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Hypersonic "SpaceLiner" Aims to Fly Passengers in 2050

Hypersonic "SpaceLiner" Aims to Fly Passengers in 2050 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A hypersonic "SpaceLiner" would whisk up to 50 passengers from Europe to Australia in 90 minutes. The futuristic vehicle would do so by riding a rocket into Earth's upper atmosphere, reaching 24 times the speed of sound before gliding in for a landing.

 

Many challenges still remain, including finding the right shape for the vehicle, said Martin Sippel, project coordinator for SpaceLiner at the German Aerospace Center. But he suggested the project could make enough progress to begin attracting private funding in another 10 years and aim for full operations by 2050.

 

The current concept includes a rocket booster stage for launch and a separate orbiter stage to carry passengers halfway around the world without ever making it to space. Flight times between the U.S. and Europe could fall to just over an hour if the SpaceLiner takes off — that is, if passengers don't mind paying the equivalent of space tourism prices around several hundred thousand dollars.

 

"Maybe we can best characterize the SpaceLiner by saying it's a kind of second-generation space shuttle, but with a completely different task," Sippel said.

 

SpaceLiner passengers would have eight minutes to experience the rocket launch before they reached an altitude of about 47 to 50 miles (75 to 80 kilometers). That falls short of the 62-mile (100-km) boundary considered the edge of space, but even a suborbital flight would allow SpaceLiner to glide back to Earth at hypersonic speeds of more than 15,000 mph (25,200 kph).

 

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mdashf's curator insight, March 4, 2013 9:21 AM

wow. intercontinental flying in just 1.5 hrs. By 2050 I would be about to die. And the acceleration might mean we would age faster. 

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Genome analysis shows how a flowering plant re-adapted to submerged saltwater living

Genome analysis shows how a flowering plant re-adapted to submerged saltwater living | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of international researchers has sequenced the genome of the seagrass Zostera marina to gain insight into how the flowering plant re-adapted to saltwater living. As the team led by Thorsten Reusch at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research-Kiel and Yves Van de Peer from Ghent University reported today in Nature, the Z. marina genome lost a number of genes that are integral for other angiosperms. At the same time, it regained functions that other flowering plants have lost.

 

Seagrasses are the only flowering plants that have returned to a marine environment and they are found throughout the temperate northern hemisphere in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There, they form underwater meadows in which a great number of species live, including sea otters, halibut, and clams, noted Susan Williams from the Bodega Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, in a related Nature commentary.

 

But these environments are threatened, the researchers noted. "All this makes seagrass interesting for the study of the relationship between the complex gene networks affecting temperature tolerance, like climate warming, and the mechanisms of salt tolerance through osmoregulation," said first author Jeanine Olsen, a professor of marine biology at the University of Groningen, in a statement.

 

She and her colleagues collected Z. marina, also known as eelgrass, from the Archipelago Sea, southwest of Finland, for sequencing. Using a combination of fosmid-ends and whole-genome shotgun approaches, they generated a 202.3-megabase Z. marina genome that encodes some 20,450 protein-coding genes. Nearly 87 percent of those protein-coding genes are supported by transcriptomic data, they noted.

 

Based on an analysis of synonymous substitution, the researchers reported that the Z. marina genome harbors echoes of an ancient whole-genome duplication event that they estimated took place between 72 million years and 64 million years ago —after the divergence of Zostera and the freshwater duckweed Spirodela some 135 million and 107 million years ago. This, they said, indicates a duplication event that's independent from the two reported in Spirodela.

 

The researchers also noted transposable element activity in the Z. marinagenome and that genes gained by eelgrass tended to be closer to such elements than conserved genes.

 

Olsen and her colleagues then mapped those gains and losses of gene families onto a phylogenetic tree. While the researchers found that Zosteraand Spirodela share a number of genes, the Zostera genome has lost a number of genes linked to its saltwater home.

 

For instance, it has lost all genes involved in stomatal differentiation. In land plants, stomatas on leaves are a key structure that enables them to regulate gas exchange and prevent water loss. These pores, added Bodega's Williams, aren't essential in seagrass as they don't contend as much with moisture loss and instead absorb gasses directly through their outer cell layers.

 

The Zostera genome has also lost genes involved in volatile synthesis and sensing pathways, including ethylene sensing, and in UV damage response. Volatile compound sensing is a defense mechanism against insects, which seagrass doesn't have to contend with as much, while UV-induced damage is also less of an issue in seagrass' dimly lit submarine environment.

At the same time, the Zostera genome has gained genes that enable it to adapt to its environment.

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Babies make copies of maternal immune cells acquired through the mother's milk

Babies make copies of maternal immune cells acquired through the mother's milk | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have long understood that mother’s milk provides immune protection against some infectious agents through the transfer of antibodies, a process referred to as “passive immunity.”

 

A research team at the University of California, Riverside now shows that mother’s milk also contributes to the development of the baby’s own immune system by a process the team calls “maternal educational immunity.”

 

Specific maternal immune cells in the milk cross the wall of the baby’s intestine to enter an immune organ called the thymus. Once there, they “educate” developing cells to attack the same infectious organisms to which the mother has been exposed.

 

The research, which used mouse foster nursing models, has important implications for vaccinating newborn babies. The researchers show that you can vaccinate the mother and this results in vaccination of the baby through this process.

