Scientists Shocked As They Find Melanesians Carry DNA Of An Unknown Human Species


Hints of an unidentified, extinct human species have been found in the DNA of modern Melanesians – those living in a region of the South Pacific, northeast of Australia.

According to new genetic modelling, the species is unlikely to be Neanderthal or Denisovan – two ancient species that are represented in the fossil record – but could represent a third, unknown human relative that has so far eluded archaeologists.

“We’re missing a population, or we’re misunderstanding something about the relationships,” Ryan Bohlender, a statistical geneticist from the University of Texas, told Tina Hesman Saey at Science News.

Bohlender and his team have been investigating the percentages of extinct hominid DNA that modern humans still carry today, and say they’ve found discrepancies in previous analyses that suggest our mingling with Neanderthals and Denisovans isn’t the whole story.

It’s thought that between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago, our early ancestors migrated out of Africa, and first made contact with other hominid species living on the Eurasian landmass.

This contact left a mark on our species that can still be found today, with Europeans and Asians carrying distinct genetic variants of Neanderthal DNA in their own genomes.

And that’s not all they’ve given us.

Earlier this year, researchers investigated certain genetic variants that people of European descent inherited from Neanderthals, and found that they’re associated with several health problems, including a slightly increased risk of depression, heart attack, and a number of skin disorders.

And a separate study published earlier this month found evidence that modern genital warts – otherwise known as the human papillomavirus (HPV) – were sexually transmitted to Homo sapiens after our ancestors slept with Neanderthals and Denisovans once they left Africa.

While our relationship with Neanderthals has been widely researched, how we interacted with the Denisovans – the distant cousins of Neanderthals – is less clear.

The problem is that Neanderthals are well represented in the fossil record, with many remains having been uncovered across Europe and Asia, but all we have of the Denisovans is a lone finger bone and a couple of teeth that were found in a Siberian cave in 2008.

Using a new computer model to figure out the amount of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA carried by modern humans, Bohlender and his colleague found that Europeans and Chinese people carry a similar amount of Neanderthal DNA: about 2.8 percent.

That result is pretty similar to previous studies have estimated that Europeans and Asians carry, on average, between 1.5 and 4 percent Neanderthal DNA.

But when they got to Denisovan DNA, things were a bit more complicated, particularly when it came to modern populations living in Melanesia – a region of the South Pacific that includes Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, West Papua, and the Maluku Islands.

As Hesman Saey explains for Science News:

“Europeans have no hint of Denisovan ancestry, and people in China have a tiny amount – 0.1 percent, according to Bohlender’s calculations. But 2.74 percent of the DNA in people in Papua New Guinea comes from Neanderthals. 

And Bohlender estimates the amount of Denisovan DNA in Melanesians is about 1.11 percent, not the 3 to 6 percent estimated by other researchers.

While investigating the Denisovan discrepancy, Bohlender and colleagues came to the conclusion that a third group of hominids may have bred with the ancestors of Melanesians.” 

“Human history is a lot more complicated than we thought it was,” he told her.

This find is supported by a separate study by researchers from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, who analysed DNA from 83 Aboriginal Australians and 25 locals from the Papua New Guinea highlands.

As we reported last month, this was the most comprehensive genetic study of Indigenous Australians to date, and it indicated that they are the oldest continuous civilization on Earth, dating back more than 50,000 years ago.

But the results revealed something else – DNA that was very similar to that of the Denisovans, but distinct enough for the researchers to suggest that it could have come from a third, unidentified hominid.

“Who this group is we don’t know,” lead researcher Eske Willerslev told Hesman Saey.

Until we have more concrete evidence of this hypothesized third human species (some fossils would be nice), we can’t prove this, and we should point out that Bohlender’s estimates have yet to be formally peer-reviewed, so they might shift with further scrutiny.

And it could be that our identification of Denisovan DNA is more ambiguous than we think, given that our only source is a finger bone and a couple of teeth.

But the evidence is mounting that our interactions with ancient humans were far more complex than we’d assumed, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise, when you think about it.

Just because we don’t see them in the fossil record doesn’t mean they didn’t exist – preserving the remains of something for tens of thousands of years isn’t easy, and then someone has to be in the right place at the right time to dig them up.

Hopefully, the more we investigate the genetic make-up of our most ancient societies, the more hints we’ll get of the rich and complicated history our species shared with those that didn’t make it to modern times.

So much incredible findings of an unknown DNA surface, we may need to think twice before saying that we are ‘alone’ in the universe.

The 10 most popular prescription drugs in the US


Dozens of prescription drugs have become household names. But which ones are in the most medicine cabinets around the country?

tongue pills vitamins supplements mouth

GoodRx, a startup that lists drug prices and sells prescription drugs at discounted rates, compiled a list of the 10 most popular prescription drugs in the US. The company compiles the data by looking at claims that are reported by pharmacies.

All of the drugs cost less than $15 for a month’s prescription and are also available as generics.

http://www.businessinsider.in/The-10-most-popular-prescription-drugs-in-the-US/articleshow/55071613.cms

4 Brain Benefits Of Swimming: Improved Blood Flow Boosts Cognitive Function, Alleviates Depression Symptoms


The physical benefits of swimming are obvious in athletes like 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. Toned muscles, muscle strength, and a well-sculpted physique describe a “swimmer’s body.” However, there is one characteristic most swimmers possess that we can’t see: better brain health.

It’s no surprise aerobic exercise is not only good for the heart, but also good for the brain. It improves brain function, and also helps repair damaged brain cells. But certain aerobic exercises, like swimming, can provide additional brain benefits on a molecular and behavioral level by affecting neurotransmitters that influence mood and stress-reducing hormones.

BOOSTS BLOOD FLOW FOR BETTER COGNITIVE FUNCTION

A boost in blood flow can help improve memory, mood, clarity, and focus. A 2014 study found immersing ourselves in a steep pool increases blood flow to the brain. When participants were immersed in water up to the level of the heart compared to on land, brain blood flow was higher. Blood flow to their middle cerebral arteries increased by 14 percent, while blood flow to their posterior cerebral arteries increased by 9 percent.

Bob Prichard, a trainer with Somax Performance Institute who has worked with Olympic swimmers who’ve won 44 Gold Medals and 11 World Records believes, “any repeated movement such as running, even dancing, will increase blood flow to the brain.”

However, he suggests we can reap these benefits even if we’re not immersed water to heart level.

“It does not depend on the water level since swimmers swim horizontally, regardless of water depth,” he told Medical Daily.

STIMULATES BRAIN CHEMICALS FOR MOOD BOOST

Swimming and other exercises release neurotrophic factors in the brain, endorphins, which are thought to be helpful in managing stress and or anxiety and mood. Physical activity and exercise can aid with tension relief, and even counter some depressive symptoms.

“Swimming actually can help reduce depression for several reasons, one of which is that it helps stimulate production of brain chemicals that elevate mood and outlook,” Dr. David Coppel, director of neuropsychological services and Research at the University of Washington Sports Concussion program, told Medical Daily.

Woman swimmingFour things that happen to the brain while you swim, from boosting blood flow to enhancing learning.Photo courtesy of Pexels, Public Domain

A 2007 study found active swimming had an antidepressant-like effect on depressed rats. The rodents took a swim test to determine the amount of time they spent immobile in water and the time they spent swimming around in active mode. The slothful rats spent much more time in active swimming compared with the non-running depressed rats, and were less likely to display depressive symptoms after 30 days.

Swimming is effective at reducing panic and feelings of sadness because the techniques used, such as strokes, breathing, and repetitiveness, “can be meditative, which in turn could provide tension relief,” according to Coppel.

PROMOTES NEW NEURONS IN THE HIPPOCAMPUS FOR BETTER MEMORY

Brain damage from stress can also be reversed with swimming via hippocampal neurogenesis, or replacing lost neurons. In the previous study, researchers found neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain, involved in learning and memory, dramatically increased in the depressed rats. Previous research has found the hippocampus shrinks in depressed individuals, which is believed to be the cause of mental health issues often associated with depression.

Prichard reminds us the hippocampus will grow with exercise, and also increase oxygen going to the brain. “Brain oxygen is not only a function of swimming, but is also a function of chest expansion,” he said.

ENHANCES GROSS- AND VISUAL-MOTOR SKILLS FOR EASY LEARNING

The bilateral cross-patterning movements in swimming help with the development of nerve fibers in the corpus callosum, which connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain and facilitate communication between the two. Swimming activates both brain hemispheres and all four lobes of the brain simultaneously, which can lead to increased cognition, and an easier time learning.

A 2012 study found children who learn how to swim at a young age reached many developmental milestones earlier than the norm. These milestones included refining gross motor skills like coordination, and visual-motor skills such as cutting paper, coloring in and drawing lines and shapes, and many mathematically-related tasks.

Exercise, not just swimming in general, is great for the brain. However, Coppel suggests that we focus on the benefits for the mind.

“Feeling positive about being active or training may have some brain correlates, but it is how we think about and process our actions/activity or training (e.g., progress) that is what we have access to.”

How AIDS conquered North America: Researchers restore HIV genomes from serum samples more than 40 years old


HI
HIV particles (yellow) infecting a T cell, viewed under a scanning electron microscope. T-cells perform important functions in our immune system. 

Researchers at the University of Arizona and the University of Cambridge in the U.K. have reconstructed the origins of the AIDS pandemic in unprecedented detail.

The findings were made possible by a molecular technique the team developed for this project, enabling them to recover genetic material from more than 40-year-old serum samples and decipher the gene sequence of the , or HIV, subtype that started the outbreak on the North American continent in the early 1970s. Phylogenetic analyses estimate the jump to the U.S. at about 1970 and place the ancestral U.S. virus in New York City, strongly suggesting this was the crucial hub from which HIV made its way across the continent.

Insights gained from this study may help researchers and health officials better understand how pathogens move through populations and lead to more effective strategies aimed at reining in, or eradicating, dangerous pathogens.

The results will be published in the advance online publication of Nature on Oct. 26. They confirm previous findings retracing the routes by which the virus entered and spread through the U.S. and eliminate any remaining doubt surrounding the Caribbean region as a key steppingstone from which HIV jumped into the U.S. The paper also reports the first recovery of the full HIV-1 genome from an individual known as “Patient Zero” and shows that there is neither biological nor historical evidence for the widely held belief that he was the primary cause of the HIV epidemic in North America.

While it had been established that HIV already was infecting people in the U.S. before 1981, the year AIDS was recognized, the timing and earliest movements of the virus in the U.S. were unknown until now. Leading an interdisciplinary team of scientists, Michael Worobey, an expert on , and Richard McKay, a scholar specializing in the history of public health, set out on a quest to unravel the secrets surrounding the AIDS epidemic as it unfolded. The endeavor called for new molecular techniques that would make it possible to recover and “restore” genetic material from samples whose age and condition made them intractable to existing analytic methods.

The findings were made possible by a molecular technique the team developed for this project, enabling them to recover genetic material from more than 40-year-old serum samples and decipher the gene sequence of the , or HIV, subtype that started the outbreak on the North American continent in the early 1970s. Phylogenetic analyses estimate the jump to the U.S. at about 1970 and place the ancestral U.S. virus in New York City, strongly suggesting this was the crucial hub from which HIV made its way across the continent.

Insights gained from this study may help researchers and health officials better understand how pathogens move through populations and lead to more effective strategies aimed at reining in, or eradicating, dangerous pathogens.

The results will be published in the advance online publication of Nature on Oct. 26. They confirm previous findings retracing the routes by which the virus entered and spread through the U.S. and eliminate any remaining doubt surrounding the Caribbean region as a key steppingstone from which HIV jumped into the U.S. The paper also reports the first recovery of the full HIV-1 genome from an individual known as “Patient Zero” and shows that there is neither biological nor historical evidence for the widely held belief that he was the primary cause of the HIV epidemic in North America.

While it had been established that HIV already was infecting people in the U.S. before 1981, the year AIDS was recognized, the timing and earliest movements of the virus in the U.S. were unknown until now. Leading an interdisciplinary team of scientists, Michael Worobey, an expert on , and Richard McKay, a scholar specializing in the history of public health, set out on a quest to unravel the secrets surrounding the AIDS epidemic as it unfolded. The endeavor called for new molecular techniques that would make it possible to recover and “restore” genetic material from samples whose age and condition made them intractable to existing analytic methods.

“Standard methodology such as antibody-detecting serological blood tests will tell you whether a person had HIV, but you might not be able to get any of the HIV gene sequences out of it, because to do that, you need the RNA from the virus,” says Worobey, a professor and head of the UA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “The virus’ RNA is an extremely delicate molecule comprising 10,000 nucleotides, and breaks down very quickly.”

Worobey’s lab developed a technique called RNA jackhammering, which breaks down the huge human genome in the samples into tiny overlapping chunks and extracts the RNA of the virus.

“We then very carefully amplify the RNA of the virus without letting the background RNA get in the way,” he explains.

Worobey says the technique may hold potential for other health care applications, such as more sensitive bioassays for screening blood samples for cancer markers or viruses, including Zika.

How AIDS conquered North America
After HIV moved from Africa to the Caribbean, it first spread to New York and subsequently to different locations in the U.S. By constructing evolutionary trees of the various HIV strains as far back as the 1970s, the researchers found evidence that the virus had been circulating under the radar for ten years before the outbreak in the US was recognized. 

By screening more than 2,000 serum samples collected from U.S. men between 1978 and 1979, all of which degraded over time, the technique allowed the researchers to recover eight near full-length viral RNA genome sequences, representing the oldest HIV genomes in North America. This early, full-genome “snapshot” reveals the U.S. HIV-1 epidemic showed surprisingly extensive genetic diversity in the 1970s but also provides strong evidence of its emergence from a pre-exiting Caribbean epidemic.

Having the complete genomic information in front of them allowed the authors to tackle questions that had vexed researchers—for example, how quickly the virus was spreading at different times in different locations. Once HIV had crossed the Atlantic from Africa, it quickly spread through the Caribbean and from there into the U.S. Yet, the epidemic went unnoticed until it hit the U.S. New York City turned out to be the most critical hub for the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., and the newly sequenced genomes showed the virus must have jumped there in, or very near, 1970. From there, HIV spread to San Francisco and presumably to other locations in California, where AIDS patients were first recognized in 1981.

“In New York City, the virus encountered a population that was like dry tinder,” Worobey explains, “causing the epidemic to burn hotter and faster and infecting enough people that it grabs the world’s attention for the first time.

“That information is stamped into the RNA of the virus from 1970,” he says. “Our analysis shows that the outbreaks in California that first caused people to ring the alarm bells and led to the discovery of AIDS were really just offshoots of the earlier outbreak that we see in New York City.”

From the genetic data, the team was able to construct evolutionary trees of the various HIV strains and how they spread through the U.S. They revealed that by the late 1970s HIV had diversified in almost the same genetic diversity we see today.

“Right around 1970, we see the signal of emergence of this virus, which is evidence that it had to have been there at that point in time in at least one person,” Worobey says.

Being able to look back in time and piece together what it took for the HIV pandemic to happen is encouraging, the researchers say.

“Now we can now look forward in time and really see a future in which—even if the virus is not completely eliminated—it could be driven down to no new transmission in large swaths of the world,” Worobey says.

The molecular biology assays developed in this work could lead to more sensitive tests that detect the virus sooner in people who are unaware that they were infected very recently, he says.

“Earlier detection and better alignment of the various options we have to make it harder for the to move from one person to the next,” he says, “are key to driving HIV out of business.”

Religious people understand the world less, study suggests


Scientists say believers in God more likely to think flowers and rocks can think and feel, and agree with statements like “stones sense the cold”

Religious people are more likely to have a poorer understanding of the world and are more likely to believe objects like rocks and paper have human qualities, scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki compared believers in God or the paranormal to people with autism after finding they tend to struggle to understand the realities of the world around us.

