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Posts Tagged ‘research’

Web hit by OpenSSL ‘Heartbleed’ vulnerability

Web hit by OpenSSL 'Heartbleed' vulnerability

Versions of cryptographic library OpenSSL since 2012 are vulnerable to the ‘Heartbleed Bug,’ which allows an attacker to silently steal the contents of system memory.


Security researchers have released details of a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic library which exposes encrypted internet services to information disclosure attacks.

Continuing a terrible year for information security, what with the verification flaw in GnuTLS and Apple’s infamous goto fail bug, the OpenSSL project has confirmed that versions of its software since 2011 have held a serious vulnerability which has been dubbed the ‘Heartbleed Bug,’ and which can be used to read a system’s memory remotely – gathering secret keys which can then be used to decrypt previously-transmitted information.

It’s a serious flaw; OpenSSL is the standard library for driving SSL and TLS encryption in a variety of software packages and information appliances; Apache and nginx, two of the most popular server packages around accounting for an estimated 66 per cent of all web servers, use OpenSSL; the library is also commonly used in other encrypted systems such as virtual private network (VPN) appliances, point-of-sale (PoS) systems and messaging servers.

The Heartbleed Bug works by exploiting the heartbeat extension of the Transport Security Layer (TLS) protocol; attackers are able to read unlimited system memory in 64KB chunks, with exploitation leaving no trace on the system. These memory chunks can be reassembled and analysed to gather usernames, passwords, encryption keys, and other privileged information which should not be exposed to the public.

The OpenSSL project has confirmed that the code responsible for the flaw has been present in its software since 2011 and available to the public since the release of OpenSSL 1.0.1 in March 2012. Since then, the 1.0.1 branch has become widespread, shipping by default with numerous operating systems including Ubuntu Linux and OpenBSD. While the project has released a fixed version, OpenSSL 1.0.1g, this will take time to distribute – leaving servers with less proactive admins vulnerable to attack.

Ironically, those who have not upgraded in a while may be protected against the flaw: the older OpenSSL 1.0.0 and 0.9.8 branches are unaffected, having been frozen before the bug was introduced.

More details of the flaw are available at Heartbleed.com.

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Researchers unveil polymer-based TIM

Researchers unveil polymer-based TIM

A thermal interface material created from aligned nanofibres of polymer could be the future of chip cooling, offering impressive performance in a layer just three microns thick.


Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have announced what they claim is a novel way of improving the transfer of heat from computer chips to heatsinks: a polymer-based thermal interface material (TIM) which can be applied in a layer just three microns thick.

Polymers may not be the obvious choice when it comes to conducting heat or electricity, but the team has developed a method which aligns the polymer chains themselves in nanofibres – avoiding problems with the previous technique of forming aligned crystalline structures which are too brittle to be of use. Using polythiophene, the team has been able to modify the polymer’s structure in such a way to boost the thermal conductivity 20-fold and yet have the new material operate reliably at temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius.

Thermal management schemes can get more complicated as devices get smaller,‘ explained Baratunde Cola, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. ‘A material like this, which could also offer higher reliability, could be attractive for addressing thermal management issues. This material could ultimately allow us to design electronic systems in different ways.

The team’s initial target market is high-temperature devices which can’t use solder as the thermal interface material. Commonly used to connect large heatspreaders to the far smaller die on processors, solder proves problematical when the temperature of the device begins to approach that required to turn the solder molten once more. ‘Polymers aren’t typically thought of for these applications because they normally degrade at such a low temperature,‘ Cola explained. ‘But these conjugated polymers are already used in solar cells and electronic devices, and can also work as thermal materials. We are taking advantage of the fact that they have a higher thermal stability because the bonding is stronger than in typical polymers.

Another advantage of the new material is that it can be applied in a layer just three microns thick while still maintaining its performance, compared with the usual 50 to 75 micron layer required of traditional thermal interface materials. The thinner the layer, the closer the heatsink can be positioned to the chip being cooled – and the more efficient the heat transfer. Stresses normally associated with thermal cycling – constant heating and cooling cycles, common to semiconductors as they are loaded and unloaded – are also avoided, Cola claims.

While Cola has already applied for a patent on the technique and formed a start-up company, Carbice Nanotechnologies, for its commercialisation, it could be a while before it’s product-ready: Cola admits that the theoretical processes behind the manufacturing are not yet fully understood, and the technique itself requires further development to improve yields.

The team’s work is published in the latest Nature journal, under the title ‘High thermal conductivity of chain-oriented amorphous polythiophene.’

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Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review


Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review

Price: £29.99
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami
Platforms: X360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360

Whatever you may think of Kojima Production’s decision to split off Ground Zeroes from the rest of Metal Gear Solid V and release it as a full game, there’s no denying that it is a remarkable creation. In terms of its politics, its technology, its systems, and its artistic direction, Ground Zeroes is absolutely fascinating. It departs radically from many of the conventions the series has established over the years, while at the same time it is truer to the motto of “Tactical Espionage” than any of its predecessors.

Ground Zeroes is set in 1975 – a year after the events witnessed in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and casts you as Big Boss on a mission to infiltrate a heavily guarded detention camp in order to rescue two prisoners. Prior to the game’s start, there’s a brief summary of events leading to the Ground Zeroes mission, and a short cut-scene that introduces “Skull Face”, the leader of the mysterious XOF organisation which opposes Big Boss’ FOX unit.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review
It’s a refreshingly terse opening to a Metal Gear Solid game, and makes it immediately apparent that Ground Zeroes strives to be different. Kojima’s writing has grown increasingly indulgent since the release of the first MGS, his games burdened by exhaustive cut-scenes and rambling dialogues. Ground Zeroes, on the other hand, is nearly all about play, only removing you from control during a couple of key moments while you’re on mission.

In fact, Ground Zeroes is a very restrained game in general. Aside from the much-discussed running time, the weirder elements of the Metal Gear Solid universe have been dialled back, with only the appearance of Skull Face acting as a nod to the series’ penchant for science fiction and the supernatural. Similarly, Ground Zeroes’ approach to stealth is very straightforward – stay low, stay shadowed, stay quiet. The most advanced gadgets in Big Boss’ arsenal are an “iDroid” that gives a real-time updated map of the detention centre, and a pair of binoculars that can mark guard positions on a map.

What most definitely isn’t dialled back, is the technology that powers the game. Ground Zeroes looks, sounds, and feels superb. Even on the Xbox 360, visually it’s a cut above most other games. This is because the FOX engine’s approach to graphical fortitude has nothing to do with resolutions or anti-aliasing or post-processing effects or any other technical gimmickry. Rather, it’s about attention to detail. FOX’s physically-based rendering techniques are based on vast amounts of research into how different types of light react with different types of surfaces in different conditions, and replicating the results in a virtual environment.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review
It’s tempting to say the results are spectacular, but that would be to miss the point. FOX isn’t about spectacle, it’s about creating a convincing environment, and Ground Zeroes’ Camp Omega is very convincing indeed.

The reason we bring this up is because Ground Zeroes’ pinpoint production values feed into the design intent for the rest of the game. Ground Zeroes is entirely about attention to detail. Navigating your way through the maze of tents and fences and rocky coastline without being spotted by a patrol or a searchlight requires careful planning and speedy execution.

Deciphering the story behind Camp Omega involves searching every corner of the Black Site to collect audio logs, listening into guard conversations, and interrogating them for information. There’s a particularly brilliant section where you have to find a specific location within the camp by figuring out the route taken there from the ambient sounds on an audio cassette. It’s all geared toward making you feel like a spy, the way you collect snippets of information and piece them together to form a plan.

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Not so fast: Environmental concerns halt Atari ‘E.T.’ cartridge dig

An original E.T. game cartridge, signed by the lead designer. Millions were made, and most of them were buried in a New Mexico landfill after the game was deemed one of the worst ever.


(Credit:
Daniel Terdiman/CNET)

New Mexico environmental regulators have put the kibosh on the excavation of millions of Atari “E.T.” game cartridges from a garbage dump there.

According to The Guardian, the New Mexico Environment Department has said that filmmakers planning a documentary about the burial of the cartridges in 1983 owing to catastrophic sales must first acquire a waste excavation plan.

At
South by Southwest earlier this month, filmmakers from Lightbox and Fuel Entertainment said they were almost ready to start digging into the garbage dump in Alamogordo, N.M., to look for the cartridges. Their research had led them there, they said, and they were planning on a long dig, since they didn’t know precisely where in the dump the millions of games might be found.

Atari’s E.T. game is universally considered one of the worst in history, brought to market in just weeks following the monumental success of Steven Spielberg’s 1983 film “E.T.” It was thought to be boring, aesthetically ugly, and shallow. Though it immediately sold 1.5 million copies thanks to its ties to the movie, sales quickly stalled, and the result was a $500 million loss for Atari, a financial disaster that drove the once high-flying company into ruin.

The episode has been referred to as Atari’s “corporate shame.”

Last June, the Guardian reported, city officials in Alamogordo approved the excavation. But New Mexico Environment Department spokesperson Jim Winchester told the publication that state environmental officials, who have the final say on the approval of a waste excavation plan, rejected it last month. He added that the filmmakers have yet to submit a new plan.

Requests for comment by CNET to the New Mexico Environment Department and Fuel Entertainment were not immediately returned.

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Scuba diving trumps surfing on Saturn’s Titan moon

These would be considered rough waters on Titan.


(Credit:
NASA/Steven Hobbs)

There was a lot of hubbub this week among space geeks about the first spotting of waves on the freaky methane lakes that cover much of Titan, perhaps the most Earth-like spot outside of the real deal in our solar system. But it’s still waaay premature to pack up your space wetsuit and start nagging NASA or Elon Musk to hitch a ride beyond the asteroid belt.

Saturn’s spooky moon has a planet-like atmosphere and liquid covering much of its surface, making it one of the most likely nearby places to harbor (probably very weird) alien life. But while Titan shares a number of Earth-like characteristics such as its craggy peaks, running rivers, and even thunderstorms, it doesn’t appear to have strong enough winds to whip up methane waves on its large lakes.

At least, we haven’t been able to see them during the time we’ve been looking closer with the Cassini spacecraft, which has been cruising around above Saturn and Titan for years now. But as we learned last year, things could be shifting on Titan as the longer seasonal cycle on the moon is finally bringing summer to its lake-filled northern half for the first time since we’ve been watching closely.

Some astronomers think winds and surf season could be in full effect by 2017, so there was plenty of excitement earlier this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference outside of Dallas where researchers discussed measurements of Titan’s surface that seem to hint at the presence of waves, according to Nature.

At least that’s the way the headlines put it this week.

Read further on, however, and the story is that the images taken by Cassini between 2012 and 2013 showed something abnormal on the surface of Punga Mare that could be waves or more accurately, ripples, given that the disturbances were calculated to be no more than a few centimeters high.

“Titan may be beginning to stir,” Ralph Lorenz, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told the conference. “Oceanography is no longer just an Earth science.”

If the stirrings continue to increase, we could get to witness some very interesting activity on Titan, hopefully before Cassini is scheduled to hurl itself into Saturn’s atmosphere in 2017.

In the meantime, however, Titan still has the smoothest sailing in the solar system. The latest radar measurements, published earlier this month online in Geophysical Research Letters, find that Titan’s second-largest lake, Ligeia Mare, “possesses a mirror-like smoothness.”

“If you could look out on this sea, it would be really still. It would just be a totally glassy surface,” Howard Zebker, professor of geophysics and electrical engineering at Stanford, said in a release.

