Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jellyfish Eyes Solve Optical Origin Mystery

Eyes are one of evolution’s marvels, described by Darwin as “an organ of extreme perfection.” But whether the animal kingdom’s kaleidoscope of eyes evolved from a common structure, or separately in dozens of forms, is a nagging evolutionary question.

Now a study of optical genes in jellyfish, which are descended from creatures that swam Earth’s ancient seas, long before vertebrates and invertebrates took their separate paths, suggests a common optical origin.

“Eyes have evolved in parallel many times, but they all go back to one prototype,” said University of Basel cell biologist Walter Gehring.

In a study published July 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers led by Gehring describe genes isolated from Cladonema radiatum, a jellyfish with highly elaborate eyes. The genes belong to a family called Pax.

In earlier research, Gehring found that a gene called Pax-6 is a “master regulator” of optical development, controlling eye formation in creatures as simple as fruit flies and as complex as mice and men. That suggested a common origin — but Pax-6 couldn’t be found in jellyfish, leaving open the possibility that eyes evolved independently in higher animals.

In the jellyfish study, Gehring’s team found several other Pax genes. When they transplanted the genes into fruit flies, the flies formed extra eyes. It’s not Pax-6 that appears universal, but rather the whole Pax family.

“We’re convinced that the eye evolved in one phylum,” said Gehring. “All the higher animals have Pax-6. The jellyfish have Pax-a or Pax-b.”

The next question is where Pax genes and their resulting structures came from. According to Gehring, they could have arrived in jellyfish through symbiosis with dinoflagellates — a family of single-celled marine plankton, some with human-like eye structures inside their single cell.

Jellyfish absorbed dinoflagellates, speculates Gehring, after dinoflagellates absorbed Pax genes from red algae, which had absorbed light-sensitive cyanobacteria. Gehring describes this as his “wild Russian doll hypothesis.” His team is now searching jellyfish genomes for dinoflagellate genes.

“Evolution is very conservative. It uses the things that function well,” said Gehring.

Images: 1) Eyes formed in fruit flies after the insertion of Pax genes from jellyfish./PNAS.
2) A Cladonema jellyfish; arrow points to an eye structure./PNAS.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oil Spill on Track to Reach Atlantic No Later Than October

BOULDER, Colorado — Oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon site in the Gulf of Mexico will reach the Atlantic Ocean within six months, says oceanographer Synte Peacock. Exactly when is all down to an eddy that broke off of the infamous Loop Current southwest of Florida on June 12.

Peacock, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, usually studies how the ocean’s water absorbs atmospheric gases. But after the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded April 20, she realized her computer models could be used to follow where the oil gushing from the seafloor might end up.

Her simulations, announced in a press release June 3, made headlines worldwide. No surprise: The simulations suggested that, once the oil became caught up in the Loop Current, it would be funneled into the Atlantic within weeks.

Talking with reporters at NCAR on June 14, Peacock explained how some news outlets misrepresented her work by glossing over a few major caveats. Most important, the work simulated the movement of dye (not viscous oil) injected in the upper layers of the ocean (not the deep seafloor) for a total of two months (not the ongoing no-end-in-sight disaster).

The simulations underscore how complicated it can be to track the movement of subsurface oil. “We saw large differences in details in how oil dispersed, depending on local eddies and currents in the gulf,” she says. Still, “no matter what you do it’s very, very hard in our model to find a scenario where dye is kept within the gulf for a period of longer than six months.”

The Loop Current circulates clockwise off the southwestern coast of Florida. About once or twice a year, it pinches off an eddy that either wanders around the gulf before dying out, or eventually reattaches with the main Loop Current.

The unusual thing about the Loop Current this year, Peacock says, is that it was located much more to the south and east than usual when it pinched off its new eddy. Eddies have popped off in this location twice before in recent years, she says. One of those times the eddy wandered to the west, toward Texas, before dissipating. The other time it reattached with the Loop.

Where the new eddy goes will strongly influence exactly where the oil ends up, she says. When it does reach the Atlantic, she notes, the oil will not necessarily wash ashore on beaches in a goopy mess. The oil might stay far out to sea, or be extremely diluted by the time it gets to the Atlantic.

Her team is now working on simulations of what will happen if the oil keeps gushing for months to come.

Image Courtesy: National Center for Atmospheric Research

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Old memories may get the boot from new brain cells.

A new rodent study shows that newborn neurons destabilize established connections among existing brain cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning and memory.

Clearing old memories from the hippocampus makes way for new learning, researchers from Japan suggest in the November 13 Cell.

