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All-Corn Diet Turns Hamsters Into Cannibals 171

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: A new paper outlines the efforts of scientists at the University of Strasbourg to determine why the European hamster has been dying off at an alarming rate... Previously, the rodent's diet consisted of grains, roots and insects. But the regions in which its numbers were dropping have been taken over by the industrial farming of corn... Researchers in France have discovered that a monotonous diet of corn causes hamsters to exhibit some unusual behavior -- cannibalism.
âoeImproperly cooked maize-based diets have been associated with higher rates of homicide, suicide and cannibalism in humans," the researchers point out, and they believe it's the absence of vitamin B3 which is affecting the hamsters' nervous system and triggering dementia-like behavior. Hamsters are already an endangered species in Western Europe, so this is being heavily-researched. And they obviously won't improve their chances of survival with cannibalism.

Nicotine Shown To Reduce Symptoms of Schizophrenia (newatlas.com) 205

New submitter future guy quotes a report from New Atlas: A meta-analysis of worldwide studies conducted in 2005 definitively showed what many doctors had been anecdotally noting for decades. Schizophrenia patients were much more likely to become heavy smokers than than those in the general population. In fact some studies found over 80 percent of those diagnosed with schizophrenia were smokers. There were many social and psychological hypotheses proposed to explain this strange anomaly, but none were ever sufficient. A new study published in Nature Medicine has not only revealed how smoking can normalize the impairments in brain activity associated with schizophrenia, but unlocks an entirely new field of drug research to combat the disease. The study expanded on the recent discovery of a genetic mutation, labelled CHRNA5, that was identified as being associated with the cognitive impairments seen in schizophrenic patients. The scientists took mice with the CHRNA5 gene variant and discovered they displayed similar characteristics to those suffering from schizophrenia, such as an inability to suppress a startle response and an aversion to social interaction. Using brain imaging technologies the research team discovered the mice with the CHRNA5 gene variant displayed symptoms of hypofrontality, a state of decreased blood flow in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Hypofrontality is commonly thought to be a prominent cause of many symptoms of schizophrenia, as well as being associated with other psychiatric conditions including Bipolar Disorder and ADHD. As well as identifying the role this gene variant plays in causing hypofrontality, the study examined how nicotine acted to restore normal activity to the prefrontal cortex. The researchers found that within one week of daily nicotine dosing the impaired brain activity in mice with schizophrenic characteristics had normalized.

Chinese Scientists Become First To Use CRISPR Gene-Editing On Humans (popularmechanics.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Popular Mechanics: A team of Chinese scientists from Sichuan University in Chengdu have become the first to inject a person with cells modified with the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. The trial involved modifying a patient's own immune system cells to make them more effective at combating cancer cells and then injecting them back into the patient. The Chinese trial was approved back in July, and United States medical scientists also plan to use CRISPR as an experimental treatment for cancer patients in early 2017. The CRISPR-Cas9 "tool" is a DNA construct that can be injected into any organism -- in this case, human immune system T cells -- to modify the genome of that organism. It works in three steps: an RNA sequence guides the CRISPR construct to the correct part of the organism's DNA, the Cas9 enzyme "cuts out" that segment of DNA, and then, as an optional third step, a new DNA sequence can be inserted to replace the deleted segment of the genome. In the case of the Chinese trial, conducted October 28 at the West China Hospital in Chengdu, only the first two steps of the CRISPR-Cas9 process were carried out. Immune system cells were extracted from a patient with metastatic lung cancer, and then the gene code that produces a protein called PD-1 was deleted by the Cas9 enzyme. PD-1 instructs T cells to stop or slow an immune system response, and cancer cells can take advantage of this protein to trick the body into responding to the ailment with less than full force. Once the PD-1 protein was removed with CRISPR, the edited cells were cultivated to increase their numbers and then injected back into the patient. This is the first of two injections for the patient, and an additional nine patients in the trial will receive between two and four injections of edited cells, depending on their individual conditions. Carl June, scientific advisor for the planned U.S. trial, told Nature: "I think this is going to trigger 'Sputnik 2.0,' a biomedical duel in progress between China and the United States, which is important since competition usually improves the end product."

