Talking with whales

While captive in a Navy program, a beluga whale named Noc began to mimic human speech.

Since the early 1960s the United States had been deploying marine mammals, beginning with dolphins, for tasks including mine detection and recovery of test torpedoes. By the mid-1970s, the locus of the naval cold war had shifted to the Arctic, where the latest Soviet submarines were secreting themselves under the ice cap, an environment off-limits to animals including dolphins and sea lions used in the Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP). Experiments commenced on weaponry that could function in such extreme conditions. The Navy needed marine mammals with built-in sonar, capable of locating and retrieving sunken experimental torpedoes in the frigid waters and low visibility of the Arctic, and they landed on beluga whales.

Due to his close work with his trainers, Noc began to mimic human speech in an attempt to communicate, work that is presented in “Spontaneous Human Speech Mimicry by a Cetacean,” in the October 23, 2012, edition of the journal Current Biology. Or read about it over at the Smithsonian!

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Oldest fossil on earth?

The history of life on earth is fascinating, and largely one of the reasons I started studying evolutionary biology.

There is solid evidence of life dating back to 3.5 billion years, at which point the earth was a billion years old.

Last August, Dr. Van Kranendonk and his colleagues reported discovering fossils in Greenland that are 3.7 billion years old and were once mats of bacteria that grew in shallow coastal waters.

But then, a new study, published in the journal Nature, Mattew S.Dodd, Dominic Papineau and their colleagues at University College London studied rocks that are older.

They came from a remote geological formation in Canada called Nuvvuagittuq, which stretches across four square miles on the coast of Hudson Bay.Researchers have variously estimated its age at 3.77 billion years or 4.22 billion years — just 340 million years after the formation of the planet.

Want to read more? Check it out at the Washington post!

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Iron-rich chert, shown here in red, containing ancient fossils was formed near hydrothermal vents on an ancient seafloor, according to a new study. 

 

Ambitious plans to sequence every organism on earth, seeks funding

“When it comes to genome sequencing, visionaries like to throw around big numbers: There’s the UK Biobank, for example, which promises to decipher the genomes of 500,000 individuals, or Iceland’s effort to study the genomes of its entire human population. Yesterday, at a meeting here organized by the Smithsonian Initiative on Biodiversity Genomics and the Shenzhen, China–based sequencing powerhouse BGI, a small group of researchers upped the ante even more, announcing their intent to, eventually, sequence “all life on Earth.””

Interested? Read more over at Science. 

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The battle between global health charities and open access mandates

Global health charities are funding more and more scientific research (as NIH and NSF funding rates are scarily low).

However, one prominent charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have an open-access policy stipulating that any research that they fund must be available open-access.

Which conflicts with Science and Nature policy. So at the moment any research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cannot be published in two of the top journals for science.

Thoughts?

Read about it here. 

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Watch this Moth Drive a Car

There has been a lot of economic discussion lately of humans losing their jobs to robots.

There has also been a ton of discussion about self-driving cars and their impact on the auto industry.

But what we haven’t heard about is moth driven cars. Yeah, you read that correctly.

It turns out that moths can be trained to track odor aiding people finding disaster victims, detect illicit drugs or explosives, and sense leaks of hazardous material.

And to this end, they drive cars. See video, and read article here.

Rewriting the Code of Life

Scientists on at MIT are proposing to introduce a mouse that has its genes edited to resist Lyme disease. Given the high prevalence of Lyme disease on the small New England Island, the removal of Lyme disease from the mouse population (who harbor before it infects humans) would then directly effect how prevalent it is in the human population.

Cool huh?

But really, this story is about one of the first real world examples of CRISPR, the revolutionary gene editing tool.

Read about it over at the New Yorker. 

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