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

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Technology updates, 04.2010

First of all - check out this awesome video! This rat is actually laughing!!!

You can find more about the video at link.
Today:

  1. Rudiments of Language Discovered in Monkeys
  2. Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons
  3. Experts: Man controlled robotic hand with thoughts
  4. Scientists use virus to kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact
  5. 'Rock-breathing' bacteria could generate electricity and clean up oil spills
  6. Micromachined piezoelectric harvester drives fully autonomous wireless sensor

Rudiments of Language Discovered in Monkeys

Campbell’s monkeys appear to combine the same calls in different ways, using rules of grammar that turn sound into language. Whether their rudimentary syntax echoes the speech of humanity’s evolutionary ancestors, or represents an emergence of language unrelated to our own, is unclear. Either way, they’re far more sophisticated than we thought.

“This is the first evidence we have in animal communication that they can combine, in a semantic way, different calls to create a new message,” said Alban Lemasson, a primatologist at the University of Rennes in France.

Lemasson’s team previously described the monkeys’ use of calls with specific meanings in a paper published in November. It detailed the monkeys’ basic sound structures and their uses: “Hok” for eagle, “krak” for leopard, “krak-oo” for general disturbance, “hok-oo” and “wak-oo” for general disturbance in forest canopies. A sixth call, “boom,” was used in non-predatory contexts, such as when calling a group together for travel or arguing with neighboring groups.

Impressive as that was, however, it was still relatively one-dimensional, not much different from verbalizations heard in many animal species, from other non-human primates to songbirds. The team’s latest findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describe something far more complicated: syntax, or principles of word sequence and sentence structure.

Though some researchers have ascribed syntax to animals, it’s never been formally demonstrated — until now.

For example, male monkeys called “boom boom” to gather other monkeys to them, but “boom boom krak-oo krak-oo” meant that a tree or branch was about to fall. Adding a “hak-oo” to that sequence turned it into a territorial warning against stray monkeys from neigboring groups. Multiple “krak-oo” calls added to an original “krak” meant not only that a leopard was in the area, but that it posed an immediate threat.

The research raises the question of whether early humans or our primate ancestors combined calls in a similar way, turning a small set of sounds into a rich verbal reportoire.

According to Lemasson and to Jared Taglialatela, a chimpanzee communication researcher at Clayton State University, it’s too soon to say whether the monkey talk is proto-human.

“I’d shy away from that. But this is certainly syntax,” said Taglialatela, who was not involved in the study. But he described the proto-human question as secondary to a far more intriguing possibility: that the potential for language is widespread in the animal kingdom.

Lemasson’s analysis was based on a vast set of recordings, gathered from 10 monkey groups observed for two full years in their African rain forest homes.

Lemasson, who is further investigating Campbell’s monkey talk by measuring their reactions to recorded calls, suspects that a dense jungle environment drove the evolution of syntax. Since the monkeys had trouble seeing each other, they compensated by talking.

The same compensatory dynamic could operate in other species, such as whales that live in mostly sunless waters, he said. source

My comment: I agree, it's much more interesting if language is something widespread in the animals kingdom, because then, one more boundary we put between humans and animals will fall. After the view and sound of laughing rats, I'm ready to bet on that. Though for me, it's very possible that animals have also a very well defined body language, because when they see each other, it's clear they don't need a sound to know what others are up to.

Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons

January 6, 2010 by Lin Edwards
(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists studying dolphin behavior have suggested they could be the most intelligent creatures on Earth after humans, saying the size of their brains in relation to body size is larger than that of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, and their behaviors suggest complex intelligence. One scientist said they should therefore be treated as "non-human persons" and granted rights as individuals.

The behavioral studies showed (especially the bottlenose) have distinct personalities and self-awareness, and they can think about the future. The research also confirmed dolphins have complex social structures, with individuals co-operating to solve difficult problems or to round up shoals of fish to eat, and with new behaviors being passed from one dolphin to another.

Several examples of learning being passed on to other individuals have been observed. In one case a rescued dolphin in South Australia, taught to tail-walk during recuperation, in turn taught the trick to other wild dolphins in the Port Adelaide river estuary when she was released. According to Mike Bossley it was "like watching a dance craze take off", with the dolphins apparently learning the trick just for fun, since tail-walking has no natural function.

Work carried out by professor of psychology at the City University of New York, Diana Reiss, showed dolphins could recognize themselves in a mirror, and could use it to inspect other parts of their bodies, an ability previously only demonstrated in humans and a few animals such as apes, elephants and pigs. In another study Reiss was able to teach captive dolphins a rudimentary language based on symbols.

In anatomical studies of the dolphin, zoologist Lori Marino and colleagues from Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia in the US, used MRI () scans to map the brains of dolphins and compare them with the brains of primates. She found the ratio of dolphin brain mass to body size to be second only to the human brain, which means dolphin brains are relatively larger than those of chimpanzees.

The neocortex and cerebral cortex of the bottlenose dolphins were particularly large and the cortex had similar convoluted folds to those found in human brains and strongly associated with intelligence.

Reiss and Marino say their behavioral and anatomical findings and our new understanding of dolphin intelligence mean it may not be ethical to keep dolphins in aquatic amusement parks for our entertainment, or to kill them for food. Around 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises die each year, with some being killed for food, such as the annual killing of thousands of dolphins and small whales in Taijii, Japan, or even to prove the manhood of those killing them, such as the slaughter of Calderon dolphins at Faroe Island, in Denmark. source

My comment:I completely agree with that article. Completely. I hope someone, somehow manage to stop the killing of large marine species, simply because, we don't know them, ok? We cannot be sure that they are not even as intelligent as we are. I mean, obviously, they don't build nuclear plants and skyscrapers, but that's not exactly a measure for intelligence, right? Many societies would build them, no matter how advanced, simply because they don't need them and they don't like them. Maybe they are like us, maybe they are not. But hey, they taught each other stuff merely for the fun of it! That's not something that an animal does! It's much much more. And after all - we don't need to eat dolphins or whales! Then why killing them.

Experts: Man controlled robotic hand with thoughts

By ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press Writer Ariel David, Associated Press Writer Wed Dec 2, 5:06 pm ET

ROME – An Italian who lost his left forearm in a car crash was successfully linked to a robotic hand, allowing him to feel sensations in the artificial limb and control it with his thoughts, scientists said Wednesday.

During a one-month experiment conducted last year, 26-year-old Pierpaolo Petruzziello felt like his lost arm had grown back again, although he was only controlling a robotic hand that was not even attached to his body.

"It's a matter of mind, of concentration," Petruzziello said. "When you think of it as your hand and forearm, it all becomes easier."

Though similar experiments have been successful before, the European scientists who led the project say this was the first time a patient has been able to make such complex movements using his mind to control a biomechanic hand connected to his nervous system.

The challenge for scientists now will be to create a system that can connect a patient's nervous system and a prosthetic limb for years, not just a month.

The Italy-based team said at a news conference in Rome on Wednesday that in 2008 it implanted electrodes into the nerves located in what remained of Petruzziello's left arm, which was cut off in a crash some three years ago.

The prosthetic was not implanted on the patient, only connected through the electrodes. During the news conference, video was shown of Petruzziello as he concentrated to give orders to the hand placed next to him.

During the month he had the electrodes connected, he learned to wiggle the robotic fingers independently, make a fist, grab objects and make other movements.

After Petruzziello recovered from the microsurgery he underwent to implant the electrodes in his arm, it only took him a few days to master use of the robotic hand, Rossini said. By the time the experiment was over, the hand obeyed the commands it received from the man's brain in 95 percent of cases.

Petruzziello, an Italian who lives in Brazil, said the feedback he got from the hand was amazingly accurate.

"It felt almost the same as a real hand. They stimulated me a lot, even with needles ... you can't imagine what they did to me," he joked with reporters.

While the "LifeHand" experiment lasted only a month, this was the longest time electrodes had remained connected to a human nervous system in such an experiment, said Silvestro Micera, one of the engineers on the team. Similar, shorter-term experiments in 2004-2005 hooked up amputees to a less-advanced robotic arm with a pliers-shaped end, and patients were only able to make basic movements, he said.

Experts around the world have developed other thought-controlled prostheses. One approach used in the United States involves surgery to graft shoulder nerves onto pectoral muscles and then learning to use those muscles to control a bionic arm.

While that approach is necessary when the whole arm has been lost, if a stump survives doctors could opt for the less invasive method proposed by the Italians, connecting the prosthesis to the same system the brain uses to send and receive signals.

It will take at least two or three years before scientists try to replicate the experiment with a more long-term prosthesis, the experts said. First they need to study if the hair-thin electrodes can be kept in longer.

Results from the experiment are encouraging, as the electrodes removed from Petruzziello showed no damage and could well stay in longer, said Klaus-Peter Hoffmann, a biomedical expert at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the German research institute that developed the electrodes.

More must also be done to miniaturize the technology on the arm and the bulky machines that translate neural and digital signals between the robot and the patient. source

My comment: Of course, he's going to feel the arm as his own, after all what is our body if not a very well built machine, that we learn to master from the beginning of our life. It's natural for the brain to connect with different hardware. I found myself feeling the mouse as a continuation of my hand! But anyway, good work and I hope they continue it soon.

Scientists use virus to kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact

December 3, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A virus that in nature infects only rabbits could become a cancer-fighting tool for humans. Myxoma virus kills cancerous blood-precursor cells in human bone marrow while sparing normal blood stem cells, a multidisciplinary team at the University of Florida College of Medicine has found.

The discovery could help make more patients eligible for self-transplant therapy and reduce disease relapse rates after transplantation.

“This is a new strategy to remove cancer cells before the transplant,” said virologist Grant McFadden, senior author of the paper and a member of the UF Genetics Institute. “This is the first time anyone has shown in a living animal that a can distinguish normal bone marrow stem cells from cancerous stem cells.”

