Kamis, 23 Oktober 2008

Bird sets record with 7,257-mile nonstop flight

Forgoing layovers and snack stops, a bird known as the bar-tailed godwit has broken the record established for the world's longest known nonstop bird flight, according to a new study. 
The honor goes to a female named "E7" that continuously flew 7,257 miles across the Pacific Ocean, breaking the previous record set by a Far-Eastern curlew, who flew 4,038 miles nonstop.
Bar-tailed godwits use forward flapping flight and seldom ever glide," lead author Robert Gill, Jr., told Discovery News.
Gill, project leader of the shorebird research program at the U.S. Geological Survey, explained that climbing midair while gliding is costly in terms of energy for birds, so continuous wing-flapping surprisingly saves on "fuel."
He and his team tracked multiple bar-tailed godwits as they flew from their summer breeding grounds in the western Alaska tundra to New Zealand, where they spend the rest of the year. Females were surgically implanted with transmitters, while males, which in this species are smaller and lighter, were affixed with external transmitters. 
The migrating birds' flights lasted between five and 9.4 days. 
The findings, published in the latest issue of Proceedings of The Royal Society B, suggest that oceans, mountain ranges, deserts, ice fields and other vast, open spaces may not always be barriers to migration, as had previously been thought. Instead, like a fast lane on a low-traffic highway, they might provide some animals with optimal, near hassle-free travel routes. 
So long as weather events follow fairly predictable patterns, the Pacific Ocean appears to provide such a preferable route for the bar-tailed godwit, which must load itself with fuel in preparation for the long journey.
Before leaving Alaska in the early fall, the birds use their thin beaks to gorge themselves on food, such as tiny clams.

"Their bodies can consist of 55 percent fat at this time," said Gill, who added that the birds still have a streamlined, airplane-like shape despite their "boxy appearance" in the midsection just before take off.Both this study and prior work conducted by the team determined that the birds take advantage of low-pressure systems. 

"Tailwinds give them a nice, free ride for several thousand kilometers," he said. 
In flight, the birds also encounter few, if any, predators and avoid parasite infestations that can occur on land. 
Flapping for over nine days, though, does take a toll. 
Rob Schuckard, who helped document E7's flight last year and is a team leader at the Ornithological Society of New Zealand, said it's "like running for a week," with the human equivalent being a super-athlete who could somehow sprint without resting at 43.5 mph throughout a week-long haul. 
The birds may even burn protein tissue in addition to stored body fat during the flight, which adults make yearly throughout their 15- to 20-year lifespan, Gill said.

Both he and Schuckard are concerned for the godwit's future, however. In the mid 1990s, around 155,000 birds were recorded as having made the north to south trip, but those numbers have dropped to around 70,000 in recent years.
Gill said habitat loss has hurt the birds. Climate change remains an unknown factor. If storm patterns shift, the godwits "could get a better tailwinds push off," but there's also a chance the changes could lead to greater headwinds, delaying the migration. 
"A La NiƱa event in 2007 did just that by short-stopping the flight of some birds in Alaska," said Gill, who hopes future studies will reveal more about the possible impacts of climate change on bird migrations, as well as how this species' efficient metabolism works.
"Physiologists couldn't help but be interested in the extreme endur
© 2008 Discovery Channel

Coffee May Be Linked To Rheumatoid Arthritis

Coffee drinkers seem to be at increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, suggests research in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

The association between coffee drinking and the presence of a hallmark indicator for the development of rheumatoid arthritis "rheumatoid factor" was studied in a cross sectional survey of almost 7,000 people, and in almost 19,000 people who were monitored for around 15 years. None of the study participants had any evidence of arthritis when first tested. 

The number of cups of coffee drunk daily was strongly associated with rheumatoid factor in the survey study. In the second larger study, those people who drank four or more cups of coffee a day were twice as likely to test positive for arthritis thanthose who drank less. The results held true even after adjusting for other risk factors, such as age, gender, smoking, and weight. Those who drank 11 or more cups a day were almost 15 times as likely to have rheumatoid factor as non-coffee drinkers.

