The future of life, but not as we know it
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is itself evolving

“THERE is nothing new to be discovered in physics.” So said Lord Kelvin in 1900, shortly before the intellectual firestorm ignited by relativity and quantum mechanics proved “It is now accepted that the tree him comprehensively wrong. of life is something we impose on If anyone now thinks that biology is sorted, nature in an attempt to make they are going to be proved wrong too. The more that genomics, bioinformatics and many the task of understanding it more tractable” other newer disciplines reveal about life, the more obvious it becomes that our present understanding is not up to the job. We now None of this should give succour to gaze on a biological world of mind-boggling creationists, whose blinkered universe is complexity that exposes the shortcomings doubtless already buzzing with the news that of familiar, tidy concepts such as species, “New Scientist has announced Darwin was gene and organism. wrong”. Expect to find excerpts ripped out A particularly pertinent example is of context and presented as evidence that provided in this week’s cover story – the biologists are deserting the theory of uprooting of the tree of life which Darwin evolution en masse. They are not. used as an organising principle and which Nor will the new work do anything to has been a central tenet of biology ever since diminish the standing of Darwin himself. (see page 34). Most biologists now accept that When it came to gravitation and the laws of the tree is not a fact of nature – it is something motion, Isaac Newton didn’t see the whole we impose on nature in an attempt to make picture either, but he remains one of science’s the task of understanding it more tractable. giants. In the same way, Darwin’s ideas will Other important bits of biology – notably prove influential for decades to come. development, ageing and sex – are similarly So here’s to the impending revolution in turning out to be much more involved than we biology. Come Darwin’s 300th anniversary ever imagined. As evolutionary biologist there will be even more to celebrate. ■

Michael Rose at the University of California, Irvine, told us: “The complexity of biology is comparable to quantum mechanics.” Biology has been here before. Although Darwin himself, with the help of Alfred Russel Wallace, triggered a revolution in the mid1800s, there was a second revolution in the 1930s and 1940s when Ronald Fisher, J. B. S. Haldane, Sewall Wright and others incorporated Mendelian genetics and placed evolution on a firm mathematical foundation. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, we await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened.

Limit the fallout from DNA tests
DNA testing for paternity can change the course of a life. So to run a test on “stolen” DNA taken from an everyday item, such as a coffee cup or a baby’s dummy, is a gross invasion of privacy – especially when that DNA is an innocent child’s rather than the alleged father’s. Either way, a child can be harmed if a covert test tears their family apart. Even if other nations do not follow the UK’s lead in banning stealthy genetic tests (see our investigation, page 8), laws on paternity testing merit review. One option would be to follow practice in France, where DNA tests can only be ordered in the context of a formal hearing to contest paternity. The court can consider the child’s interests and help to cushion life-altering shocks when the test results are disclosed. ■

Doomy thinking
WHY on earth would anyone spend energy worrying about something that is really, really unlikely to happen? Better, surely, to save it for more probable events such as losing your job, home or partner. But follow the logic behind assessments of such remote risks and things may look different – leading, for example, to a 10,000-fold rise in the probability that an Earth-guzzling black hole will appear when the LHC restarts (see page 32). It might even take your mind off more mundane worries – until you recalculate the odds, that is. ■

What’s hot on NewScientist.com
TECH Intelligence tests for future machines The Turing test has been the benchmark for artificial intelligence for nearly six decades, but there are other ways to test how closely a machine can perform like a human, as our video shows. We explore how a “neural Turing test” changes a person’s brain activity, and how jazz piano can help spot smart computers. ECONOMICS Lottery win is no guarantee of long-term health or wealth You probably imagined that a life of financial comfort and good health follows a jackpot payout. That’s not how it goes, say two studies. GALLERY Twin rovers celebrate five years on Mars NASA’s plucky rovers have passed a milestone on the Red Planet. Relive their biggest discoveries – and some of their mishaps – in our gallery. ENVIRONMENT Top 7 alternative energies listed The US could replace all its cars and trucks with electric vehicles powered by wind turbines that would take up surprisingly little land. So says a detailed study ranking 11 types of non-fossil fuels according to their ecological footprints and their benefits to human health. COMMENT Why we can’t stop birds downing aircraft Bird strikes put lives at risk and cost aviation $1.3 billion globally by damaging and delaying planes. We explain why last week’s airliner splashdown in New York’s Hudson River is unlikely to be the last of its kind. GALLERY Advanced painting in ancient Egypt Wall paintings commissioned by an Egyptian accountant for his tombchapel 3000 years ago reveal new information about archaic painting techniques and the “ancient Michelangelo” who created them. To read these articles and more, visit www.NewScientist.com

24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 5


Modified imports vex US
AFTER a decade of exporting its genetically modified crops all over the world, the US is preparing to block foreign GM foods from entering the country – if they are deemed to threaten its agriculture, environment or citizens’ health, that is. The warning was given to the US Department of Agriculture, which polices agricultural imports, by its own auditor, the Office of Inspector General (OIG): “Unless international developments in transgenic plants and animals are closely monitored, USDA could be unaware of potential threats that particular new transgenic plants or animals might pose to the nation’s food supply.” The OIG expects the number of GM crops and traits, and the number of countries producing them, to double by 2015, raising the risks of imports of GM crops unknown to the USDA. The report urges the USDA to strengthen its links with countries where research is exploding, such as China, India and Brazil. China, for example, is ready to launch the world’s first commercial GM rice, but it has yet to be approved by the USDA. Problems will arise, says the OIG, when new GM products enter the US undeclared – the USDA would be unprepared to test or even identify them. The OIG cautions against blocks on imports that could be seen as trade barriers, however. In 2006, the World Trade Organization ruled in favour of the US, arguing that the European Union’s stringent regulations on GM crops were anti-free trade.

–Beware surprises in rice supplies–

Stern carbon call
NEVER mind the downturn, a green economic revolution must be launched within months, one of the world’s top economists has told New Scientist. “You do hear voices saying now is not the moment,” says Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank and economic adviser to the UK government. “Now is precisely the moment to make the change.” Stern believes that low-carbon technologies have the potential to fuel economic growth in a much more sustainable manner than previous booms based on the dot com and housing bubbles. With public money and incentives for private investment, low-carbon

There may be no better time. To reverse the slowdown, politicians have already been discussing some of the biggest cash injections in decades, Stern points out. What’s more, banks are dropping interest rates, which means investors can borrow at a lower cost. “It has got to be fast,” Stern warns. “The fiscal expansion has got to be put in place, the policy decisions have got to be taken in the next three to four months. They take time to kick in. The urgency of decision-making should be very clear to everybody.”
(see also Opinion, page 26)

Science a gogo
“SCIENCE, science, science and science.” That was the summary offered by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, when asked last week in a radio interview about the priorities of a new plan to revive the US economy. The $825 billion stimulus package now being considered by Congress – and championed by President Barack Obama – includes $10 billion for basic scientific research and to upgrade ageing laboratories. Priorities also include $11 billion

to modernise the electricity grid, $8 billion in loans for renewableenergy projects, and $6 billion to improve broadband internet access in rural and other underserved areas. Education will also get a boost if the stimulus bill passes, with $41 billion going to local school districts and $6 billion for university modernisation. Health information technology will receive a $20 billion payout, to help prevent medical errors and reduce the unnecessary procedures that make healthcare in the US so inefficient.

Frog in a hard place
PUT aside climate change and habitat destruction for a moment. Frogs are facing a more mundane threat: our insatiable appetite for them. David Bickford of the National University of Singapore and his team are calling for greater regulation of the global market for frog meat, in order to avoid species being “eaten to extinction” (Conservation Biology, DOI: –Appetite for destruction– 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01165.x).

“Low-carbon technologies could transform society in the way that railways did in the 19th century”
technologies could transform 21st-century society in the way that railways and information technologies did in previous centuries, he says.
6 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009

For more on these stories go to www.NewScientist.com/section/science-news


According to UN figures, global trade in frog meat has soared in the past 20 years. France and the US are the two largest importers, with France importing between 2500 and 4000 tonnes each year since 1995. Indonesia exports more than 5000 tonnes annually, mostly to Europe. Frogs’ legs are also very popular in Asian cuisine. Bickford estimates that about 180 million to a billion frogs are harvested each year worldwide. “That’s based on both sound data and an estimate of consumption for just Indonesia and China,” he says. “My 180 million minimum is almost laughably conservative.”

Stem cell stroke trial

A PIONEERING trial to test one of the big promises of stem cell science – treating the brain damage caused by stroke – poses technical challenges, but could be of enormous benefit if successful. “The hope is that the cells On 19 January, the company will differentiate and ReNeuron in Guildford, UK, won restore brain connections approval from the UK regulatory lost through the stroke” authority to inject neural stem cells, originally derived from embryonic stem cells, into the says principal investigator Keith brains of 12 stroke patients. The Muir of the Southern General main aim is to test for safety but Hospital in Glasgow. Instead the the hope is that the stem cells team is relying on brain scans to will differentiate into brain tissue reveal changes in activity.

and restore connections lost through the stroke. Working out whether this is happening might be tricky as the stem cells don’t have radioactive or chemical labels to distinguish them from the patients’ own cells,

Illegal loggers cut off
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has cancelled logging in about 13 million hectares of forest, its government said on Monday, after it reviewed 156 logging contracts. Only 65 of these were found to conform to minimum legal and environmental standards, and were untainted by corruption.

Atmosphere ahoy!
The glow of an alien planet’s atmosphere has been detected from Earth for the first time. The observations of OGLE-TR056b – a “hot Jupiter” – are good news because space-based telescopes used for the task so far, such as NASA’s Spitzer telescope, are set to lose the capability as they age.

HIV docs charged

A smarter way for oil firms to pay
identify locations linked to the Jonah natural gas field in Wyoming that are likely to be developed, even if they are some distance from the gas field itself. By paying to prevent such development, the oil company BP America was able to show that it is protecting endangered habitat. This has advantages over the traditional approach, in which companies atone for the local environmental damage they cause by improving habitat elsewhere. These so-called biodiversity offsets are supposed to result in no net loss to ecosystems, but restoring degraded land is expensive and not always successful. Kiesecker’s approach is now being tried at other sites in the western US.

THE imprisonment of two GETTING oil and gas companies to contain the harm they do to the prominent Iranian doctors on environment just got a little easier. charges of plotting to overthrow Companies are sometimes asked their government could impede to preserve pristine land to relations between medics in the compensate for the damage their west and Iran, and threatens operations do – both directly and global public health. through the roads, houses and towns The brothers Kamiar and Arash that spring up nearby. This poses Alaei pioneered HIV treatment a problem because the companies and prevention in Iran, and can easily claim credit for protecting helped heroin addicts, working land their activities would never with prostitutes and prisoners have damaged anyway. and distributing methadone, free Now Joe Kiesecker of The Nature syringes and condoms. They won Conservancy in Fort Collins, Colorado, the approval of the World Health and colleagues are applying a Organization and even Iran’s new approach. Using computer hard-line religious authorities. models based on data from the They were imprisoned in June US Department of the Interior, they and have now been charged. Joe predicted changes in land use to Amon of Human Rights Watch in New York suspects the brothers were singled out because of their US connections. Kamiar has a degree from Harvard University and both brothers spoke at US scientific meetings. If the charges discourage Iranian and western scientists from working together, this could pose difficulties outside Iran, as it has public health problems that require close monitoring, including HIV, drugresistant tuberculosis, H5N1 bird flu and the Ug99 wheat fungus, which threatens global food –Home for antelope, not people– production.

Mainland biolab
A centre for research on serious livestock diseases will be built on the US mainland, the Department of Homeland Security announced on 16 January. The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas, will supersede the offshore Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, despite misgivings about building such a lab on the mainland, near a large human population.

The hot top 10
Last year was a hot one, ensuring that the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997, the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, announced last week. Global land and ocean temperatures have increased by 0.05 °C each decade, on average, since 1880, when records began.

No CJD negligence
Six French health officials were cleared last week of negligence in causing the deaths of 117 people from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The defendants had injected infants with tainted growth hormone from a cadaver with CJD in the 1980s. But the court ruled that they couldn’t have foreseen any risk at that time.

24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 7


Stealthy paternity and infidelity tests can destroy privacy and tear familes apart, but the law is struggling to keep up. Peter Aldhous and Michael Reilly investigate


“Even dishonourable behaviour should not automatically strip someone of all privacy”

8 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009

The AABB gives no guarantee that the firms’ testing of “abandoned” DNA is accurate. ChamberlainGordon testified that she had found female DNA on his underwear that did not match her own. “Companies cannot affiliate those tests results with their accreditation. If Chamberlain-Gordon had suspected a particular woman and obtained her toothbrush.” Test Infidelity’s website promises. These allow a man to determine whether he is the father of a child without letting anyone else know what he is up to. “The emotional consequences are not something that anybody is going to forget. This regulatory vacuum raises serious privacy issues. nor does it condone the practice. Arizona. and handled with a chain of custody that is robust enough to stand up in court. While the total number of stealthy DNA tests being conducted is unclear. law and policy director with the Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC. extensive enquiries by New Scientist have uncovered no evidence that they have been used against firms running these tests. The results of paternity and infidelity tests can tear families apart. Customers might think some do. the company could also have analysed DNA from that to look for a match. If she had instead sent the underwear to a DNA testing company. In the UK. a former professional in the Canadian Football League. though. denied infidelity. Meanwhile. “Even if you are talking about someone engaged in behaviour that you may find dishonourable. part of Johns Hopkins University. For instance. accusing her of misusing state equipment by running the tests. but at a divorce hearing in March 2007. and Chamberlain-Gordon was fired a few months later. A coffee can have consequences far beyond a caffeine high 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 9 .” says Gail Javitt. she took his underwear to her place of work – a police forensic lab in Lansing. But minimal regulation and oversight mean such tests may be unreliable.For more on these stories go to www.NewScientist. The Michigan State Police agreed. you can send in a pair of his or her underwear to test for the presence of another person’s genetic material. > BEWARE THE RESULTS Do stealthy infidelity and paternity DNA tests produce accurate results? You would hope so. interviews with genetic testing companies indicate that thousands are being run each year in the US alone. Michigan. Many of the companies running stealthy tests are accredited for paternity testing through a voluntary scheme run by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) in Bethesda. But this accreditation applies only to tests on DNA collected using standard methods such as cheek swabs. this doesn’t mean that person should be automatically stripped of all privacy. Test Infidelity is just one of dozens of US companies offering to test DNA taken without the knowledge of the people concerned. Chamberlain-Gordon could have kept her job. So firms that test DNA without consent could cause real harm – especially to vulnerable children. “If you suspect your partner is being unfaithful. rather than taking matters into her own hands. Maryland. displays a prominent notice saying “AABB accredited” on a web page that suggests ways to collect abandoned DNA for paternity testing. some other firms offering stealthy tests have no AABB accreditation. The opposing attorney quickly turned the tables on the forensic scientist. Many firms advertise infidelity testing services or offer “discreet” paternity tests. California. such as Test Infidelity of Chatsworth. or a woman to tell whether a man is the father of her child without involving him in the process.” says Nikki Bass of the AABB. given their emotional consequences. Her husband. however.com/section/science-news WHEN Ann Chamberlain-Gordon suspected that her husband was cheating. say legal experts. But though some US states have passed laws that arguably might outlaw aspects of infidelity or discreet paternity testing. such tests are already illegal. say.” says Denise Syndercombe-Court. who runs a DNA testing lab at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Chromosomal Laboratories of Phoenix.

there is a steady demand. expensive” Police scientists also use STRs. Test Infidelity charges $275. “If everything we do is legal. including requests for relevant public records. however. a former lover of Princess Diana.” In the US – the largest market for genetic tests – there is no federal law clarifying people’s right to privacy with regard to “abandoned” DNA. That’s for Jerry Springer. and it’s not that horribly expensive. With prices within the reach of many people’s wallets. Since September 2006. such as our susceptibility to various diseases. according to interviews with companies offering the tests. But despite enquiries. Test Infidelity’s parent company. We just do the science. But companies like GTL and Test Infidelity are not offering to reveal people’s medical secrets. I believe the people should be entitled to have what they want. despite the harm that could result. New Mexico. Texas. provide a list of the various items they can process. what was claimed to be the remains of Barack Obama’s breakfast was offered for sale on eBay. charges $450 for a test involving one “forensic” sample. DNA can be mined for deeply personal information. saliva on a toothbrush – anything containing enough cells to extract a usable sample of DNA.” he says. basing his claim on a DNA test conducted on chewing gum used by his supposed child. Discreet paternity tests cost a similar amount: the DNA Identity Testing Center of Lewisville. with a maximum penalty of two years in jail. sparking a legal dispute that was eventually settled in the federal supreme and constitutional courts – which ruled the stealthy test inadmissible. Stealthy tests represent a small portion of the total genetic testing business. while in Germany legislation to outlaw stealthy DNA testing is in the works following a lengthy legal battle. One place this should not be happening is the UK. page 9). Australia is considering introducing a similar law. The German case concerned a man who contested paternity. “It’s remarkably popular. Arizona. It’s not horribly whether two people are related. Even in New York. quoting prices and the likelihood of getting a usable DNA sample for each. says his company processes around 1000 infidelity tests each year.” suggests Barry Lenett of DNA Plus. Some companies. He’s acting for himself. “His DNA is on the silverware. For example. But with many firms offering these services. Along with sources like semen stains. In most other countries. “We don’t get into the emotional aspect of it.” It is not even clear whether all of the firms offering stealthy DNA tests are delivering accurate results – so it is possible that some people’s lives are being turned upside down by scientific errors (see “Beware the results”. could be judged illegal (see “DNA and the law”). That includes hairs on a brush. The resulting survey identified several states where collecting DNA samples for infidelity or discreet paternity testing. So New Scientist teamed up with the Genetics and Public Policy Center to find out whether any laws in individual states might apply. where a pioneering law outlawing surreptitious testing came into effect more than two years ago (see “Celebrity concerns drive privacy law”). Matching DNA from the stain with that from an item used by a particular suspect costs another $175. or running the tests themselves. leaving our genetic calling card on items that can be picked up by others and analysed. DNA can be extracted from such mundane items as coffee cups. “I think they do it because they can. Brandt Cassidy of DNA Solutions in Oklahoma City says that less than 5 per cent of the roughly 500 paternity tests run by his firm each year involve DNA from items such as chewing gum and drinking glasses. and TV crime dramas may have helped fuel demand for the technology. Will it take a highprofile court case or the violation of a celebrity’s genetic privacy to get lawmakers in other countries to grapple with the issue? We may not have to wait long to find out: in April last year. Vladimir Bolin. where the state’s Department of Health does police 10 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 . it has been a crime in the UK to take human bodily material with the intent of analysing DNA without consent. stealthy DNA testing has encountered few legal obstacles. Nobody has yet been prosecuted. who heads Chromosomal Laboratories in Phoenix.” argues Lenett of DNA Plus. reports emerged of an alleged plot to steal hair from Prince Harry to test whether he was the son of James Hewitt. chewing gum and even a wellworn hat.” the seller wrote. but the penalty is a fine and a prison sentence of up to three years. “CSI has gotten the public into doing these tests. We all continually shed cells into the environment. This evidence was initially accepted. or individuals ordering them. including Genetic Testing Laboratories (GTL) of Las Cruces. he’s not acting for the child. they test for “CSI has gotten DNA sequences called short tandem the public into repeats (STRs) which vary greatly from doing these person to person and so are ideal for identifying individuals or determining tests.” To compare your own DNA with a stain from bedding or clothing. New Scientist could find no sign that these laws had been used to crack down on companies running these tests. SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES CELEBRITY CONCERNS DRIVE PRIVACY LAW The UK’s pioneering “DNA theft” law is in part a response to fears that celebrities’ genetic secrets could be exposed in the tabloid press. when it called for the law to be tightened to protect people’s genetic information. it seems that thousands of tests are run each year on the sly. In 2002. The danger of an “unscrupulous journalist” analysing DNA from a coffee cup used by a public figure was also among the concerns of the UK Human Genetics Commission that same year. Instead.SPECIAL INVESTIGATION / GENETIC PRIVACY “Let’s say a man wants to do these tests without the mother knowing.

