We host news of discoveries in various fields of science with the focus on space, medical treatments, fringe science, microbiology, chemistry and physics, while providing commercial and cultural contexts and deeper insight. @http://koyalgroupinfomag.com/blog/

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Koyal Group InfoMag: You've Never Seen a Coral Reef like This Before

A hard piece of coral transforms into a flexible creature, its finger-covered tendrils extended toward the ocean currents. Alien surfaces morph and flex in shimmering iridescence. Worm-like "mouths" gape and grab at anything in their proximity.

This is the world seen through the eyes of Daniel Stoupin, a Ph.D. student researching marine biology at the University of Queensland in Australia. He spent nine months working with 150,000 photos to make a video just over three minutes long.

Titled "Slow Life," the video focuses on a series of corals, sponges and other marine creatures. Their daily functions are photographed over a period of several hours, then sped up into a time-lapse sequence.

"Their speeds happen to be out of sync with our narrow perception," Stoupin explains in an essay accompanying the video. "Our brains are wired to comprehend and follow fast and dynamic events better, especially those very few that happen at speeds comparable to ours. In a world of blazingly fast predators and escaping prey events where it takes minutes, hours, or days to notice any changes are harder to grasp."

"These animals build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives," he adds in a separate essay.

Stoupin says he hopes the painstakingly produced video will raise awareness of the devastating impact humans have had on marine life. He focuses particularly on those who remove parts of the reef for the "outrageously expensive hobby" of maintaining private aquariums. "I’m not asking to throw away your passions and hobbies, but please think carefully about what you really love, protect, and invest in," he writes. "The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger and you have the power and finances to change its fate instead of scavenging what's left of it."

High-resolution, large-format prints from the video can be purchased on Stoupin's website.

A 27-year study of the health of the Great Barrier Reef which concluded in 2012 revealed an ecosystem in steep decline, with 50 percent of the reef having died in that time. Two of the major factors negatively impacting the reef are warming sea temperatures due to climate change, and nutrient-rich agricultural runoff, which feeds the growth of coral-eating starfish.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Koyal Group InfoMag, Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said. And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty.

In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday presenting the report.

The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the scientific panel. The group, along with Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released in Berlin in April, leaked in the last few months.

The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be moderated by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound. That will be especially so if emissions are allowed to continue at a runaway pace, the report said.

It cited the risk of death or injury on a wide scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations. Continue reading the full article…

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Koyal Group InfoMag on Rising Japanese scientist faked heralded stem cell research

In her short scientific career, the trajectory of Haruko Obokata was meteoric. Before the 30-year-old was 20, she was accepted into the science department at Tokyo's Waseda University where the admittance board placed great importance on a candidate's aspirations.

Then she studied at Harvard University in what was supposed to be a half-year program, but advisers were so impressed with her research, they asked her stay longer.

It was there that she would come up with an idea that would come to define her – in ways good and bad. The research was called STAP – "stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency" – which unveiled a new way to grow tissue. "I think about my research all day long, including when I am taking a bath and when I am on a date with my boyfriend," Obokata told the Asahi Shimbun.

Last January, just three years after Obokata earned her PhD, she published what appeared to be her groundbreaking research in the scientific journal Nature.

It purported to establish a new way to grow tissue and treat complicated illnesses like diabetes and Parkinson's disease with an uncomplicated lab procedure.

Many called it the third most significant breakthrough in stem cell research.

"There were many days when I wanted to give up on my research and cried all night long," she said at news conference. "But I encouraged myself to hold on just for one more day."

The headlines were thunderous. "Stem cell 'major discovery' claimed," BBC bellowed. "STAP cell pioneer nearly gave up on her research," reported the Asahi Shimbun. "Scientist triumphed over setbacks," crooned the Japan News.

On Tuesday morning, Obokata's research institute, Riken, which is almost entirely funded by the government, announced that the 30-year-old had purposely fabricated the data to produce the findings.

Institute director Ryoji Noyori said he'll "rigorously punish relevant people after procedures in a disciplinary committee," according to AFP.

