Sunday, September 30, 2007

Avian Magnetic Field Sensing Visualizes Direction

A hermit thrush. Songbirds may be a familiar sight, but studying their migration patterns is difficult. They travel at night — thousands of feet in the air — defying scientists' attempts to track them. Image Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Avian Magnetic Field Sensing Visualizes Direction

Here on the Oblate Spheroid, many forces exist that aid in our collective experiences. Animals of every stripe have developed specialized senses on which to take advantage of these forces in their own special way.

It is suspected that the Hammerhead Shark evolved the way it did, eyes perched at each end of a wide and flat front nose end, so that it could better sense the low level electronic field of living animals the shark considers food – a hunting strategy.

It turns out that migratory birds have a tool in their eye that allows it to sense the geo-magnetic field of this Oblate Spheroid so that flocks could migrate to where food is plentiful through the seasons and survive – a different type of hunting strategy.

Avian Magnetic Field Sensing - Neuronal tracing reveals that Cluster N receives input through the thalamofugal visual pathway. Schematic side view of the bird's brain indicating the locations of tracer application. Retrograde tracer (BDA, shown in green) was iontophoretically applied into Cluster N (shown in magenta). Anterograde tracer (CtB, shown in red) was injected into the vitreous of the contralateral eye. Image Credit: Image courtesy of PLoS and article authors, Heyers D, Manns M, Luksch H, Gu¨ ntu¨ rku¨n O and Mouritsen H.

This from a study submitted to the Public Library Of Science via Science Daily -

Do Migratory Birds 'See' The Magnetic Field?
A visual pathway links brain structures active during magnetic compass orientation in migratory birds.

Science Daily - September 26, 2007

Every year millions of migratory birds fly towards their wintering quarters and come back in next year´s spring to breed. Behavioral experiments have shown that the Earth´s magnetic field is the main orientation cue on their journeys.

Nevertheless, surprisingly little is known about the neuronal substrates underlying these navigational abilities. In recent years, it has been suggested that sensing of the magnetic reference direction involves vision and that molecules reacting to the Earth´s magnetic field in the birds' eye form the molecular basis for a vision-dependent compass mechanism.

Cryptochromes, which fulfill the molecular requirements for sensing the magnetic reference direction, have recently been found in retinal neurons of migratory birds (Mouritsen et al., PNAS, 2004).

Furthermore, studies investigating what parts of a migratory bird´s brain are active when the birds use their magnetic compass showed that the cryptochrome-containing neurons in the eye and a forebrain region (“Cluster N”; Mouritsen et al., PNAS, 2005; Liedvogel et al., EJN, 2007) are highly active during processing of magnetic compass information in migratory birds.

Sensory systems process their particular stimuli along specific brain circuits. Thus, the identification of what sensory system is active during magnetic compass orientation, provides a way to recognize the sensory quality utilized during that specific behavior.

In the current study the research group from Oldenburg, Germany and their collaborators traced the neurons from the eye and from Cluster N. The results “link” the recent findings by demonstrating a functional neuronal connection between the retinal neurons and Cluster N via the visual thalamus.

Thus, the only two parts of the central nervous system shown to be highly active during magnetic compass orientation are linked to each other by a well-known visual brain circuit, namely by parts of the so-called thalamofugal pathway. For the first time, clear neuroanatomical data suggest which specific brain pathway processes magnetic compass information in migratory birds.

These findings strongly support the hypothesis that migratory birds use their visual system to perceive the reference compass direction of the geomagnetic field and that migratory birds are thus likely to "see" the geomagnetic field.

Citation: Heyers D, Manns M, Luksch H, Gu¨ ntu¨ rku¨n O, Mouritsen H (2007) A Visual Pathway Links Brain Structures Active during Magnetic Compass Orientation in Migratory Birds. PLoS One 2(9): e937. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000937
Reference Here>>

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Image Of A Mobile (phone) World

Japanese commuters while away the journey by watching TV on their mobiles. Image Credit: David Sacks/Getty

The Image Of A Mobile (phone) World

Portable programmable electronic communication devices, which received their birth forty years ago with the release of the T58 & T59 by Texas Instruments, have come a long way and there is no better place on this Oblate Spheroid than Japan to judge and assess how far.

The key to this evolution comes down to having the handheld cellphone be an on-the-fly, symbology decoding, self-programming computer. A cellphone with a good processor, a camera, a printed symbology (ie. slang: barcode) and a strong infrastructure can deliver more interaction and information than a WiFi internet connection HotSpot on many applications.

The most amazing application that can be delivered through these means is that a person with a properly programmed cellphone can scan a “3D Barcode” (a colorized QR Code) and the phone decodes the image taken with the camera and delivers to the cellphone screen 20 seconds of video communication to the user. That’s right! … 20 seconds of the latest DVD release from “The Bourne Ultimatum” that might help one to decide to buy this DVD gift for Christmas – for example.

