Archive for the ‘ Science ’ Category

A New Molecule for Memory: It can Enhance, or Erase

Taking the memory-erasing ability shown in the 2004 movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” a step further, scientists have found a molecule that not only erases but also augments and strengthens memories, months after the fact.

“If you take coffee or amphetamines that make the brain more excitable, your initial learning can be a little better, as any student would know,” said researcher Todd Sacktor of SUNY Downstate Medical Center. “What never had been done before was to be able to, after you learn something, wait days to weeks later, and then do something that would be able to enhance those previously stored memories.”

Previous studies of memory-modulating compounds have mainly been focused on treatment during periods of learning or remembering. Sacktor’s research has pinpointed a brain enzyme that plays an integral role in the maintenance of long-term memory.

 

Where memories are made

Sacktor and co-researcher Yadin Dudai of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel conditioned rats to associate a taste with feeling sick to their stomachs, much like humans after a particularly nasty batch of food poisoning. This memory becomes encoded in the brain and for months after the nauseating experience the rats avoid any similar-tasting foods.

To change the rats’ memories the researchers first trained them to associate certain foods with bellyaches, then injected them with a non-illness-inducing virus made specifically to express a memory-altering enzyme. The enzyme is called protein kinase M zeta, or PKMzeta for short. The virus made either the working version of the protein or a mutant form that blocked the activity of even the naturally expressed protein.

They saw that the increased enzyme levels enhanced the rat’s ability to remember, while the activity-blocking mutant wiped out the memory.

PKMzeta appears to work in a different way than other memory enhancers, which seem to boost our brain’s natural means of consolidating, or turning everyday experiences into lasting memories. But scientists didn’t know the mechanism that keeps these long-term memories accessible after consolidation.

Dudai and his team believe that PKMzeta is integral in this “sustainability” of memories. “People used to think that memory maintenance is a passive process, that there wasn’t much to put into it, that you just change the wiring,” Karim Nader, a researcher at McGill University in Canada who wasn’t involved in the study, said. “This suggests that the mechanisms of memory maintenance are actively maintained, and even manipulated.”

Next memory-boosting drug?

In the future, it’s possible this protein could be the target of memory-changing drugs. Such drugs could treat Alzheimer’s patients, by strengthening their memories, or individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as phobia patients, by decreasing their memory of fear-inducing moments. Different memories could be targeted by changing PKMzeta in different brain areas.

“There are other molecules that have been implicated in memory maintenance,” David Glanzman of UCLA, who wasn’t involved in the study, told LiveScience. “But it’s clear that PKMzeta is a sort of master molecule.”

Even after having their memory of the nauseating taste wiped out, the rats could still relearn to dislike it, similar to (spoiler alert!) the reunion of the “Spotless Mind” characters after their first memory wipe. “That area of the brain is still capable of learning new things,” Dudai said.”We didn’t damage it to such a degree that we interfered with this ability.”

 

 

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Fact & Fiction Top 10 Amazing Earth Facts

As well known and well traveled as our planet is, there are still new things being discovered every day. In fact, most of our oceans haven’t even been explored yet which is why when new depths are located; they often come with hundreds of new species. Rain forests offer up new animals and plants as often as we can explore them. The Earth is constantly changing, shifting, and exposing new secrets for humans to marvel at. It took many years and many great minds to solve the problem of getting through Earth’s atmosphere into the wide expanse of space beyond. Here are ten amazing facts about our home that you may not be aware of.

10. The Atmosphere

Earths-Atmosphere

Many layers of atmosphere coat our planet including the mesosphere, ionosphere, exosphere, and the thermosphere, but it’s the troposphere, closest to the planet itself, that supports our lives and is, in fact, the thinnest at only about 10 miles high.

9. Deserts

Desert

Believe it or not, most of the Earth’s deserts are not composed entirely of sand. Much, about 85% of them, are rocks and gravel. The largest, the Sahara, fills about 1/3 of Africa (and it is growing constantly) which would nearly fill the continental United States.

