Monday, September 03, 2012

Science and SF Tidbits: September 3, 2012

Some of the science and SF links originally posted on Google+Biology in Science Fiction on Google+Twitter , and Facebook  over the past week. Follow Biology in Science Fiction for more!

Project looking for your support:

Steampunk ABC - An Alphabet Book of the Victorian Era »
This Steampunk-style alphabet book by artist Karen Luk looks like it will be beautifully illustrated. Check out her Kickstarter project

Science in SF and SF writers

Slow Life » and Interview with Michael Swanwick
Lightspeed Magazine republishes Michael Swanwick's 2002 Hugo-winning story "Slow Life", set on Titan. The setting is both beautiful and deadly Read the interview with Swanwick for more background on the story

B5 Scrolls »
For all you Babylon 5 Fans: this is an interesting interview with Bab5 "consultant" Steve Burg about the design of the Minbari and other alien ambassadors. More over on Facebook.

Sandworm Size Chart »
Have you wondered how the sizes of science fictional sandworm-like creatures compare? Now there's an infographic. I think the Shai-Hulud is the only sandworm that's ridable.

JG Ballard and the magic of memory »
JG Ballard's experience as a teenager in Shanghai during WWII heavily influenced his fiction - not only his semi-autobiographical novel "Empire of the Sun", but his science fiction as well.

Science and Philosophy

Scientists Give Animals Consciousness | Think Tank | Big Think »
Do non-human animals have "consciousness"? Is this a question that can be answered by science, or is it one of philosophy? or both? The recent Cambridge Declaration On Consciousness provides much food for thought.

Assuming We Develop the Capability, Should We Bring Back Extinct Species? »
Assuming no technical hurdles, should extinct species be revived? And if we do, should we "improve" them? Seems to me that we don't understand the complexities of the environment well enough to do that without risking doing serious damage.

Are assessments of scientific intelligence biased toward mathematically oriented fields? | The Curious Wavefunction, Scientific American Blog Network 
Is the definition of "genius" biased towards mathematics and youth? Ashutosh Jogalekar makes a good case that the definition needs updating to include chemists, biologists and social scientists.  One of the commenters on the post makes a good point that mathematics (and physics) advances are easier for the public to notice: 
"I would speculate the reason for the math bias is it is easy for most people to see someone do it. A kid math prodigy calculating some insanely complex equations as fast as a computer is something anyone can see."
Advances in chemistry and the biological sciences more often require extensive observation and experimentation, which is less likely to make people exclaim in wonder.

Cool Bioscience

Researchers grow cyborg tissue that can sense its environment »
George Dvorsky writes about recent advances in growing human tissues in cultures. The innovation: starting with a meshed network of nanoscale silicon wires that not only act as a scaffold, but also harbor tiny electrodes to measure cellular activity. Read the whole article:

Ants Are Basically the Internet but More Harmful to Picnics »
I think it's fairer to say the internet is like ants...
"When biologists and computer scientists from Stanford University put their heads together to try and learn more about how ant colonies make the decision to send out foragers for food, they found that the decision-making process is remarkably similar to Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) — the method by which websites determine how much bandwidth they can spare for a file transfer.
Animals’ Lifestyles Evolve When Old Genes Learn New Tricks »
In rattlesnakes a gene that's normally "drives our response to the molecules that give wasabi its punch, as well as to other chemical irritants, like tear gas" has evolved to become especially heat sensitive, giving them infrared detection system. And vampire bats carry a mutation in a different gene that lets them find the warmest (therefore bloodiest) spot to bite their prey. Evolution in action!

Company Aims to Cure Blindness with Optogenetics - Technology Review »
A company aims to use gene therapy to treat patients in which light-sensitive retinal cells - rods and cones - have degenerated. They would introduce DNA that encodes proteins (at least theoretically) would make the ganglia cells in the eye light sensitive. Preliminary studies in rodents look promising, but there's a long way to go before it's tried in human patients.

200-Year-Old 'Monster Larva' Mystery Solved | LiveScience »
Sometimes "monsters" turn out not to be so monstrous after all. Larvae found in the guts of fish grow up to be shrimp.

Toothed Vaginas and Wandering Uteri: The Seven Most Ridiculous Myths About Female Biology
Are women terrifying alien creatures? Apparently some men thought (or still think!) so.

Evolution Did Not Snap the Brain Together like LEGOS | Talking back, Scientific American Blog Network »
Is our brain more like a multifunctional pocket knife or a bunch of independent modules? Probably more the former than the latter. 

BioTechniques - New Standard for Ancient Genomes »
New DNA sequencing methodology has allowed the genome from fossilized humanoid bones to be sequenced 31 times over "making the results as complete and precise as the genome of a living person". Neither modern human nor Neanderthal, the genome shows interesting differences in genes involved in the wiring of the nervous system, such as the gene FOXP2, which is involved in speech, language and synaptic plasticity.

Unwinding the Cucumber Tendril Mystery »
Plants are always in motion - they just live in a different time scale than we animals. The biomechanics of how cucumbers and similar plants are able to create curly tendrils is pretty interesting, not only because if we understand how plants grow we can hope to manipulate that growth, but because engineers can use similar designs in their own work.

Woman Receives First 'Pre-Bionic' Eye Implant | IdeaFeed | Big Think
A blind woman had an experimental implant placed behind the retina that allows her to see flashes of light. This is helping lay the ground for more complex camera-based implants in the future.

Life off of Earth?

Sugar Molecules Discovered Around Sun-Like Star | Search for Life & Alien Planets | Space.com 
The simple sugar they found around the star - glycolaldehyde - can chemically react with other simple sugars to form ribose, one of the components of the nucleic acid RNA. This finding puts one of the building blocks of life close to where planets are forming - or at least closer than interstellar space.

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