The investigation's head said the paper "amounts to phony research or fabrication." He added: "The manipulation was used to improve the appearance of the results."

Obokata, for her part, denied the month-long investigation's allegations. "I will file a complaint against Riken as it's absolutely impossible for me to accept this," AFP reports her saying in a statement.

Whispers began soon after the paper hit print. No one was able to successfully reproduce the experiment.

According to Riken's preliminary report, the institute received its first hint that not everything was as it seemed with Obokata's research on February 13, and eventually conceded there were "serious errors."

Riken said it launched its probe of the research that day "given the seriousness of the issue."

In early March one of the paper's co-authors, Teruhiko Wakayama, jumped ship, calling for a retraction of the findings. "It's unlikely that it was a careless mistake," he wrote the Wall Street Journal in an email.

"There is no more credibility when there are such crucial mistakes," he added.

At issue, investigators say, are images of DNA fragments submitted into Obokata's work. They say they weren't the result of "errors," as previously theorised. The images were either doctored or entirely fabricated.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Koyal Group Info Mag Articles: Science of the soil to help sons of the soil

Way too often, media coverage on science and technology tends to concentrate on topics of current fashion or what some people call as “high-fi” themes — be it the God particle, stem cell biology, or yet another nanomaterial. Articles that appear in “high impact” journals are covered more often while discoveries and analysis of everyday problems and suggestions to handle them, usually published in more modest journals are given the go-by. Two such reports concerned with pressing problems of everyday importance to India appear in the latest issue of Current Science (Volume 106, 10 February 2014, pages 343-345), which need to be highlighted. One of them has to do with the overload of phosphorus in the soils of Kerala and how it affects the health of the land and the waters of the region and what may be done about it. And the other is a report about the discovery of a few bacteria in the coast of Gujarat which can degrade plastic materials such as polythene. And it is a pity that main line media, right here in India, have not found them worthy of coverage and publicity.

The first is a short report (just about 1200 words and two figures) by scientists from the Indian Institute of Spices Research in Calicut, concerning the massive accumulation of phosphorus in the soils of Kerala. The Kerala State Planning Board has taken up the massive (and rather “boring”) task of analyzing the status of acidity in the agricultural field in all the Panchayats of the state. As many as 1,56,801 samples across the state were analysed (a huge exercise in itself) and of these about 91 per cent of the fields were found to be moderate to strongly acidic (pH between 6.5 and 4.5). This is bad because plants grow best by absorbing nutrients from soil whose pH is between 6.5 and 7.5. This is the ideal pH range for plant root growth; when the pH reduces below 6.5, the phosphorus (P) in the soil gets “fixed” by the metals present in the soil (such as aluminum and iron) and no longer available in the soluble form for absorption by the plant roots. And P is vital since it is used not only to make the DNA and RNA of the plant cells but also as the energy currency in the biochemical processes that all living beings use for metabolism (just as we use the rupee in our daily live transactions).

How did this high level of P come about? Through the overuse of fertilizers and manure by the farmers. As the Calicut scientists report, soil in Kerala is already inherently acidic and the overuse of fertilizers and manure only adds to the problem. Not only does much of the P in the soil gets fixed and becomes unavailable for plant growth but even some of the soluble phosphorus is lost through the run-off water from these sites and affects the quality of water in the nearby lakes and water bodies.

The Kerala State Planning Board’s report is thus an important and admirable exercise that calls for action. The Calicut scientists make some relevant suggestions towards this, e. g., skip the applications of high P fertilizers, test the soil periodically and reduce (or avoid) manure that contains high amounts of P. We must express our appreciation to Drs K. M. Nair, P, Rajasekharan, G. Rajasree, P. Suresh Kumar and M. C.Narayanan Kutty of the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research), the Kerala State Planning Board, and Drs R. Dinesh, V. Srinivasan, S. Hamza and M. Anandaraj, at the Indian Institute of Spices Research at Calicut for this important and relevant research and analysis. The second report in page 345 of the same issue of Current Science, by the budding science writer Ipsita Herlekar, highlights the discovery by scientists at the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute, Bhavnagar, Gujarat. These scientists analysed as many as 60 types of bacteria in the Arabian Sea along the coast of Gujarat and found three species from there, namely, K. Palustris M16, B. Pumilus M27, and B. Subtilis H1584, are able to “eat” polyethylene — the synthetic plastic used in everyday life as bags and films to cover materials, and that the B. Subtilis H158 strain was the best among the three. This calls for further work which might help us find an eco-friendly way to manage this totally out of hand (and totally man-made) menace of plastic waste and pollution.

