A new analysis suggests the planet can produce much more land-plant biomass – the total material in leaves, stems, roots, fruits, grains and other terrestrial plant parts – than previously thought. The study, reported in Environmental Science and Technology, recalculates the theoretical limit of terrestrial plant productivity, and finds that it is much higher than many current estimates allow. “When you try to estimate something over the whole planet, you have to make some simplifying assumptions,” said University of Illinois plant biology professor Evan DeLucia, who led the new analysis. “And most previous research assumes that the maximum productivity you could get out of a landscape is what the natural ecosystem would have produced. But it turns out that in nature very few plants have evolved to maximize their growth rates.” DeLucia directs the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment at the U. of I. He also is an affiliate of the Energy Biosciences Institute, which funded the research through the Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. Estimates derived from satellite images of vegetation and modeling suggest that about 54 gigatons of carbon is converted into terrestrial plant biomass each year, the researchers report. “This value has remained stable for the past several decades, leading to the conclusion that it represents a planetary boundary – an upper limit on global biomass production,” the researchers wrote.
“During World War II, residents on the islands in the southern Pacific Ocean saw heavy activity by US planes, bringing in goods and supplies for the soldiers. In many cases, this was the islanders’ first exposure to 20th century goods and technology. After the war, when the cargo shipments stopped, some of the islanders built imitation air-strips. These incorporated wooden control towers, bamboo radio antennae, and fire torches instead of landing-lights. They apparently believed that that this would attract more US planes and their precious cargo. This behaviour, it turns out, is not a singular occurrence. Anthropologists have found examples of similar behaviour at different times in history, albeit in island populations. In a commencement speech at the California Institute of Technology in 1974, the physicist Richard Feynman used the concept to coin the phrase “cargo-cult science”. The cargo cult’s air-strips had the appearance of the real thing, but they were not functional. Likewise, Feynman used the term “cargo-cult science” to mean something that has the appearance of science, but is actually missing key elements. The phrase has since been used to refer to various pseudo-scientific fields such as phrenology, neuro-linguistic programming, and the various kinds of alternative therapies. Practitioners of these disciplines may use scientific terms, and may even perform research, but their thinking and conclusions are nonetheless fundamentally scientifically flawed.”
“Psychologists are aware that intelligence scores are somewhat subject to cultural influence and social opportunity, but some have still insisted that we cannot raise our IQ by much. This is because our general intelligence (or “g”) is a fixed trait that is insensitive to education, “brain training”, diet, or other interventions. In other words, they say, we are all biologically limited in our intelligence levels. The idea that IQ is fixed for life is built into the questionable politics of IQ testing. The most serious consequence of this is the use of IQ tests to blame educational difficulties on students rather than on teaching systems. But it is the job of psychologists to find better ways to teach, not to find better ways to justify the poor performance of students. This particular use of IQ tests has caused one leader in the field of intelligence research, Robert Sternberg, to refer to IQ testing as “negative psychology” in a 2008 article.”
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We’re getting more stupid. That’s one point made in a recent article in the New Scientist, reporting on a gradual decline in IQs in developed countries such as the UK, Australia and the Netherlands. Such research feeds into a long-held fascination with testing human intelligence. Yet such debates are too focused on IQ as a life-long trait that can’t be changed. Other research is beginning to show the opposite.
The concept of testing intelligence was first successfuly devised by French psychologists in the early 1900s to help describe differences in how well and quickly children learn at school. But it is now frequently used to explain that difference – that we all have a fixed and inherent level of intelligence that limits how fast we can learn.
Defined loosely, intelligence refers to our ability to learn quickly and adapt to new situations. IQ tests measure our vocabulary, our ability to problem-solve, reason logically and so on.
But what many people fail to understand is that if IQ tests measured only our skills at these particular tasks, no one would be interested in our score. The score is interesting only because it is thought to be fixed for life.Who is getting smarter?
Standardised IQ tests used by clinical psychologists for diagnostic purposes, such as the Weschler scale, are designed in such a way that it is not easy to prepare for them. The contents are kept surprisingly secret and they are changed regularly. The score given for an individual is a relative one, adjusted based on the performance of people of the same age.
But even as we become better educated and more skillful at the types of tasks measured on IQ tests (a phenomenon known as the “Flynn effect”, after James Fylnn who first noted it) our IQs stay pretty much the same. This is because the IQ scoring system takes into account the amount of improvement expected over time, and then discounts it. This type of score is called a “standardised score” – it hides your true score and merely represents your standing in relation to your peers who have also been getting smarter at about the same rate.
This apparent stability in IQ scores makes intelligence look relatively constant, whereas in fact we are all becoming more intelligent across and within our lifetimes. The IQ test and the IQ scoring system are constantly adjusted to ensure that the average IQ remains at 100, despite a well-noted increase in intellectual ability worldwide.
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“If being inactive is pathological and abnormal, then how come we hate exercise so much?
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There was never any evolutionary selection pressure to make us like exercise. If you are a Neanderthal or Homo erectus or an early modern human, you didn’t think, “Gee, I’m going to go for a run so that I’m not going to get depressed”. They had to go long distances every day in order to survive. Not exercising was never an option, so there was never any selection pressure to make people like exercise. On the contrary, there was probably selection to help people avoid needless exercise when they could. Some hunter-gatherers had diets of about 2200 calories a day. When your energy intake is that low, you can’t afford to go for a jog just for fun.