PM Code - Colorized QR Code that can deliver a 20 second video to the users phone screen without the need to be hooked-up to a WiFi HotSpot or incur cellphone call minutes. Image Credit: Content Idea of Asia (CIA)

Furthermore, the cellphone user did not have to use the cellphone radio towers or a WiFi Hotspot to have the handheld perform this amazing feat. The 20 seconds of video came directly from the “Barcode” that the user’s phone took a picture of … and decoded to display.

More mobility application news happening in Japan from The Guardian Unlimited -

Why mobile Japan leads the world
A combination of an urban lifestyle and infrastructure advantages mean that the fixed internet is being left behind by the mobile

Michael Fitzpatrick - The Guardian - Thursday, September 27, 2007

Yasuko San is aiming her mobile at a small, square tattoo on paper, clicking a little and peering happily at the result. Her prize? The latest novel written for the mobile, entitled "Teddy". Such serialised novels for mobiles are just the latest phone application that has caught the Japanese imagination, but - apart from neighbouring South Korea - few others.

Those printed square icons, however, made their debut in the UK earlier this month (to promote the DVD of the film 28 Weeks Later). Known as QR (quick read) codes, they have aided Japan's mobile revolution by making it easy to access a web page via mobile. Users can be directed to sites by snapping the codes printed in magazines, posters and even on biscuits.

PM Code Image as captured via the cellphone camera. Image Credit: Content Idea of Asia (CIA)

Mobile subscribers

Their British outing is a full four years behind Japan's adoption. In fact, we lag Japan in nearly every aspect of mobile use - except possibly in annoying other commuters on trains.

Lost in Japan? Let your mobile's GPS guide you. Bored? Download the latest manga comic or an e-book to read on the train, or go shopping and pay by swishing your mobile in front of the till, because the phone is also an electronic wallet.

You can also collect e-coupons, pay bills, play Final Fantasy, update your blog and pay and check into hotels wirelessly. Soon the airport check-in will be history in Japan, too, as the e-ticket in your phone becomes your boarding pass.

Nearly all are services based on the success of the mobile web in Japan, where in a nation of 127 million the number of mobile internet subscribers recently passed 100 million. Not for nothing are the Japanese now known as the Thumb Tribe - a tribe who, for the most part, prefer their mobile to the fixed internet.

Apart from the killer application - email - 80% say they use other functions too. Downloading music is popular (80% have tried it), as is TV for mobile - half of its subscribers use it regularly. Three quarters of users say they enjoy online clothes shopping with their mobile at least once a month. What they are less keen on is video calling: in Japan, as in the UK, 90% say "no thanks, never". And as for using the mobile as a modem - to link to the internet - that's very expensive in Japan.

It is no wonder those touting m-commerce as the next big web thing tell us Japan is the future blueprint. "Japan is the world's high-tech testbed for a wide range of consumer electronic devices and systems - many of which never see the light of day in overseas markets," says Daniel Scuka, keitai guru and consultant for publishers Wireless Watch Japan. "So keeping up with developments here is vital to knowing what's going to hit Europe and the US 24 months in the future; doubly so with respect to mobile and wireless."

By offering the Japanese a multiplicity of services - and, very importantly, some very cool handsets to use them on - the operators have created what every western mobile service provider is dreaming of: a mobile lifestyle culture that keeps millions reaching for the mobile rather than the fixed internet. But it does have its disadvantages.

Most us would feel miffed if we lost or damaged our mobiles. The Japanese would be paralysed without theirs: nearly half of Japanese confess to being obsessed with their mobile phones.

But why is such technology such a hit in Japan and not in other mobile-savvy nations such as Finland? According to the man who kickstarted the trend - the father of i-mode, NTT DoCoMo's Takeshi Natsuno - it is because of the Japanese genius for designing new technologies that can be adopted by anyone, especially techno-phobes. It's not about "bandwidth, nor standards, nor unique Japanese culture", he says. It is about "fun and convenience".
Demanding consumers

The Japanese are blessed with some of the best-looking technology in the world. It has to be intuitive, simple and high-quality, not because the Japanese are so tech-savvy, but because they are the most demanding consumers in the world.

According to Scuka, more than 100 new phones hit the Japanese market last year as manufacturers tried out new ideas on the public. Some cultural factors, as with any other country, do play a part in Japan's willingness to take up some technologies such as TV on the mobile.

As in Europe, this was at first a washout, but as watching TV in public becomes more socially acceptable in Japan, the number of subscribers is rising. Au, the second largest mobile network in Japan, recently signed up its five millionth subscriber to the service.
It is this urban lifestyle where convenience is the key which has necessitated the rise of the all-in-one mobile plus those very funky handsets. By comparison Apple's iPhone is a mere 2.5G plaything. In Japan, which is already into 3G and heading towards 4G, they make mobiles look good and work hard.
Reference Here>>

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The World Of Germs Becomes Deadlier In Space

Salmonellae are primarily intestinal parasites of man and animals, both domestic and wild. They are frequently found in sewage, river and other waters and soil. They may survive for weeks in water and for years in soil. Image Credit: - 11/3/2006

The World Of Germs Becomes Deadlier In Space

That’s right, it has been discovered that germs become stronger and deadlier when they are not confined to the limitations that gravity brings to the growth and development of these microbes.

This discovery was part of a package of experiments performed on a shuttle flight that took off and landed about one year ago. On board the Shuttle, Salmonellae was carried along on the flight while a control sample from the same batch was kept here on this Oblate Spheroid at the same temperature conditions as the ones on the flight.

After the mission, study mice were fed the control bacteria and the results came back as follows.

Excerpts from a story published in U.S. News & World Report by Associated Press about a study that appeared in this Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences –

Germs Taken to Space Come Back Deadlier
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID - AP Science Writer - Sep 24, 9:03 PM EDT

It sounds like the plot for a scary B-movie: Germs go into space on a rocket and come back stronger and deadlier than ever. Except, it really happened.

The germ: Salmonella, best known as a culprit of food poisoning.

The trip: Space Shuttle STS-115, September 2006.

The reason: Scientists wanted to see how space travel affects germs, so they took some along - carefully wrapped - for the ride.

The result: Mice fed the space germs were three times more likely to get sick and died quicker than others fed identical germs that had remained behind on Earth.

"Wherever humans go, microbes go, you can't sterilize humans. Wherever we go, under the oceans or orbiting the earth, the microbes go with us, and it's important that we understand ... how they're going to change," explained Cheryl Nickerson, an associate professor at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at Arizona State University.

Nickerson added, in a telephone interview, that learning more about changes in germs has the potential to lead to novel new countermeasures for infectious disease.
After 25 days, 40 percent of the mice given the Earth-bound salmonella were still alive, compared with just 10 percent of those dosed with the germs from space. And the researchers found it took about one-third as much of the space germs to kill half the mice, compared with the germs that had been on Earth.

The researchers found 167 genes had changed in the salmonella that went to space.

Salmonella pullorum is a host-adapted pathogen of poultry previously thought to be nonmotile and nonflagellated. Motility can be induced in this organism under special medium conditions and this motility was observed in 39 of 44 S.pullorum isolates tested. Image Credit: Geocities


"That's the 64 million dollar question," Nickerson said. "We do not know with 100 percent certainty what the mechanism is of space flight that's inducing these changes."

However, they think it's a force called fluid shear.

"Being cultured in microgravity means the force of the liquid passing over the cells is low." The cells "are responding not to microgravity, but indirectly to microgravity in the low fluid shear effects."
"These bugs can sense where they are by changes in their environment. The minute they sense a different environment, they change their genetic machinery so they can survive," she said.

The research was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Louisiana Board of Regents, Arizona Proteomics Consortium, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, National Institutes of Health and the University of Arizona.
Reference Here>>

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Northwest Passage Is Now Open For Business

In this mosaic image (created from nearly 200 images acquired in early September 2007 by the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) instrument aboard ESA’s Envisat satellite) the dark gray colour represents the ice-free areas while the gray-green in the center represents areas with sea ice. The most direct route of the Northwest Passage (highlighted in the top mosaic by an orange line) across northern Canada is shown fully navigable, while the Northeast Passage (blue line) along the Siberian coast remains only partially blocked. Image Credit: ESA via ASAR

The Northwest Passage Is Now Open For Business

The Northwest Passage has long been held as a wish or a dream for those enterprises that had to move massive amounts of goods between Asia and Europe.

The Northwest Passage is now open here on the Oblate Spheroid. No longer will the large container ships (too large to fit through the Panama Canal) have to travel the bredth of the fattest part of this Blue Orb (hence the name Oblate Spheroid). These ships will just turn right from Europe or turn left from Asia and shorten the trip.

Some might say that climate change has its benefits. Container companies may now consider not trying to remake the Panama Canal so that it can handle larger ships ... at least until the climate change pendulum swings back the other way.

This excerpted from the European Space Agency website -

Satellites witness lowest Arctic ice coverage in history
European Space Agency - 14 September 2007

The area covered by sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk to its lowest level this week since satellite measurements began nearly 30 years ago, opening up the Northwest Passage – a long-sought short cut between Europe and Asia that has been historically impassable.

Leif Toudal Pedersen from the Danish National Space Centre said: "We have seen the ice-covered area drop to just around 3 million sq km which is about 1 million sq km less than the previous minima of 2005 and 2006. There has been a reduction of the ice cover over the last 10 years of about 100 000 sq km per year on average, so a drop of 1 million sq km in just one year is extreme.

"The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need to understand better the processes involved."

Arctic sea ice naturally extends its surface coverage each northern winter and recedes each northern summer, but the rate of overall loss since 1978 when satellite records began has accelerated.

The most direct route of the Northwest Passage across northern Canada is fully navigable, while the Northeast Passage along the Siberian coast remains only partially blocked. To date, the Northwest Passage has been predicted to remain closed even during reduced ice cover by multi-year ice pack – sea ice that survives one or more summers. However, according to Pedersen, this year’s extreme event has shown the passage may well open sooner than expected.

Envisat ASAR image of the McClure Strait in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, acquired on 31 August 2007. The McClure Strait is the most direct route of the Northwest Passage and has been fully open since early August 2007. In this image created from images by the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) instrument aboard ESA’s Envisat satellite, the dark gray colour represents the ice-free areas while the green represents areas with sea ice. Image Credit: ESA via ASAR

The previous record low was in 2005 when the Arctic area covered by sea ice was just 4 million sq km. Even then, the most direct Northwest Passage did not fully open.

East Greenland – as featured on the International Polar Year website - Image Credit: Christian Morel

Because sea ice has a bright surface, the majority of solar energy that hits it is reflected back into space. When sea ice melts, the dark-coloured ocean surface is exposed. Solar energy is then absorbed rather than reflected, so the oceans get warmer and temperatures rise, making it difficult for new ice to form.

The Arctic is one of Earth’s most inaccessible areas, so obtaining measurements of sea ice was difficult before the advent of satellites. For more than 20 years, ESA has been providing satellite data to the cryosphere communities. Currently, ESA is contributing to the
International Polar Year (IPY) – a large worldwide science programme focused on the Arctic and Antarctic.
Reference Here>>

As for our part on studying the polar ice caps, NASA is participating in the International Polar Year with the rest of the world and has put together a video explaining its involvement.


Friday, September 7, 2007

Two Mouths To Feed And Only One Way To Breathe - Gills

A very common type of moray eel in the Philippines, this variety of moray is usually small in size compared to many others. This specimen is typical-- about 2 feet long. Image Credit: Divegallery

Two Mouths To Feed And Only One Way To Breathe - Gills

Ever wonder how Hollywood comes up with the ideas they come up with to scare us and creep us out? Well, how about right here in the oceans on the Oblate Spheroid.

It has been recently discovered that the Moray Eel uses an eating method that employs two sets of clamping jaw mechanisms – like right out of Hollywood and the movie “Aliens”

This from San Jose Mercury News -

The creepy truth about moray eels
By Betsy Mason - STAFF WRITER - Article Launched: 09/05/2007 09:51:00 AM PDT

It's like a scene from an Aliens movie: a scaly underwater creature looking something like a piranha crossed with a python strikes at its prey which is then reeled deeper into the beast's throat by a second set of toothy jaws.

But this sinister animal isn't a figment of a Hollywood director's imagination, suddenly bursting out of a character's stomach, terrifying audiences. It's a real-life product of evolution.

As if eels weren't already creepy enough, scientists at UC Davis have discovered that some eels have an extra set of jaws deep in their throats that launch forward into their mouths to help pull prey in.

"It looks like a funny pair of forceps with curved sharp teeth," said evolutionary biologist Rita Mehta, lead author of the research, which appears Thursday in Nature.

Mehta and functional morphologist Peter Wainwright captured the odd feeding behavior using high-speed video recordings of eels in lab tanks. Slowed down, the video reveals the jaws coming forward into the mouth and taking hold of a piece of food.

"It was one of those gee-whiz moments when we were absolutely ecstatic," Mehta said. "It was just astounding."

Before the discovery, scientists thought that all aquatic predators swallowed their prey using suction. By dropping the lower jaw and creating a flow of water into their mouths, they draw in the prey. The two species of moray eels studied by Mehta and Wainwright are the first examples of an alternative feeding method.

Other bony fish also catch their prey with their teeth, but they still use suction to swallow it.

Snakes accomplish the same thing by alternately ratcheting the left and right sides of their jaws along their quarry.

Mehta thinks the eels' extra jaws may have evolved to help the eels catch animals in small cracks and crevices in the coral they inhabit. While suction requires expansion of the mouth, the eel's double-jaw trick allows it to remain long and skinny, and may have helped them earn their place as top predator on the coral reef.

The discovery shows that suction feeding in not the final word on fish feeding behavior.

"There are probably more alternatives to suction feeding," Mehta said. "This is probably the tip of the iceberg.

"We're just starting to look."
Reference Here>>