Let us applaud Drs K. Harshvardhan and B.Jha, the CSMCRI scientists for this discovery and hope they will take this further into the level of practical application, Ipsita for elegantly highlighting this CSMCRI work, and the journal Current Science for publishing these reports which are of “high impact” at the practical and actionable level. Bread and butter science is just important as “blue sky” science.

The above article is a repost from TheHindu

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Koyal Group Info Mag Articles: 30,000 year-old giant virus found in Siberia

A new type of giant virus called "Pithovirus" has been discovered in the frozen ground of extreme north-eastern Siberia by researchers from the Information Génomique et Structurale laboratory (CNRS/AMU), in association with teams from the Biologie à Grande Echelle laboratory (CEA/INSERM/Université Joseph Fourier), Génoscope (CEA/CNRS) and the Russian Academy of Sciences. Buried underground, this giant virus, which is harmless to humans and animals, has survived being frozen for more than 30,000 years. Although its size and amphora shape are reminiscent of Pandoravirus, analysis of its genome and replication mechanism proves that Pithovirus is very different. This work brings to three the number of distinct families of giant viruses.

In the families Megaviridae (represented in particular by Mimivirus, discovered in 2003) and Pandoraviridae, researchers thought they had classified the diversity of giant viruses (the only viruses visible under optical microscopy, since their diameter exceeds 0.5 microns). These viruses, which infect amoebae such as Acanthamoeba, contain a very large number of genes compared to common viruses (like influenza or AIDS, which only contain about ten genes). Their genome is about the same size or even larger than that of many bacteria.

By studying a sample from the frozen ground of extreme north-eastern Siberia, in the Chukotka autonomous region, researchers were surprised to discover a new giant virus more than 30,000 years old (contemporaneous with the extinction of Neanderthal man), which they have named Pithovirus sibericum. Because of its amphora shape, similar to Pandoravirus, the scientists initially thought that this was a new member -- albeit certainly ancient -- of this family. Yet genome analysis on Pithovirus showed that this is not the case: there is no genetic relationship between Pithovirus and Pandoravirus. Though it is large for a virus, the Pithovirus genome contains much fewer genes (about 500) than the Pandoravirus genome (up to 2,500). Researchers also analyzed the protein composition (proteome) of the Pithovirus particle (1..5 microns long and 0.5 microns wide) and found that out of the hundreds of proteins that make it up, only one or two are common to the Pandoravirus particle.

Another primordial difference between the two viruses is how they replicate inside amoeba cells. While Pandoravirus requires the participation of many functions in the amoeba cell nucleus to replicate, the Pithovirus multiplication process mostly occurs in the cytoplasm (outside the nucleus) of the infected cell, in a similar fashion to the behavior of large DNA viruses, such as those of the Megaviridae family. Paradoxically, in spite of having a smaller genome than Pandoravirus, Pithovirus seems to be less reliant on the amoeba's cellular machinery to propagate. The degree of autonomy from the host cell of giant viruses does not therefore appear to correlate with the size of their genome -- itself not related to the size of the particle that transports them.

In-depth analysis of Pithovirus showed that it has almost nothing in common with the giant viruses that have previously been characterized. This makes it the first member of a new virus family, bringing to three the number of distinct families of giant viruses known to date. This discovery, coming soon after that of Pandoravirus, suggests that amphora-shaped viruses are perhaps as diverse as icosahedral viruses, which are among the most widespread today. This shows how incomplete our understanding of microscopic biodiversity is when it comes to exploring new environments.

Finally, this study demonstrates that viruses can survive in permafrost (the permanently frozen layer of soil found in the Arctic regions) almost over geological time periods, i.e. for more than 30,000 years (corresponding to the Late Pleistocene). These findings have important implications in terms of public health risks related to the exploitation of mining and energy resources in circumpolar regions, which may arise as a result of global warming. The re-emergence of viruses considered to be eradicated, such as smallpox, whose replication process is similar to Pithovirus, is no longer the domain of science fiction. The probability of this type of scenario needs to be estimated realistically. With the support of the France-Génomique infrastructure, set up as part of the national Investments for the Future program, the "Information Génomique et Structurale" laboratory is already working on the issue via a metagenomic study of the permafrost.

While there is a collective fear for microorganisms for causing human diseases in particular, many of them are actually beneficiel in the field of food, vehicle and antibiotic production. Koyal Info Mag prides itself in its wide coverage of scientific news, discoveries and resources that caters to researchers, scientists, students, scholars, healthcare practitioners and various institutions.

The above article is a repost from ScienceDaily

Friday, February 28, 2014

Scientists share discoveries at Ocean Sciences Meeting on February 24-28

The Koyal Group Info Mag Articles - Dozens of University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) scientists and student researchers will present new research findings at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting at the Hawai‘i Convention Center on February 24-28.  This 17th biennial meeting will be the largest international assembly of oceanographers and other aquatic science researchers and policy makers, with attendance expected to exceed 4,000.

For a full list of sessions and presentations, visit: http://www.sgmeet.com/osm2014/.  Conference registration is complimentary for members of the news media.

A selection of School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) highlights includes the following:

Science Research Sessions and Presentations:
Celebrating 25 years of sustained marine observations, scientists working at the open ocean field site Station ALOHA will share biological, chemical and physical oceanography discoveries deriving from Hawai‘i’s own unique ocean science field programs.  Station ALOHA was established by the Hawaiʻi Ocean Time-series (HOT) program in 1988, and has been visited on a monthly basis since that time.  The emerging data comprise one of the only existing records of decadal-scale ecosystem change in the North Pacific Ocean. "Time series research is more important than ever before; understanding planetary change requires high quality observations and measurements,” said Matthew Church, UHM Oceanography Professor and HOT Program Principle Investigator.  “Humans are influencing the oceans in many ways, and measurements made at Station ALOHA are helping us understand and document how ocean ecosystems are responding to these changes."  This session includes more than 25 presentations drawing from observations from present day back to 1988, including long-term changes and trends observed in ocean biology, chemistry, and physics.  Among the notable topics highlighted in this session include documenting ocean acidification, studies on time-varying changes in biodiversity, and the influence of local and regional climate on ocean ecosystem behavior around Hawai‘i.

Chip Fletcher, UHM Geology Professor and his team will describe their effort to monitor and evaluate beach erosion rates at the Royal Hawaiian Beach in Waikīkī. One year after a major sand replenishment program, the beach width appears to vary by location and by season, resulting in net erosion in eastern and western portions of beach.

In the “Story of Marine Debris from the 2011 Tsunami in Japan,” UHM International Pacific Research Center scientists Jan Hafner and Nikolai Maximenko will present the latest synthesis of modeling and observations over the 3 years tracking the debris. This synthesis has resulted in understanding the pathways of the drift from the debris. The improved ocean drift model can help locate marine debris, marine animals, and people lost at sea.

Other research presentations will focus on ocean acidification, sea-level rise and inundation, and climate change including extreme sea level variability due to El Nino events, among many other topics.

Education and Engagement:
UH Mānoa’s Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are hosting a Youth Science Symposium on Tuesday, February 25, from 4-6 p.m. Nearly 20 middle and high school youth scientists will present posters of their research.

SOEST will share several programs aimed at recruiting Native Hawaiian students into ocean and earth science.  Funded by C-MORE and NSF, the Ocean TECH program engages middle school, high school and community college students in the ocean and earth sciences through technology, career pathways and interaction with career professionals.  Funded by the UHM Sea Grant College Program and offered in partnership with Kapiʻolani and Leeward Community Colleges, the SOEST Maile Mentoring Bridge supports Native Hawaiian students throughout their undergraduate years through mentoring relationships that offer encouragement and the sharing of academic and non-academic knowledge.

“Marine Microbiological Mysteries” is a new UHM Outreach College program designed for grades 9-12 to help foster interest in pursuing STEM careers. The hands-on learning opportunity at the Waikīkī Aquarium places microbiology in a real-world context.  This presentation is part of an OSM session titled "Sea-ing connections: Ocean science as a catalyst to inspire the next wave of young (preK-16) scientists and keep students engaged within and outside the classroom."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Zircon discovery offers clues to Earth's formation

The Koyal Group Info Mag articles - A zircon crystal embedded in sandstone found on a sheep ranch in Australia is the oldest piece of the Earth’s crust to be discovered, shedding new light on our planet’s formation.

The zircon, described in the journal Nature Geoscience, is about 4.4 billion years old and much smaller than a single grain of rice. But the tiny crystal carries an outsize significance: It is evidence that by that point in its history, Earth had gone from a superheated ball of molten rock to a congealed surface eventually capable of supporting life.

“One of the main goals of the space program is to understand if there’s life elsewhere in the universe,” said John Valley, a University of Wisconsin professor who led the study, collaborating with scientists in Australia, Canada and Puerto Rico.

By studying how the conditions of life came together on our planet, scientists believe we will learn what to look for on other planets.

But the earliest rocks and first evidences of life have been subject to dispute over the years. Some scientists, for example, maintain that the earliest evidence of life is about 3.8 billion years old and found in Isua, Greenland. Skeptics, however, note that no fossils were found in the Greenland rock. They point instead to 3.5 billion-year-old evidence of life found in rocks in Pilbara, Australia.

That’s no small difference — 300 million years.
The age of the zircon described by the Valley team, however, does not appear to be in dispute. The Valley team used a new technique called atom-probe tomography, which allowed them to confirm the accuracy of the crystal’s age. The new instrument, made in Wisconsin, is so sensitive that researchers were able to identify the atomic number and mass of each atom in the sample.

“I think they have shown unequivocally, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this grain is that old,” said Samuel Bowring, an expert in the early history of the Earth and a geology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bowring was not involved in the new study.

“It’s only one grain, mind you,” he added, “but it’s very significant.”

Jim Mattinson, a professor emeritus in the department of earth science at University of California, Santa Barbara, said zircons have been found previously that were about the same age as the one in the current paper, but the earlier discoveries were met with skepticism.

“This paper drives a nail into that coffin (of doubt),” Mattinson said. “We’re really getting back as far as we can go in the Earth’s geologic records.”

Zircon crystals are composed mainly of the elements zirconium, silicon and oxygen. Small amounts of uranium also appear in zircon.

The uranium decays at a set rate, forming lead. Because of these characteristics, scientists can use the lead and any remaining uranium in a zircon crystal to calculate the age.

Zircon is found embedded in younger rock. Valley found the zircon used for the current study in sandstone collected in the arid Jack Hills of western Australia, a region known to contain some of the oldest pieces of the planet’s crust.

“The oldest rock in Australia was collected not far from where we were working,” Valley said.

Dating of the zircon helps clarify an early chapter in the Earth’s history. Scientists have theorized that one of the crucial early events occurred when an asteroid roughly the size of Mars struck a glancing blow to the Earth, vaporizing the mantle and crust. Dust from the collision merged to form the moon.

The enormous energy from the collision transformed the surfaces of the Earth and moon into oceans of molten rock. Both subsequently cooled. Zircon was one of the minerals formed when the planet cooled.

Although minerals also were formed as far back in history, what makes zircon so valuable to geologists is its ability to endure. Zircon is a very hard mineral with stable chemistry able to survive extreme temperatures.

“We like to say that zircons are forever,” Valley said. “They really persist in the rock record.”