The major therapeutic applications will likely be for blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and bone marrow cancers, the researchers say.

In mouse studies, myxoma virus was used to purge from leukemia patient bone marrow samples before they were infused into the test animals. The technique was effective against an aggressive form of leukemia that is resistant to conventional chemotherapy.

Today, patients who have certain types of cancer such as acute myelogenous leukemia are usually treated with using high doses of chemotherapy. But that can destroy the patient’s own immune system unless he or she receives a transplant of blood stem cells, which can be from the patient’s own marrow samples or from a donor.

Although reinfusion of a patient’s own bone marrow stem cells is generally safer in the short run, those patients are at high risk of dying from return of disease because of leukemia contaminating the infused bone marrow.

Previous methods to remove contaminating cancer cells from bone marrow have resulted in loss or damage of normal blood-forming stem cells.

The UF team’s work demonstrates that a live virus can be used to target diseased cells and separate them from normal cells in a gentler way than currently used.

When the researchers mixed healthy human stem cells with myxoma virus they did not become infected, and their development potential was not stunted. On the other hand, most of the leukemia cells that were subjected to the same treatment became infected and their growth and spread was dramatically restricted.

The virus was able to eliminate the cancer from 90 percent of the test mice, and was shown to be safe when it did not infect even animals whose immune systems were severely compromised.

It is possible that re-infusing patients with marrow in which cells were killed by viruses might vaccinate those patients against the tumor, which becomes detectable by the immune system, researchers said. source

My comment: Cool, what more can I say. Really cool. I just hope that virus won't find a way to enjoy its life in humans, because that would suck.

'Rock-breathing' bacteria could generate electricity and clean up oil spills

December 14, 2009

A discovery by scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) could contribute to the development of systems that use domestic or agricultural waste to generate clean electricity.

The findings could be applied to help in the development of new microbe-based technologies such as fuel cells, or 'bio-batteries', powered by animal or human waste, and agents to clean up areas polluted by oil or uranium.

The vast proportion of the world's habitable environments is populated by micro-organisms which, unlike humans, can survive without oxygen. Some of these micro-organisms are bacteria living deep in the Earth's subsurface and surviving by 'breathing rocks' - especially minerals of iron.

Iron respiration is one of the most common respiratory processes in oxygen-free habitats and therefore has wide environmental significance.

Prof Richardson said: "We discovered that the bacteria can construct tiny biological wires that extend through the cell walls and allow the organism to directly contact, and conduct electrons to, a mineral. This means that the bacteria can release electrical charge from inside the cell into the mineral, much like the earth wire on a household plug." source

My comment: Iron respiration, huh? Sounds pretty nice to me :) I don't get how they survive on this, it's more like they produce electricity, but after all, what is oxygen for - for energy. If they can produce energy in another way, they won't need the oxygen. And obviously they can. I don't know how useful they could be, but considering the growing stockpile of radioactive waste, we desperately need something to clean it up.

Micromachined piezoelectric harvester drives fully autonomous wireless sensor

December 15, 2009
For the first time, a piezoelectric harvesting device fabricated by MEMS technology generates a record of 85μW electrical power from vibrations. A wafer level packaging method was developed for robustness. The packaged MEMS-based harvester is used to power a wireless sensor node. Within the Holst Centre program on Micropower Generation and Storage, imec researchers developed a temperature sensor that can wirelessly transmit data in a fully autonomous way.

Micromachined vibrational energy harvesters operating in the frequency domain between 150 and 1000Hz are ideal devices to convert vibrations from machines, engines and other industrial appliances into electricity. Thanks to their smaller dimensions, the micromachined devices are the prefered candidates for powering miniaturized autonomous sensor nodes.

By using cost-effective, CMOS compatible processes on 6' silicon wafers, developed piezoelectric energy harvesters capable of generating up to 85μW of power.

The piezoelectric harvester was connected to a wireless temperature sensor, built op from of-the-shelf components. After power optimization, the consumption of the sensor was reduced from 1.5mW to ±10μW, which is an improvement by three orders of magnitude. When subjected to vibrations at 353Hz at 0.64g (indicating a realistic amplitude of the vibrations), the system generated sufficient power to measure the environmental temperature and transmit it to a base station with an interval of fifteen seconds. The result proves the feasibility of building fully autonomous harvesters for industrial applications.

Once fully mature, the technology can be used to power sensors in industrial applications such as tire-pressure monitoring and predictive maintenance of moving or rotating machine parts. Imec and Holst Centre do not go to market themselves, but perform the research together with industrial players interested in commercializing the technology. source

My comment: Yeah, nice, the only problem is who's going to regulate the use of those tiny sensors. I mean, the technology is really a step forward, what bothers me is that it will allow not only the monitoring of the tires pressure, but of other stuff, not all of which we would like them monitored.

