Science Sunday

Geneticists have estimated the publication date of Homer’s “The Illiad” to be 762 B.C. give or take 50 years, which fits the date of most scholars.

“Languages behave just extraordinarily like genes,” Pagel said. “It is directly analogous. We tried to document the regularities in linguistic evolution and study Homer’s vocabulary as a way of seeing if language evolves the way we think it does. If so, then we should be able to find a date for Homer.” It is unlikely there ever was one individual man named Homer who wrote the “Iliad.” Brian Rose, professor of classical studies and curator of the Mediterranean section at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, said it is clear the “Iliad” is a compilation of oral tradition going back to the 13th century B.C.

The amazing genetics of apples.

Every apple for sale at your local supermarket is a clone. Every single Golden Delicious, for example, contains the exact same genetic material; though the original Golden Delicious tree (discovered in 1905, on a hillside in Clay County, West Virginia) is now gone, itsDNAhas become all but immortal, grafted onto an orchard of clones growing on five continents and producing more than two hundred billion pounds of fruit each year in the United States alone. Embedded within this army of clones, however, is the potential for endless apple diversity. Each seed in an apple is genetically unique: like human siblings, seed sisters from the same fruit remix their source DNA into something that has never been seen before — and is likely, at least in the case of the apple, to be bitter, tough, and altogether unpalatable. The sheer variety of wild apples is astonishing: in its original home, near Almaty in Kazakhstan, the apple can be the size of a cherry or a grapefruit; it can be mushy or so hard it will chip teeth; it can be purple- or pink-fleshed with green, orange, or white skin; and it can be sickly sweet, battery-acid sour, or taste like a banana.

Two rats communicated brain-to-brain recently, the closest we’ve come to telepathy. It’s amazing.

In the experiment, the Duke scientists first trained two rats to press one of two levers when a particular light switched on. Next, they then connected the animals’ brains with tiny electrodes, each a fraction the size of a human hair. The electrodes linked the parts of the rats’ brains that process motor signals.

Rat number one was called the “encoder” and rat number two was the “decoder.” The first rat’s job was to receive the visual cue to press the lever. If it got it right, it got a reward.

As the encoder rat did its task, the electrical activity in the encoder rat’s brain was then translated into a signal and transmitted to the decoder rat. That rat would then press its own lever. For the second rat, though, there was no light cue to tell it which corresponding lever was correct. It could only go by the signal it received from the other rat. It hit the correct lever an average of about 64 percent of the time, and sometimes up to 72 percent — much better than if it were only doing it by chance.

Vladimir Lenin’s stoney brain.

Lenin died of a series of strokes at the young age of 53. By the age of 50, he was suffering from the onset of cognitive decline, usually seen in much older people. The legendary orator began to struggle to find the words to express himself. His first stroke, at age 52, left him disabled, and the third killed him. It’s rare for this to happen to someone is his early fifties. During his autopsy, it was found that the blood vessels around Lenin’s brain were heavily calcified – essentially, they had hardened, and narrowed, due to a build-up of minerals and fats. This is known as atherosclerosis and, although it happens to all of us as we age, Lenin suffered from an unusually severe, and early, case. It was noted during the postmortem that tapping the vessels with a pair of metal tweezers produced a sound as if they were made of stone.

Physicist and musician Domenico Vicinanza turns raw feeds from Voyager 1‘s magnetometer into space odyssey symphonies.

Is there a season for births? The data sure is fascinating…

The graph makes clear that birthdays don’t happen randomly. Lots of babies are born in the fall, but the question is, why? Are our bodies trying to time births for what was once an autumn harvest season, or do we have lots of sex when we’re snowed in over winter break?…fewer babies are born on the 4th (and 5th) of July than on other days that month. That’s a hint that the data come from US births. You might know that the 4th is a big holiday in the United States. But how does a fetus know it’s a holiday?

The astronauts in the upcoming man-to-Mars mission will be protected from radiation by a shield made from food, water and their own feces.

100% of gibbons are left-handed. Fuck yes! I always knew I felt a strange connection to gibbons. Find out which other apes are lefties here.

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