Butterfly tactics could help in developing flying robots

Micro Air Vehicle

Every creature on the Earth possesses some unique attributes that professionals aim to see in their robots. Researchers at Johns Hopkins have stepped into designing airborne robots which can replicate the maneuvers of butterflies.

The team is aiming to develop bug-size flyers for undertaking search and rescue operations and environmental missions without putting human lives in danger. These instruments are called aerial vehicles or MAVs. By accessing high-end imaging, the scientists analyzed the wing tactics of butterflies. They came to a conclusion that alterations in moment of inertia contributes primarily to insect flight. This property is observed in ice skaters and divers as well.

“Ice skaters who want to spin faster bring their arms in close to their bodies and extend their arms out when they want to slow down. These positions change the spatial distribution of a skater’s mass and modify their moment of inertia; this in turn affects the rotation of the skater’s body. An insect may be able to do the same thing with its body and wings,” commented Tiras Lin, a Whiting School of Engineering undergraduate who has been conducting the high-speed video research.

The team found that the wings of the butterfly carry very less mass as compared to other portions of the insect’s body. Scientists believe that this investigation is crucial because it seeks to discover critical aspects of biology with respect to insect flight. Moreover, they could also resolve many complications related to bio-inspired design of MAVs.

The findings could enlighten MAV designers working on insect flight dynamics.

New magnetic soap will help recovery from oil spills: Research

Magnetic Soap

With magnets entering almost every other sphere of technology, ever wondered how would they look as soap controller? Professionals from the Bristol University have created a soap that can apparently be regulated by magnets to be used in recovery from oil spills at sea.

This soap constitutes iron rich salts dissolved in water that are responsive to magnetic fields when kept in a solution. The team created this soap by dissolving iron in a series of insert surfactant materials made of chloride and bromide irons, just like those observed in daily mouthwash or fabric conditioners.

The iron involved in the composition is apparently responsible for the creation of metallic centers inside the soap particles. In a trial, a magnet was inserted into a test tube comprising the new soap lying under a less dense organic fluid. As the magnet was introduced, the soap apparently combated both the gravity and surface tension between water and oil, by elevating across the organic solvent and reaching the region of magnetic field.

Hand Held Magnet

Dr Isabelle Grillo, responsible for the Chemistry Laboratories at Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL), commented, “The particles of surfactant in solution are small and thus difficult to see using light but are easily revealed by SANS which we use to investigate the structure and behavior of all types of materials with typical sizes ranging from the nanometer to the tenth of micrometer.”

The scientists highlighted a technique called small angle neutron scattering (SANS) which affirmed that clumping of iron-rich surfactant is responsible for its magnetic traits. The investigators are of the opinion that this soap could have an array of applications in industrial settings with respect to pH and temperature or pressure of a system.

The research is published in Angewandte Chemie.

New particle can cool the planet, claims study

New Molecule

Amidst global warming concerns storming the planet, can the natural ecosystem itself be of any help? In what seems like a major breakthrough, scientists from the University of Manchester and the University of Bristol have stumbled upon a molecule in the Earth’s atmosphere that has the potential to cool the planet, thereby lessening the impact of global warming.

These invisible molecules are claimed to be strong oxidizers of pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide that are generated by combustion. The team believed that these particles have the potential to tidy up the planet naturally.

These chemical intermediates were first considered as part of a hypothesis in 1950, but they have now been discovered in this research. In the analysis, the team utilized acute, tunable light coming from the synchrotron that enabled them to distinguish the formulation and separation of a unique isomeric species.

These molecules called the Criegee biradicals, appear to work actively in the atmosphere by instigating rapid formation of sulphate and nitrate. The compounds consequently get transformed into aerosol that finally leads to formation of clouds, thereby cooling the planet in the process.

“Criegee radicals have been impossible to measure until this work carried out at the Advanced Light Source. We have been able to quantify how fast Criegee radicals react for the first time. Our results will have a significant impact on our understanding of the oxidising capacity of the atmosphere and have wide ranging implications for pollution and climate change,” cited Dr Carl Percival, Reader in Atmospheric Chemistry at The University of Manchester and one of the authors of the paper.

Notably, the formation of the aforesaid particles takes place all through day and night, as it does not rely on sunlight. Moreover, an important ingredient necessary for the development of Criegee biradicals are supposedly given out by plants. Therefore, natural ecosystems may aid in combating global warming to a certain extent.

The research is published in the journal, Science.

The future beholds drought tolerant crops: UCR

Assaf Mosquna Left

Considering that agriculture forms a major part of the economy in many countries, crops have to be protected against harmful calamities. A team of plant cell biologists from the University of California in Riverside has revealed a new coping mechanism for plants to deliver an effective response to issues such as drought.

