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Gorillas grin to reassure playmates

Gorillas flash their teeth to let their friends know that they do not intend to harm them during play, scientists have discovered.

The researchers, from the University of Portsmouth, study the facial expressions of primates to uncover the evolutionary origins of human smiling and laughter.

Lead researcher Dr Bridget Waller asserted that non-human primates have two expressions “that shed light on our smiling.”

 She said that their “playface” seems to be a foundation of human laughter.

 “[During play, gorillas] open their mouths and cover their teeth as if to say, ‘I could bite you but I’m not going to’,” the BBC quoted Dr Waller as saying.

The other expression used by the primates, which indicates one of the origins of human smiling, is when they show both rows of “sparkly white teeth”. Dr Waller said that it is not a playful expression. 

“It’s a greeting; a subordinate display.”

 She elucidated that the different contexts in which gorillas use these facial expressions show that smiling and laughing are probably rooted in very different “ancestral displays”.
“People think we smile when we’re happy, but that’s not true,” she said.

“You smile when its appropriate in a situation. You smile at someone in the corridor - you don’t laugh at them.”

Dr Waller and her colleagues watched the animals and discovered that the gorillas flashed their upper teeth as they played during specifically “rough” and intense play and they would play for longer when they bore their teeth.

 “It’s possibly because, when play gets rough, you need an extra signal to show each other that [you’re] just playing,” Dr Waller said.

Why aliens haven’t reached Earth yet

If aliens exist, they should have reached our planet by now. According to a new study, calculations indicate that either we are alone in the galaxy, or ET is ignoring us.

“We’re either alone, or they’re out there and leave us alone,” the Discovery News quoted mathematician Thomas Hair, with Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers as saying.

Hair based his estimate of what he believed to be extremely conservative estimates for how long it would take a society to gather the resources and technological know-how to leave its home world and travel to another star.

Even at the comparatively sedate pace of 1 percent of light-speed, the aliens would land at their nearest neighbour star in around 500 years.

“They’ve either passed us by, or they stay around their home star systems and contemplate their navels,” Hair said.

There could be quite a lot of reasons why we are not listed in intergalactic Yelp. Perhaps most important is that we do not have anything that aliens require. “Any ancient civilization is probably not biological. They don’t need a place like Earth. They don’t need to come here and steal our water. There’s plenty of it out in the outer solar system where the gravity is not so great and they can just take all they want,” Hair said.

Or maybe modern-day extraterrestrials are following routes laid out long ago, all of which bypass Earth, he added.

Now, bioengineered skin that can stop speeding bullet

It may not be far away when human skin could resist a speeding bullet. An artist named Jalila Essaidi has designed a new futuristic tissue, which reinforces human skin cells with spider silk, and can stop a whizzing projectile without being pierced.

Although its threads may look fragile, a spider-silk weave is four times stronger than Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests.

The bioengineered skin can stop a bullet fired at half speed, New Scientist reported.
But its resistance has its limits: when shot at a full speed of 329 m/s, the bullet pierces the material and travels through it.

An international team worked together to create the new material.

 First, transgenic goats and silkworms equipped to produce spider-silk proteins spun out the raw material in the synthetic biology lab at Utah State University.  The cocoons were then shipped to South Korea, where they were reeled into thread, before being woven into fabric in Germany.

 The modified silk was then wedged between bioengineered skin cells developed by biochemist Abdoelwaheb El Ghalbzouri at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. After five weeks of incubation, the hybrid skin was ready for target practice.

Apart from exploring the material artistically, Essaidi is also looking into practical uses, such as skin transplants.

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