Religious beliefs were linked with a weaker ability to understand physical and biological phenomenon such as volcanoes, flowers, rocks and wind without giving them human qualities.

Believers were more likely to think that inanimate objects such as metal, oil, clothes and paper can think and feel, and agree with statements such as “Stones sense the cold”.

Marjaana Lindeman and Annika Svedholm-Häkkinen, who completed the study, said: “The more the participants believed in religious or other paranormal phenomena, the lower their intuitive physics skills, mechanical and mental rotation abilities, school grades in mathematics and physics, and knowledge about physical and biological phenomena were… and the more they regarded inanimate targets as mental phenomena”.

The study defined “mental” as having human characteristics such as thoughts and sprit.

What marriage would be like if we followed the bible

Researchers said their findings suggest people’s lack of understanding about the physical world means they apply their own, human characteristics to the whole universe, “resulting in belief in demons, gods, and other supernatural phenomena”.

This confusion between mental and physical qualities “has [also] been recognised mainly among ancient people and small children”, they added.

The scientists compared religious believers to people with autism, saying both struggle to distinguish between the mental and the physical, although autistic people are at the opposite end of the spectrum because they often see the world as entirely physical and struggle to understand the mental state of others.

Ms Lindeman and Ms Svedholm-Häkkinen asked 258 Finnish people to report how much they agreed that “there exists an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God” and whether they believed in paranormal phenomena such as telepathy and visions of the future. They then matched their answers with a range of other factors, including exam results, survey answers and performances on different tests.

They also found that people who believe in God and the paranormal are more likely to be women and tend to base their actions on instinct rather than analytical thinking.

Previous studies have suggested religious people tend to have a lower IQ and are more likely to believe literally in what scientists called “bullshit statements” including phrases like “Earth wants water” and “Force knows its direction”.  However, they are also found to be happier and have greater life satisfaction than non-believers and are seen as more generous and trustworthy.

Stephen Hawking: it is time to hunt for alien civilisations.


The new project, called Breakthrough Listen, is chaired by Lord Rees the astronomer royal and backed by Professor Stephen Hawking

Professor Stephen Hawking said it was ‘time to commit to finding the answer to life beyond Earth’ as he launched a $100 million project to hunt for intelligent aliens.

The astrophysicist joined Lord Martin Rees, the astronomer Royal and Russian philanthropist Yuri Milner to announce the project at the Royal Society in London.

The initial 10 year programme will survey the 1,000,000 closest stars to Earth, scanning the entire galactic plane of the Milky Way.

Beyond our galaxy it will listen for messages from the 100 closest galaxies at 10 billion different frequencies.

“To understand the universe you must know about atoms, about the forces that bind them, the contours of space and time, the birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies, the secrets of black holes. But that is not enough.” he said.

Stephen Hawking launched the landmark hunt for alien life at The Royal Society

“These ideas cannot explain everything. They can explain the light of stars but not the lights that shine from planet earth. To understand these lights you must know about life, about minds.

“We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth. So in an infinite universe there must be other occurrences of life.

“Somewhere in the universe intelligent life may be watching the lights of ours aware of what they mean.

“Either way there is no better question. It is time to commit to finding the answer to life beyond Earth. We are life, we are intelligent, we must know.”

The new project, called Breakthrough Listen, is chaired by Lord Rees and will cover 10 times the amount of sky which has been scanned by previous programs dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial life.

The scientists estimate that if a civilisation based around one of the 1,000 nearest stars transmits to us with the power of an aircraft radar then the new array will be able to detect it.

“It’s a huge gamble of course, but the pay off would be colossal,” said Lord Rees, “The chance of finding life has risen a billion fold when we realised that Earth-like planets are not rare, but there are literally billions of them, within our own Galaxy.

“We don’t know what we will see, it may be organic life or machines created by a long dead civilisations, but it would transform our view of the universe.”

Lord Martin Rees is chairing the advisory panel for the project

The project will be joining forces with SETI@home, University of California, Berkeley’s ground breaking distributed computing platform, with 9 million volunteers around the world donating their spare computing power to search astronomical data for signs of life.

Collectively, it already constitutes one of the largest supercomputers in the world.

