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Science News

Disease Maps Pinpoint Origin of Indo-European Languages

Turkey might be the geographic origin of languages from English to Hindi, according to epidemiological tracking techniques
 Indo-European languages appear to have originated around 7,800 to 9,800 years ago in Turkey.By Alyssa Joyce

Languages as diverse as English, Russian and Hindi can trace their roots back more than 8,000 years to Anatolia — now in modern-day Turkey. That's the conclusion of a study that assessed 103 ancient and contemporary languages using a technique normally used to study the evolution and spread of disease. The researchers hope that their findings can settle a long-running debate about the origins of the Indo-European language group.

English, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Greek and Hindi might all sound very different, but there are many commonalities, such as the Dutch moeder, Spanish madre and Russian mat', all of which mean "mother". On this basis, researchers have concluded that more than a hundred languages across Europe and the Middle East, from Iceland to Sri Lanka, stem from a common ancestor.

More Science Needed for Forensic Investigations

Chemists should help make forensic sciences stronger, says Innocence Project founder
ScientistBy Daniel Cressey

A group that has used DNA evidence to free nearly 300 wrongly convicted people from prison reached out to scientists this week, asking chemists to engage with forensic science. Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, an organization based in New York that investigates potential wrongful convictions, asked researchers at the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to do more to improve the troubled field of forensic science.

Complaints about the unreliability of some scientific evidence used in courts worldwide are long-standing, and a 2009 report by the US National Research Council called for major reforms to the US forensic-science system, including better standardization of protocols and more research into the reliability of methods used. The US Congress is now considering a bill that would provide money for forensics research and require the US National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish standards in the area (see 'Proposed bill calls for better forensic science').

Technology News

AT&T: FaceTime Over Cellular for Mobile Share Only

FacetimeBy Andrew Berg

Over at AT&T, FaceTime on a cellular connection will be available only to those customers who sign up for the carrier’s new Mobile Share data plans.

Users who stick with their existing plans will only be able to use the Apple video calling application over a Wi-Fi connection.

When Apple unveiled iOS 6 back in June, the company said the new iteration of its mobile operating system would allow FaceTime to run over a cellular connection.

AT&T is calling FaceTime on cellular an "added benefit" of its new Mobile Share data plans.  

"With Mobile Share, the more data you use, the more you save," the company said in a statement, noting that FaceTime will continue to be available over Wi-Fi for all our customers.

AT&T has long allowed various over-the-top services, such as Tango, to place video calls over a cellular connection. AT&T has not said whether it will limit those services as well.

Mobile users prefer Wi-Fi over cellular for lower cost, speed, reliability

Survey of 1,079 U.S. mobile users predicts even more Wi-Fi use
Wifi/CellularBy Matt Hamblen

Computerworld - Smartphone and tablet users prefer using Wi-Fi over cellular connections, and consider Wi-Fi cheaper, faster, easier to use, more reliable and, even, slightly more secure than cellular.

These attitudes, reflected in an online survey in March of 1,079 U.S. mobile users, surprised a research team at Cisco, which makes networking equipment, including wireless routers. Most experts consider cellular networks such as 4G LTE to be inherently more secure than Wi-Fi.

"The surprising thing is that while cellular networks are more secure, people perceive Wi-Fi as being as good as or better than cellular," said Stuart Taylor, director of the Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco, which conducted the research.

He said that Wi-Fi can be made more secure with passwords, but it is generally considered susceptible to sniffing and other attacks that aren't as easy with a cellular connection.

Environmental News

New York Passes Sewage Pollution Right-to-Know Act

Sewage treatment plantEd Roggenkamp, Sive Paget &s Riesel, P.C.

On August 9th, New York State passed the "Sewage Pollution Right-to-Know Act", which requires the operators of publicly owned sewer systems or sewage treatment plants to notify regulators and the public of discharges of untreated sewage or partially treated sewage. This bill adds to existing federal and state spill reporting requirements for sewage treatment plants.

Under the current system, sewage discharges need only be reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the local department of health if they will affect recreational areas, shellfish harvesting, or public water supply intakes. Even this type of discharge was not required to be reported if it resulted from a combined sewer overflow ("CSO"). Under the new law, which takes effect May 1, 2013, all sewage discharges, including CSO discharges, must be reported to DEC and the local department of health (or the state department of health if there is no local health department) within two hours of their discovery.

Arctic Drilling Will Begin This Year, Shell Official Says

Peter E. Slaiby, Shell's vice president in Alaska, said the oil company had scaled back its plans.By CLIFFORD KRAUSS

HOUSTON — Despite embarrassing delays and trouble with its equipment, Shell remains confident that it will get final approval from regulators and be able to begin drilling for oil in Arctic waters off the Alaskan coast this summer, the oil company’s top Alaska executive said on Friday.

“We absolutely expect to drill this year,” Peter E. Slaiby, Shell’s vice president in charge of Alaskan operations, said in a telephone interview. “Our confidence continues to grow, and we are feeling good.”

Mr. Slaiby said the company was so convinced that it would be able to move forward that it was preparing to send two drill ships next week to Arctic waters from Dutch Harbor in southern Alaska.

He acknowledged, though, that Shell had scaled back its original plans. He said the company would have time to drill only one or two exploratory oil wells before the Arctic seas began freezing and the short summer drilling season ended — a retreat from its goal of drilling as many as five wells this year.

