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Extinct monitor lizard had four eyes, fossil evidence shows

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Researchers have evidence that an extinct species of monitor lizard had four eyes, a first among known jawed vertebrates. Today, only the jawless lampreys have four eyes.

The third and fourth eyes refer to pineal and parapineal organs, eye-like photosensory structures on the top of the head that play key roles in orientation and in circadian and annual cycles. The new findings help to elucidate the evolutionary history of these structures among vertebrates.

The photosensitive pineal organ is found in a number of lower vertebrates such as fishes and frogs, the researchers explain. It’s often referred to as the “third eye” and was widespread in primitive vertebrates.

“On the one hand, there was this idea that the third eye was simply reduced independently in many different vertebrate groups such as mammals and birds and is retained only in lizards among fully land-dwelling vertebrates,” says Krister Smith at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany. “On the other hand, there was this idea that the lizard third eye developed from a different organ, called the parapineal, which is well developed in lampreys. These two ideas didn’t really cohere.

“By discovering a four-eyed lizard — in which both pineal and parapineal organs formed an eye on the top of the head — we could confirm that the lizard third eye really is different from the third eye of other jawed vertebrates,” Smith continues.

Smith and his colleagues got the idea that the fossilized lizards might have a fourth eye after other experts came to contradictory conclusions about where the lizard’s third eye was located.

Smith said that the first question to explore the “wacky” idea of a lizard with four eyes was, does this unusual feature occur in more than one individual of the same age? They turned to museum specimens collected nearly 150 years ago at Grizzly Buttes as part of the Yale College Expedition to the Bridger Basin, Wyoming. And, it turned out that the answer to their question was yes. CT scans showed that two different individuals had spaces where a fourth eye would have been, which, Smith says, “I certainly did not expect!”

Their evidence confirms that the pineal and parapineal glands weren’t a pair of organs in the way that vertebrate eyes are. They also suggest that the third eye of lizards evolved independently of the third eye in other vertebrate groups.

Smith says that while there’s “nothing mystical” about the pineal and parapineal organs, they do enable extraordinary abilities. For instance, they allow some lower vertebrates to sense the polarization of light and use that information to orient themselves geographically.

Scientists still have a lot to learn about the evolution of these organs and their functions in living animals, the researchers say. The new findings are a reminder of the hidden value within fossils left lying around in museums for more than a century.

“The fossils that we studied were collected in 1871, and they are quite scrappy — really banged up,” Smith says. “One would be forgiven for looking at them and thinking that they must be useless. Our work shows that even small, fragmentary fossils can be enormously useful.”

Breastfeeding, Vaccinations Can Cut Ear Infections in Babies

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etc-3rd-lead11-254x220Higher rates of breastfeeding, use of vaccinations and lower rates of smoking by mothers have reduced the rates of ear infections during the first year of a baby, finds a new study.

“Prolonged breastfeeding was associated with significant reductions in both colds and ear infections, which is a common complication of the cold,” said lead researcher Tasnee Chonmaitree, professor at University of Texas in US.

“It is likely that medical interventions in the past few decades, such as the use of pneumonia and flu vaccines and decreased smoking helped reduce ear infection incidences,” he said.

Ear infections in young infants who are under six months old are at an increased risk of having the infection recurrently later in life.

The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that the rates of ear infection dropped from 18 to 6 percent in three month olds, from 39 to 23 percent in six month old babies and from 62 to 46 percent in one year old infants.

For the study, 367 babies less than one month old were investigated from October 2008 to March 2014, till their first birthday.

The team collected nose and throat mucus samples throughout the study to seek out and identify infections and gathered information on family history of ear infections, cigarette smoke exposure and breast versus formula feeding.

Parents notified whenever their baby showed any signs of an ear infection or upper respiratory infection, which is the common cold.

“We clearly showed that frequent upper respiratory infections, carriage of bacteria in the nose, and lack of breastfeeding are major risk factors for ear infections,” said Chonmaitree.

