MI weekly selection #10

Thawing of the permafrost in Northern Sweden | Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Thawing of the permafrost in Northern Sweden | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

New fabric may increase access to water in deserts

A team of scientists say they’ve created a piece of fabric that can collect water from fog and release the liquid when conditions are warmer. Researchers coated a piece of cotton fabric with the polymer PNIPAAm, creating sponge-like material. The fabric could be used to increase freshwater access in desert environments, though experts say more work is needed before they can commercialize the material.


Yang, H., Zhu, H., Hendrix, M. M. R. M., Lousberg, N. J. H. G. M., de With, G., Esteves, A. C. C. and Xin, J. H. (2013), Temperature-Triggered Collection and Release of Water from Fogs by a Sponge-Like Cotton Fabric. Adv. Mater., 25: 1150–1154. doi: 10.1002/adma.201204278

Computer program revives dead languages

A computer algorithm may be the next step to systematically unlocking how dead “protolanguages” sound spoken aloud, according to a study. Historically, using human linguists have been the only method for reconstructing languages, but the study’s authors believe this new software could be key to speeding up language analysis on a larger scale.


Alexandre Bouchard-Côtéa, David Hallb, Thomas L. Griffithsc, and Dan Klein (2013) Automated reconstruction of ancient languages using probabilistic models of sound change PNAS DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1204678110

The conversion of soil carbon to carbon dioxide in the Arctic permafrost and its release will be faster than previously thought

Organic matter trapped within layers of melting permafrost changes into carbon dioxide at a faster rate when exposed to sunlight, according to a report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report found that the conversion to carbon dioxide happened 40% faster when the organic matter was exposed to sunlight.

Los Angeles Times – Science Now

Rose M. Corya, Byron C. Crumpb, Jason A. Dobkowskic, and George W. Kling (2013) Surface exposure to sunlight stimulates CO2 release from permafrost soil carbon in the Arctic PNAS DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1214104110

Salmon use magnetic field to find their way home

Adult salmon that return to the same stream to give birth where they spawned use the Earth’s magnetic field as their compass. Scientists compared five decades of fishing data with maps of magnetic field paths and discovered that the salmon chose the route that most closely matched the magnetic signature of their native stream at the time they first left it for the ocean.

National Geographic – Weird & Wild

Nathan F. Putman, Kenneth J. Lohmann, Emily M. Putman,Thomas P. Quinn, A. Peter Klimley, David L.G. Noakes (2013) Evidence for Geomagnetic Imprinting as a Homing Mechanism in Pacific Salmon Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.12.041

Proteins behind mad-cow disease may also help brain to develop

Prions responsible for causing mad cow disease and similar versions, including the human form Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, may actually serve a role in helping brains to develop, according to a report in Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers discovered that prion proteins could be helpful or infectious depending on whether the protein was correctly formed. Normal prion proteins were fundamental in protecting nerves, while misfolded prion proteins cause the infectious diseases.

Nature News

Caiati MD, Safiulina VF, Fattorini G, Sivakumaran S, Legname G, Cherubini E. (2013) PrPC Controls via Protein Kinase A the Direction of Synaptic Plasticity in the Immature Hippocampus. J. Neurosci. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4149-12.2013

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *