Courtesy Mean and PinchyYou know what we love? Genitals. And I think you know which brand I’m talking about: the funny kind. And we just can’t get them out of our minds!
Take, for instance, some new research on spider venom. In addition to its long-established killing stuff properties, it turns out that some spider venom contains compounds that could aide the development of treatments for health issues ranging from arthritis to erectile dysfunction.
Whoa! Did I just type what I think I typed? “Erectile”? “Erectile dysfunction”? Whoa ho ho ho! Ha ha ha! Erectile dysfunction! That means that, you know, the elevator isn’t reaching the top floor! That, like, junk isn’t… Ha ha! Man, I love spiders! They are hilarious! Let’s see where else this research into comedy gold will take us.
It seems that some scientists at Cornell University have developed a new way of analyzing the molecular makeup of spider venom. Using “nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy,” the scientists were able to obtain detailed information on the molecular composition of spider venom, and, especially exciting, found entirely new molecules that had been overlooked in previous analysis of venom. The venom of the brown recluse spider, in particular, yielded some remarkable compounds.
“Remarkable compounds”? What is this? Get back to the erectile dysfunction! What happened to that stuff?
Hiding behind some larger molecules, the brown recluse venom was found to have some very small and interesting molecules called “sulfated nucleosides.” These molecules are quite similar to RNA, a basic component of our genetic material. Studying the sulfated nucleosides could lead to a better understanding of how brown recluse venom works.
Works at what? Curing impotence? Something like that? Gosh, it actually seems like this research was mostly about a new method of chemical analysis. But remember the part about, you know, wieners? Ah ha ha! Good stuff. Love it! In fact, the headline of any article about this research should focus on that incidental piece of information.
You’re welcome, scientists. We weren’t interested in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, so we changed the focus a little. Now you’ve given us what we want. (Genitals.)
Courtesy heyjupiterEvolutionary biologists and math wizards have put their minds together to summon a pulsating, glistening packet of truth from the void.
Biting into the fruit of this magnificent spell, the meta-scientists gained the following information: superstitions, it seems, are an evolutionary adaptation.
This isn’t an entirely new train of thought, even here on Science Buzz, but this research takes the notion a little further. It has already been proposed that superstitions—false connections between cause and effect—prepare us for “just in case” scenarios. That is to say, as Gene put it, it won’t actually rain on a particular day just because we forgot our umbrellas, but thinking that that’s true will encourage us to bring our umbrellas just in case. The scientists behind this new study are looking at that idea in a more mathematical way.
They started with a similar premise: that assuming a potentially false connection between cause and effect will sometimes be beneficial. For example, to a prehistoric man, rustling grass might sometimes mean that there’s a lion getting ready to pounce on you. Even though a lion isn’t the only thing that will make grass rustle, treating rustling grass as a sign of danger isn’t a bad idea in the long run; the caveman looses nothing by avoiding grass that is actually being disturbed by the wind, but gains everything by avoiding grass the few times that it actually hides a predator.
The scientists then decided that the theory could be tested mathematically. By weighing the losses of false associations (avoiding wind rustled grass) against the gains from when those associations turn out to be real (hungry lions hiding), we can see if that sort of behavior is beneficial to survival in the long run, and will therefore be selected for evolutionarily. The model gets more complicated when there are multiple potential causes to connect to an effect (is it the rustling grass, the full moon, or the random sneezing that means a lion is on its way?), but it seems that assuming false causes is, in general, a decent survival strategy. Fortune favors the timid, apparently.
In modern times, the scientists say, this behavior can manifest in things like attitudes toward alternative and homeopathic medicines; while most of them may be ineffective, the chance that some work is enough to get people to use them all.
Superstitions like avoiding black cats, paths under ladders, and opening umbrellas indoors, however, may have more to do with evolutionarily superstitious behavior getting mixed up with culture and “modern life.” These days, the researchers point out, superstitions are probably less beneficial than they used to be.
That’s a little bit of a copout, I’d say. Fortune, after all, favors the bold, so why not go out on a limb here?
You don’t want black cats crossing your path, obviously, because a much larger black cat could be chasing them—and you don’t want to mess around with huge black cats (especially if they’re being chased by an even larger cat).
