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ICYMI: Science and technology updates from May 12 to 18, 2019. Vote-counting machines used in 2019 PH elections plagued with technical issues

From Rappler:

The 2019 polls are underway. As expected, some technical issues involving vote-counting machines (VCMs) have occurred, ranging from paper jams to malfunctioning machines being shipped out and the precinct reverting to manual counting.

We also have one high-profile incident this early, with former vice president Jejomar Binay unable to cast his vote as the VCM repeatedly rejected his ballot.

From Asian Journal:

Any hopes for a smooth sailing election process were dashed as various issues involving vote-counting machines (VCMs) marred the 2019 midterm elections on Monday, May 13.

Of the 85,000 VCMs stationed in precincts across the Philippines, 400 to 600 experienced glitches, according to Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez.

He noted that the problem had tripled compared to the presidential election in 2016, which only had a total of 188 machines encounter technical difficulties.

“In the overall scheme of things, that is a small number but compared to 2016, the figure is jarring,” he admitted in a press conference.

House approves bill requiring PH students to plant trees before graduating

From UNTV News via Yahoo! News:

The House of Representatives (HOR) approved on third and final reading a measure that requires all graduating students to plant 10 trees each as a prerequisite for graduation.

House Bill 8728 or the “Graduation Legacy for the Environment Act” aims to move the youth into action to “promote environmental protection, biodiversity, climate change mitigation, poverty reduction, and food security,” according to the bill’s authors Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano and Bacoor, Cavite Rep. Strike Revilla.

The bill enumerates areas where the tree planting would be executed.

These include forestlands, mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domains, inactive and abandoned mine sites, among other suitable areas.

PH establishes first spore bank to ensure fern conservation


Endangered and economically important ferns are being conserved and propagated through a project titled, “Spore Bank Establishment, Propagation and Conservation of Economically Important Ferns.”

The project aims to address the decline in fern populations by maintaining spore availability and viability throughout the year. It was achieved through the establishment of a spore bank for long-term conservation; development of propagation protocols for spore germination as well as gametophyte and sporophyte development; and propagation of endangered and economically important ferns through in vitro culture.

'World's fastest bullet train' to debut in Japan in 2030
ALFA-X, currently the world's fastest bullet train. (Image: Tech Xplore)

From Tech Xplore:

ALFA-X is short for Advanced Labs for Frontline Activity in rail eXperimentation.

The rail company is East Japan Railway (JR East). This is a 10-car bullet train.

Bloomberg's Reed Stevenson: "Japan is pushing the limits of rail travel as it begins testing the fastest-ever shinkansen bullet train, capable of speeds of as much as 400 kilometers (249 miles) per hour."

Do these tadpole skin cells hold the key to regenerating our organs?
(Image: Adobe Stock)

From Science Daily:

Researchers have uncovered a specialized population of skin cells that coordinate tail regeneration in frogs. These 'Regeneration-Organizing Cells' help to explain one of the great mysteries of nature and may offer clues about how this ability might be achieved in mammalian tissues.

More and more gray whales are dying on U.S. shores -- and scientists are deeply worried
A representative from the California Academy of Sciences inspects a dead gray whale found in Pacifica, California. (Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

From CNN:

Ocean scientists are concerned about dead gray whales that have washed up on the US West Coast this year at the highest rate in almost two decades.

As of Thursday night, 58 gray whales have landed ashore from California to Alaska, compared to 45 for all of last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Some were underweight, leading scientists to think they did not have enough food.

"Why these whales are malnourished is the mystery we are trying to unravel," NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein said. "Something is going on."

The last time researchers saw such high numbers was in 2000, when 131 deaths were documented.

Number of young adult bowel cancer patients rising
(Image: Bowel Cancer Australia)

From BBC:

More young people under 50 are being diagnosed with bowel cancer, two studies of the disease in European and high-income countries have found.

Although total numbers of cases in young people remain low, the studies highlighted a sharp rise in rates in 20 to 29-year-olds.

Researchers are not clear why this is happening, but say obesity and poor diet could be factors.

Experts urged doctors not to ignore symptoms in young people.

Can a natural compound in broccoli help suppress tumors?
(Image: Buenosia Carol/Pexels)

From Medical Xpress:

Your mother was right: Broccoli is good for you.

Long associated with decreased risk of cancer, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables—the family of plants that also includes cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, Brussels sprouts and kale—contain a molecule that inactivates a gene known to play a role in a variety of common human cancers.

In a new paper published [May 16] in Science, researchers, led by Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, Ph.D., Director of the Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, demonstrate that targeting the gene, known as WWP1, with the ingredient found in broccoli suppressed tumor growth in cancer-prone lab animals.

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•A newly published study suggests that conservation efforts for the Asian elephant should consider indicators other than population count.
•Population size and distribution statistics may fail to show a species' impending collapse in time for it to be prevented.
•Thus, monitoring fertility and mortality rates across sexes and ages could be more effective at gauging species viability.

