SciTech Briefs

The Nactus kunan was named for its distinctive striped color pattern. (credit: Courtesy of the US Geological Survey) The Nactus kunan was named for its distinctive striped color pattern. (credit: Courtesy of the US Geological Survey)

New species of gecko discovered in Papua New Guinea

A new species of gecko with black and gold bands across its body was discovered deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

The lizard, which measures about 13 cm in length, was given the species name Nactus kunan for its distinct color pattern — “kunan” means “bumblebee” in the locals’ Nali language. The gecko’s color scheme makes it easier to conceal itself on the forest floor.

“It belongs to a genus of slender-toed geckos, which means these guys don’t have the padded, wall-climbing toes like the common house gecko,” said Robert Fisher of the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center. Fisher, along with other biologists, discovered the new species.

Source: Reuters

Photoreceptor transplants let blind mice see

Scientists at University College London (UCL)’s Institute of Ophthalmology have restored the sight of night-blind mice by transplanting light-sensitive photoreceptor cells into their eyes. Night-blindness is a condition that effectively renders its victims blind in low-light conditions.

“We’ve shown for the first time that transplanted photoreceptor cells can integrate successfully with the existing retinal circuitry and truly improve vision,” said UCL professor Robin Ali in the report. “We’re hopeful that we will soon be able to replicate this success ... and eventually to develop human trials.”

Ali and his team claim that once their treatment has been optimized for human patients, it can be used to treat a variety of degenerative eye diseases.

Source: UCL Institute of Ophthalmology

Progress made on objective depression diagnosis

A team of Northwestern University researchers developed a new method for diagnosing depression through a blood test. The team focused on early-onset depression, which occurs in teens and young adults. The researchers identified 26 blood markers for depression based on research done on depressed and anxious rats, which are known to mirror many of the behavioral attitudes found in human patients.

From there, the team ran tests on 14 teenagers with depression and another 14 without. The tests found 11 blood markers in the depressed teens that were absent in the blood of the non-depressed test subjects. The researchers hope their findings pave the way for a more objective approach to diagnosing early-onset depression.

Sources: The Huffington Post, Scientific American

A smile a day keeps the doctor away

A review of more than 200 studies by Harvard School of Public Health researchers suggests that happier people have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

The researchers revealed that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and general happiness reduced a subject’s risk of heart and circulatory diseases, in spite of the subject’s age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight. Disease risk was 50 percent lower in the most optimistic individuals.

The researchers stressed, however, that their work only implies this correlation and should not be regarded as definite proof.

Source: BBC

Polar bears did not descend from brown bears

A team of European and American scientists are reporting that polar bears, long thought to have branched off from brown bears about 150,000 years ago, are not at all descended from brown bears. The researchers came to this conclusion after comparing DNA samples from 19 polar bears, 18 brown bears, and seven black bears.

Their analysis showed that the brown bear and the polar bear had a common ancestor, but their lines split about 600,000 years ago. The new findings challenge the previously held belief that bears adapted very quickly, meaning that the survival of the polar bear may be further threatened by aggressive climate change.

Source: The New York Times

Microsoft announces Windows 8 line up

Microsoft has announced the main product line-up for its upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

There will be two consumer editions of Windows 8 for machines running x86-based microprocessors, namely “Windows 8” for typical users and “Windows 8 Pro” for enthusiasts.

An alternative version called “Windows RT” will be available for upcoming Windows 8 tablets powered by ARM processors, but there will be no retail availability for this version. An edition for large businesses, named “Windows 8 Enterprise,” was also announced.

Source: Ars Technica