We live in a great time to be an electronics tinkerer. What with the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBoard and other single-board computers, it's cheap and easy to get started with hardware hacking.
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A rare eye disorder marked by color blindness, light sensitivity, and other vision problems can result from a newly discovered gene mutation identified by an international research team, including scientists from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). The findings, which were published today in the online edition of Nature Genetics, could lead to new, targeted treatments for this form of color blindness.
The researchers found that mutations to a gene called ATF6, a key regulator of the unfolded protein response, can lead to achromatopsia, a hereditary visual disorder characterized by color blindness, decreased vision, light sensitivity, and uncontrolled eye movement in children. The unfolded protein response is a mechanism cells use to prevent the dangerous accumulation of unfolded or mis-folded proteins.
Based on mouse studies, the researchers suspect that the cone cells of people with achromatopsia are not permanently damaged and could be revived by enhancing the pathway that regulates the unfolded protein response. "Several drugs that activate this pathway have already been approved by the FDA for other conditions and could potentially benefit patients with achromatopsia," said one of the study leaders, Stephen Tsang, MD, PhD, who is the Laszlo Z. Bito Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, and is affiliated with the Institute of Human Nutrition, at CUMC.
"Dr. Tsang's innovative research continues to unfold the genetic basis for a variety of ocular diseases. This finding is an example of the finest clinically based science that will ultimately allow us to overcome preventable vision loss," said George A. Cioffi, MD, Edward S. Harness Chairman and Ophthalmologist-in-Chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.
"Five genes had previously been linked to achromatopsia; however, they accounted for only about half of all cases," said Dr. Tsang. "Using next-generation gene sequencing on a small group of patients, we found that mutations in a sixth gene -- ATF6 -- can independently lead to the disease."
Vanderbilt researchers have made the world’s smallest spirals and found they have unique optical properties that are nearly impossible to counterfeit.
Take gold spirals about the size of a dime…and shrink them down about six million times. The result is the world’s smallest continuous spirals: “nano-spirals” with unique optical properties that would be almost impossible to counterfeit if they were added to identity cards, currency and other important objects.
Students and faculty at Vanderbilt University fabricated these tiny Archimedes’ spirals and then used ultrafast lasers at Vanderbilt and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, to characterize their optical properties. The results are reported in a paper published online by the Journal of Nanophotonics on May 21.
“They are certainly smaller than any of the spirals we’ve found reported in the scientific literature,” said Roderick Davidson II, the Vanderbilt doctoral student who figured out how to study their optical behavior. The spirals were designed and made at Vanderbilt by another doctoral student, Jed Ziegler, now at the Naval Research Laboratory.
When these spirals are shrunk to sizes smaller than the wavelength of visible light, they develop unusual optical properties. For example, when they are illuminated with infrared laser light, they emit visible blue light. A number of crystals produce this effect, called frequency doubling or harmonic generation, to various degrees. The strongest frequency doubler previously known is the synthetic crystal beta barium borate, but the nano-spirals produce four times more blue light per unit volume.
When infrared laser light strikes the tiny spirals, it is absorbed by electrons in the gold arms. The arms are so thin that the electrons are forced to move along the spiral. Electrons that are driven toward the center absorb enough energy so that some of them emit blue light at double the frequency of the incoming infrared light.
“This is similar to what happens with a violin string when it is bowed vigorously,” said Stevenson Professor of Physics Richard Haglund, who directed the research. “If you bow a violin string very lightly it produces a single tone. But, if you bow it vigorously, it also begins producing higher harmonics, or overtones. The electrons at the center of the spirals are driven pretty vigorously by the laser’s electric field. The blue light is exactly an octave higher than the infrared – the second harmonic.”
Dinosaurs grew as fast as your average living mammal, according to a research paper published by Stony Brook University paleontologist Michael D’Emic, PhD. The paper, to published in Science on May 29,is a re-analysis of a widely publicized 2014 Science paper on dinosaur metabolism and growth that concluded dinosaurs were neither ectothermic nor endothermic—terms popularly simplified as ‘cold-blooded’ and ‘warm-blooded’—but instead occupied an intermediate category.
“The study that I re-analyzed was remarkable for its breadth—the authors compiled an unprecedented dataset on growth and metabolism from studies of hundreds of living animals,” said Dr. D’Emic, a Research Instructor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences as Stony Brook, when referring to “Evidence for mesothermy in dinosaurs.”
“Upon re-analysis, it was apparent that dinosaurs weren’t just somewhat like living mammals in their physiology—they fit right within our understanding of what it means to be a ‘warm-blooded’ mammal,” he said.
To learn more about this finding and Dr. D’Emic’s research, see this Stony Brook University video. Dr. D’Emic specializes in bone microanatomy, or the study of the structure of bone on scales that are just a fraction of the width of a human hair. Based on his knowledge of how dinosaurs grew, Dr. D’Emic re-analyzed that study, which led him to the strikingly different conclusion that dinosaurs were more like mammals than reptiles in their growth and metabolism.
Dr. D’Emic re-analyzed the study from two aspects. First, the original study had scaled yearly growth rates to daily ones in order to standardize comparisons. “This is problematic,” Dr. D’Emic explains, “because many animals do not grow continuously throughout the year, generally slowing or pausing growth during colder, drier, or otherwise more stressful seasons. “Therefore, the previous study underestimated dinosaur growth rates by failing to account for their uneven growth. Like most animals, dinosaurs slowed or paused their growth annually, as shown by rings in their bones analogous to tree rings,” he explained.
He added that the growth rates were especially underestimated for larger animals and animals that live in very stressful or seasonal environments—both of which characterize dinosaurs.
Scientists have genetically engineered muscles to move in response to pulses of light. The technique, demonstrated on vocal cords removed from mice, is reported on 2 June in Nature Communications1. Researchers say that it could probe how muscles function — and might eventually help to treat people who have a paralysis that interferes with speech and breathing. The work relies on a method called optogenetics, which can make cells that usually respond to electrical signals also react to light. The approach alters mammalian cells by inserting a gene for a protein such as channelrhodopsin, which in its natural setting allows blue-green algae to swim towards or away from light.
Optogenetics was first used in 2005 to modify neurons2, and has since become a standard tool to study the brain and nervous system. Applications outside neuroscience, however, are less common. The latest study is fascinating, says Julio Vergara, a physiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies how electrical signals cause muscles to contract. “It shows the potential use of this very powerful technique for very important medical problems,” he says.
The study's authors had previously used optogenetics to engineer heart muscle in mice3 — light caused parts of the heart to beat out of sync, simulating arrhythmias. The latest research extends this to muscles that move under conscious command.
“Skeletal muscles follow different rules than the heart,” says Philipp Sasse, a co-author of the study and a physiologist at the University of Bonn in Germany. “Each fibre in a skeletal muscle can contract separately, which allows controlling movements as well as muscle strength very precisely.”
Even though today we peer deeper into space than ever before, our home galaxy's weight is still unknown to about a factor of four. Researchers at Columbia University's Astronomy Department have now developed a new method to give the Milky Way a more precise physical checkup.
The Milky Way consists of roughly 100 billion stars that form a huge stellar disk with a diameter of 100-200 thousand light years. The Sun is part of this structure, hence, when we look into the sky, we look right into a gigantic disk of stars. The vast number of stars and the huge extent on the sky make it hard to measure fundamental quantities for the Milky Way, such as its weight.
An international team of scientists led by Columbia University researcher Andreas Küpper used stars outside this disk, which orbit around the Milky Way in a stream-like structure, to weigh the Milky Way to high precision. In a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal, the team demonstrates that such streams, produced by dissolving globular clusters, can be used to measure not only the weight of our Galaxy, but can also be exploited as yardsticks to determine the location of the Sun within the Milky Way.
"Globular clusters are compact groups of thousands to several millions of stars that were born together when the universe was still very young," said Küpper. "They orbit around the Milky Way and slowly disintegrate over the course of billions of years, leaving a unique trace behind. Such star streams stick out from the rest of the stars in the sky as they are dense and coherent, much like contrails from airplanes easily stick out from regular clouds."
The researchers used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which scanned the sky of the Northern Hemisphere for about 10 years to create a comprehensive catalog of stars in the sky. The stream they tested the new technique on was produced by a globular cluster named Palomar 5, and had already been discovered in 2001 high above the Galactic disk. Eduardo Balbinot, coauthor on the current study from the University of Surrey in England, revisited the Sloan data and detected density wiggles in the stream of Palomar 5.
"We found the wiggles to be very pronounced and regularly spaced along the stream," said Balbinot. "Such variations cannot be random."
It is these wiggles that allow the researchers to gain the unprecedented precision of their measurement. Using the Yeti supercomputer of Columbia University, they created several million models of the stream in different realizations of the Milky Way. From these models and from comparing the wiggle pattern of the models to the observations, they were able to infer the mass of the Milky Way within a radius of 60,000 light years to be 210 billion times the mass of the Sun with an uncertainty of only 20 percent. The unique pattern of the density wiggles helped significantly to rule out models of the Milky Way, which were either too heavy or too skinny.
"An important advance in this work was using robust statistical tools - the same ones used to study changes in the genome and employed by internet search engines to rank websites," explained Ana Bonaca, a coauthor from Yale University. This rigorous approach helped in achieving the high precision in weighing the Milky Way."
Researchers have developed a microfluidic chip that can capture rare clusters of circulating tumor cells, which could yield important new insights into how cancer spreads. The work was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are cells that break away from a tumor and move through a cancer patient’s bloodstream. Single CTCs are extremely rare, typically fewer than 1 in 1 billion cells. These cells can take up residence in distant organs, and researchers believe this is one mode by which cancer spreads.
Even less common than single CTCs are small groups of CTCs, or clusters. While the existence of CTC clusters has been known for more than 50 years, their prevalence in the blood as well as their role in metastasis has not been thoroughly investigated, mostly because they are so elusive. However, recent advances in biomedical technologies that enable researchers to capture single CTCs have renewed interest in CTC clusters, which are occasionally captured along with single CTCs.
Now, researchers led by Mehmet Toner, Ph.D., professor of surgery (biomedical engineering) at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health & Sciences Technology, report the development of a novel microfluidic chip that is specifically designed for the efficient capture of CTC clusters from whole, unprocessed blood.
“Very little is known about CTC clusters and their role in the progression and metastasis of cancer. This unique technology presents an exciting opportunity to capture these exceptionally rare groups of cells for further analysis in a way that is minimally-invasive,” said NIBIB Director Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D. “This is the kind of breakthrough technology that could have a very large impact on cancer research.”
