January 17, 2014

Mimosa pudica plants display survival tactics that require learned behavior.     Photo: Youtube.com

A Plant that Learns

Despite not having a brain

Researchers from the University of Western Australia found that Mimosa pudica plants can remember just as well as some animals. The plants displayed survival tactics that require learned behavior—and they did it without brains, the Daily Mail reports.

These plants, native to South and Central America exhibit traits that aren't far off from human behaviors. They:

  • Curl up in response to seismonastic movements (when they are touched, warmed, blown upon, or shaken)
  • Curl up in response to rain, presumably to remain dry. Once they realize that rain isn't fatal, they uncurl
  • Close their leaves at night and open them in the morning

According to the study, which was originally published in the journal Oecologia, the response of the leaves to external events is not a reflex. "Most remarkably, these plants were able to remember what had been learned for several weeks, even after environmental conditions had changed," the researchers said.

But how can something without a brain remember? “Plants may lack brains and neural tissues but they do possess a sophisticated calcium-based signally network in their cells similar to animals’ memory processes,” researchers explained.

Learning is not just for organisms with nervous systems, the research suggests. And if you think that's a lot to wrap your mind around, Monica Gagliano, the Australian Research Council research fellow who led the study, just published a paper arguing that trees can think and talk.

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Watts and Dixon hope to take the Jamaican sleigh to Sochi     Photo: Courtesy of the Jamaican Bobsled Team

UPDATE: Jamaican Bobsled Team Set on Sochi

Poised to qualify for the Winter Games this weekend

Flashbacks of Cool Runnings will certainly emerge as the Jamaican bobsled team is expected to qualify for the Sochi Olympics at this weekend’s event in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon make up the two-man team hoping to end the country’s 12-year absence from bobsled competition.

Watts, 46, has come out of retirement to lead the Jamaican team, which, if it qualifies, would make him the oldest Olympic bobsled competitor by eight years. Watts originally competed in the 1994 Olympics and then retired after missing out on the 2006 games, according to reports from the International Business Times.

“Man, you should see me! Age is just a number. You’d never believe I was a man of 46… You’d say maybe 30, 35. I’m big, dark, and handsome, like a six-foot, 235-pound runnin’ back,” Watts confidently told The Telegraph.

Even if the Caribbean team does qualify, the athletes don’t know if they’ll have the funding to fly to Sochi. Watts reportedly put up his own money to fly the team to Evanston, Wyoming so the team could train in nearby Park City, Utah. Early on, the team was cut from a four-man team to a two-man team due to lack of funding.

If they qualify, you can help the "Hottest Thing On Ice" through its website. 

UPDATE: January 20, 2014

The Jamaican two-man bobsled team accepted an inviation to compete in the Sochi games this weekend, but it will need a lot of help to attend. Winston Watts and the rest of the team are trying to raise up to $80,000 for travel and equipment costs. And they need it now.

Two major crowd-funding campaigns have emerged through Indiegogo and Crowdtilt to help the team reach its goal. Early Moday morning, the two sites had generated more than $30,000 in less than 24 hours.

“Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme. It's crowdfunding time!!!! (:” wrote the Crowdtilt administrator.

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Shaun White at the 2007 Superpipe World Championships in Park City, Utah. The snowboarder recently qualified for the slopestyle competition at Sochi.     Photo: hypergene/Flickr

Shaun White Nabs Olympic Berth

Despite hard fall during qualifier

It’s official. Snowboarder Shaun White will fly during the slopestyle competition at Sochi despite a nasty crash during qualifiers Thursday.  

White, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the snowboarding halfpipe, will have a chance to win another medal in slopestyle after taking the second of two qualifying events in Mammoth Lakes, California.

The day didn’t start off well for White, who fell face-first during his opening run of the day. Considered a favorite for gold at the upcoming Olympic games, the reigning champion stayed on the ground stunned for nearly five minutes before heading down the mountain.

White made a dramatic recovery two hours later, pulling off a flawless run to earn the highest score of the day.

"I haven't taken a hit like that in a long time,'' he told the Associated Press. “I'm so thankful to make that run and to be on top of the podium and heading to Sochi. I'm beside myself. It went from one side of the coin all the way to the other from this morning with that crash to, now, winning.'' 

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Laura Dekker on her record-setting sail.     Photo: Courtesy of Maidentrip

"Maidentrip" Opens Today in NYC

Young Laura Dekker set out on a two-year voyage to become youngest person ever to sail around the world alone. This documentary tells her story.