000. without the prior written and informed consent of the individual to be tested.. Fine of up to $6250.com/section/science-news In 2008. there has been little action on stealthy testing.NewScientist. In addition. Fine of up to $1000 FLORIDA Not specified NEW HAMPSHIRE 6 months in jail..” says Ron Canestrari. When the law was introduced. for example. or disclose the results of a DNA analysis unless the person has first obtained the informed and written consent of the person. documents obtained by New Scientist under the state’s Freedom of Information Law show that over the past five years the department has written to more than 20 companies telling them that separate New York regulations demand that paternity or identity tests must be ordered by someone with legal authority. the New York State Department of Health wrote to the paternity testing firm DNA Services of America in Lafayette. or from an individual’s DNA sample. someone put Barack Obama’s breakfast. the department has issued no specific warnings about paternity or infidelity tests run on DNA taken from everyday items without consent. and the results of such DNA analysis.dnapolicy. now leader of the Democratic majority in the New York State Assembly. For further analysis. or the person's legal guardian.For more on these stories go to www.. prompting an investigation. DNA on the side. it has been illegal to perform a genetic test on a resident of New York State. covering health-related tests only.” she says. or from an individual's DNA sample. without consent. perform a DNA analysis on a sample. has taken no action against companies running such tests. “There should be clear boundaries on what is off-limits. without first obtaining informed consent of the individual or the individual’s representative" OREGON Civil right of action for damages Civil right of action for damages Up to 1 year in jail. are the exclusive property of the person tested" Genetic information "may be collected…only with the written consent of the individual…[and] may be used only for purposes for which the individual has given consent" MINNESOTA "No genetic testing shall be done in this state on any individual or anywhere on any resident of this state based on bodily materials obtained within this state. Civil right of action for damages Up to three years in jail and a fine The UK explicitly outlaws stealthy DNA testing “A person commits an offence if he has any bodily material intending…that any human DNA in the material be analysed without qualifying consent” companies to ensure they abide by regulations on genetic testing in general. Louisiana. This may have helped to prevent some stealthy tests. And the New York’s Office of the Attorney General.. But the law was drafted with a broad definition of genetic testing to allow for future developments. Better still. including for law enforcement. “We wanted it to be as encompassing as possible. retain a DNA sample or the results of a DNA analysis. Other laws have narrower scope. on eBay DNA and the law These US states have laws* and penalties that could apply to infidelity or paternity testing on the sly "A person may not collect a DNA sample from a person. Fine of $1000 NEW MEXICO Up to 90 days in jail. who sponsored the law. whether held by a public or private entity. without first obtaining informed consent from the individual or the individual's representative" NEW JERSEY “No person shall obtain genetic information or samples for genetic analysis from a person without first obtaining informed and written consent from the person or the person's authorized representative… Genetic analysis of a person. a resident of New York or any other state with a relevant law who suspects that their DNA has been tested illegally could make an official complaint. however "DNA analysis may be performed only with the informed consent of the person to be tested. few people had heard of DNA testing for infidelity." This does not apply to paternity testing. Still. In October 2007. reminding it of the law requiring consent for genetic tests. or addressing the disclosure of genetic information but not collection of DNA and testing. and they are not mentioned specifically. ■ See next week’s issue for part 2 of this investigation 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 11 UK *Many of these laws have exceptions. Fine of $5000. In theory.or the legal guardian" "No person shall obtain genetic information from an individual. such as a doctor or a court official. or discreet paternity tests. Civil right of action for damages Up to 1 year in jail. Javitt argues that there should be a public debate on the ethics of stealthy DNA testing as well as legislation at the national level. Civil right of action for damages ALASKA Up to 1 year in jail.without the informed and written consent of the person or the person's authorized representative is prohibited” "No person shall perform a genetic test on a biological sample taken from an individual without the prior written informed consent of such individual" NEW YORK "A person may not obtain genetic information from an individual. Fine of up to $10.org . Since 1996. or to disclose its results. see http://www. which would prosecute breaches of the 1996 law.

blood flow still increased when the macaque expected a flash. Functional MRI scans measure blood flow in the brain. a finding that may guide future brain scan experiments. “The geoglyphs visible today are the most recent stage of a prolonged construction process during which the whole complex of drawings was constantly added to. an area of about 60 hectares. But Das says care needs to be taken in future to ensure that this misinterpretation does not lead to errors. for example. but there was no subsequent increase in electrical activity from firing neurons (Nature.” WHO director Margaret Chan warns that conditions in the densely populated Gaza Strip have become conducive to infection and disease transmission following Israel’s military offensive (AFP. the Netherlands. They were created between 400 BC and AD 650 by the removal of reddish oxidised stones from the desert pavement to reveal the lighter sand beneath. or as markers that tracked celestial objects. “We found other lines.THIS WEEK SOUNDBITES Peruvians walked their prayers into the earth THE ancient. Italy. Now. nothing in the world is harder than picking yourself up after a cataclysm… and moving forward.” adds Gorka. intricate geometric patterns stamped on the surface of a desert in Peru have long been thought of as messages to the gods. we very sadly see ideal conditions for outbreaks of disease.” Pamela Anderson in a letter to the municipal commissioner of Mumbai after the city ordered the killing of stray dogs to control their numbers (BBC News Online. and fix their gaze on the light if it shone green. Some of the lines produced stronger magnetic anomalies than others. using hand-held sensors. giant trapezoids. a rush of blood to a certain brain region is not always linked to neural activity there.” perhaps as offerings.1038/nature07664).” NASA climate scientist James Hansen urges the incoming president to take urgent action to halt global warming (The Guardian. Das suspects that the brain sent the rush of blood in anticipation of the neurons’ firing. which were not visible from the air. Das used separate techniques to measure blood flow and neural activity in the visual cortex of two macaques trained to carry out a visual task. plants and animals in a desert 400 kilometres south of Lima. Now new details about these geoglyphs suggest they may have been made for “prayer walking”. Neuroscientists interpret this as a sign that neurons are firing. Peru. This enables them to link the emotion 12 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 to the brain region where there was blood flow. Sitting in darkness except for a light that switched on at regular intervals. and figures of humans. who presented his findings at an archaeological geophysics meeting in London last month.” says Gorka. London. quickly and permanently. When the timing of the pauses between the light flashes changed. and we’ve done it. “This activity was closely connected to the placing of ceramic vessels along the lines. The Nasca lines are a collection of lines. 19 January) Old prayer walks beneath the new? Magnetic anomalies reveal intricate lines beneath the Nasca geoglyphs in Peru AERIAL PHOTO Visible from above Strongest lines detected with magnetometry Weakest lines detected with magnetometry 50 m “We could explain certain mistakes that Galileo made: why he described the planet Saturn as having ‘lateral ears’ rather than having seen it encircled by rings. but… they can be ‘fixed’ – painlessly. remodelled. on seeking Galileo’s DNA to investigate the cause of his SOURCE: THOMASZ GORKA degenerating eyesight (AFP.” Paolo Galluzzi of the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence. He measured anomalies in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by changes in soil density at various depths. usually as someone performs a task or experiences an emotion. says Lambers. The team walked the entire site.” Outgoing NASA chief Michael Griffin speaking at a farewell address about the resumption of shuttle flights after the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003. Tomasz Gorka of Munich University in Germany analysed five geoglyph complexes near the city of Palpa. does not believe the result is relevant to the design of previous fMRI experiments and so is unlikely to have an impact on their results. in the interior of the trapezoid structures. 19 January) “Nothing. DOI: 10. prompting Gorka and Karsten Lambers of the University of Konstanz in Germany to suggest that the soil beneath was compacted by people walking back and forth during prayer rituals. which killed seven astronauts (Los Angeles Times. 18 January) . Aniruddha Das from Columbia University in New York and colleagues have shown that blood flow can occur without accompanying neural activity. Christian Keysers from the BCN Neuroimaging Centre in Groningen. David Robson ■ “We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. focusing on the large trapezoidal structures which are etched on the plains there. 17 January) Brain’s blood surge doesn’t match activity CONTRARY to popular belief. the monkeys were trained to look away if it was red. obliterated or changed by use. Linda Geddes ■ “Dogs cannot use condoms. 15 January) “Right now.

org/abs/0812. However. Zurich. According to this method. they would have influenced how the universe evolved. “Knowing whether it is increasing or decreasing governs the conservation activities. “It is a great confirmation of what new molecular techniques can do for wildlife censusing. DOI: 10. UK. But when Guschanski’s team analysed DNA samples from each pile of dung using a new genetic counting method. who construct more than one nest if the original nest starts leaking during a rainstorm. “It would if we also knew that these stars were primordial first stars.For more news go to www. These could have formed via two methods: a dynamo mechanism. and before they leave in the morning. conservationists estimate gorilla numbers by counting nests and examining the dung outside each one. so they “The fossil magnetic fields found around these young stars could indeed be primordial” must have come from elsewhere. Germany.1016/j. but these figures may also be inaccurate.” says Miniati. they defecate outside it. it does not prove that primordial magnetic fields existed. the gas and dust between stars. “This is completely in agreement with the fossil field theory. If primordial magnetic fields existed. says James Burton of the Earthwatch Institute in Oxford.com/section/science-news DNA tests reveal gorillas in dire straits Linda Geddes MOUNTAIN gorillas are in more trouble than we thought. Anil Ananthaswamy ■ 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 13 PAUL SOUDERS/CORBIS .” says Guschanski. he adds that the team is not entirely sure of their origin. For instance. there are 336 gorillas left in the 331-square-kilometre national park. as they would be billions of light years away. “but it could indeed be primordial”. as these young stars have not existed long enough to generate their own fields.” says Catala. the population estimate dropped by 10 per cent to 302. This has been observed in studies of lowland gorillas. Traditionally. Catala agrees. existing or planned. It might also mean that the gorilla population in the park is not growing after all – a census in 1997 found 300 gorillas. “it is much better to have an accurate estimation of the population”. but we will need to wait for another four to five years to assess how it is changing. that could see the first primordial stars.biocon. Claude Catala of the Paris Observatory in France and colleagues believe they have found “fossils” of primordial magnetic fields. they could have skewed its expansion in one direction. This suggests that some individuals had been counted twice using the old technique (Biological Conservation. The team were attempting to answer a puzzle in astronomy: why a small fraction of so-called main sequence A/B stars have very strong and ordered magnetic fields. “We assumed that each individual constructs a single nest. “Each individual constructs a nest to sleep in.2008. but genetic analysis shows that several individuals construct more than one nest. The astronomers used the CanadaHawaii-France Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to measure the splitting of the HAeBe stars’ spectra by their magnetic fields and found they have fields of a few hundredths of a tesla (www. This rules out the dynamo mechanism. known as HAeBe stars.024). This is one of only two places worldwide where the gorillas survive in the wild. –Thin on the ground– “Probably the safest thing is to assume that the population is stable.” The estimate of 380 for the mountain gorillas living in the other main reserve – Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo – may be more accurate. or by inheriting fossil fields that existed in the interstellar medium. while one in 2003 found 320 individuals.” Although it is bad news that the population is slightly smaller than expected. which they are not.3805). The team focused on the precursors to such stars.10.NewScientist. or if a youngster finds the one that it has just built uncomfortable. says that while the study agrees with the fossil field theory. ■ Stars’ magnetic fossils may come from big bang THE discovery of magnetic “fossils” around young stars in the Milky Way has boosted the case for the existence of magnetic fields right after the big bang. As these stars are very faint and scarce in our galaxy. which are in a stage of evolution in which gas and dust is still collapsing into the star due to gravity. says Catala. as the gorillas are more accustomed to human contact and can therefore be counted directly. it has been impossible to detect and measure magnetic fields in these stars before. she adds.” says Guschanski. due to their rotation.arxiv. “Now we don’t really know what is happening with this population.” says Katerina Guschanski at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig. Fewer of them are living in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) than previous estimates suggest.” says Marcus Rowcliffe of the Institute of Zoology in London. Now. but says that there is no telescope. Francesco Miniati at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Mark Wieczorek and Matthieu Le Feuvre at the Paris Institute of Earth 14 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 Physics in France studied the relative age and distribution of 46 known craters. which can’t explain all the cases. Such an impact would have put the satellite’s rotation rate out of whack. leaving behind many times more matter than they actually consume but there is little sign that this happened. that some jets are powered by It would have been next to spinning black holes. using data about the sequence in which ejected material was deposited on the surface. which makes it more likely to be hit by debris.” McNamara says.6+7421 (pictured). the older craters were mostly congregated in the east. with potentially devastating consequences for their host galaxies.6 billion light years if it gets released again in the form from Earth. Although the youngest impact basins were concentrated in the western hemisphere. But he says impossible for matter falling into he is still waiting for “definitive the black hole to power these jets.2008. when Wieczorek and Le Feuvre compared the relative ages of the craters. Black hole jets are Observatory revealed the biggest increasingly suspected of outpouring of energy ever sterilising their host galaxies. Though the details of how these jets are produced remain murky.arxiv. STSCI. says Wieczorek. billions of times the energy of a supernova.icarus.3020). be stored in black hole spin. “It would have had to essentially vacuum all of the matter that was in that galaxy down into the black hole in a period of 100 million years. for the same reason that more raindrops strike a moving car’s front windshield than its rear. more than 3. The far side of the moon never faces us.THIS WEEK NASA. The handful of lunar-rock debris collected from craters formed by a big enough smash suggest that the moon turned to face the other way more than 3. “A large asteroid impact may have started the moon turning. and about 2.org/ abs/0811. However. David Shiga ■ Did moon’s far side once face the Earth? BILLIONS of years ago. NRAO Spinning black holes are the ultimate batteries YOU wouldn’t want to be nearby when a spinning black hole lets rip. Many of the supermassive black holes that lurk at the centre of galaxies fire out powerful plasma jets that extend for millions of light years. it would have settled into the current position. proof”.9 billion years ago” This could be explained if a large asteroid impact had set the moon turning. for example. rotation. It now seems they can store and unleash the energy of billions of supernovae. gouged out by impacts from debris originating in the solar system’s asteroid belt. when an asteroid flipped the moon around. Canada. According to earlier computer simulations. it could have profound galaxy from the Chandra X-ray effects. “Accretion of matter onto a black hole is very inefficient” (www. so that for tens of thousands of years it would have appeared to slowly turn as viewed from Earth. heating and blowing away gas Based on cavities the jets have before it can condense to form apparently punched through new stars. –Record-breaking galaxy– The black hole could have been set spinning in the first place by may be the strongest evidence yet matter falling onto it much earlier in its lifetime or in the course of a for jets powered by black hole merger with another black hole. identified from black hole jets.1016/ j.9 billion years ago. ESA. because the moon rotates once for every orbit it makes of the Earth. the team Chris Reynolds of the calculates that in the past 100 University of Maryland in College million years or so jets have Park says this strengthens the case put out 1055 joules. as expected. the moon’s western hemisphere as viewed from Earth should have about 30 per cent more craters than the eastern hemisphere. Now a team led by Brian McNamara of the University of Waterloo. and we know nature doesn’t work that way. In 2005 data on this of jets. DOI: 10. they found the opposite to be true. Eventually. Yet an analysis of impact craters shows the far side may once have pointed our way. there seems to be only two plausible power sources: one is matter falling onto the black hole. the surrounding gas. It comes from a galaxy A huge amount of energy can called MS0735. That’s because the west always faces in the direction in which the moon orbits. The other source is the black hole’s stored rotational energy.12. CXC. Calculations suggest it should be possible for jets to siphon off energy at the expense of the black hole’s rotation as long as magnetic fields are present to connect the black hole to any matter nearby. the man in the moon may have performed the ultimate about-face. has found what Supermassive black holes are messy eaters. Asian probes currently circling the moon could reveal additional craters that would support the about-face idea. Persuasive evidence for this has been lacking. This suggests that the eastern face had once been bombarded more than the western face (Icarus.017). Richard Fisher ■ . That leaves black hole spin as the only other energy source.

a cognitive neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. an amputee operating a robotic hand could either break a wine glass by grasping it too tightly. “My first reaction was: they don’t have a hand. As the rubber and real hands must normally be stroked in the same place. especially in those who had lost their hands most recently (Brain. Still. While the illusion was weaker in the amputees than in people with intact hands. The volunteer also experiences the eerie feeling that the rubber hand is part of their own body.For daily news go to www. If you place a rubber hand in front of a volunteer and stroke it with a brush while simultaneously brushing one of their own hands. The illusion arises from our brain’s attempts to reconcile conflicting information from different senses. which were hidden from view. if the individual had more experience.NewScientist. “They were expecting it to hurt. by connecting sensors in the fingers to actuators that deliver touches to the stump. whose team at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City is working on ways to provide sensory feedback from a robotic hand says: “They got effects from very limited training. it feels as if the sensations are coming from the rubber hand. Ehrsson says that the illusion could be combined with electrical nerve stimulation. The illusion also had physiological effects: once an amputee started viewing the rubber hand as part of their own body. for about two minutes. Clark suspects that it may be difficult to transmit the full range of sensory information to the brain without some direct electrical stimulation of the nerves. or let it fall to the floor by failing to apply enough grip. for example.” Ehrsson is now working with hand surgeon and neuroscientist Göran Lundborg of Malmö University Hospital in Sweden to apply the illusion to advanced robotic prosthetics. Sweden.1093/ brain/awn297). decided to see if a trick “My first reaction was: they don’t have a hand. His team recruited 18 amputees who had lost a hand and stroked their stumps. So instead Henrik Ehrsson. That encourages me to believe that the effects would grow larger. hidden from view. DOI: 10. Greg Clark. One potential solution is to wire sensors in robotic fingers directly into nerves in the stump. Although sophisticated robotic prosthetics can now replace amputated hands. it wasn’t clear if this would be enough to induce the illusion. tests designed to measure the extent to which people fall for the illusion showed that stroking someone’s stump still works. ■ ANITA STOCKSELIUS & ANN RAGNÖ –The illusion works every time– 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 15 . so how can the illusion work on amputees?” known as the “rubber hand illusion” could provide a simpler alternative. they don’t yet provide the brain with the sensory feedback vital to control fine movement.” Ehrsson explains.com/section/science-news Brain trick makes robot hand feel real Peter Aldhous A BIZARRE illusion that makes people believe a false hand is part of their own body could be all it takes to imbue prosthetic limbs with a sense of touch. Their goal is to design robotic hands that create the illusory sensations automatically. stabbing it with a needle caused a change to their skin’s electrical conductance as they came out in a cold sweat. Ehrsson wondered if he could use the same illusion to “trick” amputees into interpreting strokes applied to their stump as coming from a prosthetic hand. at the same time as a fleshylooking rubber hand. Without feeling pressure from the fingertips. but this poses some technical challenges. How can it work?” says Ehrsson.

vol 457. Andy Ridgwell’s team at the University of Bristol. This is a major family of fish with species employing the full range of mating behaviours from monogamy to “sperm shopping”. and can vary within varieties of a species. The team found that sperm of monogamous fish were small and slow. It is known that sperm from promiscuous chimps move faster than those from relatively monogamous gorillas.12. DOI: 10. They found that temperate regions would benefit the most.08-111054). Studies in other species have produced conflicting results. Regional changes in atmospheric circulation may also play a role.1073/pnas. DOI: 10. p 459).IN BRIEF STEPHEN KAZLOWSKI/SCIENCE FACTION/GETTY Breeding crops to keep us cool REPLACING today’s crops with strains that reflect more sunlight could help fight global warming. Sigal 18 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 Balshine of McMaster University in Hamilton. Seattle.” says Schneider. and colleagues used satellite data and statistical techniques to fill in the gaps left by the sparse network of weather stations. while the continent’s interior cooled. a sugar that summons stem cells from the bone marrow in order to build extra blood vessels and feed the tissue. “I don’t question this mechanism. This overturns previous suggestions that only the Antarctic Peninsula is heating up.” says Eric Kueneman of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. studied the effect of a global switch to higher-albedo varieties of all crops.” says co-author David Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. with the strongest warming occurring over western Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula (Nature. Ontario. Plants reflect some of the incoming solar energy back into space.025).5 °C. where farmland dominates.1096/fj. but Antarctica is getting warmer IT’S official: all of Antarctica is warming.” says team member John Fitzpatrick of the University of Western Australia in Perth. in particular following a heart attack. Previously. UK. When Erik Suuronen at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Ontario. Alarm-call chemical to speed healing INJECTIONS of a natural “SOS” chemical have increased the blood supply to damaged muscle in rats. causing a strengthening of the circumpolar winds and preventing warm air from reaching the interior. “But [promiscuous] species have more competitive ejaculates. in North America and Eurasia. with the most promiscuous producing superman sperm. The proportion a particular plant reflects. temperatures could drop by as much as 1 °C during the summer (Current Biology. but no one knew if this was common among animals. Maybe it’s cold outside. Many mates make for superman sperm SPERM that are forced into competing with sperm from other individuals evolve to be faster and fitter in just about every way. there were more of them. known as its albedo. Eric Steig of the University of Washington. The majority of weather stations on Antarctica sit around the coast. Damaged mammalian cells produce sialyl Lewisx. For example. larger. . injected extra sialyl Lewisx into rats with damaged hind limbs. and they lived longer. Colorado. Canada.0809990106). Canada. “Climate change mitigation through plant breeding is a novel idea that merits consideration. “The decline in sea ice cover in the Amundsen Sea appears to be linked to the warming of west Antarctica. and colleagues studied 29 species of cichlid fish living in Lake Tanganyika in central Africa.1016/j. in which a female gets several males to fertilise the eggs that she carries in her mouth (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They were almost twice as fast. The revised records show that between 1957 and 2006 temperatures rose by around 0. To settle the issue. with only two providing an unbroken record from the continent’s interior. DOI: 10. This has given a misleading picture of climate trends over the continent. He now wants to find out whether this accelerates muscle healing. but the underlying warming trend suggests that a lot more is going on.cub. the limbs grew four times as many blood vessels and received twice as much blood flow compared to controls (FASEB Journal. size and waxiness of its leaves. scientists believed the apparent cooling of the continent was linked to the depletion of the ozone layer.2008. depends on the shape.

