Meanings Of 'Life', Nature
Excerpts: Many a technology has at some time or another been deemed an affront to God, but perhaps none invites the accusation as directly as synthetic biology. Only a deity predisposed to cut-and-paste would suffer any serious challenge from genetic engineering as it has been practised in the past. But the efforts to design living organisms from scratch - either with a wholly artificial genome made by DNA synthesis technology or, more ambitiously, by using non-natural, bespoke molecular machinery - really might seem to justify the suggestion, made recently by the ETC Group, an environmental pressure group based in Ottawa, Canada, that "for the first time, God has competition"
Survival of the Likeliest?, PLoS Biol
Excerpt: (...) recently, some physicists have gone beyond this and argued that living things belong to a whole class of complex and orderly systems that exist not despite the second law of thermodynamics, but because of it. They argue that our view of evolution, and of life itself, should likewise be based in thermodynamics and what these physical laws say about flows of energy and matter.
Life Swap: Switching Genomes Converts Bacteria, Science News
Excerpts: In a step toward creating artificial microbes, scientists have managed to replace the entire genome of one kind of bacterium with the DNA of a related species. After the transplant, the recipient took on all the traits of the donor, effectively transforming into the donor's species.
The researchers say they hope to use this new technique to swap a bacterium's DNA for an artificial genome that they will assemble from scratch, thus creating the first synthetic life form. (...) could eventually be designed to produce biofuels and medicines efficiently, ( ¡K).
Scientists Report DNA Transplant - Organisms Adopt Donor Traits, The Washington Post
Excerpts: Scientists said yesterday that they had transplanted a microbe's entire, tangled mass of DNA into a closely related organism, a delicate operation that cleanly transformed the recipient from one species into the other. After the operations, the "patients" -- single-celled organisms resembling bacteria -- dutifully obeyed their new genomes and by every measure exhibited the biological personas of the donors. (...)
The success confirms that chromosomes can survive transplantation intact and literally rewrite the identity and occupation of the cells they move into.
Will Air Taxi Service Really Fly?, Palm Beach Post
To pinpoint the best regional markets, he hired two theorists in complexity science from the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. Their specialty is the study of systems such as stock markets, forest ecosystems, hospitals and ant farms, and how behavior shapes them.
Employees at DayJet's operations center at corporate headquarters in Delray Beach prepare for July's scheduled take-off and hope to tap into a market averse to driving and traditional forms of air travel.
They used travel patterns, airport schedules, income data and focus-group surveys to create a psycho-demographic database, and computer simulation to determine the markets where travelers would most likely switch from driving to flying.
The simulation helped Iacobucci's crew choose which markets to serve.
Excerpts: Some principles of physics - including the first two laws of thermodynamics - seem to invite rebellion. (...)
Many principles of physics are of the form "If you do this, what will happen is that." Newton's second law, for example, says that the acceleration of a particular mass will be proportional to the force applied to it. Such principles imply that certain effects are practically impossible. A small number of principles, however, belong to a different category. These say, in effect, "That cannot happen." Such principles imply that certain effects are physically impossible.
Curriculum Focused On Cognitive Skills May Improve Child Behavior, ScienceDaily
Excerpts: Children who were taught a curriculum that focused on self-control and awareness of their own and others' emotions were found to exhibit greater social competence (...). According to a recent study (...) when teachers taught a particular curriculum to students for 20-30 minutes-per-day, three times-per-week over a six-month period, lower rates of aggression and anxiety/sadness were seen when evaluated a year later compared to children randomized to normal classroom procedures. "Several complex cognitive processes, such as the ability to cope in stressful situations, are related to the development of the prefrontal areas of the brain starting in the preschool years," says (...).
Neurobiology: The Currency Of Guessing, Nature
Excerpts: Vanilla or chocolate? Fight or flight? A career in academia or in industry? The neural processes of probabilistic decision-making provide clues about the 'common currency' through which decisions are made.
Our lives are filled with decisions, ranging from selecting a dessert to choosing a career. In many such situations, we make the decision by weighing the pros and cons for each of the options and selecting the one whose potential benefits most outweigh its costs. But how does the brain go about comparing costs and benefits?
