Ban pesticides linked to bee deaths.

Facebook releases ‘home’ software for Android phones

The Best Of The BBC Class Calculator Vs. The Internet.

Why Bother Searching for ET?

bigufoIt’s a disturbing question, and one that I seem to get more frequently than before.

“Why are you looking for evidence of extraterrestrials? What’s the point?”

While I have always thought that the motivation for looking for E.T. was both self-evident and patently worthy, it’s possible that I’m a victim of my own job description. Others don’t inevitably agree. Some will opine that there are better ways to spend the money.

“With all the problems we’re facing here on Earth — climate change, environmental degradation, war, poverty and more — why are we wasting funds looking for space aliens?”

That’s the same argument that’s often lobbed at NASA’s space programs, and at basic research in general. The thrust is that if your work isn’t obviously helping to better my lot (or maybe the lot of a lot of others), then you’re just friction in the system.

My knee-jerk rejoinder to this all-too-easy humanism is to note that the amount of money involved is tiny. The total funding of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in the U.S. is 0.0003 percent of the tax monies spent on health and human services. And it’s not even tax money. The SETI Institute’s hunt for signals is funded by donations.

But while pointing out the realities of funding is certainly legitimate, I’ve recently promised myself to avoid doing so. It gives up too easily, and sounds like a confession: “Yes, you’re right. It’s a waste, but a very small waste.”

Well, it’s not a waste. The hunt for other sentience in the cosmos is done for reasons that could be extremely important and that, in any case, gratify the finest aspects of our spirit.

Consider the practical consequences of discovering company among the stars. These benefits are, admittedly, uncertain and hard to predict. They depend on whether we could ever decode signals from intelligence that is not only many light-years distant, but enormously ahead of us in technical ability. We’re not going to hear from beings that are at our level — they won’t have the equipment necessary to transmit a signal that today’s SETI experiments could pick up. So if a radio disturbance from ET someday floods our antennas, you can be sure that whatever’s behind the microphone would judge our own knowledge of science to be merely quaint.

Consequently, if we can make heads and tails of their signal, we could become privy to knowledge that would otherwise remain unknown until developed by our descendants centuries or more in the future. While this manna from the skies could be profoundly disruptive, you can’t argue that ignorance is blissfully preferable. It’s not.

But what if — as is thoroughly possible — we’re unable to understand ET’s broadcast? What if we just know they’re there? In the months following a detection, intense study of the signal source would garner a handful of astronomical facts — the distance to the senders, a few planetary parameters such as the length of day and the likely mean temperature, and possibly some information about the atmosphere. All of which would be interesting, and even mildly informative (did ET evolve on a world somewhat like our own?) But it would leave us guessing about the inhabitants based on the habitat. And the meaning of the message might eternally elude us.

However, even without that prize, the contest is more than worthwhile. Exploration is an oft-lauded human activity, and one that resonates in the same way that music and good stories do. It’s hard-wired into our species (and into many others), no doubt because it has survival value. Exploration occasionally rewards those who accept its risks, usually with new resources.

There’s little need to expound on the romantic lure of exploration, for few would dispute it. But there’s a special appeal in a search for other-world intelligence. We have a deep fascination for this because, after all, Darwinian mechanisms ensure that all life has a paramount interest in its own species. For us, other thinking beings are subconsciously regarded as potential equals, and interest us as competitors or mates. Of course, real aliens would be neither, but their sentience makes them compelling in a way that extraterrestrial bacteria are not.

Our curiosity is broader than merely the innate interest in cosmic doppelgangers, however. We want to know if intelligent life is some sort of wildly improbable accident. Are we the only members of the Galaxy that can actually understand what a galaxy is? Could Homo sapiens really be the pinnacle of Creation — the cleverest critters in the cosmos? If we learn the answer is “no,” that would affect our philosophies forever.

In the past I was seldom asked why we hunt for extraterrestrial company, only how. Perhaps the realities of today’s world have narrowed our vision to the near-to-hand. SETI is too speculative. And sure, concern for the immediate and the demonstrably practical is helpful in the short-term. But if we only look nearby, we can’t see where we’re going.

Frank Borman remarked that “exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.” Borman’s an astronaut, so he was tipping his hat to his own career. And so am I when I say that SETI is done out of curiosity, and is both tremendously exciting and undoubtedly worthwhile. It might alter the trajectory of our civilization. But more than that, a search for others feeds the best in our nature.

UFO News Alien Life Paranormal Outer Space Seti Science News


Cash + Peer Pressure Works for Weight Loss, Study Finds.

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Dieters are more likely to stick with a weight-loss challenge when they’re competing against peers, a new study finds. Here, Everyday Health readers share what keeps them motivated.


If you want to slim down before swimsuit season, joining the office wellness program can motivate you to lose weight — as long as you’re competing as part of a group, researchers from the University of Michigan Health System report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

When weight-loss awards were based on group performance rather than individual, participants lost nearly three times the amount of weight, researchers said.