Acute otitis media, or an ear infection, is one of the most common childhood infections, the leading cause of visits to doctors by children and the most common reason children take antibiotics or undergo surgery.

Now, smoke in style using 24K gold cigarette rolling paper!

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Shine Papers company has come up with 24 karat gold rolling papers for ardent smokers, who have money to burn on their cigarettes.

The flashy product is made with a combination of edible gold leaf with a slow-burning interior paper, ABC News reported.

The 12-sheet packs are sold for 55 dollars on the company’s website and 60 dollars on Amazon.com.

The firm’s owner Dave D. said that the gold rolling papers is not an everyday product because of the price point, but customers who like it are returning to reorder.

The company’s site, however, acknowledges that very little is known about the effect of gold particles in the human body.

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Small sensors installed in most smartphones and laptops are sensitive enough to detect moderate and large earthquakes – greater than magnitude 5 – a new study suggests.

A tiny chip used in smartphones to adjust the orientation of the screen could serve to create a real-time urban  seismic network, easily increasing the amount of strong motion data collected during a large earthquake, researchers said.

Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) accelerometers measure the rate of acceleration of ground motion and vibration of cars, buildings and installations.

In the 1990s MEMS accelerometers revolutionised the automotive airbag industry and are found in many devices used daily, including smartphones, video games and laptops.

Antonino D’Alessandro and Giuseppe D’Anna, seismologists at Istituto Nazionale di Geosifica e Vulcanologia in Italy, tested whether inexpensive MEMS accelerometers could reliably and accurately detect ground motion caused by earthquakes.

They tested the LIS331DLH MEMS accelerometer installed in a smartphone, comparing it to the earthquake sensor EpiSensor ES-T force balance accelerometer.

The tests suggest that the MEMS accelerometers can detect moderate to strong earthquakes – greater than magnitude 5 – when located near the epicentre.

The device produces sufficient noise to prevent it from accurately detecting lesser quakes – a limitation to its use in monitoring strong motion.

D’Alessandro and D’Anna note that the technology is rapidly evolving, and there will soon be MEMS sensors that are sensitive to quakes less than magnitude 5.

The real advantage, say the authors, is the widespread use of mobile phones and laptops that include MEMS technology, making it possible to dramatically increase coverage when strong earthquakes occur.

The current state of the MEMS sensors, suggest the authors, could be used for the creation of an urban seismic network that could transmit in real-time ground motion data to a central location for assessment.

The rich volume of data could help first responders identify areas of greatest potential damage, allowing them to allocate resources more effectively.

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Want to clean up your Facebook profile? Get ‘Facewash’

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Researchers have developed a new app that can help Facebook users clean up vulgar or embarrassing pages from their profile.
The “Facewash” app developed by researchers from Kent State University will search through a user’s Facebook activity and content for items that the user may want to hide or delete.
That could include status updates, photo captions, and comments users left or received as well as pages and links that were liked, ‘Los Angeles Times’ reported.
“We realised that there’s a lot of content that perhaps someone might not want a future employer to see,” researcher Daniel Gur.
Gur created the Facewash over the weekend along his two friends and fellow computer science majors Camden Fullmer, and David Steinberg. The trio built the app in less than two days while at a hackathon at the University of Pennsylvania.
To use Facewash, users first need to go to its website, Facewa.sh, click “Get Started” and log into their Facebook account if they aren’t logged in already.
The user will be prompted to click “Go to App” and then give the app permission to access the user’s contents.
Search for a term and the app starts looking through all of the user’s profile content. If Facewash finds a match, it’ll show it to the user and link the posts so the user can easily delete a status or remove a picture.
Facewash is still in beta phase so users may encounter minor glitches for some time. The recently launched app has already received more than 20,000 unique visitors, Gur said.
The undergrads hope to keep expanding Facewash and keep adding features to it. Gur said the team wants to make Facewash capable of looking for content in other languages so more people can use it. “This is your face on the Internet, and you might need to wash it,” Gur said.