Zebker also suggests that the lack of motion in Titan’s ocean could be due to something else, like a more viscous topping on the lake surface.

“For example, on Earth, if you put oil on top of a sea, you suppress a lot of small waves,” he said.

His team’s research also determined the depth of Ligeia Mare, which it found to be nearly 500 feet deep in at least one spot.

So maybe it makes more sense to plan a scuba diving vacation on Titan than a surfing excursion. Either way, you can get a feel for the exotic locale in this modeled fly-over:

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Paleontologists discover ‘chicken from hell’ dinosaur

Anzu wyliei
(Credit:
Bob Walters)

A 66-million-year-old dinosaur has been discovered — a birdlike creature that provides palaeontologists with a first in-depth look at an oviraptorosaurian species called Caenagnathidae (SEE-nuh-NAY-thih-DAY) — one that has long been difficult to study, since most remains have only been skeletal fragments.

Named Anzu wyliei (Anzu after a bird-demon from Mesopotamian myth and wyliei after Wylie, the grandson of a Carnegie museum trustee), the new species was put together from three separate skeletons found in North and South Dakota, forming almost one entire skeleton. The resultant dinosaur measures 3.5 metres from nose to tail-tip, weighing in at 225 kilograms (496 pounds), with sharp claws and a feathered body — resembling, according to the researchers, led by Matthew Lamanna of Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, a “chicken from hell.”

“It was a giant raptor, but with a chickenlike head and presumably feathers. The animal stood about 10 feet (3 metres) tall, so it would be scary as well as absurd to encounter,” said University of Utah biology postdoctoral fellow and study co-author Emma Schachner.

“We jokingly call this thing the ‘chicken from hell,’ and I think that’s pretty appropriate,” added Lamanna.

Anzu wyliei
(Credit:
Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

The three partial skeletons were excavated from the Hell Creek rock formation in North and South Dakota, a region famed for its abundance of dino skeletons, including Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. The new dinosaur would, the researchers said, have resembled a giant flightless bird — much more so than more “typical” theropod species, such as Tyrannosaurus rex. A bony crest, similar to that found on the Australian cassowary, rises on its head, and its legs were long, slender, and strong, also like the cassowary. It had no teeth, but a strong beak, and it was found alongside fossilized feathers, heavily indicating that the dinosaur was feathered.

However, it wasn’t entirely birdlike — its forelimbs were tipped with sharp claws, and it had a long, strong tail.

The discovery is the first clear skeleton found belonging to the Caenagnathidae since the species was first discovered and described by paleontologist Charles Whitney Gilmore 100 years ago. It has allowed researchers for the first time to explore in greater detail Caenagnathid anatomy, and reconstruct the species’ evolution. Its anatomy and environment have also delivered new information about Caenagnathid diet and habitat preferences; the dinosaurs, the team believes, were omnivores that preferred humid floodplain environments.

Anzu in particular seems to have lived a pretty dangerous life; two of the three skeletons show evidence of breaks and fractures. However, the fact that these injuries had healed indicated that the hell-chickens were hardy, able to survive quite a bit of trauma.

A fully articulated cast of the dinosaur is on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the full research paper can be seen online in the journal PLOS One.

(Source: Crave Australia)

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Preserved woolly-mammoth autopsy shows cloning is a real possibility

Woolly mammoth
(Credit:

Woolly mammoth image by Flying Puffin, CC BY-SA 2.0
)

The female woolly mammoth unearthed in the Lyakhovsky Islands in May 2013 could one day become the “mother” of the first woolly mammoth to walk the earth in millennia.

The discovery of the beast caused excitement when the scientists who unearthed her found that she was very well preserved — to the point that her blood was still liquid after all these years.

Now, after a necropsy (an autopsy on an animal), the team has discovered that the mammoth’s soft tissues are in excellent condition, so much so that they may be able to extract enough high-quality DNA to perform an analysis — and maybe even a reconstruction.