The authors conclude that some as yet unidentified ingredient in coffee, particularly in coffee that is not filtered, may trigger the production of rheumatoid factor, which can precede the development of arthritis by years, and consequently lead to an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Rabu, 22 Oktober 2008

U.S. Science Faces a Flat 2009

U.S. science agencies will receive no budget increases until March 2009 at the earliest after Congress voted over the weekend to freeze spending for every federal program outside of national security and veterans affairs. For many agencies, that means a second year of little or no growth.
The stopgap legislation, known as a continuing resolution (CR), averts a shutdown of the government. The 2009 fiscal year starts on Wednesday, but Congress has not finished its spending bills. That lag was intentional--Democratic leaders decided this summer to wait until after the 4 November election rather than run the risk of having the bills vetoed by outgoing President George W. Bush. The only 2009 spending bills that were approved cover the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs; those bills were folded into the CR.
Nevertheless, the legislation is still a sharp disappointment to science advocates in light of healthy increases that congressional committees had approved earlier in the year for several agencies, notably double-digit hikes for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science (ScienceNOW, June 20). Advocates fear that the continuing resolution, which holds agencies to current spending levels through 6 March, might be extended for the rest of the fiscal year by a new president looking for ways to bail out a flagging economy, finance the Iraq war, and reduce the federal deficit. "I think the next Administration will be very leery of more spending given the current state of the economy," speculates Samuel Rankin III, a lobbyist for the American Mathematical Society and head of the Coalition for National Science Funding.
For some science agencies, the CR actually puts them below the amounts spent this year. That's because the legislators excluded the $400 million divvied up among NSF, DOE, NASA, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under a supplemental 2008 spending bill passed in June (Science, 27 June, p. 1706).

Here is a look at how the legislation (HR 2638), now awaiting the president's signature, affects some key science agencies:


Basic science comes out a winner at the Department of Defense, which along with the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs were the only agencies to receive individual 2009 budgets. The legislation appropriates $1.84 billion for basic research, an increase of $208 million, or 12.7% over the 2008 figure. "This seems to be the largest single-year increase to that budget line in history," says Matt Owens of the Association of American Universities, a consortium of 62 research-intensive universities.
The increase suggests that Congress is responding to a push from within the Pentagon to grow the basic research budget to more than $2 billion by 2011. "It was a personal initiative of Secretary [Robert] Gates, and we are really grateful to Congress for this support," says William Rees, deputy under secretary for labs and basic sciences. He says an initial reading of the CR also suggests that there are fewer earmarks than the approximately $200 million contained in last year's appropriations bill. "Our desire is to have all of the basic research funding go to merit-based projects," he says.


Thanks in part to a last-minute push from Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to his congressional colleagues, NASA won't have to abandon the space station in 2010. Tucked into the continuing resolution is approval for NASA to buy seats through 2016 aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which ferries passengers to and from the station.
The U.S. government slapped sanctions on Russia for alleged sales of nuclear material to Iran, which prohibited NASA from using any tax dollars to finance any deals with the Russian space industry. A waiver that allowed the space agency to carry out such spending was set to expire in 2011. Soyuz needs to be booked well in advance, however, and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin had warned that the failure to extend the waiver this year would leave Americans without a way to get into space if the shuttle, as planned, is taken out of service in 2010. Senator Obama sent a letter shortly before the vote to key Democratic leaders, urging them to grant the extension.
Last week, Congress also passed legislation that prohibits NASA from making any moves between now and 30 April 2009 that would keep the shuttle from flying past 2010. The Bush Administration plans to shut down the program in order to divert money to a new launcher, but both presidential candidates have expressed concern about that move, because it would limit access to the space station by U.S. astronauts.
The provision, in a bill (HR 6063) that reauthorizes NASA's programs, gives the new president latitude in whether to keep the shuttle operating. But Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), who chairs the House Science and Technology Committee, says that Congress is not endorsing an extension or an additional flight to launch a scientific payload called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. "Rather, it reflects our common belief that the decision of whether or not to extend the shuttle past its planned 2010 retirement date should be left to the next president and Congress."


