Tropical spiders show they can glide when dropped from great height | Sauropod's long trail of footprints found in Germany | Study shows how little pebbles may have become gas giants
August 20, 2015
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Tropical spiders show they can glide when dropped from great height
Tree-dwelling spiders in Panama and Peru known as "flatties" show a surprising aptitude for gliding without using silk when dropped from a significant height, according to a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Researchers gathered a number of the spiders and dropped them from heights of between 65 and 80 feet, or 20 and 24 meters, and observed the spiders right themselves and maneuver to land on tree trunks with amazing accuracy. "We really did not expect to see gliding behavior in spiders," said tropical arthropod ecologist Stephen Yanoviak, the study's leader. National Geographic News (free registration) (8/18)
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Science in the News
Sauropod's long trail of footprints found in Germany
A continuous trail of 90 footprints left 135 million to 145 million years ago by a huge sauropod has been found in a German quarry. "The special thing is that the tracks are on such a long trail -- and the dinosaur has made a sharp turn, which is unusual," said excavation director Benjamin Englich. The prints are each about 4 feet, or 1.2 meters, across, and about 17 inches, or 43 centimeters, deep. The Telegraph (London) (tiered subscription model) (8/19)
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Study shows how little pebbles may have become gas giants
Tiny pebbles of dust and ice rapidly circled the nascent sun 4.5 billion years ago, interacting with each other, and pushing out smaller protoplanets as they gathered more material to eventually become the gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn, according to a study in Nature. The study builds on earlier work on the pebble-accretion scenario, but that theory showed hundreds of large objects orbiting the sun rather than just a few. "We're doing simulations that actually allow the growing planetesimals to interact and collide with each other," said astronomer Katherine Kretke, co-author of the study. Nature (free content) (8/19)
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New technique reveals blood clots in full-body scans
Scientists have developed a probe that attaches to blood clots anywhere in the body and can be seen on full-body PET scans. The technique has been used successfully on rats and will be studied on humans later this year. The findings were reported at the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston. BBC (8/19)
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Drug used to treat narcolepsy may also help improve cognition, study suggests
Modafinil, approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for narcolepsy and other sleep disorders, has been used by some who say it improves their focus and cognitive abilities, and now a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that it indeed works that way for some people. "In the face of vanishingly few side effects in these controlled environments, modafinil can be considered a cognitive enhancer," said Anna-Katharine Brem, co-author of the study. "However, we would like to stress the point that with any method used to enhance cognition, ethical considerations always have to be taken into account." (8/19)
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Shear-wave elastography can uncover risk of premature labor, study suggests
Clinicians may be able to use shear-wave elastography to spot cervical softening at 24 to 35 weeks' gestation, when it is a marker of preterm labor risk. Cervical stiffness is typically checked manually, but a team of researchers sought to develop a less subjective measure. The study documented SWE measurements from 157 expectant women already scheduled for sonograms, then tracked each patient's pregnancy. The proof-of-concept study was reported in Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology. (free registration) (8/19), Business Standard (India)/Indo-Asian News Service (8/19)
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Study: Congenitally blind children engage visual lobes to process language
As early as when they are 5 years old, blind children can engage the visual center of the brain in processing speech, according to a study in The Journal of Neuroscience. Using functional MRI, researchers found that 19 congenitally blind children showed signs of employing the brain's visual cortex as they listened to stories told in English. The finding highlights the plasticity of brains among the congenitally blind and could shed light on future treatments for the blind, experts say. The Guardian (London) (8/19)
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Funding Watch
$2.4M grant goes to researchers working on stem cell-derived skin
Researchers from the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Institute have been awarded a $2.4 million grant by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation to support their work in growing healthy skin tissue from skin-derived stem cells. Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.) (8/18)
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Energy Dept., NASA fund Earth observation projects by Azavea
The Energy Department and NASA have each given software firm Azavea grants to develop online tools for more storage capacity and better maintenance of high-resolution images and geospacial models. The Energy Department has awarded the company a $155,000 grant for the Raster Foundry project, a cloud-based high-resolution imagery platform. NASA is providing $125,000 for development of ModelLab, an application that will use Earth observation data sources to help researchers more precisely study geospacial models. PhillyVoice (Philadelphia) (8/19)
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