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February 15, 2012

Opposition calls for mass protests in Bahrain

Opposition calls for mass protests in Bahrain

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bahrain
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In Bahrain, tension is building between the opposition protesters who want to revive last year’s marches, and government authorities who are trying to maintain control over protest activities. A planned march by the February 14 Youth Coalition to Manama’s former Pearl Roundabout, to mark the beginning of last year’s protests, was overwhelmed by the security surrounding the site on the eve of the anniversary as well as the day itself.

Since the Bahraini uprising in 2011, the roundabout became a touchstone of opposition. Authorities responded by clearing the site and renaming it al-Farouq Junction. Whilst initially blocked to traffic to prevent any more protests, Bahrain’s police now occupy the area and are demonstrably equipped to repel opposition.

Over 10,000 Bahrainis attended last week’s “sit in” protests for reforms.
Image: Bahraini Activist.

Clashes around the site between security forces and Bahraini youth took place Monday as one of the largest crowds yet moved close to the symbol of last year’s protest movement. Again, on Tuesday, crowds were repelled from Pearl Roundabout with police using tear-gas and arresting protesters throughout the city. Security forces also detained six U.S. citizens who took part in the protests; the activists, who entered the country on tourist visas, agreed to leave the country without charges being pressed.

With activists and political parties called for mass protests a few days prior to the one-year anniversary, the government now says it may bring charges against organizers for encouraging the disorder.

Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist in Bahrain, announced his intention to take part in marches to the Pearl Roundabout. He led several hundred pro-democracy activists in Manama’s old market area before suddenly marching towards the Pearl Roundabout. The protest ended a few hundred meters away from the roundabout with police firing tear gas and stun grenades after using megaphones to warn protesters the march was unauthorised and they should disperse. Two women from US-based rights group Witness Bahrain taking part in Sunday’s march were arrested and deported.

Cquote1.svg We will return. We will return. Cquote2.svg

—Ayat al-Qormozi

Five opposition political groups headed by Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest political opposition party, organized an authorized sit-in in a yard, dubbed ‘Freedom Square’, in Al Muqsha village outside of Manama. This is the same location as the opposition’s week-long ‘sit-in’ for political reforms. At that sit-in last week, Ayat al-Qormozi, a Bahraini female poet and visible leader in the opposition movement, called for the crowd in Al Muqsha to march to the symbolic roundabout and chanted, “We will return. We will return.”

Most clashes between police and protesters occurred in the Shia neighborhoods. About 70 percent of Bahrainis are Shia and they form the base of the youth activists and Al-Wefaq protesters.

The Sunnis have organized counter-demonstrations in support of the ruling Al Khalifa family. They control the government’s cabinet, and are also Sunni. The formation of the cabinet is one of the key debates between the opposition Al Wefaq and the Sunni minority in country. Al Wefaq wants elected politicians to name the cabinet, whilst the Sunnis prefer the royal family to retain that power.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa denied that there was an opposition in his country similar to those in Western nations but accepted that there are “people with different views.”



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April 11, 2011

Shiites protest against discrimination in Bahrain

Shiites protest against discrimination in Bahrain

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Monday, April 11, 2011

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The flag of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Image: SKopp.
Image: Zscout370.

This week state run newspapers in Bahrain officially declared that the nation was ‘back on track’ after weeks of political and sectarian unrest in the nation. However these headlines have been disputed by Shiite protestors in Bahrain. Sunni security forces have been raiding Shiite protestors’ homes, knocking their doors down, spraying graffiti on walls and arresting them in an effort to keep Shiite activists off the street.

Bahrain’s government has been accused by the United States of human rights abuses including arbitrary detention and discrimination against Shiites in the country; Shiites make up between 60% and 70% of the population of Bahrain. One activist told The Associated Press that he was brutally beaten by security forces, threatened with rape, and told to return to Iran — a major Shiite power in the region.

