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Scientists Are Engineering Better Temperature Control for Your Office

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Offices aren’t typically considered the most comfortable places on earth—and that's bad news for employers. According to a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University, workers placed in chilly offices committed 44 percent more errors than when they were in a more comfortable environment. And because what’s considered comfortable to one employee may be sweltering to another, scientists are now looking into ways to tailor temperature to meet individual preferences.

The “Comfort Suite” at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s headquarters in Colorado is a 250-square-foot office simulator where engineers and ergonomics experts test energy-efficient ways to create a more comfortable work environment. Some examples of the technology include desk chairs that can be warmed up and cooled down from a smartphone app, infrared cameras that detect chilly fingers, and sensors that track carbon dioxide levels and adjust temperatures accordingly.

While the Comfort Suite is currently being used for experimental purposes, many similar devices have already made their way into real offices around the country. Peter Rumsey, the CEO and co-founder of Personal Comfort Systems, tells WIRED that his company recently shipped 70 of their Hyperchairs to the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. The chair's personal climate control is determined using a smartphone or the built-in interface, and the power it consumes never exceeds 15 watts (compared to the 1500 watts used by a space heater). However, that level of efficiency comes at a price—$1900 per chair to be exact.

But not every aspect of the comfort equation can be customized to please everyone. To settle the age-old conflict over the office thermostat, companies can now download Comfy, an app that allows employees to vote on the temperature setting. After Johnson Control tested the app on two floors of their Milwaukee Headquarters, the building cut the amount of steam used for heating and electricity used for cooling by about 23 percent over four months. But based on the track record of office buildings, we'd recommend keeping a cardigan at your desk just in case.

[h/t: WIRED]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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