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28 Aug

WATCH: Scientists Raised 111 Fish To Walk On Land

Screen-Shot-2014-08-28-at-10.50.59-AMFish that can walk on land and breathe air exist, and they're providing important clues to how their ancient ancestors evolved from swimming in the sea to living on land.

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers at McGill University studied Polypterus senegalus (the Senegal bichir or "dinosaur eel"), fish with "functional lungs and strong fins" that can pull themselves out of the water.

The scientists raised 111 juvenile bichir on land for eight months and monitored changes compared to a control group of fish remaining in water.

"Fish raised on land walk with a more effective gait," lead author Emily Standen told The Verge. "They plant their legs closer to the body’s midline, they lift their heads higher, and they slip less during that walking cycle."

Scientists found major differences between land-raised and aquatic-raised bichir, NBC News reports:

"They found that the land-raised fish lifted their heads higher, held their fins closer to their bodies, took faster steps, undulated their tails less frequently and had fins that slipped less often than bichir raised in water. The land-raised fish also underwent changes in their skeletons and musculature that probably paved the way for their changes in behavior. All in all, these alterations helped bichir move more effectively on land."

So, what does it all mean for the study of evolution?

"This is the first example we know of that demonstrates developmental plasticity may have facilitated a large-scale evolutionary transition," Hans Larsson of McGill University said in a statement, "by first accessing new anatomies and behaviours that could later be genetically fixed by natural selection."

For more, learn how another species of fish also evolved a unique method for getting a meal:

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25 Aug

Visit A National Park For Free Today On National Park Service's 98th Birthday

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 10.22.56 AMThe National Park Service turns 98 today. To celebrate, all national parks are FREE today.

Find a national park near you.

Officially established on August 25, 1916, the National Park Service now oversees "401 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands."

The parks range from Alaska's massive Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, spanning 13.2 million acres, to .02-acre Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

America's oldest national park actually outdates the NPS: Yellowstone National Park was created by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

Yellowstone's "supervolcano" frequently makes headlines over rumblings that it's getting ready to erupt; one rumor earlier this year claimed bison were fleeing the park ahead of an eruption (a story Yellowstone officials debunked).

So, what are the odds a volcano will erupt in Yellowstone National Park this century?

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7 Aug

Giant Penguins Roamed Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago

A long time ago in a galaxy not-so-far away, massive penguins roamed wild.

The time: 37 to 40 million years ago.

The place: Antarctica.

New fossil evidence reveals that these now-extinct penguins stood more than six feet tall and weighed around 250 pounds. Palaeeudyptes klekowskii, dubbed the "colossus penguin," was far larger than today's biggest penguin, the Emperor penguin, which can grow to heights of about 3.7 feet.

Our friends at SourceFed break it down:

Modern penguins may be much smaller than their ancient ancestors, but their will to survive and thrive is extraordinary:

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17 Jul

Scientists Have Engineered Worms That Don't Get Drunk

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 2.13.22 PMNewly-created mutant worms don't get drunk, so what does this mean for humans?

Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have engineered worms that don't become intoxicated by alcohol, "the first example of altering a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal," corresponding author Jon Pierce-Shimomura said in a statement.

According to a press release from the university, "The scientists accomplished this feat by inserting a modified human alcohol target into the worms..."

"One important aspect of this modified alcohol target, a neuronal channel called the BK channel, is that the mutation only affects its response to alcohol. The BK channel typically regulates many important functions including activity of neurons, blood vessels, the respiratory tract and bladder. The alcohol-insensitive mutation does not disrupt these functions at all."

The Verge explains:

"Normally, when worms are put in a petri dish that contains alcohol, they become drunk. For a worm, this mean not being able to wiggle from side to side as much. It also means crawling much more slowly. But with the modified channel, the worms acted just as they did without the alcohol."

Next up, the scientists will test their methods on mice, possibly leading to the eventual development of a "James Bond drug" that would allow humans to drink as much as they'd like without getting drunk.

If you're not going to get drunk while drinking, you may as well use that red wine for a pretty ingenious life hack.

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10 Jul

410-Million-Year-Old Arachnid Brought Back to Life in Extraordinary New Video

A 410-million-year-old relative of modern-day spiders crawls again in a remarkable new video from scientists at The University of Manchester and Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde.

The team used fossils to recreate the ancient arachnid's movements on open-source software; the creature is now extinct but "300 to 400 million years ago, seem to have been more widespread than spiders," palaeontologist Dr. Russell Garwood said in a statement.

Watch the arachnid in action:

If this arachnid were still living today, might it face off with the ogre-faced spider? We can only speculate...

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7 Jul

Chimpanzees and Humans Have Something Big in Common: We Both Hunt and Eat Meat

Humans share over 90 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees and we share something else too: chimps and humans are the only "higher primates" that hunt and eat meat.

