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Nanoscale neuronal implant developed that accesses single neurons

Nanoscale neuronal implant developed that accesses single neurons | Amazing Science |

A thin, flexible electrode developed at the University of Michigan is 10 times smaller than the nearest competition and could make long-term measurements of neural activity practical at last.

This kind of technology could eventually be used to send signals to prosthetic limbs, overcoming inflammation larger electrodes cause that damages both the brain and the electrodes.


The main problem that neurons have with electrodes is that they make terrible neighbors. In addition to being enormous compared to the neurons, they are stiff and tend to rub nearby cells the wrong way. The resident immune cells spot the foreigner and attack, inflaming the brain tissue and blocking communication between the electrode and the cells.


The new electrode developed by the teams of Daryl Kipke, a professor of biomedical engineering, Joerg Lahann, a professor of chemical engineering, and Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering, is unobtrusive and even friendly in comparison. It is a thread of highly conductive carbon fiber, coated in plastic to block out signals from other neurons. The conductive gel pad at the end cozies up to soft cell membranes, and that close connection means the signals from brain cells come in much clearer.

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

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



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Siegfried Holle's curator insight, July 4, 2014 8:45 AM

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Odd Dance of Mini Alien Exoplanet System is a Clockwork Wonder

Odd Dance of Mini Alien Exoplanet System is a Clockwork Wonder | Amazing Science |
The compact star system maintains its intricate balance through orbital resonance.


When NASA's Kepler space telescope first detected the "mini-solar system" of Kepler-80 in 2012, astronomers were astonished by how crowded it was. There are five worlds all orbiting their star well within the distance Mercury orbits the sun.


The discovery of Kepler-80 -- and other compact star systems like it known as Systems with Tightly-spaced Inner Planets, or "STIPs" -- challenges our understanding of how planets form, even adding an extra perspective to how Earth may have evolved.


Now astronomers have taken a long, hard look at Kepler-80, which is located around 1,100 light-years away, and are beginning to understand what makes it tick.


One of the biggest questions challenging our understanding of this system is how could all the exoplanets maintain their apparently stable orbits in such a small region? Wouldn't their motions have been thrown into dynamical chaos long ago?


Each exoplanet has an orbital period (or "year") of just one, three, four, seven and nine days. Whipping around the star at such high speed and close proximity should pose a problem; their gravities should interfere with one another.


And in new research to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, they do affect one another, but not in the negative sense. Researchers were able to precisely measure the orbital periods of all the planets and detected very slight gravitational tugs as they passed one another. The technique is known as transit timing variations and it has been used by Kepler before to detect the gravitational tug of worlds that remained undetected.

These precise measurements led the researchers to discover that all five worlds are in a tight, synchronized dance that maintains the stability of the whole star system.


"The outer four planets return to almost exactly the same configuration every 27 days," said Darin Ragozzine, of Florida Institute of Technology, in a statement.


This surprising synchronicity is known as orbital resonance. As Kepler-80 formed, the tight orbits of the planets it contained evolved into a clockwork-like balance, ensuring their orbits remained stable.


The four outer exoplanets are thought to be of between four to six times the mass of Earth and the two outermost worlds have diameters that are twice as large as the inner worlds. It is therefore thought the two outer worlds are gas giants.


After carrying out computer simulations of the evolution of Kepler-80, the researchers think all the worlds formed in much wider orbits, eventually migrating closer to the star. Over time, their orbits started to synchronize and settled into this uniquely compact state.

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Dr. Stephen Kingsmore Sets Guinness World Records Title for Fastest Genetic Diagnosis

Dr. Stephen Kingsmore Sets Guinness World Records Title for Fastest Genetic Diagnosis | Amazing Science |

Stephen Kingsmore, M.D., D.Sc., president and CEO of Rady Children's Institute for Genomic Medicine at Rady Children's Hospital – San Diego, is the official title holder of the Guinness World Records® designation for fastest genetic diagnosis, which he accomplished by successfully diagnosing critically ill newborns in just 26 hours, as published in the journal Genome Medicine.


The feat was made possible by several time-shrinking technologies, including Edico Genome's genomic data-crunching computer chip, DRAGEN, and one of Illumina's high-throughput sequencing instruments. In addition, other parameters of the sequencing process were optimized.


Dr. Kingsmore achieved this Guinness World Records title while serving as executive director of Medical Panomics at Children's Mercy Kansas City; he will implement the enabling technologies at the new Rady Children's Institute for Genomic Medicine. Today's celebration in San Diego, often called "the genomics capital of the world," is being held on National DNA Day, which commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project and the discovery of DNA's double helix.


"Diagnosing acutely ill babies is a race against the clock, which is why it's so essential for physicians to have access to technology that will provide answers faster and help set the course of treatment," Dr. Kingsmore said. "My work at Children's Mercy Kansas City that led to this recognition would not have been possible without our key technology partners Edico Genome and Illumina, who share a vision for unraveling mysteries of disease and giving hope to families with ill newborns. I look forward to collaborating with both parties to implement this approach at Rady Children's Institute for Genomic Medicine and ultimately neonatal and pediatric intensive care units across the country."

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Teal drone is up for pre-orders, can do 70 mph, stay stable in winds up to 40 mph

Teal drone is up for pre-orders, can do 70 mph, stay stable in winds up to 40 mph | Amazing Science |

Teal is self-promoted as the world's fastest production drone. It is fast and can withstand 40mh winds. It is built to run as many apps as you can think of and it has a supercomputer on board.


Among the key features: modes for beginners to hardcore racers; control it from a smartphone, tablet or hobby controller; has something called Teal OS as a software platform, opening the way for people to build apps around it; fast processors on board the drone.


The drone is powered by NVIDIA TX1. It handles machine learning, autonomous flight, image recognition and more onboard. "This makes Teal a flying supercomputer. You can even plug Teal into a monitor, use it like a normal computer, play games on it...", Teal's inventor explains.


Teal has a 13MP wide field of view camera that supports 4K video recording and 3-axis electronic stabilization. Videos and photos can be stored directly on built in 16GB storage or to a microSD card.


Speed? How fast is fast? The max horizontal speed is listed as 70 mph. The site FAQ page stated that "Teal can fly over 70 MPH! In test runs, teal has even reached speeds over 85 MPH under certain conditions."


Teal is small enough to fit in a standard backpack without disassembly. The diagonal motor to motor measurement is listed as 261mm.

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Scientists program cells to remember and respond to series of stimuli

Scientists program cells to remember and respond to series of stimuli | Amazing Science |

Synthetic biology allows researchers to program cells to perform novel functions such as fluorescing in response to a particular chemical or producing drugs in response to disease markers. In a step toward devising much more complex cellular circuits, MIT engineers have now programmed cells to remember and respond to a series of events.

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A way to get electrons to attract each other is using other electrons

A way to get electrons to attract each other is using other electrons | Amazing Science |
A team of researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, with assistance from another at Freie Universität Berlin in Germany has found a new way to get electrons to attract one. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes the technique they used and the ways their results might prove useful. Takis Kontos with Ecole Normale Supérieure in France offers a News & Views piece on the work done by the team in the same journal issue and in addition to outlining their work offers some history on its development by others in the field.


Getting electrons to attract each is a big part of superconductivity, but unfortunately, due to the need for extremely cold temperatures most such materials have not proved to be of practical use. What scientists would really like to find is a material that could be a superconductor at room temperature and one promising avenue of research has been attempting to realize a theory proposed by William Little half a century ago—he suggested it might be possible to get electrons to attract one another by using the repulsion of other electrons. In this new effort, the researchers have attempted to prove this theory correct by using carbon nanotubes placed near one another.


Their experiment consisted of coaxing just two electrons into a carbon nanotube and a polarizer in the form of two energy wells in a second carbon nanotube. They then positioned the two nanotubes perpendicular to each other, with one over the top of the over forming a cross, though they were not allowed to touch—one was kept approximately 100 nanometers away from the other. At that distance, the researchers confirmed that the electrons became attracted to one another.


In theory, the team notes, it should be possible to create a superconductor using their method—unfortunately, creating an entire crystal, or even a short chain of material in such a way, is likely to be exceedingly difficult. Still, Kontos suggests that it could be used to create a quantum simulator which could be added as yet another tool for researchers in the field.

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Organisms age in myriad ways, but some just don't seem to age at all

Organisms age in myriad ways, but some just don't seem to age at all | Amazing Science |

Death rates in humans increase dramatically in later life, leading to an upsweeping mortality curve (far right, 2009 data from Japanese women). But the mortality curves of plants and animals vary greatly, according to a recent data analysis. Hydra don’t appear to age at all, and the death rates of desert tortoises can actually decline later in life. 

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We've Been Wrong About Lichen For 150 Years

We've Been Wrong About Lichen For 150 Years | Amazing Science |

Hundreds of millions of years ago, a tiny green microbe joined forces with a fungus, and together they conquered the world. It’s a tale of two cross-kingdom organisms, one providing food and the one other shelter, and it’s been our touchstone example of symbiosis for 150 years. Trouble is, that story is nowhere near complete.


A sweeping genetic analysis of lichen has revealed a third symbiotic organism, hiding in plain sight alongside the familiar two, that has eluded scientists for decades. The stowaway is another fungus, a basidiomycete yeast. It’s been found in 52 genera of lichen across six continents, indicating that it is an extremely widespread, if not ubiquitous, part of the symbiosis. And according to molecular dating, it’s probably been along for the ride since the beginning.


“I think this will require some rewriting of the textbooks,” said Catharine Aime, a mycologist at Purdue University and co-author on the study published today in Science.

Peter Buckland's curator insight, July 23, 4:14 AM
A fascinating discovery
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Sunlight helps scientists derive hydrogen from grass

Sunlight helps scientists derive hydrogen from grass | Amazing Science |

Scientists in Wales see gas in the grass. The green stuff growing in your yard might be an inexpensive source of renewable energy. With just sunlight and the help of a cheap catalyst, researchers at Cardiff University have found a way to derive hydrogen gas from fescue grass.


"Hydrogen is seen as an important future energy carrier as the world moves from fossil fuels to renewable feedstocks, and our research has shown that even garden grass could be a good way of getting hold of it," Michael Bowker, a professor at the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said in a news release.


Hydrogen is plentiful on Earth, but it's not easy to unlock from its geological and biological sources. Many of the current synthesis strategies are expensive and energy-intensive, negating hydrogen's environmental benefits.


But scientists at Cardiff recently documented the promise of a new strategy called photoreforming, or photocatalysis. During photoreforming, sunlight triggers a catalyst, setting in motion a chemical reaction that converts cellulose and water into hydrogen.


Researchers tested three relatively cheap metal-based catalysts -- palladium, gold and nickel -- and found success with all three.

"Our results show that significant amounts of hydrogen can be produced using this method with the help of a bit of sunlight and a cheap catalyst," Bowker said.


The researchers shared their findings in a new paper, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

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Twisted, Tangled and Turbulent: Magnetic Fields in the Milky Way

Twisted, Tangled and Turbulent: Magnetic Fields in the Milky Way | Amazing Science |

If the Milky Way were strewn across a swath of silk and set aflutter in the breeze, it would look something like the rippling images in the gallery above. But these are representations of our home galaxy, produced from nearly 1,500 days of observations made by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite. Each of the images above corresponds to a numbered section in this map of the Milky Way:

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Game of Genomes: An epic quest to crack the mysteries of our DNA

Game of Genomes: An epic quest to crack the mysteries of our DNA | Amazing Science |
It took hundreds of scientists — and about $3 billion — to assemble the first human genome sequence in 2001. Since then, the cost of DNA sequencing has crashed, while the accuracy has skyrocketed. Scientists have now sequenced the genomes of an estimated 150,000 people.

