|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Ars Technica / 7/5/2017
Russia has a plan to compete with SpaceX, but it has a flaw
Roscosmos hopes to be competitive with its new Soyuz 5 rocket.
Много лет Россия была ведущим игроком на мировом рынке спутниковых запусков. Однако недавно американская частная компания SpaceX начала программу по запуску спутников с помощью новых ракет-носителей с возвращаемой многоразовой первой ступенью, что значительно удешевляет запуск. В 2018 г. SpaceX планирует занять более 60% коммерческого рынка пусковых услуг. 30% займет, по прогнозам, французская компания Arianespace, а России, таким образом, остается менее 10%.
Роскосмос же полагает, что повышать конкурентоспособность лучше посредством удешевления и модернизации уже существующих ракет-носителей. В частности планируется завершить разработку перспективной ракеты-носителя среднего класса «Союз-5».
For a long time, with its low production costs and efficient fleet of rockets, Russia has been the leading player in the global market for satellite launches. Some recent failures with its Soyuz and Proton boosters have not helped, but the biggest threat to Russia's preeminence now clearly comes from SpaceX.
* * *
Publicly, at least, Russian officials were slow to acknowledge the threat from SpaceX. Even last year, the country's space leaders dismissed SpaceX's efforts to build reusable launch systems to lower overall costs. But that tone has started to shift in 2017, as SpaceX has begun to fly used boosters and demonstrate this emerging capability.
Now, in a new interview posted on the site of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, its chief executive Igor Komarov acknowledges that SpaceX poses a "serious challenge" to his country's launch industry. Accordingly, Komarov outlined a strategy for how he believes Russia will compete with SpaceX over the next five years, and his response to this is pretty telling.
In the short-term, Komarov told the site Russia will work to control production costs to compete on price with SpaceX. And over the next five years, he said, the country will finalize development of the Soyuz 5 rocket, a medium-lift vehicle in the same lift class as the Falcon 9 rocket. The expendable Soyuz 5 would be less complicated than earlier versions of the Soyuz family while costing as much as 20 percent less to fly. "If we achieve this goal, it will ensure its competitiveness," Komarov said. He is betting that SpaceX, with its aggressive push toward reusability, will only succeed in reducing the cost of launch by 15 to 20 percent over the next five years.
There is a potentially fundamental flaw with this strategy, however. SpaceX has been circumspect about the reduction in costs for flight-proven boosters, but it did quote a 30-percent discount for the flight of its first used first stage. This seems like a starting point for lower costs rather than an end point.
Consider the following: five years ago in 2012, SpaceX had only flown the Falcon 9 rocket three times, all on demonstration flights. Since then, the company has flown the booster about three dozen times, with three significant upgrades to increase performance and make the first stage recoverable. A final version, Block 5, is due late this year or early in 2018. That will be designed for dozens of uses - and it's being expressly designed to lower costs and improve turnaround times.
If SpaceX has come this far in five years, it is difficult to see the company only offering a 15 or 20 percent reduction in launch costs by the year 2022. It seems more likely the reduction will be on the order of 50 percent or more, especially if the company makes strides on recovering the second stage and payload fairing of the rocket - which it is working avidly toward.
Perhaps the only strategy by which the Russian space enterprise succeeds commercially is one in which SpaceX fails. This is not entirely implausible. SpaceX had an accident in 2015 and 2016, and if that trend continues customers will think long and hard before selecting the California-based launch provider. Still, betting on a competitor to fail seems like a poor business strategy.
New York Times / July 7, 2017
In a Lost Baby Tooth, Scientists Find Ancient Denisovan DNA
Коллектив палеоантропологов из Германии, Канады, Италии и России (ИАЭТ СО РАН, НГУ и АлтГУ) секвенировал ДНК четвертого представителя вида "денисовский человек", жившего значительно раньше остальных известных науке трех денисовцев. Возраст найденного в Денисовой пещере на Алтае выпавшего молочного зуба этого представителя (девочки 10-12 лет) оценивается в 100-150 тыс. лет.
More than 100,000 years ago in a Siberian cave there lived a child with a loose tooth. One day her molar fell out, and fossilized over many millenniums, keeping it safe from the elements and the tooth fairy.
But she wasn't just any child. Scientists say she belonged to a species of extinct cousins of Neanderthals and modern humans known today as the Denisovans. And in a paper published Friday in the journal Science Advances, a team of paleoanthropologists reported that she is only the fourth individual of this species ever discovered.
"We only have relatively little data from this archaic group, so having any additional individuals is something we're very excited about," said Viviane Slon, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and lead author of the study.
The scant fossil record for these ancient hominins previously included only two adult molars and a finger bone. The Denisovans were only correctly identified in 2010 by a team of researchers led by Svante Paabo, who used the finger bone to sequence the species' genome.
Scientists exploring Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains discovered the worn baby tooth in 1984 and labeled it 'Denisova 2.' At the time, its origins were a mystery. But now, after performing DNA analysis on the deciduous, or baby, tooth, researchers say it was one of the elusive Denisovans.
"We think based on the DNA sequences that 'Denisova 2' is at least 100,000 years, possibly 150,000 years old. Or a bit more," said Ms. Slon. "So far it makes it the oldest Denisovan."
She said the baby tooth is at least 20,000 years older than the next oldest Denisovan specimen, a molar labeled 'Denisova 8.' It is also one of the oldest hominin remains found in Central Asia so far.
To determine the origins of 'Denisova 2' the team first performed a CT scan of the tooth to preserve its structure for future studies. Then Ms. Slon donned a pair of gloves and used a dentistry tool to scrape off the tooth's surface in order to reduce contamination lingering from the cave site or where it was stored. Using a different drill bit, she drilled into its root and collected about 10 milligrams of material, which contained DNA.
After sequencing the DNA she compared genetic information from the sample with genetic data already collected from Denisovans, Neanderthals and modern humans.
"We saw it was most similar to Denisovan mitochondrial genomes," she said. "That was exciting because that was a good indication that this was another Denisovan individual."
Bence Viola, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Toronto and an author on the paper, said there was not too much to be learned from studying the tooth's morphology or appearance.
The genetic analysis, on the other hand, provided the keys to learning more about the species. He said the genetic study was something the team most likely could not have done five years ago without destroying the tooth.
"For a long time we didn't want to work on it because it's such a small specimen," he said.
But by drilling into the tooth and performing the genetic analysis the scientists were able to not only figure out who it belonged to, but also provide relative dates for when the Denisovan lived. The study also suggests that the species had less genetic variability than modern humans, but more genetic diversity than seen in Neanderthal nuclear DNA.
Todd R. Disotell, a molecular anthropologist from New York University who was not involved in the study, said that the team's genetic analysis was "rock solid." He said that what he found most interesting was how old the sample was, which showed how long Denisovans lived around the cave, and the insight it provided to the species' genetic variation.
"This is four people in one cave and they have more variation than is in the Neanderthals, which are spread over 10,000 kilometers and over several hundreds of thousands of years."
He added that the findings help show the diversity of humanlike species that once inhabited Earth at the same time.
Dr. Bernard A. Wood, a professor of human origins at the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at George Washington University, said the paper demonstrated the power of molecular biology as a tool for paleoanthropology.
"Talk about extracting blood from a stone," he said, "this is extracting treasure from a tooth."
© 2017 The New York Times Company.
* * *
Eos / 12 July 2017
Climate Change Could Make Siberia an Attractive Place to Live
Although anticipated warmer temperatures promise to render the region more comfortable for people, the transformation might turn permafrost areas into inhospitable bogs.
Проанализировав данные с 1000 сибирских метеостанций за период 1960-1990 гг., ученые из Института леса им. В.Н.Сукачева СО РАН пришли к выводу, что к 2080 году глобальное потепление может сделать Сибирь вполне привлекательным местом для жизни, в том числе для новых поселенцев из затопленных в результате того же потепления регионов: климат станет мягче, количество вечной мерзлоты уменьшится, сельскохозяйственный потенциал возрастет. Правда, области вечной мерзлоты могут при этом растаять настолько, что превратятся в обширные болота, непригодные для жизни.
Climate change has introduced the specter of rising seas, flooded coastal communities, and people uprooted from their homes on an unprecedented scale. In 2016, 23.5 million people were displaced by climate- and weather-related disasters, including 12.9 million hit by storms, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
If climate change produces an exodus of refugees seeking safer places to live, where will they go? Some researchers are considering real estate in a thinly populated area of the world where climate change might make living conditions improve: Siberia.
Russia's vast Siberian region stretches from the Ural Mountains eastward to the Pacific Ocean. On average, only three people occupy each of the more than 13 million square kilometers of this expanse. The territory has extensive oil and mineral deposits, some of the world's largest natural gas reserves, abundant forests and fisheries, and crop and livestock production.
However, Siberia's Yakutia region also hosts the Northern Hemisphere's "pole of cold": the place with the lowest air temperature ever recorded in the hemisphere. Even in Siberia's largest city, Novosibirsk, the mercury can drop to -50°C.
Wild New Frontier
But atmospheric warming from greenhouse gases could make conditions more hospitable. Researchers from the V. N. Sukachev Institute of Forest of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences have been examining the climatic and agricultural potential for Siberia to become a home to more people.
Elena Parfenova and her colleagues outlined their projections in a poster they presented at a joint conference of the Japan Geoscience Union and the American Geophysical Union in Chiba, Japan, in May. The researchers reported that by the 2080s, Siberia will have a milder climate, less permafrost coverage, and possibly vastly increased crop production. That would make the region much more appealing for settlers, they added.
Because the district of the Russian Federation formally named "Siberia" occupies only a fraction of the land on which the researchers focused their study, Parfenova and her colleagues use the term "Asian Russia" in their poster to refer to the entire Urals to Pacific coast region.