The new technology — called Cluster-Chip — was developed with support from a Quantum Grant from NIBIB, which funds transformative technological innovation designed to solve major medical problems with a substantial disease burden, such as preventing cancer metastasis or precisely tailoring therapeutics to an individual’s cancer cell biology.
Toner and his collaborator Dr. Daniel Haber, M.D., Ph.D., also at MGH, recently used Cluster-Chip to capture and analyze CTC clusters in a group of 60 patients with metastatic breast, prostate, and melanoma cancers. The researchers found CTC clusters — ranging from two to 19 cells — in 30-40 percent of the patients.
“The presence of these clusters is far more common than we thought in the past,” said Toner. “The fact that we saw clusters in this many patients is really a remarkable finding.” Further analysis of the patients’ CTC clusters yielded new insights into the biology of CTC clusters. The researchers published their results in the May 18, 2015 advance online issue of Nature Methods.
The chip is designed to slowly push blood through many rows of microscopic triangle-shaped posts. The posts are arranged in such a way that every two posts funnels cells towards the tip of a third post. At the tip, single cells — including blood cells and single CTCs — easily slide to either side of the post and continue through the chip until reaching the next tip; however CTC clusters are left at the tip, hanging in the balance due to forces pulling them down the post in opposite directions.
To determine the efficiency of Cluster-Chip, the researchers introduced fluorescently tagged cell clusters (ranging from 2-30 cells) into the chip and counted the number of clusters that were captured and the number that flowed through undetected. At a blood flow rate of 2.5ml/hr, the chip captured 99 percent of clusters containing four or more cells, 70 percent of three-cell clusters, and 41 percent of two-cell clusters. Comparison of the clusters under a microscope before and after capture found that the chip had no negative effects on the integrity of the clusters as a whole.
The researchers next compared the efficiency of their novel chip to two currently-used methods that have had some success capturing CTC clusters. They found that at similar blood flow rates, the Cluster-Chip was significantly more efficient than a filter-based method, which pushes blood through a membrane with pores only large enough to let single cells pass through. The chip was also more efficient than a different microfluidic chip — previously developed by Toner — that isolates CTCs and occasionally clusters using antibodies that stick to special proteins found on the surface of some tumor cells.
The results highlight the importance of the unique Cluster-Chip capture technique, which is based on the structural properties of CTC clusters rather than their size or the presence of surface proteins. This latter property makes the Cluster-Chip well-suited for capturing CTC clusters from a range of cancer types, including those that lose surface proteins during metastasis and those that never express them, such as melanoma.
The researchers went on to test the Cluster-Chip in a small trial of 60 patients with metastatic cancer. In this study, the chip captured CTC clusters in 11 of 27 (40.7 percent) breast cancer patients, 6 of 20 (30 percent) melanoma patients, and 4 of 13 (31 percent) prostate patients. The large number of clusters found in the patient samples suggests a possibly greater role for clusters in the metastatic cascade. While the significance of CTC clusters has not been fully established, a previous study published by Toner and the Haber team in Cell (2014) found an association between increased number of CTC clusters in patients with metastatic breast cancer and reduced survival, and an association between the presence of clusters and reduced survival in prostate cancer patients.
Researchers meeting in Chicago are hailing what they believe may be a potent new weapon in the fight against cancer: the body's own immune system.
An international study found that a combination of two drugs that helped allow the immune system to fight the cancer -- ipilimumab and nivolumab -- stopped the deadly skin cancer melanoma from advancing for nearly a year in 58% of the cases. Melanoma, though a skin cancer, can spread to the lungs, liver, bone, lymph nodes and brain.
Other studies have shown promise in treating lung cancer. The research is being presented in Chicago at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and published inThe New England Journal of Medicine.
Those involved in the fight against cancer are divided as to just how excited to get over the promise of immunotherapy in battling cancer.
"Immunotherapy drugs have already revolutionized melanoma treatment, and now we're seeing how they might be even more powerful when they're combined," said Dr. Steven O'Day, an expert with the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
"But the results also warrant caution -- the nivolumab and ipilimumab combination used in this study came with greater side effects, which might offset its benefits for some patients. Physicians and patients will need to weigh these considerations carefully," O'Day said.
In the study, 36% of the patients receiving the two-drug combination had to stop the therapy due to side effects. Both drugs are made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, the sponsors of the study. And Nell Barrie, a spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK, while calling the results "encouraging" and "promising," told CNN that much remains to be learned and the new drugs would not replace any of the existing cancer treatments.
Surgery, she said, would remain vital. So, too, would chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she said. She noted that researchers had yet to study the long-term survival rates for immunotherapy. And the side effects can include inflammation of the stomach and bowel serious enough to require hospitalization, she said.
But Dr. James Larkin, the lead author of the melanoma study, called the results a game changer. "We've seen these drugs working in a wide range of cancers, and I think we are at the beginning of a new era in treating cancer," Larkin said.
More than 100,000 saigas in Central Asia have died in recent weeks of an unknown disease.
Before the end of the last Ice Age, saigas roamed by the millions in a range stretching from England to Siberia, even into Alaska. Eventually they moved to the steppes of Central Asia, where they continued to thrive — until the 20th century, when these strange-looking antelopes began flirting with extinction.
Hunted for its horns, 95 percent of the population disappeared, and the saiga was declared critically endangered. After the implementation of strict antipoaching measures, the population recovered, from a low of 50,000 to about 250,000 last year. “It was a big success story,” said Eleanor J. Milner-Gulland, the chairwoman of the Saiga Conservation Alliance.
