False memories prime immune system for future attacks









































IN A police line-up, a falsely remembered face is a big problem. But for the body's police force – the immune system – false memories could be a crucial weapon.












When a new bacterium or virus invades the body, the immune system mounts an attack by sending in white blood cells called T-cells that are tailored to the molecular structure of that invader. Defeating the infection can take several weeks. However, once victorious, some T-cells stick around, turning into memory cells that remember the invader, reducing the time taken to kill it the next time it turns up.












Conventional thinking has it that memory cells for a particular microbe only form in response to an infection. "The dogma is that you need to be exposed," says Mark Davis of Stanford University in California, but now he and his colleagues have shown that this is not always the case.












The team took 26 samples from the Stanford Blood Center. All 26 people had been screened for diseases and had never been infected with HIV, herpes simplex virus or cytomegalovirus. Despite this, Davis's team found that all the samples contained T-cells tailored to these viruses, and an average of 50 per cent of these cells were memory cells.












The idea that T-cells don't need to be exposed to the pathogen "is paradigm shifting," says Philip Ashton-Rickardt of Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study. "Not only do they have capacity to remember, they seem to have seen a virus when they haven't."












So how are these false memories created? To a T-cell, each virus is "just a collection of peptides", says Davis. And so different microbes could have structures that are similar enough to confuse the T-cells.












To test this idea, the researchers vaccinated two people with an H1N1 strain of influenza and found that this also stimulated the T-cells to react to two bacteria with a similar peptide structure. Exposing the samples from the blood bank to peptide sequences from certain gut and soil bacteria and a species of ocean algae resulted in an immune response to HIV (Immunology, doi.org/kgg).












The finding could explain why vaccinating children against measles seems to improve mortality rates from other diseases. It also raises the possibility of creating a database of cross-reactive microbes to find new vaccination strategies. "We need to start exploring case by case," says Davis.












"You could find innocuous pathogens that are good at vaccinating against nasty ones," says Ashton-Rickardt. The idea of cross-reactivity is as old as immunology, he says. But he is excited about the potential for finding unexpected correlations. "Who could have predicted that HIV was related to an ocean algae?" he says. "No one's going to make that up!"












This article appeared in print under the headline "False memories prime our defences"




















































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Govt looking to up support for social enterprises running hawker centres






SINGAPORE: The government is exploring ways to boost support to social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations, which are set to manage hawker centres of the future.

This comes after a government-appointed hawker centre consultation panel recommended that social enterprises run hawker centres of the future, with the aims of giving the disadvantaged jobs, and providing the community with affordable food.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan shared this at the official launch of Kampung @ Simpang Bedok, Singapore's first hawker centre to be run by a social enterprise.

In February last year, social enterprise Best of Asia took over the management of the centre.

Some of the changes include the use of space to allow patrons to shop, or just hang out. The management plans weekly flea markets and band gigs to draw in the crowd.

Deirdre Murugasu, leader of Best of Asia said: "All along, there are many Singaporeans who are unable to actually expand even if they are very good hawkers, there's no succession planning. This place is a place for them to all try out. Make it, don't make it, we're there to help them."

There are 32 stalls at the centre. Best of Asia offers various forms of help to stall holders - including charging them partial rent.

Full rentals range between S$1,500 and S$4,000, based on individual assessments of stall holders.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "This is a very important new start and we'll have to see how this develops over the years to come. The key thing is for it to remain viable, for it to provide good livelihood to people who may be disadvantaged or who may otherwise have an opportunity to start their own businesses. And also for good-hearted people with business ideas and imagination to help others to create a multi-disciplinary team to make this place viable, attractive and hopefully a model for the future."

Hawker centres run by social enterprises can help boost community ties.

Kasmah Sukor, a cook at Pitstop @ Haniff said: "I see that we are working together, helping each other. Everybody tries to support each other in any way we can. That is why I feel that we have the kampung spirit to help out and work. That is what I like about this place."

The government hopes that the 10 new hawker centres in the next five years would be run by social enterprises.

It will look into ways to best support such a model, to ensure long-term sustainability and viability.

- CNA/xq



Read More..

1 dead, 3 wounded in 90 minutes Friday night









Chicago police were flagged down by a man on the street as they responded to the sound of gunfire Friday night and found a woman lying on the ground, bleeding from gunshot wounds to her upper body.


She and three others were wounded between about 5:55 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. on the South and West sides, according to Chicago police, among a total of six people shot Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. 

The woman, whose age wasn't available, was shot in the 1100 block of North Pulaski Road, just a bit south of Division Street in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood about 7:05 p.m. Officers in the area heard the gunfire and headed toward it - that's when they were flagged down. 


The woman was talking when taken away in an ambulance but suffered a wound to her back and a second below her armpit and was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital. She may have been stepped on as people fled the scene, police said. 





  • Related

























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  • 7800 South Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60620, USA














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  • 1100 North Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60651, USA














  • 1100 South Saint Louis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60624, USA












Four others survived shootings Friday night and Saturday morning. 


Before 3 a.m. a 27-year-old man was shot in the arm at a party in the 1100 block of South St. Louis Avenue in the Homan Square neighborhood. 


About 7:20 p.m., two men were shot in the 7800 block of South Merrill Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood. One was shot in the knee and the other in the ankle. The pair, 19 and 20, were at a party when someone crept up a gangway and opened fire, police said.


The older was shot in the knee and the younger in the ankle, police said.  Both were taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. 


About 5:55 p.m., a man sitting in his car near his home was shot in the leg by one of three guys who approached him on foot, police said. The 29-year-old was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where his condition had stabilized.

Earlier Friday, a 17-year-old was shot in the hand in the 7800 block of South Morgan Street in the Gresham neighborhood. He was wounded about noon.

Check back for more information.

pnickeas@tribune.com
Twitter: @peternickeas

lford@tribune.com
Twitter: @ltaford





Read More..

Why the Dog Show Winner Looks Like a Monkey


Standing less than a foot tall and easily cradled in one of trainer Ernesto Lara's arms, Banana Joe made big news for a small dog when he became the first affenpinscher to win the Westminster Kennel Club dog show on Tuesday.

His short stature and flattened face might not make Banana Joe look like a typical winner: The name "affenpinscher" is German for "monkey terrier," and its mug is definitely simian in appearance. Now this lesser known breed is basking in the spotlight, monkey face and all. (Read "How to Build a Dog" in National Geographic magazine.)

Why the Flat Face?

People like dogs whose faces kind of look like people, with a squished-in nose and forward-facing eyes: Pekinese, bullmastiffs, and affenpinschers, to name a few. "It's mimicking the way humans appear," said Jeffrey Schoenebeck, a research fellow at the National Institutes of Health who has analyzed the development of shortened canine snouts. Several centuries ago, breeders probably sought out parents with a flat face. (Genetics note: Gene BMP3 likely contributes to a flat face in toy breeds.)

And so Banana Joe's mug reflects centuries of genetic manipulation. There's no advantage for the dog, Schoenebeck notes, except that humans would crave it more as a companion. (Related: Gallery of Dog Pictures.)

What About That Tongue?

Banana Joe sticks out his little pink tongue a lot. Maybe more than your run-of-the-mill canine. The reason may be the flat face. "There's probably less room in their mouth" for the tongue, said Schoenebeck. "It's hanging out."

Why so Small?

"The Affenpinscher comes from a terrier background," explained NIH senior staff scientist Heidi Parker, and like all terriers, it was bred to chase. The early affenpinschers' specialty was hunting down rats and other vermin for its owners. Breeding for a small size came later, as ladies started bringing affenpinschers into the home as lap dogs-and to keep away vermin that might otherwise hide in corners or under long skirts. Today's affenpinschers are in the 6-to-13 pound (3-to-6 kilogram) range.

But the dog's size hasn't given it an inferiority complex. "Most of these little guys do not realize they're as small as they are," Parker says. Toy dogs have been known to chase birds and other animals that rival them in size.

What Comes After Westminster?

Dog lovers may crave an affenpinscher. And that could cause problems if breeders try to produce more pups.

"You'll see some breeds go through sudden explosions, where they'll go from small numbers to really large numbers," says Parker. "Usually that means an increase in genetic diseases." There aren't a lot of potential parents for a purebred litter, so the odds of inbreeding, and its related diseases, go up.

And What About Banana Joe?

Now that he's made us aware of his breed, Banana Joe will retire from competition and live with his Dutch owner, free to fulfill his heritage as a lap dog.


Read More..

Budget Cut Warnings Harsher Than Reality?











Get ready for two weeks of intensifying warnings about how crucial, popular government services are about to wither — including many threats that could eventually come true.



President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans made no progress last week in heading off $85 billion in budget-wide cuts that automatically start taking effect March 1. Lacking a bipartisan deal to avoid them and hoping to heap blame and pressure on GOP lawmakers, the administration is offering vivid details about the cuts' consequences: trimmed defense contracts, less secure U.S. embassies, furloughed air traffic controllers.



Past administrations have seldom hesitated to spotlight how budget standoffs would wilt programs the public values.



When a budget fight between President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans led to two government shutdowns, in 1995 and 1996, some threats came true, like padlocked national parks.



Others did not.



Clinton warned that Medicare recipients might lose medical treatment, feeding programs for the low-income elderly could end and treatment at veterans hospitals could be curtailed. All continued, thanks to contractors working for IOUs, local governments and charities stepping in and the budget impasse ending before serious damage occurred.






Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Imag








This time, at stake is not a federal shutdown but a so-called sequester. Between March 1 and Sept. 30 — the remainder of the government's budget year — it would mean reductions of 13 percent for defense programs and 9 percent for other programs, according to the White House budget office.



The cuts, plus nearly $1 trillion more over the coming decade, were concocted two years ago. Administration and congressional bargainers purposely made them so painful that everyone would be forced to reach a grand deficit-cutting compromise to avoid them.



Hasn't happened.



A look at the sequester and the chilling impact the administration says it would have, based on letters and testimony to Congress:



—A key reminder: Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits, Medicaid and a host of other benefit programs are exempted. The cuts take effect over a seven-month period; they don't all crash ashore on March 1. And if a bipartisan deal to ease them is ever reached, lawmakers could restore some or all of the money retroactively.



—On the other hand: Left in effect, these cuts are real even though their program-by-program impact is unclear. The law limits the administration's flexibility to protect favored initiatives, but the White House has told agencies to avoid cuts presenting "risks to life, safety or health" and to minimize harm to crucial services.



—Defense: Troops at war would be protected, but there'd be fewer Air Force flying hours, less training for some Army units and cuts in naval forces. A $3 billion cut in the military's Tricare health care system could diminish elective care for military families and retirees. And, in a warning to the private defense industry, the Pentagon said it would be "restructuring contracts to reduce their scope and cost."