Most plants activate a group of protein molecules called receptors to combat the high stress encountered in the process of drought. This new technique developed by the team will cause the restructuring of cellular machinery to accelerate plants’ stress responsiveness.

In the research, a plant namely Arabidopsis was studied in the lab. The investigators were successful in stimulating the plant’s stress response channel. This was essentially achieved by enhancing the abscisic acid receptors which are responsible for optimum stress responses in the absence of water. The plant receptors were apparently supercharged in the process and could be turned on or off as per preference.

“Receptors are the cell’s conductors and the abscisic acid receptors orchestrate the specific symphony that elicits stress tolerance. We’ve now figured out how to turn the orchestra on at will,” commented Sean Cutler, an associate professor of plant cell biology at the University of California, Riverside.

The scientists found that every stress hormone receptor supported a lid that functioned like a gate. For the receptor to be activated, the lid ought to be shut. By accessing various means of cell engineering and experimenting with it on almost 740 variants of the stress hormone receptor, the team developed ways with which the lid could be closed for longer durations.

Thus, when the lid remained closed for a longer span of time, it spurred better stress response in plants. The team has plans of testing this procedure, though it might take several years to reach on field.

The report is published in the journal, Science.

Taboos to protect lemurs no longer effective in Madagascar, says study

Indri Lemur

Those who have ever had the opportunity to visit Madagascar will agree that it is a region with remarkably unique species of animals. However, scientists from the Bangor University have reported that these conserved species such as lemurs are apparently endangered owing to increase in illegal hunting.

Some of the reasons for the rising trend of hunting down such animals could be the death of conventional taboos related to protection of lemurs, significant social changes and meat usage for food.

Study lead author Dr. Julia Jones of Bangor University, cited, “Madagascar’s amazing wildlife, especially its world famous lemurs, are so important for the future of the country. They are worth much more to the economy alive than as meat. I sincerely hope Madagascar is able to tackle this problem.”

Boy With Dead Indri

The scientists believed that most people preferred eating domestic meats like chicken or pork, but few others opted for wildlife meat due to the high cost of domestic meats in certain regions. Factors such as globalization, human mobility and changing lifestyles have supposedly put species of animals like lemurs in danger.

One solution to this problem, the scientists cited, is reliable farming of domestic meat which will make the cost relatively cheaper. This will also reduce the strain on the wild life species and cut down their risk factor considerably. Also, domestic animal husbandry avenues and disease control methods need to be improved substantially.

Though Madagascar has a clear system of laws working on this front, their implementation is seemingly poor. The article was published in the journal, Plos One.

Answer to buttercups glossy light on the chin revealed

Buttercup Under Chin

This study is surely reminiscent of childhood days when we saw the buttercup flower shimmer on the chin and instantly guessed who favored butter. Scientists from the Cambridge University have now unfolded an apparent scientific validation to it.

The team believed that this unique glittering attribute of the buttercup flower could be attributed to the flower’s one-of-a-kind anatomical structure. This kind of glossy appearance was possibly due to the interaction between the different layers of the flower’s petals.

Dr Silvia Vignolini, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physics (Cavendish Laboratory), elaborated, “Although many different factors, such as scent and temperature, influence the relationships between pollinators and flowers, the visual appearance of flowers is one of the most important factors in this communication. Flowers develop brilliant colour, or additional cues, such as glossiness – in the case of the buttercup – that contribute to make the optical response of the flower unique. Moreover, the glossiness might also mimic the presence of nectar droplets on the petals, making them that much more attractive.”

Strikingly, the conspicuous yellow light which shines on the chin is probably due to the epidermal layer of the petal that mirrors yellow light with acuteness relative to glass. The epidermal layer of the petals seemed to possess 2 severely flat surfaces from which light is thrown out. The first structure is present on the top of the cells, while the other is present in the air gap separation of the lower layers of the petal.

This presumably gave a double shine to the flower instigated by the smooth surface and the air-gap layer. This may be the reason why buttercups are so adept at replicating light under the chin as compared to any other flower. Another interesting attribute of this flower is its capability to reflect UV light. Considering that many pollinators like bees are responsive to UV light, the buttercup is an attraction to many such creatures.

The scientists are pleased to have developed better understanding of not just a form of children’s gameplay but a phenomenon that attracted pollinators to the buttercup flower. The research is published in the journal, Interface.

Rats show empathy by freeing trapped mates: Research

Peggy Mason Extreme Right

Most of us believe that very few animals are instinctively empathetic towards their companions. More recently, scientists from the University of Chicago have revealed that rodents apparently exhibited empathetic attitudes as they freed their peers from a trap.

