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The Mystery of Tetrachromacy

In these paintings, Australian artist Concetta Antico aims to capture her extraordinary visual experiences, which she describes as consisting of a mosaic of vibrant colours. In an interview with the BBC, Concetta reflected on the sight of a pebble pathway, which most people perceive as grey: The little stones jump out at me with oranges, yellows, greens, blues and pinks’ (1).

In 2012, a genetic analysis confirmed that Concetta’s enhanced colour vision can be explained by a genetic quirk that causes her eyes to produce four types of cone cells, instead of the regular three which underpin colour vision in most humans. Four cones give Concetta the potential for what researchers call tetrachromacy (from Greek ‘tetra’ – four, and ‘khrōma’ – colour), instead of normal trichromatic colour vision (from Greek ‘tria‘– three). This means that her eyes can enjoy a diversity of colours that is about 100 times greater than what is accessible to the rest of us.

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Astronomers discover closest potentially habitable planet: Wolf 1061c

The closest potentially habitable planet ever found has been spotted by Australian scientists, and it's just 14 light-years away. That’s 126 trillion kilometres from Earth, which sounds impossibly far, but when you consider that our closest planetary neighbour, Mars, is 249 million km away, that handful of light-years doesn’t seem so bad in the scheme of things.

Named Wolf 1061c, the newly discovered planet is located in the constellation Ophiucus, and its star is the 35th closest star from Earth - that we know about. The team behind the discovery says it's orbiting a red dwarf 'M-type' star called Wolf 1061, alongside two other planets. All three are suspected to be rocky like Mars, rather than gaseous like Neptune.

"It is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface," said lead researcher Duncan Wright, an astronomer at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). "The middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the 'Goldilocks zone' where it might be possible for liquid water - and maybe even life - to exist."

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'No drill' dentistry shows fillings aren't needed in many cases

Many of us fear going to the dentist, and that fear is made worse by the dreadful prospect that on any given visit, you could be subjected to a whirring drill boring its way through your poor, hurty teeth.

But the findings of a new seven-year study by Australian researchers suggest that many of us have nothing to worry about, with research into 'no drill' oral care techniques showing there's often no need for the traditional 'fill and drill' approach that has defined dentistry for decades.

"It's unnecessary for patients to have fillings because they're not required in many cases of dental decay," said Wendell Evans of the University of Sydney. "This research signals the need for a major shift in the way tooth decay is managed by dentists… Our study shows that a preventative approach has major benefits compared to current practice."

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Innovative New Refrigerator Keeps Cold Without Electricity, Here’s How

It’s easy to take that hulking great white beast of a machine in our kitchens for granted, but for the 1.3 billion people in the world who are living without electricity, a working refrigerator is not an option. So a team of students in Canada has invented a cooling device that not only works without any electricity whatsoever, it’s also cheap and portable, making it ideal for those in remote and rural areas who struggle to keep their produce fresh.

"We thought it would be good to decrease the amount of food waste in the world, and we came up with this design because it's easy to build and the materials are relatively cheap," one of the students, Michelle Zhou from the University of Calgary, told CBC News.

Dubbed the WindChill Food Preservation Unit, the device connects an air tube to an evaporation chamber, which connects to a sealed refrigeration chamber that looks a lot like an esky, the contents of which are cooled through the process of evaporative cooling.

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Why crows hold funerals for their dead

There's an unusual but known behavior among crows, that they gather around the bodies of their dead. A crow dead on the street or in a field will be surrounded by a few to a dozen or more crows, all seeming to contemplate their fallen comrade. The notion of crow funerals has been documented but not necessarily understood, so University of Washington biologists Kaeli Swift and John Marzluff decided to create experiments to find out what exactly is happening.

If you've ever read about experiments with crow behavior, you'll know the experiments often involve researchers wearing incredibly creepy masks. Crows learn to recognize individual faces and teach their offspring who (or what) to be concerned about. And because crows have a long memory, a researcher could be disliked by local crows for decades. To avoid a long-running feud, the Washington research volunteers donned masks. They also wore signs that explained that the exercise was all part of a crow study. (The signs were for humans, of course, not the crows, but not a bad idea: Along with the creepy masks, researchers carried around a dead crow. The things researchers do for science...)

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Baby Tortoises Show Up In The Galapagos For The First Time In Over A Century

You may think 2015 has been full of gloom and doom, but there is plenty of good news out there if you know where to look. It includes the wonderful news that baby tortoises have been spotted for the first time in over 100 years in the Galapagos.

