Sunbathing Sharks

Sharks who spend too much time in the sun get a tan, researchers have discovered.

However, they do not appear to suffer from skin disease, raising hopes that shark skin could hold the key to beating skin cancer.

‘As far as I’m aware, sharks appear very robust to skin damage and disease,’ said Michael Sweet, a researcher in the School of Biology at Newcastle University’s Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability.

‘I don’t know what makes shark skin so special, but it definitely needs to be studied.

‘There have been a lot of attempts to induce melanomas in sharks to no affect.’

Researchers hope that if they can find the secret of how shark skin protects itself, it could be used to create a ‘shark lotion’ to protect human skin.

Another recent study, undertaken by the California State University Shark Lab, also looked at tanning in sharks.

Hammerhead shark pups held in a shallow clear seawater pond at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology darkened after several weeks, where UV levels are 600 times greater than those in their regular habitat of Kaneohe Bay.

An opaque filter was placed over the pectoral fins of untanned sharks to cut out UV light, to determine whether the darkening was due to solar radiation.

‘Areas of skin from under the opaque filter were untanned, whereas all other skin exposed to direct sunlight was considerably darker, resulting in distinct ‘tan lines’, the researchers said.

Our experiments demonstrated that the sharks were truly sun-tanning and that the response was, in fact, induced by the increase in solar radiation, particularly UV.

‘These sharks increased the melanin content in their skin by 14 percent over 21 days, and up to 28 percent over 215 days.’

The researchers said the only other animals known to suntan are mammals.

Attribution: Medical Daily, Mail Online

NYC Destroyed by Blast

It wasn’t a movie poster for a monster or disaster film. It was an illustration of America’s worst nightmare – that an atomic bomb would strike a major U.S. metropolis.

The harrowing image of the New York City skyline marred by a giant mushroom cloud splashed the cover of Collier’s magazine on August 5, 1950 – at a time of heightened American anxiety.

1950 artists image of NYC destroyed by Atomic Bomb

The Collier’s issue was spotlighted recently on Smithsonianmag.com, which ran the same pictures that appeared in the same 1950 issue of the magazine.

While recent films like The Avengers, Independence Day and Cloverfield touched on a

Collier’s magazine cover

fictional attack against New York City by aliens and monsters, a full-scale explosion that could level Manhattan’s skyscrapers was plausible, especially during the Cold War.

The accompanying article, entitled ‘Hiroshima U.S.A.: Can Anything Be Done About It?’ opens: ‘For five years now the world has lived with the dreadful knowledge that atomic warfare is possible.

‘Since last September, when the President [Harry Truman] announced publicly that the Russians too had produced an atomic explosion, this nation has lived face to face with the terrifying realization that an attack with atomic weapons could be made against us.’

The artwork was painted by famed Collier’s illustrators Chesley Bonestell and Birney Lettick.

Attribution: Smithsonian, Mail Online

Famous One-Inch Punch

Any fan of martial arts movie legend Bruce Lee will remember his famous one-inch punch, with which he was able to strike an opponent from extremely close range and send them flying.

Lee was undoubtedly at the peak of his physical potential, but research has now shown his ability to punch so hard from so close could be better explained by his brain structure than his strength.

Brain scans have revealed that fine-tuned differences between the neural structure of expert martial artists and fighting novices could be the reason that the one-inch punch is possible.

Black belts are able to punch incredibly hard from close range but studies have found that the force generated is not determined by raw muscular strength, suggesting factors related to the control of muscle movement by the brain might be important.

Researchers from Imperial College London and UCL looked for differences in brain structure between 12 karate practitioners with a black belt rank and an average of 13.8 years’ karate experience, and 12 people of similar age who exercised regularly but did not have any martial arts experience.

The researchers tested how powerfully the subjects could punch, but to make useful comparisons with the punching of novices they restricted the task to punching from short range – a distance of 5 centimeters (roughly 1 inch).

As expected, the karate group punched harder, but the power of their punches seemed to be down to timing, rather than their strength: the force they generated correlated with how well the movement of their wrists and shoulders were synchronized.

Dr Ed Roberts, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, who led the study, explained: ‘The karate black belts were able to repeatedly coordinate their punching action with a level of coordination that novices can’t produce.

“We think that ability might be related to fine-tuning of neural connections in the cerebellum, allowing them to synchronize their arm and trunk movements very accurately.”

Subsequent brain scans of the test subjects showed the microscopic structure in certain regions of the brain differed between the two groups.

