Posts Tagged ‘Romania’

by Michael d’Estries

Back in 1986, during surveys for the location of a power plant near the Black Sea in Romania, construction workers digging more than 60 feet underground broke into a bizarre, previously untouched ecosystem.

Called the Movile Cave, this subterranean wonder has been sealed for an estimated 5.5 million years. The air is warm and deadly, with noxious gases and little oxygen, the tunnels narrow, the pure and utter darkness the stuff of nightmares. But what has shocked the few scientists who’ve entered this underground Middle Earth of Horrors is that the place is absolutely teeming with life.

More specifically, creepy-crawly life.

Water scorpions, worms, spiders, predatory leeches and previously unknown microbes are just a few of the creatures in Movile. In fact, of the 48 species that have been identified, a remarkable 33 are new to science.

“All the creatures we saw are completely white,” Microbiologist Rich Boden, one of only 30 people to have entered Movile, said in an interview. “None of them has any pigmentation in their body as there is no sunlight — you can see right through them.”

Most of the species also have no eyes, evolution having done away with that sense long ago in favor of longer antennae and arms.

“I thought it was odd that the spiders still spin webs down there because there are no flies, but then you see there are these little insects called spring-tails, which bounce into the air and are caught by the webs,” added Boden. “It really is the stuff of science-fiction.”

Because no organic matter from the surface makes its way into Movile, scientists were at first puzzled as to how an entire world could possibly flourish under such harsh conditions. The answer lies in vast “mats” on the surface of the cave’s waters and walls. These mats contain millions upon millions of tiny bacteria called autotrophs. Instead of photosynthesis, these autotrophs use a process called chemosynthesis, which obtains chemical energy from the oxidation of sulfur compounds and ammonia in the cave waters, explains the Murrell Lab, part of the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences. The resulting milky film of microorganisms serves as the foundation for the rest Movile’s ecosystem.

“It’s very likely that the bacteria have been there a lot longer than 5 million years, but that the insects became trapped there around that time,” microbiologist J. Colin Murrell of University of East Anglia told the BBC. “They could have simply fallen in and become trapped when the limestone cast dropped, sealing the cave until it was discovered again in 1986.”

Movile’s unique conditions for life are so alien that the Romanian press quoted one scientist as saying that “if a nuclear war swept out life on Earth, that ecosystem would be a survivor.”

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/55-million-year-old-alien-world-hiding-under-romania

Advertisements

Our brain’s ability to process information and adapt effectively is dependent on a number of factors, including genes, nutrition, and life experiences. These life experiences wield particular influence over the brain during a few sensitive periods when our most important muscle is most likely to undergo physical, chemical, and functional remodeling.

According to Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at MIT, your “terrible twos” and those turbulent teen years are when the brain’s wiring is most malleable. As a result, traumatic experiences that occur during these time periods can alter brain activity and ultimately change gene expressions—sometimes for good.

Throughout the first two years of life, the brain develops at a rapid pace. However, around the second year, something important happens—babies begin to speak.

“We start to understand speech first, then we start to articulate speech ourselves and that’s a really complex thing that goes on in the brain,” Swart, who conducts ongoing research on the brain and how it affects how we become leaders, told Quartz. “Additionally, children start to walk—so from a physical point of view, that’s also a huge achievement for the brain.

Learning and understanding a new language forces your brain to work in new ways, connecting neurons and forming new pathways. This is a mentally taxing process, which is why learning a new language or musical instrument often feels exhausting.

With so many important changes happening to the brain in such a short period of time, physical or emotional trauma can cause potentially momentous interruptions to neurological development. Even though you won’t have any memories of the interruptions (most people can’t remember much before age five), any kind of traumatic event—whether it’s abuse, neglect, ill health, or separation from your loved ones—can lead to lasting behavioral and cognitive deficits later in life, warns Swart.

To make her point, Swart points to numerous studies on orphans in Romania during the 1980s and 1990s. After the nation’s communist regime collapsed, an economic decline swept throughout the region and 100,000 children found themselves in harsh, overcrowded government institutions.

