Insect mating behavior has lessons for drones

Male moths locate females by navigating along the latter’s pheromone (odor) plume. Two strategies are involved: males must find the outer envelope of the pheromone plume, and then head upwind. Can understanding such insect behavior be useful for robotics research? Yes, according to an entomologist, whose research using computer simulations shows that such insect behavior has implications for airborne robots (drones) that ply the sky searching for signature odors. —> Read More

Hacking The Nervous System

(Photo: © Job Boot)

One nerve connects your vital organs, sensing and shaping your health. If we learn to control it, the future of medicine will be electric.

When Maria Vrind, a former gymnast from Volendam in the Netherlands, found that the only way she could put her socks on in the morning was to lie on her back with her feet in the air, she had to accept that things had reached a crisis point. “I had become so stiff I couldn’t stand up,” she says. “It was a great shock because I’m such an active person.”

It was 1993. Vrind was in her late 40s and working two jobs, athletics coach and a carer for disabled people, but her condition now began taking over her life. “I had to stop my jobs and look for another one as I became increasingly disabled myself.” By the time she was diagnosed, seven years later, she was in severe pain and couldn’t walk any more. Her knees, ankles, wrists, elbows and shoulder joints were hot and inflamed. It was rheumatoid arthritis, a common but incurable autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own cells, in this case the lining of the joints, producing chronic inflammation and bone deformity.

Waiting rooms outside rheumatoid arthritis clinics used to be full of people in wheelchairs. That doesn’t happen as much now because of a new wave of drugs called biopharmaceuticals – such as highly targeted, genetically engineered proteins – which can really help. Not everyone feels better, however: even in countries with the best healthcare, at least 50 per cent of patients continue to suffer symptoms.

Like many patients, Vrind was given several different medications, including painkillers, a cancer drug called methotrexate to dampen her entire immune system, and biopharmaceuticals to block the production of specific inflammatory —> Read More

Weekend Roundup: Pope Francis Resurrects Liberation Theology — Without Marx

If communism is “The God That Failed,” liberation theology is the gospel that has succeeded. Marx may be dead, but the cause of the poor and oppressed has been resurrected.

This is the message the Argentine pope, Francis, sent by canonizing Oscar Romero, reversing decades of conservative opposition in the church hierarchy and setting the El Salvadoran archbishop on the road to sainthood. Romero was gunned down at the altar in 1980 by a right-wing death squad that regarded him as a dangerous Marxist because of his activism on behalf of the poor.

As Paul Vallely writes, Romero is an exemplar for Francis. Both are “orthodox and yet utterly radical.” Romero is “a priest whose life stands in testament to the kind of Catholicism preferred by a pope who declared within days of his election that he wanted ‘a poor Church for the poor.'”

In our Fusion series this week, illustrated with striking street murals, a gang leader says El Salvador still has lots to learn from the example of the martyred archbishop.

Refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean to Europe or from the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, especially Christians, have also been a focus of the pope’s concerns. This week, Asia became the focal point of the asylum crisis, where thousands of Muslim Rohingya who have fled persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar are desperately seeking refuge. Writing from Sydney, Elliott Brennan sees a parallel with the “boat people” crisis after the end of the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s, and calls on the ASEAN nations to embrace an emergency response similar to the EU’s for the Mediterranean. Mehdi Hasan says that the silence —> Read More

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