Each brain region is composed of grey matter, consisting of the main bodies of nerve cells, and white matter, which is mainly made up of bundles of fibers that carry signals from one region to another.

Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans found structural differences in the white matter of parts of the brain called the cerebellum and the primary motor cortex, which are known to be involved in controlling movement.

The differences measured by DTI in the cerebellum correlated with the synchronicity of the subjects’ wrist and shoulder movements when punching.

The DTI signal also correlated with the age at which karate experts began training and their total experience of the discipline.

These findings suggest that the structural differences in the brain are related to the black belts’ punching ability.

“We’re only just beginning to understand the relationship between brain structure and behaviour, but our findings are consistent with earlier research showing that the cerebellum plays a critical role in our ability to produce complex, coordinated movements,” added Dr Roberts.

“There are several factors that can affect the DTI signal, so we can’t say exactly what features of the white matter these differences correspond to. Further studies using more advanced techniques will give us a clearer picture.”

The findings are published today in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Bruce Lee’s One-Inch Punch

Attribution: Daily Mail

Roman shipwreck

One of the best preserved shipwrecks ever found has been discovered off the Italian coast.

Divers say they have found a ship off the coast of Italy which they believe is about 2,000 years old.

The ship, which was spotted in the sea off the town on Varazze in the province of Liguria, is thought to be a Roman-era commercial vessel.

The ship, a navis oneraria, or merchant vessel, was located at a depth of about 200 feet after a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was used to scour the seabed.

A search for the shipwreck was launched after local fisherman revealed they kept finding pieces of pottery in their nets.

The divers found the wreck so well preserved even the food, still sealed in over 200 pots, is intact.

‘The peculiarity of this is that the wreck could be almost intact,’ Lt Col Francesco Schilardi of the police divers’ group told the BBC.

‘We believe it dates to sometime between the 1st Century BC and the 1st Century AD.’

The team has so far been unable to find the name of the ship, but it was believed to be a sailed vessel used to carry commercial goods.

The ship would have been travelling between Italy and Spain, a popular shipping route, and would have been carrying food to sell at its destination.

Roman ships were commonly named after gods, mythological heroes or concepts such as harmony, peace and victory.

Researchers believe the mud on the seabed protected the wreck.

Test on some of the recovered jars revealed they contained pickled fish, grain, wine and oil.

The foodstuffs were traded in Spain for other goods.

The containers found in the wreck are known as amphora, and are a unique shape, often containing handles.

The large containers were commonly used to transport large quantities of food and wine, and were able to hold both solid and liquid.

The examples found in the latest wreck were ceramic, but they were also made in metal.

‘There are some broken jars around the wreck, but we believe that most of the amphorae inside the ship are still sealed and food filled,” said Lt. Col. Schilardi.

It is hoped that further tests on the foodstuffs could give an insight into Roman lifestyles.

The ship is thought to have travelled on trade routes between Spain and what is now central Italy and was loaded with more than 200 clay amphorae likely to have contained fish, wine, oil and grain.

The ship, which dates to sometime between the 1st Century B.C. and the 1st Century A.D., is hidden under layers of mud on the seabed, which has left the wreck and its cargo intact.

The vessel will remain hidden at the bottom of the sea until Italian authorities decide whether to raise it or not, and police have placed an exclusion zone around it to protect it from other divers.

No More Sunburn

A paper wrist strap similar to the bands worn at festivals can help prevent over-exposure to the sun and reduce the risk of cancer.

The device lets people know when they have been exposed to a certain amount of UV (ultra-violet) radiation by changing color.

The monitor works by changing colour from yellow to pink as the strength of UV radiation increases.

The wristbands change color when the sun’s UV rays can start to cause damage.
It operates through an acid-release agent which picks up ultraviolet light and a dye which responds to pH levels in the indicator.

The agent is decomposed by sunlight, leading to the rapid change in color.

The bands will be tailored to different skin types to reflect the different tolerance levels that people have to the sun. For example, a band for someone with fair hair and light skin will change color quicker than a band for someone with dark hair and dark skin.

The technology will be commercialized by Swedish-based company Intellego Technologies, established by Swedish entrepreneur Claes Lindahl.

‘We are very excited about the UV dosimeter technology and we look forward to developing it further and commercializing it,’ said Lindahl. ‘There is a substantial need out in the market for a functional UV dosimeter and we look forward to continuing the process.’

Professor Andrew Mills and Dr Michael McFarlane are both responsible for the original invention and were previously with the University’s Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry. They will now be engaged as consultants to Intellego Technologies.

