Let's talk nerdy about how alligators regrow their tails, facial recognition for bears, and so much more.
The math/music Connection
Music educator at the University of Kansas, Martin Bergee, designed a study to disprove the popular notion of a link between students’ mathematical and music achievements. Bergee believed that the math/music relationship occurred because of factors like family education level and race. Instead, his research showed that these variables didn’t matter.
The study looked at more than 1,000 mainly middle-school-age students at the individual, classroom, school, and district level. Students took portions of the Music Achievement Tests (MAT-1 and MAT-2), and separate models for reading and math achievement. The results showed statistically significant associations between math and music achievement at both the individual and school district levels.
Bergee believes the findings indicate that the best way to develop a person’s mind is to develop it in a variety of ways.
The limits of life
Heating water to its boiling point (100 degrees Celsius) kills bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. You wouldn’t think that life could exist at temperatures this high or higher. Or could it?
An international team of researchers has discovered a single-celled microorganism living in sediments at 120 degrees Celsius. A deep-sea scientific vessel drilled a hole 1,180 meters deep in the Nankai Trough off Japan’s coast.
There, researchers found chemical evidence that the organisms survived by using organic material in the sediment. The study shows that conditions are harsh in the sediments that lie deep below the ocean floor. With increased depth, temperatures and pressures rise while energy sources decrease. Scientists have only recently discovered (about 30 years ago) that life can exist in these conditions.
Lead researcher Arthur Spivack says that the research opens the possibility that life might exist in harsh environments on other planets.
Using advanced imaging technology, researchers have determined that alligators can regrow their tails.
A team from Arizona State University and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has discovered that young alligators can regrow their tails up to three-quarters of a foot. That's about 18% of their total body length! Many types of small reptiles, such as lizards, are known to regrow their tails, but until now, scientists weren't sure if alligators had this ability. Scientists state that regrowing the tail gives an alligator a functional advantage in the wild.
Lead author Cindy Xu says that the finding is interesting because the regrown tail shows signs of both regeneration and wound healing. The researchers hope that this work will lead to new approaches to repairing injuries and treating diseases in humans.
A team of scientists at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) has developed high-resolution implants that make it possible for the blind to recognize artificially induced shapes and percepts.
The implant delivers electrical stimulation to the brain that generates the percept of a dot of light in a particular location in the phosphene (visual space). Researchers implanted the devices in the visual cortex of two sighted monkeys. The goal was to create images by sending electrical stimulation via multiple electrodes simultaneously.
The monkeys performed a simple task in which they reported the location of a phosphene by using eye movements. The phosphene was generated by electrical stimulation via a single electrode. Next, the animals were tested on more complex tasks, including a direction-of-motion task. For this task, micro-stimulation was delivered on a sequence of electrodes. The monkeys also performed a letter discrimination task when a micro-stimulation delivered on 8-15 electrodes created a percept in the form of a letter.
With artificial vision, the monkeys successfully recognized shapes and percepts, including lines, moving dots, and letters.
Who’s that bear?
Researchers and conservationists need to identify and track individual bears in the wild. Knowing which bear is which helps them determine if a certain grizzly is attacking livestock, raiding garbage cans, or stealing “pic-a-nic baskets.” Luckily, AI technology is making bear identification easier.
Bear biologist, Melanie Clapham, has teamed up with two Silicon Valley-based developers to create facial-recognition software called BearID to monitor grizzly bears. They used thousands of bear photos to generate data sets and adapted existing artificial intelligence software to spot bear faces in the images. 80% of the images were used to train the system, and 20% were used for testing it.
Facial recognition is being used for other animals as well. A cattle rancher in Kansas is creating an app called CattleTracs. With the app, anyone can take snaps of cattle. The images will be stored along with the dates the photos were taken, and the animals' GPS coordinates. The technology will be used to investigate animal-based diseases.
The technology does come with a downside. Tanya Berger-Wolf, co-founder and director of Wildbook.org says that it’s essential to control access to animal data. If conservationists can find the animals, so can the poachers.