very difficult. which can result in chronic infections. a type of enzyme that modifies the activity of other proteins and can cause cancer in mammals (Science. or to work outside on road crews. DOI: 10. He found that those termed psychopaths. they push administrators to gain better food. and even the legal system.com/section/science-news Methane hints at life on Mars CONTRARY to a few media reports last week.141). Steve Porter of Dalhousie University in Halifax. resources. Since several cancer drugs work by inhibiting protein kinases.1126/ science. JPL/NASA Cancer drugs could fight antibiotic-resistant “sleeper” bugs CANCER drugs may serve as an unexpected new weapon against some deadly antibioticresistant bacteria. were up to 2. something Brennan’s team plans to look into. “This is the very first evidence of local methane sources. some observations have suggested that it is not distributed evenly across the planet. But some bacteria take a different approach: in response to an antibiotic they hunker down and simply “sleep” through the onslaught. but acted on different starting compounds than it does naturally. DOI: 10. Ann Arbor. So Sarah O’Connor and Weerawat Runguphan at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned to the Madagascar periwinkle Catharanthus roseus (pictured). Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. but the possibility remains that microbes produced the gas. They were also “much more likely to then violate their parole than non-psychopaths”. Nova Scotia. Pockets of the gas may have been created through the interaction of water and volcanic rock. based on a standard psychological test. psychopathic criminals get let out of prison sooner than others – in Canada. biologic or geologic – and that is exciting. studied records of 310 male inmates from a Canadian prison. “In prison. Psychopaths tend to be unusually adept at manipulating others. DOI: 10.For more on these stories go to www. They also found that the protein is a kinase. at least. When the antibiotics are stopped. or even giving existing ones slightly different properties. this raises the possibility of using them to treat some forms of antibiotic resistance.5 times as likely as other prisoners to get out of jail early. They will also investigate whether kinases cause dormancy in other persistent bacteria. Since then. To find out how effective psychopaths are at duping parole boards. 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 19 .1163806). It is unclear what mechanism beneath the surface is producing the methane. to their advantage. has pinpointed methane plumes in three areas just north of the Martian equator (pictured in red.1126/ science/1165243). the findings will not help combat hospital superbugs MRSA or Clostridium difficile as their resistance does not come from “sleeping” through attacks. a team led by Michael Mumma of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. he says. below). Methane was first discovered on Mars in 2003.” says Mumma (Science. who created the psychological tests. the dormant bacteria reawaken. “Many prison officials have told me that they need better training about what a psychopath is. Novel alkaloid molecules that chemists can only dream of synthesising in the lab have been made using the cellular machinery of the periwinkle plant. Now Richard Brennan of the M. “Whatever the source.1038/nchembio. Now.” says Sushil Atreya at the University of Michigan. Maryland. Antibiotic resistance often emerges when bacteria evolve methods of destroying particular drugs or pumping them out of their cells. instead hinting at wide areas where the gas is abundant. But the most sensitive measurements ever made of atmospheric methane – which on Earth is produced mostly by organisms – highlight a few places where life may exist unseen.NewScientist. When they inserted the gene into periwinkle cells and cultured them in various compounds. Naturally occurring alkaloids such as morphine and the anti-cancer drug vinblastine are already extracted from plants for medical applications. such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Bob Hare of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. They modified the gene for one enzyme involved in an early stage of the process so that it retained its role in making alkaloids. EDWARD PARKER/ALAMY Cunning crooks con their way out of jail DESPITE the serious nature of their offences.” he says. However. D. it indicates the presence of liquid water underground and that there is some type of activity going on. which could turn out to have medical uses (Nature. Plant cells harnessed to build new drugs STEP aside synthetic chemists. a plant that naturally makes vinblastine via a complex series of chemical reactions. the cells made a range of new alkaloids. life has not been found on Mars.” says Kent Kiehl of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The chemical complexity of alkaloids makes creating new ones in the lab. says parole boards may need help to tackle the problem. and colleagues have shown that Hip A gives the bacterium Escherichia coli the ability to sleep through an antibiotic attack. Texas. Previous studies had suggested that such sleeper bacteria overproduce a protein called Hip A.

At the point in the disc where the beams intersect. the device is the smallest of its kind (Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.NewScientist. The Pentagon admitted last week that it is using two covert inspection satellites developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to assess damage to a failed geostationary satellite – something no one suspected the US could do. the team says. particularly China. Developed by engineers at Monash University in Victoria. thanks to the creation of a tiny mechanical motor. go to www. DOI: 10. fewer bonds form between them. they interfere with each other to create islands of bright light and regions of darkness. thanks to better materials. To write the data. have replaced the small monomers with larger ones. The micro-satellites are trying to nail the problem. including potential anti-satellite missions. they could probably attack it. have been jetting around the geostationary ring and have now jointly inspected DSP 23. Where the lasers’ interference pattern creates bright areas on the disc. but which stopped working a year after its November 2007 launch. My other disc is a hologram FORGET Blu-ray. Australia. One initial problem was that the polymers from which the discs are made tend to shrink during this process. creating distortions that make it difficult to read the data back. One beam has been encoded with patches representing 0s and 1s by shining it through a digital “mask”.” she says. will find this suspicious. Facebook was concerned that automatic alerts telling people they had been dumped infringed the dumpers’ privacy (The New York Times. which were launched in 2006. The motor could propel a microbot through the bloodstream at up to 6 centimetres per second. The data is stored in this pattern.1039/b816298k). compared with 1. “Whopper Sacrifice has been sacrificed” A Burger King message terminating the popular Facebook application. 15 January) 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 21 . is troubled by the secrecy surrounding launch of the Mitex craft. which like a hologram can be read back with another laser. she says. “Other nations. small monomer molecules 40bn online music files were shared illegally in 2008.com/section/tech US plays ‘I spy a broken sat’ SPY satellites have a new role: as well as watching us they are now spying on each other.1088/ 09601317/19/2/022001). notably China. DOI: 10. If such satellites can get that close to a target. reducing this shrinkage and eliminating distortions. It raises questions about their future use. the motor uses a piezoelectric material that vibrates in response to an applied electric field to rotate a flagellumlike tail. The Department of Defense says its Mitex micro-satellites. which gave users a free burger in return for dumping 10 “friends”. will find this development suspicious – and the US behaviour regarding the programme as hypocritical. –Under surveillance– Tiny motor could power microbots SWIMMING microbots small enough to make their way through arteries are a step closer. given that Washington is always chastising Beijing for its lack of transparency regarding its space programmes and intentions. they add.4 billion legal downloads.TECHNOLOGY NORTHROP GRUMMAN For daily technology stories. and the US behaviour hypocritical” “I am positive other nations. At just a quarter of a millimetre in diameter. two laser beams are aimed at a disc of lightsensitive polymer. Compared with sensors and microchips. Santa Barbara. says the recording industry link up to form chains with a different refractive index. who becomes director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva this week. Theresa Hitchens. Discs which can store 20 times as much data in 3D holograms just moved a step closer. So Craig Hawker’s team at the University of California. Hawker says (Chemical Communications. Because these take up more space. which was designed to pinpoint clandestine missile launches and nuclear tests. mechanical motors have not shrunk significantly in the last 50 years.

5 kilometres up for places of interest that a rover might explore. allowing the winglet to alter its angle during flight to maximise fuel efficiency 30° Wing tip is angled to 40 degrees while on the ground to minimise wingspan 40° on an Airbus project are planning to file three patents on their own morphing winglet technology. Jessica Griggs ■ . This removes the hazards and high energy costs associated with take-off and landing. so morphing winglets subtly alter the wing shape” transformed into a sharp delta wing to dive towards a target. Winglets fixed at an angle of around 25 degrees from the vertical – known as the cant angle – can cut an aircraft’s fuel consumption by 3 to 5 per cent. however. says Siegwart. In such planes. but a solar-powered plane that could fly around Mars both day and night may change that. In the meantime. “The 3 to 5 per cent variation in fuel efficiency today results from using fixed winglets optimised for cruising flight.5 kilograms. climb. Boeing and Airbus hope to improve fuel efficiency even further. Boeing wants to move its winglets using SMA panels that change Solar-powered plane will gaze down on Mars GREEN technology is not something usually associated with space exploration. cruise and landing approach. One advantage of the Sky Sailor over other proposed flying planetary explorers is that once in the Martian atmosphere it would never need to touch the surface. says Askin Isikveren. If we vary the cant angle during flight we can maintain a 5 per cent fuel reduction all through the flight. conventional. to maximise lift Wing tip is angled to 30 degrees while cruising to minimise drag The 3-metre tip of the wing can be flexed by either shape-memory alloy rods or hydraulics. Such radical changes would be far too risky on a civil airliner. it could be launched by hand to monitor forest fires. upward extensions to a plane’s wing which disrupt the production of the swirling wake vortices that normally stream from a flat wing tip. thanks to the use of composite skins that slide out to alter its shape. for example. relaying that information back to the lander directing the rover. which in turn boosts its fuel efficiency. By designing these winglets to move during the flight.” Isikveren says. while reducing the noise the aircraft makes during landing. chief engineer on the Airbus-funded “Morphlet” project at the University of Bristol in the UK. That is because aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus are developing moveable winglets – the fins at the end of a wing – in a bid to build greener. a long. It could also send images back to Earth. Now it has applied for funding from the European Space Agency so that it can test the Sky Sailor at higher altitudes. says project leader Roland Siegwart.TECHNOLOGY Morphing winglets make for greener aircraft Sleek aerodynamics are crucial for keeping fuel consumption to a minimum. quieter planes. where the conditions are more akin to those on Mars. the plane could prove useful on Earth. The team believe the Sky Sailor could scour the Martian surface from 1.” Allowing the winglet to flatten completely will also give the wing extra lift at low speeds. This minimises the drag experienced by the wing. Weighing only 2. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich is developing the Sky Sailor. fixed winglets are small. The US military has been exploring morphing wings for its uncrewed aircraft for five years. making it easier for the plane to cut through the air. changing their angle for take-off. “That means less thrust from the engines is needed and so we can have a quieter landing approach. The team has flown a prototype plane continuously for 27 hours 800 metres up in the Earth’s atmosphere. high-lift wing useful for loitering can quickly be “Radical shape-changes are too risky for civil aircraft. These would provide power during the day while also 22 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 charging a battery to keep it aloft at night. Engineers working Shape of wings to come They’ll boost fuel efficiency. Boeing has filed a patent application on a winglet that moves using shape-memory alloys (SMAs). The firms have very different ideas about how to build their morphing winglets. Perfected at NASA in the 1970s. so research has focused on morphing winglets that alter the shape of the wing more subtly. so Boeing and Airbus are racing to produce a dynamic new wing tip Paul Marks AIRLINE passengers gazing out of their cabin windows could soon be met with an unfamiliar sight – their aircraft’s wing tips changing shape mid-flight. cut noise and reduce plane width Wing is straight for take-off and landing. a plane with solar cells on its wings. climbing and descent. where any failure of the technology could be fatal. for example.

break down the bonding between The researchers have developed a prototype silicon needle consisting of the winglet and the rest of the two shafts with 50-micrometre-long composite wing. The female wood wasp’s of the Siricidae family use a needle-like ovipositor to deposit eggs inside pine trees. like the nearby ailerons which produce roll..com/section/tech SVENJA-FOTO/ZEFA/CORBIS Wasps have the answer to safer keyhole surgery A BRAIN-boring robot that burrows its way through tissue in the same way a wasp digs through wood could make keyhole surgery safer. “There are fin-shaped teeth.” he says.. Isikveren is confident that aircraft control systems will cope with this. Simon Waite. if a change to a winglet caused the aircraft to roll to the right. who works on bio-inspired engineering at the University of Reading.. Motors oscillate difficulties with the long-term the two shafts to propel the device performance of these smart forwards in the same way as the wood wasp’s ovipositor (see diagram). The tension created by the gripping teeth braces the shaft and prevents the needle from buckling or breaking. a structures specialist with the European Aviation Safety Agency in Cologne. –The Boeing 767 has fixed winglets– Now. Thailand. For instance. “It can insinuate itself into the tissue with the minimum amount of force.For more technology stories go to www. his team have stuck with standard. a damagetolerance expert at Cranfield University near Milton Keynes. fibrous tissues like bone and muscle than to soft brain tissue. Germany. It could also reduce the number of incisions needed to deliver cancer therapies to different parts of a tumour. the need for greener. To ensure the winglet remains streamlined. UK. so with each oscillation the ovipositor takes a small step forward. in February. Both teams face considerable safety challenges before their technologies can be certified.” says Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena at Imperial College London. Wood wasp (Siricidae) . The firm also proposes placing a small flap at the trailing edge of the winglet – effectively a mini-rudder – to finetune the winglet’s performance. “The power needed to support an SMA is excessive – it’s a huge drain on the electrical system of the aircraft. bypassing high-risk “It will be flexible enough to travel the safest route. This has two dovetailed shafts. Instead. UK. ■ Drilling through tissue The probe bores through tissue using a pair of oscillating shafts in the same way that the ovipositor of a wood wasp burrows into wood to lay its eggs As one shaft pushes down. its sharp teeth catch in the wood’s tissue and prevent it from retreating. Emma Johnson. Preliminary tests have shown that the device can crawl across the surface of brain-like gels and burrow its way into pig muscle tissue.propelling the whole device downwards 50 Mm teeth 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 23 STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/SPL . To bore into wood. Isikveren thinks SMAs are the wrong choice. as it can burrow its way to hard-to-reach areas. quieter aircraft has never been greater. the device will be flexible enough to move along the safest possible route. a team that includes Rodriguez y Baena is mimicking this Boeing’s design could gradually mechanism to create a medical probe. the wasp rapidly oscillates each shaft backwards and forwards. says another “interesting” challenge will be to ensure morphing winglets cannot interfere with other control surfaces. the ailerons would have to compensate.” he says. cautions that the repeated flexing of the SMA structure in structures. however. David Robson ■ shape in response to an electric current or heat. As the shaft is pulled backwards. the other is held in place by its teeth. for example. Unlike existing rigid surgical probes. The team will present the probe at the ROBIO conference in Bangkok. says that the device is likely to be better suited to harder. the team has developed a concertina-like flexible skin made of corrugated Kevlar fabric which surrounds the wing/winglet joint. With planned airport expansions such as the third runway at London’s Heathrow in the pipeline. each covered in backwardfacing teeth.NewScientist. Phil Irving.. bypassing high-risk areas of the brain during surgery” areas of the brain during surgery. lightweight electric motors to move hydraulic rams.

the Penn State team anticipates that the Nanowire lab on a chip technique will find uses beyond Placing groups of nanowires with disease-detecting coatings in a precise array will biosensors. He suggests using a combination of the two techniques. showering it with electrons until all the dust particles and the surface become negatively charged and “The dust is so abrasive it can damage machinery. the team places nanowires negatives and false positives. because it can add enable superfast diagnostics chemical. Washington DC. Clark’s team is working on SPARCLE.” says Pamela Clark of the Catholic University of America. In this important for avoiding false way. allowing them to fly to the positively charged nozzle where they are captured. In disease targets at once. They first took a silicon wafer and carved an array of microwells into it. hepatitis C and resistance changes when nucleic nanowires towards the wells HIV (Science. the team “99 per cent of the wires settled exactly where they into place due to the higher field could see where they ended up. a “lunar dust buster” that astronauts could utilise in the airlock to a moon base. biological and Rhodium nanowires covered with Nanowires with different optoelectronic components into DNA are attracted into specific coatings can be attracted microwells by an electric field into other microwells traditional silicon electronics. These spikes also collect electrical charge. next month. astronauts would scan the beam across the surface of their dirty equipment. they released one group of DNA-coated nanowires into the fluid and switched on the electric fields in some of the microwells. between the dielectric properties in DNA sequences that bind to The device will work as a of ethanol and the nanowires nucleic acids from the genomes detector because a nanowire’s creates a force that pushes the of hepatitis B. and inhaling it could also be dangerous” start to repel one another. nanowires must often be grown in situ. “We are talking about abrasive Velcro. The dust is so abrasive it can damage machinery. The interplay of microwells. similar to those used in electron microscopes. and there are also concerns that it could be dangerous if inhaled. who investigates lunar dust at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Paul Marks ■ Lunar dust buster will keep moon base spotless LUNAR explorers had better be handy with a vacuum cleaner. A new “lunar dust buster” may be an essential tool for future missions. with of nanowires coated with DNA electrostatic forces holding be picked up by circuitry that strands that bind to a different them firmly in place.” Indeed.” says Keating. which can FIELD present all sorts of thorny design challenges. A pair of electrodes added to each well enables a powerful electric field to form across its length. Geoff Thornton of the London Centre for Nanotechnology at ETHANOL University College London says: “We don’t have a means of positioning a nanowire precisely where we want it right now. who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. This time. for the nanowires to sit in.TECHNOLOGY Nanowire building kit rewrites the rules of nanotech ONE of the great nanotechnology challenges has been solved by chemists who have worked out how to place individual nanowires onto silicon chips reliably and accurately. Maryland. To solve the problem. They are covered in tiny spikes that hook into surfaces. Lawrence Taylor. points out that magnetic attraction might be more effective at removing bigger dust particles. exactly where ELECTRIC they are needed. allowing astronauts to clean up following grubby moonwalks and prevent the dirt penetrating the moon base. The team behind the breakthrough has shown off the technique by building a device that could one day identify diseases from blood samples in a fraction of a second. “Our DNA-coated By labelling the nanowires rhodium nanowires then snap with fluorescent groups. and this can (see diagram). the group is planing to add. the dust buster picked up a 2-millimetre-high pile of crushed volcanic rock similar to lunar dust. The device consists of a positively charged metallic nozzle fitted to an electron gun. The team then divided the rhodium nanowires into groups and coated each group with strands of DNA designed to bind to a specific disease marker. Christine Keating and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University in University Park developed their technique using nanowires made of rhodium. and so on. p 352). which holds them in place on a surface.” tests. due to the structure of the particles. and designed to detect certain diseases enables screening for multiple at specific sites on the chip. which fires a focused beam of electrons from a hot filament. Moon dust is much more of a menace than the terrestrial variety. vol 323. They found that 99 per cent of the were meant to. This would loosen the particles’ grip. David Robson ■ . This means the dust sticks so tightly to surfaces that 24 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 brushing alone cannot shift it. strength there. disease marker. The team will present its latest results at the SPESIF conference in Huntsville. Alabama. With the silicon chip immersed in ethanol. acids bind to it. nanowires settled precisely where electrostatic forces” then releases another batch they were meant to be. In tests. the team coated nanowires says Keating. Following a moonwalk. But perhaps not for SILICON WAFER much longer. held by The team rinses the chip. “Having many copies of each With nanotechnologists always they electrify a different set type of nanowire in the array is looking for new ways to build on the nanoscale.

the ability of the planet to absorb those gases now appears lower than was assumed. says Nicholas Stern AS THE world faces up to the worst global financial crisis since the 1930s. This can be done by creating carbon markets in which the price of emitting carbon reflects the potential impact of those emissions. at the to invest in green tech next annual gathering of the while costs are lower” parties to the United Nations and growth – is the rapid dissemination and use of lowcarbon technologies. Beyond Climate Change. policy and increasingly rapid The key to these major technical progress. We need about 30 CCS demonstration projects. compared with the step towards meeting the current 45 gigatonnes. but they required). such as India and China. Fortunately. such as second-generation biofuels – which do not directly affect food production – and carbon capture and storage. carried out in developed and developing countries over the next 10 years. it is important to limit concentrations more tightly still. But such progress needs to be accelerated: we will need a revolution that surpasses the scale and impact of previous worldchanging technologies such as railways and personal computers. the potential increases in temperatures due to rising gas concentrations seem higher. the financial crisis provides an opportunity. it now seems that our target should not exceed 500 ppm. This means that annual global emissions must peak within the next 15 years before falling to half 26 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 Framework Convention on their 1990 level by 2050. Second. and by introducing energy-efficiency standards to incentivise innovation. we need more support for the development and scaling-up of technologies that could become commercially viable within the next 15 years. So. with good historical responsibilities). not an obstacle. Already. and equitable (recognising costing about 2 per cent of global different resources. innovation is advancing in many areas at a faster pace than anticipated in our 2006 review. the costs may reductions in emissions – whilst be considerably lower.OPINION Decision time With the economic case for tackling climate change stronger than ever. skills and GDP each year. efficient (keeping costs are affordable and manageable. our ability to respond has also increased as we embark upon a technological revolution that will drive sustainable growth and development of a low-carbon global economy. First. Denmark. such as “green” household appliances. Indeed. on a commercial scale. action is needed to further spread existing low-carbon technologies. Global emissions of greenhouse gases are growing more quickly than projected. This . This requires policies and measures that remove barriers and provide incentives for technological development over three timescales. That’s if we are to keep down the risks of potentially catastrophic impacts which could result from average global temperatures rising 4 ˚C or more above preindustrial levels. whereas our review recommended that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases should be stabilised within a range of 450 to 550 parts per million of carbon dioxideequivalent. the economic case for tackling the global climate crisis is more compelling than ever. down). Over the longer term. this will be an essential 10 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent per year. and the physical impacts of a warming planet are appearing at a faster rate than expected. challenge. Since my colleagues and I published the Stern Review on the economics of climate change in 2006. it has become apparent that the risks and potential costs are even greater than we originally recognised. That agreement Such reductions present a must be effective (on the scale significant challenge. CCS is crucial for countries with fast-expanding economies. and if they agree that. we will need to limit human to cut their emissions by at least additions to atmospheric 80 per cent by 2050 compared greenhouse gases to under with 1990. The leading maintaining development industrialised nations are due to “The global economic meet in December this year in downturn is an opportunity Copenhagen. which currently rely on coal-fired power stations for growth. for example.

