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SciTech Briefs

Conference will vote on abolishing the leap second

The leap second, a single second added to most years to keep UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) in step with the planet’s fairly complicated orbit time, may soon be abolished. A World Radiocommunication Conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, will vote in January on whether or not to pull our clock out of sync with the sun’s location.

Many countries prefer to keep the leap second, some for philosophical reasons, others because they believe there are some risks involved. Some believe abolishing the leap second inconsistently among countries may cause certain satellite network systems to fail long enough for there to be an air disaster.

Source: Nature

Squid and octopuses can switch camouflage

Scientists at Duke University recently discovered that some squid and octopuses can switch between two different types of camouflage, depending on which predators are nearby.

In the deepest parts of the ocean, some animals have evolved to be transparent to avoid being seen by light; other creatures have evolved to be red or black. A bulbous short-armed octopus and a squid can switch rapidly between the two states. The researchers simulated light generated by predators using blue-filtered LED lights; they found that the two creatures turned red under light and switched to their transparent state when the light was off.

Source: The Guardian

Asteroid hurtles past, allows rare study opportunity

A 1,300-foot-wide asteroid came within roughly 201,000 miles of Earth on Nov. 8, giving scientists their closest look at the asteroid yet. NASA’s powerful radar was able to capture images that were compiled into a video of the asteroid as it approached.

Scientists were also able to collect information about its speed, trajectory, and physical appearance, which helped them to predict its course for the next 64 years. Asteroids so close to Earth provide scientists with important clues into how the rocks escape the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. The asteroid will travel past Earth again in 2075.

Source: The Los Angeles Times

Study explains sickle-cell malaria resistance

A group of German scientists has discovered why carriers of the sickle-cell anemia gene are protected from malaria.

Researchers compared two types of malaria-infected cells: “normal” red blood cells and red blood cells containing the mutated “S” gene that causes sickle-cell anemia. The researchers found that the sickle cells would collapse before the parasite was able to remodel itself inside the blood cell, stopping the spread of the disease. Being a sickle cell carrier is important for survival in parts of the world where malaria is endemic. Indeed, some studies have found that up to 40 percent of people in Africa are carriers for the sickle-cell gene.

Source: Nature

DNA suggests mammoth species interbred

What scientists previously thought were two separate species of North American mammoths may actually be one species. The two species — woolly and Columbian mammoths — may have interbred, and some researchers say they should be regarded as the same species.

The new discovery comes after woolly genes were found in two preserved Columbian mammoths. The researchers, however, indicate that these findings need more verification. The DNA they compared was found in the mammoths’ mitochondria — the researchers plan to extract some from their cell nuclei next.

Source: ScienceNews

New diet drug shows promise in obese monkeys

A new drug has helped obese monkeys lose weight. The drug, which targets blood vessels that feed fatty tissue, was tested by researchers at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Known as adipotide, the drug seeks particular blood vessels that fatty tissues need and causes the cells found in those vessels to die.

The 10 monkeys given adipotide lost an average of 11 percent of body weight over a month. The drug did not show many side effects, and it has been shown to work in five different species. The research team plans to eventually test the drug in overweight men with prostate cancer.

Source: NPR