“We have dissected the soft tissues of the mammoth — and I must say that we didn’t expect such results. The carcass that is more than 43,000 years old has preserved better than a body of a human buried for six months,” Viktoria Egorova, chief of the Research and Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory of the Medical Clinic of North-Eastern Federal University, Siberia, told the Siberian Times. “The tissue cut clearly shows blood vessels with strong walls. Inside the vessels there is haemolysed blood, where for the first time we have found erythrocytes. Muscle and adipose tissues are well preserved.”

The team also found migrating lymphoid tissue cells; the liver, intact, with hard fragments inside, possibly kidney stones; and the animal’s intestines, with the remains of the vegetation it consumed prior to dying still inside. The analysis of the blood, interestingly, revealed some insight into how the mammoth died: the blood was “agonized,” indicating that the animal had died an unnatural death, in pain for 16 to 18 hours. The unnatural angle of the leg leads scientists to believe the mammoth fell into an ice hole and couldn’t get out.

Cloning is something the scientists are considering — but first they have to determine if the DNA is usable for this purpose, including something called a “living cell” — the least damaged DNA; and then, of course, there’s the tricky matter of gestation.

“The next question is how to use an elephant in the cloning process,” Semyon Grigoriev, the leader of the expedition that found the mammoth, explained. “The evolutionary path of the mammoth and the elephant diverged a long time ago. So even if we could get a ‘living cell’ we need to have a special method of cloning. The Koreans are working on getting the clones from different species, but, you see, it is not so fast. If we do not get ‘living cell,’ we will have a longer route. Then we should create artificial DNA; it could take 50 or 60 years.”

And then there are the moral concerns around cloning extinct animals. Some scientists believe that such an act would be irresponsible. First of all, you have to determine how and why an animal became extinct. Then you have to examine the impact of the animal’s return on the current environment. And then you have to think about how it would affect the animal itself. Elephants, for example, are herd animals; how would the world’s only mammoth cope?

As Vice President of the Russian Association of Medical Anthropologists Radik Khayrullin said, “We must have a reason to do this, as it is one thing to clone it for scientific purposes, and another to clone for the sake of curiosity.”

But, even without cloning, the mammoth is a rich source of information to the scientists.

“Apart from cloning, these samples will give us an opportunity to completely decode the DNA of the mammoth, and we will be able to decipher the nuclear DNA, which stores a lot of information,” Grigoriev said. “So we have a unique opportunity to understand how the mammoth’s blood system worked, its muscles and the trunk. Of course, we are engaged primarily in fundamental science. It is important to us to learn all possible details about mammoth. Maybe our findings will be used by applied science, but now it is early to think of it.”

The team will present its findings at a special conference to be held in May. Meanwhile, you can see images of the necropsy on the Siberian Times Web site.

(Source: Crave Australia via The Siberian Times)

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Where should CNET Road Trip go in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas?

America’s so-called Doomsday plane, which can keep top military leaders airborne in the event of a major crisis.


(Credit:
Daniel Terdiman/CNET)

The days are warm and sunny here in Northern California, and though it’s only the middle of March, it already feels like summer is just around the corner.

One reason is that I’ve started the planning in earnest for Road Trip 2014, my ninth-annual journey to highlight some of the best destinations around for technology, military, aviation, architecture, science, nature, and so on.

From Doomsday plane to Frank Lloyd Wright: The best of Road Trip 2013 (pictures)

For seven of the past eight years, CNET Road Trip has taken me all around the roads of the United States, giving me the opportunity to visit the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, the Southeast, the Rocky Mountain region, the Northeast, and the West Coast. In 2011, I crossed the pond and covered seven countries in Europe, and last summer, I criss-crossed much of the Midwest, traveling through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.

This year, I’m working on covering some of the last major areas in the Continental United States that I’ve never visited on Road Trip. While the exact itinerary is still very much unclear, I know I’ll be spending a good chunk of time in Texas, and then making my way into Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

Thanks to my own research and the helpful suggestions of readers, I’ve already got a list of a few potential destinations, but I’m turning to you again, fine readers, for ideas for can’t-miss places I need to include in the project.