There hadn't been one single baby tortoise sighting in more than a century on the Galapagos Island of Pinzon, until a small group of the tiny, shelled youngsters were spotted this year.

The recent births are helping to pull the critically endangered animals back from the brink of extinction after they were nearly laid to waste as a result of human activity.

This is huge news for a species that has been struggling to survive for a century, relying on humans raising young tortoises bred in captivity until they are large enough to not fall prey to rats and predators.

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Fighting Pests With Sound Waves, Not Pesticides

A tiny bug is threatening your morning orange juice.

In Florida, the Asian citrus psyllid, an aphid-size creature that feeds on the stems and leaves of citrus trees, cost the juice business $3.6 billion between 2006 and 2012. The real damage from “citrus greening” comes from bacteria spread by the bug, which causes leaves to turn yellow and kills the tree in a few years.

Researchers are looking into new ways to combat the pests, and one project focuses on sound rather than pesticides to disrupt the insects’ mating habits.

“We’re trying hard to cut down on use of pesticides in orange groves, partly because we are worried they’ll build up resistance to pesticides, and that will make things even worse,” said Richard Mankin, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He presented findings on acoustic disruption at the meeting of the American Acoustical Society this week in Jacksonville.

When a male psyllid wants to mate, he alerts a female by sitting on a leaf and buzzing his wings to send vibrations along leaves and branches. To disrupt that activity, the researchers created a device containing a piezoelectric buzzer and a microphone wired to a microcontroller.

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Cuba's Innovative Biotechnology Attracts Global Attention

Cuba achieved food security without destroying its environment, and the rest of the world has taken notice.

Cuba is presenting several of its original biotechnologies at an international business fair this week, drawing further attention to a sector of the Cuban economy that’s been generating substantial interest abroad.

The Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology presented various biotechnological innovations at the fair: all eco-friendly and biodegrable alternatives to conventional technologies, which could help the transition toward a more sustainable model of agriculture.

Among them was, “Gavac,” an immunogen that provides for better control over ticks and tick-related infections in cattle, according to Doctor Hector Machado of Cuba’s Heber Biotec company.

Gavac's formula reduces the use of chemical insecticides, noted Machado, while diminishing the risk of diseases being transmitted by ticks, improving an animal’s natural capacity to respond to an infection without increasing their resistance to treatment.

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NASA confirms that the ‘impossible’ EmDrive thruster really works, after new tests

Engineer Roger Shawyer’s controversial EmDrive thruster jets back into relevancy this week, as a team of researchers at NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratories recently completed yet another round of testing on the seemingly impossible tech. Though no official peer-reviewed lab paper has been published yet, and NASA institutes strict press release restrictions on the Eagleworks lab these days, engineer Paul March took to the NASA Spaceflight forum to explain the group’s findings. In essence, by utilizing an improved experimental procedure, the team managed to mitigate some of the errors from prior tests — yet still found signals of unexplained thrust.

Isaac Newton should be sweating.

Flying in the face of traditional laws of physics, the EmDrive makes use of a magnetron and microwaves to create a propellant-less propulsion system. By pushing microwaves into a closed, truncated cone and back towards the small end of said cone, the drive creates the momentum and force necessary to propel a craft forward. Because the system is a reaction-less drive, it goes against humankind’s fundamental comprehension of physics, hence its controversial nature.

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New Breed Of Wolf/Coyote/Dog Hybrid Rapidly Expanding in Eastern North America

LIKE some people who might rather not admit it, wolves faced with a scarcity of potential sexual partners are not beneath lowering their standards. It was desperation of this sort, biologists reckon, that led dwindling wolf populations in southern Ontario to begin, a century or two ago, breeding widely with dogs and coyotes. The clearance of forests for farming, together with the deliberate persecution which wolves often suffer at the hand of man, had made life tough for the species. That same forest clearance, though, both permitted coyotes to spread from their prairie homeland into areas hitherto exclusively lupine, and brought the dogs that accompanied the farmers into the mix.

Interbreeding between animal species usually leads to offspring less vigorous than either parent—if they survive at all. But the combination of wolf, coyote and dog DNA that resulted from this reproductive necessity generated an exception. The consequence has been booming numbers of an extraordinarily fit new animal (see picture) spreading through the eastern part of North America. Some call this creature the eastern coyote. Others, though, have dubbed it the “coywolf”. Whatever name it goes by, Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, reckons it now numbers in the millions.


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