“We cannot stop,” said another Shiite protestor, Ali Mohammed, “we might go quite for a bit to mourn the dead and treat the injured and see those in jail, but then we will rise up again.” He lost his teaching job because of his involvement in the protests.

It was also revealed by a US State department report that the Bahrain government had requested from various media outlets and journalists that they no longer report on sectarianism, national security or stories that degraded the Royal Saudi family. The report also claimed that “according to some members of the media, government officials contacted editors directly and asked them to stop writing about certain subjects or asked them not to publish a press release or a story.”

Shiites have voiced their opinions about continuous discrimination in the country, with the Muslim opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman requesting that the Saudi military leave the region and stop intervening with protesters.

The official body count states that at least 20 people have been killed since the political protests began in early February 2011.


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February 18, 2011

Australian town to change name to promote road safety

Australian town to change name to promote road safety

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Friday, February 18, 2011

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The residents of Speed, a small town in the south-east of Australia, have made the decision to modify the name of the town for one month in an attempt to improve road safety in the country. The name of the town will be adjusted to SpeedKills across next month.

The idea was created by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC). A campaign was launched on the social networking website Facebook, saying that if 10,000 ‘liked’ the campaign page, the name of the town — which has a population of 45 — would be changed. ‘Rename Speed’ has now gone on to achieve over 33,000 likes.

Previously, the government had used various advertising campaigns in an attempt to get motorists to reduce speed. However, these campaigns were in large part unsuccessful. In 2010, Australia experienced a 25% increase in deaths on rural roads . TAC spokesperson Phil Reed has stated that, with this new name change campaign, “[w]e’re trying to get people to stay within the speed limits, obey road safety rules” and cause motorists to “realise that when they don’t, people die”.

One inhabitant of Speed has also made the decision to change his name during March. Phil Down, who grows wheat and raises sheep, has decided to change his name to Phil Slow Down. Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Down explained: “It’s virtually on the road to somewhere else, so we’ve taken our quirky name and run with it to bring the attention to the campaign of trying to get people to slow down on country roads and especially through small towns”.



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May 24, 2010

Nicolaus Copernicus buried again

Nicolaus Copernicus buried again – Wikinews, the free news source

Nicolaus Copernicus buried again

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Copernicus was one of the most important people of the Renaissance.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was buried for the second time yesterday, in the Catholic church of Frombork, Poland. Copernicus is considered the founder of modern astronomy, and known for declaring that the Earth revolved around the Sun, contrary to popular belief at the time.

His body was discovered and exhumed in 2005 by Polish archaeologists in a nameless tomb in the same church. After the extraction, the body was sent for DNA testing, which confirmed it was Copernicus, who died in 1543.

His funeral was presided over by Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk. In his time, Copernicus was considered a heretic due to his theory, which was published shortly before his death.

He studied in the Kraków University and in the Bologne University. In his work De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium he demonstrated, through mathematical and astronomical calculations, that the planets –including Earth– rotated around the Sun.



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February 4, 2009

Stanford physicists print smallest-ever letters \’SU\’ at subatomic level of 1.5 nanometres tall

Stanford physicists print smallest-ever letters ‘SU’ at subatomic level of 1.5 nanometres tall

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

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Stanford University view from Hoover Tower observation deck of the Quad and surrounding area, facing west
Image: User:Jawed.

A new historic physics record has been set by scientists for exceedingly small writing, opening a new door to computing’s future. Stanford University physicists have claimed to have written the letters “SU” at sub-atomic size.

Graduate students Christopher Moon, Laila Mattos, Brian Foster and Gabriel Zeltzer, under the direction of assistant professor of physics Hari Manoharan, have produced the world’s smallest lettering, which is approximately 1.5 nanometres tall, using a molecular projector, called Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) to push individual carbon monoxide molecules on a copper or silver sheet surface, based on interference of electron energy states.

A nanometre (Greek: νάνος, nanos, dwarf; μετρώ, metrό, count) is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one billionth of a metre (i.e., 10-9 m or one millionth of a millimetre), and also equals ten Ångström, an internationally recognized non-SI unit of length. It is often associated with the field of nanotechnology.

