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Cancer Scans May Give False Picture of Genes Driving Disease

Cancer Scans May Give False Picture of Genes Driving Disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Cancer DNA tests give only a partial picture of the genes driving the disease, according to a study that throws cold water on the idea that scanning may quickly lead to highly effective personalized treatments. Scientists are well aware that different tumors in the same patient, and different parts of those tumors, may harbor a variety of genetic mutations.

 

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20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities

20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

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“Smoking gun” on ice ages revisited

“Smoking gun” on ice ages revisited | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Paleoclimatologists Rock -Two million years of radical climate change is significant. “The smoking gun of the ice ages” is the title of an article in the Dec. 9, 2016 issue of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The author, David A. Hodel, is listed with the Laboratory for Paleoclimate Research, Department of Earth Sciences, at Cambridge University in the UK.

 

Hodel cites a 40-year-old paper in Science, 194,1121 (1976). In that paper, Hays, Imbrie and Shackleton reported that their proxies for paleo sea surface temperatures and changing continental ice volumes exhibited periodicities of 42,000, 23,500 and 19,000 years, matching almost exactly the predicted orbital periods of planetary obliquity, precession and eccentricity. They also found that the dominant rhythm in the paleoclimate variations was 100,000 (±20,000) years.

 

Other climatologists have identified 20 glacial/interglacial oscillations over the past two million years with glacial parts of the cycles lasting about four times as long as the warm, interglacial parts. The last glacial maximum was about 18,000 years ago. We have been enjoying the present warm interglacial for about 12,000 years.

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Scientists solve mystery of how most antimatter in the Milky Way forms

Scientists solve mystery of how most antimatter in the Milky Way forms | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of international astrophysicists led by ANU has shown how most of the antimatter in the Milky Way forms.

Antimatter is material composed of the antiparticle partners of ordinary matter -- when antimatter meets with matter, they quickly annihilate each other to form a burst of energy in the form of gamma-rays.

 

Scientists have known since the early 1970s that the inner parts of the Milky Way galaxy are a strong source of gamma-rays, indicating the existence of antimatter, but there had been no settled view on where the antimatter came from. ANU researcher Dr Roland Crocker said the team had shown that the cause was a series of weak supernova explosions over millions of years, each created by the convergence of two white dwarfs which are ultra-compact remnants of stars no larger than two suns.

 

"Our research provides new insight into a part of the Milky Way where we find some of the oldest stars in our galaxy," said Dr Crocker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

 

Dr Crocker said the team had ruled out the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way and the still-mysterious dark matter as being the sources of the antimatter. He said the antimatter came from a system where two white dwarfs form a binary system and collide with each other. The smaller of the binary stars loses mass to the larger star and ends its life as a helium white dwarf, while the larger star ends as a carbon-oxygen white dwarf.

 

"The binary system is granted one final moment of extreme drama: as the white dwarfs orbit each other, the system loses energy to gravitational waves causing them to spiral closer and closer to each other," Dr Crocker said.

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Scientists Improve Evolutionary Tree of Life for Archaea

Scientists Improve Evolutionary Tree of Life for Archaea | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
An international group of researchers from UK, France, Hungary and Sweden has provided new insights into the origins of the Archaea, the group of simple cellular organisms that are the ancestors of all complex life.

 

The Archaea are one of the primary domains of cellular life, and are possibly the most ancient form of life: putative fossils of archaean cells in stromatolites have been dated to almost 3.5 billion years ago. Like bacteria, these microorganisms are prokaryotes, meaning that they have no cell nucleus or any other organelles in their cells. They thrive in a bewildering variety of habitats, from the familiar – soils and oceans – to the inhospitable and bizarre. They play major roles in modern-day biogeochemical cycles, and are central to debates about the origin of eukaryotic cells. However, understanding their origins and evolutionary history is challenging because of the huge time spans involved.

 

To find the root of the archaeal tree and to resolve the metabolism of the earliest archaeal cells, University of Bristol researcher Dr. Tom Williams and co-authors applied a new statistical approach that harnesses the information in patterns of gene family evolution. “With the development of new technologies for sequencing genomes directly from the environment, many new groups of the Archaea have been discovered,” Dr. Williams said. “But while these genomes have greatly improved our understanding of the diversity of the Archaea, they have so far failed to bring clarity to the evolutionary history of the group. This is because, like other microorganisms, the Archaea frequently obtain DNA from distantly related organisms by lateral gene transfer, which can greatly complicate the reconstruction of evolutionary history.”

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How Far Away is Fusion? Unlocking the Power of the Sun

How Far Away is Fusion? Unlocking the Power of the Sun | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The Sun uses its enormous mass to crush hydrogen into fusion, releasing enormous energy. How long will it be until we’ve got this energy source for Earth?

 

The trick to the Sun’s ability to generate power through nuclear fusion, of course, comes from its enormous mass. The Sun contains 1.989 x 10^30 kilograms of mostly hydrogen and helium, and this mass pushes inward, creating a core heated to 15 million degrees C, with 150 times the density of water.

It’s at this core that the Sun does its work, mashing atoms of hydrogen into helium. This process of fusion is an exothermic reaction, which means that every time a new atom of helium is created, photons in the form of gamma radiation are also released.

 

The only thing the Sun uses this energy for is light pressure, to counteract the gravity pulling everything inward. Its photons slowly make their way up through the Sun and then they’re released into space. So wasteful. How can we replicate this on Earth?

 

Now gathering together a Sun’s mass of hydrogen here on Earth is one option, but it’s really impractical. Where would we put all that hydrogen. The better solution will be to use our technology to simulate the conditions at the core of the Sun. If we can make a fusion reactor where the temperatures and pressures are high enough for atoms of hydrogen to merge into helium, we can harness those sweet sweet photons of gamma radiation.

 

The main technology developed to do this is called a tokamak reactor; it’s a based on a Russian acronym for: “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils”, and the first prototypes were created in the 1960s. There are many different reactors in development, but the method is essentially the same.

A vacuum chamber is filled with hydrogen fuel. Then an enormous amount of electricity is run through the chamber, heating up the hydrogen into a plasma state. They might also use lasers and other methods to get the plasma up to 150 to 300 million degrees Celsius (10 to 20 times hotter than the Sun’s core).

 

Superconducting magnets surround the fusion chamber, containing the plasma and keeping it away from the chamber walls, which would melt otherwise. Once the temperatures and pressures are high enough, atoms of hydrogen are crushed together into helium just like in the Sun. This releases photons which heat up the plasma, keeping the reaction going without any addition energy input. Excess heat reaches the chamber walls, and can be extracted to do work.

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Assay of nearly 5,000 mutations reveals roots of genetic splicing errors

Assay of nearly 5,000 mutations reveals roots of genetic splicing errors | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

It’s not so hard anymore to find genetic variations in patients, said Brown University genomics expert William Fairbrother, but it remains difficult to understand whether and how those mutations undermine health. In a new study in Nature Genetics, his research team used a new assay technology called “MaPSy” to sort through nearly 5,000 mutations and identify about 500 that led to errors in how cells processed genes. The system also showed precisely how and why the processing failed.

 

“Today, because we can, we’re getting tens of thousands of variants from each individual that could be relevant,” said Fairbrother, an associate professor of biology. “We can sequence everything. But we want to know which variants are causing diseases — that’s the beginning of precision medicine. How you respond to a therapy is going to be determined by which variant is causing your disease and how.”

 

To accelerate that knowledge, Fairbrother has dedicated his lab to developing a variety of tools and techniques, including software and biophysical systems such as MaPSy, to study gene splicing. Genes are sections of DNA sequence that provide cells with the instructions, or code, for making proteins the body needs for its functions. During this manufacturing process, useful protein coding sequences need to be cut out and reconnected — spliced — from the longer sequences, much as usable movie scenes are cut from longer reels of raw footage when making a film.

 

Genes are often viewed as the blueprint of proteins. Sometimes mutations in genes affect not the code of the proteins themselves, but instead the splicing sites and instructions that govern how the gene sequence should be read. That can be a big problem — while the former kind of problem might affect a component of a protein, the latter kind of error can affect whether the protein is made at all. It’s therefore important to understand how an individual’s genetic variation could alter gene splicing, Fairbrother said. “Splicing errors can be very deleterious because instead of just changing one amino acid [the building block of a protein], it can take out a stretch of 40 or 50 amino acids,” he said.

 

In 2012, Fairbrother’s lab unveiled free web-based software, Spliceman, which analyzes DNA sequences to determine if mutations are likely to cause errors in splicing. Later that year, the lab was part of a team that won the CLARITY contest in which scientists analyzed the whole genomes of three families to find the mutations causing a disease in children from each family.

 

In the new project, Fairbrother and co-lead authors Rachel Soemedi, a postdoctoral researcher at Brown, and Kamil Cygan, a graduate student, developed a “Massively Parallel Splicing Assay,” or “MaPSy,” for rapidly screening the splicing implications of 4,964 variations in the Human Gene Mutation Database (HGMD) of disease-causing genetic problems. MaPSy works by making thousands of artificial genes that can model the effects of disease-causing mutations. The researchers synthesized artificial genes that correspond to “normal” and disease-carrying versions of thousands of genes. These “pooled” artificial genes are processed in large batches in two modes. In the “in vivo” mode, the scientists introduced both healthy and mutant versions of the synthesized genes into living cells to see how often the normal or mutant genes would be successfully processed.

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3D-printed ovaries restore fertility in mice

3D-printed ovaries restore fertility in mice | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

 

Fans of 3D printing say it has the potential to revolutionize medicine—think 3D-printed skin,ears, bone scaffolds, and heart valves. Now, prosthetic ovaries made of gelatin have allowed mice to conceive and give birth to healthy offspring. Such engineered ovaries could one day be used to help restore fertility in cancer survivors rendered sterile by radiation or chemotherapy.

 

This “landmark study” is a “significant advance in the application of bioengineering to reproductive tissues,” says Mary Zelinski, a reproductive scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton who was not involved with the work.

 

The researchers used a 3D printer with a nozzle that fired gelatin, derived from the collagen that’s naturally found in animal ovaries. The scientists built the ovaries by printing various patterns of overlapping gelatin filaments on glass slides—like building with Lincoln Logs, but on a miniature scale: Each scaffold measured just 15 by 15 millimeters. The team then carefully inserted mouse follicles—spherical structures containing a growing egg surrounded by hormone-producing cells—into these “scaffolds.” The scaffolds that were more tightly woven hosted a higher fraction of surviving follicles after 8 days, an effect the team attributes to the follicles having better physical support.

 

The researchers then tested the more tightly woven scaffolds in live mice. The researchers punched out 2-millimeter circles through the scaffolds and implanted 40–50 follicles into each one, creating a “bioprosthetic” ovary. They then surgically removed the ovaries from seven mice and sutured the prosthetic ovaries in their place. The team showed that blood vessels from each mouse infiltrated the scaffolds. This vascularization is critical because it provides oxygen and nutrients to the follicles and allows hormones produced by the follicles to circulate in the blood stream.  

 

The researchers allowed the mice to mate, and three of the females gave birth to healthy litters, the team reports today in Nature Communications. The mice that gave birth also lactated naturally, which demonstrated that the follicles embedded in the scaffolds produced normal levels of hormones.


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Radar warns motorcycle pilots of nearby traffic before they even see the oncoming cars

Radar warns motorcycle pilots of nearby traffic before they even see the oncoming cars | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Radar warns motorcyclists of nearby traffic before they see oncoming cars. Motorcyclists are 18 times more likely to be killed in a collision. This new technology is about to change that. The claim is that this new radar could prevent nearly one-third of all motorcycle accidents.

 

RADAR technology initially developed for use in driverless cars has been adapted for motorcycles. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications developer Cohda Wireless from South Australia has partnered with Bosch, Ducati and Autotalks on a “digital protective shield” that warns riders of nearby traffic before they see oncoming cars. Bosch is commercializing the technology in Ducati production bikes but the radar could also be retrofitted to any car or motorcycle.

 

Production of the technology is being driven by a proposed mandate from the United States Department of Transportation that would require all new vehicles to have vehicle-to-vehicle radars installed. Cohda Wireless Managing Director Paul Gray said the radar was the next step in safety from seatbelts and airbags. “Technologists have gone as far as they can in terms of minimizing harm during an accident and now it is about avoiding the accidents before they even happen,” he said.

 

“If a motorcyclist is riding down the street, it will be alerted when a car turning onto the same road creates an opportunity for an accident. This can also happen when the car moving onto the road is not visible to the rider. The radar will also alert drivers who are changing lanes if someone is in their blind spot, which is quite an issue for motorcyclists.”

 

Gray said the technology would eventually be in every autonomous car as well. Cohda commands about 60% of the vehicle-to-vehicle communication market. The system uses the public WLAN standard (ITS G5) as the basis for the exchange of data between motorcycles and cars.

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NASA invites scientists to submit ideas for successful Europa lander

NASA invites scientists to submit ideas for successful Europa lander | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Now is the time to voice your opinions on the lander’s instruments. NASA recently informed the science community to prepare for a planned competition to select science instruments for a potential Europa lander. While a Europa lander mission is not yet approved by NASA, the agency's Planetary Science Division has funding in Fiscal Year 2017 to conduct the announcement of opportunity process. "The possibility of placing a lander on the surface of this intriguing icy moon, touching and exploring a world that might harbor life is at the heart of the Europa lander mission," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "We want the community to be prepared for this announcement of opportunity, because NASA recognizes the immense amount of work involved in preparing proposals for this potential future exploration."

 

The community announcement provides advance notice of NASA's plan to hold a competition for instrument investigations for a potential Europa lander mission. Proposed investigations will be evaluated and selected through a two-step competitive process to fund development of a variety of relevant instruments and then to ensure the instruments are compatible with the mission concept. Approximately 10 proposals may be selected to proceed into a competitive Phase A. The Phase A concept study will be limited to approximately 12 months with a $1.5 million budget per investigation. At the conclusion of these studies, NASA may select some of these concepts to complete Phase A and subsequent mission phases.

 

Investigations will be limited to those addressing the following science objectives, which are listed in order of decreasing priority:

  • Search for evidence of life on Europa
  • Assess the habitability of Europa via in situ techniques uniquely available to a lander mission
  • Characterize surface and subsurface properties at the scale of the lander

 

In early 2016, in response to a congressional directive, NASA's Planetary Science Division began a study to assess the science and engineering design of a future Europa lander mission. NASA routinely conducts such studies—known as Science Definition Team (SDT) reports—long before the start of any mission to gain an understanding of the challenges, feasibility and science value of the potential mission. The 21-member team began work almost one year ago. The agency briefed the community on the Europa Lander SDT study at recent town halls at the 2017 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) at The Woodlands, Texas, and the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Mesa, Arizona.

 

The proposed Europa lander is separate from and would follow its predecessor—the Europa Clipper multiple flyby mission - which now is in preliminary design phase and planned for launch in the early 2020s. Arriving in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years, the spacecraft would orbit the planet about every two weeks, providing opportunities for 40 to 45 flybys in the prime mission. The Clipper spacecraft would image Europa's icy surface at high resolution, and investigate its composition and structure of its interior and icy shell.

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How radioactive decay could support extraterrestrial life, study shows

How radioactive decay could support extraterrestrial life, study shows | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In the icy bodies around our solar system, radiation emitted from rocky cores could break up water molecules and support hydrogen-eating microbes. To address this cosmic possibility, a University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) team modeled a natural water-cracking process called radiolysis. They then applied the model to several worlds with known or suspected interior oceans, including Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Jupiter’s moon Europa, Pluto and its moon Charon, as well as the dwarf planet Ceres.  

 “The physical and chemical processes that follow radiolysis release molecular hydrogen (H2), which is a molecule of astrobiological interest,” said Alexis Bouquet, lead author of the study published in the May edition of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

 

Radioactive isotopes of elements such as uranium, potassium, and thorium are found in a class of rocky meteorites known as chondrites. The cores of the worlds studied by Bouquet and his co-authors are thought to have chondrite-like compositions. Ocean water permeating the porous rock of the core could be exposed to ionizing radiation and undergo radiolysis, producing molecular hydrogen and reactive oxygen compounds.

 

Bouquet, a student in the joint doctoral program between UTSA’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division, explained that microbial communities sustained by H2 have been found in extreme environments on Earth. These include a groundwater sample found nearly 2 miles deep in a South African gold mine and at hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. That raises interesting possibilities for the potential existence of analogous microbes at the water-rock interfaces of ocean worlds such as Enceladus or Europa.

 

“We know that these radioactive elements exist within icy bodies, but this is the first systematic look across the solar system to estimate radiolysis. The results suggest that there are many potential targets for exploration out there, and that’s exciting,” says co-author Dr. Danielle Wyrick, a principal scientist in SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division.

One frequently suggested source of molecular hydrogen on ocean worlds is serpentinization. This chemical reaction between rock and water occurs, for example, in hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.

 

The key finding of the study is that radiolysis represents a potentially important additional source of molecular hydrogen. While hydrothermal activity can produce considerable quantities of hydrogen, in porous rocks often found under seafloors, radiolysis could produce copious amounts as well.

 

Radiolysis may also contribute to the potential habitability of ocean worlds in another way. In addition to molecular hydrogen, it produces oxygen compounds that can react with certain minerals in the core to create sulfates, a food source for some kinds of microorganisms.

 

“Radiolysis in an ocean world’s outer core could be fundamental in supporting life. Because mixtures of water and rock are everywhere in the outer solar system, this insight increases the odds of abundant habitable real estate out there,” Bouquet said.

 

Co-authors of the article, “Alternative Energy: Production of H2 by Radiolysis of Water in the Rocky Cores of Icy Bodies,” are SwRI’s Dr. Christopher R. Glein, Wyrick, and Dr. J. Hunter Waite, who also serves as a UTSA adjoint professor. 

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Methanol detected for first time around young star

Methanol detected for first time around young star | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Methanol, a key building block for the complex organic compounds that comprise life, has been detected for the first time in the protoplanetary disk of a young, distant star. This finding could help scientists better understand the chemistry occurring during a planet's formation that could ultimately lead to the emergence of life.

Scientists made the methanol discovery around TW Hydrae, a star about 80 percent of our sun's mass and roughly 5 million to 10 million years old. It represents a younger version of what our solar system may have looked like during its formation more than 4 billion years ago. At about 170 light-years away, TW Hydrae has the closest protoplanetary disk to Earth.

The methanol appears to be located in a ring peaking 30 astronomical units from the star. (An astronomical unit, or AU, is the average distance between Earth and the sun, or about 93 million miles.)

This methanol gas likely came from methanol ice located slightly further away from the star. The scientists detailed their findings in the paper, "First detection of gas-phase methanol in a protoplanetary disk," published the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"Methanol is an important molecule because it has been shown in laboratory ice experiments to be a feedstock of larger and more complex molecules," said study lead author Catherine Walsh, an astrochemist at the University of Leeds in England. "The successful detection of methanol in a protoplanetary disk provides compelling evidence that larger molecules are also present."

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World's thinnest nano-hologram paves path to a new 3-D world

World's thinnest nano-hologram paves path to a new 3-D world | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Researchers pave way towards integration of 3-D holography into electronics like smart phones, computers and TVs, with development of nano-hologram 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

 

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday electronics like smart phones, computers and TVs.

 

Interactive 3D holograms are a staple of science fiction -- from Star Wars to Avatar -- but the challenge for scientists trying to turn them into reality is developing holograms that are thin enough to work with modern electronics.

