Neurologists used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to study the brain function of a woman who'd been in a coma for five months. To their surprise, when they asked her to respond to commands or imagine things, her brain "lit up" in the same way that the brains of healthy subjects did. The scientists caution that this is likely not the situation for many vegetative patients.

Researchers at the University of California in partnership with Intel, have produced a computer chip that can communicate using lasers instead of wires. This chip is built with silicon and conventional manufacturing processes making it relatively cheap but 100s of times faster than current chips. Will this change how we compute?

Sep
16
2006

Loud this time of year: Fork-tailed bush katydid (Photo courtesy Jenn Formann Orth)
Loud this time of year: Fork-tailed bush katydid (Photo courtesy Jenn Formann Orth)

This article, by Tyler Rushmeyer, appeared in the local news section of today's Pioneer Press:

Racket bugging residents: Night music made by katydid colony
Many White Bear Lake residents were baffled when they started hearing a new sound reverberating through their neighborhoods.
As night falls, a loud "yack, yack" sound has filled the air. "It sounds like a tropical rainforest on my block," said White Bear Lake resident Mark Nevala, one of several people to call city officials asking about the noise.
The culprit: katydids, loud insects performing mating calls by rubbing their wings together. The mating season should last into early October.
Closely related to grasshoppers and crickets, katydids are spread throughout Minnesota. The bugs residents are hearing are the northern katydid species, said Dick Oehlenschlager, assistant curator and collections manager for biology at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
"They move in colonies and shift every year, and this year their colony seems to have taken residence in the Twin Cities area," he said.
The insects--about 2 inches long and bright green, with long, coiled antennae--are near-motionless during the day and reside on the leaves of trees. But soon after dusk, they become active. They are difficult to spot, Oehlenschlager said, which is why many people are confused about where the noise is coming from.
"Even I didn't know what I was hearing the first couple times I came in contact with them," Oehlenschlager said.

Look for our new fall phenology section, featuring other seasonal behaviors of insects and birds, coming to the Mississippi River Gallery and the Buzz website after next week.

Sep
16
2006

There's been a rash of cool weather sites written up in the Twin Cities newspapers and other media lately.

Here are just a few:

Skeetobiteweather is one of the most popular hurricane sites run by amateurs. Jonathon Grant, of Lakeland, Florida, runs it. He says the site gets 1.8 million page views a week, and you can plug in your zip code and get a prediction of wind forces for your block, hour-by-hour, before a hurricane hits. (Not even the National Weather Service does that.) And pretty soon, you'll be able to enter your exact address.

Mark Sudduth, of Wilmington, North Carolina, runs HurricaneTrack and HurricaneLiveNet. He deploys several battery-powered, waterproof cameras at the exact points where hurricanes are expected to hit. He also collects weather data to accompany the live, streaming video.

Jesse Bass, of Hampton Roads, Virginia, is a weather chaser who posts photos and commentary on his website, VAStormPhoto.

HurricaneCity, despite its name, is one of the more comprehensive severe weather sites. Jim Williams, of Delray Beach, Florida, focuses on the city being hit, and you can see all live, streaming radio stations or TV from the site. He also has a towercam on his roof, which captured images from Hurricane Wilma last year, and he hosts "The Hurricane Warning Show" from his living room.

Mike Watkins, of Coconut Creek, Florida, covers Atlantic hurricane action on TropicalUpdate. And if there's no news on the hurricane front, he hosts an Internet radio show where he interviews the "celebrities" of the weather world--guys like Max Mayfield, of the National Hurricane Center, or William Gray, the Colorado State University professor who's known for his hurricane season forecasts.

Sep
15
2006

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Courtesy madcovv
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright: Courtesy madcovv

I was amazed today when I cracked open my new copy of Harper's Magazine. In the Harper's Index feature I discovered this chilling fact about our dwindling world tiger population. There are about as many tigers living in the wild around the world as there are living as pets in the US?! That's simply absurd. These wild animals were not meant to be domesticated and keeping them as pets won't help grow their numbers in the wild.

However, searching around on this topic did lead me to a rather interesting blog focusing on the issues of conservation, specifically through the lens of finance. They recently highlighted China's unique efforts at tiger conservation, which involve breeding tigers in China and shipping them to a fenced-in preserve in South Africa. But most interestingly this blog focusses on some real world situations that can be solved within our current economic system. According to the blog's author:

Good intentions are not enough. We need business models that are financially, institutionally and technically viable, based on evidence, and provide incentives to encourage biodiversity conservation.

I couldn't agree more, so head on over to the Conservation Finance blog and specifically their posts on wildlife conservation to learn more.

Sep
15
2006

Black cottonwood: Courtesy Oak Point Nursery
Black cottonwood: Courtesy Oak Point Nursery

Ever heard of Populus trichocarpa? It sure is shaking up what researchers understand about plant biology and evolution. That’s right, Populus trichocarpa is a tree, more specifically a black cottonwood.

The black cottonwood is the first tree to have its full DNA code sequenced. Reports state the poplar tree has far less DNA in its cells than humans or other mammals, but twice the number of genes. The poplar has 485 million basepairs! Basepairs are the letters orchestrating a genetic code (A=adenine, T=thymine, C=cytosine, G=guanine). Researchers have found more than 45,000 possible genes (units of hereditary information). To put this number in perspective, humans and other mammals have a little over 20-25,000 genes.

Why is this cool?

Besides figuring out specific questions about botany, having the full DNA sequence of the black cottonwood will also have industrial implications.

The research team discovered 93 genes of the poplar where involved in making cellulose. Cellulose is an organic material found in large quantities on Earth. Cellulose is the primary structural component of green plants. It can be broken down into sugar, fermented into alcohol and distilled to produce fuel-quality ethanol.

Dr. Gerald Tuskan, the lead author of the report in Science, stated, “Biofuels are not only attractive for their potential to cut reliance on oil imports but also their reduced environmental impact.”

Populus trichocarpa identification:

Leaf structure: Alternate, simple, deciduous, ovate-laneolate to deltoid, dark green and silvery white underneath, wavy margins.

Fruit: Releases cottony-tufted seeds
Bark: When young, it is smooth and yellowish tan to gray; later on it turns gray to gray-brown and has deep furrows and flattened ridges.

Form: Tallest broad-leaved tree in the West. Able to grow up to 200 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter.

Found: Flood plains and along river and stream banks. Prefers moist/wet sites.

Keep your eyes open for a black cottonwood tree near you!

Fresh spinach: Courtesey ranjit
Fresh spinach: Courtesey ranjit

The FDA is warning individuals to think twice before consuming bagged spinach. An E. coli outbreak has been linked to fresh spinach. E. coli depending on its severity, can have adverse affects.

Sep
15
2006
Sep
14
2006

Thursday, astronomers discovered a new planet so "puffy" that it would float in water. This new planet named HAT-P-1, is the largest and least dense planet found outside our solar system. 450 light-years from Earth, HAT-P-1 orbits a star in the constellation Lacerta. This planet is a gas giant, composed of hydrogen and helium. Robert Noyes, a research astrophysicist from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, claims HAT-P-1 would "float if placed in a cosmic glass of water." HAT-P-1 orbits its parent star at one-twentieth the distance that seperates Earth and the sun, taking only 4.5 days to orbit, versus our 365 days! HAT-P-1 was discovered by a network of telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona. It is too distant to be seen with the naked eye, but visible with binoculars.