The team evaluated Asian Russia now and how it might look in the 2080s in several categories: temperature, precipitation, permafrost, and a "climate severity" parameter that factors in temperatures below 0°C and the presence or absence of permafrost. They also calculated the region's ecological landscape potential (ELP), a gauge of a landscape's ability to provide for the needs of human settlers. The ELP ranking for various Russian landscapes, originally developed by Russian environmental scientist A. G. Isachenko, is a seven-step chart going from 1 (most hospitable) to 7 (most inhospitable) and includes mean population densities. The ranking is derived from calculations involving temperature, precipitation, and evaporation. For instance, the forested landscape known as middle taiga has an ELP ranking of 3, or "medium," and a mean population density of 6.6 people per square kilometer.
To project what Siberia's 2080s climate might be like, the researchers analyzed data from 1000 Siberian weather stations from the 1960-1990 period and established baselines of temperatures for January and July and of annual precipitation. They then interpolated the weather station data across a grid with a pixel size of 0.25° of latitude by 0.25° of longitude.
To characterize different warming scenarios for the 2080s, the researchers applied to the baseline temperatures and annual precipitation at each pixel the outcomes of 20 general circulation models developed in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The team also superimposed maps showing current climate severity, permafrost extent, and crop potential onto population maps. The good correlations between these environmental factors and present-day population densities suggested that it's possible to project population increases along with climate change, Parfenova's collaborator Nadezhda Tchebakova, also of the Sukachev Institute, told Eos.
The researchers found that by the 2080s, Siberia could have a milder climate with less permafrost coverage. Depending on the projection scenario, temperatures could rise by as much as 9.1°C in midwinter and as much as 5.7°C in midsummer; annual precipitation may increase by 60 millimeters to 140 millimeters.
They also found that the ELP values for most of the region could jump by one to two categories, meaning the potential for human settlement could also jump. The results of the study, which will be submitted to a special issue of Environmental Research Letters later this year, build on previous work by Parfenova, Tchebakova, and colleagues. In a 2011 study published in the same journal, they predicted that by the end of the 21st century, 50%-80% of central Siberia might have a climate suitable for agriculture, with traditional Siberian crops shifting northward by as much as 70 kilometers per decade. Soil conditions would put limits on farming, but the warmer climate might allow the introduction of crops such as rice, beans, and European grapes.
"The population density may increase by threefold under one scenario," Parfenova told Eos. "But this is just the potential. It doesn't mean people will necessarily go there. There are no railways, and infrastructure is poor. I have some doubts because nobody will know when the permafrost will melt. Maybe this territory will transform into a big bog. But it will be better than now because the severe winter cold will be milder."
Permafrost Wild Card
The "big bog" scenario, thawing of the permafrost, represents a potential wild card in this makeover of Siberia. Scientists believe that permafrost is holding some 1400 gigatons of carbon globally, more than twice the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere.
As the permafrost melts, it could release greenhouse gases such as methane into the atmosphere, enhancing the effects of warming. However, as forests push northward into tundra areas, they will act as a carbon sink, potentially slowing the effect, the researchers said.
Permafrost thawing can lead to land subsiding, which can undermine the foundations for and ultimately destroy roads, bridges, and other infrastructure needed by settlers. "The potential threefold increase in population by the 2080s will depend also upon infrastructure development and other socioeconomic factors," Pavel Groisman told Eos. He is a North Carolina State University research scholar at the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville and was a convener of the poster session of the joint conference at which the study was presented.
"The authors are careful to mention that the climate and environmental changes in Siberia will provide changes in ecological landscape potential," added Groisman, who is also a project scientist at the Northern Eurasia Earth Science Partnership Initiative. "Future socioeconomic development of northern Asia will show if this ELP materializes into the population growth or not."
© 2017 American Geophysical Union. All rights reserved.
* * *
Nature / 12 July 2017
History: Science lessons from the Gulag
Рецензия на английский перевод книги французского писателя и публициста Оливье Ролена «Метеоролог» (Le météorologue) - об Алексее Феодосьевиче Вангенгейме (1881-1937), российском и советском ученом-метеорологе, создателе и первом руководителе Единой гидрометеорологической службы СССР (сейчас - Росгидромет). В 1934-м он был арестован, а в 1937-м - расстрелян.
Stalin's Meteorologist: One Man's Untold Story of Love, Life and Death. Olivier Rolin (Transl. Ros Schwartz) Harvill Secker: 2017.
The title Stalin's Meteorologist hints that we might expect some grand overview of the experience of scientists under the abuses of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. But the story that prolific French commentator and writer Olivier Rolin presents is also personal. It uses the experience of one researcher as a lens on the arrest, incarceration and ultimate demise of a generation of Soviet intellectuals in the 1930s.
In this translation from the French (the original won the 2014 Prix du Style), Rolin recovers the story of meteorologist Alexey Feodosievich Wangenheim, who in 1929 became the first head of the Soviet Hydrometeorological Centre. Five years later, he was sent to a Gulag forced-labour camp. Shot through that harrowing narrative is the extraordinary story of how Wangenheim sent sketches and letters from prison to teach his daughter about science and nature. She grew up to become a palaeontologist.
Wangenheim - like many Soviet intellectuals educated before the Revolution - had to tread a tightrope as he made his way upwards in the new bureaucracy. As Rolin shows, this demanded both a commitment to the socialist cause and restraint in activities such as attendance at international conferences, which were necessary for professional advancement but suspect in the eyes of the regime. Wangenheim's arrest in 1934 was not the result of a central edict, although Stalin approved much of the paperwork. It stemmed from heightened professional jealousies, poisoned by paranoia and fuelled by the institutionalized violence of the state: in a move all too common at the time, Wangenheim was accused of counter-revolutionary activities by colleagues.
Many hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens suffered similar fates in the 1930s. During the Great Terror of 1936-38 alone, some 1.5 million people were arrested and about 700,000 shot in a paroxysm of state-directed violence. In the journey to Wangenheim's own end, the letters he sent from prison to his daughter Eleonora - just short of four years old at the time of his arrest - offer a counterpoint of hope. It was these that inspired the book.
Rolin came upon Eleonora's compilation of the letters in 2012, while visiting Russia. There are dozens of beautiful still-life sketches made by the meteorologist in prison - of clouds, aurorae, animals, fruit, aeroplanes, boats, leaves, trees. The colour drawings, some reproduced in the book, were partly a chronicle of life in the Gulag, but also a pedagogical tool. As Rolin notes, Wangenheim "was using plants to teach his daughter the basics of arithmetic and geometry" through riddles outlined in accompanying text. In one, the "lobes of a leaf represented the elementary numbers, its shape symmetry and asymmetry, while a pine cone illustrated the spiral".
The Solovki prison camp, in which Wangenheim crafted these lessons, was housed in a former Russian Orthodox monastery on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea. Although his time there was unimaginably harsh - with forced labour, poor food and grossly inadequate health care - the prison was unusual in having a well-stocked library and access to a radio, art supplies and stationery. Wangenheim was also permitted to give scientific lectures to fellow prisoners. His irregular letters to Eleonora and his wife Varvara describe his longing for home, yet display unwavering devotion to the Stalinist cause. Rolin attributes this to self-censorship: the letters were probably read by the authorities. But such allegiance was not uncommon, even among those most brutalized by the system, stemming from a belief that it was not the exalted Stalin but his minions who had corrupted the purity of the socialist cause.
By his own admission, Rolin's tone is lyrical and impressionistic rather than scholarly. He intersperses his own thoughts on Russian history, geography and culture, at times threatening to overwhelm the biography. (He frequently reflects, for instance, on his attraction to Russia: "so much time stolen from more pleasant destinations".) He uses Wangenheim's letters to Eleonora to reconstruct life at Solovki, but it is not always clear whether he is directly quoting them or imaginatively reconstructing the meteorologist's thoughts. Fact, fiction and speculation commingle as tenses constantly change.
Yet although a historian might approach the book with some scepticism, the overall effect is moving - not least, in the chilling passages on the 1937 deportation from Solovki of more than 1,100 prisoners, including Wangenheim, for execution. Rolin's reconstruction of the meteorologist's last hours is masterful, integrating the lives of the executioners, the eerie geography of the mass extermination site in Karelia on the mainland, and the recovered memory of this horrific event - a ghost echo for six decades, until given form when the mass grave was discovered in the mid-1990s.
Wangenheim's story is known to us largely through the diligence of researchers at the Memorial in St Petersburg, a Russian civil-rights society dedicated to chronicling the abuses of Stalinism. Rolin rightfully mentions three of its researchers - Irina Flighe, Yury Dmitriev and the late Veniamin Iofe - who uncovered the tragic, often lurid details of Wangenheim's life and death. Because Rolin's book lacks references or footnotes, it is hard to evaluate the broader historical research that grounds this slim volume. It should be pointed out that much of Wangenheim's story has been published in a Russian book (Alexei Feodosevich Wangenheim: Restoring a Name; Tablitsy Mendeleev, 2005) that also reproduced all of Wangenheim's drawings and letters.
The contribution of Rolin, with his English translator Ros Schwartz, is to bring this story to the non-Russian-speaking world and situate it as part of a broader meditation on the history of the Soviet tragedy. In that he has succeeded, producing an eloquent addition to a violent episode in the history of science in the twentieth century.
© 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved.
* * *
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists / 13 July 2017
The US-Russian teamwork that kept nuclear weapons safe
- Siegfried S. Hecker, Paul C. White
Журнал Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists продолжает цикл статей на основе книги Зигфрида Хекера (директор Лос-Аламосской национальной лаборатории в 1986-1997 г.) «Обреченные на сотрудничество» - о совместной работе российских и американских физиков-ядерщиков после падения «железного занавеса». Проблемы безопасности и человеческий фактор при демонтаже ядерного оружия, дискуссия о реагировании в чрезвычайных ситуациях, межлабораторное сотрудничество и подписание Соглашения по обмену в сфере сохранности и безопасности ядерных боеголовок (WSSX).
"Nuclear weapons stink when taken apart," a Russian nuclear weapons engineer told his audience. The year was 2000, and he spoke to a group of Russian and American experts who were attending a workshop in Sarov, the Russian Los Alamos, on how to safely dismantle nuclear weapons. The engineer was right: Nuclear weapons being disassembled smell like rotten eggs or a high-school chemistry lab gone bad. They can contain high explosives, organic substances, uranium, plutonium, and many other materials. Over the years, these materials interact, outgas, corrode, and are subject to irradiation, producing a foul smell. Hardly anyone outside the room would have had any reason to be aware of this, so the engineer's words inspired knowing nods, and acted like a wink or a secret handshake: The Russian and American nuclear scientists in the room shared a common bond.
