Digested Science - Memory, Mammoths, Solar Power

Digested Science - Memory, Mammoths, Solar Power
Published: Sep 12, 2013
In jWC's regular series, Katherine Templar Lewis outlines the latest developments in the world of science – from the unimaginably weird to the potentially world-changing.

First Contact
An estimated 100 “uncontacted” tribes still exist in the world today, the majority of which are thought to be living in geographically isolated areas of Amazonia and New Guinea. National laws set up to protect these people forbids outsiders initiating contact. Yet this week the tribe of Mascho Piro in Peru appears to have been attempting to make initial contact for themselves. It reignites debate as to the best interests of tribes people themselves. As Kim Hill, an anthropologist at the Arizona State University, points out, "It's a human trait to want to expand our contacts. Modern medicine, metal tools and education can also exert a powerful pull.”
Full story

Clean energy in the skies
The job of the modern explorer, states Betrand Piccard, should be concerned with “preserving, not improving, the quality of life on our planet.” And his Solar Impulse project has recently triumphed in doing just that. This month the Solar Impulse, a solar-powered aircraft, has successfully completed its crossing of the US in five stages, setting a precedent in solar-powered air travel. The next step in the project is for the new generation plane HB-SIA, currently being built, to circumnavigate the world. Set to fly in 2015 it will use only as much power as a scooter.
Solar Impulse Project


Wisdom of age
This week the eligible age for jurors in the UK was extended to 75. It sparked protest with many believing that 75 is too old, and that as a result, jury panels might be out of touch, forgetful or unreliable. Yet the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin has completed a study proving despite wide variability across the study that there was in fact much greater individual consistency in the memory test of adults over the age of 70 than those in the younger age brackets. Alongside this was the finding that adults in their 70s had higher motivation levels and were less affected by stress than subjects in their 20s and 30s.
Research papers


Recent advances in biotechnology have enabled scientists to isolate fossil DNA, and by implanting it in viable egg cells, potentially bring animals back from extinction. The media has focused on recent attempts to resurrect the woolly mammoth, whilst the ensuing debate has centred on the morals of this endeavour and any real reason to resurrect animals in a world they are no longer adapted too. This Jurassic Park panic has overshadowed  attention on the benefits the technology could have to current species. The elephant, for example, could be extinct within 12 years. With this new technology elephant DNA could be saved and resurrected when a suitable and protected habitat can be re-established.
Revive and Restore

In vino veritas?
Researchers at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research (IPFR) in Auckland have uncovered a genetic basis to smell. Different alleles, or variants, of genes have been proven to affect not just how we smell but what we can smell. This has enabled them to demonstrate that smell, and linked taste, really is subjective, based on genetic make up. The main variations found were in the detection of chemicals such as beta-ionone, the violet note found commonly in pinot noir. Some people have been found to have a complete insensitivity to this chemical, meaning that the aroma and falvour of, say, a Chambertin Grand Cru would be totally lost on them.
Research Papers


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