Now that success is in jeopardy. Last month, a mysterious disease swept through the remaining saiga herds, littering the steppes with carcasses. The so-called die-off claimed more than a third of the world’s population in just weeks.
An international team of wildlife biologists is now examining tissues taken from dead saigas, hoping to figure out what killed them. Whatever it is, it has the potential to undo years of conservation efforts, further endangering the species.
“Once we know what’s causing it, then we need to think very hard about how to avoid it in the future,” said Aline Kuehl-Stenzel, the terrestrial species coordinator of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
From time to time, saigas have faced widespread die-offs. The last major one occurred in 2010, when 12,000 animals died. The causes are still uncertain, because biologists did not reach the animals until long after they expired.
First 'virgin birth' fish found in the wild. The discovery, published today in Cell Biology , is the first-known example of the asexual reproductive process known as parthenogenesis to have been uncovered in the wild.
'Virgin births' in the smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) may be triggered by the population's dwindling numbers, report the researchers.
The smalltooth sawfish is a large, critically endangered ray that is estimated to have declined to 1-5 per cent of its population size since 1900. It is currently found mainly in southwest Florida. Between 2004 and 2013, 190 individuals ranging in total length from 67.1 centimeters to 3.81 meters were sampled, tagged, and released in the Caloosahatchee River, Peace River and Ten Thousand Islands regions.
Routine testing of the fish's DNA showed several markers that would normally contain a lot of variability were homozygous, or contained the same DNA sequence, says lead author Andrew Fields, a doctoral student at Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
"We were conducting routine DNA fingerprinting of the sawfish found in this area in order to see if relatives were often reproducing with relatives due to their small population size," says Fields.
"What the DNA fingerprints told us was altogether more surprising: female sawfish are sometimes reproducing without even mating." Seven of the sample fish -- or 3 per cent -- were found to be produced through parthenogenesis.
Vertebrate parthenogenesis is thought to occur when an unfertilised egg absorbs a genetically identical sister cell. The resulting offspring have about half of the genetic diversity of their mothers, so the genetic diversity of the wild population is reduced, says Fields.
Parthenogenesis is common in invertebrates but rare in vertebrate animals, the researchers say in the paper.
The mammalian Y chromosome has lost many hundreds of genes throughout evolution. Surviving Y chromosome genes were recently shown to havebroadly important cellular functions, rather than male-specific roles, plus corresponding copies on the X chromosome.
Following on a large survey of the evolution of the mammalian Y chromosomepublished last year, Jennifer Hughes, a research scientist in David Page’s laboratory at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and her colleagues now provide evidence to suggest that four presumably essential and highly conserved genes lost from the Y chromosome in several mammalian species—including humans—have been preserved in the genome through transposition onto autosomal chromosomes. The team’s results were published today (May 28) in Genome Biology.
This preservation of essential Y chromosome genes through transposition was previously thought to have occurred only in isolated cases, such as the loss of the entire Y chromosome in the Ryukyu spiny rat. The new work suggests that migration of important genes from a sex chromosome to an autosome is more prevalent in mammals than expected.
“This is an interesting story. It’s remarkable to see how consistently genes that were lost from the Y chromosome were rescued by autosomal copies in multiple species,” said Christine Disteche, who studies the regulation of mammalian sex chromosomes at the University of Washington and was not involved in the current work. “What is amazing is that this seemed to have happened independently in multiple lineages. That stresses how important this is.”
“The observations confirm the view that gene loss from the Y can be compensated for,” Jennifer Marshall Graves, a geneticist at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. While this was known, she continued, “it’s nice to have good evidence of this process.” Graves, who was not involved in the present study, previously demonstrated the transposition of an ancient gene pair from both the X and Y chromosomes onto several autosomes in mammals.
Hughes and her colleagues last year found that evolutionary conserved genes necessary for cellular processes, such as protein translation, were missing from the Y chromosomes of certain mammalian species. Analyzing those same eight species, the researchers recently identified seven single-copy Y chromosome genes with cellular functions normally required by both males and females that were lost in one or more species.
The team found four of these genes on an autosome in species with the missing Y chromosome gene—presumably, the genes were transferred to the new chromosome through a retrotransposition event. The team identified eight instances of apparent retrotransposition, including in a few species in which such gene-jumping occurred more than once.
The EIF2S3Y (eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 subunit) gene, involved in protein synthesis, was missing from the Y chromosome only among primates the team studied. “If this gene is so important, why does it appear to be dispensable in some species?” asked Hughes. So the researchers traced the gene to three different autosomal locations in each of the three primate groups (Old World monkeys, New World monkeys, and apes), which suggested that this gene transposed from the Y chromosome to an autosome and the X chromosome independently on three separate occasions.
Unlike in the New World monkey lineage, EIF2S3 expression in apes and Old World monkeys was restricted to the testes. While previous studies considered this autosomal copy a pseudogene, the current analysis provides evidence that the gene is indeed expressed and may be functional. Several years ago, this gene was shown to be one of just two Y chromosome genes required for assisted reproduction in mice. While not on the Y chromosome in primates, the gene is likely to be performing the same function during spermatogenesis and may be important in male infertility, Hughes and her colleagues suggested.
The Project Brillo announcement was one of the event's highlights making news at Google's I/O conference last week. Brillo fundamentally is Google's answer to the Internet of Things operating system. Brillo is designed to run on and connect various IoT low-power devices. If Android was Google's answer for a mobile operating system, Brillo is a mini, or lightweight, Android OS–and part of The Register's headline on the announcement story was "Google puts Android on a diet".
