Science: What Geeks are reading about in Science from Discovery Magazine


Here are the latest stories on Science from Discovery Magazine.

Sex on the Brain
When it comes to disease, mental illness and the effects of generations of trauma, men and women face different risks. Neuroscientists think it’s all in the wiring.

Arachnophobia in the Medical Literature: Are Published “Spider Bites” Reliable?
If the above photo makes you cringe, you’re not alone. The fear of such beasts, called arachnophobia, is surprisingly common. Somewhere between 15 and 55 percent of people get anxious around spiders or even pictures of spiders. Even many who can stomach the sight of these eight-legged animals would be hesitant to perform the a brazen act of actually holding one—after all, everyone knows spider bites fester into giant, gaping sores which leave hideous scars. At least, that’s what we grow u

Half of the World Has Herpes
In fact, just over a half of the world has herpes. Over the course of the last year, the WHO released two articles exploring the prevalence of herpes infection worldwide and offering some hard numbers for an often overlooked viral infection. The WHO study uses the most recent estimates from 2012 and is the first attempt to calculate and identify the preponderance of herpes in the global population (1). What they find is that herpes is dang near everywhere and infects dang near everyone.

California almost out of time for El Niño drought relief
The state has benefited from El Niño this winter, but not nearly enough The window is closing on California’s opportunity to have El Niño put a significant dent in the state’s epic drought — which one study has shown to be the most severe in 1,200 years. Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada range, a significant source of the state’s water, is definitely doing better than it did in 2014 and 2015, as the animation above shows. But with statewide snowpack standing at just 88 percent of no

“Joke Addiction” As A Neurological Symptom
In a new paper, neurologists Elias D. Granadillo and Mario F. Mendez describe two patients in whom brain disorders led to an unusual symptom: “intractable joking.” Patient #1 was A 69-year-old right-handed man presented for a neuropsychiatric evaluation because of a 5-year history of compulsive joking… On interview, the patient reported feeling generally joyful, but his compulsive need to make jokes and create humor had become an issue of contention with his wife. He would  wake her u

Meet the Microbial Vandals Destroying Leonardo da Vinci’s Priceless Renaissance Work
Microbiologists often hope to answer key questions – which microbes are present, and what are they doing? – in non-destructive ways. After all, if you’re changing the very system you’re hoping to analyze, how can you be sure that your measurements reflect native conditions? The importance of non-destructive analyses takes on a new dimension when objects of cultural significance are involved. Disruptive techniques won’t merely perturb the natural system, but could destroy a priceless a

Japan’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Inspires Real Robots
A Japanese anime film that strongly influenced Hollywood films such as “The Matrix” has more recently inspired a real-life research effort dedicated to creating futuristic technologies. The “Ghost in the Shell” anime imagined a special law enforcement unit that employs cyborgs, robots and hackers to fight cyber criminals in 2029. That science fiction setting remains more than a decade away, but Japan’s Ghost in the Shell Realize Project has begun unveiling research initiatives based on the f

5 Things Matt Damon Has in Common with the New Mark Watney Plant
The hero of The Martian, one of the films up for Best Picture at this weekend’s Academy Awards, isn’t unusual because he’s a scientist—he’s unusual because he’s a plant scientist. Books and movies rarely even try to make botany seem cool. Yet Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is definitely meant to be cool. “I am the greatest botanist on this planet!” he declares after being abandoned on Mars. Real plant scientists are thrilled to see a cool botanist on the big screen. Chris Martine, a p

Averting the Blackout of the Century
An unlikely trio has come up with a surprising new way to predict power failures, but will it be enough to avert the next big one?

Drone Warfare Gets Its Close-Up in “Eye in the Sky”
A war waged by remote control with military drones from thousands of miles away may sound like one of the most impersonal conflicts imaginable. But the film “Eye in the Sky” shows how modern drone warfare can also be intensely personal with the surveillance capability to watch a potential human target for hours on end. The timely thriller also does not shy away from the thorny issue of how military commanders and political leaders weigh the value of human life in a world transformed into a g

Scientists Grow Working Sperm from Stem Cells
A team of scientists has grown functional mouse sperm cells from cultures of embryonic stem cells. In principle, embryonic stem cells can become any type of cell in the human body, but convincing them to differentiate into what scientists want them to become can be a challenge. For years, researchers have tried to shape stem cells into working sperm in a dish – with limited success. Now, researchers from China say they’ve not only managed to grow functional, sperm-like cells from a cultur

California’s Methane Leak Doubled the Emission Rate in Los Angeles
When a well tapping into the country’s fourth-largest natural gas storage facility blew out in October, gas started leaking. No one knew how much of the powerful greenhouse gas was flowing out, we could only estimate. The California Energy Commission already had someone under contract who could tell them, and within two weeks, Stephen Conley had stopped monitoring pipelines and was instead strapped into an airplane measuring the plume of gas wafting over the densely populated San Fernando

Dramatic imagery from space and on the ground captures 10 days of extreme weather fueled by El Niño
Juiced up by El Niño, extreme weather raked the United States from the last week of January through the beginning of February. And thanks to satellites above, as well as cameras on the ground, we can witness all of the action — with synoptic views of a swirling winter storm and a beautiful visualization of total precipitation; a closer view of the atmosphere bubbling like stew in a cauldron; a look right into the heart of a massive thunderstorm; and right down to an individual tornado tou

A likely hurricane-force cyclone spinning up in the Pacific is captured in this stunning satellite image animation
I spotted this beautiful animation of a powerful Pacific Ocean cyclone in the Twitter feed of Scott Bachmeier from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. It’s so awesome that I just had to share it. The storm, as seen in the animation of GOES-15 weather satellite images above, has been spinning up in the Pacific Ocean and is headed into the Gulf of Alaska. As I’m writing this, the National the National Weather Service has issued a hurricane-force wind warning, whi

How the Malheur Occupation Hamstrung Science
Last month, a flock of trumpeter swans alighted on the wetlands of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, repeating an annual ritual that dates back centuries. But for the first time in 80 years, biologists were not there to count them.  The annual winter bird count, which dates back to 1935, provides key data on multiple species for a national migratory bird monitoring program. Biologists and volunteers count ibis, sandhill cranes, horned larks and other birds that stop at the refug

Is Seasonal Affective Disorder a Myth?
A flurry of newspaper headlines have called into question the existence of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Scientists, they reported, appear to have debunked a widespread conviction, that feeling low in winter time is a genuine illness caused by disturbed levels of brain chemicals and that demands treatment. A visit to any number of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) websites leads to online questionnaires offering “diagnosis”, treatment recommendations, and advertisements for light b

eARTh: Cloud streets off Kamchatka
As frigid air poured out of western Siberia and out over the Sea of Okhotsk two days ago, it helped create one of the atmosphere’s more striking phenomena: long bands of cumulus clouds arranged in roughly parallel rows called “cloud streets.” When I saw an image of the action captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite, my mind’s eye went to work. I saw that with some cropping to emphasize abstract patterning over immediately recognizable features, as well as modest enhancements to bring out detail

WATCH: Here’s the powerful storm that a Royal Caribbean cruise ship literally blundered into — as seen from space
There’s a good chance you’ve heard about that Royal Caribbean cruise ship that negligently blundered right into the maw of a powerful, hurricane-strength Atlantic cyclone on Sunday. (If not, keep reading — details are coming.) Now, click on the image above to watch a spectacularly detailed animation of satellite images showing the development and rapid intensification of the storm off the U.S. East Coast on Sunday, Feb. 7. The animation, originally posted at the CIMSS Satellite Blog, c

Winter Brain, Summer Brain: Seasonality in Brain Responses?
A new paper in PNAS raises the interesting suggestion that our brain function goes through yearly cycles. According to authors Christelle Meyer and colleagues, their findings reveal new evidence of seasonal effects in human cognitive brain function “that could contribute to cognitive changes at specific times of year.” However in my view, the study is too small to be conclusive. Meyer et al. used fMRI to scan 28 young participants. Each of the volunteers spent 4 1/2 days in a laborator

If La Niña follows the current super El Niño, it will probably be bad news for drought-plagued California
La Niña tends to cause drying in California, and it often persists — and deepens — for years afterward The El Niño that has been helping to spawn wild and wacky weather in many parts of the world for months now is still very strong. But the latest analysis from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center suggests that it should start to weaken and transition to neutral conditions by late spring or summer. Then what? If the cooling of the eastern and central tropical Pacific characteristic of a

Satellite time-lapse video shows an entire year of the Sun in stunning ultra high definition
Since NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft became operational in late April of 2010, it has provided a trove of valuable data — and mind-boggling views of the Sun. This past year was no exception, as the video above shows. It consists of imagery acquired by SDO from Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2016, in one stunning time-lapse sequence. Click to play it on YouTube. And if your internet speed is high enough, watch it in ultra-high definition: 3840 x 2160 (in other words, 4K) and  2

Disease Experts Brace for an Uncertain Battle with Zika Virus
Zika virus, a 40-nm sized capsule of about a dozen genes, is on the move. The recent flare-up of cases in Brazil has diffused across borders into Colombia and Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico. And while the full extent of the virus’ spread is difficult to predict, most experts agree on one thing: it will soon gain a foothold in the United States. The South, where the requisite carrier mosquitos (two species of the Aedes genus) live, is particularly susceptible, but if the virus can evol

Ray Fillets Won’t Save The Bay: Scientists Exonerate Cownose Rays After Nine Years
Back in 2007, a landmark paper in Science changed how everyone thought about cownose rays. These smiley aquarium ambassadors suddenly became the most hated fish in the Atlantic. As the press release for that paper stated: A team of Canadian and American ecologists, led by world-renowned fisheries biologist Ransom Myers at Dalhousie University, has found that overfishing the largest predatory sharks, such as the bull, great white, dusky, and hammerhead sharks, along the Atlantic Coast of the

Atlas Gets Knocked Down, But It Gets Up Again
Trudging through the cold forest and getting pushed around by your human creators is just part of a day’s work for a robot at Boston Dynamics. Life is hard for a prototype, but every time it gets knocked down, it gets back up again. No, we’re never gonna keep it down. The recently redesigned Atlas robot is well equipped to handle the day-to-day struggle in the lab. The bipedal bot can navigate uneven terrain, pick up and stack boxes, and even pick itself back up after it takes a tumble. A

The Other Astronomical Breakthrough That Took 100 Years to Achieve
Well, here we are two weeks into the era of gravitational wave astronomy. I trust that by now you have read and heard all about the LIGO discovery of gravitational waves from two black holes merging and what it means for astronomy. These are indeed exciting times and it is worth pausing to think about this announcement in the context of other big astronomical discoveries that were generations in the making. Perhaps the best historical analog for the gravitational wave search and detection

Are We Born Craving a Balanced Diet?
Children choose healthy foods when left to their own devices, according to a classic experiment. Do those results still hold up?

Synesthesia Mask Lets You Wake Up and Smell the Colors
What does a Picasso painting smell like? For individuals with synesthesia, catching the odor of, say, plum, while scrutinizing a painting from Picasso’s blue period is just part of experiencing the world. A small percentage of the population are synesthetes, or people who interpret sensual stimuli with more than one sense — smelling colors, or tasting sounds for example. While very few people have access to this unique perspective on the world, there is now a way for the rest of us to get

The Macchiarini Scandal: When The Surgeon Met The Rapper
One of the biggest science scandals of recent years is the ongoing downfall of Paolo Macchiarini, the Swiss-born surgeon who transplanted stem-cell enhanced artifical tracheas into a number of patients. Macchiarini was a superstar, a professor at Sweden’s prestigious Karolinksa Institute (KI), widely hailed as a medical pioneer. But allegations of scientific misconduct have been building, and a Swedish documentary recently revealed that the clinical outcome of many of Macchiarini’s transp

Global warming spiked in January, setting new record
With an El Niño nudge, January saw record high temperatures. But accumulating greenhouse gases are the long-run cause of global warming. | Two updates, 2/16/16. See below. | January saw an extraordinary, record-setting spike in global average temperature, according to the just released monthly analysis from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The global average temperature at Earth’s surface for January 2016 was 1.13 degrees C above the 1951-1980 average. That’s slightly more

Disabled Musicians Make Music With Their Minds
A piece of music, composed in a fashion like no other before it, will be played later this month at the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival in the United Kingdom. The piece, entitled “Activating Memory,” is the result of a decade-long project by researchers at Plymouth University and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability. Four musicians, who are unable to speak or walk, used electrical signals from their brain to select musical passages while musicians played their selections in

Mind-Altering Parasite Blinds Chimps to Imminent Danger
When a chimpanzee sees a leopard, its reaction is appropriately intense and immediate: run away. Millions of years of evolution have embedded a natural fear of predators in our closest evolutionary ancestors’ minds. However, a parasite found in cat feces, Toxoplasma gondii, may cause them to act irrationally bold when faced with real danger. Researchers in France and Germany examined the way chimpanzees infected with the T. gondii parasite reacted to leopard urine, and found an intrigu

What home looks like from 22,236 miles away
A new and improved portrait of the home planet, photographed by the Himawari-8 weather satellite in geostationary orbit I don’t know about you, but I never tire of high-resolution images like this one from the Himawari-8 satellite showing the entire disk of our home planet. It’s a new and improved version of a now-familiar view. So make sure to click on the image to open it in a new window. And then click on it again to zoom in. This true-color portrait of Earth was photographed by Hi

What to Expect if Earth Ever Falls Into a Black Hole
Black holes have long been a source of much excitement and intrigue. And interest regarding black holes will surely grow now that gravitational waves have been discovered. Many of the questions I am asked regard how “true” science fiction concerning black holes might be, and whether worm holes, such as those featured in Stargate, are real or not. Invariably though, the one item that is almost assured to come up are the largely gruesome ways in which black holes might theoretically affect

Octopus Colors Predict the Winners of Fights
There’s not much of a betting market for octopus fights. But if you wanted to wager on the outcome of a face-off between octopuses, you could get some insider information by looking at their colors. Octopuses, like their relatives the squid and cuttlefish, are famously adept at changing the colors and patterns on their skin. Most of the time, researchers have interpreted octopus color-shifting as a way to hide, says Alaska Pacific University marine biologist David Scheel. By adjusting the

Were Humans and Neanderthals Swapping DNA Earlier Than We Thought?
We’ve known for years that a lot of us are a little Neanderthal: among non-Africans, Neanderthal genes account for about 1-4 percent of our DNA, the result of interbreeding roughly 47,000-65,000 years ago as modern humans left Africa and moved into Neanderthal territory in Europe and Asia. But a genetic study of multiple individuals, published today in Nature, reveals that Neanderthals interbred with a much earlier wave of human migration, one that left Africa at least 100,000 years ago —

Herpes-Like Virus Emerges in Stressed-Out Coral Reefs
Long-term stress may trigger herpes outbreaks in humans, and the same could be true in the Great Barrier Reef. While examining samples taken from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, researchers from Oregon State University happened to observe coral as it went through a bleaching event. The team noticed that viral populations on the coral multiplied after samples had turned white. One of viruses described by researchers in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology  is morphologically similar

Concerning news for California: El Niño’s misbehavin’. But there is still time for him to do the right thing
Woops. Thanks to a dearth of precipitation combined with warm temperatures, snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains has dipped below average. Given that El Niño was supposed to be California’s great drought-bustin’ hope, this is a little concerning. I put together the animation above to show what has happened in the Sierra over the past two weeks. The mountains run diagonally through the frames. The animation consists of false-color images captured by NASA’s Terra satellite. S