In New Way to Edit DNA, Hope for Treating Disease

Friday, 9 April 2010

Vibrations from the past, literally, 04. 2010

Today:

  1. Genetic 'map' of Asia's diversity
  2. Ancient Chinese statues believed to be Eros: archaeologist
  3. Previously undiscovered ancient city found on Caribbean sea floor
  4. Ancient Temple Architects May Have Been Chasing a Buzz From Sound Waves
  5. New research suggests Neanderthals weren't stupid
More:
  1. Dynasty of Priestesses
  2. In Syria, a Prologue for Cities

Genetic 'map' of Asia's diversity

The Human Genome Organisation's (HUGO) Pan-Asian SNP Consortium carried out a study of almost 2,000 people across the continent. Their findings support the hypothesis that Asia was populated primarily through a single migration event from the south.

The researchers described their findings in the journal Science.

They found genetic similarities between populations throughout Asia and an increase in genetic diversity from northern to southern latitudes.

The team screened genetic samples from 73 Asian populations for more than 50,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

These are variations in pieces of the DNA code, which can be compared to find out how closely related two individuals are genetically.

The study found that, as expected, individuals who were from the same region, or who shared a common language also had a great deal in common genetically.

But it also answered a question about the origin of Asia's population. It showed that the continent was likely populated primarily through a single migration event from the south.

Previously, there has been some debate about whether Asia was populated in two waves - one to South East Asia, and a later one to central and north-east Asia, or whether only a single migration occurred.

Edison Liu from the Genome Institute of Singapore was a leading member of the consortium.

"It seems likely from our data that they entered South East Asia first - making these populations older [and therefore more diverse]," he said.

"[It continued] later and probably more slowly to the north, with diversity being lost along the way in these 'younger' populations.

"So although the Chinese population is very large, it has less variation than the smaller number of individuals living in South East Asia, because the Chinese expansion occurred very recently, following the development of rice agriculture - within only the last 10,000 years."source

My comment: Ok, is it just me or 2000 people are really quite a few when we speak of a continent having billions of people?! I don't think they study is complete enough. And what I find even stranger is...how come Asia was inhabited from South East? Africa is to the West, not to the East! Where those people came from? Australia? It certainly has something weird in this statement. Especially if we don't consider Mesopotamia's part for South, which I think it is not. Very very interesting...

Ancient Chinese statues believed to be Eros: archaeologist

2009-12-01 15:48:21

GUIYANG, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- The two mysterious bronze statues unearthed in central China's Henan Province in the 1980s was found to be Eros, the Greek God of Love, an archaeologist said here Tuesday.

The two statues, which can be dated back to around 500 A.D., were about 5 centimeters high, each with two holes on both sides, suggesting that they may have been used as pendants.

The statues bore apparent similarity with Eros in appearance as they both featured baby-faced boys with wings, said Huo Hongwei, a scholar with National Museum of China.

British archaeologist Aurel Stein proved in 1907 that several winged angels in the mural paintings in a monastery in west China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region were drawings of Eros at around 200 A.D.

Huo argued that similarity in details between the statues and the paintings prove that the statues are made after the image of Eros.

The statues' wings lift upward at the tips, which is very unusual among Chinese gods but the same with those of the Eros on the mural paintings, Huo said.

The curly hair of the statues and that of the Eros on the paintings were almost identical, he added. source

My comment: ROFL! Seriously, it's strange to have Eros in China. Very funny. I wonder how those statues got there, though if I remember correctly Eros was one of the gods that Greeks took from Thracians. In which case, it may not be so strange after all. It would be quite cool if they find more statues around Asia.

Previously undiscovered ancient city found on Caribbean sea floor

By Jes Alexander on December 9, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC (Herald de Paris) - EXCLUSIVE - Researchers have revealed the first images from the Caribbean sea floor of what they believe are the archaeological remains of an ancient civilization. Guarding the location’s coordinates carefully, the project’s leader, who wishes to remain anonymous at this time, says the city could be thousands of years old; possibly even pre-dating the ancient Egyptian pyramids, at Giza.

The site was found using advanced satellite imagery, and is not in any way associated with the alleged site found by Russian explorers near Cuba in 2001, at a depth of 2300 feet. “To be seen on satellite, our site is much shallower.” The team is currently seeking funding to mount an expedition to confirm and explore what appears to be a vast underwater city. “You have to be careful working with satellite images in such a location,” the project’s principle researcher said, “The digital matrix sometimes misinterprets its data, and shows ruins as solid masses. The thing is, we’ve found structure - what appears to be a tall, narrow pyramid; large platform structures with small buildings on them; we’ve even found standing parallel post and beam construction in the rubble of what appears to be a fallen building. You can’t have post and beam without human involvement.”

Asked if this city is the legendary city of Atlantis, the researchers immediately said no. “However, we do believe that this city may have been one of many cities of an advanced, seafaring, trade-based civilization, which may have been visited by their Eurocentric counterparts.”

