Learning to read Chinese might seem daunting to Westerners used to an alphabetic script, but brain scans of French and Chinese native speakers show that people harness the same brain centers for reading across cultures.
Via Sakis Koukouvis
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Dinosaurs flourished in Europe right up until the asteroid impact that wiped them out 66 million years ago, a new study shows. The theory that an asteroid rapidly killed off the dinosaurs is widely recognized, but until recently dinosaur fossils from the latest Cretaceous--the final stanza of dinosaur evolution--were known almost exclusively from North America. This has raised questions about whether the sudden decline of dinosaurs in the American and Canadian west was merely a local story.
The new study synthesizes a flurry of research on European dinosaurs over the past two decades. Fossils of latest Cretaceous dinosaurs are now commonly discovered in Spain, France, Romania, and other countries. By looking at the variety and ages of these fossils, a team of researchers led by Zoltán Csiki-Sava of the University of Bucharest'sFaculty of Geology and Geophysics has determined that dinosaurs remained diverse in European ecosystems very late into the Cretaceous.
In the Pyrenees of Spain and France, the best area in Europe for finding latest Cretaceous dinosaurs, meat and plant-eating species are present and seemingly flourishing during the final few hundred thousand years before the asteroid hit.
Dr Csiki-Sava said "For a long time, Europe was overshadowed by other continents when the understanding of the nature, composition and evolution of latest Cretaceous continental ecosystems was concerned. The last 25 years witnessed a huge effort across all Europe to improve our knowledge, and now we are on the brink of fathoming the significance of these new discoveries, and of the strange and new story they tell about life at the end of the Dinosaur Era."
Dr Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences (UK), an author on the report, added: "Everyone knows that an asteroid hit 66 million years ago and dinosaurs disappeared, but this story is mostly based on fossils from one part of the world, North America. We now know that European dinosaurs were thriving up to the asteroid impact, just like in North America. This is strong evidence that the asteroid really did kill off dinosaurs in their prime, all over the world at once."
Plankton are vital to life on Earth — they absorb carbon dioxide, generate nearly half of the oxygen we breathe, break down waste, and are a cornerstone of the marine food chain. Now, new research indicates the diminutive creatures are not only more diverse than previously thought, but also profoundly affected by their environment.
Tara Oceans, an international consortium of researchers from MIT and elsewhere that has been exploring the world’s oceans in hopes of learning more about one of its smallest inhabitants, reported their initial findings this week in a special issue of Science. From 2009 to 2012, a small crew sailed on a 110-foot schooner collecting 35,000 samples of marine microbes and viruses from 200 locations around the globe — facing pirates, high winds, and ice storms in the process. But the effort was worth it. Among the studies’ findings: millions of new genes, thousands of new viruses, insights into microbial interactions, and ocean temperature's impact on species diversity.
The researchers identified 40 million genes in the upper ocean, most of which are new to science. In comparison, the human gut microbiome only has 10 million genes. Additionally, researchers identified more than 5,000 viruses, only 39 of which were known previously.
Underneath the ocean surface, viruses, plankton, and other microbes battle one another for survival. These interactions — which are mainly parasitic in nature — are vital for maintaining diversity, as they prevent one species from dominating the environment, the study's authors found. The expedition also revealed that species diversity is shaped by ocean temperature, which is on the rise. The new plethora of data should allow researchers to build predictive models that show how microbial communities will change in a warming world and its resulting impacts on oxygen production, carbon dioxide absorption, and ecosystem dynamics.
“The finding that temperature shapes which species are present, for instance, is especially relevant in the context of climate change, but to some extent this is just the beginning,” says Chris Bowler, a plant biologist from the French National Centre for Scientific Research. “The resources we’ve generated will allow us and others to delve even deeper, and finally begin to really understand the workings of this invisible world.”
Back in 2013, we heard that nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diago (UC San Diego) had successfully used nanosponges to soak up toxins in the bloodstream. Fast-forward two years and the team is back with more nanospongey goodness, now using hydrogel to keep the tiny fellas in place, allowing them to tackle infections such as MRSA, without the need for antibiotics.
Let's start with a quick recap. In 2013, a team of researchers announced that they'd successfully managed to create nanosponges – nanoparticles coated in red blood cell membranes – that flow through the bloodstream, removing harmful toxins as they go. The red blood cell coating tricks the immune system into ignoring the nanoparticles, but the disguise also attracts pore-forming toxins that kill cells by perforating their outer membranes.
This breakthrough was ideal if you wanted to deal with harmful toxins in the bloodstream, such as snake venom, but it didn't allow for a sustained attack in a localized region. Since the initial announcement, the team has been working on improving the method, with the new study focusing on adapting it to clear up antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.
In order to keep the nanosponges tied to a specific area, the team turned to hydrogel – a gel made of water and polymers. The team mixed the nanosponges into the hydrogel, which then holds them in place at an infected spot, allowing for all of the toxins to be removed.
Nanosponges are some three thousand times smaller than red blood cells, allowing billions to be held in every milliliter of hydrogel. The gel's pores are small enough to keep the nanosponges in, but also large enough to allow the toxins to pass through, making it an ideal agent for delivery of the treatment.
As the method doesn't involve antibiotics, it's thought that it won't be affected by existing bacterial antibiotic resistance, and the bacteria shouldn't develop any new resistance in response to the treatment.