Mills said: ‘The bands will cost less than 20 cents each because they are disposable and need to be thrown away at the end of the day.

‘The sunburn monitor will make a significant contribution to public health as an affordable, fashionable device which enables people to enjoy the benefits of the sun while at the same time keeping them alert to the risks of over exposure.’ said Fiona Strang, Commercialization Manager with the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Research & Knowledge Exchange Services.

Attribution: Mail Online

Vampire Suns

The Universe is a diverse place, and many stars are quite unlike our Sun.

Now an international team has used the Very Large Telescope in Chile to study what are known as O-type stars, which have very high temperature, mass and brightness.

These stars have short and violent lives and play a key role in the evolution of galaxies. They are also linked to extreme phenomena such as ‘vampire stars’, where a smaller companion star sucks matter off the surface of its larger neighbor.

‘These stars are absolute behemoths,’ said Hugues Sana, from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, who is the lead author of the study.

‘They have 15 or more times the mass of our Sun and can be up to a million times brighter. These stars are so hot that they shine with a brilliant blue-white light and have surface temperatures over 30,000C.’

The astronomers studied a sample of 71 O-type single stars and stars in pairs (binaries) in six nearby young star clusters in the Milky Way. Most of the observations in their study were obtained using ESO telescopes, including the VLT.

By analyzing the light coming from these targets in greater detail than before, the team discovered that 75 per cent of all O-type stars exist inside binary systems, a higher proportion than previously thought, and the first precise determination of this number.

More importantly, though, they found that the proportion of these pairs that are close enough to interact (through stellar mergers or transfer of mass by so-called vampire stars) is far higher than anyone had thought, which has profound implications for our understanding of galaxy evolution.

O-type stars make up just a fraction of a percent of the stars in the Universe, but the violent phenomena associated with them mean they have a disproportionate effect on their surroundings.

The winds and shocks coming from these stars can both trigger and stop star formation, their radiation powers the glow of bright nebulae, their supernovae enrich galaxies with the heavy elements crucial for life, and they are associated with gamma-ray bursts, which are among the most energetic phenomena in the Universe. O-type stars are therefore implicated in many of the mechanisms that drive the evolution of galaxies.

‘The life of a star is greatly affected if it exist
s alongside another star,’ says Selma de Mink (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), a co-author of the study.

‘If two stars orbit very close to each other they may eventually merge. But even if they don’t, one star will often pull matter off the surface of its neighbor.’

Mergers between stars, which the team estimates will be the ultimate fate of around 20-30 per cent of O-type stars, are violent events. But even the comparatively gentle scenario of vampire stars, which accounts for a further 40-50 per cent of cases, has profound effects on how these stars evolve.

Until now, astronomers mostly considered that closely-orbiting massive binary stars were the exception, something that was only needed to explain exotic phenomena such as X-ray binaries, double pulsars and black hole binaries.

The new study shows that to properly interpret the Universe, this simplification cannot be made: these heavyweight double stars are not just common, their lives are fundamentally different from those of single stars.

For instance, in the case of vampire stars, the smaller, lower-mass star is rejuvenated as it sucks the fresh hydrogen from its companion. Its mass will increase substantially and it will outlive its companion, surviving much longer than a single star of the same mass would.

The victim star, meanwhile, is stripped of its envelope before it has a chance to become a luminous red super giant.

Instead, its hot, blue core is exposed. As a result, the stellar population of a distant galaxy may appear to be much younger than it really is: both the rejuvenated vampire stars, and the diminished victim stars become hotter, and bluer in color, mimicking the appearance of younger stars.

Knowing the true proportion of interacting high-mass binary stars is therefore crucial to correctly characterize these faraway galaxies.

The only information astronomers have on distant galaxies is from the light that reaches our telescopes.

Without making assumptions about what is responsible for this light we cannot draw conclusions about the galaxy, such as how massive or how young it is.

‘This study shows that the frequent assumption that most stars are single can lead to the wrong conclusions,’ concludes Hugues Sana.

Understanding how big these effects are, and how much this new perspective will change our view of galactic evolution, will need further work. Modeling binary stars is complicated, so it will take time before all these considerations are included in models of galaxy formation.

Attribution: Eddie Wrenn

How to Build a Sandcastle

If want to build the perfect sandcastle, put down your bucket and spade.

Physicists who have studied the science of sandcastles say that our hands are the best tools.

