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You may be having a rough day, but at least you didn’t have to swab the anal glands of a fully conscious meerkat. But we can’t all have jobs where we get to sit quietly in air conditioned offices. Some people spent November 2011 creeping up on unsuspecting meerkats lounging outside their dens to swab for bacteria inside their scent glands. No meerkats were harmed in the making of this study, but they probably weren’t thrilled about the whole thing.

These are the things biologists do for science. And it doesn’t end at anal gland swabbing—there was anal paste, too. Before we get to the gritty details (and here “gritty” is both metaphoric and literal), let’s pause for a moment to ask a crucial question: why were biologists swabbing meerkat butts in the first place?

It’s not an unreasonable question. Sure, everyone is wired differently and some people obviously aren’t that bothered by anal glands, but they’re still probably not going to do it just for kicks. No, these biologists are driven by a quest for knowledge. More specifically, they were curious how bacterial communities differ from meerkat to meerkat, and how those bacteria influence anal gland scent (aren’t we all?). Lots of animals use scent to send social signals. Anal gland secretions can help mark your territory or tell your fellow mammals that you’re ready to mate. They’re why dogs sniff each other’s behinds; they’re just trying to get to know one another. Meerkats do the same thing, but unlike dogs they live in complex social hierarchies.

Meerkats rub their little furry butts on bushes and rocks for much the same reason that the youths make graffiti: to make their mark on the world, literally. Neighboring colonies need to establish their grounds and alpha meerkats (read: not Timon from The Lion King) want to assert their smelly dominance. Just because our mongoose friends use their behinds doesn’t make it less legitimate. If anything, meerkats take their glands more seriously than we take our spray paint.

Meerkats also mark things using their cheeks, much like cats, which is far cuter but less interesting. Courtesy of Lydia Greene, Duke University

It’s not enough to know that there are bacteria living in there, though. Nor is it enough to know that the types of bacteria vary between meerkats. You have to show that the chemicals produced by specific bacteria breaking down anal paste vary according to the bacteria type, and by meerkat traits. And to do that, you have to swab some glands. The group of biologists who took it upon themselves to do so published a similar study in 2014, but weren’t able to fully tie all the pieces together. They published their updated results on Monday in Scientific Reports.

As it turns out, meerkats living in Kuruman River Reserve in South Africa have become so habituated to human presence that a little anal swabbing is par for the course. Up until now, you were probably picturing an anal pouch as a small hole on their butts that extruded some kind of liquidy paste, kind of like a more musky anus. Think again.

You can’t unsee this. Courtesy of Lydia Greene, Duke University

Those pouches are wide open. They’re almost asking to be swabbed. Collecting the paste pre-pouch mixing required more finesse and some general anesthesia. To get pure anal paste, you have to partially evert the anal pouch, which means basically to turn it inside out. Then you have to gently—gently—squeeze the anal gland and collect the paste in a small tube. Presumably this is where alien myths come from in the meerkat world and perhaps why UFOs visiting Earth assume that we, too, want our anal glands probed.

By analyzing the chemical components of each meerkat’s anal paste, the biologists figured out that it was indeed due to native bacteria that the animals’ scents varied. A similar phenomenon has been observed in hyenas, but this is the first time specific bacteria have been linked to the odorants they produce in the paste. Before, we only had correlative evidence. The type of bacteria may vary between animals, but that could easily be because certain microorganisms tend to flourish depending on the composition of the paste. This evidence shows that it goes the other way—the bacterial profile is what’s giving the paste its distinct smell. Female meerkats have more Corynebacterium, while the males have more of a proteobacterium. Each of these microorganisms break down particular chemicals into odorous molecules, giving male and female meerkats their distinctive musks. The scent even varies between individual meerkats. Males tend to have more variation than females, which the authors think may be because males travel between colonies more and thus need to be able to adjust their microbiota more frequently.

Next up: understanding what each scent tells a meerkat. Sure, dominant meerkats have one smell and subordinate females another, but what actually tells a meerkat that? We can try asking them, though there’s really only one way to find out: more anal swabs.

