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Led by Professor Mike Barlow (UCL Physics & Astronomy) the team used ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory to observe the Crab Nebula in far infrared light.
Their measurements of regions of cold gas and dust led them to the serendipitous discovery of the chemical fingerprint of argon hydride ions, published today in the journal Science. The findings support scientists’ theories of how argon forms in nature.
The Herschel Space Observatory, an ESA space telescope which recently completed its mission, is the biggest space telescope ever to have flown. Herschel’s instruments were designed to detect far-infrared light, which has much longer wavelengths than we can see with our eyes.
“We were doing a survey of the dust in several bright supernova remnants using Herschel, one of which was the Crab Nebula. Discovering argon hydride ions here was unexpected because you don’t expect an atom like argon, a noble gas, to form molecules, and you wouldn’t expect to find them in the harsh environment of a supernova remnant,” said Barlow.
Although hot objects like stars glow brightly in visible light, colder objects like the dust in nebulae radiate mainly in the infrared, wavelengths which are blocked by Earth’s atmosphere. Although nebulae can be seen in visible light, this light comes from hot excited gases within them; the cold and dusty component is invisible at optical wavelengths.
“Looking at infrared spectra is useful as it gives us the signatures of molecules, in particular their rotational signatures,” Barlow said. “Where you have, for instance, two atoms joined together, they rotate around their shared centre of mass. The speed at which they can spin comes out at very specific, quantised, frequencies, which we can detect in the form of infrared light with our telescope.”
Elements can exist in several different versions, or isotopes, which have different numbers of neutrons in their atomic nuclei. The properties of isotopes are very similar to one another in most respects, but they do differ slightly in mass. Because of this mass difference, the speed of rotation depends on which isotopes are present in a molecule.
The light coming from certain regions of the Crab Nebula showed extremely strong and unexplained peaks in intensity around 618 Gigahertz and 1235 GHz. Consulting databases of known properties of different molecules, the scientists found that the only possible explanation was that the emission was coming from spinning molecular ions of argon hydride. Moreover, the only isotope of argon whose hydride could rotate at that rate was argon-36.
Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, home to a probable buried ocean, just added another twist to its exotic cool. The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted possible plumes of water spraying from Europa’s south pole. The jets resemble the giant icy geyser seen on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Plumes on Europa could be even more exciting because they hint at the ability to tap a subsurface habitat that might even harbour extraterrestrial life.
“If this pans out, it’s potentially the biggest news in the outer Solar System since the discovery of the Enceladus plume,” says Robert Pappalardo, a planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who was not involved in the research.
The work, reported today in Science1, comes with plenty of caveats. Although previous theoretical work suggested that plumes could exist on Europa, earlier tantalizing hints of them have come to nothing. This time, Hubble spotted the potential plumes in just one observation. And if they do turn out to be real, the plumes might not even be connected to the moon's deep subsurface ocean. “It’s a first-time discovery, and we need to go back and look some more,” says team member Joachim Saur, a planetary scientist at the University of Köln in Germany.
Saur and his colleagues have looked for Europan plumes before, to no avail2. In 2012, the group decided to take another shot. Using an ultraviolet camera on Hubble, they scrutinized Europa once in November and once in December of that year. The November study found nothing, but the 2.7-hour exposure in December spotted blobs of hydrogen and oxygen near Europa’s south pole.
Their size, shape and chemical make-up is best explained by two plumes of water vapour roughly 200 kilometres high, says team leader Lorenz Roth, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. That is many times the height of potential Europa plumes calculated by some theorists3. It would mean that Europa's jets reach higher than the volcanic eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Io, but not as high as the towering plume that spouts from Enceladus.
It is possible that the plumes may not tap into the deep subsurface, says Saur. The frictional heat of ice rubbing against itself might melt parts of the icy crust and feed the plumes. Either way, the discovery could be a shot in the arm for upcoming missions. In 2022, the European Space Agency is planning to launch a probe that would explore Europa as well as Jupiter and its other moons. And Pappalardo leads a mission concept team at NASA that is outlining a possible US spacecraft to Europa.
In what has proved to be the discovery of the largest known crystals on earth, work is underway to document and preserve this historic find. While some minor damage has already occurred in the primary cave and a secondary cavern, called Cave of Dreams, iron doors have been installed by the Peñoles company to prevent damage to the giant, magnificent crystals.
Found deep in a mine in southern Chihuahua Mexico, these crystals were formed in a natural cave totally enclosed in bedrock. When I first stepped into the cavern it was like walking into the Land of the Giants. I have often admired crystal geodes held in my hand, but when photographing these unique natural structures it was almost impossible to get any sense of scale. This is a geode full of spectacular crystals as tall as pine trees, and in some cases greater in circumference. They have formed beautiful crystals that are a translucent gold and silver in color, and come in many incredible forms and shapes. Some of the largest are essentially columnar in shape and stand thirty to fifty feet high and three to four feet in diameter. Many of the smaller examples are four to six feet in circumference, have many incredible geometrical shapes, and probably weigh in excess of ten tons. The columnar pillars are at first the most striking shape, but later I noticed there were thousands of "sharks teeth" up to three feet high placed row upon row and dispersed at odd angles throughout the caverns. While some of the crystals are attached to the ceiling walls and floors of the cave as might be expected, some exist in great masses of spikes and almost float in air. These crystals seem to defy gravity, as they must weigh several tons.
The Naica mine was first discovered by early prospectors in 1794 south of Chihuahua City. They struck a vein of silver at the base of a range of hills called Naica by the Tarahumara Indians. The origin in the Tarahumara language seems to mean "a shady place". Perhaps here in the small canyon there was a grove of trees tucked away by a small canyon spring.
Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists have created this beautiful mosaic mapping the northern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, which is full of rivers, lakes, and seas.
“Titan is a very alien place that looks very Earth-like,” said planetary scientist Stephen Wall, leader of Cassini’s radar team, during a press conference here at the American Geophysical Union conference.
The material filling Titan’s lakes is not water but rather hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane, which are typically gases on Earth but remain liquid at Titan’s average temperature of −180 degrees Celsius. Ever since Cassini started radar mapping the frozen moon in 2004, researchers have seen that Titan is a weird and wet world. But Cassini’s scans missed the true extent of some seas, including the biggest, Kraken Mare. This new map fills in almost all the area of Titan’s north pole and provides scientists with important answers to some of their questions.
While the northern hemisphere is dotted all over with hundreds of tiny lakes, the large seas seem confined to a specific area, mainly on the lower right side of the image above. As geophysicist Randolph Kirk of the USGS pointed out during the briefing, you could almost draw a rectangular box around this area, suggesting that geological processes are at play. The team thinks that Titan’s crust has fractured here when active tectonics created almost straight lines of parallel mountain chains. The low-lying areas are what gets filled with liquid, creating Kraken Mare and its smaller neighbor, Ligeia Mare. The scientists think the process may be analogous to flooding 12,000 years ago of similar geology in Nevada that likely created large bodies of water.
Other tectonic processes are probably behind the smaller dotted lakes, though scientists don’t yet know precisely what. Some of the lakes could be infilled calderas of former active volcanoes on Titan (which would spew molten water instead of lava). But there isn’t enough volcanic activity on the moon to account for all of them. Instead, many were probably created when liquid hydrocarbons dissolved the frozen ice, in the same way that water on Earth dissolves limestone to create features like the Bottomless Lakes in New Mexico.
“This creates a kind of exciting prospect that under the northern pole of Titan is a network of caves,” said Kirk. Caves on Earth are often filled with life, so perhaps Titan’s caves could be as well.
Flying robots have proven themselves capable sheep herders, delivery boys, filmmakers and spies. Now, when can we have one?
Herding sheep, delivering pizza, guiding lost students around campus -- these are just a few things friendly drones can do. Company and DIY drones are on the rise, and not even Hollywood stars will be safe from them. Soon starlets might be acting in front of drone-mounted camerasor being chased by a UAV paparazzi.
Though drones have incredible commercial potential, most countries restrict its use. The U.S. is expected to open up drones for commercial use by 2015.
Proponents are eager to point out the many ways they're going to make our lives better. "Really, this technology is an extra tool to help an industry be more effective," says Gretchen West, the executive vice president for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). AUVSI estimates the U.S. loses $10 billion yearly by delaying drone integration. Though drones bring up privacy concerns, some argue it could advance privacy law.
"With precision agriculture, for example, it can take pictures of fields so farmers can identify problems they wouldn't necessarily see walking through the fields. In law enforcement, you could find a child lost in the woods more easily than walking through a field, particularly if there's bad weather or treacherous ground."
While it may seem that drones are set to take over our lives, the reality is a bit more complicated. Drone usage around the world is definitely picking up in the public sector, but when it comes to commercial activity, many countries have strict limitations.
The United States doesn't allow for commercial drone usage at all, though that's expected to change in 2015, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aims to put a plan in place to integrate drones in U.S. airspace. In the meantime, says West, the U.S. is losing $10 billioons in potential economic impact for every year the FAA delays.
"I think the U.S. has been the leader in this technology, and I think there's a risk of losing that first-mover aspect the longer we wait on regulations," she says.
Many thousands of years ago, a population of Astyanax mexicanus (a fish indigenous to northeastern Mexico) was swept from its hospitable river home into the unfriendly confines of underwater caves. Facing a dramatically different environment, the fish were forced to adapt. Living in near total darkness, the fish did away with their pigmentation, developed heightened sensory systems to detect changes in water pressure and the presence of prey and, perhaps most strikingly, they lost their eyes. Although seemingly counterintuitive, the loss of eyes is thought to be an "adaptive" or beneficial trait, as the maintenance of a complex but now useless organ would come at a high metabolic cost. Thus, the fish could reallocate their finite physiological resources to biological functions more helpful in the cave setting.
Eye loss in these fish is considered to be a demonstration of an evolutionary concept known as "standing genetic variation," which argues that pools of genetic mutations -- some potentially helpful -- exist in a given population but are normally kept silent. The manifestations of these mutations, that is, their impact on observable phenotypes, don't emerge until the population encounters stressful conditions. But what exactly keeps those mutations at bay?
Enter Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist, whose research has shown that HSP90 silences such genetic variation in a variety of organisms, from fruit flies, to yeast, to plants. Lindquist's work found that the normally robust cellular reservoir of HSP90 becomes depleted during periods of physiological stress. The loss of HSP90 activity allowed phenotypic changes to emerge quite rapidly. Although some emergent traits found in her lab were not adaptive, some clearly were.
"The delicate balance of protein folding -- especially that controlled by HSP90 -- holds the key," says Lindquist, who is also a professor of biology at MIT and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "Moderate changes in the environment create stresses on protein folding, causing minor changes in the genome to have much larger effects. Because HSP90 governs the folding of the key regulators of growth and development it produces a fulcrum point for evolutionary change."
Having seen Tabin's work on the genetics of eye loss in cavefish, she proposed a research collaboration to determine whether HSP90 had been an evolutionary role-player in this vertebrate. The Tabin and Lindquist labs devised a complex set of experiments with cavefish and surface fish of the same species. Surface fish raised in the presence of a drug that blocks HSP90 activity (thereby mimicking a stressful environment) displayed significant variation in eye size -- clearly implicating HSP90's effects on this trait.
Conversely, cavefish raised in the same conditions showed no increase in variation in the size of their eye orbits (although the cave fish have no eyes, their skulls retain the orbital cavity where their eyes once were). Intriguingly, however, these fish emerged with small orbits, showing that the genetics governing eye size remains responsive to HSP90.
A new type of thermionic generator that turns heat or light into electrical energy has been developed by researchers in Germany and the US. The new design overcomes the "space-charge problem" that has plagued previous attempts at developing practical devices. The device is about four times more efficient than previous generators and the new technology could find use in a range of applications including solar power and the harvesting of waste heat.
Thermionic generators convert heat or light into an electric current by using the temperature difference between two metallic plates that are separated by a vacuum. The "hot" plate is heated either by incident light or thermal conduction and this causes electrons to evaporate from its surface. These electrons then condense on the surface of the cold plate. This creates a charge difference between the two plates, which can drive a usable electric current.
Because they convert heat or light directly into electrical energy, thermionic generators have considerable potential for practical applications. If used in coal-fired power stations, for example, thermionic converters would, in principle, be more efficient than steam turbines. Thermionic generators could also be applied to a variety of lower-temperature applications, such as the collection of solar energy or the recycling of waste heat in car engines.
Neil Fox of the University of Bristol in the UK points out that the new generator has similarities to a planar triode design tested at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the late 1950s. This previous design had suffered from energy loses caused by electron–electron collisions and scattering. "[Mannhart and colleagues] have come up with a rather neat vertical triode structure that seeks to improve on the MIT device, by incorporating beam collimating concepts similar to those used in particle accelerators," explains Fox. "The data presented...show that this magnetic triode is a significant improvement over a closed-spaced diode, but suggests that electron–electron collisions and scattering losses to the gate are still present."
The team is now working to increase the efficiency of its generator design in two ways. First, it is building high-performance converters from existing semiconductor technologies. Second, it is optimizing its electrodes through the use of new materials, especially oxides, and nanotechnology.
A few months ago, Andy Rubin, the engineer who spearheaded the development of Android at Google, initiated a new robotics effort at the company. Rubin, who is personally interested in robots, now wants Google to have a major role in making new kinds of robotics happen. Not just robotic cars, but actual real robots. A recent article in the New York Times has revealed more about Google's plans. According to the article, Google is funding a major new robotics group, and that includes acquiring a bunch of robotics startups:
Among the companies are Schaft, a small team of Japanese roboticists who recently left Tokyo University to develop a humanoid robot, and Industrial Perception, a start-up here that has developed computer vision systems and robot arms for loading and unloading trucks. Also acquired were Meka and Redwood Robotics, makers of humanoid robots and robot arms in San Francisco, and Bot & Dolly, a maker of robotic camera systems that were recently used to create special effects in the movie “Gravity.” A related firm, Autofuss, which focuses on advertising and design, and Holomni, a small design firm that makes high-tech wheels, were acquired as well.
The seven companies are capable of creating technologies needed to build a mobile, dexterous robot. Mr. Rubin said he was pursuing additional acquisitions.
Industrial Perception spun out of Willow Garage back in March of 2012; read our Startup Spotlight post on them here.
Meka Robotics builds research robots with series elastic actuators in them; they're probably best known for the M1 humanoid (pictured above in front of the Google logo) and Dreamer, which you can read about here.
And of course, there's Bot & Dolly, which uses robot arms for precise and repeatable camera control, making things way more awesome than "precise and repeatable camera control" probably makes you think of.
Obviously, we're curious about what other acquisitions Rubin is pursuing, and more generally, just what Google is actually working on. Fortunately for us, the Google robotics group will at least initially be based right here in Palo Alto, meaning that I'll get a chance to put my spy drones and ninja outfit to good use.
3D "bioprinting" takes a three-dimensional, biological structure and essentially clones it using a printer.
Louisville researcher Stuart Williams is not talking about a far-off, science-fiction effort when he describes how local scientists will create new, functioning human hearts — using cells and a 3-D printer.
“We think we can do it in 10 years — that we can build, from a patient’s own cells, a total ‘bioficial’ heart,” said Williams, executive and scientific director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, a collaboration between the University of Louisville and the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.
The project is among the most ambitious in the ever-growing field of three-dimensional printing that some experts say could revolutionize medicine.
Known for creating products as diverse as car parts and action figures, 3-D printing is also being used to create models of human bones and organs, medical devices, personalized prosthetics and now, human tissues. Williams describes the process as taking a three-dimensional structure “and essentially cloning it, using a printer.”
“Bioprinting is pretty much done everywhere,” said Dr. Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, where scientists recently won an award for innovations in bioprinting. “Our ultimate goal is increasing the number of patients who get organs.”
In February 2013, doctors at Weill Cornell Medical College and biomedical engineers at Cornell University in New York announced they had used 3-D printing and injectable gels made of cells to build a facsimile of a human ear that looks and acts like a real one.
And in the case of the baby in Michigan, university officials said the splint was created from a CT scan of the patient’s trachea and bronchus, integrating a computer model with 3-D printing. The baby, who used to stop breathing every day when his collapsed bronchus blocked the flow of air, was off a ventilator three weeks after the surgery, and officials say he hasn’t had breathing trouble since.
Wake Forest scientists, like their peers in Louisville, are working on organs. Officials at Wake Forest say their scientists were the first in the world to engineer a lab-grown organ, and they hope to scale up the process by printing organs with a custom printer. Institute scientists there have also designed a bioprinter to print skin cells onto burn wounds.
So far, Williams said, he knows of no instance where a tissue or organ created through 3-D printing has been implanted in a human. But he said the race is on.
“I think this will have an incredible effect on trauma patients … on the armed forces. You can imagine printing a jaw, printing muscle cells, printing the skin,” he said. “Ultimately I see it being used to print replacement kidneys, to print livers, and to print hearts — and all from your own cells.”
Air flows mostly in a one-way loop through the lungs of monitor lizards -- a breathing method shared by birds, alligators and presumably dinosaurs, according to a new study that may push the evolution of this trait back to 270 million years ago.
Humans and most other animals have a "tidal" breathing pattern: Air flows into the lungs' branching, progressively smaller airways or bronchi until dead-ending at small chambers called alveoli, where oxygen enters the blood and carbon dioxide leaves the blood and enters the lungs. Then the air flows back out the same way.
Birds, on the other hand, have some tidal airflow into and out of air sacs, but their breathing is dominated by one-way airflow in the lung itself. The air flows through the lung in one direction, making a loop before exiting the lung.
A new study conducted by C.G. Farmer, the study's senior author and an associate professor of biology at the University of Utah, found a mostly one-way, looping air flow in African savannah monitor lizards, Varanus exanthematicus -- one of roughly 73 species of monitor lizards -- although there was some tidal airflow in regions of the lungs. That means one-way airflow may have arisen not among the early archosaurs about 250 million years ago, but as early as 270 million years ago among cold-blooded diapsids, which were the common, cold-blooded ancestors of the archosaurs and Lepidosauromorpha, a group of reptiles that today includes lizards, snakes and lizard-like creatures known as tuataras.
One-way airflow may help birds to fly without passing out at high altitudes, where oxygen levels are low. Before the new study, Farmer and others had speculated that the one-way airflow may have helped dinosaurs' ancestors dominate the Earth when atmospheric oxygen levels were low after the Permian-Triassic mass extinction -- the worst in Earth's history -- 251 million years ago.
"But if it evolved in a common ancestor 20 million years earlier, this unidirectional flow would have evolved under very high oxygen levels," Farmer says. "And so were are left with a deeper mystery on the evolutionary origin of one-way airflow."
Australian researchers have found that extreme versions of the cyclical weather pattern El Niño — dubbed 'super El Niños' — will double in frequency under projected global warming scenarios, with repercussions for many countries across the globe.
El Niño is the weather phenomenon responsible for Australia's climate of "droughts and flooding rains". In an El Niño year, a band of warm ocean water rises off the coast of South America, expanding westwards across the Pacific Ocean and displacing colder waters. El Niño in Australia is associated with decreased rainfall.
Some years, such as 1982-83 and 1997-98, the El Niño effect was stronger than usual, with warmer water flowing in an unexpected way.
"These peculiar extreme El Niños were characterised by sea surface temperature anomalies moving eastward along the equatorial Pacific Ocean, with a current reversal," said Dr. Agus Santoso, of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, one of the authors of the study.
Crop losses as a result of the 1983 super El Niño were worth US$12 billion in the USA alone.
In a collaborative effort, scientists from the national science agency CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology used statistical modelling to uncover how global warming influences the super El Niño.
The team collected weather data to model various warming scenarios ranging in extremity, and used results to predict effects on El Niño cycles originating out of the tropical Pacific Ocean. They found that normal El Niño patterns intensified and occurred more frequently with increased global warming. The study was published in the journal Nature.
NASA's DARPA Robotics Challenge entry is much more than Robonaut with legs: it's a completely new humanoid robot
When teams participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) were announced last year, almost all of them provided reasonably detailed renderings that gave us a good idea of the robots that they were working on.
Valkyrie (officially designated "R5" by NASA) is a 1.9 meter tall, 125 kilogram, 44 degree of freedom, battery-powered humanoid robot. A team from NASA's JSC in Houston, in partnership with the University of Texas and Texas A&M and with funding from the state of Texas itself, built the robot for the DRC, which will hold a preliminary competition later this month. JSC is a Track A team in the DRC; along with five other Track A teams with their own robots, JSC will be competing against Track B and C teams, each one of which will have an ATLAS robot from Boston Dynamics. In addition, Track D teams (which have no DARPA funding) will be entering their own robots.
The challenge created by DARPA involves tasks like walking over uneven terrain, climbing a ladder, using tools, and driving. This means that Valkyrie has to be capable of operating in the same spaces that a person would operate in, under the control of humans who have only minimal training with robots, which is why the robot's design is based on a human form. The overall goal of the DRC is to help drive innovation towards robots that are able to take over from humans directly, without needing any special accommodations. In that context, a human form makes sense because we're humans, and these robots will be doing the jobs that we don't want to be doing because they're too dangerous.
To that end, Valkyrie has seven degree of freedom arms with actuated wrists and hands, each with three fingers and a thumb. It has a head that can tilt and swivel, a waist that can rotate, and six degree of freedom legs complete with feet equipped with six-axis force-torque sensors. Unlike the ATLAS robots, Valkyrie is battery powered and operates without a tether. A removable battery in its backpack is good for about an hour of activity, and a human can swap in a fresh battery for a spent one in a matter of minutes. Also removable are Valkyrie's limbs: in just a few more minutes, a damaged arm can be swapped out for a new one, and the left arm can even be swapped with the right arm, since they're identical in construction. Things are bound to go wrong during the DRC, and the ease with which Valkyrie can be fixed is a potentially significant advantage.
With a wingspan estimated at seven meters across, Argentavis was roughly twice the size of the largest flying bird today (Wandering Albatross), and only the long extinct pterosaurs could have rivaled and exceeded it for size. How such a large bird like Argentavis could fly has been the key area of study associated with this bird, something that has resulted in some interesting conclusions. The first is that the keel of the breastbone is quite small which suggests the main flight muscles were reduced when compared to other flying birds. This means that even though the wings were huge, Argentavis did not have the stamina to continuously flap them.
It’s most likely that as a result of these under developed muscles Argentavis relied upon prevailing wind currents to keep itself aloft with flapping only occurring during the take-off and landing phases. This would see Argentavis using its large wings to exploit a combination of thermal up draughts as well as dynamic soaring. Dynamic soaring is essentially where a flying creature uses the boundary between two air masses to pick up speed by cartwheeling into oncoming wind and using the wind speed to accelerate itself forward. Repeating this process further increases the speed of the bird and resulting effect of the next manoeuvre resulting in an extremely energy efficient form of flight, one that is now even used by human glider pilots to stay airborne longer.
Argentavis also seems to have relied more upon air currents for taking off as the immense size of its wings means that it could not flap them when outstretched without the tips hitting the ground. Instead Argentavis would have had an easier time just stretching out its wings and facing into the oncoming wind.
From this position Argentavis could run into the prevailing wind to get air moving across its wing surfaces and then use its legs to jump up into the air. This would be the most critical time for Argentavis as getting airborne is not the same as staying airborne (ask any pilot). However, if Argentavis had positioned itself to run down a slope it could have gotten itself airborne while increasing the distance between itself and the ground just by flying horizontally level. Argentavis could then flap its wings while it adjusted its course to take better advantage of the air currents.
During the 20th century, sea levels along the highly populated U.S. Mid-Atlantic coastline between New York and Virginia rose faster than in any other century during the past 4,300 years, according to a new study. And as those sea levels continue to increase as a result of global warming and local land elevation changes, the risks of coastal flooding will dramatically escalate.
The study, by geoscientists at Rutgers and Tufts Universities and published in the new journal “Earth’s Future,” took a comprehensive look at the history of sea level in the Mid-Atlantic, combining sediment records of prehistoric sea level with modern data, which includes readings from tide gauges and satellite instruments. The result is one of the most in-depth examinations of past, present, and future sea level rise of any region in the U.S.
To put recent rates of sea level rise into historical perspective, the study found there is at least a 95 percent probability that the rate of sea level rise in the Mid-Atlantic during the 20th century was faster than any century in the past 4,300 years, and a 67 percent probability that it was faster than any century in more than 6,600 years.
“The sea level rise that we’re seeing now is very significant,” including in a “prehistoric context,” said study co-author Ben Horton of Rutgers University, in an interview.
Assuming continued groundwater extraction rates at coastal plain locations, those areas would see a greater amount of sea level rise, the study found. The study projected that those areas could be in for a rise of 9.8 inches by 2030, 1.5 feet by 2050, and about 3.5 feet, by 2100.
While the study shows that the main component of future sea level rise will be from global sea level rise, local land elevation changes should be factored into development decisions, since they will influence the rate and extent of relative sea level rise at the local level. The study noted that there are currently limited tools for policymakers to use to factor in sea level rise to the planning process.
The hole in the ozone layer is stabilizing but will take until about 2070 to fully recover, according to new research by NASA scientists.
The assessment comes more than two decades after the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty that banned chlorofluorocarbons and other compounds that deplete the ozone layer, which shields the planet from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Levels of chlorine in the atmosphere are falling as a result of the treaty, but have not yet dropped below the threshold necessary to have a shrinking effect on the ozone hole that forms each year over Antarctica, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. They presented their findings this week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
For now, year-to-year variations in temperature and winds, which each year carry ozone from the tropics to polar regions, are the driving factors in the size of the hole.
In 2006, the ozone hole grew larger than ever. It reached a similar extent in 2011, before shrinking to its second-smallest size in 2012. Naturally occurring meteorological conditions were mostly responsible for those fluctuations, two NASA studies found.
Over the next two decades scientists expect the ozone hole to continue to vary widely. "It’s not going to be a smooth ride," said Susan Strahan, a senior research scientist at NASA. "There will be some bumps in the road, but overall the trend is downward."
Not until chlorine falls below 1990s levels, a milestone scientists predict for sometime between 2015 and 2030, will the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances begin to have a discernible effect.
Pigeons come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Some have feathers reaching up over their heads like a hood. Others have feathers all the way to the tips of their toes or fanned out on their tails like tiny turkeys.
"Most people think of pigeons as rats of the sky, but domestic pigeon breeds are wonderfully diverse," said Michael Shapiro of the University of Utah. "There are over 350 breeds that differ in color and color pattern, body size, beak size and shape, skeletal structure, posture, feather placement, and behavior. Our goal is to track down the DNA-level changes that control some of these interesting differences among breeds."
In fact, it's fair to say that pigeons are more diverse than any other bird species out there. In the new study, genetic comparisons of 361 individuals representing 70 domestic pigeon breeds and two free-living populations yielded some surprises.
In many cases, species with similarly bold traits are indeed closely related. But in other instances that isn't so. That means some of the pigeons' distinct characteristics may have arisen more than once on different branches of the birds' family tree or spread from one branch to another through interbreeding.
Shapiro's team also found that two feral pigeon populations -- one in Salt Lake City and another in Scotland -- have mixed with racing breeds, such that they are now genetically very similar to those used in competitions around the world.
All those pigeon breeds wouldn't exist but for the hard work and careful breeding of pigeon fanciers around the world over thousands of years, Shapiro says. Modern breeds are frequently described as having origins in England, Germany, Belgium, or elsewhere in Europe, but their progenitors were probably brought there from afar by traders or colonialists, the researchers write. Indeed, the new work traces the geographic origin of some breed groups to India and the Middle East.
The story of the pigeon is a lot like that of the familiar family dog, Shapiro notes. It's also one that holds a very special place in the history of modern evolutionary thought. Charles Darwin himself was a real pigeon aficionado, relying heavily on artificial selection in pigeons to describe how natural selection works in the wild. In his classic book The Origin of Species, many pages are dedicated to the pigeon.
As for the future, the researchers say that studies of pigeons might also help to explain variation among wild birds and perhaps other animals as well.
"The striking differences we see between breeds within this single species are characteristic of the types of differences we typically see between species," Shapiro said. "Our hope is that by understanding the genes that control pigeon diversity, we'll have a great starting point to understand diversity in the wild."
Spider webs actively spring towards prey thanks to electrically conductive glue spread across their surface, Oxford University scientists have discovered.
The researchers found that the electrostatic properties of the glue that coats spider webs causes them to reach out to grab all charged particles, from pollen and pollutants to flying insects. They also showed that the glue spirals can distort the Earth's electric field within a few millimetres of the web, which may enable insects to spot the webs with their antennae 'e-sensors'.
The study, published in Naturwissenschaften, shows how a quirk of physics causes webs to move towards all airborne objects, regardless of whether they are positively or negatively charged. This explains how webs are able to collect small airborne particles so efficiently and why they spring towards insects.
According to the researchers, common garden spider webs around the world could be used for environmental monitoring as they actively filter airborne pollutants with an efficiency comparable to expensive industrial sensors.
'The elegant physics of these webs make them perfect active filters of airborne pollutants including aerosols and pesticides,' said Professor Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University's Department of Zoology, who led the study. 'Electrical attraction drags these particles to the webs, so you could harvest and test webs to monitor pollution levels – for example, to check for pesticides that might be harming bee populations.
'Even more fascinating, you would be able to detect some airborne chemicals just by looking at the shape of the webs! Many spiders recycle their webs by eating them, and would include any particles and chemicals that are electrically drawn to the web. We already know that spiders spin different webs when on different drugs, for example creating beautiful webs on LSD and terrible webs on caffeine. As a result, the web shapes alone can tell us if any airborne chemicals affect the animal's behavior.'
New research in simple animals suggests that combining mutants can lead to radical lifespan extension. Scientists at the Buck Institute combined mutations in two pathways well-known for lifespan extension and report a synergistic five-fold extension of longevity in the nematode C. elegans. The research, done at the Buck Institute and published online in Cell Reports on December 12, 2013, introduces the possibility of combination therapy for aging and the maladies associated with it.
The mutations inhibited key molecules involved in insulin signaling (IIS) and the nutrient signaling pathway Target of Rapamycin (TOR). Lead scientist and Buck faculty Pankaj Kapahi, PhD, said single mutations in TOR (in this case RSKS-1) usually result in a 30 percent lifespan extension, while mutations in IIS (Daf-2) often result in a doubling of lifespan in the worms -- added together they would be expected to extend longevity by 130 percent. "Instead, what we have here is a synergistic five-fold increase in lifespan," Kapahi said. "The two mutations set off a positive feedback loop in specific tissues that amplified lifespan. Basically these worms lived to the human equivalent of 400 to 500 years."
Kapahi said the research points to the possibility of using combination therapies for aging, similar to what is done for cancer and HIV. "In the early years, cancer researchers focused on mutations in single genes, but then it became apparent that different mutations in a class of genes were driving the disease process," he said. "The same thing is likely happening in aging." Kapahi said this research could help explain why scientists are having a difficult time identifying single genes responsible for the long lives experienced by human centenarians. "It's quite probable that interactions between genes are critical in those fortunate enough to live very long, healthy lives."
Former Buck postdoctoral fellow Di Chen, PhD, now an associate professor at the Model Animal Research Center, Nanjing University, China, lead author of the study, said that the positive feedback loop (DAF-16 via the AMPK complex) originated in the germline tissue of worms. The germline is a sequence of reproductive cells that may be passed onto successive generations. "The germline was the key tissue for the synergistic gain in longevity -- we think it may be where the interactions between the two mutations are integrated," Chen said. "The finding has implications for similar synergy between the two pathways in more complex organisms."
Kapahi said ideally the research would move into mice as a way of determining if the lifespan-extending synergy extends into mammals. "The idea would be to use mice genetically engineered to have suppressed insulin signaling, and then treat them with the drug rapamycin, which is well-known to suppress the TOR pathway."
Pankaj Kapahi, PhD et al. Germline Signaling Mediates the Synergistically Prolonged Longevity by Double Mutations in daf-2 and rsks-1 in C. elegans. Cell Reports, December 2013
In a study that compares the genomes of aquatic life forms, researchers have found evidence to shuffle the branches of the tree of life. For more than a century, scientists thought that complex cell types, like neurons and muscles, evolved only once, after simple animals that lack these cell types branched from the rest of animals on the evolutionary tree. A team of researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided new evidence from the genomic study of a ctenophore species -- a comb jelly -- that challenges this long-held view.
Whole-genome sequencing data shows that comb jellies branched from the rest of the animals before the sponge, a simple animal without complex cell types, according to the study. The results also show that critical cell types, such as neurons and muscle cells, were either lost multiple times during evolution or evolved independently in the ctenophores.
For the past 30 years, researchers have used whole-genome sequencing of organisms to advance their understanding of evolution. They do this by comparing the order of the chemical bases of DNA -- 150 million base pairs for comb jellies versus 3 billion in humans -- that comprise the organism's genome. While whole-genome sequencing data have been available for four of the five major animal lineages -- sponges (Porifera), flat invertebrates (Placozoa), jellyfish (Cnidaria), and animals with left-right symmetry, including humans (Bilateria) -- Ctenophora remained the last major animal lineage for which there were no sequenced genomes.
"Having genomic data from the ctenophores is crucial from a comparative genomics perspective, since it allows us to determine what physical and structural features were present in animals early on," said Andy Baxevanis, Ph.D., senior author of the study and senior scientist in NHGRI's Division of Intramural Research. "These data also provide us an invaluable window for determining the order of events that led to the incredible diversity that we see in the animal kingdom."
"Expanding our understanding of genomes across the animal kingdom is important for gaining an understanding of evolutionary adaptation at the molecular, cellular and organismal levels," said Daniel Kastner, M.D., Ph.D., NHGRI scientific director. "The whole-genome sequence of the comb jelly provides a nontraditional model through which new insights about genes and their functions, including those in our own genome, may become better understood."
"Our study demonstrates the power of comparative genomics research having an evolutionary point of view, probing the interface of genomics and developmental biology," said co-author Jim Mullikin, Ph.D., NISC director. "The data generated in the course of this study also provide a strong foundation for future work that will undoubtedly lead to novel findings related to the nature of animal biology."
Researchers from Malaysia and the UK have used a new multi-material 3D printer to create realistic, low-cost model of the skull for use by students in practicing neurosurgical techniques.
The model uses a variety of materials that simulate the various consistencies and densities of human tissues encountered during neurosurgery.
Neurosurgery is a difficult discipline to master. Trainees may spend as many as 10 years after graduation from medical school developing and honing their surgical skills before they can be designated as proficient in their specialty. The greater the number and variety of neurosurgical training sessions, the better the training experience.
However, the researchers say, it’s difficult to find suitable simulation models that offer accuracy and realism for neurosurgical training while keeping training costs down.
Three-dimensional printers have been used to create models of normal and pathological human tissues and organs for physician training and patient instruction for some time. Until recently, however, only one material could be used in the creation of models, which is of little value for hands-on training.
With the advent of multi-material 3D printers, the sophistication and versatility of the new models that could be created increased substantially, but so did their price. Now the newest multi-material 3D printers are available at lower prices.
With the aid of a Stratasys Objet500 Connex multi-material 3D printer, researchers at the University of Malaya created a two-part model that can simulate pathological conditions in actual patients.
The base piece of the model (the “head”) consists of one material. It has human features (a “face”) and the natural contours of a human skull. This piece is used to train the novice in neuronavigation techniques and can be reused again and again.
The second part of the model defines the region in which simulated surgery is performed. This piece contains several different materials, which separately simulate skin, bone, dura mater, tumor, and normal brain tissue.
To make the training session valuable, the trainee must be able to see, feel, and even hear different “tissue” responses to surgical instruments and techniques during simulation surgery. The researchers say the “skin” is designed to be pliable enough to be cut by a scalpel and repaired by sutures, yet sturdy enough to be held by a retractor; the “bone” has to be hard enough for the trainee to obtain experience using bone perforators and cutters; and the “dura mater” must be thin and pliable — just like the real thing.
First, in 2012, researchers observed extraordinarily high densities of the sunflower star Pycnopodia helianthoides on the rocky slopes at various location of the Pacific Northwest. At some sites these stars occupied a wide band in the shallow subtidal zone with densities of up 12 per square meter. Scientists were unable to explain how or why such high densities had developed.
Toward the end of August, 2013, divers began seeing sunflower stars dying in unusual numbers. They reported hundreds that appeared to be disintegrating, their rays falling off and internal organs protruding through ruptures in the body wall. Dubbed “the wasting syndrome,” this phenomenon quickly spread through the entire sunflower star population, killing an estimated tens of thousands in Howe Sound, BC alone. By the end of October, virtually all sunflower stars at most locations were dead.
While sunflower stars took the brunt of the wasting syndrome, other sea stars were also dying, including the morning sun star Solaster dawsoni, the giant pink star Pisaster brevispinus, the mottled star Evasterias troschelii, the purple/ochre star Pisaster ochraceus, the vermilion star Mediaster aequalis, the rainbow star Orthasterias koehleri, the striped sun star Solaster stimpsoni and the leather star Dermasterias imbricata. These stars were more widely distributed and less numerous than Pycnopodia helianthoides, yet they were dying in a similar way as the sunflower stars.
The mysterious illness has the potential to wipe out all the sea stars along the west coast of North America, said Paula Romagosa, a marine biologist and curator at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney, B.C.
“Events like this have happened before but on a much smaller scale. We’ve never seen one of this magnitude.”
The loss of the species is troubling because sea stars are omnivores and will eat anything, including smaller sea stars. “Everything in the food chain below them is going to be affected — all the clams too,” Romagosa said.
“There could potentially be an overpopulation of those species down the food chain, and an overpopulation usually leads to mass mortality from bacterial infections.
The virus has not yet been identified, but it’s under study at Vancouver Aquarium and some California universities. “We’re diving as much as possible, trying to document it,” Romagosa said.
Adults are affected more than juveniles, “but in general, it’s affecting everyone,” she said. Some populations are completely wiped out, including one near the Seattle Aquarium. “You can see where the sea stars have died and there’s nothing left,” Romagosa said.
The marine environment has proven to be a valuable source of interesting and unusual natural products with a diverse range of biological activities. Of particular interest are marine snails belonging to the genus Conus, which contains an estimated 700 species, each possessing a unique cocktail of pharmacologically active peptides within its venom [1,2,3]. These marine snails have evolved into efficient predators, using their venom to hunt and paralyze worms, molluscs or fish. Conotoxins, isolated from the venom ducts of cone snails, constitute a large family of small, disulfide-rich peptides that have evolved to target a range of ion channels and receptors throughout the nervous system, usually with high potency and selectivity [4,5,6,7]. As such, many of these conotoxins have been used to gain further information about their target at the pharmacological, physiological or structural level [8,9,10,11]. They are relatively small peptides, typically eight to thirty amino acid residues in length that have been divided into different structural and pharmacological classes. A nomenclature for the conotoxins classifies the peptides according to the source, cysteine framework and biological target . The more recent availability of nucleic acid sequences from cDNA and transcriptomics analyses is enabling systematic classification into superfamilies on the basis of pre- and pro-peptide sequences [13,14].
Conotoxins serve not only as valuable pharmacological tools but potential drug candidates. While several conotoxins have advanced to clinical trials [15,16,17], ω-conotoxin MVIIA (ziconotide) was the first to be approved by the FDA for therapeutic use in humans . Marketed as Prialt®, it possesses potent and selective N-type calcium channel activity and is used to treat patients suffering from severe chronic pain . Although Prialt® represents a major milestone for conotoxins, its use is limited to intrathecal administration. Nonetheless, it highlights the potential of neurotoxic peptides as starting points for the development of therapeutics. Despite their desirable biological activities, peptides generally have several limitations that have restricted their progression as drug candidates, amongst which are short circulating half-life, poor proteolytic stability, and low oral bioavailability [20,21]. The challenge remains to capture the favorable bioactive properties of peptide toxins within drug-like molecules that can be administered in the clinic. This review summarizes current strategies for the development of conotoxins and their mimetics as leads for novel therapeutics.
The Astrophysics Source Code Library (ASCL) is a free, on-line reference library for source codes of all sizes that are of interest to astrophysicists. All ASCL source codes have been used to generate results published in or submitted to a refereed journal. No ASCL code is guaranteed to be correct.
ASCL was founded in March 1999. In 2010, it was moved from its former site at ASCL.net to its current home. Source codes are increasingly important for the advancement of science in general and astrophysics in particular.
Panspermia - the idea that organisms can "hitchhike" around the solar system on comets and debris from meteor strikes - has long fascinated astronomers. But thanks to advances in computing, astrobiologists are now able to simulate these journeys and follow potential stowaways as they hitch around the Solar System.
In this new study, researchers first estimated the number of rocks bigger than 3m ejected from Earth by major impacts. Perhaps the most famous of these impacts was at Chicxulub in Mexico about 66 million years ago - when an object the size of a small city collided with Earth. The impact has been blamed for the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, triggering volcanic eruptions and wildfires which choked the planet with smoke and dust. It also launched about 70 billion kg of rock into space - 20,000kg of which could have reached Juper moon Europa. And the chances that a rock big enough to harbor life arrived are "better than 50/50", researchers estimate. Could Earthlings be swimming in the icy oceans of Europa?
Three meters is the minimum they think necessary to shield microbes from the Sun's radiation over a journey lasting up to 10 million years. They then mapped the likely fate of these voyagers. Many simply hung around in Earth orbit, or were slowly drawn back down.
Others were pulled into the Sun, or sling-shotted out of the Solar System entirely. Yet a small but significant number made it all the way to alien worlds which might welcome life. About six rocks even made it as far as Europa, a satellite of Jupiter with a liquid ocean covered in an icy crust. But could living organisms actually survive these epic trips?
"We find that rock capable of carrying life has likely transferred from both Earth and Mars to all of the terrestrial planets in the solar system and Jupiter," says lead author Rachel Worth, of Penn State University.
On Mars, there is little evidence of flowing water during the last 3.5bn years - the likeliest window for Earth life to arrive.
The first space travellers? Bacterial endospores can survive for millions of years. But what if the reverse trip took place? The early Martian atmosphere appears to have been warm and wet - prime conditions for the development of life.
And if Martian microbes ever did exist, transfer to Earth is "highly probable" due to the heavy traffic of meteorites between both planets.
"Billions have fallen on Earth from Mars since the dawn of our planetary system. It is even possible that life on Earth originated on Mars," says Ms. Worth. While her team are not the first to calculate that panspermia is possible, their 10-million-year simulation is the most extended yet, said astrobiologist Prof. Jay Melosh, of Purdue University. "The study strongly reinforces the conclusion that, once large impacts eject material from the surface of a planet such as the Earth or Mars, the ejected debris easily finds its way from one planet to another", he says.
"The Chicxulub impact itself might not have been a good candidate because it occurred in the ocean (50 to 500m deep water) and, while it might have ejected a few sea-surface creatures, like ammonites, into space, it would not likely have ejected solid rocks. "I sometimes joke that we might find ammonite shells on the Moon from that event.
"But other large impacts on the Earth may indeed have ejected rocks into interplanetary space." Another independent expert on panspermia, Mauricio Reyes-Ruiz of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the new findings were "very significant".
"The fact such different pathways exist for the interchange of material between Earth and bodies in the Solar System suggests that if life is ever found, it may very well turn out to be our very, very distant relatives," he said.
Researchers Unveil First Results in Adult ALL Patients: All Five Patients Had Complete Response to Therapy
Genetically Modified Cells Produce Long-Term Remissions, Persist in Patients' Bodies with Vaccine-Like Activity for More than Three Years
Three and a half years after beginning a clinical trial which demonstrated the first successful and sustained use of genetically engineered T cells to fight leukemia, a research team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will today announce the latest results of studies involving both adults and children with advanced blood cancers that have failed to respond to standard therapies. The findings from the first 59 patients who received this investigational, personalized cellular therapy, known as CTL019, will be presented during the American Society of Hematology’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans.
Two of the first three chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients who participated in the study, which started in the summer of 2010, remain in remission, with tests revealing reprogrammed cells still circulating in their bodies, on guard to combat tumor cells that may reappear in the future. Additional highlights of the new research results include an 89 percent complete response rate among adult and pediatric patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
“In a very short time, we’ve learned so much about how CTL019 works and how powerful it can be,” said the research team’s leader, Carl H. June, MD, Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of Translational Research in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. “Our findings show that the human immune system and these modified ‘hunter’ cells are working together to attack tumors in an entirely new way.”