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Are Human Pheromones Real?

Scientific American News - Thu, 05/01/2014 - 09:00
Scientists are still unraveling nature’s secret olfactory signals

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Is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity for Real?

Scientific American News - 15 hours 10 min ago
Nutrition Diva: Quick and Dirty Tips for Eating Well and Feeling Fabulous

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X-ray Method Could Improve Nuclear Screening

Scientific American News - 15 hours 40 min ago
A rapid imaging technique adapted from medical applications shows promise in the detection of nuclear materials

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Over Meal Of Whale Meat, Japan Announces Plan To Restart "Scientific" Whaling In Antarctica

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 17:00

Harpooned whale A whale captured by the Yushin Maru, a Japanese harpoon vessel, in February 2008. Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia On March 31, Japan was ordered to halt its whaling program in Antarctica by a United Nations court, which ruled that the activity amounted to a commercial operation and was not for research purposes as stated. Now, less than three weeks later, Japan announced it will re-launch its whale-killing "research" operation next year, while addressing objections raised by the UN's International Court of Justice. 

The court's decision gave Japan a golden opportunity to ditch a practice that has brought international condemnation, and which doesn't appear to be that popular in Japan itself, as the country no longer consumes much whale meat. “We are revising the contents of the research to take into consideration the court’s decision to the greatest extent that we can,” the Minister of Agriculture, Yoshimasa Hayashi, told reporters. “We want to gather scientific data in order to resume commercial whaling as soon as possible.”

Japan "says its 26-year-old research program is needed to monitor recovering whale populations in the Southern Ocean, but opponents call it a crude cover for continued commercial whaling," the New York Times reported. Crude indeed. By its own admission, Japan's hunt isn't really about research--or if it is, it's about research geared toward restarting commercial whaling, which has been outlawed since 1986 (for the record, Norway and Iceland openly defy that moratorium). It's hard to believe anybody could possibly believe that Japan needs to kill scores of whales--in the past, up to 950 minke, fin and humpback whales each year in the Southern Ocean, but presumably less in the future--to keep tabs on the animal's populations. But so goes the absurd argument.

Yesterday (April 17) officials and lobbyists in Japan hosted a whale buffet to protest the UN court's decision and celebrate the harvest of the large mammals. 


An Invisible Barn And Other Amazing Images From This Week

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 16:08

Invisible Barn What do you get when you wrap a barn in mylar? You get nothing. stpmj via Co.Design

Russia Ships The World's First Load of Offshore Arctic Oil

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 15:39

Oil Be There The Prirazlomnoye offshore drilling platform, in the Pechora Sea above the Arctic circle, began extracting oil in December 2013, and loaded its first shipment in April 2014 -- about a decade off schedule. The rig is 620 miles from Murmansk and just a few dozen miles from coastal and island wildlife reserves. Gazprom

Russia has announced its first shipment of Arctic offshore oil.  Russian President Vladimir Putin watched oil loading from the Prirazlomnoye drilling platform onto a tanker Friday via video link, according to state-run ITAR-TASS, and celebrated the shipment as the beginning of a bigger Russian presence on world energy markets.

The 70,000 metric ton load (roughly 490,000 gallons) is, as far as we know, the world's first market-sized shipment of oil extracted from the floor of any marine body above the Arctic Circle. Offshore oil extraction has only become commercially viable in recent years, as advances in petroleum technologies have combined with warming temperatures to ease, slightly, the physical and financial challenges of drilling in the harsh Arctic environment.

Greenpeace and others have charged that the potential for an oil spill is too risky in the easily damaged Arctic environment, which includes important fisheries in the Barents Sea. They also argue that untapped supplies of fossil fuels should be left underground, in favor of developing energy sources that won't create greenhouse gas pollution and further destabilize the climate.

The Prirazlomnoye field is located about 38 miles off Russia's northwestern coast, in the Pechora Sea, the southeastern section of the Barents Sea. It holds an estimated 72 million metric tons of recoverable oil. The oil company Gazprom Neft operates the field, and has partnered with Shell on its overall Arctic offshore oil development.

