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Posts tagged “nature

Day 54: The Science Behind Real Zombies

Zombies: Science Fiction vs. Fact

zombies ahead

Time for a break from stochastic processes, at least for the moment. Every year here we update and post our favorite Halloween tradition!  So today we bring you the science fact and fiction behind the undead. Zombies, those brain loving little things are everywhere. Sure, we are all familiar with the classic  zombie, but did you know that we aren’t the only zombie lovers out there? It turns out that nature has its own special types of zombies, but this isn’t a science fiction movie, this is science fact! Sometimes fact can be scarier than fiction, so let’s dive in. Let’s talk zombies.

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The unintended consequences of almond milk on California

almond milk

almond milk

A new study using aerial imagery across the state of California has found that converting land to grow almonds between 2007 and 2014 has led to a 27% annual increase in irrigation demands—despite the state’s historic drought. The expansion of almonds has also consumed 16,000 acres of wetlands and will likely put additional pressure on already stressed honeybee populations.

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Largest-ever study reveals environmental impact of genetically modified crops

gmo crops

gmo crops

According to new research, widespread adoption of genetically modified crops has decreased the use of insecticides, but increased the use of weed-killing herbicides as weeds become more resistant. This is the largest study of genetically modified crops and pesticide use to date. The team of economists studied annual data from more than 5,000 soybean and 5,000 maize farmers in the U.S. from 1998 to 2011, far exceeding previous studies that have been limited to one or two years of data.

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Pesticides used to help bees may actually harm them

Save the bees

Die hard, the bee version.

Pesticides beekeepers are using to improve honeybee health may actually be harming the bees by damaging the bacteria communities in their guts. The discovery is a concern because alterations can affect the gut’s ability to metabolize sugars and peptides, processes that are vital for honeybee health.

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Biomimicry is a promising approach for driving innovation

biomimicry

biomimicry

A new case study shows that biomimicry, a relatively new field that seeks to emulate nature to find solutions to human problems, can potentially expand intellectual property, increase energy savings and accelerate product innovation.

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Bacteria are individualists

cultured bacteria

cultured bacteria

No two bacteria are identical – even when they are genetically the same. A new study from researchers reveals the conditions under which bacteria become individualists and how they help their group grow when times get tough. Whether you are a human or a bacterium, your environment determines how you can develop.

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Bigger brains led to bigger bodies in our ancestors

brain sizes

brain sizes

New research suggests that humans became the large-brained, large-bodied animals we are today because of natural selection to increase brain size. The work contradicts previous models that treat brain size and body size as independent traits responding to separate evolutionary pressures. Instead, the study shows that brain size and body size are genetically linked and that selection to increase brain size will “pull along” body size.

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Are humans the new supercomputer?

supercomputer intelligence

supercomputer intelligence

As a society we have become incredibly reliant on technology, from spell check to GPS, we are slowly being replaced by computers. Need more proof, a computer can routinely beat us at chess, an AI wrote portions of a book that went on to almost win a writing contest, and if you want scary robotics enter Boston dynamics spot.  So the question is,  have we outlived our place in the world? Not quite. Welcome to the front line of research in cognitive skills, quantum computers and gaming.

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What is a good death?

life and death quote

life and death quote

Food for the worms, a dirt nap, kicking the bucket, maybe there are so many euphemisms for death because it is still a taboo in certain cultures. Not so fun fact, my Uncle committed suicide some years back. I’m not going to go into details, but because suicide is looked down on, was his death still considered a “good death”? Trying to qualitatively and quantitatively define a good death, researchers have published a new paper offering help in defining the idea of a good death and have ultimately identified 11 core themes associated with dying well.

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Spoiler alert: Water bears do not have extensive foreign DNA

apocalypse champion

apocalypse champion

Tardigrades, they are cute and cuddly — okay maybe not cuddly — but they have earned their nicknames, such as moss piglets or water bears. Mostly because they look like, well bears (although I don’t see a piglet personally). These guys are eight-legged microscopic animals that have long fascinated scientists for their ability to survive extremes of temperature, pressure, lack of oxygen, and even radiation exposure. Talk about a thrill seeker they can even survive in space, without a suit, where were humans when they were handing out those genes?

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Organic nanowires destroy the competition

nanowires

nanowires

Last month, we spoke of our vision of the future of humanity here at the lab. It makes sense that humanity would one-day step away from the static, non-living computer constructs we have designed. Moving us instead towards an organic alternative, one that can be readily repaired, replaced, or changed. While we cannot pretend to know what the future may hold, a new discovery helps bolster the stance we presented.

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Ancient viruses lurk in our DNA

ancient viral DNA

ancient viral DNA

Think your DNA is all human? Think again. And a new discovery suggests it’s even less human than scientists previously thought. Nineteen new pieces of non-human DNA — left by viruses that first infected our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago — have just been found, lurking between our own genes.

