Saturday, 30 September 2017


10 Natural Things You Won’t Believe Actually Exist
By Carlos Arango,
Listverse, 30 September 2017.

When we think of bizarre natural phenomena that can’t possibly be real, we usually think of the extraordinary things we’ve found in space: a red square nebula, a glass storm, or the magic island on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

But we don’t have to travel that far to satisfy our curiosity. Our own world is full of fascinating natural things. Most of us have never seen or even imagined such wonders...until today. Here are 10 natural phenomena that you won’t believe actually exist.

10. Green Flash

Photo credit: Live Science

Let’s start our list with something we all know: the Sun. That yellow ball of gas that our planet orbits. The thing that gives us warmth during the day. You know it?

Well, the Sun is something that anybody with sight is familiar with - how it looks at sunset and sunrise. But if the conditions are just right, you might be able to see a magnificent and bizarre event: The sun can change color and turn a shade of green.

This phenomenon is easier to observe at sundown and lasts only a second or two. That’s why this event is usually referred to as a flash. The atmosphere works as a kind of prism, breaking the light from the Sun into separate colors.

So find a place with a nice view of the horizon and a full view of the Sun’s disk, wait for sunset, and keep your eyes peeled. Enjoy that brief flash, knowing that not many have seen it.

9. Never-Ending Wave

Photo credit:

The dream of any surfer is a wave that continues on and on without breaking. That actually happens in Brazil and is known as the Pororoca. The wave can travel 800 kilometers (500 mi) without slowing down, be around 3.7 meters (12 ft) high, and last for over half an hour.

This happens because the Atlantic Ocean tides meet the mouth of the Amazon River. The sound it produces can be heard 30 minutes in advance of its arrival. Since the wave contains debris from the river, which can be entire trees, it’s also the most dangerous wave to ride.

8. Blue Lava

Photo credit: National Geographic

One of the most destructive occurrences in our world is the explosion of a volcano. But in Indonesia, the Kawah Ijen crater on the island of Java appears to spout blue lava instead of the traditional yellow and orange tones we are all used to.

The most interesting part is the confusion this produces. The lava is not inherently blue. Instead, this event is produced by the combustion of a high concentration of sulfur in the area of the volcano. When sulfur ignites, it burns with a blue flame. So when the high concentration of sulfur comes in contact with the lava, the lava appears to turn blue.

In reality, it’s only the blue flames from the sulfur flowing down the mountain. That’s why this effect only appears at night.

7. The Stone-Turning Lake

Photo credit: Live Science

A serene lake, a fantastical view, and mummified animals - you know, your typical scenery. Joking aside, Lake Natron in Tanzania is a source of some of the most haunting images ever captured.

The lake has a high pH, making it caustic enough to burn the skin and eyes of unadapted animals. However, the lake has a nurturing ecosystem of animals that have adapted to life in this harsh environment.

Even so, whenever an animal is unlucky enough to die in the lake’s waters, its body undergoes a type of mummification. The lake became famous worldwide after photographer Nick Brandt captured truly haunting images of dead animals there. He found the dead creatures washed ashore and proceeded to pose each one as if it was still alive.

6. Flowering Desert


Deserts are known for three main things: scorching heat, minimal flora and fauna, and lack of water. But in the Atacama Desert, things are just merely waiting for the right opportunity. Where some will see a lack of possibilities, the desert proves to us that the right environment is necessary for greatness to flourish.

The flower bloom happens between September and November and only in years when rainfall is unusually high. It is known locally as desierto florido (“the flowering desert”).

The event happens every five to seven years. But changes in the climate, extended storms around the globe, and historic rainfall have recently produced a bloom only two years after the last one.

5. White Rainbows

Photo credit:

Rainbows are one of the most common and beautiful things you can see. Water works as a prism to break the light into the visible spectrum of colors. But every so often, there is a special type of effect that happens when conditions are ideal.

A colorless rainbow occurs in the same fashion as other rainbows, with sunlight passing through water droplets. But in this case, it happens when fog is forming. The droplets in the fog are much smaller. As a result, most color is lost while passing through them.

There is color in these rare rainbows. But it is in such a weak form that our eyes have trouble perceiving it.

4. Rainbow Trees

Photo credit: amelia

Do you like rainbows? How about trees? Ever wondered what the combination of the two would look like?

