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Neutron loss to a parallel world? How to explain anomalous loss of neutrons observed experimentally

Neutron loss to a parallel world? How to explain anomalous loss of neutrons observed experimentally | Amazing Science |

In a paper recently published in European Physical Journal (EPJ) C, researchers hypothesised the existence of mirror particles to explain the anomalous loss of neutrons observed experimentally. The existence of such mirror matter had been suggested in various scientific contexts some time ago, including the search for suitable dark matter candidates. 


Theoretical physicists Zurab Berezhiani and Fabrizio Nesti from the University of l'Aquila, Italy, reanalysed the experimental data obtained by the research group of Anatoly Serebrov at the Institut Laue-Langevin, France. It showed that the loss rate of very slow free neutrons appeared to depend on the direction and strength of the magnetic field applied. This anomaly could not be explained by known physics.


Berezhiani believes it could be interpreted in the light of a hypothetical parallel world consisting of mirror particles. Each neutron would have the ability to transition into its invisible mirror twin, and back, oscillating from one world to the other. The probability of such a transition happening was predicted to be sensitive to the presence of magnetic fields, and could therefore be detected experimentally.

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Researchers discover a gene for human brain size - only found in humans

Researchers discover a gene for human brain size - only found in humans | Amazing Science |

About 99 percent of human genes are shared with chimpanzees. Only the small remainder sets us apart. However, we have one important difference: The brain of humans is three times as big as the chimpanzee brain. During evolution our genome must have changed in order to trigger such brain growth. Wieland Huttner, Director and Research Group Leader a the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), and his team identified for the first time a gene that is only present in humans and contributes to the reproduction of basal brain stem cells, triggering a folding of the neocortex. The researchers isolated different subpopulations of human brain stem cells and precisely identified, which genes are active in which cell type. In doing so, they noticed the gene ARHGAP11B: it is only found in humans and in our closest relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisova-Humans, but not in chimpanzees. This gene manages to trigger brain stem cells to form a bigger pool of stem cells. In that way, during brain development more neurons can arise and the cerebrum can expand. The cerebrum is responsible for cognitive functions like speaking and thinking.

Wieland Huttner’s researchers developed a method that isolates and identifies special subpopulations of brain stem cells from the developing human cerebrum. No one has managed to do this so far. The scientists first isolated different stem and progenitor cell types from fetal mice and human cerebrum tissue. In contrast to the big and folded human brain, the brain of mice is small and smooth. After the isolation, the researchers compared the genes that are active in the various cell types and were able to identify 56 genes that are only present in humans and which play a role in brain development. “We noticed that the gene ARHGAP11B is especially active in basal brain stem cells. These cells are really important for the expansion of the neocortex during evolution,” says Marta Florio, PhD student in Wieland Huttner’s lab, who carried out the main part of the study.

The human-specific gene also works in mice: In the further course of the study, the researchers focused on the function of this special gene. The researchers suspected that if it was responsible for a bigger pool of brain stem cells in humans and thereby for an expanded cerebrum, then this human-specific gene should trigger a similar development in the smaller brain of a mouse. They introduced the gene into mice embryos and indeed: Under the influence of the human-specific gene, the mice produced significantly more brain stem cells and in half of all cases even a folding of the neocortex, which is typical for human brains. All these results suggest that the gene ARHGAP11B plays a key role in the evolutionary expansion of the human neocortex.

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Age-related leukemia almost inevitable: 70% of people over 90 have genetic mutations that could lead to leukemia

Age-related leukemia almost inevitable: 70% of people over 90 have genetic mutations that could lead to leukemia | Amazing Science |

It is "almost inevitable" that your blood will take the first steps towards leukemia as you age, researchers show. The cancer is often associated with children, but some types become more common with age. The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, showed 70% of healthy people in their 90s had genetic errors that could lead to leukemia. The researchers warn that the number of cases could soar as life expectancy increases.

The team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, outside Cambridge, analysed the blood of 4,219 people. They focused on accurately testing for errors in the DNA that are linked to the blood cancers. If one blood cell in a hundred carried such a mutation they would pick it up.

The results were a surprise. They suggest 20% of people in their 50s have potentially cancerous mutations rising to 70% in people in their 90s. One of the researchers, Dr George Vassiliou, told the BBC News website: "We had suspected people had these mutations, but didn't expect they would be an almost inevitable consequence of aging. "What it is saying is that a lot more people than expected are starting on the path to leukemia, but thankfully only a few make it to the end."

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Programmable pop-up materials can morph on command into shapes 100 fold taller than original

Programmable pop-up materials can morph on command into shapes 100 fold taller than original | Amazing Science |

A less-than-paper-thin sheet of a stunning new nanomaterial can expand 100x into any pre-programmed, customized 3d shape. In doing so, it can lift 175 times its own weight.

Normally you can rely on solid objects to hold their shape: aeroplane wings are skinny teardrops, paper is flat and chairs are good for sitting on. But the US air force has found a way to change that. They have made flat surfaces pop into complex 3D shapes when heated – an ability that could find uses in fields from medicine to flight.

"Think of an antenna that changes its radiation properties depending on its shape, or morphing wings where the shape dictates the function," says Taylor Ware at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Although confined to the lab for now, the technique has the potential to make shape-shifting objects.

To build their morphing device, the team used a thin film of liquid crystal elastomers – a material made of elastic polymers that also contains a crystal lattice. Polarised laser light then changes the way the units that make up the lattice are aligned. Because the crystal's thermal properties are not the same in all directions, heating the new arrangement makes some parts of the lattice expand and others contract.