Other researchers had proposed the idea that neurogenesis, the birth of new neurons, could disrupt existing memories, but the Cell paper is the first to show evidence supporting the idea, says Paul Frankland, a neuroscientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Scientists have known that memories first form in the hippocampus and are later transferred to long-term storage in other parts of the brain. For some amount of time the memory resides both in the hippocampus and elsewhere in the brain. What’s not been known is how, after a few months or years, the memory is gradually cleared from the hippocampus.

Researchers have also debated the role of neurogenesis in learning and memory. The hippocampus is one of only two places in the adult brain where scientists know that new neurons form. On the basis of previous studies, many researchers think new neurons stabilize memory circuits or are somehow otherwise necessary to form new memories.

The new study suggests the opposite: Newborn neurons weaken or disrupt connections that encode old memories in the hippocampus.

Kaoru Inokuchi, a neuroscientist at the University of Toyama in Japan, and his colleagues used radiation and some genetic tricks to block neurogenesis in rats and mice that had been trained to fear getting a mild electric shock when placed in a particular cage.

Control animals, with normal neurogenesis, eventually were able to bypass their hippocampi and retrieve the fear memory directly from long-term storage. But animals in which neurogenesis had been blocked still depended on the hippocampus to recall the fear memory, the researchers found.

Running on an exercise wheel, which boosts neurogenesis, also sped the rate at which old memories were cleared from the hippocampus.

But that doesn’t mean new neurons aren’t necessary to teach old brains new tricks, says Inokuchi.

“Our findings do not necessarily deny the important role of neurogenesis in memory acquisition,” Inokuchi says. “Hippocampal neurogenesis could have both of these roles, in erasing old memories and acquiring new memories.”

Essentially, the new neurons may aid formation of new memories by keeping the hippocampus from filling up with old ones.

Frankland adds, “This is about as novel as it gets in the field of neurogenesis and memory. It pretty much represents an entirely new framework that other researchers will chip away at for years to come.”

Image Courtesy: Hippocampal neuron/NIH

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Frankenfood Gets Supersized...

For the first time, scientists have used genetic modification to increase the levels of multiple, rather than single, nutrients in a crop.

The first corn produced through the technique hasn’t yet been tested for dinner-table safety, but if it succeeds, it may signal the development of a new, super-nutritious generation of GM foods.

“The major message of the paper is that it’s possible to engineer crops with multiple nutrients,” said study co-author Paul Christou, a plant biochemist at Spain’s University of Lleida. “If you look at other nutritionally enhanced GM crops, up until now people have only been able to increase levels of one nutrient or vitamin.”

An estimated 40 to 50 percent of the world’s population suffers from nutrient deficiencies. The reasons for this are complex and sometimes political, but often involve reliance on a few staple crops that do not provide the nutrient balance common to mixed diets in the developed world.

Both conventional plant breeding and the high-tech activation of dormant genes are useful for adding some traits to crops, but they can’t provide a sufficient nutritional boost. Neither can traditional forms of genetic engineering. When researchers attempt to add more than one new nutrient pathway, the genes tend to become scrambled in subsequent generations.

The approach used by Christou’s group debuted last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the same journal that published the latest corn research on Monday. It involves the bombardment of seed genomes with metal particles coated with desired nutrient-boosting genes. This produces a variety of different genomic configurations, some of which prove to be stable.

The researchers hope it will be more helpful than traditional techniques of nutritional genetic modification.

“We’re aiming to produce transgenic plants in which you can provide as many nutrients as possible in one and the same seed,” said Christou.

Christou’s team tested the technique on a variety of corn common in South Africa that’s known to produce low levels of beta carotene. Low levels of the nutrient can lead to blindness.

The resulting plants had double the usual amount of folate, sixfold levels of ascorbate and 169 times more beta carotene. At that level of expression, a single serving of corn can provide a recommended daily beta carotene intake.

The researchers are now experimenting with the addition of genes that enhance production of vitamin E, iron, zinc, calcium and other micronutrients, said Christou.

The study “shows the potential of this transgenic technology for accumulating genes that lead to micronutrient-enhanced crops,” said Rodomiro Ortiz, a researcher at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

Further studies are needed to see if the new nutrients are correctly metabolized by humans, and if the plant is environmentally and toxicologically safe.

According to Christou, the research was funded entirely by public money. The team is trying to convince holders of patented techniques used in their process to allow researchers in the developing world to freely develop the technology. A model for this is the intellectual property guidelines of beta-carotene–enhanced Golden Rice.

“This is not a commercial story,” said Christou. “This is aimed at people in developing countries.”

Citation: “Transgenic multivitamin corn through biofortification of endosperm with three vitamins representing three distinct metabolic pathways.” By Shaista Naqvi, Changfu Zhu, Gemma Farre, Koreen Ramessar, Ludovic Bassie, Jurgen Breitenbach, Dario Perez Cones, Gaspar Ros, Gerhard Sandmann, Teresa Capella and Paul Christou.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 106, No. 17, April 27, 2009.
Image: The lower corn is transgenic; the upper is normal.

Image Courtesy: PNAS.

Secret Math of Fly Eyes Could Overhaul Robot Vision

By turning the brain cell activity underlying fly eyesight into mathematical equations, researchers have found an ultra-efficient method for pulling motion patterns from raw visual data.

Though they built the system, the researchers don’t quite understand how it works. But however mysterious the equations may be, they could still be used to program the vision systems of miniaturized battlefield drones, search-and-rescue robots, automobile navigation systems and other systems where computational power is at a premium.

“We can build a system that works perfectly well, inspired by biology, without having a complete understanding of how the components interact. It’s a non-linear system,” said David O’Carroll, a computational neuroscientist who studies insect vision at Australia’s University of Adelaide. “The number of computations involved is quite small. We can get an answer using tens of thousands of times less floating-point computations than in traditional ways.”

The best-known of these is the Lucas-Kanade method, which calculates yaw — up-and-down, side-to-side motion changes — by comparing, frame by frame, how every pixel in a visual field changes. It’s used for steering and guidance in many experimental unmanned vehicles, but its brute-force approach requires lots of processing power, making it impractical in smaller systems.

In order to make smaller flying robots, researchers would like to find a simpler way of processing motion. Inspiration has come from the lowly fly, which uses just a relative handful of neurons to maneuver with extraordinary dexterity. And for more than a decade, O’Carroll and other researchers researchers have painstakingly studied the optical flight circuits of flies, measuring their cell-by-cell activity and turning evolution’s solutions into a set of computational principles.

In a paper published Friday in Public Library of Science Computational Biology, O’Carroll and fellow University of Adelaide biologist Russell Brinkworth put these methods to the test.

“A laptop computer uses tens of watts of power. Implementing what we’ve developed can be done with chips that consume just a fraction of a milliwatt,” said O’Carroll.

The researchers’ algorithm is composed of a series of five equations through which data from cameras can be run. Each equation represents tricks used by fly circuits to handle changing levels of brightness, contrast and motion, and their parameters constantly shift in response to input. Unlike Lucas-Kanade, the algorithm doesn’t return a frame-by-frame comparison of every last pixel, but emphasizes large-scale patterns of change. In this sense, it works a bit like video-compression systems that ignore like-colored, unshifting areas.

To test the algorithm, O’Carroll and Brinkworth analyzed animated high-resolution images with a program of the sort that might operate in a robot. When they compared the results to the inputs, they found that it worked in a range of natural lighting conditions, varying in ways that usually baffle motion detectors.

“It’s amazing work,” said Sean Humbert, a University of Maryland aerospace engineer who builds miniaturized, autonomous flying robots, some of which run on earlier versions of O’Carroll’s algorithm. “For traditional navigational sensing, you need lots of payload to do the computation. But the payload on these robots is very small — a gram, a couple of Tic Tacs. You’re not going to stuff dual-core processors into a couple Tic Tacs. The algorithms that insects use are very simple compared to the stuff we design, and would scale down to small vehicles.”

Intriguingly, the algorithm doesn’t work nearly as well if any one operation is omitted. The sum is greater than the whole, and O’Carroll and Brinkworth don’t know why. Because the parameters are in constant feedback-driven flux, it produces a cascade of non-linear equations that are difficult to untangle in retrospect, and almost impossible to predict.

“We started with insect vision as an inspiration, and built a model that’s feasible for real-world use, but in doing so, we’ve built a system almost as complicated as the insect’s,” said O’Carroll. “That’s one of the fascinating things here. It doesn’t necessarily lead us to a complete understanding of how the system works, but to an appreciation that nature got it right.”

The researchers drew their algorithm from neural circuits attuned to side-to-side yaw, but O’Carroll said the same types of equations are probably used in computing other optical flows, such as those produced by moving forward and backwards through three-dimensional space.

“That’s more challenging,” said O’Carroll. “It may involve a few extra neurons.”

Image Courtesy: 1) Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar. 2) PLoS Computational Biology.

Happiness/Sadness, Spread Just Like a Disease

There may be a literal truth underlying the common-sense intuition that happiness and sadness are contagious.

A new study on the spread of emotions through social networks shows that these feelings circulate in patterns analogous to what’s seen from epidemiological models of disease.

Earlier studies raised the possibility, but had not mapped social networks against actual disease models.

“This is the first time this contagion has been measured in the way we think about traditional infectious disease,” said biophysicist Alison Hill of Harvard University.

Data in the research, in the July 7 Proceedings of the Royal Society, comes from the Framingham Heart Study, a one-of-a-kind project which since 1948 has regularly collected social and medical information from thousands of people in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Earlier analyses found that a variety of habits and feelings, including obesity, loneliness, smoking and happiness appear to be contagious.

In the current study, Hill’s team compared patterns of relationships and emotions measured in the study to those generated by a model designed to track SARS, foot-and-mouth disease and other traditional contagions. They discounted spontaneous or immediately shared emotion — friends or relatives undergoing a common experience — and focused on emotional changes that followed changes in others.

In the spread of happiness, the researchers found clusters of “infected” and “uninfected” people, a pattern considered a “hallmark of the infectious process,” said Hill. “For happiness, clustering is what you expect from contagion rates. Whereas for sadness, the clusters were much larger than we’d expect. Something else is going on.”

Happiness proved less social than sadness. Each happy friend increased an individual’s chances of personal happiness by 11 percent, while just one sad friend was needed to double an individual’s chance of becoming unhappy.

Patterns fit disease models in another way. “The more friends with flu that you have, the more likely you are to get it. But once you have the flu, how long it takes you to get better doesn’t depend on your contacts. The same thing is true of happiness and sadness,” said David Rand, an evolutionary dynamics researcher at Harvard. “It fits with the infectious disease framework.”

The findings still aren’t conclusive proof of contagion, but they provide parameters of transmission rates and network dynamics that will guide predictions tested against future Framingham results, said Hill and Rand. And whereas the Framingham study wasn’t originally designed with emotional information in mind, future studies tailored to test network contagion should provide more sophisticated information.

Both Hill and Rand warned that the findings illustrate broad, possible dynamics, and are not intended to guide personal decisions, such as withdrawing from friends who are having a hard time.

“The better solution is to make your sad friends happy,” said Rand.

Image courtesy: Morgan/Flickr.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gene Makes Some Drink More When Other Boozers Are Around

Here’s some not-so-sobering news for party people, barhoppers and clubgoers. Individuals who inherit a particular gene variant that tweaks the brain’s reward system are especially likely to drink a lot of alcohol in the company of heavy-boozing peers.

That’s the preliminary indication of a new study directed by psychology graduate student Helle Larsen of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Adults carrying at least one copy of a long version of the dopamine D4 receptor gene, dubbed DRD4, imbibed substantially more alcohol around a heavy-drinking peer than did others who lacked that gene variant, Larsen’s group reports in a paper published online July 7 in Psychological Science.

“Carriers of the long gene may be more attuned to, and influenced by, another person’s heavy drinking than noncarriers are,” Larsen says.

Her study provides the first evidence that a gene influences human alcohol use in social situations.

Scientists have yet to decipher the precise brain effects of DRD4’s long form. Larsen hypothesizes that in the presence of heavy drinkers, the gene variant may increase dopamine activity in brain areas that amplify alcohol’s appeal as a rewarding social activity.

“If this gene-environment interaction stands, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t, there is every reason to expect the effect would extend to drugs besides alcohol, as well to many motivated pursuits,” remarks biopsychologist Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who was not involved with the new study.

Sociologist Michael Shanahan of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill lauds the new study for ruling out the possibility that carriers of the key gene simply like to drink a lot of booze and tend to do so with other heavy drinkers. Instead, alcohol use jumped among volunteers with a long DRD4 gene who happened to see a stranger imbibe heavily for a brief time.

Larsen and her colleagues asked 60 women and 53 men to evaluate advertisements for an alcohol-abuse prevention campaign. Each volunteer entered a room that had been furnished as a typical Dutch pub, accompanied by a person of the same sex who the volunteer thought was another participant but who was actually working with the researchers.

In between two 10-minute evaluation sessions, volunteers and the researchers’ confederates were given a break. An experimenter asked them to sit at a bar stocked with peanuts, beer, wine, soda and mineral water and to drink whatever they wanted.

As instructed, confederates took the initiative and drank either two sodas, one alcoholic drink and then one soda; or three alcoholic drinks for women and four alcoholic drinks for men over a 30-minute period.

DNA analyses of saliva identified 31 volunteers as carriers of the long DRD4 gene, which contains an amino acid sequence that repeats seven times.

When confederates stuck to sodas or drank one alcoholic beverage, long-gene carriers and noncarriers alike limited themselves to an average of less than half a glass of wine or half a bottle of beer.