Well, here we have Eucalyptus deglupta, commonly known as the rainbow eucalyptus. Native to the Philippines and other tropical areas, it can grow up to 76 meters (250 ft).

Most of the year, the tree has a smooth orange bark. But in summer, the tree loses this husk to reveal a multicolored bark which gives it the name of “rainbow.” Streaks of green, red, orange, gray, and even purple cover the bark.

3. Hair Ice

Photo credit: Live Science

If you live in a place where snow falls, then you are probably familiar with any kind of ice you can imagine. But we guarantee that you have never seen this type of ice.

It is commonly known as hair ice. It grows only on humid winter nights and usually melts in the day. Ice crystals form on rotten wood that has a presence of mycelium, which are the roots of a fungus that lives on rotting wood.

The fungus makes the ice crystals grow in a hair-like fashion. It is incredibly hard to spot because any snow around this beautiful type of ice will camouflage it. So next time you are taking a stroll through winter woods, keep your eyes peeled and check the forest floor. You might find this beautiful treat.

2. Frost Flowers

Photo credit: Live Science

Similar to hair ice, these formations are beautiful to observe and equally rare. The main difference is how and where they form. Frost flowers mainly form over water or humid surfaces.

When the cold humid air above a water surface becomes saturated, frost starts to form on any imperfections on the water surface. These imperfections are the rooting for these “flowers,” and the moisture from the air helps them rise.

1. Living Rocks

Photo credit: Scientific American

Rocks can be found everywhere. If you look inside your shoes after walking on a trail, chances are you are carrying some with you. They are dry, rough, and hard. But sometimes, you can find one that bleeds.

Introducing Pyura chilensis, also known in Spanish as piure, this “rock” is actually a saclike marine invertebrate filter feeder (aka sea squirt). These filter feeders have a characteristically blood red hue to their insides which gave them their nickname of “bleeding rocks.” Locally, they are eaten raw like an oyster or cooked with salad and rice.

Top image: The blue sulfur flames in the Ijen Caldera, Indonesia. Credit: Seshadri.K.S/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]


7 Ways to Prove the Earth Is Round (Without Launching a Satellite)
By Stephanie Pappas,
Live Science, 28 September 2017.

Rapper B.o.B wants to crowdfund his own satellite and launch it into space to find out, once and for all, whether the Earth is flat or round. As a flat-Earth conspiracy theorist, the Georgia-based musician is betting on flat, but his US$1 million call for cash on GoFundMe has raised only about US$2,000 in its first five days, the first US$1,000 pledged by B.o.B himself.

Fortunately, there are plenty of cheaper ways than a satellite launch to show that the Earth is round. In the spirit of scientific inquiry, here are seven.

1. Go to the harbor

Photo credit: nikolabelopitov/Pixabay

When a ship sails off toward the horizon, it doesn't just get smaller and smaller until it's not visible anymore. Instead, the hull seems to sink below the horizon first, then the mast. When ships return from sea, the sequence is reversed: First the mast, then the hull, seem to rise over the horizon.

The ship-and-horizon observation is so self-evident that 1881's "Zetetic Astronomy," the first modern flat-Earth text, devotes a chapter to "debunking" it. The explanation relies on assuming that the sequential disappearance is simply an illusion brought on by perspective. This debunking does not make much sense, however, as there's nothing about perspective (which just says that things are smaller over longer distances) that should make the bottom of an object disappear before the top. If you'd like to prove to yourself that perspective isn't the reason for boats disappearing hull-first and returning mast-first, bring a telescope or binoculars on your trip to the harbor. Even with vision enhancement, the ship will still dip below the curve of the Earth.

2. Look at the stars

Photo credit: Starry Night Software via

Greek philosopher Aristotle figured out this one in 350 B.C., and nothing's changed. Different constellations are visible from different latitudes. Probably the two most striking examples are the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross. The Big Dipper, a set of seven stars that looks like a ladle, is always visible at latitudes of 41 degrees North or higher. Below 25 degrees South, you can't see it at all. And in northern Australia, just north of that latitude, the Big Dipper just barely squeaks above the horizon.

Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, there's the Southern Cross, a bright four-star arrangement. That constellation isn't visible until you travel as far south as the Florida Keys in the Northern Hemisphere.

These different stellar views make sense if you imagine the Earth as a globe, so that looking "up" really means looking toward a different sliver of space from the Southern or Northern hemisphere.