Ordering the crystals just so makes different parts expand and contract against each other such that heating a flat sheet to 175 degrees Celsius makes it morph into a predetermined 3D shape that can be 100 times as tall as the film is thick. Ware says there may be other ways to trigger the shape change that are less extreme, although also less effective, including the application of organic solvents, and potentially even water.

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Yale researchers reverse type 2 diabetes and associated fatty liver disease in rats

Yale researchers reverse type 2 diabetes and associated fatty liver disease in rats | Amazing Science |

Yale researchers developed a controlled-release oral therapy that reversed type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease in rats, according to a study published on Feb. 26 by Science.

Existing therapies for type 2 diabetes, and the closely associated conditions of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), have had limited success at treating the root causes of these diseases. Building on earlier research, the Yale team — led by Dr. Gerald I. Shulman, the George R. Cowgill Professor of Physiological Chemistry, and professor of medicine and cellular & molecular physiology at Yale School of Medicine — decided to investigate whether an agent that had originally been used for weight loss more than 70 years ago could be reformulated to safely treat NAFLD/NASH and type 2 diabetes in rodent models of these diseases.

Based on their earlier studies, the researchers determined that toxicity associated with the agent — mitochondrial protonophore 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) — was related to its peak plasma concentrations. They discovered that DNP’s efficacy in reducing liver fat and liver inflammation could be achieved with plasma concentrations that were more than a 100-fold less than the toxic levels.

“Besides reversing fatty liver disease in a rodent model of NALFD, a low-dose intragastric infusion of DNP that was 100-fold lower than toxic levels also significantly reduced blood glucose, triglyceride, and insulin concentrations in a rodent model of NAFLD and type 2 diabetes”, said Shulman, who is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

In the next phase of the study, Shulman and his team developed a new oral, controlled-release form of DNP, known as CRMP, which maintained the drug at concentrations that were more than a 100-fold lower than the toxic threshold. Administered once daily, CRMP delivered similar positive results, reversing fatty liver, insulin resistance, and hyperglycemia in rat models of NAFLD and type 2 diabetes, as well as liver inflammation and liver fibrosis in a rodent model of NASH, with no adverse effects.

“Given these promising results in animal models of NAFLD/NASH and type 2 diabetes we are pursuing additional preclinical safety studies to take this mitochondrial protonophore approach to the clinic” said Shulman.

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DNA recovered from underwater British site may rewrite history of farming in Europe

DNA recovered from underwater British site may rewrite history of farming in Europe | Amazing Science |

Hunter-gatherers may have brought agricultural products to the British Isles by trading wheat and other grains with early farmers from the European mainland. That’s the intriguing conclusion of a new study of ancient DNA from a now submerged hunter-gatherer camp off the British coast. If true, the find suggests that wheat made its way to the far edge of Western Europe 2000 years before farming was thought to have taken hold in Britain.

The work confronts archaeologists “with the challenge of fitting this into our worldview,” says Dorian Fuller, an archaeobotanist at University College London who was not involved in the work.

For decades, archaeologists had thought that incoming farmers from the Middle East moved into Europe beginning about 10,500 years ago and replaced or transformed hunter-gatherer populations as they moved west, not reaching Britain until about 6000 years ago. But that worldview had already undergone some modifications. Recent discoveries, for example, have shown some incoming farmers coexisted with the hunter-gatherers already living in Europe rather than quickly replacing them. In 2013, researchers reported that, beginning about 6000 years ago, farmers and hunter-gatherers had both buried their dead in the same cave in Germany and continued to do so for 800 years, suggesting that the two groups were in close contact.  More controversially, researchers claimed that about 6500 years ago hunter-gatherers in Germany and Scandinavia may have acquired domesticated pigs from nearby farmers.

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Study provides new data on chemical gardens, whose formation is a mystery for science

Study provides new data on chemical gardens, whose formation is a mystery for science | Amazing Science |

Recent research which has counted with the participation of the University of Granada Andalusian Institute of Earth Sciences has yielded new data on chemical gardens, mysterious formations produced when certain solid salts (copper sulfate, cobalt chloride) are added to an aqueous solution of sodium silicate.

Self-contained chemical gardens are formed through the self-assembly of mineral precipitates generated during certain chemical reactions, and they produce coloured forms that resemble vegetable structures. The first researcher who watched them was Johann Rudolf Glauber in 1646, and since then their formation has been a veritable mystery for the scientific community.

Besides their popularity in chemistry experiments for massive audiences, self-contained chemical gardens present analogies with a variety of natural systems, such as the ice channels formed underneath sea ice or the hydrothermal chimneys at the bottom of the oceans where it is believed that life on earth could have originated.

Their growth patterns are being studied today fundamentally to produce new self-structuring materials, or to understand their role in the origin of life, thanks to the energy they can store.

To produce a chemical garden in the lab, one typically introduces a metallic salt in an alkaline solution within a container. This leads to the growth of a series of irregular, tubular, multi-coloured structures thanks to the combined action of different physical processes (osmotic pressure, gravity effects, reactions and diffusion). The fact that these different processes interact in a complex way without any sort of control whatsoever provokes the irregularity, and above all the impossibility of reproducing the obtained three-dimensional forms obtained in this process. This precludes detailed understanding of the growth mechanisms of these structures.

In this context, researchers from the Non-linear Physical Chemistry Unity at the Free University of Brussels, and from the University of Granada Andalusian Institute of Earth Sciences have demonstrated that it is possible to obtain an important collection of reproducible structures by having the chemical gardens grow in a confined, almost bi-dimensional environment, by injecting a reagent inside another one between two horizontal plaques. The horizontal confinement of the reactor reduces the effects of gravity, while the injection of one reagent within another reduces the effects of osmotic pressure. Besides, the control of the initial concentrations of the reagents, and of the flow of injection allows for the study of the relative importance of chemical processes and transport within the selection of the shape in the precipitate.

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First general learning system that can learn directly from experience to master a wide range of challenging tasks

First general learning system that can learn directly from experience to master a wide range of challenging tasks | Amazing Science |

The gamer punches in play after endless play of the Atari classic Space Invaders. Though an interminable chain of failures, the gamer adapts the gameplay strategy to reach for the highest score. But this is no human with a joystick in a 1970s basement. Artificial intelligence is learning to play Atari games. The Atari addict is a deep-learning algorithm called DQN.

This algorithm began with no previous information about Space Invaders—or, for that matter, the other 48 Atari 2600 games it is learning to play and sometimes master after two straight weeks of gameplay. In fact, it wasn't even designed to take on old video games; it is general-purpose, self-teaching computer program. Yet after watching the Atari screen and fiddling with the controls over two weeks, DQN is playing at a level that would humiliate even a professional flesh-and-blood gamer.

Volodymyr Mnih and his team of computer scientists at Google, who have just unveiled DQN in the journal Nature, says their creation is more than just an impressive gamer. Mnih says the general-purpose DQN learning algorithm could be the first rung on a ladder to artificial intelligence.

"This is the first time that anyone has built a single general learning system that can learn directly from experience to master a wide range of challenging tasks," says Demis Hassabis, a member of Google's team. The algorithm runs on little more than a powerful desktop PC with a souped up graphics card. At its core, DQN combines two separate advances in machine learning in a fascinating way. The first advance is a type of positive-reinforcement learning method called Q-learning. This is where DQN, or Deep Q-Network, gets its middle initial. Q-learning means that DQN is constantly trying to make joystick and button-pressing decisions that will get it closer to a property that computer scientists call "Q." In simple terms, Q is what the algorithm approximates to be biggest possible future reward for each decision. For Atari games, that reward is the game score.

Knowing what decisions will lead it to the high scorer's list, though, is no simple task. Keep in mind that DQN starts with zero information about each game it plays. To understand how to maximize your score in a game like Space Invaders, you have to recognize a thousand different facts: how the pixilated aliens move, the fact that shooting them gets you points, when to shoot, what shooting does, the fact that you control the tank, and many more assumptions, most of which a human player understands intuitively. And then, if the algorithm changes to a racing game, a side-scroller, or Pac-Man, it must learn an entirely new set of facts. That's where the second machine learning advance comes in. DQN is also built upon a vast and partially human brain-inspired artificial neural network. Simply put, the neural network is a complex program built to process and sort information from noise. It tells DQN what is and isn't important on the screen.

Nature Video of DQN AI

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Distant quasar spectrum reveals no sign of changes in mass ratio of proton and electron over 12 billion years

Distant quasar spectrum reveals no sign of changes in mass ratio of proton and electron over 12 billion years | Amazing Science |

A team of space researchers working with data from the VLT in Chile has found via measuring the spectrum of a distant quasar by analyzing absorption lines in a galaxy in front of it, that there was no measurable change in the mass ratio of protons and electrons over a span of 12 billion years. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the team, made up of two members from VU University in the Netherlands, and two members from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, describe their findings and what it might mean for helping to explain dark energy.

Some theories suggest that dark energy, the mysterious force that has the universe continuing to expand, might be a field that evolves over time—if so, that might mean that some of the constants we take for granted, such as gravity, the speed of light, etc., might actually evolve as well. In this new effort, the researchers sought to test that idea by looking to see if the mass of protons or electrons (both of which are considered to be fundamental constants) and the ratio that describes their mass difference, changed over the course of billions of years.

To find out if that might be the case, the researchers looked to a distant quasar, one positioned behind a galaxy, relative to us. Quasars are still somewhat mysterious, described as celestial objects that emit a huge amount of energy and light—they look like stars, but some believe they actually hold black holes.

The researchers found that molecular hydrogen in the galaxy absorbed some of the light from the quasar allowing them to measure the energy transitions that occurred and thus the mass ratio of protons and electrons. Since the galaxy had been previously dated to 12.4 billion years ago, the light reaching it from the quasar must be even older. Their measurements showed no deviation (with a precision of 10–6) from the current constant, suggesting that the ratio has remained constant for at least 12 billon years. And this, the researchers claim, suggests that if dark energy is evolving, it has not done so over that time span.

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SageRave's curator insight, February 26, 7:56 PM

Everyone knows I'm a space geek from way back in the-radios-run-on- coal days!

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Well Preserved Baby Woolly Rhino Found In Siberia Stuns Scientists

Well Preserved Baby Woolly Rhino Found In Siberia Stuns Scientists | Amazing Science |

Scientists are very excited over the recent discovery of a baby woolly rhinoThe pristine specimen of the tiny extinct rhino--the only one of its type ever found--was discovered in permafrost along the bank of a stream in Siberia's Sakha Republic, The Siberian Times reported.

"At first we thought it was a reindeer's carcass, but after it thawed and fell down we saw a horn on its upper jaw and realized it must be a rhino," Alexander 'Sasha' Banderov, the hunter who made the discovery, told the Times. "The part of the carcass that stuck out of the ice was eaten by wild animals, but the rest of it was inside the permafrost and preserved well."

Scientists estimate that the rhino--which has been dubbed Sasha--was 18 months old when it died some 10,000 years ago, according to the Times. The specimen includes the animal's wool, an ear, an eye, nostrils, and skull and mouth.

"We are hoping Sasha the rhino will give us a lot of answers to questions of how they grew and developed, what conditions they lived in, and which of the modern day animals is the closest to them," Albert Protopopov, head of the Mammoth Fauna Department at the Academy of Sciences in Sakha Republic, told the Times. "We will concentrate on the DNA, because the carcass was kept frozen and chances are high we will get a better preserved DNA. We are hoping to report first results in a week or two." The genomic information might be used to recreate the species, similar to ongoing experiments with mammoth remains.