So evolution selected for traits that made us relax or be lazy?
Of course. Just like any time you crave sugary, fatty foods – that would have been advantageous for early humans. It’s only now that they have become maladaptive.”
Implant attached to bone in pioneering technique that helps prevent infection and discomfort
Revolutionary technology at a north London hospital has transformed the lives of amputees taking part in a trial by allowing artificial limbs to be attached directly to their skeleton, giving them feeling and mobility far beyond that experienced by people with traditional prosthetics.
Unlike traditional ball-and-socket joints where a socket is placed over the soft tissue of the stump, Itap (intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthesis) involves insertion of a metal implant that forms a direct interface with the bone and sticks out through the skin for the prosthetic to be attached.
If the trial conducted at the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital (RNOH) and the Royal Orthopaedic hospital in Birmingham, which ended in June, is deemed a success, Itap could be rolled out across the UK and internationally through specialist clinics.
Mark O’Leary, 40, from south London, was one of the first of 20 above-the-knee amputees to take part in the trial. He described the change it had made to his life. “Just knowing where my foot is, my ability to know where it is improved dramatically because you can feel it through the bone. A textured road crossing, I can feel that. You essentially had no sensation with a socket and with Itap you can feel everything,” he said.
"It’s like they’ve given me my leg back. I know that sounds a bit trite. With this thing I just click the stump on in the morning and I can walk as far as I like, do anything I want within reason. There’s no limit."
See on theguardian.com
What’s Up With That: Your Fingernails Grow Way Faster Than Your Toenails
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I like to clip my nails, because I’m addicted to the rewarding little tink of the clippers. Instead of being content with a finely manicured set of man hands, I crave more tinks. Without fail, I’ll kick off my sneakers in hopes of clipping away my toe talons, but instead of tinks, all I make is a loud sigh, because my toenails are rarely long enough to groom.This isn’t in my head. Fingernails grow about three-four times faster than toenails. Scientists don’t know what biological mechanism is behind the different growth rates. But, they do have theories based on more than 100 years of finger and toenail observations. First, in order to understand why nails grow, you first need to understand how they grow. Nails begin in the nail matrix. This is the pale, half-moon shaped section peeking out from under your cuticle (though it’s usually hidden on smaller nails). This specialized tissue churns out skin cells at a manic pace and promptly cannibalizes them for their keratin—a tough, fibrous protein that gives skin its leathery texture. As the dead, keratin-rich cells pile up in the matrix, they push the nail along towards the tip. The nail is attached to the skin below, called the nail bed, which grows along with it (occasionally you can see excess growth from the nail bed—called solehorn—coming out from under the nail). Humans and other primates have nails and not claws because we have hands, and not paws. As LiveScience explains, most mammals have claws for climbing, scratching, and digging. However, as primates evolved long fingers for grasping branches, claws flattened into nails. Nails are still pretty good at scratching and digging, though I would not recommend using them to scramble up a tree trunk. (via What’s Up With That: Your Fingernails Grow Way Faster Than Your Toenails | Science | WIRED)
Stanford Bioengineer Christina Smolke has been on a decade-long quest to genetically alter yeast so they can brew opioid medicines in stainless steel vats,
Stanford bioengineers have hacked the DNA of yeast, reprograming these simple cells to make opioid-based medicines* via a sophisticated extension of the basic brewing process that makes beer.
Led by Associate Professor of Bioengineering Christina Smolke, the Stanford team has already spent a decade genetically engineering yeast cells to reproduce the biochemistry of poppies, with the ultimate goal of producing opium-based medicines, from start to finish, in fermentation vats.
“We are now very close to replicating the entire opioid production process in a way that eliminates the need to grow poppies, allowing us to reliably manufacture essential medicines while mitigating the potential for diversion to illegal use,” said Smolke, who outlines her work in the August 24 edition of Nature Chemical Biology.
Smolke added five genes from two different organisms to yeast cells. Three of these genes came from the poppy itself, and the others from a bacterium that lives on poppy plant stalks.
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Inside the weird and hopeful world of cryonics surgery
In 1972 Max More saw a children’s science fiction television show called Time Slip that featured characters being frozen in ice. He didn’t think much about it until years later, when he started hanging out with friends who held meetings about futurism. “They were getting Cryonics magazine,” he says, “and they asked me about it to see how futuristic I was. It just made sense to me right away.”
More is now the president and chief executive officer of Alcor, one of the world’s largest cryonics companies. More himself has been a member since 1986, and has decided to opt for neuropreservation—just deep freezing the brain—over whole body preservation. “I figure the future is a pretty decent place to be, so I want to be there,” he says. “I want to keep living and enjoying and producing.”
Cryopreservation is a darling of the futurist community. The general premise is simple: Medicine is continually getting better. Those who die today could be cured tomorrow. Cryonics is a way to bridge the gap between today’s medicine and tomorrow’s. “We see it as an extension of emergency medicine,” More says. “We’re just taking over when today’s medicine gives up on a patient. Think of it this way: Fifty years ago if you were walking along the street and someone keeled over in front of you and stopped breathing you would have checked them out and said they were dead and disposed of them. Today we don’t do that, instead we do CPR and all kinds of things. People we thought were dead 50 years ago we now know were not. Cryonics is the same thing, we just have to stop them from getting worse and let a more advanced technology in the future fix that problem.”
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