When confederates quaffed multiple alcoholic drinks, carriers of the gene variant consumed an average of almost two wine or beer servings, versus almost one serving for noncarriers.

These results held for men and women, all of whom said they drink socially, regardless of how much alcohol they reported drinking weekly.

Deceptive research techniques can backfire if volunteers see through them and don’t admit it to researchers. But when interviewed after testing, none of the participants guessed the study’s real aim or the confederate’s agenda.

Other researchers need to confirm these findings, Larsen says. Some attempts to replicate findings from other studies of gene-environment interactions have yielded mixed results, including follow-up work on a study by researchers from Duke University in Durham, N.C., that found that another gene variant promotes depression in people who experience stress.

Image Courtesy: Flickr/Mourner

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Are you FBI material?

You probably think that your chances of becoming an FBI agent are about as likely as becoming a pro football player or an astronaut, right?

Think again.

So how can you actually become an agent yourself? If you think it's all about how well you shoot a gun and conduct intense interrogations, you're wrong. According to the FBI, there are five different "entry programs"; through which job applicants can be considered for the role of Special Agent. And the surprising news? Some of the paths are anything but rarefied, special-ops kind of careers.

1. Accounting
If you're an accountant, you might not think of yourself as FBI material - but the Bureau begs to differ.

In fact, if you're a certified CPA with a bachelor's degree, and at least three years of accounting experience or the corporate equivalent, the FBI would be very interested in talking to you. Now that would be quite an interesting career change, wouldn't it?

2. Computer Science/Information Technology
If you'd like to inject a little intrigue and excitement into your computer career, you might consider working for the FBI.

Given that many investigations have now shifted into the digital world, it's no surprise that the FBI is looking for computer experts. Investigators regularly comb through massive amounts of digital data in order to find the clue that might solve a seemingly unsolvable crime or prevent a terrorist attack. So a Bachelor's degree in Electrical or Computer Science Engineering will help.

3. Language
Based on current Bureau needs, fluency in certain languages is absolutely critical.

With a four-year Bachelor's degree in any discipline - plus knowledge of Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, as well as many more languages, you can qualify for this FBI enrollment path, assuming you can pass a high-competency test.

So if you're fluent, you have a chance to put those skills to good use. And you thought those language classes your mother made you take weren't worth anything.

4. Law
Another way into the FBI is by becoming a lawyer. You must qualify by earning a JD from an accredited law school. Prior to law school, people generally earn an unde
rgraduate degree in a discipline such as English, political science, or criminal justice.

5. Diversified
The FBI's fifth and final enrollment program could actually be called "other"; because it covers every other discipline that the Bureau deems valuable. Are you a psychologist, detective, scientist, or mathematician? This may be your ticket to becoming a Special Agent.

So if you feel you have all the necessary qualifications to be an FBI agent, then here's your chance.

All the best! ;)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Scientists solve chicken and egg riddle...

Researchers in Britain have been credited with cracking the age-old conundrum about the chicken and the egg. But are they right?

After the publication of the rather dry-sounding scientific paper, "Structural Control of Crystal Nuclei by an Eggshell Protein," press headlines proclaimed the answer was... the chicken.

However, one of the paper's lead authors, Colin Freeman, from the University of Sheffield in northern England, told CNN that the result was not as conclusive as it seemed.

"I would argue that the concept of an eggshell came about way before the chicken, it's dinosaur or even pre-dinosaur thing. That's something to talk to an evolutionary biologist about probably," he said.

So how did a paper about "crystal nuclei" become proof that the chicken pre-dated the egg?

Freeman and his team, which included colleagues from the University of Warwick, were researching a protein found in eggshells called ovocledidin-17. It is also found in chickens' ovaries, but until the team's research its purpose was not clear.

Using Britain's national supercomputer, a machine dubbed HECToR based in Edinburgh, Scotland, they were able to simulate the process of biomineralization, or the production of minerals or solid materials inside organisms.

It was a world first and revealed that one potential purpose of the protein ovocledidin-17 is to speed up the production of eggshell within the chicken so that in 24 hours an egg is ready to be laid.

"What we have really identified is that the protein seems to accelerate the crystallization process so it can make that eggshell appear far quicker. In simple terms it accelerates calcite formation," Freeman said.

They also found that the egg can't be produced without the protein ovocledidin-17 in the chickens' ovaries, so that means that the chicken must have come first. Right?

"Obviously, it's not really what we were trying to get out of our simulations, but it's an interesting question isn't it?" Freeman said.

