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According to New Findings, Subsurface Life On Mars Was Once Possible

According to New Findings, Subsurface Life On Mars Was Once Possible | Amazing Science |

McLaughlin Crater is 90.92 km (56.50 mi) in diameter and 2.2 km (1.4 mi) deep with a floor that is well below Martian “sealevel” and contains clays that bear iron and magnesium as well as carbonate.


By the time eukaryotic life or photosynthesis evolved on Earth, the martian surface had become extremely inhospitable, but the subsurface of Mars could potentially have contained a vast microbial biosphere. Crustal fluids may have welled up from the subsurface to alter and cement surface sediments, potentially preserving clues to subsurface habitability. Many ancient, deep basins lack evidence for groundwater activity. However, McLaughlin Crater, one of the deepest craters on Mars, contains evidence for Mg–Fe-bearing clays and carbonates that probably formed in an alkaline, groundwater-fed lacustrine setting. This environment strongly contrasts with the acidic, water-limited environments implied by the presence of sulphate deposits that have previously been suggested to form owing to groundwater upwelling. Deposits formed as a result of groundwater upwelling on Mars, such as those in McLaughlin Crater, could preserve critical evidence of a deep biosphere on Mars. Scientists suggest that groundwater upwelling on Mars may have occurred sporadically on local scales, rather than at regional or global scales.


“This environment strongly contrasts with the acidic, water-limited environments implied by the presence of sulphate deposits that have previously been suggested to form owing to groundwater upwelling.”


Water-made channels which are now dry, appear to flow down the walls of McLaughlin Crater and stop well above the crater floor, which indicates they once provided water to a lake. “The deposits in McLaughlin Crater could have very high preservation potential for organic materials, in much the same manner as turbidites do on Earth.”


Cyanobacteria, which are common in alkaline lakes on Earth may have aided in the formation of carbonate minerals in lakes such as the McLAughlin Crater on Mars. Sometimes these bacteria become form microscopic fossils. If similar conditions existed in the craters ancient alkaline lake fossils of micro-organisms may still be there awaiting us.

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

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



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Female dragonflies fake sudden death to avoid male advances

Female dragonflies fake sudden death to avoid male advances | Amazing Science |

Female dragonflies use an extreme tactic to get rid of unwanted suitors: they drop out the sky and then pretend to be dead.

Rassim Khelifa from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, witnessed the behavior for the first time in the moorland hawker dragonfly (Aeshna juncea).


While collecting their larvae in the Swiss Alps, he watched a female crash-dive to the ground while being pursued by a male. The female then lay motionless on her back. Her suitor soon flew away, and the female took off once the coast was clear.


“I was surprised,” says Khelifa, who had never previously seen this in 10 years of studying dragonflies.

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New eclipse Forever stamp will magically transform into the moon using thermochromic ink

New eclipse Forever stamp will magically transform into the moon using thermochromic ink | Amazing Science |

You heard right. The Postal Service will debut a new thermochromic ink Forever stamp in June ahead of a rare solar eclipse set for Aug. 21, 2017.


The new issue will transform from an image of a total solar eclipse into an image of the moon when you press it with your finger. The back will feature a U.S. map tracking when the eclipse will appear across the country.


It's the first time a stamp will make use of thermochromic ink, which is sensitive to body heat (and changing temperatures -- which means stamps should be kept away from direct sunlight).

The stamp's photo of the eclipse was taken in Libya by an Arizona-based astrophysicist in 2006.


For rusty space enthusiasts: A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon completely covers the sun, casting a shadow on the Earth, according to NASA. The shadow path of the eclipse, which is 70 miles wide, will move diagonally across the country from west to east, traversing Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. A partial view of the phenomenon will be visible across North America.


"Tens of millions of people in the United States hope to view this rare event, which has not been seen on the U.S. mainland since 1979," the Postal Service said in a statement.

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Aspirin May Prevent Cancer from Spreading, New Research Shows

Aspirin May Prevent Cancer from Spreading, New Research Shows | Amazing Science |

If ever there was a wonder drug, aspirin might be it. Originally derived from the leaves of the willow tree, this mainstay of the family medicine cabinet has been used successfully for generations to treat conditions ranging from arthritis to fever, as well as to prevent strokes, heart attacks and even some types of cancer, among other ills. Indeed, the drug is so popular that annual consumption worldwide totals about 120 billion tablets.

Via Kathy Bosiak
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Researchers Identify Candidate Genes That Help Trouts to Find Their Way Home

Researchers Identify Candidate Genes That Help Trouts to Find Their Way Home | Amazing Science |

In the spring when water temperatures start to rise, rainbow trout that have spent several years at sea traveling hundreds of miles from home manage, without maps or GPS, to find their way back to the rivers and streams where they were born for spawning. 