It was a strange phenomenon. Until just 10 years previously, the experts' respective governments had been adversaries. But Russian and American nuclear scientists shared ties that no one else in the world could appreciate. Working far apart, they and their forebears had ushered into existence the world's most destructive weapon, the atom bomb. They had worked to improve it, manage it, and make sure it was reliable. Now, they were trying to keep nuclear weapons safe from accidents and secure against theft and sabotage as the two superpowers downsized their arsenals. The scientists and engineers knew something that few others understood: That the most dangerous time in a typical nuclear weapon's life cycle is not when it is being created, transported, or readied for launch. Rather, it is when it is being taken apart. Corrosion, changes in the sensitivity of chemical high explosives, outgassing of various compounds, radiation damage, and dimensional changes all challenge the skills of weapons engineers and scientists. The experts in the room might once have been one another's opponents in some sense, but many on each side had intimate knowledge of weapons disassembly - who else could better understand what their counterparts were going through?
An urgent problem. The story of how the United States and Russia worked together to address weapons safety had begun years before, and represents a remarkable tale of once-mortal-adversaries cooperating on matters that took them right to the edges of their respective countries' most sensitive nuclear secrets.
It started with the disastrous Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in April 1986. After briefly denying it had occurred, Moscow reached out to the international nuclear community for help mitigating the tragic consequences. Washington assisted quickly and effectively. Years later, Russian nuclear weapon scientists told their American counterparts (including the authors of this column) that the Chernobyl accident had happened because the Soviet Union was isolated. That is, Russian nuclear reactor designers, engineers, and operators had not had the opportunity to learn from their international peers. The weapon scientists assured us that the safety of nuclear bombs had always been much more rigorous. Yet the memory of the Chernobyl tragedy, and the enormous increase in the number of weapons being moved and disassembled, made Russian nuclear scientists keen to discuss concerns and safety practices with American counterparts.
The end of the Cold War all but eliminated immediate fears of a nuclear war. In an ironic twist of fate, though, it dramatically increased the risk of nuclear accidents and the potential for theft or diversion of nuclear weapons and materials. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia had to transport unprecedented numbers of weapons from former Soviet republics to Russia for dismantlement. No one was as sharply aware of the risks as Russia's nuclear weapons personnel.
In the wake of the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives launched by George H.W. Bush and Mikhail S. Gorbachev in September and October of 1991, which promised transparency and dialogue on safe warhead transportation and storage, the Russians gave voice to their concerns. In Washington in November 1991, Viktor N. Mikhailov, later Russia's minister of atomic energy, specifically requested help with weapon safety and security, as well as help storing the huge excess of fissile material that would result from the accelerated dismantlement of his country's nuclear stockpile. The US Congress responded to these requests promptly by way of the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction legislation.
The scope and timing of the Nunn-Lugar efforts matched the urgency of Russian requests. To deal with security concerns related to the surge in warhead transportation, the United States cooperated to develop accident-resistant transportation containers. It provided armored Kevlar blankets to shield warheads and warhead containers from terrorist bullets, and smart rail cars that enabled secure monitoring of warhead shipments. Washington also helped meet the new storage requirements (resulting from increased dismantlement rates) by providing containers and technical and financial support for the construction of a state-of-the-art fissile material storage facility at the Mayak site in Russia.
These Nunn-Lugar-sponsored efforts, managed by the US Defense Department and supported by the US national nuclear labs, were a good beginning, but the Russian nuclear weapons experts wanted to do more to mitigate the dangers. The extraordinary number of nuclear weapons returning from the field and waiting to be disassembled included some past their certified lifetime. During one of the first meetings of Russian and American nuclear experts at Los Alamos in December 1992, Rady I. Ilkaev, the deputy scientific director of the Russian national nuclear lab VNIIEF, proposed direct, unclassified consultations on nuclear weapon safety.
The Russians not only sought bilateral technical cooperation, but also believed that Russian-American teamwork would demonstrate an unparalleled level of transparency about nuclear safety, which would help reassure their own citizens and a worried world that remembered the Chernobyl tragedy all too well.
Ilkaev and his Russian colleagues took advantage of the lab-to-lab scientific collaborations that blossomed during the early 1990s to explore much closer cooperation on safety - an approach that resonated strongly with their US lab counterparts. Yet no government agreements were in place to allow such cooperation. So two tracks were pursued in parallel: The governments prepared for formal negotiations, while simultaneously allowing the labs to exchange sensitive but unclassified nuclear-weapon safety and security concerns and practices. This sharing took the form of symposia called the Security Technology Exchanges.
Four such symposia were held between October 1993 and March 1994, two in each country, at which American and Russian scientists, engineers, and government officials compared experiences on a range of topics. Subjects included analyzing nuclear risk; mitigating risks posed by hazardous materials; understanding the response of engineered systems to abnormal environments; and communicating the content of technical documents.
One of the most important topics discussed in these symposia and later exchanges was human reliability. The economic and political crisis resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union severely strained one of the foundations of nuclear weapon safety: people. One of the authors of this piece (Paul C. White) recalls that at a July 1993 planning meeting in Ekaterinburg, his Russian counterpart asked, "What do you do when you can no longer count on people to do what they're supposed to do - to obey the rules?" Although the Russians' confidence in the loyalty and patriotism of their nuclear workers remained high, they expressed concern that the fraying of the decades-old system of authority could give rise to insider threats.
A mutual strategic interest. These symposia opened doors, established a foundation for building trust, and nurtured professional and personal friendships that endure to this day. They also helped pave the way for government negotiations on the Weapons Safety and Security Exchange agreement, or WSSX, which the US energy secretary and Russian minister of atomic energy signed in December 1994. It entered into force in June 1995.
In a March 1996 directive, US President Bill Clinton stated that cooperation on weapons safety and security was necessary to facilitate other US policy objectives, such as getting Russia to agree and comply with a true zero-yield Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Clinton authorized lab-to-lab collaboration between the three Russian and three US nuclear weapons labs, with the goal of sustaining the scientific competence of those responsible for the two countries' respective nuclear stockpiles. His statement was remarkable for declaring that maintaining the expertise of Russian nuclear weapons scientists - America's Cold War adversaries - was now a US strategic interest.
Although WSSX was an agreement between governments, the nuclear labs provided the driving energy and remained the centers of engagement for all related activities. Over the life of the agreement, which was renewed for five years in 2000, the two sides organized dozens of technical interactions, including symposia, joint studies, workshops, and exchanges of technical papers. The participants completed more than 100 collaborative projects on far-reaching and mutually beneficial topics. Among them were projects on accident response, responding to wildfires near nuclear facilities, and safety during warhead dismantlement. When Americans shared their experience of using a well-known industrial solvent - DMSO, or dimethyl sulfoxide - instead of mechanical methods to remove high explosives that had bonded to metal weapon parts, a Russian participant stood up and declared, "you have just given us a gift!" Such "gifts" were exchanged reciprocally to improve warhead disassembly on both sides.
The discussions on responding to wildfires would also prove mutually beneficial. It wasn't just technical staff from Los Alamos and Sarov who got to participate in exchange visits. So, too, did the fire departments of the two cities. In May 2000, Los Alamos experienced a devastating fire that burned more than 400 residences and 30 percent of the lab's real estate, and threatened facilities that housed high explosives, plutonium, and tritium. In 2010, Sarov had to battle a peat fire at the boundary of its nuclear complex. Los Alamos experienced another serious wildfire in 2011.
The WSSX exchanges allowed experts to learn new ways of looking at similar problems, unquestionably benefiting each country's handling of the safety and security of its nuclear weaponry. In the book Doomed to Cooperate, one Russian nuclear safety expert said the exchanges led his country to adopt new federal regulations on nuclear weapons safety and emergency response.
Sadly, the WSSX agreement was not extended in 2005. The end of this remarkable period of cooperation came at the hands of governments, not scientists. Washington imposed more legal and bureaucratic strictures on joint projects, and veered away from prioritizing nuclear safety to promote an agenda of arms control and transparency. Moscow became increasingly resistant to the presence of US technical personnel at its nuclear facilities. During the last three years, as relations between the US and Russian governments have seriously deteriorated, virtually all nuclear cooperation has ended.
Nuclear safety has become more challenging as the designers and engineers who developed the weapons in today's arsenals retire, and the experience of nuclear testing fades into distant memory. The older generation has passed on as much experience as possible to the younger engineers - particularly the idea that ensuring nuclear safety is a never-ending job. The WSSX projects demonstrated that cooperation has great safety benefits, and can be accomplished without jeopardizing either side's nuclear secrets. The scientists and engineers on both sides are prepared to resume cooperation. The bonds they forged endure, reflecting a unique like-mindedness, a sort of simpatico professional relationship (or sympatiya in Russian) that helped make scientific engagement such a success and the world a safer place.
Copyright © 2017 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. All Rights Reserved.
* * *
Nautilus / July 13, 2017
How We Really Tamed the Dog
A daring experiment builds a new tame species in just 60 years.
- By Lee Alan Dugatkin & Lyudmila Trut
Из книги американского биолога и публициста Ли Алана Дугаткина (Университет Луисвилла) и профессора Людмилы Трут (ИЦиГ СО РАН) "Как приручить лису" (How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution, 2017) - об уникальном эксперименте по доместикации лис. Что влияет на поведенческие различия - врожденные особенности или обучение? «Перекрестное воспитание» и первая проверка лис на «одомашненность».
Suppose you wanted to build the perfect dog from scratch. What would be the key ingredients in the recipe? Loyalty and smarts would be musts. Cuteness would be as well, perhaps with gentle eyes, and a curly, bushy tail that wags in joy in anticipation of your appearance. And you might toss in a mutt-like mottled fur that seems to say, "I may not be beautiful, but you know that I love you and I need you."