more effort is required to stimulate new breakthrough technologies that will lead to major cuts in emissions beyond 2030. in contrast to the recent booms. science will drive rational public policy provides an unprecedented opportunity to deal with a gnawing yet persistently neglected threat to the world: nuclear weapons. Finland. Yet the US has turned a blind eye to an ongoing Pakistani project to build a plutonium reactor that would be capable of making enough fuel each year for up to 50 nuclear weapons. Common sense suggests. vol 61. and eventual busts. The 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty required each nation to have no more than 2200 “operationally deployed” strategic warheads by 2012. Russia. In the long term. George Schultz and William Perry. investments in low-carbon technologies could provide sustainable and well-founded economic growth. It has been estimated that over the past 40 years the US has spent upwards of $600 billion on missile defence. yet this represents no real progress towards disarmament. this is one area where savings could be achieved with little or no cost to security. A well-functioning global carbon market would drive these. Third.To comment on these stories go to www. A study published last year shows that global temperatures and growing seasons could decline significantly following as few as 50 15-kiloton explosions. it is now clear that the longer-term impact of even a localised nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India would be more severe than previously estimated. as the target number is essentially identical to that proposed at the 1997 summit on nuclear arms reduction between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki. namely climate change. p 37). The terrorist attacks in Mumbai underscore the danger of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. as might result from such a regional war (Physics Today. Aside from the direct sociopolitical and economic consequences of a regional nuclear war. It can provide job opportunities in the short run in key sectors where resources are idle. It is the only realistic future for growth and for overcoming world poverty. Reducing the size of our nuclear weapons stockpile would not reduce our ability to deter a nuclear attack – a fact acknowledged by politicians such as Henry Kissinger. not proliferation. some four decades after they all signed the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). with a medium-term target of around 0. the US is not significantly closer to producing a workable system than it was in 1972 when it signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In this new year. Reducing the size of the nuclear stockpile would bring one key benefit. While the global economic downturn could distract us from the bigger task of tackling climate change. newscientist. Yet despite this. as the country and the world look to Barack Obama with hope. it is also an opportunity to bring forward investments in low-carbon technologies while costs are lower. France. that we should not use a missile defence system until it is shown to be workable against a realistic threat. Leading the world away from the nuclear precipice will require at least as much sound thinking and political courage. as the US physics community did in 2003. Yet the US has nevertheless deployed a currently untested system at a cost of close to $10 billion per year – and the Bush administration complicated relations with Russia by declaring its intent to install it in Poland. Congress approved a nuclear cooperation pact with India that would help promote that country’s bomb-making capacity. we have a real chance to set a path towards a low-carbon future.com/section/opinion technology needs to spread through international and public-private collaborations. Investments that improve energy efficiency will also yield benefits when power and heating prices increase again during economic recovery.NewScientist. Even 500 active warheads would be sufficient to kill hundreds of millions of people around the world. Continued unchecked. As we object to Iran’s apparent efforts to join the club of nuclear weapons states we should remember that the US. but the US and Russia are thought to possess at least 5000 apiece. emissions and high-carbon growth are not sustainable. though. the new administration might bring “Obama might bring some rationality to the US’s efforts to deploy ballistic missile defence systems” some rationality to the US’s efforts to deploy ballistic missile defence systems here and elsewhere in the world. he has signalled his intent to address one clear global threat. In 2006. driven by flaky dotcom ventures or inflated house prices.com/article/dn16433 Lawrence Krauss is director of the Origins initiative at Arizona State University in Phoenix 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 27 . but public funding for energy research and development should be doubled now from its present global level of about $10 billion per year.1 per cent of world GDP. Maintaining a huge and complex nuclear infrastructure is not cheap. the UK and China have failed to meet their obligations to disarm. Neither India nor Pakistan has signed the NPT. ■ Nicholas Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy World lines Lawrence Krauss Will Obama see sense about the nuclear threat? THE possibility that. In 2009. in an Obama administration. In a time of increasing budget concerns. The new administration needs to defuse the situation by encouraging disarmament in this region. Finally. ■ MORE ONLINE Watch our exclusive video interview with Nicholas Stern at www. or about $50 billion per year. No government is likely to declare how many strategic nuclear warheads it has. such as construction.

In no case must a digit be identical with the one below or above it. There has got to be a better way to spread cheer in a gloomy time. solar and other renewable sources. He completely overlooked the stark reality of the 21st-century global climate challenge and economics. It is ludicrous to suggest that “the public” should have a greater say in “what science gets funded” because most members are completely unqualified to make a judgement. which might be better achieved with flow cells such as the vanadium battery (11 October 2008. Hydrogen’s main role in a low-carbon energy system is in the transfer of energy from the power generation to the transport sector. Buckinghamshire. however. those suffering from depression would become even more socially isolated. Berkshire. 84 Theobald’s Road. on the other hand. sociable people and lonely. Bryte Energy As the world moves towards low-carbon energy systems. UK From Graham (full name supplied) Bond’s advice is bad news for those who suffer from clinical depression. and people avoid them because of their negative disposition. p 16). California. Bracknell. Essex. Matching energy generation to demand is difficult for many of the renewable energy resources now being installed. p 24). the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen will play an important role. we all decided to spend less time with our depressed friends. ITM Power It is unfortunate that David Strahan concluded his article on hydrogen as a fuel by returning to the arguments of the 20th century. Much of our present use of hydrocarbons is directed to transport applications. The public can already influence the resources available to medical science by funding selected charities. Surely Brooks is aware that most scientific progress is made by means of small incremental steps involving long periods of systematic. Gammon. p 40). The key to effective and economic utilisation of the output from such renewable resources has to be through energy storage. (a) Find an example with the number in the top row divisible by 3. If. suicidal depressives. I would hazard that judging potential friends based on possible future gain could lead to others being wary of your intentions. that recovery spreads to all those who have been faithful and loving friends. not to mention the acute energy and fuel-supply issues for the UK (29 November 2008. New Scientist. p 30). US increasing proportion of primary energy will need to be generated from highly variable wind. The Editor’s decision is final. Amersham. Warwickshire. (b) Find an example in which the number in the right-hand column is palindromic. and probably more depressed. It’s a process that generates a fuel as a by-product of grid balancing. too. Lacon House.OPINION LETTERS Contagious mood From Nick Xavier Michael Bond advises seeking out friendships with people of a desirable disposition while distancing oneself from less salubrious acquaintances person with some attributes generally seen as negative may be in possession of other. as well as relatively inflexible generators like nuclear and “clean coal” plants. Berkeley. The best available answer is hydrogen. which by their nature cannot be made entertaining. Wendens Ambo. If everyone followed this advice. an The death of science From Frank Fahy Science is indeed dead if it cannot find a more logical and imaginative apologist than Michael Brooks (20/27 December 2008. focusing on comparing the efficiency of batteries with hydrogen. Please send entries to Enigma 1529. Perhaps a Hydrogen jukebox From Charles Purkess. However. the low “round-trip efficiency” of converting electricity to hydrogen and back again means it is not the preferred option for the storage of grid electricity. UK 28 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 . undramatic and often tedious investigations. and if the stored energy could be provided in the form of an environmentally neutral chemical fuel suitable for reuse in the existing transport sector it would be of great national importance. UK From R. our behaviour and our judgement of others’ behaviour are so reliant on the emotional and intellectual milieu of large friendship networks. To provide a buffer during excess electricity production. and also to spend less time with friends who have depressed friends. WIN £15 will be awarded to the sender of the first correct answer opened on Wednesday 25 February. or to enigma@newscientist. Answer to 1523 Dicey numbers: 1111111155555556 The winner Tom Marsh of Bourton-on-Dunsmore. In each case please send in the number in the top row.com (please include your postal address). If. the world would quickly polarise into happy. This can be done in several different ways. Practising the body language and the words of cheerfulness is worth a try. is this advice not more obscure than it looks? The relative importance of certain positive traits may be based on little more than what the group currently holds in vogue. rather than presenting an added burden to the energy system. Often they isolate themselves. UK (3 January. UK From Rachel Findley Hug a depressive today! It helps to remember that when one recovers from depression. but only the stupid or arrogant would claim to be qualified to suggest specific areas Enigma Number 1529 Square corbel ADRIAN SOMERFIELD I invite you to fill in the grid with non-zero digits so that each row is a perfect square with different digits and each row contains all the digits in all rows below it. Loughborough. rarer traits that are currently dismissed by our wider social environment but which may yet prove important. Depressed people need to talk to others – and to see happy people – to effect a mood state change and to alter their negative perceptions of the world. London WC1X 8NS. Leicestershire.

such as that on arms. Café Scientifique Brighton There seems to be less public debate nowadays than in the 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 29 . But if some mathematical “theory of everything” were to provide a unified explanation for all of these forces. p 71). Michael Brooks wants science subjugated to the court of public opinion. Australia Wikipedians From Robert Cailliau Wikipedians are disagreeable and closed to new ideas. it is argued that if these physical parameters were For the record ■ Chris Anderson said that the Bluefin tuna “lays maybe 3 million eggs and three reach adulthood”. That debate was flawed – posing a stark choice between research and people’s lives – and ignored far less justifiable public spending. a multiverse or the power of consciousness… and is something I definitely believe in. But it seems possible that there are particles in our universe that we have not noticed because they hardly interact. Tragically. France different. and a reference (issue. not in the specialised terminology and mathematics that are essential for scientific clarity and rigour. Charleston. a century before Galileo (20/27 December 2008. Secondly. p 52). Café Scientifique is an effort in that direction. Five Dock.For more letters visit www. Victoria. Most of the proceedings concern circumstances and actions that a jury understands and are conducted in plain English. majority should inspire caution. Their having values less amenable to life would then be as fanciful as having “more sound. Australia Multiverse/other From Alex Kasman Amanda Gefter seeks reasonable explanations for the apparent “fine-tuning” of the laws of physics to support life. Could this be because we have to resist continually the agreeableness and new ideas of creationists. Clinical – and other – breakthroughs tend to arise from the corpus of scientific knowledge. when people argued over whether it was justifiable to spend millions on space exploration while there was so much poverty in the world. I’m not sure I agree that now is the time to “canvass public opinion… then act on the results”. Ongoing events also suggest that the science of economic growth – EU citizens’ first spending priority – could do with an overhaul. Ain. Biasing research according to populist ambitions will only imperil good science. though just 7 per cent in the UK – according the Autumn 2008 Eurobarometer survey of EU public opinion (www. East Sussex. and form some sort of matter (and living beings). aside from the multiverse and the intelligent designer (6 December 2008. Probably the most we can hope for is a greatly enhanced outreach programme to make people feel that they have more of a stake in science. and that these would interact strongly under a different set of physical laws. In Australia. the arms-spending issue again.com/section/letters ■ Contagious mood ■ Livestock emissions ■ Multiverse/other ■ Science and fun ■ Overselling science ■ Why menopause? of research to which the funds should be directed. and the judge clearly specifies the possible range of verdicts. We reserve the right to edit letters. London WC1X 8NS Fax: +44 (0) 20 7611 1280 Email: letters@newscientist. the elementary particles that form matter in our universe would hardly interact and so could not form things like living beings. title) to articles. We do science purely because we need to know all we can about all the world. flatearthers and other quacks? Prévessin. revisionists. Brooks’s comparison to a jury in court is flawed. Hampshire. p 48). science can be combined well with other public priorities such as public health. The perception of “fine-tuning” is based on the idea that the parameters of physics – for example the relative strengths of various forces – can be individually tuned. consider. Reed Business Information reserves the right to use any submissions sent to the letters column of New Scientist magazine. p 19). surely the idea of giving the public any say in government spending would be viewed as dangerously revolutionary by the current regime. according to one survey (3 January. New South Wales. for example. 84 Theobald’s Road. because even the most obscure endeavours eventually. spooked by the superior PR of creationists. While the tyranny of the 1960s. New Scientist. we have been surprised to find life on Earth in places we did not predict it could exist. Stockbridge. but with less fluctuation of air pressure”. it is impossible to garner support for stem cell research without talking up the prospects of a cure for Parkinson’s disease. But at least it was a debate. and not. I doubt if any of us would be happy with the result. yield useful technologies. UK From Jim Grozier.NewScientist. The legal procedure is formally established and rigidly adhered to. Finally. in any other format. If some sort of life that we cannot presently imagine could arise in many of those hypothetical universes then there is no mystery here at all. it already is. London. South Carolina. Human ignorance leaves room for simpler and less dramatic explanations than a creator. Science has been marginalised and caricatured – often by the media – for so long that if there were a referendum tomorrow on the level of research funding. we might find that they are necessarily related.tinyurl.com/9ycq4c). speculation is discouraged. Letters should be sent to: Letters to the Editor. ahead of defence and security issues – that is 29 per cent of respondents in Germany and France. US Wrong heretic From Robert Scopes Memo to Steve Jones: it was Copernicus who finally convinced the world of the real reason why the sun rises every morning. Nevertheless. In any case. Three alternatives come to mind. In the US. UK From Stephen Wilson For no better reason than the peace of mind of the bourgeoisie. as we reported. evolutionary biologists self-censor. if unpredictably. such as the deep-sea vents. UK From Chris Grollman A fifth of European Union citizens already put scientific research in their top four areas for desired use of the EU’s budget. Koroit.com Include your full postal address and telephone number. page number. that “three hatch” (20/27 December 2008. Brighton.

which describes Earth as a self-regulating planet. It’s a crazy idea – and dangerous. I think it’s wrong to assume we’ll survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. Would it make enough of a difference? That is a waste of time. 2009 promises to be an exciting time for James Lovelock. which the farmer can sell. a trip into space scheduled for later in the year and a new book out next month. which states that organisms interact with and regulate Earth’s surface and atmosphere. but I bet they won’t do it. Later this year he will travel to space as Richard Branson’s guest aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. nematodes and worms. What we can do is cheat those consumers by getting farmers to burn their crop waste at very low oxygen levels to turn it into charcoal. He is best known for formulating the controversial Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s. is published by Basic Books in February. but it is not a global cure for climate change. Carbon trading. Do you still advocate nuclear power as a solution to climate change? It is a way for the UK to solve its energy problems. I am not against renewable energy. inventor and environmentalist. It’s not going to do a damn thing about climate change. with its huge government subsidies. The Vanishing Face of Gaia. unless we PROFILE James Lovelock is a British chemist. The reason is we would not find enough food. and burying it in the soil. is just what finance and industry wanted. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. So are we doomed? Yes. His latest book. but it’ll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning. Most of the “green” stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Do you think we will survive? There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. but to spoil all the decent countryside in the UK with wind farms is driving me mad. It’s absolutely unnecessary. He tells Gaia Vince we have one last chance to save ourselves – and it has nothing to do with nuclear power Your work on atmospheric chlorofluorocarbons led eventually to a global CFC ban that saved us from ozone-layer depletion. You get a few per cent of biofuel as a by-product of the combustion process.OPINION INTERVIEW Photography: Eamonn McCabe We’re doomed. This is the one thing we can do that will make a difference. but it’s not all bad With his 90th birthday in July. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast. has a stark view of the future of humanity. This scheme would need no subsidy: the farmer would make a profit. which the farmer then ploughs into the field. . Ninety-nine per cent of the carbon that is fixed by plants is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by consumers like bacteria. What about work to sequester carbon dioxide? their agricultural waste – which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering – into non-biodegradable charcoal. It would take so long and use so much energy that it will not be done. But the originator of the Gaia theory. It is too late for emissions reduction measures. The biosphere pumps out 550 gigatonnes of carbon yearly. we put in only 30 gigatonnes. and it takes 2500 square kilometres to produce a gigawatt – that’s an awful lot of countryside. A little CO2 is released but the bulk of it gets converted to carbon. Do we have time to do a similar thing with carbon emissions to save ourselves from climate change? Not a hope in hell. It would mean farmers turning all 30 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 I’m an optimistic pessimist.

It reminds me of when I was 19 and the second world war broke out. How much biodiversity will be left after this climatic apocalypse? We have the example of the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum event 55 million years ago. About the same amount of CO2 was put into the atmosphere as we are putting in and temperatures rocketed by about 5 °C over about 20. I don’t think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what’s coming up.NewScientist. Virtually nothing’s been done except endless talk and meetings. she’s cheering me on. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. I have been through this kind of emotional thing before. It’s a depressing outlook. but it turned out in the end to be of enormous benefit. We were very frightened but almost everyone was so much happier. I don’t anticipate a problem because I spent a lot of my scientific life on ships out on rough oceans and I have never been even slightly seasick so I don’t think I’m likely to be space sick. Not necessarily. I’ve got my camera ready! Do you have to do any special training? synthesised it. They gave me an expensive thorium-201 heart test and then put me on a bicycle.com/section/opinion intelligent. My heart was performing like an average 20 year old. but I’m not worried. communicating species that can consider the whole system and even do things about it. Are you looking forward to your trip into space this year? CAMERA PRESS Very much. For the first time in its 3. It took a long time. If you were younger. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. We’re much better equipped to deal with that kind of thing than long periods of peace. It’s not all bad when things get rough. It’s happening again. Kyoto was 11 years ago. So there doesn’t have to be a massive extinction. I’m a lot closer to death than you. I’m looking forward to being 100.5 billion years of existence.For more Opinion stories. No. And it’s not because I’m heavily insured. which when they first appeared on the planet caused enormous damage by releasing oxygen – a nasty. I bet your wife is nervous. because I’m not. I’ll be 90 in July. Because of this. ■ 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 31 . poisonous gas. they said. It’s already moving: if you live in the countryside as I do you can see the changes. they have still to evolve quite a way. the planet has an I have to go in the centrifuge to see if I can stand the g-forces. When the planet cooled they moved back again. The polar regions were tropical and most life on the planet had the time to move “I don’t think we can react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what’s coming up” north and survive. The world became largely desert. I see humans as rather like the first photosynthesisers. would you be fearful? No. They are not yet bright enough.000 years. I look on humans in much the same light. but they could become a very positive contributor to planetary welfare. the cull during this century is going to be huge. up to 90 per cent. go to www. I don’t think 9 billion is better than 1 billion. even in the UK.