With the exclusion of the $150 million bump this year in a supplemental spending bill, NIH officials are facing a budget of $29.2 billion, 1% more than the agency received in 2007.
In the past, NIH has responded to continuing resolutions by giving investigators with ongoing grants only 80% of the approved amount for the duration of the CR. But this year's freeze applies to half the fiscal year, much longer than previous CRs. In addition, when the first round of next year's grant applications are reviewed in December, NIH will likely award fewer than it normally would because of the uncertainly about how much of a raise it will eventually get in 2009. (The House and Senate spending panels had approved roughly 2% to 3%.)
The need to be cautious will increase pressure on study sections trying to choose between equally meritorious competing grants applications and on young investigators, says Howard Garrison of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. "The acting director is going to have to deal with all the old problems and no additional resources," he says.


Research related to climate change is taking the biggest hit from the freeze on the agency's budget. In particular, programs supporting activities in the polar regions (Science, 29 August, p. 1142) and cruises throughout the world are feeling the cumulative effect of rising fuel prices and operating costs butting up against a flat budget.
The U.S. academic research fleet is projecting a 15% to 20% drop next year from its current $100 million-plus federal operating budget provided by NSF, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says Marcia McNutt, chair of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratories System (UNOLS). "We've had some bad times, but this is the worst situation that I've ever seen," says McNutt, who is also president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
To close that gap, UNOLS may need to take one of the system's 23 vessels out of service for the entire year. "That's a more efficient use of resources than trying to operate several ships on partial schedules," says McNutt, who notes that institutions have managed to hold costs almost flat despite the rising price of fuels and materials. The UNOLS Council hopes to make a decision by the end of October, she says.
NSF may save some money from the continued delay in completing renovations to NSF's ocean drilling vessel, the JOIDES Resolution. The latest projections call for delivering the upgraded ship in March 2009, says Rodey Batiza, head of NSF's marine geosciences section. That time frame knocks out two cruises scheduled for the fall and the winter of 2009. Although Batiza hopes they can be rescheduled next year, he says the delay temporarily frees up $5 million to $6 million in the cost of fuel and doing science.
The freeze also means a rollercoaster ride for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which received an additional $40 million in this year's supplemental appropriation. That money allowed NSF to more than double, from 20 to 44, the number of universities that received grants this year to help train math and science teachers, as well as pay $10,000 stipends to scientists returning to school to become teachers and experienced teachers seeking additional training. But the CR sets the program's budget at the earlier level of $15 million, too little money to allow NSF to sustain those efforts in the next round of competition.


Scientists in the Department Of Energy say the $62.5 million they received in July will tide them over for several months. "We are not in a crisis--until March," says J. Murray Gibson, director of the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The additional $7 million has kept APS running despite a 20% increase in costs, including electrical power, inflation, and mounting repair bills for the 11-year-old machine. But Gibson says he may need to lay off up to 60 people if Congress doesn't go along eventually with DOE's requested increase for the lab in 2009. The Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, avoided as many as 200 layoffs thanks to its $29.5 million bump in the 2008 supplemental, and lab spokesperson Judith Jackson declined to speculate on what might happen in March without additional funds. But she allows that the scenario would be "very serious."
Oak Ridge National Laboratory director Thom Mason says the flat budget keeps his lab at a "survival level" until next March. The biggest question mark is ITER, an international fusion reactor experiment being built in France. This year, the United States is contributing only $26 million of a promised $160 million, a shortfall that has forced Oak Ridge to delay awarding contracts for U.S. contractors to build parts for the experiment's cooling system, diagnostic system, and solenoid. And a continued freeze would exacerbate the situation. "Not having U.S. industry involved at an early stage could limit their contributions in the future," says Mason, who says that the shortfall also prevents the lab from locking in prices for commodities such as stainless steel that are expected to rise. The funding doldrums is also slowing the scaling-up of the lab's 2-year-old Spallation Neutron Source to meet its targeted operating level of 1.4 megawatts. "It makes experiments more difficult as well as more lengthy," he says.