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A Warmer Planet Might Make Deadly Bacteria More Resistant To Antibiotics

E. coli bacteria. NIAID

Tom Patterson became ill in 2024 while vacationing in Egypt. He was felled by Acinetobacter baumannii, an often deadly bacterium resistant to every antibiotic his doctors tried. Patterson, a University of California San Diego psychiatry professor, should have died, but didn’t. (Experimental infusions of bacteria-killing viruses known as bacteriophages ultimately saved his life.) But his near-death experience from a superbug he picked up in a warm country — an organism that also has afflicted many hospitalized wounded troops in Iraq and Kuwait — raises provocative questions about drug-resistant bacteria and their relationship to our increasingly hotter planet. “Travelers returning from tropical and other warm areas where multi-drug resistant pathogens have become more widespread will increasingly challenge the antibiotics on our shelves,” said Robert T. Schooley, an infectious diseases specialist at UC San Diego, who treated Patterson. “Turning up the temperature of the incubator in which we live will clearly speed the evolutionary clock of bacterial and other pathogens with which we must co-exist.” Experts already know that climate change has become a significant threat to global public health, particularly as rising temperatures have produced greater populations of disease-transmitting insects, such as mosquitoes. But warmth also encourages bacteria to grow, providing them a chance to mutate and elude drugs that once easily killed them. While antibiotic resistance is believed largely due to the indiscriminate prescribing of antibiotics, experts now think that other environmental stresses — climate change among them — also may be at work.

The world is confronting a growing and frightening danger from multi-drug-resistant infections, with many now difficult or impossible to treat. The World Health Organization has described this scenario as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” There are more than two million cases and 23,000 deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent study published in Nature Climate Change suggests that a link between climate change and bacterial resistance exists right here in the United States, particularly in its southern regions. Epidemiologists from Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of Toronto found that higher local temperatures and population densities correlated to a greater level of antibiotic resistance among a number of common bacterial strains.

A representation of antibiotic resistance caused by climate change. Fawn Gracey/Boston Children’s Hospital

“Most work to date on the effects of climate on infectious diseases have focused on vector-borne and diarrheal diseases,” said Derek MacFadden, a research fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and the study’s lead author. “However, our work suggests that climate may have an impact on antibiotic resistance in bacteria. If this is the case, then our expectations on how the burden of antibiotic resistance will change over time would need to consider climate — and may be underestimates.”

For their study, the researchers assembled a large database of U.S. antibiotic resistance information related to E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and S. aureus from a variety of sources, including hospital, laboratory and disease surveillance collected between 2013 and 2024. Their database totaled more than 1.6 million bacteria from 602 records in 223 facilities and 41 states — samples all isolated from people with resistant infections.

They then compared their data to latitude coordinates, as well as to mean and median local temperatures, and found that higher local average minimum temperatures correlated the most with antibiotic resistance. Local average minimum temperature increases of 10 degrees Celsius were linked to surges of 4.2, 2.2, and 3.6 percent in resistant strains of E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and S. aureus respectively, according to the study.

Finally, they also found that an increase of 10,000 people per square mile was related to 3 and 6 percent respective increases in resistance in E. coli and K. pneumoniae, indicating that population density also likely plays a role.

“Population growth and increases in temperature and antibiotic resistance are three phenomena that we know are currently happening on our planet,” said Mauricio Santillana, the study’s co-senior author and faculty member at Boston Children’s computational health informatics program. “But until now, hypotheses about how these phenomena relate to each other have been sparse. We need to continue bringing multidisciplinary teams together to study antibiotic resistance in comparison to the backdrop of population and environmental changes.”

The rising global surface temperature shows an increase of approximately 1.4°F since the early 20th century. NOAA

The study also found higher rates of antibiotic prescriptions across geographic regions in areas with increases in bacterial resistance.

While the study suggests the brunt of problem is occurring in the South, MacFadden warned that no part of the country was safe. “If temperature is playing a role, then the effects could be felt everywhere, typically in regions with the greatest potential changes in temperature over time as you move toward the poles,” he said.

UC San Diego’s Schooley — who was not involved in the study — said any number of biological factors likely are involved. “With warmer temperatures, environmental populations of bacteria might increase in size, the horizontal transmission of bacterial resistance genes might increase, and interactions with animal populations — from a health perspective — might also evolve,” he said.

Still, he added: “A 10-degree change in minimum temperature is a relatively big change in climate since they are talking about a 6-degree change in mean global temperature by the end of the century. Nonetheless, this is yet more food for thought about why those who trivialize the potential impact of climate change are putting the planet at risk.”