8. The Big Blue Marble

Oblate Spheroid

The Earth is, in fact, not really round. It is called an oblate spheroid meaning it’s slightly flattened on the top and bottom poles.

7. Salty Oceans

Ocean

If you could evaporate all the water out of all the oceans and spread the resulting salt over all the land on Earth, you would have a five hundred-foot layer coating everything.

6. Lakes and Seas

Caspiansea-1

The largest inland sea (or, sometimes called a lake) is the Caspian Sea which is on the border of Iran and Russia.

 

5. Mountains

Andes

The Andes Mountain range in South America is 4,525 miles long and ranks, as the world’s longest. Second Longest: The Rockies; Third: Himalayas; Fourth: The Great Dividing Range in Australia; Fifth: Trans-Antarctic Mountains. For every 980 feet you climb up a mountain, the temperature drops 3-1/2 degrees.

4. Deep Water

Baikal

The deepest lake in the world is in the former USSR and it is Lake Baikal. It has a length of 400 miles, a width of roughly 30, but its depth is just over a mile: 5,371 feet down. It is deep enough, so is speculated, that all five of the next largest lakes: The Great Lakes could be emptied into it.

3. Shaky Ground

Earthquake

Earthquakes can be catastrophically destructive and many a year are deadly. However, the Earth releases about 1 million a year, almost all are never even registered.

2. Hot, Hot, Hot

Libya

Most people believe that Death Valley, California, U.S.A. is the hottest place on Earth. Well, occasionally it is, but the hottest recorded temperature was from Azizia in Libya recording a temperature of 136 degrees Fahrenheit (57.8 Celsius) on Sept. 13, 1922. In Death Valley, it got up to 134 Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913.

1. Dust in the Wind

Space Dust

Experts from the USGS claim that roughly 1,000 tons of space debris rains down on Earth every year.

 

 

25 amazing facts of Earth

1. What is the hottest place on Earth?
Count one wrong if you guessed Death Valley in California. True enough on many days. But El Azizia in Libya recorded a temperature of 136 degrees Fahrenheit (57.8 Celsius) on Sept. 13, 1922 — the hottest ever measured. In Death Valley, it got up to 134 Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913.

2. And the coldest place around here?
Far and away, the coldest temperature ever measured on Earth was -129 Fahrenheit (-89 Celsius) at Vostok, Antarctica , on July 21, 1983 .

3. Where is the worlds highest waterfall?
The water of Angel Falls in Venezuela drops 3,212 feet (979 meters).

4. What is the largest volcano?
The Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii holds the title here on Earth. It rises more than 50,000 feet (9.5 miles or 15.2 kilometers) above its base, which sits under the surface of the sea. But that’s all volcanic chump change. Olympus Mons on Mars rises 16 miles (26 kilometers) into the Martian sky. Its base would almost cover the entire state of Arizona.

5. What was the deadliest known earthquake?
The world’s deadliest recorded earthquake occurred in 1557 in central China. It struck a region where most people lived in caves carved from soft rock. The dwellings collapsed, killing an estimated 830,000 people. In 1976 another deadly temblor struck Tangshan, China. More than 250,000 people were killed.

6. How far is it to the center of the Earth?
The distance from the surface of Earth to the center is about 3,963 miles (6,378 kilometers). Much of Earth is fluid. The mostly solid skin of the planet is only 41 miles (66 kilometers) thick –thinner than the skin of an apple, relatively speaking.

7. Has the Moon always been so close?
It used to be much closer! A billion years ago, the Moon was in a tighter orbit, taking just 20 days to go around us and make a month. A day on Earth back then was only 18 hours long. The Moon is still moving away — about 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) a year. Meanwhile, Earth’s rotation is slowing down, lengthening our days. In the distant future, a day will be 960 hours long!

8. Where is the lowest dry point on Earth?
The shore of the Dead Sea in the Middle East is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) below sea level. Not even a close second is Bad Water in Death Valley, California, at a mere 282 feet below sea level.

9. What is the longest river?
The Nile River in Africa is 4,160 miles (6,695 kilometers) long.

10. What’s the driest place on Earth?
A place called Arica, in Chile, gets just 0.03 inches (0.76 millimeters) of rain per year. At that rate, it would take a century to fill a coffee cup.

11. What is the wettest place on Earth?
Lloro, Colombia averages 523.6 inches of rainfall a year, or more than 40 feet (13 meters). That’s about 10 times more than fairly wet major cities in Europe or the United States.

12. What is the largest canyon?
The Grand Canyon is billed as the world’s largest canyon system. Its main branch is 277 miles (446 kilometers) long. But let’s compare. Valles Marineris on Mars extends for about 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers). If added it to a U.S. map, it would stretch from New York City to Los Angeles. In places this vast scar on the Martian surface is 5 miles (8 kilometers) deep.

13. Which of the Earth’s oceans is the largest?
The Pacific Ocean covers 64 million square miles (165 million square kilometers). It is more than two times the size of the Atlantic. It has an average depth of 2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers).

14. What is the largest lake in the world?
By size and volume it is the Caspian Sea, located between southeast Europe and west Asia.

15. How hot are the planet’s innards?
The temperature of Earth increases about 36 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) for every kilometer (about 0.62 miles) you go down. Near the center, its thought to be at least 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit (3,870 Celsius).

16. What’s the deepest place in the ocean?
The greatest known depth is 36,198 feet (6.9 miles or 11 kilometers) at the Mariana Trench, in the Pacific Ocean well south of Japan near the Mariana Islands.

17. What is the fastest surface wind ever recorded?
The fastest “regular” wind that’s widely agreed upon was 231 mph (372 kph), recorded at Mount Washington, New Hampshire, on April 12, 1934. But during a May 1999 tornado in Oklahoma, researchers clocked the wind at 318 mph (513 kph). For comparison, Neptune’s winds can rage to 900 mph (1,448 kph).

18. What is the world’s deepest lake?
Lake Baikal in the south central part of Siberia is 5,712 feet (1.7 kilometers) deep. It’s about 20 million years old and contains 20 percent of Earth’s fresh liquid water.

19. What is the world’s largest island?
Greenland covers 840,000 square miles (2,176,000 square kilometers). Continents are typically defined as landmasses made of low-density rock that essentially floats on the molten material below. Greenland fits this description, but it’s only about one-third the size of Australia. Some scientists call Greenland an island, others say it’s a continent.

20. How much would seas rise if the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted?
The Antarctic Ice Sheet holds nearly 90 percent of the world’s ice and 70 percent of its fresh water. If the entire ice sheet were to melt, sea level would rise by nearly 220 feet, or the height of a 20-story building. Scientists know there’s a melting trend underway. The United Nations has said that in a worst-case scenario — depending on how much global air temperatures increase — seas could jump 3 feet (1 meter) by 2100.

21. What is the longest mountain chain on Earth?
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which splits nearly the entire Atlantic Ocean north to south. Iceland is one place where this submarine mountain chain rises above the sea surface.

22. On average, how much water is used worldwide each day?
About 400 billion gallons.

23. What percentage of the world’s fresh water is stored as glacial ice?
About 70 percent. And if you had to replace it all, you’d need 60 years of the entire globe’s rainfall, and then you’d have to figure out a way to freeze it all.

24. What is the highest, driest, and coldest continent on Earth?
That would be Antarctica.

25. What is the hardest of all minerals?
Diamond, the one that becomes emotionally useless after a divorce but still retains monetary value.

Buried Soldiers May Be Victims of Ancient Chemical Weapon

lmost 2,000 years ago, 19 Roman soldiers rushed into a cramped underground tunnel, prepared to defend the Roman-held Syrian city of Dura-Europos from an army of Persians digging to undermine the city’s mudbrick walls. But instead of Persian soldiers, the Romans met with a wall of noxious black smoke that turned to acid in their lungs. Their crystal-pommeled swords were no match for this weapon; the Romans choked and died in moments, many with their last pay of coins still slung in purses on their belts.

