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Friday, December 19, 2014

ScienceDaily: Top Environment News

ScienceDaily: Top Environment News

A clear, molecular view of how human color vision evolved

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 06:01 PM PST

Many genetic mutations in visual pigments, spread over millions of years, were required for humans to evolve from a primitive mammal with a dim, shadowy view of the world into a greater ape able to see all the colors in a rainbow. Now, after more than two decades of painstaking research, scientists have finished a detailed and complete picture of the evolution of human color vision.

'Tipping points' for sea level rise related flooding determined

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 12:45 PM PST

By 2050, a majority of US coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due to dramatically accelerating impacts from sea level rise, according to a new study.

Study on world's biggest animal finds more than one population in the southeastern Pacific

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 12:45 PM PST

Scientists are examining molecular clues to answer a big question: how many types of blue whales exist in the waters of the southeastern Pacific?

Glimpsing pathway of sunlight to electricity

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 12:45 PM PST

Four pulses of laser light on nanoparticle photocells in a spectroscopy experiment has opened a window on how captured sunlight can be converted into electricity. The work, which potentially could inspire devices with improved efficiency in solar energy conversion, was performed on photocells that used lead-sulfide quantum dots as photoactive semiconductor material.

New, tighter timeline confirms ancient volcanism aligned with dinosaurs' extinction

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 12:45 PM PST

A definitive geological timeline shows that a series of massive volcanic explosions 66 million years ago played a role in the extinction event that claimed Earth's non-avian dinosaurs, and challenges the dominant theory that a meteorite impact was the sole cause of the extinction.

In one aspect of vision, computers catch up to primate brain

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 11:10 AM PST

For decades, neuroscientists have been trying to design computer networks that can mimic visual skills such as recognizing objects, which the human brain does very accurately and quickly. Until now, no computer model has been able to match the primate brain at visual object recognition during a brief glance. Now neuroscientists have found that one of the latest generation of 'deep neural networks' matches the primate brain.

Ibuprofen use leads to extended lifespan in several species, study shows

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 11:10 AM PST

A common over-the-counter drug that tackles pain and fever may also hold keys to a longer, healthier life, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist. Regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of multiple species.

How llamas' unusual antibodies might help in the fight against HIV/AIDS

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 11:10 AM PST

Most vaccines work by inducing an immune response characterized by neutralizing antibodies against the respective pathogen. An effective HIV vaccine has remained elusive so far, but researchers have continued to make progress, often employing innovative methods. A new study reports that a combination of antibodies from llamas can neutralize a wide range of circulating HIV viruses.

Time management skills keep animals primed for survival

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 11:10 AM PST

Many animals may have a previously under-appreciated ability to make up for lost time with more effort, according to new research.

Origin of long-standing space mystery revealed: Origin of the 'theta aurora'

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 11:09 AM PST

Scientists have solved a long-standing space mystery - the origin of the 'theta aurora'. Auroras are the most visible manifestation of the Sun's effect on Earth. They are seen as colorful displays in the night sky, known as the Northern or Southern Lights. They are caused by the solar wind, a stream of plasma - electrically charged atomic particles - carrying its own magnetic field, interacting with the earth's magnetic field. Normally, the main region for this impressive display is the 'auroral oval', which lies at around 65-70 degrees north or south of the equator, encircling the polar caps. However, auroras can occur at even higher latitudes. One type is known as a 'theta aurora' because seen from above it looks like the Greek letter theta - an oval with a line crossing through the center.

Study fuels hope for natural gas cars: Metal organic framework candidates for methane storage identified

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 10:19 AM PST

Cars that run on natural gas are touted as efficient and environmentally friendly, but getting enough gas onboard to make them practical is a hurdle. A new study promises to help. Researchers have calculated the best candidates among possible metal organic frameworks to store natural gas for cars.

Crows are smarter than you think: Crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced rational thinking

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 10:14 AM PST

Crows have the brain power to solve higher-order, relational-matching tasks, and they can do so spontaneously, according to new research. That means crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced relational thinking, according to the research.

How will climate change transform agriculture?

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 10:14 AM PST

Climate change impacts will require major but very uncertain transformations of global agriculture systems by mid-century, according to new research.

Birds sensed severe storms and fled before tornado outbreak

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 10:14 AM PST

Golden-winged warblers apparently knew in advance that a storm that would spawn 84 confirmed tornadoes and kill at least 35 people last spring was coming, according to a new report. The birds left the scene well before devastating supercell storms blew in.

550-million-year-old fossils provide new clues about fossil formation

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 09:08 AM PST

A new study is challenging accepted ideas about how ancient soft-bodied organisms become part of the fossil record. Findings suggest that bacteria involved in the decay of those organisms play an active role in how fossils are formed -- often in a matter of just a few tens to hundreds of years. Understanding the relationship between decay and fossilization will inform future study and help researchers interpret fossils in a new way.

'Cool' new method for probing how molecules fold

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 09:07 AM PST

A powerful new system for studying how proteins and other biological molecules form and lose their natural folded structures has been developed by scientists. Using the new system, researchers can force a sample of molecules to unfold and refold by boosting and then dropping the temperature, so quickly that even some of the fastest molecular folding events can be tracked.

Archaeologists unearth royal entry complex at Herodian Hilltop Palace

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 09:07 AM PST

Archaeologists have unearthed a unique royal entryway to the Herodian Hilltop Palace. The main feature is a 20-meter-high corridor with a complex system of arches, allowing the King and his entourage direct passage into the palace courtyard.  During the excavations, the original palace vestibule, decorated with painted frescoes, was also exposed.