From a probabilistic point of view. They cite the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider. Just look at us now. To take a topical example. Forget the LHC for the moment. Ubiquity and The Social Atom implications for health and safety”. New York.” In other words. So it’s timely to ask if we might be suffering from similar self-deception about other risks we think we understand. But as Ord’s team argues. A trenchant new analysis by Toby Ord and his colleagues at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford gives pause for thought. a predecessor to the LHC – referred to potentially “profound PROFILE Mark Buchanan is a consultant for New Scientist. while the chance the argument is wrong is 10-6. The team’s paper concerns the risks associated with extremely rare but potentially catastrophic events. But if X is very small. In a spectacular (and intentional) understatement. Suppose some argument estimates probability X of an event. or even 1 per cent. which was challenged on the grounds that the high-energy particle collisions it generates might annihilate the Earth by creating a tiny black hole or a deadly shard of strange matter. His books are Nexus. happening. our capacity for selfdeception over the significance of its conclusions must come a close second. asks Mark Buchanan IF OUR impressive capacity for conscious reasoning is what most clearly sets us humans apart from other species. the physicists who first tried to put numbers on such risks – then in the context of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven. X multiplied by the probability (PX) that the argument is correct. In the real world. This matters hardly at all if X has some reasonably high value such as 50 per cent. Invoking quantum chromodynamics. and our knowledge of near-Earth high-energy collisions due to cosmic rays. people who are supposed to know about such things were utterly confident that serious financial crises were a thing of the past. plus the probability the argument is wrong (PY) multiplied by the chance (Y) that the event will happen if the argument is wrong. Ord and colleagues point out. until recently. Financial mathematics of supposedly unprecedented sophistication said so. then the first figure becomes as good as meaningless. this can be serious. What if it isn’t? Finding out requires some careful logic. this is not as reassuring as it seems: that’s because this figure represents the chance of a dangerous event only if the physicists’ argument is correct. based in France. say 10-20. As the authors put it: “If the probability estimate given by an argument is dwarfed by the chance that the argument itself is flawed. then the estimate is suspect. conclusions about extraordinarily small probabilities require 32 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 . The real probability is : (X × PX) + (Y × PY) that is. we cannot just accept this as the best estimate. they put the chances of a “dangerous event” at around 10-9 per year. That sounds pretty safe.OPINION ESSAY They said it could never happen… When “experts” claim the risk of some catastrophic event is one in a billion – the estimate that the LHC would produce an Earth-eating black hole – how do we know that they’ve got their reasoning straight. what we know about the gravitational conditions for creating black holes. and similarly small or smaller numbers have been cited for the LHC. good or bad.

and accept it is more like those ad hoc biological processes that leave us fallible and vulnerable. we should long since have been annihilated. Given that Medline covers mostly top-ranking journals. We generally strive to become aware of what former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously called the “known knowns” and the “known unknowns”. Perhaps we shouldn’t insist that good reasoning conforms to some “pure” proof-making ideal. We are. Maybe there’s another lesson here: that mathematical certainty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sadly. This is the principle of epistemological uncertainty – that we can’t know anything with total certainty – in action. Many people. me included. Even if the argument does not reach the required level of certainty. and biology never bothers to prove anything. for we can never discount the possibility that we have made a mistake. find the most convincing argument for the safety of the collider comes from considering the energy densities frequently created by cosmic rays colliding with particles in the Earth’s atmosphere or elsewhere.com/section/opinion Estimates of the LHC creating a “dangerous event” included 10-9 per year or much smaller equally extraordinary care. This is an area where it is crucial to focus on the logic. It is perhaps an ultimate irony of our human longing for certainty that no amount of effort can definitively prove anything.For more on these stories go to www. The fact is that we have no knowledge at all about the likelihood of an event happening if one or more of its underlying arguments are wrong. it is equally important not to be too pessimistic either. which suggests a fairly “It’s easy to be seduced by the nature of logical thinking and its illusion of certainty” high chance of error in any argument. Most of us. It’s easy for any of us to be seduced by the nature of logical thinking and its illusion of certainty. Of course. but resilient enough to get by in an uncertain world. I suspect. for instance. Of course. blithely unaware of our own ignorance. which seems entirely reasonable to me. so the true rate may be even higher. biological organisms. This becomes particularly dangerous when it hides flaws in an argument we are relying on for reassurance that potentially catastrophic events are virtually impossible. this still seems to undermine the authority of their extremely small estimates. Cell design. the physicists who considered the LHC risks are capable and cautious people so we might think the chance of their argument being wrong is smaller than 1 in 1000. the fact that we haven’t destroyed ourselves yet is no guarantee that we never will. only 10-6. they too may make mistakes. the same problem recurs. But until this kind of work has been done.000. Ord and his colleagues rightly stress that further elaboration of the arguments for the safety of the LHC might well reduce the chance of the overall argument for its safety being wrong. The argument has to be more than convincing: we have to be sure there is only the tiniest chance we could be wrong – which is much harder to establish. they suggest. and if we enlist others to help us. because our intuitions are no help. scientists often don’t publish painful and embarrassing retractions unless forced. after all. If the LHC is likely to be dangerous. worse. To get an idea of how many. Any estimate of the likelihood of an event occurring should take into account the chance that the analysis on which that probability has been assigned is flawed or based on error. but are perilously ignorant of the “unknown unknowns”. Not the same thing at all. Back to the LHC.NewScientist. and. Using Medline as their source. Ord and his colleagues looked at the proportion of published scientific papers that are eventually retracted. the current safety report cannot be seen as the final word. this does not mean we are in danger – only that we don’t have any guarantee of safety. And remember. they estimate the error rate for all journals to be more like 1 in 1000. reflects a crazy historical legacy of structures cobbled together to produce workable solutions to thousands of temporary problems. Lots of arguments do turn out to be wrong. ■ 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 33 CERN/SPL . they found it to be around 1 in 10. Even so. have a gut feeling that certain things “could never happen” and that “people who worry about this are crazy”. as convincing as this is. But even if it were a thousand times smaller.

Darwin’s spindly tree had grown into a mighty oak. has turned out to be a figment of our imagination. By the mid-1980s there was great > MARIO TAMA/GETTY . Then he drew a spindly sketch of a tree. Thus was born the field of molecular evolution. was the very stuff of inheritance into which was surely written the history of life. As far as we know. equal in importance to natural selection. But today the project lies in Darwin’s first sketch of an evolutionary tree of life tatters. For much of the past 150 years. DNA. which splits again and again to create a vast. Ford Doolittle of Dalhousie University in Halifax. and out of LUCA grows a trunk. RNA and protein sequences ought to be. At its base is LUCA. the unexpected discovery of a previously unknown major branch of the tree of life. by comparing RNA sequences from various plants. Darwin argued successfully that the tree of life was a fact of nature. So what happened? In a nutshell. and as techniques became available to read DNA sequences and those of other biomolecules such as RNA and proteins. which were previously thought to be bacteria. This led to. A few years ago it looked as though the grail was within reach. he turned to a new page in his red leather notebook and wrote. “For a long time the holy grail was to build a tree of life. The explanation he came up with was evolution by natural selection. The first molecules to be sequenced were RNAs found in ribosomes. In the 1970s. Charles Darwin had a flash of inspiration. plain for all to see though in need of explanation. The basic idea was simple: the more closely related two species are (or the more recently their branches on the tree split). at last. the cell’s protein-making machines. That bombshell has even persuaded some that our fundamental view of biology needs to change. but some reach right to the top – these are living species. “We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality.” says Bapteste. In his study at his house in London. the more alike their DNA. The tree-of-life concept was absolutely central to Darwin’s thinking. branching points are where 34 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 one species becomes two. one of the iconic concepts of evolution. Canada. among other successes. It was to prove a fruitful idea: by the time he published On The Origin of Species 22 years later. It started well. its pioneers came to believe that it would provide proof positive of Darwin’s tree of life.” says Eric Bapteste. the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all living things. Ever since Darwin the tree has been the unifying principle for understanding the history of life on Earth. bifurcating tree. Most branches eventually come to a dead end as species go extinct. Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded. “I think”. molecular biologists began to sketch the outlines of a tree. Each branch represents a single species. biology has largely concerned itself with filling in the details of the tree. according to biologist W. The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 opened up new vistas for evolutionary biology. Without it the theory of evolution would never have happened. an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. if only we knew how to decode it. torn to pieces by an onslaught of negative evidence. The book contains numerous references to the tree and its only diagram is of a branching structure showing how one species can evolve into many.COVER STORY The tree of life. the unicellular archaea. The tree also helped carry the day for evolution. Here. Nova Scotia. The tree is thus a record of how every species that ever lived is related to all others right back to the origin of life. France. animals and microorganisms. this was the first time Darwin toyed with the concept of a “tree of life” to explain the evolutionary relationships between different species. says Graham Lawton Uprooting Darwin’s tree I N JULY 1837.

200 Darwin YULIA BRODSKAYA/PHOTOGRAPHED BY PIXELEYES PHOTOGRAPHY To win the framed original of this 3D artwork. ck at the back . sign by the artist ed see Feedba . of this issue 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 35 .

If that sounds unlikely. with the juvenile form becoming specialised for feeding and the adult for mating. Instead of degenerating. At first HGT was assumed to be a minor player. The most likely way for this biological mash-up to function is if the resulting chimera expresses its two genomes sequentially. formerly of the University of Liverpool. sea urchins and molluscs. UK. He points out that marine larvae have five basic forms and can be organised into a family tree based on shared characteristics. Williamson points out that many marine species breed by casting their eggs and sperm into the sea and hoping for the best. Williamson thinks otherwise. which starts life as a small larva with a tiny starfish inside. but in Luidia something remarkable then happens. Which was correct? Paradoxically. starting out as larvae and metamorphosing into adult forms. crucially. while some closely related adults have utterly unrelated larvae. His star witness is the starfish Luidia sarsi. Ironically. with organisms passing traits down to their offspring. many of which lead a strange double life. sometimes they did not.TWO SPECIES BECOME ONE It could be time to ditch the old idea that hybrids are sterile individuals that cannot possibly have played a role in shaping the history of life on Earth. Yet this tree bears no relationship to the family tree of adults: nearidentical larvae often give rise to adults from different lineages. “I can’t see how one animal with one genome could do that. This explains many anomalies in marine biology. As the larva grows. according to retired marine biologist Donald Williamson. might suggest that species A was more closely related to species B than species C. But what if species also routinely swapped genetic material with other species. the larva swims off and lives for several months as an independent animal. says Williamson. with species being closely related in some respects but not others. Normally nothing comes of this. one forming the larva. they separate. during evolution by the random fusion of two separate species. he says. and sometimes they did but. This is perfectly normal for starfish. but “once in a million years it works: the sperm of one species fertilises another and two species become one”. We now know that this is exactly what happens. it became clear that the patterns of relatedness could only be explained if bacteria and archaea were routinely swapping genetic material with other species – often across huge taxonomic distances – in a process called horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Darwin assumed that descent was exclusively “vertical”. with one of the partners assuming the role of the larva and the other that of the adult. RNA.” BIOLOGICAL MASH-UP It’s as if each species was randomly assigned one of the larval forms – which is exactly what Williamson argues happened. or hybridised with them? Then that neat branching pattern would quickly degenerate into an impenetrable thicket of interrelatedness. both – but only if the main premise underpinning Darwin’s tree was incorrect.” says Williamson. His conclusion comes from a lifetime studying marine animals such as starfish. “I think the larval genome and the adult genome are different. The conventional explanation for metamorphosis is that it evolved gradually. transferring only “optional extra” D P WILSON/FLPA . producing a two-stage life history with metamorphosis in the middle. The problems began in the early 1990s when it became possible to sequence actual bacterial and archaeal genes rather than just RNA. for example. He believes metamorphosis arose repeatedly The starfish Luidia sarsi seems to be two species at once. until they barely resembled each other. but a tree made from DNA would suggest the reverse. the opposite happened. the starfish migrates to the outside and when the larva settles on the seabed. As more and more genes were sequenced. Hybridisation is a significant force in animal evolution. the other the adult 36 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 optimism that molecular techniques would finally reveal the universal tree of life in all its glory. Everybody expected these DNA sequences to confirm the RNA tree. giving ample opportunity for cross-species hybridisation.

Many researchers stuck resolutely to their guns. Dagan dubbed Bork’s result “the tree of 1 per cent” and argued that the study inadvertently provided some of the best evidence yet that the tree-of-life concept was redundant (Genome Biology. creating hybrid genomes. who pointed out that in numerical terms a core of 31 genes is almost insignificant. he says. some were proposing that for bacteria and archaea the tree of life was more like a web. vol 311. p 2124). vol 41. Doolittle made the provocative claim that “the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree” (Science. some early eukaryotic lineages apparently swallowed one another and amalgamated their genomes. p 10039). From tree to web As it became clear that HGT was a major factor. but the majority of genes contain this tree signal. They then generated a tree by comparing the sequences of these “core” genes in everything from E. Germany. biologists started to realise the implications for the tree concept. Early on in their evolution. Core biological functions such as DNA replication and protein synthesis were still thought to be passed on vertically. These “endosymbionts” later transferred large chunks of their genomes into those of their eukaryote hosts. LONDON . p 1283). eukaryotes are thought to have engulfed two free-living prokaryotes. One of these gave rise to the cellular power generators called mitochondria while the other was the precursor of the chloroplasts. archaea and eukaryotes (complex organisms with their genetic material packaged in a nucleus) – and identified 31 genes that all the species possessed and which showed no signs of ever having been horizontally transferred. In an ambitious study. vol 284.” he says. In 1999. The result was the closest thing yet to the perfect tree. vol 7. “There’s promiscuous exchange of genetic information across diverse groups. and built the tree of life with only multicellular specimens functions such as antibiotic resistance.” says Michael Rose. The real problem is that our techniques are not yet good enough to tease that signal out. the eukaryotes. a team led by Peer Bork of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. Others argued just as forcefully that the quest was quixotic and should be abandoned. an evolutionary biologist at the University of California. coli to elephants. Thus began the final battle over the tree. Dagan and colleagues examined more than half a million genes from 181 prokaryotes and found that 80 per cent of them showed signs of horizontal transfer (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The battle came to a head in 2006. examined 191 sequenced genomes from all three domains of life – bacteria. one bacterial and the other archaeal. For a while. For a start. Germany. As if that weren’t complicated enough. Surprisingly. We now know that view is wrong. p 152). those who would chop down the tree of life continue to make progress. Bork claimed (Science. The neat picture of a branching tree is further blurred by a process called endosymbiosis. it’s a way that humans classify nature. The true extent of HGT in bacteria and archaea (collectively known as prokaryotes) has now been firmly established. p 118). representing just 1 per cent of a typical bacterial genome and more like 0. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth…” Charles Darwin. there has been lots of HGT.”The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. in which photosynthesis takes place.1 per cent of an animal’s. That hardly constitutes a mighty oak or even a feeble sapling – more like a tiny twig completely buried by a giant web. creating ever more sophisticated computer programs to cut through the noise and recover the One True Tree. Among them were Tal Dagan and William Martin at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. Last year. Other researchers begged to differ. HGT was merely noise blurring its edges. this allowed evolutionary biologists to accept HGT without jeopardising their precious tree of life. vol 105. Bork’s group continue to work on the tree of life and he continues to defend the concept. As early as 1993. forming this part of the tree into a ring rather than a branch (Nature. HGT also turns out to be the rule rather than the exception in the third great domain of life. Meanwhile. On the Origin of Species 200 Darwin Darwin was unaware of DNA.” Bork says. “The tree of life is not something that exists in nature. it is increasingly accepted that the eukaryotes originated by the fusion of two prokaryotes. The debate remains polarised today. Irvine. “Our point of view is that yes. creating yet another layer of horizontal transfer (Trends > 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 37 THE NATIONAL HISTORY MUSEUM.

for a start. around 14 per cent of living plant species are the product of the fusion of two separate lineages. originated in a virus Last year. fish and plants. bushbaby. Having uprooted the tree of unicellular life. and by sheer weight of numbers almost all of the living things on Earth are microbes. and “Two into one”. a botanist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. so what’s the problem? Well. The fly is. multicellular organisms didn’t appear until about 630 million years ago.8 billion years. These microscopic beasties have lifestyles that resemble prokaryotes and.” says James Mallet. “The number of horizontal transfers in animals is not as high as in microbes. vol 363. according to Jan Andersson of the University of Uppsala in Sweden. More fundamentally. but it can be evolutionarily significant. The most likely agents of this genetic shuffling are viruses. p 38). it’s a small anomalous structure growing out of the web of life.The one true tree? SOURCE: WELLCOME LIBRARY. According to Loren Rieseberg.p Ac ote rot id ob eo Cy oba ac bac an ct ter te De ob eri ia ria in ac a Ch oco ter lo cc ia Aq rofl ale u ex s Th ifica i er e Fu mo so to Ch ba gae la cte Ba my ria ct dia Ch ero e lo id Fi rob ete br i s o Ac ba tin ct er Sp ob e iro ac s Pl ch ter an ae ia Fi cto tes rm m ic yce ut t es es BACTERIA ARCHAEA Eu ry Cr arc en ha e Na arc ot no hae a ar ot Pr ot ch a o a Pl zo eo an a ta A m ts o Fu eba ng e Ne i m In ato se de c Fi ts s sh Bi rd s M ou Ch se/ im rat H p um an EUKARYOTES Blurring the animal family tree There are many examples of animals acquiring genes “horizontally” from bacteria. by some reckonings. a team at the University of Texas at Arlington found a peculiar chunk of DNA in the genomes of eight animals – the mouse. vol 105. Microbes might be swapping genes left. recent research suggests that the evolution of animals and plants isn’t exactly tree-like either. archaea and unicellular eukaryotes make up at least 90 per cent of all known species.” says Dupré. ever more incongruous bits of DNA are turning up. a fly-bacterium chimera Last universal common ancestor (LUCA) ? in Ecology and Evolution. Nobody is arguing – yet – that the tree . such as Homo erectus and the Neanderthals (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. In fact. anole lizard and African clawed frog – but not in 25 others.” says John Dupré. a philosopher of 38 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 biology at the University of Exeter. page 32). what does that matter? Surely the stuff we care about – animals and plants – can still be accurately represented by a tree.G. LONDON/SCIENCE. There is evidence that early modern humans hybridised with our extinct relatives. The vast majority of eukaryote species are unicellular – amoebas. P 1283 A simplified version of the tree of life. “If there is a tree of life. biology is the science of life. Microbes have been living on Earth for at least 3. 23. elephants. above right. p 268). Other cases of HGT in multicellular organisms are coming in thick and fast. biologists are now taking their axes to the remaining branches. chickens and fish. VOL 311. Constructing the tree has been a major aim of biology since Darwin introduced the idea in On The Origin of Species (right) but many now consider the enterprise misconceived in the light of current knowledge A. and to a first approximation life is unicellular. p 17023). As ever more multicellular genomes are sequenced. D. tenrec. their rates of HGT are often comparable to those in bacteria. often across great taxonomic distances. little brown bat. including humans. For example. “There are problems even in that little corner. hybridisation clearly plays an important role in the evolution of plants. UK. right and centre. Even today bacteria. a gene crucial to the function of stinging cells in jellyfish and sea anemones was found to have been transferred from a bacterium The entire genome of the bacterium Wolbachia was recently found integrated into the genome of a fruit fly. algae and the rest of what used to be known as “protists” (Journal of Systematics and Evolution. “It is really common. Hang on. p263). p 2813). Canada. and a few years ago a piece of snake DNA was found in cows. Last year. which constantly cut and paste DNA from one genome into another.” says Bapteste. This patchy distribution suggests that the sequence must have entered each genome independently by horizontal transfer (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. vol 46. some of which has taken on vital biological functions (New Scientist. The same is probably true of the genomes of other big animals. HGT has been documented in insects. in effect . The more we learn about microbes. 40 to 50 per cent of the human genome consists of DNA imported horizontally by viruses. and that the process is ongoing.” This is especially true in rapidly evolving lineages with lots of recently diverged species – including our own. E pr . 27 August 2008. vol. an evolutionary biologist at University College London. Hybrid humans Some researchers are also convinced that hybridisation has been a major driving force in animal evolution (see “Natural born chimeras”. Hybridisation isn’t the only force undermining the multicellular tree: it is becoming increasingly apparent that HGT plays an unexpectedly big role in animals too. rat. which is vital for placenta formation. for example. It would be perverse to claim that the evolution of life on Earth resembles a tree just because multicellular life evolved that way. This genetic free-for-all continues to this day. showing relationships between groups that have had their genomes sequenced. viruses and even other animals The cow genome contains a piece of snake DNA that appears to have entered horizontally around 50 million years ago The human gene syncytin. “Ten per cent of all animals regularly hybridise with other species. opossum. you may be thinking. the clearer it becomes that the history of life cannot be adequately represented by a tree. B.

“Roughly 50 per cent of its genes have one evolutionary history and 50 per cent another.” says Doolittle. “Our standard model of evolution is under enormous pressure.” Biology is vastly more complex than we thought. “If you don’t have a tree of life. vol 112. While vertical descent is no longer the only game in town. and facing up to this complexity will be as scary as the conceptual upheavals physicists had to take on board in the early 20th century. including Richard Dawkins and Niles Eldridge. what pieces of the jigsaw they most want to see filled 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 39 . p 333).” Rose goes even further.” ■ Graham Lawton is features editor of New Scientist MITSUHIKO INAMORI/MINDEN Is this transition from caterpillar to comet moth the result of fusion of two separate species? Next week: What are the biggest gaps in evolutionary theory? We ask 16 of the world’s leading evolutionists.” says Bapteste. “The tree of life was useful. many others are not. and those produced during each former year may represent the long succession of extinct species” Darwin in his own words 200 Darwin NATURAL BORN CHIMERAS The idea that microbes regularly swap portions of genetic code with individuals from another species doesn’t seem so farfetched (see main story). “We’ve just annihilated the tree of life. Even so. sea squirts – also known as tunicates – are lumped together with frogs. don’t think it is time to relax. If he is right.” he says. “What would Darwin have made of that?” concept has outlived its usefulness in animals and plants. We’re clearly going to see evolution as much more about mergers and collaboration than change within isolated lineages. Some evolutionary relationships are tree-like.” Others. Back then there was no way to test that claim.” Both he and Doolittle are at pains to stress that downgrading the tree of life doesn’t mean that the theory of evolution is wrong – just that evolution is not as tidy as we would like to believe. biologist Michael Syvanen of the University of California. “We understand evolution pretty well – it’s just that it is more complex than Darwin imagined.” says Syvanen. sea squirts. But could the same process also have shaped the evolution of multicellular animals? In 1985.” says Dupré. the tree concept could become biology’s equivalent of Newtonian mechanics: revolutionary and hugely successful in its time. it is clear that the Darwinian tree is no longer an adequate description of how evolution in general works. “It helped us to understand that evolution was real. It’s not a tree any more. The tree isn’t the only pattern.” Syvanen says. “It’s part of a revolutionary change in biology. they see the uprooting of the tree of life as the start of something bigger. Conventionally. it is still the best way of explaining how multicellular organisms are related to one another – a tree of 51 per cent. In that respect. predicted that it did (Journal of Theoretical Biology. we all know that. but there is now. Davis. He failed. The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories. which aren’t chordates. The most likely explanation for this. Instead. sea urchins. created by the fusion of an early chordate and an ancestor of the sea urchins around 600 million years ago. frogs. however. “We should relax a bit on this. but ultimately too simplistic to deal with the messy real world. “The tree of life is being politely buried.”…The green and budding twigs may represent existing species. In theory. This was especially true of sea-squirt genes. Some genes did indeed cluster within the chordates. is that tunicates are chimeras. maybe. he should have been able to use the gene sequences to construct an evolutionary tree showing the relationships between the six animals. but others indicated that tunicates should be placed with sea urchins. “What’s less accepted is that our whole fundamental view of biology needs to change. he says. Syvanen recently compared 2000 genes that are common to humans. he argues. fruit flies and nematodes. it’s time to move on. but the genes were sending mixed signals. “At first it’s very scary… but in the past couple of years people have begun to free their minds. But now we know more about evolution. it’s a different topology entirely. humans and other vertebrates in the phylum Chordata. what does it mean for evolutionary biology?” asks Bapteste. Darwin’s vision has triumphed: he knew nothing of microorganisms and built his theory on the plants and animals he could see around him.