The nanosponge/hydrogel combination was tested on MRSA-infected mice, with the team observing significantly smaller lesions on treated as opposed to untreated subjects. The tests also confirmed that hydrogel was effective at holding the nanosponges in place, with 80 percent remaining at the site of infection two days after being injected.
The UC San Diego researchers posted the results of their study in the journal Advanced Materials.
Via Jocelyn Stoller
It's smaller than your index finger, and it might be the future of implantable devices to treat a fractured spine, pinched nerve, or neurological disorder like epilepsy.
As they report in the journal Science, a team of engineers and medical researchers in Sweden has just designed a pinpoint-accurate implantable drug pump. It delivers medicine with such precision that it requires only 1 percent of the drugs doctors would otherwise need to deploy. As it demonstrated in tests on seven rats, the tiny pump can attach directly to the spine (at the root of a nerve) and inject its medicine molecule by molecule.
"In theory, we could tell you exactly how many molecules our device is delivering," says Amanda Jonsson, the bio-electronical engineer at Sweden's Linköping University who led the team. "These very small dosages could help avoid drug side effects, or be useful for medicines that we simply can't use at larger doses."
The technology is based on a compact but complicated piece of laboratory equipment called an ion pump. To put it simply, as electric current enters the ion pump one electron at a time, medicine is flung out the other end one molecule at a time. One caveat: Because of this setup, only medicines that can be electrically charged can be used with the pump. But that includes more pain medicines than you might think, including morphine and other opiates.
We nag our kids to brush their teeth well, but a few hours later, their mouths are just as full of bacteria as before they brushed..
Microbiologist Wenyuan Shi of UCLA thinks a sweet sucker might help lick the problem. Shi laments that while the cause of tooth decay is known to be an infection, dentistry today still uses a “mechanical” approach to disease. He says that there are 100 trillion bacteria in your mouth, consisting of 700 different species, but only 12 of those species cause any harm. One in particular, Streptococcus mutans, is a major factor in tooth decay.
“What we really try to do is to detect the pathogen who is responsible for the tooth decay, and treating the pathogen or get rid of the pathogen way before they are damaging the tooth,” says Shi. The challenge of that approach is that some of those bugs are actually beneficial. So Shi is working on ways to target the harmful bacteria while leaving the beneficial ones alone. “It’s like a dandelion infection in your lawn,” he says, “and if you use a general herbicide, you do kill the dandelion, but you kill the grass as well; and the moment you stop using your herbicide, who comes back first? It’s always the weeds.”
Shi looked to his Chinese roots for a traditional herbal remedy that targets only the bad bacteria. “We did a lot of the screening, and to our great surprise, one of the top hit we got out of the 2,000 medicinal herbs is licorice. And, as you know, many cultures have been chewing the licorice roots as a way to actually promoting oral health,” he says.
As they reported in the Journal of Natural Products, Shi’s team isolated the active compounds in licorice and showed they kill decay-causing bacteria in lab tests. With corporate partner C3-Jian, Inc., they developed an extract that would specifically combat S. mutans. To get the compounds into extended contact with teeth, they put them in a lollipop, manufactured and sold by Dr. John’s Candies, which specializes in sugar-free candy. The lollipops are orange flavored.
You can’t get the same effect from just eating licorice. Most licorice sold in the U.S. is actually flavored with anise. Plus it contains lots of sugar, which is bad for your teeth. Real licorice falls under the “generally recognized as safe” category by the FDA so the lollipops are already on the market, and starting to show up in dentists’ offices and pharmacies.
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the big theme was the “Internet of things” — the idea that everything in the human environment, from kitchen appliances to industrial equipment, could be equipped with sensors and processors that can exchange data, helping with maintenance and the coordination of tasks.
Realizing that vision, however, requires transmitters that are powerful enough to broadcast to devices dozens of yards away but energy-efficient enough to last for months — or even to harvest energy from heat or mechanical vibrations.
“A key challenge is designing these circuits with extremely low standby power, because most of these devices are just sitting idling, waiting for some event to trigger a communication,” explains Anantha Chandrakasan, the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor in Electrical Engineering at MIT. “When it’s on, you want to be as efficient as possible, and when it’s off, you want to really cut off the off-state power, the leakage power.”
This week, at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ International Solid-State Circuits Conference, Chandrakasan’s group will present a new transmitter design that reduces off-state leakage 100-fold. At the same time, it provides adequate power for Bluetooth transmission, or for the even longer-range 802.15.4 wireless-communication protocol.
“The trick is that we borrow techniques that we use to reduce the leakage power in digital circuits,” Chandrakasan explains. The basic element of a digital circuit is a transistor, in which two electrical leads are connected by a semiconducting material, such as silicon. In their native states, semiconductors are not particularly good conductors. But in a transistor, the semiconductor has a second wire sitting on top of it, which runs perpendicularly to the electrical leads. Sending a positive charge through this wire — known as the gate — draws electrons toward it. The concentration of electrons creates a bridge that current can cross between the leads.
To generate the negative charge efficiently, the MIT researchers use a circuit known as a charge pump, which is a small network of capacitors — electronic components that can store charge — and switches. When the charge pump is exposed to the voltage that drives the chip, charge builds up in one of the capacitors. Throwing one of the switches connects the positive end of the capacitor to the ground, causing a current to flow out the other end. This process is repeated over and over. The only real power drain comes from throwing the switch, which happens about 15 times a second.