Probabilistic Reasoning By Neurons, Nature
Excerpts: Our brains allow us to reason about alternatives and to make choices that are likely to pay off. Often there is no one correct answer, but instead one that is favoured simply because it is more likely to lead to reward. A variety of probabilistic classification tasks probe the covert strategies that humans use to decide among alternatives based on evidence that bears only probabilistically on outcome. Here we show that rhesus monkeys can also achieve such reasoning.
Via Freedom to Coercion: The Emergence of Costly Punishment, Science
Excerpts: In human societies, cooperative behavior in joint enterprises is often enforced through institutions that impose sanctions on defectors. Many experiments on so-called public goods games have shown that in the absence of such institutions, individuals are willing to punish defectors, even at a cost to themselves. Theoretical models confirm that social norms prescribing the punishment of uncooperative behavior are stable - once established, they prevent dissident minorities from spreading. But how can such costly punishing behavior gain a foothold in the population?
Behavior: A Narrow Road to Cooperation, Science
Excerpts: In every human society, from small-scale foraging bands to gigantic modern nation states, people cooperate with each other to solve collective-action problems. They share food to ensure against shortfalls, risk their lives in warfare to protect their group, work together in building canals and fortifications, and punish murderers and thieves to maintain social order. Because collective action benefits everyone in the group, whether or not they contribute, natural selection favors non-contributors. So, why do people contribute? Everyday experience suggests that people contribute to avoid being punished by others.
Ape Aid: Chimps Share Altruistic Capacity With People, Science
Without any prospect of immediate benefit, chimps helped both people and other chimps that they didn't know, and the 18-month-olds spontaneously assisted adults they'd never seen before, say psychologist Felix Warneken of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues.
MAY I HELP YOU? New experiments indicate that chimpanzees aid strangers, regardless of personal gain, much as people, including very young children, do. Max Planck Inst. for Evolutionary Anthropology
The roots of human altruism reach back roughly 6 million years to a common ancestor of people and chimps, the researchers propose in the July PLoS Biology.
Excerpts: The evolution of altruism in humans is still an unresolved puzzle. Helping other individuals is often kinship-based or reciprocal. Several examples show, however, that altruism goes beyond kinship and reciprocity and people are willing to support unrelated others even when this is at a cost and they receive nothing in exchange. Here we examine the evolution of this "pure" altruism with a focus on altruistic teaching. Teaching is modeled as a knowledge transfer which enhances the survival chances of the recipient, but reduces the reproductive efficiency of the provider.
Modern Brains Have An Ancient Core, ScienceDaily
Excerpts: Hormones control growth, metabolism, reproduction and many other important biological processes. In humans, and all other vertebrates, the chemical signals are produced by specialised brain centres such as the hypothalamus and secreted into the blood stream that distributes them around the body. Researchers (...) now reveal that the hypothalamus and its hormones are not purely vertebrate inventions, but have their evolutionary roots in marine, worm-like ancestors. In this week's issue of the journal Cell they report that hormone-secreting brain centres are much older than expected and likely evolved from multifunctional cells of the last common ancestor of vertebrates, flies and worms. (...)
Evolutionary Biology: Relative Differences: The Myth of 1%, Science
Excerpts: Genomewise, humans and chimpanzees are quite similar, but studies are showing that they are not as similar as many tend to believe.
In a groundbreaking 1975 paper published in Science, evolutionary biologist Allan Wilson of the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and his erstwhile graduate student Mary-Claire King made a convincing argument for a 1% genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees. "At the time, that was heretical," says King, now a medical geneticist at the University of Washington, Seattle.
The Beetle's Dilemma: Trade-Offs Between Force And Fit Shape Beetles, Innovations-report
Excerpts: Large jaws are efficient in crushing hard prey, whereas small jaws are functional in capturing elusive prey. Researchers have suggested that such trade-offs between "force" and "velocity" could cause evolutionary diversification of morphology in animals such as birds, fish, and salamanders. (...) found that a new trade-off exists in animal feeding behavior. The team suggests that diversification of carabid beetles could be caused by a "force" and "fit" trade-off. There are both elongate, small-headed and stout, large-headed carabid beetles that feed upon land snails. Large-headed beetles can readily crush snail shells with their powerful jaws, (...).
Excerpts: Fish use the threat of punishment to keep would-be jumpers in the mating queue firmly in line and the social order stable, (...) found. Their discovery, which has implications for the whole animal kingdom including humans, has been hailed by some of the world's leading biologists as a "must read" scientific paper (...). Studying small goby fish (...), have shown the threat of expulsion from the group acts as a powerful deterrent to keep subordinate fish from challenging those more dominant than themselves. In fact the subordinate fish deliberately diet - or starve themselves - in order to remain smaller than their superiors (...).
Genetics: Evolutionary Insights from Sponges, Science
Excerpts: Sponges (phylum Porifera) are among the most ancient of the multicellular animals, or Metazoa, with a fossil record dating back at least 580 million years (1). Found both in marine and freshwater environments, they filter-feed by pumping water through their bodies, which can contain a remarkable number of microbial symbionts. Sponges lack many of the characteristics typical of animals, but recent genomic studies--including the report by Jackson et al. on page 1893 of this issue (2)--have shown that they possess many major metazoan gene families.
Sexually Antagonistic Genetic Variation For Fitness In Red Deer, Nature
Excerpts: Evolutionary theory predicts the depletion of genetic variation in natural populations as a result of the effects of selection, but genetic variation is nevertheless abundant for many traits that are under directional or stabilizing selection. Evolutionary geneticists commonly try to explain this paradox with mechanisms that lead to a balance between mutation and selection. (...)
Here we present evidence for sexually antagonistic fitness variation in a natural population, using data from a long-term study of red deer (Cervus elaphus). We show that male red deer with relatively high fitness fathered, on average, daughters with relatively low fitness.
- Source: Sexually Antagonistic Genetic Variation For Fitness In Red Deer, Katharina Foerster, Tim Coulson, Ben C. Sheldon, Josephine M. Pemberton, Tim H. Clutton-Brock, Loeske E. B. Kruuk, DOI: 10.1038/nature05912, Nature 447, 1107-1110, 07/06/28
Plant Science: Seeking Agriculture's Ancient Roots, Science
Excerpts: As they pinpoint when and where many crops were first domesticated, researchers are painting a new picture of how--and perhaps why--humans began to change their relationship to plants.
Researchers thought that domesticated crops appeared very soon after people began to cultivate fields, first in the Near East as early as 13,000 years ago, then somewhat later in a handful of other regions.
But the new data suggest that the road from gathering wild plants to cultivating them and finally domesticating them was long and winding (...), unfolding over many millennia.
Quantifying Noise Levels Of Intercellular Signals, Phys.
Excerpts: Cells often measure their local environment via the interaction of diffusible chemical signals with cell surface receptors. At the level of a single receptor, this process is inherently stochastic, but cells can contain many such receptors which can reduce the variability in the detected signal by suitable averaging. Here, we use explicit Monte Carlo simulations and analytical calculations to characterize the noise level as a function of the number of receptors.
A New System For Collaboration In Cell Communication, Innovations-report
Excerpts: Investigators (...) have identified a new signalling mechanism among cells in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. The researchers found that two independent groups of cells generate the same signal by different pathways and that these cells subsequently act together to send the signal to the target cell. In this manner, the receptor cell receives the signal from two distinct sources. (...) explains that different types of cells working together to send a message can be regarded as a "security measure designed to ensure that the signal reaches the receptor cell in the proper fashion, neither too weakly nor too strongly". (...)
Cell-Transistor Interface Clears Biolectronics Hurdle, EE Times
Excerpts: Researchers at the Max Planck Institute (Munich, Germany) have developed a cell-transistor interface that they believe will usher in a new era of bioelectronics, allowing cells to be manipulated and studied without destroying them in the process.
In a demonstration prepared by institute biochemist Peter Fromherz, living cells were grown atop an array of transistors, thereby enabling the silicon chip to monitor the cell activity directly. The chip was used to test the effect of new drugs on the living cells.
Virus 'Hybrids' Can Act As Nanoscale Memory Devices, New Scientist
Excerpts: A new type of memory device has been made by researchers in the US and Italy by attaching individual viruses to tiny specks of semiconducting material called quantum dots. The "hybrid" material could be used to develop biocompatible electronics and offer a cheap and simple way to make high-density memory chips, the researchers say.
Some biological materials react to inorganic molecules and researchers have already exploited this phenomenon to build nanoscale devices that can be used as biosensors (...).
Bright Outlook For Solar Cells, Physicsweb.org
Excerpts: Nanotechnology could transform solar cells from niche products to devices that provide a significant fraction of the world's energy (...).
