April 29, 2013
Whales Pass On New Hunting Techniques – The Daily Orbit
A new breathalyzer will take your breath away.
Sheep that glow in the dark?
A new touchscreen that’s too good even for the movies.
And lots of cultural transmission going on, on today’s Daily Orbit!
Hello and welcome to the Daily Orbit. I’m Emerald Robinson.
How did humpback whales get over their hunger hump when herring stocks plummeted in the 80s? They found a new way to hunt and passed it on. Researchers have found that like us humans, humpback whales are able to pass on hunting techniques to each other. Previously the whales would blow bubbles underwater to create “bubble nets” to herd the herring. Now they are feeding on sand lance and have adapted by hitting the water with their tail before diving to produce the bubble nets. Scientists are calling this behavior “lobtail feeding.” And 30 years of observation shows that this feeding technique has spread to 40% of the humpback population, suggesting cultural transmission.
And here’s more evidence of cultural transmission at work in a little game of “monkey see, monkey do.” Researchers found that male vervet monkeys were more likely to confirm to local behavior, even if it didn’t make sense to them. The monkeys were fed two boxes of corn: one pink, one blue. One box was repulsive, teaching the monkeys not to eat one color. When a new generation of wild monkeys was born, the monkeys were given completely edible corn in blue and pink. The adults still continued to eat only the color of corn they were trained to, and taught the little monkey youngsters to do the same. But interestingly, when male monkeys crossed into other groups, they would adapt to eating the colored corn that group preferred, regardless of what they had been taught. They say it’s kinda like when tourists seek out local cuisine. I guess it just goes to show you, “when in Rome…”
And when in Sweden, there’s another reason not to drive under the influence—as if you really need another one. New research from Stockholm has taken the breathalyzer to the next level—enabling it to detect blood levels of cocaine, amphetamines, and cannabis along with alcohol. The device proved 87% accurate in tests on drug users—the same proficiency as blood and urine tests. Researchers used a commercially available device called SensAbues, which traps tiny solid and liquid micro-particles suspended in the breath for analysis. They then analyzed the samples using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. The team said advances in cost reduction and portability could make this kind of drug testing as common as breathalyzer testing for alcohol.
Well, I might have heard it all now. Glow in the dark sheep? Yep, scientists have genetically modified a herd of sheep using a fluorescent protein from a jellyfish which causes the sheep to give off a glowing green color when exposed to some types of UV rays. Besides the fact they glow in the dark, scientists wanted to assure everyone that these sheep are developing normally. But why make a sheep glow in the dark—well other than the fact that it is kinda funny? Scientists say that researching genetically modified animals can help them better understand diseases and how they develop, not just for animals but for humans as well. Here’s another question you might have—why green? Well, that’s because it’s easier to see and identify in the sheep’s tissues. I’m just waiting for them to start busting out muscles and getting all angry—the incredible hulk sheep!
And in more Hollywood-esque science—remember the Minority Report where Tom Cruise used “smart gloves” to manipulate images and video on a virtual touchscreen. Well move over Tom, because real life has one-upped that! A team from Carnegie Melon University has demonstrated a new depth camera projector-based system that allows touch-based interfaces to be created anywhere with the swipe of a hand. The system, called WorldKit, allows a user to draw a functioning remote control on the arm of their sofa or an interactive calendar on the wall. The system records room geometries, senses hand gestures and projects desired images onto surfaces. It doesn’t require calibration and users can create switches, message boards, indicators, and a variety of other things. Now that’s pretty cool!
And that’s all for your Daily Orbit. See you tomorrow!