Recent science news from around our weird universe.
Have you ever noticed that the first cowboy to draw his gun in a Hollywood Western is invariably the one to get shot? Nobel prize–winning physicist Niels Bohr did, once arranging mock duels to test the validity of this cinematic curiosity. Following Bohr’s example, researchers have now confirmed that people move faster if they are reacting to another person’s movements than if they are taking the lead themselves. The findings may one day inspire new therapies for patients with brain damage, the team speculates.
Over five years ago, scientists succeeded in teleporting information. Unfortunately, the advance failed to bring us any closer to the Star Trek future we all dream of. Now, researchers in Japan have used the same principles to prove that energy can be teleported in the same fashion as information. Rather than just hastening the dawn of quantum computing, this development could lead to practical, significant changes in energy distribution.
Boredom could be shaving years off your life, scientists have found.
Researchers say that people who complain of boredom are more likely to die young, and that those who experienced ‘high levels’ of tedium are more than two-and-a-half times as likely to die from heart disease or stroke than those satisfied with their lot.
(Via: Secondhand Smoke)
The Pentagon’s mad science arm may have come up with its most radical project yet. Darpa is looking to re-write the laws of evolution to the military’s advantage, creating “synthetic organisms” that can live forever — or can be killed with the flick of a molecular switch.
As part of its budget for the next year, Darpa is investing $6 million into a project called BioDesign, with the goal of eliminating “the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement.” The plan would assemble the latest bio-tech knowledge to come up with living, breathing creatures that are genetically engineered to “produce the intended biological effect.” Darpa wants the organisms to be fortified with molecules that bolster cell resistance to death, so that the lab-monsters can “ultimately be programmed to live indefinitely.”
Just suppose that Darwin’s ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth’s history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe. Darwin’s explanation of evolution, they argue, even in its sophisticated modern form, applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth.
At the root of this idea is overwhelming recent evidence for horizontal gene transfer – in which organisms acquire genetic material “horizontally” from other organisms around them, rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors. The donor organisms may not even be the same species. This mechanism is already known to play a huge role in the evolution of microbial genomes, but its consequences have hardly been explored. According to Woese and Goldenfeld, they are profound, and horizontal gene transfer alters the evolutionary process itself. Since micro-organisms represented most of life on Earth for most of the time that life has existed – billions of years, in fact – the most ancient and prevalent form of evolution probably wasn’t Darwinian at all, Woese and Goldenfeld say.