Despite this sequencing explosion, very few of the people who have their genomes sequenced get their hands on their own genomes. And those few people typically only get a highly filtered report.
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A map of where our food originates from holds some surprises

A map of where our food originates from holds some surprises | Amazing Science |

A new study reveals the full extent of globalization in our food supply. More than two-thirds of the crops that underpin national diets originally came from somewhere else — often far away.


Previous work by the same authors had shown that national diets have adopted new crops and become more and more globally alike in recent decades. The new study shows that those crops are mainly foreign.


The idea that crop plants have centers of origin, where they were originally domesticated, goes back to the 1920s and the great Russian plant explorer Nikolai Vavilov. He reasoned that the region where a crop had been domesticated would be marked by the greatest diversity of that crop, because farmers there would have been selecting different types for the longest time. Diversity, along with the presence of that crop's wild relatives, marked the center of origin.


The Fertile Crescent, with its profusion of wild grasses related to wheat and barley, is the primary center of diversity for those cereals. Thai chilies come originally from Central America and tropical South America, while Italian tomatoes come from the Andes.


Khoury and his colleagues extended Vavilov's methods to look for the origins of 151 different crops across 23 geographical regions. They then examined national statistics for diet and food production in 177 countries, covering 98.5 percent of the world's population.

Via DrDids, Neil Bombardier, Fernando Gil
Neil Bombardier's curator insight, July 18, 6:34 AM
Fascinating map of where your food comes from
Eric Larson's curator insight, July 22, 11:01 AM
Interesting maps. 
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New device lengthens the life of quantum information

New device lengthens the life of quantum information | Amazing Science |
Yale University scientists have reached a milestone in their efforts to extend the durability and dependability of quantum information.


For the first time, researchers at Yale have crossed the "break even" point in preserving a bit of quantum information for longer than the lifetime of its constituent parts. They have created a novel system to encode, spot errors, decode, and correct errors in a quantum bit, also known as a "qubit." The development of such a robust method of Quantum Error Correction (QEC) has been one of the biggest remaining hurdles in quantum computation.


The findings were published online July 20 in the journal Nature.

"This is the first error correction to actually detect and correct naturally occurring errors," said Robert Schoelkopf, Sterling Professor of Applied Physics and Physics at Yale, director of the Yale Quantum Institute, and principal investigator of the study. "It is just the beginning of using QEC for real computing. Now we need to combine QEC with actual computations."


Error correction for quantum data bits is exceptionally difficult because of the nature of the quantum state. Unlike the "classical" state of either zero or one, the quantum state can be a zero, a one, or a superposition of both zero and one. Furthermore, the quantum state is so fragile that the act of observing it will cause a qubit to revert back to a classical state.


Co-lead author Andrei Petrenko, who is a Yale graduate student, added: "In our experiment we show that we can protect an actual superposition and the QEC doesn't learn whether the qubit is a zero or a one, but can still compensate for the errors."


The team accomplished it, in part, by finding a less complicated way to encode and correct the information. The Yale researchers devised a microwave cavity in which they created an even number of photons in a quantum state that stores the qubit. Rather than disturbing the photons by measuring them—or even counting them—the researchers simply determined whether there were an odd or even number of photons. The process relied on a kind of symmetry, via a technique the team developed previously.

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Understanding the Universe: Quanta, Symmetry, and Topology (speaker: Frank Wilczek, MIT)

Frank Wilczek, Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Why Tomorrow Won't Look Like Today: Things that Advance at Rapid Speed

Just when it seems that technology can't amaze us further, here comes a new batch of next-gen, gee-whiz projects en route to reality. Our panel of big thinkers opens a window on tomorrow. Have you heard of asteroid mining? Eric Anderson's company plans to probe space rocks for water and platinum group metals. Or how about John Kelly's vaunted IBM research team, tooling up its Watson technology (of "Jeopardy!" fame) to help sequence DNA and speed cancer treatment? Or Eric David's Organovo scientists developing printing capabilities to create living tissue--and even human organs--on demand? From the vastness of the cosmos to the microscopic foundations of life, this panel of visionaries points us to the marvels of the future.

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Biotech Firms Battle Over Who Owns Genetic Data

Biotech Firms Battle Over Who Owns Genetic Data | Amazing Science |

Cancer-screening firm Ambry Genetics is giving away anonymized data on 10,000 breast and ovarian cancer patients to researchers.


Who owns our genetic heritage? It's a contentious question in the multi-billion-dollar genetics industry. Scientists now know not only all three billion-plus letters of the human genome, but many of the key genes that cause hereditary ailments including cancers, autism, Down syndrome, and Parkinson's. That's expensive knowledge, and some firms and institutions that footed the bill for research don't want to just give it away. "Companies are going to do as much as they can to collect as much genetic data as possible," says Sabah Oney, a biotech entrepreneur most recently with prenatal DNA testing firm Ariosa Diagnostics. "Whoever owns the most data is going to be the king."


Others say that companies should compete on services they offer, not the data they have collected. A vocal advocate on this side is genetic-testing company Ambry Genetics. It just opened up access to anonymized genetic sequencing and other medical data for 10,000 patients suffering from breast or ovarian cancers. The company promises to keep adding to the database in the future and also expand to data on other cancers on its site, AmbryShare.


"We're not here to aggregate data and try to sell it," says Charlie Dunlop, the founder and CEO of Ambry, which just opened a big new lab in Aliso Viejo, south of Los Angeles. Ambry's growth was helped by a lawsuit it won to bust patents by rival Myriad Genetics. So Dunlop has a big interest in the open-access side. Still, the genetic data that Ambry is opening up could be a big contribution to cancer treatments and cures, and set an example for other companies.

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Short-wavelength spin waves generated directly for the first time

Short-wavelength spin waves generated directly for the first time | Amazing Science |

With the rapid advance of miniaturization, data processing using electric currents faces tough challenges, some of which are insurmountable.


Smaller, faster, more energy-efficient - this is the mantra for the further development of computers and mobile telephones which is currently progressing at a breathtaking pace. However, Dr. Sebastian Wintz of the HZDR Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research knows only too well, how difficult it already is to achieve any further degree of miniaturization. "One major problem with current technologies," he said, "is the heat which is generated when data are transmitted with the aid of electric currents. We need a new concept." The physicist is working with international colleagues on so-called spin waves (magnons) which are set to replace moving charges in the future as information carriers. The scientists have now succeeded for the first time in generating spin waves of such short wavelengths that they have potential for future applications in data processing.


The spin denotes a property which lends the particles a magnetic moment. They then act like tiny magnets which run parallel to each other in ferromagnetic materials. If one of the spins then changes direction, this has a knock-on effect on its neighbors. A chain reaction gives rise to a spin wave.


The processing of information is presently based on electric currents. The charged particles speed through a network of wires which are squeezed closer and closer together, driven by the desire for ever more compact chips. On their way, the electrons collide with atoms, causing them to rock to and fro in the crystal lattice thereby generating heat. If the wires are too close together, this heat can no longer be dissipated and the system breaks down. "The great advantage of spin waves is that the electrons themselves don't move," explained Wintz, "therefore precious little heat is produced by the flow of data."

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Chinese team to pioneer first human CRISPR trial

Chinese team to pioneer first human CRISPR trial | Amazing Science |

The CRISPR gene editing technique has been in the news a lot of late as scientists creep ever closer to using it as a means to treat diseases or to change the very nature of biological beings. China has been a leader in promoting such research on human beings—they were the first to use the technique to on human embryos.


The new effort is seen as far less controversial—a team in the U.S. is planning a similar study as soon as they can get regulators to greenlight their project. The Chinese team plans to retrieve T cells from patients that have incurable lung cancer and then edit the genes in those cells. More specifically, they will be looking to disable a gene that encodes for a protein called PD-1—prior research has shown that it acts as a brake on an immune response to help prevent attacks on healthy cells. Once the cells have been edited and inspected very carefully to make sure there were no editing errors they will be allowed to multiply and then all of the cells will be injected back into the same patient's bloodstream. It is hoped that the edited cells will cause the immune system to mount a more aggressive attack on tumor cells, killing them and curing the patient.


The researchers acknowledge that they do not know for sure how the body will respond, whether it will cause a more aggressive attack on the tumor cells or kick off other problems related to an overzealous immune response.


The clinical trial is set to start next month, 30 candidates have been chosen, but only one will get the edited cellsinitially—a three dose regimen. That patient will be monitored very closely for both positive and negative responses—the overall goal is to see if the procedure is safe, but the researchers are hoping, of course, to see some sign of tumor reduction.

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Physicists have discovered what looks like an entire family of new particles in the LHC

Physicists have discovered what looks like an entire family of new particles in the LHC | Amazing Science |
They can’t be explained by our existing laws of physics.


The new particles have been named X(4140), X(4274), X(4500), and X(4700) after their respective masses, and each one has been found to contain a unique combination of two charm quarks and two strange quarks.


This makes them the first four-quark particles found to be composed entirely of heavy quarks, Symmetry reports.


By 'exciting' the individual quarks inside their new tetraquark particles, the researchers were able to observe their unique internal structure, mass, and quantum numbers. In doing so, they discovered something that doesn’t fit with current physics models that work with so-called ordinary particles, such as composite hadrons built from either a quark and an anti-quark, or three separate quarks, CERN reports.


Physicists are now trying to come up with new models to explain their results. The results have been published in two papers on the pre-print website here and here, so are now going to be scrutinized by independent physicists ahead of the formal peer-review process. 


The discovers are expecting one of two possibilities to be confirmed with further research: theoretical physicists are either going to have to explain the existence of this new family of particles, or they could be identified as the result of strange 'ripple effects' emanating from never-before-seen behaviors of existing particles.

Via Ben van Lier
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New brain map identifies 97 new areas previously unknown

New brain map identifies 97 new areas previously unknown | Amazing Science |

A new 21st century map of the human brain contains 180 distinct areas in each hemisphere, including 97 previously undiscovered territories, research published Wednesday in the journal Nature revealed. It's not quite Google Maps, but the new optic still provides the most detailed understanding of the cerebral cortex to date, based on the freshest data from the latest technologies.


The new map "is a major revision and updating" of previous maps," said David Van Essen, senior author of the study. "Most of the new areas are in regions we associate with higher cognitive function," he said.


This is version 1.0, and as new data comes in, there will be revisions, said Dr. Greg Farber, director of technology development at the National Institute of Mental Health, echoing the authors of the research.

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Why Did NASA Just Send a DNA Sequencer to Space?

Why Did NASA Just Send a DNA Sequencer to Space? | Amazing Science |

A DNA sequencer that was just delivered to the International Space Station can test not just known Earthly organisms. Turns out, the little device may also be able to analyze samples taken from alien life, NASA said.


The SpaceX Dragon capsule met up with the International Space Station (ISS) early yesterday morning (July 20), after being launched aboard the Falcon 9 rocket on July 18. Among the goods delivered was the MinION — a palm-sized sequencer with a lot of promise that weighs just 120 grams (0.27 pounds).


"This one piece of equipment might do a lot for us, in terms of exploration, research and crew health-related issues," said Sarah Wallace, a NASA microbiologist and member of the team working on the MinION experiment, in a recent conversation with Live Science.

