Science Briefs – Feb. 22, 2011

Compiled by Kelsey Gobroski
Feb. 22, 2011

Scientists encrypt messages into bacteria

Students at Chinese University in Hong Kong encrypt information in bacteria, winning a gold medal in the Michigan Institute of Technology’s iGEM competition. The method uses similar DNA removal and manipulation methods as genetically modified foods. The students encode a piece of a larger message into different E. coli cells. One gram of bacteria could hold 900,000 gigabytes of information. The bacteria are more secure storage devices than computers. This encryption also safeguards the data from mutations in the bacteria’s genetic code. The storage device could be used as a copyright label on genetically modified crops. Although E. coli can be a harmful bacterium, the organisms that might make it to market will be a form  that can’t exist outside of their pteri dishes.

Source: The Jakarta Globe

Computer wins Jeopardy!

The IBM supercomputer Watson bested “Jeopardy!” champions in a three day battle on the show. “Jeopardy!” is known for its puns, a concept that computers usually can’t grasp. The computer’s algorithms could ignore puns and focus on context, and double-check its answers before buzzing in an answer. Watson won with a cumulative score of $77,147, compared to the $24,000 and $21,600 of its human opponents. Watson’s software, DeepQA, allows it to deduce the answer to clues without connecting to the Internet. IBM also engineered Deep Blue, the computer that beat the chess world champion in 1997.

Source: Information Week and Mashable

Cro-Magnons used skulls as cups

Ancient Britons manufactured skulls into drinking cups, paleontologists discovered. Scientists found the skulls in a cave in England’s Somerset County. They could have been used in a ritual nearly 15,000 years ago. The skulls were carefully opened, so these Cro-Magnons couldn’t have just had a thirst for brains. The paper on the skull-cups was just published, but scientists excavated these skulls back in 1987.

Source: BBC

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