It is unknown at this time how the city came to be on the sea floor, and not on dry land. “We have several theories.”source

My comment:This story is very suspicious. But if true, it would be awesome show to watch. I hope they are right.

Ancient Temple Architects May Have Been Chasing a Buzz From Sound Waves

Sarasota, FL (PRWEB) December 1, 2009 -- Six-thousand-year-old ancient temples are giving up acoustic clues for modern scientists. Intriguing new research on ancient temples in Malta and highlighted by the Old Temples Study Foundation is resonating through international archaeology and interdisciplinary classics research. Reaching beyond the scope of traditional archaeology, a multi-disciplinary approach has opened a new dimension for the study of the ancient world.

Science Officer at the Hypogeum, Joseph Farrugia describes unusual sound effects in the UNESCO World Heritage Site: “There is a small niche in what we call ‘The Oracle Chamber’, and if someone with a deep voice speaks inside, the voice echoes all over the hypogeum. The resonance in the ancient temple is something exceptional. You can hear the voice rumbling all over.”

A consortium called The PEAR Proposition: Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research are pioneers in the field of archaeo-acoustics, merging archaeology and sound science. Directed by Physicist Dr. Robert Jahn, the PEAR group set out in 1994 to test acoustic behavior in megalithic sites such as Newgrange and Wayland‘s Smithy in the UK. They found that the ancient chambers all sustained a strong resonance at a sound frequency between 95 and 120 hertz: well within the range of a low male voice.

In subsequent OTSF testing, stone rooms in ancient temples in Malta were found to match the same pattern of resonance, registering at the frequency of 110 or 111 hz. This turns out to be a significant level for the human brain. Whether it was deliberate or not, the people who spent time in such an environment were exposing themselves to vibrations that impacted their minds.

Dr. Ian A. Cook of UCLA and colleagues published findings in 2008 of an experiment in which regional brain activity in a number of healthy volunteers was monitored by EEG through different resonance frequencies. Findings indicated that at 110 hz the patterns of activity over the prefrontal cortex abruptly shifted, resulting in a relative deactivation of the language center and a temporary switching from left to right-sided dominance related to emotional processing. People regularly exposed to resonant sound in the frequency of 110 or 111 hz would have been “turning on” an area of the brain that bio-behavioral scientists believe relates to mood, empathy and social behavior. source

My comment: I don't know if you remember, but there was similar article in New Scientist but for the pyramids in Mexico resonating raindrops. I think that's quite a coincidence to have so many structures having similar resonances. And continuing with the same line - a book on pyramids in Egypt claimed that they were resonant structures dedicated to turning seismic vibration into energy. Very interesting, right? Maybe some of the structures really had psychotropic action but is this all?

The Map that changed the world

New research suggests Neanderthals weren't stupid

January 11, 2010
(PhysOrg.com) -- Neanderthals used makeup and jewellery challenging the idea that they were cognitively inferior to early modern humans, according to research published in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences today. Radiocarbon dating by researchers at Oxford University suggests that pigment-stained and perforated marine shells were almost certainly used as pendants by Neanderthals in Spain 50,000 years old.

This is significant because until now the practice of body ornamentation has been widely accepted by archaeologists as evidence for modern behaviour and symbolic thinking in early modern humans and not .

The international research project, led by Bristol University, focused on two Neanderthal-associated sites in the Murcia province of south-east Spain (Cueva de los Aviones and Cueva Antón). Alongside the shells were lumps of red and yellow pigments, which researchers believe were used in cosmetics.

A spondylus gaederopus shell contained residues of a reddish pigment made of lepidocrocite mixed with ground bits of hematite and pyrite (which, when fresh, have a brilliant black, reflective appearance), suggesting they were applied ‘for effect’.

The choice of a spondylus shell as the ‘makeup container’ may relate to the attention-grabbing crimson, red, or violet colour and the exuberant sculpture of these shells, which have led to their symbolic- or ritual-related collection in a variety of archaeological contexts worldwide.

A concentration of lumps of yellow colorant from Cueva de los Aviones (most certainly the contents of a purse made of skin or other perishable material) was found to be pure natrojarosite - an iron mineral used as a cosmetic in Ancient Egypt.

While functionally similar material has been found at Neanderthal-associated sites before, it has been explained by stratigraphic mixing (which can lead to confusion about the dating of particular artefacts), Neanderthal scavenging of abandoned modern human sites, or Neanderthal imitation without understanding of behaviours observed among contemporary modern human groups.

Accurate dating of shell and charcoal samples from Cueva de los Aviones and Cueva Antón was crucial to the research. The dating was undertaken at the University of Oxford's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.

Dr Thomas Higham, Deputy Director of the Radiocarbon Unit in the School of Archaeology said: ‘Dating samples that approach the limit of the technique, at around 55,000 years before present, is a huge challenge. We used the most refined methods of pre-treatment chemistry to obtain accurate dates for the sites involved by removing small amounts of more modern carbon contamination to discover that the shells and charcoal samples were as early as 50,000 years ago.' source

My comment: WOW! I mean WOW! 50 000 years ago?! Did I say WOW! Seriously, that's amazing discovery. I hate when people (scientists) underestimate happily Neanderthals when it becomes clearer and clearer that they were smart enough to compete with Modern Humans. Ok, it's a mystery why they disappeared but you don't solve a mystery by simply assuming stuff.

