10 Reasons Why We Still Haven’t Met Aliens [Video]

If you’ve ever wondered why we still haven’t met a full-on alien civilization, there are some really good and thought-provoking reasons. This awesome video from the Hybrid Librarian covers 10 of them, we think #3 is really a good one.  See what you think!

Our gratitude to the Hybrid Librarian YouTube channel for creating this great video!

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Top 6 Weirdest Science Discoveries of 2015 [Videos]

Scientists often remind us just how weird and wonderful our world can be. Take a quick look at some of the strangest discoveries of 2015.

1. FANGS AREN’T THE ONLY STRANGE THING ABOUT THESE FROGS

A newly discovered species of fanged frog does what no other frog can do—give birth to live tadpoles instead of laying eggs.

“Almost all frogs in the world—more than 6,000 species—have external fertilization, where the male grips the female in amplexus and releases sperm as the eggs are released by the female,” says Jim McGuire, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

L_larvaepartus
(Credit: Jim McGuire)

“But there are lots of weird modifications to this standard mode of mating. This new frog is one of only 10 or 12 species that has evolved internal fertilization, and of those, it is the only one that gives birth to tadpoles as opposed to froglets or laying fertilized eggs.”

Next we go to the ocean to discover the aliens living among us…

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Boston Dynamics’ Robot ‘Reindeer’ Really Are Kinda Creepy [Video]

In a somewhat Tim Burton-esque move, Boston Dynamics, a robotics company owned by Google, has released a slightly disturbing holiday video featuring their Spot robots, complete with reindeer antlers added, pulling a sleigh. Since the Spot robot is being designed for use in future warfare, the analogy to Futurama’s Robot Santa Claus has also been suggested by many.

We will let you determine for yourself is this is freaky or nice… without further adieu, here is Boston Dynamics’ “Happy Holidays” video:

It’s at least a little bit creepy, don’t you think? At least Mrs. Clause is not an evil robot, but the Spot robots with reindeer antlers and other holiday decorations really do make something like a “Nightmare Before Christmas” scene, don’t they?

 

7 Awesome Science Tricks You Can Do Yourself! [Videos + Instructions]

It’s always fun to do science experiments or science-based tricks yourself, and it’s even more fun when they are simple enough to do in just a few minutes using items that you may already have around the house. For almost all of the experiments we’ll show you in this feature, you probably will have the necessary “ingredients” around your house, or if you don’t, you can make a quick run to the store to pick them up.

Each of these short videos also shows you exactly the equipment and ingredients that you will need!

#1: The Amazing Magic Ball

 

For the next trick, you will learn how to make a liquid dance a jig…

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Here’s Something You Really Can Blame Your Parents For: Face Mites!

If you need one more thing to put on the list of things about your life that you can blame on your parents, then here’s one everyone can add: face mites. Yes, believe it or not, everyone has them, you can’t get rid of them, and you get them from your parents. Well, you also exchange them with anyone else you brush faces with, but here’s the good news: they are harmless.

So breathe a sigh of relief and read about what a fascinating article from the WIRED website tells us about these benign facial hitchhikers:

New research out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals four distinct lineages of the face mite Demodex folliculorum that correspond to different regions of the world. African faces have genetically distinct African mites, Asian faces have Asian mites, and so too do Europeans and Latin Americans have their own varieties. Even if your family moved to a different continent long ago, your forebears passed down their brand of mites to their children, who themselves passed them on down the line.

Looking even farther back, the research also hints at how face mites hitchhiked on early humans out of Africa, evolving along with them into lineages specialized for certain groups of people around the planet. It seems we’ve had face mites for a long, long while, passing them back and forth between our family members and love-ahs with a kiss—and a little bit of face-to-face skin contact.

Leading the research was entomologist Michelle Trautwein of the California Academy of Sciences, who with her colleagues scraped people’s faces—hey, there are worse ways to make a living—then analyzed the DNA of all the mites they’d gathered. “We found four major lineages,” says Trautwein, “and the first three lineages were restricted to people of African, Asian, and Latin American ancestry.”