Diverse animals use Earth's magnetic field in orientation and navigation, but little is known about the molecular mechanisms that underlie magnetoreception.In a study published April 26, 2017 in Biology Letters, researchers have now identified genes that enable the fish to perform this extraordinary homing feat with help from Earth’s magnetic field. Recent studies have focused on two possibilities: (i) magnetite-based receptors; and (ii) biochemical reactions involving radical pairs. In the new study, researchers used RNA sequencing to examine gene expression in the brain of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) after exposure to a magnetic pulse known to disrupt magnetic orientation behavior. They identified 181 differentially expressed genes, including increased expression of six copies of the frim gene, which encodes a subunit of the universal iron-binding and trafficking protein ferritin. Functions linked to the oxidative effects of free iron (e.g. oxidoreductase activity, transition metal ion binding, mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation) were also affected.


These results are consistent with the hypothesis that a magnetic pulse alters or damages magnetite-based receptors and/or other iron-containing structures, which are subsequently repaired or replaced through processes involving ferritin. Additionally, some genes that function in the development and repair of photoreceptive structures (e.g. crggm3, purp, prl, gcip, crabp1 and pax6) were also differentially expressed, raising the possibility that a magnetic pulse might affect structures and processes unrelated to magnetite-based magnetoreceptors.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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DNA-based liquid biopsy can spot cancer recurrence a year before conventional CT scans

DNA-based liquid biopsy can spot cancer recurrence a year before conventional CT scans | Amazing Science |
‘Liquid biopsy’ diagnosed cancer recurrence up to a year before conventional scans in major lung cancer trial, and could buy crucial time for doctors


A revolutionary blood test has been shown to diagnose the recurrence of cancer up to a year in advance of conventional scans in a major lung cancer trial. The test, known as a liquid biopsy, could buy crucial time for doctors by indicating that cancer is growing in the body when tumors are not yet detectable on CT scans and long before the patient becomes aware of physical symptoms.


It works by detecting free-floating mutated DNA, released into the bloodstream by dying cancer cells. In the trial of 100 lung cancer patients, scientists saw precipitous rises in tumor DNA in the blood of patients who would go on to relapse months, or even a year, later.


The findings add to building anticipation that the technology, which is already in widespread use in non-invasive prenatal tests for Down’s syndrome, will have a major impact in cancer medicine.


Nitzan Rosenfeld of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, who was not involved in the latest trial, predicts that “most if not all” cancer patients will be given the DNA-based tests in future. “Even if only a fraction of cancers that are currently detected at a lethal stage will in future be detected at an early curable stage this will represent a great benefit in lives saved,” he said.


In the latest trial, reported in the journal Nature, 100 patients with non-small cell lung cancer were followed from diagnosis through surgery and chemotherapy, having blood tests every six to eight weeks.


By analyzing the patchwork of genetic faults in cells across each tumor, scientists created personalized genomic templates for each patient. This was then compared to the DNA floating in their blood, to assess whether a fraction of it matched that seen in their tumor.


Prof Charlie Swanton, a cancer geneticist at the Francis Crick Institute who led the work, described how circulating tumour DNA tracked the patient’s disease status with remarkable precision. Of patients who would remain in remission, he said that “Within 48 hours of surgery, the DNA drops down to undetectable.”


By contrast, rising tumour DNA levels were seen in patients whose disease would later recur, indicating that cancer remained in the lungs or had migrated to other organs, where it was lying dormant. When the tests of 24 patients were analyzed in detail, the scientists could say with 92% accuracy who would relapse.

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Astronomers detect dozens of new quasars and galaxies

Astronomers detect dozens of new quasars and galaxies | Amazing Science |

A team of astronomers led by Yoshiki Matsuoka of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) has detected a treasure trove of new high-redshift quasars (or quasi-stellar objects) and luminous galaxies. The newly found objects could be very important for our understanding of the early universe. The findings were presented Apr. 19 in a paper published on


High-redshift quasars and galaxies (at redshift higher than 5.0) are useful probes of the early universe in many respects. They offer essential clues on the evolution of the intergalactic medium, quasar evolution, early supermassive black hole growth, as well as evolution of galaxies through cosmic times. Generally speaking, they enable scientists to study the universe when it looked much different than it does today.


Recently, Matsuoka's team has presented the results from the Subaru High-z Exploration of Low-Luminosity Quasars (SHELLQs) project, which uses multi-band photometry data provided by the Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) Subaru Strategic Program (SSP) survey. HSC is a wide-field camera installed on the Subaru 8.2 m telescope located at the summit of Maunakea, Hawaii and operated by NAOJ. The researchers selected nearly 50 photometric candidates from the HSC-SSP source catalog and then observed them with spectrographs on the Subaru Telescope and the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), located on the island on the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain.


The observations resulted in the identification of 24 new quasars and eight new luminous galaxies at redshift between 5.7 and 6.8.

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Breakthrough Listen Search for Intelligent Life: First Results from 1709 Stars

Breakthrough Listen Search for Intelligent Life: First Results from 1709 Stars | Amazing Science |

Breakthrough Listen — the largest ever research program aimed at finding evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth — has released its eleven events ranked highest for significance as well as summary data analysis results.


The Breakthrough Listen project, announced in 2015, is currently using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Automated Planet Finder optical telescope at Lick Observatory and the Parkes Telescope in Australia, with plans to incorporate other large telescopes around the world. The Breakthrough Listen science team has so far acquired several petabytes of data — available at — using these telescopes.


The researchers designed and built an analysis pipeline that scans through billions of radio channels in a search for unique signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. “The basics of searching for signatures of extraterrestrial technology are quite simple,” the scientists explained.


“Artificial signals can be distinguished from natural processes through features like narrow bandwidth; irregular spectral behavior, pulsing, or modulation patterns; as well as broad-band signals with unusual characteristics.”


“However, human technology emits signals similar to the ones being searched for. This means that algorithms must be designed to ensure that signals are coming from a fixed point relative to the stars or other targets being observed, and not from local interferers.”


The initial results from deploying the pipeline on the first year of Breakthrough Listen data taken with the 100-m Green Bank Telescope have been submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “With the submission of this paper, the first scientific results from Breakthrough Listen are now available for the world to review,” said Dr. Andrew Siemion, an astrophysicist and Director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center.


“Although the search has not yet detected a convincing signal from extraterrestrial intelligence, these are early days.”

Dr. Siemion and co-authors examined data on 692 stars, consisting of three 5-min observations per star, interspersed with 5-min observations of a set of secondary targets.


The total number of Breakthrough Listen target stars, described by Isaacson et al in a recent paper in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific ( preprint), is 1709.

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An Aurora Called 'Steve'? Strange Sky Phenomenon Investigated

An Aurora Called 'Steve'? Strange Sky Phenomenon Investigated | Amazing Science |
Researchers collaborated with citizen scientists and astrophotographers to pinpoint a mysterious new aurora feature, nicknamed "Steve."


Photographer Dave Markel caught this view of a strange aurora-like feature that appears in the skies of northern Canada. Based on data from European Space Agency's Swarm satellites, it appears to be a 16-mile-wide (25 km) ribbon of flowing gas in an area whose temperature is 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius) higher than the surroundings; the gas flows at 3.5 miles per second (6 km/s) compared to a speed of 33 feet/second (10 m/s) on either side of the ribbon. They're calling the feature "Steve."

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Exploring new frontiers of knowledge: AI invents knowledge and teaches human new theories

Google's DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis shows that AI doesn't only learn from human knowledge, but also creates new knowledge. AlphaGo has it own creativity and intuition, inventing new knowledge and strategies about Go Game for human professionals to study in 2017.


Go game was invented in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago, is an abstract strategy board game, aiming to surround more territory than the opponent for two players. It is believed to be the oldest board game continuously played today.


Despite its relatively simple rules, Go is very complex, even more so than chess, and possesses more possibilities than the total number of atoms in the visible universe. Compared to chess, Go has both a larger board with more scope for play and longer games, and, on average, many more alternatives to consider per move.

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For the first time, physicists have experimentally demonstrated the violation of "bilocal causality"

For the first time, physicists have experimentally demonstrated the violation of "bilocal causality" | Amazing Science |

Physicists have recently been able to experimentally demonstrate the violation of "bilocal causality"—a concept that is related to the more standard local causality, except that it accounts for the precise way in which physical systems are initially generated. The results show that it's possible to violate local causality in an entirely new and more general way, which could lead to a potential new resource for quantum technologies.


The physicists, Gonzalo Carvacho et al., from institutions in Italy, Brazil, and Germany, have published a paper on the demonstration of the violation of bilocal causality in a recent issue of Nature Communications.


In general, the idea of local causality is usually taken for granted: objects can influence other objects only when they are physically close together, and any correlations between distant objects must have originated in the past when they were closer together. But in the quantum world, distant particles can be correlated in ways that are impossible for classical objects, unless these distant particles can somehow influence each other.


To determine whether local causality has been violated, physicists perform Bell tests, which attempt to violate Bell inequalities. If a Bell inequality is violated, then either locality or realism (or simply "local realism") has also been violated. There are dozens of different versions of Bell inequalities, but currently they all make the same assumption: that the correlations between particles all originate from a single common source. In real experiments, however, particles and their correlations can come from many different sources.


To address this issue, the new paper considers a new type of Bell inequality that accounts for the fact that the two sources of states used in the experiment are independent, the so-called bilocality assumption. By violating this new type of Bell inequality, the researchers have for the first time violated bilocal causality, indicating the presence of non-bilocal correlations that are completely different than other types of quantum correlations.


The researchers also showed that, in certain situations, it's possible to violate bilocal causality but not any other type of local causality. This finding further suggests that this type of violation is truly different than any standard local causality violation.


"Our work is an experimental proof-of-principle for network generalizations of Bell's theorem," coauthor Fabio Sciarrino at the Sapienza University of Rome told


"We experimentally demonstrated how bilocality can be considered a powerful resource enlarging our current capabilities to process information in a non-classical way."

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New microscopy method breaks color barrier of optical imaging

New microscopy method breaks color barrier of optical imaging | Amazing Science |

Researchers at Columbia University have made a significant step toward breaking the so-called "color barrier" of light microscopy for biological systems, allowing for much more comprehensive, system-wide labeling and imaging of a greater number of biomolecules in living cells and tissues than is currently attainable. The advancement has the potential for many future applications, including helping to guide the development of therapies to treat and cure disease.


In a study published online April 19 in Nature, the team, led by Associate Professor of Chemistry Wei Min, reports the development of a new optical microscopy platform with drastically enhanced detection sensitivity. Additionally, the study details the creation of new molecules that, when paired with the new instrumentation, allow for the simultaneous labeling and imaging of up to 24 specific biomolecules, nearly five times the number of biomolecules that can be imaged at the same time with existing technologies.


"In the era of systems biology, how to simultaneously image a large number of molecular species inside cells with high sensitivity and specificity remains a grand challenge of optical microscopy," Min said. "What makes our work new and unique is that there are two synergistic pieces - instrumentation and molecules - working together to combat this long-standing obstacle. Our platform has the capacity to transform understanding of complex biological systems: the vast human cell map, metabolic pathways, the functions of various structures within the brain, the internal environment of tumors, and macromolecule assembly, to name just a few."


All existing methods of observing a variety of structures in living cells and tissues have their own strengths, but all are also hindered by fundamental limitations, not the least of which is the existence of a "color barrier."

Via Mariaschnee
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What if you could type directly from your brain at 100 words per minute?

What if you could type directly from your brain at 100 words per minute? | Amazing Science |

Regina Dugan, PhD, Facebook VP of Engineering, Building8, revealed on April 19, 2017 at the Facebook F8 conference 2017 a plan to develop a non-invasive brain-computer interface that will let you type at 100 wpm — by decoding neural activity devoted to speech. Dugan previously headed Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, and before that, was Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


She explained in a Facebook post that over the next two years, her team will be building systems that demonstrate “a non-invasive system that could one day become a speech prosthetic for people with communication disorders or a new means for input to augmented reality.”


Dugan said that “even something as simple as a ‘yes/no’ brain click … would be transformative.” That simple level has been achieved by using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure changes in blood oxygen levels in the frontal lobes of the brain, as KurzweilAI recently reported. Near-infrared light can penetrate the skull and partially into the brain.


Dugan agrees that optical imaging is the best place to start, but her Building8 team team plans to go way beyond that research — sampling hundreds of times per second and precise to millimeters. The research team began working on the brain-typing project six months ago and she now has a team of more than 60 researchers who specialize in optical neural imaging systems that push the limits of spatial resolution and machine-learning methods for decoding speech and language.


The research is headed by Mark Chevillet, previously an adjunct professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. Besides replacing smartphones, the system would be a powerful speech prosthetic, she noted — allowing paralyzed patients to “speak” at normal speed.

Via LilyGiraud
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Scientists Set Record Resolution for Drawing at the One-Nanometer Length Scale

Scientists Set Record Resolution for Drawing at the One-Nanometer Length Scale | Amazing Science |
Using a specialized electron microscope outfitted with a pattern generator, scientists turned an imaging instrument into a lithography tool that could be used to create and study materials with new properties.


The ability to pattern materials at ever-smaller sizes—using electron-beam lithography (EBL), in which an electron-sensitive material is exposed to a focused beam of electrons, as a primary method—is driving advances in nanotechnology. When the feature size of materials is reduced from the macroscale to the nanoscale, individual atoms and molecules can be manipulated to dramatically alter material properties, such as color, chemical reactivity, electrical conductivity, and light interactions.


In the ongoing quest to pattern materials with ever-smaller feature sizes, scientists at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory—have recently set a new record. Performing EBL with a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM), they have patterned thin films of the polymer poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA, with individual features as small as one nanometer (nm), and with a spacing between features of 11 nm, yielding an areal density of nearly one trillion features per square centimeter. These record achievements are published in the April 18 online edition of Nano Letters.


“Our goal at CFN is to study how the optical, electrical, thermal, and other properties of materials change as their feature sizes get smaller,” said lead author Vitor Manfrinato, a research associate in CFN’s electron microscopy group who began the project as a CFN user while completing his doctoral work at MIT. “Until now, patterning materials at a single nanometer has not been possible in a controllable and efficient way.”


Commercial EBL instruments typically pattern materials at sizes between 10 and 20 nanometers. Techniques that can produce higher-resolution patterns require special conditions that either limit their practical utility or dramatically slow down the patterning process. Here, the scientists pushed the resolution limits of EBL by installing a pattern generator—an electronic system that precisely moves the electron beam over a sample to draw patterns designed with computer software—in one of CFN’s aberration-corrected STEMs, a specialized microscope that provides a focused electron beam at the atomic scale.

“We converted an imaging tool into a drawing tool that is capable of not only taking atomic-resolution images but also making atomic-resolution structures,” said coauthor Aaron Stein, a senior scientist in the electronic nanomaterials group at CFN.

