Posts Categorized: Science

New study shows dogs’ minds are more like humans’ than we thought

shutterstock_250345732It turns out that humans might not be that much smarter than our dogs. In a new study, researchers found that the cognitive structure of a dog’s brain might be similar to that of humans. The study tested 68 border collies on various intelligence tests and found that dogs that performed better on one test than other dogs tended to also do well on other tests. For example, a dog that was able to complete an obstacle course well also showed an ability to choose the larger of two food portions.

These findings correlate with the general human cognitive structure—meaning that if you are good at one, it usually correlates with being good at another similar activity. The study also showed that, essentially, some dogs were smarter than others and showed a range of intelligence, in the same way that children and adults show in the classroom and throughout life. This study could hold a promising future in being able to learn about human intelligence through studying the intelligence of dogs, such as findings of whether intelligence is related to life span or the effects of dementia on the brain.

However, this isn’t the first study that revealed that dogs may be smarter than we ever thought—previous tests showed that certain breeds were capable of deception as well as predicting the actions of others. Researchers are optimistic about the future of studies such as these and are looking to perform similar intelligence tests on other breeds. Maybe the phrase about dogs being a man’s best friend weren’t that far off after all….

FDA approves genetically modified chicken

shutterstock_179491004While genetically modified animals are usually looked at as being a bad thing, the United States government has just approved a type of genetically modified chicken that will supposedly improve the health of individuals.  These engineered chickens would make the drug Kanuma in their eggs, which is said to be a treatment for people with lysosomal acid lipase deficiency.  The rare condition prevents people’s bodies from breaking down fatty molecules inside cells but Kanuma works to replace this faulty enzyme.  The disease can be potentially fatal, especially when acquired by infants.

In order to collect the protein, researchers would have to purify the whites of the chickens’ egg.  This means the chicken would have the protein throughout their entire body, making it unsafe to eat.  Researchers have said, however, that because the chickens are raised indoors, it is highly unlikely that they would ever enter the food supply.  The FDA is still looking into whether altering the chickens’ DNA would harm the animal and if the modification could be passed onto future generations.

This isn’t the first time a transgenic animal modified to produce a drug has been approved—six years ago, genetically modified goats that could produce a drug in their milk that would prevent blood clots were approved —and researchers hope it isn’t the last. So why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe the actual answer was always to make a potentially life-saving drug for countless Americans in their eggs????

Tapeworm transmits cancer to Colombia man

shutterstock_183701153Anyone who has ever had, or even heard about, a tapeworm probably agrees that they are just the worst thing ever for numerous reasons. But a man from Colombia had a nasty tapeworm with an even worse side effect than usual. In January 2013, a 41-year-old man visited a local hospital complaining of fatigue, fever, cough, and weight loss that had lasted over several months. The man, who had tested positive for HIV in 2006, had not taken his medication and was open to serious infection, which resulted in countless dwarf tapeworms taking up residency in his body.

As the doctors began to run tests, they noticed extremely tiny, human-like tumors that lined the man’s lymph nodes.  Further tests showed cancer cells were present in the man’s body, but were not human.  As they ran more and more tests in the coming months, they found that the tapeworms had transmitted their own cancer to the man. Scientists were baffled by the findings, as they didn’t know that tapeworms could develop tumors in the first place, calling it one of the strangest cases they have seen.  Unfortunately, the man passed away before proper treatment could take place.

Doctors who worked on the case warn other medical professionals around the world to be on the lookout for strange medical occurrences such as this one. It seems like tapeworms are disgusting and terrible for even more reasons than we previously thought possible.

Scientists recreate functional vocal cords

shutterstock_128575862In a breakthrough study, scientists have grown and recreated functional vocal cords in a lab.  Scientists were able to reconstruct almost 170 vocal cords by using vocal tissue from four patients who had their larynxes removed and used cells from vocal folds to create the new vocal cords.  The cells were able to grow the vocal cords in the lab by themselves over the course of just 14 days.  When scientists tested the vocal cords, they found that blowing air through them made the same humming noise that isolated vocal cords in humans make.

While the study is still in the early stages, the scientists hope that it will help the over 20 million people across the United States who suffer vocal cord damage or have lost their voice all together.  These individuals include Julie Andrews, who lost her singing voice fully in 1997, Adele, and John Mayer.   They believe that through this discovery, they will eventually be able to grow damaged parts of vocal cords and implant them surgically. Tests also indicated that the immune system was surprisingly tolerant to the recreated vocal cords, something that have not seen in many other tests involving recreated organs.