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Even as the eastern U.S. freezes, the whole hemisphere is warmer than it has ever been in history

Even as the eastern U.S. freezes, the whole hemisphere is warmer than it has ever been in history | Amazing Science |

Residents of the eastern United States are enduring one of the most painfully cold periods in modern times. Since January, Syracuse, N.Y., has never had more days below zero. Bangor, Maine is witnessing its coldest month ever recorded. On Tuesday, Washington Dulles Airport experienced its most bitter morning measured so late in the season, plummeting to minus-4.

Yet, in what may seem like a paradox, the amount of wintertime cold air circulating around the Northern Hemisphere is shrinking to record low levels. This winter (2014-2015) is on track to see the most depleted cold air supply ever measured.

“We are still on pace to break the all-time record — no question about it,” says Jonathan Martin, a professor of meteorology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Despite the brutal cold in the eastern U.S., the whole hemisphere is warmer this winter than it has ever been in history.”

Using an analysis of atmospheric temperature data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Martin has been tracking the size of the Northern Hemisphere cold pool during winter (December-February) over time. Specifically, he has examined the total area of the hemisphere covered by temperatures 23 degrees (-5 degrees Celsius) or lower at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, for the period 1948-1949 to present.

In a study accepted for publication in the Journal of Climate, Martin found that four of the five smallest Northern Hemisphere cold pools on record — averaged over the winter — have occurred since 2004. “Only 12 of the 43 winter seasons before 1990-1991 had below average seasonally averaged areas whereas 20 of 24 winter seasons have had below average seasonally averaged areas since,” the study says.

While some warming naysayers have attempted to discredit surface temperatures datasets because of adjustments made for quality control (the methods for which have been published in the peer reviewed journals and gained widespread acceptance), Martin says his results from upper air data are difficult to refute.

“Skeptics have jumped all over the surface data, but you can’t really do that with temperatures about a mile above sea level [analyzed from atmospheric data],” Martin says. “They make a pristine signal.”

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Customized DNA rings aid early cancer detection in mice, study finds

Customized DNA rings aid early cancer detection in mice, study finds | Amazing Science |
Tiny DNA rings, carrying instructions for making a blood-detectable biomarker, can enter both healthy cells and cancer cells. But only cancer cells follow the recipe to make the biomarker.

The hunt for cancer biomarkers — substances whose presence in an individual’s blood or urine flags a probable tumor — is nothing new, said the study’s senior author, Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, professor and chair of radiology and director of the Canary Center at Stanford for Cancer Early Detection. High blood levels of prostate-specific antigen, for example, can signify prostate cancer, and there are also biomarkers that sometimes signal ovarian and colorectal cancer, he said.

But while various tumor types naturally secrete characteristic substances into the blood, the secreted substance is typically specific to the tumor type, with each requiring its own separate test. Complicating matters, these substances are also quite often made in healthy tissues, so a positive test result doesn’t absolutely mean a person actually has cancer. Or a tumor — especially a small one — simply may not secrete enough of the trademark substance to be detectable.

Gambhir’s team appears to have found a way to force any of numerous tumor types to produce a biomarker whose presence in the blood of mice unambiguously signifies cancer, because none of the rodents’ tissues — cancerous or otherwise — would normally be making it. This biomarker is a protein called secreted embryonic alkaline phosphatase. SEAP is naturally produced in human embryos as they form and develop, but it’s not present in adults.

To trick mice’s cancer cells into making SEAP and squirting it into the bloodstream, Gambhir and his colleagues used a DNA minicircle: a tiny, artificial, single-stranded DNA ring about 4,000 nucleotides in circumference — or roughly one-millionth as long as the DNA strand that would result from stretching all 23 chromosomes of the human genome end to end. The minicircles, which contained a single gene coding for SEAP, were mixed with a chemical agent to facilitate their uptake by both healthy and cancerous cells alike.

In front of the gene, the researchers inserted a short DNA sequence called a promoter. Promoters don’t code for protein production but, rather, are more like switches or rheostats telling the cell’s protein-manufacturing machinery whether and when to actually make the protein the gene codes for, and how much. Genes in every cell of all multicelled creatures are preceded by promoters. Although all of an individual’s cells contain precisely the same genes, how “on” the promoter is for a given gene in a given cell depends on varying local conditions within that particular cell at that particular time.

The particular promoter Gambhir and his colleagues snapped into the minicircle ahead of the SEAP gene normally regulates a gene called survivin that, in adults, is only “on” in cancer cells. So, in theory, the SEAP gene on the DNA minicircles Gambhir’s lab created would be produced only in cancer cells.

The survivin promoter has been used in gene-therapy experiments and is well-studied, Gambhir said. He noted that the survivin promoter is activated in a broad range of cancers, including breast, lung, ovarian and other major tumor types. For the study, the researchers injected cells from human melanoma cell lines into laboratory mice. Ordinarily, a mouse’s immune system would attack any injected human cell, cancerous or not. But these mice were immune-compromised, and soon numerous tiny tumors started to develop throughout their bodies, especially in their lungs. Other mice of the same strain were given otherwise-identical injections that didn’t contain the cancer cells; they didn’t develop tumors.

About two weeks later, the animals’ blood was checked to make sure their baseline levels of SEAP were zero. Then the investigators injected the minicircles intravenously into the animals’ tail veins and measured SEAP levels in the mice’s blood one, three, seven, 11 and 14 days later. Within 48 hours, SEAP was present in the blood of mice with tumors, but not in that of the tumor-free animals. That signal began declining in strength as early as 72 hours post-injection, fading to insignificance within the next two weeks or so. Its maximum strength varied with the total tumor volume in a mouse’s lungs, suggesting that the test may be sensitive not only to the presence of cancer but also to its extent.