—Health: The National Institutes of Health would lose $1.6 billion, trimming cancer research and drying up funds for hundreds of other research projects. Health departments would give 424,000 fewer tests for the AIDS virus. More than 373,000 people may not receive mental health services.





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Fake pointers on your screen foil 'shoulder surfers'









































EVER suspected somebody is stealing a glance at your screen as you log in to secure services like online banking in a public place? A blizzard of fake mouse pointers could foil such "shoulder surfers".












Many online banking websites ask you to log in using your mouse and an on-screen keyboard, as these fool most keylogger viruses. The trouble is that a snooper can see exactly what buttons you press to enter your password. Alexander de Luca and colleagues at the University of Munich, Germany, decided to find a way to throw an attacker off the scent.












Their answer is to allow a user to call up an array of 16 different mouse pointers when the on-screen keyboard is active. Only one pointer is the one that you are actually controlling; the others appear to press keys at random to distract the snooper, says team member Emanuel von Zezschwitz.












In tests with 39 volunteers, they found a shoulder surfer was able to steal a password 90 per cent of the time without the fake pointers turned on. But when they used them, attackers succeeded only 5 per cent of the time with 16 fake pointers and 35 per cent with eight pointers. The work will be presented at a conference on computer interaction in Paris in April.












This article appeared in print under the headline "Fake pointers on your screen foil 'shoulder surfers'"




















































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Former MM Lee Kuan Yew misses Lunar New Year dinner






SINGAPORE: Former Minister Mentor and Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not attend the annual Lunar New year dinner at his GRC on Friday evening.

Senior Minister of State for Law and MP for the area, Ms Indranee Rajah told grassroots leaders and residents at the dinner that Mr Lee was not feeling well and had extended his apologies for not being at the event.

Mr Lee thanked all residents for attending the event.

On behalf of the gathering, Ms Indranee wished Mr Lee a speedy recovery and hopes he feels better soon.

Channel NewsAsia understands from grassroots leaders in the division that this is the first time Mr Lee has missed the Tanjong Pagar division's Lunar New Year dinner celebrations.

- CNA/xq



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500 hurt when 10-ton meteorite explodes over Russia








CHELYABINSK, Russia -- More than 500 people were injured when a meteorite shot across the sky and exploded over central Russia on Friday, sending fireballs crashing to Earth, shattering windows and damaging buildings.


Russia's Academy of Sciences estimates size of Urals meteor at 10 tons, according to the Associated Press.


People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave according to a Reuters correspondent in the industrial city 950 mileseast of Moscow.

A fireball blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 125 miles away in Yekaterinburg. Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phone networks were interrupted.

"I was driving to work, it was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," said Viktor Prokofiev, 36, a resident of Yekaterinburg in the Urals Mountains.

"I felt like I was blinded by headlights," he said.

No fatalities were reported but President Vladimir Putin, who was due to host Finance Ministry officials from the Group of 20 nations in Moscow, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev were informed.

A local ministry official said such incidents were extremely rare and Friday's events might have been linked to an asteroid the size of an Olympic swimming pool due to pass Earth at a distance of 17,100 miles but this was not confirmed.

Russia's space agency Roscosmos said the meteorite was travelling at a speed of 19 miles per second and that such events were hard to predict. The Interior Ministry said the meteorite explosion had caused a sonic boom.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said 514 people had sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass, and that 112 of those were kept in hospital. Search groups were set up to look for the remains of the meteorite.

"There have never been any cases of meteorites breaking up at such a low level over Russia before," said Yuri Burenko, head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Emergencies Ministry.

WINDOWS BREAK, FRAMES BUCKLE

Windows were shattered on Chelyabinsk's central Lenin Street and some of the frames of shop fronts buckled.

A loud noise, resembling an explosion, rang out at around 12:20 a.m. EST. The shockwave could be felt in apartment buildings in the industrial city's center.

"I was standing at a bus stop, seeing off my girlfriend," said Andrei, a local resident who did not give his second name. "Then there was a flash and I saw a trail of smoke across the sky and felt a shockwave that smashed windows."

A wall was damaged at the Chelyabinsk Zinc Plant but a spokeswoman said there was no environmental threat.

Although such events are rare, a meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 1,250 miles in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 125 miles from the point of impact.

The Emergencies Ministry described Friday's events as a "meteor shower in the form of fireballs" and said background radiation levels were normal. It urged residents not to panic.

Chelyabinsk city authorities urged people to stay indoors unless they needed to pick up their children from schools and kindergartens. They said what sounded like a blast had been heard at an altitude of 32,800 feet.

The U.S. space agency NASA has said an asteroid known as 2012 DA14, about 46 meters in diameter, would have an encounter with Earth closer than any asteroid since scientists began routinely monitoring them about 15 years ago.

Television, weather and communications satellites fly about 500 miles higher. The moon is 14 times farther away.

Reuters



Russia's Academy of Sciences estimates size of Urals meteor at 10 tons.







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Why We Walk … and Run … And Walk Again to Get Where We're Going


You have to get to a bus stop to catch the once-an-hour express ... or to a restaurant to meet a friend ... or to a doctor's office. You've got maybe a half a mile to cover and you're worried you'll be late. You run, then you stop and walk, then run some more.

But wait. Wouldn't it be better to run the whole way?

Not necessarily.

