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Ultrafast boiling of water - in less than a trillionth of a second

Ultrafast boiling of water - in less than a trillionth of a second | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists from the Hamburg Center for Free-Electron Laser Science have devised a novel way to boil water in less than a trillionth of a second. The theoretical concept, which has not yet been demonstrated in practice, could heat a small amount of water by as much as 600 degrees Celsius in just half a picosecond (a trillionth of a second). That is much less than the proverbial blink of an eye: one picosecond is to a second what one second is to almost 32 millennia. This would make the technique the fastest water-heating method on Earth.


The novel concept opens up interesting new ways for experiments with heated samples of chemical or biological relevance, as the inventors report in this week's issue of the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie - International Edition (Nr. 51, 16 December). "Water is the single most important medium in which chemical and biological processes take place," explains DESY scientist Dr. Oriol Vendrell from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science CFEL, a cooperation of DESY, the University of Hamburg and the German Max Planck Society. "Water is not just a passive solvent, but plays an important role in the dynamics of biological and chemical processes by stabilising certain chemical compounds and enabling specific reactions."


All it takes for superfast water heating is a concentrated flash of terahertz radiation. Terahertz radiation consists of electromagnetic waves with a frequency between radio waves and infrared. Terahertz flashes can be generated with devices called free-electron lasers that send accelerated electrons on a well defined slalom course. The particles emit electromagnetic waves in each bend that add up to an intense laser like pulse. The terahertz pulse changes the strength of the interaction between water molecules in a very short time, which immediately start to vibrate violently.


The scientists calculated the interaction of the terahertz flash with bulk water. The simulations were performed at the Supercomputer Center Jülich and used a total of 200,000 hours of processor time by massively parallel computing. On a single processor machine this would correspond to about 20 years of computation. "We have calculated that it should be possible to heat up the liquid to about 600 degrees Celsius within just half a picosecond, obtaining a transiently hot and structureless environment still at the density of the liquid, leaving all water molecules intact," explains Vendrell.


The novel method can only heat about one nanolitre (billionth of a liter) in one go. This may sound small, but is large enough for most experiments. For comparison, ink-jet printers fire droplets that are as small as one picolitre, which is a thousand times less than a nanolitre.


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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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Designer Agent Blocks Pain Without Morphine’s Side Effects

Designer Agent Blocks Pain Without Morphine’s Side Effects | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have synthesized a molecule with a unique profile of highly specific pain-relieving properties and demonstrated its efficacy in mice. Compared to existing opioid pain relievers, like morphine, the new agent, called PZM21, was not “reinforcing” or prone to triggering potentially lethal respiratory impairment – and was also less constipating.

 

Also unlike existing analgesics, it had little effect on spinal cord reflexive responses, instead targeting the brain-mediated emotional/experiential component of pain. In addition to clinical potential, PZM21 also holds promise as a “tool molecule” for exploring the workings of brain pain systems, say the researchers.

 

The study represents the combined efforts of NIH-funded research teams led by Nobel laureate Brian Kobilka, M.D. , of Stanford University, NIMH-funded Bryan Roth, M.D., Ph.D. (inventor of the chemogenetic technology DREADD), of the University of North Carolina, and Brian Shoichet, Ph.D., of the University of California San Francisco. They report on their findings August 17, 2016 in the journal Nature.


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Combining wide-field micro-elastography with Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)

Combining wide-field micro-elastography with Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Incomplete excision of malignant tissue is a major issue in breast-conserving surgery, with typically 20 - 30% of cases requiring a second surgical procedure arising from postoperative detection of an involved margin. A team of scientists and engineers now report advances in the development of a new intraoperative tool, optical coherence micro-elastography, for the assessment of tumor margins on the micro-scale. They demonstrate an important step by conducting whole specimen imaging in intraoperative time frames with a wide-field scanning system acquiring mosaicked elastograms with overall dimensions of ~50 × 50 mm, large enough to image an entire face of most lumpectomy specimens. This capability is enabled by a wide-aperture annular actuator with an internal diameter of 65 mm. The team demonstrates feasibility by presenting elastograms recorded from freshly excised human breast tissue, including from a mastectomy, lumpectomies and a cavity shaving.

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Towards Stable Propagation of Light in Nano-Photonic Fibers

Towards Stable Propagation of Light in Nano-Photonic Fibers | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Devices based on light, rather than electrons, could revolutionize the speed and security of our future computers. However, one of the major challenges in today's physics is the design of photonic devices, able to transport and switch light through circuits in a stable way.

 

Sergej Flach, Director of the Center for Theoretical Physics of Complex Systems, within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) and colleagues from the National Technical University of Athensand the University of Patras (Greece) have studied how to achieve a more stable propagation of light for future optical technologies. Their model was recently published in Scientific Reports.

 

Optical fibers can carry a large amount of information and are already used in many countries for communications via phone, internet and TV. However, when light travels long distances through these fibers, it suffers from losses and leakages, which could lead to a loss of information. In order to compensate for this problem, amplifiers are positioned at specific intervals to amplify the signal. For example, amplifiers are needed in submarine communications cables that allow the transfer of digital data between all continents (except for Antarctica).

 

Researchers have tried to build fibers where the signal is stable along the pathway and does not need amplifiers, using the so-called "PT symmetry". P stands for parity reversal and T for time reversal. The PT symmetry can be simplified with an example.

 

Imagine a situation where two cars are traveling at the same speed at some instant in time. However, one car is speeding up and the other one is slowing down. Using parity reversal (P) we exchange one car for the other. Using time reversal (T) we go back in time. If you are in the car that is accelerating, you can jump to the car that is slowing down (P) and you also go back in time (T). As a result, you will end up with the same speed as the accelerating car. The cars are like light waves inside the optical fibers and the speed is a representation of the intensity of light. The jumping symbolizes of the transfer of light from one fiber to another, which happens when the light waves propagating in each fiber overlap partially with each other, through a phenomenon called tunneling.

 

The PT symmetry idea is that one can carefully balance the intensity of light inside the fibers and achieve a stable propagation. Researchers expected PT symmetry to be the solution to achieve stable propagation in all-optical devices (diodes, transistors, switches etc.). However, stable propagation is still a challenge because the PT symmetry conditions have to be balanced extremely carefully, and because the material of the fibers reacts and destroys the exact balance. In the example of the cars, in order to achieve perfect PT symmetry, you would need really identical cars and street conditions. Reality is of course much different.

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Dogs process vocabulary and intonation in their brains, similar to how humans do it

Dogs process vocabulary and intonation in their brains, similar to how humans do it | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
How do dogs pick up on our tones, gestures, and moods?

 

Ever gotten the feeling that your dog is listening not just to what you say, but how you say it? You’re not alone among pet owners — and a new study in Science suggests that you’re not wrong, either.

 

Using fMRI machines, researchers measured the brain activity of dogs as they were given commands. Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and one of the paper’s authors, says the team found that dogs process vocabulary and intonation in different parts of their brains, similar to the way humans do.

 

“We said ‘Good boy! Good boy!’ [to the dogs],” Andics says. “But we also said ‘Good boy, good boy’ without the praising intonation. And … we used meaningless conjuncture words like ‘however’ or nevertheless’ in a praising intonation — and also some of these meaningless words in a normal intonation. And so we basically we could test for the differences in the brain.”

 

When the dogs heard praising words in praising intonations, the reward centers of their brain were active, indicating pleasure. This wasn’t the case when praise words were spoken neutrally, Andics says, or when meaningless words were spoken in a praising voice. The findings indicate that dogs can take communication cues straight from our speech.

 

“It’s as if you are calling your dog on the phone,” Andics says. “[In the study,] they only have the speech information, and they don’t see you or they don’t see your body gestures. They don’t have all the context. This is only word meaning and intonation which is at play here. So we were really surprised to see that they can, in this setting, actually use both of these types of cues.”

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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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Uncovering a Quantum Phase Transition in Nuclei

Uncovering a Quantum Phase Transition in Nuclei | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Simulations predict that the ground states of certain light nuclei lie near a quantum phase transition between a liquid-like phase and a phase involving clusters of alpha particles.

 

Thermal phase transitions surround us. Ice melts. Water boils. Triggered by thermal fluctuations, these transitions are typically characterized by a reorganization of matter at a critical temperature from one distinct phase to another. Less obvious in our everyday lives are phase transitions that occur in quantum systems at zero temperature. These quantum phase transitions exist in many condensed matter systems, in which tuning such variables as pressure, atom concentration, or magnetic field brings one quantum phase to a “critical point” with another.

 

Instead of thermal fluctuations, these transitions are driven by the quantum fluctuations dictated by the uncertainty principle, and they often involve competing interactions (for example, repulsive versus attractive) between the phases.

 

Now, theorists simulating the interactions between protons and neutrons in a nucleus have found that certain light nuclei exist near a quantum phase transition. The transition is from a state with a uniform distribution of protons and neutrons (a Fermi liquid) to a state consisting of several alpha particles (two protons and two neutrons) [1]. The finding, from Dean Lee at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and colleagues, might provide clues as to why clustering occurs in the ground states of some nuclei but only in the excited states of others—such as the excited Hoyle state of carbon that is thought to be essential to life.

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New anti-cancer gene therapy technique targets microRNAs for the first time

New anti-cancer gene therapy technique targets microRNAs for the first time | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A new gene therapy technique being developed by researchers at MIT is showing promise as a way to prevent breast cancer tumors from metastasizing. The treatment, described in a paper published today in the journal Nature Communications, uses microRNAs — small noncoding RNA molecules that regulate gene expression — to control metastasis.

 

The therapy could be used alongside chemotherapy to treat early-stage breast cancer tumors before they spread, according to Natalie Artzi, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who led the research in collaboration with Noam Shomron, an assistant professor on the faculty of medicine at Tel-Aviv University in Israel.

 

“The basic idea is that if the cancer is diagnosed early enough, then in addition to treating the primary tumor with chemotherapy, one could also treat with specific microRNAs, in order to prevent the spread of cancer cells that cause metastasis,” Artzi says. The regulation of gene expression by microRNAs is known to be important in preventing the spread of cancer cells. Recent studies by the Shomron team in Tel-Aviv have shown that disruption of this regulation, for example by genetic variants known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), can have a significant impact on gene expression levels and lead to an increase in the risk of cancer.

 

To identify the specific microRNAs that play a role in breast cancer progression and could therefore potentially be used to suppress metastasis, the research teams first carried out an extensive bioinformatics analysis. They compared three datasets: one for known SNPs; a second for sites at which microRNAs bind to the genome; and a third for breast cancer-related genes known to be associated with the movement of cells.

 

This analysis revealed a variant, or SNP, known as rs1071738, which influences metastasis. They found that this SNP disrupts binding of two microRNAs, miR-96 and miR-182. This disruption in turn prevents the two microRNAs from controlling the expression of a protein called Palladin. Previous research has shown that Palladin plays a key role in the migration of breast cancer cells, and their subsequent invasion of otherwise healthy organs.

 

When the researchers carried out in vitro experiments in cells, they found that applying miR-96 and miR-182 decreased the expression of Palladin levels, in turn reducing the ability of breast cancer cells to migrate and invade other tissue.
“Previous research had discussed the role of Palladin in controlling migration and invasion (of cancer cells), but no one had tried to use microRNAs to silence those specific targets and prevent metastasis,” Artzi says. “In this way we were able to pinpoint the critical role of these microRNAs in stopping the spread of breast cancer.”

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Allen Institute publishes highest resolution map of the entire human brain to date

Allen Institute publishes highest resolution map of the entire human brain to date | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The Allen Institute for Brain Science has published the highest resolution atlas of the human brain to date in a stand-alone issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology. This digital human brain atlas allows researchers to investigate the structural basis of human brain function.

 

“To understand the human brain, we need to have a detailed description of its underlying structure,” says Ed Lein, Ph.D., Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. “Human brain atlases have long lagged behind atlases of the brain of worms, flies or mice, both in terms of spatial resolution and in terms of completeness due to technical limitations related to the enormous size and complexity of the human brain. This large-scale focused effort aimed to create a large resource combining different data types at high resolution, and use these data to generate a comprehensive mapping of brain regions.” 

 

Combining neuroimaging with cellular resolution histological analysis and expert structural mapping, “This is the most structurally complete atlas to date and we hope it will serve as a new reference standard for the human brain across different disciplines,” says Lein.

 

To create this modern atlas, the team at the Allen Institute partnered with Bruce Fischl, Ph.D. at Massachusetts General Hospital to perform magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging on an intact brain before it was cut into slabs and serially sectioned to allow histological staining of individual sections. This imaging on the same brain created opportunities for linking fine molecular and cellular studies of the brain in health and disease with non-invasive neuroimaging studies. 

 

The Allen Human Brain Reference Atlas aimed to advance human brain mapping by digitizing the histological data at true cellular microscopic resolution, creating a complete ontology of brain regions, and delineating all brain regions on a series of cross-sections through the brain. To image these sections, the Allen Institute team had to develop a new tile-based scanner that could image tissue sections the size of a complete human brain hemisphere at the resolution of roughly a hundredth of the width of a human hair. The atlas was drawn from a single postmortem brain obtained from a 34-year old female donor.

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Zircon dating: uncovering Earths oldest continental crust rocks, 4.02 Billion years old

Zircon dating: uncovering Earths oldest continental crust rocks, 4.02 Billion years old | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Addressing fundamental unknowns about the earliest history of Earth’s crust, scientists have precisely dated the world’s oldest rock unit at 4.02 billion years old. Driven by the University of Alberta, the findings suggest that early Earth was largely covered with an oceanic crust-like surface.

 

“It gives us important information about how the early continents formed,” says lead author Jesse Reimink. “Because it’s so far back in time, we have to grasp at every piece of evidence we can. We have very few data points with which to evaluate what was happening on Earth at this time.” In fact, only three locations worldwide exist with rocks or minerals older than 4 billion years old: one from Northern Quebec, mineral grains from Western Australia, and the rock formation from Canada’s Northwest Territories examined in this new study.

 

While it is well known that the oldest rocks formed prior to 4 billion years ago, the unique twist on Reimink’s rock is the presence of well-preserved grains of the mineral zircon, leaving no doubt about the date it formed. The sample in question was found during fieldwork by Reimink’s PhD supervisor, Tom Chacko, professor in the Department of Earth and Atmosphere Sciences, in an area roughly 300 kilometres north of Yellowknife. Reimink recently completed his PhD at the University of Alberta before starting a post-doctoral fellowship at the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington, D.C.

 

“Zircons lock in not only the age but also other geochemical information that we’ve exploited in this paper,” Reimink continues. “Rocks and zircon together give us much more information than either on their own. Zircon retains its chemical signature and records age information that doesn’t get reset by later geological events, while the rock itself records chemical information that the zircon grains don’t.”

 

He explains that the chemistry of the rock itself looks like rocks that are forming today in modern Iceland, which is transitional between oceanic and continental crust. In fact, Iceland has been hypothesized as an analog for how continental crusts started to form.

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