus Lackner, a former colleague at Columbia University, Zeman devised a new way of scrubbing CO2 from air. He has also performed calculations, published in Environmental Science & Technology, which suggest that the new method is efficient enough to justify its use.

The process involves pumping air from the atmosphere through a chamber containing sodium hydroxide, which reacts with the CO2 to form sodium carbonate. This carbon-containing solution is then mixed with lime to precipitate powdered calcium carbonate – a naturally occurring form of which is limestone. Finally, the "limestone" is heated in a kiln releasing pure CO2 for storage.

Zeman calculates that one carbon atom would need to be expended as fuel – to pump air and heat the process – in order to capture four carbon atoms from air.

Jon Gibbins, an expert on energy technology at Imperial College in the UK concedes that carbon capture from air could be a desirable last-ditch solution, but is concerned that it could also provide justification for continuing to burn fossil fuels.

Read here for more.

My comment: Although it's good to see the competition having a result, I somehow dislike the idea of storing all this CO2 underground. The process sounds good, but we should use it along with renewable sources, not just keep on doing the same.