Archives for the month of: August, 2012

Analysis of a Siberian cave girl’s genome links ancient and modern humans, and shows that she had brown hair, eyes and skin.  The DNA comes from a fragment of finger bone found in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in East Central Asia. The bone is thought to be 30,000 to 50,000 years old.

Some Paralympic athletes with spinal injuries use a technique called ‘boosting’ to improve their performance. This uses pain or discomfort to make their blood pressure jump higher – even as extreme as intentionally breaking a toe. This triggers autonomic dysreflexia (AD), which can be dangerous, and could even cause a stroke. The technique is banned, and will be monitored by checking blood pressure in people who look unwell.

Paralympic Games 29 Aug – 9 Sept

Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned theoretical physicist has opened the Paralympic Games at the age of 70, nearly 50 years after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease, and given just a few years to live. His narration included the words to inspire scientists and potential scientists: “Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet.”

Paralympic Games 29 Aug – 9 Sept

Smoking cannabis in their teens can lower people’s IQ, according to a study in New Zealand that followed 1000 people for 25 years, and the more that is smoked, the greater the drop. This could be because the brain is still developing and growing before 18. Read the original paper in PNAS.

You can learn while you are asleep. Israeli researchers wafted pleasant or unpleasant odours over sleeping volunteers, making them sniff,  and then played a tone more than a second later. They were careful to make sure that the volunteers didn’t wake. In the morning, they played the same tones and the volunteers sniffed but weren’t aware why.

There have been experiments showing that you can learn to link two stimuli together (such as a sound and a puff of air) during sleep, in classical conditioning.  This experiment is known as trace conditioning because of the time delay, and is the most advanced form of learning demonstrated during sleep – so I’m afraid it doesn’t mean you can stop revising for exams quite yet.
The original paper is in Nature.

Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, has died aged 82, following cardiac surgery.  He stepped onto the surface of the moon on 20 July 1969, with the words, “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind“.

Neil Armstrong

Source: NASA

Neil Armstrong described himself as: “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer, and I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”

His family have asked us to: “honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

PS – what’s a pocket protector? It’s the insert that goes in the top pocket of your labcoat to protect against leaky pens and pointy scissors.

Gibbons who inhale helium sing like sopranos. Researchers looked at the vocal cords of gibbons that had inhaled helium and saw that they could control their vocal tracts in the same way that soprano singers can – this was thought to to be unique to humans. See the original research in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Helium is a natural gas that cannot be synthesised, and it is vital for MRI scanners and radiation monitors. There is a helium shortage worldwide, and it could run out in 25-30 years. Because of a US law passed in 1996, according to Robert Richardson, professor of physics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, helium became too cheap to recycle, and was no longer regarded as precious.  Professor Richardson believes that our reserves of helium have been “squandered”.

According to researchers from Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, they can work out where you originate from using software and your genes, creating a kind of genetic ‘GPS’.  The researchers have used a software tool called spatial ancestry analysis (SPA) to locate mutations from the past that can be linked with a specific geographic location, even down to finding your parents’ ancestry too.

CompassThis could be used to trace a change that leads to disease in a specific population, or track the historic movement of human and animal populations. Read the original research in Nature Genetics.

A newly discovered Indonesian rat, Paucidentomys vermidax, is the only rodent found with no back teeth. Its front teeth are double-pointed bicuspids – this may be to help it tear up its diet of earthworms.

Read the original paper in Biology Letters.

Dr Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse has discovered the best way to collect samples from whales and monitor their health without distressing them. She uses a remote-controlled helicopter to pass a Petri dish through the plume coming from their blowholes to collect – well – whale snot. She received the 2010 (Ig) Nobel Prize for Engineering for this. Thanks to QI!

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