The study authors called for additional research. “We have found associations, and more work is needed to identify the consistency of these findings across regions and possible mechanisms,” MacFadden said.

John Brownstein, the other senior co-author and director of Boston Children’s computational epidemiology group, pointed out that public health estimates already predict a perilous escalation in antibiotic resistance in the coming years. “But with our findings that climate change could be compounding — and accelerating — an increase in antibiotic resistance, the future prospects could be significantly worse than previously thought,” he said.

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.

Tesla Wants To Make Humanoid Robots. Here’s Their Competition.

During Tesla’s AI day last week, Elon Musk unmasked his next creation to come: “friendly” Tesla robots that can perform dangerous, repetitive, and boring tasks like fetching tools for repairs or getting groceries. 

In the presentation, Musk explains how this robot is the natural evolution for the tech at Tesla. “Tesla is arguably the biggest robotics company because our cars are semi-sentient robots on wheels,” he boasts. It “makes sense,” he says, to put the cars’ self-driving capabilities and built in neural networks that understand and navigate the world around the car into a humanoid robot form. 

[Related: There are two kinds of AI, and the difference is important]

The robot will supposedly stand 5’8” tall and weigh 125 pounds. It will be able to carry up to 45 pounds, deadlift up to 150 pounds, and move at a maximum speed of 5 mph. Musk assures the audience that this robot will be one that humans can run away from and overpower (if necessary). “Hopefully that doesn’t ever happen, but you never know,” he joked. The prototype is expected to come online sometime next year, and the company has put up an open call for team member applications. 

The plan? Dress a human up as a robot so that people pay us a lot of money for a nonexistent thing. chúng tôi Ryan Mac 🙃 (@RMac18) August 20, 2023

Critics have issued their doubts about the practicality of Musk’s promise, citing the fact that several companies have already undertaken projects to build robots for mundane labor, and that Musk is severely underestimating the time and work it takes to construct and test even the simplest form of these machines. 

Further dampening the hype for Musk’s robot is the fact that the self-driving system which powers Tesla’s cars, and theoretically would power this new robot, has recently been under federal investigation for crashing into emergency vehicles. 

Taking into account that Musk is known for being a showman over being a realist, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath for him to deliver this promised product on time. 

Musk is not alone in his ambitions. Many companies and universities have been working on robots that can take on human-supporting tasks, from monitoring health, to going on rescue missions, to just being a butler. But, there’s still a wide gap between the types of robot assistants portrayed in movies and TV versus what is possible right now with current research. 

Here’s where some of the notable robots stand, and where they seem to be headed.  

[Related: An Interactive Guide To The Latest Artificially Intelligent Robots]

Boston Dynamics 

Boston Dynamics, arguably the leader in humanoid robotics, has been testing their tech for almost a decade. The company, previously owned by SoftBank, was acquired by Hyundai Motor Group in June. Their humanoid Atlas robots have undergone several trials to test their agility and motion in different environments. Atlas was first introduced to the public in 2013. Recently, the robot managed to master parkour. Atlas is just under five foot tall, weighs around 196 pounds, and can run at speeds up to 5.6 mph. These robots are still just for research and are not available commercially. However, one of their dog-like robots, Spot, is available for purchase at a ticket price of $74,500.

Agility Robotics 

Agility Robotics has their own version of a humanoid work bot called Digit. In 2023, Agility Robotics teamed up with automaker Ford Motor to put Digit to work. Digit has working and adjustable arms and legs that helps it walk around, pick up objects and move them. It uses LiDAR and other sensors to navigate. Now, Ford is testing whether Digit in combination with Ford’s self-driving car can collaborate to make deliveries.  

SoftBank 

SoftBank’s Pepper, introduced in 2014, was one of the first social humanoid robots. At one point, it was available for purchase if you have $2,000 to spare. Pepper has the features of a small child, can mimic upper-body human movements, and can recognize human emotion and pick up non-verbal social cues, creating an illusion of understanding, or what some developers call artificial empathy. Despite stints at the Smithsonian and Buddhist temples, the production of Pepper was put on halt this year, reported The Verge.  

