How Bee Hives Make Decisions
Posted on February 28, 2012 Comments (1)
The Secret Life of Bees by Carl Zimmer
Enthusiasm translates into attention. An enthusiastic scout will inspire more bees to go check out her site. And when the second-wave scouts return, they persuade more scouts to investigate the better site.
The second principle is flexibility. Once a scout finds a site, she travels back and forth from site to hive. Each time she returns, she dances to win over other scouts. But the number of dance repetitions declines, until she stops dancing altogether. Seeley and his colleagues found that honeybees that visit good sites keep dancing for more trips than honeybees from mediocre ones.
This decaying dance allows a swarm to avoid getting stuck in a bad decision. Even when a mediocre site has attracted a lot of scouts, a single scout returning from a better one can cause the hive to change its collective mind.
“Bees are to hives as neurons are to brains,” says Jeffrey Schall, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University. Neurons use some of the same tricks honeybees use to come to decisions. A single visual neuron is like a single scout. It reports about a tiny patch of what we see, just as a scout dances for a single site. Different neurons may give us conflicting ideas about what we’re actually seeing, but we have to quickly choose between the alternatives. That red blob seen from the corner of your eye may be a stop sign, or it may be a car barreling down the street.
To make the right choice, our neurons hold a competition, and different coalitions recruit more neurons to their interpretation of reality, much as scouts recruit more bees
Very cool stuff.
Milky Way May Have 100,000 Times More Nomad Planets Than Stars
Posted on February 26, 2012 Comments (0)
There may be 100,000 times more “nomad planets” in the Milky Way than stars, according to a new study by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), a joint institute of Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. How amazing is that. Science is so cool. I had no idea this was the case.
If observations confirm the estimate, this new class of celestial objects will affect current theories of planet formation and could change our understanding of the origin and abundance of life.
“If any of these nomad planets are big enough to have a thick atmosphere, they could have trapped enough heat for bacterial life to exist,” said Louis Strigari, leader of the team that reported the result in a paper: Nomads of the Galaxy. Although nomad planets don’t bask in the warmth of a star, they may generate heat through internal radioactive decay and tectonic activity.
Searches over the past two decades have identified more than 500 planets outside our solar system, almost all of which orbit stars. Last year, researchers detected about a dozen nomad planets, using a technique called gravitational microlensing, which looks for stars whose light is momentarily refocused by the gravity of passing planets.
The research produced evidence that roughly two nomads exist for every typical, so-called main-sequence star in our galaxy. The new study estimates that nomads may be up to 50,000 times more common than that.
To arrive at what Strigari himself called “an astronomical number,” the KIPAC team took into account the known gravitational pull of the Milky Way galaxy, the amount of matter available to make such objects and how that matter might divvy itself up into objects ranging from the size of Pluto to larger than Jupiter. Not an easy task, considering no one is quite sure how these bodies form. According to Strigari, some were probably ejected from solar systems, but research indicates that not all of them could have formed in that fashion.
“To paraphrase Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, if correct, this extrapolation implies that we are not in Kansas anymore, and in fact we never were in Kansas,” said Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science, author of The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets, who was not involved in the research. “The universe is riddled with unseen planetary-mass objects that we are just now able to detect.”
A good count, especially of the smaller objects, will have to wait for the next generation of big survey telescopes, especially the space-based Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope and the ground-based Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, both set to begin operation in the early 2020s.
A confirmation of the estimate could lend credence to another possibility mentioned in the paper – that as nomad planets roam their starry pastures, collisions could scatter their microbial flocks to seed life elsewhere.
Additional authors included KIPAC member Matteo Barnabè and affiliate KIPAC member Philip Marshall of Oxford University. The research was supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Royal Astronomical Society.
Potential Antibiotic Alternative to Treat Infection Without Resistance
Posted on February 23, 2012 Comments (1)
Researchers at the University of Michigan have found a potential alternative to conventional antibiotics that could fight infection with a reduced risk of antibiotic resistance. Sadly Michigan is another school that is allowing work of those paid for by the citizens of Michigan to be lock away, only due to the wishes of an outdated journal business model instead of supporting open science. The Big Ten seems much more interested in athletic riches than in promoting science. The Big Ten should be ashamed of such anti knowledge behavior and require open science for their schools if they indeed value knowledge.
By using high-throughput screening of a library of small molecules, the team identified a class of compounds that significantly reduced the spread and severity of group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria in mice. Their work suggests that the compounds might have therapeutic value in the treatment of strep and similar infections in humans.
“The widespread occurrence of antibiotic resistance among human pathogens is a major public health problem,” said David Ginsburg, a faculty member at LSI, a professor of internal medicine, human genetics, and pediatrics at the U-M Medical School and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
Ginsburg led a team that included Scott Larsen, research professor of medicinal chemistry and co-director of the Vahlteich Medicinal Chemistry Core at U-M’s College of Pharmacy, and Hongmin Sun, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.
Work on this project is continuing at U-M and the University of Missouri, including the preparation of new compounds with improved potency and the filing of patents, Larsen said. Large research schools are also very interested in patents. That is ok, though seems to cloud the pursuit of knowledge too often when too large a focus is on dollars at many schools. But, it seems to put the schools primary focus on dollars; education seems to start to be a minor activity at some of these large schools.
Current antibiotics interfere with critical biological processes in the pathogen to kill it or stop its growth. But at the same time, stronger strains of the harmful bacteria can sometimes resist the treatment and flourish.
An alternate approach is to suppress the virulence of the infection but still allow the bacteria to grow, which means there is no strong selection for strains that are resistant to antibiotics. In a similar experiment at Harvard University, an anti-virulence strategy was successful in protecting mice from cholera.
About 700 million people have symptomatic group A Streptococcus infections around the world each year, and the infection can be fatal. Most doctors prescribe penicillin. The newly identified compounds could work with conventional antibiotics and result in more effective treatment.
Related: full press release – What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? – Norway Reduces Infections by Reducing Antibiotic Use – New Family of Antibacterial Agents Discovered – Many Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good – Anti-microbial Paint
Sports Science Behind Jeremy Lin’s Breakout Performance
Posted on February 22, 2012 Comments (0)
Jeremy Lin’s performance has been amazing. It is always fun to see someone succeed who wasn’t expected to do so well.d Jeremy Lin was waived by two teams and now has lead the Nicks to an amazing performance the last 10 games for the New York Knicks in the NBA. It will be fun to see how it continues.
The video gives a very cursory overview of some of the training Jeremy Lin did between basketball seasons.
A few decades ago training was largely about learning and working on a few fundamentals and playing. In the last few decades the science behind athletics has created a huge change in preparation for sports at high levels, as we have written about previously: Physicist Swimming Revolution, Science of the High Jump, Sports Engineering @ MIT, Engineering A Golf Swing, Static Stretching Decreases Muscle Strength
Numeracy: The Educational Gift That Keeps on Giving
Posted on February 19, 2012 Comments (3)
I like numbers. I always have. This is just luck, I think. I see, how helpful it is to have a good understanding of numbers. Failing to develop a facility with numbers results in many bad decisions, it seems to me.
A new article published in closed anti-science way, sadly (so no link), examines how people who are numerate (like literate but for number—understand) process information differently so that they ultimately make more informed decisions. Cancer risks. Investment alternatives. Calories. Numbers are everywhere in daily life, and they figure into all sorts of decisions.
People who are numerate are more comfortable thinking about numbers and are less influenced by other information, says Ellen Peters of Ohio State University (sadly Ohio State allows research by staff paid by them to be unavailable to the public – sad), the author of the new paper. For example, in one of Peters’s studies, students were asked to rate undergraduates who received what looked like different test scores. Numerate people were more likely to see a person who got 74% correct and a person who got 26% incorrect as equivalent, while people who were less numerate thought people were doing better if their score was given in terms of a percent correct.
People make decisions based on this sort of information all the time. For example, “A lot of people take medications,” Peters says. Every drug has benefits and potential risks, and those can be presented in different ways. “You can talk about the 10 percent of the population that gets the side effect or the 90 percent that does not.” How you talk about it will influence how dangerous the drug seems to be, particularly among people who are less numerate.
Other research has shown that only less numerate people respond differently to something that has a 1 in 100 chance of happening than something that has a 1 percent chance of happening. The less numerate see more risk in the 1 in 100 chance—even though these numbers are exactly the same.
“In general, people who are numerate are better able to bring consistent meaning to numbers and to make better decisions,” Peters says. “It suggests that courses in math and statistics may be the educational gift that keeps on giving.”
Related: full press release – Bigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg? – Data Doesn’t Lie, But People Can be Fooled – Understanding Data: Simpson’s Paradox – applied statistics is not about proving a theorem, it’s about being curious about things – Encouraging Curiosity in Kids – Dangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of Data – Compounding is the Most Powerful Force in the Universe
Friday Fun: Exercise Wheels for Dogs and Cats
Posted on February 17, 2012 Comments (0)
This would certainly give dogs that don’t have big enough yards to run in some good exercise.