To make the transmitter more efficient when it’s active, the researchers adopted techniques that have long been a feature of work in Chandrakasan’s group. Ordinarily, the frequency at which a transmitter can broadcast is a function of its voltage. But the MIT researchers decomposed the problem of generating an electromagnetic signal into discrete steps, only some of which require higher voltages. For those steps, the circuit uses capacitors and inductors to increase voltage locally. That keeps the overall voltage of the circuit down, while still enabling high-frequency transmissions.
What those efficiencies mean for battery life depends on how frequently the transmitter is operational. But if it can get away with broadcasting only every hour or so, the researchers’ circuit can reduce power consumption 100-fold.
Working with researchers at Zhejiang University in China, Changxi Zheng, assistant professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering, has developed a technique that enables hydrographic printing, a widely used industrial method for transferring color inks on a thin film to the surface of manufactured 3D objects, to color these surfaces with the most precise alignment ever attained. Using a new computational method they developed to simulate the printing process, Zheng and his team have designed a model that predicts color film distortion during hydrographic immersion, and uses it to generate a colored film that guarantees exact alignment of the surface textures to the object. The research will be presented at SIGGRAPH 2015, August 9 to 13, in Los Angeles.
"Attaining precise alignment of the color texture onto the surface of an object with a complex surface, whether it's a motorcycle helmet or a 3D-printed gadget, has been almost impossible in hydrographic printing until now," says Zheng. "By incorporating -- for the first time -- a computational model into the traditional hydrographic printing process, we've made it easy for anyone to physically decorate 3D surfaces with their own customized color textures."
Used in mass production for transferring repeated color patterns to a 3D surface, hydrographic printing can be applied to various materials including metal, plastic, wood, and porcelain. The process uses a PVA film with printed color patterns placed on top of water. An activator chemical is then sprayed on the film, softening the color film to make it easily stretchable. Next, a physical object is slowly dipped into the water through the floating film. Once the film touches the object, it gets stretched, wrapping the object's surface, and adhering to it. Throughout the process, the color ink printed on the PVA film is transferred to the surface. But the process has a fundamental limitation in that it is almost impossible to precisely align a color pattern to the object surface, because the object stretches the color film. With complex surfaces, the stretch can be severe and even tear the film apart.
"So current hydrographic printing has been limited to transferring repetitive color patterns," Zheng explains. "But there are many times when a user would like to color the surface of an object with particular color patterns, to decorate a 3D-printed mug with specific, personalized images or just to color a toy."
Building upon previous work on fluid and viscous sheet simulation also done at Columbia Computer Graphics Group, Zheng has developed a new viscous sheet simulation method to model the color film stretch during the hydrographic printing process. This model predicts the stretch and distortion of color films and creates a map between the locations on the film and the surface locations to which they are transferred. With the map, he can compute a color image for printing on the PVA film and then, after the hydrographic immersion, it forms the desired color pattern on the object's surface.
Fruit flies have a neural compass that tracks orientation by combining visual and self-motion cues, according to a study published today in the journal Nature. The new research show that the compass in the fruit fly brain works in a similar way to that of mammals, suggesting that this tiny creature could teach us a few things about how our own compass works.
Most animals use landmarks to find their way around, but when navigating bare or unfamiliar terrain, they can estimate their position by tracking the direction and speed of their movements relative to a starting point, a process called path integration. The brains of rodents and other mammals contain at least four different types of nerve cells that are involved in this process, which co-operate to form a cognitive map of the surroundings.
Insects also use path integration. Honey bees perform a ‘waggle dance’ near the entrance to their nest to signal the direction, distance and abundance of a food source to their fellow workers, and foraging desert ants retrace their steps back to where they think their nest is, even after being picked up and moved, so that their trajectory is disrupted, on their outward journey. It’s widely believed that insects use simpler neural computations to navigate, and there’s very little evidence that they form cognitive maps.
In fruit flies, a ring-shaped brain structure called the ellipsoid body is needed for navigation. Johannes Seelig and Vivek Jayaraman of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia wanted to see how cells in this structure respond to visual stimuli, so designed an ingenious and tricky experiment to monitor the cells as the flies moved through a virtual reality environment.
First, they created genetically engineered fruit flies expressing a protein that fluoresces when nerve cells become active and the calcium level inside them rises. Then they attached individual flies to the end of a metal rod, placing them inside a circular screen displaying various lined patterns, with the laser beam of a powerful high-speed two-photon microscope focused into the ellipsoid body.
The flies were held in place over an air-suspended ball, and by running over this, they controlled the rotation of the screen, giving them the illusion of movement, with the horizontal and vertical stripes acting as landmarks along their virtual journey.
Seelig and Jarayaman noticed that the cells in the ellipsoid body itself tracked the fly’s orientation, producing ‘bumps’ of activity whose position around the ring-shaped structure corresponded to the direction of the stripes, and which rotated with the stripes as the flies turned the ball.
This compass-like neural activity continued when the flies were in the dark, using self-motion instead of visual cues, but became increasingly inaccurate with time. It even persisted for more than 30 seconds when the flies were removed from the ball and left standing in darkness, maybe forming a short-term memory of their orientation.
Seelig, J. D. & Jayaraman, V. (2015). Neural dynamics for landmark orientation and angular path integration. Nature, 521,186–191. DOI: 10.1038/nature14446
A dramatic video has captured the behavior of cytotoxic T cells – the body’s ‘serial killers’ – as they hunt down and eliminate cancer cells before moving on to their next target.
In a study published today in the journal Immunity, a collaboration of researchers from the UK and the USA, led by Professor Gillian Griffiths at the University of Cambridge, describe how specialised members of our white blood cells known as cytotoxic T cells destroy tumour cells and virally-infected cells. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, the research team, with funding from the Wellcome Trust, has captured the process on film.
A recent finding by scientists from the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and Duke University challenges long-held ideas about why our bones have a harder time healing as we age. Their research discovered that old mouse bones mend like youthful bones do when they're exposed to young blood after a fracture.
“The traditional concept is that as you get older, your bone cells kind of wear out so they can't heal as well, and we thought we'd find that during this study as well,” explains study co-author Benjamin Alman, of the Hospital for Sick Children. “But it turns out that it's not the bone cells, it's the blood cells. As you get older, the blood cells change the way they behave when you have an injury, and as a result the cells that heal bone aren't able to work as efficiently.”
The researchers paired lab mice, one old and one young, and subjected them to bone fractures, but that wasn't all they had in common. The living animals' circulatory systems were also joined together by a 150-year-old surgical technique known as parabiosis. Scientists removed a layer of skin from each mouse and stitched the exposed surfaces together. As the animals healed their capillaries joined, enabling their two hearts to pump the same blood throughout the two bodies as a single system. Parabiosis, which has been gaining new popularity in aging research, allowed Alman and colleagues to see what impacts the circulating factors of the younger mouse's blood had when introduced into the body of an older mouse.
The experiment, published this week in Nature Communications, suggests that young blood cells secrete some as-yet-unknown molecule, likely a protein or possibly some other chemical, that speeds up the healing of fractured bone. The molecule apparently does so by regulating levels of beta-catenin in bone cells known as osteoblasts. Keeping beta-catenin at the proper levels appears crucial for the formation of new high-density bone.
This ability is greatly diminished in older animals' blood because it no longer secretes the molecule, whose exact chemical nature remains a mystery at this point. “My guess is that there are a number of proteins involved that are made differently as we get older, and that they are responsible for the difficulty in healing bone,” Alman says.
The findings could prove good news for aging humans, but healing our bones won’t require the type of transfusions used in the experiment—nor will it borrow the synthesized “True Blood” variety that may soon enter clinical trials. Sharing human blood in this manner raises a number of red flags ranging from practicality to possible medical complications.
Scientists have found a fossil dating back at least 16 million years of a female shrimplike creature with enormous fossilized sperm in her reproductive tract. It's a unique example of a female that copulated just before she died and started to turn to stone.
The fossil is a display of "ancient sex with gargantuan sperm," says the lead scientist, Renate Matzke-Karasz of German's Ludwig-Maximilian-University, via e-mail. "We have here direct evidence of a recent mating. All the co-authors are still amazed by the findings."
The post-coital specimen is an ancient example of a mussel shrimp, technically known as an ostracod. These tiny animals have hinged shells like a mussel's and live today in watery places from flower pots to the ocean, where they subsist on detritus in the water. The fossil specimens were discovered in an Australian cave where large numbers of bats roosted millions of years ago. The bats unwittingly made a major contribution to science: Their guano, Matzke-Karasz says, supplied chemicals that helped preserve the finest details of the mussel shrimps' anatomy.
The scientists found four fossilized female mussel shrimp and one male mussel shrimp with sperm in their bodies, some of the oldest fossilized sperm found to date. When they examined the fossilized male, "we almost couldn't believe our eyes," Matzke-Karasz says. The animal was replete with "sperm (that) looked like little ropes, exactly how modern ostracod giant sperm look!"
The mussel shrimp may be small, but the modern male is mighty, producing so-called "giant sperm" that can be four times longer than the animal itself. Only a handful of other animals, including some flies and moths, make giant sperm, whose purpose is still unclear.
The new study, appearing in this week's Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, shows that male mussel shrimp may have been deploying giant sperm for more than 140 million years, says micropaleontologist David Horne of Britain's Queen Mary University of London.
Chinese search giant Baidu says it has invented a powerful supercomputer that brings new muscle to an artificial-intelligence technique giving software more power to understand speech, images, and written language.
The new computer, called Minwa and located in Beijing, has 72 powerful processors and 144 graphics processors, known as GPUs. Late Monday, Baidu released a paper claiming that the computer had been used to train machine-learning software that set a new record for recognizing images, beating a previous mark set by Google.
“Our company is now leading the race in computer intelligence,” said Ren Wu, a Baidu scientist working on the project, speaking at the Embedded Vision Summit on Tuesday. Minwa’s computational power would probably put it among the 300 most powerful computers in the world if it weren’t specialized for deep learning, said Wu. “I think this is the fastest supercomputer dedicated to deep learning,” he said. “We have great power in our hands—much greater than our competitors.”
Computing power matters in the world of deep learning, which has produced breakthroughs in speech, image, and face recognition and improved the image-search and speech-recognition services offered by Google and Baidu.
The technique is a souped-up version of an approach first established decades ago, in which data is processed by a network of artificial neurons that manage information in ways loosely inspired by biological brains. Deep learning involves using larger neural networks than before, arranged in hierarchical layers, and training them with significantly larger collections of data, such as photos, text documents, or recorded speech.
So far, bigger data sets and networks appear to always be better for this technology, said Wu. That’s one way it differs from previous machine-learning techniques, which had begun to produce diminishing returns with larger data sets. “Once you scaled your data beyond a certain point, you couldn’t see any improvement,” said Wu. “With deep learning, it just keeps going up.” Baidu says that Minwa makes it practical to create an artificial neural network with hundreds of billions of connections—hundreds of times more than any network built before.
A paper released Monday is intended to provide a taste of what Minwa’s extra oomph can do. It describes how the supercomputer was used to train a neural network that set a new record on a standard benchmark for image-recognition software. The ImageNet Classification Challenge, as it is called, involves training software on a collection of 1.5 million labeled images in 1,000 different categories, and then asking that software to use what it learned to label 100,000 images it has not seen before.
Software is compared on the basis of how often its top five guesses for a given image miss the correct answer. The system trained on Baidu’s new computer was wrong only 4.58 percent of the time. The previous best was 4.82 percent,reported by Google in March. One month before that, Microsoft had reportedachieving 4.94 percent, becoming the first to better average human performance of 5.1 percent.
Portable electronics -- typically made of non-renewable, non-biodegradable and potentially toxic materials -- are discarded at an alarming rate in consumers' pursuit of the next best electronic gadget.
In an effort to alleviate the environmental burden of electronic devices, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has collaborated with researchers in the Madison-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) to develop a surprising solution: a semiconductor chip made almost entirely of wood.
The research team, led by UW-Madison electrical and computer engineering professor Zhenqiang "Jack" Ma, described the new device in a paper published today (May 26, 2015) by the journal Nature Communications. The paper demonstrates the feasibility of replacing the substrate, or support layer, of a computer chip, with cellulose nanofibril (CNF), a flexible, biodegradable material made from wood.
"The majority of material in a chip is support. We only use less than a couple of micrometers for everything else," Ma says. "Now the chips are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer." Zhiyong Cai, project leader for an engineering composite science research group at FPL, has been developing sustainable nanomaterials since 2009.
"If you take a big tree and cut it down to the individual fiber, the most common product is paper. The dimension of the fiber is in the micron stage," Cai says. "But what if we could break it down further to the nano scale? At that scale you can make this material, very strong and transparent CNF paper."
Working with Shaoqin "Sarah" Gong, a UW-Madison professor of biomedical engineering, Cai's group addressed two key barriers to using wood-derived materials in an electronics setting: surface smoothness and thermal expansion.
"You don't want it to expand or shrink too much. Wood is a natural hydroscopic material and could attract moisture from the air and expand," Cai says. "With an epoxy coating on the surface of the CNF, we solved both the surface smoothness and the moisture barrier."
Gong and her students also have been studying bio-based polymers for more than a decade. CNF offers many benefits over current chip substrates, she says.
"The advantage of CNF over other polymers is that it's a bio-based material and most other polymers are petroleum-based polymers. Bio-based materials are sustainable, bio-compatible and biodegradable," Gong says. "And, compared to other polymers, CNF actually has a relatively low thermal expansion coefficient."
By unlocking the secrets of a bizarre virus that survives in nearly boiling acid, scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have found a blueprint for battling human disease using DNA clad in near-indestructible armor. "What's interesting and unusual is being able to see how proteins and DNA can be put together in a way that's absolutely stable under the harshest conditions imaginable," said Edward H. Egelman, PhD, of the UVA Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. "We've discovered what appears to be a basic mechanism of resistance - to heat, to desiccation, to ultraviolet radiation. And knowing that, then, we can go in many different directions, including developing ways to package DNA for gene therapy."
The virus SIRV2 belongs to a common crenarchaeal virus family, the Rudiviridae. It was first discovered in 1998 in the hot acidic sulfurous springs of Iceland. According to previous studies, SIRV2 infects Sulfolobus islandicus, a single-celled microorganism that grows optimally at 80 degrees Celsius and at pH 3. The virus has a very stable rod-shaped viral capsule, about 900 nm long and 23 nm in width.
Now, Dr Prangishvili, Dr Egelman and their colleagues have used cryo-electron microscopy to generate a 3D reconstruction of the SIRV2 virion, which revealed a previously unknown form of virion organization.
The team identified surprising similarities between SIRV2 and the spores bacteria form to survive in inhospitable environments.
“Some of these spores are responsible for very, very horrific diseases that are hard to treat, like anthrax. So we show in this study that this virus actually functions in a similar way to some of the proteins present in bacterial spores,” said Dr Egeleman, who is the senior author on the paper published in the journal Science. “Understanding how these bacterial spores work gives us potentially new abilities to destroy them,” he said.
Dr Egeleman and co-authors also found that SIRV2 survives the inhospitable conditions by forcing its DNA into what is called A-form, a structural state identified by pioneering DNA researcher Rosalind Franklin more than a half-century ago.
“This is, I think, going to highlight once again the contributions she made, because many people have felt that this A-form of DNA is only found in the laboratory under very non-biological conditions, when DNA is dehydrated or dry. Instead, it appears to be a general mechanism in biology for protecting DNA,” Dr Egelman said.
Every year, an estimated half-million Americans undergo surgery to have a stent prop open a coronary artery narrowed by plaque. But sometimes the mesh tubes get clogged. Scientists report in the journal ACS Nano a new kind of multi-tasking stent that could minimize the risks associated with the procedure. It can sense blood flow and temperature, store and transmit the information for analysis and can be absorbed by the body after it finishes its job.
Doctors have been implanting stents to unblock coronary arteries for 30 years. During that time, the devices have evolved from bare metal, mesh tubes to coated stents that can release drugs to prevent reclogging. But even these are associated with health risks. So researchers have been working on versions that the body can absorb to minimize the risk that a blood clot will form. And now Dae-Hyeong Kim, Seung Hong Choi, Taeghwan Hyeon and colleagues are taking that idea a step further.
The researchers developed and tested in animals a drug-releasing electronic stent that can provide diagnostic feedback by measuring blood flow, which slows when an artery starts narrowing. The device can also heat up on command to speed up drug delivery, and it can dissolve once it's no longer needed.
More information: Bioresorbable Electronic Stent Integrated with Therapeutic Nanoparticles for Endovascular Diseases Bioresorbable Electronic Stent Integrated with Therapeutic Nanoparticles for Endovascular Diseases, ACS Nano, Article ASAP. DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b00651
A French company better known for designing aircraft systems announced Wednesday that, on May 29, it will release the world’s first commercially available, scientifically accurate, simulated 3-dimensional (3D) model of a whole, healthy heart. The model may, with fine-tuning and additional development, help to revolutionize the way that cardiologists match treatments to individual heart patients.
The culmination of the first phase of Dassault Systemes' “Living Heart Project,” the simulation may soon allow physicians, medical device manufacturers and others to understand disease states and test innovative treatments without resorting to animal testing.
According to Living Heart Project director Steve Levine, it will soon be possible for cardiologists to rehearse difficult procedures using the company’s 3D modeling. Starting on May 29, when the heart model is released, doctors can use the baseline healthy heart to study congenital defects or heart disease by modifying the shape and tissue properties through the use of a software editor.
Levine says that doctors have developed models and simulations of different sections of the heart, but until now, no one had been able to put these pieces together into an holistic simulation.
“What we can now do for devices that go inside the heart is you can test it on the computer the same way you can test planes,” Levine told Mashable in an interview. The project involves 45 medical professionals, organizations and regulatory agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees the U.S. medical industry. The FDA signed a five-year collaborative research agreement with Dassault to help oversee the development of a heart model that can be used for regulatory science.
Via Luca Baptista
Patients with aggressive skin cancer - melanoma - have been treated successfully using a drug based on the herpes virus, in a trial that could pave the way for a new generation of cancer treatments. The findings mark the first positive phase 3 trial results for cancer “virotherapy”, where one disease is harnessed and used to attack another. If approved, the drug, called T-VEC, could be more widely available for cancer patients by next year, scientists predicted.
Crucially, the therapy has the potential to overcome cancer even when the disease has spread to organs throughout the body, offering hope in future to patients who have been faced with the bleakest prognosis. Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research London, who led the work, said: “This is the big promise of this treatment. It’s the first time a virotherapy has been shown to be successful in a phase 3 trial.”
In the trial, involving more than 400 patients with aggressive melanoma, one in four patients responded to the treatment, and 16% were still in remission after six months. About 10% of the patients treated had “complete remission”, with no detectable cancer remaining - considered a cure if the patient is still cancer-free five years after diagnosis.
The results are especially encouraging, Harrington said, because all the patients had inoperable, relapsed or metastatic melanoma with no conventional treatment options available to them. “They had disease that ranged from dozens to hundreds of deposits of melanoma on a limb all the way to patients where cancer had spread to the lungs and liver,” he said.
There is a popular misconception about Moore’s law (that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years) which has led many to conclude that the 50-year-old prognostication is due to end shortly. This doubling of processing power, for the same cost, has continued apace since Gordon Moore, one of Intel's founders, observed the phenomenon in 1965. At the time, a few hundred transistors could be crammed on a sliver of silicon. Today’s chips can carry billions.
Whether Moore’s law is coming to an end is moot. As far as physical barriers to further shrinkage are concerned, there is no question that, having been made smaller and smaller over the decades, crucial features within transistors are approaching the size of atoms. Indeed, quantum and thermodynamic effects that occur at such microscopic dimensions have loomed large for several years.
Until now, integrated circuits have used a two-dimensional (planar) structure, with a metal gate mounted across a flat, conductive channel of silicon. The gate controls the current flowing from a source electrode at one end of the channel to a drain electrode at the other end. A small voltage applied to the gate lets current flow through the transistor. When there is no voltage on the gate, the transistor is switched off. These two binary states (on and off) are the ones and zeros that define the language of digital devices.
However, when transistors are shrunk beyond a certain point, electrons flowing from the source can tunnel their way through the insulator protecting the gate, instead of flowing direct to the drain. This leakage current wastes power, raises the temperature and, if excessive, can cause the device to fail. Leakage becomes a serious problem when insulating barriers within transistors approach thicknesses of 3 nanometres (nm) or so. Below that, leakage increases exponentially, rendering the device pretty near useless.
Intel, which sets the pace for the semiconductor industry, started preparing for the leakage problem several “nodes” (changes in feature size) ago. At the time, it was still making 32nm chips. The solution adopted was to turn a transistor’s flat conducting channel into a vertical fence (or fin) that stood proud of the substrate. Instead of just one small contact patch, this gave the gate straddling the fence three contact areas (a large one on either side of the fence and a smaller one across the top). With more control over the current flowing through the channel, leakage is reduced substantially. Intel reckons “Tri-Gate” processors switch 37% faster and use 50% less juice than conventional ones.
Having introduced the Tri-Gate transistor design (now known generically as FinFET) with its 22nm node, Intel is using the same three-dimensional architecture in its current 14nm chips, and expects to do likewise with its 10nm ones, due out later this year and in mainstream production by the middle of 2016. Beyond that, Intel says it has some ideas about how to make 7nm devices, but has yet to reveal details. The company’s road map shows question marks next to future 7nm and 5nm nodes, and peters out shortly thereafter.
At a recent event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Moore’s law, Intel’s 86-year-old chairman emeritus said his law would eventually collapse, but that “good engineering” might keep it afloat for another five to ten years. Mr Moore was presumably referring to further refinements in Tri-Gate architecture. No doubt he was also alluding to advanced fabrication processes, such as “extreme ultra-violet lithography” and “multiple patterning”, which seemingly achieve the impossible by being able to print transistor features smaller than the optical resolution of the printing system itself.
Quantum computers won’t ever outperform today’s classical computers unless they can correct for errors that disrupt the fragile quantum states of their qubits. A team at Google has taken the next huge step toward making quantum computing practical by demonstrating the first system capable of correcting such errors.
Google’s breakthrough originated with the hiring of a quantum computing research group from the University California, Santa Barbara in the autumn of 2014. The UCSB researchers had previously built a system of superconducting quantum circuits that performed with enough accuracy tomake error correction a possibility. That earlier achievement paved the way for the researchers—many now employed at Google—to build a system that can correct the errors that naturally arise during quantum computing operations. Their work is detailed in the 4 March 2015 issue of the journal Nature.
“This is the first time natural errors arising from the qubit environment were corrected,” said Rami Barends, a quantum electronics engineer at Google. “It’s the first device that can correct its own errors.”
Quantum computers have the potential to perform many simultaneous calculations by relying upon quantum bits, or qubits, that can represent information as both 1 and 0 at the same time. That gives quantum computing a big edge over today’s classical computers that rely on bits that can only represent either 1 or 0.
But a huge challenge in building practical quantum computers involves preserving the fragile quantum states of qubits long enough to run calculations. The solution that Google and UCSB have demonstrated is a quantum error-correction code that uses simple classical processing to correct the errors that arise during quantum computing operations.
Such codes can’t directly detect errors in qubits without disrupting the fragile quantum states. But they get around that problem by relying on entanglement, a physics phenomenon that enables a single qubit to share its information with many other qubits through a quantum connection. The codes exploit entanglement with an architecture that includes “measurement” qubits entangled with neighboring “data” qubits.
The Google and UCSB team has been developing a specific quantum error-correction code called “surface code.” They eventually hope to build a 2-D surface code architecture based on a checkerboard arrangement of qubits, so that “white squares” would represent the data qubits that perform operations and “black squares” would represent measurement qubits that can detect errors in neighboring qubits.
For now, the researchers have been testing the surface code in a simplified “repetition code” architecture that involves a linear, 1-D array of qubits. Their unprecedented demonstration of error correction used a repetition code architecture that included nine qubits. They tested the repetition code through the equivalent of 90,000 test runs to gather the necessary statistics about its performance.
NASA researchers have identified the brightest galaxy ever encountered, which shines in the infrared wavelength with the equivalent light of 300 trillion suns. This "extremely luminous infrared galaxy" was encountered in data from 2010's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The WISE space telescope has revealed a number of strange and unique galaxies. This one, the astronomers theorize, may have a supermassive black hole at the center, which draws immense amounts of gas and matter into itself and releases a veritable rainbow of electromagnetic energy. This energy, however, is blocked by thick a halo of dust, which absorbs it and heats up, emitting infrared light instead — and in unprecedented amounts.
What's more, this particular galaxy is so far away that the light we're receiving from Earth was given off some 12.5 billion years ago. That means it grew that large and that bright during the infancy of the universe itself. To the researchers, that suggests that the black hole forming the center of the galaxy is breaking the rules somehow: It may have simply started out bigger than any we've encountered, or it might have grown faster than we believed possible.
"Another way for a black hole to grow this big is for it to have gone on a sustained binge, consuming food faster than typically thought possible," said the University of Leicester's Andrew Blain, co-author of the report describing the galaxy, in a NASA news release.
Understanding the galaxy's formation will help shed light on the early history of the universe, and set a precedent for studying similar objects. The report appears in the May 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal, and can be read on Arxiv.
A group of scientists, led by a team from the University of Bristol, UK has observed a sudden increase of ice loss in a previously stable region of Antarctica. The research is published today in Science. Using measurements of the elevation of the Antarctic ice sheet made by a suite of satellites, the researchers found that the Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no signs of change up to 2009. Around 2009, multiple glaciers along a vast coastal expanse, measuring some 750km in length, suddenly started to shed ice into the ocean at a nearly constant rate of 60 cubic km, or about 55 trillion litres of water, each year.
This makes the region the second largest contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica and the ice loss shows no sign of waning. Dr Bert Wouters, a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Bristol, who lead the study said: "To date, the glaciers added roughly 300 cubic km of water to the ocean. That's the equivalent of the volume of nearly 350,000 Empire State Buildings combined."
