Month: June, 2018

Zoologists Explained Why The Ostrich Is The Only Living Animal With Four Kneecaps

According to experts, the unusual structure of the legs allows the bird to accelerate quickly.

Ostrich is one of the most interesting and unusual birds in the modern world. He can’t fly but runs very fast and has the largest size among the brethren.

In addition, the ostrich is the only living creature on Earth with four knees.

After a series of studies, scientists have created a computer model of the leg of the ostrich. This allowed them to understand why the “extra” body parts of this bird has not disappeared with evolution.

As it turned out, four knee ostriches need for rapid response to possible danger. When a member of the species feels the approach of the enemy, he may suddenly break away from their homes, developing a decent speed.

In this case the leg bone of an ostrich face enormous pressure, while a special mechanism reduces the load. That is part of it and are knees.

Zoologists said that while not believe in his theory 100%. Researchers simply have nothing to compare the results of their work, since 1884, on the Ground there are no other organisms with four knees, in addition to ostriches.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Prehistoric Puzzle Of How Plesiosaurs Swam Through The Oceans

Among the stranger creatures to roam the earth during the time of the dinosaurs was not a dinosaur at all, but a marine reptile — the plesiosaur.

This odd predator navigated Mesozoic Era waters with four flippers — two in the front and two in the back — a design unlike anything seen in modern-day swimmers.

How the plesiosaur actually used its limbs to swim has remained something of a mystery.

But in a study in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, a group of scientists has used computer modeling to pin down what those strokes might have looked like — and it turns out that they probably looked a lot like a penguin’s.

Plesiosaurs were a diverse group of swimming reptiles that thrived for 135 million years, from the Early Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous period (when they were wiped out by the same asteroid that took out the dinosaurs).

Some had long necks, others had short stubby ones, but all of them had this four-flippered body plan, where the animals’ legs had evolved into two pairs of wing-like appendages — “a unique adaptation in the animal Kingdom,” the study authors wrote.

Although plesiosaurs were a key component of Mesozoic marine ecosystems, there are no extant ‘four-winged’ analogues to provide insights into their behavior or ecology, and their locomotion has remained a topic of debate since the first complete plesiosaur skeleton was described in 1824,” the authors wrote.

Without any clear modern comparisons, how theirs flippers worked together has stumped scientists.

Some have argued that the plesiosaur had a rowing stroke, using its fins like boat oars; others argued for a “flight stroke,” rather like those of penguins and turtles, or a modified flight stroke like the ones sea lions use.

The extinct animals’ swimming motion has been equally up for grabs: Some have posited synchronous motion, with all four flippers moving in the same direction at the same time.

Others have favored semi-synchronous or asynchronous motion, where the forelimbs and hindlimbs move out-of-phase relative to each other.

Researchers haven’t even been able to agree on whether it was the forelimbs or the hindlimbs producing most of the animal’s thrust.

Scientists have tried all kinds of ways to model the animals’ swimming behavior, from using experimental robots to testing out human swimmers using paddles.

These studies, although informative, are limited because they do not deal with accurate representations of the plesiosaur form,” the study authors wrote.

There is therefore still no consensus on how plesiosaurs swam, especially how they moved all four limbs relative to each other.”

To get a better handle on plesiosaur physiology, researchers from Georgia Tech decided to build a computer model — far more accurate than, say, a human with some paddles.

They based theirs on Meyerasaurus victor, a Lower Jurassic plesiosaur from what is now Germany that would have stretched about 11 feet (relatively small by plesiosaur standards).

This model also allowed researchers to test thousands of simulations to try to determine which combinations of movement allowed the animal to move most effectively through the water.

In the end, the scientists found that the plesiosaur was swimming mostly with its forelimbs; surprisingly, the hindlimbs didn’t generate much thrust and likely were used for balance and steering.

Within the biologically possible range of limb motion, the simulated plesiosaur swims primarily with its forelimbs using an unmodified underwater flight stroke, essentially the same as turtles and penguins,” the study authors wrote.

Now that the scientists have developed a working model of this plesiosaur, they can use it to further probe exactly how the hindlimbs were used — and to explore the motion of other extinct swimming animals.

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Pass it in on: Popular Science

The Role Of Social Media In The Arab Uprisings

Almost immediately after the Arab uprisings began, there was debate over the role and influence of social media in the ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the imminent overthrow of Mubarak.

In covering what some deemed the Facebook or Twitter revolutions, the media focused heavily on young protesters mobilizing in the streets in political opposition, smartphones in hand.

And since then, the violent and sectarian unrest in Syria has brought increased attention to the role of citizen journalism.

Social media indeed played a part in the Arab uprisings. Networks formed online were crucial in organizing a core group of activists, specifically in Egypt.