One of the best adventure films in recent years, Maidentrip has been acquired for U.S. distribution by First Run Features and will open January 17 at the IFC Center in New York City. The full-length feature film documents Dutch teenager Laura Dekker's astounding and controversial 2012 solo round-the-world voyage, when, at 15, she became the youngest person ever to sail the globe alone.

Maidentrip, which debuted to rave reviews at South by Southwest in March and won the Director's Award at Telluride Mountainfilm, provides an intimate account of Dekker's 17 months alone at sea. There was no chase boat, support staff, or film crew. Dekker shot her own footage aboard her 38-foot ketch, using a Sony Handy Cam she rigged to the boat.

The effect is an arresting portrait of the young sailor, who for much of the film stares wide-eyed into the camera, as though she can’t quite believe she’s doing it, either. Though you never see the camera, it takes on its own personality, a kind of default crew and confidante for the solo skipper. 

Friday showtimes will be followed by Q&As with filmmakers Jillian Schlesinger and Emily McAllister, and the documentary will screen at IFC for rest of the week, with six showings per day.

After a stint in New York, the film will tour across the country for much of the spring.

In March, Outside columnist Katie Arnold wrote about the film. "It’s impossible to watch Maidentrip and not want to immediately start scheming your own audacious adventure," Arnold says. "Laura’s unscripted optimism is contagious."

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Everyone can do something to improve air quality, according to this sign on Tiananmen Square.     Photo: A ling/AP

Beijing Televises Sunrise

Air pollution too heavy to see the real sun

Smog in Beijing has become so thick that the only visable sunrise in the polluted capital city yesterday was the one projected on an LED screen in Tienanmen Square. As commuters wore industrial strength face masks to work, the Chinese government issued a severe air warning, advising the elderly and school children to stay indoors.

"I couldn't see the tall buildings across the street this morning," a traffic coordinator told the Daily Mail. "The smog has gotten worse in the last two to three years. I often cough, and my nose is always irritated."

From 1 to 6 a.m. on Thursday, the U.S. embassy in Beijing—which reports the capital's air quality via Twitter—recorded levels of air pollution that was literally off the charts. Concentrations of particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter reached more than 600 micrograms per cubic meter. At half that level, the U.S. State Department issues a "hazerdous" warning, meaning "everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion."

Pollution is also on the rise in the U.S. after years of steady decline; energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose roughly two percent in 2013. The U.S. Energy Information Administration attributes the increase to a resurgence in coal, which has generated 40 percent or more of the nation's electricity each month since November 2012.

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Seven weeks, people.     Photo: Rido/Shutterstock.com

Cyclist Suffers Seven-Week Erection

Hurt himself on his crossbar

With all the thought and technology devoted to preventing head injuries, perhaps we've neglected some of our other more sensitive areas.

A 22-year-old mountain biker in Ireland recently sought medical attention after a crossbar-related injury left him with an erection that lasted seven weeks. The ailment, known as priapism, was caused by a straddle injury that resulted in irregular blood flow to the, ahem, penis.

After enduring his condition for five weeks, the unnamed cyclist finally sought medical attention. Doctors first attempted to cure the condition using "manual compression" with some success, only to find that the erection would return shortly after the treatment. Next they applied a pressure dressing to the area for two weeks only to find that the erection returned immediately after the dressing was removed.

Only after applying gel foam and four platinum coils to a connection between two essential veins and arteries, were doctors able to end the man's erection. "We are very happy with the outcome," one medical technician told the Irish Examiner.

Fortunately, bicycle manufacturers have been made aware of the risks their products present to our genitals, male and female, and, as the CDC notes, have been developing seats specifically designed to alleviate pressure on the urogenital area.

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These furry guys probably didn't get along with early humans.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Early Humans Didn't Domesticate Wolves

Man's best friend diverged from wolves at least 11,000 years ago.

Regardless of what Hollywood might have you believe, early humans probably didn't frolic with wolves. For a study in the journal PLoS Genetics, researchers sequenced canine genomes to learn more about the evolutionary history of dogs. They found that man's best friend diverged from wolves at least 11,000 years ago.

The findings refute popular conceptions that humans domesticated friendlier wolves during an extended period of time. Instead, it appears that wolves and dogs diverged from their common ancestor before humans established agricultural societies.

According to the study, early dogs probably lacked a gene that most of today's dogs have, which made them more carnivorous than their modern counterparts. These meat-preferring dogs likely befriended hunter-gatherers and then adapted to the life and diet of early agricultural societies.

The news complicates research about dog domestication. Although the study's authors have confidence in their divergence theory, they note that dogs could also have evolved from now-extinct species of ancient wolves.

If winter has got you down, check out some of the best cold-weather dogs.

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