A new study by an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State University tests the theory that people subconsciously mix walking and running so they get where they need to. The idea is that "people move in a manner that minimizes energy consumption," said the professor, Manoj Srinivasan.

Srinivasan asked 36 subjects to cover 400 feet (122 meters), a bit more than the length of a football field. He gave them a time to arrive at the finish line and a stopwatch. If the deadline was supertight, they ran. If they had two minutes, they walked. And if the deadline was neither too short nor too far off, they toggled between walking and running.

The takeaway: Humans successfully make the walk-run adjustment as they go along, based on their sense of how far they have to go. "It's not like they decide beforehand," Srinivasan said. (Get tips, gear recommendations, and more in our Running Guide.)

The Best Technique for "the Twilight Zone"

"The mixture of walking and running is good when you have an intermediate amount of time," he explained. "I like to call it 'the Twilight Zone,' where you have neither infinite time nor do you have to be there now."

That ability to shift modes served ancient humans well. "It's basically an evolutionary argument," Srinivasan said. A prehistoric human seeking food would want to move in a way that conserves some energy so that if food is hard to find, the hunter won't run out of gas—and will still be able to rev it up to escape predators.

The study, published on January 30 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, doesn't answer that question of how we make such adjustments.

Runners: Take a Break if You Need It

The mix of walking and running is also something that nonelite marathoners are familiar with. Covering 26.2 miles might take less of a toll if the runner stops running from time to time, walks a bit, then resumes a jogging pace. "You use less energy overall and also give yourself a bit of a break," Srinivasan noted. (Watch: An elite marathoner on her passion for running.)

One take-home lesson is: Runners, don't push it all the time. A walk-run mix will minimize the energy you expend.

Lesson two: If you're a parent walking with your kid, and the kid lags behind, then runs to catch up, then lags again, the child isn't necessarily trying to annoy you. Rather, the child is perhaps exhibiting an innate ability to do the walk-run transition.

Potential lesson three: The knowledge that humans naturally move in a manner that minimizes energy consumption might be helpful in designing artificial limbs that feel more natural and will help the user reduce energy consumption.

The big question for Manoj Srinivasan: Now that he has his walk-run theory, does he consciously switch between running and walking when he's trying to get somewhere? "I must admit, no," he said. "When I want to get somewhere, I just let the body do its thing." But if he's in a rush, he'll make a mad dash.

"Talk to you tomorrow," he signed off in an email to National Geographic News. "Running to get to teaching now!"


Read More..

Nightmare Ends: Passengers Leave Disabled Ship












After five days without power in the Gulf of Mexico, the more than 4,200 people aboard the Carnival Triumph returned home to the U.S., with many of them telling their horror stories for the first time.


Passengers began to disembark the damaged ship around 10:15 p.m. CT Thursday in Mobile, Ala. The last passenger disembarked the ship at 1 a.m. local time, according to Carnival's Twitter handle.


Passenger Brandi Dorsett was thankful to be home, especially for her mother, who was with her on the ship. Dorsett said she wasn't pleased with the doctor on staff.


"My mother is a diabetic, and they would not even come to the room because she cannot walk the stairs to help her with insulin. She hasn't had insulin in three days," Dorsett said.


Click Here for Photos of the Stranded Ship at Sea


The Carnival Triumph departed Galveston, Texas, last Thursday and lost power Sunday after a fire in the engine room disabled the vessel's propulsion system and knocked out most of its power.


After power went out, passengers texted ABC News that sewage was seeping down the walls from burst plumbing pipes, carpets were wet with urine, and food was in short supply. Reports surfaced of elderly passengers running out of critical heart medicine and others on board squabbling over scarce food.


"It's degrading. Demoralizing, and then they want to insult us by giving us $500," Veronica Arriaga said after disembarking the ship.


Passengers were already being given a full refund for the cruise, transportation expenses and vouchers for another cruise. Carnival Cruise Lines is now boosting that offer to include another $500 per person.


As the ship docked, passengers lined the decks of the Triumph, waving and whistling to those on shore. "Happy V-Day" read a homemade sign made for the Valentine's Day arrival, while another sent a starker message: "The ship's afloat, so is the sewage."






AP Photo/John David Mercer











Girl Disembarks Cruise Ship, Kisses the Ground Watch Video









Carnival Cruise Ship Passengers Line Up for Food Watch Video









Stranded Carnival Cruise Ship On Its Way to Port Watch Video





WATCH: Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill Apologizes to Passengers


Some still aboard chanted, "Let me off, let me off!" and "Sweet Home Alabama."


Kendall Jenkins was one of many passengers who were photographed kissing the ground when they exited the ship. Jenkins, like many passengers, created makeshift beds out of lounge chairs on the ship's deck after the raw sewage smell became too much to contend with.


"We kind of camped out by our lifeboat. We would have nightmares about Titanic basically happening," passenger Kendall Jenkins told ABC News Radio.


"I am just so blessed to be back home," she added.


Cruise Ship Newlyweds Won't Be Spending Honeymoon on a Boat


Approximately 100 buses were waiting to take passengers on the next stage of their journey. Passengers had the option to take a bus ride to New Orleans or Galveston, Texas, where the ill-fated ship's voyage began. From there, passengers will take flights home, which Carnival said it would pay for.


Inside the buses, Carnival handed out bags of food that included French fries, chicken nuggets, honey mustard barbecue sauce and apples.


Deborah Knight, 56, decided to stay in Mobile after the arduous journey was over rather than board a bus for a long ride. Her husband Seth drove in from Houston, and they checked in at a downtown Mobile hotel.


"I want a hot shower and a daggum Whataburger," said Knight.


She said she was afraid to eat the food on board and had gotten sick while on the ship.


For 24-year-old Brittany Ferguson of Texas, not knowing how long passengers had to endure their time aboard was the worst part.


"I'm feeling awesome just to see land and buildings," Ferguson said, who was in a white robe given to her on the cruise ship. "The scariest part was just not knowing when we'd get back," she told The Associated Press.


Carnival president and CEO Gerry Cahill praised the ship's crew and told reporters that he was headed on board to apologize directly to its passengers shortly before the Carnival Triumph arrived in Mobile.


"I know the conditions on board were very poor," Cahill said Thursday night. "I know it was very difficult, and I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests for that. ... Clearly, we failed in this particular case."


Luckily no one was hurt in the fire that triggered the power outage, but many passengers aboard the 900-foot colossus said they smelled smoke and were living in fear.






Read More..

Mosh pit physics could aid disaster planning

















































Metalheads in mosh pits act like atoms in a gas. That's the conclusion of the first study of the collective motion of people at a rock concert.












The finding could add to the realism of computer-generated crowd scenes in films and games.; More importantly, it could help architects design buildings that ease the flow of chaotic crowds in an emergency.












Research into how humans behave in crowds had mostly been limited to fairly organised situations, like pedestrians forming lanes when walking on the street. But when Jesse Silverberg, a graduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, took his girlfriend to her first heavy metal concert a few years ago, he witnessed a different and surprising form of crowd behaviour.












"I didn't want to put her in harm's way, so we stood off to the side," he says. "I'm usually in the mosh pit, but for the first time I was off to the side and watching. I was amazed at what I saw."












Metal fans' favoured dance style is called moshing and mostly involves bodies slamming into each other. Silverberg wondered if the mathematical laws that describe group behaviour in flocks of birds or schools of fish could apply to moshers as well.











Like a random gas













Together with another grad student and two physics professors at Cornell, he pulled videos of mosh pits off YouTube and used software developed for analysing particles in a fluid to track the moshers' motions. They found that the dancers' speeds had the same statistical distribution as the speeds of particles in a gas. Such particles move around freely, interacting only when they bounce off one another.












"This presented a bit of a mystery," Silverberg says. What makes a crowd of people with independent decision-making powers behave like a random gas?












To investigate, the team simulated a mosh pit with a few basic rules: the virtual moshers bounce off each other when they collide (instead of sticking or sliding through each other); they can move independently; and they can flock, or follow each other, to varying degrees. Finally, the team added a certain amount of statistical noise to the simulated moshers' movements – "to mimic the effects of the inebriants that the participants typically use", says co-author Matthew Bierbaum.












They found that by tweaking their model parameters – decreasing noise or increasing the tendency to flock, for instance – they could make the pit shift between the random-gas-like moshing and a circular vortex called a circle pit, which is exactly what they saw in the YouTube videos of real mosh pits. Their simulation is available online.












"These are collective behaviours that you wouldn't have predicted based on the previous literature on collective motion in humans," Silverberg says. "That work was geared at pedestrians, but what we're seeing is fundamentally different."












"The fact that human beings are very complex creatures, and yet we can develop a lifeless computer simulation that mimics their behaviour, really tells us that we're understanding something new about the behaviour of crowds that we didn't understand before," says co-author James Sethna.











Lane formation













The team also found a third mosh-pit mode that they hadn't seen on YouTube, which they call lane formation. "If you increase the flocking or decrease the density of the simulated moshers, the active participants can break down the circle and just stream through the crowd," Bierbaum says. "I'd be excited to see this, but it would have to be at a very large venue, so that the ends didn't collide with each other to form a circle pit."











Although the project was mostly for fun, the researchers think it could have real-world implications for crowd animators and architects.













"When you have earthquakes or buildings on fire, people tend to panic when they escape. We don't have a good way of experimentally seeing what's going on," Silverberg says. "By going to these heavy-metal concerts, we're able to ethically and safely observe how humans behave in these unusual excited states."












"That's how we justify it after the fact, by talking about safety," Sethna adds.












The correlation between moshers and random gases "seems very fitting to me", says Jon Freund, drummer in Ithaca-based metal band Thirteen South. "It's kind of the same thing – a pure expression of energy that's just random."












But he says knowing the physics behind it won't change how he moshes – mostly because these days he stays out of the pit. "I'm a hide-on-the-stage-and-play-my-drums mosher," he admits. "I don't want to get hit in the head."












Silverberg notes that the study's main limitation was the quality of the data. "YouTube videos are typically shaky and taken from a poor viewing angle," he says. What's more, staff at venues "tend to baulk when you walk in with a camera". He hopes to convince at least one venue to let him film with a camera suspended over the crowd. "There really is so much to do and so much we don't know yet. It's really just beginning."












Journal reference: arxiv.org/abs/1302.1886


















































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Cordlife Group posts S$5.6m net profit in fiscal Q2






SINGAPORE: Cord blood and tissue banking service provider Cordlife Group posted a net profit of S$5.6 million for its fiscal second quarter, boosted by a one-time disposal gain of $2.7 million.

Excluding the disposal of its 10 per cent interest in China-based stem cell company, China Stem Cells (South) Company, Cordlife's underlying net profit grew over 50 per cent to S$3 million.

Revenue for the quarter rose 24 per cent to S$8.8 million.

Cordlife attributed the higher revenue largely to successful marketing efforts to educate expectant parents on the benefits of its cord blood banking services.

Going forward, the group is optimistic that it could benefit from policies to boost fertility and birth rates in Singapore.

The firm said the extension of Child Development Accounts, as well as the higher Baby Bonus, will allow more parents to afford to store their children's cord blood stem cells as an additional medical treatment alternative.

Jeremy Yee, executive director and CEO of Cordlife Group, said: "The Population White Paper was a very interesting one.

"What we look at, at the end of the day, is the fact that the government essentially is going to spur more investment by putting in more infrastructure in place so that the population can grow.

"More incentives have been given to parents to have more children. So all these are positives."

Cordlife's shares closed on Thursday almost 5 per cent higher at 66 cents.

- CNA/al



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'Blade Rummer' Olympian Oscar Pistorius charged with murder

Double-amputee Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was arrested on Thursday, after a woman was shot dead in his home in Pretoria, South Africa. (Feb. 14)









JOHANNESBURG -- South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius, known as the "Blade Runner" for his racing prosthetics, was charged on Thursday with murdering his girlfriend at his home in Pretoria.

Police said they had opened a murder case after a 30-year-old woman was found shot dead at the scene in the upmarket Silverlakes gated community on the outskirts of the capital.






Police spokeswoman Katlego Mogale said a 9 mm pistol had been found at the scene and a 26-year-old man was taken into custody. In South Africa police do not identify suspects until they are charged in court.

"There are witnesses and they have been interviewed this morning. We are talking about neighbors and people that heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place," police brigadier Denise Beukes told reporters outside the residential complex in Pretoria.

"At this stage he is on his way to a district surgeon for medical examination and will be appearing at the Pretoria Magistrate Court at 2 pm this afternoon."

Johannesburg's Talk Radio 702 said Pistorius was believed to have shot his girlfriend, a model, in the head and arm, although the circumstances were unclear. The radio had said before the murder charge that he might have mistaken her for a burglar.

Reeva Steenkamp was reported to have been dating Pistorius for a year. In the social pages of last weekend's Sunday Independent she described him as having "impeccable" taste.

"His gifts are always thoughtful," she was quoted as saying.

Some of her last Twitter postings indicated she was looking forward to celebrating Valentine's Day on Thursday with him.

"What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow???" she posted.

"We are all devastated. Her family is in shock," Steenkamp's agent, Sarita Tomlinson, told Reuters, in tears over the incident, which happened in the early hours of the morning.

"They did have a good relationship," she said. "Nobody actually knows what happened."

TRACK STAR

Pistorius, who races wearing carbon fiber prosthetic blades after he was born without a fibula in both legs, was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics and reached the 400 meter semi-finals in London 2012.

In last year's Paralympics he suffered his first loss over 200 meters in nine years. After the race he questioned the legitimacy of Brazilian winner Alan Oliveira's prosthetic blades, though he was quick to express his regret for the comments.

South Africa has some of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and many home owners have weapons to defend themselves against intruders.

In 2004, Springbok rugby player Rudi Visagie shot dead his 19-year-old daughter after he mistakenly thought she was a robber trying to steal his car in the middle of the night.

Pistorius's lavish home is in the heart of a large estate surrounded by a three-meter-high stone wall topped by an electric wire fence.

"It is difficult to imagine an intruder entering this community, but we live in a country where intruders can get in wherever they want to," said one Silverlakes resident, who did not want to be named.

"Oscar is a good guy, an upstanding neighbor, and if he is innocent I feel for this guy deeply," he said.

Pistorius did not answer his mobile phone on Thursday. His South African agent told Reuters he had not spoken to Pistorius but his lawyers were with him.

He is sponsored by British telecoms firm BT, sunglasses maker Oakley, sports apparel maker Nike and French designer Thierry Mugler.

"We are shocked by this terrible, tragic news. We await the outcome of the South African police investigation," a BT spokeswoman said before Pistorius was charged.

A Nike spokesman in London said before hearing of the murder charge that the company was "saddened by the news, but we have no further comment to make at this stage".

Reuters

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Are Honeybees Losing Their Way?



A single honeybee visits hundreds, sometimes thousands, of flowers a day in search of nectar and pollen. Then it must find its way back to the hive, navigating distances up to five miles (eight kilometers), and perform a "waggle dance" to tell the other bees where the flowers are.


A new study shows that long-term exposure to a combination of certain pesticides might impair the bee's ability to carry out its pollen mission.


"Any impairment in their ability to do this could have a strong effect on their survival," said Geraldine Wright, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University in England and co-author of a new study posted online February 7, 2013, in the Journal of Experimental Biology.


Wright's study adds to the growing body of research that shows that the honeybee's ability to thrive is being threatened. Scientists are still researching how pesticides may be contributing to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a rapid die-off seen in millions of honeybees throughout the world since 2006.


"Pesticides are very likely to be involved in CCD and also in the loss of other types of pollinators," Wright said. (See the diversity of pollinating creatures in a photo gallery from National Geographic magazine.)


Bees depend on what's called "scent memory" to find flowers teeming with nectar and pollen. Their ability to rapidly learn, remember, and communicate with each other has made them highly efficient foragers, using the waggle dance to educate others about the site of the food source.