OJO/GETTY What makes otherwise intelligent people useless at mathematics? Laura Spinney investigates When numbers don’t add up 40 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 .

if exact number is learned. vol 105. In fact. She found that while her IQ is above average. People with dyscalculia. This was explored in the early 1990s. she says. also known as mathematics disorder. say – and the numerical symbol that represents it.” says Daniel Ansari. tuning it to respond to increasingly precise numerical symbols. from Michigan. such as the word “five” or the numeral 5. she hands her wallet to a friend and asks them to do the calculation. 19. bringing hope that dyscalculic children will start to get specialist help just as youngsters with dyslexia do. One school of thought argues that at least some elements of it are innate. Theirs is not a general learning problem. knowing that she is likely to get it wrong. where numbers rule because inhabitants are continually trying to avoid situations in which they have to perform even basic calculations. she stopped going to her college mathematics class after a while because. Neither can they grasp that performing additions or subtractions entails making stepwise changes along a number line. Instead. Despite affecting about 5 per cent of people – roughly the same proportion as are dyslexic – dyscalculia has long been neglected by science. showed that five-month-old infants could discriminate between one. He found no difference in performance between the indigenous children and a control group from English-speaking Melbourne (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A report published in October 2008 by the British government claimed that dyscalculia cuts a pupil’s chances of obtaining good exam results at age 16 by a factor of 7 or more. researchers are starting to get to the root of the problem. The debate over exact number is directly relevant to dyscalculics. and people with it incorrectly labelled as stupid. make a judgement as to which has more.”Dyscalculics fail to see the connection between a set of objects and the numerical symbol that represents it” and always arrives 20 minutes early for fear of being late. p 13179). two and three. then perhaps dyscalculia could be addressed by teaching mathematics in ways that help with the process of mapping numbers onto the ANS. “We know that basic mathematical fluency is an essential prerequisite for success in life. Using dolls. and learn to use calculators for the rest. and you > 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 41 People who struggle with arithmetic may have no problem with more conceptual maths ILL. She can’t easily read a traditional. can be highly intelligent and articulate. two Australian languages that contain very few number words. However. and that babies are born with an exactnumber “module” in their brain. it ought to be influenced by language. “I couldn’t take the daily reminder of what an idiot I was. Put simply. This concept of “exact number” is known to be unique to humans. So how do the two models stand up? The innate number module theory makes one obvious prediction: babies should be able to grasp exact numbers. because it explained a lot of difficulties she had in her day-to-day life. The diagnosis came partly as a relief. Canada. wants to go to university to read political science. For hundreds of millions of people this really matters. “I am an exceptional student in all other subjects. they fail to see the connection between a set of objects – five walnuts.000 from their lifetime earnings. When it comes to paying in shops or restaurants. They look for longer if the number of dolls that come out from behind the screen does not match the number that went in. a screen and the fact that babies stare for longer at things that surprise them. Others say exact number is learned and that it builds upon an innate and evolutionarily ancient number system which we share with many other species. This “approximate number sense” (ANS) is what you use when you look at two heavily laden apple trees and. as tackling their problem will be easier if we know what we are dealing with. and wipes more than £100. her numerical ability is equivalent to that of an 11-year-old because she has something called dyscalculia. as children acquire speech they map numberwords and then numerals onto the ANS. Early diagnosis and remedial teaching could help them avoid these pitfalls. but there is long-standing disagreement about where it comes from. they could be encouraged to put more faith in their ability to compare magnitudes using their ANS. though. If we have an innate exact number module that is somehow faulty in people with dyscalculia. without actually counting the apples. Welcome to the stressful world of dyscalculia. for example. They argue that if exact number is learned. analogue clock. both at the level of employment and in terms of social success. a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario in London. is evidence that “you’re born with a sense of exact number. so my consistent failure at math made me feel very stupid. then at the University of Arizona in Tucson. developmental psychologist Karen Wynn. Brian Butterworth from University College London recently did tests of exact number on children aged 4 to 7 who spoke only Warlpiri or Anindilyakwa. Now. they have a selective deficit with numerical sets. Jill got herself screened for learning disabilities.” she says. Some teams have taken a different approach to show that we are born with a sense of exact number. In this view. There is just one problem: she keeps failing the mathematics requirement. he says.” Last November. J . This.

they had to say which colour was more numerous. There was a further surprise in store when the team compared the teenagers’ ANS scores with their mathematics test results from the age of 5 and up. two. five sticks versus . Neuroscientist Stan Dehaene of the Collège de France in Paris points out that Wynn’s finding also fits the rival theory – that babies enter the world with only an intuition about approximate number. however. however. all of whom fell within the normal range for numeracy. First they learn what the number word “one” means. A size ratio of 1:2 is more easily discernable than 9:10. so is reasonably reliable when the numbers involved are small.” says Halberda. new research indicates that this may only be part of the story. Both of these approaches. and it only held for mathematics. it was assumed that everyone would have comparable abilities with approximate number.” says Dehaene. Wynn tested babies on small numbers and. watched an array of dots made up of two colours flash onto a computer screen. For now. This myth was exploded in 2008 when Justin Halberda of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The problem is that two other groups have come up with conflicting findings. then “two” and so on until. As expected. lots”). Supporters of the idea that exact number is learned also point to research showing how young children actually acquire an understanding of numbers. As it is essential for survival skills such as foraging. as Dehaene points out. p 665). but falls off as the proportional size difference shrinks. their judgements became less accurate as the size ratio of the two sets shrank towards 1:1. and with the understanding of number words. with the poorest performers having difficulty with ratios as large as 3:4. and says it provides good evidence for the idea that exact number is learned (see “One. then “two”. including some children with dyscalculia. The surprise was how much faster 42 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 KATHY COLLINS/TAXI ”First children learn what “one” means.map the counting words onto pre-existing concepts of exact numbers”. Case closed? Not quite. “There is something very special occurring in development with exact numbers. around the age of 4. when asked to compare the magnitude of collections of sticks – say. working memory and other factors had been controlled for. A subsequent larger study. “one versus two is a large ratio”. It was long thought that the ANS contributes little to performance in mathematics. Laurence Rousselle and Marie-Pascale Noël of the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium reported that dyscalculic children. vol 455. Dehaene has worked with an Amazonian tribe whose language only contains words for numbers up to five. not for other subjects. Maryland. The link remained even after IQ. confirmed the suspicion that those with the number disorder had markedly lower ANS scores than children with average ability. In each case. the idea that exact number is learned has the upper hand. This implicates a faulty ANS in dyscalculia. The teenagers. suggesting that dyscalculia is a learning problem. “I literally jumped out of my seat when I saw the correlation going all the way back to kindergarten. have been criticised. and so on until they suddenly grasp the underlying concept” accuracy fell off in some kids than in others. Count on learning What is more. This is because the ANS is concerned with ratios. tested the ANS in 64 14-year-olds and was “blown away” by the variability he found (Nature. To complicate things further. In 2007. they suddenly grasp the underlying concept of the number line and counting.

however: “It may be the case that the best we can do is teach them strategies for calculation. reflecting different underlying brain abnormalities. the condition goes widely unrecognised. say. simply recognising dyscalculia as a problem on a par with dyslexia would make a huge difference. in turn. Pierre Pica. “I don’t know of any survival situation where you need to know the difference between 37 and 38. in which children compete against a computer for rewards in a series of treasure hunts and other games. Working with his colleague in the field. called The Number Race.” says Butterworth. or a series of audible tones – and asked to point to the place on the line where they thought that quantity belonged. His team is testing a piece of software that it designed in collaboration with the London Knowledge Lab to strengthen dyscalculic schoolchildren’s basic number concepts. involving numerical comparison. but early indications are that it may help to bolster dyscalculic children’s concept of number and simple transformations of numerical sets. says Dehaene. Ansari’s team has obtained a similar result. and make it difficult to design a screening programme for schoolchildren. This is logarithmic. However.” he says. And. Nevertheless. When it comes to negotiating the natural world – sizing up an enemy troop or a food haul – ratios or percentages are what count. Switzerland 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 43 . Stan Dehaene of the Collège de France in Paris is among a growing number who believe that exact number is learned and therefore affected by our culture. One such tool. and 5 nearer to 10 (Science. relying on the discrepancy between the child’s IQ or general cognitive abilities and their scores in mathematics. and others. However. They asked volunteers to look at a horizontal line on a computer screen that had one dot at the far left and 10 dots to the right. The team conclude that “the concept of a linear number line appears to be a cultural invention that fails to develop in the absence of formal education”. now that she knows what her problem is. means the condition becomes less damaging to her self-esteem and perhaps.” A game like snakes and ladders can help children develop a sense of exact number seven – performed no worse than controls. But the Mundurucú put 3 in the middle. such as extra time in exams. With only limited tools for counting. But last year the team discovered a big cultural difference. He suspects this will not be enough. Dehaene reckons this is because they think in terms of ratios – logarithmically – rather than in terms of a number line. they struggled when asked to circle the larger of two numerals. So in some dyscalculic individuals. 10 is only twice as big as 5. to her chances in life. “After all. perhaps one day all children entering school will be assessed for various types of dyscalculia. That. in different sensory modalities – a picture of dots. As Jill says. “it’s easier to have the confidence and the perseverance to keep working until I get it”. the Mundurucú fall back on the default mode of thinking about number.ONE. “What you need to know is 37 plusor-minus 20 per cent. not entirely – and the brain is plastic. such as geometry and topology. p 1217).” Ansari also points out that children with dyscalculia could be helped immediately by practical measures already in place in schools for pupils with dyslexia. and testing is far from routine. of course. the tests are relatively crude. Even those researchers who remain convinced that dyscalculia is caused by a faulty exact number module believe that intervention could help. and do approximate magnitude comparisons as successfully as a control group. At the moment. genetics isn’t destiny – well. and get them onto doing more accessible branches of mathematics. but 5 is five times as big as 1. and gradually moves to more difficult tasks such as addition and subtraction. while in others it is intact but inaccessible so that individuals have problems when it comes to mapping number words and numerals onto the innate number system. The existence of such subtypes would make dyscalculia harder to pin down. ultimately. and the problem comes in mapping numerical symbols onto it. the ANS itself is damaged. such as 5 and 7. It assumes that the problem lies with the exact number system. including intelligent use of calculators. has been created by Dehaene and his colleague Anna Wilson. Testing of its effects is ongoing. the so-called “approximate number system” (ANS). Does this affect the way they think about mathematical problems? Experts who think that the human concept of exact number is innate would predict not. How to account for these contradictory findings? Halberda. Dehaene has found that the Mundurucú can add and subtract with numbers under 5. English-speakers will typically place 5 about halfway between 1 and 10. By the Mundurucú way of thinking. vol 320. so 5 is judged to be closer to 10 than to 1. ■ Laura Spinney is a writer based in Lausanne. He decided to test this idea with the Mundurucú. Ansari and Dehaene believe that there may be different types of dyscalculia. TWO. But where it is tested for. Both teams conclude that in dyscalculic children the ANS works normally. LOTS Amazonian hunter-gatherers called the Mundurucú only have words for numbers up to 5. They were then presented with a series of quantities between 1 and 10. so begins with tasks that the ANS is good at. Then teachers may be able to start intervention programmes based on teaching tools that are currently being tested.

go to www. iPods and the internet.newscientist. and you may just remember a rather humdrum. event. Over the next six pages we assess the prospects of 10 of the coolest gadgets that in 30 years time may change our lives as much – or maybe more – than cellphones. Who would have thought that today there would be enough cellphones for half the world’s population to have one? That’s not the only recent technological revolution. though retrospectively momentous.You’ll want one of these Cast your mind back 30 years. For decades the objects remained toys of the super-rich. In 1979.com/section/tech 44 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 . but we’ve decided to take the plunge. the Japanese firm NET launched the first cellular phone network in Tokyo. COMMENT ONLINE To let us know about the things we’ve missed. if you are old enough. Would you have dreamed that an entire record collection could one day fit in your pocket? How about a system that helps you communicate and share information across the world instantly? Crystal-ball gazing is a fraught endeavour.

you would be able to see through solid walls. They have to be tiny – smaller than the wavelength of light they are designed to interact with. has shown how metamaterials could work over a range of frequencies. Colin Barras 2 RUSSELL COBB Disappearing act Few dreams have flipped from science fiction to fact as quickly as “invisibility cloaks”. they still don’t exist. Berkeley. was unveiled in 2006. despite what those ads at the back of children’s comics suggest. peer in at your neighbours or keep a watchful eye on your kids upstairs. Cloaking makes an object disappear by steering electromagnetic waves around it – as if the waves had simply passed through. A wave polarised on a single plane passing through one material will become distorted. constructed a material that was able to bend – rather than reflect – visible light backwards for the first time. the company suggests. So far. Yet there are some technological tricks that can give you the next best thing. The team has exploited this by using the Doppler effect to pick up sub-centimetre changes in movement caused by a beating heart or the motion of the lungs. through a closed door. Unlike visible light. Biebl’s team at the Technical University of Munich in Germany has built a device that can pick up tiny motions like breathing. it is designed to only register objects that generate rapidly varying echoes. and spot activity over a range of up to 15 metres. or even a beating heart. it can only detect people when they move. Ulf Leonhardt at the University of St Andrews.The first. but endowed with Superman-like vision. Making these components isn’t easy. making it look as if neither material is there. however. a group at the University of California. Even more mind-boggling. To avoid being blinded by walls and other fixed structures. which worked only for microwaves. Last year. radio waves can pass through solid materials.1 Super-vision Who could ever pass up the chance to try on a pair of real X-ray specs? You may not always like what comes into view. these pulses can pass through building materials over 40 centimetres thick. but this distortion is cancelled out as the wave passes through the complementary material. Justin Mullins 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 45 . In 2006. They suggest using “complementary materials” which have optical properties that cancel each other out. His team found that radio waves at between 433 megahertz and 24 gigahertz can pass through skin and bone but are partly reflected by the fatty layer surrounding muscles such as the heart. but it has a crucial weakness. Even human statues would be hard pressed to avoid detection by Erwin Biebl’s radar sensor. UK. The goal is to create a cloak that works for a broad spectrum of visible frequencies. the only way to do this is with “metamaterials”. In other words. which are made of electronic components designed to interact with light and direct it in a controllable fashion. Unfortunately. Since then the field has been inundated with attempts to make cloaks to rival Harry Potter’s. a team from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in China has worked out how to cloak objects at a distance. engineers at Cambridge Consultants in the UK announced they had built a briefcase-sized system called the Prism 200 which can detect people through a brick wall by firing off pulses of ultrawide-band radar and listening for returning echoes. The device could be used to track people in hostage situations. According to the company.

He has now made gloves that can support around 10 kilograms each. several beams are carefully focused to meet inside the body where their combined heat will seal the tear. researchers have turned to geckos rather than spiders.3 Hands-free healing Modern cellphones may do more than a Star Trek “communicator” can. he came up with a fir tree-like design. Medics already use these ultrasound beams to examine babies in the womb. Ben Crystall 4 5 Spider vs gecko Peter Parker makes it look easy. which revealed internal injuries in an instant. it may go a step further: engineers are developing a portable scanner to not only spot internal injuries like torn arteries. but replicating his rooftop antics is so difficult it has had researchers climbing the walls for years. forcing the liquid – and the magnet – back and forwards through the tube. it’s useless the moment it runs out of juice. When it does. and 1-centimetre-square of it. which take effect on tiny scales. For example. The problem is clear: the gloves and shoes of any Spider-Man suit must be able to support the weight of an average person while dangling from the side of a skyscraper. Yet no matter how sophisticated it is. with long carbon nanotubes forming a trunk while shorter nanotubes branched off sideways. have devised a heart-powered electricity generator. it generates a tiny current. Geckos feet are self-cleaning. Transceivers emitting low power ultrasound will scan for reflections from damaged arteries. Andre Geim at the University of Manchester. however. Zhong Lin Wang at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta wove a fabric made from zinc-oxide nanowires grown on strands of Kevlar. Gadgets implanted inside your body. Ultrasound Technology. Each time the material is bent or squeezed. Colin Barras You power Your cellphone is a marvel of the modern age. the result is a powerful force of attraction. encourage each hair to stick to the wall and. can support 1 kilogram. For inspiration. but also heal them in a flash. UK. designed a material with microscopic hairs that mimic those found on geckos’ feet. Adam Heller at the University of Texas. the hairs need to be longer to provide a large enough surface area to support a person. The secret of this device is highfrequency sound waves. Dirt among the artificial hairs would compromise sticking ability. But what if you could dispense with batteries and simply gather all the energy your gadget needs from the world around you? For a start. In 2007. Geim’s material has hairs made from a substance called kapton. Nicola Pugno at the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy might have the answer. Intermolecular van der Waals forces. The device will consist of an array of ultrasound transceivers built into a cuff that can be wrapped round an injured limb. His company. Austin. Weak ultrasound beams can also be used to spot the fast flow of blood characteristic of a bleeding artery. But there may be problems scaling the materials up to a useful size. Wang and his team found they could harvest it by coating each fibre with a film of metal. Colin Barras 46 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 . David Tran’s team at Stanford University. and the whole device is placed within the heart. Lawrence Crum at the University of Washington in Seattle has shown that high-intensity ultrasound can cauterise bleeding arteries. such as pacemakers. could be powered by you. Nature still has the upper hand. which will result in the Deep Bleeder Acoustic Coagulation system – a portable device that uses ultrasound to both spot and seal bleeding blood vessels. is taking longer to appear in the real world. To avoid damage to healthy tissue. has built a fuel cell that can be implanted in an artery and which uses glucose in the blood as fuel. and long hairs tend to tangle. if pressed hard against a vertical surface. but Doctor “Bones” McCoy’s portable medical scanner. In 2008. And of course hands and feet must also peel off easily when required – superglue is not an option. the transceivers zap it. a trick way beyond current designs. you could plug it into your shirt. the balloons are squeezed in turn. In 2003. because a gecko’s feet are coated with millions of these hairs. The gadget produces electricity by forcing a small magnet back and forth through a tiny wire coil. As the heart beats. If they spot a leaking blood vessel. California. The magnet is housed in a liquid-filled silicone tube with a balloon attached to each end. Crum hopes to test it in humans this year. has developed a hand-held device that allows surgeons to cut through blood-rich organs and cauterise the cut at the same time. But turn up the intensity and focus the beam into a spot and it can generate enough heat to cook tissue. The US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding a project to combine the two ideas.

000. The Martin Jetpack is a little on the large side – it is not so much strap on. as they are more accurately called. Who would want one of those? In 1999. Rocket belts. The company is already taking orders and hopes to deliver the first production machines in the second half of 2009. And that might have been that. Its machine is powered by two turbojet engines.6 RUSSELL COBB Jet packs Personal jets occupy a curious position in the world of dream machines because engineers have been building and flying them for decades. The machine runs on standard auto fuel and it can fly for 30 minutes on the single tank. with a range of roughly 50 kilometres. So it is a bona fide jet pack.” says company founder Glenn Martin. The downside is that they cost about $100. The turbojets turn two vertically mounted rotors that provide lift. and in the pages of New Scientist in 2005. a company called Millennium Jet based in Santa Clara. famously featured in the James Bond movie Thunderball in 1965. rather than a rocket engine. It is fitted with a parachute in case of emergencies. at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The trouble is that each machine can carry only enough propellent for about 30 seconds of flight. New Zealand. Justin Mullins 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 47 . Although promising. as walk into – but if you have always wanted to commute to work with a jet pack. and all kinds of groups. the same as a high-end car. its time to start saving. It is 40 years since the first rocket belt flew. California. “I’d imagined it would be a rich boy’s toy but we’ve had interest from the military. California. the machine crashed during a test flight and the company wound up operations in 2003. built a personal flying machine with two vertically mounted rotors powered by a piston engine. searchand-rescue. which last July launched an entirely different kind of jet pack. but all these machines work in the same way – and suffer from the same fatal limitation. were it not for the Martin Aircraft Company of Christchurch. Rocket belts generate thrust by catalysing the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide into rapidly expanding steam and oxygen.