The fourth lineage, the European variety, is a bit different. It’s not restricted—it shows up in the three other groups of peoples. But Europeans tend to have only European mites, not picking up the mites of African, Asian, or Latin American folks. (It should be noted that the study didn’t delve into the face mites of all the world’s peoples. The researchers didn’t test populations like Aboriginal Australians, for instance, so there may be still more lineages beyond the four.)

So what’s going on here? Well, ever since Homo sapiensradiated out of Africa, those four groups of people have evolved in their isolation in obvious ways, like developing darker or lighter skin color. But more subtly, all manner of microorganisms have evolved right alongside humans. And with different skin types come different environments for tiny critters like mites.

“Some [skin types] do show different levels of hydration, and different levels of oil production, and different density of glands,” Trautwein says. “All kinds of differences.” So African mites may have evolved with uniquely African skin, while on the other side of the globe Latin American mites evolved with Latin American skin. As for those European mites, which show up on faces around the world, their spread is probably a side effect of imperialism and globalization. When Europeans occupied new countries, from Brazil to the Philippines, they brought along their face mites.

The populations of different lineages on our skin, though, are by no means static. Kiss your grandma on the cheek and you could exchange mites. “If you do have multiple people in your family that you spend a lot of time being physically close to, if you have multiple romantic partners across your life, there’s all these different opportunities to be colonized,” says Trautwein. Because families tend to be more kissy with each other than strangers, their blends of mites may persist for generations. But it’s always a give and take, mites coming and going, as cheeks hit cheeks.

 

So just remember during this holiday season, you are not only exchanging gifts with your beloved family, but you are very likely also going to be exchanging face mites under the mistletoe… For more of the grossly fascinating details of these weird arachnids, see the excellent article on the WIRED web site.

 

Source: WIRED.com – “Your Face Is Covered in Mites, and It’s Your Parents’ Fault

Featured Image Credit: USDA

Here’s a Wacky Idea: Use Xbox to Improve the Safety of X-rays

A new approach for producing high-quality x-rays with minimal radiation exposure—particularly in children—relies on the Xbox gaming system.

Using proprietary software developed for the Microsoft Kinect system, researchers have adapted hands-free technology used for the popular Xbox system to aid radiographers when taking x-rays.

The software coupled with the Kinect system can measure thickness of body parts and check for motion, positioning, and the x-ray field of view immediately before imaging, says Steven Don, associate professor of radiology at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Real-time monitoring alerts technologists to factors that could compromise image quality. For example, “movement during an x-ray requires retakes, thereby increasing radiation exposure,” Don says.

“The goal is to produce high-quality x-ray images at a low radiation dose without repeating images,” Don says. “It sounds surprising to say that the Xbox gaming system could help us to improve medical imaging, but our study suggests that this is possible.”

The technology could benefit all patients but particularly children because of their sensitivity to radiation and greater variation in body sizes, which can range from premature infants to adult-sized teenagers. Setting appropriate x-ray techniques to minimize radiation exposure depends on the thickness of the body part being imaged. High-quality x-rays are critical in determining diagnoses and treatment plans.

Traditionally steel calipers have been used to measure body-part thickness for x-rays. However, calipers are “time-consuming, intrusive, and often scary to kids, especially those who are sick or injured,” says Don, a pediatric radiologist who treats patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“To achieve the best image quality while minimizing radiation exposure, x-ray technique needs to be based on body-part thickness,” Don says. The gaming software has an infrared sensor to measure body-part thickness automatically without patient contact.

“Additionally, we use the optical camera to confirm the patient is properly positioned,” he explains.

Originally developed as a motion sensor and voice and facial recognition device for the Xbox gaming system, Microsoft Kinect software allows individuals to play games hands-free, or without a standard controller. Scientists, computer specialists, and other inventors have since adapted the Xbox technology for nongaming applications.

Don and his colleagues, for example, combined the Microsoft Kinect 1.0 technology with proprietary software to improve x-ray imaging. The team applied for a patent last year.

While further research and development are needed, the eventual goal is to apply the technology to new x-ray machines as well as retrofitting older equipment.

“Patients, technologists, and radiologists want the best quality x-rays at the lowest dose possible without repeating images,” Don says. “This technology is a tool to help achieve that goal.”

The Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting in Chicago on December 2 featured information about the feasibility study. Don developed the technology with William Clayton, a former computer programmer at the School of Medicine, and Robert MacDougall, a clinical medical physicist at Boston Children’s Hospital.

This year, Don and his colleagues have received funding from Washington University and the Society for Pediatric Radiology. They will use these resources to continue research with the updated Microsoft Kinect 2.0 and seek feedback from radiological technologists to improve the software.

 

Republished from Futurity.org  under the Attribution 4.0 International license with a new headline and a new featured image. Original article posted on Futurity by 

Featured Image Credit: SobControllers via flickr, CC BY 2.0

This Animal Redefines the Words ‘Extreme,’ ‘Survivor,’ and Possibly Even ‘Evolution’

There’s a microscopic animal which many people have never even heard of that holds the world record in being an extreme survivor. It can live through being deep frozen, down to −458 °F (−272.222 °C); being boiled, up to  300 °F (149 °C); pressures 6 times that found at the bottom of the deepest ocean; radiation levels that would almost immediately kill a human; dehydration to less than 3% water in their tiny bodies; and, most astoundingly, the complete vacuum of space.

This amazing animal is called the tardigrade, often referred to as the “water bear” because they kind of look like little bears due to the claws on the ends of their eight limbs. But if they have any DNA in common with actual bears, it’s because they somehow borrowed it.

CRAZY FACT: STICK A TARDIGRADE IN AN 80-CELSIUS FREEZER FOR 10 YEARS AND IT STARTS RUNNING AROUND IN 20 MINUTES AFTER THAWING.

Scientists sequenced their genome and were shocked to find the animals, known as water bears, get a huge chunk—about 17 percent—from foreign DNA.

Previously another microscopic animal called the rotifer was the record-holder for having the most foreign DNA, but it has about half as much as the tardigrade. For comparison, most animals have less than one percent of their genome from foreign DNA.

“We had no idea that an animal genome could be composed of so much foreign DNA,” says study co-author Bob Goldstein, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We knew many animals acquire foreign genes, but we had no idea that it happens to this degree.”

The work, publish in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, not only raises the question of whether there is a connection between foreign DNA and the ability to survive extreme environments, but further stretches conventional views of how DNA is inherited.

The study shows that tardigrades acquire about 6,000 foreign genes primarily from bacteria, but also from plants, fungi, and Archaea, through a process called horizontal gene transfer—the swapping of genetic material between species as opposed to inheriting DNA exclusively from mom and dad.

tardigrade-swimming

“Animals that can survive extreme stresses may be particularly prone to acquiring foreign genes—and bacterial genes might be better able to withstand stresses than animal ones,” says Thomas Boothby, a postdoctoral fellow in Goldstein’s lab and first author of the study. After all, bacteria have survived the Earth’s most extreme environments for billions of years.

The team speculates that the DNA is getting into the genome randomly but what is being kept is what allows tardigrades to survive the harshest of environments: Stick a tardigrade in an 80-celsius freezer for 10 years and it starts running around in 20 minutes after thawing.

THIS IS WHAT THE TEAM THINKS HAPPENS

When tardigrades are under conditions of extreme stress such as desiccation—or a state of extreme dryness—Boothby and Goldstein believe that the tardigrade’s DNA breaks into tiny pieces.

When the cell rehydrates, the cell’s membrane and nucleus, where the DNA resides, becomes temporarily leaky and DNA and other large molecules can pass through easily. Tardigrades not only can repair their own damaged DNA as the cell rehydrates but also stitch in the foreign DNA in the process, creating a mosaic of genes that come from different species.

“We think of the tree of life, with genetic material passing vertically from mom and dad,” says Boothby. “But with horizontal gene transfer becoming more widely accepted and more well known, at least in certain organisms, it is beginning to change the way we think about evolution and inheritance of genetic material and the stability of genomes.

“So instead of thinking of the tree of life, we can think about the web of life and genetic material crossing from branch to branch. So it’s exciting. We are beginning to adjust our understanding of how evolution works.”