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Vast asteroid created 'Man in Moon's eye' crater

Vast asteroid created 'Man in Moon's eye' crater | Amazing Science |

One of the Moon's biggest craters was created by an asteroid more than 250km (150 miles) across, a study suggests. It smashed into the lunar surface about 3.8 billion years ago, forming Mare Imbrium - the feature also known as the right eye of the "Man in the Moon".


Scientists say the asteroid was three times bigger than previously estimated and debris from the collision would have rained down on the Earth. The research is published in the journal Nature.


The asteroid was so big it could be classified as a protoplanet - a space rock with the potential to become a fully formed world. Lead author Prof Peter Schultz, a planetary geologist from Brown University in the United States, said: "One implication of this work is that the asteroids may not have been these small chunks flying around - there may have been many more of these very large protoplanets. "It was a catastrophic period of time."

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A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order

A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order | Amazing Science |
Scientists are exploring a mysterious pattern, found in birds’ eyes, boxes of marbles and other surprising places, that is neither regular nor random.


Many years ago, Joe Corbo stared into the eye of a chicken and saw something astonishing. The color-sensitive cone cells that carpeted the retina (detached from the fowl, and mounted under a microscope) appeared as polka dots of five different colors and sizes. But Corbo observed that, unlike the randomly dispersed cones in human eyes, or the neat rows of cones in the eyes of many fish, the chicken’s cones had a haphazard and yet remarkably uniform distribution. The dots’ locations followed no discernible rule, and yet dots never appeared too close together or too far apart. Each of the five interspersed sets of cones, and all of them together, exhibited this same arresting mix of randomness and regularity. Corbo, who runs a biology lab at Washington University in St. Louis, was hooked.


“It’s extremely beautiful just to look at these patterns,” he said. “We were kind of captured by the beauty, and had, purely out of curiosity, the desire to understand the patterns better.” He and his collaborators also hoped to figure out the patterns’ function, and how they were generated. He didn’t know then that these same questions were being asked in numerous other contexts, or that he had found the first biological manifestation of a type of hidden order that has also turned up all over mathematics and physics.


Corbo did know that whatever bird retinas are doing is probably the thing to do. Avian vision works spectacularly well (enabling eagles, for instance, to spot mice from a mile high), and his lab studies the evolutionary adaptations that make this so. Many of these attributes are believed to have been passed down to birds from a lizardlike creature that, 300 million years ago, gave rise to both dinosaurs and proto-mammals. While birds’ ancestors, the dinos, ruled the planetary roost, our mammalian kin scurried around in the dark, fearfully nocturnal and gradually losing color discrimination. Mammals’ cone types dropped to two — a nadir from which we are still clambering back. About 30 million years ago, one of our primate ancestors’ cones split into two — red- and green-detecting — which, together with the existing blue-detecting cone, give us trichromatic vision. But our cones, particularly the newer red and green ones, have a clumpy, scattershot distribution and sample light unevenly.


Bird eyes have had eons longer to optimize. Along with their higher cone count, they achieve a far more regular spacing of the cells. But why, Corbo and colleagues wondered, had evolution not opted for the perfect regularity of a grid or “lattice” distribution of cones? The strange, uncategorizable pattern they observed in the retinas was, in all likelihood, optimizing some unknown set of constraints. What these were, what the pattern was, and how the avian visual system achieved it remained unclear. The biologists did their best to quantify the regularity in the retinas, but this was unfamiliar terrain, and they needed help. In 2012, Corbo contacted Salvatore Torquato, a professor of theoretical chemistry at Princeton University and a renowned expert in a discipline known as “packing.” Packing problems ask about the densest way to pack objects (such as cone cells of five different sizes) in a given number of dimensions (in the case of a retina, two). “I wanted to get at this question of whether such a system was optimally packed,” Corbo said. Intrigued, Torquato ran some algorithms on digital images of the retinal patterns and “was astounded,” Corbo recalled, “to see the same phenomenon occurring in these systems as they’d seen in a lot of inorganic or physical systems.”