 

“It’s another way moms provide immune information to their babies,” said Ameae Walker, a professor of biomedical sciences in the UC Riverside School of Medicine, who led the research. “It’s as though the mother is saying, ‘Look what I have seen in the environment that you need to be immune to as well.’  The replicas – the copies of the maternal immune cells that the baby makes – will provide immunity to the baby for life.”

 

The research results appear in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology

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Why Are Stars Emitting Light in Different Colors?

Why Are Stars Emitting Light in Different Colors? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Like everything else in the Universe, stars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and colors, and three of which are interconnected.

 

The wavelength at which a star emits the most light is called the star’s “peak wavelength” (which known as Wien’s Law), which is the peak of its Planck curve. However, how that light appears to the human eye is also mitigated by the contributions of the other parts of its Planck curve.

 

In short, when the various colors of the spectrum are combined, they appear white to the naked eye. This will make the apparent color of the star appear lighter than where star’s peak wavelength falls on the color spectrum. Consider our Sun. Despite the fact that its peak emission wavelength corresponds to the green part of the spectrum, its color appears pale yellow.

 

A star’s composition is the result of its formation history. Ever star is born of a nebula made up of gas and dust, and each one is different. While nebulas in the interstellar medium are largely composed of hydrogen, which is the main fuel for star creation, they also carry other elements. The overall mass of the nebula, as well as the various elements that make it up, determine what kind of star will result.

 

The change in color these elements add to stars is not very obvious, but can be studied thanks to the method known as spectroanalysis. By examining the various wavelengths a star produces using a spectrometer, scientists are able to determine what elements are being burned inside.

 

The other major factor effecting a star’s color is its temperature. As stars increase in heat, the overall radiated energy increases, and the peak of the curve moves to shorter wavelengths. In other words, as a star becomes hotter, the light it emits is pushed further and further towards the blue end of the spectrum. As stars grow colder, the situation is reversed (see picture).

 

A third and final factor that will effect what light a star appears to be emitting is known as the Doppler Effect. When it comes to sound, light, and other waves, the frequency can increase or decrease based on the distance between the source and the observer.

 

When it comes to astronomy, this effect causes the what is known as “redshift” and “blueshift” – where the visible light coming from a distant star is shifted towards the red end of the spectrum if it is moving away, and the blue end if it is moving closer.

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NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Europa

NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Europa | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.

 

The composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o’clock position off the limb of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The plumes, photographed by NASA’s Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity allowed for the features — rising over 100 miles (160 kilometers) above Europa’s icy surface — to be discerned. The water is believed to come from a subsurface ocean on Europa. The Hubble data were taken on January 26, 2014. The image of Europa, superimposed on the Hubble data, is assembled from data from the Galileo and Voyager missions.

 

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes. The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.

 

“Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”

 

The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa’s surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. The plumes provide a tantalizing opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through the ice.

 

The team, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore observed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa’s limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.

 

The original goal of the team’s observing proposal was to determine whether Europa has a thin, extended atmosphere, or exosphere. Using the same observing method that detects atmospheres around planets orbiting other stars, the team realized if there was water vapor venting from Europa’s surface, this observation would be an excellent way to see it.

“The atmosphere of an extrasolar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it,” Sparks explained. “If there is a thin atmosphere around Europa, it has the potential to block some of the light of Jupiter, and we could see it as a silhouette. And so we were looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter.”

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Scientists have found preserved proteins in 3.8-million-year-old ostrich eggshells

Scientists have found preserved proteins in 3.8-million-year-old ostrich eggshells | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have found preserved proteins in 3.8-million-year-old ostrich eggshells. These biological building blocks could provide genetic information up to 50 times older than any DNA.

These proteins had been protected because they had been "entrapped" in surface minerals.

 

"The key thing here," said Prof Matthew Collins, from the University of York's department of archaeology, who led the research, "is that these proteins have been preserved for 3.8 million years in a very hot environment of equatorial Africa. "To date," he added, "DNA analysis from frozen sediments in the Arctic, for example, has been able to reach back to about 700,000 years ago, but human evolution left most of its traces in Africa and the higher temperature there takes its toll on preservation."

 

The researchers had speculated, though, that proteins might survive better if they were bound to solid surfaces, and so they tested that theory with the ancient eggshells, collected from well studied sites in Tanzania and South Africa. Fragments of ostrich eggshells are abundant in Africa, and often found at archaeological and palae-ontological sites. They were used by the earliest modern humans as raw materials for carrying water or even jewellery-making.

 

As well as extracting complete protein sequences from the shells, the team worked with colleagues from Sheffield University to develop a computer simulation that calculated that the protein sequences survived longer when they were stabilized by strong binding to the surface of minerals that made up hard shell.

While fragments of the amino acids that make up proteins have been found in much older fossils, the whole protein sequence contains much more valuable information.

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CRISPR inspires new tricks to edit genes

CRISPR inspires new tricks to edit genes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
CRISPR/Cas9 has been a rockstar gene-editing tool for just four years and it’s already being tweaked to do more things better.

 

So far CRISPR’s biggest impact has been felt in basic biology labs around the world. The inexpensive, easy-to-use gene editor has made it possible for researchers to delve into fundamental mysteries of life in ways that had been difficult or impossible.

 

Developmental biologist Robert Reed likens CRISPR to a computer mouse. “You can just point it at a place in the genome and you can do anything you want at that spot.”

Anything, that is, as long as it involves cutting DNA.

 

CRISPR/Cas9 in its original incarnation is a homing device (the CRISPR part) that guides molecular scissors (the Cas9 enzyme) to a target section of DNA. Together, they work as a genetic-engineering cruise missile that disables or repairs a gene, or inserts something new where it cuts.

 

Even with all the genetic feats the CRISPR/Cas9 system can do, “there were shortcomings. There were things we wanted to do better,” says MIT molecular biologist Feng Zhang, one of the first scientists to wield the molecular scissors. From his earliest report in 2013 of using CRISPR/Cas9 to cut genes in human and mouse cells, Zhang has described ways to make the system work more precisely and efficiently.

 

 

Turning CRISPR into a multitasker often starts with dulling the cutting-edge technology’s cutting edge. In many of its new adaptations, the “dead” Cas9 scissors can’t snip DNA. Broken scissors may sound useless, but scientists have upcycled them into chromosome painters, typo-correctors, gene activity stimulators and inhibitors and general genome tinkerers.

 

“The original Cas9 is like a Swiss army knife with only one application: It’s a knife,” says Gene Yeo, an RNA biologist at the University of California, San Diego. But Yeo and other researchers have bolted other proteins and chemicals to the dulled blades and transformed the knife into a multifunctional tool.

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Diagram captures microbes’ influence across species

Diagram captures microbes’ influence across species | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A network diagram of animal species shows that many microbes living in humans also make themselves at home in dogs, pigs and cattle.

 

At least 233 species of bacteria, viruses and more live on or inside both humans and dogs. That’s one finding from a study that matched animals with their known microbes and drew connections between species with similar microbial crews. The diagram below, published September 15 in Scientific Data, is a social network of species that resembles a vibrant tangle of yarn.

 

Each dot is an animal species; the creatures are clumped into colored groups such as light blue for fish and yellow for birds. Humans have the largest dot because they host at least 1,600 different microbes. The distance between dots and the lines connecting them indicate that many human microbes also reside in dogs, pigs and cattle.

Domesticated animals live beside humans, so the microbial overlap isn’t surprising, says study coauthor Maya Wardeh, a computational biologist at the University of Liverpool in England. Yet humans share microbes with fish and fall victim to Cryptosporidium fayeri, a diarrhea-inducing parasite that also infects the eastern gray kangaroo.

 

Wardeh and colleagues say that scientists can use the information to study how various diseases originate and jump between species.

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China Hunts for Scientific Glory, and even Aliens, With its New Telescope

China Hunts for Scientific Glory, and even Aliens, With its New Telescope | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The telescope, which officially began operating on Sunday in a majestic but poor part of Guizhou Province, embodies China’s ambitions as a scientific power.

 

When hundreds of engineers and builders began clambering up a jagged hill in southwestern China to assemble a giant telescope in a deep, bowl-shaped basin, poor villagers sometimes crept over the sheer slopes to glimpse the country’s latest technological wonder. “We’ve never seen anything like it, never imagined it,” said one villager, Huang Zhangrong, a sun-gnarled 66-year-old carpenter. “It’s a big circle, a big iron wok.”

 

The wok is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, and it officially began operating on Sunday, accompanied by jubilant national television coverage, after more than five years of construction. The Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, FAST for short, is intended to project China’s scientific ambitions deep into the universe, bringing back dramatic discoveries and honors like Nobel Prizes. Maybe even messages from aliens.

 

The telescope, which is in a majestic but impoverished part of Guizhou Province, embodies China’s plans to rise as a scientific power. The dish is made of 4,450 intricately positioned triangular panels and has a collecting area of 2.1 million square feet, equal to almost 450 basketball courts. At 1,640 feet in diameter, it will be roughly twice as sensitive as the world’s next-biggest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which is 1,000 feet across.

 

The telescope will help China make “major advances and breakthroughs at the frontier of science,” President Xi Jinping of China said in acongratulatory message on Sunday. He called it China’s “eye in the sky.”

 

Astronomers will use the Guizhou telescope to map the shape and formation of the universe, relying on its large size and a mobile detector suspended above the dish to explore space more quickly, deeply and thoroughly than they can with smaller telescopes. The telescope cost $184 million, recent Chinese state news reports said, although that figure seems unduly modest, given the telescope’s size. To ensure the project remains undisturbed, the government is moving more than 9,000 people.

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World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians

World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The most comprehensive genomic study of Indigenous Australians to date has revealed modern humans are all descendants of a single wave of migrants who left Africa about 72,000 years ago.

 

It confirms modern Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of the first people to inhabit Australia — a claim that has previously been the subject of debate.

 

Aboriginal and Papuan ancestors left Africa around 72,000 years ago and arrived on supercontinent 'Sahul' around 50,000 years ago. By 31,000 years ago, most Aboriginal communities were genetically isolated from each other, giving rise to great genetic diversity

 

And the genetic information also shows Aboriginal people living in desert conditions may have developed unique biological adaptations to survive the arid conditions.

 

The findings are contained in one of three papers published today in Nature that look at the dispersal of modern humans from our evolutionary birthplace in Africa to Europe, Asia and Oceania.

 

To date, academics have debated whether we all share the same ancestors from a single mass migration event, or that the dispersal took place in distinct waves at different times.

 

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Researchers discover the gene (PIEZO2) behind proprioception

Researchers discover the gene (PIEZO2) behind proprioception | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A soft brush that feels like prickly thorns. A vibrating tuning fork that produces no vibration. Not being able to tell which direction body joints are moving without looking at them. Those are some of the bizarre sensations reported by a 9-year-old girl and 19-year-old woman in a new study. The duo, researchers say, shares an extremely rare genetic mutation that may shed light on a so-called “sixth sense” in humans: proprioception, or the body’s awareness of where it is in space. The new work may even explain why some of us are klutzier than others.

 

The patients’ affliction doesn’t have a name. It was discovered by one of the study’s lead authors, pediatric neurologist Carsten Bönnemann at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, who specializes in diagnosing unknown genetic illnesses in young people. He noticed that the girl and the woman shared a suite of physical symptoms, including hips, fingers, and feet that bent at unusual angles. They also had scoliosis, an unusual curvature of the spine. And, significantly, they had difficulty walking, showed an extreme lack of coordination, and couldn’t physically feel objects against their skin.

 

Bönnemann screened their genomes and looked for mutations that they might have in common. One in particular stood out: a catastrophic mutation in PIEZO2, a gene that has been linked to the body’s sense of touch and its ability to perform coordinated movements. At about the same time, in a “very lucky accident,” Bönnemann attended a lecture by Alexander Chesler, a neurologist also at NIH, on PIEZO2. Bönnemann invited Chesler to help study his newly identified patients.

 

It wasn’t the disease’s rarity that so shocked Chesler when he met the girl and young woman; it was the fact that when scientists had previously knocked out PIEZO2 in mouse models, it had always proven fatal. Most assumed people couldn’t live without it, either.

 

The researchers performed a battery of tests with the patients and a control group. When blindfolded, the patients staggered, stumbled, and fell. But with the blindfold removed, they could walk almost normally. The patients also performed a task where they moved their index finger from their nose to a target placed in front of them. Blindfolded, they failed miserably. Eyes uncovered, they did well. The researchers held the patients’ arms and moved the joints either up or down, asking them to indicate the direction. Blindfolded, they couldn’t tell which direction their joints were being moved. No blindfold, and—naturally—they could tell just by looking.

 

Together, the tests suggested the patients totally lacked proprioception, the researchers report online today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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Hubble finds planet orbiting pair of stars

Hubble finds planet orbiting pair of stars | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and a trick of nature, have confirmed the existence of a planet orbiting two stars in the system OGLE-2007-BLG-349, located 8,000 light-years away towards the center of our galaxy.

 

The planet orbits roughly 300 million miles from the stellar duo, about the distance from the asteroid belt to our sun. It completes an orbit around both stars roughly every seven years. The two red dwarf stars are a mere 7 million miles apart, or 14 times the diameter of the moon's orbit around Earth.

 

The Hubble observations represent the first time such a three-body system has been confirmed using the gravitational microlensing technique. Gravitational microlensing occurs when the gravity of a foreground star bends and amplifies the light of a background star that momentarily aligns with it. The particular character of the light magnification can reveal clues to the nature of the foreground star and any associated planets.

 

The three objects were discovered in 2007 by an international collaboration of five different groups: Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA), the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), the Microlensing Follow-up Network (MicroFUN), the Probing Lensing Anomalies Network (PLANET), and the Robonet Collaboration. These ground-based observations uncovered a star and a planet, but a detailed analysis also revealed a third body that astronomers could not definitively identify.

 

"The ground-based observations suggested two possible scenarios for the three-body system: a Saturn-mass planet orbiting a close binary star pair or a Saturn-mass and an Earth-mass planet orbiting a single star," explained David Bennett of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the paper's first author.

 

The sharpness of the Hubble images allowed the research team to separate the background source star and the lensing star from their neighbors in the very crowded star field. The Hubble observations revealed that the starlight from the foreground lens system was too faint to be a single star, but it had the brightness expected for two closely orbiting red dwarf stars, which are fainter and less massive than our sun. "So, the model with two stars and one planet is the only one consistent with the Hubble data," Bennett said.


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Human Neuron Transplants Treat Spinal Cord Injury in Mice

Human Neuron Transplants Treat Spinal Cord Injury in Mice | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Chronic pain and loss of bladder control are among the most devastating consequences of spinal cord injury, rated by many patients as a higher priority for treatment than paralysis or numbness. Now a UC San Francisco team has transplanted immature human neurons into mice with spinal cord injuries, and shown that the cells successfully wire up with the damaged spinal cord to improve bladder control and reduce pain. This is a key step towards developing cell therapies for spinal cord injury in humans, say the researchers, who are currently working to develop the technique for future clinical trials.

 

Recent mouse studies have demonstrated that transplants of neurons may be effective treatments for neuropathic pain, epilepsy, and even Parkinson’s disease. The new study – published Sept. 22, 2016, in Cell Stem Cell – is the first to successfully transplant human neurons as a treatment for symptoms of spinal cord injury.

 

“This is an important proof of principle for using cell therapy to repair damaged neural tissue. It brings us one step closer to using such transplants to bring much needed relief to people with spinal cord injuries,” said co-senior author Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, who is a professor of developmental and stem cell biology and director of the Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.


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IBM announces AI-powered decision-making for many industries

IBM announces AI-powered decision-making for many industries | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

IBM announced recently the Watson-based “Project DataWorks,” the first cloud-based data and analytics platform to integrate all types of data and enable AI-powered decision-making.

 

Project DataWorks is designed to make it simple for business leaders and data professionals to collect, organize, govern, and secure data, and become a “cognitive business.”

 

Achieving data insights is increasingly complex, and most of this work is done by highly skilled data professionals who work in silos with disconnected tools and data services that may be difficult to manage, integrate, and govern, says IBM. Businesses must also continually iterate their data models and products — often manually — to benefit from the most relevant, up-to-date insights.

 

IBM says Project DataWorks can help businesses break down these barriers by connecting all data and insights for their users into an integrated, self-service platform.

 

Available on Bluemix, IBM’s Cloud platform, Project DataWorks is designed to help organizations:

  • Automate the deployment of data assets and products using cognitive-based machine learning and Apache Spark;
  • Ingest data faster than any other data platform, from 50 to hundreds of Gbps, and all endpoints: enterprise databases, Internet of Things, weather, and social media;
  • Leverage an open ecosystem of more than 20 partners and technologies, such as Confluent, Continuum Analytics, Galvanize, Alation, NumFOCUS, RStudio, Skymind, and more.

 

More other partnerships will be announced soon.

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C2c2 is a single-component programmable RNA-guided RNA-targeting CRISPR effector

C2c2 is a single-component programmable RNA-guided RNA-targeting CRISPR effector | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune system defends microbes against foreign genetic elements via DNA or RNA-DNA interference. A group of scientists now characterize the Class 2 type VI-A CRISPR-Cas effector C2c2 and demonstrate its RNA-guided RNase function. C2c2 from the bacterium Leptotrichia shahii provides interference against RNA phage. In vitro biochemical analysis show that C2c2 is guided by a single crRNA and can be programmed to cleave ssRNA targets carrying complementary protospacers. In bacteria, C2c2 can be programmed to knock down specific mRNAs. Cleavage is mediated by catalytic residues in the two conserved HEPN domains, mutations in which generate catalytically inactive RNA-binding proteins. These results broaden the understanding of CRISPR-Cas systems and suggest that C2c2 can be used to develop new RNA-targeting tools.

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ALMA Explores the Golden Age of Galaxy Formation - about 10 Billion Years Ago

ALMA Explores the Golden Age of Galaxy Formation - about 10 Billion Years Ago | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

International teams of astronomers have used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to explore the distant corner of the Universe first revealed in the iconic images of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF). These new ALMA observations are significantly deeper and sharper than previous surveys at millimetre wavelengths. They clearly show how the rate of star formation in young galaxies is closely related to their total mass in stars. They also trace the previously unknown abundance of star-forming gas at different points in time, providing new insights into the “Golden Age” of galaxy formation approximately 10 billion years ago.

 

The new ALMA results will be published in a series of papers appearing in the Astrophysical Journal and Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. These results are also among those being presented this week at the Half a Decade of ALMA conference in Palm Springs, California, USA.

 

In 2004 the Hubble Ultra Deep Field images — pioneering deep-field observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope — were published. These spectacular pictures probed more deeply than ever before and revealed a menagerie of galaxies stretching back to less than a billion years after the Big Bang. The area was observed several times by Hubble and many other telescopes, resulting in the deepest view of the Universe to date.

 

Astronomers using ALMA have now surveyed this seemingly unremarkable, but heavily studied, window into the distant Universe for the first time both deeply and sharply in the millimetre range of wavelengths [1]. This allows them to see the faint glow from gas clouds and also the emission from warm dust in galaxies in the early Universe.

 

ALMA has observed the HUDF for a total of around 50 hours up to now. This is the largest amount of ALMA observing time spent on one area of the sky so far.

 

One team led by Jim Dunlop (University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom) used ALMA to obtain the first deep, homogeneous ALMA image of a region as large as the HUDF. This data allowed them to clearly match up the galaxies that they detected with objects already seen with Hubble and other facilities.

 

This study showed clearly for the first time that the stellar mass of a galaxy is the best predictor of star formation rate in the high redshift Universe. They detected essentially all of the high-mass galaxies [2] and virtually nothing else.

 

Jim Dunlop, lead author on the deep imaging paper sums up its importance: “This is a breakthrough result. For the first time we are properly connecting the visible and ultraviolet light view of the distant Universe from Hubble and far-infrared/millimetre views of the Universe from ALMA.

 

The second team, led by Manuel Aravena of the Núcleo de Astronomía, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile, and Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, conducted a deeper search across about one sixth of the total HUDF [3].