The study examined two employee wellness incentive strategies among obese participants at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In the first group, individuals were offered $100 for each month they met or exceeded weight loss goals. In the second group, individuals were sorted into groups of five in which $500 was split among the participants who met their goals, meaning some could earn more than $100 if other members of the group didn’t meet their goals.

After six months, the group approach was far more successful.

Losing Weight With a Group

Now, as corporate weight loss challenges become more popular, researchers want to identify which kind of group competition is the best at encouraging weight loss.

“Approaches such as The Biggest Loser have received popular attention as ways to harness group dynamics to encourage weight loss, but the winner-take-all nature could be discouraging for everyone but the most successful person,” said lead author Jeffrey T. Kullgren, MD, in a release. “We need more data to compare how different group-based approaches stack up against each other.”

Everyday Health reader Alana He said on Facebook that the group approach works for her. “Over the last month, my friends and I have been doing a 30 day challenge — 30 minutes [of exercise] every day for 30 days,” she said. “If we miss a day, we owe a dollar. This motivation really worked for me! Only missed two days, and feeling great!”

Other readers said they love exercising with friends to stay accountable. But most report that neither cash nor peer pressure is what really makes them hit the gym and eat right — it’s the intrinsic benefits of weight loss, including self-esteem, confidence, and mental health.

“What motivates me now after losing 50+ pounds is just how much better I feel,” said GJ Dubar. “It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

Said Pandora Williams: “Motivation and inspiration for me comes from the positive examples I see around me, from hearing others’ success stories, from seeing the changes in my body, and from other people cheering me on.”

If a group weight-loss challenge is what you need to stick to your goals, good news: Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act expands employers’ ability to reward employees who meet health status goals through corporate wellness programs. Rewards may include premium discounts or rebates, lower cost-sharing requirements, or extra benefits related to employer-sponsored health coverage.


Low Melatonin Levels Linked to Diabetes, Study Finds.

Image112EMR-Melatonin-Cherry26jul00f1Having low levels of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, may put you at risk for type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

By Amir Khan, Everyday Health Staff Writer

People with low levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and circadian rhythm, may be at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes than people with high levels, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston looked at 370 women who developed diabetes while taking part in the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term study on women’s health, alongside 370 healthy controls, and found that study participants with low levels of melatonin were at approximately twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes when compared to participants with high levels, even after the researchers adjusted for other diabetes risk factors such as smoking, diet, and exercise.

“This is the first time that an independent association has been established between nocturnal melatonin secretion and type 2 diabetes risk,” Ciaran McMullan, MD, study author and researcher in the renal division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a statement. “Hopefully this study will prompt future research to examine what influences a person’s melatonin secretion and what is melatonin’s role in altering a person’s glucose metabolism and risk of diabetes.”

Previous research done in rats has shown that taking a melatonin supplement protected them against diabetes, the researchers said, but they could not say for sure that it would have the same effect in humans.

Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland, which is located in the center of the brain, and can be measured through a blood, urine or saliva test. The hormone is only produced in the dark, and low levels have been linked to various conditions, including breast cancerovarian cancer, andinsomnia.

“Melatonin receptors have been found throughout the body in many tissues including pancreatic islet cells,” the researchers wrote in the study, “reflecting the widespread effects of melatonin on physiological functions such as energy metabolism and the regulation of body weight.”

While the researchers could not say for sure that there was a causal link between low melatonin levels and type 2 diabetes, they said previous research has shown that melatonin can play a role helping to regulate sugar levels in the body. When melatonin levels are low, the researchers continued, your blood sugar levels could be thrown off, raising your risk for diabetes.

In addition, they said that since melatonin helps regulate sleep and circadian rhythm, it’s possible that people with low melatonin levels wake up frequently during the night and sleep fewer hours, which could increase their risk.

“Sleep disruption may also be associated with diabetes,” the researchers wrote in the study. “For example, men who reported sleeping less than five hours per night were twice as likely to develop diabetes as those who reported sleeping seven hours per night.”

Although this is the first study to link melatonin to diabetes risk, some doctors use melatonin to treat patients who are already diagnosed with the condition. Michael Wald, MD, director of nutritional services at Integrated Medicine of Mount Kisco in Mount Kisco, NY, routinely gives his diabetic patients melatonin, and said it helps bring their blood sugar levels back into line.

“Several studies have noted that diabetes often have insomnia and it is this subgroup of diabetes that may benefit the most from melatonin supplementation,” said Dr. Wald. “In diabetics with low melatonin, taking slow-release melatonin seems to improve blood sugar levels. The diabetic blood sugar test, called hemoglobin A1c, is reduced in diabetics who take between 1 to 2 mg of melatonin two hours before bedtime.”

Giving patients melatonin, he added, not only helps their blood sugar levels, but also helps them sleep better, which can reduce the risks of other diseases as well.

“By improving sleep quality, melatonin may reduce the risk of many diseases that are associated with poor sleep quality,” Wald said, “including, but not limited to, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, nerve problems, depression and pain.”