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Human-machine symbiosis: Software that augments human thinking

Human-machine symbiosis: Software that augments human thinking | Amazing Science |

The IBM computer Deep Blue’s 1997 defeat of world champion Garry Kasparov is one of the most famous events in chess history. But Kasparov himself and some computer scientists believe a more significant result occurred in 2005—and that it should guide how we use technology to make decisions and get work done.

In an unusual online tournament, two U.S. amateurs armed with three PCs snatched a $20,000 prize from a field of supercomputers and grandmasters. The victors’ technology and chess skills were plainly inferior. But they had devised a way of working that created a greater combined intelligence—one in which humans provided insight and intuition, and computers brute-force predictions.

Some companies are now designing software to foster just such man-machine combinations. One that owes its success to this approach is Palantir, a rapidly growing software company in Palo Alto, California, known for its close connections to intelligence agencies. Shyam Sankar, director of forward deployed engineering at the company, says Palantir’s founders became devotees while at PayPal, where they designed an automated system to flag fraudulent transactions. “It catches 80 percent of the fraud, the dumb fraud, but it’s not clever enough for the most sophisticated criminals,” says Sankar.

PayPal ended up creating software to enable humans to hunt for that toughest 20 percent themselves, in the form of a suite of analysis tools that allowed them to act on their own insights about suspicious activity in vast piles of data rather than wait for automated systems to discover it. Palantir, which received funding from the CIA, now sells similar data-analysis software to law enforcement, banks, and other industries.

Sankar describes Palantir’s goal as fostering “human-computer symbiosis,” a term adapted from J.C.R. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist who published a prescient essay on the topic in 1960. Sankar contrasts that with what he calls the “AI bias” now dominant in the tech industry. “We focus on helping humans investigate hypotheses,” says Sankar. That’s only possible if analysts have tools that let them creatively examine data from every angle in search of those “aha” moments.

In practice, Palantir’s software gives the user tools to explore interconnected data and tries to present the information visually, often as maps that track to how people think. One bank bought the software in order to detect rogue employees stealing or leaking sensitive information. The detective work was guided by when and where employees badged into buildings, and by records of their digital activities on the company’s network. “This is contrary to automated decision making, when an algorithm figures everything out based on past data,” says Ari Gesher, a Palantir engineer. “That works great. Except when the adversary is changing. And many classes of modern problems do have this adaptive adversary in the mix.”

Palantir’s devotion to human–computer symbiosis seems to be working. The nine-year-old company now has 1,200 employees and is expanding into new industries such as health care. Forbes estimated that it was on course for revenues of $450 million in 2013.

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Breaking Research: Separable short- and long-term memories can form after a momentous occasion

Breaking Research: Separable short- and long-term memories can form after a momentous occasion | Amazing Science |

Imagine that you are a starving fruit fly, desperately searching for food in a new area. Suddenly, you encounter a mysterious new odor and discover a nearby source of life-sustaining food. After a single experience such as this, flies can instantly form an association between that new odor and food, and will follow the odor if it encounters it again (Figure 1-1). Yamagata et al. took advantage of this instinctual behavior to study how the fly brain stores a long-term memory after one event.

They trained groups of flies to associate a particular odor (A) with a sugar reward by presenting them with both stimuli at the same time. They confirmed that the flies formed a memory by giving them a choice between odor A and a different odor (B), and found that flies preferably flocked to an area scented with odor A.

They also identified a large group of dopamine neurons (known as PAM neurons) that were activated by the sugar reward. If the researchers activated the PAM neurons instead of providing sugar when the flies encountered odor A, the flies still associated that odor with a reward (Figure 1-2).

Now the question: how does PAM neuron activity paired with an odor form a long-term memory?  The researchers found that the PAM neurons could actually be grouped into two types. When they activated one type, which they dubbed stm-PAM, the flies only formed a short-term memory. The researchers tested their memory immediately after training and found most of the flies hanging around odor A. But 24 hours later, the memory was gone.

Surprisingly, when the researchers activated the other type of PAM neurons during training (called ltm-PAM), the flies only formed a long-term memory! The flies weren’t particularly interested in odor A immediately after training, but 24 hours later the flies flocked toward it. This incredible result showed that long-term memory doesn’t necessarily require a short-term counterpart. So, instead of the reward pathway forming a short-term memory that later transforms into a long-term memory, this sugar reward formed two complementary memories.

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Unique Sulawesi frog gives birth to live tadpoles

Unique Sulawesi frog gives birth to live tadpoles | Amazing Science |
Frogs exhibit an amazing variety of reproductive behaviors, ranging from brooding their eggs in their mouths to carrying tadpoles on their backs. Fewer than a dozen species of 6,000+ worldwide have developed internal fertilization, and some of these give birth to froglets instead of eggs. One species that has internal fertilization, a fanged frog from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, has been observed to give direct birth to tadpoles, which is unique among amphibians.

University of California, Berkeley, herpetologist Jim McGuire was slogging through the rain forests of Indonesia's Sulawesi Island one night this past summer when he grabbed what he thought was a male frog and found himself juggling not only a frog but also dozens of slippery, newborn tadpoles. He had found what he was looking for: direct proof that the female of a new species of frog does what no other frog does. It gives birth to live tadpoles instead of laying eggs.

A member of the Asian group of fanged frogs, the new species was discovered a few decades ago by Indonesian researcher Djoko Iskandar, McGuire's colleague, and was thought to give direct birth to tadpoles, though the frog's mating and an actual birth had never been observed before.

