Category Archives: Science

Build-a-mammoth

Jurassic Park just got hairy.

Scientists are one step closer to cloning a woolly mammoth, after finding well-preserved remains of the gargantuan beast deep in the Russian wilderness.

The team that made the discovery included scientists from Russia, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Sweden and Great Britain. These intrepid explorers unearthed the remains of a woolly mammoth – including fur and bone marrow, with some nuclei intact – in the Ust-Yansk area of the Yakutia region along Russia’s arctic coast. If they can just find one living cell among the material preserved by Siberia’s permafrost, they’ll have the recipe for making an entire mammoth. Continue reading Build-a-mammoth

BPA increases anxiety, soy protects

What do water bottles, food cans and paper money all have in common?

They all contain BPA, also known as bisphenol-A. A recent study done on rats by researchers at North Carolina State University shows that exposure to the chemical early in life can affect gene expression in the amygdala, an area of the brain known to process emotions. The study also showed that a diet rich in soy seems to mitigate the harmful effects of exposure to BPA.

About 93 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bloodstreams. The chemical has been linked to behavior and brain alterations, alteration of infant prostate glands, breast cancer and early puberty in girls.

Is the BPA in your products doing something to you? Graphic by Brad Wolfla.

This particular study examined how exposure during gestation, lactation, and throughout puberty influenced the rats’ brains and behaviors. Subjects were divided into four groups, the first of which was fed only soy, the second a soy-free diet, the third fed only soy and exposed to BPA, and the fourth fed no soy and exposed to BPA.

The fourth group showed higher levels of anxiety than the others. Researchers think this was due to alterations in two genes, estrogen receptor beta and melanocortin receptor four. Both of these genes are involved in the release of oxytocin, a hormone that influences social behavior and bonding. Altered oxytocin release can cause abnormal social behavior.

The third group  (rats exposed to BPA and fed with soy) did not show increased anxiety. Researchers aren’t certain how soy protects the developing brain, but they hope to find out with future research.

The study was lead by Dr. Heather Patisaul, NC State associate professor of biology, and was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

BPA is found in many products including food containers, water bottles and even epoxy resins; BPA can actually transfer from the containers to the food or drink inside. Rats and mice exposed to BPA in the study were found to have levels of the chemical comparable to what is commonly found in humans.

The study focused on the effects of BPA during early development, and did not provide information regarding the effects of a soy-rich diet in adulthood. Researchers are currently searching for ways that soy can be used to prevent and negate the effects of BPA, but consumers should practice common-sense safety and avoid products likely to contain the chemical. While not all products containing the chemical are marked, some manufacturers cater to health-conscious customers by labeling their products as BPA-free.

Voyager spacecrafts are out of this world

We’re leaving the solar system.

How’s that sound for a vacation? It’s certainly not something you do on the spur of the moment, and it’s a trip the Voyager spacecrafts have been on for 35 years.  Launched in the late 1970s by NASA, these two ambassadors for humanity are laden with objects meant to give extraterrestrial intelligence a taste of life on Earth, and have finally reached the edge of our solar system. Continue reading Voyager spacecrafts are out of this world

Brainiacs travel in packs

They count. They solve puzzles. They’ve even learned to cheat.

What kind of creatures are they? If you’re thinking of a primate of some kind, you aren’t the only one, but these clever critters are a lot less human. Recent research has revealed that hyenas possess intelligence and problem-solving skills on par with some primates.

With brains like these, hyenas may soon be the next RU students. Image by Steve Furtado.

Working with the hypothesis that complex social interaction drives the evolution of human-like intelligence, Dr. Sarah Benson-Amram of the University of St. Andrews presented wild spotted hyenas with the problem of opening a closed box. Despite never having encountered such a situation before, the hyenas quickly developed a range of techniques for opening the box. Some of them flipped it over, some dug underneath it and one hyena who couldn’t figure it out learned instead to wait for someone else to open it, then stole the meat hidden inside. Once they learned what to do, they demonstrated the ability again later with ease. Continue reading Brainiacs travel in packs

New tick-borne virus threatens Missouri farmers

A new virus has reared its head in Missouri, and has now independently infected two men who reside 60 miles apart from each other. According to NPR, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling this virus the “Heartland virus” due to location and its discoverer Dr. Scott Folk at the Heartland Regional Medical Center. Ticks are the suspected bearers of the virus, but CNN quotes CDC researcher William Nicholson as saying the carriers could be sandflies or mosquitoes. Continue reading New tick-borne virus threatens Missouri farmers

Stricter Fuel-Efficiency Standards For American Vehicles

In a move that is being heralded by environmentalists and automakers alike, the Obama administration announced on Aug. 28, 2012 that new fuel-efficiency standards will require the U.S. auto fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The standards also regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which allow 144 grams per mile for passenger cars and 203 grams per mile for trucks. Continue reading Stricter Fuel-Efficiency Standards For American Vehicles

New studies hope to explain dwindling bee population

Two new studies published in late March hope to explain, at least partially, the issue of disappearing bees. This phenomenon also known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a major issue for people who rely on these pollinators to produce food – i.e. everyone. Continue reading New studies hope to explain dwindling bee population

Cheetah robot breaks land speed record

A Boston Dynamics engineer has designed a robot to mimic the running motions of a cheetah. This is the same company behind the military’s Bigdog robotics project, the future robotic work mule for the military. This project was a military-funded experiment to examine the motion of cheetahs to create a robot that has more fluid and life-like motions. Continue reading Cheetah robot breaks land speed record

Mammoth-like Jurassic Park could be in the future

Two separate research teams have plans to resurrect a woolly mammoth. These teams have plans to clone a woolly mammoth in the next 5 years if everything goes as planned. It is just a matter of time before a woolly mammoth could be walking the face of the Earth once more. Continue reading Mammoth-like Jurassic Park could be in the future

Solar storms what you need to know

On March 8 the little blue and green marble known as the Earth was showered in excess solar radiation. The sun has been in a phase of higher than normal activity for the past two months.

Early in the morning on March 8, the Earth was hit with the second strongest solar flare since 2005. The solar flare was launched from the sun at 1,400 miles per second. This jet of highly energized particles was expected to hit the Earth’s magnetic field around 1 a.m. Continue reading Solar storms what you need to know

There’s no pill for grief

Most people at some point in their lives lost someone they love. Whether it be a family member, friend or pet, the loss of a loved one can be devastating. We go through the stages of grief in our own ways, and some have a harder time dealing with loss than others. Different deaths will affect us in various ways; a loss of a second cousin won’t generally compare with the loss of a spouse. Bereavement is entirely personal and, unless the individual means harm to themselves or others, the process should be largely respected. Continue reading There’s no pill for grief