Walking under ladders is an easy one. There’s always the chance that a bucket of paint could fall on your head, and once you’ve got a bucket stuck on your head any number of awful things can and will happen to you. Trust me.
Opening umbrellas indoors—if you’re in a very small house, you could seriously damage your umbrella.
Unlucky number thirteen? Thirteen of anything can’t be divided fairly between friends, leaving you with no other option than to kill one of your friends. That’s how blood feuds start.
I should be a scientist. Or a fortune teller.
Well, not “lives” literally. It was, in fact, hit by a car, decapitated, and frozen, which makes living difficult for most things. But the tenacious crypto-beast refuses to be silent, even in death, and so I invite you all to have a seat on the cryptocouch, and kick up your feet on the ottoman of open-mindedness. Do so now.
A quick refresher: Last year a Texas woman found several strange looking animals on a road near her ranch—all had apparently been struck by cars. The creatures were about 40 pounds each, grayish, largely hairless, fanged, and dog-like. It was suggested that these animals might have been responsible for the deaths by exsanguination (removal of blood) of dozens of chickens in the area over the last several years, and so they were associated with the legendary Latin American bloodsucking monster the chupacabra. These kinds of claims are made all the time, but this lady actually had the foresight to keep the bodies—or at least their heads—in her freezer for tests.
Refresher #2: A couple months later, the creature’s DNA results came back, and it was declared that the “chupacabras” were nothing more than coyotes with skin problems. Science Buzz had a post on this story too, and here’s the link for Texas State University’s take on the DNA results they came up with. And that’s about where coverage on the Cuero chupacabra dropped off (except for a sighting this summer).
Courtesy matt knoth
But the story’s not quite over! The woman who shot the creatures claims that the results of the DNA tests were not accurately represented by the media, and that the story was dismissed without sufficient investigation. Phylis, the Cuero rancher herself, recently sent Science Buzz a letter regarding some of the problems she has with the sick coyote theory:
You state the Cuero Chupacabra is a sick coyote. Based on what evidence?
I have the beast, I have the DNA, and I have talked to multitudes of scientist and biologist and not ONE person has stated that this animal is a sick coyote.
What we know:
It DID NOT have mange
It is a cross between two animals that do not breed
It has blue eyes
I will continue to research this beast as I stated I would when I first began observing it two years ago!!
I hope this info helps-
And so today the cryptocouch is no longer a place of simple relaxation, it is a nexus of discussion! What do you all think? If it’s not a mythological creature, and it’s not exactly a coyote, what is it?
Leave your comments and questions here. Hopefully Phylis will be joining the discussion herself—do you have any questions for her?
That's right—on August 25th, 1978, Lego introduced the little yellow Lego guy. Lego had been manufacturing plastic interlocking bricks since 1949, allowing children across the world to practice engineering without realizing that they shouldn't be having fun, but it wasn't until 78 that they sold a little human like thing to enjoy our Lego creations.
Technically there were minifigures available in 1974, but the were faceless, armless pylon-men, and they couldn't enjoy anything. 1978 brought the lovable little man we know today.
And, yes, that does make me want to buy a bunch of Lego friends, and have a party for the 20th century, but I thought I'd leave you with a different, though no less triumphant, Lego celebration. Enjoy.
Researchers at Swansea University, in the UK, are developing an antibiotic that can fight the MRSA superbug. And they're using superbugs to do it. OK, not superbugs. They're using the secretions from the maggots of the common green bottle fly.
Courtesy National Institutes of Health
Super gross? Sure. And you won't see an ad for this antibiotic (Seraticin) on TV anytime soon. It takes some 20 maggots to make a single drop of the drug. So scientists have to fully identify it, figure out a way to synthesize it in the lab, test it on human cells, and put it through a clinical trial.
In the meantime, using live maggots on infected wounds is a time-tested way of beating infections. Dr. Alun Morgan, of ZooBiotic Ltd, told the BBC,
"Maggots are great little multitaskers. They produce enzymes that clean wounds, they make a wound more alkaline which may slow bacterial growth and finally they produce a range of antibacterial chemicals that stop the bacteria growing."
How effective are maggots? The University of Manchester has been doing research on diabetic patients with MRSA-contaminated foot ulcers. The patients treated with maggots were mostly cured within three weeks. Patients who got more conventional treatment needed 28 weeks.
Popular Science magazine is running a series of items on scientific research projects that seem fairly pointless. They report on experiments that have proven that unathletic kids are unpopular; that rock musicians tend to die young; and that people catch the flu in winter.
Why bother? Two reasons. First, as Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “common sense is neither.” A lot of the things we think we know turn out not to be true. Only by checking them out do we really know what’s what.
Second, confirming a phenomenon exists is the first step toward understanding it. If we want to combat the flu, for instance, it helps to know that, yes, it really does strike more often during a particular time of the year. This may be a clue to how the disease spreads, and how we might be able to stop it.
Sometimes, having an amazing grasp of the obvious can be a good thing!
Courtesy Thag the cavemanDo you enjoy hearing your favorite rock group perform their ear-splitting music in a huge cavernous concert arena with flashing colored lights and giant video imagery? Or listening to hymns and spirituals bounce off the vaulted ceiling of a church full of colorful stained-glassed windows and religious icons? Well, I’ve got news for you. It could be you’re attracted to such things by a deep-seated urge to mix echoing music and art; a practice mankind has apparently been doing since the Stone Age. At least according to a new theory coming out of the University of Paris.
Professor Iegor Reznikoff, a specialist in the resonance of building and spaces, theorizes that the most resonant areas of prehistoric-era caves are also the locations where most of the cave wall paintings appear.
Reznikoff stumbled upon the idea by accident.
"The first time I happened to be in a prehistoric cave, I tried the resonance in various parts of the cave, and quickly the question arose: Is there a relation between resonance and locations of the paintings?"
Reznikoff tested his theory inside various well-known French caves where prehistoric art adorned the walls. As he moved about each space, singing and humming, Reznikoff measured where the optimum resonance occurred.
To his surprise, the most resonant areas of each cave were usually spots where most of the cave art was concentrated. And where the resonance was the greatest, the artwork was the densest. In smaller spaces, such as narrow passages between larger cavern rooms where painting would have been difficult, the walls were marked with red lines.
Courtesy WikipediaIt occurred to Reznikoff that perhaps a cave’s acoustics was important to prehistoric culture, and may be the reason why primitive musical instruments, such as a Neanderthal flute made out of the femur of a bear, have been found in similar caves.
"The [prehistoric] tribes could make sounds with stones, pieces of wood, different types of drums and so on," Reznikoff says. "Of course the Paleolithic tribes did sing, as do all cultural groups from other regions. That they did so in the caves is shown by my studies. The ritual purpose appears very convincing."
This may explain why the popularity of cavernous concert halls, and large arena music performances, or even subterranean music clubs continue to be popular to this day. Perhaps the ancestral effects of long ago cave rituals still resonate in us.
Courtesy Mark RyanA long-sought 18th century British warship has finally been discovered on the bottom of one of the Great Lakes bordering Canada and the United States. The HMS Ontario, a Royal Navy sloop that patrolled Lake Ontario during the American Revolutionary War, was sailing to Oswego, New York from Fort Niagara when it sank in a violent storm on October 31, 1780, taking with it all on board.
The shipwreck was discovered a couple weeks ago, sitting in mud under about 500 feet of water off the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, two shipwreck enthusiasts who share credit for the discovery, used side-sonar and an unmanned submersible device to locate the wreck. The two men have been searching together for the HMS Ontario for more than three years. And now that they’ve found it, they’re keeping the location secret, at least for the time being. They’ll only say that it’s in deep water somewhere between Rochester and Niagara.
"It's a British war grave and we want to make sure it remains undisturbed,” said Kennard, a veteran diver who has found over 200 wrecks. Despite the HMS Ontario’s age and present location, it would still be considered property of the British Admiralty.
The HMS Ontario was constructed in the spring of 1780 on Carleton Island
at the lake’s east end where it flows into the St. Lawrence River. The 80-foot sloop was fitted with two masts and 22 cannons and used mainly to ferry soldiers and supplies back and forth across the lake during the summer of 1780. Some historians speculate the warship never fired any of its cannons. When she sank, the Ontario took with her 88 souls - at least according to official records. Letters from an individual living at Fort Niagara at the time claim there were also 30 unlisted American prisoners on the ship who also died in the tragedy.
