The March for Science Is Happening This Weekend

Since taking office in January, President Donald Trump has not only started a rhetorical war with the media and potentially real wars with North Korea and Russia-backed Syria, but he’s also engaged in what critics call a “war on science.”

This weekend, members of the nation’s scientific community are battling back with an Earth Day March for Science at the nation’s capital.

The March for Science initiative is a cooperative partnership between more than 200 scientific and academic institutions as well as nonprofits, uniting to “defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies and governments,” according to the campaign’s website.

On March 28, President Trump signed his Energy Independence executive order, rolling back former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants across the country. It was a policy move in line with a position Trump has held since at least 2012, when he tweeted that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, a claim he denied making last year during a debate with Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post reports prior to Trump’s China conspiracy tweet, he argued climate change was, in fact, real, signing a 2009 letter to Congress urging law makers to support a clean-energy economy.

In a November New York Times interview after winning the election, however, Trump acknowledged “some connectivity” between carbon emissions and climate change but added his position on reform “depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies.”

“You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now,” he added.

The White House’s website removed all previous mentions of the phrase, “climate change” in January.

A July Sierra Club report acknowledged then-candidate Trump as the only potential national leader on the planet who doesn’t think climate change is real, the Associated Press reports.

Consequently in November, an anonymous Trump administration source told Reuters the president’s advisers had been examining not only ending the U.S.’ involvement with the 2015 Paris Agreement — on which Time reports Trump’s team is indecisive. The source says some of Trump’s advisers support pulling out of the preceding 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty, which established global cooperation to reduce carbon emissions 25 years ago.

“It was reckless for the Paris agreement to enter into force before the election” the anonymous source told Reuters.

The president in December appointed staunch EPA critic and climate change denier Scott Pruitt to head an agency Pruitt once described as having “an activist agenda,” according to NPR.

Pruitt previously sued the EPA 14 times while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. He also has served with an alliance of Republican AGs partnering with some of the nation’s top energy producers to persuade Congress not to support climate change initiatives, according to the New York Times.

Free Public Radio reports almost 800 outgoing EPA members signed a February petition opposing Pruitt taking the EPA helm, but since beginning his new job, Pruitt has declined to do what many climate change deniers have been clamoring for the most.

Politico reports conservative critics in March called for Pruitt’s head when he refused to challenge Obama’s 2009 EPA “endangerment finding,” the old EPA’s Clean Air Act assertion that CO2 emissions themselves endanger public health and welfare by warming the planet.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June declined to review legal challenges to the endangerment finding, which in 2012 was upheld in federal court, The Hill reports.

Pruitt, ironically, has argued to Trump any reversal of the endangerment finding would likely be overruled the courts, according to the New York Times.

On Jan. 24, the Urban Policy Initiative reports President Trump signed an executive order to continue creation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, reversing the Obama administration’s pause on the initiative.

After weeks of unending protests from members of the local Standing Rock Sioux native tribe and its allies last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in December declined to approve an easement for further construction on the pipeline. CNN reported the Sioux tribe and its supporters have argued the pipeline encroaches on sacred land, and according to Salon, potential oil leaks could contaminate its water supply.

The launch of a new water treatment plant stationed away from the pipeline may greatly reduce the risk of water supply contamination, though Standing Rock supporters are skeptical, Reuters reported.

Dream Map Lets Scientists Predict What You See In Your Sleep

Sleep is the only physiological condition in which consciousness can fade. And yet, somehow, we occasionally remember our dreams. This flickering between consciousness and unconsciousness plays out in the electrical activity in our brains while we sleep, and by examining the brain scans of sleeping subjects, scientists have discovered, for the very first time, which areas of the brain are ignited while we dream. Furthermore, they claim, they can tell what we’re dreaming about by looking at the parts of the brain that light up.

In a study released Monday in Nature Neuroscience, a team of researchers from the Wisconsin Institute of Sleep and Consciousness describe the “hot zone” in the back of the brain that lights up when a person is dreaming. In their experiments on sleeping people, they noticed an increase in high-frequency electrical activity in this zone when people dream during both REM (rapid eye-movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. And, depending on the content of the dreamer’s dreams, different parts of this zone — known as the posterior cortex — are activated.

