Get ready for a sunny ride! India’s cyclerickshaws are going solar. The soleckshaw, recently launched in New Delhi, is a motorised version, with FM radios and power points for charging mobile phones. The 36-volt solar battery can power the rickshaw for 50 to 70 kilometres. Developed by Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), soleckshaw may be a solution to traffic woes, pollution and fossil fuel dependence.
And it will also save the rickshaw pullers from backbreaking toil. “Rickshaws were always environment friendly. Now this gives a totally new image that would be more acceptable to the middle-classes,” says Anumita Roychoudhary, Associate Director of the Centre for Science and Environment.
Dogs are a human’s best friend. Now, they are going to help us in the hunt for genetic mutations that lead to diseases. How? Because “dogs get diseases that are very similar to humans,” says Kerstin Lindblad- Toh of Uppsala University in Sweden and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts, US. So, many canine ailments probably share the same genetic basis in humans and dogs.
A European consortium called LUPA has been set up to confirm this. It will collect 10,000 DNA samples from purebred dogs, and compare the healthy animals with those affected by diseases similar to humans. This will help to pinpoint the sick genes. And once they are found in the dogs, it would be easier to look for mutations in the same genes in humans.
Dinosaurs danced. Or so it seems at the ‘dinosaur dance floor’ at a remote site in northern Arizona, the US. More than four types of dinosaurs left over a thousand footprints and tail-drag marks at this site. Researchers claim that about 190 million years ago, during the Jurassic period, the area was probably an oasis surrounded by a vast desert.
“All these footprints at a watering hole might tell us something about the social life of the dinosaurs,” says Marjorie Chan, co-author of the study with Winston Seiler, the University of Utah graduate student, who found the site in 2006. But some paleontologists doubt the authenticity of the tracks, mainly because no bones were found in the nearby sites. So, until further research is done, the dancefloor remains an area open to speculations…
Earth is in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals! Nearly 50 per cent of all species are disappearing. So, biologists at University of California, Santa Barbara, US, are trying to determine which species must be saved. According to them, the most genetically unique species are the ones that have the greatest significance vis-avis the ecosystem. They have recently done a ‘meta-analysis’ of about 40 important studies of grassland ecosystems around the world.
They reconstructed the evolutionary history among 177 flowering plants used in these studies by comparing the genetic makeup of the plants. “The results show that genetic diversity predicts whether or not species matter,” says study co-author Bradley J. Cardinale, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology at UCSB.
River caves are caves with an active water source flowing through it. And probably the largest of these has just been discovered and mapped. The Xe Bang Fai River cave in central Laos, in Southeast Asia, is 9.5 kilometres long. It is filled with spectacular formations, and whopping creatures, such as spiders that measure about 10 inches across! “The spelunking team encountered some of the largest rooms and most impressive structures of any river cave on Earth,” says the co-leader of the expedition and veteran caver John Pollack.
Zebrafish babies follow a rhythm. And they shake-a-leg, shows a new study. When they were ‘taught’ a rhythm using flashes of light, the larvae ‘remembered’ the beat pattern for 20 seconds after the flashes stopped. With each light ‘beat’, they wagged their tails and experienced activity in their optic tectum, the sections of the brains that process visual information. Even when the lights were turned off, the fish continued to wag their rears and show signs of brain activity in time with the rhythm.
“By anticipating the next beat, the fish might be better able to react to predators,” says study co-author Germán Sumbre and researcher at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. So, by anticipating their enemies’ next moves, they may escape in a better or faster way. Smart, isn’t it?