Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

“Now, it should be noted that the researchers aren’t trying to emulate a complete honey bee brain, but rather two specific and complex functions within it, namely vision and sense of smell.”

“By isolating and modeling these particular functions, the researchers hope to provide their flying robot with the cognitive power required to perform basic tasks — and without a set of pre-programmed instructions. It is hoped, for example, that the robotic bee will be able to detect particular odors or gasses in the same way that real bee can identify certain flowers.”

via New project aims to upload a honey bee’s brain into a flying insectobot by 2015.

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“Ants that are held as slaves in nests of other ant species damage their oppressors through acts of sabotage. Ant researcher Professor Dr. Susanne Foitzik of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) first observed this “slave rebellion” phenomenon in 2009. According to the latest findings, however, this behavior now appears to be a widespread characteristic that is not limited to isolated occurrences. In fact, in three different populations in the U.S. states of West Virginia, New York, and Ohio, enslaved Temnothorax longispinosus workers have been observed to neglect and kill the offspring of their Protomognathus americanus slavemakers rather than care for them. As a result, an average of only 45% of the parasite’s offspring survived. This presumably reduces the strength of the parasites in the area and thereby increases the chances of survival for the neighboring colonies populated by the slave ants’ relatives.”

via Slave rebellion is widespread in ants.

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“The beginning of a beautiful friendship? In some interspecies relationships, ants “tend” to a single caterpillar, preventing it from being attacked by predators. In return for such protection services, they are rewarded with the larva’s sugary secretions. New research has now shown that the rate of evolution in a mutualistic relationship does not depend only on the type of interactions, but also on the number of individuals involved.

The relationship between species determines how rapidly they evolve. Parasites and their hosts coevolve more rapidly, and partners in a mutualistic relationship can evolve more slowly. But this view is obviously too simplistic. The rate of evolution in a mutualistic relationship does not depend only on the type of interactions, but also on the number of individuals involved, according to a model developed by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany. Therefore, while partners can benefit from slow evolution if only two individuals interact, a higher rate of evolution may be favoured if several individuals are involved.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-09-relationships-based-mutuality-individuals-involved.html#jCp

via In relationships based on mutuality, number of individuals involved can determine rate at which species evolve.

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Changing/Choosing the Type of Ant Is Easy
(by manipulating simple chemicals during egg growth)

A facebook page entitled simply “Evolution” explains it thus: 
Is the reality of Captain America still far off? Putting it simply, yes. However, manipulating genes can unleash the ‘Super Soldier’ inside Ants


Ants are famous for their teamwork, living in vast colonies in nests of fantastic sizes, with one colony in Australia even measuring 100km wide. The level of cooperation and organisation within colonies is incredibly complex with it often being likened to human organisation and as such is often studied as a base model to increase efficiency of human systems. 

This organisation relies on a number of key types or “castes” of ant as they are often called. Workers and soldiers continuously work to protect and feed their Queen, but some species also rely on a caste of ant known as ‘supersoldiers’. These ants protect the Queen by blocking the entrance to the colonies nest with their abnormally large heads.

Usually the caste of an ant is decided by the environment the egg grows in. Tiny changes to factors, such as temperature and nutrition, affect the individuals purpose within the colony. Dr. Abouheif and his team, from McGill University in Montreal, have discovered that the caste of an ant can be changed by altering the concentration of juvenile hormone in the egg.

This was tested in a number of species and even found that many species that didn’t naturally have the ‘supersoldier’ caste could produce this type of ant with the right amount of juvenile hormone added to an egg, at the right stage of development. The fact that species without the caste can naturally have it induced in them shows that organisms with common ancestors can be commonly affected to produce evolutionary significant changes, all through the interplay of relatively simple chemicals. 

This could mean that if similar relationships are found within other organisms, we could easily manipulate them to produce fantastic benefits for human kind such as fast growing and breeding crops in harsh conditions, which would help to end world hunger or if we could learn to reverse these relationships we may be able to reverse the rapid growth of cancerous cells potentially, curing one of the most deadly diseases known to man. JB

Abouheif, E. et al., 2012. Ancestral Developmental Potential Facilitates Parallel Evolution in Ants. Science, 335 (6064) pp. 79-82.

via BBC Nature – Ants turned into ‘supersoldiers’.

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The media-adopted name for the Higgs Boson, believed to be discovered this week, couldn’t be more misleading. Lawrence M. Krauss explains how the particle could finally dispense with the idea of a supernatural creator. Plus, cosmologist Sean Carroll on�how the discovery will revolutionize physics.

via How the Higgs Boson Posits a New Story of our Creation – Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

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American Opossums possess a protein call LTNF (Lethal Toxin Neutralizing Factor) which quickly seeks out toxic poisons that enter an opossums’ bdy and renders them harmless. It is pretty amazing stuff, especially when one considers that it even protects opossums from venomous snakes from other continents, to which the opossum has never been exposed.

LTNF protein works on everything from snake venom to ricin.

Strangely, this study was published in 1999, yet it only now is making the rounds. I wonder if it would help us with environmental toxins.

via Opossum protein neutralizes nearly all poisons, could have benefits for humans | The Sideshow – Yahoo! News.

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Head Color Linked With Personality in Social Bird Species | Inspiring Discoveries | Science | Epoch Times.

We think that head color is used as a signal of personality to other birds in the flock, so they know who to associate with,” said study co-author Leah Williams, also at LJMU, in the release.

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Red hot lava basalt

Not that I spend a lot of time thinking about red hot lava pits every day, but after reading Erik Klemetti’s article on the viscosity of lava, I find myself thinking of it differently. Evidently, the viscosity of  lava is such that if you or I were to fall into one of the fiery red hot lava pits around the world, we wouldn’t sink beneath the surface and die quickly. Instead, we would float atop the surface while it slowly devoured us in its heat.

There are two reasons why we would be forced to suffer such a tragic fate. The first is the difference of density between the human body and lava. Think about jumping in water. Think about floating in water. Why do we sink down through water so easily? Things float because they have a lower density than the fluid they displace. As the density of the fluid increases, the floating object will float higher. Salt water is noticeably denser than fresh water and people float more easily in it. I have been snorkeling in warm salt water areas where I could float, motionless, atop the surface for quite a while — sometimes to the point of boredom, or occasionally a large wave would roll over me, filling my nose and mouth with salt water! Some bodies of water on the planet, like the Dead Sea, have such high levels of salt that people go there specifically to float atop the water while bathing in the rich minerals it is reputed to contain. So, floating occurs when the liquid has a lower density (is more dense) than the object that is floating. Now, think about lava. Molten lava is liquid basalt (a rock). The human body isn’t anywhere near the density of basalt, so, the lava is not displaced when we enter it. It is nearly impossible to sink in lava.

The second reason is viscosity. Viscosity (the resistance to flow) causes a liquid like water, which has a low viscosity, to get out of the way when we enter it, but a liquid with high viscosity like corn syrup, or even higher viscosity, like lava, doesn’t displace itself for the human body.

The more I think about this, the more it causes my empathic nerves to shriek. I recall stories of young virgins being brought to the edge of the volcano’s mouth, then, being thrown inside as a sacrifice to the gods. They weren’t enveloped quickly in fiery hot lava and put out of their misery. Instead, they would’ve probably hit the burning hot surface and been roasted and assimilated within the flow itself.

I googled some photographs of lava taken by independent photographers around the world. One of them had some great close-ups of small foot-wide flows of lava in action. A commentor asked him if the smoke in the area was due to the heat. He responded by saying the paint on his camera lens literally peeled away due to the extreme heat he experienced there. Now that’s hot!

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