Russia already produces more than 10 million barrels (420 million gallons) of oil daily, but intends for Arctic offshore strikes to maintain this level of production as its Western Siberian oil fields run dry, reports Reuters.

The Prirazlomnoye platform was the site of an anti-drilling protest last September, which ended when masked Russian paratroopers boarded the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise and arrested all 30 crew and activists. The demonstrators were ultimately released without criminal prosecution thanks to a parliamentary amnesty. But Russia has not given up the ship, which remains in Murmansk.

President Putin's apparent satisfaction about this offshore Arctic oil shipment seems particularly newsworthy set against his nation's recent, retro-futuristic geopolitical relations with Ukraine, which feature the seizure of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March, and subsequent threats to cut off natural gas shipments to Ukraine and the rest of Europe. (Russia is the major supplier of fossil fuels to Europe, according to the European Commission.) The former Soviet republic yesterday hosted a a renewable energy conference at its embassy in Washington, D.C. according to Bloomberg News.

U.S. Extends Keystone XL Pipeline Comment Period, Delaying Final Decision

Scientific American News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:52

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Smart Rear-View Mirror Sees Through The Stuff Piled In Your Back Seat

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:45

Nissan Smart Rear-View Mirror Corinne Iozzio

A rear-view mirror is only useful if you can see out of the back of your car -- something, it happens, that's gotten increasingly difficult to do. We pack the trunks of our SUVs and hatch-backs to the ceiling with boxes and bags, or pile kids and pets into the backseat. Sometimes even the car itself is the culprit: As rooflines in coupes and sedans slope more aggressively downward, rear windshields are being overtaken by massive blindspots.



So, Nissan's doing something about it. At the New York Auto Show this weekend, the company is demoing its Smart Rear-View Mirror system. The setup, which is still in a prototype stage, is installed on a Nissan Rogue SUV. In the car, what looks like a standard rear-view mirror has two functions: a mirror and an LCD display. When her view is blocked, a driver can toggle to a live feed from a wide-angle camera on the rear of the car. The feature will roll out in Japan this year, but U.S. availability is still pending.

First Success Witnessed In World's Longest-Running Experiment

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:06

Here comes the pitch... 



In baseball, that phrase would quickly be followed by an outcome, like strike three! But in the world's longest-running scientific experiment, waiting is the game. And so far, humans have struck out. 

In 1927, scientists at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, heated up a bunch of pitch, a derivative of tar once used for waterproofing boats. After letting it settle for three years they opened the seal at the bottom of the funnel, and the great pitch drop experiment began, a demonstration that some things that appear solid, like pitch, are really just highly viscous fluids. And flow. Very slowly. Since 1930, eight drops of pitch have fallen, and not a single one has been witnessed by a human or a camera. 

Until this week. Sort of. When it comes to the pitch drop experiment, there's a lot of waiting, and continual letdowns. Kind of like being a baseball fan. But every now and then, something happens! Yesterday, the ninth drop of pitch touched another drop of pitch in the beaker beneath the funnel. It wasn't exactly a drop, but close enough, right? Eh...

The scientists have been waiting for 13 years for this latest drop to touch the bottom, so it is a milestone in its own right. On average, drops fell once every eight years to 1988, but the eighth and ninth drops have each taken about 13 years (going into extra-innings?). Unfortunately for John Mainstone, the late professor who was the custodian of the experiment, never saw one drop in his lifetime, as explained by the University of Queensland

The former custodian of the experiment, [Mainstone], missed observing the drops fall on three occasions – by a day in 1977, by only five minutes in 1988 when it was on display at the World Expo in Brisbane, and in 2000 when a webcam that was recording it missed the crucial moment when the drop fell during a 20-minute power outage.

The experiment was subsequently put under constant surveillance, with three webcams trained on it to capture the ninth drop’s fall.

Sounds like they're really covering their bases. For the curious, you can watch the pitch drop experiment unfold yourself here. But I'll warn you--the action is a little hit or miss. 