Debris from the HMS Ontario washed up on shore about 30 miles east of Fort Niagara, and the ship’s sails were found adrift a few days after the storm. Months later, six bodies were recovered about 12 miles east of the Niagara River, and that was the last evidence of the sinking anyone saw. That is, until Kennard and Scoville located Ontario’s final resting place two week ago.
The discovery has been called a miracle of archaeology, and may be the oldest Great Lake’s shipwreck ever found.
"It's the oldest confirmed shipwreck in the lakes," Scoville said. "And very few warships went down." He added that it’s definitely the most intact warship ever discovered.
The ship’s condition surprised even its seasoned explorers. Kennard said the 228-year-old wreck might have gone down more gently in the storm than previously thought, because it doesn’t appear to be very battered. Two crow’s nests remain on both masts, and eight cannons still line the deck. One anchor is attached to the side of the ship, while another rests on the lake bottom. Some of the windows in the quarter galleries are even intact, despite tremendous underwater pressures. They also contribute the high level of preservation to the lake’s cold temperatures and lack of light and oxygen.
Here's some video of the historic wreck.
More than 4700 shipwrecks litter the bottom of the Great Lakes, 500 of them in Lake Ontario. But for Kennard and Scoville any future discoveries they make are going to be hard to match their discovery of the HMS Ontario.
"This is the Holy Grail of Great Lakes wrecks," Kennard said. "There's nothing more significant than this one."
Courtesy Roro Fernandez
So, what’s the opposite of “the dismal science”?
A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that men, after receiving a sexual stimulus – touching lingerie or even just seeing a woman in a bikini – seek immediate gratification.
Why can’t I ever get chosen for research like this?
(The lingerie, the report is quick to point out, was “not being worn during the test.” Still – dude – awesome methodology!)
Now, what’s all this about “immediate gratification”? I mean, we’ve all seen There’s Something About Mary, right? Well, get your minds out of the gutter, people. What they mean is, aroused men are more likely to try to satisfy any appetite – food, alcohol, money, whatever is at hand. So to speak.
To which men everywhere are saying “You paid how much to figure that out?”
It all has to do with the appetite centers in the brain. Seems it’s all one big giant Id. Once it’s aroused by some stimulus, the man seeks to satisfy it any way he can.
To which women everywhere are saying, “No duh.”
Apparently, the smell of fresh baked bread has the same effect, which would explain why you see so many pie shops right next door to strip clubs.
But, most interesting of all, we find, buried in the article, never explained, never elaborated upon, this little gem:
It wasn't that the men were simply distracted by their sexual arousal, which caused them to choose more impulsively. On the contrary, they exhibited improved cognition and creativity after exposure to sexy stimuli.
While this does not comport with the stupid pick-up lines one hears in bars every night of the week, nevertheless, there it is. I mean, this is science, right? Looking at pretty girls actually makes men smarter! Therefore, we should view beer commercials and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, not as crass attempts to move product by appealing to hard-wired neurological instincts, but rather as a public service, a selfless effort to increase intellectual activity and creative achievement by stimulating men’s brains.
But no. That’s not what the liberal media wants you to hear. Men bad. Men can’t control urges. Men barely better than animals. So what we get are prurient headlines, lascivious photos, and sly innuendo like “seek immediate gratification,” wink wink. Why, it’s enough to…
Gutter. Out. Now!
Courtesy Alexander Roslin; Royal Science Academy of SwedenThe Writer's Almanac reminds us that Carl Linnaeus was born 301 years ago today. Carl Linnaeus established the practice of using a unique set of two Latin terms to name a species, which became the common scientific naming system that we still use today.
The Almanac writes:
He was a botanist. He taught at universities. At a time when Sweden was one of the poorest countries in Europe, Linnaeus set out to import exotic plants and animals, hoping they could be raised for profit in Sweden. He hoped to raise tea and coffee, ginger, coconuts, silkworms.
His botanical experiments failed. The tea plants died. The coffee didn't make it in Sweden, and neither did ginger or coconuts or cotton. Rhubarb did though, and Linnaeus, late in his life, said the introduction of rhubarb to Sweden was his proudest achievement. But today we remember him for his contribution to taxonomy.
Oddly enough, I ate a rhubarb tart in celebration of a friend's birthday last night. I like to think it was in honor of good ol' Linné as well.