In less than 100 years, the global Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) population has diminished by more than 50 percent.

From over 100,000 at the start of the 20th century, there are now fewer than 50,000 Asian elephants in the wild. It's a frighteningly sharp decline--one that happened over the course of just 60 to 75 years. Unsurprisingly, it was enough for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify the species as Endangered.

There are numerous reasons why the largest living land animal in Asia is inching closer to extinction. Asian elephants have lost around 85% of their natural habitat, largely due to human expansion. In addition, farmers kill the animals to prevent them from raiding and trampling on their crops. Animal trafficking is another threat to the species. Meanwhile, ivory poaching is less of a problem for Asian elephants than their African cousins; only a few males (and almost no females) of the species have tusks.

Despite current efforts to prevent the Asian elephant from getting wiped out, the species' population continues to dwindle. A new study from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute suggests that it may be because we've been paying too much attention to the wrong numbers.

The elephant in the room?

"[W]hile the attention of the world has been focused on the ivory trade, for critically endangered Asian elephant populations the greatest threat is habitat loss -- followed by illegal trade in live animals and parts," says biologist Dr. Shermin de Silva, lead author of the study.

According to de Silva, founder of Asian elephant conservation charity Trunks & Leaves, monitoring population numbers isn't enough to save slow-breeding megafauna (such as the Asian elephant and other large animal species) from extinction.

"Habitat loss can create something known as 'extinction debt' by slowing down birth rates and increasing mortality rates. For slow breeding, long-lived species, even incremental changes make a big difference, but their longevity can obscure the risk of extinction."

The biologist added that vital rates could reveal an impending population collapse "long before numbers drop below a point of no return."

"We propose that conservation efforts for Asian elephants and other slow-breeding megafauna be aimed at maintaining their 'demographic safe space': that is, the combination of key vital rates that supports a non-negative growth rate."

Saving endangered megafauna such as the Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) may require monitoring their demographic safe space. (Photo: Dipankar Ghose/World Wildlife Fund-India)
Math, mothers, and mammoths

The researchers used mathematical modeling to examine the Asian elephant's demographic safe space. By their calculations, the annual female mortality rate needs to be kept under 7.5 percent. Ideally, adult mortality should be as low as 3 percent per year for the species to endure both its slow birth rate and a high annual calf mortality rate (up to one-third of calves below 3 years of age).

As de Silva and co-author Peter Leimgruber concluded: "Measures to enhance survival of calves, and particularly females, are key to saving the Asian elephant."

The researchers acknowledge that their study does have limitations. Chief among these is the fact that there's simply not enough data to work with at the moment. However, de Silva argues that historical evidence does support this, in a mammoth way.

"Genomic studies of the last mammoths isolated on Wrangel Island -- between Russia and Alaska -- have shown that although they were able to persist for thousands of years beyond the extinction of mainland populations with just ~300 individuals, they had accumulated numerous genetic mutations that may have eventually contributed to their extinction," explains de Silva.

Basing conservation decisions on population counts may not be enough to save slow-breeding megafauna from extinction. (Photo: Adobe Stock)
A mega problem for megafauna

The researchers believe that these findings are also applicable for other large, slow-breeding species, such as giraffes and rhinos. Thus, de Silva and Leimgruber emphasize the need to collect more demographic data on these species in the wild.

"Rather than rely on simple population counts or estimates of near-term extinction probability, we urge that conservation resources for slow-breeding megafauna also be invested in identifying demographic tipping points and how to maintain populations within their safe spaces," says de Silva.

Cover photo: Dipankar Ghose/WWF-India References
  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/45032922
  • https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2019.00171/full
  • https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases2019/05/190517081640.htm
  • https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/winter-2018/articles/the-status-of-asian-elephants

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If you owned a Lego set growing up, you probably have fond memories of building colorful houses, planes, or cars. (Of course, odds are you're also familiar with the indescribable pain of stepping on a stray Lego brick.)

But what if you could use Lego to turn your creativity into solutions to real-world problems? Even better, what if you could do so while demonstrating Pinoy ingenuity to the rest of the world (and winning awards as well)?

That's what the Philippine Robotics National Team did at the recently concluded For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League World Championship.

Held in Houston, Texas, U.S.A. from April 15 to 21, the so-called "world's largest celebration of STEM for students" gathered 109 teams that made it through the qualifying rounds and challenged them to develop innovative ways to conquer the problems plaguing today's astronauts.

This year, the Philippines sent the two teams that emerged victorious from the 8th FIRST Lego League (FLL) Philippines tourney.

Creative concepts that "click"

DYCI Blue Ocean’s 10 from Dr. Yanga’s College Inc. (Ages 12-17) included team members Jocas Arabella Cruz, Abigail Silva, Denise Carpio, Naiah Nicole Mendoza, Raingel Vryse Mendoza, Rodel Christian Alcantara, Ma. Anne Geline Doneth Dela Rama, Paul Jaren Perez, and Lara Monique Narciso. They operated under the supervision of Head Coach Beryl Jhan Cruz and Assistant Coach Lemuel Francisco.