“We miniaturised their size so drastically that we ended up with the smallest writing in history,” said Manoharan. “S” and “U,” the two letters in honor of their employer have been reduced so tiny in nanoimprint that if used to print out 32 volumes of an Encyclopedia, 2,000 times, the contents would easily fit on a pinhead.

In the world of downsizing, nanoscribes Manoharan and Moon have proven that information, if reduced in size smaller than an atom, can be stored in more compact form than previously thought. In computing jargon, small sizing results to greater speed and better computer data storage.

“Writing really small has a long history. We wondered: What are the limits? How far can you go? Because materials are made of atoms, it was always believed that if you continue scaling down, you’d end up at that fundamental limit. You’d hit a wall,” said Manoharan.

Scanning tunneling microscope sample under test at the University of St Andrews. Sample is MoS2 (Molybdenum Sulphide) being probed by a Platinum-Iridium tip.

In writing the letters, the Stanford team utilized an electron’s unique feature of “pinball table for electrons” — its ability to bounce between different quantum states. In the vibration-proof basement lab of Stanford’s Varian Physics Building, the physicists used a Scanning tunneling microscope in encoding the “S” and “U” within the patterns formed by the electron’s activity, called wave function, arranging carbon monoxide molecules in a very specific pattern on a copper or silver sheet surface.

“Imagine [the copper as] a very shallow pool of water into which we put some rocks [the carbon monoxide molecules]. The water waves scatter and interfere off the rocks, making well defined standing wave patterns,” Manoharan noted. If the “rocks” are placed just right, then the shapes of the waves will form any letters in the alphabet, the researchers said. They used the quantum properties of electrons, rather than photons, as their source of illumination.

According to the study, the atoms were ordered in a circular fashion, with a hole in the middle. A flow of electrons was thereafter fired at the copper support, which resulted into a ripple effect in between the existing atoms. These were pushed aside, and a holographic projection of the letters “SU” became visible in the space between them. “What we did is show that the atom is not the limit — that you can go below that,” Manoharan said.

“It’s difficult to properly express the size of their stacked S and U, but the equivalent would be 0.3 nanometres. This is sufficiently small that you could copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the head of a pin not just once, but thousands of times over,” Manoharan and his nanohologram collaborator Christopher Moon explained.

The team has also shown the salient features of the holographic principle, a property of quantum gravity theories which resolves the black hole information paradox within string theory. They stacked “S” and the “U” – two layers, or pages, of information — within the hologram.

The team stressed their discovery was concentrating electrons in space, in essence, a wire, hoping such a structure could be used to wire together a super-fast quantum computer in the future. In essence, “these electron patterns can act as holograms, that pack information into subatomic spaces, which could one day lead to unlimited information storage,” the study states.

The “Conclusion” of the Stanford article goes as follows:

According to theory, a quantum state can encode any amount of information (at zero temperature), requiring only sufficiently high bandwidth and time in which to read it out. In practice, only recently has progress been made towards encoding several bits into the shapes of bosonic single-photon wave functions, which has applications in quantum key distribution. We have experimentally demonstrated that 35 bits can be permanently encoded into a time-independent fermionic state, and that two such states can be simultaneously prepared in the same area of space. We have simulated hundreds of stacked pairs of random 7 times 5-pixel arrays as well as various ideas for pathological bit patterns, and in every case the information was theoretically encodable. In all experimental attempts, extending down to the subatomic regime, the encoding was successful and the data were retrieved at 100% fidelity. We believe the limitations on bit size are approxlambda/4, but surprisingly the information density can be significantly boosted by using higher-energy electrons and stacking multiple pages holographically. Determining the full theoretical and practical limits of this technique—the trade-offs between information content (the number of pages and bits per page), contrast (the number of measurements required per bit to overcome noise), and the number of atoms in the hologram—will involve further work.
Quantum holographic encoding in a two-dimensional electron gas, Christopher R. Moon, Laila S. Mattos, Brian K. Foster, Gabriel Zeltzer & Hari C. Manoharan

The team is not the first to design or print small letters, as attempts have been made since as early as 1960. In December 1959, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who delivered his now-legendary lecture entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” promised new opportunities for those who “thought small.”