Nearby, a Persian soldier — perhaps the one who started the toxic underground fire — suffered his own death throes, grasping desperately at his chain mail shirt as he choked.

These 20 men, who died in A.D. 256, may be the first victims of chemical warfare to leave any archeological evidence of their passing, according to a new investigation. The case is a cold one, with little physical evidence left behind beyond drawings and archaeological excavation notes from the 1930s. But a new analysis of those materials published in January in the American Journal of Archaeology finds that the soldiers likely did not die by the sword as the original excavator believed. Instead, they were gassed.

Where there’s smoke

In the 250s, the Persian Sasanian Empire set its sights on taking the Syrian city of Dura from Rome. The city, which backs up against the Euphrates River, was by this time a Roman military base, well-fortified with meters-thick walls.

The Persians set about tunneling underneath those walls in an effort to bring them down so troops could rush into the city. They likely started their excavations 130 feet (40 meters) away from the city, in a tomb in Dura’s underground necropolis. Meanwhile, the Roman defenders dug their own countermines in hopes of intercepting the tunneling Persians.

The outlines of this underground cat-and-mouse game was first sketched out by French archaeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson, who first excavated these siege tunnels in the 1920s and 30s. Du Mesnil also found the piled bodies of at least 19 Roman soldiers and one lone Persian in the tunnels beneath the city walls. He envisioned fierce hand-to-hand combat underground, during which the Persians drove back the Romans and then set fire to the Roman tunnel. Crystals of sulfur and bitumen, a naturally occurring, tar-like petrochemical, were found in the tunnel, suggesting that the Persians made the fire fast and hot.

Something about that scenario didn’t make sense to Simon James, an archaeologist and historian from the University of Leicester in England. For one thing, it would have been difficult to engage in hand-to-hand combat in the tunnels, which could barely accommodate a man standing upright. For another, the position of the bodies on du Mesnil’s sketches didn’t match a scenario in which the Romans were run through or burned to death.

“This wasn’t a pile of people who had been crowded into a small space and collapsed where they stood,” James told LiveScience. “This was a deliberate pile of bodies.”

Using old reports and sketches, James reconstructed the events in the tunnel on that deadly day. At first, he said, he thought the Romans had trampled each other while trying to escape the tunnel. But when he suggested that idea to his colleagues, one suggested an alternative: What about smoke?

Fumes of hell

Chemical warfare was well established by the time the Persians besieged Dura, said Adrienne Mayor, a historian at Stanford University and author of “Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World” (Overlook Press, 2003).

“There was a lot of chemical warfare [in the ancient world],” Mayor, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. “Few people are aware of how much there is documented in the ancient historians about this.”

One of the earliest examples, Mayor said, was a battle in 189 B.C., when Greeks burnt chicken feathers and used bellows to blow the smoke into Roman invaders’ siege tunnels. Petrochemical fires were a common tool in the Middle East, where flammable naphtha and oily bitumen were easy to find. Ancient militaries were endlessly creative: When Alexander the Great attacked the Phoenician city of Tyre in the fourth century B.C., Phoenician defenders had a surprise waiting for him.

“They heated fine grains of sand in shields, heated it until it was red-hot, and then catapulted it down onto Alexander’s army,” Mayor said. “These tiny pieces of red-hot sand went right under their armor and a couple inches into their skin, burning them.”

So the idea that the Persians had learned how to make toxic smoke is, “totally plausible,” Mayor said.

“I think [James] really figured out what happened,” she said.

In the new interpretation of the clash in the tunnels of Dura, the Romans heard the Persians working beneath the ground and steered their tunnel to intercept their enemies. The Roman tunnel was shallower than the Persian one, so the Romans planned to break in on the Persians from above. But there was no element of surprise for either side: The Persians could also hear the Romans coming.