Medical News

Human Lungs Brush out Intruders

A runny nose and a wet cough caused by a cold or an allergy may not feel very good. But human airways rely on sticky mucus to expel foreign matter, including toxic and infectious agents, from the body. (Credit: (c) Adam Gregor / Fotolia)American Association for the Advancement of Science

ScienceDaily (Aug. 23, 2012) — A runny nose and a wet cough caused by a cold or an allergy may not feel very good. But human airways rely on sticky mucus to expel foreign matter, including toxic and infectious agents, from the body.

Now, a study by Brian Button and colleagues from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, helps to explain how human airways clear such mucus out of the lungs. The findings may give researchers a better understanding of what goes wrong in many human lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis (CF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

The researchers' report appears in the 24 August issue of the journal Science.

"The air we breathe isn't exactly clean, and we take in many dangerous elements with every breath," explains Michael Rubinstein, a co-author of the Science report. "We need a mechanism to remove all the junk we breathe in, and the way it's done is with a very sticky gel called mucus that catches these particles and removes them with the help of tiny cilia."

Rape More Often Leads to Pregnancies

FertilizationAnalysis by Sheila Eldred

When Missouri Representative Todd Akin said he believed that rape-related pregnancy was "really rare," he unleashed outrage, and he quickly backtracked and claimed he "misspoke."

Of course, he's not the first politician to get the science wrong, as some have pointed out. But since then, research has come to light revealing exactly how far from the facts Akin's statement was. Popular Science cites several studies which paint an entirely different picture of the results of rape:

*A 1996 study fond that 5 percent of rapes in females of reproductive age resulted in pregnancy -- that adds up to about 32,101 rape-related pregnancies per year in the United States. Melisa Holmes, an ob-gyn in South Carolina, led the study through the National Crime Victims Center.

*In 2003, Jonathan and Tiffani Gottschall pegged the number at 6.4 percent, based on survey results from 8,000 women around the country.

"The available data give us no reason to think that conception from rape is rare, or even that it is less rare than conception from consensual intercourse. If anything, the data suggest that things go the other way around," Jonathan Gottschall told Popular Science.

"We think it might be because rapists tend to target young women at peak fertility," Gottschall says.

Space News

Short-Circuiting Civilization: Predicting the Disruptive Potential of a Solar Storm Is More Art Than Science

New findings that improve predictions still fall short of giving humanity a head's up on the havoc a solar storm might wreak on Earth
A prominence producing a coronal mass ejection off the sun's limb on April 16. This CME was not aimed toward Earth.By Saswato R. Das

 Much like a temperamental teenager, the sun has been acting up of late. As it approaches the peak of the 11-year solar activity cycle, predicted to occur next May, it has been displaying an increasing number of angry outbursts. These solar storms are technically called solar flares and are giant eruptions of radiation from the sun's atmosphere that cause significant brightening of the area where they occur. Solar flares are sometimes followed by coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which spew charged and magnetized particles into space.  Depending on the direction of their release, these particles sometimes reach Earth where they occasionally damage satellites and disrupt terrestrial power grids. In 1989 a solar storm knocked out electricity across Quebec for nine hours. In 2003 a solar storm crippled South Africa's power supply by damaging 15 large transformers, according to John Kappenman, an expert on how solar storms affect power grids.

Astronomers Say Milky Way Not As Unique As Once Thought

Image Credit: Photos.comLee Rannals for

A new sky survey has revealed that our Milky Way galaxy may not be as special as scientists had previously thought.

The Milky Way is a fairly common type of galaxy, but being paired up with neighbors like the Magellanic Clouds makes it stick out above the rest, so much so that astronomers thought it could be a one of a kind occurrence.

However, astronomer Dr. Aaron Robotham burst everyone’s bubble when searching for groups of galaxies similar to ours using the Galaxy and Mass Assembly survey (GAMA).

“We’ve never found another galaxy system like the Milky Way before, which is not surprising considering how hard they are to spot! It’s only recently become possible to do the type of analysis that lets us find similar groups,” Dr Robotham said.

“Everything had to come together at once: we needed telescopes good enough to detect not just galaxies but their faint companions, we needed to look at large sections of the sky, and most of all we needed to make sure no galaxies were missed in the survey”

Simulations of how galaxies form do not produce many examples similar to the Milky Way and its neighbors, making them a rare sight to see.

Odd News

Gibbons on Helium Trill Like Opera Singers

Yes, someone actually tested this. But it hints at an unusual similarity to humans.
 Gibbons use the same vocal techniques to trill as human opera singers.Content provided by Megan Gannon, News Editor

Gibbons effortlessly use the same techniques as professional opera singers when calling out to other animals, scientists found by listening to the squeaky songs of one of the apes on helium.

The Japanese study provides evidence for an unusual physiological similarity between gibbons and humans.

"The complexity of human speech is unique among primates as it requires varied soft sounds made by the rapid movements of vocal tracts," lead researcher Takeshi Nishimura, from the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, said in a statement. "Our speech was thought to have evolved through specific modifications in our vocal anatomy. However, we've shown how the gibbons' distinctive song uses the same vocal mechanics as soprano singers, revealing a fundamental similarity with humans."

Nishimura's team analyzed 20 melodious and loud calls of a captive white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) in a normal atmosphere, followed by 37 calls in an environment infused with helium.

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