The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is one of the more terrifying events of the past year. At this point over 10,000 people have been killed by the virus and it has devastated several countries to the point where it will takes years, if not decades to recover. There is thankfully, a bright spot for those working with the disease. Based on new research, it appears that the virus involved in the current outbreak is not mutating at an accelerated rate as was previously thought. In fact, the virus is mutating at about the same rate as viruses from previous outbreaks. While this is a relief for vaccine researchers, it doesn’t leave them worry-free as even small mutations may have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of a vaccine.
This doesn’t go well.
I’m glad to hear this news. I’ve seen Outbreak, I know this doesn’t end well if it mutates. Continue reading
Until recently, most scientists thought that the difference between species was fairly clear cut and typically involved the inability for cross species mating. Thanks to modern technology however, that distinction has become much less clear. In a comparison of different crow species, it was discovered that only an incredibly small difference in DNA separated two species. While the crows in question were still able to cross-breed, there were very few examples of it actually happening. Scientists are currently working on various theories as to why these two compatible species might not prefer to mate with one another.
This might not be the type of crow they were referring to…
New information like this will make it more difficult to classify different species, though it has significantly improved our understanding of those things that make us different.
Like most people my age, I rarely use cash, instead relying on one of several credit or debit cards in my wallet. While they are convenient, they are still pretty low tech. Cards are really only a piece of molded plastic with a magnetic strip on the back encoded with some information encoded. One company, Coin, is working to take credit cards into the 21st century. The Coin is a digital credit card that can actually replace several different cards. All one has to do is swipe an existing debit or credit card using a reader and phone app and then upload it to the device, which allows you to select any card uploaded to it, and then use Coin like a normal credit card. Although the device is still in beta testing, it shows great promise to at least do what it says it will.
Whether it will become more than a novelty is still up for debate, though.
It is with some sadness that I read that Kari, Grant and Tory will be departing Mythbusters. Over the years I’ve really enjoyed the show and have come to appreciate the entire cast. While their methods were not always perfectly scientific (and they have on occasion had to revisit myths) as a whole, they’ve done a great job of digging up urban myths, breaking them down, and seeing whether there was actually anything to them, or if they were full of hot air. I was always a big fan of the sheer joy and excitement these three put into their jobs, as science doesn’t always provoke these responses from people.
I’m also more than a little jealous of how many things they got to smash and blow up without being arrested.
The day has finally come when we here at Therefore I Geek can legitimately mix beer and science (without drinking while writing…I do that plenty already). Scientists at White Labs, a California yeast distributor, and a Belgian genetics lab have teamed up to map the genome of different types of brewing yeast. The goal is to eventually breed custom yeast, which would in turn yield custom flavors in beer. While genetic modification has been available for years, most brewers have shied away from modified yeast due to the public movement against GMOs. The most likely use of these different yeast strains will be by craft brewers as large breweries guard their yeast very carefully.
Who knows what interesting flavor and aroma combinations are headed our way in the not-too-distant future. Hurray beer!
I love Star Trek but was always troubled by the fact that most aliens in the show look essentially like humans. First contact and communicating with a new set of aliens was just a matter of learning their language. The closest Star Trek ever got to really adapting to cultural differences was my absolute least favorite episode “Darmok,” in which Picard has to communicate with an alien captain who expresses everything using some epic story. Recently, NASA published a book on just this topic called Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication. The book takes the time to discuss all sorts of different problems that might exist when trying to communicate with life forms that could be completely different than us. The book also provides a pretty good history of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Not like this.
NASA has pulled the ebook version while they wait for printed versions to come out.
As the world turns…Ok, I’m not going to start talking about soap operas, but I will talk about the mathematics and physics behind the way the Earth actually turns. Science has a great explanation of the experiment that demonstrates how fast the Earth turns. The original experiment in 1851 provided the first quantitative measurements of how fast the rotation actually is. The pendulum continues to swing on a straight line, but its direction changes as the earth rotates. If a person did the pendulum experiment at the North or South Pole for six hours, he would actually find the 90 degree change in direction, as expected. Since the original experiment was done in Paris (which is obviously not at one of the poles) the value in that location, though exactly as expected, is less than it would be if done at the poles.
A Foucault Pendulum
I love simple experiments like this. Science does not always need to super complex.
Hey, everyone! This is Tracy taking the helm of Therefore I Geek for this week’s Winning Science, since it is Andrew’s birthday today. Hang on! It’s going to be a wild ride.
It turns out that some massive events in history may have changed humanity at its most fundamental level. A group of geneticists, biologists, and other scientists now believe that European genetic DNA was modified by the Black Plague. Researchers point to changes to twenty different genes that probably occurred when the Bubonic Plague’s bacteria interacted with the proteins in the genetic sequence.
A little of this would have done the trick.
Apparently a side affect of the genetic modifications may be more susceptibility to autoimmune disease, so I believe science has now explained Wolverine.
This new website has a beautiful model of the wind and weather patterns on the earth’s surface. The model is completely interactive, allowing the user to zoom in and out, interchange between wind and current patterns, and even look at patterns that occurred in the past.
This still doesn’t explain why it seems so much windier when it is cold outside.
The James Webb Space Telescope, the planned replacement for Hubble, is on track to be launched in 2018, and Astronomers have pretty high hopes for it. The last of the pieces have arrived at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and now must be assembled–a task which will take up to three years. Scientists say it is possible that this telescope will be able to see back to the beginning of time.
Yes, yes, but will it catch a glimpse of this ship?
Maybe this will render the current hoopla over the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate moot? Too much to hope for?
That’s it for this week’s Winning Science, and I hope you all will join me in wishing Andrew a very happy Birthday. Leave a message for him in the comments!