Hostess Saves Twinkies By Automating, Fires 94% Of Their Workforce (washingtonpost.com) 474

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Where Twinkie once employed 22,000 workers in more than 40 bakeries, their workforce is now down to just 1,170, reports the Washington Post, relying mostly on robotic arms and other forms of automation. "This 500-person plant produces more than 1 million Twinkies a day, 400 million a year. That's 80% of Hostess' total output -- output that under the old regime required 14 plants and 9,000 employees."

"We like to think of ourselves as a billion-dollar startup," Hostess chief executive Bill Toler said Tuesday, announcing that Hostess Brands, which had twice filed for bankruptcy, now plans to become a publicly-listed company valued at $2.3 billion.


Snapchat Introduces Memories: a Searchable, Shareable Archive of Your Snaps (theverge.com) 41

Casey Newton, reporting for The Verge: At a time when its social networking rivals are racing to promote more real-time sharing, Snapchat is turning its attention to the past. The company today introduced Memories, a way of saving and sharing old snaps in a private archive inside the main app. It's a living, social camera roll in which photos and videos can be organized, edited, and shared long after they are taken. The introduction of Memories represents a significant shift for the famously ephemeral Snapchat -- and reflects the app's growing status as the default camera for millions of users.Reporter Alex Kantrowitz says this update "will make Snapchat feel a little less raw and in-the-moment, and a little more polished and, err, stale. That's a big deal." In a post on BuzzFeed News, he says this update will make Snapchat more addictive. He explains why: Posts from Snapchat are regularly repurposed. On any given day, you're likely to encounter saved snaps on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. People post snaps to other networks because they don't want to constrain themselves to one network. But they also post them elsewhere because saving a snap to a camera roll can feel like tossing it into the abyss. Posting a snap to Instagram, however, can give it a sense of permanence and organization. By creating Memories, Snapchat is building its own home for these old snaps. Whether it's the company's intention or not, Memories will create an avenue within Snapchat for people to do what they're doing with snaps outside, namely: save, organize, edit, republish. The likely result: more time inside Snapchat, less in other apps.

Plastic-Eating Bacteria Could Help Clean Up Waste (inhabitat.com) 75

Kristine Lofgren writes: Japanese researchers have discovered a microorganism that literally devours ocean-clogging plastic. The bacterium Ideonella sakaiensis can completely break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common plastic used in bottles and containers. That type of plastic makes up a huge proportion of all the plastic waste in the world, particularly in the ocean. The bacterium uses a pair of enzymes to break down PET and turn it into a food source. The problem is, it takes up to six weeks for the bacterium to completely breakdown a small, low-grade sample of PET. Microbiologist Kohei Oda of the Kyoto Institute of Technology co-authored the study published this week in the journal Science, and he told PBS NewsHour he was "very surprised to find microorganisms that degrade PET" because the plastic has always been thought to be non-biodegradable. Now, scientists just need to figure out how to harness the hungry little bug to recycle plastic and reduce pollution.

Gun-Firing Drone Raises Some Eyebrows 216

An anonymous reader writes: A video posted on YouTube showing a drone firing a gun in a wooded area has caused some controversy today. The short video shows a four-rotored custom drone with a special rig containing a handgun. The handgun proceeds to fire four shots, handling the recoil better than might be expected. The user who posted the video also submitted it to Reddit, where a commenter noted that the apparent use of a solenoid trigger would class the device as an automatic weapon under ATF rules.

Iowa Makes a Bold Admission: We Need Fewer Roads 285

An anonymous reader writes: During a recent Urban Land Institute talk, the director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, Paul Trombino, told an audience that the road network in Iowa was probably going to "shrink." Calling for fewer highways isn't what you'd normally expect from a government transportation official, but since per capita driving has peaked in the U.S., it might make sense for states to question whether or not to spend their transportation budgets on new roads.