Cats don’t seem to take to the wheels as naturally as a few dogs do. While the wheel is odd no matter what I would also wager the evolution of the animals is at play. Cats are use to stalking animals. You can see that trait play out in the kitten video above (and lots of other similar videos – so while this one is partially the kittens short attention span it also seems common that cats don’t just run for a long time). While dogs are evolved to wear our their prey in log distance chases. I’m sure getting dogs to use a wheel isn’t likely to be super easy but I think it will be easier than getting cats to do so.
Our Genome Has Adopted Virus Genes Critical to Our Survival
Posted on February 16, 2012 Comments (0)
Mammals Made By Viruses by Carl Zimmer
The big picture that’s now emerging is quite amazing. Viruses have rained down on mammals, and on at least six occasions, they’ve gotten snagged in their hosts and started carrying out the same function: building placentas.
Some mammals that scientists have yet to investigate, such as pigs and horses, don’t have the open layer of cells in their placenta like we do. Scientists have come up with all sorts of explanations for why that may be, mainly by looking for differences in the biology of each kind of mammals. But the answer may be simpler: the ancestors of pigs and horses might never have gotten sick with the right virus.
More amazing facts from science. This stuff is so interesting. Carl Zimmer is a fantastic science writer and he has written several great science books.
Cool Animation of a Virus Invading a Person’s Body
Posted on February 15, 2012 Comments (2)
That is why most of the time, after a struggle (when you get a fever and need to lie down), your immune system rebounds, and, in time, so do you.
A health body with a strong immune system is able to fight off viruses, and other health issues more easily. Also when you body has run across a specific virus before it is ready to fight it. It has cataloged that virus and is on the look out for it and is prepared to produce specialized cells to attack it. The flu vaccinations you get are priming your body to be ready to attack if that virus is found. Those antibodies take about 2 weeks to build up in sufficient numbers to offer protection against the flu. Viruses are constantly mutating which helps them evade your detectors. This stuff is so amazing. And your body is just doing this stuff every day while you watch youtube or play basketball or…
Build a Remote Presence Robot to Play with Your Dog While You Are Away
Posted on February 12, 2012 Comments (0)
This Microsoft robotics test developer built this remote controlled robot to play with his dog while he was at work.
NASA Biocapsules Deliver Medical Interventions Based Upon What They Detect in the Body
Posted on February 10, 2012 Comments (1)
Very cool innovation from NASA. The biocapsule monitors the environment (the body it is in) and responds with medical help. Basically it is acting very much like your body, which does exactly that: monitors and then responds based on what is found.
Dr. Loftus [NASA] thinks we could realistically see wildspread usage on Earth within 10 to 15 years.
The cells don’t get released from the capsule. The cells inside the capsule secrete therapeutic molecules (proteins, peptides), and these agents exit the capsule by diffusion across the capsule wall.
NASA plans to use the biocapsules in space, but they also have very promising uses on earth. They can monitor a diabetes patient and if insulin is needed, deliver it. No need for the person to remember, or give themselves a shot of insulin. The biocapsule act just like out bodies do, responding to needs without us consciously having to think about it. They can also be used to provide high dose chemotherapy directly to the tumor site (thus decreasing the side effects and increasing the dosage delivered to the target location. Biocapsules could also respond to severe allergic reaction and deliver epinephrine (which many people know have to carry with them to try and survive an attack).
It would be great if this were to have widespread use 15 years from now. Sadly, these innovations tend to take far longer to get into productive use than we would hope. But not always, so here is hoping this innovation from NASA gets into ourselves soon.
Related: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells – Nanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer Spread – Self-Assembling Cubes Could Deliver Medicine – Nanoengineers Use Tiny Diamonds for Drug Delivery
Webcast of a T-cell Killing a Cancerous Cell
Posted on February 9, 2012 Comments (1)
Very cool. Very good job by University of Cambridge to make this kind of material available openly online. I find this kind of video amazing. Every day you body has this going on all day long. How amazing.
Cells of the immune system protect the body against pathogens. If cells in our bodies are infected by viruses, or become cancerous, then killer cells of the immune system identify and destroy the affected cells. Cytotoxic T cells are very precise and efficient killers. They are able to destroy infected or cancerous cells, without destroying healthy cells surrounding them.