What's The Buzz

What's The Buzz

Dogs imitate owners automatically

A new study claims that dogs instinctively copy their owners’ behaviours and movements.

“This suggests that, like humans, dogs are subject to ‘automatic imitation’; they cannot inhibit online, the tendency to imitate head use and/or paw use,” said lead author Friederike Range and her colleagues from University of Vienna.

For the study, all the dogs received preliminary training to open a sliding door using their head or a paw. The dogs then watched their owners open the door by hand or by head.

The dogs were next divided into two groups. Dogs in the first group received a food reward whenever they copied what the owner did. Dogs in the second group received a food reward when they did the opposite.

All of the dogs were inclined to copy what the owner did, even if it meant receiving no food reward. “This finding suggests that the dogs brought with them to the experiment a tendency automatically to imitate hand use and/or paw use by their owner; to imitate these actions even when it was costly to do so,” the authors report.

The results indicate that the range and intensity of their developmental training by humans plays a powerful and specific role in shaping their imitative behaviour.

The neck helped evolution of human brain

The neck gave humans so much freedom of movement that it played a major role in the evolution of the human brain, according to new research.

The study, conducted by neuroscientists at New York University and Cornell University, appears online in the journal ‘Nature Communications’.

Scientists had assumed the pectoral fins in fish and the forelimbs (arms and hands) in humans are innervated — or receive nerves — from the exact same neurons. After all, the fins on fish and the arms on humans seem to be in the same place on the body. Not so.

During our early ancestors’ transition from fish to land-dwellers that gave rise to upright mammals, the source for neurons that directly control the forelimbs moved from the brain into the spinal cord, as the torso moved away from the head and was given a neck. In other words human arms, like the wings of bats and birds, became separate from the head and placed on the torso below the neck.

“A neck allowed for improved movement and dexterity in terrestrial and aerial environments. This innovation in biomechanics evolved hand-in-hand with changes in how the nervous system controls our limbs,” said Andrew Bass, Cornell professor of neurobiology and behaviour, and an author on the paper.

Waste vegetable oils could be fuel of the future

The vegetable oil that is often discarded as waste by restaurants and pubs could be a vital source of hydrogen, and therefore, fuel — says a new study.

Although it’s a greener fuel, making hydrogen may consume vast amounts of energy, use scarce natural resources, or spew out high levels of greenhouse gas.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have found a new method that uses waste vegetable oils to produce hydrogen through a process that is carbon neutral.

Dr Valerie Dupont and colleagues have perfected a two-stage process that is essentially self-heating. Nickel catalyst is blasted with air to form nickel oxide — raising temperature of 650 degrees by another 200 degrees.

The fuel and steam mixture then reacts with the hot nickel oxide to make hydrogen and carbon dioxide. A special ‘sorbent’ material traps all the carbon dioxide produced, leaving pure hydrogen gas.

This trick eliminated the greenhouse gas emissions and also forced the reaction to keep running, increasing the amount of hydrogen made.

Cleopatra’s pearl dissolving trick is no fiction

The legend has it that in a bid to win a bet, Cleopatra quaffed a vinegar martini made with a dissolved pearl, “the largest in the whole of history”. And now, a researcher has claimed that the Egyptian beauty’s canny chemistry trick — doubted by scholars — might actually have come off.

Classicist Prudence Jones of Montclair (NJ) State University has detailed the history of the story — Cleopatra won a wager with her befuddled Roman consort, Marc Antony, by consuming her pearl cocktail to create the costliest catering bill ever.
She racked up a banquet bill of 10 million sesterces (sesterces were the nickels of the ancient world), thanks to the destruction of the pearl.

“There’s usually a kernel of truth in these stories. I always prefer to give ancient sources the benefit of the doubt and not assume that something that sounds far-fetched is just fiction,” said Jones.

“I think there was a fairly good understanding of practical chemistry in the ancient world,” Jones said.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox