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January 26, 2010

Crows can remember people's faces, hold grudges for years

If you think a crow is giving you the evil eye… - life - 26 January 2010 - New Scientist
Wild crows can recognise individual human faces and hold a grudge for years against people who have treated them badly. This ability – which may also exist in other wild animals – highlights how carefully some animals monitor the humans with whom they share living space. Field biologists have observed that crows seem to recognise them, and a few researchers have even gone to the extreme of wearing masks when capturing birds to band (or "ring") them, so that they could later observe the birds without upsetting them. However, it was unclear whether the birds distinguish people by their faces or by other distinctive features of dress, gait or behaviour. To find out, John Marzluff at the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues donned a rubber caveman mask and then captured and banded wild American crows. Whenever a person wearing the same mask approached those crows later, the birds scolded them loudly. In contrast, they ignored the same person wearing a mask of former US Vice-President Dick Cheney, which had never been worn during banding. "Most of the time you walk right up to them and they don't care at all," says Marzluff.

Scientists basically locate the gene for echolocation

BBC News - 'Echoes' in bat and dolphin DNA The surprising thing is that the genes in bats and dolphins look exactly the same, which almost never happens. Typically when two distinct creatures exhibit the same traits, the genes are different that cause those traits. What I want to know is: when can I have some echolocation gene therapy?
Scientists have found a striking similarity in the DNA that enables some bats and dolphins to echolocate. A key gene that gives their ears the ability to detect high-frequency sound has undergone the exact same changes over time in both creatures. The researchers report their findings in the journal Current Biology. It may be the first time that identical genetics has been shown to underpin the evolution of similar characteristics in very different organisms.

January 21, 2010

A new explanation for gravity?

The entropy force: a new direction for gravity - physics-math - 20 January 2010 - New Scientist
Now one theoretical physicist is proposing a radical new way to look at gravity. Erik Verlinde of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, a prominent and internationally respected string theorist, argues that gravitational attraction could be the result of the way information about material objects is organised in space. If true, it could provide the fundamental explanation we have been seeking for decades. Verlinde posted his paper to the pre-print physics archive earlier this month, and since then many physicists have greeted the proposal as promising (arxiv.org/abs/1001.0785). Nobel laureate and theoretical physicist Gerard 't Hooft of Utrecht University in the Netherlands stresses the ideas need development, but is impressed by Verlinde's approach. "[Unlike] many string theorists Erik is stressing real physical concepts like mass and force, not just fancy abstract mathematics," he says. "That's encouraging from my perspective as a physicist." . . . Verlinde's work offers an alternative way of looking at the problem. "I am convinced now, gravity is a phenomenon emerging from the fundamental properties of space and time," he says. To understand what Verlinde is proposing, consider the concept of fluidity in water. Individual molecules have no fluidity, but collectively they do. Similarly, the force of gravity is not something ingrained in matter itself. It is an extra physical effect, emerging from the interplay of mass, time and space, says Verlinde. His idea of gravity as an "entropic force" is based on these first principles of thermodynamics - but works within an exotic description of space-time called holography.

January 14, 2010

Monsanto's genetically-modified corn found to cause organ damage in rats

Slashdot Science Story | Organ Damage In Rats From Monsanto GMO Corn And since the government decided that GM foods don't need to be labeled as such, it's impossible for us to tell which corn at the store might be Monsanto's engineered corn. Or, y'know, if the high fructose corn syrup that's in every packaged food these days was created from the organ-failure corn.
"A study published in December 2009 in the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that three varieties of Monsanto genetically-modified corn caused damage to the liver, kidneys, and other organs of rats. One of the corn varieties was designed to tolerate broad-spectrum herbicides, (so-called 'Roundup-ready' corn), while the other two contain bacteria-derived proteins that have insecticide properties. The study made use of Monsanto's own raw data. Quoting from the study's 'Conclusions' section: 'Our analysis highlights that the kidneys and liver as particularly important on which to focus such research as there was a clear negative impact on the function of these organs in rats consuming GM maize varieties for just 90 days.' Given the very high prevalence of corn in processed foods, this could be a real ticking time bomb. And with food manufacturers not being required by law to declare GMO content, I think I'll do my best to avoid corn altogether. Pass the puffed rice and pour me a glass of fizzy water!"