Feynman was an American physicist known for the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as work in particle physics (he proposed the parton model).

Nanotechnology – Energy transfer diagrammed from nano-thin layers of Sandia-grown quantum wells to the LANL nanocrystals (a.k.a. quantum dots) above the nanolayers.
Image: Marc Achermann.

Feynman offered two challenges at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, held that year in Caltech, offering a $1000 prize to the first person to solve each of them. Both challenges involved nanotechnology, and the first prize was won by William McLellan, who solved the first. The first problem required someone to build a working electric motor that would fit inside a cube 1/64 inches on each side. McLellan achieved this feat by November 1960 with his 250-microgram 2000-rpm motor consisting of 13 separate parts.

In 1985, the prize for the second challenge was claimed by Stanford Tom Newman, who, working with electrical engineering professor Fabian Pease, used electron lithography. He wrote or engraved the first page of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, at the required scale, on the head of a pin, with a beam of electrons. The main problem he had before he could claim the prize was finding the text after he had written it; the head of the pin was a huge empty space compared with the text inscribed on it. Such small print could only be read with an electron microscope.

In 1989, however, Stanford lost its record, when Donald Eigler and Erhard Schweizer, scientists at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose were the first to position or manipulate 35 individual atoms of xenon one at a time to form the letters I, B and M using a STM. The atoms were pushed on the surface of the nickel to create letters 5nm tall.

In 1991, Japanese researchers managed to chisel 1.5 nm-tall characters onto a molybdenum disulphide crystal, using the same STM method. Hitachi, at that time, set the record for the smallest microscopic calligraphy ever designed. The Stanford effort failed to surpass the feat, but it, however, introduced a novel technique. Having equaled Hitachi’s record, the Stanford team went a step further. They used a holographic variation on the IBM technique, for instead of fixing the letters onto a support, the new method created them holographically.

In the scientific breakthrough, the Stanford team has now claimed they have written the smallest letters ever – assembled from subatomic-sized bits as small as 0.3 nanometers, or roughly one third of a billionth of a meter. The new super-mini letters created are 40 times smaller than the original effort and more than four times smaller than the IBM initials, states the paper Quantum holographic encoding in a two-dimensional electron gas, published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The new sub-atomic size letters are around a third of the size of the atomic ones created by Eigler and Schweizer at IBM.

Experiments with Crookes tube first demonstrated the particle nature of electrons. In this illustration, the profile of the cross-shaped target is projected against the tube face at right by a beam of electrons.

A subatomic particle is an elementary or composite particle smaller than an atom. Particle physics and nuclear physics are concerned with the study of these particles, their interactions, and non-atomic matter. Subatomic particles include the atomic constituents electrons, protons, and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are composite particles, consisting of quarks.

“Everyone can look around and see the growing amount of information we deal with on a daily basis. All that knowledge is out there. For society to move forward, we need a better way to process it, and store it more densely,” Manoharan said. “Although these projections are stable — they’ll last as long as none of the carbon dioxide molecules move — this technique is unlikely to revolutionize storage, as it’s currently a bit too challenging to determine and create the appropriate pattern of molecules to create a desired hologram,” the authors cautioned. Nevertheless, they suggest that “the practical limits of both the technique and the data density it enables merit further research.”

In 2000, it was Hari Manoharan, Christopher Lutz and Donald Eigler who first experimentally observed quantum mirage at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. In physics, a quantum mirage is a peculiar result in quantum chaos. Their study in a paper published in Nature, states they demonstrated that the Kondo resonance signature of a magnetic adatom located at one focus of an elliptically shaped quantum corral could be projected to, and made large at the other focus of the corral.



