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Submission + - 2015 "Dance Your PhD" Winner Announced (

sciencehabit writes: Jargon seems unavoidable in science. When you try to explain your work, it becomes a minefield of technical concepts and abstract reasoning. But what if we just want the gist of what you do, the essence of your research...? Oh, and make it a dance. The results are in from Science magazine's annual "Dance Your PhD" contest. The winners include a ballet about a protein, a tango about entangled photons, a Bollywood spectacle about the immune system and, this year's top prize-winner, a dance by Florence Metz of the University of Bern, Switzerland, who combined hip hop, salsa, and acro-yoga to explain her PhD on the intricacies of water protection policies. She goes home with $1000 and a trip to Stanford University in the spring to screen her PhD dance and give a talk--hopefully jargon-free.

Submission + - Gene drive turns mosquitoes into malaria fighters (

sciencehabit writes: The war against malaria has a new ally: a controversial technology for spreading genes throughout a population of animals. Researchers report today that they have harnessed a so-called gene drive to efficiently endow mosquitoes with genes that should make them immune to the malaria parasite—and unable to spread it. On its own, gene drive won’t get rid of malaria, but if successfully applied in the wild the method could help wipe out the disease, at least in some corners of the world. The approach “can bring us to zero [cases],” says Nora Besansky, a geneticist at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, who specializes in malaria-carrying mosquitoes. “The mosquitos do their own work [and] reach places we can’t afford to go or get to.”

Submission + - Mars will someday have a ring (

sciencehabit writes: Two weeks ago, scientists reported that the martian moon Phobos will be torn apart as it circles inward toward the Red Planet. Now, a new study reveals what will happen as a result of that cosmic breakup: Mars will get a short-lived (in an astronomical sense) ring. Unlike Saturn’s bright rings, which are made almost entirely of ice particles, Mars’s rocky ring will be dark and largely invisible from Earth, although the cloud of orbiting Phobos bits will at first be dense enough to cast a shadow on the Red Planet’s surface during some parts of the planet’s orbit around the sun, the researchers say. Eventually, the particles in the ring will disperse and continue their spiral into Mars’s surface, with some of the larger bits—hunks of rock up to 2 kilometers across—blasting craters as much as 4 kilometers wide.

Submission + - Researchers create plant-circuit hybrid (

sciencehabit writes: Talk about flower power. Researchers have crafted flexible electronic circuits inside a rose. Eventually such circuitry may help farmers eavesdrop on their crops and even control when they ripen. The advance may even allow people to harness energy from trees and shrubs not by cutting them down and using them for fuel, but by plugging directly into their photosynthesis machinery.

Submission + - Investigation reveals how easy it is to hack a science journal website

sciencehabit writes: With 20,000 journal websites producing millions of articles--and billions of dollars--it was probably inevitable that online criminals would take notice. An investigation by Science magazine finds that an old exploit is being used on academic publishers: domain snatching and website spoofing. The trick is to find the tiny number of journals whose domain registration has lapsed at any given time. But how do they track their prey? Science correspondent and grey-hat hacker John Bohannon (the same reporter who submitted hundreds of computer-generated fake scientific papers in a journal sting) proposes a method: Scrape the journal data from Web of Science (curated by Thomson Reuters) and run WHOIS queries on their URLs to generate an automatic hijack schedule. He found 24 journals indexed by Thomson Reuters whose domains were snatched over the past year. Most are under construction or for sale, but 2 of them now host fake journals and ask for real money. And to prove his point, Bohannon snatched a journal domain himself and Rickrolled it. (It now hosts an xkcd cartoon and a link to the real journal.) Science is providing the article describing the investigation free of charge, as well as all the data and code. You can hijack a journal yourself, if you're so inclined: An IPython Notebook shows how to scrape Web of Science and automate WHOIS queries to find a victim. Science hopes that you return the domains to the real publishers after you snatch them.