 

Now a pioneering team led by RMIT University's Distinguished Professor Min Gu has designed a nano-hologram that is simple to make, can be seen without 3D goggles and is 1000 times thinner than a human hair.

 

"Conventional computer-generated holograms are too big for electronic devices but our ultrathin hologram overcomes those size barriers," Gu said. "Our nano-hologram is also fabricated using a simple and fast direct laser writing system, which makes our design suitable for large-scale uses and mass manufacture. "Integrating holography into everyday electronics would make screen size irrelevant -- a pop-up 3D hologram can display a wealth of data that doesn't neatly fit on a phone or watch.

 

"From medical diagnostics to education, data storage, defence and cyber security, 3D holography has the potential to transform a range of industries and this research brings that revolution one critical step closer." Conventional holograms modulate the phase of light to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth. But to generate enough phase shifts, those holograms need to be at the thickness of optical wavelengths.

 

The RMIT research team, working with the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), has broken this thickness limit with a 25 nanometre hologram based on a topological insulator material -- a novel quantum material that holds the low refractive index in the surface layer but the ultrahigh refractive index in the bulk. The topological insulator thin film acts as an intrinsic optical resonant cavity, which can enhance the phase shifts for holographic imaging.

 

Dr Zengyi Yue, who co-authored the paper with BIT's Gaolei Xue, said: "The next stage for this research will be developing a rigid thin film that could be laid onto an LCD screen to enable 3D holographic display. "This involves shrinking our nano-hologram's pixel size, making it at least 10 times smaller. "But beyond that, we are looking to create flexible and elastic thin films that could be used on a whole range of surfaces, opening up the horizons of holographic applications."

 

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How Google’s ‘smart reply’ is getting smarter

How Google’s ‘smart reply’ is getting smarter | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Last week, Google reported that it is rolling out an enhanced version of its “smart reply” machine-learning email software to “over 1 billion Android and iOS users of Gmail” — quoting Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The new smart-reply version is now able to handle challenging sentences like “That interesting person at the cafe we like gave me a glance,” as Google research scientist Brian Strope and engineering director Ray Kurzweil noted in a Google Research blog post. But “given enough examples of language, a machine learning approach can discover many of these subtle distinctions,” they wrote.

 

So, how does it work? “The content of language is deeply hierarchical, reflected in the structure of language itself, going from letters to words to phrases to sentences to paragraphs to sections to chapters to books to authors to libraries, etc.,” they explained. So a hierarchical approach to learning “is well suited to the hierarchical nature of language.This approach seems to work well for suggesting possible responses to emails. A hierarchy of modules, each of which considers features that correspond to sequences at different temporal scales, similar to how we understand speech and language, is being used.

 

“With Smart Reply, Google is assuming users want to offload the burdensome task of communicating with one another to our more efficient counterparts,” says Wired writer Liz Stinson. “It’s not wrong. The company says the machine-generated replies already account for 12 percent of emails sent; expect that number to boom once everyone with the Gmail app can send one-tap responses.

 

“In the short term, that might mean more stilted conversations in your inbox. In the long term, the growing number of people who use these canned responses is only going to benefit Google, whose AI grows smarter with every email sent.”

 

Another challenge is that our emails, particularly from mobile devices, “tend to be riddled with idioms [such as urban lingo] that make no actual sense,” suggests Washington Post writer Hayley Tsukayama. “Things change depending on context: Something ‘wicked’ could be good or very bad, for example. Not to mention, sarcasm is a thing.

 

“Which is all to warn you that you may still get a wildly random and even potentially inappropriate suggestion — I once got an ‘Oh no!’ suggestion to a friend’s self-deprecating pregnancy announcement, for example. If the email only calls for a one- or two-sentence response, you’ll probably find Smart Reply useful. If it requires any nuance, though, it’s still best to use your own human judgment.”

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Have Gravitational Waves Left Scars in the Fabric of Spacetime?

Have Gravitational Waves Left Scars in the Fabric of Spacetime? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime caused by the universe’s most violent collisions, and we detect them with experiments like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its European counterpart, Virgo. These detectors are a series of several-kilometer-long L-shaped buildings that measure gravitational waves passing through Earth as tiny differences in the distance traveled by two laser beams’ light waves. Scientists have spotted gravitational waves twice, maybe three times.

 

If these waves permanently altered spacetime, our detectors might be able to measure the slight change. These changes to spacetime wouldn’t affect your life at all, since they’d be tinier than the individual protons and neutrons in atoms. But the idea is that, given enough passing gravitational waves from incredible black hole collisions, we’d eventually be able to pick up the sum of all these spacetime ripples as a tiny shift in the detector. This could happen after as few as 20 gravitational wave events similar to the first one ever discovered, according to a paper published last year.

 

It’s possible that scientists might be able to spot the scars caused by gravitational waves without observing the waves themselves, which would be useful seeing as our gravitational wave detectors are only sensitive to waves with certain frequencies. Scientists named this idea “orphan memory” in a paper published this month in the journal Physical Review Letters. It’s a bit like The Flash’s footprints—something moving beyond the comprehension of our detectors but leaving behind a tiny hint of a passing force.

 

Others researchers are excited about the prospect of detecting hints of higher frequency gravitational waves—these could signal exotic physics and extra dimensions, Sanjeev Seahra, associate professor in mathematics at the University of New Brunswick told Gizmodo. “But detectors such as LIGO are not optimised to see such signals, so the possibility that the gravitational wave memory effect could act as an observable low-frequency component to intrinsically high-frequency waveforms is very encouraging.” The detectors are optimized to see signals between 10 and 2000Hz.

 

At least one scientist wasn’t so encouraged. I asked Lionel London, a research associate in gravitational waves at Cardiff University what he thought about using experiments like LIGO to detect the ghostly traces of past spacetime ripples, and he was skeptical. He pointed out that a few of the paper’s statements go against what many astrophysicists know about black hole mergers, like the amount of a black hole’s energy that gets converted into gravitational waves. The paper assumes the entire remnant black hole mass turns into gravitational waves after a collision, but London said only about 10 percent of the system’s initial mass can turn to gravitational waves.

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VLA Reveals Secondary Black Hole Near Supermassive Black Hole in Cygnus A Galaxy

VLA Reveals Secondary Black Hole Near Supermassive Black Hole in Cygnus A Galaxy | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Astronomers were surprised when the VLA revealed that a bright new object has appeared near the core of a famous galaxy. They think it's a second supermassive black hole, indicating that the galaxy has merged with another in the past.

 

Pointing the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array (VLA) at a famous galaxy for the first time in two decades, a team of astronomers got a big surprise, finding that a bright new object had appeared near the galaxy’s core. The object, the scientists concluded, is either a very rare type of supernova explosion or, more likely, an outburst from a second supermassive black hole closely orbiting the galaxy’s primary, central supermassive black hole.