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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Radio telescope finds hundreds of previously undetectable galaxies

Radio telescope finds hundreds of previously undetectable galaxies | Amazing Science |

A South African radio telescope has revealed hundreds of galaxies in a tiny corner of the universe where only 70 had been seen before. The images, taken by MeerKAT telescope, are an indication of the detail the southern hemisphere's most powerful radio telescope may be able to provide when it is fully operational later this year.


At present, 16 of MeerKAT's 64 dishes are scanning the skies. As well as its scientific goals, the project serves as a technological demonstration of South Africa's capability to host the Square Kilometer Array, a huge multiradio-telescope project to be built in Australia and South Africa comprising dozens of dishes.


"Based on the results being shown today, we are confident that after all 64 dishes are in place, MeerKAT will be the world's leading telescope of its kind until the advent of SKA," Professor Justin Jonas, SKA South Africa chief technologist, said in a statement.

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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

UW professor is digitizing every fish species in the world

UW professor is digitizing every fish species in the world | Amazing Science |

Nearly 25,000 species of fish live on our planet, and a University of Washington professor wants to scan and digitize them all. That means each species will soon have a high-resolution, 3D visual replica online, available to all and downloadable for free. Scientists, teachers, students and amateur ichthyologists will be able to look at the fine details of a smoothhead sculpin’s skeleton, or 3-D print an exact replica of an Arctic alligatorfish.


“These scans are transforming the way we think about 3-D data and accessibility,” said Adam Summers, a UW professor of biology and aquatic and fishery sciences who is spearheading the project.


Summers, who is based at the UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, uses a small computerized tomography (CT) scanner in the back room of a lab to churn out dozens of fish scans from specimens gathered around the world. The machine works like a standard CT scanner used in hospitals: A series of X-ray images is taken from different angles, then combined using computer processing to create three-dimensional images of the skeleton.


The goal is to make it possible for scientists to examine the morphology of a particular species, or try to understand why a group of fish all have similar physical characteristics such as bony head “armor” or the ability to burrow into the sand.

“It’s been so fun to throw this data up on the web and have people actually use it,” Summers said.

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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Next Generation Sequencing (NGS)!

Scientist sequence genome of a very abundant ocean microbe

Scientist sequence genome of a very abundant ocean microbe | Amazing Science |

Sea turtles and whales may be the charismatic critters of the sea, but the true kingpins of the ocean make up 98 percent of the ocean’s biomass — and yet individually are too small to see with the naked eye.


An almost unknown organism by the name Candidatus Thioglobus autotrophicus, is present in low-oxygen waters around the world and is one of the dominant organisms in these areas — between 40 and 60 percent of all cells in some regions.


Living things use oxygen for their metabolic activities, but in low-oxygen areas, bacteria and archaea have evolved to “breathe” other elements available in seawater. One of those is a chemical called nitrate which, when respired, produces gaseous nitrogen. That gas escapes to the atmosphere, effectively leaving the ocean and removing valuable nitrogen from the water.


The bacteria grown and sequenced by the UW oceanographers have been pegged as playing a big role in removing nitrogen from the ocean, but until now scientists didn’t have a complete picture of how it happened.


“We are filling in the gaps by providing a full genome,” said lead author Vega Shah, a UW doctoral student in oceanography. “Now we can talk about both what these organisms can and can’t do.”


The research team confirmed the bacteria are contributing to nitrogen loss, but in a different way than expected. More specifically, they are responsible for a key step — converting nitrate to a similar chemical called nitrite — which then goes on to fuel other nitrogen-removal processes. Earlier research had hypothesized that these microbes also produce ammonia, another nitrogen-containing chemical. Instead, the UW team found that the microbes consume ammonia, essentially competing with other organisms for this nitrogen compound that is also important for growth and development.


The findings were published July 19, 2016, in the Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology, a Nature publication.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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