One of the project leaders is Frank Drake, the American astrophysicist who first calculated that alien life is inevitable given the size of the universe.

“Right now there could be messages from the stars flying right through the room, through us all,” said Drake. “That still sends a shiver down my spine. The search for intelligent life is a great adventure. And Breakthrough Listen is giving it a huge lift.

“We’ve learned a lot in the last fifty years about how to look for signals from space. With the Breakthrough Initiatives, the learning curve is likely to bend upward significantly.”

Milner, who was named after Yuri Gagrin, the first man in space, said he was committed to bringing the ‘Silicon Valley’ approach to hunting for intelligent life in the Universe.

“We are launching the most comprehensive search project ever,” he said. “Breakthrough (Listen) in one day will collect more data than one year.”

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner says the ‘Silicon Valley’ approach will help in the hunt for intelligent life in the Universe

However the team will not be attempting to communicate with alien civilisations, even if they do pick up signs that they exist.

Professor Hawking added: “We don’t know about aliens, but we know about humans. If you look a history then contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view.

“The civilisations reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead. If so they will be vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.

“It only took five hundred million years for life to evolve on Earth, but it took two and half billion to get to multicellular organisms, and technological intelligence has appeared only once, so it may be very rare.

“When it does evolve we only need to look in the mirror to knew that it can be fragile and prone to self-destruction.”

‘Alien Megastructure’ Star Targeted by $100 Million SETI Search


If intelligent aliens actually do live around Tabby’s star, astronomers are determined to find them.

The Breakthrough Listen initiative, which will spend $100 million over the next 10 years to hunt for signals possibly produced by alien civilizations, is set to begin studying Tabby’s star with the 330-foot-wide (100 meters) Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, project team members announced Tuesday (Oct. 25).

“The Green Bank Telescope is the largest fully steerable radio telescope on the planet, and it’s the largest, most sensitive telescope that’s capable of looking at Tabby’s star given its position in the sky,” Breakthrough Listen co-director Andrew Siemion, who also directs the Berkeley SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.

“We’ve deployed a fantastic new SETI instrument that connects to that telescope, that can look at many gigahertz of bandwidth simultaneously and many, many billions of different radio channels all at the same time so we can explore the radio spectrum very, very quickly,” Siemion added.

The observations will take place for 8 hours per night for three nights over the next two months, with the first observations set to take place Wednesday (Oct. 26), project team members said.

Tabby’s star, officially known as KIC 8462852, lies about 1,500 light-years from Earth. Observations by NASA’s Kepler space telescope showed that the star dimmed dramatically several times over the past half-decade or so, at one point by a whopping 22 percent. These occasional brightness dips — which were first reported last year by a team led by Yale University postdoc Tabetha Boyajian (hence the star’s nickname) — are far too substantial to be caused by an orbiting planet, astronomers have said.

So researchers have offered up a number of alternative explanations for the dimming to date. Perhaps a cloud of comet fragments periodically blocks the star’s light, for example, or maybe some unknown structure in the depths of space between Earth and Tabby’s star is responsible.

It’s even possible that the brightness dips are caused by an “alien megastructure” — an enormous collection of energy-gathering solar panels, for example.

Astronomers have stressed that the megastructure hypothesis is a long shot, but long shots shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, Breakthough Listen team members said.

“I don’t think it’s very likely — a one-in-a-billion chance or something like that — but nevertheless, we’re going to check it out,” Dan Werthimer, chief scientist at Berkeley SETI, said in the same statement. “But I think that E.T., if it’s ever discovered, it might be something like that. It’ll be some bizarre thing that somebody finds by accident … that nobody expected, and then we look more carefully and we say, ‘Hey, that’s a civilization.'”

A number of other research teams have already searched for signals coming from Tabby’s star, and all of those searches have come up empty so far.

Breakthrough Listen to search for intelligent life around weird star


Breakthrough Listen to search for intelligent life around weird star

Tabby’s star has provoked so much excitement over the past year, with speculation that it hosts a highly advanced civilization capable of building orbiting megastructures to capture the star’s energy, that UC Berkeley’s Breakthrough Listen project is devoting hours of time on the Green Bank radio telescope to see if it can detect any signals from intelligent extraterrestrials.