 

We conducted the first fully blind, three-dimensional search for cool gas in the early Universe,” said Chris Carilli, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico, USA and member of the research team. “Through this, we discovered a population of galaxies that is not clearly evident in any other deep surveys of the sky.[4]

 

Some of the new ALMA observations were specifically tailored to detect galaxies that are rich in carbon monoxide, indicating regions primed for star formation. Even though these molecular gas reservoirs give rise to the star formation activity in galaxies, they are often very hard to see with Hubble. ALMA can therefore reveal the “missing half” of the galaxy formation and evolution process.

 

"The new ALMA results imply a rapidly rising gas content in galaxies as we look back further in time,” adds lead author of two of the papers, Manuel Aravena (Núcleo de Astronomía, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile). “This increasing gas content is likely the root cause for the remarkable increase in star formation rates during the peak epoch of galaxy formation, some 10 billion years ago.

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In 10 Years on Mars? Elon Musk Reveals His Plan for Colonizing Mars

 

It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but there are many people who think Mars will be the next frontier for human life.

 

One of the highest profile believers, billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, revealed anambitious plan on Tuesday, to start colonizing the Red Planet in the next 10 years.

 

Musk, who operates electric car company Tesla Motors, is also the founder and lead designer of aerospace company SpaceX, which is now focused on satellite deliveries and unmanned cargo runs to the International Space Station. But, the company is also working on an unmanned Dragon capsule launch for Mars in 2018.

 

The timeline for Mars missions that Musk unveiled at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, may seem staggeringly ambitious. But Paul Delaney, a professor of physics and astronomy at York University in Toronto, says Musk’s goals actually appear to be credible.

 

“He’s got the family of SpaceX rockets that have had such success over the last few years,” Delaney said in an interview on CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. “He’s got the hardware to back it up, and that is something which has been lacking from a lot of the other proposals to go to Mars. It’s all been very wishful thinking.”

 

Delaney said Musk has already delivered on a lot of his promises, including delivering satellites to geo-stationary orbit and working with NASA to bring cargo to the ISS. “He’s built the infrastructure, and now he is saying, two years from now, we want to be able to do the same sort of thing on Mars. Not with people, but initially with hardware,” Delaney said. “I for one, think he can do it.”

 

Delaney said, in the meantime, there’s a lot of attention being paid to how SpaceX recovers from a recent setback. In September, the Falcon 9 rocket exploded on a SpaceX launch site in Florida. The company has said they hope to resume launches in November. “And then what we want to be able to see (Musk) do, is two years from now, take his Red Dragon (capsule) and propulsively soft-land on Mars.”

 

If SpaceX pulls it off, it will be a pivotal moment, “with respect to his long-range plan of taking you, me and the hardware to Mars over the next 10 years,” Delaney said, adding “ that timeline is probably very ambitious, but Elon Musk is an ambitious kind of guy.”

 

Delaney acknowledges that the notion of ferrying thousands of people to Mars, and ultimately creating a self-sustaining city there, is still within the “science fiction” realm. The idea also raises many questions over ethics and the extreme cost of funding the trips, Delaney said. “We can tell you about how we should go about doing it, but should we go about doing it?”

Time is another consideration.

 

“We’re talking thousands, if not potentially tens of thousands of years, to turn a barren desert-like environment, which once was very hospitable, back into a hospitable environment,” Delaney said. Musk has said that it could take 40 to 100 years to achieve a self-sustaining civilization on Mars.

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Air Pollution: The Multi Billion Dollar Damage

Air Pollution: The Multi Billion Dollar Damage | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The World Bank has released a new report highlighting the fact that air pollution costs world governments billions upon billions every year and ranks among the leading causes of death worldwide. The estimates — drawn from a number of sources, including the World Health Organization’s most recently completed data sets compiled in 2013 — can for the first time begin to examine the overall welfare cost of air pollution.

 

Specifically, researches studied the amount of money that world governments must spend on health emergencies, long term illnesses and chronic conditions caused by air pollution. They also took into account missed work and unemployment subsidies. The report finds that, in terms of the economy, the burden is extremely high.

 

To be sure, some countries come out of this analysis relatively well off. For example, Iceland only loses $3 million of its gross domestic product to air pollution. Given that the country has a relatively small population and a slight industrial profile, that’s probably not that surprising though.

 

Other countries, like Liberia, performed relatively well despite their low levels of economic development. Several African nations also have low overall air pollution impact costs. Despite mid-to-high populations, infrastructure is comparatively low density in places like Malawi and Zimbabwe, so perhaps this isn’t that surprising either.

 

It’s when we get to rapidly developing and “developed” nations that the costs really start to mount up. For example, the United States is estimated to lose $45 billion every year due to air pollution, while the UK loses $7.6 billion annually. Germany comes in at $18 billion, though it will be interesting to see how the country’s renewable energy strategy might alter that figure over the coming years.

 

China, one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world, is estimated to be losing a staggering 10 percent of its overall GDP, while India is not far behind at roughly eight percent.

Financial losses will, however, seem trivial when we look at the potential human cost of air pollution.

 

The World Bank estimates that global air pollution kills roughly five and a half million people every year, or to put that another way: it will kill one out of every ten people worldwide.

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The Incredible Shrinking Mercury is Tectonically Active After All

The Incredible Shrinking Mercury is Tectonically Active After All | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Images obtained by NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal previously undetected small fault scarps— cliff-like landforms that resemble stair steps. These scarps are small enough that scientists believe they must be geologically young, which means Mercury is still contracting and that Earth is not the only tectonically active planet in our solar system, as previously thought. The findings are reported in a paper in the October issue of Nature Geoscience.

