SciTech Briefs

New ant species supports species formation theory

A new species of ant has been discovered in a single patch of eucalyptus trees at Brazil’s São Paulo State University by Christian Rabeling, assistant professor of biology at the University of Rochester, and his research team. Despite having branched off from an already existing species, the new one was found living in the same colony as the original species, an uncommon occurrence in today’s model of species formation. While most new species are the result of geographic isolation, the discovery of this new species of ant suggests that a controversial theory known as sympatric speciation — where a new species forms while still living in the same geographic area as its parent species — may be true. These findings were recently published in the journal Current Biology.

Source: Science Daily

Apple iPhone 6 launch could be facing delays

Apple iPhone 6 suppliers are rushing to produce enough screens to make next month’s expected launch after a recent disruption in panel production caused by a redesign of the screen. Apple initially wanted to use a single layer of backlight film — instead of the conventional two layers — for the 4.7-inch screen, which went into mass production before the 5.5 inch version in order to make the new phone as thin as possible. However, this design turned out to not be bright enough, and the displays had to be reconfigured, causing screen assembly to be put on hold for part of June and July. Suppliers say that production has resumed; Apple has not stated whether this setback will affect the expected launch next month or limit the number of phones initially released.

Source: Reuters

Researchers map extinction of Neanderthals

A six-year project by researchers at the University of Oxford has recently resulted in the most accurate timeline of Neanderthal extinction published to date.

Their findings revealed that Neanderthals and present-day humans actually lived at the same time in Europe for between 2,600 and 5,400 years, which is longer than previously thought, before their extinction approximately 40,000 years ago. Creating an accurate timeline of their extinction was difficult in the past because 30,000-year-old samples often become contaminated, making radiocarbon dating very unreliable. The team at the University of Oxford was able to remove this contamination and dated almost 200 samples of Neanderthal bone, charcoal, and shell.

Source: Reuters

Brains with autism unable to prune synapses growth

A major part of brain development in babies is an explosion in the growth of synapses, the connections that allow neurons to communicate with each other. However, as a child grows older, the brain begins to regulate the synapses so their population in different areas of the brain is limited, allowing different parts of the brain to be specialized for different functions. A recent study led by David Sulzer, a neurobiologist at the Columbia University Medical Center, suggests that this process undergoes problems in children with autism, causing an overpopulation of synapses in certain parts of the brain. The study used tissue from the brains of children and adolescents who died between the ages of two and 20, half of who had autism and half who did not.

Source: The New York Times

Laser light flips magnetization of various materials

Physicist Eric Fullerton and his team at the University of California, San Diego have recently published a paper in Science on the possibility of using lasers to make data storage in computers faster and simpler.

While computer hard drives traditionally read and write data by flipping the magnetization of memory cells with magnetic fields, Dutch and Japanese researchers discovered in 2007 that they could flip the magnetization of certain materials using a laser light instead (the polarization of the light determines the direction of magnetization). Fullerton’s team has now investigated this mechanism on a larger range of magnetic materials and found that a certain film containing iron and platinum works well with lasers as a hard drive material.

Source: ScienceNews

Two American Ebola patients recently released

The Ebola virus has a fatality rate of 60 to 90 percent in hospitals in Africa. Fortunately, two American aid workers, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who have been receiving treatment for Ebola at Emory University Hospital since early August, were recently released after multiple clean blood tests.

Bruce Ribner, who led the team which cared for the two patients, stated that they are not contagious and are now immune to the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus. Additionaly, they will not relapse and are not carriers for Ebola. Brantly and Writebol, who caught the Ebola virus in Liberia about a month ago, are the first patients that have been treated for Ebola in America.

Source: Wired