 

The astronomers observed Cygnus A, a well-known and often-studied galaxy discovered by radio-astronomy pioneer Grote Reber in 1939. The radio discovery was matched to a visible-light image in 1951, and the galaxy, some 800 million light-years from Earth, was an early target of the VLA after its completion in the early 1980s. Detailed images from the VLA published in 1984 produced major advances in scientists’ understanding of the superfast “jets” of subatomic particles propelled into intergalactic space by the gravitational energy of supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. “This new object may have much to tell us about the history of this galaxy,” said Daniel Perley, of the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K., lead author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journalannouncing the discovery.

 

“The VLA images of Cygnus A from the 1980s marked the state of the observational capability at that time,” said Rick Perley, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). “Because of that, we didn’t look at Cygnus A again until 1996, when new VLA electronics had provided a new range of radio frequencies for our observations.” The new object does not appear in the images made then. “However, the VLA’s upgrade that was completed in 2012 made it a much more powerful telescope, so we wanted to have a look at Cygnus A using the VLA’s new capabilities,” Perley said.

 

Daniel and Rick Perley, along with Vivek Dhawan, and Chris Carilli, both of NRAO, began the new observations in 2015, and continued them in 2016. “To our surprise, we found a prominent new feature near the galaxy’s nucleus that did not appear in any previous published images. This new feature is bright enough that we definitely would have seen it in the earlier images if nothing had changed,” said Rick Perley. “That means it must have turned on sometime between 1996 and now,” he added.

 

The scientists then observed Cygnus A with the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) in November of 2016, clearly detecting the new object. A faint infrared object also is seen at the same location in Hubble Space Telescope and Keck observations, originally made between 1994 and 2002. The infrared astronomers, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, had attributed the object to a dense group of stars, but the dramatic radio brightening is forcing a new analysis.

 

What is the new object? Based on its characteristics, the astronomers concluded it must be either a supernova explosion or an outburst from a second supermassive black hole near the galaxy’s center. While they want to watch the object’s future behavior to make sure, they pointed out that the object has remained too bright for too long to be consistent with any known type of supernova. “Because of this extraordinary brightness, we consider the supernova explanation unlikely,” Dhawan said.

While the new object definitely is separate from Cygnus A’s central supermassive black hole, by about 1500 light-years, it has many of the characteristics of a supermassive black hole that is rapidly feeding on surrounding material.

 

“We think we’ve found a second supermassive black hole in this galaxy, indicating that it has merged with another galaxy in the astronomically-recent past,” Carilli said. “These two would be one of the closest pairs of supermassive black holes ever discovered, likely themselves to merge in the future.”

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Destruction of a quantum monopole finally observed

Destruction of a quantum monopole finally observed | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists at Amherst College and Aalto University have made the first experimental observations of the dynamics of isolated monopoles in quantum matter.

 

The new study provided a surprise: the quantum monopole decays into another analogue of the magnetic monopole. The obtained fundamental understanding of monopole dynamics may help in the future to build even closer analogues of the magnetic monopoles.

 

Unlike usual magnets, magnetic monopoles are elementary particles that have only a south or a north magnetic pole, but not both. They have been theoretically predicted to exist, but no convincing experimental observations have been reported. Thus physicists are busy looking for analogue objects.

 

"In 2014, we experimentally realized a Dirac monopole, that is, Paul Dirac's 80-year-old theory where he originally considered charged quantum particles interacting with a magnetic monopole," says Professor David Hall from Amherst College. And in 2015, we created real quantum monopoles," adds Dr. Mikko Möttönen from Aalto University.

 

Whereas the Dirac monopole experiment simulates the motion of a charged particle in the vicinity of a monopolar magnetic field, the quantum monopole has a point-like structure in its own field resembling that of the magnetic monopole particle itself.

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Astronomers Watch as Collapsing Star Turns Into a Black Hole

Astronomers Watch as Collapsing Star Turns Into a Black Hole | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Using data from several telescopes, a team of astronomers watched as a massive, dying star was likely reborn as a black hole.

 

The doomed star, named N6946-BH1, was 25 times as massive as our sun. It began to brighten weakly in 2009. But, by 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence. By a careful process of elimination, based on observations researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole. This may be the fate for extremely massive stars in the universe.

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Pharmacological characterisation of the highly NaV1.7 selective spider venom peptide Pn3a

Pharmacological characterisation of the highly NaV1.7 selective spider venom peptide Pn3a | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Human genetic studies have implicated the voltage-gated sodium channel NaV1.7 as a therapeutic target for the treatment of pain.

 

As the Nav1.7 channel appears to be a highly important component in nociception, with null activity conferring total analgesia,[14] there has been immense interest in developing selective Nav1.7 channel blockers as potential novel analgesics.[27] Nav1.7 is a sodium ion channel that in humans is encoded by the SCN9A gene.[3][4][5] Since Nav1.7 is not present in heart tissue or the central nervous system, selective blockers of Nav1.7, unlike non-selective blockers such as local anesthetics, could be safely used systemically for pain relief. Moreover, selective Nav1.7 blockers may prove to be far more effective analgesics, and with fewer undesirable effects, relative to current pharmacotherapies.[27][28][29]

 

A number of selective Nav1.7 (and/or Nav1.8) blockers are in clinical development, including funapide (formerly TV-45070, XEN402), raxatrigine (formerly CNV1014802, GSK-1014802), PF-05089771, PF-04531083, DSP-2230, AZD-3161, NKTR-171, GDC-0276, and RG7893(formerly GDC-0287).[30][31][32] Ralfinamide (formerly NW-1029, FCE-26742A, PNU-0154339E) is a multimodal, non-selective Nav channel blocker which is under development for the treatment of pain.[33]

 

Spiders are the most successful venomous animals with an estimated 100,000 extant species [1]. The vast majority of spiders employ a lethal cocktail to rapidly subdue their prey, which are often many times their own size. However, despite their fearsome reputation, less than a handful of these insect assassins are harmful to humans [2,3]. Nevertheless, it is this small group of medically important species that first prompted scientists more than half a century ago to begin exploring the remarkable pharmacological diversity of spider venoms.

 

Amongst the ranks of animals that employ venom for their survival, spiders are the most successful, the most geographically widespread, and arguably consume the most diverse range of prey. Although the predominant items on a spider’s dinner menu are other arthropods, larger species will readily kill and feed on small fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Thus, spider venoms contain a wealth of toxins that target a diverse range of receptors, channels, and enzymes in a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate species.