Crabtree and Lewis themselves estimate that the widespread use of photovoltaic cells could happen as soon as 2015 if physicists can perfect a new generation of more advanced devices built using nanotechnology. These include cells based on quantum dots or nanocrystals devices, which are potentially both cheaper and more efficient than existing cells.
Artificial Skin May Reduce Need For Grafts, New Scientist
Excerpts: A long-lasting artificial skin which is "fully and consistently integrated into the human body" has shown promising results in early clinical trials.
The technology could revolutionise the treatment of burns and skin damage, offering a less painful alternative to skin grafts and reduced scarring.
Paul Kemp and colleagues at British biotech company Intercytex, which developed the living "skin", say it appears to work better than other substitutes tried in the past - these have biodegraded in situ after a few weeks.
Tests show the new membrane integrated fully by 28 days, producing a closed and healed wound site.
Brain, Music, And Non-Poisson Renewal Processes, Phys.
Excerpts: In this paper we show that both music composition and brain function, as revealed by the electroencephalogram (EEG) analysis, are renewal non-Poisson processes living in the nonergodic dominion. To reach this important conclusion we process the data with the minimum spanning tree method, so as to detect significant events, thereby building a sequence of times, which is the time series to analyze. Then we show that in both cases, EEG and music composition, these significant events are the signature of a non-Poisson renewal process.
- Source: Brain, Music, And Non-Poisson Renewal Processes, Simone Bianco, Massimiliano Ignaccolo, Mark S. Rider, Mary J. Ross, Phil Winsor, Paolo Grigolini, Phys. Rev. E 75, 061911 (2007), 07/06/21
Brain Boosters - Our Reporter Enters The New World Of Neuroenhancers., MIT Technology Review
It's 2:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, and I'm feeling stupid and slightly grumpy. I have lingering jet lag because I took a trip to London last week and flew in last night from California. Now I'm sitting in the Brain Stimulation Unit of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, MD, with two electrodes affixed to my forehead. In a moment, a researcher in the lab of neurologist Eric Wassermann will activate a gizmo the size of a small clock radio, (...)
Credit: Jason Schneider
Naps Can't Compete With A Night's Sleep, New Scientist
Excerpts: It is a time parents relish: their child's afternoon nap. But it seems that napping may not be such a good idea after all. Preliminary studies suggest that daytime napping in young children may be linked to poorer sleep and mental functioning than in their peers who only sleep at night. The big question is whether napping is the cause of the problem, or the result.
Critical Phenomena in Complex Networks, arXiv
Excerpt: The combination of the compactness of networks and their complex architectures results in a variety of critical effects dramatically different from those in cooperative systems on lattices. In the last few years, researchers have made important steps toward understanding the qualitatively new critical phenomena in complex networks. We review the results, concepts, and methods of this rapidly developing field.
Saving Earth From the Ground Up - Biologist Edward O. Wilson Warns of a Bleak World Without Bugs, Washington Post
If humans were to disappear -- he doesn't advocate this, for the record -- the effects on the insect world would be minimal. "It's unlikely a single insect species would go extinct except three forms of body and head lice," he said. Close relatives of the parasites could still live on gorillas. The primal, complex web of life would continue "minus all the species we have pushed into extinction." Ouch.
National Pest Management Association
Putting Energy Hogs in the Home on a Strict Low-Power Diet, NY Times
The power consumed by common electric devices - even when they're not in use - can quickly add up.
Indeed, the Department of Energy estimates that in the average home, 40 percent of all electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. Add that all up, and it equals the annual output of 17 power plants, the government says. (...)
Products that idle in what the industry calls low-power mode, or lopomo, consumed about 10 percent of total electricity in California homes, (...).
Moving Beyond Kyoto, NY Times
Excerpts: We - all of us - now face a universal threat. (...)
Consider this tale of two planets. Earth and Venus are almost exactly the same size, and have almost exactly the same amount of carbon. The difference is that most of the carbon on Earth is in the ground (...) and most of the carbon on Venus is in the atmosphere.
As a result, while the average temperature on Earth is a pleasant 59 degrees, the average temperature on Venus is 867 degrees.