While buckets and spades are useful for collecting sand, they could be stopping you from constructing your dream castle

This is because neither is ideal for producing the highly compacted sand that is crucial for giving the structures strength.

The advice comes from scientists who carried out a number of experiments on how to construct the perfect sandcastle.

They began by looking at how much water is needed to produce one that will not collapse from being too soggy or crumble from being too dry.

Physicist Peder Moller said: ‘We used some fancy instruments but effectively we put some sand in a cup and inserted a spoon and started to twist the sands a bit and measured how hard it was to twist.

‘We found that one bucket of water to 50 buckets of sand gave the highest strength.’

At this ratio, the water forms strong bridges between the sand grains.

Their experiments, described in the journal Scientific Reports, show that the size of the sand grains have little effect on the overall result.

However, compaction is very important, with sand that is well-packed up to 30 per cent stronger.

This is where the advice about buckets and spades comes in.

While it is easy to compress sand in a bucket, the structure becomes much looser on tipping out, said Dr Moller, of the Laboratoire de Physique Statistique de ENS in Paris.

And thumping the sand with a spade produces an uneven result.

Dr Moller said: ‘Buckets and spades can be great for larger constructions.

‘But compacting with a spade is not optimal since it tends to introduce fractures in the sand’s structure rather than compact it.

‘Ideally I would use spades and buckets to build a mound that has all the height of your dream castle while compacting (with hand) during piling.

‘Then finally carve away the residual sand that hides the magnificent castle inside.’

The scientists also calculated the maximum height for cylindrical sandcastles with bases of various sizes.

For instance, if the base has a diameter of 16inches, the sandcastle will topple if it is more than 8ft in height.

To build a sandcastle twice as high as one you’ve made already, you will need make the base roughly three times wider.

Attribution: Daily Mail

Gimme Some Skin

Replacement skin may soon be easily available for burn victims and sufferers of other skin-related conditions following a break-through in the laboratory.

Scientists have been able to engineer skin on a large-scale – growing centimeters at a time, a huge step-up from previous techniques which could grow just microns at a time.

The researchers from the University of Toronto are able to grow sheets of skin by placing individual cells into a gel-like sheet, and they can  even be grown into specific shapes – such as letters.

Axel Guenther, associate professor in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering, said: ‘There’s a lot of interest in soft materials, particularly biomaterials, but until now no one has demonstrated a simple and scalable one-step process to go from microns to centimeters.’

The invention, presented in a cover article for the journal Advanced Materials this month, is currently being commercialized, with the university filing two patents on the device.

The scientists perfected the technique by mixing biomaterials, causing a chemical reaction that forms a ‘mosaic hydrogel’ – a sheet-like substance compatible with the growth of cells into living tissues, into which different types of cells can be seeded in very precise and controlled placements.

This is unlike more typical methods, for instance scaffolding, where cells are seeded onto an artificial structure capable of supporting three-dimensional tissue formation.

Instead, cells are planted onto the mosaic hydrogel sheets as they are being created – generating the perfect conditions for cells to grow.

The placement of the cells is so precise, in fact, that scientists can spell words and can precisely mimic the natural placement of cells in living tissues, which could prove very beneficial for burn victims.

The resulting tissues, says Lian Leng, lead author on the project and a 3rd year PHD candidate, are remarkably stable.

She said: ‘In this case, when we put the cells in the right places we create cellular organization quite naturally.’

Guenther added: ‘My laboratory is currently pursuing different applications of the technology with different tissues.’

Currently, the two UofT labs are also collaborating their research with a burn unit at Sunnybrook Hospital.

‘At some point [the machine] could allow dermal [skin] grafts to be prepared that perhaps will be less expensive, and more efficient,’ said Guenther.

Attribution: Mail Online

Regulation Tidal Wave

by: Clark Barrow

Editorial comments by the Common Constitutionalist [ ]

A looming tax increase or the threat of higher unemployment usually receives a lot of attention in Washington, D.C. Many politicians can’t wait to lead a charge to avoid any hardship on American families. But there is eerie silence on another front that is fast approaching our country: a tidal wave of costly federal regulations.

According to an analysis by the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business), more than 4,000 federal regulations are scheduled to be implemented over the next four years with a cost of more than $515 billion to the U.S. economy. In our world of trillion-dollar deficits, anything in the billions may not sound like such a big deal anymore, but recent regulations have already added $140 billion, sending the total annual regulatory cost to $1.75 trillion. If no action is taken to stop this, the NFIB estimates that the regulatory costs will quadruple over the next four years.

So what in the world are all these new regulations? Well, most of them have to do with protecting the environment. Unfortunately, the sheer cost of the regulations may produce a severe economic downturn, rather than any valuable environmental impact.

One of the most damaging regulations will force power plants to install expensive pollution control technology, which is expected to cost as much as $90 billion over 10 years – the most expensive regulation in U.S. history. This means higher energy bills that will direct small business funds to utility bills, instead of jobs.

Other regulations include the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, a measure that President Obama postponed in 2011 because of its enormous cost to the economy. Imagine that! Even our own president understood the impact! This far-reaching piece of regulation would establish an unnecessarily strict air quality standard for the entire country at a cost of up to $90 billion. [Years ago freon was effectively banned because it was said to kill ozone. Now we have too much?]

To make matters worse, the science behind these new regulations is not solid. A report by the National Center for Policy Analysis found that the proposed standards produce little, if any, health benefits. Their analysis found that under the current standards, levels of ozone and other pollutants have largely decreased to safe levels. The current standards are working and there is little science to that says tighter standards will meaningfully improve the air quality for anyone. [It matters little to the enviro-weenies whether the “science” is crap. They want to send us back to stone age and they’ll promote any junk science to hasten that journey.]

While the environmental science is not solid, the economic impact is certain – it will be paid with billions of dollars, millions of lost jobs and the lost dreams of millions of Americans.

The solution, as with many of our problems, is to grow our economy. Excessive regulations will only increase the cost of living for Americans, forcing lower-income families to sacrifice the things that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Progress is good! Advances in environmental protection, health care treatments and nutrition have saved countless lives, but expensive household energy bills will only devour money that could be used for a higher standard of living. [The solution is actually to rid ourselves of most the regulation in this country and the growth will take care of itself.]

Putting aside all of these other figures, the true cost of the proposed regulations can be summed up in the fact that the American Thoracic Society found that the number one risk factor for asthma is poverty, not pollution. It’s time environmental regulations protected us.

[ Isn’t it interesting that progressive administrations can’t be honest with the people. They always postpone harsh mandates and regulations until after elections. It’s as if they know the mandates will kill the economy and thus they would never be reelected. Yet after the election, it doesn’t seem to matter. That’s what I call looking out for the American people. Is that why most of the Obamacare mandates don’t start kicking in until 2013? I wonder.]

Cancer Cure?

The deadly ‘mother cells’ that drive the growth of tumors have been pinpointed for the first time – a breakthrough which could help in the development of a ‘real cure’, scientists say.

In three separate studies on different cancers, researchers have shown the growth and life of a tumor to be dependent on one small group of cells.

These cells, known as cancer stem cells, are also thought to fuel the disease’s spread around the body – the most common cause of death in cancer patients.

They are believed to be resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and so to be to blame for cancers coming back after treatment.

But, until now, no one had proved them to exist in tumors.

The breakthrough, reported simultaneously in the prestigious journals Nature and Science, raises the prospect of better treatments for cancer.

Some scientists liken the killing of cancer stem cells to pulling dandelions out by the roots, rather than merely removing their heads.

They say that combining a drug that attacks these cells with current treatments could lead to a cure.

Ben Simons, of Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, said that knowing just which cells to target ‘might be a much better strategy to effect a real cure and prevent relapse’.

Professor Simons’s study tracked the development of skin cancer in mice. By tracking individual cells, it showed a small number of them drive the growth of the tumor.

A second study identified a group of cells that allow the most common type of brain tumor to regrow after chemotherapy.

This recurrence and resistance to treatment is blamed for the poor prognosis of glioblastoma, with patients living an average of just a year after diagnosis.

University of Texas researcher Luis Parada showed that killing the stem cells, with the help of genetic wizardry, stopped the brain tumors from growing any further in mice.

The third study showed the importance of cancer stem cells in early-stage stomach cancer.

The experiments are important because they tracked the progress of individual cells in tumors as they appeared. This makes the results more reliable than those of previous experiments, which have used more artificial scenarios.

In time, the work could lead to new drugs that home in on and destroy the ‘mother cells’. Options could include combining these with standard therapies to mop up cancer cells left behind by traditional treatment.

However, the work is still in the early stages and any patient benefits are likely to be many years away.

Hurdles include finding a drug that kills cancer stem cells without harming essential healthy stem cells.

Dr Michaela Frye, a Cancer Research UK scientist based at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Their results add even more weight to the theory that cancers are driven by a distinct group of cells called cancer stem cells.’

Attribution: Mail Online