 

Spider venoms are complex cocktails composed of a variety of compounds, including salts, small organic molecules, peptides, and proteins [4,5,6,7,8,9]. However, peptides are the primary components of spider venoms, and some species produce venom containing >1000 unique peptides of mass 2–8 kDa [10]. Based on the number of described spider species and a relatively conservative estimate of the complexity of their venom it has been estimated that the potential number of unique spider venom peptides could be upwards of 12 million [11]. In recent years there has been an exponential increase in the number of spider-toxin sequences being reported [12] due to the application of high-throughput proteomic [13,14] and transcriptomic [15,16,17] approaches, or a combination of these methods [10,18,19]. In the last 18 months alone the number of toxins in the ArachnoServer spider-toxin database [20,21] has more than doubled, and is now excess of 900 (see http://www.arachnoserver.org/). Nevertheless, our knowledge of the diversity of spider-venom peptides is still rudimentary, with less than 0.01% of potential peptides having been isolated and studied.

 

Although only a small number of spider venom peptides have been pharmacologically characterized, the array of known biological activities is impressive [9]. In addition to the well known neurotoxic effects of spider venoms, they contain peptides with antiarrhythmic, antimicrobial, analgesic, antiparasitic, cytolytic, haemolytic, and enzyme inhibitory activity. Furthermore, the crude venom of Macrothele raveni has antitumor activity, for which the responsible component has not yet been identified [22,23]. Finally, larger toxins such as the latrotoxins from the infamous black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) and related species induce neurotransmitter release and they have played an important role in dissecting the process of synaptic vesicle exocytosis [24].

 

Since spiders employ their venom primarily to paralyse prey, it is no surprise that these venoms contain an abundance of peptides that modulate the activity of neuronal ion channels and receptors. Indeed, the majority of characterized spider-venom peptides target voltage-gated potassium (KV) [25], calcium (CaV) [26,27], or sodium (NaV) [26,28] channels. More recently, novel spider-venom peptides have been found that interact with ligand-gated channels (e.g., purinergic receptors [29]) and recently discovered families of channels such as acid sensing ion channels [30], mechanosensitive channels [31], and transient receptor potential channels [32]. Not only do most of these peptides have selectivity for a given class of ion channel, they can have anything from mild preference to exquisite selectivity for a given channel subtype. This potential for high target affinity and selectivity makes spider-venom peptides an ideal natural source for the discovery of novel therapeutic leads [33].

 

Despite the advent of automation and the rise of high-throughput and high-content screening in the pharmaceutical industry there has been a sharp decline in the rate of discovery and development of novel chemical entities [34,35]. A group of scientists reviewed the emerging role that venom-derived components can play in addressing this decline with an emphasis on technical advances that can aid the discovery process [36]. It is worth noting that two of the 20 FDA-approved peptide pharmaceuticals were derived from animal venoms (i.e., ziconitide and exendin-4) [37].

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Poison for cancer cells: New method identifies active agents in mixtures of hundreds of substances

Poison for cancer cells: New method identifies active agents in mixtures of hundreds of substances | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The pharmaceutical industry is always on the lookout for precisely such substances to deploy them against threads like cancer. In the case of cancer, for example, when the proteasome is blocked, rapidly growing cancer cells choke on their own waste. The first medication of this kind is already generating annual revenues of over one billion US dollars. The scientists are now looking for further substances with lesser side effects.

Following preliminary studies, one such candidate was a toxic substance produced by the bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens. This is the poison that kills the larvae of the garden chafer. Using his new methodology, the scientists discovered that the bacterium lives inactively in the intestines of the threadworm. When it lays its eggs, the worm infects the larvae. The sudden change in environment causes the bacterium to emit toxins. After the larva dies, the bacterium ceases to produce toxins. Once the threadworms hatch from the protective egg membrane, they ingest the inactive bacterium into their intestines, and the cycle can start again.

Since the newly developed method also works in intensively colored solutions and in the presence of hundreds of other substances, the workgroup at the Chair of Biochemistry succeeded in isolating the unknown poison directly from the bacterial brew: It turned out to be two structurally very similar compounds, cepafungin I and glidobactin A. The latter was previously considered the strongest proteasome blocker. In spite of the resemblance, cepafungin I had never been tested as a proteasome blocking agent. The tests of the research group showed that Cepafungin I is indeed a strong Proteasomhemmer. In effect, it even surpasses the previous record holder.

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New insights on the spin dynamics of a material candidate for low-power devices

New insights on the spin dynamics of a material candidate for low-power devices | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Computers process and transfer data through electrical currents passing through tiny circuits and wires. As these currents meet with resistance, they create heat that can undermine the efficiency and even the safety of these devices.

 

To minimize heat loss and optimize performance for low-power technology, researchers are exploring other ways to process information that could be more energy-efficient. One approach that researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are exploring involves manipulating the magnetic spin of electrons, a scientific field known as spintronics.

 

"In spintronics, you can think of information as a magnet pointing one way and another magnet pointing in the opposite direction," said Argonne materials scientist Axel Hoffman. "We're interested in how we can use magnetic excitation in applications because processing information this way expends less energy than carrying information through an electrical charge."

 

In a recent report published in Nano Letters, Hoffman and fellow researchers reveal new insights into the properties of a magnetic insulator that is a candidate for low-power device applications; their insights form early stepping-stones towards developing high-speed, low-power electronics that use electron spin rather than charge to carry information. The material they studied, yttrium iron garnet (YIG), is a magnetic insulator that generates and transmits spin current efficiently and dissipates little energy. Because of its low dissipation, YIG has been used in microwave and radar technologies, but recent discoveries of spintronic effects associated with YIG have prompted researchers to explore potential spintronic applications.

 

In their report, Argonne researchers characterize the spin dynamics associated with a small-scale sample of YIG when that material is exposed to an electrical current. "This is the first time for anyone to have measured spin dynamics on a sample size this small," said Benjamin Jungfleisch, an Argonne postdoctoral appointee and lead author of the report. "Understanding the behavior at a small size is crucial because these materials need to be small to ever have the potential to be successfully integrated in low-power devices."

 

Researchers attached the YIG sample to platinum nanowires using electric beam lithography, creating a micrometer-size YIG/platinum structure. They then sent an electrical current through the platinum to excite the YIG and drive spin dynamics. They then took electrical measurements to characterize the magnetization dynamics and measure how these dynamics changed by shrinking the YIG.

 

"When shrinking materials, they can behave in different ways, ways that could present a roadblock to identifying and actualizing potential new applications," Hoffman said. "What we've observed is that, although there are small details that change when YIG is made smaller, there doesn't appear to be a fundamental roadblock that prevents us from using the physical approaches we use for small electrical devices."