Scientists hope to continue experiments on other animals to confirm that the vocal cords would be safe for use in humans. But I think we can all agree that any medical experiment that may be able to help Julie Andrews sing again is a winner in our eyes.

Ice-Spewing Volcanoes Discovered on Pluto’s Surface

shutterstock_50105569Although Pluto might be small and was officially kicked out of the “planet club,” it still has quite a lot of activity taking place on its tiny surface.  New photos transmitted back to NASA have shown two ice-spewing volcanos on the surface of Pluto, baffling scientists.  NASA first made a record pass by Pluto on July 14th with the New Horizon’s Spacecraft, which is still continuing to transmit photos back to those involved in the project.  Among the pictures the Spacecraft is expected to report back before the week is over, one of the most interesting shows two mountains which each measure 100 miles in diameter and are several miles tall.

However, instead of spewing lava, these mountains release ice and other frozen materials such as nitrogen, ammonia, and methane.  Scientists report having never seen anything like this in our outer solar system and are still investigating how these mountains and other depressions on the planet’s surface were created.  The New Horizon’s Spacecraft is expected to transmit even more information about the volcanoes, including measurements and additional pictures.  So even though Pluto didn’t quite make the cut to be a planet, it seems it will still be a major topic in science circles everywhere.

To the horror or everyone, it turns out cockroaches are actually pretty useful

shutterstock_180958520There are 4,500 known species of cockroach that live in a number of different environments all over the world. Sure, cockroaches that scurry around your kitchen are pretty gross and there is no real reason you shouldn’t just put your foot down on those little guys—but there are actually only four species of cockroach that are considered to really be pests. The other 4,496 species are about as diverse as you might expect, and have yielded some pretty useful applications for the scientific community.

All grossness aside, this photo-heavy spread in BBC Magazine looks at some of the most useful contributions that the biology of the cockroach has yet to make to humanity. As it turns out, the next generation of prosthetics will likely be based in part on the flexibility and springiness that is unique to roach legs—in particular, the mechanics of a roach leg may help researchers develop prosthetic hands that are more capable to gripping objects in the same way a human hand would.

Then there are the cybernetic roaches—live cockroaches implanted with miniature computers—that may be remotely operated to access places that would otherwise be difficult for people to access—think natural disaster areas. In fact, students from Shanghai Jiap Tong University have even gone so far as to demonstrate how human brain waves could be translated into electrical impulses that control one of these robo-roaches.

Perhaps one of the most promising areas of cockroach-inspired research—though it is not exactly new—is focused on the cockroach’s ability to synthesize relatively powerful antibiotics. It is hoped that this ability may help researchers develop new antibiotics capable of battling some of the most virulent bacteria known to humankind, including MRSA and E. coli.

Though it may be little consolation to you next time you surprise a cockroach that is roaming your countertops, you can rest assured that—somewhere and somehow—roaches may just end up making all our lives a little bit easier.


Black Coffee Equals Black Hearts, New Study Finds

shutterstock_129339416We all have our taste preferences: some people dip their French fries in ice-cream and other people drench their pizza in ranch dressing. While we don’t normally analyze these decisions beyond a health perspective, a new study finds that some food preferences link directly to our personality traits. Professor Christina Sagioglou from Innsbruck University in Austria designed a study of 500 men and women to discover if our tastes buds were valid indicators of our personality.

In the experiment, men and women were shown a list of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter foods before being asked to rate them on a six-point Likert scale. For example, one participant would view a chocolate cake and decide if she disliked strongly to liked strongly that particular item. After finishing these tests, the participants were given four different personality tests.

These personality tests distinguished the aggression levels of the men and women, identified Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism traits, and dimensions of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability.

The study was originally published in the journal Appetite. It found a correlation between enjoying the taste of bitter foods, such as black coffee, beer, and broccoli to Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and everyday sadism. In contrast, predictors of agreeableness and kindness were negatively correlated with interest in bitter foods.

While another test of 450 participants confirmed these findings, it is still probably too soon to write off a Tinder date that enjoys his coffee black or prefers IPAs. It is still a known fact that our taste buds change the types of foods we like on a semi-regular basis. With further research into what these relationships mean, perhaps the future of Buzzfeed quizzes will resemble something similar to “Does Your Dinner Choice Mean You’re a Psychopath?”