For example, when people dream about faces, there’s an increase in high-frequency activity in the area’s temporo-occipital region. Meanwhile, when a dream has a definite spatial setting — if the whole dream was set on a beach, for example — then there is increased activity in the right posterior parietal cortex.

“An important aspect of this study is that we were able to compare what changes in the brain when we are conscious, that is when we are dreaming, compared to when we are unconscious during the same behavioral state of sleep,” said senior author and psychiatry professor Giulio Tononiin a statement. “In this way, we could zoom in on the brain regions that truly matter for consciousness and avoid confounding factors having to do with being awake rather than asleep or anesthetized.”

Tononi and his team came to this conclusion after examining the electrical activity in the brains of 46 volunteers that slept over at the WISC laboratory in three studies. In the first study, the sleeping subjects were awakened intermittently and asked whether they remembered dreaming; the researchers found that those that did showed activity in the hot zone — the first hint that dreams were localized.

The second experiment concentrated on the actual content of the dreams, so the study participants were woken up more frequently. People who remembered specific themes in their dreams, like seeing faces or hearing speech, had high-frequency activity in the parts of the hot zone that were normally correlated with that theme: For example, when someone remembered hearing speech during a dream, their brain scans showed that their cerebral cortex — which processes language — was active. This indicated to the researchers that dreams are “experiences that truly occur during wakefulness” and not “inventions” or “confabulations” that the volunteers made up as they woke up.

Armed with the knowledge that different parts of the brain appeared to be activated during dreams, their third experiment attempted to predict whether a participant would report having dreamt based solely on their EEG readings. They were able to predict that someone would remember dreaming 92 percent of the time and that they did not dream 81 percent of the time.

We’re a long way off from watching a person’s dreams play out while they sleep, but these findings do give us some insight into what the brain’s actually doing when it’s dreaming. They not only suggest that the brain is, in a sense, awake while we dream but also that dreaming may become, as the authors write, “a valuable model for the study of consciousness with implications beyond sleep.”

SpaceX Has Released Incredible New Footage of Its Historic Rocket Landing

It sounds ridiculous that an explosive tube taller than a building could fling a satellite into space, fall back to Earth, and stick a landing on a wobbly ship at sea.

But seeing is believing.

SpaceX, the rocket company owned by tech mogul Elon Musk, released an incredible new video on Instagram on April 5.

The footage takes you to the deck of SpaceX’s comically named droneship, Of Course I Still Love You.

This and other ships are designed to catch first-stage rocket boosters: the largest and most expensive piece of the company’s 229-foot-tall (69.8-metre-tall), US$62 million Falcon 9 rocket system.

Cameras stationed all over the ship’s deck recorded the latest booster landing on March 30, 2017 – it was arguably one of the most important moments in SpaceX’s history.

“It’s been 15 years to get to this point,” Musk said during a live broadcast of the launch.

“I’m at a loss for words.”

SpaceX edited three video feeds together to make a supercut of the booster landing, and it’s best to watch with the sound on:

Orbital rockets like these are complex, multi-million-dollar machines that send our most precious satellites, supplies, and people into space.

Yet since the dawn of the Space Age, all the boosters we’ve used have turned into garbage right after their engines were ignited.

That paradigm shifted in a major way on March 30, when SpaceX achieved the first-ever full reuse of a Falcon 9 boosters.

“This is going to be a huge revolution for spaceflight,” Musk said.

He later told reporters that SpaceX will soon try to launch, land, and re-launch rockets in a 24-hour time frame – an aggressive goal that Musk said would make it “possible to achieve a hundredfold reduction” in the cost of getting stuff into space.

“This is potentially revolutionary,” John Logsdon, a space policy expert and historian at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, previously told Business Insider.

“Reusability has been the Holy Grail in access to space for a long, long time.”

Musk’s company is also due to debut its similarly reusable but more powerful Falcon Heavy launch system this summer.

