TIME Research

Scientists Have Sequenced the Entire Genome of a Woolly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth
Science Picture Co/Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RM Woolly Mammoth

Genetic factors may have been responsible for their disappearance

An international team of scientists has sequenced the whole genome of the woolly mammoth, a breakthrough that could help our understanding of why these hairy cousins of the elephant went extinct.

The last surviving population died out on an Arctic island called Wrangel off the coast of Russia some 4,000 years ago, 6,000 years after their relatives disappeared from mainland Siberia, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Current Biology on Thursday, compared the DNA from two woolly mammoths that had been frozen in permafrost: a juvenile male that lived in northeastern Siberia 44,800 years ago and a male from Wrangel Island that lived some 4,300 years ago.

“From a single individual you can get information about the entire population,” said co-author of the study, Eleftheria Palkopoulou.

Using the stem cells of a modern African elephant as the test, the team found that the population of woolly mammoths marooned on Wrangel Island was so small that the beasts had become inbred.

Though climate change and human intervention are often touted as factors, scientists aren’t entirely sure what caused the mammoth to die out and researchers wanted to see whether genetic features could be responsible.

The genetic data also showed there were two major population declines, one some 300,000 years ago and another around 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age.

But scientists warn the lack of diversity in DNA from the Wrangel population does not necessarily mean genetics caused the mammoth to die out, and a closer examination of the data could help them understand how these creatures evolved and what sets mammoths apart from modern elephants.

[L.A. Times]

TIME astronomy

Scientists Have Discovered the Biggest Known ‘Structure’ In the Universe

But you couldn't be blamed for missing it

Scientists researching a mysteriously cold region in space have found what they say is the largest known “structure” in the universe — a gigantic hole.

Discovered by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the expanse is being called the “supervoid” and measures 1.8 billion light years across, the Guardian reported.

The university’s lead researcher István Szapudi called it “the largest individual structure ever identified by humanity,” although his team’s targeted survey confirmed that it contains absolutely nothing — all scientists know is that about 10,000 galaxies are missing from it in a section that shows unusually low temperatures.

Read more at The Guardian

Read next: How to Watch the Lyrid Meteor Shower This Week

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TIME Web

Science Says You Should Ignore Internet Trolls

Troll sign
Douglas Pearson—Getty Images Troll Road Sign, Trollstigen

A new algorithm can predict Internet irritants with 80% accuracy

Commonly found under bridges and in the reader commentary of stories about Apple, trolls have long plagued the good people of fairy tales and the Internet. While banishing them has long been the remedy of choice, new research out of Stanford and Cornell universities might help to identify these persistent pests before they even start wringing their wart-covered hands. Boasting a methodology with 80% accuracy, the study provides hope that once Skynet becomes self-aware, we can wipe this scourge off the face of the web once and for all.

So who, exactly, is a troll? Analyzing the comments on news (CNN.com), politics (Breitbart.com), and gaming (IGN.com) sites over a period of 18 months, the study examined more than 40 million posts by at least 1.7 million users, discovering not only what antisocial behavior looks like, but how it festers, grows, and is ultimately dealt with. This allowed the researchers to see how trolls typically evolve over time.

But one thing in particular helped these odious Internet users stand out from their mild-mannered counterparts. “They receive more replies than average users,” says the paper, “suggesting that they might be successful in luring others into fruitless, time-consuming discussions.”

To create the algorithm, the researchers looked at all 1.7 million users surveyed and split them into two groups: future-banned users (FBUs) and never-banned-users (NBUs). Assuming the FBUs were all trolls, they then monitored their behavior from when they signed up to when they got shut out. Some clear differences emerged between the trolls and the NBUs: FBUs wrote differently than everyone else, often going off-topic, scribbling posts that were more difficult to read, and saying more negative things. In addition, trolls made more comments per day, and posted more times on each thread. They often had the most posts in a particular thread, and made more replies to other comments.

In other words, the trolls were hyper-active.

But that alone wasn’t enough to separate trolls from your casual cranks. To do that, the researchers looked at how users’ behaviors changed over time, analyzing how many posts of theirs were deleted by site moderators. NBUs weren’t saints — they also had posts deleted — but only a small proportion got worse over the course of the study. The trolls, on the other hand, had an increasing amount of posts deleted as time wore on.

And this all makes sense, when you think about it. Trolls start off surly, are met with opposition and then get a little nutty. Then, and when their comments are deleted, they get even crazier — a cycle that gradually spins out of control, until they’re ultimately shut down. It happens online. It happens on television. It even happens in the real world.

Admittedly, the study doesn’t take sarcasm into account, a tool no doubt wielded by a mutant strain of super-trolls, users who “purposefully ask overly naive questions or state contrary viewpoints.” Imagine that . . . oh god, the horror.

But the study does give actionable insight on what to do should you ever encounter a troll. “Anti-social behavior is exacerbated when the community feedback is overly harsh,” says the report. In other words — and of course you already know this — don’t feed the trolls. Since FBUs’ behavior gets worse over time, that means don’t engage them early or often.