Cartilage Gives Early Warning of Arthritis, Study Finds.

knee-osteoarthritisDamage to the tissue that cushions joints occurs even before people feel pain, research shows.

By Robert Preidt, HealthDay News

Exercise-related damage in cartilage can help identify people with the earliest stages of osteoarthritis, a new study reveals.

The findings could improve early detection of the painful joint disease and could also be used to improve methods of repairing damaged cartilage, said study senior author Alan Grodzinsky, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and colleagues.

For the study, the researchers developed a method that identifies osteoarthritis-related changes that occur in cartilage in response to high-load activities such as running and jumping.

Cartilage is firm, rubbery tissue that cushions bones and keeps them from rubbing together. When osteoarthritis begins to develop, the ability of cartilage to resist physical-activity-related impact is reduced. This is now known to be due to the loss of molecules called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)

Using their new system, the researchers found that GAG-depleted cartilage loses its ability to stiffen under the forces of high-load activities. GAG loss also caused an increase in the depletion of fluids from the cartilage, which likely reduces protection against the impact of high-load activities.

The findings show how GAG loss at the earliest disease stages reduces the ability of this tissue to withstand high-load activities, according to the study, which was published in the April 2 issue of theBiophysical Journal.

“This finding suggests that people with early degradation of cartilage, even before such changes would be felt as pain, should be careful of dynamic activities such as running or jumping,” Grodzinsky said in a journal news release.

Osteoarthritis affects about one-third of older adults and is the most common type of joint disorder.

A possible biomedical facility at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).


 A well-attended meeting, called “Brainstorming discussion for a possible biomedical facility at CERN”, was held by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics on 25 June 2012. This was concerned with adapting an existing, but little used, 78-m circumference CERN synchrotron to deliver a wide range of ion species, preferably from protons to at least neon ions, with beam specifications that match existing clinical facilities. The potential extensive research portfolio discussed included beam ballistics in humanoid phantoms, advanced dosimetry, remote imaging techniques and technical developments in beam delivery, including gantry design. In addition, a modern laboratory for biomedical characterisation of these beams would allow important radiobiological studies, such as relative biological effectiveness, in a dedicated facility with standardisation of experimental conditions and biological end points. A control photon and electron beam would be required nearby for relative biological effectiveness comparisons. Research beam time availability would far exceed that at other facilities throughout the world. This would allow more rapid progress in several biomedical areas, such as in charged hadron therapy of cancer, radioisotope production and radioprotection. The ethos of CERN, in terms of open access, peer-reviewed projects and governance has been so successful for High Energy Physics that application of the same to biomedicine would attract high-quality research, with possible contributions from Europe and beyond, along with potential new funding streams.

Courtesy: bjr journals

Global carbon Cycle.

global_carbon_cycleMost lakes are oversaturated with CO2 and are net CO2 sources to the atmosphere, yet their contribution to the global carbon cycle is poorly constrained. Their CO2 excess is widely attributed to in-lake oxidation of terrestrially produced dissolved organic carbon. Here we use data collected over 26 years to show that the CO2 in 20 lakes is primarily delivered directly through inflowing streams rather than being produced in situ by degradation of terrestrial carbon. This implies that high CO2 concentrations and atmospheric emissions are not necessarily symptoms of heterotrophic lake ecosystems. Instead, the annual mean CO2 concentration increased with lake productivity and was proportional to the estimated net primary productivity of the catchment. Overall, about 1.6% of net primary productivity (range 1.2–2.2%) was lost to the atmosphere. Extrapolating globally, this is equivalent to CO2 losses of ~0.9 Pg C yr−1 (range 0.7–1.3), consistent with existing estimates. These data and our catchment productivity hypothesis re-enforce the high connectivity found between lakes, their catchment and the global C cycle. They indicate that future concentrations of CO2 in lakes, and losses to the atmosphere, will be highly sensitive to altered catchment management and concomitant effects of climate change that modify catchment productivity.

Magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance.

The detection of ensembles of spins under ambient conditions has revolutionized the biological, chemical and physical sciences through magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance. Pushing sensing capabilities to the individual-spin level would enable unprecedented applications such as single-molecule structural imaging; however, the weak magnetic fields from single spins are undetectable by conventional far-field resonance techniques. In recent years, there has been a considerable effort to develop nanoscale scanning magnetometers which are able to measure fewer spins by bringing the sensor in close proximity to its target. The most sensitive of these magnetometers generally require low temperatures for operation, but the ability to measure under ambient conditions (standard temperature and pressure) is critical for many imaging applications, particularly in biological systems. Here we demonstrate detection and nanoscale imaging of the magnetic field from an initialized single electron spin under ambient conditions using a scanning nitrogen-vacancy magnetometer. Real-space, quantitative magnetic-field images are obtained by deterministically scanning our nitrogen-vacancy magnetometer 50 nm above a target electron spin, while measuring the local magnetic field using dynamically decoupled magnetometry protocols. We discuss how this single-spin detection enables the study of a variety of room-temperature phenomena in condensed-matter physics with an unprecedented combination of spatial resolution and spin sensitivity.