Tracking Wildlife in Chernobyl: The Emotional Landscape of a Disaster Zone
(This post originally appeared in the online science magazine Hawkmoth. Follow @HawkmothMag to discover more of their work.)  Nature is taking back Chernobyl. Three decades after a flawed nuclear reactor spewed radioactive material over 200 towns and villages across the borders of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, trees grow through abandoned houses, owls hoot from rafters, and boar nest in old barns. A handful of scientists study this ecosystem firsthand. Last year, a collaboration of

‘Superman’ Memory Crystals Could Survive Billions of Years
Millions of years into the future, whatever life-form occupies the planet — assuming this theoretical society still dabbles in archaeology — might hail the discovery of tiny, glass discs that contain the history of their ancient forebears. Researchers at the University of Southampton have created an “eternal” memory storage device that could preserve the story of human civilization long after we’ve departed. Their 5-dimensional data storage technology uses a combination of lasers and nano

Milgram Revisited: How Coercion Affects the Mind
In the wake of World War II, Nazi war criminals protested that they had been “only following orders,” which became known as the infamous Nuremberg defense. For decades sociologists, psychologists, and legal scholars have debated whether the defense was just a lame excuse or a valid legal strategy. Now, a team of psychologists says that coercion has a real effect on how the brain perceives the consequences of behavior. The study doesn’t dismiss the heinous crimes committed by Adolf Eichman

First Human Test of Optogenetics Could Restore Sight to the Blind
A decade-old technique that allows researchers to control brain function in lab animals could partially restore sight to the blind. In a trial sponsored by RetroSense Therapeutics, a startup company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, doctors will inject a harmless virus loaded with DNA from photoreceptive algae into the eyes of 15 patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa. The experimental procedure represents the first human test of optogenetics, which is a technique that genetically modifies ne

Savage cyclone Winston churns over the Pacific’s warmest waters, heads for Fiji’s two most populous islands
As I am writing this on Friday evening in Colorado, Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston is bearing down on the most populous islands of Fiji, posing a dire threat to the South Pacific island nation with winds that could eventually reach a mind boggling 224 miles per hour. The cyclone has already made landfall on the small Fijian island of Vanua Balavu — at about 1 pm EST today. This means the storm will go into the record books as the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit the nation of Fiji.

The Myth of “Mind-Altering Parasite” Toxoplasma Gondii?
Toxoplasma gondii is a tiny organism that lives inside cells. It may well live inside your cells – the parasite up to 50% of the world’s population, along with cats and many other animal species. This is worrying, because many researchers believe that T. gondii infection, or toxoplasmosis, can alter human behavior. Among other organs, the parasite infects the brain, and it has been blamed for making people more impulsive, and more prone to mental illness, including schizophrenia. The

Rethinking Humanity’s Roots
For decades we focused on east Africa as our likely ancestral homeland. But should we be looking to the south?

How Winston become Earth’s strongest Southern Hemisphere storm in recorded history
Winston has killed at least 21 people and caused great damage in Fiji. Here are the roles played by El Niño, climate change, and other factors in the evolution of this fierce — and very strange – storm. | See update at the end of this post concerning Winston’s ranking among tropical cyclones | Winston was born as a tropical storm a little east of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, way back on February 10th. Little did we know then just how strange — and strong — this storm would become, thank

Barnacles Plus Plastic Trash Make Rafts for Ocean Animals
If you wanted to travel from Japan to California, you could do worse than to hitch a ride on a barnacle-covered buoy. Or maybe a barnacle-covered refrigerator or chunk of foam. Barnacles are turning all kinds of ocean trash into cozy habitats for animals at sea. They might even help some of those animals reach distant shores and become dangerous invasive species. Flora and fauna have always sailed the sea on rafts such as pieces of wood or pumice, or matted plants. Without flotation devices,

Earth May Be a 1-in-700-Quintillion Kind of Place
A new study suggests that there are around 700 quintillion planets in the universe, but only one like Earth. It’s a revelation that’s both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden arrived at this staggering figure — a 7 followed by 20 zeros  — with the aid of a computer model that simulated the universe’s evolution following the Big Bang. Zackrisson’s model combined information about known exoplanets with our understanding

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