Earth's first ecosystems were more complex than previously thought
November 28, 2015 06:44 AM - Universtity of Bristol
Computer simulations have allowed scientists to work out how a puzzling 555-million-year-old organism with no known modern relatives fed, revealing that some of the first large, complex organisms on Earth formed ecosystems that were much more complex than previously thought.
The international team of researchers from Canada, the UK and the USA, including Dr Imran Rahman from the University of Bristol, studied fossils of an extinct organism called Tribrachidium, which lived in the oceans some 555 million years ago. Using a computer modelling approach called computational fluid dynamics, they were able to show that Tribrachidium fed by collecting particles suspended in water. This is called suspension feeding and it had not previously been documented in organisms from this period of time.
NASA finds answer to why Mars' atmosphere doesn't have more carbon
November 25, 2015 07:47 AM - JPL NASA
Mars is blanketed by a thin, mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere -- one that is far too thin to keep water from freezing or quickly evaporating. However, geological evidence has led scientists to conclude that ancient Mars was once a warmer, wetter place than it is today. To produce a more temperate climate, several researchers have suggested that the planet was once shrouded in a much thicker carbon dioxide atmosphere. For decades that left the question, "Where did all the carbon go?"
The solar wind stripped away much of Mars' ancient atmosphere and is still removing tons of it every day. But scientists have been puzzled by why they haven't found more carbon -- in the form of carbonate -- captured into Martian rocks. They have also sought to explain the ratio of heavier and lighter carbons in the modern Martian atmosphere.
Something not to worry about, the Earth's magnetic field flipping
November 24, 2015 12:10 PM - Jennifer Chu, MIT News
The intensity of Earth’s geomagnetic field has been dropping for the past 200 years, at a rate that some scientists suspect may cause the field to bottom out in 2,000 years, temporarily leaving the planet unprotected against damaging charged particles from the sun. This drop in intensity is associated with periodic geomagnetic field reversals, in which the Earth’s North and South magnetic poles flip polarity, and it could last for several thousand years before returning to a stable, shielding intensity.
With a weakened geomagnetic field, increased solar radiation might damage electronics — from individual pacemakers to entire power grids — and could induce genetic mutations. A reversal may also affect the navigation of animals that use Earth’s magnetic field as an internal compass.
Could Lithium-air batteries make oil obsolete?
November 24, 2015 06:47 AM - Editor, The Ecologist
Sooner than it takes to build a nuclear power station, lithium-air batteries could be helping wind and solar to make coal, oil and nuclear obsolete, say Cambridge scientists. Five times lighter and five times cheaper than current lithium batteries, Li-air would open the way to our 100% renewable future.
How to Eat and Stay Healthy this Holiday Season
November 23, 2015 07:23 AM - Patti Verbenas, Rutgers University
When it comes to maintaining healthy lifestyles, people tend to fall off the wagon from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. Then, they set “get in shape” and “lose weight” as New Year’s resolutions. That’s not the best idea, says Charlotte Markey, a Rutgers University-Camden psychologist who teaches a course titled “The Psychology of Eating” and studies eating behaviors, body image and weight management. Overeating during the holidays, she notes, is not a matter of if, but when. People need to approach their goals in a smarter way.
Rutgers Today spoke with Markey, the author of Smart People Don’t Diet: How the Latest Science Can Help You Lose Weight Permanently, about a more realistic and sustainable strategy to losing weight and living healthier.
EVs vs. Gasoline-Powered Cars - Which has the cleaner lifecycle?
November 19, 2015 07:15 AM - Leon Kaye, Triple Pundit
It’s the trick question that has left many of us stumped: from the earliest stages of manufacture to the years driving on the road until they are sent to the junkyard, are conventional automobiles or electric cars cleaner for the environment? While acknowledging that electric vehicles (EVs) emit no emissions when running on our streets and highways, many have assumed that those pesky rare earth metals in their massive batteries and the emissions associated with producing the power canceled out any environmental benefits that their drivers enjoyed. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a two-year study has provided the answer.
Half the world's natural history specimens may have the wrong name
November 17, 2015 07:07 AM - University of Oxford
Even the most accomplished naturalist can find it difficult to tell one species of plant from another or accurately decide which genus a small insect belongs to. So when a new specimen arrives at a museum, finding the right name from existing records can sometimes prove difficult. In turn, that can lead to specimens being given the wrong name – which can prove problematic for biologists.
To Kill or Not to Kill: The Great Specimen Debate
November 12, 2015 07:20 AM - Shreya Dasgupta, MONGABAY.COM
Indeed, museum collections are fascinating. Many of us probably still gawk at stuffed collections of extant and extinct birds, beetles, vibrantly-colored butterflies, and other animals that fill up glass cases and exhibition halls. Many of these collections were borne out of expeditions to remote parts of the world; treks that involved trapping, killing, preserving and cataloging animals that explorers encountered. Many of these collections have been useful in shaping what we know of the natural world. However, species conservation or scientific advancement was not always the goal of animal-collection. Often, it was done simply to suit the aesthetic whims of society’s elite.
Vitamin C and the war on cancer
November 9, 2015 07:28 AM - Jocelyn Kaiser, Science
Maybe Linus Pauling was on to something after all. Decades ago the Nobel Prize–winning chemist was relegated to the fringes of medicine after championing the idea that vitamin C could combat a host of illnesses, including cancer. Now, a study published online today in Science reports that vitamin C can kill tumor cells that carry a common cancer-causing mutation and—in mice—can curb the growth of tumors with the mutation.
If the findings hold up in people, researchers may have found a way to treat a large swath of tumors that has lacked effective drugs. "This [could] be one answer to the question everybody's striving for," says molecular biologist Channing Der of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, one of many researchers trying to target cancers with the mutation. The study is also gratifying for the handful of researchers pursuing vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, as a cancer drug. "I'm encouraged. Maybe people will finally pay attention," says vitamin C researcher Mark Levine of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Obama Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline
November 9, 2015 06:41 AM - Center for Biological Diversity
In a crucial victory for the climate, wildlife and the millions who spoke against it, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL project today, saying that building the tar sands oil pipeline is not in the national interest.
Over the past four years, scientists, environmentalists, tribes, farmers, celebrities and business people joined forces to fight the pipeline, with more than 2 million comments submitted to the U.S. State Department, tens of thousands participating in rallies against Keystone in all 50 states, and thousands of citizens arrested in peaceful civil disobedience.
“This is a historic moment, not just for what it means about avoiding the impacts of this disastrous pipeline but for all of those who spoke out for a healthy, livable climate and energy policies that put people and wildlife ahead of pollution and profits,” said Valerie Love with the Center for Biological Diversity. “President Obama did the right thing, but he didn’t do it alone: Millions of Americans made their voices heard on this issue, and will continue pressing Obama and other political leaders to do what’s necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.”