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Traffic fumes make honeybees unable to recognise flower scent

What it is: Scientists have discovered that pollutants in diesel exhaust alter the scent of flowers rendering them unrecognisable to honey bees.

Honey bees have a sharp sense of smell that helps them learn and memorise new odours. Using this ability, researchers familiarised bees to the smell of the oilseed rape flower in the lab. Bees memorised this scent and began being attracted to it once they began associating the smell to food.

The researchers then mixed the oilseed scent the amount of diesel exhaust usually found in city roadsides. They found out that this altered odour was recognised by the bees only 30 per cent of the times, as opposed to 98-99 per cent before. The nitrogen oxides in the exhaust were chemically altering the original scent.

This phenomenon could lead to bees not getting enough food and a reduced number of honey bee colonies in urban areas.

Why it matters: Seventy five percent of the world’s crops rely on natural pollinators like bees. Lately, there has been big declines in natural pollinators due to loss of habitats, disease and insecticides. This finding reveals that traffic fumes’ ability to disrupt flower odours could have huge ecological and economical impacts.

Global standards body green-lights adding DRM to the Web’s standards

What it is: The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is a global body that determines the various standards by which the Web operates, has formally accepted a controversial proposal that will insert greater provision for copyright protection in the next Web standards.

The W3C, which is currently working on the upcoming standard for both online-based content makers and browser makers, has announced it will continue to work on digital rights management (DRM) for video.

What is DRM? DRM is essentially a type of technology that used by manufacturers, content providers and copyright holders with the specific intent to control the use of digital content and devices after sale. For instance, companies like Amazon and Netflix currently rely on third-party tools such as Flash or Silverlight to deliver copyright-protected movies and TV shows to your browser.

Very soon however, when the latest standard is rolled out, users will no longer need to download a special tool to view video content; as the technology will be included within the browser itself.

Why it matters: The W3C’s decision to incorporate DRM into its latest standard has sparked outrage from various organizations across the world, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who believe that such a move will damage the end-users browsing experience, decrease user control and signal the end of an open Web.

Einstein's brain hemispheres were unusually well-connected

What it is: A study has revealed that the two hemispheres of Albert Einstein’s brain were unusually well-connected to each other.

There is a bundle of fibres called corpus callosum that connects the left and right hemisphere of the brain. For the first time, scientists have detailed the corpus callosum of Albert Einstein whose brain was removed and preserved for research within eight hours of his death in 1955.

Using a new technique involving measuring the thicknesses of the different parts of the corpus callosum, scientists were able to estimate how well-connected by nerves the two halves of his brain were. Moreover, they compared this connectivity to that of 15 elderly men as well as 52 men who were Einstein’s age in 1905 which was when he published his four historic articles that made the foundation of modern physics.

The researchers discovered that Einstein’s brain had indeed far more extensive connections between some regions of his hemispheres compared to the older and younger samples.

Why it matters: Apart from better understanding the neurological and anatomical basis of intelligence, this study is significant because of the new technique described that can be used to study the brain’s internal connectivity. How well our brain is connected and any defects in this interconnectivity can explain a range of neurological disorders.

Compiled by Nandita Jayaraj & Anuj Srivas

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Why It MattersAugust 21, 2013

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