Watch as National Geographic explains the waggle dance.


Their pollination of plants is responsible for the existence of nearly a third of the food we eat and has a similar impact on wildlife food supplies.


Previous studies have shown certain types of pesticides affect a bee's learning and memory. Wright's team wanted to investigate if the combination of different pesticides had an even greater effect on the learning and memory of honeybees.


"Honeybees learn to associate floral colors and scents with the quality of food rewards," Wright explained. "The pesticides affect the neurons involved in these behaviors. These [affected] bees are likely to have difficulty communicating with other members of the colony."


The experiment used a classic procedure with a daunting name: olfactory conditioning of the proboscis extension reflex. In layman's terms, the bee sticks out its tongue in response to odor and food rewards.


For the experiment, bees were collected from the colony entrance, placed in glass vials, and then transferred into plastic sandwich boxes. For three days the bees were fed a sucrose solution laced with sublethal doses of pesticides. The team measured short-term and long-term memory at 10-minute and 24-hour intervals respectively. (Watch of a video of a similar type of bee experiment.)


This study is the first to show that when pesticides are combined, the impact on bees is far worse than exposure to just one pesticide. "This is particularly important because one of the pesticides we used, coumaphos, is a 'medicine' used to treat Varroa mites [pests that have been implicated in CCD] in honeybee colonies throughout the world," Wright said.


The pesticide, in addition to killing the mites, might also be making honeybees more vulnerable to poisoning and effects from other pesticides.


Stephen Buchmann of the Pollinator Partnership, who was not part of Wright's study, underscored how critical pollinators are for the world. "The main threat to pollinators is habitat destruction and alteration. We're rapidly losing pollinator habitats, natural areas, and food—producing agricultural lands that are essential for our survival and well being. Along with habitat destruction, insecticides weaken pollinators and other beneficial insects."


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'Blade Runner' Charged With Murder of Girlfriend













Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic and Paralympic athlete known as the "blade runner," was taken into custody in South Africa today and charged with the murder of his girlfriend, who was fatally shot at his home.


Police in the South African capital of Pretoria received a call around 3 a.m. today that there had been a shooting at the home of 26-year-old Pistorius, Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale told the Associated Press. When police arrived at the scene they found paramedics trying to revive 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, the AP reported.


At a news conference early today, police said a 26-year-old man, whom they have not named, was arrested and has requested to be taken to court immediately. Police in South Africa do not name suspects in crimes until they have appeared in court.


RELATED: 'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius Faster Than a Horse






AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File















Runner Oscar Pistorius Arrested in Girlfriends's Killing Watch Video





Mogale said the woman died at the house, and a 9-mm pistol was recovered at the scene and a murder case opened against Pistorius, the AP reported.


Police said this morning that there were no other suspects in the shooting, and that Pistorius is at the police station.


The precise circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear. Local reports say he might have mistaken her for a burglar, according to the AP.


VIDEO: Double Amputee Races to Win Olympic Gold


Police said they have heard reports of an argument or shouting at the apartment complex, and that the only two people on the premises were Steenkamp and Pistorius.


Police confirmed there have previously been incidents of a domestic nature at the home of Pistorius.


Pistorius, a sprint runner, had double below the knee amputations, and a part of his legs has been replaced with carbon fiber blades. In 2012, he became the first double-leg amputee to participate in the Olympics, competing in the men's 400-meter race.


He also competed in the Paralympics, where he won gold medals in the men's 400-meter race, in what became a Paralympics record. He also took the silver in the 200-meter race.


Steenkamp, according to her Twitter bio, is a law graduate and model. She tweeted Wednesday, "What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow??? #getexcited #ValentinesDay."


Steenkamp recently appeared on the cover of FHM magazine, in commercials and was due to appear on a reality-TV show, "Tropika Island of Treasure."



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US should vaccinate poultry to stop killer salmonella









































It is a case of putting the bottom line before our health. This year, a million Americans will succumb to salmonella poisoning. Several hundred will die. Yet in Europe, a cheap vaccine for chickens has slashed the number of cases. Vaccination in Iowa shows US lives can be saved too – but US rules give meat producers no incentive to use a vaccine that doesn't boost their profits.












Salmonella causes more deaths than any other food-borne germ and is the second-most common cause of food-borne illness in the US, according to a new report published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. Poultry, meat and eggs are the biggest source, causing a third of all cases.












But this can be prevented. After a scandal over infected eggs in the UK in the late 1980s, farmers boosted hygiene standards and killed infected flocks. Human cases stayed high until 1998 when British supermarkets started buying eggs only from vaccinated hens, says Sarah O'Brien of the University of Liverpool, UK. Human cases then plummeted with a forty-fold drop between 1993 and 2010.











In the US, a massive recall of eggs due to salmonella in 2010 similarly led to tighter hygiene rules for chicken farms. But the US Food and Drug Administration declared there was "insufficient data on efficacy" to make vaccination compulsory, despite evidence in Europe to the contrary.













Nonetheless, as monitoring programmes have revealed just how widespread the infection is, about a third of US egg producers have started to vaccinate their chickens. That and better hygiene has reduced the number of infected hen houses fivefold in Iowa, the biggest US egg producer, in the past two years, says Darrell Trampel of Iowa State University.