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The world’s fastest camera: When light practically stands still

The world’s fastest camera: When light practically stands still | Amazing Science |
Forget high-speed cameras capturing 100 000 images per second. A research group at Lund University in Sweden has developed a camera that can film at a rate equivalent to five trillion images per second, or events as short as 0.2 trillionths of a second. This is faster than has previously been possible.


The new super-fast film camera will therefore be able to capture incredibly rapid processes in chemistry, physics, biology and biomedicine, that so far have not been caught on film.

To illustrate the technology, the researchers have successfully filmed how light – a collection of photons – travels a distance corresponding to the thickness of a paper. In reality, it only takes a picosecond, but on film the process has been slowed down by a trillion times.


Currently, high-speed cameras capture images one by one in a sequence. The new technology is based on an innovative algorithm, and instead captures several coded images in one picture. It then sorts them into a video sequence afterwards.

In short, the method involves exposing what you are filming (for example a chemical reaction) to light in the form of laser flashes where each light pulse is given a unique code. The object reflects the light flashes which merge into the single photograph. They are subsequently separated using an encryption key.


The film camera is initially intended to be used by researchers who literally want to gain better insight into many of the extremely rapid processes that occur in nature. Many take place on a picosecond and femtosecond scale, which is unbelievably fast – the number of femtoseconds in one second is significantly larger than the number of seconds in a person’s life-time.


“This does not apply to all processes in nature, but quite a few, for example, explosions, plasma flashes, turbulent combustion, brain activity in animals and chemical reactions. We are now able to film such extremely short processes”, says Elias Kristensson. “In the long term, the technology can also be used by industry and others”.

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Scientists Create Artificial Womb That Could Help Prematurely Born Babies

Scientists Create Artificial Womb That Could Help Prematurely Born Babies | Amazing Science |

Scientists have created an "artificial womb" in the hopes of someday using the device to save babies born extremely prematurely. So far the device has only been tested on fetal lambs. A study published Tuesday involving eight animals found the device appears effective at enabling very premature fetuses to develop normally for about a month.


"We've been extremely successful in replacing the conditions in the womb in our lamb model," says Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study published in the journal Nature Communications.


"They've had normal growth. They've had normal lung maturation. They've had normal brain maturation. They've had normal development in every way that we can measure it," Flake says. Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years.

"What we tried to do is develop a system that mimics the environment of the womb as closely as possible," Flake says. "It's basically an artificial womb."

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First settlers may have reached Americas some 130,000 years ago, study claims

First settlers may have reached Americas some 130,000 years ago, study claims | Amazing Science |
Mastodon site suggests first Americans arrived unexpectedly early.


The New World was a surprisingly old destination for humans or our evolutionary relatives, say investigators of a controversial set of bones and stones. An unidentified Homo species used stone tools to crack apart mastodon bones, teeth and tusks approximately 130,700 years ago at a site near what’s now San Diego. This unsettling claim upending the scientific debate over the settling of the Americas comes from a team led by archaeologist Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and paleontologist Thomas Deméré of the San Diego Natural History Museum. If true, it means the Cerutti Mastodon site contains the oldest known evidence, by more than 100,000 years, of human or humanlike colonists in the New World, the researchers report online April 26 in Nature.


Around 130,000 years ago, the researchers say, a relatively warm and wet climate would have submerged any land connection between northeastern Asia and what’s now Alaska. So ancient colonizers of North America must have reached the continent in canoes or other vessels and traveled down the Pacific coast, they propose.


Candidates for southern California’s mastodon bone breakers include Neandertals, Denisovans and Homo erectus, all of which inhabited northeastern Asia around 130,000 years ago. A less likely possibility, Holen says, is Homo sapiens, which reached southern China between 80,000 and 120,000 years ago (SN: 11/14/15, p. 15). No hominid fossils have turned up among the mastodon remains.


Whatever Homo species reached the Cerutti Mastodon site probably broke apart the huge beast’s bones to obtain nutritious marrow and claim limb fragments suitable for fashioning into tools, the scientists suspect. Hominids probably scavenged the mastodon’s carcass, since its bones contain no stone tool incisions produced when an animal is butchered, they add.

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Better single-cell whole-genome analysis by Linear Amplification via Transposon Insertion (LIANTI)

Better single-cell whole-genome analysis by Linear Amplification via Transposon Insertion (LIANTI) | Amazing Science |

Genomic changes in individual cells can eventually lead to cancer or other diseases. So scientists would like to be able to sequence the genome in a single cell. But the methods to do so can be plagued by the preferential amplification of some regions of the genome over others, leading to incomplete sequence coverage.


A team led by X. Sunney Xie of Harvard University and Peking University has developed a whole-genome amplification method that reduces such bias and errors (Science 2017, DOI: 10.1126/science.aak9787). In the method, called LIANTI, researchers fragment genomic DNA from a single cell by inserting pieces of DNA called transposons. The transposons tag the DNA fragments so that they get amplified linearly instead of exponentially. The amplified DNA is then used to generate a library for subsequent DNA sequencing.


