Futurology ~ Mars dunes, Welsh sites, underwater jetpack, caffeine genes, electric spider flight, NZ colour x-ray, rats kill coral, multiple human origins


Ghost dunes at Noctis Labyrinthus. Boxes B and C show close-ups. (MacKenzie Day & David Catling/AGU)

Mars’ ghost dunes — In a recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research, planetary geomorphologist Mackenzie Day and astrobiologist David Catling announced their discovery of about 800 “ghost dunes” – the imprints of ancient sand piles – clustered in two different locations on Mars. Examining these former dunes can tell us more about the red planet’s historic climate, and might contain more surprises as well.
~ I always wanted to be a planetary geomorphologist … OK, not really. So, what can we possible ‘Tel’ from these dunes? 

Hidden cropmarks revealed by the drought in Wales — Elusive ‘cropmarks’ now reveal the sites of long hidden ruins. From above, these cropmarks stand out starkly from the landscape—unmistakable squares and circles that outline settlements from as far back as the Bronze Age. In the past weeks, Driver has captured cropmarks across the Welsh countryside, including those made by a previously undiscovered medieval cemetery, a rare type of monument in this area, but they stand out much ore than usual thanks to the current unprecedented heat in the northern hemisphere.
~ Let’s hope Driver captures a load of these images so age old mysteries can be solved. 

Student 3D-prints a marine jetpack — A product design student in the UK created a safer way to travel under water with a jetpack that can propel a swimmer at speeds of up to 13kph.
Archie O’Brien says it took him a year to design and build a functional prototype of his CUDA jetpack, after learning that similar underwater propulsion devices can cost as much as new cars. Forty-five 3D-printed components could be quickly modified and reprinted as the engineering of the CUDA was continually refined.
~ You may be able to buy one as early as 2019, but I want to know ‘is it quiet?’ As man, do I ever hate on f___king jet skis! Way touring everyone’s summers, you jet-skiing a-holes!

Caffeine gene-control — A team led by Martin Fussenegger of ETH Zurich in Basel has shown that caffeine can be used as a trigger for synthetic genetic circuitry, which can then in turn do useful things for us – even correct or treat medical conditions. For a buzz-worthy proof of concept, the team engineered a system to treat type 2 diabetes in mice with sips of coffee, specifically Nespresso Volluto coffee. Essentially, when the animals drink the coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage), a synthetic genetic system in cells implanted in their abdomens switches on. This leads to the production of a hormone that increases insulin production and lowers blood sugar levels – thus successfully treating their diabetes after a simple morning brew.
~ Wait till they try decent coffee, then, I guess. 

Darwin’s theory of electric spider flight is finally proven — On Halloween in 1832, the naturalist Charles Darwin was onboard the HMS Beagle. He marveled at spiders that had landed on the ship after floating across huge ocean distances. “I caught some of the Aeronaut spiders which must have come at least 60 miles,” he noted in his diary. “How inexplicable is the cause which induces these small insects, as it now appears in both hemispheres, to undertake their aerial excursions.” Small spiders achieve flight by aiming their butts at the sky and releasing tendrils of silk to generate lift.
Darwin thought electricity might be involved when he noticed that spider silk stands seemed to repel each other with electrostatic force, but many scientists assumed that the arachnids, known as ‘ballooning’ spiders, were simply sailing on the wind like a paraglider. The wind power explanation has thus far been unable to account for observations of spiders rapidly launching into the air, even when winds are low, however. Now, these aerial excursions have been empirically determined to be largely powered by electricity, according to new research published Thursday in Current Biology. The study settles a longstanding debate about whether wind energy or electrostatic forces are responsible for spider ballooning locomotion.
~ It’s both, of course. 

New Zealand colour X-Ray breakthrough — A New-Zealand company has scanned, for the first time, a human body using a breakthrough colour medical scanner based on the Medipix3 technology developed at CERN. Father and son scientists Professors Phil and Anthony Butler from Canterbury and Otago Universities spent a decade building and refining their product, which enables high-resolution, high-contrast, very reliable images, making it unique for imaging applications in particular in the medical field.
~ Awesome!

Viruses may call Alzheimers — For decades, the idea that a bacteria or virus could help cause Alzheimer’s disease was dismissed as fringe theory. Not so much any more: a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School reported in the journal Neuron the latest evidence suggesting herpes viruses can spark the cascade of events that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, a fatal form of dementia that afflicts up to 80% of Australia’s 425,000 dementia patients.
~ Let’s hope a solution is possible. 

Rats also affect coral reefs — The much maligned rat is not a creature many would associate with coral reefs. But scientists studying reefs on tropical islands say the animals directly threaten the survival of these ecosystems. From a report:
A team working on the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean found that invasive rats on the islands are a big problem for coral reefs. Rats decimate seabird populations, in turn decimating the volume of bird droppings which acts as natural coral fertiliser. Scientists now advocate eradicating rats from all of the islands to protect these delicate marine habitats.
~ Of course, we’re not off the hook, as the rats were introduced by humans.

Humans did not originate from a single species — In the 1980s, scientists decided that all humans living today are descended from one woman dubbed Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa between 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. This discovery, along with other evidence, suggested humans evolved from a single ancestral population, but this interpretation is not standing the test of time. The story of human evolution, as the latest research suggests, is more complicated than that.
By looking at some of the latest archaeological, fossil, genetic and environmental evidence, a team of international experts led by Eleanor Scerri from Oxford’s School of Archaeology have presented an alternative story of human evolution, one showing that our species emerged from isolated populations scattered across Africa, who occasionally came together to interbreed.
~ Humans emerged within a complex set of populations scattered across Africa. Take that, stupid white supremacists.

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