Events In Your Past Determine Which Microbes Live On You

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 12:00

Trillions of microbes live in and on our body. We don’t yet fully understand how these microbial ecosystems develop or the full extent to which they influence our health. Some provide essential nutrients, while others cause disease. A new study now provides some unexpected influences on the contents of these communities, as scientists have found that life history, including level of education, can affect the sorts of microbes that flourish. They think this could help in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

A healthy human provides a home for about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes. These microbes are known as the microbiome, and normally they live on the body in communities, with specialised populations on different organs.

Evolution has assured that both humans and bacteria benefit from this relationship. In exchange for somewhere to live, bacteria protect their hosts from harmful pathogens. Past analysis of the gut microbiome has shown that, when this beneficial relationship breaks down, it can lead to illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, a chronic digestive disorder.

You’ve been swabbed

One of the largest research projects looking at the delicate connection between humans and their resident microbes is called the Human Microbiome Project (HMP). As part of the project, hundreds of individuals are being sampled for microbes on various parts of their bodies, with the hope that the data will reveal interesting relationships.

In the new study, published in Nature, Patrick Schloss at the University of Michigan and his colleagues set out to use data from the HMP to investigate whether events in a person’s life could influence their microbiome.

Their data came from 300 healthy individuals, with men and women equally represented, ranging in age between 18 and 40. Life history events, such as level of education, country of birth, diet, and recent use of antibiotics were among 160 data pieces were recorded. Finally, samples were swabbed from 18 places across the body to analyse their microbiome communities at two different time intervals, 12 to 18 months apart.

Lack of such knowledge means that Schloss cannot explain odd correlations, such as why women with a baccalaureate degree have specific communities in their vaginal microbiome.Those swabs underwent genomic analysis. A select group of four bacterial communities were selected to test what proportion of each was found on different body parts. That data was then compared with life history events. Only three life history events out of about 160 tested could be associated with a specific microbial community. These were: gender, level of education, and whether or not the subject was breastfed as a child.

This complicated issue may help diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. “If a certain community of bacteria is associated with a specific life history trait,” Schloss said, “it is not such a stretch to imagine that there may be microbiome communities associated with illnesses such as cancer.”

To be sure, these associations are only correlations. Neither Schloss nor hundreds of other scientists working on microbiome data can be sure why certain communities end up on certain body parts of only certain individuals. “We really don’t have a good idea for what determines the type of community you’ll have at any given body site,” Schloss said.

Lack of such knowledge means that Schloss cannot explain odd correlations, such as why women with a baccalaureate degree have specific communities in their vaginal microbiome. Because level of education is also associated with a range of other factors such as wealth and social status – we can’t know that it is only education affecting the vaginal microbiome. Janneke Van de Wijgert at the University of Liverpool said, “I think that it is impossible to tease out the individual effects of education, sexual behaviour, vaginal hygiene behaviour, ethnicity, and social status.”

Van de Wijgert believes the data has other limitations. “The study population of a mere 300 was homogenous and healthy – young, white women and men from Houston and St Louis – which likely means that much additional microbiome variation has been missed.”

With better tools, genomic data analysis has substantially improved since the project launched in 2008. Van de Wijgert thinks that future studies need to sample a lot more individuals and look for changes at shorter time intervals.

She is hopeful that microbiome data can be used to improve medicine, make it more tailored to individual. But before manipulations of the microbiome are used to treat illnesses, she said, it should be confirmed that the offending bacteria communities cause – and are not symptom of – disease. If the bacteria causes an illness, then efforts can be made – such as a change in diet or microbial transplant – to treat disease.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Telescope Apps Help Amateurs Hunt for Exoplanets

Scientific American News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 12:00
The "Automated Planet Finder" could make astronomers of us all

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Broadcast TV Streamer Aereo Fights For Legal Life

Scientific American News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 11:28
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Aereo can keep streaming live broadcast TV to mobile gadgets and other devices. Larry Greenemeier reports.  

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First Human Clone Embryos Created From Adults' Skin Cells

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 11:24

Human Embryonic Stem Cells—Not the Cloned Cells Described Below This image comes from a lab unrelated to the research described below. Clay Glennon, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Scientists have created cloned embryos from the cells of two adults. This feat is the first hard evidence that it's possible to create clones from cells taken from adult humans. The idea is that in the future, doctors could create cloned embryos of patients when the patients need an organ transplant, for example, or a set of new immune cells. The cloned embryos would serve as a source of stem cells for creating perfectly personalized transplants, no matter how old people are when they first get sick.