The changes were observed using the CryoSat-2 satellite, a mission of the European Space Agency dedicated to remote-sensing of ice. From an altitude of about 700km, the satellite sends a radar pulse to Earth, which is reflected by the ice and subsequently received back at the satellite. From the time the pulse takes to travel, the elevation of the ice surface can retrieved with incredible accuracy. By analysing roughly 5 years of the data, the researchers found that the ice surface of some of the glaciers is currently going down by as much as 4m each year.
Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered. The tools, whose makers may or may not have been some sort of human ancestor, push the known date of such tools back by 700,000 years; they also may challenge the notion that our own most direct ancestors were the first to bang two rocks together to create a new technology.
Hominins are a group of species that includes modern humans, Homo sapiens, and our closest evolutionary ancestors. Anthropologists long thought that our relatives in the genus Homo - the line leading directly to Homo sapiens - were the first to craft such stone tools. But researchers have been uncovering tantalizing clues that some other, earlier species of hominin, distant cousins, if you will, might have figured it out.
The researchers do not know who made these oldest of tools. But earlier finds suggest a possible answer: The skull of a 3.3-million-year-old hominin, Kenyanthropus platytops, was found in 1999 about a kilometer from the tool site. A K. platyops tooth and a bone from a skull were discovered a few hundred meters away, and an as-yet unidentified tooth has been found about 100 meters away.
The precise family tree of modern humans is contentious, and so far, no one knows exactly how K. platyops relates to other hominin species. Kenyanthropus predates the earliest known Homo species by a half a million years. This species could have made the tools; or, the toolmaker could have been some other species from the same era, such as Australopithecus afarensis, or an as-yet undiscovered early type of Homo.
GE engineers have made a simple proof-of-concept 3D-printed mini jet engine that operates at 33,000 rotations per minute. The backpack-sized jet engine was built over the course of several years to test the technology’s abilities and to work on a side project together.
The team also designed and developed a fuel nozzle that will be additively manufactured for inclusion in the CFM LEAPjet engine for commercial single-aisle aircraft. The FAA recently approved the first 3D printed component for a version of the GE90 jet engine.
New research has revealed the opah, or moonfish, as the first fully warm-blooded fish that circulates heated blood throughout its body much like mammals and birds, giving it a competitive advantage in the cold ocean depths.
The silvery fish, roughly the size of a large automobile tire, is known from oceans around the world and dwells hundreds of feet beneath the surface in chilly, dimly lit waters. It swims by rapidly flapping its large, red pectoral fins like wings through the water.
Fish that typically inhabit such cold depths tend to be slow and sluggish, conserving energy by ambushing prey instead of chasing it. But the opah's constant flapping of its fins heats its body, speeding its metabolism, movement and reaction times, scientists report in the journal Science.
That warm-blooded advantage turns the opah into a high-performance predator that swims faster, reacts more quickly and sees more sharply, said fisheries biologist Nicholas Wegner of NOAA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., lead author of the new paper.
"Before this discovery I was under the impression this was a slow-moving fish, like most other fish in cold environments," Wegner said. "But because it can warm its body, it turns out to be a very active predator that chases down agile prey like squid and can migrate long distances."
Wegner realized the opah was unusual when a coauthor of the study, biologist Owyn Snodgrass, collected a sample of its gill tissue. Wegner recognized an unusual design: Blood vessels that carry warm blood into the fish's gills wind around those carrying cold blood back to the body core after absorbing oxygen from water.
The design is known in engineering as "counter-current heat exchange." In opah it means that warm blood leaving the body core helps heat up cold blood returning from the respiratory surface of the gills where it absorbs oxygen. Resembling a car radiator, it's a natural adaptation that conserves heat. The unique location of the heat exchange within the gills allows nearly the fish's entire body to maintain an elevated temperature, known as endothermy, even in the chilly depths.
A rival hacker group to the infamous Lizard Squad has been discovered quietly using a previously unknown global botnet of compromised broadband routers to carry out DDoS and Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks.
The discovery was made by security firm Incapsula (recently acquired by Imperva), which first noticed attacks against a few dozen of its customers in December 2014 since when the firm estimates its size to exceed 40,000 IPs across 1,600 ISPs with at least 60 command and control (C2) nodes.
Almost all of the compromised routers appear to be unidentified ARM-based models from a single US vendor, Ubiquiti, which is sold across the world, including in the UK. Incapsula detected traffic from compromised devices in 109 countries, overwhelmingly in Thailand and router compromise hotspot, Brazil.
The compromise that allowed the Ubiquiti routers to be botted in the first place appears to be connected to one of two vulnerabilities. The first is simply that the devices have been left with their vendor username and password in its default state – perhaps a sign that some of these devices are older – allowing the attackers easy access.
The second and more unexpected flaw is that the routers also allow remote access to HTTP and SSH via default ports, a configuration issue which would be open sesame to attackers. Once compromised, the attacks appear to have been used to inject a number of pieces of malware, mainly the Linux Spike Trojan, aka, ‘MrBlack’, used to configure DDoS attacks. The firm inspected 13,000 malware samples and found evidence of other DDoS tools, including Dorfloo and Mayday.
The C2s for these tools were found to be in several countries, with 73 percent in China and 21 percent in the US. This doesn’t mean the attackers were based there, simply using infrastructure on hosts in those locations.
“Given how easy it is to hijack these devices, we expect to see them being exploited by additional perpetrators. Even as we conducted our research, the Incapsula security team documented numerous new malware types being added—each compounding the threat posed by the existence of these botnet devices,” said the firm’s researchers.