Author Archives: brian-lawrence-owensgmail-com

Cyclists’ Pacing Strategies Should Consider the Wind

Both Tour de France racers and recreational cyclists can improve performance by riding hardest into the wind.

As the elite riders of the Tour de France race towards the finish line of the grueling, 21-stage race this weekend, they are looking for any little tactical advantage they can gain over their rivals. New research from a team of sports scientists in Sweden could help them find that edge.

Road cyclists need to adapt their speed and energy expenditure during a race to account for changing conditions such as wind. Previous studies have shown that a cyclist who maintains an even power output, slowing down into a headwind and speeding up with a tailwind while working at the same effort throughout, will lose more time in the headwind segments than they will gain back in the tailwind segments. So the best strategy is to go a bit harder into the wind and then recover at an easier pace when riding with the wind. Read more in Inside Science.

Faster, deeper, smaller—the rise of antibody-like scaffolds

In early May the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca completed a deal with Boston-based Pieris Pharmaceuticals worth up to $2.1 billion to bring Pieris’ anticalin asthma drug PRS-060, an engineered protein that mimics antibodies, to the clinic. And on June 1, Bicycle Therapeutics in Cambridge, UK, pulled in $52 million in a series B funding round with several high-profile investors to continue developing its bicycle peptides for a variety of cancer types.

Those are just two of the wide variety of protein scaffold drugs currently in development. “There’s a whole zoo of non-antibody scaffolds out there,” says Daniel Christ, an immunologist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia. Read more in Nature Biotechnology.

Looking at Future Stormwater Solutions

Onto each city, some rain must fall. But we can be smarter about how we deal with it. Most of the time rainwater is treated as a nuisance or a threat, something to be quickly swept away and dumped into rivers or lakes so that it doesn’t end up in our basements. But what if, instead, that water was treated as a resource, to be captured and put to use along that path to the lake?

That’s going to require a major change in attitudes, said Kevin Mercer, founder of the RainGrid smart rain barrel company. The cheapest and cleanest way of dealing with rainwater is to capture it at the source, but “engineers are completely obsessed with the end of the pipe,” he said. Read more in Water Canada.

Quiet Please, the Fish Are Flirting

Fish that fart together stay together.

In an ocean full of clicking shrimp and singing whales, fish are often imagined as the silent actors. Fish use motion, color, and chemicals to communicate, but they lack the iconic mewl of a cat or trill of a bird. Yet in reality, many fish chat constantly to mark their territories or find mates. And all of our noise—from seismic surveys to boat motors—is making it much more difficult for fish to hear one another. Read more in Hakai Magazine.

Wise elk learn to outsmart hunters and tell apart their weapons

As female elk get older, they also get wiser: they learn how to avoid getting shot by hunters, and appear to adapt their behaviour to the types of weapon the hunters carry.

Hunting by humans is known to affect how elk behave, selecting for more cautious behaviours by killing more of the bolder animals. But ecologist Henrik Thurfjell at the University of Alberta, Canada, wondered whether the animals might also learn how to stay safe as they age. Read more in New Scientist.

Rhinovirus vaccine development is about more than fighting colds

Rhinovirus, the pathogen behind the common cold, can cause severe, acute lung disease in children and those with underlying respiratory conditions. Since the 1970s, vaccine development has been hindered by the presence of numerous virus serotypes and the lack of a good animal model to test vaccine candidates. However, several different research groups are now making good progress on rhinovirus vaccines, using a variety of different techniques.

The researchers working on a vaccine for rhinovirus, the infection that causes the common cold, are all clear on one important point — they’re not trying to cure the sniffles.

“Rhinovirus is more than just a nuisance,” says Martin Moore, a virologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “Sniffles in adults are not why we are doing this.” Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Nature’s Most Wanted: Conservationists Launch New Quest for Lost Species

Expeditions will delve into the wild, looking for species that haven’t been seen for at least a decade.

Somewhere deep in the remote and largely inaccessible wetlands of northern Myanmar, Richard Thorns hopes to find a ghost. This fall, the ambulance driver and amateur ornithologist plans to leave his home in Crowborough, England to launch his seventh expedition in search of the elusive — and quite possibly extinct — pink-headed duck.

The striking but shy bird was always a rare sight in the marshes of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and little is known about its behavior and habits. Its large, dark brown body, with characteristic pink plumage adorning its head and neck, has not been conclusively seen in the wild since 1949. But Thorns has made it his personal mission to prove that the bird is still out there. Read more in Inside Science.

Monkey mafia steal your stuff, then sell it back for a cracker

Long-tailed macaques living near an Indonesian temple have figured out how to run a ransom racket on visiting tourists.

The monkeys grab valuables, such as glasses, hats, cameras or, in one case, a wad of cash from the ticket booth, then wait for temple staff to offer them food before dropping their ill-gotten gains and dashing off with the tasty prize. Read more in New Scientist.

Plant Trees and Chill

Software helps a conservation group see where shade trees will best cool a river. Then the hard work starts.

In 2011, the city of Medford in Oregon had a problem. The treated water being released into the Rogue River from its sewage treatment plant was too warm, threatening the river’s fish.

The historically cool Rogue River was already warming, and Medford’s discharge could raise the temperature by another 0.18 degrees Celsius. Warmer rivers have less oxygen, and cause fish to hatch earlier and die younger. To stay on the right side of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Medford had to find a way to cool down its wastewater.

“We looked at agricultural re-use, chillers, cooling towers and lagoons, but all the options were really expensive – more than $15 million,” said Tom Suttle, construction manager for the city’s water reclamation division. Read more in Inside Science.

Kinetica Dynamics: Skyscraper stabilizer

Kinetica Dynamics may be a young start-up, but its approach to stabilizing tall buildings is based on a well-established idea.“It’s a reinvigoration of an old vibration damping technology,” says Michael Montgomery, an engineer and the company’s co-founder and chief executive.

The technology, a polymer that diminishes vibration and shock, is bonded tightly to the structure of buildings and was first used in the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center to prevent motion sickness caused by the upper parts of the towers moving in the wind. The polymer, which was created by the US technology company 3M, was installed between the steel frames throughout the towers to dissipate vibrations. Read more in Nature.