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September 03, 2008

This is your annual "all animals are perverts" article

Animals behaving badly - sex - 02 September 2008 - New Scientist

For many species, particularly if the breeding season is short, promiscuity is the best way to pass on your genes.

Red-sided garter snakes famously engage in what can only be described as orgies, forming large "mating balls" of writhing snakes.

Toads mate in a position called amplexus, in which the male mounts the female from behind and fertilises her eggs externally.

If competition is intense, several toads may mount the same female, a situation called "multiple amplexus". This can result in the female being drowned, but assuming she survives, it can also result in her producing offspring by several fathers. Media reports of a frog with three heads may also have been an instance of multiple amplexus.

Promiscuous sex can also be a form of social bonding. This is most famously observed in bonobos, a kind of chimpanzee. Members of a bonobo troupe have sex with each other in pretty much every combination, and engage in a host of different sexual activities. Their societies are female-dominated and seem to be almost entirely non-violent.

August 20, 2008

An infinite source of blood

Scientists Create Blood From Stem Cells | Wired Science from Wired.com

Scientists have used embryonic stem cells to generate blood -- a feat that could eventually lead to endless supplies of type O-negative blood, a rare blood type prized by doctors for its versatility.

"We literally generated whole tubes in the lab, from scratch," said Robert Lanza, chief science officer at Advanced Cell Technologies.

People usually require blood transfusions that match their own blood type: A mismatch can be fatal. Type O-negative can be safely transferred into anyone, but is only possessed by about 7 percent of the population, leaving supplies perpetually short.

The new technique, devised by Lanza and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic and University of Illinois, is still preliminary. Its safety hasn't yet been proved in animals, much less humans.

August 04, 2008

The megalodon ate whales, islands

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Ancient shark had colossal bite

This is really just an excuse to post the awesomely terrifying picture from my nightmares.

The megalodon super-shark swam in the oceans more than a million-and-a-half years ago.

It grew up to 16m (52ft) in length and weighed in at 100 tonnes - 30 times heavier than the largest great white - and must have been one of the most formidable carnivores to have existed.

"Pound for pound, your common house cat can bite down harder, " explained Dr Stephen Wroe of the University of New South Wales, Australia. "But the sheer size of the animal means that in absolute terms, it tops the scales."

What did the Phoenix lander find on Mars?

What has Phoenix found on Mars? — KarlSchroeder.com

The most likely scenario is, in fact, that Phoenix has discovered organics in the Martian soil.

This would be a big discovery, true; it would make an unequivocal statement that Mars is a habitable planet, only the second one in the universe known. If our very next-door-neighbour is hospitable to life, then how much more likely is it that many other worlds also are?

...Of course, such a discovery isn't as world-shaking as it sounds. After all, for a very long time now, we've known that there's no known reason why other planets wouldn't be habitable--Mars included. This would just be confirming what we've already deduced from the available evidence: that safe havens for life are abundant in the universe.

From this point of view, the Phoenix team briefing the White House is really just a piece of grandstanding--a last-ditch attempt to squeeze money from a science-hostile administration before the expected recession/depression gets the space program killed.

August 02, 2008

Living alone may lead to Alzheimers, dementia

Being single may lead to Alzheimer's :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Health News

People who are unmarried or not living with a significant other when they're middle-aged appear to be more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life, according to a first-of-its-kind study presented Wednesday at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease at McCormick Place.

A team of Swedish researchers found that people who were unmarried and living alone in their 40s or 50s were 50 percent more likely to have Alzheimer's two decades later.

The reason may be the intense level of communication that takes place in a marriage, lead researcher Krister Hakansson said. Previous studies have shown that frequent social interaction delays the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease.

August 01, 2008

A "gravity tractor" could save us all from death by asteroid

'Gravity tractor' could deflect asteroids - space - 28 July 2008 - New Scientist Space

A "gravity tractor" could deflect an Earth-threatening asteroid if it was deployed when the asteroid was more than one orbit away from the potential impact, according to a new study. If the space rock was found heading straight for Earth, a combination of techniques – including a gravity tractor – might save the day.

The study, carried out by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shows that the weak gravitational pull of a nearby spacecraft could deflect a hypothetical asteroid 140 metres across, big enough to cause regional devastation if it hit Earth.

"Prior to this study, the gravity tractor deflection technique had been proven in only a conceptual way," says Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved in the study.