Brillo was developed to connect IoT objects from "washing machine to a rubbish bin and linking in with existing Google technologies," according to The Guardian.
As The Guardian also pointed out, they are not just talking about your kitchen where the fridge is telling the phone that it's low on milk; the Brillo vision goes beyond home systems to farms or to city systems where a trashbin could tell the council when it is full and needs collecting. "Bins, toasters, roads and lights will be able to talk to each other for automatic, more efficient control and monitoring."
Brillo is derived from Android. Commented Peter Bright, technology editor, Ars Technica: "Brillo is smaller and slimmer than Android, providing a kernel, hardware abstraction, connectivity, and security infrastructure." The Next Web similarly explained Brillo as "a stripped down version of Android that can run on minimal system requirements."
The Brillo debut is accompanied by another key component, Weave. This is the communications layer, and it allows the cloud, mobile, and Brillo to speak to one another. AnandTech described Weave as "an API framework meant to standardize communications between all these devices."
Putting a hole in the center of the donut—a mid-nineteenth-century invention—allows the deep-fried pastry to cook evenly, inside and out. As it turns out, the hole in the center of the donut also holds answers for a type of more efficient and reliable quantum information teleportation, a critical goal for quantum information science.
Quantum teleportation is a method of communicating information from one location to another without moving the physical matter to which the information is attached. Instead, the sender (Alice) and the receiver (Bob) share a pair of entangled elementary particles—in this experiment, photons, the smallest units of light—that transmit information through their shared quantum state. In simplified terms, Alice encodes information in the form of the quantum state of her photon. She then sends a key to Bob over traditional communication channels, indicating what operation he must perform on his photon to prepare the same quantum state, thus teleporting the information.
Quantum teleportation has been achieved by a number of research teams around the globe since it was first theorized in 1993, but current experimental methods require extensive resources and/or only work successfully a fraction of the time.
Now, by taking advantage of the mathematical properties intrinsic to the shape of a donut—or torus, in mathematical terminology—a research team led by physicist Paul Kwiat of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has made great strides by realizing “superdense teleportation”. This new protocol, developed by coauthor physicist Herbert Bernstein of Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, effectively reduces the resources and effort required to teleport quantum information, while at the same time improving the reliability of the information transfer.
Physicists developing a prototype quantum hard drive have improved storage time by a factor of more than 100
The team’s record storage time of six hours is a major step towards a secure worldwide data encryption network based on quantum information, which could be used for banking transactions and personal emails.
“We believe it will soon be possible to distribute quantum information between any two points on the globe,” said lead author Manjin Zhong, from the Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE).“
Quantum states are very fragile and normally collapse in milliseconds. Our long storage times have the potential to revolutionise the transmission of quantum information.” Quantum information promises unbreakable encryption because quantum particles such as photons of light can be created in a way that intrinsically links them. Interactions with either of these entangled particles affect the other, no matter how far they are separated.
The team of physicists at ANU and the University of Otago stored quantum information in atoms of the rare earth element europium embedded in a crystal. Their solid-state technique is a promising alternative to using laser beams in optical fibers, an approach which is currently used to create quantum networks around 100 kilometers long.
“Our storage times are now so long that it means people need to rethink what is the best way to distribute quantum data,” Ms Zhong said. “Even transporting our crystals at pedestrian speeds we have less loss than laser systems for a given distance.”
“We can now imagine storing entangled light in separate crystals and then transporting them to different parts of the network thousands of kilometers apart. So, we are thinking of our crystals as portable optical hard drives for quantum entanglement.” After writing a quantum state onto the nuclear spin of the europium using laser light, the team subjected the crystal to a combination of a fixed and oscillating magnetic fields to preserve the fragile quantum information.
“The two fields isolate the europium spins and prevent the quantum information leaking away,” said Dr Jevon Longdell of the University of Otago. The ANU group is also excited about the fundamental tests of quantum mechanics that a quantum optical hard drive will enable.
"We have never before had the possibility to explore quantum entanglement over such long distances," said Associate Professor Matthew Sellars, leader of the research team.
“We should always be looking to test whether our theories match up with reality. Maybe in this new regime our theory of quantum mechanics breaks.” Their research is published in Nature.
If you lived on one of Pluto's moons Nix or Hydra, you'd have a hard time setting your alarm clock. That's because you could not know for sure when, or even in which direction, the sun would rise. A comprehensive analysis of all available Hubble Space Telescope data shows that two of Pluto's moons, Nix and Hydra, are wobbling unpredictably. Scientists believe the other two small moons, Kerberos and Styx, are likely in a similar situation, pending further study.
"Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. "When the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July we'll get a chance to see what these moons look like up close and personal."
Why the chaos? Because the moons are embedded inside a dynamically shifting gravitational field caused by the system's two central bodies, Pluto and Charon, whirling about each other. The variable gravitational field induces torques that send the smaller moons tumbling in unpredictable ways. This torque is strengthened by the fact the moons are football shaped rather than spherical.
The surprising results of the Hubble research, conducted by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and Doug Hamilton of the University of Maryland at College Park, are appearing in the June 4 issue of the British science journal Nature.
"Prior to the Hubble observations nobody appreciated the intricate dynamics of the Pluto system," Showalter said. "Our report provides important new constraints on the sequence of events that led to the formation of the system."