Compared with other whole-genome amplification methods, LIANTI has more uniform amplification and higher sequence coverage. The method enabled the detection of a type of mutation called copy-number variation, which involves the gain or loss of regions of the genome, which is hard to detect with high resolution using other amplification methods. The researchers were even able to characterize so-called micro-copy-number variations, which are smaller than 100,000 bases, with a resolution of about 10,000 bases.


Xie and coworkers used this ability to detect gains and losses of sequences to show that initiation of DNA replication is random and differs from cell to cell. They also showed that many single-nucleotide variations detected in previous single-cell sequencing are artifacts caused by instability of the DNA bases.

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Lyrebird — an API for generating human voice

Lyrebird — an API for generating human voice | Amazing Science |

Lyrebird is the first company to offer a technology to reproduce the voice of someone as accurately and with as little recorded audio. Such a technology raises important societal issues that we address in the next paragraphs.

Voice recordings are currently considered as strong pieces of evidence in our societies and in particular in jurisdictions of many countries. Our technology questions the validity of such evidence as it allows to easily manipulate audio recordings. This could potentially have dangerous consequences such as misleading diplomats, fraud and more generally any other problem caused by stealing the identity of someone else.

By releasing our technology publicly and making it available to anyone, we want to ensure that there will be no such risks. We hope that everyone will soon be aware that such technology exists and that copying the voice of someone else is possible. More generally, we want to raise attention about the lack of evidence that audio recordings may represent in the near future.

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The arrhythmic beating of a black hole heart – Astronomy Now

The arrhythmic beating of a black hole heart – Astronomy Now | Amazing Science |

At the center of the Centaurus galaxy cluster, there is a large elliptical galaxy called NGC 4696. Deeper still, there is a supermassive black hole buried within the core of this galaxy.

New data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes has revealed details about this giant black hole, located some 145 million light years from Earth. Although the black hole itself is undetected, astronomers are learning about the impact it has on the galaxy it inhabits and the larger cluster around it.


In some ways, this black hole resembles a beating heart that pumps blood outward into the body via the arteries. Likewise, a black hole can inject material and energy into its host galaxy and beyond.


By examining the details of the X-ray data from Chandra, scientists have found evidence for repeated bursts of energetic particles in jets generated by the supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 4696. These bursts create vast cavities in the hot gas that fills the space between the galaxies in the cluster. The bursts also create shock waves, akin to sonic booms produced by high-speed airplanes, which travel tens of thousands of light years across the cluster.


The composite image shown contains X-ray data from Chandra (red) that reveals the hot gas in the cluster, and radio data from the NSF’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (blue) that shows high-energy particles produced by the black hole-powered jets. Visible light data from the Hubble Space Telescope (green) show galaxies in the cluster as well as galaxies and stars outside the cluster.


Astronomers employed special processing to the X-ray data to emphasize nine cavities visible in the hot gas. These cavities are labeled A through I in an additional image, and the location of the black hole is labeled with a cross. The cavities that formed most recently are located nearest to the black hole, in particular the ones labeled A and B.


The researchers estimate that these black hole bursts, or “beats”, have occurred every five to ten million years. Besides the vastly differing time scales, these beats also differ from typical human heartbeats in not occurring at particularly regular intervals.


A different type of processing of the X-ray data reveals a sequence of curved and approximately equally spaced features in the hot gas. These may be caused by sound waves generated by the black hole’s repeated bursts. In a galaxy cluster, the hot gas that fills the cluster enables sound waves – albeit at frequencies far too low for the human hear to detect – to propagate.

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Hubble Spots Multiply-Imaged, Gravitationally Lensed Type Ia Supernova | Astronomy

Hubble Spots Multiply-Imaged, Gravitationally Lensed Type Ia Supernova | Astronomy | Amazing Science |

Type Ia supernovae always have the same intrinsic brightness, so by measuring how bright they appear astronomers can determine how far away they are.


Known as standard candles, these supernovae have been used for decades to measure distances across the Universe, and were also used to discover its accelerated expansion and infer the existence of dark energy.


“Resolving, for the first time, multiple images of a strongly lensed standard candle supernova is a major breakthrough,” said Prof. Ariel Goobar, from the Oskar Klein Centre at Stockholm University in Sweden.


“We can measure the light-focusing power of gravity more accurately than ever before, and probe physical scales that may have seemed out of reach until now.”


The newly-discovered supernova, called iPTF16geu, was first detected on September 5, 2016 by the intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF) collaboration with the Palomar Observatory.


Also known as SN 2016geu, the supernova exploded at a distance corresponding to a time 4.3 billion years ago. It could only be detected because a foreground galaxy — SDSS J210415.89-062024.7, which is 2.5 billion light-years away — lensed the light of the explosion, making it 52 times brighter for observers on Earth.