 

“The young age of the small scarps means that Mercury joins Earth as a tectonically active planet, with new faults likely forming today as Mercury’s interior continues to cool and the planet contracts,” said lead author Tom Watters, Smithsonian senior scientist at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

 

Large fault scarps on Mercury were first discovered in the flybys of Mariner 10 in the mid-1970s and confirmed by MESSENGER, which found the planet closest to the sun was shrinking. The large scarps were formed as Mercury’s interior cooled, causing the planet to contract and the crust to break and thrust upward along faults making cliffs up to hundreds of miles long and some more than a mile (over one-and-a-half kilometers) high.

 

In the last 18 months of the MESSENGER mission, the spacecraft’s altitude was lowered, which allowed the surface of Mercury to be seen at much higher resolution. These low-altitude images revealed small fault scarps that are orders of magnitude smaller than the larger scarps. The small scarps had to be very young, investigators say, to survive the steady bombardment of meteoroids and comets. They are comparable in scale to small, young lunar scarps that are evidence Earth’s moon is also shrinking.

 

This active faulting is consistent with the recent finding that Mercury’s global magnetic field has existed for billions of years and with the slow cooling of Mercury’s still hot outer core.  It’s likely that the smallest of the terrestrial planets also experiences Mercury-quakes—something that may one day be confirmed by seismometers.

 

“This is why we explore,” said NASA Planetary Science Director Jim Green at Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “For years, scientists believed that Mercury’s tectonic activity was in the distant past. It’s exciting to consider that this small planet – not much larger than Earth’s moon – is active even today.”    

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A mighty salty ocean could lurk beneath Pluto's icy heart

A mighty salty ocean could lurk beneath Pluto's icy heart | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A salty ocean more than 100 kilometers deep might lurk beneath Pluto’s icy heart, a new study suggests. The buried reservoir could have helped tip the dwarf planet over at some point in its past, bringing the heart-shaped region in line with gravitational forces from Charon, Pluto’s largest moon.

 

A subsurface ocean isn’t a new idea; researchers proposed the possibility in March to explain the alignment between Charon and Sputnik Planum — the frozen impact basin that forms the left side of Pluto’s heart. Brandon Johnson, a planetary scientist at Brown University, and colleagues ran computer simulations to estimate the thickness of the putative sea. They report their results online September 19, 2016, in Geophysical Research Letters

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Drilling at Unfathomable Alien Landscapes - All in a Sols (Day’s) Work for Curiosity

Drilling at Unfathomable Alien Landscapes - All in a Sols (Day’s) Work for Curiosity | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Our beyond magnificent Curiosity rover has just finished her latest Red Planet drilling campaign – at the rock target called “Quela” – into the simply unfathomable alien landscapes she is currently exploring at the “Murray Buttes” region of lower Mount Sharp. And it’s all in a Sols (or Martian Day’s) work for our intrepid Curiosity!

 

“These images are literally out of this world.. I don’t think I have seen anything like them on Earth!” Jim Green, Planetary Sciences Director at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., explained. The “Murray Buttes” region is just chock full of the most stunning panoramic vistas that NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory rover has come upon to date. Observe and enjoy them in our exclusive new photo mosaics above and below.

 

“We always try to find some sort of Earth analog but these make exploring another world all worth it!” Green gushed in glee. They fill the latest incredible chapter in her thus far four year long quest to trek many miles (km) from the Bradbury landing site across the floor of Gale Crater to reach the base region of humongous Mount Sharp.

 

And these adventures are just a prelude to the even more glorious vistas she’ll investigate from now on – as she climbs higher and higher on an expedition to thoroughly examine the mountains sedimentary layers and unravel billions and billions of years of Mars geologic and climatic history.

 

Drilling holes into Mars during the Red Planet trek and carefully analyzing the pulverized samples with the rovers pair of miniaturized chemistry laboratories (SAM and CheMin) is the route to the answer of how and why Mars changed from a warmer and wetter planet in the ancient past to the cold, dry and desolate world we see today.

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Researchers restore first ever computer music recording

Researchers restore first ever computer music recording | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The first recording of computer-generated music, created in 1951 on a gigantic contraption built by British genius Alan Turing, is restored by New Zealand researchers.

 

The two-minute recording features short snippets of the tunes rendered in a slightly grating drone, like electronic bagpipes.

There are also a number of glitches and when the music halts during the Glenn Miller number, a presenter comments: "The machine's obviously not in the mood.

 

While Turing programmed the first musical notes into a computer, he had little interest in stringing them together into tunes. That work was carried out by a school teacher named Christopher Strachey, who went on to become a renowned computer scientist in his own right.

 

Strachey recalled that Turing's taciturn response upon hearing his machine play music was "good show".

 

Turing was a computer scientist, philosopher and cryptologist who played a crucial role in breaking the Nazis' Enigma Code.

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Plasmon-enhanced thermophoresis for the reversible assembly of plasmonic nanoparticles

Plasmon-enhanced thermophoresis for the reversible assembly of plasmonic nanoparticles | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The optical manipulation of plasmonic nanoparticles – metal nanoparticles that are highly efficient at absorbing and scattering light – has advantages for applications such as nanofabrication, drug delivery and biosensing. To that end, researchers have been developing techniques for the reversible assembly of plasmonic nanoparticles that can be used to modulate their structural, electrical and optical properties.The latest such technique is a low-power assembly that is enabled by thermophoretic migration of nanoparticles due to the plasmon-enhanced photothermal effect and the associated enhanced local electric field over a plasmonic substrate.

 

An international research team, led by Yuebing Zheng, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, has developed a new optical assembly technique known as plasmon-enhanced thermophoresis to assemble plasmonic nanoparticles reversibly by optically controlling a temperature field.This plasmon-enhanced thermophoresis can be exploited to confine plasmonic nanoparticles in a higher-temperature regime under a thermoelectric field.The researchers reported their findings in the September 17, 2016 online edition of ACS Nano ("Light-Directed Reversible Assembly of Plasmonic Nanoparticles Using Plasmon-Enhanced Thermophoresis").


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GUIDE-seq: A DNA Duct Tape to mark the DNA Damage

GUIDE-seq: A DNA Duct Tape to mark the DNA Damage | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

GUIDE-Seq deals with DNA double-strand breaks (DSB) and stands for genome-wide unbiased identification of DSBs evaluated by sequencing. Basically, the technology seeks out damage hotspots where duct tape-like DNA fragments can seal the damaged DNA and leave an identifiable mark there. Oftentimes, these repairs are like duct tape fixes at home—they're not always perfect. GUIDE-Seq can efficiently track down taped locations, which can help trace DNA damage and repair processes.

 

The duct tape is effective in animal cells. But plant cells—with their tough cell walls—have difficulty getting the tape into the cells to mark DNA breaks. In a spotlight article published in Trends in Plant Science (DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2016.08.005), biologists from Michigan Technological University elaborate how GUIDE-Seq could be a solution for observing plant DNA damage, repair and evolution.

 

Damaged DNA will sometimes create a mismatched sequence when repaired, much like pushing a shirt button through the wrong hole. Such a small mistake creates an uneven sequence that makes a big difference in genetic blueprints. "Without DNA repairing, we wouldn't be able to survive," says Guiliang Tang, a professor of biological sciences at Michigan Tech and the paper's corresponding author. He explains that cells naturally repair DNA and now, with the new technology CRISPR-Cas9, genes can be modified by people, which also requires DNA repair.

 

"Nature introduces random DNA damage, which can be anywhere within the genome," Tang explains. "While CRISPR can introduce very specific DNA damages for modifications through repairing."

 


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Ancient DNA traces extinct Caribbean ‘Island Murderer’ back to the dawn of mammals

Ancient DNA traces extinct Caribbean ‘Island Murderer’ back to the dawn of mammals | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

From skeletal remains found among ancient owl pellets, a team of scientists has recovered the first ancient DNA of the extinct West Indian mammal Nesophontes, meaning “island murder.” They traced its evolutionary history back to the dawn of mammals 70 million years ago.

 

The insect-eating creature existed in the Caribbean islands until the 16th century when, perhaps, they were outcompeted as the first Spanish ships arrived—introducing rats as stowaways.

 

Nesophontes was just one of the dozens of mammals that went extinct in the Caribbean during recent times,” said Professor Ian Barnes, Research Leader at London’s Natural History Museum.

 

Scientists used a 750-year-old specimen to generate many thousands of base pairs of DNA sequence data. This allowed the research team to uncover its evolutionary origins and finally resolve the relationships between its closest relatives, the insectivores, a group including shrews, hedgehogs and moles.

 

Phylogenetic and divergence time scenarios clearly demonstrate that Nesophontes is a deeply distinct sister group to another group of living native Caribbean insectivores, the solenodons. The time of the split between these two correlates with an era when the northern Caribbean was formed of volcanic islands, well before the origins of the islands we see today.

Obtaining DNA from tropical fossils is notoriously difficult, and the team made use of the latest developments in ancient DNA technology to conduct the study.

 

“Once we’d dealt with the tiny size of the bone samples, the highly degraded state of the DNA, and the lack of any similar genomes to compare to, the analysis was a piece of cake,” said Natural History Museum scientist Dr. Selina Brace.

 

The findings will be of considerable interest for evolutionary biologists studying mammalian biogeography, and the significant role that humans may have played in a recent extinction.

 

 

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Extreme bacteria can photosynthesise in near total darkness

Extreme bacteria can photosynthesise in near total darkness | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In the mud layers at the bottom of lakes and the sea live bacteria that are so extreme that they can convert sunlight into usable energy. They do it with the help of special antennae and a team of scientists have now mapped the structure of a part of these antennae.

 

The discovery is the holy grail of molecular photosynthesis research and could eventually be used to make more effective solar cells that are capable of producing electricity at night. “It’s certainly far off in future, but we can definitely learn something from nature,” says co-author Jakob Toudahl Nielsen, from the Centre for Insoluble Protein Structures (inSPIN) at Aarhus University, Denmark.

 

“We might be able to make green solar cells than can cope at low levels of light and the knowledge gained from these bacteria could lead the way,” says Nielsen.

 

The study was recently published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.


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