So no matter how efficient the extraction method is. The device was built by Fuji Systems of Tokyo. They are also likely to be used to get rid of excess carbon dioxide from submarines and underwater habitats. Michael Le Page 48 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 . which means much more to go wrong. Myrabo has spent a decade developing small spacecraft that are pushed upwards by a ground-based laser. The biggest hurdle is to find an affordable way to launch a craft into space. reducing the amount of fuel needed. Artificial gills may have a rosier future for other applications. At that altitude the spacecraft will detach and its rocket will take over. UK. which are developing craft to ferry paying passengers into space. We need a lot of oxygen and there just isn’t that much dissolved in a litre of seawater. The Lynx. however. Japan. The company recently announced it will be charging $95. But you won’t see divers using artificial gills any time soon.7 My other car is a spaceship Fancy feeling the freedom of weightlessness or watching the sun set from orbit in your very own spaceplane? The prospect of zipping into space whenever you choose may not be as ludicrous as it seems. He has now devised a system that uses microwave beams which he says could carry a crewed “lightcraft” into low Earth orbit by 2025. an engineer at Lightcraft Technologies. One way to reduce this is to add wings: the lift these generate helps a craft climb up through the atmosphere. using high-tech silicon membranes.” says Patrick Wood from space technology company EADS Astrium. This is the strategy adopted by two private companies. extracting the gas from the water as we need it? In 2002. Problem solved? Unfortunately not.000 per ticket – about half the price of seats on SpaceShipTwo. And while you do not need to carry air. breathing oxygen extracted from the water by an artificial gill. so why can’t we swim around like fish. based in Stevenage. XCOR’s smaller Lynx spacecraft will fly the whole way itself. Israeli inventor Alan Bodner has tried to get around this problem with a gadget that exploits “the champagne effect”: gases dissolved in water bubble out when the pressure falls. Myrabo reckons he could power 1000 launches for the cost of a single conventional launch. because simple diffusion gills produce dangerously low levels of oxygen. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will be carried to an altitude of 15 kilometres by a launch plane. blasting it into space. When it begins operations in 2010. and thus the weight of the craft. These are permeable to gases but not liquids. a diver spent half an hour submerged in a swimming pool doing just this. while carbon dioxide diffuses out – just like the gills of a fish. David Robson 8 Breathe underwater Even with scuba gear. you can only stay underwater for as long as the meagre air supply on your back allows. why not dispense with on-board fuel completely? According to Leik Myrabo. so oxygen can diffuse into the breathing air from the water. will only travel to an altitude of about 61 kilometres and so will not officially reach space – classed as 100 kilometres and beyond – as SpaceShipTwo is intended to do. Alternatively. Underwater robots powered by fuel cells could use gills to obtain oxygen. you do need batteries and the means to make air. Bodner has shown his method can produce a breathable gas. you would have to pump a huge volume of water through it to get enough. The usual approach – essentially stuffing a metal tube full of high-energy fuel and lighting one end – can cost as much as $100 million a shot. your personal spacecraft could fly into orbit on a beam of microwaves shone upwards from the ground. creating thrust that pushes it skywards. Yet the ocean contains oxygen. however. perhaps boosting the oxygen supply at the same time. taking off and landing like a plane. Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace. The beam generates an explosive plasma when it strikes the underside of the craft. “I can imagine personal spacecraft taking off within the next 50 to 100 years.

says Gilbert. IraqComm’s software. The broader the subject matter. the intoxicating perfume of a woman or the sulphurous smell of gunpowder in the heat of a battle. The silver screen is no stranger to smello-vision. a now-defunct company that developed smell-o-vision technology in the late 1990s. Do not expect these programs to cope with free-flowing language just yet. The smells were not perfect replicas but they were recognisable. learned to translate much as a person would – by studying conversations. nor manufacture a novel molecule to have a particular scent. called the Speechalator. So imagine the impact of TV and video games if scenes were accompanied by their aromas. That is the idea behind smell-o-vision: giving TVs the ability to produce smells that fit the scenes they are displaying. to date there has been no whiff of Sony producing the hardware required. a computer voice speaks the translation. p 10). Given enough examples. making conversations with aliens effortless. How do you prevent the scents you release mixing into an unintended cocktail. which consists of a laptop loaded with speech recognition and translation software. When popped into one’s ear. emitting aromas for smell-o-vision has further down sides. Most recently. it would use brainwave energy. The software searches for statistical connections between a series of Arabic statements and English translations. was developed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. Unfortunately. developed by SRI International in Menlo Park. it’s not yellow. After the person has finished talking. Jim Giles Smell-o-vision Whether it is the mouthwatering aroma of a roast dinner. For example. 7 April 2005. Bijal Trivedi ■ RUSSELL COBB 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 49 . unconscious mental frequencies and something called a “telepathic matrix” to achieve real-time language interpretation. Well. Speak into the microphone in Arabic and the software turns the phrases into written Arabic. the software can learn grammar too. but US soldiers in Iraq are using a device that could become a universal interpreter. California. and suggest “smell-o-vision” may become a reality even before we truly understand how olfaction works. floral and so on. Douglas Adams imagined a small yellow fish. in various scenes in select screenings of the film The New World. so does the word “hot” in the English version (the correct translation). We still don’t know why we perceive certain molecules to have particular scents and so cannot predict the scent of a novel molecule.9 10 You speak. The soldiers use a system called IraqComm. the harder it becomes for the software to distinguish the alternate meanings required in different contexts. when the Arabic word “haar” appears. “We’ll get there. A similar system running on a hand-held PDA. and other programs like it. it translates In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. the program concludes that they mean the same thing. However. It began in crude form in cinemas in the 1950s and has recurred periodically ever since. called a Babel fish. The company’s plans were revealed in a patent application which described the idea of using ultrasound signals to directly stimulate selective parts of the brain to induce scents in a viewer’s or game player’s mind. If this occurs frequently enough. scent is a powerful force. and it doesn’t fit in your ear. DigiScents built a prototype device that could generate most everyday odours. recent advances mean some of these scientific hurdles can be side-stepped. or lingering longer than the scene requires? Researchers at Sony may have the answer: avoid the nose completely and go straight for the brain (New Scientist. such as woody.000 words soldiers need. We group scents into about three-dozen categories. The IraqComm works well because it focuses on around 50. before translating it into English. If it was not difficult enough already.” says SRI’s Kristin Precoda. an olfactory scientist who worked with DigiScents. says Avery Gilbert. faecal. grassy.

MATTHEW RICHARDSON 50 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 .

No matter how big they build their telescopes. What they found shocked them. Kashlinsky.F OR most of us the universe is unimaginably vast. However. and the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the universe’s expansion. and if the cluster happens to be moving. Kashlinsky and his team collected a catalogue of close to 800 clusters. the signal would be amplified to a measurable level. but when they pass through a galaxy cluster they encounter hot ionised gas in the spaces between the galaxies. this shift is far too small to detect. the idea that the universe should look the same in all directions. through some combination of luck and vigilance. every cluster seems to be rushing toward a small patch of sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Vela. Photons in the CMB generally stream uninterrupted through billions of light years of interstellar space. because matter is > They call it dark flow. is to spot a crack in the structure of things. That is. stuck inside our patch of universe. So here we are. Heaped in that pile is 95 per cent of the universe’s contents. Others aren’t so sure. if the observations withstand close scrutiny. Finding out could tell us how the universe looked immediately after the big bang or if our universe is one of many. The best we can hope for. One rival interpretation is that it is nothing to do with alien universes but the result of a flaw in one of the cornerstones of cosmology. “This discovery adds to our pile of puzzles about cosmology. Photons scattered by this gas show up as a tiny distortion in the temperature of the CMB. the ultimate barrier because light beyond it not has not had time to reach us. Kashlinsky named this new puzzle the “dark flow”. Amanda Gefter investigates Another universe comes calling 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 51 . Kashlinsky measures how fast galaxy clusters up to 5 billion light years away are travelling by looking for signs of their motion in the cosmic microwave background. Stranger still. the distortion will also register a Doppler shift. a senior staff scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. the heat left over from the big bang. has been studying how rebellious clusters of galaxies move against the backdrop of expanding space. Kashlinsky and his team claim that their observation represents the first clues to what lies beyond the cosmic horizon.” says Laura Mersini-Houghton of the University of North Carolina. But not for cosmologists. Accordingly. Chapel Hill. Galaxy clusters are expected to wander randomly through their particular region of space. He and colleagues have clocked galaxy clusters racing at up to 1000 kilometres per second – far faster than our best understanding of cosmology allows. Approximately 45 billion light years away lies the cosmic horizon. and it could be a signal from beyond the cosmic horizon. a possible window to that hidden place beyond the edge of the universe. All the same colleagues are sitting up and taking notice. using telescopes that captured the X-rays emitted by the ionised gas within them. Now Sasha Kashlinsky believes he has stumbled upon such a window. Maryland. Kashlinsky realised if he combined measurements from a large enough number of clusters. They feel decidedly hemmed in. including the invisible dark matter that appears to hold the galaxies together. In any individual cluster. which is why no one had ever bothered looking for it. wondering what lies beyond and resigned to that fact we may never know. They then looked at the CMB at those locations. they can only see so far before hitting a wall. using images snapped by NASA’s WMAP satellite.

says physicist Anthony Aguirre of the University of California. if two very different universes collide. Many cosmologists are happy to relegate those other universes to that dusty corner of theory where unobservable by-products are stored. so collisions between bubbles can have dramatic consequences. If two universes with the same physics collide. Looking out across the sky today. things might look very different. including galaxies and clusters. travel through it and how large-scale structures. and that would in turn affect how light rays. everything in the standard model of cosmology suggests that the universe should look pretty much the same in all directions. because dark energy is spread evenly throughout space. Before the findings were published in October in The Astrophysical Journal Letters (vol 686. each defining its own universe within a larger multiverse. A completely different take on dark flow The “dark flow” of wayward galaxy clusters that appear to be pulled in one direction could give us our first hint of something beyond the cosmic horizon. Either way. a cosmic battle ensues. Edge of the universe Out of bounds So what is behind the dark flow? It can’t be caused by dark matter. then merge.5388). obliterating everything in its path. Mersini-Houghton is not one of them. She and her colleagues calculated how other universes.” says Kashlinsky. either. before a phenomenon known as inflation took hold. holding the two incompatible worlds apart. The collision might have imprinted a special direction onto the CMB. evolve. bubbles pop up all all over the place. Without inflation’s ironing skills. “When we estimated how much force is exerted on the clusters in our universe. more radical. However. What’s more. including the CMB.” No one knows exactly what might lurk over the horizon or indeed how large the cosmos is (see “Just how big is the universe?”.” he says. far beyond our cosmic horizon. some say – that ours wasn’t the only bubble to inflate out of primordial space-time. he concludes: something lurking beyond the cosmic horizon is to blame. org/abs/0810. It is generally thought that our universe began as a tiny patch in some pre-existing space-time forming a bubble which then underwent a burst of exponential expansion. rather dull. “We sat on this for over a year checking everything. matter is assumed to be spread evenly. She argues that the dark flow is caused by other universes exerting a gravitational pull on galaxy clusters in our universe. or something 52 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 “I firmly believe that this is the effect of something outside of our universe. leaves only one possible explanation. so we were sceptical for a long time. scattered at random around our bubble. In this “eternal inflation” scenario. they will generate a burst of energy.” Physicists are now combing the data looking for the hallmarks of such a shift. the remnants of a collision are a candidate for explaining it. explanations for dark flow have also been floated. It is possible – even likely.” Others believe dark flow could be a sign that our bubble universe crashed into another bubble just after the big bang. “It’s not what we expected or even wanted to find. “It could be as bizarre as one can imagine. sending the domain wall sweeping through its rival. Whenever there are weird things happening on a large scale within the galaxy.arxiv. But ultimately it’s what’s in the data. page 53) But Kashlinsky suspects it is a remnant of the chaotic state that existed just a fraction of a second after the beginning of time. “As you move away from the special direction. Over large scales.”The dark flow could be a sign that our bubble universe crashed into another soon after the big bang” distributed in uneven clumps. That. In eternal inflation each bubble universe can pop into existence with its own unique set of particles and forces of nature. causing the dark flow. If our universe underwent such a collision. leaving an even distribution of matter and energy. would alter the gravity within it (www. any lingering evidence of the cosmic wreckage should appear in the part of the sky facing the impact site. a wall of energy called a domain wall will form. which normally marks the limit of the observable universe Dark flow of galaxy clusters OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE COSMIC HORIZON (45 billion light years from observer) OBSERVER Dense patch of space-time attracts galaxy clusters inside the cosmic horizon Expansion of space-time . the temperature [of the CMB] would change.” she says. Outside this bubble. he suggests that something outside our bubble is tugging on our galaxy clusters. so on these scales the clusters should coast along with space as it expands. Kashlinsky says. p L49). creating local gravitational fields that tug on them. Aguirre says. The bubble with lower energy then expands. The collision’s impact should distort space. Kashlinsky knew how heretical his idea would seem . because all the dark matter in the universe wouldn’t produce enough gravity. we would expect to see the universe exhibiting strange properties in the direction of the collision. Santa Cruz. however. I was surprised that the number matched amazingly well with what Kashlinsky has observed. At the site of the crash. space-time could be highly irregular: smooth in one neighbourhood and with massive structures or giant black holes in another. Other. It can’t be dark energy. This period of inflation stretched and smoothed our universe.

Probing the multiverse Physicist Douglas Scott of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. To confirm their finding. which they hope will confirm their ideas.7 billion light years.” Kashlinsky says.” says Sylos Labini. When that happens. And the most exciting thing it could tell us is that there are other universes. That’s because throughout the life of the universe. will help give Pietronero and Sylos Labini a more precise picture of the spread of matter. Scott notes that so far dark flow has only been observed out to distances that are only a few per cent of the total distance to the horizon.” says Aguirre. “then the likely explanation would be some very large-scale structure. Canada. If it continued for a very long time – in this context “very long” is still only a fraction of a second – then the edge of our universe might lie far beyond the 45-billion-light-year limit of our vision. That could also rule out the possibility of observing the influence of other universes on our own.” Pietronero says. New results from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. but still within the horizon. though. Yet the most distant object we could conceivably see today lies further away than 13. For one thing. “If confirmed. cosmologists calculate that the edge of our observable universe is now approximately 45 billion light years away. which has already mapped about a million galaxies. Two other teams have made measurements consistent with Kashlinsky’s results. “on the same order of discovery as the realisation that those little smudges on the sky are other galaxies. Italy. it will be incredibly important. so theorists would be left to figure out how it arose in the first place (New Scientist. raise big problems of its own. As physicist Matthew Kleban of New York University puts it: “It’s totally possible that we live in a multiverse and we’ll never know because there’s been so much inflation. and that a different model might explain the motion of galaxy clusters that Kashlinsky found. space has been expanding. those claustrophobia-stricken cosmologists will finally be able to breathe easy.7 billion years since the big bang. space and time will open up to reveal a reality that is so much bigger than we know.” “If this thing is confirmed and it is real. however. who knows? The inflation theory of cosmology predicts that the universe grew from a bubble. Taking this into account.” If it does.JUST HOW BIG IS THE UNIVERSE? It is 13. which means the more galaxy clusters he can look at the better.” he says. would still present a major challenge to cosmology’s standard model. “I think we will have interesting news very soon. a fractal distribution of matter is incompatible with cosmic inflation. and that at large scales matter is like a fractal. “If the effect is real. ■ Amanda Gefter is an editor at New Scientist 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 53 . The most important thing now is to confirm that dark flow is real and that it continues all the way out to the cosmic horizon. Pietronero and Sylos Labini claim analysis of the distributions of galaxies and galaxy clusters throughout the sky shows that this is not true. “There is no reason at all to expect it to come from structures beyond the horizon. the gravitational field throughout the universe would also be irregular and could lead to the effects Kashlinsky observed. They say the standard cosmological model is wrong. Kashlinsky’s team will be analysing more recent WMAP data and working with researchers at the University of Hawaii on data from an all-sky X-ray catalogue.” he says. “This is just another element pointing toward the fact that the standard picture of galaxy formation is not correctly describing what is going on in the real universe. The most important thing it would tell us is that the standard picture is broken in some way. Beyond that. A fractal universe would. The tiny Doppler effect that Kashlinsky uses to measure the clusters’ velocities is only observable in bulk. is also sceptical that dark flow is evidence of anything outside our observable universe. “But you have to check and recheck.” Such a structure. 10 March 2007. but only on scales less than 200 million light years – just a short step compared to the distance out to the horizon.” MATTHEW RICHARDSON comes from Luciano Pietronero and Francesco Sylos Labini of La Sapienza University in Rome. Just how big that bubble has now become depends on how long inflation lasted. Predictions of the motion of galaxy clusters based on the conventional model assume matter is evenly distributed throughout space on very large scales. so light now reaching us cannot have started its journey longer ago than that. p 30) . this will be an exciting way of probing the ultimate structure of the universe and perhaps even the multiverse. If that is the case.

in 1909. says Karen Rader. While Little is indisputably the man behind modern lab mice. Tiny Mus musculus has helped clarify the nature of a raft of human illnesses. They are also easy to feed and house. would remain a champion of the laboratory mouse all his life. in Bar Harbor.” says Brown. a historian at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. leukaemia and osteoporosis to name but a few. making it the most common animal research model. His professor said it couldn’t be done. produce large litters and reach maturity in just 10 weeks. he was not the first to experiment with them. They have one other big advantage. But even he could not have foreseen the enormous power of inbred strains. Little’s original lab mouse has been joined by thousands of strains. the lab mouse might have got off to a much earlier start if Gregor Mendel – the father of genetics – hadn’t been thwarted by his bishop.” In fact. Such a mouse would allow biologists to reliably replicate their experiments for the first time. Today. they could never be certain whether the results of their research were genuinely the result of an experiment or stemmed from genetic inconsistencies in their test animals. But he was a monk and his bishop decreed that a monastery was no place to experiment with copulating mice. Mendel switched to a study of peas. a peculiarity later discovered to be the result of an inner-ear defect. testing treatments which have led to the development of drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. who saw it as way to WELLCOME LIBRARY. We are all indebted to those inbred mice and their descendants. if tedious. Breeders of fancy mice had tinkered with mouse genes for centuries. Clarence Cook Little was a Harvard undergraduate when his zoology professor thrust a live mouse across the lab bench and told him to learn everything he could about it. In the third year of his degree. was trying to create the first inbred lab animal – a strain of mouse whose genes would be stable and identical. By the 20th century. Mendel began his investigation of inheritance by studying coatcolour traits in mice. “The mouse is enough like us that results can apply to us. have a three-week gestation. he created the first inbred strain of mouse. which have helped researchers develop treatments for a wide range of human diseases. creating albinos and mice with spotted coats. director of the Mammalian Genetics Unit at MRC Harwell in Oxfordshire. the great-grandson of America’s most famous patriot.HISTORIES One hundred years ago in a lab at Harvard University. Making Mice. The Mouse Man of Maine IT BEGAN with one small mouse and a simple. as he was known on campus. As a student. Little often judged these shows at the behest of his professor William Castle. Seventeenth-century illustrations show how people in Japan bred and collected unique strains. a young zoology student was busily overseeing the breeding of pair after pair of brother and sister mice. from cancer and diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease and obesity. About 25 million mice are used in labs around the world each year. the student who had once sketched mice in the margins of his zoology notes founded the Jackson Laboratory. but the Mouse Man proved him wrong. the Revolutionary Paul Revere. Nor were biologists the only people to experiment with mice. says Steve Brown. the lab mouse has been a stand-in for humans. Little. Researchers of yore recognised that mice share many physiological systems with humans. Maine. They also bred “waltzing mice” that seemed to dance. 54 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 “The concept of creating inbred strains is fundamental to genetic studies. but not so much like us that people get upset about conducting experiments on them. such breeders had established clubs and exhibited their prize specimens at mouse shows. He was particularly interested in cancer and was convinced that the key to understanding the disease lay in the study of genetics and that the best way to study genetics was by using inbred mice. instruction. providing researchers with a homogeneous genetic background on which to experiment. Crucially. UK. who has written the definitive book on lab mice. a centre for research into mouse genetics. In 1929. LONDON . In the 1850s. Before that. The “Mouse Man”. Little went one better.