It also caused iPTF16geu to appear in four distinct places on the sky, surrounding the lensing galaxy in the foreground. The four images lie on a circle with a radius of only 3,000 light-years around the galaxy, making it one of the smallest extragalactic gravitational lenses discovered so far.

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The final chapter in a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery: Cassini's Grand Finale

The final chapter in a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery: Cassini's Grand Finale | Amazing Science |
Cassini is one of the most ambitious efforts in planetary space exploration. A joint endeavour of NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency, Cassini is a sophisticated spacecraft exploring the Saturnian system since 2004.


The final chapter in a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery, Cassini's Grand Finale is in many ways like a brand new mission. Twenty-two times, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will dive through the unexplored space between Saturn and its rings. What we learn from these ultra-close passes over the planet could be some of the most exciting revelations ever returned by the long-lived spacecraft. This animated video tells the story of Cassini's final, daring assignment and looks back at what the mission has accomplished.

For more about the making of this video, including the science behind the imagery, see the feature at

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Naked mole-rats turn to fructose-driven metabolism when oxygen is low

Naked mole-rats turn to fructose-driven metabolism when oxygen is low | Amazing Science |

Deprived of oxygen, naked mole-rats can survive by metabolizing fructose just as plants do, researchers report this week in the journal Science. Understanding how the animals do this could lead to treatments for patients suffering crises of oxygen deprivation, as in heart attacks and strokes.


“This is just the latest remarkable discovery about the naked mole-rat — a cold-blooded mammal that lives decades longer than other rodents, rarely gets cancer, and doesn’t feel many types of pain,” says Thomas Park, professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who led an international team of researchers from UIC, the Max Delbrück Institute in Berlin and the University of Pretoria in South Africa on the study.Ignore the whiskers and teeth — these are plants.


In humans, laboratory mice, and all other known mammals, when brain cells are starved of oxygen they run out of energy and begin to die. But naked mole-rats have a backup: their brain cells start burning fructose, which produces energy anaerobically through a metabolic pathway that is only used by plants – or so scientists thought.


In the new study, the researchers exposed naked mole-rats to low oxygen conditions in the laboratory and found that they released large amounts of fructose into the bloodstream. The fructose, the scientists found, was transported into brain cells by molecular fructose pumps that in all other mammals are found only on cells of the intestine.


“The naked mole-rat has simply rearranged some basic building-blocks of metabolism to make it super-tolerant to low oxygen conditions,” said Park, who has studied the strange species for 18 years. At oxygen levels low enough to kill a human within minutes, naked mole-rats can survive for at least five hours, Park said. They go into a state of suspended animation, reducing their movement and dramatically slowing their pulse and breathing rate to conserve energy. And they begin using fructose until oxygen is available again. The naked mole-rat is the only known mammal to use suspended animation to survive oxygen deprivation.


The scientists also showed that naked mole-rats are protected from another deadly aspect of low oxygen – a buildup of fluid in the lungs called pulmonary edema that afflicts mountain climbers at high altitude. The scientists think that the naked mole-rats’ unusual metabolism is an adaptation for living in their oxygen-poor burrows. Unlike other subterranean mammals, naked mole-rats live in hyper-crowded conditions, packed in with hundreds of colony mates. With so many animals living together in unventilated tunnels, oxygen supplies are quickly depleted.

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How to stay organized: DNA's secret weapon against knots and tangles

How to stay organized: DNA's secret weapon against knots and tangles | Amazing Science |
A simple process seems to explain how massive genomes stay organized. But no one can agree on what powers it.


Leonid Mirny swivels in his office chair and grabs the power cord for his laptop. He practically bounces in his seat as he threads the cable through his fingers, creating a doughnut-sized loop. “It's a dynamic process of motors constantly extruding loops!” says Mirny, a biophysicist here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.


Mirny's excitement isn't about keeping computer accessories orderly. Rather, he's talking about a central organizing principle of the genome — how roughly 2 metres of DNA can be squeezed into nearly every cell of the human body without getting tangled up like last year's Christmas lights.


He argues that DNA is constantly being slipped through ring-like motor proteins to make loops. This process, called loop extrusion, helps to keep local regions of DNA together, disentangling them from other parts of the genome and even giving shape and structure to the chromosomes.


Scientists have bandied about similar hypotheses for decades, but Mirny's model, and a similar one championed by Erez Lieberman Aiden, a geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, add a new level of molecular detail at a time of explosive growth for research into the 3D structure of the genome. The models neatly explain the data flowing from high-profile projects on how different parts of the genome interact physically — which is why they've garnered so much attention.


But these simple explanations are not without controversy. Although it has become increasingly clear that genome looping regulates gene expression, possibly contributing to cell development and diseases such as cancer, the predictions of the models go beyond what anyone has ever seen experimentally.


For one thing, the identity of the molecular machine that forms the loops remains a mystery. If the leading protein candidate acted like a motor, as Mirny proposes, it would guzzle energy faster than it has ever been seen to do. “As a physicist friend of mine tells me, 'This is kind of the Higgs boson of your field',” says Mirny; it explains one of the deepest mysteries of genome biology, but could take years to prove.