"Almost all frogs in the world -- more than 6,000 species -- have external fertilization, where the male grips the female in amplexus and releases sperm as the eggs are released by the female," McGuire said. "But there are lots of weird modifications to this standard mode of mating. This new frog is one of only 10 or 12 species that has evolved internal fertilization, and of those, it is the only one that gives birth to tadpoles as opposed to froglets or laying fertilized eggs."

Iskander, McGuire and Ben Evans of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, named the species Limnonectes larvaepartus and fully describe it in this week's issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

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The Siberian crater saga is more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought

The Siberian crater saga is more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought | Amazing Science |

At the end of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. It was a massive crater that just one day showed up. Early estimates placed it at nearly 100 feet in diameter, nestled deep in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, a place called “the ends of the Earth.”

The mystery deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Global warming had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” one German scientist said at the time.

Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters, the Siberian Times reported. Dozens more Siberian craters are likely still out there, said Moscow scientist Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, calling for an “urgent” investigation.

He fears that if temperatures continue to rise — and they were five degrees higher than average in 2012 and 2013 — more craters will emerge in an area awash in gas fields vital to the national economy. “It is important not to scare people, but to understand that it is a very serious problem and we must research this,” he told the Siberian Times. “… We must research this phenomenon urgently, to prevent possible disasters.”

One potential disaster relates to the explosions themselves. No one has been hurt in any of the blasts, but given the size of some of the craters, it’s fair to say the methane bursts are huge. Researchers are nervous about even studying them. Who knows when a methane geyser will shoot off again?

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Scientists have witnessed a direct connection between CO2 and thermal radiation that heats the Earth

Scientists have witnessed a direct connection between CO2 and thermal radiation that heats the Earth | Amazing Science |

For the first time, scientists have witnessed a direct connection between rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and an increase in the amount of thermal radiation striking Earth’s surface. The work affirms a cornerstone of the theory that humans have contributed to worldwide warming in recent decades, the researchers report online February 25 in Nature.

Carbon dioxide, like other greenhouse gases, can absorb and reradiate infrared light back down to Earth. This process traps thermal energy around the planet that would otherwise escape into space. To uncover how large an effect recent CO2 increases have had on Earth’s energy balance, climate scientist Daniel Feldman of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and colleagues monitored the amount of thermal radiation hitting two sites in Alaska and Oklahoma on cloudless days. Because CO2 emits light within a signature range of wavelengths, the researchers could differentiate between energy balance changes caused by CO2 and those caused by other factors, such as water vapor.

Over 10 years of near-daily observations, the team found that a rise in CO2 concentrations of 22 parts per million boosted the amount of incoming thermal radiation from CO2 by 0.2 watts per square meter, an increase of about 10 percent. The researchers say their results agree with the theoretical predictions of CO2-driven warming used in simulations of future climate.

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Bees, Like People, Can Be Fooled by False Memories

Bees, Like People, Can Be Fooled by False Memories | Amazing Science |

Memory is a notoriously slippery ally. It’s alarmingly easy to purposely distort recall, even in people with the unusual ability to remember minute details, going back to childhood. Absent manipulation, it is still extraordinarily difficult to be a reliable witness. Studying faults in memory, though, can reveal how it functions—even in such seemingly simple organisms as bees.

The latest work, published in Current Biology, looks at how bees, like humans, can be prone to false memories. Previously, researchers had manipulated the electrical zings of specific mouse brain cells to give rodents a false memory of an event that never happened. But naturally occurring false memory hasn’t been shown in non-humans before. 

Honeybees and bumblebees are favorite subjects in the study of learning and memory because they rely on color, scent and taste to help them find flowers and, therefore, food. They forage, so they are also good at using sensory cues to map their surroundings. In the new study, U.K.-based researchers tested bumblebees’ false memory formation using differently colored fake flowers.

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Approaching Titan a Billion Times Closer

Remember the Titan (Landing): Ten years ago today, Jan. 14, 2005, the Huygens probe touched down on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. 

This new, narrated movie was created with data collected by Cassini's imaging cameras and the Huygens Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR). The first minute shows a zoom into images of Titan from Cassini's cameras, while the remainder of the movie depicts the view from Huygens during the last few hours of its historic descent and landing. 

It was October 15, 1997, when NASA's Cassini orbiter embarked on an epic, seven-year voyage to the Saturnian system. Hitching a ride was ESA's Huygens probe, destined for Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The final chapter of the interplanetary trek for Huygens began on 25 December 2004 when it deployed from the orbiter for a 21-day solo cruise toward the haze-shrouded moon. Plunging into Titan's atmosphere, on January 14 2005, the probe survived the hazardous 2 hour 27 minute descent to touch down safely on Titan’s frozen surface. Today, the Cassini spacecraft remains in orbit at Saturn. Its mission will end in 2017, 20 years after its journey began. More information and images from the mission at

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Seasonal flu vaccine could also protect against H7N9 avian flu

Seasonal flu vaccine could also protect against H7N9 avian flu | Amazing Science |

A new research has found that antibodies that protect against H7N9 avian flu have been isolated in individuals who received seasonal flu vaccinations. The research conducted by University Of Chicago Medical Centre explained that antibodies protection, which emerged in China account for a small percentage of the total immune response, but appear to neutralise H7 viruses and represent promising new targets for therapeutic development against a wide range of influenza strains.

Patrick Wilson, co-senior author said that the normal immune response to flu vaccination offers protection against dangerous and highly unique strains of influenza such as H7N9, so they will now develop ways of amplifying this response. Carole Henry, author of the study said that they observed that antibodies induced by flu vaccination offer cross-protection against H7N9, although they are not always protective, H7-reactive antibodies can be found in almost everyone that's been vaccinated. Wilson concluded that they will exploit this response on a larger scale to make vaccines or therapeutics that offer broad protection against influenza strains.

The study is published in the journal of Clinical Investigation.

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One day we could borrow ‘antifreeze’ proteins from ticks to resist cold

One day we could borrow ‘antifreeze’ proteins from ticks to resist cold | Amazing Science |

Feeling a bit nippy? For now you'll have to stick to your hat and scarf to warm up, but one day some antifreeze proteins from a fish or a tick might do the trick. In a preliminary study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE, researchers report using specially bred mice -- ones spliced with the genes that give ticks antifreeze cells -- to show that mammals can benefit from the proteins that other species use to keep from icing over.

Ticks aren't the only species with so-called antifreeze proteins, which help keep creatures that don't moderate their own body temperatures from ending up with frozen cells (or, in some cases, just keep that freezing from having harmful effects) by preventing the formation of ice crystals inside tissue. But lead study author Erol Fikrig, a professor of medicine at Yale and an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, focuses on the ticks and their antifreeze properties in particular in his lab.

Ticks have a protein called IAFGP that kicks in during winter. Fikrig and his colleagues wondered if it could be harnessed by mammals.

"The most typical thing that happens to us in the cold is frostbite," he said. So after breeding genetically modified mice to produce IAFGP, the lab tested their tolerance to cold.

In both skin sample tests (where they stored skin cell samples in just above freezing temperatures for several days) and tests on living mice (where tails were placed in a cooling solution for seven days), the mice that produced IAFGP showed less frostbite. Sixty percent of the treated mice had no frostbite at all on their tails at the end of the trial, as compared to 11 percent of the normal mice.

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Deforestation of tropical areas has soared, satellite shows, not slowed as UN study found

Deforestation of tropical areas has soared, satellite shows, not slowed as UN study found | Amazing Science |

The rate at which tropical forests were cut, burned or otherwise lost from the 1990s through the 2000s accelerated by 62 percent, according to a new study which dramatically reverses a previous estimate of a 25 percent slowdown over the same period. That previous estimate, from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Forest Resource Assessment, was based on a collection of reports from dozens of countries. The new estimate, in contrast, is based on vast amounts of Landsat image data which directly record the changes to forests over 20 years.

"Several satellite-based local and regional studies have been made for changing rates of deforestation [during] the 1990s and 2000s, but our study is the first pan-tropical scale analysis," explains University of Maryland, College Park, geographer Do-Hyung Kim, lead author of the new study accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Kim and his University of Maryland colleagues Joseph Sexton and John Townshend looked at 34 forested countries which comprise 80 percent of forested tropical lands. They analyzed 5,444 Landsat scenes from 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010 with a hectare-scale (100 by 100 meter) resolution to determine how much forest was lost and gained. Their procedure was fully automated and computerized both to make the huge datasets manageable and to minimize human error.

They found that during the 1990-2000 period the annual net forest loss across all the countries was 4 million hectares (15,000 square miles) per year. During the 2000-2010 period, the net forest loss rose to 6.5 million hectares (25,000 square miles) per year - a 62 percent increase is the rate of deforestation. That last rate is the equivalent to clear cutting an area the size of West Virginia or Sri Lanka each year, or deforesting an area the size of Norway every five years.

In terms of where the deforestation was happening, they found that tropical Latin America showed the largest increase of annual net loss of 1.4 million hectares (5,400 square miles) per year from the 1990s to the 2000s, with Brazil topping the list at 0.6 million hectares (2,300 square miles) per year. Tropical Asia showed the second largest increase at 0.8 million hectares (3,100 square miles) per year, with similar trends across the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines. Tropical Africa showed the least amount of annual net forest area loss. Still, there was a steady increase of net forest loss in tropical Africa due to cutting primarily in Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.

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Tissue engineering: Scientists grow mature, functional skeletal muscle from cells in a dish

Tissue engineering: Scientists grow mature, functional skeletal muscle from cells in a dish | Amazing Science |

Scientists have generated mature, functional skeletal muscles in mice using a new approach for tissue engineering. The scientists grew a leg muscle starting from engineered cells cultured in a dish to produce a graft. The subsequent graft was implanted close to a normal, contracting skeletal muscle where the new muscle was nurtured and grown. In time, the method could allow for patient-specific treatments for a large number of muscle disorders.

The scientists used muscle precursor cells -- mesoangioblasts -- grown in the presence of a hydrogel (support matrix) in a tissue culture dish. The cells were also genetically modified to produce a growth factor that stimulates blood vessel and nerve growth from the host. Cells engineered in this way express a protein growth factor that attracts other essential cells that give rise to the blood vessels and nerves of the host, contributing to the survival and maturation of newly formed muscle fibres. After the graft was implanted onto the surface of the skeletal muscle underneath the skin of the mouse, mature muscle fibres formed a complete and functional muscle within several weeks. Replacing a damaged muscle with the graft also resulted in a functional artificial muscle very similar to a normal Tibialis anterior.

Tissue engineering of skeletal muscle is a significant challenge but has considerable potential for the treatment of the various types of irreversible damage to muscle that occur in diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy. So far, attempts to re-create a functional muscle either outside or directly inside the body have been unsuccessful. In vitro-generated artificial muscles normally do not survive the transfer in vivo because the host does not create the necessary nerves and blood vessels that would support the muscle's considerable requirements for oxygen.

"The morphology and the structural organisation of the artificial organ are extremely similar to if not indistinguishable from a natural skeletal muscle," says Cesare Gargioli of the University of Rome, one of the lead authors of the study.