Red Fish, Blue Fish, One Fish Becomes Two Fish

Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder--and some fish have taken this idea to the extreme. Cichlids in Lake Victoria prefer males of different colors, which apparently led to separate species of blue and red cichlids. Researchers say the phenomenon provides evidence that differences in sensory perception--not just geography--can spark speciation. 

The fish in question live in Lake Victoria, which borders Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. It's a diverse environment with water tending to be bluish near the surface and reddish deeper down. That disparity is reflected in cichlids in some regions of the lake; evolutionary ecologist Ole Seehausen of the University of Bern in Switzerland and colleagues have found that males in shallow water tend to be blue during themating season, whereas males in deep water typically take on a reddish cast. Females of both species are yellowish, but they prefer to mate with either blue or red males.

How did this happen? The team speculated that, over time, cichlid eyes adapted to either the bluish or the reddish ambient light, depending on where they lived. And indeed, when co-authors Yohey Terai and Norihiro Okada of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan analyzed the fishes' retinas, they found that retinal pigments in shallow-water cichlids were more sensitive to blue wavelengths than those of their deep-water counterparts, which were tuned to red. As a result, females in shallow water would have an easier time noticing blue males, and deep-water females would have favored red males, the team reports in tomorrow's issue of Nature.

The males, for their part, would have evolved their colorations to suit the female taste. "Once this happens, these two groups no longer interbreed and so become new species," says study co-author Karen Carleton, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

That adds a twist to the traditional view of how species form. Researchers usually link speciation to some sort of physical barrier, such as a river or mountain, which divides populations and causes them to evolve independently. What's more, the new study hints at how human activity could impact speciation, says Carleton: Water pollution, for example, could destroy the color gradients like those in Lake Victoria that spurred the evolution of the blue and red cichlids. 
Trevor Price, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, says that the authors make a compelling case for speciation driven by sensory changes. However, he's not fully convinced that this can happen within a single population, as the authors suggest. He points out that the blue cichlids could have evolved in a different part of the lake and then spread into the range of the red ones, or vice versa. Nevertheless, Price says, the finding that the fishes' retinal pigments evolve to match the visual environment "is really cool."

Why Women Get More Cavities?

The old wives’ tale that a woman loses one tooth for every child she delivers may, in fact, contain a grain of truth. A new study has found that women have had worse dental health than men ever since our ancestors became farmers about 10,000 years ago. That wasn't just because their diets and eating habits changed, as researchers previously believed, but because women who settled on farms were more fertile than nomadic hunter-gatherers. A boost in fertility meant farmers' wives were pregnant more often, which caused changes in their hormones and saliva secretion that rotted their teeth, according to a report in this month's issue of Current Anthropology.
Researchers have known since the 1980s that the invention of agriculture led to more tooth decay, particularly in women. Most researchers have attributed this to dietary and cultural changes that come from settling down. Both men and women began eating more starchy grains, such as corn and wheat, which contain sugars. Changes in the division of labor meant that women were preparing food more than men--and snacking more, because they had access to more food. "You increase carbohydrates and generally you increase the incidence of dental caries," says anthropologist Clark Spencer Larsen of Ohio State University in Columbus. 
The shift to farming also set in motion other important biological changes, notes biological anthropologist John Lukacs of the University of Oregon in Eugene. Lukacs did a meta-analysis of studies of tooth decay in 147 collections of tens of thousands of teeth from prehistoric and living humans that lived around the world from 12,000 years ago to 800 years ago. He confirmed that women consistently had more cavities than men when they lived in agricultural societies. He also documented a rise in fertility among women, perhaps in part because they were less nomadic and didn't have to carry children from place to place. Women would have experienced three other factors that occur during pregnancy and increase the number of cavities in women: a boost in female sex hormones; a reduction in the flow rate of saliva and its antimicrobial properties; and an increase in cravings for high-energy, sweet foods. 
This comprehensive view of women's oral health is "very smart," says dentist and geneticist Alexandre Vieira of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. How much being pregnant contributes to cavities could be tested, says Larsen, by comparing the incidence of tooth decay in women and men in modern populations before and after boosts in fertility. Lukacs agrees: "Our new task is to partition the factors that cause caries--how much is caused by biology and how much by culture," he says. "It's not all or nothing--it's a mixture."

Ancient Fish Heads for Land

CLEVELAND, OHIO—Scientists are learning more about how some fish became landlubbers. According to a new study of a "missing link" fossil presented here yesterday at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, these adventurous swimmers were already losing their ability to feed by suction before their fins evolved into limbs. By giving up the skill, which involves deforming the skull to create a vacuum that draws in prey, the fish were more able to raise their heads out of the water--and breathe air. 
The missing link, a meter-long predator known as Tiktaalik roseae, was discovered in sandstone in northern Canada in 2004. Like all fishes, it had fins and scales. But in other aspects of its anatomy, it resembled four-limbed animals called tetrapods (Science, 7 April 2006, p. 33). Tiktaalik had a neck, for example, and a relatively flat, elongated skull. It also lacked another classic fish feature, the gill-covering bone called the operculum. Details of the braincase, which in fish consists of a set of bones nestled inside the skull, remained hidden inside the rock, however, and preparators spent years carefully exposing the bones.
Now an analysis by paleontologist Jason Downs of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and colleagues shows how the braincase was becoming more like that of tetrapods. Overall, the braincase was more rigid, Downs says. Fish have very flexible skulls, a loose collection of bones that move around easily and allow them to suction-feed. In Tiktaalik, the joints between various bones in the braincase are more complex, suggesting that they did not allow as much motion. 
Another important transition is evident in Tiktaalik's hyomandibular bone, which is essential for gill breathing. In fish, this bone coordinates the motions of the braincase, the palate, and the gill skeleton. But in tetrapods, the bone has lost these connections and shrunk, becoming part of the middle ear. Primitive fish have a boomerang-shaped hyomandibular bone, but Tiktaalik's is shorter and straight--tending toward the tiny dimensions of primitive tetrapods. It is connected to the braincase but not to the gill skeleton, which would have allowed the head more flexibility to move up and down. The braincase is also described by the same authors today in Nature. 

The change in the hyomandibular bone suggests that gill respiration was becoming less important for Tiktaalik, says paleontologist Jennifer Clack of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. She notes that all the modifications point in one direction: an animal that it getting better and better at raising its head out of shallow water to breathe air. Rather than a big transition in the braincase, as it had seemed before from other species, Tiktaalik shows how the evolution of the tetrapod braincase is "actually achievable by small, gradual steps," Clack says.

PALEONTOLOGY: Fossil Shows an Early Fish (Almost) out of Water
Elizabeth Pennisi (7 April 2006)
Science 312 (5770), 33. [DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5770.33]

Why eating males pays off, for spiders

WASHINGTON - Female spiders who eat would-be suitors produce more babies, and those babies are stronger and bigger, than spiders who stick to more mundane fare, researchers reported on Tuesday.
And the merciless mother spiders waited until they had mated with another — ensuring they would hatch spiderlings — before consuming their new beaux, the researchers found.
They said their study is the first "natural" experiment to prove correct the old folklore about spiders, and said it also shows why such behavior might be beneficial.
"Now we know that, at least in one species, sexual cannibalism benefiting females occurs in nature," Dr. Jordi Moya-Larano of the Estacion Experimental de Zonas Aridas in Spain, who led the study, said in a statement.
The Mediterranean tarantulas in the study did not eat their mates, but instead ate males before courtship — and usually after the females had already mated with another male, the researchers found.
Some other studies have suggested that males may sacrifice themselves for the sake of their offspring, but this study showed that, at least in this species of spider, the males are purely unlucky victims and only the babies benefit.
Some studies had also suggested that studying spiders in the lab produced skewed results, perhaps because the creatures were stressed or perhaps because they could not obtain all their needed prey or nutrients.
So the researchers set up a field experiment in which they watched the spiders, sometimes snatching the males from the jaws of females before they were devoured.
"At natural rates of encounter with males, approximately a third of L. tarantula females cannibalized the male," they wrote in their report, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.
"The rate of sexual cannibalism increased with male availability, and females were more likely to kill and consume an approaching male if they had previously mated with another male," they added.
"We show that females benefit from feeding on a male by breeding earlier, producing 30 percent more offspring per egg sac, and producing progeny of higher body condition. Offspring of sexually cannibalistic females dispersed earlier and were larger later in the season than spiderlings of non-cannibalistic females."
One theory had also held that females who ate males were simply more aggressive and perhaps better hunters — but when the males were saved just in time, those females did not produce superior broods, suggesting that the male meals were an important source of nutrition.
Copyright 2008 Reuters.

Dead’ planets might be livable after all

Astronomers have long talked about a "habitable zone" around a star as being a confined and predictable region where temperatures were not too cold, not too hot, so that a planet could retain liquid water and therefore support life as we know it. 
The zone may not be so fixed, it turns out. Some extrasolar planets that one might assume are too cold to host life could in fact be made habitable by a squishing effect from their stars, a new study found. 
A planet's midsection gets stretched out by its star's gravity so that its shape is slightly more like a cigar than a sphere. Some planets travel non-circular, or elongated paths around their stars. As such a world moves closer to the star, it stretches more, and when it moves farther away, the stretching decreases.
When a planet's orbit is particularly oblong, the stretching changes are so great that its interior warms up in a process called tidal heating. 
"It's basically the same effect as when you bend a paper clip, and it gets hot inside," said researcher Brian Jackson of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. 
Jackson and colleagues created a computer model to simulate this effect on exoplanets, and found that the process could shift the range and distance of the "habitable zone" around a star in which planets would have the right temperatures needed to harbor life. 
"It could be that planets close to the edge of the habitable zone get way too much tidal heating, and they'd be too hot," Jackson told SPACE.com. It also could be that planets just beyond the outer edge, which according to previous models would be too cold, might undergo enough heating that their surfaces would be warm enough for life and water, Jackson said. 
Tidal heating could in fact affect many planets in the galaxy, because the oblong orbits that cause the phenomenon are quite common. 
"Most of the extrasolar planets we've found so far are in pretty elongated orbits, which is surprising because most of the planets in our solar system have orbits that are roughly circular," Jackson said. 
Scientists aren't sure why our solar system is unique in this way, but the difference could significantly affect the hunt for life beyond Earth.
In some cases it would suggest that it's going to be little bit harder, Jackson said, because worlds that looked habitable may experience too much tidal heating. On the other hand, some planets that were thought to be too cold might in fact be warmed up enough for life, and that might improve our odds. 
Tidal heating could further boost some planets' habitability by warming them enough to spur volcanism, which in turn drives plate tectonics, the process that recycles rock through a planet's surface layers. 
Plate tectonics is a definite boon for life, because stirring up the surface layers helps to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, since rock absorbs CO2 from the air. And having the perfect balance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere helps a planet maintain that "just right" temperature range. 
© 2007 Space.com. All rights reserved.

Science proves that bikinis turn men into boobs Sexy images rob male brain of ability to make wise decisions

You may have known this all along, but now it has been demonstrated scientifically: bikinis make men stupid.This month’s issue of the Journal of Consumer Research features a paper titled “Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice,” which is a neuroeconomist’s (definition in a moment) way of saying that men don’t make good decisions while checking out pretty girls in bikinis.
Hence automakers’ penchant for placing leggy models in front of absurdly priced cars at auto shows, and the casting of three scantily clad women on that “Republica Deportiva” show on Univision which I find myself watching though I don’t care whether Chivas defeated Rayados del Monterey. 
Virgil wrote of the phenomenon 2,000 years ago when he created the epic poem “The Aeneid.” When Venus convinces Vulcan to make some special armor, she 
…threw her snow-white arms around him 
As he held back, caressing him here and there, 
And suddenly he caught fire — the same old story, 
The flame he knew by heart went running through him, 
Melting him to the marrow of his bones… 
She knew her beauty’s power.
But though we might recognize this intuitively, there is some very important insight about sex and relationships, not to mention economics, to be gained from this latest research. 
In the “bikini” experiments, Belgian researchers conducted a series of tests on 358 young men. In one test, the men looked at images of women in bikinis or lingerie and at images of landscapes. In another, some men were given T-shirts to handle and assess while others were given bras. Another batch of men was assigned to watch a commercial featuring men running over landscapes while other guys watched a video of “hundreds of young women, dressed in bikinis running across hills, fields and beaches.” (No word on whether they used “Baywatch” slo-mo). 
In each test, the researchers offered the men the choice between being paid 15 euros immediately or bargaining for a larger sum that they'd be willing to wait a week or a month for. In all the tests, the men exposed to the sexy imagery or bras cited delayed reward amounts that were lower than the amounts cited by the men who saw sex-neutral imagery. For example, while a man who looked at landscapes might have demanded an extra payment of 10 euros a month later (totaling 25), the bikini-gazer might have been willing to settle for five extra (totaling 20). The sexy imagery did not work on all men all the time, but, as a group, men with sex on their brains settled for a less lucrative bargain, suggesting they were more impulsive and valued immediate gratification more than the controls.
“I observed in my studies that men are more likely to pick a smaller immediate reward over a larger later reward,” Bram van den Bergh, the study’s lead author, tells me. “Hence I do think that men might spend money on something they might otherwise not purchase. Men would become more impulsive in any domain after exposure to sexual cues.”Bikinis make men brainless: Truest statement ever made or bad stereotype?

Sexy ‘tunnel vision’
This jibes with the findings of a 2006 paper, “Heat of the Moment: The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making.” George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University and Dan Ariely of MIT, found that sexually aroused men would do all sorts of things they might not otherwise do. 
To study this effect, they asked men to masturbate while answering a series of questions on a computer. (They helpfully created a system that could be operated with one hand.) For example, 42 percent of non-aroused men thought women’s shoes were erotic. But 65 percent of aroused men thought so. Nineteen percent of non-aroused men said they would agree to sex in a threesome with another man and a woman, while 34 percent of aroused men said so. Less than half, 46 percent, of non-aroused men said they would encourage a date to drink to increase the chance she would have sex with them, but 63 percent of aroused men said so. 
Loewenstein, one of the founders of the field of neuroeconomics, which links the workings of our brains to economic and other human interactions, sometimes using machines like functional magnetic resonance imaging to literally watch brain regions light up, says that sex and other strong drives “produce a kind of tunnel vision.” 
“Drives are designed to motivate you to focus on specific goals; they have evolved for that purpose, to focus on the goal to the exclusion of other goals or considerations,” he says. 
So a man who is aroused literally narrows his view of the world. When we’re thinking about sex, pretty much all we can think about is sex. So a man might do things he would not otherwise do (spending an hour surfing a Jennifer Love Hewitt fan site), or may behave in a seemingly irresponsible manner (skipping the condom). 
In fact, studies have shown that sexy ads don’t really make men remember the product. We’re so lasered in on the sexy stuff, we don’t care what brand of beer it is, or how long it takes the car to go from zero to 60.