Hanson Robotics

Hanson Robotics is responsible for creating the uncannily human-like robot Sophia, which came on the scene in 2024. Reuters reported in January that the Hong Kong-based company would start mass-producing four robot models sometime this year, including Sophia. Founder David Hanson told Reuters that these robots could be helpful in healthcare, retail, and airline settings. 

Honorable mentions

Even though not all humanoid robots can share the spotlight equally, some are good at specific tasks while others are important as proof-of-concepts. The neural network-run Japanese robot Altar is nothing more than a complex inflatable air dancer, but it provided an example of how coordination and moving in harmony with humans is not an easy thing to teach robots. 

Stanford’s OceanOne diving robot was able to retrieve a vase from an underwater shipwreck, hypothetically reducing the need for people to go on dangerous diving missions. However, this aquatic humanoid diver still needs humans to direct it virtually. Samsung has been keen on making at-home robotic health aides. But in practice, these health-monitoring robots work less like Big Hero 6’s Baymax, and more like a Roomba with a Life Alert button. 

9 Ways To Make Better Use Of Gmail Filters

Gmail filters is a good way for you to set rules for your email and allow you to organize your inbox without you doing the manual work. Here are a few ways that you can make good use of Gmail Fliters

1. Forward all incoming emails and archive them

If you have multiple Gmail accounts, and you really only use one of them, a good way to manage all your emails is to forward all the emails from all the accounts to the primary account. In addition, you can mark the emails as read and archive all of them, so they won’t show up in the inbox.

To accomplish this, create a new filter with @ in the “From” field. (It will work with * as well)

In the next section, you can select “Forward it” as well as “Mark as read” (or “Archive”).

2. Auto-reply to Email Using Canned Responses

If you always receive emails from the same user, or have the same pattern (like questions on a particular topic, guest post request, etc), you can compose a canned response and create a filter to auto-reply with the canned response for such emails.

Here’s the guide to setup the filter to autoreply with canned response.

3. Sort attachment of various size

The standard filter allows you to select emails with attachment. You can further improve this filter by specifying the attachment size. For example, to add a label “big file attachment” to emails with attachment of more than 10MB:

1. In the search bar at the top of Gmail, type:

Yet another way to customize this filter is to sort attachment according to their file types, something like:

4. Configure tabbed inbox emails

For the new tabbed inbox interface in Gmail, Google is the one that decides which email go into which category/tab. By using the filters, you can set your own rule to override the default settings, like emails from Twitter will go directly into “Primary” instead of “Social” tab.

5. Quickly organize old emails into label

After you have created a filter, it will only work for future incoming emails. If you already have thousands of emails in your inbox and you only just started out using filters, there is an option for you to quickly apply the filter to all the emails in your inbox.

6. Export/Import Filter to new Gmail account

If you have multiple Gmail accounts and you want all of them to have the same set of filters, instead of creating each filter one-by-one in all the accounts, you can simply export from one account and import to other Gmail accounts.

7. Send a to-do list to yourself and auto assign it to label

If you have the habit of recording down the things that you need to do, you can simply email yourself with the subject “TODO” and make use of a filter to add “TODO” label to the email.

8. Use Gmail as a RSS reader

Using a service like IFTTT, you can easily convert a RSS into an email and have it delivered to your inbox. You can then make use of a filter to assign “RSS” label to the email.

9. Create a disposable email address with the “+” alias

For this to work, you have to create the filter:

Action: Delete It Conclusion

There are tons of ways to make use of Gmail filters and we have only scratched the surface. Do share with us the cool filters you have come up with and innovative ways to make use of them.

Image credit: file folder with slots for household expenses by BigStockPhoto

Damien

Damien Oh started writing tech articles since 2007 and has over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He is proficient in Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS, and worked as a part time WordPress Developer. He is currently the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Make Tech Easier.

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How To Boot From Usb: Make A Bootable Usb Stick

However, in reality, this is a necessary step in many situations. If you’re reinstalling Windows 11 or 10, or using software to clone a hard drive, it’s the easiest way.

Before you begin, there are three things you’ll need for the process to work:

a bootable USB stick.

a laptop or PC set up to boot from USB devices

Software that will run from a USB drive

How to make a USB device bootable

A PC or laptop won’t be able to start from a USB drive unless it’s formatted correctly and has the appropriate files and software which enable it to boot.

