World’s smallest vertebrate title now goes to a frog

World's Tiniest Vertebrate

The last we heard, the title of the smallest vertebrate in the world was claimed by a fish. But it seems to have changed recently. Discovered by a team from the Louisiana State University, a member of a newly recognized species of frog is being called the tiniest vertebrate on planet Earth.

The team, which included LSU graduate student Eric Rittmeyer and others from the United States made this discovery during a three-month long expedition to the island of New Guinea, which is also known for being the tallest and largest tropical island in the world.

The frog is said to measure approximately 7.7 millimeters or just one-third of an inch in size. The species to which this vertebrate belongs is known as Paedophryne amanuensis. Another diminutive frog species discovered on this expedition is the Paedophryne swiftorum, which is just slightly larger than the aforementioned one.

“It was particularly difficult to locate Paedophryne amauensis due to its diminutive size and the males’ high pitched insect-like mating call,” conveyed Christopher Austin, associate professor of biological sciences at the Louisiana State University and curator of herpetology its Museum of Natural Science. “But it’s a great find. New Guinea is a hotspot of biodiversity, and everything new we discover there adds another layer to our overall understanding of how biodiversity is generated and maintained.”

The title earlier belonged to a fish from the family Paedocypris progenetica and it was discovered in Indonesia. The recorded size of this fish is 8 millimeters. Also, from among the more than 60,000 vertebrates known to man, the claim of the largest one in the world belongs to the blue whale which measures about 75 feet or 25 meters.

This work was published in the Public Library of Science One journal on January 11.

New device to seperate heavy metals from water underway

CEP System

Hardcore industrial and textile industries are said to be expelling heavy metals into waterways, which could be potentially hazardous to the ecosystem. More recently, researchers at Brown University have developed a device that apparently picks out heavy metals from water.

This set up appears to collect trace heavy elements in water by elevating their proportions so that a potential metal-removal technique could be accessed thereafter. The method, namely cyclic electrowinning or precipitation (CEP) system, seemingly discarded approximately 99% of copper, nickel and cadmium, thereby giving back water which is in accordance with federally acknowledged guidelines of purity. This technique should be scalable and viable too, the scientists believe.

Joseph Calo, professor emeritus of engineering who maintains an active laboratory at Brown, commented, “Ridding water of trace metals is really hard to do. It’s like trying to put the genie back in the bottle.”

There are many methods to remove heavy metals from water, but they apparently result in harmful byproducts. The team working on the said system was on the lookout for a technique to eliminate the formation of harmful byproducts. In the initial stage of the process, the metal-laden water was incorporated into a tank after which the pH of the liquid was altered by means of adding an acid or base. This process segregated the water molecules from the metal precipitate, which got assembled at the lower panel of the tank.

This procedure was repeated till the levels of the metal ions in the fluid reached a threshold from where electrolysis could be conveniently deployed to remove the heavy metals. As this point attained, the liquid was delivered to another instrument called the spouted particulate electrode (SPE). This is where the process of electrowinning occurred and the metal cations underwent a chemical transformation to formulate into rigid metal solids which were easily removable.

Thus, the cleaner water could be sent back to another reservoir where further methods to depreciate the metal ion concentrations may be used. Such processes can be repeated as many times as possible to attain the desired level of clean water according to standards. In this trial, the CEP system was stated to have lowered the amounts of cadmium, copper and nickel to 1.50, 0.23 and 0.37 parts per million (ppm), correspondingly.

This method, if affirmed by experts, could have various applications in the commercial world and metal recovery fields. The findings were published in the Chemical Engineering Journal.

Babies can actually appreciate the idea of punishment, say UBC psychologists

Babies Embrace Punishment

For many, crime and punishment or karma may appear as something that is rooted in society’s need to keep the peace and civilities flowing. But if psychologists at the University of British Columbia have it right, then babies as young as eight months can appreciate the idea of ‘bad guys’ or those who indulge in anti-social behavior, being punished. This could also imply that the entire scheme of what’s considered right or wrong stems from our very being.

Though previous research on the subject merely states that infants prefer acts of kindness, the latest study actually seems to suggest that babies support negative behavior directed towards anti-social elements. A part of these conclusions was drawn from an experiment in which researchers played out 4 scenarios to 100 kids with the help of animal puppets. The scenes involved the puppets giving or taking toys from other ‘good’ or ‘bad’ characters. Upon being prompted to pick their favorites, the subjects seemed to side with puppets which mistreated the bad characters from the original scene over those that treated the ‘villains’ benevolently.