3. Watch an eclipse

Photo credit: yangkeshuang/Pixabay

Aristotle also bolstered his belief in a round Earth with the observation that during lunar eclipses, the Earth's shadow on the face of the sun is curved. Since this curved shape exists during all lunar eclipses, despite the fact that Earth is rotating, Aristotle correctly intuited from this curved shadow that the Earth is curvy all around - in other words, a sphere.

For that matter, solar eclipses also tend to bolster the idea that the planets, moons and stars are a bunch of roundish objects orbiting each other. If the Earth is a disk and the stars and planets a bunch of small, nearby objects hovering in a dome above the surface, as many flat-Earthers believe, the total solar eclipse that crossed North America in August 2017 becomes very difficult to explain.

4. Go climb a tree

Photo credit: JerzyGorecki/Pixabay

This is another one of those self-evident things: You can see farther if you go higher. If the Earth was flat, you'd be able to see the same distance no matter your elevation. Think about it: Your eye can detect a bright object, like the Andromeda galaxy, from 2.6 million light-years away. Seeing the lights of, say, Miami from New York City (a distance of a mere 1,094 miles or 1,760 kilometers) on a clear evening should be child's play.

But it's not. That's because the curvature of the Earth limits our sight to about 3.1 miles (5 kilometers)…unless you climb up a tall tree, building or mountain and get yourself a perspective from higher up.

5. Take a round-the-world flight

Photo credit: Elliott Brown/Flickr

This one should cost you considerably less than US$1 million, though you will have to drop a few thousand dollars. Anyone can circumnavigate the globe nowadays; there are even travel firms, like AirTreks, that specialize in multi-stop, round-the-world routes. You won't have to retrace your steps to land where you started.

If you get lucky enough to get an unobscured view of the horizon and a high enough commercial flight, you might even be able to make out the curvature of the Earth with the naked eye. According to a 2008 paper in the journal Applied Optics, the Earth's curve becomes subtly visible at an altitude of around 35,000 feet, as long as the observer has at least a 60 degree field of view (which may be difficult from a passenger plane window). The curvature becomes more readily apparent above 50,000 feet; passengers on the now-grounded supersonic Concorde jet were often treated to a view of the curved horizon while flying at 60,000 feet.

6. Get a weather balloon


In January 2017, University of Leicester students strapped some cameras to a weather balloon and sent it skyward. The balloon rose 77,429 feet (23.6 kilometers) above the surface, well above the level needed to view the planet's curves. The instrument aboard the balloon sent back stunning footage that shows the curve of the horizon.

As long as your balloon has a payload of less than four pounds, there are hardly any restrictions on launching it. Just call the Federal Aviation Administration ahead of time to make sure you're not headed into restricted airspace.

7. Compare shadows

Photo credit: StockSnap/Pixabay

The first person to estimate the circumference of the Earth was a Greek mathematician named Eratosthenes, who was born in 276 B.C. He did so by comparing shadows case on the day of the summer solstice in what is today Aswan, Egypt, with the more northerly city of Alexandria. At noon, when the sun was directly overhead in Aswan, there were no shadows. In Alexandria, a stick set in the ground cast a shadow. Eratosthenes realized that if he knew the angle of the shadow and the distance between the cities, he could calculate the circumference of the globe.

On a flat Earth, there wouldn't have been any difference between the length of the shadows at all. The sun's position would be the same, relative to the ground. Only a globe-shaped planet explains why the sun's position should be different in two cities a few hundred miles apart.

Top image: Earth, the Blue Marble. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Live Science. Edited. Some images and links added.]

Friday, 29 September 2017


There are hundreds of millions of allergy sufferers worldwide. Allergy is characterized by an overreaction of the human immune system to a foreign protein substance ("allergen") that is eaten, breathed into the lungs, injected or touched. People who have allergies often are sensitive to more than one thing. Learn more from the following infographic by Rabbit Air.

[Source: Rabbit Air.]

Thursday, 28 September 2017


Applying color psychology is one of the most powerful methods to appeal to customers' attention, trigger their purchase behavior and ultimately drive more sales. Realizing how important colors are in every visual presentation of your business can help you increase conversion rates. Learn more about the power of colors and their use in brand marketing from the following infographic by Skilled.

[Post Source: Skilled.]