Improving forecasts for rain-on-snow flooding

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 07:32 AM PST

Researchers hope to better forecast the flood risk from a combination of heavy rains and melting snow, which are most of the worst West Coast floods. Many of the worst West Coast winter floods pack a double punch. Heavy rains and melting snow wash down the mountains together to breach riverbanks, wash out roads and flood buildings.

Hearing capabilities of bushcrickets, mammals

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 07:31 AM PST

In the animal kingdom many species must identify environmental sounds to increase their chance of survival. Therefore, animals have evolved a vast diversity of mechanisms to detect sounds. Acoustic communication occurs in many groups of animals. Yet, due to their biological diversity, insect species constitute a large percentage of the acoustic community -- particularly cicadas, crickets, katydids and grasshoppers. A detailed review of the functional mechanics of katydid (bushcricket) hearing, draws distinct parallels between the ear of the bushcricket and tetrapods.

Getting bot responders into shape

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 06:09 AM PST

Scientists are tackling one of the biggest barriers to the use of robots in emergency response: energy efficiency. They are developing technology that will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios.

Using power of computers to harness human genome may provide clues into Ebola virus

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 06:09 AM PST

New work is blending the power of computers with biology to use the human genome to remove much of the guesswork involved in discovering cures for diseases. A corresponding article describes how key genes that are present in our cells could be used to develop drugs for Ebola virus disease.

The Greenland Ice Sheet: Now in HD

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 06:09 AM PST

The highest-resolution maps of the Greenland Ice Sheet are debuting. Starting with Worldview satellite imagery, The maps are already revealing previously unknown features on the ice sheet.

Fine particulate air pollution linked with increased autism risk

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:13 AM PST

Women exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter specifically during pregnancy -- particularly during the third trimester -- may face up to twice the risk of having a child with autism than mothers living in areas with low particulate matter, according to a study. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk, researchers found. It was the first US-wide study exploring the link between airborne particulate matter and autism.

Wild blueberries (bilberries) can help tackle adverse effects of high-fat diet

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:11 AM PST

Eating bilberries diminishes the adverse effects of a high-fat diet, according to a recent study. For the first time, bilberries were shown to have beneficial effects on both blood pressure and nutrition-derived inflammatory responses.

Protection of mouse gut by mucus depends on microbes

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:11 AM PST

The quality of the colon mucus in mice depends on the composition of gut microbiota, reports a research team whose work suggests that bacteria in the gut affect mucus barrier properties in ways that can have implications for health and disease.

Surprise gene finding on 'back or belly' decision in sea anemones

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:11 AM PST

A gene that controls one of the earliest decisions in the life of an animal, where to place the back and the belly on the body, is identified in a sea anemone by researchers.

Pilot plant for removal of extreme gas charges from deep waters installed

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:10 AM PST

Being part of the mining area Herrerias in Andalusia, deep waters of Pit Lake Guadiana show extremely high concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide. In the case of a spontaneous ebullition, human beings close-by would be jeopardized. To demonstrate the danger and the possible solution, scientists have constructed a pilot plant for degassing. A fountain pulls deep water through a pipe to the surface, where the gas can escape from the water. The buoyancy produced by the bubbles provides the energy required for driving the flow.

Researchers discover protein protecting against chlorine

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:10 AM PST

Chlorine is a common disinfectant that is used to kill bacteria, for example in swimming pools and drinking water supplies. Our immune system also produces chlorine, which causes proteins in bacteria to lose their natural folding. These unfolded proteins then begin to clump and lose their function. Now researchers have discovered a protein in the intestinal bacterium E. coli that protects bacteria from chlorine. In the presence of chlorine, it tightly bonds with other proteins, thus preventing them from coagulating.

Deforestation threatens species richness in streams

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:10 AM PST

With a population of 1.3 billion, China is under immense pressure to convert suitable areas into arable land in order to ensure a continued food supply for its people. Accordingly, China is among the top countries in the world in terms of the extent and intensity of land use change. Deforestation may change the water surface runoff conditions, leading to a negative impact on the occurrence of microorganisms in rivers and streams.

Lynx take lunch breaks

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:10 AM PST

Whether a lynx hunts by day or by night and how active it is overall depend primarily on the behavior of the wild cat's most important prey and its individual traits - lighting conditions, on the other hand, do not play a major role in its basic behavioral patterns. This is the key finding of a new study in which scientists fitted GPS collars and motion sensors on 38 free-ranging lynx.

Clearing tropical rainforests distorts Earth's wind and water systems, packs climate wallop beyond carbon

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 05:08 AM PST

A new study released today presents powerful evidence that clearing trees not only spews carbon into the atmosphere, but also triggers major shifts in rainfall and increased temperatures worldwide that are just as potent as those caused by current carbon pollution. Further, the study finds that future agricultural productivity across the globe is at risk from deforestation-induced warming and altered rainfall patterns.

New class of synthetic molecules mimics antibodies

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 08:36 AM PST

The first synthetic molecules that have both the targeting and response functions of antibodies have been crafted by scientists. The new molecules -- synthetic antibody mimics -- attach themselves simultaneously to disease cells and disease-fighting cells. The result is a highly targeted immune response, similar to the action of natural human antibodies.

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