Currently, this research is unfortunately little more than an exercise in academics, as its algorithm for detecting trolls has yet to be rolled into a software or a service. But it’s a good first step for sites all over the web — especially on Twitter —where the formula could be used to scout out future troublesome users.

TIME Addiction

E-Cig Flavors May Be Dangerous, Study Says

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Why you might want to reconsider that cotton candy e-cig

The chemicals used to flavor e-cigarettes may surpass safe levels, a new study says.

The study, which is published in the journal Tobacco Control, reveals that high exposure levels of these chemicals could spur respiratory irritation. The chemicals used to flavor e-cigarettes are the same flavors often added to foods, so the FDA has determined them to be generally recognized as safe in food. However, the authors of the new study say the high levels raise concern for safety and need for regulation and that these chemicals may be more dangerous when inhaled than when they are ingested in food.

“Chronic inhalation of these ingredients has not really been studied much at all,” says study author James F. Pankow, a professor of chemistry and civil & environmental engineering at Portland State University.

In the study, Pankow and his colleagues assessed the levels and types of flavor chemicals used in 30 different e-cigarette refill bottles, including a wide variety of flavors like tobacco, menthol, vanilla, cherry, coffee, chocolate, grape, apple, cotton candy and bubble gum. In 13 of the 30 products, the flavor chemicals made up more than 1% of the refill liquid volume, the researchers found, and the chemical levels were higher than 2% in seven of the liquids. Two of the liquids had levels of flavor chemicals higher than 3%.

The researchers found that some of the flavor chemicals used were benzaldehyde and vanillin, which are known to be respiratory irritants and have exposure limits for the workplace. However, when Pankow and his colleagues estimated consumption rates, they found that an e-cigarette liquid consumption rate of about 5 ml per day puts users at an exposure of twice the recommended occupational limits. “That’s probably not a good thing,” says Pankow.

The study authors point out several concerns about flavoring, including the fear that flavored e-cigarettes might attract young people and the fact that flavored e-cigarettes don’t usually list the levels of specific chemicals that are present in the liquids.

“The point is that when e-cigarettes manufacturers talk about these things as being food grade or food-like, they are sort of suggesting that use of flavors is equivalent to using them in foods,” says Pankow. “Never mind the fact that these things have not really been tested for safety, but in food FDA requires labeling ingredients. If they are going to say these are food-like, then why don’t they list the ingredients? It’s also not food-like product because you are inhaling it not ingesting.”

The researchers note that the small sample size doesn’t necessarily represent the entirety of the growing e-cigarette market. But they conclude that the results are likely what a broad survey would have revealed and that their findings suggest high levels of certain chemicals are likely present in many products.

TIME Internet

Kindergarteners Who Share iPads May Perform Better: Study

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Students perform better if they share an iPad with another student as opposed to having one all to themselves, according to a new study.

Though schools nationwide have ramped up their efforts to introduce technology in the classroom, there’s just a small body of evidence on the benefits for students. Now a new study suggests that iPads do have a role in academic performance, but the effect may be greater when students collaborate.

In the study, Northwestern University researcher and Ph.D. candidate Courtney Blackwell analyzed the iPad usage and academic performance of 352 kindergarten students in three elementary schools. In one of the schools, there were enough iPads for every student to use one. In another school, there were 23 iPads and the students shared them. In the third school, there were no iPads. Blackwell followed the students for one school year and tracked their performance on literacy tests.

Her findings, which Blackwell presented at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, show that students who shared iPads performed better than their peers who used an iPad on their own or did not use iPads at all in the classroom. Specifically, kids who shared iPads scored 28% better on their literacy tests at the end of the year, whereas kids who used their own devices improved by 24% and kids who did not have iPads in the classroom improved by 20%.

“While statistically significant, the percentage increase for the shared-iPad kids is not huge, but I do think it is a meaningful finding given there is no prior empirical research looking at how 1:1 tablets affect student learning compared to shared or no tablets,” said Blackwell in an email to TIME.

In her report, Blackwell concludes that schools may want to reconsider implementing tablet use for young kids, given how expensive the investment can be and the lack of evidence to support the need for individual tablets in kindergarten.

“I think it’s important to remember that iPads and technology in general are just one part of the curriculum, with many other factors playing a role in children’s achievement,” said Blackwell. “Technology has always been touted as a potential panacea for education, but historically it has never changed the U.S. education system on a large scale. That said, with so many schools integrating one-for-one tablets and other devices, we need to know how technology is affecting learning to understand the best way to make tablets and technology most effective for students and teachers.”

Read next: Teachers Actually Want Students to Use This App in Class

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TIME Television

The Game of Thrones Season 5 Premiere Has Sparked a Huge Surge in Illegal Downloads

It's officially the most pirated show worldwide

In the weeks leading up to the much anticipated premiere of Season 5 of Game of Thrones, there has been a huge surge in illegal downloads of the HBO hit show.

Antipiracy firm Irdeto found that episodes of Game of Thrones were illegally downloaded more than 7 million times from Feb. 5 to April 6, a 45% increase worldwide from the same period in 2014.

In the same three months last year there were just 4.9 million downloads.

The data shows that, in 2015, illegal downloads of the show were averaging 116,000 per day.

Those figures make Game of Thrones easily the world’s most pirated television show so far this year, beating The Walking Dead, (5.7 million illegal downloads), Breaking Bad (3.8 million), Vikings (3.4 million) and House of Cards (2.7 million).

Brazil ranks as the top illegal downloader, with almost a million Game of Thrones downloads. France comes in a close second followed by the U.S. with 464,000 downloads.

“Piracy is a tidal wave that cannot be controlled, only managed. There is a culture of ‘free’ where many people believe that it is acceptable to pirate these TV shows if they don’t have access to them through legal means,” Rory O’Connor, vice president of services at Irdeto, said in the report.

Read next: These Are the Cheapest Ways You Can Now Get HBO

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TIME Research

Weight Loss Supplements Contain Amphetamine-Like Substance, Research Finds

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Many supplements contain a potentially dangerous ingredient, a new study says

Several supplements for weight loss or fitness contain ingredients that are similar to the stimulant amphetamine, but have not been tested for safety in humans, according to new research.

The chemical BMPEA, labeled as Acacia rigidula, was first discovered in a handful of dietary supplements analyzed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013, the New York Times reports. The names of the specific supplements were not released by the FDA, but in a new study published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis, a team of researchers have found that BMPEA has not been removed, and is still present in several currently on the market.

“Consumers of Acacia rigidula supplements may be exposed to pharmacological dosages of an amphetamine isomer that lacks evidence of safety in humans,” the study authors write. “The FDA should immediately warn consumers about BMPEA and take aggressive enforcement action to eliminate BMPEA in dietary supplements.”

Read more at the New York Times.

 

TIME animals

Animals May Be Able to Predict Earthquakes 3 Weeks in Advance

Seismometer
Getty Images

New study shows dramatic changes in animal behavior before an earthquake

Animals may be able to sense an earthquake coming as long as three weeks before it happens, well before humans can, a new international study found.

By examining footage from motion-sensor cameras in Peru’s Yanachaga National Park, scientists found that animal activity declined significantly in the month before a major 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck, according to a study published in Physics and Chemistry of the Earth. During the three weeks before the earthquake, the cameras recorded about a third as many animal sightings as usual, and in the five to seven days before the quake, the cameras recorded no animals at all. The researchers think that animals may be more sensitive to positive ions in the air that build up when rocks in the earth’s surface are stressed leading up to an earthquake, which may cause them to flee.

This is not the first time researchers have noted this phenomenon—scientists in China and Japan have been studying it for a while, noting that lab rats have a harder time sleeping ahead of an earthquake.

(h/t CNN)

TIME climate change

Quarter of Global Forest Losses Caused by Fires in Russia, Canada, Study Shows

Blazes also contributed greatly to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change

Forest fires in large parts of Canada and Russia resulted in almost a quarter of global forest losses between 2011 and 2013, a new study revealed.

The study was conducted by researchers from Global Forest Watch, who analyzed the loss of forests by combining over 400,000 pictures of the earth’s surface. They found that a total of 18 million hectares were lost in 2013, with Canada and Russia being the most significant contributors to forest cover losses in the preceding two years.

A more worrying implication from the fires in the two countries is their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change.

“If global warming is leading to more fires in boreal forests, which in turn leads to more emissions from those forests, which in turn leads to more climate change,” study co-author Nigel Sizer told the Guardian. “This is one of those positive feedback loops that should be of great concern to policy makers.”

The other three main contributors to global deforestation between 2011 and 2013 were Brazil, the U.S. and Indonesia, although the latter’s losses fell to their lowest level in over a decade in 2013 in what is seen as an encouraging sign.

TIME Companies

This Is How Long Your Business Will Last, According to Science

And the answer is somewhat surprising

It’s a big question, and one that nearly every entrepreneur and economist grapples with: how long do businesses generally survive?

A group of scientists appear to have at least partially unlocked the answer, with a somewhat surprising result: publicly-traded companies die —through acquisitions, mergers, bankruptcy or other reasons — at the same rate irrespective of how well-established they are, or what they actually do.

The magic number, a new study from scientists at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico reveals, is about 10 years.

The study, published in the journal Royal Science Interface and conducted by three researchers, was led by then-undergraduate fellow Madeleine Daepp under the guidance of Marcus Hamilton, Professor Luis Bettencourt and Distinguished Professor Geoffrey West.

“We gave her this basic idea, and she did the heavy lifting,” Hamilton, a postdoctoral research fellow at the institute, told Science Daily.

Daepp, now a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, analyzed Standard and Poor’s Compustat — a database of every publicly traded company since 1950 — using a statistical method called survival analysis. What she and her advisers found is that a company’s mortality rate was not affected by it’s past performance or even its products.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re selling bananas, airplanes, or whatever,” Hamilton said.

The reason behind their findings remains beyond their study’s scope, but the researchers hypothesize that the biological world’s systems and competition for resources might provide some sort of insight.

[Science Daily]

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