Hubble's monitoring of Pluto's four outer moons has also revealed that three of them, Nix, Styx, and Hydra, are presently locked together in resonance where there is a precise ratio among their orbital periods. "This ties together their motion in a way similar to that of three of Jupiter's large moons," noted Hamilton. "If you were sitting on Nix you would see that Styx orbits Pluto twice for every three orbits made by Hydra."
Hubble provides observational evidence that the satellites are also orbiting chaotically. "However, that does not necessarily mean that the system is on the brink of flying apart," Showalter added. "We need to know a lot more about the system before we can determine its long-term fate."
To the surprise of astronomers, Hubble also found that the moon Kerberos is as dark as a charcoal briquette, while the other satellites are as bright as white sand. It was predicted that pollution by dust blasted off the satellites by meteorite impacts should overcoat all the moons, giving their surfaces a homogeneous look. "This is a very provocative result," Showalter said.
In spring 2015, MBARI researchers discovered a large, previously unknown field of hydrothermal vents in the Gulf of California, about 150 kilometers (100 miles) east of La Paz, Mexico. Lying more than 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) below the surface, the Pescadero Basin vents are the deepest high-temperature hydrothermal vents ever observed in or around the Pacific Ocean. They are also the only vents in the Pacific known to emit superheated fluids rich in both carbonate minerals and hydrocarbons. The vents have been colonized by dense communities of tubeworms and other animals unlike any other known vent communities in the in the eastern Pacific.
Like another vent field in the Gulf that MBARI discovered in 2012, the Pescadero Basin vents were initially identified in high-resolution sonar data collected by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). MBARI’s yellow, torpedo-shaped seafloor-mapping AUV spent two days flying about 50 meters above the bottom of the Basin, using sound beams to map the depth and shape of the seafloor.
The AUV team, led by MBARI engineer David Caress, pored over the detailed bathymetric map they created from the AUV data and saw a number of mounds and spires rising up from the seafloor. Data from the AUV also showed slightly warmer water over some of the spires, which implied that they might be active hydrothermal-vent chimneys. A team of geologists led by David Clague then used a tethered underwater robot, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts, to dive down to the seafloor, fly around the vents, and collect video and samples of rocks and hot water spewing from the chimneys.
In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.
That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.
“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?,’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?,’ now we can approach this mechanistically – because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels,” said Jonathan Kipnis, a professor in U.Va.’s Department of Neuroscience and director of U.Va.’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions."
He added, “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role. [It’s] hard to imagine that these vessels would not be involved in a neurological disease with an immune component.”
Kevin Lee, who chairs the Department of Neuroscience, described his reaction to the discovery by Kipnis’ lab: “The first time these guys showed me the basic result, I just said one sentence: ‘They’ll have to change the textbooks.’ There has never been a lymphatic system for the central nervous system, and it was very clear from that first singular observation – and they’ve done many studies since then to bolster the finding – that it will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system’s relationship with the immune system.”
Even Kipnis was skeptical initially. “I really did not believe there are structures in the body that we are not aware of. I thought the body was mapped,” he said. “I thought that these discoveries ended somewhere around the middle of the last century. But apparently they have not.”
The discovery was made possible by the work of Antoine Louveau, a postdoctoral fellow in Kipnis’ lab. The vessels were detected after Louveau developed a method to mount a mouse’s meninges – the membranes covering the brain – on a single slide so that they could be examined as a whole. “It was fairly easy, actually,” he said. “There was one trick: We fixed the meninges within the skullcap, so that the tissue is secured in its physiological condition, and then we dissected it. If we had done it the other way around, it wouldn’t have worked.”
After noticing vessel-like patterns in the distribution of immune cells on his slides, he tested for lymphatic vessels and there they were. The impossible existed. The soft-spoken Louveau recalled the moment: “I called Jony [Kipnis] to the microscope and I said, ‘I think we have something.’”
As to how the brain’s lymphatic vessels managed to escape notice all this time, Kipnis described them as “very well hidden” and noted that they follow a major blood vessel down into the sinuses, an area difficult to image. “It’s so close to the blood vessel, you just miss it,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re after, you just miss it.
“Live imaging of these vessels was crucial to demonstrate their function, and it would not be possible without collaboration with Tajie Harris,” Kipnis noted. Harris is an assistant professor of neuroscience and a member of the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. Kipnis also saluted the “phenomenal” surgical skills of Igor Smirnov, a research associate in the Kipnis lab whose work was critical to the imaging success of the study.
The unexpected presence of the lymphatic vessels raises a tremendous number of questions that now need answers, both about the workings of the brain and the diseases that plague it. For example, take Alzheimer’s disease. “In Alzheimer’s, there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain,” Kipnis said. “We think they may be accumulating in the brain because they’re not being efficiently removed by these vessels.” He noted that the vessels look different with age, so the role they play in aging is another avenue to explore. And there’s an enormous array of other neurological diseases, from autism to multiple sclerosis, that must be reconsidered in light of the presence of something science insisted did not exist.
New research at the University of Arkansas suggests that methanogens -- among the simplest and oldest organisms on Earth -- could survive on Mars.
Methanogens, microorganisms in the domain Archaea, use hydrogen as their energy source and carbon dioxide as their carbon source, to metabolize and produce methane, also known as natural gas. Methanogens live in swamps and marshes, but can also be found in the gut of cattle, termites and other herbivores as well as in dead and decaying matter.