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Wikipedia Learn more about Nanotechnology, Electron beam lithography and Stanford University on Wikipedia.
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January 31, 2009

Discworld author films his battle with Alzheimer\’s

Discworld author films his battle with Alzheimer’s

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

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Terry Pratchett in 2005
Image: Jutta.

The Discworld author Sir Terry Pratchett is to appear in a BBC documentary covering a year of his struggle with the brain disorder Alzheimer’s disease.

Pratchett, 60, asked the BBC to spend a year documenting any decline in his condition and seeing him experiment with various supposed cures. One alleged cure involved firing infrared light at his brain via a helmet invented by a general practitioner doctor. Pratchett also examines the serious research into dementia and its cure.

The author has donated £500,000 to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and his campaigning has raised another £200,000. Pratchett has posterior cortical atrophy, a rare form of the disease which affects vision, causes him to forget words and makes dressing confusing. He has written 36 Discworld novels amongst other works and was knighted in the 2009 New Years Honours.

Posterior cortical atrophy is also known as Benson’s syndrome. It is the progressive shrinking of the back of the brain. It is a form of Alzheimer’s disease, and the wider disease affects some 26.6 million people worldwide.

The documentary – Terry Pratchett: Living with Alzheimer’s – will air on BBC Two on February 4 at 21:00.



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Discworld author films his battle with Alzheimer’s

Saturday, January 31, 2009

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Terry Pratchett in 2005
Image: Jutta.

The Discworld author Sir Terry Pratchett is to appear in a BBC documentary covering a year of his struggle with the brain disorder Alzheimer’s disease.

Pratchett, 60, asked the BBC to spend a year documenting any decline in his condition and seeing him experiment with various supposed cures. One cure involved firing infrared light at his brain via a helmet invented by a general practitioner doctor. Pratchett also examines the serious research into dementia and its cure.

The author has donated £500,000 to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and his campaigning has raised another £200,000. Pratchett has posterior cortical atrophy, a rare form of the disease which affects vision, causes him to forget words and makes dressing confusing. He has written 36 Discworld novels amongst other works and was knighted in the 2009 New Years Honours.

Posterior cortical atrophy is also know as Benson’s syndrome. It is the progressive shrinking of the back of the brain. It is a form of Alzheimer’s disease, and the wider disease effects some 26.6 million people worldwide.

The documentary – Terry Pratchett: Living with Alzheimer’s – will air on BBC Two on February 4 at 2100.


Sources

  • Anita Singh “Sir Terry Pratchett documents Alzheimer’s battle in BBC film”. The Daily Telegraph, January 31, 2009
  • “Sir Terry films Alzheimer’s battle”. The Press Association, January 30, 2009
  • Andrew Billen “Discworld author Terry Pratchett on Alzheimer’s and his best work”. The Times, January 30, 2009
This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

Discworld author films his battle with Alzheimer’s

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Health
Related stories

Health
More information on Health at Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Terry Pratchett in 2005
Image: Jutta.

The Discworld author Sir Terry Pratchett is to appear in a BBC documentary covering a year of his struggle with the brain disorder Alzheimer’s disease.

Pratchett, 60, asked the BBC to spend a year documenting any decline in his condition and seeing him experiment with various supposed cures. One alleged cure involved firing infrared light at his brain via a helmet invented by a general practitioner doctor. Pratchett also examines the serious research into dementia and its cure.

The author has donated £500,000 to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and his campaigning has raised another £200,000. Pratchett has posterior cortical atrophy, a rare form of the disease which affects vision, causes him to forget words and makes dressing confusing. He has written 36 Discworld novels amongst other works and was knighted in the 2009 New Years Honours.

Posterior cortical atrophy is also known as Benson’s syndrome. It is the progressive shrinking of the back of the brain. It is a form of Alzheimer’s disease, and the wider disease affects some 26.6 million people worldwide.

The documentary – Terry Pratchett: Living with Alzheimer’s – will air on BBC Two on February 4 at 21:00.