What about a Beckham effect?
None of this excuses bad boy behavior, but it may help women understand why even a choir boy is tough to dissuade once he’s built up a head of steam. 
Whether or not women are as blinded by sex as men remains an open question. Would a picture of David Beckham in briefs influence a woman to pass up a bigger payout? Maybe, but the studies on sexual arousal and decision-making have mostly been done on men, so the verdict is out. 
In general, though, all our brains, Loewenstein believes, can be thought of as being of “two minds,” there is the “affective system,” (“Dude! Who cares what it costs! She’s hot!”) which answers to our basic drives, and the deliberative system (“That’s your IRA contribution!”). To think of this another way, picture an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Even in the heat of the moment, there is still that little voice that says "You know you are making a mistake" — the trouble is it gets drowned out by the volume of the affective system. 
We are constantly negotiating between these two systems, which is why economists are so interested; it’s how we make purchasing decisions. It may also explain the morning-after walk of shame, the overcharged credit card — and “don’t worry, I’ll pull out in time.” 
So bikinis ring our affective bells and those things make a lot of noise. Just remember this when you go to the beach, or the pool, or the lake this summer. She may look amazing in that tiny bikini, but try to listen to that little voice that’s whispering “SPF 30,” no matter how uncool you’ll look slathering it on. 

You’ve been warned.

Eels' shocking secrets could power devices Biomedical implants could get a charge from latest research

The same cells electric eels use to shock predators and prey can be engineered to power implanted biomedical devices, say researchers from Yale University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 
"We now understand how the natural electric eel cells work," said David LaVan of NIST. "Now we can think about how we can use those cells to power medical devices." 
Natural electric eel cells generate and release electric pulses of more than 500 volts with eight different channels and pumps.
By pumping positively charged potassium and sodium ions out of the cell, the number of negatively charged ions inside the cells rises. Opening certain channels causes electrons to flood out of the cell, producing enough electricity to stun the eel's victim. 
Using computer models, the scientists experimented with different combinations of those eight pumps and channels. A cell with four pumps and channels was easier to make but only about four percent as efficient at converting sugar to electricity. 
Surprisingly, by eliminating one pump (an "evolutionary leftover," as LaVan calls it) and adjusting the ratio of the other pumps and channels, the scientists designed a cell that was both powerful and energy efficient. 
"It's like having a Ferrari that is also the most fuel-efficient car in the world," said LaVan. Natural electric eel cells are about 14 percent efficient at converting sugar into electricity, compared to 19 percent for the engineered cells. 
The pumps and channels are powered by the same fuel that drives every human cell: adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Stripping off one phosphate group drives cellular activities and in the process turns ATP into adenosine diphosphate, or ADP. Sugar helps recycle ADP back into ATP. 
Scientists would divert the sugar naturally produced in the body into the implanted electrical generator. Each individual cell would produce an estimate 150 millivolts. 
Lining up those cells and sandwiching them between an insulting material, a four-millimeter cube could produce three volts of electricity, enough to power a retinal implants, for example. A typical TV remote battery produces about 1.5 volts. 
Sugar is plentiful. Sunlight is even more plentiful. Eventually, the researchers want to use photosynthesis, the process plants use to turn sunlight into sugar, instead of using the body's own supply. 
"Those pieces [that plants use for photosynthesis] exist, but we will have to sit down and rework them," said LaVan. "That's still an open question." 
Another open question is whether these cells can actually be built; so far the powerful and efficient cellular powerhouses are only present in virtual reality. 
Actually creating them can be done in two ways, said Atul Parikh, a scientist at the University of California, Davis. 
One way is top-down — essentially breeding live electric eels, harvesting their cells, and reconfiguring them to power implanted devices. 
The other way is to engineer the cells from the bottom up, growing them into a designed configuration. The bottom-up method will likely be harder, but it would produce power more efficiently, said Parikh. 
However the cells are created, Parikh said they could be used not only to power biomedical devices, but also energy outside the body.
"This could be a new way to make solar panels more efficient or bring us closer to a hydrogen economy," he said. 
Basic prototypes could be developed within a couple of years, and an actual device could be implanted in as little as five years, if everything goes smoothly. 
"The practical implications of this are huge," said Parikh. "The notion of biobatteries is very real." 
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