Pneumatic octopus is first soft, solo robot
US engineers have built the first ever self-contained, completely soft robot - in the shape of a small octopus. Made from silicone gels of varying stiffness, the "octobot" is powered by a chemical reaction that pushes gas through chambers in its rubbery legs. Because of this design, the robot does not need batteries or wires - and contains no rigid components at all. Instead, a sequence of limb movements is pre-programmed into a sort of circuit board built from tiny pipes. These movements ar...Badgers may not spread TB to cattle through direct contact
Badgers may not transmit TB to cattle by direct contact, according to new research. A study suggests that cows contract the disease by coming into contact with infected faeces and urine in pasture. The scientists involved suggest that advice given to farmers to control the spread of the disease may need to be reassessed. The research has been published in Ecology Letters. Scientists have known for 40 years that badgers transmit TB to cattle and, more recently, probably vice versa. But no one...Rocks tell story of China's great flood
Geologists have found evidence for an ancient megaflood which they say is a good match for the mythical deluge at the dawn of China's first dynasty. The legend of Emperor Yu states that he tamed the flooded Yellow River by dredging and redirecting its channels, thereby laying the foundations for the Xia dynasty and Chinese civilisation. Previously, no scientific evidence had been found for a corresponding flood. But now a Chinese-led team has placed just such an event at about 1,900BC. Writi...Brain's thirst circuit 'monitors the mouth'
Scientists have glimpsed activity deep in the mouse brain which can explain why we get thirsty when we eat, and why cold water is more thirst-quenching. A specific "thirst circuit" was rapidly activated by food and quietened by cooling down the animals' mouths. The same brain cells were already known to stimulate drinking, for example when dehydration concentrates the blood. But the new findings describe a much faster response, which predicts the body's future demand for water. The researche...China's Jade Rabbit Moon rover says goodbye
China's Jade Rabbit has bid its final farewell and shut down after 31 months exploring the Moon, far outliving its expected lifespan. Jade Rabbit arrived on the Moon in December 2013 in the Chang'e-3 space mission, and has been exploring the surface in search of natural resources. It made China the third country to reach the Moon after Russia and the US. It has also been an active social media. Its final message said: "The Moon has prepared a long dream for me." The rover is named after Yutu...Slow-motion replays can distort criminal responsibility
Slow-motion video replays of crimes shown in courtrooms may be distorting the outcomes of trials, according to a US study. Researchers found that slowing down footage of violent acts caused viewers to see greater intent to harm than when viewed at normal speed. Viewing a killing only in slow motion made a jury three times more likely to convict of first degree murder. The research has been published in the journal PNAS. The importance of video evidence in courtrooms has grown in tandem ...Last woolly mammoths 'died of thirst'
One of the last known groups of woolly mammoths died out because of a lack of drinking water, scientists believe. The Ice Age beasts were living on a remote island off the coast of Alaska, and scientists have dated their demise to about 5,600 years ago. They believe that a warming climate caused lakes to become shallower, leaving the animals unable to quench their thirst. Most of the world's woolly mammoths had died out by about 10,500 years ago. Scientists believe that human hunting and env...English Bulldog health problems prompt cross-breeding call
Crossing the English Bulldog with another breed is the best way to ensure its survival, scientists have argued. Due to centuries of selective breeding for physical traits, the Bulldog has become so inbred it cannot be returned to health without an infusion of new bloodlines, a genetic study suggests. The US researchers say the Olde English Bulldogge, a related breed from America, is a viable candidate. The study appears in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. Study co-author Niels P...Increasing ocean acidity could impact fish spawning
A new study suggests that the increasing acidification of the oceans is likely to interfere with the ability of fish to reproduce. Researchers found that elevated levels of CO2, which make the waters more acidic, saw significantly lower levels of spawning. However, other mating behaviours of the same species were unaffected by the souring of the oceans. The scientists say the changes are "subtle but ecologically important". The study examined the complicated mating behaviours of ocellated wr...Solar Impulse completes historic round-the-world trip
The first round-the-world solar powered flight has been completed, after the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi. Bertrand Piccard piloted the plane for a final time, steering it safely from the Egyptian capital Cairo to the UAE. He has been taking turns at the controls with Swiss compatriot Andre Borschberg, with the mission aiming to promote renewable energy. It brings to an end a voyage that began in Abu Dhabi on 9 March last year. "The future is clean. The future is you. The...Dutch men confirmed as world's tallest
When it comes to height, Dutch men and Latvian women tower over all other nationalities, a new study confirms. The average Dutchman is now 183cm (6ft) tall, while the average Latvian woman reaches 170cm (5ft 7in). The research, published in the journal eLife, has tracked growth trends in 187 countries since 1914. It finds Iranian men and South Korean women have had the biggest spurts, increasing their height by an average of more than 16cm (6in) and 20cm (8in). In the UK, the sexes have...Rare bog butterfly flutters back from brink
A small bog in Lancashire is once again home to a rare species of butterfly, for the first time in 100 years. The large heath butterfly has been disappearing from northern England, where it was once common. But after three years of careful captive breeding, scientists from Chester Zoo say they have established a stable wild colony at Heysham Moss. Only two other locations in Lancashire play host to this fluffy brown species, which thrives in low, damp boglands. "They've not been at Heysham f...Super-hard metal 'four times tougher than titanium'
A super-hard metal has been made in the laboratory by melting together titanium and gold. The alloy is the hardest known metallic substance compatible with living tissues, say US physicists. The material is four times harder than pure titanium and has applications in making longer-lasting medical implants, they say. Conventional knee and hip implants have to be replaced after about 10 years due to wear and tear. Details of the new metal - an alloy of gold and titanium - are revealed in the j...Ancient barley DNA gives insight into crop development
An international group of scientists have analysed the DNA of 6,000 year old barley finding that it is remarkably similar to modern day varieties. They say it could also hold the key to introducing successful genetic variation. Due to the speed at which plants decompose, finding intact ancient plant DNA is extremely rare. The preserved ancient barley was excavated near the Dead Sea, the journalNature reports. The arid environment conserved the biological integrity of the grains, the pap...
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