A common mistake is to copy an ISO file (containing an operating system) to a USB drive and assume this is all that’s needed for it to boot and install Windows or any other operating system. First, you need to use software which can write the files to the drive and make it bootable.

Several utilities can do this, including Rufus (which supports many operating systems) and Microsoft’s own Media Creation Tool, which you can use to legally download Windows 10 or Windows 11 and put it on a USB stick.

These tools will warn you that they’ll delete everything off your USB drive, so make sure you’ve copied off any files you don’t want to lose before starting. You’ll also need to have downloaded whatever software it is you’re planning to boot from, be it Windows, Linux or something else.

How

do I boot from USB in the BIOS?

Many PCs and laptops are set to check for a USB drive first before trying to boot from a CD, DVD or the internal hard drive. But not all are configured this way. You might find that plugging in your flash drive before pressing your computer’s power button doesn’t work: it just boots into Windows as normal or does nothing if you’ve got no operating system installed yet.

In this case, you need to:

Turn on your computer and press 

Delete, F2, F10 or F11

(this varies by device) to enter the BIOS

Use the cursor keys to find the ‘Boot’ menu or something similar

Change the order so USB is at the top of the list as the number one boot priority

If none of those keys work to enter the BIOS, look out for a message on your monitor after pressing the computer’s power button. The message is usually at the bottom of the screen and says something like ‘Press F11 for boot options’.

Some PCs and laptops don’t show this, so you’ll have to check your manufacturer’s website to find out which key to press or even your motherboard manual.

Once in the BIOS, look for a menu or an option that lets you see and change the boot devices or boot priority. This will vary from BIOS to BIOS, but it’s usually fairly obvious.

Make sure you change the first (#1) boot option, as whatever is set there will be the device that is tried first.

A small number of old PCs may lack the ability to boot from USB, but anything within the last decade or so should have the option. If you’re still having problems, check that USB ports haven’t been disabled in the BIOS. Different BIOSes work in different ways, but it should be simple enough to figure out how to make a USB drive the first boot device.

Bear in mind that the USB stick may need to be plugged into a USB port for it to appear in the list of boot options.

Once you’ve set everything correctly, use the ‘Save & Exit’ option in the BIOS to save your changes and reboot the system (often this is the F10 key). Then your PC or laptop should boot from the USB drive when it restarts.

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A Light Bulb Powered By Bacteria

The Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge

See other finalists!

We’ve all basked in the glow of different light bulbs: incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, neon, LED, and more. But a lamp that harbors living, light-emitting bacteria — a biological bulb, if you will — is something radically different from what’s available on the market today.

Three undergraduate students from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, hope to change that with the help of crowdfunding.

The young scientists, who are finalists in the Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge, recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for a kit that anyone can use to make a Biobulb.

“The Biobulb is essentially a closed ecosystem in a jar,” says biochemistry major Michael Zaiken in the team’s video pitch. “It’s going to contain several different species of microorganisms, and each organism plays a role in the recycling of vital nutrients that each of the other microbes need to survive.”

The kit’s key ingredient will be a genetically engineered species of Escherichia coli bacteria. These microbes live inside the intestines of humans and other animals, and they don’t normally glow in the dark. But Zaiken and his two teammates, Alexandra Cohn (a genetics and philosophy double-major) and AnaElise Beckman (a neurobiology and anthropology double-major), plan to insert a loop of DNA into E. coli that will allow the bacteria to bioluminesce like jellyfish, fireflies, squid, or some other light-producing lifeform.

Electricity won’t power the bulb. The genetically modified E. coli plus a growth media, microbes that use ambient light to create food and recycle waste, and a bulb should be able to glow and recharge repeatedly, perhaps for days or months. (Sort of like a glowing version of those aquatic ecosystems sealed into glass spheres that you see in airline catalogs.)

Biobulb isn’t available yet; the team still needs to study the best genes, kit ingredients, and caretaking methods. One of the current challenges is finding a way to keep the DNA that codes for bioluminescence inside the E. coli as the cells replicate. “Right now we are looking at a couple of strategies to keep the [bioluminescence] genes stable over long periods of time,” Zaiken says on the Biobulb project’s RocketHub page.

More than delivering a cool product, Cohn hopes the crowdfunding project will cast a positive light on the field of synthetic biology. “Many people don’t understand what exactly synthetic biology is,” she says.

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