These Viruses Are Actually Making the World a Better Place
By Jenn Dandy,
Toptenz, 27 September 2017.

Viruses are a particularly fearsome “germ.” Though viral infections may resemble bacterial infections, antibiotics are useless against viruses. There are very few dedicated antivirals to kill them off. But who even knows if “kill” is right word to use for something that stretches the definition of ‘alive’? Viruses: they’re like microscopically tiny zombie-robots, hijacking cells and turning them into factories for themselves. But humanity can exploit viruses’ supremely odd workings and sneaky ways for their own purposes.

10. Blue Eggs

If you’ve ever wanted to find some green eggs for some Dr. Seuss-style green eggs and ham, you’re in luck. Thanks to a virus, you don’t even need the eggs of some exotic wild bird.

Most chicken eggs are white or brown, but a few chickens lay eggs that are green or blue. These breeds include the Chilean Mapuche breed, its descendant breed, the Araucana, and the Chinese Dongxiang and Lushi breeds.

Two things are responsible for the colorful eggs: viral infections and blood. Long ago, a Mapuche fowl was infected by a retrovirus, a virus which can insert its genetic code into the host’s. The retrovirus’s effect was to trigger the build-up of biliverdin in the eggshell, a breakdown product from a part of hemoglobin that can cause a greenish tint to bruises.

The Dongxiang and Lushi breeds developed their colorful eggs independently, but from the same viral cause. According to historical evidence, the Dongxiang breed has had the bluish-greenish egg mutation since at least 500 years ago, and the Mapuche fowl since between 200 and 500 years ago. The trait is autosomal dominant, so chickens need only one parent with the mutation to lay the colorful eggs. However, those who have both copies of the gene variant lay darker-colored eggs.

9. Tulip-breaking virus


For the beauty of a virus-infected egg, one only has to pay a little more than usual. But for a beautiful virus-infected tulip in the Netherlands of the 17th century, one had to pay a lot more.

Back then, some tulips mysteriously had beautiful streaking and feathering patterns. These are were called “broken” tulips. They were so expensive, they could leave their owners “broke” too, as well as the whole Dutch economy.

In 1623, some bulbs were sold for 1,000 florins, when the average annual income was 150 florins. Due to their high price, it cost less for some citizens to get still-life paintings of “broken” tulips than the tulips themselves.

Their beauty was short-lived, as the broken tulips’ bulbs shrank over successive generations. Eventually, it could no longer flower, and soon died. No one knew what caused tulips to “break”. People turned to all sorts of odd things, such as pigeon dung, to try to reproduce the pattern.

It was later discovered a virus called a potyvirus made the tulips “break”. The infection spread through aphids or by contact with an infected tulip.The virus worked by affecting the distribution of the pigment anthocyanin.

Today, such tulips are still costly, but for the damage potyvirus poses to gardens rather than their beauty. Potyvirus-infected tulips, once so valuable, are now carefully weeded out of gardens. Now there are specially-bred tulips that mimic the patterns of a “broken” tulip, without the virus.

8. Electricity-Making Virus

The computer viruses were named after their biological counterparts. Now, biological viruses lead back to electronics.

Some solids build electric charges when compressed. This is called the piezoelectric effect, and it’s most well-known in quartz watches. The piezoelectric effect has several applications, but materials used to make piezoelectric devices are toxic and difficult to work with. This limits the widespread use of the piezoelectric effect.

Berkeley Lab scientists could change that with a virus. They used the M13 phage virus, which targets bacteria and is harmless to humans. It useful for several reasons: it multiplies itself by the millions, naturally arranges itself into orderly films like chopsticks in a box, and is easy to genetically engineer. The ease in genetically engineering it helps scientists boost its voltage, and its self-arrangement helps with the goal of self-assembly in nanotechnology.

The Berkeley Lab scientists tested their approach by making a generator. The generator works by tapping a finger on a stamp-sized electrode patch coated with viruses. The viruses then turn the force of the tap into electricity, producing enough current to operate a liquid-crystal display (LCD).

With this technology, future devices could be charged from the vibrations of everyday tasks, such as climbing stairs or shutting doors.

7. Battery Virus

Some computer and smartphone owners worry about viruses that can overclock their devices’ batteries and leave them with a useless metal brick. But biological viruses could do the opposite: make batteries better.

