Archive for the ‘research’ category

The Yeti-Bear?

October 18, 2013

Yeti– – I’m thankful for hairy hominids, without which this blog might soon expire from starvation.  And so, good readers, if you can suffer one more yeti theory, we offer yet another explanation being advanced:  the yeti is a type of previously-unknown, hybrid bear.

British researcher Bryan Sykes, a human geneticist at Oxford, has analyzed hairs from two alleged yetis, sequenced their DNA, and found a 100% match with a DNA sample from the jaw of an ancient polar bear.  Now Sykes is not saying that there are ancient polar bears wandering around in the Himalayas, but only that there could be a subspecies of brown bear in the High Himalayas descended from the bear that was the ancestor to the polar bear.  The Yeti accordingly may be a hybrid descended from two species of bear, an extinct polar bear and a closely related brown bear.

Such a species of bear might behave differently from other known bears, possibly being more dangerous, aggressive, or bipedal…and this Abominable Snowman apparently has a unique ability to cause any video recording device to go out of focus…

Cloning a Neanderthal?

January 23, 2013

neanderthal– – Harvard geneticist George M. Church created waves recently when poorly-translated comments he made to a German-language magazine led to reports that he was looking for “an extremely adventurous female human” to serve as a surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal using developing technology.  With fragments of Neanderthal DNA in fossils, Church noted that someday it might be possible to assemble them into a complete genome that could be put into a human egg to create a cloned embryo, which in turn could be put into a human surrogate mother to bring back a human relative long extinct.

Church was simply discussing technological possibilities, holding that his remarks were badly misinterpreted, and that he does not advocate cloning Neanderthals… 

Killer Catfish and Adaptive Behavior…

December 9, 2012

catfish– – Too often, fish are regarded as dumber than a  sack of hammers.  This may not be true of all of our finned friends, however.  In France, researchers at the University of Toulouse have observed catfish hunting pigeons as prey in a development scientists are calling evidence of adaptive behavior. 

European catfish originated east of the Rhine River, but were introduced to the Tarn River in 1983.  They adapted their natural behavior to feed on novel prey in the area, grabbing pigeons on the shore, and dragging them into the water; this behavior has not been known to occur in the native range of the species.  In France, pigeons gather along the river gravel to clean and bathe as the catfish patrol the water’s edge.  When the three to five-feet long catfish hunt the pigeons, they even temporarily strand themselves on land for a few seconds to grab their meal.  The hunting habits of the Tarn catfish are so similar to orcas that they have been called, “freshwater killer whales…”

Bigfoot a Hybrid?

November 30, 2012

– – A prominent veterinarian is contending that Bigfoot exists, and is part human!  A five-year DNA study by DNA Diagnostics, a team of scientists in Texas chaired by Dr. Melba S. Ketchum, sequenced purported samples of Bigfoot DNA, finding that mitochondrial DNA, which is maternally inherited, is identical to human mitochondrial DNA.  Nuclear DNA samples, containing genetic material from both parents, appeared to involve a “novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species.”

Bigfoot may accordingly be a human relative whose origins can be traced to about 15,000 years ago when human females are hypothesized to have mated with males of an unknown primate species, according to the research.   On the other hand, the DNA samples may be contaminated, and many questions about the samples remain unanswered.  The study has not yet gone through the peer review process, and accordingly has no credibility in the scientific community at present… 


“Noc” Speaks!

October 25, 2012

– – We all know that parrots and mynah birds can mimic human speech.  A memorable Far Side cartoon depicted a carload of cows driving past a field of wandering humans, one cow leaning out the window and mocking the “yackety-yack” speech of people.  Well, it seems that we can add another species to the short list of those now know to be capable of speech mimicry..the beluga whale!

Whales are no slouches in the intelligence department, but a study recently published in Current Biology under the title “Spontaneous speech mimicry by a cetacean” really blew me away.  The whale of the study, named Noc, lived at San Diego’s National Marine Mammal Foundation for 30 years before dying in 2007.  It seems that handlers first heard mumbling in 1984 coming from a tank containing whales and dolphins that sounded like two people chatting far away.  One day after a diver surfaced from the tank and asked,  “Who told me to get out?” researchers realized that the garbled sounds came from a captive male Beluga whale.  For several years, they then recorded its spontaneous sounds while it was underwater and upon surfacing. 

An acoustic analysis revealed that the human-like sounds were several octaves lower than typical whale calls, and scientists think that the whale’s close proximity to people enabled it to listen to and mimic human speech by changing the pressure in its nasal cavities.  Now the whale appears to be saying the word “out” over and over, and some have said that it sounds like people singing in the shower or the Muppets’ Swedish Chef. 