Methanogens are anaerobic, so they don't require oxygen. They don't require organic nutrients, either, and are non-photosynthetic, indicating they could exist in sub-surface environments and therefore are ideal candidates for life on Mars.
Rebecca Mickol, a doctoral student in space and planetary sciences, found that in the laboratory, four species of methanogens survived low-pressure conditions that simulated a subsurface liquid aquifer on Mars.
"These organisms are ideal candidates for life on Mars," Mickol said.
"All methanogen species displayed survival after exposure to low pressure, indicated by methane production in both original and transfer cultures following each experiment. This work represents a stepping-stone toward determining if methanogens can exist on Mars."
Huge 3D Displays without 3D Glasses: A new invention opens the door to a new generation of outdoor displays. Different pictures can be seen at different angles, creating 3D effects without the need for 3D glasses.
Public screenings have become an important part of major sports events. In the future, we will be able to enjoy them in 3D, thanks to a new invention from Austrian scientists. A sophisticated laser system sends laser beams into different directions. Therefore, different pictures are visible from different angles. The angular resolution is so fine that the left eye is presented a different picture than the right one, creating a 3D effect.
You can run, but you can't hide: A new DNA test makes it easier to differentiate between identical twins in forensic cases.
Although short tandem repeat profiling is extremely powerful in identifying individuals from crime scene stains, it is unable to differentiate between monozygotic (MZ) twins. Efforts to address this include mutation analysis through whole genome sequencing and through DNA methylation studies. Methylation of DNA is affected by environmental factors; thus, as MZ twins age, their DNA methylation patterns change. This can be characterized by bisulfite treatment followed by pyrosequencing. However, this can be time-consuming and expensive; thus, it is unlikely to be widely used by investigators. If the sequences are different, then in theory the melting temperature should be different. Thus, the aim of a recent study was to assess whether high-resolution melt curve analysis can be used to differentiate between MZ twins. Five sets of MZ twins provided buccal swabs that underwent extraction, quantification, bisulfite treatment, polymerase chain reaction amplification and high-resolution melting curve analysis targeting two markers, Alu-E2F3 and Alu-SP. Significant differences were observed between all MZ twins targeting Alu-E2F3 and in four of five MZ twins targeting Alu-SP (P < 0.05). Thus, it has been demonstrated that bisulfite treatment followed by high-resolution melting curve analysis could be used to differentiate between MZ twins.
By the end of this century, the landscape around Mount Everest may drastically change. As the planet continues to warm, the Everest region of Nepal could lose most of its glaciers, according to a study published in the journal The Cryosphere.
“We did not expect to see glaciers reduced at such a large scale,” said Joseph Shea, a glacier hydrologist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal and lead author of the new report. “The numbers are quite frightening.”
Dr. Shea and his colleagues found that moderate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could result in a 70 percent loss of glaciers around Mount Everest, while a business-as-usual scenario in which emissions remain at the same levels could result in a 99 percent loss.
To arrive at these findings, Dr. Shea and his colleagues used a computer model for glacier melt, accumulation and redistribution. They customized the model with data on temperature and precipitation, measurements from the field and remote-sensing observations collected over 50 years from the Dudh Koshi basin, which includes Mount Everest and several of the world’s other highest peaks.
The model took into account how much mass glaciers gain from snowfall, as well as the way that mass is redistributed by continual downward movement. The researchers applied the model to eight future climate scenarios, from moderate emissions reductions to none at all.
The results do not bode well for the glaciers around Everest. Even if emissions are reduced by midcentury and rain in the region increases, the model predicts that the majority of the glaciers will probably disappear by 2100.
Gigantic jets of gas that leap out of galaxies at nearly the speed of light occur only after two galaxies merge, a survey of the distant Universe shows. The results suggest that the jets are powered by the collision of black holes at the galaxies’ centres and solve the puzzle of why only some galaxies emit these jets.
The link between mergers and galactic jets seems to be a “slam dunk”, says astronomer Sylvain Veilleux of the University of Maryland in College Park, who was not involved in the work. Most large galaxies are thought to host black holes at their centres, and these can be billions of times as massive as the Sun. Some black holes, including the one at the heart of our own Milky Way, are dormant and are mostly only noticeable from the gravitational pull that they exert on nearby stars. But other black holes are surrounded by a disk of matter, light years across, that shines more brightly than the rest of its galaxy combined as the matters spirals into the black hole.
Only a few of these ‘active galactic nuclei’ have been seen producing what are probably the most spectacular fireworks in the Universe: jets of matter accelerated to nearly the speed of light that stream out of the galaxy centres in opposite directions, at right angles to the disks. These jets shine brightly in the radio spectrum and their hosts are therefore known as radio galaxies.
But why some systems have jets and some do not has been a puzzle. Marco Chiaberge, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and his collaborators stumbled on an explanation almost by chance in late 2013, during a survey of radio galaxies using the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope. “We printed out the images of this new survey and put them on a table,” Chiaberge recalls. “We looked at them and we said, ‘These are all mergers!’”
The team followed up their initial intuition with more careful work on a larger sample of 19 radio galaxies, all of them at least 7.8 billion light years (2.4 billion parsecs) away. Nearly all had irregular shapes with regions of intense star formation, a sign that they were the result of a recent merger, on cosmic time scales. Not all galaxy mergers are seen producing jets because in some of them the central black holes are still falling towards each other and are not merging, Chiaberge suggests. The results are available on the preprint server arXiv1 and are due to be published in the Astrophysical Journal.
