Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Strange but true: Coffee-loving bug immune to caffeine buzz

The coffee berry borer can consume a dose of caffeine that would be fatal to humans. Photo / Courtesy of Investigación y Desarrollo
The coffee berry borer can consume a dose of caffeine that would be fatal to humans. Photo / Courtesy of Investigación y Desarrollo

Coffee-loving bug immune to caffeine buzz

If you think your caffeine addiction is serious, you've probably never heard of the coffee berry borer. The coffee berry borer is a plague beetle that chomps through coffee crops in several countries, creating a headache for producers. But until now, scientists have been unable to figure out how the bug can survive consuming the caffeine equivalent to 500 espressos - a level so high it would kill a person. A United States-led DNA analysis has shown the insect has a unique detoxification system based on microbial communities, and is therefore able to perform its life cycle in the plants.

Recreating the moa's menu

The same software used to assess building strength after the Christchurch Earthquake has revealed the snacking habits of our ancient moa. New Zealand and Australian researchers have just published research in which medical scanners and structure-testing software were used to analyse ancient remains of the huge herbivore birds, that roamed the country until the 15th century.

The results showed nine species of moa were able to co-exist because differences in the structure and strength of each species' bills influenced or dictated diet. Moa models, which were compared to each other and to two living relatives, the emu and cassowary, simulated the response of the skull to different biting and feeding behaviours including clipping twigs and pulling, twisting or bowing head motions to remove foliage.

Why robots will never truly understand us

Robots interacting with us to a point that's frightening has been a popular plot for movies like Ex Machina and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. But University of California researchers say today's computers will never truly understand what we're saying because they do not take into account the context of a conversation the way people do. Specifically, don't develop a shared understanding of the people, place and situation - often including a long social history - that is key to human communication, and without such common ground, a computer cannot help but be confused. "People tend to think of communication as an exchange of linguistic signs or gestures, forgetting that much of communication is about the social context, about who you are communicating with," said Arjen Stolk, who led a study just published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. He argues scientists and engineers should focus more on the contextual aspects of mutual understanding between man and machine.

How you sound is how you feel

French scientists have demonstrated that how we sound to ourselves can influence the way we feel. In a new study, they created a digital audio platform that could modify the emotional tone of people's voices while they were talking, to make them sound happier, sadder or more fearful. The results of their experiments showed that while listening to their altered voices, participants' emotional states changed in accordance with the new emotion. "Very little is known about the mechanisms behind the production of vocal emotion," said the study's lead author, Jean-Julien Aucouturier, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research. "Previous research has suggested that people try to manage and control their emotions, for example hold back an expression or reappraise feelings. We wanted to investigate what kind of awareness people have of their own emotional expressions."

The Japanese have developed a technique to print human organ models in 3D. Photo / University of Tsukuba
The Japanese have developed a technique to print human organ models in 3D. Photo / University of Tsukuba

Japanese pioneer printable organ models

Can you 3D-print a human organ? Well, sort of. Japanese researchers and developers have just unveiled a low-cost human organ model production technique for use with 3D printers that helps reveal complicated interior organ structure. They say the technique, which produces models in a format that makes internal structures like blood vessels easier to see, could lower the costs of such organ models to a third of that for available technology. It's expected the development will also be a game-changer in clinical site applications.

- NZ Herald

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