You needn't bother trying. Lyudmila Trut and Dmitri Belyaev have already built it for you. The perfect dog. Except it's not a dog, it's a fox. A domesticated one. They built it quickly - mind-bogglingly fast for constructing a brand new biological creature. It took them less than 60 years, a blink of an eye compared to the time it took for wolves to become dogs. They built it in the often unbearable negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit cold of Siberia, where Lyudmila and, before her, Dmitri, have been running one of the longest, most incredible experiments on behavior and evolution ever devised.
Let us travel back to 1974. One clear, crisp spring morning, with the sun shining on the winter snow, Lyudmila moved into a little house on the edge of an experimental fox farm in Novosibirsk, Siberia, with an extraordinary little fox named Pushinka. Pushinka was a beautiful female with piercing black eyes, silver-tipped black fur, and a swatch of white running along her left cheek. She had recently passed her first birthday, and her tame behavior and dog-like ways of showing affection made her beloved by all at the fox farm. Lyudmila and her fellow scientist and mentor Dmitri Belyaev had decided that it was time to see whether Pushinka was so domesticated that she would be comfortable making the great leap to becoming truly domestic. Could this little fox actually live with people in a home?
Dmitri Belyaev was a visionary scientist, a geneticist working in Russia's vitally important commercial fur industry. Research in genetics was strictly prohibited at the time Belyaev began his career, and he had accepted his post in fur breeding because he could carry out studies under the cover of that work. Twenty-two years before Pushinka was born, he had launched an experiment that was unprecedented in the study of animal behavior. He began to breed tame foxes. He wanted to mimic the domestication of the wolf into the dog, with the silver fox, which is a close genetic cousin of the wolf, as a stand-in. If he could turn a fox into a dog-like animal, he might solve the long-standing riddle of how domestication comes about. Perhaps he would even discover important insights about human evolution; after all, we are, essentially, domesticated apes.
Fossils could provide clues about when and where the domestication of species had occurred, and a rough sense of the stages of change in the animals along the way. But they couldn't explain how domestication got started in the first place. How had fierce wild animals, intensely averse to human contact, become docile enough for our human ancestors to have started breeding them? How had our own formidable wild ancestors started on the transition to being human? An experiment in real-time, to breed the wild out of an animal by mating the tamest among them, might provide the answers.
Belyaev's plan for the experiment was audacious. The domestication of a species was thought to happen gradually, over thousands of years. How could he expect any significant results, even if the experiment ran for decades? And yet, here was a fox like Pushinka, who was so much like a dog that she came when her name was called and could be let out on the farm without a leash. She followed the workers around as they did their chores, and she loved going for walks with Lyudmila along the quiet country road that ran by the farm on the outskirts of Novosibirsk. And Pushinka was just one of the hundreds of affectionate foxes they had bred for tameness.
By moving into the house on the edge of the farm with Pushinka, Lyudmila was taking the fox experiment into unprecedented terrain. Their 15 years of genetic selection for tameness in their foxes had clearly paid off. Now, she and Belyaev wanted to discover whether by living with Lyudmila, Pushinka would develop the special bond with her that dogs have with their people. Except for house pets, most domesticated animals do not form close relationships with humans, and by far the most intense affection and loyalty forms between owners and dogs. What made the difference? Had that deep human-animal bond developed over a long time? Or might this affinity for people be a change that could emerge quickly, as with so many other changes Lyudmila and Belyaev had seen in the foxes already? Would living with a human come naturally to a fox that had been bred for tameness?
When Belyaev began the fox experiment, nearly nothing about the process of domestication was known. Why had so few animal species of the millions on the planet had become domesticated - only a few dozen in all? Most were mammals, but also a few species of fish and birds, and a few insects, including the silk moth and the honeybee. Then there was the question of why so many of the changes that had taken place in domesticated mammals were so similar. As Darwin had noted, most of them developed patches of different coloring in their fur and on their hides - spots, patches, blazes, and other markings. Many also retained physical characteristics from childhood well into their adulthood that their wild cousins outgrew, such as floppy ears, curly tails, and babyish faces - referred to as the neotenic features - that make young animals of so many species so adorable. Why would these characteristics have been selected for by breeders? Farmers raising cows, after all, had nothing to gain from their cows having black-and-white spotted hides. Why would pig farmers have cared whether their pigs had curly tails?
Another commonality among domesticated animals concerns their mating abilities. All wild mammals breed within a particular window of time each year, and only once a year. For some, that window is as narrow as a few days and for others it's weeks or even months. Wolves, for example, breed between January and March. The window for foxes is from January to late February. This time of year corresponds to the optimal conditions for survival; the young are born when the temperature, the amount of light, and the abundance of food offer them the best odds for a successful launch into the world. With many domesticated species, by contrast, mating can occur any time during the year and for many, more than once. Why had domestication led to such a profound change in the reproductive biology of animals?
One longstanding idea about wolf domestication was that humans had adopted wolf pups, perhaps choosing ones that were especially cute, with the most juvenile facial and body features. But what if it were the wolves that initiated contact, not the humans? Naturally more adventurous when it comes to humans, tamer wolves might have begun making their way into human encampments to scavenge for food. Maybe, given that they're nocturnal, they snuck into campsites in the night as our early ancestors slept. Or perhaps they had learned to closely follow human hunting parties to scavenge for prey. It's easy to understand why wolves who were relatively comfortable with human presence - naturally semi-tame - would have done so. Humans were a much more reliable food source than the wild. But why had early human groups accepted the wolves into their inner sanctums? Wolves on their way to becoming dogs might well have helped with hunting and acted as sentinels, warning of approaching dangers. But there must have been earlier stages of their transition before they were performing these functions particularly well. If the process of the silver foxes' domestication really was mimicking that of wolf domestication, then perhaps these same lovable solicitous behaviors emerged early on in wolves also. And maybe that made them more appealing to our early ancestors.
But what would have driven the emergence of these behavioral changes in the wolves? Lyudmila was actively selecting the tamest foxes for mating. Is it plausible to believe that early humans would have actively mated wolves in a similar way? Perhaps they wouldn't have needed to. Natural selection would likely have favored the wolves who had gained access to such a reliable, human-based food source. The wolves that were friendlier to humans might have found themselves living in close proximity with other such friendlier wolves who were hanging around humans, and they might have selected their own, semi-tame, kind as mates. That would have created the radically new selection pressure for tameness that the fox experiment was applying. And as Lyudmila and Belyaev were seeing with the foxes, this new selection pressure favoring tameness might have been enough to trigger the kinds of changes they were seeing in their tamest foxes. The process would have taken way longer than with Lyudmila's artificial selection - as, indeed, it's thought to have with wolves - but the same essential force might have been at play.
One day in May of 1967, after Dmitri had poured through Lyudmila's data from their seventh generation of foxes, he excitedly called her into his office. He told her he hadn't slept at all the night before because his mind had been racing. He had an idea about what was causing the changes in the foxes, and he asked her to gather a number of their colleagues in his office. Once they had settled in, Belyaev told them, "My friends, I think I have come close to understanding what we are observing in the domestication experiment."
Belyaev had realized that most of the changes they'd seen in the foxes involved changes in the timing of when traits turn on and off. Many of the changes they were observing in the tamer foxes involved retaining a juvenile trait longer than normal. The whimpering was a youthful behavior that normally stopped as foxes matured. So was calmness; fox pups are serenely calm when they're first born, but as they age, foxes typically become quite high-strung. A change in timing was also going on with some of the females' reproduction systems. Their readiness for mating was occurring much earlier and was lasting considerably longer.
Hormones were known to be involved in regulating the timing of development and of the reproductive system. They were also known to regulate the levels of an animal's stress, or calmness. Dmitri felt sure that changes in the production of hormones were unfolding in the tame foxes and that this must be central to the process of domestication. If this were true, it could explain why domesticated animals look more juvenile than their wild cousins, as well as why they can reproduce outside of the normal mating time, and why they are so calm around us.
The discovery of hormones back at the dawn of the 20th century had shaken the foundation of animal biology. The basic operation of the nervous system was just starting to be pieced together at that time, and the brain and the nervous system were thought to be the communication system that regulated animal behavior. Then, suddenly, it seemed as if our bodies were also controlled by a chemical messaging system, which operated through the bloodstream, not through the nerves. The first hormone discovered was secretin, which was involved with digestion. Shortly thereafter adrenaline was identified, given that name because it was created by one of the adrenal glands (it's also called epinephrine). More and more hormones were steadily discovered. On Christmas Day in 1914, thyroxin - a hormone produced by the thyroid - was identified, and in the 1920s and '30s, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone and their roles in regulating reproductive activity were discovered. Over time research showed that changes in the levels of these hormones could dramatically interfere with the normal reproductive cycles, ultimately leading to the creation of the birth control pill, which hit the market in 1957.
Two other adrenal gland hormones, cortisone and cortisol, were identified in the mid 1940s, and along with adrenaline, they were dubbed the stress hormones, because they all regulate levels of stress. Levels of adrenaline and cortisol were found to rapidly ramp up in response to perceived danger, key to the "fight or flight" response. In 1958, the isolation of another hormone, melatonin, was announced. This hormone was produced by the pineal gland, and in addition to affecting the pigmentation of skin, it played a vital role in regulating sleep patterns as well as the timing of reproductive cycles.
Research had also shown that rarely, if ever, does a hormone have a single effect on an organism. Most hormones affect a suite of different morphological and behavioral characteristics. Testosterone, for example, is involved not just in the development of the testis, but in aggressive behavior, as well as in the development of muscles, bone mass, body hair, and many other traits.
Dmitri had studied the literature on hormones and he knew that research had shown hormone production was somehow, though exactly how was not clear, regulated by genes. He thought the genes or combinations of genes that regulated hormone production might be responsible for many - maybe all - of the changes they were seeing in the tame foxes. The selection for tameness had triggered changes in the ways those genes were operating. Natural selection had stabilized the hormonal recipe for building a fox and its behavior in the wild. Now the selection for tameness that he and Lyudmila were imposing was destabilizing that formula.