The clone-making scientists even gave a preliminary demonstration of this future, as The Wall Street Journal reports. The researchers used the clones, made from cells taken from the dermis layer of the skin of one 35-year-old and one 75-year-old, to generate tissues, including heart cells. The research was conducted by scientists in the U.S. and South Korea. It was funded, in part, by the Korean government. It will likely take decades of additional research to shape such tissues into something that is transplantable into people, plus studies to show such transplants are safe.

Previously, only one lab of scientists—a different one from this—had ever created human clone embryos. That lab, based at the Oregon Health and Science University, made its embryos from the cells of a fetus and of an eight-month-old infant.

The idea is that in the future, doctors could create cloned embryos of patients when the patients need an organ transplant.

Cloned embryos are just one way scientists are seeking to create personalized stem cell therapies for people. Other labs have examined making replacement organs by transforming people's skin cells into stem cells using a cocktail of genes. That technique doesn't require a stop in embryo-hood along the way, so it's less controversial among some. It's still unclear which technique will ultimately work best, although recently, there's been much more research into the non-embryonic technique.

Does the recent cloned embryo research mean scientists can now create cloned people?? Stem cell experts say that's still a long way from being possible. It's difficult to get cloned embryos to survive until birth. Nobody has ever been able to make a cloned newborn monkey, for example. Scientists have made cloned sheep and dogs.

I'm not sure that there ever will be a real danger that a rogue scientist will make a cloned human baby, as some fear. Even if science progresses that far, it would be difficult to conduct such research without anybody noticing. Cloning efforts require a lot of resources and people—entire labs of scientists, plus someone(s) to carry the embryo(s) to term. But I also don't know if maybe there is some team of very motivated, precisely trained, well-funded and evil scientists out there who would be able to pull this off. That sounds pretty unlikely to me, but anything is possible, I guess?

The cloned embryo research appears in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Morning Light Exposure Tied To Lower Weight

Scientific American News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 10:32
Exposure to bright light in the morning appears linked to reduced appetite and lower body weight, regardless of sleep patterns. Sophie Bushwick reports.  

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Here Is Apple's iOS For Your Car

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 10:30

CarPlay Volvo

Do you own an iPhone? Have you used your iPhone? Have you driven a car? If yes, you are prepared to use CarPlay, Apple's dashboard operating system—essentially, a pared-down version of a few apps, with a heavier focus on voice control.  

We saw Volvo's version at the New York Auto Show, but it's essentially the same idea across vehicles: hook up your iPhone to your car, and your car becomes the medium for controlling your stuff. A display shows your texts, calls, maps, music, podcasts, and a handful of third-party apps, which have all been optimized for Siri-friendliness—because tapping away on your car is perhaps not the best use of your driving time. Please enable Javascript to watch this video


It's not too complicated. If you've seen a car display, imagine pasting iOS on top of that. There are some variations between cars—we got a look at the Volvo version, which will be coming to the company's new XC90—but for the most part, CarPlay is just an Apple interface that's burrowed into your car's operating system. They're integrated, although still seem discrete--you can choose, for instance, whether to use Apple's mapping tool or Volvo's. But CarPlay will only work when you plug in an up-to-date iPhone.

You can see the simplicity as a positive—you don't want to be constantly learning and configuring a new system while hurtling down the freeway at 75 MPH. If you were expecting much more than simplicity from CarPlay, you might be disappointed. 



How Social Media Exposes Us to Predators and Other Online Bottom-Feeders [Excerpt]

Scientific American News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 10:30
Digital photo data, cookies and peer-to-peer networks tell more about us than we think

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The Week In Drones: Shooting One Down In Montana, The FBI's Robot Missions, And More

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 09:47

Drone On Patrol Azin Haghighi, Fars News Agency

Here's a roundup of the week's top drone news, designed to capture the military, commercial, non-profit, and recreational applications of unmanned aircraft.

