Discovered: Recreating the Easter Island statue march; scientists create embryo from three people; brain waves separate video game pros from n00bs; bacteria that act like electric cables.
Recreating the march of ancient moai statues. Have you ever wondered how those instantly recognizable statues on Easter Island got there? So have scientists, who have been perplexed by the stone-faced sculptures for years. CSU Long Beach archaeologist Carl Lipo and his colleagues offer one possible answer in their new paper for the Journal of Archaeological Science: the statues walked there. Well, no, this isn't a quite an X-file. They believe the makers of the ancient moai lashed ropes onto the statues, some as heavy as 74 tons and as tall as 33 feet, waddling them through the fields to their resting places. To prove the feasibility of his hypothesis, Lipo and his fellow researchers traveled to Easter Island and attempted to move a model statue. "Here we have this giant 5-ton thing, now figure out how it actually moves," he says of the process. "It was quite frustrating." See the fruits of their labor in the video below: [Nature]
Babies with three parents possible. Families already come in all different types of configurations, and science may end up producing even more parental permutations. Researchers at Oregon Health & Sciences University wer able to create embryos bearing genes from one man and two women, which could theoretically lead to babies born to three genetic parents. One of the women would only have a 1 percent share in the genetic make-up of the child though, making this potential third parenthood biologically minimal. British experiments produced similar results four years ago, causing debates about whether the research should be used to foster children into the world. Scientists say the process could guard against passing down certain horrible diseases from parent to child, but detractors raise questions about the ethics of "designer babies." The issue of safety has also come up, for the potential children and their future offspring. There's a one in 5,000 chance that babies will inherit a mitochondrial defective gene, leading to strokes, epilepsy, and many other problems. A British bioethics group announced this summer that they would consider the technology ethical if it were demonstrated to work safely. [The Washington Post]
Brain waves predict video game pwnage. Kyle Mathewson thinks he can predict how good you will be at a video game, before you even get to the first level. Using EEG to monitor brain waves, the University of Illinois researcher studied 39 students before letting them test their skill on a game called Space Fortress. None of the subjects were die-hard gamerz, which helped to even out the competition. Those who had the most powerful wave oscillation in the alpha spectrum picked up the game faster than those who had slower brain wave activity in this region. "By measuring your brain waves the very first time you play the game, we can predict how fast you'll learn over the next month," says Mathewson. But if you have low alpha brain waves, don't give up hope entirely. People can work on not being such a n00b and "increase their alpha brain waves by giving them some positive feedback. And so you could possibly boost this kind of activity before putting them in the game." [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]
Electric cord bacteria. Just when we think we have nature beat, with our fancy electrical outlets and conductive cords, some bacteria in the Danish port of Aarhus has to show us up. Scientist Lars Peter Nielsen discovered an electric current pulsing through the mud at the bottom of the sea, and now he has confirmed his hypothesis that it stems from ocean floor-dwelling bacteria acting like electrical cords. This newly discovered type of bacteria, most likely a new genus of the Desulfobulbaceae family, are just a millionth of a meter long on the cellular level, but can route a charge over many centimeters. "To me, it’s obvious that they are multicellular bacteria," he says. "This was a real surprise. It wasn’t among any of our hypotheses. These distances are a couple of centimetres long—we didn’t imagine there would be one organism spanning the whole gap." [Discover]