When the mice exhibit a defect. She soon attracted scientific customers. on his 80th birthday in 1968.” Sharon Oosthoek ■ Further reading: Making Mice: Standardizing Animals for American Biomedical Research. scientists understood the value of inbred mice. “But she always had the best mice. which eventually led to the discovery of embryonic stem cells. You’ve had 80 years.NewScientist. We now know that 99 per cent of human genes have a comparable version in mice and many of them are located in the same place on the chromosome. “I know it sounds bizarre. But Little eventually found a strain that flourished. He also doubted that the mice would remain fertile after generations of inbreeding. The return of the mice paved the way for two important discoveries. but he would have been thrilled. had recognised the potential in Lathrop’s stock. visit www. That year.com/topic/histories Clarence Cook Little shows off his creations at the Jackson Lab “Judging fancy mouse shows was a way to scout for interesting mutants” scout for genetic mutants of interest to science. also made great strides with his own studies of tumour transplantation. He confirmed Lathrop’s suspicions that the lesions were cancerous and the pair spent the next five years publishing joint research on tumour transmission in mice. which were regarded as vermin and carriers of disease. and such relative genetic similarity would make an excellent starting point for his work. a pathologist at the University of Pennsylvania. she sent samples to her scientific clients. The drawing shows him looking up at the mouse which says: “You’re not so damn smart. Little. the Jackson Laboratory was destroyed in a fire that consumed the town of Bar Harbor. The decoding of the mouse genome in 2002 opened up still greater possibilities. in terms of genetics. Litters are small and the young sometimes sterile. says Rader. research institutes and individual geneticists who had acquired mice from the lab began sending back breeding pairs so that Little could re-establish his colonies.000 mice. Little drew a cartoon of a lab mouse on a pedestal. Another of the rebuilt lab’s scientists. The following day. Massachusetts. George Snell’s studies of tumour transplantation and rejection in mice in the late 1940s laid the foundation for modern immunology. More specifically. She was a local celebrity. few progeny of brother-sister matings survive. He named it dilute brown nonagouti (DBA) – dilute because it had less pigment than its wild cousins. Little soon found he had taken on something of a challenge. it led to one mouse fancier. brown as opposed to the more common black. by Karen Rader. scientists can pinpoint the gene’s function and test treatments. Indeed. Princeton University Press (2004) 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 55 THE JACKSON LABORATORY .” says Rader. and non-agouti because it didn’t have the grizzled-looking fur of other mice. but he was also eager to prove one of Castle’s hypotheses wrong. By 1947. Little began his project largely because he needed to do some independent research to qualify for Harvard’s doctoral programme. Castle believed interbreeding could never create a stable and pure genetic strain. Anti-vivisectionists of the time were largely concerned with cats and dogs. After a failed attempt at raising poultry. 1900–1955. killing 14 people and 90. It was this link to mouse fanciers that ultimately led to Little’s lab mouse. Indeed. Lathrop hoped to make a living from the fancy mouse craze and began to breed popular strains on her farm in Granby. That means scientists can work out the role of any human gene by creating mice lacking the equivalent gene.” Lathrop was also a scientist in her own right. Look what my family has done in 39 years.For our histories archive. meanwhile. Without it. human organ transplants would be impossible. that people would seek out this mouse breeder on a farm in Granby. When she noticed some of her mice suffered from skin lesions. Little claimed to have received just one angry letter from an anti-vivisectionist women’s club. Lathrop had bred many generations of brother and sister mice to create unique strains. Leroy Stevens. including Leo Loeb. says Rader. The public’s sympathy rarely extended to rodents. “Little wouldn’t have dreamed about this. which suggested it might have been better if he and his scientists had burned instead of the mice. As fancy mouse breeders had already discovered. retired schoolteacher Abbie Lathrop.” says Rader.

was suggested by an 11-year-old English girl. especially book is what it reveals about in the US. their gravity also radically transforms their interiors. W. like small asteroids. “Dear Scientest [sic]… some daily life. Pluto’s discovery in 1930 by no matter how distant” US astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. he says. but this distinction deserved a sentence or two. There is little space in the breezy book to delve deeply into planetary science. benefits of their work for fear that however. where he is director.” interest in what’s out there in Equally enjoyable are letters the solar system. the planet controversy shows that there is intense public nature won’t. Arizona.” ■ David Shiga is a physical sciences reporter for New Scientist . then. While scientists described by one NASA scientist seeking funding tend to as a “true-blue American planet”. He makes a good case for moving beyond the definition debate. Mercury through Neptune. emphasise the potential practical We learn that the name Pluto. 56 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 favorite planet. This led to an embarrassing downgrade to “dwarf planet” for Pluto. Tyson write back. While Tyson emphasises the things that set Pluto apart from the eight official planets. he does not argue against calling it a planet. Though Tyson was not directly responsible for the definition. Pluto will. “your friend Emerson York”.” Most fascinating about the on its place in culture. in The Pluto Files. there is a case to be made for distinguishing between those that are massive enough to become round. a laxative promoted with the slogan: “When it. We should spend less time classifying objects as planet or non-planet. Norton & Co. like its cluttered and elongated orbit. planets are personal. For the purpose of understanding the detailed properties of individual objects. “Please Now. but it is unlikely to sway the hordes of devoted Plutophiles – especially the angry correspondent who told Tyson: “Pluto is a planet because I say so. The display showed only eight planets. frozen denizens of the solar system’s fringes. its name was associated in the people will not otherwise support US with Pluto Water. The letters were prompted by the controversial new definition adopted by the International Astronomical Union that year. which resides in the Kuiper belt. This triggers geological activity – such as volcanic eruptions soon after the object’s formation – that shapes its surface in ways that less massive bodies. and those that are not – a point I wish Tyson had made in The Pluto Files. Neil deGrasse Tyson received an angry letter: “Dear Mr Tyson… Why do you think Pluto is no longer a planet? I do not like your anser[sic]!!! … Pluto is a planet !!!!!!!” signed. At the time of there in the solar system. he says. where affection is the public’s relationship with strong for an object jokingly astronomy. never experience.95 Reviewed by David Shiga IN LATE 2006. a zone populated by countless small. and would “There is intense public have been an unlikely pick from interest in what’s out an American. which we might call planets. he had been considered “a public enemy of Pluto lovers the world over” since 2001. No matter how from school kids taking Tyson to distant or disconnected from task. people like Pluto… If it doesn’t Last year I attended a debate exist then they don’t have a DARREN PHILLIPS/AP/PA over the planet question between Tyson and Mark Sykes. $23. Pluto was placed with other diminutive. from size and composition to formation history and weather. which required a planet to have “cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit” in addition to orbiting the sun and being round.” adding. icy objects. and more time thinking about the myriad ways to group them. Sykes argued that when objects are massive enough for gravity to shape them into spheres. That’s when a New York Times article drew attention to a provocative solar system display Tyson had installed at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. with the apparent implication that it was nothing but a glorified chunk of distant debris. director of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson. It was one of a stack of cute hate mail from thirdgrade students in Pennsylvania.BOOKS & ARTS Fighting over the underdog Neil deGrasse Tyson made some unlikely enemies when he supported Pluto’s planetary demotion The Pluto Files: The rise and fall of America’s favorite planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson W. but not in cursive offers a highly entertaining history of Pluto with an emphasis because I can’t read in cursive.

robotics is not a new passion. is what allowed the human brain to make its “great leap forward”. necessary for us to become fully human? Surely the adult brain could be rewired without all that teenage angst? Perhaps. he contends. when the high-tech radar on the USS Vincennes mistook an Iranian airliner for an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet coming in for an attack. His cousin got into the US Air Force Academy. emotional and mental changes that occur in the second decade of life. pick up a copy of Wired for War. As well as providing a highly readable account of the physical. but was the emergence of adolescence. bombers. wheeled robots go places too dangerous for soldiers. guns.99/$26. Instead. its origins and consequences. But the life we can see is just the start: microscopes and DNA sequencing have revealed whole new realms living in extreme environments such as undersea hot springs.000 years ago. Military robotics are important. rockets. such as Linnaeus and those who have devoted their lives to ferreting AT A time when youth culture is feared and demonised. artillery. cataloguing life is about more than accountancy.99 Reviewed by Kate Douglas NORTHROP GRUMMAN Life as we know it Every Living Thing: Man’s obsessive quest to catalog life. The harder we look. the cadet is training to fly remotely controlled robotic aircraft from the safety of a chair. Singer’s book examines robotic warfare. robots.000 and 300. far from enemy fire. Recent research leaves no doubt that the teenage years are special. but bloat hurts an otherwise good book. The evolution of adolescence. between 800. But the greatest danger is that turning battles over to the robots could give the illusion that wars can be won with little human cost. Its 436 pages are rich with food for thought. the stranger and more spectacular the answers become. Rob Dunn even looks at the search for life elsewhere in the universe. spread autonomous robots around and deadly encounters on a smaller scale could become daily tragedies. he shows. Portobello Books. and more than a little chilling Wired for War: The robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century by P. Unmanned aerial vehicles such as the aptly named Predator fly reconnaissance missions in the Middle East. Even soldiers can have a hard time sorting the insurgents from the civilians. creative teenagers who see the world afresh each generation is what allows our species to be so adaptable to whatever life should throw at us.99 Reviewed by John Whitfield IF YOU think that cataloguing life is largely a matter of butterfly nets and flower presses. David Bainbridge argues that teenagers are the most impressive creatures on the planet. In the 1980s. checking for hidden insurgents and defusing the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which have taken a heavy toll in Iraq. Think of it as the next step in the mechanisation of war: swords and arrows. reporting that robots save lives. And the US navy sports autonomous undersea vehicles that can be programmed to spend hours searching underwater. where it came from. The plumber considers that a smart move. W. robotic systems are being used for real. If you want the whole story of remote warfare. Field troops are enthusiastic. such as a section on the role of sci-fi in inspiring military planners.95 Reviewed by Jeff Hecht ANYONE who thinks robot warfare is science fiction should talk to my plumber. HarperCollins. encouraging high-tech powers to launch wars on whims. $27. if not entirely convincing. and robots sometimes pick the wrong targets. The ship’s crew shot it down. killing 290 civilians. Now. 24 January 2009 | NewScientist | 57 . The usual suspects are here. On the ground. Bainbridge’s thesis is thoughtprovoking. and what it is capable of. too. Special teens Teenagers: A natural history by David Bainbridge. the evolution of rebellious. you might be surprised by the range of science covered in Every Living Thing.com/topic/books-art Full metal warriors The new world of remote warfare is eerily fascinating. from nanobacteria to new monkeys by Rob Dunn.For more reviews go to www. Jeff Hecht is a consultant for New Scientist in Boston. Massachusetts out an inordinate variety of beetles from tropical forests. £14. So what’s not to like about turning war over to the robots? For starters. Singer. £15. While species-counting is important. President Ronald Reagan talked of building a fleet of robotic battle satellites that could automatically destroy Soviet nuclear missiles before they reached US targets. in which Peter Singer. they can mark them with laser bullseyes that “smart” bombs can target. a fellow of the non-profit Brookings Institution in Washington DC. but isn’t aiming to be a top gun. here is a welcome antidote. If they spot “bad guys”. fighter pilots can get killed. but it is also overflowing with details – a few of them questionable – which blunt Singer’s points and make the book drag. Penguin Press. In fact. It is about understanding what life is. exhaustively documents the Pentagon’s penchant for robotics. people are sure to get in the way. Singer cites a chilling example from 1988. weaving scientists’ stories cleverly with those of their science.NewScientist. instead.

and it was created by NASA scientist and artist Peter Wasilewski. so when the rays are recombined at the second polarising filter there is a phase difference between them. Rather than painting on canvas like most artists. causing all the rays to vibrate in the same plane. near the Martian poles.com/topic/ books-art 58 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 . Water ice can also be found in the frozen oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The lattice structures of these ice crystals vary because of the different temperatures and pressures present when they form. Lucy Dodwell ■ A selection of frizions is currently on display at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. in the tails of passing comets and even in the dense clouds of matter from which stars form. he creates his images with polarised light and ice. Wasilewski takes a Petri dish of ice in the process of freezing. Wasilewski produces a wide variety of different patterns. He learned about this peculiar property of ice crystals while studying samples he had collected from the pale blue ice near the Transantarctic mountains that divide east and west Antarctica. The colours are determined not only by the lattice structure of the ice. sandwiches it between two polarising filters and passes white light through. To do this. for example by varying the temperature of the surrounding water. Ice crystals split polarised light into two rays which travel at different velocities through the ice. Only the ice found on Earth is known to have the correct structure to produce a frizion. By controlling the thickness.newscientist. but also by its thickness. To see more frizions visit: www. Wasilewski’s day job is studying the magnetic properties of meteorites and rocks from the moon and Earth. creating the startling colours in the image. The first filter polarises the light.BOOKS & ARTS Photography: Peter Wasilewski Painting with ice This is a “frizion”. This causes interference.

One of the debunked myths was the popular belief that “most body FINALLY. He learned that it contained eight rolls of 2-ply tissue. You may enter the competition by email – with the subject line “Darwin Competition”. has been split over “accidental stereo” (18 March 2006). In fact.” Imagine his disappointment when he opened the message to find it was from a bank and its full title was: “Important Message from Santander Group. such as the football field?” heat is lost through the head”. as one does. Refusing to let the matter rest there. The discs were in pairs marked L and R rather than the usual A and B. In the old vinyl days.” You can send stories to Feedback by email at feedback@newscientist. the Leopold Stokowski Society managed. Please include your home address. Andy Thomson approached the sliding doors in a London store. but if two microphones were used. Daniel Livingstone calls our attention to a UK broadcast in the run-up to Christmas on BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat. as we approach the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. The winning entry and the best runners up will be published in the 7 March issue of New Scientist. so much so that EMI’s planned 1992 UK release of an accidental stereo recording of Elgar’s The Kingdom: Prelude was abandoned. Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll of the Indiana University School of Medicine. SEATED and with a few moments to spare. The competition closes on Monday 16 February. after which Newsbeat promptly proceeded to drift into mythological territory of its own. Now the argument has started all over again.” Let fresh battle commence. Dan Barrett tells us. The programme sent two subjects to stand in the cold. When they didn’t open. Feedback reported three years ago. he found himself reading the packaging of some Andrex toilet paper.com/article/ dn16399. THIS week. thermometers were used to measure their body temperatures. Feedback invites readers to provide 50 words on the thoughtprovoking theme of: “Things you would never have heard Charles Darwin say about evolution. Usually the two discs were fed from the same microphone. after a long battle. This.com. In it. Sony Music found a stash of originals by Leopold Stokowski and his All-American Youth Orchestra that had been recorded in 1941. that average sheet size was 124 × 110 millimetres and that average roll length was 44. Edward Johnson writes in the latest issue of the society’s journal: “Nay-saying listeners can now explain how such vivid instrumental separation can be obtained from one mono source.” The editors will reward what we judge the wittiest non-Darwinism with the framed original of the beautiful artwork in “Uprooting Darwin’s tree” on page 31 of this issue. the two discs would have accidentally captured stereo – or so some engineers claimed. was getting a bit silly – but the clincher.com/topic/feedback they were sure they were hearing real left and right stereo. But Sony then merged with BMG and laid off the people planning to release CDs of “Stokie in stereo”. was: “Average total area 39. he thought. such as wallpapering?” he wonders. This. A few years ago in the US. it transpires. After a while. signed by the artist Yulia Brodskaya. Arms full. in the apparent belief that this proved no heat had been lost by the person with the bare head. . This week’s and past Feedbacks can be seen on our website. and when the Sony engineers listened. losing heat from any part of your body won’t usually affect your core temperature – but the more heat you lose. Others disagreed vigorously. as professionals who listened to it clashed over whether it really was in stereo.28 square metres. one wearing a Santa hat and one with a bare head.newscientist. Fair enough. but Newsbeat inadvisedly went on to “prove” it by suggesting that wearing a woolly hat in winter has no effect. is simply not true. in case one was a dud. whether from your head or anywhere else. Livingstone hopes that no Antarctic explorers were listening to this broadcast.” “Are others finding a use for the product that I don’t know about. THE recording world. it was standard practice to cut two blank wax discs at the same time. “And why are they not using a more standard unit of measurement.64 metres. Indianapolis. he noticed a sign beside them saying: “Customers should use push buttons to open automatic doors” 84 | NewScientist | 24 January 2009 WITH the recent holiday period still fresh in his mind.FEEDBACK For stories go to www.NewScientist. Ian Dearing tells us that just before Christmas he received a message with the subject line: “Important Message from Santa. he thought – but it went on to tell him that there was an average of 360 sheets per roll. the more energy your body has to use to keep its thermostat up. to get clearance to release those recordings of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in “stereo”. which applied to the entire pack. debunked some “Festive Medical Myths”. The reporter announced with satisfaction that both temperatures were the same. please – or by fax or post or by going to www. A later “stereo” release by UK independent record label Naxos of the same composer’s Cockaigne Overture failed to resolve the issue. of course.

However. of the world. ■ When my son (now nearly 10) I got him to move his hand in was a similar age. In each case he objects further away look smaller. Presumably the air is thinner so there is less resistance. Surrey. Keri Harthoorn Stoke-on-Trent. it takes two hands to fill the same width. What should I tell him? Last words past and present. Massachusetts. Australia. has a similar. Send questions and answers to The Last Word. brilliant insight and the hilariously unexpected Available from booksellers and at www. I told him that the two the other at arm’s length. than those that are closer. plus questions. enabling them to run or cycle faster. with an object placed 30 centimetres ahead and 30 centimetres to the side of it. those further away take longer to pass across it. but with the object 3 metres ahead and 3 metres to the side. suggested: “You are far too intelligent for a four-year-old… have a lolly. UK. one notable group of wags insisted on sidestepping the answer at all costs. Nikki Bedi BBC Radio Asian Network. Also point out that it takes much longer for the car to travel 6 metres as for it to travel only 60 centimetres. even though he could put his hands together to confirm they were the same size. Eric Kvaalen Cambridge. Show your son how the object goes from being diagonally ahead to diagonally behind the toy car when you move it forward 60 centimetres. Your hand is the car. If it moved at the same speed when it was further away. could see that the hand seemed I used his hands to show this: if he to move across his vision in the held one hand close to his face and same way. Among these was the inevitable “Ask you mother”. UK ■ The answer is that the type of optical system that is used by our eyes causes us to perceive a particular object as “smaller” the more distant it is – a phenomenon called foreshortening. This time the car has to travel 6 metres to cause the same change in the angle at which someone in the car would view it.newscientist. We reserve the right to edit items for clarity and style. UK ON A HIGH A number of athletics and cycling world records have been set at high-altitude venues. by email to lastword@newscientist. Finally. and then to hold this phenomenon during a train his hand still but move his head journey. First. The writers of published answers will receive a cheque for £25 (or US$ equivalent).com (please include a postal address in order to receive payment for answers). the one movements were equivalent and at arm’s length appeared smaller. who offered: “If you can ask a question like that at four years of age it won’t be many more years it would take twice as long for it to before you can explain it to me. from Tony Turner of Tuross Head. but seemed to have travelled only half as far. Make a “V” with your index and middle fingers and sweep it along the text. Restrict questions to scientific enquiries about everyday phenomena. New Scientist. Do Polar Bears Get Lonely? A brand new collection – serious enquiry. First I pointed out that from side to side. US THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS SPICE ATTACK The Last Word has told us why garlic makes your breath and body smell. while the text closer to your hand moves more rapidly. Include a daytime telephone number and email address if you have one. or fresh fenugreek.last-word. it travelled the same actual distance (a palm’s width). For a list of all unanswered questions send an SAE to LWQlist at the above address. effect. I showed him that it takes more objects to fill the same amount of visual space if they are further away. UK. But surely oxygen uptake at altitude is more difficult.” look like it had travelled the same And congratulations to Peter distance. I then summed up by Gosling of Farnham. for example during the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City.com or visit www. possibly stronger.com Thanks for a vast number of answers to this question.” – Ed were moving when my son was sure that they weren’t really. such as an index finger traced slowly from one side of his palm to the other. What is this point and why? And which tracks or velodromes come nearest to it? Carlos Loeb Madrid. my four-year-old son asked why things that were closer to us were moving faster than those further away. at www. many of which were probably more suited to undergraduate level than to a four-year-old.last-word. You can see that the text near your fingernails takes a long time to move from one finger to the next. but it kept my son quiet. So The other passengers on the train thought I was a little strange. he seemed to accept that. New South Wales. His advice was: they just looked as if they were. Secondly. UK.THE LAST WORD Altered images Driving along in the car the other day. As our vision system converts the angles subtended by the things we are looking at into apparent distances on our retina.com/ polarbears . London WC1X 8NS. explaining that the distant things for his unashamedly literal view were not actually moving slower. Staffordshire. “I think you should tell your son I also had to explain why it that it is illegal for him to be looked as if the trees and houses driving at four years old. 84 Theobald’s Road. if the hand further away is half the apparent width of the one closer. as they have a low angular velocity. Gregg Favalora Arlington. Then do the same thing. this causes nearby objects to sweep through our field of vision much more rapidly than distant ones. Stephen McIntosh of Hull. Massachusetts. You can demonstrate this by placing your hand on a newspaper. I got him to think about something moving. Lacon House. and the V is your field of view. so there must be a point at which altitude no longer favours athletes. Reed Business Information Ltd reserves all rights to reuse question and answer material submitted by readers in any medium or format. I tried to explain front of his face. So while distant and nearby objects are within the same field of vision. Spain Questions and answers should be concise. are further away” UK. For example. but I want to know why the spice methi. US ■ One way to demonstrate this process is to put a toy car on a path representing the road.” More “It takes more objects encouraging was the answer from to fill the same amount of visual space if they Dave Oldham of Northampton. New Scientist retains total editorial control over the content of The Last Word.