Sunday, November 28News That Matters

Tag: Research

This Fire-Loving Fungus Eats Charcoal, if It Must

Technology, World
To confirm that the fungus was actually doing what it appeared to be doing, Dr. Whitman’s lab grew pine seedlings in an atmosphere with carbon dioxide containing carbon-13, an isotope whose unusual weight makes it easy to trace, and then put the trees in a specialized furnace to form charcoal, which was fed to the Pyronema. Like us, fungi take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, most of which comes from whatever they are eating. The fungus’s carbon-13-labeled emissions, then, suggested that it really was snacking on charcoal.The researchers also tracked normal carbon dioxide coming out of the fungus, and substantially more of it than the charcoal, suggesting it was eating something else — maybe the agar it was growing on, or some carbon that entered during inoculation, Dr. Whitman said.Dr....
The Arctic Ocean Was Invaded by Its Neighbor Earlier Than Anyone Thought

The Arctic Ocean Was Invaded by Its Neighbor Earlier Than Anyone Thought

Technology, World
Arctic. Atlantic. Long ago, the two oceans existed in harmony, with warm and salty Atlantic waters gently flowing into the Arctic. The layered nature of the Arctic — sea ice on top, cool freshwater in the middle and warm, salty water at the bottom — helped hold the boundary between the polar ocean and the warmer Atlantic.But everything changed when the larger ocean began flowing faster than the polar ocean could accommodate, weakening the distinction between the layers and transforming Arctic waters into something closer to the Atlantic. This process, called Atlantification, is part of the reason the Arctic is warming faster than any other ocean.“It’s not a new invasion of the Arctic,” said Yueng-Djern Lenn, a physical oceanographer at Bangor University in Wales. “What’s new is that the pr...

New ‘Omicron’ Variant Stokes Concern but Vaccines May Still Work

Technology
Scientific experts at the World Health Organization warned on Friday that a new coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa was a “variant of concern,” the most serious category the agency uses for such tracking.The designation, announced after an emergency meeting of the health body, is reserved for dangerous variants that may spread quickly, cause severe disease or decrease the effectiveness of vaccines or treatments. The last coronavirus variant to receive this label was Delta, which took off this summer and now accounts for virtually all Covid cases in the United States.The W.H.O. said the new version, named Omicron, carries a number of genetic mutations that may allow it to spread quickly, perhaps even among the vaccinated.Independent scientists agreed that Omicron warranted urg...

Why Was This Ancient Mammoth Tusk Discovered at the Bottom of the Ocean?

Technology
Mammoth tusks that are over 100,000 years old are “extremely rare,” Mr. Mol added, and studying one could give scientists new insights about the Lower Paleolithic, a poorly understood era of Earth’s history.Scientists know that around 200,000 years ago Earth was experiencing a glacial period and our ancestors were migrating out of Africa. But they don’t know exactly how the planet’s changing climate affected mammoths and other large animals during this time. What is also unclear is how arrival to North America altered the genetic diversity of mammoths.“We don’t really know much of anything about what was happening during that time period,” Dr. Fisher said. “We don’t have access to a lot of specimens from this time period and that’s due in large part to the fact that getting access to sedim...
A Tool Kit to Help Scientists Find the Ultimate Chickpea

A Tool Kit to Help Scientists Find the Ultimate Chickpea

Technology
When you open a can of chickpeas and fish out the nutty, savory little beans, you’re partaking in a history that began around 10,000 years ago. The modern chickpea’s ancestor, a wild Middle Eastern plant that likely had tiny, hard seeds, was cultivated by humans around the same time as wheat and barley, and began to evolve as early farmers selected plants whose seeds were larger and more succulent. Archaeologists have even found what appear to be domesticated chickpeas buried beneath Jericho in the West Bank, so deep that they would have been grown even before the inhabitants of one of history’s longest occupied cities began to make pottery.The humble chickpea has had a somewhat rocky road to its present popularity, however, suggests a new study published last week in Nature that sequences...
Can a Machine Learn Morality?

Can a Machine Learn Morality?

Technology
Researchers at an artificial intelligence lab in Seattle called the Allen Institute for AI unveiled new technology last month that was designed to make moral judgments. They called it Delphi, after the religious oracle consulted by the ancient Greeks. Anyone could visit the Delphi website and ask for an ethical decree.Joseph Austerweil, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tested the technology using a few simple scenarios. When he asked if he should kill one person to save another, Delphi said he shouldn’t. When he asked if it was right to kill one person to save 100 others, it said he should. Then he asked if he should kill one person to save 101 others. This time, Delphi said he should not.Morality, it seems, is as knotty for a machine as it is for humans.Delphi, which...

Why Are More Black Children Dying by Suicide?

Technology
“This is a deterrent,” said Dr. Kali D. Cyrus, a psychiatrist at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. Talking about your family’s business with a white person — much less an outsider — is often discouraged in the Black community, added Dr. Cyrus, who is Black.Most mental health care for children takes place in public schools via school psychologists or counselors. This is especially true in low-income districts where other resources are scarce. But these professionals are also in short supply.Even when mental health professionals are available, research has shown that Black adolescents’ depression often goes untreated because of negative perceptions of services and providers or feelings of shame about experiencing depressive ...
You Should See Her in a Crown. Now You Can See Her Face.

You Should See Her in a Crown. Now You Can See Her Face.

Technology
This year, archaeologists announced the discovery of a remarkable, 3,700-year-old double burial in Murcia, Spain. Skeletons of a man and a woman were draped in silver — earrings, bracelets, rings and, most notably, a silver diadem that had once gleamed on the woman’s head.The burial site, and particularly the crown and other fineries interred with the woman, hinted at a premodern European culture in which women might have held considerable power. The skeletons were unearthed in a large ovoid jar in La Almoloya, a key settlement of the El Argar culture, which is one of the earliest examples of a society in Europe with a ruling bureaucracy, geopolitical boundaries and other hallmarks of an advanced state.Although the gender politics of El Argar continue to be debated, a pair of complementary...

How Do You See Inside a Volcano? Try a Storm of Cosmic Particles.

Technology
With one detector, you can get a two-dimensional image of a volcano’s innards, “similar to a medical X-ray,” said David Mahon, a muography researcher at the University of Glasgow who was not involved with the study. “By using multiple detectors positioned around the object, it’s possible to build up a crude 3-D image.”After using muography to see inside an innocuous Japanese mountain in 1995, the technique was eventually deployed at active volcanoes. One of the first successful campaigns was Mount Asama in Japan, where researchers found a buried lava mound sitting atop a Swiss cheese-like magmatic passageway. It has since been used to see into, among others, Italy’s Etna and Stromboli volcanoes, Japan’s hyperactive Sakurajima volcano and the La Soufrière de Guadeloupe volcano in the Caribb...

New Zealand’s Sea Lions Are Back, and Crashing Golf Courses and Soccer Matches

Technology
They have surprised the users of public toilets by their sudden appearances and stopped a children’s soccer match by ambling onto the field. They have frolicked in a community swimming pool and shut down an urban road for weeks. One even gave birth near the 13th hole of a golf course.Sea lions once flourished along New Zealand’s coasts. But over hundreds of years, human hunting diminished their numbers and drove them to subantarctic islands hundreds of miles south. In recent decades the animals — which are one of the world’s rarest sea lion species — began, slowly and unexpectedly, to return to New Zealand’s mainland.It is a conservation story of hope and possibility. But with many of the sea lions’ former breeding grounds now populated by humans, scientists say that this time, New Zealand...