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Viruses ‘piggyback’ on hosts success

bacteriophages

bacteriophages

In the microscopic life that thrives around coral reefs, researchers have discovered an interplay between viruses and microbes that defies conventional wisdom. As the density of microbes rises in an ecosystem, the number of viruses infecting those microbes rises with it. It has generally been assumed that this growing population of viruses, in turn, kills more and more microbes, keeping the microbial population in check. It’s a model known as “kill-the-winner” — the winners being the blooming microbial cells and the killers being the viruses (mostly bacteria-killing viruses known as bacteriophages) that infect them.

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Frankenstein’s E. Coli: How an artificial protein rescues dying cells

it's alive!

it's alive!

It’s alive, ALIVE! No really and it could one day have big implications for you and me. So it is not quite Frankenstein’s monster… yet. However, a new study has revealed how a synthetic protein revives E. coli cells that lack a life-sustaining gene, offering insight into how life can adapt to survive and potentially be reinvented.

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Preemies’ gut bacteria reveal vast scope of antibiotic resistance

premature baby

premature baby

Yesterday we blogged about the emergent and increasing antibiotic resistance problem, which was good — or bad timing — depending on how you look at it. A new study of gut bacteria in premature infants reveals the vast scope of the problem of antibiotic resistance and gives new insight into the extreme vulnerability of these young patients, according to researchers.

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Technology and human biology: The singularity may not be so singular

future of humanity

future of humanity

Life literally inside the world wide web, it’s an interesting idea. One that has tantalized sci-fi fans since before the framework for the internet was even finished. While the idea of a seemingly eternal disembodied life through the unfiltered and raw computer consciousness that we all share a connection with, maybe we are shooting for a goal that isn’t really possible — maybe we are asking the wrong questions.

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Scientists prove feasibility of ‘printing’ replacement tissue

bioengineering with a 3d printer

bioengineering with a 3d printer

Using a sophisticated, custom-designed 3D printer, regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have proved that it is feasible to print living tissue structures to replace injured or diseased tissue in patients. Scientists said they printed ear, bone and muscle structures. When implanted in animals, the structures matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels.

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We can build it better: Synthetic biopathway turns agriculture waste into ‘green’ products

synthetic biology art

synthetic biology art

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have engineered a new synthetic biopathway that can more efficiently and cost-effectively turn agricultural waste, like corn stover and orange peels, into a variety of useful products ranging from spandex to chicken feed.

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How to unlock inaccessible genes

How to unlock inaccessible genes

An international team of biologists has discovered how specialized enzymes remodel the extremely condensed genetic material in the nucleus of cells in order to control which genes can be used. It was known that the DNA in cells is wrapped around proteins in structures called nucleosomes that resemble beads on a string, which allow the genetic material to be folded and compacted into a structure called chromatin.

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The music of the mind: throwing light on human consciousness

New theory linking brain activity to brain shape could throw light on human consciousness

New theory linking brain activity to brain shape could throw light on human consciousness

UNSW Australia scientists have shown that complex human brain activity is governed by the same simple universal rule of nature that can explain other phenomena such as the beautiful sound of a finely crafted violin or the spots on a leopard. The UNSW team has identified a link between the distinctive patterns of brain function that occur at rest and the physical structure of people’s brains.

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‘Space Warps’ and other citizen science projects reap major dividends for astrophysics

Three astrophysicists discuss the impact volunteer, citizen scientists are having on discovery -- and what the future holds

Three astrophysicists discuss the impact volunteer, citizen scientists are having on discovery -- and what the future holds

Thanks to the Internet, amateur volunteers known as “citizen scientists” can readily donate their time and effort to science–in fields ranging from medicine to zoology to astrophysics. The astrophysics project Space Warps offers a compelling example of why citizen science has become such a popular tool and how valuable it can be.

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Feeling sick? It’s evolution’s way of telling you to stay home

Your symptoms? Evolution's way of telling you to stay home

Your symptoms? Evolution's way of telling you to stay home

When you have a fever, your nose is stuffed and your headache is spreading to your toes, your body is telling you to stay home in bed. Feeling sick is an evolutionary adaptation according to a hypothesis put forward by Prof. Guy Shakhar of the Weizmann Institute’s Immunology Department and Dr. Keren Shakhar of the Psychology Department of the College of Management Academic Studies.

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New genes born by accident lead to evolutionary innovation

New genes born by accident lead to evolutionary innovation

New genes born by accident lead to evolutionary innovation

Novel genes are continuously emerging during evolution, but what drives this process? A new study has found that the fortuitous appearance of certain combinations of elements in the genome can lead to the generation of new genes.

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A faster way to evaluate synthetic metabolic pathways

High-throughput evaluation of synthetic metabolic pathways

High-throughput evaluation of synthetic metabolic pathways

A central challenge in the field of metabolic engineering is the efficient identification of a metabolic pathway genotype that maximizes specific productivity over a robust range of process conditions. A review from researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI covers the challenges of optimizing specific productivity of metabolic pathways in cells and new advances in pathway creation and screening.

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