Sources

  • Anita Singh “Sir Terry Pratchett documents Alzheimer’s battle in BBC film”. The Daily Telegraph, January 31, 2009
  • “Sir Terry films Alzheimer’s battle”. The Press Association, January 30, 2009
  • Andrew Billen “Discworld author Terry Pratchett on Alzheimer’s and his best work”. The Times, January 30, 2009


This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

Brain chemical Serotonin behind locusts’ swarming instinct

Brain chemical Serotonin behind locusts’ swarming instinct

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

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Desert Locust, (Schistocerca gregaria) Cyrtacanthacridinae, Acrididae
Image: NASA.

The usually inhibited desert locust Schistocerca gregaria, which wiles away the months as a solitary, insignificant grasshopper can shift into horrifying swarms due to a chemical commonly found in people’s brain, a research showed.

The solitary and gregarious phases of locusts are so different that they were considered distinct species until 1921. Scientists have known for several years that touching a solitary desert locust on the hind legs, or allowing it to see or smell other locusts, is enough to transform it into the gregarious phase. This week, Science magazine published strong scientific evidence that the behavioural and physical makeover is effected by serotonin, a carrier of nerve signals in virtually all animals.

Researchers from the University of Sydney, University of Oxford, and University of Cambridge have pinpointed a single neurochemical – serotonin – as the cause of an instinctive behavioural change from the locusts’ solitarious phase to become gregarious and form disastrous swarms of millions.

Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT) is a monoamine neurotransmitter synthesized in serotonergic neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) and enterochromaffin cells in the gastrointestinal tract of animals including humans. Serotonin is also found in many mushrooms and plants, including fruits and vegetables.

In the central nervous system, serotonin plays an important role as a neurotransmitter in the modulation of anger, aggression, body temperature, mood, sleep, human sexuality, appetite, metabolism, as well as stimulating vomiting. Keeping serotonin levels high is the aim of many anti-depressant drugs. “Serotonin profoundly influences how we humans behave and interact,” said co-author Dr Swidbert Ott, from Cambridge University. “So to find that the same chemical is what causes a normally shy, antisocial insect to gang up in huge groups is amazing,” he explained.

Prior to swarming, the locusts undergo a series of physical changes – their body colour darkens and their muscles grow stronger. The ‘Phase change’ is at the heart of the locust pest problem, for locusts are one of the world’s most destructive insect pests, affecting the livelihoods of 1 in 10 people on the planet. “To effectively control locust swarms, we must first understand exactly how it is that a single shy locust becomes a highly social animal that swarms,” said University of Sydney Professor Steve Simpson who led the research for almost 20 years.

The ‘phase change’ was caused by stimulation of sensory hairs on the hind leg of locusts. Professor Simpson’s team began to investigate the neurological and neurochemical basis of this effect. Dr Michael L. Anstey, of the University of Oxford, supervised by Professor Simpson, and Dr Stephen M. Rogers, part of Professor Malcolm Burrows’ team at Cambridge, led the research investigating this novel field. “Here we have a solitary and lonely creature, the desert locust. But just give them a little serotonin, and they go and join a gang,” said Malcolm Burrows.

Locust from the 1915 Locust Plague
Image: G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

Of 13 neurochemicals in locusts that were gregarious (swarming form) and solitarious (non-swarming), the only neurochemical that showed a relationship with social behaviour was serotonin. “It was clear that as locusts switched from solitarious to gregarious, the amount of serotonin in their central nervous systems also increased,” explained Professor Simpson. “The next step was to determine if this relationship actually meant that serotonin was the cause of gregarious, and thus swarming, behaviour in locusts,” he added.

To do this, the researchers either added serotonin or prevented the production of serotonin in locusts. The results show unequivocally that serotonin is responsible for the behavioural transformation of locusts from solitarious to gregarious. Serotonin was also found to be involved in social behaviour of species across the animal kingdom, including crustaceans, rats, and humans.

The team has found that swarm-mode locusts had approximately three times more serotonin in their thoracic ganglia, part of the central nervous system, than their calm, solitary peers. “The question of how locusts transform their behaviour in this way has puzzled scientists for almost 90 years,” said co-author Dr Michael L. Anstey, from Oxford University. “We knew the [physical] stimuli that cause locusts’ amazing Jekyll and Hyde-style transformation. But nobody had been able to identify the changes in the nervous system that turn antisocial locusts into monstrous swarms. Now we finally have the evidence to provide an answer,” he added.

“The fact that serotonin causes the transition from a shy, antisocial animal into a party animal means that pharmacologically, gregarious locusts are on Ecstasy or Prozac,” said Professor Simpson, who also explained that “(whilst a very good idea, in reality) it would be difficult to create a locust control agent that interferes with serotonin.”

Professor Simpson’s team has significantly discovered that “locusts offer an exemplar of the how to span molecules to ecosystems – one of the greatest challenges in modern science.” He also offered an explanation on the problem of using a locust control agent: “Because social behaviour in so many animals depends on serotonin, if we used unspecific serotonin antagonists in the environment, we run the risk of affecting other processes in locusts, as well as severely impacting animals other than locusts. We would need to be sure that locusts have a unique serotonin receptor that causes phase change, which we haven’t identified yet. Any locust control agent would have to be specific for this serotonin receptor in locusts.”

Cquote1.svg We knew the [physical] stimuli that cause locusts’ amazing Jekyll and Hyde-style transformation. But nobody had been able to identify the changes in the nervous system that turn antisocial locusts into monstrous swarms. Now we finally have the evidence to provide an answer. Cquote2.svg

—–Dr Michael L. Anstey, Oxford University

This study, which was sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of England, England’s Royal Society, the Australian Research Council Federation, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The scientists that the conclusions of the study will provide a hint as to how to solve the problem of locust infestations, which affect China, Africa, and Australia. Dr. Rogers said the landmark discovery has opened a new area of study into ways of blocking specific serotonin receptors, “something that would allow us to break apart these swarms before they develop.”

Charles Valentine Riley, Norman Criddle, and Sir Boris Petrovich Uvarov were also involved in the understanding and destructive control of the locust. Research at Oxford University has earlier identified that swarming behaviour is a response to overcrowding. Increased tactile stimulation of the hind legs causes an increase in levels of serotonin.

This causes the locust to change color, eat much more, and breed much more easily. Green locusts turn bright yellow and gain large muscles. The transformation of the locust to the swarming variety is induced by several contacts per minute over a four-hour period. It is estimated that the largest swarms have covered hundreds of square miles and consisted of many billions of locusts.

Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT), a neurotransmitter that moderates mood
Image: Ben Mills.

“Locust” is the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. The origin and apparent extinction of certain species of locust—some of which reached 6 inches (15 cm) in length—are unclear. These are species that can breed rapidly under suitable conditions and subsequently become gregarious and migratory. They form bands as nymphs and swarms as adults — both of which can travel great distances, rapidly stripping fields and greatly damaging crops. Though there are about 8,000 currently known species of grasshoppers, only 12 form locust swarms.

In the history of the insect Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is probably the most important because of its wide distribution (North Africa, Middle East, and Indian subcontinent) and its ability to migrate widely. Adult Desert Locusts grow to between 2-2.5 inches in length, can weigh 0.05-0.07 oz, and are excellent fliers. In religious mythology, the eighth Plague of Egypt in the Bible and Torah, a swarm of locusts ate all the crops of Egypt. “The gregarious phase is a strategy born of desperation and driven by hunger, and swarming is a response to find pastures new,” Steve Rogers from Cambridge University emphasises.

The extinction of the Rocky Mountain locust (Melanoplus spretus) in the late 19th century has been a source of puzzlement. Recent research suggests that the breeding grounds of this insect in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains came under sustained agricultural development during the large influx of gold miners, destroying the underground eggs of the locust. That species of locust had some of the largest recorded swarms.

