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Science Affliction #16

Today’s edition of Science Affliction is brought to you by the letter N and the number 100 billion. It’s been a while since I did a science round up, so I thought I’d get off my duff and put together a list of recent interesting science news with the hope that it will motivate me to write some fiction.

  1. A disembodied rat brain can fly an airplane. No, seriously. Scientists removed neurons from rats and grew a new “brain” that they hooked up to a flight simulator. The idea is that similar constructs could be used to take over complicated, dangerous tasks. Move over Skynet, Ratnet is the new hotness in science fiction.
  2. Real honest-to-goodness telepathy has happened right here on Earth. Okay, it was more like tele-email. Computers did the decoding and transferring, but the first messages were sent brain-to-brain over long distances. It’s a first step in a very interesting direction. I for one welcome our cyborg overlords.
  3. Two new deep sea animals that resemble mushrooms were discovered off the coast of Australia. The new animals are distant relative of the jellyfish that look like fungi. Pretty cool They don’t fit well into any current phyla and will probably get a new one created for them.
  4. Zombies anyone? A look at one way Toxoplasma might practice mind control on rats by turning on a gene that produces a neurotransmitter.
  5. Possible source of increasing food allergies found. Researchers cured peanut allergies in mice by infecting them with a commonly found gut bacteria. There’s so much we don’t understand about out gut flora and the damage we do by ingesting antibiotics.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Hopefully something in the list inspires you. Now go write!

-C

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Science Affliction #15

Going a bit of a different way with Science Affliction this week. All of the posts will be related to handedness and interesting scientific discoveries regarding the anomaly that left-handers make up such a relatively small portion of the population (about 10%). I’m afraid this post will come out a bit more like a research paper than “cool science news” so you may want to back away slowly and then run like hell.

The idea for the topic of this post came from a video from a few years back from one of my science heroes, James Watson. He did a TEDTalk where he talked mostly about his group’s discovery of DNA, but he also talks a bit at the end about what he’s interested in now, which is the genetic pre-disposition for diseases and disorders. That part of his talk starts at about 15 minutes, if you want to skip ahead. (I do recommend watching the whole video because Watson is a great example of a non-stereotypical scientist. He’s humble and funny, and very approachable.)

So, his point about the link between schizophrenia and left-handedness has support from more recent studies. Like most cutting edge science, there’s a lot of disagreement on that point. That got me thinking about the genetics of handedness in general, and why only 10% of the human population is left-left handed.

1) Here’s an article that talks about the genetics of handedness. Basically, there’s one gene with two possible options, one says you’re right-handed and the other says you have a 50/50 chance of being either left or handed. Only approximately 10% of humans are left-handed. This would tend to  say that the heritability of left-handedness would be around 25%, which the numbers support.

2) In the interest of fair and balanced reporting: A study in the UK couldn’t find a genetic link to handedness.

3) One study went to the world of sports for an answer and determined that the reason for the left and right-handed balance in humans has to do with how much cooperation and competition we require in our society. In sports were competition is favored, the number of left-handers is larger than the population average. Their model accurately predicted percentages in many sports, but does that mean it works as an indicator for the population at large?

4) I’ve saved the best for last. This article from 2008 is probably the most balanced of the bunch, and proposes that the predisposition for right-handedness may have evolved along with our capability for speech. To me, this makes the most sense. Our brains have obviously adapted for some reason to favor one side of the brain over the other (more so than other animals like chimps that have so much genetic similarity to us) and there has to be an evolutionary reason for it that goes beyond our use of hands.

That’s all the left-handed links I have for you today. Hope you learned something interesting! I sure did.

-C

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Science Affliction #13

This week’s science links are brought you to by the letters Z and Q and the number e.

ichi) An interesting article about Titan’s atmosphere and how similar (and different) it is to Earth’s. Proof that you don’t need to make up exciting new planets, there are plenty of real ones out there.

ni) I linked a while back about the plastic garbage patch we’re growing out in the Pacific Ocean. Well now some scientists have discovered we’re growing another garbage dump in the deep ocean. Sounds like something out of a horror story to me.

san) Pigeons can use technology too! A study demonstrates that pigeons can pass a simple intelligence test called the “string test” on a touchscreen. Watch the video linked in the article, it’s awesome!

shi) In Australia they are having a problem with feral cats are growing huge and eating anything that will fit in their mouths. This brings up interesting ideas about domesticated species and what might happen to them if humans are eliminated from the food chain. WARNING: Article contains pictures of dead cats. If that’s the kind of thing that upsets you don’t click.

go) To make up for the ugliness of the previous entry, here’s a beautiful time lapse video of the aurora over Crater Lake earlier this week.

I hope you enjoyed the quick tour around the world of science this week!

Hearts and puppies,

-C

Edited to add: I had bookmarked this early on in the week and meant to pass it along here, but I forgot, so you get an extra bonus link! Robot bees. Nuff said.

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Science Affliction #12

Welcome to the triumphant return of Science Affliction! I know I said last week that I wasn’t going to make my story fodder posts just about science anymore, but you know what? Science is freaking awesome. So we’re going to stick with that, but if I happen to see some cool artwork or other inspirational stuff I’ll add it in too, because I make the rules! Anyway, without further ado we’ll get to the science.

eins) A link I should have posted a long time ago. AstroPics has some of the most wonderful HD images of space on the internet. If you can look at Wally Pacholka’s amazing works of art and not be inspired, there just might be something wrong with you. Along the same lines NASA shares an Astronomy Picture of the Day that has some unbelievable images. Today’s image is the Featured

zwei) An interesting study showing that apes display emotional responses to the outcome of decisions.

drei) I would like to go on record saying that I want to place my order for a mammoth clone grown from the running blood of a deep frozen mammoth now. To be running at -10 mammoths must have had some kind of innate anti-freeze. While I do love to speculate what other forms of life might be out there in the universe, we have some pretty awesome ones right here.

vier) The fourth entry is a neat little story about a guy who wants to make robot drone pets. His ideas for what they could do involve following you around taking pictures, posting your status updates, that sort of thing. Personally, I can imagine some much better items to have my drone do, the dishes for example. I need me a Rosie from the Jetsons.

fünf) I’ve saved my favorite link of the week for last. Every wanted to be more involved in space exploration? Now you can! A Kickstarter project to fund a public telescope is a wonderfully exciting idea. Depending on your donation level you can get pictures of yourself in space, point the telescope at anything and get your own personal picture of space objects, or sponsor a school telescope time.

That’s all for this week. I hope you enjoyed the brief overview of the week in science!

-C

 

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Science Affliction #11

Here’s your weekly science stuff!

Number 1 is a bit of depressing news on the global warming front. We may see a complete collapse of the Arctic sea ice shelf within four years.

To cheer you up a bit from that, number 2 is a look at several plants in an MRI. Very awesome!

Number 3 is a story about how we may find a better pain killer in the most unlikely place, a black mamba’s mouth. The world really is just awesome.

In number 4, French bees invade a Mars factory, eat some M&Ms and then produce blue honey. No, that’s not fiction, I promise.

Number 5 is all about how yo momma was a Neandertal.

Special bonus link, because we’re all about the books here: a list of can’t wait for science fiction and fantasy coming out in October from io9. The list includes a new suburban fantasy by Jacqueline Carey that I’m really jazzed about and a new Cory Doctorow book about the copyright apocalypse, just to name two.

Look, not an astronomy link in the bunch. *Snoopy dance*

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