Sea otter deaths linked to water runoff contaminated with parasite-filled cat feces
Toxoplasma gondii is one of the fascinating little parasitic creatures capable of changing the natural behavoir of its infected host. It needs to live in a cat in order to reproduce, but the rest of its life cycle can be spent in just about any warm-blooded animal. When it makes its way into a rat or mouse, for example, it has the peculiar ability to render the rodent unafraid of cats and even drawn to their scent. This powerful evolutionary trait increases the T. gondii's chances of reproduction—a mouse hanging around with cats is obviously likely to be eaten.
Scientists suspect ships may be delivering objects far smaller than cargo: dangerous bacteria
As a cargo ship empties or takes on load, its ballast tanks fill or release water in order to balance the boat properly. Ballast is generally needed to increase the draft of a vessel (how deeply it sits in the water) so that its propellers are adequately submerged. The consequence of taking on these huge quantities of water is that they are most frequently released in environments thousands of miles from where they originated, when a ship reaches its destination.
Scientists capture the assembly of HIV in action and open the door to a new way to research disease
The video shows what looks like a faint nebula in deep space, its neighboring stars resolving to their full brightness after a long exposure. Only the images are not of the very large and distant; they are exactly the opposite. It is the picture of a cell membrane and the stars are hundreds of thousands of molecules at the cell's surface, gathering together to form a particle of the HIV virus. It is the first video of any virus being born and visually illuminates a process never before documented in real time.
Researchers fit macaques with one of the most advanced prosthetics in the hopes of improving life for amputees (not to mention marshmallow-starved primates)
While robotic prosthetics controlled by electrical impulses from an amputee are nothing new, their range of motion and practicality in daily life have been particularly limited since they first appeared on the market. New research coming out of the University of Pittsburgh promises to change that, with a robotic arm capable of complex and subtle movements. The scientists behind the project successfully trained macaque monkeys to feed themselves by using the arm to reach out for an grab marshmallows without knocking them over. It sounds like an inconsequential task, but the hurdles between an arm on which the "hand" simply opens and closes and an arm with an articulated shoulder, elbow, and wrist, and a gripping hand working together with the brain have been not insignificant.
A study shows urban life produces less carbon per capita, but some cities are greener than others
A proposed trade agreement could authorize border agents to search the contents of laptops and iPods for copyrighted material
As if the security in airports and controls at border crossings weren't slow and intrusive enough, governments around the world are quietly passing laws to allow them to search the contents of your laptop and other electronic devices, like iPods and cellphones. A United States court last month gave border agents carte blanche to hold a laptop for days and even copy its entire contents. The UK government has given its agents authority to search computers at its borders for pornography. But in what may be the most baffling and cumbersome move of all, the US, Canada, UK, and other EU nations are working behind closed doors on a new trade agreement which could turn border agents into the copyright police.
Daredevil diver Michel Fournier's high-altitude helium balloon took off without him
Michel Fournier's latest attempt at the highest parachute jump record—which was to have taken place this past Memorial Day weekend—has come to an unfortunate end. The $200,000 helium balloon which was to have lifted Fournier and his capsule 130,000 feet into the atmosphere detached unexpectedly as it was inflating and drifted away. The flight and jump was originally to have taken place on Monday, but was postponed due to threatening weather and winds.
International Space Station crews are using a temporary toilet in a docked Soyuz module until help arrives
Of all of the sophisticated technology powering the International Space Station, nothing brings the frustration of modern living back home to those of us on Earth more than a report of a broken toilet. Only the astronauts can't make an after-work run to the home repair store; they have to devise creative solutions while they wait for Saturday's launch of the space shuttle Discovery to bring them repair parts.
Scientists have found the most extreme single-celled Archaea yet, subsisting on methane nearly three miles below the surface
The Archaea group of organisms has just gotten a little bigger—and quite a bit deeper. Known to scientists as extremophiles—organisms which live in places inhospitable to other forms of life—the Archaea group is home to many single-celled creatures capable of thriving in environments of exceptional temperature, pressure, and acidity. The latest member has been discovered off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, under 2.8 miles of water and a mile of rock. Previously, the deepest these organisms had been found underground was half as far.
An excess of CO2 is having an unforeseen effect on shelled undersea creatures
Global warming is far and away the symptom at the top of the list of indicators that our planet is overloaded with carbon dioxide. Another important, but less considered consequence of the excess CO2 is the effect it has on the world's oceans. The oceans are a natural carbon dioxide sponge, responsible for maintaining the balance of CO2 in the atmosphere by absorbing a measure of the gas in its water. Currently, it is estimated that the ocean is uptaking nearly one-third of all human-produced CO2, which is slowly lowering its overall pH. Put simply: the oceans are becoming acidic.
As CCD continues for a second year, researchers continue to be stymied by its cause
More discouraging statistics this week from the Apiary Inspectors of America: 36.1 percent of commercially managed beehives in the U.S. have been lost in the past year. While the group only began to track these numbers last year when Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was first appearing, the two years of losses add up to a bleak picture for honeybees. These drops are undoubtedly unsustainable over the long term and the situation is not improving.
The second generation of the $100 laptop emerges—but can it buck the problems which plagued its predecessor?
The XO laptop is back with a new look and a new design, at least in theory. Nicholas Negroponte unveiled photos of the upcoming XO-2 device this week, with an announcement that the revamped computer would be ready for delivery by 2010 and carry a price tag of $75. Gone is the green plastic keyboard, replaced instead with a second touch screen. The device can be opened to function like an electronic book, or it can be rotated to a more traditional laptop configuration, with the new screen assuming the role of virtual keyboard.
A new theory posits massive oil fires led to the dinos' demise
What exactly killed the dinosaurs? One of the most popular theories holds that the extinction event was driven by an asteroid collision. Evidence for the theory can be found in a thin layer of iridium in what's known as the K-T boundary, a (similarly thin) layer of sediment in the ground which marks where the surface of the Earth was 65 million years ago. Iridium is common in asteroids and not common on Earth. Its presence in the sediment would indicate an impact and release of the material. What happened next is still a matter of debate.
Freedom from predators on an unusually isolated island has led to one very giant mouse and one very doomed bird population
Widely recognized as the most important sea bird habitat on Earth, Gough Island is a geographically perfect place for the animals to raise their young. It is one of the most remote places in the South Atlantic, nearly 2000 miles from both Africa and South America and 220 miles from the next nearest island in its archipelago. It is this isolation which has allowed its ecosystem to remain a nearly perfect home for the 22 bird species that seek its shelter in order to breed.
The vast majority of car accidents come seconds after a distraction—and not just of the technical variety
Nearly 80 percent of all automobile crashes happen within three seconds of the driver having been distracted, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. That's distraction of any kind, from adjusting the radio, to drinking coffee, to using a cellphone; even to having a conversation with the person in the passenger seat. It seems fancy technology isn't necessary to take a driver's mind off the road.