Beluga whales, also known as white whales, are sometimes called “the canaries of the sea” because of how vocal they are.  Anecdotal reports have surfaced in the past of whales sounding like humans.  At Vancouver Aquarium, keepers had suggested that a white whale about 15 years of age had uttered his name, “Lagosi.”  While people should not think from these results that whales can communicate with us on a conversational level, it’s an intriguing possibility for future research…

To Clone A Mammoth?

October 19, 2012

– – A not-so giant mammoth excavated from the Siberian permafrost in late September 2,200 miles northeast of Moscow near the Sopochnaya Karga cape was a 16-year-old at the time of his death who stood two meters tall (6’6″) and weighed 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs).  He was named Jenya after the 11-year-old Russian boy who found the animal’s limbs sticking out of the frozen mud.  Jenya was missing a left tusk, a fact which handicapped him for fighting and may have contributed to his early death tens of thousands of years ago.

While Jenya’s carcass is the best preserved one since a 1901 discovery of a giant mammoth, the DNA has been damaged by low temperatures which rendered it unsuitable for possible cloning.  A summer expedition’s discovery of mammoth hair, soft tissues, and bone marrow holds more promise for cloning, however, with much of the genetic code of the wooly mammoth already deciphered from balls of mammoth hair found frozen in the Siberian permafrost… 


Cybernetic Roaches…

September 12, 2012

– – I, for one, would be freaked to find a remotely-controlled Madagascar hissing cockroach at large in my domicile.  One would wonder what kind of sinister intelligence would be behind it, and such a creation would represent an unnatural perversion of the already repugnant.

Scientists at the North Carolina State University have already created such a fun toy, however, by taking a lightweight chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter, and attaching it to a cockroach like a tiny backpack.  Madagascar hissing cockroaches are the roach of choice as they are large, heavy-duty, and already carry a significant gross-out factor.  With a microcontroller connected to the roach’s antennae and cerci (rear sensory organs), small electrical charges from the wires to the cerci trick the roach into moving in response to a perceived threat.  Charges sent to the antennae make the roach think that it’s bumped into something.  By utilizing both inputs, it’s possible to basically steer the cockroach.

Now what, you might ask, would you use a biobot roach for?  Well, they could be sent into tight spaces to search for survivors after disasters…but would you want to be found by such a rescue party?- -aieee!   Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, right?  Perhaps they might additionally tie small casks of brandy around the roach’s head…

Steerable roaches…that’s something new!  I think I want one for Xmas, too! 

Artificial Jellyfish!

July 28, 2012

– – I’m sure that you’ll all be pleased as punch to learn that scientists in the U.S. have created a free-swimming artificial jellyfish!  I, for one, know that when at the ocean, I can never have enough of them bumping against me in the tide or lying on the beach.

It gets stranger, too; the team members built the replica using silicone as a base on which to grow heart muscle cells that were harvested from rats.  They then used an electric current to shock the created Medusoid into swimming with synchronised contractions that mimic those of a real jellyfish!  I swear that I am not making this up…

The finding serves as proof of concept for reverse engineering a variety of muscular organs and simple life forms.  As jellyfish use a muscle to pump their way through the water, the way that they function is similar on a basic level to that of a human heart.  Such similarities reveal what you need to do to design a bio-inspired heart pump.

Synthetic life is an emerging field of science that until now focused on replicating life’s building blocks.  Now instead of just building a cell, researchers at Caltech and Harvard University have built a beast!  

The “Real” Naked Mole Rat…

July 5, 2012

– – The real naked mole rat is even less attractive than the CG one featured in a recent MiO commercial, featuring wrinkled skin, stubby legs, and poor eyesight.  This rat native to East Africa is however a longevity champ, living 10 to 30 years as opposed to the three year life span of the common rat.  Although not  pretty, the rat also ages well, showing little of the slow decline in mental and physical health commonly associated with aging.  “Senior” naked mole rats maintain high levels of physical activity, strong bones, and can even continue to reproduce in their golden years!

The reason for this according to new research conducted in the U.S. and Israel seems to be unusually high levels of the NRG-1 protein, which is thought to protect the integrity of the body’s nerve cells.  This research could lead to new insights about human aging, and lest we feel too superior to them, rodents’ genes are 85% similar to humans!

Permian Pompeii?

February 23, 2012

– – Roughly 298 million years ago, a volcano erupted in the Inner Mongolian district near the modern-day city of Wuda, China raining down volcanic ash with such intensity that a forest was quickly buried and essentially preserved in remarkable detail down to branch and leaf structure. American and Chinese  scientists have recently excavated this lost forest, ironically through coal mining activities in the region. 

The preserved forest of about 11,000 square feet gives researchers the unique opportunity to examine an ecosystem essentially frozen in time by a natural disaster dating back to when the earth had only one giant landmass known as Pangaea.  Scientists have worked with artist Ren Yugao to capture how the sites may have looked at the time…

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