SpaceX also plans to send its first human passengers into space in 2018, and begin blanketing Earth with high-speed internet using 4,425 satellites.

At stake? Nothing less than Musk’s human conquest of Mars, and possibly the survival of humanity.

Here’s the Scientific Link Between Grey Hair and Stress

You were enjoying an otherwise normal day when you spotted it it the bathroom mirror: a grey hair. It stands out like a weed in a sea of carefully-groomed grass.

Silently, you admonish yourself: It’s the stress! I shouldn’t have let it get to me!

You’ve probably heard that you can stave off the appearance of grays in your mane by keeping stress levels low.

In that case, I’ve got some good and bad news: It’s bogus. Stress has little to do with your silver locks.

In reality, genetic factors appear to play the strongest role in determining when your hair begins to lose its color.

“For the vast majority of people, graying hair is not down to something you have done, but to genetic factors beyond your control,” Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists told the BBC.

Wondering how this persistent myth came to be? You can blame mice.

Several studies in rodents have suggested a link between stress and the appearance of grey hairs. One study in 2011 even suggested that long-term exposure to stress, which has been shown to affect our DNA, could tweak the genes that give our hair its hue.

And a 2009 study suggested that the reason hair loses its color is because as we get older, we produce less and less of a special protective protein that buffers the hair against a natural process of bleaching from within.

Luckily, mice aren’t people (and most of them are grey already anyway).

There’s little research to support the idea that the findings from those studies happen in humans.

“There is no evidence to link the onset of graying to stress, diet or lifestyle,” Rodney Sinclair, a
University of Melbourne professor of dermatology wrote in a post for The Conversation.

So, if you’re worried your grays are the result of your stressful life, this is one less thing to worry about.

Scientists May Have Finally Determined Just How Much Pee Is in That Pool You’re Swimming In

If you’re an avid user of public pools who wishes to remain ignorant about how much urine you’ve swam in/cooled off in/accidentally ingested over the years, feel free to exit right now. For the rest of you, read ahead.

A study by Canadian researchers sought to determine how to detect pee in pools because, contrary to what you may have been told when you were a kid, there’s no liquid that surrounds you with a certain color if you take a leak in one. Instead they may have found an answer to the age old question of just how much piss is an average public pool. The verdict? An alarmingly high amount.

The team came to their conclusion after monitoring a pair of pools (one of which was 110,000 gallons, the other of which was 220,000 gallons) over the course of three weeks. They conducted their experiment by measuring the prevalence of an artificial sweetener that couldn’t be broken down by the body. What they found was that swimmers filled the smaller pool with 7.92 gallons, and the larger pool was filled with nearly 20 gallons. So much for the honor system.

Furthermore, they analyzed 250 samples from 31 other pools, as well as hot tubs, and discovered that there was about 570 times more pee in those samples than there was in a typical specimen of tap water. The study also noted why this matters, besides just grossing yourself out, as they said that compounds found in urine (such as urea, ammonia, amino acids and creatinine) can lead to eye and respiratory irritation when reacting with disinfectants. Also people who spend an inordinate amount of their time in water, like avid swimmers and pool workers, can end up with asthma.

University of Alberta grad student Lindsay Blackstock, who was the lead researcher for this study, says we should focus on public education to properly inform the masses about just how gross this is. “We recommend that all pool users should rinse off excess personal care products in the provided showers before entering public pools,” she said. “Additionally, we should all be considerate of others and make sure to exit the pool to use the restroom.”

There you have it. No more taking the easy way out.

Create a Custom Beer with Your DNA

Modern beer drinkers can be tough to please. With liquor store shelves overflowing with cinnamon IPAs and chocolate stouts, craft brewers are faced with the daunting task of finding recipes that will resonate with their oft-bearded end users. But one UK-based brewery is taking things up a notch. For a hefty price tag, the Meantime Brewing Company offering customers the ultimate personalized beer. And all they need is a bit of your spit.

For the pioneering project, the brewery partnered with personal genomics and biotechnology company, 23andMe. Using simple saliva samples, the folks at 23andMe are able to analyze customers’ genetic profiles and evaluate their taste tendencies. The brewers at Meantime then interpret that info to tailor-make 12 hectolitres (about 2,500 pints) of tipple suited to individual taste preferences.

Just in case the genetically determined flavor profile doesn’t perfectly match up with customers’ preferred tastes, a consultation with the brewmaster is included in the package to allow for a bit of flavor tweaking if necessary. And it just may be necessary. 23andMe have admitted that “scientists aren’t yet sure how much of our taste preferences are genetic, but estimates are generally around 50%.”

The idea to merge genetics with brewing was sparked late last year when Meantime brewmaster Ciaran Giblin obtained his own DNA blueprint from 23andMe. According to the results, Giblin’s oral taste receptors (the TAS2R38 gene) show that he has a proclivity for bitter flavors like those found in coffee or Brussels sprouts.

Hophead Giblin used the taste analysis to create the world’s first DNA-dictated beer: Double Helix. The super bitter IPA is packed with American hops and erupts with the full-bodied flavor that you’d expect from a chest hair-sprouting 10% ABV beer.

His potent personalized brew was made available at a selection of exclusive venues across London. Following its success, the craft brewer announced the launch of ‘Meantime Bespoke,’ “a one-of-a-kind service aimed at offering passionate craft beer fans the opportunity to brew the ultimate
in personalized beer.”

Sounds good, right? Well before you sign up, let’s talk about that hefty price tag. A DNA-designed beer will set you back an eye-watering $31,360 (and that excludes features like a custom-designed label or home draft dispenser). Sure, you head home with a truckload of beer, but you’re paying three times as much per pint as you would if you had just wandered into any London pub and ordered a beer from the bar.

But according to the team at Meantime, their custom beer project is about more than just the product. Marketing director, Richard Myers told The Register that it is about the experience of creating a unique beer in consultation with the brewmaster that makes Meantime Bespoke worth mortgaging the house.

“It is true that someone could just tell us whether they like sweet or bitter flavors, however we are interested in how much they really like them,” explains Myers. “For example, from the test we now understand that Ciaran (our brewmaster and first to try the concept) has an 80% tolerance to bitter flavors. Far higher than he actually thought he would, that led him to create a beer with 100 IBUs [International Bitterness Units]. The one-on-one consultation will provide further insight into the individual’s preferences to help create the perfect beer.”

Meantime Brewery, an Anheuser-Busch InBev company, are strong believers in embracing modern technology in the quest for better beer and are keen to push the boundaries of the industry to create new drinking experiences. “Drinkers are developing more adventurous tastes thanks to the abundance of new and unheard of ingredients and flavor combinations becoming even more readily available,” says Giblin. “We are finding our consumers want to be continually surprised, excited and at times even challenged by what’s on offer.”

Scientists Find That Laziness Is Contagious

Other people’s attitudes toward laziness and impatience can rub off on you, a new study from France reveals.

Researchers found that people not only pick up on other’s attitudes toward three personality characteristics — laziness, impatience and prudence — but they may even start to imitate these behaviors, suggesting a strong social influence.

Prudence, impatience and laziness are personality traits that guide how people make decisions that involve taking a risk, delaying an action and making an effort, said Jean Daunizeau, a team leader of the motivation, brain and behavior group at the Brain and Spine Institute (ICM) in Paris. Daunizeau is the lead author of the new study, published today (March 30) in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.

Prudence is a preference for avoiding risk, such as choosing a sure reward rather than a reward that may be greater but riskier to achieve, according to the study. Impatience is a preference for options that involve little delay and a strong desire for a payoff now rather than later. Lazy people are those who determine that the potential rewards are not worth the effort.

Typically, these three personality traits are thought of as “entrenched” traits, meaning  they are difficult to change, Daunizeau told Live Science.

The new study, however, suggests that this is not the case: People may unknowingly align their attitudes toward risk, delay or effort with the attitudes of others, Daunizeau said.