Scientists Digitally Recreate Slice of a Rat’s Brain

shutterstock_196810991Scientists have achieved a simulation milestone after digitally recreating a sliver of a rat’s brain on a computer.  The brain simulation is a part of the Blue Brain Project, the first goal of which is to digitally reconstruct a rat’s brain.  However, their final goal is much more ambitious, as they eventually want to digitally construct a human brain.

The Blue Brain Project’s experimentation began by recording the brain cell connections of tens of thousands of juvenile rats.  By doing this, they were able to calculate principles that governed how brain connections were made and use computer programs to fill in the rest of the brain structure they could not calculate.  From this, they were able to create a 3D model that showed over 600 million neuron connections.  The team continued experiments until a part of a virtual rat brain was rendered on a computer, which was able to solve billions of equations for every 25 microseconds of neuronal activity.

The new simulation is just a tiny slice of a rat’s brain but includes 31,000 brain cells with 37 million connections.   The simulation mimicked real experiments the team had done of rats and could even be used to predict behavior.  Although these rats may be a little less intelligent than humans, these findings can still eventually be used to do the same with human brains.  However, there is much to be improved on in this computer simulation, with other blood vessels, brain cells, and communications needing to be included in a future digital reconstruction for a more realistic picture.  In the meantime, Disney might be able to use the findings for an interesting sequel to Ratatouille.

NASA Reveals Martians Should Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day

shutterstock_92516068Mars has been permeating the news lately with a human exploration in the planning process and films such as The Martian propagating the hope that one day man will step foot on the Red Planet. Just this past week, NASA’s press agents announced the organization had an exciting new discovery to share, building anticipation across the globe that little green aliens are indeed real. While some people breathed a sigh of disappointment when this was not the case, others became excited when NASA confirmed a theory that space explorers have had for a while: Mars has water.

The different terrestrial formations decorating the planet, including what are now referred to as “Mars blueberries,” were theorized to have formed from water erosion. NASA’s ground-based observations through the rover finally discovered liquid water that was salty, briny, and unrecognizable compared to the water found on Earth.

NASA believes that over 20 percent of the planet was once made of ocean. Now, only 13 percent of the original water supply is present on the planet, mostly in the form of ice caps. The water found uses a heavier form of hydrogen paired with other chemicals to keep water from leaving the thin atmosphere on Mars, causing it to seep into the ground and freeze. Some scientists believe that the existence of water in the curst will finally yield the discovery of microbe life.

The Mars rover discovered methane and other elements that suggest life on Mars is or was a possibility. The discovery of water on Mars is one more step towards finding life outside of Earth. If not, a type of colonization of the Red Planet may underway in the upcoming centuries as the initial mission to Mars prepares to discover whether the hazardous conditions are livable. And if we never find life on Mars, perhaps the real Martians will simply be our future great-great-grandchildren.

Two Black Holes are Better than One

NASA recently found the first known existence of binary black holes in the middle of the closest quasar to Earth. The scientific discovery belongs to galaxy Markarian 231, the nearest galaxy to our planet that houses a quasar at 600 million light-years away. Quasars are the brightest objects in the universe and are formed from the infinitely hot matter inside of black holes. As black holes obliterate nearby planets, stars, and other debris, an accretion disk is formed from the fiery force field which can be brighter than entire galaxies.

Black Hole

The discovery was made by a combination of U.S. and Chinese scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff is giving scientists more insight on the function of black holes and possible prevalence of binary black holes. The ultraviolet color of the quasar in Markarian 231 may give researchers a clue in finding more twin black holes.

The increased energy of two black holes and the quasar is causing a drastic increase in star production. While black holes are created due to a collapse of a star, they are also capable of creating new stars. The black holes in Markarian 231 are producing at a rate 100 times faster than the Milky Way, which is home to one black hole but no Quasar.

There is a space odyssey in the making when the inevitable occurs in a few hundreds of thousands of years: the two black holes collide. Currently, the primary black hole is approximately 150 million times larger than our sun. Its little sister is only four million times larger. Feel free to root for the underdog, however it’s pretty clear which black hole is going to win this fight. What isn’t clear is what exactly the collision will trigger: the end of the universe? Or just a slight hiccup in our Netflix streaming connection?