Desalination: Turning Ocean Water Into Rain, Science
Excerpts: The concept is simple. Water at the ocean's surface is warm, with a temperature that's typically between 26degC and 30degC in the tropics. At a depth of 350 meters, it drops to a chilly 13degC or so. At the plant, surface water is pumped into an onshore vacuum chamber where the low pressure causes some of the water to vaporize. In another chamber, cold water drawn from the depths condenses the vapor into fresh water.
Materials Science: Nanotube Composites, Nature
Excerpts: A carbon revolution has occurred - carbon atoms can be coaxed into several topologies to make materials with unique properties. Nanotubes are the vanguard of this innovation, and are on the cusp of commercial exploitation as the multifunctional components of the next generation of composite materials.
Chemistry: Rhythm Engineering, Science
Excerpts: This May and June, a large brood of cicadas (see the figure) emerged in the Midwestern United States. The life cycles of these insects are synchronized, with periods of 13 or 17 years. These prime-number life cycles may make cicadas better able to survive, because predators with shorter life cycles cannot easily appear in large numbers at the same time (1, 2). Synchronized events of this kind may appear remarkable, but they are actually quite common. Nearly any system of coupled, similar oscillators tends to spontaneously self-organize (3).
A Geriatric Peace? The Future Of U.S. Power In A World Of Aging Populations, Int. Security
Excerpts: In the coming decades, the most powerful states in the international system will face a challenge (...): significant aging of their populations. Global aging will be a potent force for the continuation of U.S. economic and military dominance. Aging populations are likely to produce a slowdown in states' economic growth at the same time that governments will face substantial pressure to pay for massive new expenditures for elderly care. This economic dilemma will create such an austere fiscal environment that the other great powers will lack the resources necessary to overtake the United States' huge power lead. (...)
Complex Challenges: Global Terrorist Networks
Illicit Activity And Proliferation: North Korean Smuggling Networks, Int. Security
Excerpts: Since public disclosure by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) of its uranium enrichment program in 2002 and the subsequent restarting of its plutonium reactor, policymakers and academics have expressed concern that the DPRK will one day export nuclear material or components. An examination of North Korea's involvement in nonnuclear criminal activities shows that the DPRK has established sophisticated transnational smuggling networks, some of which involve terrorist groups and others that have been able to distribute counterfeit currency and goods on U.S. territory. These networks provide North Korea with a significant amount of much-needed hard currency, (...).
Links & Snippets
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Enhancing Learning Through Technology-- Emerging Technologies And Pedagogies , Hong Kong SAR, 07/07/09-10
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FUZZ-IEEE 2007, London, UK, 07/07/23-26
Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences
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Orlando, Fl, 07/08/12-17
Natural Complexity: Data and Theory in Dialogue, Cambridge, UK, 07/08/13-17
Stochastic Resonance 2008, Perugia, Italy, 07/08/17-21
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, Lisbon, Portugal, 07/09/10-14
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Processes Of Emergence Of Systems And Systemic Properties.
Towards A General Theory Of Emergence.
, Castel Ivano (Trento), 07/10/18-20
2007 IEEE/WIC/ACM Intl Joint Conf on Web Intelligence and Intelligent Agent Technology (WI-IAT'07), Silicon Valley, USA, 07/11/02-05
Theory In Cognitive Neuroscience,
Wildbad Kreuth (Bavaria), Germany, 07/11/04-07
7th Intl Conf on Epigenetic Robotics:
Modeling Cognitive Development in Robotic Systems
, Piscataway, NJ, 07/11/05-07
KSS 2007 - 8th Intl Symposium on Knowledge and Systems Sciences, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan, 07/11/05-07
Australia New Zealand Systems Conference 2007
"Systemic development: Local solutions in a global environment", Auckland, New Zealand, 07/12/02-05
The 3rd Indian Intl Conf on Artificial Intelligence
(IICAI-07), Pune, INDIA, 07/12/17-19
19th European Meeting On Cybernetics And Systems Research, (EMCSR 2008), Vienna, Austria, 08/03/25-28
Postdoc position in computational vision available immediately in London UK, 07/05/18
National Humanities Center Launches Humanities/Sciences Website, 07/04, As part of its ongoing "Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity: The Human & The Humanities" project (ASC), the National Humanities Center makes public a new website for the initiative which significantly expands the potential pool of humanists and scientists engaged in the exploration and examination of topics surrounding the question of human being.