Tardigrades appear to live everywhere in the world, continue on to the next page to watch an incredibly interesting video by the scientist who found that these tiny animals could survive the vacuum of space…

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Wait, They Trained Pigeons to do WHAT? [Video]

With training, pigeons are uncommonly good at distinguishing normal versus cancerous breast tissue.

“With some training and selective food reinforcement, pigeons do just as well as humans in categorizing digitized slides and mammograms of benign and malignant human breast tissue,” says Richard Levenson, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of California, Davis, Health System and lead author of the study.

“The pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned, so that when we showed them a completely new set of normal and cancerous digitized slides, they correctly identified them,” Levenson says.

“Their accuracy, like that of humans, was modestly affected by the presence or absence of color in the images, as well as by degrees of image compression. The pigeons also learned to correctly identify cancer-relevant microcalcifications on mammograms, but they had a tougher time classifying suspicious masses on mammograms—a task that is extremely difficult, even for skilled human observers.”

The pigeons’ successes and difficulties provide a window into how physicians process visual cues present on slides and x-rays to diagnose and classify disease risk.

This work also suggests that pigeons’ remarkable ability to discriminate between complex visual images could be put to good use as trained medical image observers, to help researchers explore image quality and the impact of color, contrast, brightness, and image compression artifacts on diagnostic performance.

SMART PIGEONS

Although a pigeon’s brain is no bigger than the tip of an index finger, it turns out that the neural pathways involved, including the basal ganglia and cortical-striatal synapses, operate in ways very similar to those at work in the human brain.

According to coauthor Edward Wasserman, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Iowa, the common pigeon (Columba livia) has a tremendous capacity to discriminate and categorize a wide range of objects and images.

Check out the research video on the next page that shows these smarty birds in action…

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New Study: Junk Food Might Not Be So Bad for You

Landing firmly in the “Ok, that’s really hard to believe” column, a new study claims to have found that there is no obesity risk to eating fast food, at least in most cases.

It turns out that people of healthy weight and those who are obese consume, on average, nearly identical amounts of candy, soda, and fast food, according to a new study.

The study, by professors David Just and Brian Wansink of Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, re-examined national data from 2007-08 describing people’s food habits based on their body mass index (BMI).

For all but the most overweight and underweight individuals, the consumption of soda, candy, and fast food showed no correlation to BMI.

The findings challenge the seemingly self-evident conclusion that consuming unhealthy foods is the cause of high rates of obesity. According to Just, previous studies reporting a positive correlation between indulgent foods and weight status at the population level failed to take into account the distorting effects from the roughly five percent of people who are either chronically underweight or morbidly obese.

For the rest of the 95 percent of the population, the consumption of those indulgent foods and beverages showed no significant difference between the habits of healthy weight and overweight individuals.

While not claiming that sodas and fast food represent healthy choices, the study suggests that those indulgences receive far more scorn than their impact warrants.

“Simply put, just because those things can lead you to get fat doesn’t mean that’s what is making us fat,” says Just. “By targeting just these vilified foods, we are creating policies that are not just highly ineffective, but may be self-defeating, as it distracts from the real underlying causes of obesity.”

Just says banishing sodas and fast food as the solution to curbing obesity, while promoting a simple and seemingly intuitive narrative, is in fact a flawed approach to obtaining real results. Rather, sedentary activity levels and inadequate consumption of healthier foods, such as fruits and vegetables, likely play an outsized influence on a person’s weight.According to Just, the public health implication of maligning junk food as the preeminent cause of obesity goes beyond giving one class of food a bad name.

Health policies directed at those vilified foods threaten to squander resources that could be used on more effective community health decisions. And for dieters, false information risks breeding disillusionment when their efforts don’t result in the anticipated weight loss.

“If you want to try and prevent obesity, or want to create policy that is going to help people, simply addressing the availability of junk foods and sodas isn’t going to do it,” says Just. “This isn’t the difference between fat people and skinny people. It’s other things.”

The findings will appear in the journal Obesity Science & Practice.

 

Reproduced in full from Futurity.org under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license with a new headline, introduction, and additional article links removed. Original article posted by .

Featured Photo Credit:  Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com