In the study, the researchers recruited 56 healthy people. To measure the participants’ attitudes toward risk, delay and effort, they were given a series of tasks in which they were asked to choose between two alternatives. For example, participants were asked to choose between a small payoff in three days or a higher payoff in three months; or to choose between a secure lottery outcome (a 90 percent chance of winning a small payoff) or a riskier lottery outcome (lower odds for a higher payoff).

Next, the participants were asked to guess “someone else’s” decisions on a similar task, and after making a selection, they were then told which choice this “other” participant had made, according to the study. But the “someone else” wasn’t a real person — instead, it was a fake participant based on a computerized model developed by the researchers. This model predicted how people learn about, and learn from, other people’s attitudes toward laziness, impatience and prudence.

During the final phase of the experiment, the participants repeated the first task, in which they were asked to make their own decisions.

The researchers found that after the participants observed the prudent, impatient or lazy attitudes of “others” on the task, their own choices about putting in effort, waiting during a delay or taking a risk drifted toward that of others. In other words, the participants started acting more like the computer-generated study participants.

Attitudes such as prudence, impatience and laziness are typically considered traits that are thought to be at least partly genetic, Daunizeau said. Moreover, researchers have thought that these three traits should be immune to environmental influences, such as social influence, at least in adulthood, he said.

But the study suggested that social influence can change people’s attitudes about being prudent, impatient or lazy, even though participants were unaware that social influence was having this effect on them.

Why might these three behaviors be “socially contagious”?

One explanation might be that people imitate the behavior of others because of social norms, including the desire to feel as though they belong to a group, Daunizeau said. People imitate others so their behavior might conform to and resemble individuals in that group, he said.

A second explanation is that people may think others possess some form of private information about how to best behave in a social context, Daunizeau said. In this case, people imitate others because they have learned how to behave from others, he said.

The researchers are applying this work to learn whether the attitude alignment observed in this study may differ in people with neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.

Panther Kittens Have Been Seen Outside Their Florida Territory for the First Time Since 1973

For the first time since 1973, endangered panther kittens have been spotted north of Florida’s Caloosahatchee River – evidence that despite all odds, these big cats are actually expanding their range.

Until now, only male panthers have been spotted north of the river, and for decades it was assumed that the females refused or were unable to cross it. But new images of healthy kittens have revealed that the Florida panther population could still be maintaining its unlikely increase.

“Until now, we had only evidence of panthers breeding south of the Caloosahatchee,” Kipp Frohlich from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Habitat and Species Conservation said in a statement.

“These pictures of a female with kittens indicate that there are now panthers breeding north of the river.”

Florida panthers are a critically endangered subspecies of cougar that have made their homes in the forests and swamps in the southern half of the state.

Once common throughout the southeastern US, the subspecies hit its lowest point in the 1970s, when just 20 individuals were estimated to be left in the wild.

A breeding experiment in 1995 saw eight female cougars brought over from Texas to give the dwindling gene pool a kick, and the cats managed to increase their population to around 200 by 2014.

Despite now being restricted to less than 5 percent of their historic range, and still faced with considerable threats, including poaching, busy roads, disease, and pollution, conservationists are extremely encouraged by this latest sighting.

“This is good news for panther recovery,” Larry Williams from the US Fish and Wildlife Service said in a press statement.

“The service is committed to working with landowners to make panthers and private land ownership compatible.”

Back in November 2016, Florida conservation officials announced that they’d seen a female panther finally cross the Caloosahatchee River for the first time in decades.

It’s not clear how many have followed suit since then, but experts say this is the single best thing the big cats could have done to ensure the survival of the subspecies.

In fact, these pioneering females appear to have done the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission a favor – for decades now, the government has had a long-term recovery plan in place for the subspecies, the primary goal of which was to:

“[M]aintain, restore, and expand the panther population and its habitat in south Florida, and expand the breeding portion of the population in south Florida to areas north of the Caloosahatchee River.”

Looks like the panthers have done their job for them.