Rather than putting an end to bickering over the true order of the egg, the researchers were trying to understand more about how shell is formed so that they can apply their findings in other disciplines, including medicine.

"The quote my colleague John Harding always says is, 'could we ever be as clever as algae?'" Freeman said.

"They produce these wonderful shells that protect them in the North Sea. That crystal structure is far in advance of anything that we as humans can create in the lab," Freeman said, adding, "We can't make a human skeleton in the lab..."

Perhaps one day they will be able to.

And perhaps one day someone will conclusively put an end to the argument -- was it the chicken or the egg?

Richie Rich Octopus.

So an Octopus, a mere sea creature who has been living in an aquarium his whole life has stuck it big. And here I was in the impression that hard work lead to satisfied living and wholesome life. Paul, the soothsayer has made it big, and the best part is everybody but him are aware of his good fortune.

Paul couldn't have lived in a better time, this being said, Octopuses don't live for more than 3 years and our Paul is very near his end, 6 months to be precise. Then again, that's probably a generous assessment of how long people will remember him anyway.

Up to $4.5 million for the endorsement of an octopus that ate a clam out of a box labeled with the flag of a match-winning team eight consecutive times? It's ridiculous, but when you consider the money paid to humans who have done far less than that to endorse a wide range of horrible products, it starts to make sense.

After predicting the Spanish national team's win in the World Cup, Germany psychic octopus Paul has become a world star among animals with his remarkable ability to tell the outcome of soccer matches. Now that the World Cup has ended, Paul the prognosticator will also retire from football forecasting.

Recently, Paul's aquarium in Oberhausen has received many fan emails and letters asking questions like, "Did my husband lie to me?" "Can I pass the math test?" "How long will Merkel's ruling coalition hold on?" and so on. They all wish to get the correct answers from genius Paul.

However, a spokesman for Paul's aquarium in Oberhausen said that Paul won't give any more oracle predictions – in football or in politics, lifestyle or economy. Instead, he will get back to his former job, namely making children laugh.

Actually, if there were no World Cup predictions, Paul would still be one of the most popular stars of Oberhausen. But since the South African World Cup, Oberhausen has become known to more people.

To commemorate his amazing achievement, the brilliant octopus Paul was presented with a golden cup honoring his prognosticating prowess and also got better food like Alaska salmon and crab in addition to shellfish.

I wonder if I had few more legs and predicted the winners of each match correctly as Paul did, would I strike it as big?

So keep an eye out for Paul the octopus billboards, TV ads and Happy Meal toys over the coming months. Followed by the most expensive octopus dish ever.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lone man found floating in free space?

Folks, before you freak out, let me assure you that these spacesuits are empty.

What you see here is 'SuitSat'. SuitSat also known as Mr. Smith, Ivan Ivanovich, Radio Skaf, Radio Sputnik and AMSAT-OSCAR 54 is a retired Russian spacesuit with a Radio Transmitter mounted on its helmet. The ARISS-Russia team is credited with coming up with the idea as a commemorative gesture for the 175th anniversary of the Moscow State Technical University.

The official designation for SuitSat is AMSAT-OSCAR 54, though it was nicknamed Ivan Ivanovich or Mr. Smith. The radio transmitter used a frequency of 145.990 MHz. However, the SuitSat-1 mission was not a total success. There were very few reports that actually confirmed the receiving of the transmission. NASA late announced that SuitSat ceased functioning after only two orbits due to battery failure, but there were reports suggesting that SuitSat-1 continued transmitting, though far weaker than expected.

Coming to home turf, StudSat, which is a student satellite conceptualized, designed and project managed by undergraduate students across India, is a picosatellite and the first of its kind in India. The StudStat was successfully launched on 12th July, 2010 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre into a sun syncronous orbit. This is the smallest satellite ever launched by any Indian organization indigenously. The mission is experimental in nature and the major objective is for the students to have a hands on experience on the design, fabrication and realization of a space mission at a minimum cost. The mission life is slated to be six months.

The satellite resembles a small cube of size (10 cm x 10 cm x 13.5 cm), weighing just about 850 gm and has a volume of 1.1 litres. The satellite has been launched in 700 km sun synchronous orbit. The satellite will perform the function of a remote sensing satellite and take images of earth's surface with a resolution of 90 metres, the best achieved by any "PICO" category satellite in the world. The satellite consists of the following subsystems

  • Communication sub-system.
  • Power generation and distribution sub-system.
  • Attitude determination and control system.
  • On Board Command and Data Handling.
  • Payload(Camera).
  • Mechanical Structure.
All the above subsystems are designed by students indigenously.