In future, irreversibly damaged muscles could be restored by implanting the patient's own cells within the hydrogel matrix on top of a residual muscle, adjacent to the damaged area. "While we are encouraged by the success of our work in growing a complete intact and functional mouse leg muscle we emphasize that a mouse muscle is very small and scaling up the process for patients may require significant additional work," comments EMBO Member Giulio Cossu, one of the authors of the study. The next step in the work will be to use larger animal models to test the efficacy of this approach before starting clinical studies.

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First human head transplant could happen within two years

First human head transplant could happen within two years | Amazing Science |

The world's first attempt to transplant a human head will be launched this year at a surgical conference in the US. The move is a call to arms to get interested parties together to work towards the surgery.

The idea was first proposed in 2013 by Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. Now he claims the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body's immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.

Canavero plans to announce the project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Annapolis, Maryland, in June. Is society ready for such momentous surgery? And does the science even stand up?

The first successful head transplant, in which one head was replaced by another, was carried out in 1970. A team led by Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, transplanted the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They didn't attempt to join the spinal cords, though, so the monkey couldn't move its body, but it was able to breathe with artificial assistance. The monkey lived for nine days until its immune system rejected the head. Although few head transplants have been carried out since, many of the surgical procedures involved have progressed. "I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible," says Canavero.

This month, he published a summary of the technique he believes will allow doctors to transplant a head onto a new body (Surgical Neurology International, It involves cooling the recipient's head and the donor body to extend the time their cells can survive without oxygen. The tissue around the neck is dissected and the major blood vessels are linked using tiny tubes, before the spinal cords of each person are cut. Cleanly severing the cords is key, says Canavero.

The recipient's head is then moved onto the donor body and the two ends of the spinal cord – which resemble two densely packed bundles of spaghetti – are fused together. To achieve this, Canavero intends to flush the area with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, and follow up with several hours of injections of the same stuff. Just like hot water makes dry spaghetti stick together, polyethylene glycol encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh.

Next, the muscles and blood supply would be sutured and the recipient kept in a coma for three or four weeks to prevent movement. Implanted electrodes would provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, because research suggests this can strengthen new nerve connections.

When the recipient wakes up, Canavero predicts they would be able to move and feel their face and would speak with the same voice. He says that physiotherapy would enable the person to walk within a year. Several people have already volunteered to get a new body, he says.

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Signals to Alien Worlds Raise Serious Debates

Signals to Alien Worlds Raise Serious Debates | Amazing Science |

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences in San Jose, scientists debated whether sending radio messages to possible alien civilizations on distant planets would be a good idea. Such signals or messages could be sent with the help of signals aimed at areas in our galaxy where earth-like planets and life are more likely to also exist. Steven Hawking seems to be totally against this initiative, calling it catastrophic. He explained back in 2010 that alien civilizations, some of which may be more technologically advanced than us may thus come to our planet and exploit its resources. “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” Hawking explained.

As far as the communication method is concerned, scientists from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) are of the opinion that sending an active signal in order to search for alien life, an action called Messages to Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI), is far more efficient than using radio telescopes for detecting unusual signals.

METI signals are meant to be sent to parts of other galaxies where planets that resemble Earth’s structure could contain life. The impressive discoveries made by the Kepler space telescope, which found more than 1,000 Earth-like planets in nearby galaxies encouraged the messaging initiative, despite older warnings made by scientists.

Among less threatening concerns is the one belonging to radio astronomer Frank Drake, who said the METI signals are a waste of time right now. He explained that what humans are attempting through these signals is comparable to trying to send emails to unknown email addresses belonging to someone you don’t even know.

Hawking’s warnings received even more attacks coming from colleagues who are more than intrigued by the SETI activity. Dr. Douglas A. Vakoch, Director of the Interstellar Message Composition program replied: “If we can come to understand the messages of an independently evolved civilization, if we can get a glimpse into how they experience their worlds, we will have a mirror to hold up to ourselves, giving us a deeper appreciation of what makes us distinctively human.”

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Simple paper strip can diagnose Ebola and other fevers within 10 minutes

Simple paper strip can diagnose Ebola and other fevers within 10 minutes | Amazing Science |

When diagnosing a case of Ebola, time is of the essence. However, existing diagnostic tests take at least a day or two to yield results, preventing health care workers from quickly determining whether a patient needs immediate treatment and isolation.

A new test from MIT researchers could change that: The device, a simple paper strip similar to a pregnancy test, can rapidly diagnose Ebola, as well as other viral hemorrhagic fevers such as yellow fever and dengue fever.

“As we saw with the recent Ebola outbreak, sometimes people present with symptoms and it’s not clear what they have,” says Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, a visiting scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and a member of the technical staff at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. “We wanted to come up with a rapid diagnostic that could differentiate between different diseases.”

Hamad-Schifferli and Lee Gehrke, the Hermann L.F. von Helmholtz Professor in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), are the senior authors of a paper describing the new device in the journal Lab on a Chip. The paper’s lead author is IMES postdoc Chun-Wan Yen, and other authors are graduate student Helena de Puig, IMES postdoc Justina Tam, IMES instructor Jose Gomez-Marquez, and visiting scientist Irene Bosch.

Currently, the only way to diagnose Ebola is to send patient blood samples to a lab that can perform advanced techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which can detect genetic material from the Ebola virus. This is very accurate but time-consuming, and some areas of Africa where Ebola and other fevers are endemic have limited access to this kind of technology.

The new device relies on lateral flow technology, which is used in pregnancy tests and has recently been exploited for diagnosing strep throat and other bacterial infections. Until now, however, no one has applied a multiplexing approach, using multicolored nanoparticles, to simultaneously screen for multiple pathogens. 

Rabenstein, Frank's curator insight, February 26, 10:30 AM

God idea to combine several strips to make multiple tests from one test sample.