It’s no time to get complacent about the fate of these important big cats – they’re still critically endangered, after all – but it’s refreshing to finally have some good news amid sobering predictions from scientists that a “major extinction event”could be on the cards for primates if things don’t change.

Let’s hope the Florida panther continues to defy all odds by finding new ways to survive out there in the sunshine state.

“For many years, the Caloosahatchee River has appeared to be a major obstacle to northward movement for female panthers,” says Darrell Land, the FWC panther team leader.

“This verification of kittens with the female demonstrates panthers can expand their breeding territory across the river naturally.”

NOAA Predicts A Warmer Than Usual Spring

It may be difficult for those in the Northeast to imagine, what with all the snow, but spring is just around the corner, and it’s going to be a warm one.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center released its spring 2017 outlook forecast this week, and it predicts warmer-than-average temperatures for much of the United States. The chances for these warmer temperatures range from 33 percent for southwestern California, and a 50 to 80 percent chance for much of the southern Plains, Great Lake and the Eastern seaboard regions. (And if you think you’ll have usual temperature in Alaska or Hawaii, think again. Warmer weather is expected there, too.)

NOAA is also predicting a heavy flooding season due to these warmer temperatures. North Dakota, in particular, is at risk.

“If you’re in northern North Dakota, or in the Snake River basin in Idaho, prepare for moderate to major flooding this spring,” said Tom Graziano, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Office of Water Prediction. “Snowpack is heavy in the West and northern plains, and if our long term warm-up coincides with spring rains, already saturated soils will not be able to absorb the increased water, which would lead to increased runoff and potential flooding.”

The warmer than usual temperatures probably aren’t a surprise. After all, 2016 was the second warmest year on record for the continental U.S., just part of a larger trend of average annual temperatures surpassing the 20th century average.

We May Have Finally Found the Foundations Upon Which Life Evolved

Scientists have discovered that a version of the Krebs cycle, the heart of the cellular metabolic network, can take place without the cellular proteins known as enzymes. Since the Krebs cycle does not require cellular proteins to occur, researchers now believe that metabolism may predate life. In fact, spontaneous chemical reactions may have served as the foundation for life on Earth.

“Metabolism” describes the web of chemical reactions that maintain the living state of cells and organisms. This includes both reactions that synthesize amino acids and lipids that cells need and reactions that break down molecules to generate energy. Cells use lipids and amino acids in membranes and proteins and to create the molecules that are consumed to generate energy.

The intriguing question scientists now face is this: how did this complex cycle evolve at all if it predated life?

QUESTIONS ABOUT LIFE’S ORIGINS

Two main theories about the evolution of the Krebs cycle have been proposed. One says that RNAcame first, prompting the evolution of the Krebs cycle. However, not only is RNA made from metabolic products, evolutionary principles suggest that the reactions must have predated life; existing in the first life forms immediately, these chemical reactions offered some kind of advantage, a selective pressure which eventually resulted in the evolution of enzymes.

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The other theory is that some form of the Krebs cycle existed before life forms did, and was then adopted by living cells. The cycle then evolved inside and with life forms, developing enzymes to become more efficient. This theory was dismissed by many in the past, but these latest findings published in Nature Ecology & Evolution lend it credence.

The research team exposed Krebs cycle chemicals to chemicals that would have been present in the sediments of early oceans. Eventually they triggered 24 chemical reactions in sequence — something very similar to today’s Krebs cycle. Thus far, however, they have only shown that this cycle runs in the oxidative direction, a development that would have taken place only once there was molecular oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. They have yet to generate the reductive Krebs cycle that is still present in some ancient bacteria.

The researchers point out that there are still key components of life that this work does not explain, said Mark Ralser of the Francis Crick Institute in London, leader of the team who reported the findings.

“With the metabolic pathway alone, you have a very good starting point for life, but it is not life, just a chemical-reaction network,” Ralser said in an interview with New Scientist. “You also need things like membranes to contain the reactions, and the genetic machinery that enables inheritance.”

“How do you bring these elements together in one environment and in non-extreme conditions, and make them work?” Ralser asked. “This is still a big challenge.”