Why, Dmitri wondered, would that be happening? The stabilization of an animal's behavior and physiology was suited specifically to its environment. Animals' mating seasons had been selected to coincide with the time of year when food and daylight were most favorable for the survival of young ones. Their coat coloring was optimized to camouflage them in their natural environment. Their production of stress hormones was optimized to cause them to either fight or flee from the dangers of their environment. But, what if they were suddenly transported to a radically different environment, one with different conditions for survival? That's what had been done with the foxes; their environment was now one in which being tame around humans was optimal. So the stabilization of their behavior and physiology that had been the result of natural selection in the wild was no longer the best formula, and adjustments had to be made. And Dmitri thought that under such pressure to change, the activity patterns of an animal's genes - the ways in which they regulated body functioning - might be dramatically altered. A cascade of changes might be unleashed. And it made sense that key among these would be regulatory, timing, changes in the production of the hormones that played such a vital role in optimizing an animal to its environment. Later he would come to add changes to the nervous system to his formula as well. He called the process he was describing destabilizing selection.
In animal research at the time, one of the biggest debates centered on the relative importance of innate versus learned behavior. Particularly vehement controversy had erupted over the work of primatologist Jane Goodall, who made astonishing observations of chimpanzees at the Gombe Reserve in Tanzania, on the east coast of Africa. Goodall's reports on the nature of chimp society, and how human-like so much of their behavior was, had captivated the public from early on. In her book In the Shadow of Man, she wrote captivating descriptions of the close-knit nature of chimp communities: "I saw one female, newly arrived in a group, hurry up to a big male and hold her hand toward him. Almost regally he reached out, clasped her hand in his, drew it toward him, and kissed it with his lips. I saw two adult males embrace each other in greeting." The young chimps seemed to revel in their daily camaraderie with "wild games through the treetops, chasing around after each other or jumping again and again, one after the other, from a branch to a springy bough below."
Goodall argued that individuals in groups displayed distinctive personalities, and that while mother-child bonds were the most powerful, strong social ties bound not only members of immediate families, but also larger groupings. Chimps seemed to genuinely care about members of their groups. They shared food, and came to the aid of one another when necessary. To her horror, as she continued to observe the chimps in the mid 1970s, she also observed acts of extreme violence, watching more dominant females kill the offspring of other females in a group, as well as group killings by males, which sometimes even ended in them eating the group member they had killed. That animals would kill one of their own in such a strategic manner had also been considered a uniquely human characteristic. It wasn't, and that was disappointing to Goodall. "When I first started at Gombe," she wrote many years later, "I thought the chimps were nicer than we are. But time has revealed that they are not. They can be just as awful."
The seemingly human-like behavior of the chimps suggested to Goodall, and many others, that they had higher order thinking abilities, and more human-like emotions, than primatologists had thought. This was fueling new speculation about the nature of animal minds and how sophisticated some animal thinking, and learning, might be. The work also stirred up new ideas about how much more like our primate ancestors we humans might still be. But some ethologists thought Goodall had gone way too far in her conjectures about the chimp mind. They argued that she was anthropomorphizing, projecting human qualities onto the chimps that they didn't really have.
At the fox farm, Lydumila and Dmitri were equipped to investigate the ways that innate traits and learning might be affecting their tame foxes. They were constantly availing themselves of the latest techniques for research, and during the time Lyudmila was living at Pushinka's house, she and Dmitri decided to see whether they could delve even deeper into what degree the behaviors they were seeing in the elite foxes were genetically based.
Even as they tried to hold all conditions constant for the foxes, there were subtle, almost imperceptible differences that could creep into an experiment. For instance, what if the tamest mothers treated their pups differently than the aggressive moms treated their pups? Maybe pups learned something about how to be tame or aggressive toward humans from the way their moms treated them?
There was only one way to confirm for certain that the behavioral differences they were seeing between the tame and aggressive foxes were due to genetic differences. Dmitri and Lyudmila would have to try what is known as "cross-fostering." They'd have to take developing embryos from tame mothers and transplant them into the wombs of aggressive females. Then they would let the aggressive foster mothers give birth and raise those pups. If the pups turned out tame themselves, despite having aggressive foster moms, then Lyudmila and Dmitri would know that tameness was fundamentally genetic and not learned. And, for completeness, they would also do the same experiment with the pups of aggressive mothers transplanted into tame mothers to see if they got parallel results.
In principle, cross-fostering was straightforward; researchers had used the procedure to examine the role of nature versus nurture for many years. But in practice it was easier said than done, it was technically difficult to pull off, and it had worked much better with some species than others. No one had ever tried to transplant fox embryos. Then again, no one had tried lots of things they had done, and so Lyudmila decided she would have to learn this delicate procedure on her own.
She would be transplanting tiny, delicate embryos - on the order of 8 days old - from the womb of one female into the womb of another pregnant female. Embryos from tame mothers would be transplanted into the wombs of aggressive mothers, and those of aggressive mothers would be transplanted into the wombs of tame mothers. When the pups were born seven weeks later, she would closely observe their behavior to see if the pups of tame mothers became aggressive and if the pups of aggressive mothers became tame. But how in heaven's name was she going to know which pups in a litter were the genetic offspring of the mother and which pups were the ones she had transplanted? Without that information, the experiment was futile. She realized that the foxes had their own unique color-coding system. Coat color is a genetic trait, so if she carefully selected the males and females so that the coat coloring of their offspring would be predictable, and the pups of the aggressive mothers would have different colors from those of the tame mothers, she'd be able to tell which pups were the genetic offspring of a female, and which had been transplanted.
Each surgery involved two females, one tame and one aggressive, each about a week into pregnancy. After lightly anesthetizing the foxes, Lyudmila made a tiny surgical incision in each female's abdomen and located the uterus, with its right and left "horn," each of which had embryos implanted in it. She then removed the embryos from one uterine horn and left the embryos in the other. Then she repeated the procedure with the second female. She transplanted the embryos that had been removed from one mother into the other in a drop of nutritional liquid that was placed into the tip of a pipette. "The embryos," Lyudmila recalls, "stayed outside the uterus [at room temperature from 64 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit] for no more than 5 to 6 minutes." The females were then moved to a postoperative room and given time to recover.
Everyone at the institute anxiously awaited the results. Even with the surgeries having gone so well, the transplanted embryos might not survive. Their wait paid off. It was the caretakers who were the first to discover the births of the first litters, which was often the case with new developments with the foxes. They sent word right away to the institute. "It was like a miracle," Lyudmila recorded. "All the workers gathered around the cages for a party with wine."
Lyudmila and Tamara began recording the pups' behavior as soon as they left their nests and began interacting with humans. One day Lyudmila watched as an aggressive female was parading around with her genetic and foster pups. "It was fascinating," Lyudmila recalls, "... the aggressive mother had both tame and aggressive offspring. Her foster tame offspring were barely walking but they were already rushing to the cage doors, if there was a human standing by, and wagging their tails." And Lyudmila wasn't the only one fascinated. The mother foxes were as well. "The aggressive mothers were punishing tame pups for such improper behavior," Lyudmila recalls. "They growled at them and grabbed their neck, throwing them back in the nest." The genetic offspring of the aggressive mothers did not show curiosity about people. They, like their mothers, disliked humans. "The aggressive pups on the other hand retained their dignity," Lyudmila remembers. "They growled aggressively, same as their mothers, and ran to their nests." This pattern was repeated over and over. Pups behaved like their genetic mothers, not their foster mothers. There was no longer any doubt - basic tameness and aggression toward humans were, in part, genetic traits.
The cross-fostering genetics experiment combined with the rapid development of the close bond between Lyudmila and Pushinka was like the evolution of the human-dog relationship being accelerated to warp speed. That the artificial selection for tameness could catalyze such a profound change in an animal's behavior, from the natural inclination to live as a loner in adulthood to forming such strong attachment, and with an animal from another species no less, is remarkable. How quickly this same change came about in wolves is impossible to know, but both genetic and archeological evidence suggests that a deeper bond than we developed with any other animal formed between us and wolves, or wolf-like proto-dogs, at least thousands of years ago, and perhaps tens of thousands of years ago. So close has the relationship been for so long that some experts argue that our two species co-evolved, meaning that we acquired genetic adaptations to living with one another. Life with dogs, it seems, has been bred in our DNA, and life with humans has been bred into theirs.
A powerful testament to how far back in time the human-dog bond developed, and how strong it quickly became, is the wealth of ancient dog burials that have been discovered all over the world. Many of our prehistoric ancestors buried their dogs in graves just like the ones in which they buried their human loved ones, and sometimes in the same grave with their human masters. In fact, they began doing so right from the time dogs are generally thought to have been first fully domesticated, about 14,000 to 15,000 years ago.
A number of recent archeological finds suggest that dogs and humans have lived together for many thousands of years longer than was previously thought, and some intriguing new findings in genetics suggest that in the course of our long time together, we became increasingly good for each other's well-being. Perhaps the most evocative of the archeological finds is a set of fossilized footprints on the floor of Chauvet cave in France, famed for its elaborate wall paintings of fierce predators, including lions, panthers, and bears, which date to approximately 26,000 years ago. Alongside a trail of prints left by a boy, estimated to have been about 10 years old, run another set of prints, those of a large canid animal, and the prints suggest that this may have been an animal more like a dog than a wolf. A still earlier date for the presence of dogs, or dog-like ancestors, in our lives has been suggested on the basis of a dog-like skull found at another cave, in Belgium, which dates to approximately 31,700 years ago.
As we lived together for so many eons, through so many changes in our environment and lifestyle, with humans developing from hunter-gatherers, to farmers, to urban dwellers, and our dogs coming along with us on the journey, our genomes adapted in complex and similar ways, both to each other and to the environment. For example, genetic adaptations similar to those in the human genome that allowed our ancestors to begin eating starchy foods, like the wheat, barley, and rice they domesticated, also appear in the dog genome, and they allowed dogs to eat these foods as well, perhaps first having scavenged them from our ancestors' fields or stockpiles, and later being fed them. Wolves, who eat a meat-heavy diet, don't have the complex genetic machinery to eat these grains.
That we adapted specifically to life with one another is also attested to by a number of positive effects we have on each other. Many studies have shown that living with dogs has many beneficial physical and psychological effects on us, such as lowering our blood pressure and rates of heart disease, as well as the frequency with which we go to doctors, and increasing our general sociability, while also helping us fight off depression. Recent work on the neurotransmitter oxytocin confirms what every dog owner already knows - that we and our dogs genuinely enjoy each other's company. Both sides feed off it in a positive feedback loop, in a kind of feel-good snowball of mutual reinforcement.
Researchers have known for more than four decades that oxytocin is fundamental in the bonding between human mothers and their children (as well as in nonhuman mother-child bonds). More recent work has found that when a human mother and her newborn engage in mutual gazing, oxytocin levels in the mom rise, and the newborn's oxytocin system kicks into high gear. This leads to more gazing from the infant, which again increases the mother's oxytocin level. When this work was published in 2014, we already knew something about the role that oxytocin plays in dog-owner interactions: When we pet our dogs, oxytocin levels rise in both us and them. But now we know even more: A 2015 study has shown that the mother-child oxytocin loop that turns on as a result of human mutual gazes is also at play with owners and their dogs. This study found that when dogs and owners simply gaze at one another, oxytocin levels go up in both. This leads to increased petting and more oxytocin in response to that petting, in a chemical lovefest. What's more, if you spray oxytocin up a dog's nose, and researchers do, it gazes longer at its owner, setting off another lovefest. None of this happens when you replace dogs with wolves in this experiment.
These biological effects dogs and their humans have on one another are brought about by changes in the genes that control the production of hormones and neurochemicals in our systems. They constitute additional strong support for Dmitri Belyaev's theory that selection for tameness would unleash a cascade of changes in the production of the chemicals that regulate bodily functions. Dmitri had emphasized changes in the production of hormones in his theory at the start, because much less was understood about neurochemicals, like oxytocin, when he first formulated his theory. As research in the 1970s began revealing the powerful role they play in regulating an animal's behavior, particularly illuminating their effects on how happy or depressed an animal is, Dmitri realized that they might also be integral to the changes brought about by destabilizing selection. The rapidly emerging understanding of how sensitive animal behavior is to changes in the levels of these chemicals coursing through our brains and throughout our bodies helped to explain why the behavior of the tame foxes had changed so rapidly, and why Lyudmila and Pushinka had developed such a strong bond.
What exactly is the nature of animals' mental lives? We don't really know. The most difficult questions to answer about animal behavior have been those about the nature of animal minds and emotion. Darwin had conjectured that animal cognition and emotion are on a continuum with that of humans. But Jane Goodall's assertions about chimpanzees had kicked up such a storm over inferences about animals' inner lives that the bar of proof was now set very high. However, Goodall's observations, along with the observations of other animal behaviorists, had also stirred up interest in finding new ways to probe into the nature of the animal mind.
The animal cognition scientist Brian Hare has contributed important findings about animal social cognition through his studies on dogs and primates. Research had shown that on one classic social intelligence test - what is known as the object choice test - dogs performed better than chimps. Researchers had found that if they placed two opaque containers on a table, and then, unknown to the chimp, put food under one, it was very difficult to provide a chimp with a visual cue that it could use to figure out where the food was. You could point at the correct container, stare at it, touch it, or even place a marker like a wooden block on it, and chimps just don't get it: They are no more likely to choose the container with food than the one without it. Dogs, on the other hand, are virtual geniuses at this sort of object choice task, and are able to cue in on what chimps seem oblivious to.
Hare had conducted his own studies comparing the ability of chimps and dogs and confirmed just how much smarter dogs were at this task. Then he asked himself: Why are dogs so good at this? Maybe it was because dogs spend their whole lives with humans, and learn how to do this sort of thing. Or it could be that all canids - dogs, wolves, and so on - were just good at object choice tests, and that it had nothing to do with "dogginess" per se. The only way to know was to design an experiment, so Brian tested both wolves and dogs on this task. The dogs shined as always, and the wolves seemed clueless as to what was going on. Not all canids could do this. He also tested dog pups of different ages. They all did just fine on the object choice test. He tested dogs who had lots of interactions with humans versus few interactions. They all did fine as well. So, Hare realized, it wasn't the amount of time with humans that made dogs so good at the task.
Why, Hare wondered, do dogs have this innate ability to solve hard social cognition tasks whereas chimps don't? The answer, he surmised, likely had something to do with the fact that dogs had been domesticated. "It is likely," Hare wrote in a 2002 Science paper, "that individual dogs that were able to use social cues more flexibly than could their last common wolf ancestor ... were at a selective advantage." During the process of domestication, dogs that were smart enough to pick up on social cues emitted by their humans would get more food because they could do the things that humans wanted them to do, so humans might toss them more scraps as a reward. They might also be able to pick up on cues humans didn't necessarily want them to pick up on, and occasionally scarf some food not meant for them.
It made perfect sense. The skill in dogs was a beautiful adaptation to their new life situation, selected for by their new human masters. He'd come up with a tidy and beautiful explanation for an important question: just the sort of thing a young scientist dreams of.
His mentor, primatologist Richard Wrangham, thought otherwise. Yes, he told Hare, picking up the skill must have something to do with domestication, but was his adaptationist tale - that animals that were socially smarter were selected by humans - the only possible explanation? Was it necessarily the case that the amazing ability of dogs to pick up on human social cues had been favored by selection? Wrangham thought not. He proposed an alternative hypothesis. Maybe, just maybe, this ability was just an accidental by-product of domestication. Picking up on human social cues hadn't been selected for, he proposed, it just came along for the ride with other traits that had been selected. Hare decided to take the challenge of testing their competing ideas, and they placed a little wager on who was right.
There was really only one place where Hare could do this test, and that was at the fox farm. It was the only place where animals had been domesticated from scratch, and where researchers know exactly what sort of selection pressures had been in place, and that selection for social intelligence, per se, had not been applied. If Brian was right, both the domesticated foxes and the control foxes should fare poorly on the social intelligence test, because the fox team had never selected foxes based on their social intelligence per se. If Richard was right, and social intelligence was indeed a byproduct of domestication, then the domesticated foxes should show social intelligence on par with dogs, but the control foxes should not. When he contacted Lyudmila, through one of her colleagues, to ask whether she would approve of his conducting the study, she said she would love for him to do so. Hare was off to Novosibirsk.
He tested 75 fox pups, each one many times. The results were crystal clear. When tame pups were compared to dog pups, they were just as smart as the dogs. And when the tame pups were compared to control fox pups, they were smarter much smarter - both at finding the hidden food in the pointing and gazing task, and at touching the same toy that Brian or his assistant had touched.
The results were completely in line with Wrangham's hypothesis. The control foxes were clueless on the social cognition tasks, which the domesticated foxes aced, performing even a little better than dogs. Social intelligence, somehow or another, just came along for the ride in their domestication.
"Richard was right," Hare admits, "and I was wrong ... it totally rocked my world." Suddenly, he saw the evolution of intelligence, and the process of domestication also, very differently. He had thought that early humans intentionally breeding dogs to be smarter had led to dogs' social intelligence. But if the trait could emerge, instead, from selection for tameness, then that was evidence in support of the view that the domestication of the wolf might have started without breeding for social intelligence being involved. Hare now believed that selection acting on tameness could have brought wolves onto the path to domestication, because those that were inherently a little tamer, and began hanging around human groups, would have had the survival advantage of more plentiful food. Wolves might have started the process of domestication themselves, just as Dmitri Belyaev had conjectured, and had argued about human domestication too.
Lyudmila knew Dmitri would have been delighted with Hare's finding: The results were entirely in keeping with the theory of destabilizing selection. Shake up the fox genome by placing foxes in a new world where calm behavior toward humans is the ultimate currency, and you'll get lots of other changes - floppy ears, curly, wagging tails, and better social cognition as well.
Copyright © 2017 NautilusThink Inc, All rights reserved.
* * *
Российские специалисты разработали уникальную технологию получения оксинитрида алюминия - прозрачного, прочного и устойчивого к повреждениям и высоким температурам материала.
Specialists from the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI and multi-institutional collaborators have developed a technology to produce compacts from aluminum oxynitride (ALON). They've published their results in IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering.
To obtain "transparent aluminum," researchers at the Institute of nuclear physics and engineering (INPhE) MEPhI applied the method of spark-plasma sintering. This is a new sintering process based on the modified method of hot pressing. In this case, electric current is passed directly through the mold and pressing billet, but not through an external heater. Very rapid heating is achieved by pulsed current for an extremely short work-cycle time.
"Among all present ceramics of medium density, aluminum oxynitride has a significantly high strength, comparable to that of YAG (yttrium aluminum garnet) and cubic zirconia (stabilized zirconium oxide). Its toughness, which is the most important characteristic for armor protection, surpasses those of all transparent materials including quartz glass, fused quartz, spinel and leucosapphire," explains one of the authors of the publication, postgraduate student of INPhE Nikita Rubinkovskii.
Fans of Star Trek will recall that in the fourth movie, The Voyage Home, a material called "transparent aluminum" plays an important role in the story. Such materials have already been created and successfully used. It's four times stronger than aluminosilicate glass, and more scratch resistant. In addition, this material can withstand temperatures up to 2100 degree Celsius.
Currently, the penetrating power of small arms and small-caliber artillery forces the developers of protection equipment to improve the performance of armor materials and protective structures. This is especially true of transparent armor materials. Transparent polycrystalline ceramics is the most promising in this respect, in particular, ceramics based on aluminum oxynitride. It is possible to obtain transparent products of complex shape using the ceramics technology processes of molding and sintering.
The developers also claim that ALON can be used in several military and commercial applications, e.g., windows and domes for spacecraft and outer transparent armor.
More information: N A Rubinkovskiy et al. Consolidation of Transparent ALON by Spark Plasma Sintering Methods, IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering (2017). DOI: 10.1088/1757-899X/218/1/012015
© Phys.org 2003-2017.
* * *
EurekAlert / 18-Jul-2017
Heart tissues of different origins can "beat" in sync
Researchers merge heart tissues of different origins.