The number of new cases of cancer in the world is rising, according to a new report that looked at cancer in 118 countries. Globally, the number of new cancer cases increased from 8.5 million in 1990 to 14.9 million in 2013, the study found. The world population rose from 5.3 billion to 7.1 billion during that time. In addition, cancer is accounting for an increasingly greater proportion of deaths: In 1990, 12 percent of all deaths in the countries studied were due to cancer, but in 2013, it was 15 percent.
The researchers specifically looked at 28 different types of cancer, and found that cases from nearly all of these types of cancer have increased in the last two decades — ranging from a 9 percent increase in cervical cancer cases to a 217 percent increase in prostate cancer cases. The only cancer that decreased during the study period was Hodgkin's lymphoma, which saw a 10 percent decrease in the number of new cases between 1990 and 2013.
The overall rise in cancer cases is partly due to longer life spans, since the risk of cancer increases with age. "With life expectancy increasing globally, the future burden of cancer will likely increase," the researchers said. The growing global population, increases in obesity and poor dietary habits also have contributed to the rise, they said.
Cancer is more common in men than in women, with 1 in 3 men worldwide developing cancer before age 79, compared with 1 in 5 women. The most common cancer overall was cancer of the lungs, trachea or bronchus, with 1.8 million new cases and 1.6 million deaths in 2013, followed by breast cancer and colon cancer. The most common cancer in men was prostate cancer, and the most common cancer in women was breast cancer.
A particularly concerning trend is an increase in cancer cases in developing countries, the researchers said. In 2013, the rates of new cancer cases were higher in developing countries than in developed countries for stomach cancer, liver cancer, esophageal cancer, cervical cancer, mouth cancer, and nose and throat cancer.
Phonons—the elemental particles that transmit both heat and sound—have magnetic properties, according to a landmark study supported by Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) services and recently published by a researcher group from The Ohio State University.
In a recent issue of the journal Nature Materials, the researchers describe how a magnetic field, roughly the size of a medical MRI, reduced the amount of heat flowing through a semiconductor by 12 percent. Simulations performed at OSC then identified the reason for it—the magnetic field induces a diamagnetic response in vibrating atoms known as phonons, which changes how they transport heat.
"This adds a new dimension to our understanding of acoustic waves," said Joseph Heremans, Ph.D., Ohio Eminent Scholar in Nanotechnology and a professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State whose group performed the experiments. "We've shown that we can steer heat magnetically. With a strong enough magnetic field, we should be able to steer sound waves, too."
People might be surprised enough to learn that heat and sound have anything to do with each other, much less that either can be controlled by magnets, Heremans acknowledged. But both are expressions of the same form of energy, quantum mechanically speaking. So any force that controls one should control the other.
Investigators for the nationwide trial, NCI-MATCH: MolecularAnalysis for Therapy Choice (EAY131), announced today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago that the precision medicine trial will open to patient enrollment in July. The trial seeks to determine whether targeted therapies for people whose tumors have specific gene mutations will be effective regardless of their cancer type. NCI-MATCH will incorporate more than 20 different study drugs or drug combinations, each targeting a specific gene mutation, in order to match each patient in the trial with a therapy that targets a molecular abnormality in their tumor. The study was co-developed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group, part of the NCI-sponsored National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN). It is being led by ECOG-ACRIN.
NCI-MATCH is a phase II trial with numerous small substudies (arms) for each treatment being investigated. It will open with approximately 10 substudies, moving to 20 or more within months. The study parameters for the first 10 arms are being sent to 2,400 participating sites in the NCTN for review in preparation for patient enrollment beginning in July. The exact date for the opening of patient enrollment will be decided shortly after the ASCO meeting. Additional substudies are in development and will be added over time as the trial progresses.
Via Integrated DNA Technologies
A patient tormented by suicidal thoughts gives his psychiatrist a few strands of his hair. She derives stem cells from them to grow budding brain tissue harboring the secrets of his unique illness in a petri dish. She uses the information to genetically engineer a personalized treatment to correct his brain circuit functioning. Just Sci-fi? Yes, but...
An evolving “disease-in-a-dish” technology, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is bringing closer the day when such a seemingly futuristic personalized medicine scenario might not seem so far-fetched. Scientists have perfected mini cultured 3-D structures that grow and function much like the outer mantle – the key working tissue, or cortex — of the brain of the person from whom they were derived. Strikingly, these “organoids” buzz with neuronal network activity. Cells talk with each other in circuits, much as they do in our brains.
Sergiu Pasca, M.D. , of Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, and colleagues, debut what they call “human cortical spheroids,” May 25, 2015 online in the journal Nature Methods.
“There’s been amazing progress in this field over the past few years,” said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, which provided most of the funding for the study. “The cortex spheroids grow to a state in which they express functional connectivity, allowing for modeling and understanding of mental illnesses. They do not even begin to approach the complexity of a whole human brain. But that is not exactly what we need to study disorders of brain circuitry. As we seek advances that promise enormous potential benefits to patients, we are ever mindful of the ethical issues they present.”
Prior to the new study, scientists had developed a way to study neurons differentiated from stem cells derived from patients’ skin cells — using a technology called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). They had even produced primitive organoids by coaxing neurons and support cells to organize themselves, mimicking the brain’s own architecture. But these lacked the complex circuitry required to even begin to mimic the workings of our brains.