So the Persians set a trap. Just as the Romans broke through, James said, they lit a fire in their own tunnel. Perhaps they had a bellows to direct the smoke, or perhaps they relied on the natural chimney effect of the shaft between the two tunnels. Either way, they threw sulfur and bitumen on the flames. One of the Persian soldiers was overcome and died, a victim of his own side’s weapon. The Romans met with the choking gas, which turned to sulfuric acid in their lungs.

“It would have almost been literally the fumes of hell coming out of the Roman tunnel,” James said.

Any Roman soldiers waiting to enter the tunnels would have hesitated, seeing the smoke and hearing their fellow soldiers dying, James said. Meanwhile, the Persians waited for the tunnel to clear, and then hurried to collapse the Roman tunnel. They dragged the bodies into the stacked position in which du Mesnil would later find them. With no time to ransack the corpses, they left coins, armor and weapons untouched.

Horrors of war

After du Mesnil finished excavations, he had the tunnels filled in. Presumably, the skeletons of the soldiers remain where he found them. That makes proving the chemical warfare theory difficult, if not impossible, James said.

“It’s a circumstantial case,” he said. “But what it does do is it doesn’t invent anything. We’ve got the actual stuff [the sulfur and bitumen] on the ground. It’s an established technique.”

If the Persians were using chemical warfare at this time, it shows that their military operations were extremely sophisticated, James said.

“They were as smart and clever as the Romans and were doing the same things they were,” he said.

The story also brings home the reality of ancient warfare, James said.

“It’s easy to regard this very clinically and look at this as artifacts … Here at Dura you really have got this incredibly vivid evidence of the horrors of ancient warfare,” he said. “It was horrendously dangerous, brutal, and one hardly has words for it, really.”

Livescience

Discovery Headed to Space Station


During space shuttle Discovery’s final spaceflight, the STS-133 crew members will take important spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4.

Space Shuttle Discovery is Prepared for Launch

The space shuttle Discovery is seen shortly after the Rotating Service Structure was rolled back at launch pad 39A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Friday, Feb. 23, 2011. Discovery, on its 39th and final flight, will carry the Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), Express Logistics Carrier 4 (ELC4) and Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Love Is Scary: 12 Weird Valentine’s Day Phobias

Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a time of love and happiness, but it’s also pretty anxiety-inducing. From the fear of staying single to a dread of chocolate, Life’s Little Mysteries has rounded up the strangest Valentine’s Day phobias. Here are a dozen examples:

1. “Commitmentphobia” is a made-up phobia, but folks who fear being in a relationship may actually have amoraphobia, the fear of love.

2. People with metrophobia, the fear of poetry, would need to hire a ghostwriter if they want to pen their sweetheart a passionate verse.

3. A heart-shaped box of chocolates — that sweet Valentine’s Day staple — would be more horrifying than romantic to those with xocolatophobia, the fear of chocolate.

4. Here’s a phobia that is probably most common among bashful people making a Valentine’s overture to a crush: Erythrophobia, or fear of blushing, causes the sufferer to be extremely embarrassed and self-conscious of their reddening complexion. Talk about a vicious cycle.

5. Anyone who has ever been the victim of a particularly bad kisser can understand philematophobia, or the fear of kissing.

6. Sending a red, heart-shaped Valentine’s Day card to someone with cardiophobia, the fear of the heart, would be a pretty cruel thing to do.

7. What could possibly be threatening about a bouquet of flowers? Among those with anthrophobia, or the fear of flowers, a single red rose brings about feelings of anxiety — even if it’s been de-thorned.

8. People with haphephobia or aphenphosmphobia will be pretty lonely on Valentine’s Day, as their phobias cause them to avoid letting anyone touch their skin.

9. Headaches caused by overwhelmingly strong, chemical scents and burns from hot wax may explain why some suffer from keriophobia — the fear of candles.

10. Guys who have anuptaphobia, the fear of staying single, might want to use a wingman to help pick up women at bars.

11. & 12. These last two go together: Ornithophobia, the fear of birds, and apiphobia, the fear of bees. One poses the threat of being pooped on from above and the other packs a painful sting, so these phobias seem pretty reasonable to us.