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How Whales Became the Biggest Animals on the Planet

How Whales Became the Biggest Animals on the Planet | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Whales are big. Really big. Enormously big. Tremendously big. Fin whales can be 140,000 pounds. Bowhead whales tip the scales at 200,000 pounds. And the big mama of them all, the blue whale, can reach a whopping 380,000 pounds — making it the largest animal to have ever lived on planet Earth.

 

 But for as long as whales have awed us with their great size, people have wondered how they became so colossal. In a study published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a team of researchers investigated gigantism in baleen whales, the filter-feeding leviathans that include blue whales, bowhead whales and fin whales. The marine mammals became jumbo-size relatively recently, they found, only within the past 4.5 million years. The cause? A climatic change that allowed the behemoths to binge-eat.

 

Whales have an interesting evolutionary history. They began as land-dwelling, hoofed mammals some 50 million years ago. Over several millions of years they developed fins and became marine creatures. Between about 20 million and 30 million years ago, some of these ancient whales developed the ability to filter-feed, which meant they could swallow swarms of tiny prey in a single gargantuan gulp. But even with this feeding ability, whales remained only moderately large for millions of years.

 

“But then all of a sudden — ‘boom’ — we see them get very big, like blue whales,” said Nick Pyenson, the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and an author of the paper. The researchers suspected that an environmental change happened during that time that essentially caused the baleen whales to bulk up. After some investigation, they found that this time period coincided with the early beginnings of when ice sheets increasingly covered the Northern Hemisphere.

 

Runoff from the glaciers would have washed nutrients like iron into coastal waters and intense seasonal upwelling cycles would have caused cold water from deep below to rise, bringing organic material toward the surface. Together these ecological effects brought large amounts of nutrients into the water at specific times and places, which had a cascading effect on the ocean’s food web.

 

Throngs of zooplankton and krill would gather to feast on the nutrients. They would form dense patches that could stretch many miles long and wide and be more than 65 feet thick. The oceans became the whales’ giant all-you-can-eat buffets. “Even though they had the anatomical machinery to filter-feed for a long, long time,” said Jeremy Goldbogen, a comparative physiologist from Stanford University and author of the paper, “it wasn’t until the ocean provided these patchy resources that it made bulk filter-feeding so efficient.” But that was only part of the equation.

 

“Plentiful food everywhere isn’t going to get you giant whales,” said Graham Slater, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago and the study’s lead author. “They have to be separated by big distances.” Because the ecological cycles that fuel the explosions of krill and zooplankton occur seasonally, Dr. Slater said the whales must migrate thousands of miles from food patch to food patch. Bigger whale ancestors that had bigger fuel tanks had a better chance of surviving the long seasonal migrations to feed, while smaller baleen whales became extinct. If the food patches were not far apart, Dr. Slater said, the whales would have grown to a certain body size that was comfortable for that environment, but they would not be the giants we see today.

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The next era of Drones will be defined by 'Swarms'

The next era of Drones will be defined by 'Swarms' | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Drones are getting tinier, cheaper, and will start swarming in huge groups like flocks of birds. These automated, flying robots are tiny, cheap, disposable. And in large groups, they could either save your life, or be the deadliest weapon since the machine gun.

 

Earlier this year, 300 drones assembled into an American flag in Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime show, illuminating the night sky. And Intel is promoting their Shooting Star swarms as an alternative to fireworks. Chinese company eHang claimed the record for the biggest swarm, in a spectacular New Year show in which 1,000 drones formed a map of China and the Chinese character for 'blessings'.

 

Swarms could also check pipelines, chimneys, power lines and industrial plants cheaply and easily. Drone swarms may even have a place on the farm. They can spot plant disease and help manage water use, or spray pesticides and herbicides only in the exact spot needed, all working cooperatively to cover the area and fill in gaps.

 

Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos of the Centre for Distributed Robotics at the University of Minnesota is working on solar-powered drones that will ultimately work together to survey large swathes of farmland at low cost. “Their roles may include early detection of nitrogen deficiency, plant disease, and proper management of water resources,” says Papanikolopoulos.

 

Even the military is developing swarm technology. The US, for example, recently launched 103 small ‘Perdix’ drones from F/A-18 jets. These weigh a few hundred grams, and are released from dispensers normally used for flares. The 3D-printed Perdix drones are disposable, and are intended to suppress enemy air defences by acting as decoys or jammers or by locating radar so they can be destroyed.

 

The US Navy also aims to develop a swarm of drones that costs less than a missile. It’s developing software that allows sub-swarms to be split off for particular missions, or fresh drones to join the swarm seamlessly.

 

Another player is China, long the leader in small consumer drones. Chinese company DJI alone has around 70% of the global market, and now the Chinese military is seeing what they can do with this new technology. At an aerospace exhibition in December, state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) displayed a video of nearly 70 drones flying together. The drones flew in formation and collaborated in an intelligence-gathering mission. Those drones could also cooperate in a ‘saturation attack’ on an enemy missile launcher. They all dive in to attack simultaneously from different directions – far too many at once for the defenders to stop.


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The mixed blessing of the drone...a device that can do good or evil, depending on who programs and uses them.

Russell Roberts

Hawaii Intelligence Digest

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Neutrons provide the first nanoscale look at a living cell membrane

Neutrons provide the first nanoscale look at a living cell membrane | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A research team from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has performed the first-ever direct nanoscale examination of a living cell membrane. In doing so, it also resolved a long-standing debate by identifying tiny groupings of lipid molecules that are likely key to the cell's functioning.

studies of membranes and, potentially, other cell components. It could prove useful for future research on important interactions such as drug-membrane, biofuel-membrane, and even antibiotic-membrane interactions.

 

The multidisciplinary project—led by biophysicist John Katsaras, chemist Bob Standaert and microbiologist James Elkins—was performed at the lab's High Flux Isotope Reactor and Spallation Neutron Source using the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. The team published its findings in the journal PLoS Biology.

 

A cell's membrane is a thin bilayer of lipid molecules among which reside other biomolecules such as proteins. Researchers have been uncertain about whether membrane lipids sometimes organize into groups called domains, also known as "rafts," or if they are randomly distributed in the membrane. Organization of lipids in distinct domains within the cell membrane is thought to enable functions such as signaling between cells.

 

"It became a debate," Katsaras said. "Some people believed they exist, while others believed they didn't. There was a lot of circumstantial evidence that could support either side." The problem was that existing techniques were not capable of unequivocally resolving this question.