In 2006, scientists at the University of Massachusetts (MIT) used a virus called M13 to make part of a battery. This part, the anode, is part of a pair of poles in the battery with opposite electrical charges. In 2009, the scientists completed the tricker task of making the anode’s counterpart, the cathode.

To make it work, the scientists had to tweak two of the virus’s genes. The first gene made proteins in the virus’s coat. The modifications allowed bits of iron phosphate to stick to it and bulge “like tiny fists all along the length of the virus,” in the words of study co-author Angela M. Belcher. The second gene let carbon nanotubes attach, forming a network of millions of electricity-conducting viruses.

To make similar technologies, extremely high temperatures of about 660 degrees Fahrenheit (350 degrees Celsius) were needed. However, the researchers could turn M13 into a battery-making tool at or below room temperature.

According to Belcher, a third of an ounce (10 grams) of the virus battery could power an iPod for 40 hours. However, she believes it is more suitable for large, high-power things like electric cars.

In 2013, progress was made on that goal. With viruses, lithium-air batteries of electric cars could be greatly improved. The M13 virus was used to make manganese-oxide nanowires for lithium-air batteries. Unlike typically-made nanowires of the metal, the virus-made wires had a rough, spiky surface, which greatly increased the wires’ surface area. The increase in surface area could be a big advantage in the batteries’ charging rate. The process has other benefits, too, such as increased electrode stability and less need for expensive metals like palladium for the batteries.

6. Cancer-Fighting Viruses

Herpes and cancer: two diseases people really don’t want to talk about. But using herpes to fight cancer is definitely worth discussing.

Imlygic is a new anti-cancer drug. On average, it extends melanoma patients’ lives by less than four and a half months. This is barely statistically significant, but Imlygic is special: it’s made using a virus. To be specific, it is a live, infectious, modified version of HSV-1, the herpesvirus variety that’s the usual cause of cold sores.

Though Imlygic is not especially effective by itself, its flu-like side effects are mild compared to chemotherapy. When cells turn cancerous, their virus-fighting machinery breaks down. Herpesvirus prefers to attack cancer cells. When it attacks, the debris of burst-open cells alerts the immune system, and the immune system then targets the cancer cells.However, it is unclear whether the immune system targets all the cancer cells of the body, or only those infected by the virus.

Though Imylgic is the first to get approval in the US as a cancer treatment, it is not the only one in development. Tumor-killing viruses are a popular topic among scientists, and the idea has been around for decades. More virus-based cancer treatments may join Imlygic in the future.

5. Orange Virus Vaccine


It’s tradition to treat colds (which are caused by a virus) with orange juice. But, using viruses, the orange trees themselves can fight off bugs spread by bugs.

Citrus greening (or huanglongbing, to use the Chinese name) is a deadly disease for citrus trees. It is caused by the bacterium C. liberibacter, which is spread by sap-sucking insects.

Before citrus greening came around, the most devastating orange virus was the citrus tristeza virus. (or CTV) The virus was named after tristeza, a Portuguese word meaning “sadness”, for the sadness that came from the virus’s arrival.

Now these two major citrus pests will be pitted against each other, with the fate of the USA’s orange juice hanging in the balance.

Bill Dawson, a plant pathologist from the University of Florida, modified a local strain of CTV. With this, anyone could insert new bits of DNA into the virus’s genome and make it a protein factory. One of the world’s largest orange juice manufacturers, Southern Gardens Citrus, licensed the viral vector from Dawson’s lab. With the virus as a needle, all Southern Gardens needed was something to inject. The company chose genes from spinach, which coded for antibacterial proteins called defensins.

Southern Gardens plans on infecting trees with a harmless strain of CTV. Branches from CTV-infected trees would then be grafted onto other trees to spread the virus. As the virus copies itself, it becomes a spinach defensin factory, and the defensins destroy C. liberibacter.

Since the biology of the tree is not modified, orange juice from these plants would not have to carry a genetically-modified label. This makes getting regulatory approval much easier, sidestepping the issue of distrust of genetically-modified plants.

4. Food Poisoning Protection


It’s terrible to hunch over a toilet, waiting to throw up, and idly wonder which of the things you ate was germ-filled. Intralytix, founded in 1998, has a plan to give germs a taste of their own medicine, so to speak: it uses viruses to infect (and kill) bacteria that cause food poisoning.