So if we are lucky enough to visit space as tourist in the near future, and if you see couple of spacesuits floating past you, you needn't worry. :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

10 Best Foods For Your Buck.

Peanut butter
Why it's a 10 best : This popular pantry item offers protein and heart-healthy unsaturated fats.
Use it it: Snacks, sandwiches, sauces, and baking goods.
Cost: About 20¢ for 2 tablespoons

Why they're a 10 best: Eggs are a good source of lean protein, and also contain vitamin B12, riboflavin and phosphorus.

Use them in: Omelets, frittatas and salads
Cost: About 13¢ per large egg


Why they're a 20 best: This grain helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Use them in: Baked goods, breakfast and to stretch ground-meat dishes
Cost: About 17¢ per ½ cup for quick-cooking oats

Why they're a 10 best: This fruit is a good source of vitamin C and is full of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Use them in: Salads and baked goods; as a snack
Cost: About 60¢ each, depending on variety and season


Why it's a 10 best: This leafy green is loaded with vitamins (A, C, K and folic acid) and manganese.
Use it in: Salads, pasta dishes, casseroles, soups and stews
Cost: About $1 for 5 ounces of fresh spinach

Why they're a 10 best: This tasty staple provides lean protein that’s full of fiber, calcium, folic acid and iron and other minerals.
Use them in: Salad and stews
Cost: About 35¢ per ½-cup serving (canned)

Frozen vegetables

Why they're a 10 best: They provide fiber and an array of nutrients, depending on which veggies you buy.
Use them in: Sides and casseroles
Cost: About 40¢ per serving

Sweet potatoes
Why they're a 10 best: These spuds are very filling (because they contain fiber) and a source of vitamins A and B6.
Use them in: Main and side dishes
Cost: About $1 each

Brown rice

Why it's a 10 best: Brown rice is a whole grain and a source of vitamin B6, magnesium, copper, zinc and manganese.
Use it in: Soups, salads and side dishes
Cost: About 37¢ per ½ cup (cooked)

Canned tuna fish
Why it’s a 10 Best: This fish is a healthful lean protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids.
Use it in: Sandwiches, casseroles and salads
Cost: About 75¢ for 3 ounces

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

He'll definitely want to make sure he doesn't swim too close to the edge.
This man is the first lap swimmer in the world to enjoy such a view - 55 stories over the city of Singapore.

The £4billion Marina Bay Sands tourism development opened in the city yesterday, and the 150-metre long pool - three times the length of an Olympic swimming pool - was a highlight.

Infinity pools are designed to make it seem as though the water extends to the horizon. In reality, the edge of the pool is usually about an inch below the water level. The water therefore spills over the edge into a catchment below, and is then pumped back into the pool. The concept is said to have been inspired by the terraced rice paddies in Bali, Indonesia. They are often seen in luxury resorts such as the Marina Bay Sands.

The enormous hotel, which dominates the Singapore skyline, has 2,560 rooms and suites, a fleet of celebrity chef restaurants, shopping areas, theaters, a museum, a casino and a crystal pavilion.

The resort is set to employ 10,000 people directly and generate up to £48million each year. Entrance to the casino alone is nearly £50 a day - but an average of 25,000 people have visited the casino daily since its initial phased opening two months ago.

We need more such resorts, tourist hot-spots in India. What say readers?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Inventions that made millions!

Walk of fame
Apparently, when unemployed Duke Hanson first saw these shoes his friend had got from a Canadian factory he didn't think the world of them but once he tried on the resin shoes, they felt super comfortable. Along with two of his pals, he made a deal with the Canadian company to be their sole US distributors. Three months later, he sold 1000 pairs at the Miami Boat Show. Crocs were a hit. They still are. Till date they've sold more than 100 million pairs of shoes. And to think Duke Hanson was just an unemployed dude on a boat! What a rags to riches story!

Moral of the story: So what if no one likes your idea? Go with your instinct and you just might hit jackpot!

Here's to other rags to riches stories that started of with just a simple idea…
Sticky business
They were two ordinary guys. Spencer Silver worked as a senior chemist in a research lab and painted in his free time. At his workplace, Spencer accidentally developed this reusable pressure sensitive adhesive. For three years he tried to promote his invention but to no avail.

Arthur Fry who worked with Silver used to sing in his church choir. Whenever Arthur put a bookmark in his hymnal it would slip down making it difficult for him to find the page he required. Then suddenly, he had a "Eureka" moment! Arthur realised that Silver's adhesive was the answer to his problem. Their company 3M patented the product and that's how Post it's were born!

Moral of the story: If there is a problem, there must be a solution somewhere. And get this; there are millions of people ready to pay for that solution no matter how insignificant the problem is.