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AI is the only option in the future of cyber security

AI is the only option in the future of cyber security | Amazing Science |

The cyber security wars of the future will be fought by good AI bots and bad ones, with the rest of us just watching to see who wins. That’s the future according to Jason Hoffman, Ericsson’s VP of Cloud Infrastructure. It isn’t quite as dark as the world being taking over by robots or sentient beings, but it’s a very realistic possibility due to the vast complications and workloads which will soon be placed on security teams.


“Ironically and unfortunately, some of the people who are becoming most advanced when it comes to artificial intelligence in the security world are the ones on the offensive,” said Hoffman. “These are the cyber criminals, and one of the only ways to combat these guys will be to escalate defences to be built around artificial intelligence.”


It’s a world which pits computer against computer, where Darwinism has taken a twist. The definition of ‘fittest’ moves away from strength and into the sphere of the intellectuals. But this is the end of the story, not the beginning.


At the beginning, where we are right now, there is a shift in the security paradigm. In the first instance, its due to the way infrastructure is purchased and managed. In years gone, buying and securing infrastructure was relatively simple. You bought the hardware and set up restrictions surrounding the software do define who could access sensitive areas. The introduction of cloud-computing has increased accessibility, and therefore the way in which we make our life secure.


One of the most attractive principles of cloud computing is the ease to scale and consume. On the operational side, this is a game changer, but for security it becomes a much more complicated task. The security paradigm has been permanently altered, as more people are now able to access sensitive areas of the machine.


If one objective is to remove the threat of malicious insiders, the task has become more complex, as the ease of consumption has multiplied the number of potential malicious insiders vastly. Restrictions have to be opened up to create the cloud business model and move towards a DevOps mindset, but this involves a much more comprehensive security and governance model to be put in place, which most organizations do not currently have.


Another complication is the means the shift in how infrastructure is managed. Previously, hardware has been bought, it is secured in the warehouse and then shipped to the customer. It was secure until it had served its purpose and ultimately replaced. Hoffman highlighted that a continuous stream of software updates now mean the system is only as secure as it was the last time you checked. Every update is a potential weak link in the perimeter, which again, organizations are not prepared for. It involves a complete rethink of how supply chain assurance is managed.


In both these instances, the data which needs to be managed to ensure security is far too vast for any human to consider. From Hoffman’s perspective, the only option is a machine learning algorithm, which understands what would be considered normal performance from each component, and constantly monitors for the anomalies. Here, artificial intelligence is aiding the security professionals by finding the leak and then alerting, but it won’t be long before AI is the leading player.

Via Ben van Lier
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Blockchain is making it easy for neighbors to sell each other excess solar energy over P2P

Blockchain is making it easy for neighbors to sell each other excess solar energy over P2P | Amazing Science |

If you have solar panels that produce more energy than you need, you can sell the excess to a utility company. But what if you could sell it to your neighbor instead?


A company called LO3 Energy has developed a system that lets people buy and sell locally generated solar energy within their communities. The system uses blockchain—the electronic ledger technology that underpins the digital currency Bitcoin—to facilitate and record the transactions.


Distributing energy this way is more efficient than transmitting energy over distances, said LO3’s founder, Lawrence Orsini, and would make neighborhoods more resilient to power outages, as well as helping meet demand when energy needs exceed expectations. It’s also in line with growing public support for renewable energy, distributed and decentralized energy systems, and “buy local” programs in general.


At Business of Blockchain, a conference organized by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Media Lab, Orsini said that 69 percent of consumers told the technology consultancy Accenture that they were interested in having an energy-trading marketplace, and 47 percent said they planned to sign up for community solar projects.


LO3 Energy launched its peer-to-peer energy transactions system, which it calls the Brooklyn Microgrid, about a year ago. The miniature utility grid connects people who have solar panels on their roofs in several parts of Brooklyn with neighbors who want to buy locally generated green energy. Like other microgrids it operates alongside, but separate from, the traditional energy grid.


Blockchain makes the Brooklyn Microgrid possible, Orsini said. Participants install smart meters equipped with the technology, which track the energy they generate and consume. Records of the automatic “smart contracts” that enable neighbor-to-neighbor transactions are also tracked using blockchain. LO3 Energy hired the software maker ConsenSys to build the system, which is based on the blockchain-based distributed computing platform Ethereum.


“Blockchain is a really good communications protocol for what we want to do,” Orsini said at the conference. “This isn’t just about settling energy bills,” he added. “It’s about self-organizing at the grid edge, which can’t be done with normal databases.”


Could microgrids like this shake up the energy industry? At the moment, Brooklyn Microgrid consists of only 50 physical nodes, but Orsini signed a partnership with German conglomerate Siemens in November and is talking to regulators in the U.S., Australia, and Europe about expansion. He is also willing to collaborate with utilities. “We’re not putting the utilities out of business, but we want their business model to evolve,” he said.

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