 

Neutron scattering analysis was key to the project's success. Lipid domains are too small to be seen by optical microscopes that use light to probe samples such as biological cells. However, neutrons have no such limitation and can be used to provide a nanoscale view of a cell. Moreover, unlike other nanoscale tools, neutrons can be used for examining a live cell without damaging it.


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Discovered: Fast-growing galaxies from early universe

Discovered: Fast-growing galaxies from early universe | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of astronomers including Carnegie's Eduardo Bañados and led by Roberto Decarli of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has discovered a new kind of galaxy which, although extremely old--formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang--creates stars more than a hundred times faster than our own Milky Way.

Their findings are published by Nature.

 

The team's discovery could help solve a cosmic puzzle--a mysterious population of surprisingly massive galaxies from when the universe was only about 10 percent of its current age.

 

After first observing these galaxies a few years ago, astronomers proposed that they must have been created from hyper-productive precursor galaxies, which is the only way so many stars could have formed so quickly. But astronomers had never seen anything that fit the bill for these precursors until now.

 

This newly discovered population could solve the mystery of how these extremely large galaxies came to have hundreds of billions of stars in them when they formed only 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, requiring very rapid star formation.

 

The team made this discovery by accident when investigating quasars, which are supermassive black holes that sit at the center of enormous galaxies, accreting matter. They were trying to study star formation in the galaxies that host these quasars. "But what we found, in four separate cases, were neighboring galaxies that were forming stars at a furious pace, producing a hundred solar masses' worth of new stars per year," Decarli explained.

 

"Very likely it is not a coincidence to find these productive galaxies close to bright quasars. Quasars are thought to form in regions of the universe where the large-scale density of matter is much higher than average. Those same conditions should also be conducive to galaxies forming new stars at a greatly increased rate," added Fabian Walter, also of Max Planck.


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Research increases distance at which supernovas could spark mass extinctions on Earth

Research increases distance at which supernovas could spark mass extinctions on Earth | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In 2016, researchers published “slam dunk” evidence, based on iron-60 isotopes in ancient seabed, that supernovae buffeted the Earth — one of them about 2.6 million years ago. University of Kansas researcher Adrian Melott, professor of physics and astronomy, supported those findings in Nature with an associated letter, titled “Supernovae in the neighborhood.”

 

Melott has followed up since those findings with an examination of the effects of the supernovae on Earth’s biology. In new research to appear in Astrophysical Journal, the KU researcher and colleagues argue the estimated distance of the supernova thought to have occurred roughly 2.6 million years ago should be cut in half.  

 

“There’s even more evidence of that supernova now,” he said. “The timing estimates are still not exact, but the thing that changed to cause us to write this paper is the distance. We did this computation because other people did work that made a revised distance estimate, which cut the distance in half. But now, our distance estimate is more like 150 light years.” A supernova exploding at such a range probably wouldn’t touch off mass extinctions on Earth, Melott said.  

 

“People estimated the ‘kill zone’ for a supernova in a paper in 2003, and they came up with about 25 light years from Earth,” he said. “Now we think maybe it’s a bit greater than that. They left some effects out or didn’t have good numbers, so now we think it may be a bit larger distance. We don’t know precisely, and of course it wouldn’t be a hard-cutoff distance. It would be a gradual change. But we think something more like 40 or 50 light years. So, an event at 150 light years should have some effects here but not set off a mass extinction.”

 

In addition to its distance, interstellar conditions at the time of a supernova would influence its lethality to biology on Earth. “Cosmic rays like to travel along magnetic field lines,” Melott said. “They don’t like to cut across magnetic field lines as they experience forces to stop them from doing that. If there’s a magnetic field, we don’t know its orientation, so it can either create a superhighway for cosmic ray, or it could block them.

 

The main interesting case did not assume the superhighway. It assumed that much of the magnetic field was blasted out by a series of supernovae, which made the Local Bubble — and we and the most recent supernovae were inside. This is a weak, disordered magnetic field. The best analogy I can think of is more like off-road driving.” In such a case, the authors think cosmic rays from the supernova at 150 light years would have penetrated to Earth’s lower atmosphere. 

 

“This is a much stronger thing,” he said. “The cosmic rays from the supernova would be getting down into the lower atmosphere — having an effect on the troposphere. All kinds of elementary particles are penetrating from altitudes of 45-10 miles, and many muons get to the ground. The effect of the muons is greater — it’s not overwhelming, but imagine every organism on Earth gets the equivalent of several CT scans per year. CT scans have some danger associated with them. Your doctor wouldn’t recommend a CT scan unless you really needed it.” 

 

Melott said cancer and mutations would be the most obvious consequences for Earth’s biology of a supernova’s cosmic rays. With his co-authors —  B.C. Thomas of Washburn University (2005 KU physics doctoral graduate and recent winner of the A. Roy Myers Excellence in Research Award), M. Kachelrieß of Institutt for fysikk in Norway, D.V. Semikoz of the Observatoire de Paris, Sorbonne Paris Cite in France and the National Research Nuclear University in Moscow, and A.C. Overholt (2013 KU physics doctoral graduate) of MidAmerica Nazarene University — Melott looked at the fossil record in Africa, the most geographically stable continent on earth during the Pleistocene, when a  supernova was likely to have occurred.

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A Whole New Jupiter: Newest Results from NASA’s Juno Mission

A Whole New Jupiter: Newest Results from NASA’s Juno Mission | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet’s surface than previously thought.

“We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.”

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. The findings from the first data-collection pass, which flew within about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter's swirling cloud tops on Aug. 27, are being published this week in two papers in the journal Science, as well as 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters.

“We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”

Among the findings that challenge assumptions are those provided by Juno’s imager, JunoCam. The images show both of Jupiter's poles are covered in Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together.

“We're puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn't look like the south pole,” said Bolton. “We're questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we're going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”

Another surprise comes from Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR), which samples the thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter’s atmosphere, from the top of the ammonia clouds to deep within its atmosphere. The MWR data indicates that Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones are mysterious, with the belt near the equator penetrating all the way down, while the belts and zones at other latitudes seem to evolve to other structures. The data suggest the ammonia is quite variable and continues to increase as far down as we can see with MWR, which is a few hundred miles or kilometers. 

Prior to the Juno mission, it was known that Jupiter had the most intense magnetic field in the solar system. Measurements of the massive planet’s magnetosphere, from Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG), indicate that Jupiter’s magnetic field is even stronger than models expected, and more irregular in shape. MAG data indicates the magnetic field greatly exceeded expectations at 7.766 Gauss, about 10 times stronger than the strongest magnetic field found on Earth.

“Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before,” said Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and the lead for the mission’s magnetic field investigation at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Already we see that the magnetic field looks lumpy: it is stronger in some places and weaker in others. This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen. Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter’s dynamo works.”
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