“We find that, by eight months, babies have developed nuanced views of reciprocity and can conduct these complex social evaluations much earlier than previously thought,” explains lead author Prof. Kiley Hamlin, UBC Dept of Psychology, who co-authored the study with colleagues from Yale University and Temple University. “This study helps to answer questions that have puzzled evolutionary psychologists for decades. Namely, how have we survived as intensely social creatures if our sociability makes us vulnerable to being cheated and exploited? These findings suggest that, from as early as eight months, we are watching for people who might put us in danger and prefer to see antisocial behavior regulated.”

The team involved in the research even looked into the way older babies would deal with good or bad puppets. 64 infants aged 21 months were asked to give a treat or take away one from a good puppet and a bad one. The subjects were observed to have taken away treats from the erring puppets and given treats to the ‘nice guys’. These responses are of great interest to psychologists as they could be the earliest forms of the complex behaviors and habits which are expressed by people later on in life. At the same time, there’s no reason to dismiss the fact that such reactions to wrongdoers and people who punish them may be built around learned components too.

This UBC study which states that babies embrace the idea of wrongdoers being punished can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NASA unfolds the faintly visible solar flare up

Nasa Logo Solar storm is a flare up taking place on the sun that is known to influence the Earth as well. NASA space observatory scientists are conducting a research to comprehend the evolution of solar storms that seemingly have the potential to harm satellites, distort interactions and result in power grid failures on Earth.

The solar storms,known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), are being analyzed from NASA’s twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, spacecraft launched in 2006. This pair presents a vital component in the set of NASA spacecraft that improves the ability to indicate solar storms. New processing methods utilized on STEREO data apparently allow scientists to gauge how solar eruptions grow into space storms at the Earth.

“The clarity these new images provide will improve the observational inputs into space weather models for better forecasting,” quoted Lika Guhathakurta, STEREO program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

CMEs are a class of billion-ton clouds of solar plasma produced by the same sun explosions that ignite solar flares. When they strike across Earth, they tend to result in auroras and radiation storms that disturb reactive electronics on satellites. In certain cases, it also leads to power outages. Keeping a check on these clouds and predicting their arrival is an essential area of space weather forecasting. The latest images of STEREO-A spacecraft disclose complete characteristics of a large Earth-directed CME in late 2008. This study seemingly links the natural magnetized structure in the sun’s corona to the intrinsic anatomy of the interplanetary storm as it struck the earth after a span of 3 days. When the information was gathered, the spacecraft was nearly 65 million miles farther from the Earth.

The wide angle lens of the spacecraft seemingly store the pictures. They spot normal sunlight spread by free floating electrons in plasma clouds. As these clouds go away from the sun, they shine and are apparently noticeable. However, since the clouds expand into emptiness their visibility seems to be substantially decreased. The clouds are around 1000 times lighter than the milky way thereby making direct imaging a challenging process. This also apparently restricts the relation between solar storms and the coronal structures that are mainly responsible for it.

NASA spacecraft observations and new data processing techniques are providing scientists with more enlightenment on the formation of solar storms.

Tiger population in India roars up from 1411 to 1706

Tiger Population India

Conserving wild life has taken center stage for over a couple of years now. Last Tiger census conducted in 2007 which stated a figure of 1411 tigers in India was a matter of concern to many. Now, the 2011 census says that the number has roared up to 1706, which is an increase of around 17 percent. This was announced at the three-day International Tiger Conservation Conference in New Delhi.

India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority along with partners such as WWF has conducted the count which is said to be the largest population survey of tigers. It is inclusive of non-Tiger Reserves and places outside national parks, including population from Sundarbans, parts of Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Assam. Over 50 tigers were found in the Moyar Valley and Sigur Plateau in India’s Western Ghats Complex.

“In its detail, this tiger estimation exercise shows the importance India attaches to this prime conservation issue,” said WWF India Chief Executive Officer Ravi Singh. “The results indicate the need to intensify field-based management and intervention to go beyond the present benchmark, bringing more people and partners into the process.”

States of Assam and Uttarakhand show an increase in population while Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh reveal a decline. Though the number has increased, census show a decline in tiger occupancy from 36,139 to 28,108 square miles when out of protected regions. It seemingly highlights human-tiger conflict in tiger reserves, showing increased human presence in places such as Corbett, Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh.

“As seen from the results, recovery requires strong protection of core tiger areas and the corridors that link them, as well as effective management in the surrounding areas,” said Dr. Barney Long, Manager of WWF’s Asian Species Conservation Programs. “With these two vital conservation ingredients, we can not only halt their decline but also ensure tigers make a strong and lasting comeback.”

Although this is a positive step towards conservation of tigers, saving the population is going to take a lot more as tigers have lost 97 percent of population and 94 percent home range in the last 100 years.