Исследователи из МФТИ и Боннского университета (Германия) доказали, что сердечные ткани разного происхождения могут сокращаться синхронно. Теоретически это означает, что поврежденные (например, в результате инфаркта) участки сердца можно будет «залатать» искусственно выращенной сердечной тканью - «заплатка» встроится в работу сердца.
Researchers from MIPT and the University of Bonn (Germany) have shown that heart tissues of different origins can contract in sync. In a series of experiments, they first merged two rat tissues of different ages and then combined rat and mouse tissue. Excitation waves were transmitted successfully from one tissue to another, which theoretically means that artificially grown heart patches can fit in with excitable cardiac tissues. The paper was published in Biomaterials Science.
Professor Konstantin Agladze, who heads the Laboratory of the Biophysics of Excitable Systems at MIPT, comments: "People are now only discussing growing cardiac patches. And the question is: Should we pursue these engineered implantable tissue constructions, considering that they could fail to merge into one excitable tissue with the heart? We resolve this issue by showing that merging into one excitable tissue is indeed possible, even if we're dealing with cells from different animals, let alone cultures of merely different ages. Surely, these are two related species - rats and mice - but so are humans and apes."
Repairing the heart
Researchers working in the field of regenerative medicine of the heart are hopeful about the possible application of cultured patches. In theory, a piece of cultured heart tissue could be used to repair regions of the heart damaged as a result of an infarction. However, this has never been successfully done experimentally: Transplanted cells died within several days, with little to no improvement observed. An important property of cardiac tissue, which actually allows the heart to beat, is its ability to contract in response to an electrical signal. Until now, it has remained unknown whether a piece of cultured tissue can merge with host cardiac tissue and function correctly. Yet for the heart muscle to contract, it is necessary that the electrical signal be transmitted between the cells. But there was no solid proof that implantation of foreign cells into the heart tissue will result in their electrical coupling to host cells, which is needed for them to work as an integrated system. If there is no coupling, then cultured patches are useless in terms of repairing damaged heart tissue. The researchers set out to test if it is even possible for an electrical excitation to be transmitted between two tissues of different origins. To do this, they grew cardiac tissue in a container, designed specifically for this experiment.
The researchers designed a dumbbell-shaped container made up of two circular compartments - 5 millimeters in diameter each - connected by a thin 7-millimeter-long channel. To prevent the cells of different cultures from mixing with each other, a partition was inserted halfway through the channel. Cells of the first culture were seeded to one of the compartments. Then, after about an hour, cells of the second culture were seeded to the other compartment. When the container was filled with cells on both sides of the partition, it was removed. This allowed the two tissues to merge at the point where the partition had been. The researchers stimulated one tissue to see if the excitation wave will be transmitted to the other tissue. To observe wave propagation, they introduced a fluorescent dye called Fluor-4 into the container. Excitation waves make this chemical emit light, which can be recorded using a high-sensitivity camera.
The first experiment featured heart cells of neonatal rats. The primary cell culture was first seeded into one compartment and then, three days later, into the other. This means that the two tissues were at different stages in their development. Still, when one of them was stimulated with an electrode, the excitation wave was transmitted across and beyond the border between the two tissues. The researchers then decided to see if the experimental results could be reproduced using cells from two different species, namely rats and mice. Although the excitation wave did propagate through both tissues, its speed differed between the two cultures.
A further test to be on the safe side
It is theoretically possible that cells which were not stimulated with an electrode could be excited by the electric field of the electrode. To rule out this scenario, the researchers performed a further series of experiments. They used genetic engineering methods to insert a light-sensitive protein called channelrhodopsin-2 into mouse cells, which were then exposed to light. Despite rat cells not being sensitive to light, they too conducted the excitation wave when mouse cells were illuminated. This proves conclusively that the two different tissues are in fact electrically coupled to each other. In addition, the synchronization of different cultures was confirmed at the micro-level when individual cells were studied.
It should be noted, however, that certain peculiarities were observed at the border between the two cultures, including partial blocking of excitation waves crossing the border at certain frequencies. The next question that needs to be addressed before growing cardiac patches is whether these anomalies could increase the risk of arrhythmia.
Copyright © 2017 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
* * *
Aluminium Insider / 21 July 2017
Russian Scientists Develop Porous, Floating Aluminium Alloy
Ученые из Санкт-Петербургского политехнического университета Петра Великого создали нетонущий пористый алюминиевый сплав. Эффект пористости достигается с помощью переплавления алюминия с добавлением вспенивающего газа, причем можно получить пористость как по всему объему, так и лишь на необходимых участках. Новый сплав может использоваться, например, для увеличения звуко- и теплоизоляции при одновременном повышении жесткости, но без увеличения веса конструкции.
Researchers in Russia have announced the development of an unsinkable aluminium alloy by making the substance porus.
St. Petersburg's Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University's (SPbPU) Laboratory of Light Materials and Structures developed the breakthrough material by introducing gas into the process of remelting while the aluminium alloy was in its liquid state. In addition to adding buoyancy, scientists say the process also improves the material's stiffness, sound, and heat insulation properties.
"A high porosity level can be used to decrease the density of structural elements, e.g. sheets. The density can be decreased even lower than the density of water. Resulting structural elements would be unsinkable. And its usage in shipbuilding will ensure unsinkability even with a leak in the hull," explained the deputy head of the Laboratory of Light Materials and Structures SPbPU Oleg Panchenko.
This new alloy also overcomes certain problems encountered with thinner materials with a thickness of 1 millimeter (0.04") or less. Such materials often have sufficient strength for the tasks they are asked to carry out, but bending or joining them deforms and/or weakens the materials. With porous aluminium, thickness may be increased to allow for such manipulation without loss of strength or addition of weight.
This breakthrough represents the next step in porous materials, taking the baton from Japanese researchers who previously developed material that is entirely porous but without limiting the distribution of pores to either homogeneous or heterogeneous layouts. Researchers at SPbPU overcame this limitation by using solid material, allowing for double layers of the material that limits porosity to one side, enabling added strength for welding or other joining methods.
Founded in 1899 as the Saint Petersburg Polytechnic Institute, SPbPU is considered to be among the top research facilities in Russia and the CIS. It is widely recognized as an educational and research leader in industrial engineering and chemical engineering, among other fields.
Copyright © Aluminium Insider - 2017.
* * *
В Институте проблем освоения Севера СО РАН (Тюмень) приступили к изучению мумий, обнаруженных в археологическом комплексе «Зелёный Яр» (ЯНАО). Раскопки в комплексе ведутся с конца 1990-х гг., за это время было обнаружено несколько десятков захоронений, датируемых VIII-XIII вв.
The mummified bodies of an adult and a baby, both wrapped in copper, have been unearthed after being frozen in the Siberian permafrost for centuries.
An announcement from the Governor of Yamalo-Nenets District says the recent discovery includes two mummies wrapped in a thick textile material, fur, and tree bark, with the adult encased in copper plates and the baby covered with copper kettle fragments. It's believed the copper was used for its antimicrobial properties to help preserve the body. The remains were also naturally "refrigerated" by the permafrost of this notoriously cold part of the world.
The larger of the two mummies is approximately 170 centimeters (5 feet 7 inches), suggesting it's a fully grown adult. The smaller indicates it's most likely a child no older than 6 months old.
The team are yet to unravel the remains for fear it could disturb the body and worsen the condition of the tissue, anthropologist Evgenia Svyatova, from the Center for the Protection and Use of Monuments of History and Culture, explained in a statement.
The archaeologists came across the mummies near a centuries-old monument in a remote corner of Siberia just outside Salekhard. This town crosses the Polar circle and is located on the coast of the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean, so it will come as no surprise that the average yearly temperature of this area is a nippy -5.72°C (21.7°F).
The pair will now be examined in a lab, where they will undergo a mixture of genetic testing, forensics, and historical analysis. The researchers on the project hope to present their findings at a conference in Salekhard later this year.
The age of the remains is not yet confirmed. However, the excavation site is known to have been most active around the Middle Ages in the 13th century. The bodies are the latest in a long line of mummies found at the Zeleny Yar archaeological site since 1997. Between 2013 and 2017 alone, researchers have discovered 47 graves.
Although this project has unearthed all kinds of discoveries, little is known about the people who inhabited the area centuries ago. Previously, archaeologists found 10th-century bronze bowls that originated from Persia, around 5,950 kilometers (3,700 miles) away in present-day Iran. The connection between this Siberian civilization and Persia is unknown, but with a bit of luck, further work at the site will someday explain it.
© Copyright 2016 IBTimes Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
* * *
EurekAlert / 24-Jul-2017
The oldest "bad boy" in the world
300 million-year-old "modern" beetle from Australia reconstructed by researchers of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany).
Зоологи из Йенского университета имени Фридриха Шиллера и Палеонтологического института РАН создали трехмерную модель жука Ponomarenkia belmonthensis, жившего 300 млн лет назад и, судя по всему, исчезнувшего во время так называемого пермского вымирания - экологической катастрофы на границе пермского и триасового периодов. Два окаменевших экземпляра жука, названного в честь российского палеоэнтомолога Александра Пономаренко, были найдены в Австралии.
He's Australian, around half a centimetre long, fairly nondescript, 300 million years old, and he's currently causing astonishment among both entomologists and palaeontologists. The discovery of a beetle from the late Permian period, when even the dinosaurs had not yet appeared on the scene, is throwing a completely new light on the earliest developments in this group of insects. The reconstruction and interpretation of the characteristics of Ponomarenkia belmonthensis was achieved by Prof. Dr Rolf Beutel and Dr Evgeny V. Yan of Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). They have published this discovery together with renowned beetle researcher Dr John Lawrence and Australian geologist Dr Robert Beattie in the current issue of the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. It was Beattie who discovered the only two known fossilised specimens of the beetle in former marshland in Belmont, Australia.
"Beetles, which with nearly 400,000 described species today make up almost one-third of all known organisms, still lived a rather shadowy and cryptic existence in the Permian period," explains Jena zoologist Beutel. "The fossils known to date have all belonged to an ancestral beetle lineage, with species preferring narrow spaces under bark of coniferous trees. They exhibit a whole series of primitive characteristics, such as wing cases (elytra) that had not yet become completely hardened or a body surface densely covered with small tubercles."