Iran On Patrol

Released on Wednesday by Iran's state-run Fars news service as part of a slideshow about border protection, the photo above is notable for the hexarotor drone flying with the patrol. The rest of the equipment is fairly standard for a light patrol, with troops in camouflage and a heavier gun mounted in the back of a truck, but the drone adds a contemporary touch to what could otherwise have been an image from any time in the last 30 years.

Campaign Fodder

Matt Rosendale is running for Montana's single congressional district on a strong anti-drone platform. This 30-second spot shows a drone filming him, before Rosendale knocks it out of the sky with a rifle blast. It turns out it's a bit tricker than that to shoot drones down with small arms. 

Watch his campaign ad below:

Every FBI Drone Use So Far

Thanks to a Freedom Of Information Act request by MuckRock, a collaborative transparency site staffed by journalists and researchers, there's now a publicly-available timeline of every time the FBI has used a drone within the United States. The timeline is full of redactions and censored, but the presence of the documents is enough to flesh out how the FBI uses flying robots.

In the documents there are eight drone missions, five approvals for other missions, and a proposal for drone use. This puts the potential total of FBI drone missions at 14, or four more than the FBI had previously admitted. The FBI first used a drone in late 2006, but their use of drones really took off in 2011, with the remaining 13 uses all after that point. Mission included busting a large-scale dog-fighting ring and standard drug enforcement.

It's an incomplete history that we're only just now uncovering, and shows that the FBI saw the merit of drones close to a decade ago.

Drone Law In Louisiana And Pennsylvania

Two different bills introduced in the Louisiana state legislature would restrict drone use by private citizens. The better-named bill is SB 330, the "Deterrence of Reconnaissance Over Noncriminal Entities" (DRONE). It would make private photography of individuals or others' private property a criminal offense. The other, SB 346, bans private and commercial operators from using drones to film federal facilities, transportation systems, water treatment and chemical plants, and basically anything else an environmental or public health watchdog group might want to record.

In Pennsylvania, the state senate is considering a much more modest bill. SB 1334 prohibits using "an unmanned aircraft in a manner that interferes with another person's lawful fishing or boating." Good to know that the Quaker state is protecting fish from flying robots.

New York By Robot

New York City-based landscape photographer Randy Scott Slavin used a DJI Phantom with a Go-Pro camera to capture beautiful aerial footage of the city. Watch the two-minute video below:

Did I miss any drone news? Email me at

Climbing Mount Everest: Base Camp Bound, After a Glacial Detour

Scientific American News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 09:35
Editor's Note: Ulyana Horodyskyj and her team of scientists and Sherpas were scheduled to reach Mt. Everest base camp this morning, just when a massive avalanche occurred above the camp, killing 12...

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New Test Could Diagnose Asthma With A Single Drop Of Blood

Popular Science News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:00

Neutrophil A 3D-rendering of a neutrophil. BruceBlaus via Wikimedia Commons While some symptoms of asthma, like wheezing, are obvious, a diagnosis of asthma is not always clear cut, especially if they don't occur when patients are with their doctors, and involve trials of lung function and tests for allergies. But one new test could possibly diagnose asthma with a single drop of blood. 

In the study, researchers found that neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, of asthmatics move more slowly than the cells of those without asthma. The scientists have created a micro-fluidic, handheld device that can test how quickly these neutrophils migrate toward the source of inflammation; these white blood cells move toward wounds in the body, for example, and help start the healing process. But neutrophils of asthmatics, like Piggy in Lord of the Flies, are sluggish. Sucks to your ass-mar, neutros. 

Previously it was impractical to use neutrophils, as it required a fair amount of blood, according to a statement from the University of Wisconsin, from which some of the researchers hail. But the new device, which is made of cheap plastic, can detect the speed at which the white blood cells are moving, and then automatically come up with a diagnosis. "The device can sort neutrophils from a drop of whole blood within minutes, and was used in a clinical setting to characterize asthmatic and non-asthmatic patients," the researchers wrote in the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If the device works, it could have wide application. The CDC says the number of Americans diagnosed with asthma increased by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009, and the condition now affects more than 300 million people worldwide. 

Japan Will Conduct Pacific Whale Hunt in Wake of Court Ruling

Scientific American News - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 06:56

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