Submission + - Breaking: ITER fusion project to take at least 6 years longer than planned (

sciencehabit writes: The multibillion dollar ITER fusion project under construction in France will take at least an additional 6 years to complete, compared with the current schedule, a meeting of the governing council was told this week. ITER management has also asked the seven international partners which are backing the project for additional funding to finish the job.
Under recent estimates, ITER was expected to cost some $13 billion and not begin operations until 2019. The new start date would be 2025.

Submission + - Animal rights group targets NIH director's home (

sciencehabit writes: Late last month, hundreds of people in two Washington, D.C., suburbs received a letter in the mail claiming that one of their neighbors was tied to animal abuse at a government lab. Science has learned that the letters, sent by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), targeted U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and NIH researcher Stephen Suomi, revealing their home addresses and phone numbers and urging their neighbors to call and visit them. The tactic is the latest attempt by the animal rights group to shut down monkey behavioral experiments at Suomi’s Poolesville, Maryland, laboratory, and critics say it crosses the line.

Submission + - Pigeons spot cancer as well as human experts (

sciencehabit writes: It may sound like a bird-brained idea, but scientists have trained pigeons to spot cancer in images of biopsied tissue. Individually, the avian analysts can't quite match the accuracy of professional pathologists. But as a flock, they did as well as trained humans, according to a new study appearing this week in PLOS ONE.

Submission + - Scientists grow working vocal cord tissue in the lab (

sciencehabit writes: For the first time, scientists have created vocal cord tissue starting with cells from human vocal cords. When tested in the lab, the bioengineered tissue vibrated—and even sounded—similar to the natural thing. The development could one day help those with severely damaged vocal cords regain their lost voices.

Submission + - Flexible brains allow humans to outsmart chimps (

sciencehabit writes: Compared with most other animals, chimpanzees are incredibly intelligent: They work with tools, communicate with complex vocalizations, and are good problem-solvers. But as smart as chimps are, their brain power pales in comparison with our own. A multitude of factors help makes the human brain superior to the chimps’, but new research indicates that looser genetic control of brain development in humans allows us to learn and adapt to our environment with more flexibility than our primate cousins.

Submission + - Famed number found hidden in the hydrogen atom (

sciencehabit writes: Three hundred and sixty years ago, British mathematician John Wallis ground out an unusual formula for , the famed number that never ends. Now, oddly, a pair of physicists has found that the same formula emerges from a routine calculation in the physics of the hydrogen atom—the simplest atom there is. But before you go looking for a cosmic connection or buy any crystals, relax: There is probably no deep meaning to the slice of from the quantum calculation.

Submission + - Earth may have kept its own water rather than getting it from asteroids (

sciencehabit writes: Carl Sagan famously dubbed Earth the “pale blue dot” for our planet’s abundant water. But where this water came from—and when it arrived—has been a longstanding debate. Many scientists argue that Earth formed as a dry planet, and gained its water millions of years later through the impact of water-bearing asteroids or comets. But now, scientists say that Earth may have had water from the start, inheriting it directly from the swirling nebula that gave birth to the solar system. If true, the results suggest that water-rich planets may abound in the universe.

Submission + - Ancient mass extinction may have shrunk Earth's creatures (

sciencehabit writes: About 360 million years ago, Earth’s seas were filled with myriad fishes, including creatures the size of school buses. Then a mass extinction hit the Age of Fishes. It killed off most of the big guys, according to a new study, and effectively shrunk most vertebrate species to the size of a human forearm or smaller. The findings imply that our planet’s next mass extinction—which some believe is already underway—could similarly shrivel any species that remain.

Submission + - Paper retracted after anti-immigrant scientist bans use of his software (

sciencehabit writes: An 11-year-old research paper describing Treefinder, a computer program used by evolutionary biologists, has been retracted after the program’s developer banned its use in European countries he deemed too friendly to refugees.

In September, German scientist Gangolf Jobb announced on his website that researchers in eight European countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, were no longer allowed to use Treefinder, which builds phylogenetic trees from sequence data. The move sparked outrage among some scientists, and now, BMC Evolutionary Biology has pulled the 2004 paper describing the software because the license change “breaches the journal’s editorial policy on software availability.”

"There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them" - Heisenberg