This map, which CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman has used each year since 2006 to record Road Trip routes, reveals a couple of big holes in the country that signify places that he has yet to visit.


(Credit:
Daniel Terdiman/CNET)

So, if you have an idea for a Road Trip stop in Arkansas, Oklahoma, or Kansas, please send it to daniel–dot–terdiman–at–cnet–dot–com. Here’s what I’m looking for: a place in any of those states that would appeal to a national audience, that has a heavy tech or geek element, and that is highly visual, lending itself to a big photo gallery.

Some things that might work are manufacturing facilities for iconic brands, famous monuments, large-scale works of art or architecture, and famous or important military or aviation facilities. Past examples of Road Trip items include a behind-the-scenes look at America’s Doomsday plane, New York’s Grand Central Terminal, a look inside NORAD’s former home at Cheyenne Mountain, behind-the-scenes at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the high-tech gear aboard the most advanced submarine on Earth, and so on.

I’d like to reward readers who come up with a great idea. So while I do have a list of potential destinations, if you send me a suggestion I haven’t already thought of myself, and that I end up adding to my itinerary, I’ll send you a small gift in exchange.

I hope to hear from you, as I know that many of you have extensive experience traveling, and I’d love to be able to benefit from that experience — and share the wealth with my readers. I look forward to hearing from you.

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LG G Pro vs. iPhone 5S? Alternative brackets to March Madness

Star Wars tournament

I think Yoda will handle this one.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

March Madness doesn’t have to be just about basketball. You can get a tournament fix without ever setting eyes on a round orange bouncy object or the extremely tall humans who use it.

Instead, you can bask in a much nerdier alternative tournament where you get to do things like root for Neil deGrasse Tyson versus the Dowager Countess from “Downton Abbey” or cheer on the
iPhone 5S in a pitched battle against the LG G Pro 2.

Welcome to the world of alternative brackets. Here are five to feed your competitive fire, and they have pretty much nothing to do with basketball.

PBS vs. NPR
Who will reign supreme? Philadelphia public media provider WHYY is setting the stars of NPR against the luminaries of PBS. Happy-clouds painter Bob Ross handily defeated voice-of-nature David Attenborough in the first round, but took it on the chin against the Dowager Countess. It’s all about who garners the most fan votes. Round 3 is currently under way. I’m betting it all comes down to deGrasse Tyson taking on Ira Glass in a grudge match for the ages. I give this one to the “Cosmos” host, but just barely.


Highlander DVD cover

“Highlander” already lopped the head off “Conan the Barbarian.” (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
Lionsgate)

Science fiction vs. fantasy

Break out the swords, magic, phasers, aliens, zombies, Cthulhu, and Mel Gibson as Mad Max. Geek site io9 is hosting a tournament pitting sci-fi and fantasy franchises against each other — until, like in “Highlander,” there can be only one. This is anybody’s game. We could very well end up with a bloody final match featuring “Star Trek” taking on “Game of Thrones.” Spock versus a direwolf, anyone?

Metrics mania
If you’ve ever wondered how the different colleges in the NCAA basketball tournament would fare against each other using institutional research rather than sports prowess, then the Metrics Mania bracket is for you. You have until the 21st to fill out your bracket and guess which schools will rack up the most scientific and scholarly research paper citations during the tournament. (That’s the simplified version of how this works.) The data comes from Thomson Reuters’ InCites Web-based research analytics platform. Power to the nerds!

Smartphone madness
Laptop Magazine prefers to spend its time arranging fights between smartphones. In a surprise upset, the LG G Pro 2 took out the Apple iPhone 5S early on. The 5C, however, is still in the smartphone tournament, though it must make it past the YotaPhone to advance. Once again, this is all about fan votes. The eventual champion will get a virtual pat on the back, along with a “You done good, smartphone.”

‘Star Wars’
The “Star Wars” version of March Madness features 100 percent more Yoda than the NCAA tournament. The little green guy was triumphant in last year’s This is Madness character tournament. Up for a repeat, is he? Right now, Boba Fett is totally blasting Greedo out of the galaxy, though Liam Neeson is at least putting up a fight against Yoda. I’m sticking with Darth Vader as my dark-horse winner this year.

PBS vs. NPR

This is going to be a close one.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

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Preserved woolly mammoth autopsy shows cloning is a real possibility

Woolly mammoth
(Credit:

Woolly mammoth image by Flying Puffin, CC BY-SA 2.0
)

The female woolly mammoth unearthed in the Lyakhovsky Islands in May 2013 could one day become the “mother” of the first woolly mammoth to walk the earth in millennia.

The discovery of the beast caused excitement when the scientists who unearthed her found that she was very well preserved — to the point that her blood was still liquid after all these years.

Now, after an autopsy, the team has discovered that the mammoth’s soft tissues are in excellent condition, so much so that they may be able to extract enough high-quality DNA to perform an analysis — and maybe even a reconstruction.

“We have dissected the soft tissues of the mammoth — and I must say that we didn’t expect such results. The carcass that is more than 43,000 years old has preserved better than a body of a human buried for six months,” Viktoria Egorova, chief of the Research and Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory of the Medical Clinic of North-Eastern Federal University, Siberia, told the Siberian Times. “The tissue cut clearly shows blood vessels with strong walls. Inside the vessels there is haemolysed blood, where for the first time we have found erythrocytes. Muscle and adipose tissues are well preserved.”

The team also found migrating lymphoid tissue cells; the liver, intact, with hard fragments inside, possibly kidney stones; and the animal’s intestines, with the remains of the vegetation it consumed prior to dying still inside. The analysis of the blood, interestingly, revealed some insight into how the mammoth died: the blood was “agonized,” indicating that the animal had died an unnatural death, in pain for 16 to 18 hours. The unnatural angle of the leg leads scientists to believe the mammoth fell into an ice hole and couldn’t get out.

Cloning is something the scientists are considering — but first they have to determine if the DNA is usable for this purpose, including something called a “living cell” — the least damaged DNA; and then, of course, there’s the tricky matter of gestation.

“The next question is how to use an elephant in the cloning process,” Semyon Grigoriev, the leader of the expedition that found the mammoth, explained. “The evolutionary path of the mammoth and the elephant diverged a long time ago. So even if we could get a ‘living cell’ we need to have a special method of cloning. The Koreans are working on getting the clones from different species, but, you see, it is not so fast. If we do not get ‘living cell,’ we will have a longer route. Then we should create artificial DNA; it could take 50 or 60 years.”

And then there are the moral concerns around cloning extinct animals. Some scientists believe that such an act would be irresponsible. First of all, you have to determine how and why an animal became extinct. Then you have to examine the impact of the animal’s return on the current environment. And then you have to think about how it would affect the animal itself. Elephants, for example, are herd animals; how would the world’s only mammoth cope?

As Vice President of the Russian Association of Medical Anthropologists Radik Khayrullin said, “We must have a reason to do this, as it is one thing to clone it for scientific purposes, and another to clone for the sake of curiosity.”

But, even without cloning, the mammoth is a rich source of information to the scientists.

“Apart from cloning, these samples will give us an opportunity to completely decode the DNA of the mammoth, and we will be able to decipher the nuclear DNA, which stores a lot of information,” Grigoriev said. “So we have a unique opportunity to understand how the mammoth’s blood system worked, its muscles and the trunk. Of course, we are engaged primarily in fundamental science. It is important to us to learn all possible details about mammoth. Maybe our findings will be used by applied science, but now it is early to think of it.”

The team will present its findings at a special conference to be held in May. Meanwhile, you can see images of the autopsy on the Siberian Times Web site.

(Source: Crave Australia via The Siberian Times)

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