Civil society leaders in Arab countries emphasized the role of “the internet, mobile phones, and social media” in the protests.

Additionally, digital media has been used by Arabs to exercise freedom of speech and as a space for civic engagement.

Now, research is emerging that reexamines in a more detailed way the role that social media played in the Arab uprisings.

Twitter, Facebook and other new media offer ways for the Arab-American news media to reach audiences, but also pose a threat to smaller outlets.

In addition to keeping up with the online presence of larger news organizations, Arab-American media are forced to compete with user-generated content that is rapidly available to audiences.

The utility of social media in accessing information became clear during the Arab uprisings and events such as Egypt’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

However, Manneh of New America Media points out that the credibility of this information is difficult to verify “depending on where it’s from, to whom it’s attributed, [and] especially when various events are happening very quickly.

Arab-American news outlets find they must compete with this abundance of online content in order to evolve alongside readers who are increasingly turning to the internet for information.

Newspapers have made the greatest inroads here so far, with most offering at least some form of digital content, while still maintaining print versions for older generations and those who prefer a physical newspaper.

Radio programs, in light of the continuing challenge to find advertising sponsorship, are beginning to shift online.

Arab-American television, on the other hand, has yet to even really find a place amid the satellite programming available from Arab countries.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

‘Dragon Booger’ Creatures Are Found In Vancouver’s Lost Lagoon

A gelatinous creature nicknamed “dragon booger” has been recently spotted for the first time in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The odd creatures live in rivers and lakes and were recently seen because the low water levels made them more visible.

The gelatinous being, known as a bryozoan, was found in the Stanley’s Parks “Lost Lagoon,” a small body of water in the southern part of the park.

Celina Starnes from the Stanley Park Ecology Society showed the bryozoan in a video for Vancouver Courier, and told National Geographic the creatures have a gelatinous, firm quality, “almost like Jell-O.

Bryozoan clumps like the one found in the Lost Lagoon are actually hundreds of creatures living together, as a single organism –called zooid—is only a fraction of a millimeter.

Zooids are hermaphroditic creatures but spread due to statoblasts, a clump of cells found in the organism that can reproduce asexually if they’re broken off from the colony.

Bryozoans are ancient creatures, as fossil records show marine bryozoans lived as far as 470 million years ago.

The kind found in Vancouver is known as a “magnificent” bryozoan, Pectinatella magnifica, and was previously only known to live in areas east of the Mississippi River.

The creatures are still mysterious for scientists, and there is an ongoing debate on whether they are an invasive species or not. A 2012 study from the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service suggested that climate change could be fueling the spread of bryozoans.

Meaning, zooids can only survive in water warmer than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which made scientists suggest that warming temperatures are allowing the creatures to spread north.

Bryozoans feed on algae in nutrient-rich waters, so an increase in their population could disturb the ecological balance of a freshwater system. National Geographic reports they have also been found to clog pipes.

Other scientists say bryozoans have probably gone unnoticed for a while. They are difficult to find because of their muddy color, which helps them camouflage in murky waters.

Starnes said they are often confused with rocks or a batch of salamander eggs. She noted they doubt this is the first time they have been in Vancouver.

Ian Walker, a biology professor at the University of British Columbia who has studied the gelatinous creatures, said he believes there isn’t enough research to conclusively tell whether or not the species is moving north.

Walker says it’s something that could have been “easily overlooked” in the past, as other bryozoans have been found west of Vancouver in the Okanagan Valley.

I think we’re near the northern limit of them. With warming climate, they might migrate somewhere farther north,” Walker told National Geographic. “I can only really speculate how they might have spread.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Giant Panda Is One Step Further Away From Extinction

The giant panda, commonly a symbol for conservation, is no longer considered an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In an update to their Red List of Threatened Species on Sunday, which assesses a species’ conservation status, the IUCN reported the giant panda population has improved enough for the endangered species label to be downgraded to “vulnerable.”

A nationwide census in 2014 found 1,864 giant pandas in the wild in China, excluding cubs — an increase from 1,596 in 2004, according to the IUCN.

Including cubs, the current population count is approaching 2,060, the organization said. The report credits forest protection and reforestation measures in China for increasing the available habitat for the species.

The decision to downlist the giant panda to ‘vulnerable’ is a positive sign confirming that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective,” the IUCN noted in its assessment.

The giant panda was once widespread throughout southern China, and is revered in the country’s culture.

The IUCN’s first assessment of the species in 1965 listed the giant panda as “very rare but believed to be stable or increasing.

The species has been the focus of an intensive, high-profile conservation campaign to recover an endangered species since the 1970s, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — which has used the panda in its logo since 1961.

For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF,” Marco Lambertini, director general of the WWF, said.

Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats.

Decades of conservation efforts have included the banning of giant panda poaching — their hides were considered a commodity — as well as the creation of the panda reserve system, increasing available habitats.

There are now 67 reserves in China protecting nearly 5,400 square miles (14,000 square kilometers) of habitat and 67 percent of the panda population, reported CNN.

The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity,” Lambertini said in the statement.

The Chinese government’s partnerships with the international organization have also spread conservation and breeding efforts. In June, a healthy male cub was born in a Belgian zoo.

The captive population is not taken into consideration by IUCN for the Red List, which is specific to species in the wild.

However, the captive population being bred for recovery and reintroduction are part of the overall conservation picture, according to Joe Walston, Vice President of Conservation Field Programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The giant panda is not completely in the clear, however the IUCN warned that climate change and decreasing bamboo availability could reverse the gains made in the past few decades.

More than one-third of the panda’s bamboo habitat could disappear in the next 80 years, according to the IUCN.

It is a real concern, and this is emblematic of what species are facing globally with regard to climate change,” Walston told Live Science of the threat to habitat and food supply.

The most important thing we can do at the moment is to be able to grow the extent and range of that habitat and by doing that you allow pandas to move across landscapes.

Wildlife as a whole can adapt to short-term changes and season extremes, Walston said, but they need to space to move and adapt.

As such, conservation efforts continue and the giant panda will continue to be considered “a conservation-dependent species for the foreseeable future,” the IUCN’s report concluded.

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Pass it on: Popular Science


Hayabusa 2 Spacecraft Cozies Up To Gemstone-Shaped Asteroid

Asteroids come in all shapes and sizes. We’ve seen a die and a skull and now we can add a gemstone to the list.

JAXA, Japan’s space agency, posted images of the asteroid Ryugu as seen by its fast-approaching Hayabusa 2 spacecraft.

Hayabusa 2 is the sequel to Japan’s original Hayabusa asteroid mission, which returned to Earth in 2010 after touching down on an asteroid named Itokawa.

The probe successfully gathered sample particles from the asteroid and brought them back to Earth. The current mission will also try to gather and return samples from Ryugu.

JAXA’s asteroid hunter launched in late 2014 and has since traveled about 2 billion miles (3.2 billion kilometers). It is now sending back our best-ever looks at the distant space object.

A photograph from June 24 shows the asteroid’s rough surface and diamond-like shape.

JAXA describes the shape as being similar to the mineral flourite, which is known as the “firefly stone” in Japanese. The space agency also suggests it looks a bit like an abacus bead.

The asteroid’s angular shape poses some challenges to Hayabasu 2’s plan to place a lander and three miniature rovers on its surface.

There is a peak in the vicinity of the equator and a number of large craters, which makes the selection of the landing points both interesting and difficult,” says JAXA.

Hayabusa2 will hang out at Ryugu for over a year and eventually return to Earth near the end of 2020.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Can The Stircle Unseat Coffee Stirrers And Reduce Waste?

Consider the Stircle.

A new invention that aims to reduce the amount of waste surrounding your morning cup of coffee by replacing those wasteful stirrers with a small machine that spins your morning joe to mix in all your cream and sugar.

Although what might be more interesting is to consider all the chatter the Stircle is stirring up.

That’s where Scott Amron comes in. He’s a product designer and inventor of the Stircle. When you talk with Scott, you can hear that he really wants to try and make a positive impact on the world.

For years it’s bothered me that you use a stick or a plastic stick to stir your coffee,” said Amron, “it’s not just about the trash. It’s about the waste.”.

Amron’s talking about all the resources that go into making, transporting and storing those stirrers. To him, those little sticks are a big problem.

So he invented a small countertop device that spins drinks around, stops, then reverse spins to mix them. Technically, according to Amron, the drinks aren’t just spun.

Because people don’t put the drinks in exactly dead center, the contents rotate and oscillate. Plus, since the sides of the cup angle upwards, there is another dimension to the mix.

Amron says he built the Stircle with large coffee shop chains in mind and that the device can be installed by the milk and sugar for customers to use, or behind the counter for other drinks that need mixing by the barista.

It requires a plug, and Stircles can be daisy chained, so multiple ones at a single location don’t each require a separate plug.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The New CRISPR-Gold Technique Reduces Behavioral Autism Symptoms In Mice

A remarkable new study has successfully used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique to edit a specific gene in mice engineered to have fragile X syndrome (FXS), a single-gene disorder often related to autism.

The single gene edit in the live mice resulted in significant improvements in repetitive and obsessive behaviors, making this the first time gene editing has been used to effectively target behavioral symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

FXS is a genetic disorder associated with intellectual disability, seizures and exaggerated repetitive behavior.

Previous studies have shown that the repetitive behaviors associated with FXS are related to a specific excitatory receptor in the brain that, when dysregulated, causes exaggerated signaling between cells.

The CRISPR technique homes in on the gene that controls that excitatory receptor, the metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5), and essentially disables it, dampening the excessive signaling the corresponds with repetitive behaviors.

In mice treated with the new system, obsessive digging behavior was reduced by 30 percent and repetitive leaping actions dropped by 70 percent.

An even more fascinating element of this new research was the novel CRISPR-Cas9 delivery method, pioneered by a team at the University of California, Berkeley.

The most commonly used gene delivery technique for CRISPR harnesses the power of viruses to ferry the Cas9 enzyme to a targeted cell.

But viral gene delivery has its limitations. As well as battling the potential for a person’s immune system to develop antibodies against the virus, this delivery system makes it difficult to control how much Cas9 is ultimately delivered.

The effectiveness of this CRISPR-Gold system in accurately editing specific genes in brain cells could in the future be potentially applied to a broad assortment of different genetic diseases, as well as targeting other social interaction symptoms associated with ASD.

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Neanderthals: We Were Not Alone

Neanderthal spear.

The three human subspecies known to have hybridised to produce the present human population of the planet, Neanderthals, Homo sapiens and Denisovans, last had a common ancestor more than half a million years ago.

Until now it has been assumed that the only branch of her descendants to think symbolically was us, Homo sapiens.

In fact, until the development of sequencing techniques sensitive enough to work on ancient DNA, it was thought that the other two species had died out entirely, rather than leaving portions of their genome in European and Melanesian populations respectively.

But the discovery, reported last week, of palaeolithic art at four sites in Spain that dates from the time when the peninsula was occupied only by Neanderthals, shows that they worked with symbols of stone and paint.

We have no idea what these markings mean. That is in the nature of symbolism, and indeed of language: the meaning of a sound, or a marking on the wall, is given by the community that uses it; it can’t be read by outsiders.

We already know that Neanderthals were anatomically equipped for speech; their use of painted symbols suggests that they could make audible symbols and not just visible ones.

One of the effects of the discovery reported last week has been to push one of the standard tropes of science fiction 40,000 years into our past.

That was when Homo sapiens met Homo neanderthalensis, another symbolically intelligent species, and our ancestors realised that they were not alone in the universe.

We can deduce that these encounters must have been reasonably peaceable, because Europeans and all other populations outside Africa carry some Neanderthal DNA.

Animal studies have shown that almost all of the capacities that we once considered uniquely human are shared with animals.

Some birds are capable of choosing and using wooden tools, chimpanzees use stone ones, and even sheep recognise one another as individuals.

Many creatures communicate with sounds, as well as with smells and expressions. But only humans have symbolic language, so far as we know.

Only humans form concepts and combine them as if they were physical tools before using them to shape the world. Now it seems that to be human in this sense is an older and stranger thing than anyone had earlier dared to dream.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Here’s How To Stop Snoring While Sleeping

Studies show that more than 45 per cent healthy adults snore while sleeping. However, a majority of those people would like to know how to stop snoring naturally and permanently.

Getting someone to stop snoring can also prove to be a difficult.

While snoring home remedies can work, research has revealed that 75 per cent of those who snore have obstructive sleep apnea, which could increase the risk of developing heart disease in future.

Here’s how to stop snoring naturally:

Sleeping on your side: This stops the base of your tongue and soft palate from collapsing to the back wall of your throat that usually happens when you sleep on your back.

This usually results in a vibrating sound when a person is asleep. If sleeping on your side is difficult, a body pillow or taping tennis balls to the back of your pyjamas can be a quick and cheap solution.

Losing weight: This can help people who have recently gained weight and have started to snore as a result.

Thin people do snore, but weight gain can occasionally squeeze the diameter of the throat, again causing it to collapse during sleep.

Not drinking: Drinking alcohol four or five hours before sleeping can make snoring worse and louder as it can reduce the resting tone of the muscle in the back of your throat.

Some people who do not usually snore can sometimes snore after drinking. Lack of sleep can also play a significant part in the increase of snoring as, when an overtired person goes into a deep sleep, muscles become floppier.

Opening nasal passages: This can also help minimize snoring if a person has cold or if a person’s nose is blocked for other reasons. A hot shower, a neti pot or nasal strips can help clear passages before bed.

Drinking water: This can stop the secretions in your nose and soft palate from becoming sticky when you are dehydrated, so ensuring you are having enough water each day can help stop snoring.

However, if none of these work, surgery could be a natural inclination.

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Pass it on: Popular Science