Earliest form of the modern beetle
In contrast, the species that has now been discovered, assigned to the newly introduced family Ponomarenkiidae, can be identified as a modern beetle, in spite of its remarkable age. Modern characteristics are the antennae resembling a string of beads, antennal grooves, and the unusually narrow abdomen, tapering to a point. What is more, unlike previously known Permian beetles, the wing cases are completely hardened, the body's surface is largely smooth, and the thoracic segments responsible for locomotion show modern features, notes insect palaeontologist Yan. In addition, it appears that this little beetle had stopped living under tree bark, the habitat favoured by its contemporaries, and had adopted a much more exposed lifestyle on plants. A significant fact is that, due to its unorthodox combination of ancestral and modern characteristics, this genus does not fit in any of the four suborders of beetles that still exist, which is why Yan and Beutel have given it the nickname Bad Boy. "Ponomarenkia belmonthensis shows above all that the first major events of radiation in the evolution of beetles took place before the Permian-Triassic mass extinction," says Rolf Beutel. Beetles as a whole survived this dramatic event, which saw the acidification of the seas and major volcanic eruptions, considerably better than most other groups of organisms, presumably because of their terrestrial life style and hardened exoskeleton. However, the Bad Boy ran out of luck, as there are no more traces of its existence in the Mesozoic era.
Name honours eminent palaeontologist
The Jena researchers dedicated the genus and family to Moscow palaeontologist Prof. Alexander G. Ponomarenko. He has had a strong influence on beetle palaeontology for decades and supervised Dr Evgeny V. Yan's doctorate. Yan obtained his doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences, spent five years as a postdoc at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing, and since June 2016 he has done research at the Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology with Phyletic Museum of the University of Jena as a guest researcher funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. It is Yan's elaborate reconstructions on the computer that have provided the precise insights into Ponomarenkia belmonthensis.
In the first stage, some 40 photographs were taken of the two specimens, which were available as impressions on stone. "With this series of photographs an accurate 2D reconstruction was possible, with which we were able to correct for deformations in the original fossil. This allowed us to get closer to the actual beetle," explains Dr Yan. Based on precise drawings and with the help of a special computer program that is also used for animation and computer games, a very informative 3D model was created. "The 3D reconstruction also enables us to draw conclusions about the way the beetle moved and lived," the palaeontologist adds. He has developed this method of visualisation, as well as the analytical process in which he also includes hypothetical ancestors of the beetle, since his arrival in Jena. "We have already been able to apply this process to three newly discovered ancient beetle species," Prof. Beutel is happy to report. "In this way, we have made significant steps towards deciphering the earliest stages in the evolution of an extremely successful genus of animals."
Copyright © 2017 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
* * *
По итогам встречи в Пекине представителей министерств образования стран БРИКС (Бразилия, Россия, Индия, Китай, ЮАР) подписан ряд документов по перспективам сотрудничества в сфере науки и образования, в том числе по развитию Сетевого университета (объединение организаций высшего образования всех пяти стран).
At the fifth meeting of BRICS Ministers of Education earlier this month in Beijing, delegates discussed educational reforms, promoting equity and quality in education, boosting exchange of students as well as promoting language and cultural knowledge of member countries.
The meeting resulted in the signing of a declaration between senior ministry representatives, proclaiming deeper collaboration and support for the two-year old BRICS Network University.
BRICS NU is the only functioning university association between the countries and their main platform for research, scientific and innovative cooperation.
The platform was established in 2015 in Russia and is dedicated to joint short-term, master's and PhD programs in the fields of computer science and information science, energy, BRICS studies, economics, ecology and climate change and water resources and pollution treatment.
"It is to facilitate and encourage the integration of the geopolitical environment through education, common education and research tasks and goals, developing and fostering academic and student mobility, and creating education programs in an innovative format," commented vice rector for international academic mobility of RUDN University, Larisa Efremova.
Currently, BRICS NU consists of 55 universities, among which there are nine Russian universities belonging to the 5-100 program. Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and the Federal University of Minas Gerais are among the Brazilian participants. Meanwhile in India, IIT Bombay and Kanpur are participants and in China, Hunan University and Sichuan University are members.
In South Africa, participants include the Universities of Cape Town, Pretoria and Witwatersrand.
Despite its fledgling success, the initiative still faces challenges related to financial support and the mutual recognition of some degrees and qualifications, according to Maxim Khomyakov, head of the Russian National Coordinating Committee at the BRICS Network University.
"For example, in South Africa and Brazil recognition is done mostly by the autonomous universities on a program by program basis," he said.
"Russia does have agreement with India, but from the Soviet era. It is not clear how to recognise master's, bachelor's or PhD programs, which didn't exist in the Soviet Union. Brazil and South Africa have issues with recognition of academic credits as well."
© The PIE News 2017. All rights reserved.
* * *
Сотрудники Центра нейроэкономики и когнитивных исследований ВШЭ и Института проблем машиноведения РАН провели эксперимент, в ходе которого выяснили, насколько человек может регулировать альфа-активность собственного мозга (связана со способностью расслабляться, справляться со стрессом и усваивать новую информацию) с помощью нейрофизической обратной связи. Это открытие может помочь разработать нелекарственные методы лечения эпилепсии, нарушения дефицита внимания и гиперактивности, депрессии.
Researchers from the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making and the Control of Complex Systems Laboratory (Institute of Problems of Mechanical Engineering, Russian Academy of Sciences) have conducted a series of experiments to uncover what a person actually controls when they are tasked with independently affecting the activity of their own brain. This discovery may help develop non-pharmacological methods for treating epilepsy, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and depression. The research results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The human brain is always electrically active. Neurons, which are small but very complex computing devices that make up the brain, exchange information using very short electrical impulses. The aggregate of a large number of these impulses - impulses that are distributed in time and appear in various parts of the brain - cause fluctuations in the electrical potential of the head's surface. Similar to a cardiogram, we can use methods such as electroencephalograms to register these fluctuations and judge brain activity. Further, several types of activity can be determined by the speed of the fluctuations: alpha, beta, gamma, theta, and delta waves. With electroencephalography, these waves can be registered, recoded into a perceivable form such as the brightness of a computer screen, and presented in real time. This serves as the basis for neurofeedback technology, which is one type of biofeedback. With the help of biofeedback, a person can learn to regulate the activity of his or her own brain.
The first time neurofeedback was discussed as a method that could be used to teach a person to regulate the electromagnetic activity of his or her brain was in research conducted by Joseph Kamiya of the University of Chicago in the 1960s. Kamiya showed that in receiving feedback on brain activity, a person learns to affect this activity on the one hand, while on the other they learn to determine the current state of their brain activity and, for example, the domination of a certain rhythm.
In the experiment conducted by researchers from the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making and the Institute of Problems of Mechanical Engineering, researchers used electroencephalography to assess the intensity of the brain's alpha wave activity (alpha waves relate to a person's ability to relax, manage stress, and internalise new information). The research subjects saw information about their alpha wave activity in the form of red colour saturation on a monitor and tried to mentally make this colour more saturated.
The study involved 18 people, nine of whom (the experimental group) received real feedback on their efforts, i.e., they saw the colour's saturation reflecting the current level of alpha wave activity. Conversely, the control group received false feedback, meaning changes in the intensity of the colour displayed on the screen were not connected with the research subjects' alpha wave activity.
Over the course of two days, both groups carried out five two-minute sessions per day. The research subjects were not provided with a strategy that would help them show the best results.
At the end of the first day, the entire experimental group showed an increase in alpha wave activity, while alpha wave activity was slightly lower at the beginning of the second day than at the end of the first. But throughout the second day, activity continued to grow and exceeded the levels seen at the end of the first day. Two days of training in the neurofeedback paradigm were enough to significantly increase alpha wave capacity. This sort of increase was not seen in the control group.
Alpha wave activity is non-stationary and occurs in the form of special bursts, each of which can be characterised by its duration and amplitude. Another important parameter is the number of such bursts per unit of time.
'We became interested in what exactly changes during feedback - the amplitude of each burst, its length, or how often these bursts occur,' explains Professor Alexey Ossadtchi, who is a senior research fellow in the Centre for Cognition & Decision Making and one of the study's authors.
'These are three completely different metrics as far as neurophysiology is concerned. When amplitude increases, the size of the corresponding neuron population increases, and when the duration grows, short-term regulatory mechanisms with feedback are directly involved and allow the brain to maintain high alpha wave activity for a longer period of time. An increase in the frequency of bursts shows that under the influence of a person's intentional effort, the brain more easily enters a state in which the alpha rhythm dominates.'
After the experimenters compared how much the amplitude, duration, and frequency of bursts changed during the training process of all participants on different days, it was discovered that alpha wave bursts in particular undergo the most significant changes per unit of time. In other words, by training in the neurofeedback paradigm, a person learns to control entry into a completely alpha state. This is new information in the study of neurofeedback mechanisms.
'It turned out that the frequency of alpha wave bursts in particular is a coached metric that we can use to influence alpha wave activity as a whole, unlike amplitude and duration, which are likely coded at a lower level,' Professor Ossadtchi adds. 'This means that in therapy and in training, we have to give people feedback specifically on the parameter that they are truly able to influence - in our case, for every entry into the [alpha] state and for every new burst. It's preferred that a person receive such reinforcement with as little delay as possible. That is what we are working on now.'
The researchers assume that the data they collected are valid not only for alpha waves, but for other types of electromagnetic frequencies as well. A similar experiment will be conducted soon on different types of waves.
The neurofeedback training paradigm helps lower the likelihood of epileptic seizures, eliminate some manifestations of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and provide relief to a person with depression. In addition, neurofeedback as a technology helps athletes control their psycho-emotional state, and it can also be used to master the art of meditation, improve memory, and increase a person's ability to concentrate. According to the researchers, knowing specifically which regulatory mechanisms are activated during a certain form of neurofeedback allows one to significantly increase the efficiency of this technology, while it also provides access to new resources in the human brain that have not yet been studied.
Copyright © 2017 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
* * *