“[The children] were perfectly well fed, clothed, washed, but for several reasons—one being that people didn’t want to spread germs—they were never cuddled or played with,” explains Swart. “There was a lot of evidence that these children grew up with some mental health problems and difficulty holding down jobs and staying in relationships.”

Swart continues: “When brain scanning became possible, they scanned the brains of these children who had grown up into adults and showed that they had issues in the limbic system, the part of the brain [that controls basic emotions].”

In short, your ability to maintain proper social skills and develop a sense of empathy is largely dependent on the physical affection, eye contact, and playtime of those early years. Even something as simple as observing facial expressions and understanding what those expressions mean is tied to your wellbeing as a toddler.

The research also found that the brains of the Romanian orphans had lower observable brain activity and were physically smaller than average. As a result, researchers concluded that children adopted into loving homes by age two have a much better chance of recovering from severe emotional trauma or disturbances.

The teenage years

By the time you hit your teenage years, the brain has typically reached its adult weight of about three pounds. Around this same time, the brain is starting to eliminate, or “prune” fragile connections and unused neural pathways. The process is similar to how one would prune a garden—cutting back the deadwood allows other plants to thrive.

During this period, the brain’s frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex, experience increased activity and, for the first time, the brain is capable of comparing and analyzing several complex concepts at once. Similar to a baby learning how to speak, this period in an adolescent’s life is marked by a need for increasingly advanced communication skills and emotional maturity.

“At that age, they’re starting to become more understanding of social relationships and politics. It’s really sophisticated,” Swart noted. All of this brain activity is also a major reason why teenagers need so much sleep.

Swart’s research dovetails with the efforts of many other scientists who have spent decades attempting to understand how the brain develops, and when. The advent of MRIs and other brain-scanning technology has helped speed along this research, but scientists are still working to figure out what exactly the different parts of the brain do.

What is becoming more certain, however, is the importance of stability and safety in human development, and that such stability is tied to cognitive function. At any point in time, a single major interruption has the ability to throw off the intricate workings of our brain. We may not really understand how these events affect our lives until much later.

http://qz.com/470751/your-brain-is-particularly-vulnerable-to-trauma-at-two-distinct-ages/

castle


The dungeon believed to have held Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for the blood-thirsty character, was recently discovered in Turkey

Archeologists in Turkey have reportedly discovered the dungeon where the real-life basis for Count Dracula was held.

The cell where history’s Dracula, the Romanian prince Vlad III (nicknamed Vlad the Impaler for his gruesome tendency to impale his foes), was recently discovered during a restoration project, the Turkey-based Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Restoration works in the Tokat Castle have discovered a secret tunnel leading to the Pervane Bath and a military shelter. Two dungeons have also been discovered in the castle, where Wallachian Prince Vlad III the Impaler, who was also known as Dracula, is said to have been held captive in the early 15th century.

The ongoing restoration works, which have continued for 10 weeks, have also restored and reinforced its bastions, which were used as defense in the Seljuk and Ottoman era.

“We try to shed light on history with the structure layers we unearth,” said archaeologist İbrahim Çetin, who works on the excavations. He said that the team has found food cubes and an open terrace, as well as the military shelter and dungeons that were “built like a prison.”

Çetin noted the presence of many tunnels surrounding the site. “The castle is completely surrounded by secret tunnels. It is very mysterious,” he said.

Çetin said that Dracula had been kept captive in one of these uncovered dungeons. “It is hard to estimate in which room Dracula was kept, but he was around here,” he said.

The Turkish archaeologist did not elaborate. Vlad III lived between 1431 and 1476. Most historians say he was kept in captivity in Romania. The exact length of his period of captivity is open to debate, though indications are that it was from 1462 to 1474.

http://time.com/3453948/archaeologists-believe-they-found-draculas-dungeon/#3453948/archaeologists-believe-they-found-draculas-dungeon/