More:

Dynasty of Priestesses - Orthi Petra at Eleutherna on Crete(2 800 years ago). Now, two unprecedented discoveries since 2007--three lavish jar burials that contained the remains of a dozen related female individuals and a monumental funerary building where a high priestess and her protégés, also all related, were laid to rest--are adding to our knowledge of Eleutherna's women, and forcing the scholarly community to reevaluate their importance and role in the so-called "Dark Ages" of Greece - "Dark Ages of Greece" my ass. There was no Greece at that time! There were other civillisations (Minoans, the Mycenaeans, the Dorians) that have absolutely nothing in common with Greece! The news is however quite interesting. Priestess...obviously, the religion they had on Crete was very similar to that in Thrace (Thrakia). I keep on thinking that maybe those ancient civilizations were actually one.
In Syria, a Prologue for Cities - "Tell Zeidan, a robust pre-urban settlement on the upper Euphrates River. People occupied the site for two millenniums, until 4000 B.C..

Scholars of antiquity say that Zeidan should reveal insights into life in a time called the Ubaid period, 5500 to 4000 B.C. In those poorly studied centuries, irrigation agriculture became widespread, long-distance trade grew in influence socially and economically, powerful political leaders came to the fore and communities gradually divided into social classes of wealthy elites and poorer commoners." See the pictures on the site. Very very interesting. And the mounds...they very very much resemble Thracian's ones. Certainly one civilization. We just can't yet see the big picture. (And I just checked the Wikipedia page on Thrace and Thracians, I see that Greek guys did perfect job in undermining Thracian culture. What they forget however is that you cannot destroy the truth. You can hide it for a while, but not destroy it!)

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Biology gone crazy, 03, 2010

First:

Evolution caught in the act: Scientists measure how quickly genomes change (in plants)
Chimp and human Y chromosomes evolving faster than expected (in mammals) - and this is 2nd or 3d article on evolution in humans I read. We change and slowly evolve. That much is a fact.
Giant bizarre deep sea fish filmed in Gulf of Mexico (videos) - amazing footage and amazing fishes.

Today:

  1. New RNA interference technique can silence up to five
  2. Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real
  3. Scientists show 'lifeless' prions capable of evolutionary change and adaptation
  4. Viral phenomenon: Ancient microbe invaded human DNA
  5. For this microbe, cousins not particularly welcome
  6. Punishment important in plant-pollinator relationship

New RNA interference technique can silence up to five genes

December 28, 2009 by Anne Trafton
Researchers at MIT and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals report this week that they have successfully used RNA interference to turn off multiple genes in the livers of mice, an advance that could lead to new treatments for diseases of the liver and other organs.

The new delivery method, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is orders of magnitude more effective than previous methods, says Daniel Anderson, senior author of the paper and a biomedical engineer at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative at MIT.

The key to success with is finding a safe and effective way to deliver the short strands of RNA that can bind with and destroy , which carries instructions from the nucleus.

Anderson and his colleagues believe the best way to do that is to wrap short interfering RNA (siRNA) in a layer of fat-like molecules called lipidoids, which can cross cells' fatty . Using one such lipidoid, the researchers were able to successfully deliver five snippets of RNA at once, and Anderson believes the lipidoids have the potential to deliver as many as 20.

The team at MIT, along with Alnylam researchers, have developed methods to rapidly produce, assemble and screen a variety of different lipidoids, allowing them to pick out the most effective ones.

Using C12-200, the researchers achieved effective gene silencing with a dose of less than 0.01 milligrams of siRNA per kilogram of solution, and 0.01 milligrams per kilogram in non-human primates. If the same dosing were translated to humans, a potential therapy would only require an injection of less than 1 milliliter to specifically inhibit a gene, compared with previous formulations that would have required hundreds of milliliters, says Anderson.

The MIT/Alnylam team hopes to start clinical trials within the next couple of years. source

My comment: Wow, that's great! Just imagine what this method could do for people with genes the cause cancers or other diseases. Of course, on should be careful with gene therapies, but they are the future, we only have to figure how to keep them safe and efficient.

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009 By Lisa Zyga
(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process takes about 50 milliseconds - the same amount of time for a non-paralyzed, neurologically intact person to speak their thoughts. The study marks the first successful demonstration of a permanently installed, wireless implant for real-time control of an external device.

“The results of our study show that a brain-machine interface (BMI) user can control sound output directly, rather than having to use a (relatively slow) typing process,” Guenther told PhysOrg.com.

In their study, the researchers tested the technology on a 26-year-old male who had a brain stem at age 16. The brain stem stroke caused a lesion between the volunteer’s that carry out actions and the rest of the brain; while his consciousness and cognitive abilities are intact, he is paralyzed except for slow vertical movement of the eyes. The rare condition is called locked-in syndrome.

Five years ago, when the volunteer was 21 years old, the scientists implanted an electrode near the boundary between the speech-related premotor and primary motor cortex (specifically, the left ventral premotor cortex). Neurites began growing into the electrode and, in three or four months, the neurites produced signaling patterns on the electrode wires that have been maintained indefinitely.

Three years after implantation, the researchers began testing the brain-machine interface for real-time synthetic production. The system is “telemetric” - it requires no wires or connectors passing through the skin, eliminating the risk of infection. Instead, the electrode amplifies and converts neural signals into frequency modulated (FM) radio signals. These signals are wirelessly transmitted across the scalp to two coils, which are attached to the volunteer’s head using a water-soluble paste. The coils act as receiving antenna for the RF signals. The implanted electrode is powered by an induction power supply via a power coil, which is also attached to the head.

The signals are then routed to an electrophysiological recording system that digitizes and sorts them. The sorted spikes, which contain the relevant data, are sent to a neural decoder that runs on a desktop computer. The neural decoder’s output becomes the input to a speech synthesizer, also running on the computer. Finally, the speech synthesizer generates synthetic speech (in the current study, only three vowel sounds were tested). The entire process takes an average of 50 milliseconds.

“The study supported our hypothesis (based on the DIVA model, our neural network model of speech) that the premotor cortex represents intended speech as an ‘auditory trajectory,’ that is, as a set of key frequencies (formant frequencies) that vary with time in the acoustic signal we hear as speech,” Guenther said. “In other words, we could predict the intended sound directly from neural activity in the premotor cortex, rather than try to predict the positions of all the speech articulators individually and then try to reconstruct the intended sound (a much more difficult problem given the small number of neurons from which we recorded). This result provides our first insight into how neurons in the brain represent speech, something that has not been investigated before since there is no animal model for speech.”

To confirm that the neurons in the implanted area were able to carry speech information in the form of formant frequency trajectories, the researchers asked the volunteer to attempt to speak in synchrony with a vowel sequence that was presented auditorily. In later experiments, the volunteer received real-time auditory feedback from the speech synthesizer. During 25 sessions over a five-month period, the volunteer significantly improved the thought-to-speech accuracy. His average hit rate increased from 45% to 70% across sessions, reaching a high of 89% in the last session.

Although the current study focused only on producing a small set of vowels, the researchers think that consonant sounds could be achieved with improvements to the system. While this study used a single three-wire electrode, the use of additional electrodes at multiple recording sites, as well as improved decoding techniques, could lead to rapid, accurate control of a speech synthesizer that could generate a wide range of sounds.

“Our immediate plans involve the implementation of a new synthesizer that can produce consonants as well as vowels but remains simple enough for a BMI user to control,” Guenther said. source

My comment: WOW! I mean it! WOW! This is only a step away from an efficient brain-pc interface. Sure, the goal of the study is to help people with locked-in syndrome, but the applications of the technology are endless. Imagine that by simple implanting of an electrode in your brain, you could control a machine or a computer only with your thoughts. Sure, that means even more obese people, but that's up to us to change. The key moment is that it opens immense possibilities. If you add communication in the other direction - from the computer to our brain, that makes the technology even more exciting. Just imagine! Amazing, simply amazing.

Scientists show 'lifeless' prions capable of evolutionary change and adaptation

December 31, 2009

Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have determined for the first time that prions, bits of infectious protein devoid of DNA or RNA that can cause fatal neurodegenerative disease, are capable of Darwinian evolution.

The study from Scripps Florida in Jupiter shows that prions can develop large numbers of mutations at the protein level and, through natural selection, these mutations can eventually bring about such evolutionary adaptations as drug resistance, a phenomenon previously known to occur only in bacteria and viruses. These breakthrough findings also suggest that the normal - which occurs naturally in human cells - may prove to be a more effective than its abnormal toxic relation.

Infectious prions (short for proteinaceous infectious particles) are associated with some 20 different diseases in humans and animals, including and a rare human form, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. All these diseases are untreatable and eventually fatal.
Prions, which are composed solely of protein, are classified by distinct strains, originally characterized by their incubation time and the disease they cause. Prions have the ability to reproduce, despite the fact that they contain no nucleic acid genome.

Mammalian cells normally produce cellular protein or PrPC. During infection, abnormal or misfolded protein - known as PrPSc - converts the normal host prion protein into its toxic form by changing its conformation or shape. The end-stage consists of large assemblies (polymers) of these misfolded proteins, which cause massive tissue and cell damage. source

My comment: Another cool news which demonstrates the power of evolution. Now we see it in action for prions, which are basically proteins folded in different way. Leaving Darwin aside, prions are so simple, they are a step above the organic molecules we observe in nebulae in the sky. Thus they show how common can life in space be - if they can evolve, and they are so simple, then it becomes even easier to produce life-forms from organic molecules on big scale. Life may be all around us and waiting for us to recognize it!

