Wasp Game Ant Game

Scientists in New Zealand did an experiment with wild insects that studied the common wasp, an alien invader to the island country, competing for food with the native ant species Prolasius advenus.

Wasp Vespula Prolasius Ant DroppingWhen the wasp approached a mound of food swarming with ants, it would pluck an ant from the pile, fly a ways off, and drop the living insect from its jaws.

Common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) are native to North America but were introduced to New Zealand in the 1970s. The wasps eat nectar and other insects, capturing live prey or scavenging.

This led to the establishment of an experiment where wasps and ants were presented with samples of high-protein food: little chunks of tuna fish.

The samples were placed at 48 stations in a natural beach forest; cameras were set up near each one. Both ants and wasps visited 45 of the 48 stations, and the cameras recorded 1,295 interactions between the insects.

Most of the time, the ants and wasps avoided one another. Although, the researchers documented 341 cases when the ants were aggressive toward the wasps, charging, biting or spraying them with formic acid; a natural defense mechanism.

In only 90 encounters the wasps were the aggressors, including 62 cases of ant dropping. The researchers suspect the other 28 times were ant-dropping attempts which the wasps botched.

In the majority of the cases, the wasps’ ant-dropping behavior was unprovoked, ants being grabbed and flown away. Sometimes the ants were unruly before they were grappled and carried off.

The team argues that the acid defense may be why the wasps “ant drop” rather than just killing the smaller insects outright.

Spirit AWOL

The chances of ever again hearing from the stuck Mars rover, Spirit, is becoming more and more slim now that it has officially failed to respond to calls from Earth, repeatedly.

SpiritHowever, NASA will make one last-ditch attempt to communicate with Spirit. If there continues to be no contact in the next month, the space agency will scale back its listening campaign for Spirit and focus on its healthy companion, Opportunity.

The solar-powered rover got stuck in a sand trap in 2009 during a routine drive. Despite efforts to break free, it remained stuck and could not tilt toward the sun as the Martian winter was ’round the corner. It ultimately went into hibernation, lacking an adequate amount of energy to reach its solar panels.

Engineers had expected Spirit to wake up once there was maximum sunlight where it’s trapped. But that point came and went earlier this month with no response.

Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis said:

“I would be surprised if we re-establish communication — happy but surprised…It’s been so long.”

Ground controllers are attempting to page Spirit over a range of frequencies and at various times during the day in the event its internal clock stopped working and it loses track of time. They also are commanding the rover to turn on its backup radio transmitter in case the central one is dead.

At some point, NASA will have to declare Spirit lost if there’s no word. When that happens, efforts will be reduced to sporadic listening for it through the end of the year, Callas said.

Both Opportunity and Spirit parachuted to polar sides of planet Mars in 2004. They worked together, beyond their original, three-month mission during which they discovered geologic evidence of water on the red planet.

While Spirit’s odometer stayed stuck at 4.8 miles, Opportunity ceased to explore the rim of Santa Maria crater on Mars and is currently rolling toward another crater. So far it has racked up 16.6 miles.

Jim Bell, an astronomer from Arizona State University said the loss of communication came at the worst possible time because Spirit was doing valuable science while it was immobile.

Bell said:

“It’s disappointing if we have, in fact, lost the mission…But it’s the best kind of disappointment you can have. We had a phenomenal adventure with that rover.”

Journey to the Earth’s Mantle

According to some scientists, it is now possible to drill through the Earth’s crust and take samples of the mantle.

“That has been a long-term ambition of earth scientists.”

Said geologist Damon Teagle.

Up until recently a need for knowledge and technology about the way the planet works had made sampling the mantle of the planet a distinct impossibility. Today, though, the technology exists. This includes a Japanese drill ship prepared with the six miles of piping that it takes to drill through the planet’s crust.

If everything goes as planned, drilling could begin by 2020, though, exploratory missions could begin as soon as next month. One National Geographic scientist will “bore further into the oceanic crust than ever before” especially during the preliminary phases.

