Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Honda Creates Thought Controlled Robot

The famous robot known as Asimo is back in the news, in a groundbreaking study that combines thought patterns with robotics. In Tokyo today at Honda headquarters, a new robotic technology that reads patterns of electrical currents on a person's scalp as well as changes in cerebral blood flow when a person thinks about four simple movements - moving the right hand, moving the left hand, trotting and eating. Honda succeeded in analyzing thought patterns and then relaying them as wireless commands for Asimo, their human shaped robot.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Skeletons For Sale

Going once, going twice, SOLD! If you are a serious fossil collector, and can afford the hefty cost, those might be the words you'd hear at a Natural History Auction hosted by I.M. Chait Gallery/Auctioneers on Saturday, March 21 in New York City.

Shown above is Lot 250: a mounted complete skeleton of a Dryosaurus dinosaur from the Jurassic Era. There are only two in the world, the other is on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pennsylvania. Apparently the one for sale is by far the more impressive specimen. It measures 127.5 inches from nose to tail, stands 36 inches high, and was expected to sell for $440,000 - $500,000.

But if dinosaurs are not really your style, perhaps you coule find more interest in Lot 199: a complete skeleton of a juvenile Wooly Mammoth. This 7-foot high, 15-foot long fossil is approximately 20,000 years old. The perfectly preserved specimen was expected to sell for $80,000 - $100,000, appealing to the more thrifty of shoppers.

Seeing Pink Elephants

No, this is not a drunken hallucination. While filming for a BBC wildlife program in Botswana, cameraman Mike Holding spotted this rare pink elephant calf among a herd of approximately 80 elephants. The young elephant is most likely an albino, which diminishes its chances for long-term survival under the scorching African sun. Lengthy exposure might result in blindness and serious skin problems.

Although albinism is considered quite common among Asian species, it is rather rare in the larger African elephants. "This is probably the first documented sighting of an albino elephant in northern Botswana," said Ecologist Dr. Mike Chase, head of the conservation charity Elephants Without Borders.

Although surviving into adulthood will be a difficult task for the baby elephant, Dr. Chase expressed some hope in the creature's ability to adapt and cope with its condition: "I have learned that elephants are highly adaptable, intelligent and masters of survival." He explained that it could seek refuge underneath large trees, or coat itself with thick mud.

"Already the two-to-three-month-old calf seems to be walking in the shade of its mother. This behavior suggests it is aware of its susceptibility to the harsh African sun, and adapted a unique behavior to improve its chances of survival."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fearless "Sharkman"

This shocking picture has been surfacing all over the internet, and has earned Mike Rutzen a global reputation as the "Sharkman". No stranger to the dangers associated with these beasts of the sea, he has over 30 scars on his body from close encounters. This former fisherman aims to change the stigma surrounding the powerful creatures, and hopes that the world will start to view them through his eyes, as smart and sensitive beings.

To succeed in his mission, he has been swimming alongside sharks without the protection of diving cages. He has learned to mimic their body language, by altering his posture in response to their actions. If done properly, the shark will see him neither as prey nor predator, and will merely drift past him. They even allow him to ride along by grasping onto their dorsal fins.

The photo above, showing Mike holding a 13-foot long Grey Reef Shark, is a demonstration of his most startling feat - inducing "tonic immobility" to the shark. Animals sometimes enter into this natural state of paralysis if faced with an imminent threat. However this can also be achieved in sharks by turning them onto their heads and massaging their snouts, between their eyes. The shark will then slip into this catatonic state for almost 15 minutes.

This method has been helpful for scientists wishing to study sharks, even the most dangerous kinds. In fact, by getting so close to a Great White, Mike discovered that their eyes are not black, but rather a dazzling, bright blue.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cancer Spreading Enzyme Found

Cancer metastasis, where the cancer spreads from its original location, is known to be responsible for 90% of cancer-related deaths.

Institute of Cancer Research scientists have found that an enzyme called LOX is crucial in promoting metastasis, Cancer Cell journal reports.

Drugs to block this enzyme's action could keep cancer at bay, they hope.

The researchers studied breast cancer in mice but are confident that their findings will apply to humans with other cancer types too.

LOX (lysyl oxidase) works by sending out signals to prepare a new area of the body for the cancer to set up a camp Without this preparation process the new environment would be too hostile for the cancer to grow.

Lead researcher Dr. Janine Erler described the discovery as "the crucial missing piece in the jigsaw that scientists have been searching for."

She said it was the first time one key enzyme has been identified as responsible for effectively allowing the cancer to spread.

"If we can interrupt the body's ability to prepare new locations for the cancer to spread to, we can effectively prevent cancer metastasis.

"Cancer metastasis is very difficult to treat and this new discovery provides real hope that we can develop a drug which will fight the spreading of cancer," she said.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said: "A better understanding of how cancer spreads is crucial to improving the treatment of the disease. This research takes scientists a step closer to understanding this major problem - the next stage will be to find out if the LOX protein can be switched off to stop cancer spreading."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Oldest Fossilized Brain Found in Fish

A 300-million-year-old fossilized brain has been discovered by researchers studying a type of fish that once lived in what is now Kansas and Oklahoma.

Researchers report in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that the brain was discovered in a fossilized iniopterygian from Kansas, which they had sent for scanning at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.

Iniopterygians are extinct relatives of modern ratfishes, also known as ghost sharks.
The scan found a fossilized blob inside the braincase and closer study revealed it was the fossilized brain of the ancient creature.

Asteroid Makes Close Call With Earth

A surprise asteroid named 2009 DD45 zipped between our planet and the moon on Monday March 2, and was moving at a speed of about 20 kilometers per second when it was closest to Earth.

Astronomers didn't notice the oncoming asteroid until February 28, when it showed up as a faint dot in pictures taken at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

At that point the asteroid was already a mere 2.4 million kilometers from Earth, and closing in fast.

Astronomers now know that the asteroid is moving within the inner solar system and that the space rock completes an orbit around the sun every 1.56 years.

This means the asteroid could swing close by Earth again someday—though that doesn't seem to be any cause for alarm, if Monday's flyby is any indication.

(Highlighted Image of the Asteroid)