Viral phenomenon: Ancient microbe invaded human DNA

January 6, 2010
Humans carry in their genome the relics of an animal virus that infected their forerunners at least 40 million years ago, according to research published Wednesday by the British science journal Nature.

The invader is called bornavirus, a brain-infecting pathogen that was first identified in 1970s.

Scientists led by Keizo Tomonaga of Japan's Osaka University compared the DNA of a range of mammals, including humans, apes, elephants, marsupials and rodents, to look for tell-tale signatures of bornavirus code.

In the , the team found several bornavirus fragments but also in the form of two genes that may be functional, although what they do is unclear.

Until now, the only viruses known to have been handed on in vertebrates were retroviruses, which work by hijacking cellular machinery in order to reproduce.

Retroviruses are effective in infiltrating the germline -- the of , which means their sequence, or part of it, is handed on to ensuing generations.

By some estimates, retroviruses account for as much as eight percent of the human code for life.

Bornavirus has a different stealth tactic, replicating in the nucleus of infected cells.

The impact of bornavirus on the human genetic odyssey is likely to trigger fierce debate.

The big questions are whether it provided a potential cause of genetic mutation or innovation in our species, or whether it provided a source for inherited illness -- or, conversely, protection.

Bornavirus has not been clearly linked to diseases in humans, although some researchers speculate there could be a link with schizophrenia and other mental disorders. source

My comment: Ok, this is even cooler, because it makes you think about the role of viruses in human history and evolution. Because so far, we considered viruses for evil creatures that makes us sick. But if each virus carries away a piece of our DNA and spread it among other people or creatures, that virus is making a part of us to live forever. And it makes us even more connected with each other and the nature. We're all part of the DNA soup :) That's kind of interesting, right? And obviously, the changes the viruses bring to our organisms are not always negative, sometimes they protects us from diseases (as you can read in the article). Then, maybe we have to learn them more carefully before calling them names. Sure, the viruses are masters of infections, but maybe there is a way to keep only the bad ones away? Who knows...

For this microbe, cousins not particularly welcome

January 6, 2010
(PhysOrg.com) -- A bacterial species that depends on cooperation to survive is discriminating when it comes to the company it keeps. Scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and Netherlands' Centre for Terrestrial Ecology have learned Myxococcus xanthus cells are able to recognize genetic differences in one another that are so subtle, even the scientists studying them must go to great lengths to tell them apart.

The scientists' report, which appears in a recent issue of Current Biology, also provides further evidence that cooperation in nature is not always a festival of peace and love. Rather, cooperation may be more of a grudging necessity, in which partners continually compete and undermine one another in a bid for evolutionary dominance.

Myxococcus xanthus is a predatory bacterium that through soil, killing and eating other by secreting toxic and digestive compounds. When food runs out, cells aggregate and exchange chemical signals to form cooperative, multi-cellular "fruiting bodies." Some of the cells create the fruiting body's structure, while other cells are destined to become hardy spores for the purpose of surviving difficult conditions.

Previously, experiments by Velicer and Ph.D. student Francesca Fiegna showed that when different Myxococcus strains isolated from around the globe were mixed together, the number of spores produced was much reduced. This indicated that this social had diverged into many socially conflicting types.

As part of the experimental design for their study, Velicer and Vos paired Myxococcus strains isolated from soil samples taken just centimeters apart to see whether they would behave cooperatively or competitively.

The scientists found that some pairs of strains, inhabiting the same patch of soil and almost identical genetically, had nevertheless diverged enough to inhibit each other's ability to make spores.

In general, however, the scientists found competition was less intense among centimeter-scale pairings than for pairings of more distantly related bacteria isolated from distant locations. These results indicate that social divergence can evolve rapidly within populations, but this divergence can be augmented by geographic isolation.

Another set of experiments revealed that different strains actively avoid each other prior to starvation-induced fruiting body formation. Velicer and Vos argue that this type of exclusion within diverse populations -- in which the probability of social conflict among neighbors is high -- may serve to direct the benefits of cooperation to close kin only. source

My comment: Can you even imagine bacterias being so smart? It's kind of creepy, that they are able to know their friends and hate their enemies, and to "decide" whether to avoid the enemies or to fight them. I mean, this thing is so damn little and yet it has a strategy in life that is successful for the conditions it lives in. Something we, with our huge brains, often don't have!

Punishment important in plant-pollinator relationship

January 14, 2010
Figs and the wasps that pollinate them present one of biologists' favorite examples of a beneficial relationship between two different species. In exchange for the pollination service provided by the wasp, the fig fruit provides room and board for the wasp's developing young. However, wasps do not always pollinate the fig. Fig trees "punish" these "cheaters" by dropping unpollinated fruit, killing the wasp's offspring inside, report researchers working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. source


My comment: ROFL! The fig punishes the wasp. That's so fun. And it's true!