Comment Re:Do these companies really hate people so much.. (Score 1) 234

I've been driving for Uber for about nine months now, part time. While autonomous vehicles seem like a natural fit for this service, I can say from experience that about 30% of the pickups are set by the passenger at a wrong location, and require some driver / passenger interaction in order to actually find the rider and make the pickup. With the driver out of the picture, many of these will trips will likely become a "cancel - wrong address" and re-request, adding to the pickup time. I don't see any practical way for an autonomous vehicle to work out that Peggy isn't actually standing in the middle of the mall - which is where she set her location - she's really outside the Verizon store at the curb, waving frantically.

Further, how will vehicle condition be managed? How will they insure the vehicle is clean and ready for the next passenger? Free of vomit, personal property, not vandalized? Will each vehicle be monitored by a remote Uber employee from a concrete bunker in DurkaDurkastan? If so, then we're right back to the human employee problem set again.

Seems like they'll be trading one problem set for another.

Protein Converts Pancreatic Cancer Cells Back Into Healthy Cells 52

An anonymous reader writes: Scientists working in the area of pancreatic cancer research have uncovered a technique that sees cancerous cells transform back into normal healthy cells. The method relies in the introduction of a protein called E47, which bonds with particular DNA sequences and reverts the cells back to their original state. The study (abstract) was a collaboration between researchers at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, University of California San Diego and Purdue University. The scientists are hopeful that it could help combat the deadly disease in humans.
United States

Hillary Clinton Declares 2016 Democratic Presidential Bid 676

An anonymous reader writes In a move that surprised no one, Hillary Clinton has officially announced she is entering the 2016 race for the White House. According to the Times: "Ending two years of speculation and coy denials, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced on Sunday that she would seek the presidency for a second time, immediately establishing herself as the likely 2016 Democratic nominee. 'I'm running for president,' she said with a smile near the end of a two-minute video released just after 3 p.m. 'Everyday Americans need a champion. And I want to be that champion,' Mrs. Clinton said. 'So I'm hitting the road to earn your vote — because it's your time. And I hope you'll join me on this journey.'"

LAPD Police Claim Helicopters Stop Crimes Before They Happen 160

HughPickens.com writes True Angelenos don't even bother to look up when one of the LAPD's 17 helicopters rattles their windows searching for a car-jacked Camry or an assault suspect hiding under a jacaranda but few doubt that more bad guys would get away without the nation's largest police helicopter fleet to help chase them. Now the LA Times reports that data shows that LA's helicopters are stopping crimes before they happen. Tapping into the data-driven policing trend, the department uses heat maps, technology and years of statistics to identify crime "hot spots." Pilots then use their downtime to fly over them, on the theory that would-be criminals tend to rethink their nefarious plans when there's "ghetto birds," as Ice Cube calls them, hovering overhead [explanatory video with annoying sound]. Months of data show that the number of serious crimes reported in the LAPD's Newton Division in South L.A. fell during weeks when the helicopters conducted more flights. During the week of Sept. 13, when the helicopter unit flew over Newton 65 times, the division recorded 90 crimes. A week later, the number of flights dropped to 40 and the number of reported crimes skyrocketed to 136, with rises seen among almost all types of crime, including burglary, car theft and thefts from vehicles. "It's extremely cutting edge," says Capt. Gary Walters, who heads the LAPD's air support unit. "It's different. It's nothing that we've ever done before with this specificity."

But Professor Geoffrey Alpert. a policing expert who has studied the use of police helicopters in Miami and Baltimore, says the choppers can deter crime in the short-term but criminals will likely return when they're not around (PDF). "You are deterring the criminals but you aren't getting rid of them and their intent. Those criminals could strike in a different time and place," says Alpert. "I mean that's the whole thing about random patrol. You see a police car and it's the same thing. You hide, he goes around the block and you go back to your breaking and entering."

Mysterious Martian Plumes Discovered By Amateur Astronomers 62

An anonymous reader writes Amateur astronomers have spotted two clouds coming from the surface of Mars that are a mystery to the professionals. From Discovery: "The plumes extended over 500- to 1,000 kilometers (311- to 621 miles) in both north-south and east-west directions and changed in appearance daily. They were detected as the sun breached Mars' horizon in the morning, but not when it set in the evening. 'Remarkably ... the features changed rapidly, their shapes going from double blob protrusions to pillars or finger-plume-like morphologies,' scientists investigating the sightings wrote in a paper published in this week's Nature."

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