“The Breakthrough Listen program has the most powerful SETI equipment on the planet, and access to the largest telescopes on the planet,” said Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and co-director of Breakthrough Listen. “We can look at it with greater sensitivity and for a wider range of signal types than any other experiment in the world. ”

Breakthrough Listen, which was created last year with $100 million in funding over 10 years from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and its founder, internet investor Yuri Milner, won’t be the first to search for intelligent life around this star.

“Everyone, every SETI program telescope, I mean every astronomer that has any kind of telescope in any wavelength that can see Tabby’s star has looked at it,” he said. “It’s been looked at with Hubble, it’s been looked at with Keck, it’s been looked at in the infrared and radio and high energy, and every possible thing you can imagine, including a whole range of SETI experiments. Nothing has been found.”

While Siemion and his colleagues are skeptical that the star’s unique behavior is a sign of an advanced civilization, they can’t not take a look. They’ve teamed up with UC Berkeley visiting astronomer Jason Wright and Tabetha Boyajian, the assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University for whom the star is named, to observe the star with state-of-the-art instruments the Breakthrough Listen team recently mounted on the 100-meter telescope. Wright is at the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Pennsylvania State University.

The observations are scheduled for eight hours per night for three nights over the next two months, starting Wednesday evening, Oct. 26. Siemion, Wright and Boyajian are traveling to the Green Bank Observatory in rural West Virginia to start the observations, and expect to gather around 1 petabyte of data over hundreds of millions of individual radio channels.

“The Green Bank Telescope is the largest fully steerable radio telescope on the planet, and it’s the largest, most sensitive telescope that’s capable of looking at Tabby’s star given its position in the sky,” Siemion said. “We’ve deployed a fantastic new SETI instrument that connects to that telescope, that can look at many gigahertz of bandwidth simultaneously and many, many billions of different radio channels all at the same time so we can explore the radio spectrum very, very quickly.”

The results of their observations will not be known for more than a month, because of the data analysis required to pick out patterns in the radio emissions.

First reported in September 2015 by Boyajian, then a postdoc at Yale University, Tabby’s star – more properly called KIC 8462852 – had been flagged by citizen scientists because of its unusual pattern of dimming. These volunteers were looking at stars as part of the internet project Planet Hunters, which allows the public to search for planets around other stars in data taken by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which has been monitoring 150,000 stars for regular dimming that might indicate a planet had passed in front of it.

But while most such dimming by transiting planets is brief, regular and blocks just 1 or 2 percent of the light of the star, Tabby’s star dims for days at a time, by as much as 22 percent, and at irregular intervals.

While Boyajian speculated in her 2015 paper that the irregular dimming might be explained by a swarm of comets breaking up as it approached the star, subsequent observations show the star, which is located about 1,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, is far more irregular than a comet swarm would produce. In fact, it seems to have been dimming at a steady rate for the past century.

Speculation eventually arose that the dimming was caused by a Dyson structure: a massive orbiting array of solar collectors that physicist Freeman Dyson once proposed would be a natural thing for a civilization to build as it needed more and more energy to power itself. Theoretically, such a structure could completely surround the star – what he termed a Dyson sphere – and capture nearly all the star’s energy.

How likely is that? “I don’t think it’s very likely – a one in a billion chance or something like that – but nevertheless, we’re going to check it out,” said Dan Werthimer, chief scientist at Berkeley SETI. “But I think that ET, if it’s ever discovered, it might be something like that. It’ll be some bizarre thing that somebody finds by accident … that nobody expected, and then we look more carefully and we say, ‘Hey, that’s a civilization.'”

Breakthrough Listen is monitoring many other stars using three telescopes that can peer into all segments of the cosmos: the Parkes Telescope in Australia and the Green Bank Telescope to search for radio transmissions, and the Automated Planet Finder at Lick Observatory in California to search for optical laser transmissions.

Phobias may be memories passed down in genes from ancestors


Memories may be passed down through generations in DNA in a process that may be the underlying cause of phobias.

Memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors, according to new research that may explain how phobias can develop.

Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences built up during a lifetime must be passed on by teaching later generations or through personal experience.

However, new research has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

 Strands of DNA

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

So a fear of spiders may in fact be an inherited defence mechanism laid down in a families genes by an ancestors’ frightening encounter with an arachnid.

Dr Brian Dias, from the department of psychiatry at Emory University, said: “We have begun to explore an underappreciated influence on adult behaviour – ancestral experience before conception.

“From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

“Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In the study, which is published in the journal of Nature Neuroscience, the researchers trained mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom using electric shocks before allowing them to breed.

The offspring produced showed fearful responses to the odour of cherry blossom compared to a neutral odour, despite never having encountered them before.

The following generation also showed the same behaviour. This effect continued even if the mice had been fathered through artificial insemination.

The researchers found the brains of the trained mice and their offspring showed structural changes in areas used to detect the odour.

The DNA of the animals also carried chemical changes, known as epigenetic methylation, on the gene responsible for detecting the odour.

This suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

The researchers now hope to carry out further work to understand how the information comes to be stored on the DNA in the first place.

They also want to explore whether similar effects can be seen in the genes of humans.

Professor Marcus Pembrey, a paediatric geneticist at University College London, said the work provided “compelling evidence” for the biological transmission of memory.

He added: “It addresses constitutional fearfulness that is highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, plus the controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.

“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously.

“I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

Professor Wolf Reik, head of epigenetics at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, said, however, further work was needed before such results could be applied to humans.

He said: “These types of results are encouraging as they suggest that transgenerational inheritance exists and is mediated by epigenetics, but more careful mechanistic study of animal models is needed before extrapolating such findings to humans.”

It comes as another study in mice has shown that their ability to remember can be effected by the presence of immune system factors in their mother’s milk

Dr Miklos Toth, from Weill Cornell Medical College, found that chemokines carried in a mother’s milk caused changes in the brains of their offspring, affecting their memory in later life.

There May Be A Loophole in the Second Law of Thermodynamics


IN BRIEF
  • Scientists have formulated a mathematical theorem which shows that the Second Law of Thermodynamics may, at least, have a loophole.
  • The finding may provide the foundation for future discoveries that may allow us to power devices remotely.

BREAKING THE LAW

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy within an isolated system always increases. This iron-clad law has remained true for a very long time. However, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory may have found a way to violate this.

The foundation of this law is in the H-theorem, which states that if you open a door between two rooms, one hot and the other cold, both rooms’ temperature would eventually reach equilibrium making them both lukewarm.

While the H-theorem has been observed in a macroscopic level, scientists could not fully grasp its fundamental physical origin. In a study published in Scientific Reports, quantum information theory was able to offer a mathematical construct where entropy increases. It predicted that there are certain conditions where entropy might actually decrease in the short term.

“This allowed us to formulate the quantum H-theorem as it related to things that could be physically observed,” said Ivan Sadovskyy, a joint appointee with Argonne’s Materials Science Division and the Computation Institute and one of the authors on the paper. “It establishes a connection between well-documented quantum physics processes and the theoretical quantum channels that make up quantum information theory.”

Valerii Vinokur and Ivan Sadovskyy Credit: Mark Lopez/Argonne National Laboratory
Valerii Vinokur and Ivan Sadovskyy 

BUILDING THE IMPOSSIBLE

Their work is not the only one to theorize a violation of this law. In 1867, physicist James Clerk Maxwell designed a thought experiment where a hypothetical being would act as a sort of night club bouncer between the hot and cold room. That being, known as “Maxwell’s Demon,” would only let in particles of certain speeds. The study could “provide a platform for the practical realization of a quantum Maxwell’s demon,” says Valerii Vinokur, an Argonne Distinguished Fellow and the other author of the study

Vinokur hopes that this could lead into the creation of seemingly impossible machines like a local quantum perpetual motion machine. Another use he sees would be to apply the principles powering devices remotely. In the example he uses, a refrigerator would be able to be cooled at another location.

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