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In the 1915 locust plague, which lasted from March to October 1915, locusts stripped areas in and around Palestine of almost all vegetation. This invasion of awesome proportions seriously compromised the already-depleted food supply of the region and sharpened the misery of all Jerusalemites. The plague resulted in several increases to the price of food. On April 25, 1915, the New York Times described the price increases: “Flour costs $15 a sack. Potatoes are six times the ordinary price. Sugar and petroleum are unprocurable and money has ceased to circulate.”

In the 2004 locust outbreak, the largest infestation of Desert Locust happened in Western and Northern Africa, affected a number of countries in the fertile northern regions of Africa. These infestations covered hundreds of square miles and involve billions of vegetation-munching insects, which repeatedly devastated agriculture, and cost huge amounts of money to control.

In November, a locusts swarm 3.7 miles (6km) long devastated parts of Australia. Along the process of their active phases, these insects can eat their own bodyweight daily, and can fly swiftly, in swarms of billions covering 60 miles in five to eight hours in search of food. Researchers are now considering the development of sprays that convert swarming locusts back into solitary insects.

“We hope that this greater understanding of the mechanisms causing such a big change in behaviour will help in the control of this pest, and more broadly help in understanding the widespread changes in behavioural traits of animals.” Malcolm Burrows said. However, according to Paul Anthony Stevenson of Germany’s University of Leipzig, the discovery will not likely to a short-term pest control solution.

“To be effective, antiserotonin-like chemicals would need to be applied when the animals are solitary locusts and scarce targets in vast expanses of desert — about three locusts per 100 square meters (1,076 sq ft),” Stevenson explained. “Current serotonergic drugs are not designed for passing through the insect cuticle and sheath encasing the nervous system, nor are they insect-selective, hence their use is ecologically unjustifiable,” he added.

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Wikipedia Learn more about Serotonin and Locust on Wikipedia.
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January 6, 2009

Imperial College London geology students fined in China for “illegal map-making”

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Royal School of Mines (entrance and the Goldsmiths’ wing, Prince Consort Road, London) comprises Imperial College London‘s Earth Science, Engineering, and Materials departments.

Three British geology students of Imperial College London have been fined in China for “illegal map-making activities”, according to local media. The students were researching fault lines and making maps in Xinjiang, which is a tense Muslim province to the west of the country, and where anger against Chinese rule caused the 2008 deadly attacks.

The students were also gathering data in several regions, including Kashgar, the ancient Silk Road trading post, and an oasis city in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. The students also had been in the poor desert village of Keping, where local authorities in May burned the local mosque due to “unlawful religious activities.”

Panorama of downtown Korla, Xinjiang in the majestic Tian Shan mountain range. May 2007.

The students are studying at the Imperial College London, and had been researching fault lines in the remote western region of Xinjiang, where anger against Chinese rule caused the 2008 deadly attacks.

In the leadup to last year’s summer Olympics in Beijing, China cracked down on map-making and data-collecting across the country. Despite having permission from the Earthquake Administration in the country, the students were fined a combined 20,000 yuan (2,940 dollars) but did not receive additional punishments. “The data they gathered would have been valuable in analysing mineral and topographic features of the areas,” Xinjiang Daily said.

According to The Procuratorial Daily, the Xinjiang prosecutors’ office approved 1,295 arrests of individuals and indicted 1,154 suspects from January to November 2008. The indictment was based on the crime of suspicion of “endangering state security.” In 2007, however, only 742 were arrested, while 619 of them were indicted for the same offense.


Related news

Sources

Wikipedia
Learn more about Imperial College London and Xinjiang on Wikipedia.
  • “China fines British students for ‘illegal map-making'”. Yahoo, January 5, 2009
  • “China fines UK students for ‘illegal map-making’: state media”. Agence France-Presse, January 5, 2009
  • Edward Wong “Nearly 1,300 arrested in Muslim region of China”. International Herald Tribune, January 5, 2009
  • “Kashgar”. Silkroadcn.com, 2008
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