Meat producers have resisted, however, even though there is salmonella on 13 per cent of chicken breasts sold in US supermarkets, says Lance Price of George Washington University in Washington DC. The farmers vaccinate for several poultry diseases, but since salmonella doesn't hurt the birds or affect their growth, says Price – and human illness is not a cost the farmers have to bear – there is no motivation to prevent its spread.












Journal reference: Emerging Infectious Disease, doi.org/kgx


















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.


If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.








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Bank of England says UK economic recovery in sight






LONDON: The Bank of England forecast on Wednesday that the British economy would experience a "slow but sustained" recovery, but 12-month inflation would top 3.0 percent in the summer months.

Gross domestic product (GDP) was expected to grow by about 2.0 percent by the end of 2014 and remain positive despite some volatility amid the ongoing eurozone crisis, the central bank said in its latest quarterly report.

"The UK economy is therefore set for a recovery," said BoE governor Mervyn King, who will be replaced by Canadian central bank boss Mark Carney in July.

"That is not to say that the road ahead will be smooth. This hasn't been a normal recession and it won't be a normal recovery.

"The bank does not expect a triple-dip recession but said GDP was likely to continue at below pre-financial crisis levels for around another two years."

The BoE report will likely ease concerns over the outlook, after a 0.3-percent contraction in the fourth quarter of 2012 left Britain on the brink of its third recession since 2008.

The bank's monetary policy committee (MPC) last week froze its key interest rate at a record-low 0.50 percent and maintained its quantitative easing cash stimulus.

In addition, last year Britain launched an £80-billion ($123.7 billion, 102 billion euros) "funding for lending" initiative -- which is aimed at providing banks with cheap funding to stimulate lending to households and businesses, and thereby boost growth.

"The MPC continues to judge that the UK economy is set for a slow but sustained recovery in both demand and effective supply, aided by a further easing in credit conditions -- supported by the bank's programme of asset purchases and the funding for lending scheme -- and some improvement in the global environment," the report said.

"But the risks are weighted to the downside, not least because of the challenges facing the euro area."

The British central bank added that household budgets would be squeezed further, with 12-month inflation set to strike 3.0 percent in the coming months and hold above its official 2.0-percent target level for another two years.

Official data had shown on Tuesday that consumer prices index (CPI) annual inflation was 2.7 percent in January for the fourth month in a row, driven partly by rebounding food and drink prices.

- AFP/al



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Obama to Republicans: Can we just move on?

President Obama highlighted numerous parts of his agenda during his State of the Union Address. AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace reports, the tough part will be turning words into action. (Feb. 13)









WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address on Tuesday night to try to push past the fiscal battles that plagued his first term - and still threaten his second - as he laid out an agenda he hopes will shape his legacy.

Obama's overarching message was that other things matter beside the Republicans' seemingly all-consuming drive for deficit cutting, embodied in a looming showdown just three weeks away over automatic across-the-board spending cuts.






Those other things, he told Congress, include some traditionally liberal causes, like raising the federal minimum wage and pursuing climate initiatives, and some that have gained bipartisan support, such as immigration reform and curbing gun violence.

"Most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda," Obama said. "But let's be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan."

But with Washington so deeply divided, Obama's speech appeared unlikely to go far in helping the Democratic president and his Republican opponents find common ground to ease the ideological gridlock. He offered no tangible new concessions of his own.

Still, Obama's sense of urgency and frustration was almost palpable. He alternately scolded and cajoled lawmakers while expanding on his vision for a more activist government so loathed by conservatives, the same theme he struck in his second inauguration address on January 21.

"The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party," he said, pressing Republicans to resolve budget and fiscal differences without drama.

Obama - whose first-term promise to become a transformational, post-partisan president failed to materialize in part because of struggles over the deficit - knows the clock is ticking.

The consensus among Washington insiders is that he has a limited window, possibly as little as a year and a half, to take advantage of the Republicans' post-election disarray and push through his congressional priorities before being reduced to lame-duck status.

SETTING PRIORITIES

Just three weeks after staking out a decidedly liberal philosophy at his inauguration, Obama used his State of the Union address to start fleshing out and prioritizing his goals for the rest of his presidency.

He made clear that job creation and bolstering the middle class would top the list, but he also gave due attention to immigration reform and gun control, which have moved to the forefront at the start of his second term.

Obama's renewed emphasis on pocketbook issues that dominated the 2012 campaign appears to reflect the view that advancing other legacy-shaping initiatives could hinge on how he fares with unfinished economic business from his first four years.

Many of the economic plans he presented in his State of the Union address were familiar to listeners as proposals that Republicans have blocked before, including new investment in modernizing infrastructure, boosting manufacturing, creating construction jobs and helping to ease homeowners' mortgage woes.

There is ample reason to doubt that these ideas - even in repackaged form - will gain much traction in a still-divided Congress where Republicans control the House of Representatives and will oppose almost any new spending Obama proposes.

But the biggest red flags for Republicans may be Obama's call for a hike in the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, a traditional liberal idea, and his demand that Congress pursue a "market-based solution" to climate change - with a warning that if lawmakers do not act soon, "I will."

Obama's call for a nationwide program to expand pre-school education for the low-income families - another progressive cause - is also expected to run into Republican opposition.

There is little doubt the president is aware that many of these proposals, especially those with spending attached, may be dead-on-arrival in Congress.

But he may be counting on being able to accuse Republicans of obstructionism in the 2014 midterm elections - as he did with some success in the 2012 campaign - as his Democrats seek to win back the House.

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