ICYMI: Weekly Science News (11/20/17)


By: Jaclyn Cascio @jaclynator)

Have you heard about all the good stuff happening the world of STEM right now? If you haven’t, and you’re looking for a pick-me-up to get your week going, take a look back at what’s been going on. ICYMI, here’s a taste of some of last week’s science news!

Musk’s Trucks

Truck drivers carry cargo, goods, and delicious foods all around the country for our consumption, using lots of fuel to do so. In L.A. on Thursday, Elon Musk revealed Tesla’s new all-electric semi-truck, and it’s already getting orders! The new Tesla semi has the ability to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in just 20 seconds, towing 80,000 pounds. The vehicles will sport a 500-mile maximum range on a single charge, and with a network of “megachargers” to be built, trucks could recharge for 400 miles in just 30 minutes. Who’s going to be traveling in the

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Cooperation between individuals usually means that everyone wins. A new study has shown that cooperative behavior for everyone’s benefit isn’t only for humans – mice have figured it out too! Scientists put mice in a common area, and whenever they traveled to an area lit up in blue, they got a jolt to the pleasure center of their brains. Once individual mice understood the connection and sought the good feeling, the researchers then put a second mouse into the mix. With two mice in the common area, the rules changed. If more than one mouse went to the blue area, the pleasure-inducing electrical charge to the brain turned off. Eventually, the pairs of mice established rules to take turns getting the jolt of good feelings. If mice can get along to achieve a common goal, can humans do the same?

Humans + Dogs = Love 4 Ever

If verified, rock paintings found in Saudi Arabia will be the oldest art depicting our four-legged dog friends. The pictures are believed to be 8,000 years old and might give some insight into the connection between humans and dogs over the years. Fossils that are more than 30,000 years old have provided information to researchers about a canid breed that differed from wolves, and might have been a breed of dog, and the bones of a dog were found buried with humans in Germany that lived nearly 15,000 years ago. While fossils don’t always tell a full story, art does! Will more paintings on stone tell us just how long dog’s have been man’s best friend?

It’s not drinking alone if the dog is home.

It looks like drawings of dog pals weren’t the only thing going on 8,000 years ago. Stone Age pottery jars in the European country of Georgia have been chemically analyzed and found to have held wine! While there has been evidence of different forms of wine-making (using grapes along with other substances) predating this pottery, this is the oldest evidence of pure modern-style viticulture thus far. Fermenting grapes for recreation and fun with dogs – civilization hasn’t evolved all that much since then!

The Secret of Immortality

If you want to live a longer and healthier life, there are two things you need, according to recent science news out this week: become Amish and own a dog.

While the Amish are known for their old-fashioned lifestyle, it’s not just the hard work and healthy diet that might be helping them live longer. A new study focused on an Amish community in Indiana found that some have a non-functional copy of a gene called SERPINE1. Those with the gene appear to live an average of ten years longer than their fellow community members. The gene is not unique to the Amish community, but because of the close-knit family orientation, it’s likely that more Amish have the gene than the outside population.

Meanwhile, a study of Swedish citizens found that dog owners of pure-bred animals (mixed-breed numbers varied) had lower risk of cardiovascular disease. In a household with multiple individuals, the risk of premature death decreased by 11% in dog owners, with a decrease of 15% of death cause dby cardiovascular disease. In single dog-owners, the risk of premature death decreased by 33%. It might be due to increased physical activity needed to care for the dogs, or it might be the social effects of companionship – but having a dog seems like a healthy choice, regardless of the reason.

Pollution is spelled with an O

Air pollution is terrible for everyone, increasing the risk of heart attack for all individuals exposed. But a new study suggests that the risk increases even more for those with a variant ABO gene (found in individuals with A, B, and AB blood types). The research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2017 in California is not the first to show that A, B, and AB blood typed individuals are at higher risk of issues. A study in April showed that those with O blood types have lower risk of cardiovascular events, such as strokes and heart attacks. Air pollution has a specific target with the ABO gene, but it is important to note that the pollution is a risk for everyone and should be avoided whenever possible.

For all the Muggles…

For those of us without magic who don’t have Remembralls to remind us of what we have forgotten, a new implant is being tested to improve human memory. Twenty volunteers (who already had electrodes in the brain to help with epileptic episodes) had a “memory prosthesis” implanted. The implant is designed to strengthen the existing memory pathways of the brain, acting much as the hippocampus does. So far, the implant has been reported to improve participants’ memory performance by 30%. This is the first implant of its kind, so there is plenty of further research in development, but it opens up interesting avenues for the future!

Dear AI, what rhymes with Zodiac Killer?

In the 1960s, California suffered in fear as the Zodiac killer murdered at least five people, and as many as 37. Unsolved to this day, the victims have never received justice. But Keven Knight has programmed a machine, CARMEL, to use the writings of the killer to decode the cipher by the murderer. Might an AI finally give us the true identify of the Zodiac Killer? While we wait, CARMEL also writes poetry. Just give it some words, some rules, and see what comes out! You can play with the program yourself here.

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