Toy story
Did you know you could have an avant-garde idea while watching your child play? Ruth Handler did. While watching her daughter play, she noticed that her little one enjoyed playing with her infant paper dolls and giving them adult roles. So she wanted to create an adult doll for her. That was the origin of Barbie (named after Handler’s daughter Barbara).

She pitched the idea to her husband and his business partner who were running a small toy company Mattel but they weren't kicked about it. So she began developing the plastic doll on her own and in 1959 the first Barbie debuted! Barbie was a rage and Handler became rich and famous overnight. Thanks to her, today almost every little girl in every corner of the world owns one! In fact, Mattel claims that three Barbie dolls are sold every second.

Moral of the story: You can have a groundbreaking idea sitting on the toilet. You don't have to be electric-haired in a chemistry lab you know.

A stitch in time
Jacob Davis was a tailor with a painful customer. The guy kept coming to him with ripped pockets demanding that they be repaired. Jacob's dilemma was how to reinforce this guy's pants so they don't keep coming apart. Jacob decided to purchase metal rivets from Levi Strauss' dry goods store and used them in strategic places like the corners of the pockets and base of the fly. It worked like a charm.

Jacob wanted to patent his invention but he couldn't afford the $68 fee. That's when he approached Levi and the two went into business together. So the next time you wear a sexy pair of Levi's after you've swiped your card for Rs4000, remember that back in the day, a pair of jeans barely cost $1.50 and were meant for workers no less ;)!

Moral of the story: Have a nose for big business. When you see an idea that can make millions jump at it, even if it isn't yours.

Million-dollar network
How many of us care about anything other than boring professors, fashion trends and may be a weekend date when we are in college? Well, not Mark Zuckerberg. This guy was constantly tinkering around – developing music players, video games, all kinds of stuff. Of course, no one had heard of him till he joined Harvard. He along with a few classmates developed one of the biggest social networking sites in the world – Facebook – in their dorm room in 2004! Today this 26-year-old is sitting on a gold mine thanks to his genius.

Moral of the story: Don't wait till you are old and eccentric to put those gray cells to use. Start early and you will be a millionaire early!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Back in 2006, just after completing my High School I was in a dilemma.

My dilemma was about what career I was going to choose after schooling. I was pretty sure about Engineering as I've always harbored an interest in this particular field. But the question was, what field of Engineering do I choose from?

The term 'Engineering' encompasses a myriad of fields. What branch do I choose, what does one do in those fields, what qualifications do I need to secure a seat in any particular branch, what kind of knowledge is required, what is expected of me and what are my responsibilities. These were some of the few, and I stress few questions I was faced with .

As time flew by, I got a chance to research, reason, and eliminate few branches that I was offered. One of them which I didn't reject, or for that matter accept was Food Technology Engineering. I did very little research on it and I must admit I thought of myself being a "bavarchi" or cook if I took it up.

Now lets look at why I didn't take it up.

Reasons for not taking Food Technology Engineering:

1. Male ego. Cooking is only for women, or so I told my self-taught mind. WRONG!
2. I will always have to be around food, and thus be in a kitchen, no matter how fancy. WRONG!
3. While I love working with tools, my tools here would be knifes, ladles, mixers, grills etc. WRONG!
4. While my peers, friends and college buddies discuss latest technologies in their respective 'manly' fields I will be merely talking about new advances in cooking methods. WRONG!
5. Family wise, I may be called the home-maker. WRONG!

These points that I've mentioned are the most 'politically-correct' points I could think of. Believe me, I was having a gala time giving well decorated reasons to myself on why I should never, ever take up Food Engineering. Some of my points, which I will never make public for the sake of some women readers, would make the fairer sex hate my guts for life. But I can add the word 'wrong' in capitals after my four years of living in India and understanding that we all perceive life in out own ways, but they may not necessarily be or workout that way.

Now lets look at what would have happened had I taken up FTE.

1. I would be in the forefront of food technology, developing technology for astronauts, air-force pilots, officers working for months inside submarines, off shore workers, Soldiers, workers on tanker ships etc.
2. I would travel the world, probably, if I'm an expert, and gain an inside knowledge on food in terms of nutrition, calorific value and know the best foods for different kinds of jobs.
3. This point is the most simple one. I would know how to cook. Anything, anywhere.
4. This one's the best of all, And I quote my Dad "you will never die hungry." Haha, classic.

I'm now a graduate in Telecommunications and yes, I have learnt how to cook some food for basic sustenance. But I've always wondered what life would have been had I chosen Food Technology Engineering.