The team participated in the INTO ORBIT challenge, which involved findings ways to get around the physical and social problems that come with long-duration space flight. Their entry, called "Project Fuse," uses live virtual reality video chat integrated into a robot to enable astronauts in outer space to connect with their earthbound loved ones.

As a result, the team beat 109 other teams from 74 countries, and was recognized as the Champion's Award Finalist.

From left:  FELTA Multi-Media CEO Mylene Abiva poses with the DYCI Blue Ocean’s 10 team. (Photo: FELTA)

Meanwhile, Team CYLLO from De La Salle Zobel (ages 6-12) was composed of Zoie Francesca Aldave, Chito Salunga Roxas, Jr., Franc Andre Dimatatac, Eduardo Matteo Valdez, Emmanuel Jace Savellano, and Robert Philip Lim. They were accompanied by Head Coach Heinz Elorde and Assistant Coach Genevieve Pillar.

The team took on the MISSION MOON Junior League challenge, which focused on the requirements to survive on Earth's satellite. Team CYLLO designed a cyanobacteria-sustaining robot to help solve the issue of food and oxygen availability for astronauts. Their project won them the Explore and Discover Award, besting teams from 43 other countries.

From left: Abiva stands proudly with Team CYLLO from De La Salle Zobel. (Photo: FELTA)
Bot-building brilliance

“The Philippines holds the Champion Award center stage in International Robotics and will continue to excel and showcase the brilliance of the Filipino Youth,” according to Mylene Abiva, National Organizer of the Philippine Robotics Olympiad/FLL Philippines and the sole World Robot Olympiad Ambassador.

Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) Director Dr. Josette Biyo also congratulated the team, and believes that this will inspire other young Filipinos to get into robotics. “This victory further motivates us at DOST-SEI to continue supporting our emerging robotics experts,” Dr. Biyo stated.

After a quick breather, the Philippine Robotics National Team will fly to Turkey for the FLL European Open Championship, happening on May 20-27.

Cover photo: FELTA

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•The Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) will hold its first-ever Project STAR International Conference at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay.
•DOST-SEI aims to bring together educators and policy makers from across Asia to improve science and math education in the Philippines.
•Science and math educators are highly encouraged to present their research papers at the conference, which will take place from August 7 to 9, 2019.

This year marks the first Project STAR International Conference of the Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI).

The event, which aims to enhance and bolster science and math education in the Philippines, will gather educators and policy makers from different parts of Asia.

New perspectives in STEM education

The conference bears the theme Perspectives in Science and Mathematics Education: Building Connections, Sustaining Innovations and Sharing Pedagogies. It will take place on August 7-9, 2019 at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

The event will feature renowned guest speakers in the field of STEM education in Asia, such as Dr. Frederick Leung (University of Hong Kong) and Dr. Chun-yen Chang (National Taiwan Normal University). Participants will share and discuss their insights on the state of STEM education across the world, and will work together in developing new teaching strategies.

The event is in line with DOST-SEI's vision of empowering Filipino teachers through new teaching approaches and technologies.

DOST-SEI Director Dr. Josette Biyo hopes that the conference will inspire more local STEM educators to formulate and adopt new approaches in teaching science and math.

“We can only be confident that we’re producing the scientists and engineers our country needs if we’re helping our teachers develop their skills,” Dr. Biyo stated.

The STAR of Pinoy STEM education

As the primary S&T human resources development agency in the Philippines, DOST-SEI implemented Project STAR (Science Teacher Academy for the Regions) to support STEM educators in the country.

Through Project STAR, Filipino educators can participate in training and capacity-building activities to enhance the way they teach STEM. The project also honors outstanding STEM teachers across the different regions through awards and merit programs.

Project STAR is among DOST-SEI's numerous initiatives geared towards youth science promotion and STEM education innovation.

Pinoy STEM educators, assemble

The Project STAR International Conference will also spotlight Filipino STEM teachers who wish to present their research in front of an international audience.

In line with this, DOST-SEI invites all interested individuals to submit their extended abstract. Themes for paper presentation include instructional materials, teaching innovations, assessment, and action research.

DOST-SEI is inviting the country's brightest and most innovative science and mathematics teachers to join the 1st...

Posted by Science Education Institute - Department of Science and Technology on Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The deadline for abstract submission is on May 17, 2019.

Admission to the event is free. However, interested parties must pre-register with DOST-SEI to secure their slot.

Submission guidelines, as well as the tentative program for the three-day event, are available on DOST-SEI's official website.

Cover photo: Asian MSME Development Summit (dti.gov.ph) References
  • Official press release from DOST-SEI
  • http://www.sei.dost.gov.ph/index.php/programs-and-projects/innovations/256-project-star

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•Climate change remains a significant challenge in food security, livelihood, and nutrition in the Philippines.
•This has prompted the Pinoy agriculture and education sectors to adopt climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices.
•CSA can help mitigate climate change's impact on health and employment in the Philippines.

In the Philippines, it is not difficult to find a story about resourceful Filipinos who resiliently wade through flood waters and stay strong amidst adversity.

The same could be said for our farmers, who are on the receiving end of typhoons, droughts and other long-term effects of climate change.

The importance of agriculture and farming in the Philippines cannot be emphasized enough. According to the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), agriculture accounts for one-third of employment in the Philippines, making it a key sector.

“The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimates that the agricultural impacts of climate change would cost the country 26 billion pesos per year through 2050,” the IIRR reported. “Being a developing country, the Philippines cannot afford such big losses. Smallholder farmers are the most vulnerable and at risk to the impacts of climate change on livelihoods, food security, and nutrition in rural areas.”

Faced with these challenges, Pinoy farmers, public school teachers and non-government organizations (NGOs) are now using climate-smart agriculture (CSA) to mitigate the effects of climate change in the long run.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) describes CSA as an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems. CSA practices can effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate.

“It is about three things: food security, climate adaptation and climate change mitigation,” according to Rene Vidallo, the Philippine Country Program Director of the IIRR. “Agriculture is affected by climate change impacts, but it is also a contributor to it.”

We’ve listed down a few CSA practices that are currently being adopted in the country, and how they are reducing the effects of climate change:

Multi-layer cropping
Mang Julian Aguilar grows a variety of vegetables through multi-layered cropping in his first farm. (Photo: Angelica Y. Yang)

Mang Julian Aguilar, who has spent almost his entire life as a farmer, owns three hectares' worth of farms in Barangay Litlit, Cavite. He has been working there since the ‘70s, and has observed and experienced the constant changing of climate.

“There are times when the weather can be very hot. There are other times where it can be very rainy. In the long run, my crops depend on the climate,” Aguilar shared.

He also said that like him, farmers in the area started out as rice farmers who ventured into other crops.

“In the '70s and '80s, this entire place was full of rice fields. [As the years went by], we started multi-cropping as we ventured into coffee beans. We thought of multi-cropping because it is a way to ensure that if one crop doesn’t survive, another will.”

Aside from coffee beans--which Aguilar supplies to big companies like Nestle--he has also expanded to other vegetables such as pechay, mustasa (mustard), banana, tomato, chili, papaya and cucumber.

According to the non-profit organization NETZ, multi-layer cropping is a resourceful agricultural technique. It involves planting creeper crops on trellis, over which mature vegetables or trees can be staked.

Native pig farming

“Globally, livestock is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gases at 40.5 percent. In the Philippines, pig production and processing [take up a bulk of GHG emissions],” Vidallo explained, in a lecture to journalists who visited the IIRR in Cavite.

According to a 2019 IIRR brief on Models for Empowering Women Livestock Producers, many consider keeping pigs as an expensive practice. Commercial feeds are costly, are subject to availability, and produce lower quality meat.

However, a group of pig farmers from Guinayangan, Quezon Province were able to find a cost-effective way to reduce GHG emission in raising native pigs.

“Instead of giving our pigs commercial feed, we use feeds made from a mixture of vegetables, water and soil,” said Gloria Macaraig, the President of the Guinayangan Native Pig Association, or GuiNaPig. “We use vegetables like kangkong, papaya, kamote, the stem of the banana, and some salt and sugar. We prefer that type of feed because it is not expensive.”

Macaraig added that more and more women were engaging in native pig farming, because they could easily make the organic feeds inside their homes while tending to other duties.

She shared that she is able to cultivate native pigs with organic feed, while working as a public servant in her barangay.

According to Macaraig, organic-fed native pigs are much leaner and meatier compared to commercially feed pigs. GuiNaPig found out about this when one of its members tried feeding native pigs with commercial feed.

“The pig fed with commercial feed grew really fast. It was sold at about 80 kilos. But the fat amounted to 20 kilos. Because of the quality of native pigs fed with organic feed, they sell more in the market at 150 Php per kilo, compared to commercial pigs at 120 Php per kilo.”

Mang Julian picks some chilis from a sili plant growing over a pile of mulching leaves. (Photo: Angelica Y. Yang)

“Another source of GHG is the burning of leaves, a practice that farmers have long gotten used to. It’s very convenient for them, but the burning of leaves contributes carbon [to the atmosphere],” Vidallo stated.

Mang Julian Aguilar’s second farm, a vast expanse of trees and root crops, has benefited from mulching. Mulching is the re-integration of fallen leaves back into the soil by decomposition. The decomposed leaves act as a natural fertilizer that is neither expensive nor harmful to the environment.

“To prevent the soil from drying, we ‘mulch’ the leaves. It helps with the moisture,” Aguilar explained.

Vidallo added that mulching is more effective during the rainy season.

“It means that there is a lesser need for Mang Julian to apply [commercial] fertilizer. The lesser the fertilizer, the lesser greenhouse gas emission. This contributes to the national target of reducing emissions,” he said.

School gardens
Marie Ann Galas talks about how Tinabunan Elementary School and other neighboring schools find joy in “exchanging seeds” of different crops. (Photo: Angelica Y. Yang)

What better way is there to introduce farming and agriculture to kids than to have them experience it firsthand in a learning environment? That’s what Tinabunan Elementary School in Imus, Cavite, is doing.

The public school is very proud of its garden and greenhouse, with both being "learning laboratories" for its Gulayaan sa Paaralan (GFP) program for elementary students.

“The beauty about this is its extension to the community. Many children and even their parents are interested in planting vegetables in their own homes. There was even a case when a kid asked for some seeds from the teacher, so he could plant it in his home,” shared Marie Ann Galas, the school’s garden coordinator.

Galas said that the children’s exposure to agriculture at a young age makes them appreciate it all the more. She believes that interacting with plants at school educates the children in the process.

One of the pathways that snake through the extensive Tinabunan Gulayaan sa Paaralan Crops Museum. (Photo: Angelica Y. Yang)
Healthy feeding program

The school uses the vegetables from its garden to sustain its feeding program for malnourished students.

Every day, the school holds the feeding program inside a colorful pink cafeteria with small benches and wall paintings that promote healthy eating.

The food pyramid for kids overlooks the small benches where Tinabunan Elementary School beneficiaries eat their healthy lunches. (Photo: Angelica Y. Yang)

“The feeding program helps our kids,” said the school’s principal, Jesus Borgado. “During the school year 2016 to 2017, there were about 200 kids. At present, there are only 9 [malnourished] kids. The number went down because of their knowledge of the benefits of vegetables from our GFP program.”

The 10 “Kumainments” are painted on the wall of the cafeteria where the Tinabunan Healthy Feeding Program is held. (Photo: Angelica Y. Yang)

According to Borgado, because of the kids’ clamor for vegetables in their packed lunches, parents are now incorporating them into every meal they make, instead of the usual hotdog and rice.

Thanks to the school's GFP and feeding programs, the IIRR named it a ‘Sentinel School’ in 2016.

The Tinabunan Elementary School, an IIRR-recognized Sentinel school, follows the Integrated School Nutrition Model. (Photo: Angelica Y. Yang)

Sentinel schools are pioneers across Region IV-A in integrating the school nutrition model. It is a three-pronged approach towards addressing malnutrition among school children through gardening, supplementary feeding and nutrition education. —MF

Editor's note: Quotes were translated from Tagalog to English. This story is a product of a media trip sponsored by VERA Files Fact Check and InterNews. Cover photo: Archie Binamira References
  • Climate-Smart Agriculture: Models for Empowering Women Livestock Producers (2015-2018 Outcomes) Brief, International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, February 2019
  • http://www.fao.org/climate-smart-agriculture/en/
  • https://end-extreme-poverty.org/useful-resources/agricultural-technologies/multilayer-cropping.html
  • https://depedcalabarzon.ph/2016/07/tinabunan-ess-gulayan-getting-biggerpioneers-nutrition-model-as-sentinel-school/

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ICYMI: Science and technology updates from May 5 to 11, 2019. 'Green scorecard' reveals 9 senatorial candidates with 'green' track record and platform

‘Green Scorecard’ reveal nine senatorial candidates with green agenda

Out of 35 candidates who received GTC scorecard,...

Posted by Green Thumb Coalition on Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Philippines' Green Thumb Coalition recently released the results of their "Green Scorecard," which assessed the candidates in the 2019 senatorial elections based on their track record and proposed policies pertaining to environment preservation. However, out of the 35 candidates who received the questionnaire, only nine responded.

Neri Colmenares, who scored 84 percent, topped the survey, followed by Chel Diokno (82%), Leody De Guzman (77%), Florin Hilbay (71%), Bam Aquino (69%), Conrado Generoso (58%), Samira Gutoc (46%), and Grace Poe (35%, based on an unfinished/incomplete survey response). Opposition candidate Erin Tanada responded to the Green Electoral Initiative survey conducted by No Burn Pilipinas and Ecowaste Coalition, which focused on waste management issues.

The scorecard tackled the following themes: biodiversity preservation and ecosystem integrity; natural resource and land use management and governance; sustainable agriculture; waste management; climate justice; energy transformation and democracy; mining, extractives, and mineral resource management; upholding human rights and integrity of creation; and people-centered sustainable development.

Twelve aspiring Pinoy scientists to attend int'l scitech fair

The 2019 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the largest global pre-college science competition, will take place from May 12 to 17 in Phoenix, Arizona -- and 12 brilliant young minds from different high schools in the Philippines are representing the country this year. The representatives are the winners of the 2019 National Science and Technology Fair, which was held by the Department of Education (DepEd) last February 18 to 22 in Tagaytay City. Read the full story.

New study: One million species under threat of extinction

According to a new study--one that analyzed about 15,000 studies conducted within the last 50 years--about one million of the world's species are facing extinction within the next couple of decades. This is roughly equivalent to 1 in every 8 plant or animal species on the planet. Over the last half-century, the human population has doubled. And based on the findings of the researchers from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), our activities have accelerated the global species extinction rate up to hundreds of times faster than the average rate over the last 10 million years. Read the full story.

Dietary fats in the brain may explain link between obesity and depression

The link between obesity and depression has long been recognized, but is hardly well-understood. A new study by the University of Glasgow and the Gladstone Institutes, however, points to the consumption of foods high in saturated fats (which lead to obesity) as the cause of the development of depression phenotypes.  Read the full story.

MOMO: Japan's first successful private rocket launch
Artist's impression of the Momo sounding rocket. (Image: Interstellar Technologies Inc.)

Aerospace startup Interstellar successfully launched its MOMO sounding rocket to an altitude of 110 kilometres (68.4 miles) above Earth. It is the first commercially developed Japanese rocket to reach orbit. According to Interstellar, the rocket was launched from Taiki, Hokkaido, flew for about 10 minutes, then fell into the Pacific Ocean after crossing the boundary between Earth and outer space. This was the company’s third attempt at reaching space over the course of two years. Read the full story.

Mongolian couple dies after eating raw marmot meat, triggers town-wide quarantine

A couple living in Tsagaannuur, Mongolia contracted the bubonic plague after consuming the uncooked meat and organs of an infected marmot. The couple, a 38-year-old man and his 37-year-old wife, believed that eating the rodent's raw meat was "very good for health." The couple soon experienced what health officials presume was an agonizing death, which also led to the entire town being sealed off for fear of an outbreak. Read the full story.

This previously extinct bird 'evolved into existence' once again
The Aldabra white-throated rail. (Image: Charles J. Sharp)

Formerly on the list of extinct species, the Aldabra white-throated rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri) evolved back into existence, according to a recently published study in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. The flightless bird, which resides on the Aldabra coral atoll in the Indian Ocean, first went extinct about 136,000 years ago. However, due to a unique phenomenon known as "iterative evolution," its ancestral lineage produced an offshoot species that was essentially identical, despite being from a different point in time. Read the full story.

New bat-winged dinosaur sheds light on prehistoric flight
Ambopteryx longibranchium. (Image: Chung-Tat Cheung)

A newly named species of winged dinosaur called Ambopteryx longibranchium ("both wings, long upper arm") was discovered in Wubaiding Village in northeastern China two years ago. According to Min Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Ambopteryx, which is the second dinosaur of its kind to be unearthed, had a sparrow-sized body, quill-like feathers on its neck, a stubby tail, and a long, thin, rod-like bone running down from its wrist, the same length as its entire forearm. This bony rod presumably supported the leathery membranes that gave it the ability to glide from tree to tree. Read the full story.

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•A team of U.S. researchers created four "cathartic objects" for anger release.
•These robots are designed to be stabbed, hit, smashed, or cursed at.
•While the science supporting catharsis theory is weak, the team believes that these robots may prevent angry individuals from harming other people.

We've all been angry at some point, and we all have different ways of dealing with our anger. Some of us choose to listen to relaxing music, while others hit the gym to literally hit a punching bag.

But what if you could take your anger out on a robot (that thankfully can't hit back)?

A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have taken anger management a step further: Non-anthropomorphic "cathartic objects" that allow you to release your anger in the most brutal ways.

Rage robots

The researchers -- Michael Luria, Amit Zoran, and Jodi Forlizzi -- designed four objects built to handle anger differently. They recently presented their study at the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Glasgow.

Cathartic Objects - YouTube

The first object laughs maniacally, but stops after you smash it against any hard surface repeatedly.

Object number two, a ceramic tile attached to a series of tiny bulbs, lets you insert a note inside it. Smashing it with a blunt object (like a hammer) activates its lights and sounds.

Meanwhile, the third robot is a curious-looking crystal object. Hurl all manner of swear words at it, and watch it light up.

The last one is an elongated pin cushion, sort of. Stab and poke it with sharp objects, and it starts shaking; it only stops when said objects are pulled out from it.

"The chosen prototypes were designed to probe a range of physical interaction, as it is a critical part of cathartic expression," stated Luria in an interview.

"The prototypes varied in multiple physical aspects: the interaction input (verbal or physical), the output (movement, light or sound), the quality of interaction (instantaneous, continuous, forceful or gentle), and the material the robotic objects are made of (fabric, ceramics, and plastic)."

Take it out on the tech

Interestingly, there doesn't seem to be much scientific evidence to support catharsis theory (the idea that it's better to ruminate on your anger than to simply ignore it). At best, acting out on one's anger doesn't seem to have any significant impact on making a person feel better. At worst, it may make certain people even more aggressive.

Still, conventional wisdom tells us that keeping all that anger bottled up inside isn't exactly healthy. And for the researchers, that's more than enough reason to create robotic outlets for anger -- which can prevent us from taking out our anger on someone else.

"We don't want to take our aggressions on other people, but we also frequently don't let that energy out when we are alone," explained Luria. "Maybe there is a safe space to express negative emotions with technology."

    • https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/home-robots/these-robotic-objects-are-designed-to-be-stabbed-and-beaten-to-help-you-feel-better
    • https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/06/these-cathartic-stress-robots-can-take-a-beating/
    • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332820712_Challenges_of_Designing_HCI_for_Negative_Emotions

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•A recently published study examined variations in taste genes to explain our beverage preferences.
•However, the results showed that genes related to these drinks' psychoactive properties, not taste, help shape our preferences.
•Understanding our preferences for bitter or sweet drinks could help scientists design more effective ways of diet intervention.

Some people find it absolutely necessary to start their day with coffee. Others can't seem to resist the draw of a nice, cold beer. And of course, there are those who swear by soda, diet or otherwise.

The question is: Why are there certain kinds of drinks that we just can't seem to resist?

A recently published study in Human Molecular Genetics has a surprising answer: It may be in our genes, but not necessarily the ones associated with taste.

Hooked on a feeling

A team of scientists examined human taste genes to better understand how and why we select our preferred beverages.

Conventional wisdom tells us that we gravitate towards sweet drinks (such as sodas and many fruit juices) or bitter drinks (such as coffee and beer) simply because we enjoy how they taste.

However, according to Marilyn Cornelis from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, it's not our taste genes that determine our drink choices.

Rather, it's the genes related to the specific psychoactive properties of the drinks in question.

"People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel," explained Cornelis, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern.  "That's why they drink it. It's not the taste."

The bittersweet truth

In the study, the researchers categorized beverages as "bitter" or "sweet."

Coffee, tea, beer, red wine, liquor, and grapefruit juice fell under the first category. Meanwhile, sugary beverages, artificially sweetened drinks, and non-grapefruit juices were lumped together under the second group.

They logged the number of sweet and bitter drinks consumed by roughly 370,000 participants from the UK. They accomplished this using self-administered questionnaires collected every 24 hours.

Afterwards, they did a genome-wide association study for both drink categories. Then, they attempted to replicate their results in three U.S. cohort studies.

Interestingly, Cornelis and the team found that individuals with a specific variant of FTO (a gene linked to a lowered risk of obesity) preferred sugary drinks.

"FTO has been something of a mystery gene, and we don't know exactly how it's linked to obesity," Cornelis explained. "It likely plays a role in behavior, which would be linked to weight management."

Drinks and dieting

According to lead study author Victor Zhong, their study was the first to look into genome-wide associations of drink consumption and taste. Zhang, a postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine at Northwestern, also called it "the most comprehensive genome-wide association study of beverage consumption to date."

The researchers believe that their findings could help us better understand how genetics is linked to drink consumption. Additionally, the study could reveal previously unknown barriers in diet intervention. With the sheer number of health risks associated with alcohol and sugar consumption, humanity could definitely use a hand in curbing its collective sweet tooth (or shrinking its collective beer belly).

Cover photo: Ruslan Alekso References
    • https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190502100814.htm
    • https://academic.oup.com/hmg/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/hmg/ddz061/5424254

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•A newly named dinosaur, Suskityrannus hazelae, was only slightly longer than a full-grown Tyrannosaurus rex's skull, and smaller than an adult Bengal tiger.
•The tiny theropod was discovered in New Mexico, dating back to about 92 million years ago.
•Amazingly, S. hazelae's bones remained unidentified for more than 20 years.

Mention the word "tyrannosaur" to anyone with even just a passing familiarity with dinosaurs; chances are, this scene from Jurassic Park would be one of the first things they'll think of:

Jurassic Park 1993 - T Rex Attack Scene 4k - YouTube

An international team of scientists recently identified an earlier relative of this apex predator. Surprisingly, it was just a tad longer than an adult T. rex's skull.

Suskityrannus hazelae: A tiny tyrannosaur

Discovered in New Mexico's Zuni Basin in 1997 by geologist Robert Denton, Suskityrannus hazelae stood about 3 feet tall at the hip. Based on partial specimens, paleontologists estimate that S. hazelae grew up to 9 feet long, weighing between 45 and 90 pounds.

For comparison, a full-grown Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) stands up to 3.6 feet at the shoulder, measures almost 11 feet long, and weighs up to 717 pounds.

Artist's interpretation of S. hazelae. (Image: Andrey Atuchin)

Interestingly, S. hazelae's fossils are at least 92 million years old. This was over 20 million years before T. rex, Triceratops, and other massive dinosaurs walked the Earth.

According to researcher Sterling Nesbitt, S. hazelae "gives us a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they take over the planet."

Nesbitt works as an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech College of Science's Department of Geosciences. He discovered the second of only two known partial skeletons of this tiny terror back in 1998.

At the time, he was just a 16-year-old participant in a paleontological expedition under Zuni Paleontological Project leader Doug Wolfe.

In the Zuni

S. hazelae derives its genus name from suski (Zuni Native American for "coyote") and tyrannus (Latin for "tyrant"). Meanwhile, it takes its species name from Hazel Wolfe, an active supporter of New Mexico fossil expeditions and Doug Wolfe's wife.

"Suskityrannus has a much more slender skull and foot than its later and larger cousins," revealed Nesbitt. He added that S. hazelae links older tyrannosaurids from North America and China with those from just before the dinosaurs died out.

Nesbitt poses with the partial S. hazelae specimen he discovered over 20 years ago. (Image: Virginia Tech)

Aside from its basic dimensions, however, not much is known about S. hazelae. Paleontologists aren't sure about its arm size or claw count, as neither specimen had any arm fossils. Due to its size, it likely preyed on smaller animals.

At first, they didn't know they possessed the remains of an early T. rex relative. For nearly two decades, the bones sat undisturbed at the Arizona Museum of Natural History. They thought the fossils belonged to a relative of another famous dinosaur, Velociraptor.

When Nesbitt started bringing the fossils on interstate research trips, however, S. hazelae's true nature was revealed.

“My discovery of a partial skeleton of Suskityrannus put me onto a scientific journey that has framed my career,” he shared.

The study, co-authored by Nesbitt, Wolfe, and their other team members, appears in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Cover photo: Andrey Atuchin References
    • https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fxge0000595

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Flip Science by Mikael Angelo Francisco - 2w ago
•Some people seem to exhibit, through their actions, a general unwillingness to feel empathy.
•A study of 1,200 participants revealed that most of them saw empathy as too mentally straining.
•However, it may actually be possible to encourage empathetic behavior in people.

It happens every single time the newest Marvel movie debuts in theaters, or the latest episode of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones hits the small screen. Somewhere out there, someone's bound to post spoilers, much to the chagrin of people who haven't had the chance to sit down and watch yet.

In spite of passionate requests to avoid posting spoilers, the people who habitually post them don't seem to care. It's not surprising, then, to wonder why being considerate seems to be so impossible for them. Why do they seem incapable of thinking about your feelings, no matter how many times you've explained why they shouldn't post spoilers?

Spoiler alert: It may be because they feel that, in the first place, having empathy is hard work.

Empathetic or "Eh, pathetic"?

A recently published study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Psychology: General revealed an apparent resistance to empathy in some people.

"There is a common assumption that people stifle feelings of empathy because they could be depressing or costly, such as making donations to charity," according to study lead Dr. C. Daryl Cameron.

"But we found that people primarily just don't want to make the mental effort to feel empathy toward others, even when it involves feeling positive emotions."

Empathy refers to a person's capacity to understand the feelings and perspectives of others. Unfortunately, the results of the study, derived from 11 experiments with over 1,200 participants, suggest that people think of empathy as a chore.

The researchers measured the degree to which mental effort, perceived or otherwise, discourages people from feeling empathy. To do so, they asked participants to complete a series of "empathy selection tasks."

In the first few experiments, the researchers showed the participants two decks of cards that featured child refugees. They then asked the participants to choose a deck.

For one deck, their task is to describe the persons on each card.

For the other deck, the team asked the participants to think about how each child was feeling in their respective photo.

The researchers found that 65 percent of the time, the participants picked the deck that did not require empathy.

A few trials in, they changed tactics: They started using decks featuring people who were either happy or sad.

This didn't make much of a difference, though, as the participants still gravitated toward the non-empathetic deck.

Encouraging empathetic efforts

Most of the participants said that empathy was "more cognitively challenging."

They felt that they were better at describing how people looked, rather than understanding what makes them tick.

"We saw a strong preference to avoid empathy even when someone else was expressing joy," explained Cameron, an assistant professor of psychology at Penn University.

Interestingly, this was despite the fact that no one asked the participants to donate any sort of material assistance.

In other words, most chose not to be empathetic, even without much personal cost.

However, participants who were told that they exhibited the ability to feel empathy became more likely to choose from the empathy deck.

Furthermore, they demonstrated a larger chance of reporting that empathy didn't really take as much mental effort as they'd thought.

According to Cameron, society would greatly benefit from a massive push to be more empathetic. "It could encourage people to reach out to groups who need help, such as immigrants, refugees and the victims of natural disasters."

Perhaps you can ask your spoiler-sharing friend to pretend to be in your shoes for a minute or two. It might teach that friend a valuable lesson on empathy... and might prevent you from hitting the block button.

    • https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fxge0000595

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