This research explored the roots of empathetic behavior prevalent since the evolutionary days. For the analysis, 1 of the 2 rats sharing the same cage was exposed to a restrainer while the other rat watched its partner getting trapped.

Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, commented, “This is the first evidence of helping behavior triggered by empathy in rats. There are a lot of ideas in the literature showing that empathy is not unique to humans, and it has been well demonstrated in apes, but in rodents it was not very clear. We put together in one series of experiments evidence of helping behavior based on empathy in rodents, and that’s really the first time it’s been seen.”

The team found that the free rat supposedly manifested increased irritation when its peer was restrained. After many such inhibiting sessions, the rat comprehended how to break open the restraint and free its mate. This possibly showed its helping attitude towards its companion.

The scientists asserted that they did not provide the rat any kind of training and the rodent intuitively acted on the restraint to relieve its comrade. In a subsequent study, a restraint containing the cage mate and a bowl of chocolates were present in front of the free rodent. Notably, the rat seemed to free the caged mate and then relish the food along with its buddy.

This truly surprised the researchers as the free rodent had a tempting opportunity to devour the chocolate all by itself. The team concluded that such a helpful tendency is innately incident in humans too.

The article titled, ‘Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats’ is published in the journal, Science.

Rarest form of bumble bee reappears in the US

Cockerell Bumblebee

As compared to honey bees, bumble bees have the iconic black and yellow color or orange and red color smeared on their bodies. Just when we thought they are extinct, an interesting research by scientists from the University of California, Riverside, has shed light on an apparently rare species of bumblebee in the US.

This one-of-a-kind species known as Cockerell’s Bumblebee, was initially uncovered in 1913 and then in 1956 at many places around the world such as Rio Ruidoso and Cloudcroft.

“Most bumblebees in the U.S. are known from dozens to thousands of specimens, but not this species. The area it occurs in is infrequently visited by entomologists, and the species has long been ignored because it was thought that it was not actually a genuine species, but only a regional color variant of another well-known species,” commented Douglas Yanega, senior museum scientist at UC Riverside.

The team believed that there are almost 50 species of bumblebees native to the US, while a few of them are on the brink of extinction. The Cockerell’s Bumblebee seemingly reigns over a 300 square miles area, which appeared to be one of the most restricted region of any kind of bumblebee species across the globe.

The scientists aimed to determine other species of bees which could be considered as the closest relative to the Cockerell’s Bumblebee. Moreover, this creature lives along locations engulfed by the National Forest and Apache tribal land, which looked like secured areas. Therefore, it may not encounter loss of home at this point of time.

However, the biology of the bee is still under wraps which necessitates further trials.

Yellowstone wolves seemingly react to environmental changes

Gray Wolves

Animals have an innate capability to detect ambient changes, which is why there have been talks about dogs being able to sense the occurrence of an earthquake and so on. A similar research conducted by experts from Imperial College London has revealed how gray wolves react to environmental changes.

These alterations were observed in terms of the aforesaid animal’s number, body structure and genetic constitution along with other such attributes. The team noted information about the gray wolves found in Yellowstone since 15 years. All factors ranging from the biology to the demographics when the wolves managed to survive and when they did not, were scrutinized. A mathematical model to comprehend environmental influences on the population of the animals was developed.

The results showed that environmental factors when considered cumulatively, appeared to account for the influence in the lives of wolves. Changes that took place each year did not bring about significant effects in the wolf population.

Professor Tim Coulson from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, who led the study, elaborated, “We now have a way to predict with unprecedented detail how populations of many different animals will respond to environmental change, including those animals threatened with extinction. However we simply don’t have sufficient information about most of these species and their environments to confidently make such predictions. We urgently need more data if we are to understand how the natural world will be affected by continuing climate change.”

Also, the impact these environmental variables will have on the lives of wolves in the future may be gauged by observing which aspect of the wolves’ characteristics were the most vulnerable to surrounding conditions. The researchers are now headed towards testing other species like mosquitoes and crocodiles in the same way.

The findings are published in the journal, Science.

The mind can see colors even without hypnosis: Research

Brain Hallucination Scan

According to experts from the University of Hull, certain individuals have the capability to hallucinate colors as per their wish even in the absence of hypnosis.

For this research, a set of people who reported themselves to be highly vulnerable to hypnosis were incorporated. They were asked to observe sequences of monochrome specimens and visualize the color existing in them.

The results showed that both via hypnosis and without it, the participants could tell the colors present in the framework. Further, an MRI scanner was also used to gauge the brain responses of the subjects. Apparently, suggestible subjects who could see the colors showed substantial differences in their brain activities.

Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, lead researcher on the project cited, “These are very talented people. They can change their perception and experience of the world in ways that the rest of us cannot.”

It has always been assumed that hypnosis is required for visual results, but this analysis could break the myth. Though hypnotic mechanisms seemed to elevate the appearance of colors, it did not seem to be something indispensable according to the reported outcome. This is because alteration in brain activity and the capacity to see colors appeared to work even in the absence of hypnosis.

The researchers opined that most people fear of being under the influence of hypnosis, but it could have certain implications in pain control. This analysis essentially revealed that people can experience benefits via suggestion even in the absence of hypnosis. It is published in the journal, Consciousness and Cognition.

Monarch butterfly genome spills some migration secrets

Cell Journal

Monarch butterflies are adept at migration as they move to the south in a region surrounded by fir trees in Central Mexico each year. Professionals have always been clueless of what instigates these tiny creatures to leave their native region and transit to a remote location. In a bid to spill out the secrets of this unique journey, scientists from the University of Massachusetts Medical School have sequenced the genome of the monarch butterfly.

The team believed that circadian clocks contribute primarily to the time-compensated sun compass mechanism that controlled the creature’s capacity to travel long distances. This could also have certain unexplored implications in human biology.

“Migratory monarchs are at least two generations removed from those that made the journey the previous fall. They have never been to the overwintering sites before, and have no relatives to follow on their way. There must be a genetic program underlying the butterflies’ migratory behavior. We want to know what that program is, and how it works,” commented Steven M. Reppert, MD, professor and chair of neurobiology and senior author of the study.

Some of the significant observations included the genes involved in visual and central processing systems of the sun compass. The scientists also stumbled upon a complete collection of molecular components taking place in the circadian cycle of the monarch.

Migration is a team work which is why analysts also noted all relatives of the immature biosynthetic pathway whose optimum functioning is vital for successful migration. Some additional molecular signatures of oriented flight action and certain expansions of odorant receptors specific to the monarch butterfly also came to light.

Further, a crucial mechanism for warding off predators during the migratory episode was also scrutinized. The scientists concluded that the genomic sequences of the monarch butterflies could pave the path to comprehending significant behavioral and physiological attributes that help them travel long distances. This will also enlighten experts on other migrants like birds and sea turtles.

The article is published in the journal, Cell.

Causes of shooting pain due to coral snake bite explained

Texas Coral Snake

There is no dearth of evidences that reveal the poisonous nature of snakes. However, the bite of a specific snake called Texas Coral which has black, yellow and red color layers on its body, is very painful, scientists from the University of California (UCSF) have explained why. This has a medicinal facet too as the findings could be implicated in the formation of drugs to combat acute pain.

The researchers found that the venom of the aforesaid snake apparently contains a toxic cocktail of chemicals that is inclusive of 2 unique proteins which cling to each other and get stuck firmly onto minute detectors on human nerve endings and do not leave it.

The human acid receptors have the potential to feel acid burns and therefore after the snake bites, the victim’s brain experiences a persistent sign of burning sensation like acid. These proteins are linked tightly and are very resistant towards separation from the human acid receptors. The prolonging intense pain can be attributed to this phenomenon.

“Bites from this snake are associated with really intense, unremitting pain. This work helps to explains why and gives us new tools for examining how our brains perceive pain,” commented David Julius, PhD, the Morris Herzstein Chair in Molecular Biology & Medicine at UCSF, who led the research.

This snake usually found in Texas and Louisiana is not considered menacing to humans since it does not seem to bite unless it is ensnared in a defensive situation. However, as soon as it bites, the person ought to be administered huge proportions of morphine and other medications to alleviate the chronic pain that lingers for weeks.

The report, ‘A heteromeric Texas coral snake toxin targets acid-sensing ion channels to produce pain’ is published in the journal, Nature.

Bats seemingly change ear shapes for better hearing

Rolf Muller Bats are known to make use of ultrasonic pulses and echoes to pursue a prey during night. Scientists at Virginia Tech have found that some bats seemingly have the capability to reform the shapes of their ears in a specific way that modifies their ultrasonic hearing pattern.

In a span of just one tenth of a second, these bats appear to efficiently alter their outer ear shapes from one extremity of configuration to the other. The team believed that in just 100 milliseconds, this kind of bat can apparently change its ear shape in ways that would adhere to various acoustic sensing tasks.

“Certain bats can deform the shapes of their ears in a way that changes the animal’s ultrasonic hearing pattern. Within just one tenth of a second, these bats are able to change their outer ear shapes from one extreme configuration to another,” commented Rolf Müller, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.

These shape alterations possibly influence the shape of the bats’ spatial hearing sensitivity too. These bats supposedly emit ultrasonic pulses and take note of the returning echoes through which they are completely aware of the happenings in their environment.

Particularly, horseshoe bats are adept at using their sonar systems to get through thick vegetation and catch hold of an insect prey, even under tough conditions. The ears of bats are critical since they behave as biosonar receiving antennas which help them implement their ultrasonic sensing capabilities.

Using techniques such as high-speed stereo vision and high-resolution tomography, the team recreated the three-dimensional constructs of the outer ears of live horseshoe bats as they undergo deformation in these short time frames.

The computer analysis of these deforming shapes affirmed that the ultrasonic hearing spotlights linked to distinct ear configurations could adhere to different hearing tasks undertaken by the mammals. Therefore, the ear deformation seen in horseshoe bats may be a substrate for getting accustomed to spatial hearing of the animals in a very short notice.

This research provided vital information on the different shapes of ears among distinct species of bats and how these alterations influenced their navigation mechanisms. It is published in the journal, Bioinspiration and Biometrics.

Spotted horses in cave paintings were not imaginary, says DNA study

Cave paintings

Works of art depicting horses may have caught the eye of at least a few of us. In such a scenario, an international team of researchers from the University of York and others have utilized primitive DNA to enlighten people on the realism of horses presented in prehistoric cave paintings.

The team found that varying colors observed in Paleolithic cave paintings inclusive of leopard spotting was seemingly prevalent in pre-domestic horses. This implied that artists were replicating the natural ambience in their artistic work. This is the first analysis to demonstrate evidence for white spotted phenotypes in pre-domestic horses.

Professor Michi Hofreiter, from the Department of Biology at the University of York, remarked, “Our results suggest that, at least for wild horses, Paleolithic cave paintings, including the remarkable depictions of spotted horses, were closely rooted in the real-life appearance of animals.”

Speculations had been rife that cave paintings of the Paleolithic period are reflections of the immediate surroundings. But, the possibility of deeper implications was not ruled out either. The former seemed to be precisely true for the cave painting ‘The Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle’ in France that was sketched almost above 25,000 years ago and apparently portrays white horses with dark spots. These spots have been seen in modern horses as part of the leopard pattern.

In order to gauge if these spots had an in depth meaning, the team examined nine coat-color loci in 31 pre-domestic horses as old as 35,000 years from different places. This procedure involved scrutinizing bones and teeth samples from 15 locations. The findings showed that 4 Pleistocene and 2 Copper Age specimens from Western and Eastern Europe seemingly possessed a gene linked to leopard spotting. This suggested that spotted horses existed at that period.

Moreover, 18 horses appeared to have a bay coat color and seven were black, connoting that all color phenotypes recognizable in cave paintings presumably existed in pre-historic horse populations. The analysis revealed that Paleolithic cave paintings which depicted wild and spotted horses could be minutely associated with real-life appearance of animals.

The findings are published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Deadly bat killing disease caused due to fungus, say researchers

Bats In Flight A mirage of the cat and the mouse game has possibly turned into a reality. A research by scientists from the University of Tennessee has shown that bats in North America are supposedly under attack by the fungus Geomyces destructans.

Since 2006 many bats have fallen into the death valley but scientists have not been able to label anyone as the culprit owing to lack of evidences. As per this revelation, the aforesaid virus may be the causal factor for shrinking of the bat population. This fungus presumably causes the disease called White-nose Syndrome (WNS) that is responsible for the death of bats.

The skin lesions that are the hallmark of this disease contribute to the colonization of this fungus which apparently puts the G. destructans into the witness box. But, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue since there are no blatant reports stating the same.

“Many assumed that fungal infections in mammals only occur if some other pathogen has already weakened the immune system. Additionally, the recent discovery that G. destructans commonly colonizes the skin of bats in Europe with no major die-offs generated speculation that other unidentified factors are the primary cause of WNS,” commented Justin Boyles, a post-doctoral research associate in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee.

In order to test their suspicion, the team set up a trial to gauge if G. destructans has a role in WNS. They exposed a set of healthy brown bats under hibernating conditions to this fungus. As assumed, this exposure seemingly resulted in the healthy bats contracting WNS. And to add on to it, they found that WNS is contagious and could be transferred from afflicted bats to normal ones.

This study suggests that G. destructans is not a native of the continent and hence the bats do not seem to have developed immunity to it. These findings could help in discovering new ways to curb the spread of disease and will be a significant step towards conserving bat populations against this debilitating danger.

The research is published in the journal, Nature.