Each of its products has a mix of viruses that target the same bacteria species.The company’s first product, ListShield™, was approved in 2006. It is aimed at Listeria bacteria, which cause listeriosis, a kind of food poisoning with a death rate of about 20%.  ListShield™ is meant to be applied to ready-to-eat meats, such as deli meats and hot dogs. To kill off Listeria, ListShield™ is sprayed on meat and the drains, floors and other surfaces of a food processing plant.

Intralytix’s second product, EcoShield™, is for the O157:H7 strain of E.coli. EcoShield™ is sprayed on meat before it is ground into hamburger to killE. coli. In studies with government investigators, Sulakvelidze showed the product killed 95-100% of the E.coli strain within 5 minutes.

The two treatments are odorless, tasteless, invisible and non-corrosive. The concentration of phages in the liquid spray is 0.001%, making the product as harmless as water to anything but target bacteria.

Later, another company, Micreos BV, made its own phage treatments, Listex™ (P100) and Salmonelex™. Listex™ (P100) targets a Listeria species, while Salmonelex™ targets Salmonella.

3. Antibiotic Viruses

Bacteriophages (or “phages”) are the natural enemy of bacteria. They copy themselves inside bacteria, and the bacteria eventually burst open with viruses.

In the 1920s and 1930s, doctors treated a variety of infections with phages. However, phage therapy had some problems. Scientists at the time did not know phages had to matched precisely with bacteria targets to work, which made phage treatments unreliable. In addition, people sometimes became sick from the treatments because they were not purified properly.

After World War II, antibiotics were mass-produced. They were more reliable than phages, so interest in phages declined. Though phages were mostly forgotten in the United States, they weren’t forgotten in the Soviet Union. Due to the Iron Curtain blocking access to some of the best antibiotics of the West, the Soviets made do with phages and made phage therapy more effective. In the modern day, phage therapy administered in several forms, such as tablets, liquids, and injections, and remains a standard treatment in Poland, Georgia and Russia.

Unlike antibiotics, phages are very precise and leave the “good” bacteria of the body alone. With the rise of antibiotic resistance, phages might make a comeback in the English-speaking world.

2. Viruses killing other viruses


Ever heard the expression “fighting fire with fire”? Well, in this case it works, if by “fire” one means HIV.

In 2011, scientists at the University of California-San Diego and UCLA made a harmless version of HIV that relies on HIV to reproduce. This virus was called a therapeutic interfering particle, or TIP. By slowing the replication of the HIV virus, TIPs might give someone five to ten extra years before AIDS sets in.

The TIP’s genetic code was stripped to one-third of its original size, and it lacks important pieces needed to copy itself. The TIP can only copy itself by sneaking into HIV’s genetic code and copying when it does. TIPs also contain HIV-inhibiting sequences and compete for the same proteins as HIV. Leor Weinberger, the leader of the team that made TIPs, likens it to a “virus of a virus.”

According to Weinberger, TIPs could help with HIV “superspreaders.” These people, such as drug users, are responsible for a disproportionately large amount of HIV infection.

In 2016, scientists orchestrated another virus-on-virus match, this time between reovirus and hepatitis C. During childhood, reovirus can cause colds, but by adulthood most have been exposed to it and are immune. It’s like an early-game enemy: inconvenient at first, but a piece of cake once one’s gotten stronger.

In comparison, hepatitis C is like a final boss, one some find unbeatable. Hepatitis C is a common cause of liver cancer, and cancers originating from the liver is the third-highest cause of cancer deaths worldwide.

When this early-game enemy is pitted against the final boss…well, it’s the player (or rather the patient) who wins. When introduced to the body, reovirus stimulates a signal protein called an interferon, which activates a kind of white blood cell called a Natural Killer cell. In experiments on human cancer samples and mice, the Natural Killer cells then kill the tumor and cells infected with hepatitis C. The reovirus therapy could also be used for other cancers associated with virus infections, like Epstein-Barr virus-associated lymphoma.

1. Humans Made by Viruses

In The Matrix, bad guy Agent Smith likens humanity to a virus, a disease of the planet. In real life, he’s right…to a degree.

More than 45 million years ago, a mammal was infected by a retrovirus. By turning their RNA-based code to DNA, retroviruses such as HIV can sneak their instructions into the host’s genome. Whenever the host’s cell copies itself, it also copies the virus. This ancient retrovirus happened to infect a germ line cell and so could be spread to the primate ancestor’s offspring.

17 years ago, in 2000, a team of Boston scientists discovered a strange gene in humans. This gene, called syncytin, coded for a protein made only by cells in the placenta.

The two events are related: syncytin comes from the virus.

While the virus used that gene to fuse with a host cell, a developing fetus uses the gene to fuse some placental cells into one single-celled layer. This layer is essential for the fetus to draw nutrients from its mother.

The syncytin protein comes in two varieties, the previously mentioned being syncytin 1. Reflecting its viral heritage, syncytin 2 tamps down the mother’s immune system and prevents the immune system from attacking the developing fetus.

HERV-K inserted itself as recently as 200,00 years ago, making it the newest of all retrovirus genes in humans. It activates important genes that help with embryo development, and its viral particles and proteins help protect very young embryos from infection by other viruses.

It is estimated that over 8% of human DNA came from viruses.

Top image: Virus. Credit: PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay.

[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]

Wednesday, 27 September 2017


Top 10 Sneaky, Secret Tricks Companies Use To Make Us Spend More
By Oscar Covarrubias,
Listverse, 27 September 2017.

Shopping is a battle between company and consumer. You want to spend less, the stores want you to spend more, and they usually get what they want.

That’s not all on you, though. Corporations have a whole bag of tricks up their sleeves to get you to drop more of your hard-earned cash than you planned. From the tiles on their floors to the font size they use to purposefully rude salespeople, here are the top ten sneaky, secret tricks they’re using without us even knowing it.

10. Decoy Pricing


Think of the last time you went to the movies. Maybe you bought some popcorn. We all know it’s overpriced, but did you ever wonder why the price gap between the small (say, $3) and the medium (say, $7) is bigger than the gap between the medium and the large ($8)? Well, it’s because people are more likely to buy the large, thinking they’re getting a bargain since it’s only a dollar more than the medium. This is called the decoy effect. Essentially, companies introduce a slightly cheaper “decoy” option to make it seem like the most expensive option is a bargain.

MIT professor Dan Ariely conducted a study which illustrates the power of the effect. Using his students as test subjects, he split them into two groups. Both groups were offered subscriptions to the magazine The Economist. Group A was offered a web subscription for $59 and a combined web and print subscription for $125. 68 percent of his students chose the cheaper web subscription.

He switched things up for Group B. He offered them a web subscription for $59, a print subscription for $125, and a combined web and print subscription also for $125. This time, 84 percent of his students chose the more expensive web and print subscription, thinking they were getting a great deal. By simply introducing a decoy option, sales increased by a whopping 30 percent!

So think about the decoy option next time you hear the cashier say, “Do you the large for just 50 cents more?”

9. Dropping The Dollar Sign


We’ve all seen those chic menus at hip restaurants that drop the dollar sign in front of prices. But that’s not just a stylistic choice. It’s meant to make you spend more.

According to researchers at Cornell University, diners spent roughly eight percent more at a restaurant when the menu did not include the dollar sign. Explaining the findings, Professor Sheryl E. Kimes noted, “References to dollars, in words or symbol, reminds people of the ‘pain of paying.’ ”

8. Using Small Tiles On The Floor


The recent increase in online shopping has sent traditional stores scrambling to maintain their profits. As a result, retailers have gotten...creative.

A recent study of over 4,000 shoppers by Professor Nico Heuvinck of the IESEG School of Management in France found that “closely spaced, horizontal lines on the floor slow the pace at which shoppers walk down an aisle, encouraging them to browse and buy more. Widen the gaps between the lines and shoppers move more quickly and spend less.”

He noted that retailers tend to use smaller tiles in aisles that housed more expensive products while using bigger tiles in areas where they try to minimize congestion, like the entrance.

Take a look next time you are in a store to see if there’s a difference in tile spacing.

7. ‘.99’ Pricing


Okay, no one seriously thinks that $4.99 is any different than $5.00, right? Wrong!

In a 2005 study by researchers from New York University, investigators found that ending prices in “.99,” had an incredible impact, which they call the “left-digit effect in price cognition.” “Nine-ending prices will be perceived to be smaller than a price one cent higher,” they wrote. They explain that, because we read from left to right, the first digit in a price resonates with us the most. Unconsciously, our brains perceive $2.99 to be closer to $2 than to $3. Additionally, they added, ending a price in “.99” makes us think that the item is on sale, even if it’s not.

The power of “.99” pricing was demonstrated in a groundbreaking study conducted by professors from the University of Chicago and MIT. Researchers took a piece of women’s clothing and assigned it different prices: $34, $39.99, and $44. Astonishingly, the garment was most popular at $39.99 even though it was six dollars more expensive than the cheapest option!

6. ’10 for $10′

Photo credit: Kroger

How many of us have seen a “10 for $10” sign at the supermarket and loaded up our cart? It’s safe to say that many of us have. But did you know that oftentimes, you did not have to buy ten items in order to get the deal?

In many cases, “10 for $10” is just another way of saying “1 for $1.” Still, many people end up buying much more product than they really need, according to William Poundstone, author of Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value and How to Take Advantage of It.

5. Rude Salespeople


You might think a friendly salesperson would mean more business for a company. But recent findings from researchers at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business say otherwise. According to researchers, the ruder the staff are at luxury stores, the better the profits.

Professor Darren Dahl, author of the study, noted, “It appears that snobbiness might actually be a qualification worth considering for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci. Our research indicates they can end up having a similar effect to an ‘in-group’ in high school that others aspire to join.” Essentially, people who shop at luxury stores like to fit in with the high-fashion crowd. These luxury shoppers think that the salesperson is being rude because they do not yet have the expensive item and that by buying it, they will become part of the exclusive club.

Notably, researchers found that this phenomenon was not observed among shoppers in mass-market department stores. “Our study shows you’ve got to be the right kind of snob in the right kind of store for the effect to work,” says Dahl.

4. ‘While Supplies Last’


We’ve all been at the supermarket and seen a great deal. The only downside is that there’s a per-customer limit: a gallon of milk for only $1.99, but only four per customer. But why is there a limit? It’s not because there’s a milk shortage. It’s because this is an effective trick for getting customers to buy more than they need.

This trick makes shoppers think there’s a big demand for the product, which is scarce. So they end up buying four gallons of milk when they would usually buy only one or two in order to avoid missing out.

The illusion of scarcity effect was demonstrated in a 1975 psychology study. In the experiment, researchers showed test subjects two identical cookie jars. One cookie jar had ten cookies; the other only had two. The test subjects rated the cookies in the nearly empty jar as more valuable, reasoning that they must be so because there are fewer of them.

Think about this next time you’re buying airline tickets and see a pop-up on the screen: “Only 11 seats left on this flight. Buy now!”

3. Using Small Fonts


Say you’re a store manager and want to promote a sale. Perhaps you are selling a certain sweater that usually retails at $50 for only $30. While you might be tempted to put the $30 sale price in big, bold letters, research says that the size of your sale price should actually be smaller than the regular price.

How come? The reason is that, unconsciously, our brains associate a smaller font with a lower price. Researchers call this “magnitude representation congruency.” A 2005 study by professors from Clark University and the University of Connecticut found that, compared to shoppers who see a sale price in large font, people who see the same sale price in a smaller font are more likely to buy the item.

2. Using Lots Of Adjectives


There are two types of menus at restaurants: ones that simply list the food and ones that describe it in detail. Think “steak taco” versus “authentic carne asada taco with fresh cilantro, onion, and lime, wrapped in a handmade corn tortilla, garnished with an avocado salsa.”

Restaurateurs aren’t writing these descriptions just so you know what you’re eating; they help their bottom line. According to research from Cornell University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, these types of menus raised sales by 27 percent, compared to those without descriptions.

Interestingly, one of the most effective ways to describe menu items and boost sales was to tell diners the brands of ingredients being used (e.g. Jack Daniels whiskey sauce rather than plain old whiskey sauce).

1. Staring At Your Kids


We all know kids love sugar. But there might be a more surreptitious reason your children are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. A 2014 study by researchers at Cornell University and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at 65 different cereals in ten different grocery stores. They examined their position on the store’s shelves and found that cereal marketed at children is placed on shelves just above children’s eye level.

But why not at eye level? Here comes the real kicker: They found that the “average angle of the gaze of cereal spokes-characters on cereal boxes marketed to kids is downward at 9.6 degrees,” giving kids the impression that their favorite cereal character is staring right at them.

The researchers followed up with a second study and determined that participants were 28 percent more likely to like a cereal if the character on the box made eye contact with them.

Top image credit: Dow/Pixabay.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]