The intension to drill aims to find out more about the Earth’s inner workings, especially insight into seismic activity; this very well may hold clues to the origins of the planet. For this, the only way for scientists to learn about the inner workings has been through material which comes to the surface through volcanoes.

The drilling might also give to scientists an opportunity to learn more about the shadowy “Moho” layer that lies between the mantle and the crust. “We know what … happens to seismic waves as they cross the Moho, but we don’t know what it is,” said Dr. Teagle.

Organ Regeneration

Today, upwards of 100,000 people are waiting for organ transplants in America alone; every day 18 of them die. Not only are healthy organs in short supply, however, donor and patient must be matched closely, or else the immune system of the patient could reject the transplant.

A new solution is incubating in medical labs: “bioartificial” organs grown from the patient’s own cells. Thirty people have already received lab-grown bladders, and other engineered organs in the pipeline.

The bladder technique was developed by Anthony Atala from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Healthy cells are taken from a patient’s diseased bladder, causing them to multiply profusely in petri dishes, and then they are applied to a balloon-shaped scaffold partly constructed of collagen, the protein found in cartilage.

Solid organs with lots of blood vessels, like livers and kidneys are more difficult to grow than hollow ones such as bladders. But Atala’s group, which is working on 22 tissues and organs, including ears, created a functioning piece of human liver, recently.

Other labs are also hurrying to make bio-artificial organs. A jawbone at Columbia University, a lung at Yale. At the University of Minnesota, Doris Taylor has created a beating rat heart, growing cells from one rat on a scaffold she made from the heart of another simply by washing off its cells.

Growing a carbon of patient’s organ, however, is not always possible. For example, when the original has been too damaged by cancer. One solution for these kinds of patients might be a stem cell bank. Atala’s team has shown that stem cells can be collected without having to harm human embryos. The researchers wheedled those cells into becoming liver, heart, and other organ cells.

Smoking Marijuana Linked to Early Onset Psychosis

Recent studies have linked the use of marijuana with the onset of psychosis. The meta-analysis found that those who smoked marijuana developed psychotic disorders an average 2.7 years earlier than those who did not use the drug. The review, however, found that people who use any illicit and mind-altering chemicals experienced psychosis two years earlier than non-users.

CannabisWhile alcohol use was not associated with early onset psychoses such as schizophrenia, the research results couldn’t rule out the influence of cigarette smoking, which consequently is a regular habit of people with psychotic disorders and marijuana smokers. In many of the countries from where the data was collected, cannabis is usually smoked mixed with tobacco.

However, based on the meta-analysis, researchers found that the tie continued independent of such factors. Marijuana smoking is therefore dangerous for people with a family history of psychosis.

Researchers, in the new study, also cited research that linked a particular gene to sensitivity to marijuana, which helps to explain why most marijuana smokers do not have a higher risk of schizophrenia.

None of the data, though, which links psychosis to marijuana use can prove causality or explain why rates of schizophrenia have remained stable or even declined since the 1950s

America Does Miserably on Science Tests

It is sad. It is really sad. Recently, on a nationwide science test in the U.S., roughly one third of fourth graders and one fifth of high school seniors scored at or above the level the federal Department of Education deems proficient; while only one student in 100 scored at the advanced level.

Sitting on the board of federal test overseers, Alan Friedman, a former chief executive of the New York Hall of Science said:

“I was rather dismayed at the relatively lackluster performance at the top of the achievement levels…The fact that only one or two students out of 100 reach this level is disappointing and dangerous for our future.”

Known as the National Assessment of Education Progress, these science tests were administered in early 2009 to about 307,000 American eighth and fourth graders and 12,000 12th-graders. They tested students’ proficiency and knowledge in life science, the physical sciences and earth and space sciences.

These recent test results included a state-to-state breakdown for both fourth and eighth grade students in 46 states. A larger proportion of fourth-grade students scored at or above the capable level in New Hampshire, 47 percent, than any of the other states. 41 percent of eighth graders in Montana scored at or better than proficiency and 2% scored the advanced level. Students down in Mississippi ranked last on the tests, scoring only 15 percent of eighth graders and 17 percent of fourth graders demonstrating excellence in science.

New Report Finds, Dogs Better Able To Sniff Scat Of Other Animals Than Humans

Dogs that sniff feces are becoming more and more popular as assistants to scientists gathering data about wildlife areas. The dogs can sniff out the scat of other animals, helping scientists to estimate population statistics.

A dog’s ability to sniff crap is hinged on a number of factors that include precipitation and air temperature.

Sarah Reed, a researcher on this very topic and a conservation biologist at Colorado State University said:

“We really wanted to understand what some of the factors were that limit dogs’ abilities to detect.”

Because dogs cannot smell as well when they are panting, overheated, air temperature also seems to have an effect. She hopes that other researchers will create calibration tools that measure how optimally their detection dogs perform in different conditions. Regardless of canine handicaps, though, dogs are much more capable than human beings at sniffing out a scat.

Trained dogs, according to Reed, are able to detect s&$t from up to 33 feet away about 75 percent of the time. On the other hand, humans can see scat only within three to five feet.

Thunderstorms and Antimatter

Thunderstorms are able to shoot beams of antimatter into space; beams that are so intense they may be seen by spacecraft thousands of miles away.

Matter is made of subatomic particles such as protons and electrons. Whereas, antimatter is made of particles that have the same spins and masses as their counterparts though with opposite charges and magnetic properties.

Radiation detectors, recently, on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope lighted up for roughly 30 milliseconds with the characteristic signature of positrons, the antimatter counterparts of electrons.

Scientists were able to trace this burst of concentrated radiation back to a lightning flash over Namibia in North Africa, some 3,000 miles away from the Earth-orbiting telescope, which was passing above Egypt at the time.

Steven Cummer of Duke University said:

“This is a fundamental new discovery about how our planet works…The idea that any planet has thunderstorms that can create antimatter and launch it into space is something out of science fiction. The fact that our own planet is doing it is truly amazing.”

It is already common knowledge that thunderstorms emit gamma rays, (the most energetic form of light), and that gamma rays may create positrons via the process of pair formation.

When a gamma ray that has the right amount of energy interacts with an air atom, energy from the gamma ray becomes converted into matter, one positron and one electron. Scientists, though, wouldn’t have been surprised to see a few positrons accompanying any intense gamma ray burst. The lightning flash detected by the Fermi, however, appeared to have produced about 100 trillion positrons.

This planet constantly gets bombarded by radiation from the sun, as well as cosmic rays from distant however violent events, like powerful supernovae.

Considering the amount of positrons in the beam that was detected by the Fermi, the thunderstorm was briefly creating more radiation in the form of positrons and gamma rays than what hits actually hits this planet’s atmosphere from all other cosmic sources combined.

Duke’s Cummer added:

“We really don’t understand a lot of the details about how lighting works…gives us a very, very important clue as to what’s happening.”

Play EteRNA: Educational, Free and User-Friendly

Researchers from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University have created an online video game which challenges players to design new ways to fold RNA molecules.

It is called, EteRNA.

It gives non-biologists an opportunity to build complex new ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules and to get quick feedback on the biological functioning of their deigns.The scientists hope the free game with serve as a training ground for citizen-experts who will assist in the creation of a virtual library of biological knowledge.

Rhiju Das, a physicist from Stanford University told the New York Times:

“The dream is that within a year or so we will be able to create RNA that is functional and that we can transcribe into cells to do things such as sense light or even deactivate a virus…”

The role of RNA as a regulator of and messenger to cell functions has been the source of much scientific pondering in the last five years.

EteRNA is a joint effort of a team of scientists led by Dr. Das, and Adrien Treuille, assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. The two met while postgraduate researchers at the University of Washington.

In the new game, mastering the molecule construction kit requires players to harness their knowledge about aspects of biochemistry.

Dr. Treuille said:

“We’re the leading edge in asking nonexperts to do really complicated things online…RNA are these beautiful molecules. They are very simple and they self-assemble into complex shapes. From the scientific side there is a RNA revolution going on. The complexity of life may be due to RNA signaling.”