Mutant Planet returns tonight at 10/9c on Science Channel with a look at the unique creatures that call Africa home. The show opens by exploring the predator-prey relationship between red colobus monkeys and chimpanzees. Chimps love eating fruit and plants but, sometimes, they also have a taste for meat -- and red colobus are their favorite prey.

Recent research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that adult male chimpanzees regularly eat meat, although the bulk of the chimp diet comes from plants.

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18 Jun

World's Largest Ocean Sanctuary Proposed For Pacific Ocean

President Barack Obama has announced plans to create the world's largest marine sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean, a swath of sea more than twice the size of Texas.

The marine preserve will increase the size of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument "from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles — all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States," reports The Washington Post.

President George W. Bush established the marine monument in 2009; expanding the site would provide protections for both underwater geographic landmarks and marine residents:

"The potential expansion area would quintuple the number of underwater mountains under protection. It would also end tuna fishing and provide shelter for nearly two dozen species of marine mammals, five types of threatened sea turtles, and a variety of sharks and other predatory fish species."

Obama spoke about his proposal Tuesday during the State Department's "Our Ocean" conference:

"Growing up in Hawaii, I learned early to appreciate the beauty and power of the ocean. And like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I’m going to use my authority as president to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests."

As attention turns to the health of our oceans, tonight's Through the Wormhole explores a big question: Does the ocean think? And: Is the ocean a superorganism?

Be sure to watch Through the Wormhole at 10/9c TONIGHT on Science Channel.

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9 May

Science Fiction Films Don't Show the Scariest Things That Could Happen to Earth

A recent report from the White House lays out the stark reality of a future affected by climate change: coastal flooding, heat waves and droughts, ocean acidification, hurricanes and food security fears.

So while science fiction movies show some unlikely ways Earth could be destroyed in the future -- aliens or artificial intelligence, for instance -- the biggest threat to our planet comes instead from natural disasters.

Designing for Disaster, a new exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., demonstrates construction innovations designed to protect communities from the devastating affects of natural disasters; for instance, is the U.S. prepared for a massive earthquake like the tremblors that leveled parts of Haiti and Chile in 2010?

Designingfordisaster

On May 25, two Science Channel programs address this issue head-on.

At 9/8c, Swallowed by a Sinkhole looks into the science of sinkholes and why Florida's unique geology makes it the sinkhole capital of the world.

Then at 10/9c, Megastorm: World’s Biggest Typhoon examines super-typhoon Haiyan, which destroyed much of Tacloban in the Philippines in November 2013, leaving more than 7,300 people dead or missing.

The future threats from natural disasters are very real. By bringing attention to this issue, and each doing our part, Science Channel and the National Building Museum aim to spotlight efforts keeping people around the world more safe and secure.

Designing for Disaster opens May 11, 2014 and runs through August 2, 2015.

Swallowed by a Sinkhole and Megastorm: World's Biggest Typhoon air Sunday, May 25, starting at 9 p.m. E/P on Science Channel.

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13 Apr

Forested Buildings May Save Us from Alien Scrutiny (and Our Own Stupidity)

Bosco Verticale CREDIT: Stefano Boeri/DoodleIf you were an extraterrestrial scientist studying planet Earth, the signature achievement of its human inhabitants probably wouldn't be the Great Wall of China or the Pyramids or the Panama Canal. No, the thing that would impress aliens the most would be how, over the past 8,000 years, people have cut down about half of the lush green forests that once covered much of the planet's land mass. The problem is that it probably would impress the aliens as one of the stupidest things they'd ever seen. Forests, after all, provide humans with everything from building materials to medicines, and, perhaps more importantly, serve as massive carbon dioxide filter.

So, perhaps in an effort combat future alien scrutiny, I present to you the hot new architectural trend: green skyscrapers. You may be thinking: "What's the big deal?" But I'm not talking "green" in the figurative, sustainable-building-materials-and-solar-panels-on-the-roof sense. I'm talking literally green -- in that these towering urban high-rises would be filled with trees as well as people. In fact, judging by the looks of some of the designs, there may be more vegetation than human inhabitants. 

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4 Apr

Have a Bite of Brainless Chicken

Chicken CREDIT: Mark A. Johnson/CorbisWarning: If you're about to gnaw on a big juicy plate of Buffalo wings, you may want to put off reading this.  British artist André Ford has come up with a bizarre vision, which he calls "The Centre for Unconscious Farming."  In an installation at the Royal College of Art, Ford imagines a horrific chicken farm of the future in which the fowl have the most of their brains removed surgically and are grown inside tangles of tubes that provide food and remove waste. Meanwhile, their muscles are electrically stimulated to promote growth until the moment they are ready for slaughter.

As Ford writes in his explanation:

As long as their brain stem is intact, the homeostatic functions of the chicken will continue to operate. By removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken, its sensory perceptions are removed. It can be produced in a denser condition while remaining alive, and oblivious.

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