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Detecting Water Vapor On A 'Hot Jupiter' Around Tau Bootis

Detecting Water Vapor On A 'Hot Jupiter' Around Tau Bootis | Amazing Science |

For the first time, a team of American astronomers has used near-infrared spectroscopy to directly detect water vapor in the atmosphere of a gas giant planet in close orbit around Tau Bootis — a bright star in Bootes that may have even helped Odysseus home from Troy.

But not even Odysseus could have imagined that 21st century spectroscopy would be teasing data from the hellishly hot atmosphere of a 3.8 Jupiter-mass planet around a star only 50 light years from earth.

Water has been detected in the atmospheres of several extrasolar planets using other techniques. However, this detection via thermal emission, as reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, enables astronomers to directly characterize the atmospheres of such “hot Jupiters.”

“This discovery of water on Tau Bootis b is absolutely wonderful,” said longtime extrasolar planet hunter Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California at Berkeley, who along with astronomer Paul Butler, first discovered the planet in 1996.

And it’s all the more “incredible,” says Marcy, considering that only 18 years ago, he and colleagues still thought it “a miracle” to be able to indirectly detect any such extrasolar Jupiter-mass planets, much less study their atmospheres.

Penn State University astronomer Chad Bender, one of the paper’s co-authors, says this is the first time anyone has detected water in a non-transiting planet. That is, a planet having its atmosphere probed by the background glow from its parent star.

That’s important, says Bender, because the population of non-transiting extrasolar planets is much larger than those that from our line of sight appear to transit across the face of their parent stars.

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Robotic ‘Huggable’ Teddy Bear Plays With Sick Kids At The Hospital 

Robotic ‘Huggable’ Teddy Bear Plays With Sick Kids At The Hospital  | Amazing Science |

The Huggable™ is a new type of robotic companion being developed at the MIT Media Lab for healthcare, education, and social communication applications. The Huggable™ designed to be much more than a fun interactive robotic companion. It is designed to function as a team member that is an essential member of a triadic interaction. Therefore, the Huggable™ is not designed to replace any particular person in a social network, but rather to enhance that human social network.

It is featured with a full body sensitive skin with over 1500 sensors, quiet back-drivable actuators, video cameras in the eyes, microphones in the ears, an inertial measurement unit, a speaker, and an embedded PC with 802.11g wireless networking. An important design goal of the Huggable™ is to make the technology invisible to the user. You should not think of the Huggable™ as a robot but rather as a richly interactive teddy bear. The actuators are designed to be silent and back drivable so as the Huggable™ moves, you do not hear or feel gears. The movements, gestures and expressions of the bear convey a personality-rich character, not a robotic artifact. A soft silicone-based skin covers the entire bear to give it a more lifelike feel and heft, so you do not feel the technology underneath. Holding the Huggable™ feels more like holding a puppy, rather than a pillow-like plush doll.

Dr. Peter Weinstock from Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Cynthia Breazeal, Director of the personal robots group at MIT Media Lab have worked together to bring out the ‘Huggable’, the study is to see that whether the robot can provide medicinal value to the children who stay at the hospital for a longer duration. Boston Children’s hospital has invested around $500,000 in the research of social robotics, which also includes the ‘Huggable’.

The teddy is fully robotic — it can talk, play and walk with the kids at the hospital — with the help of a remote operator. The study is pretty diverse in nature as the kids at the hospital are segmented, one-third of the total children play with the robotic teddy while the another third is only given access to an image of the robotic teddy on tablet and the remaining third is provided a regular non-robotic teddy.

All the three groups of the children are then observed and recorded on a video, apart from that, they are made to wear a bracelet, known as Q Sensor, to measure the physiological changes in their health. The study is being analyzed by the hospital with the aid of some researchers from the Northeastern University.

Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, told New York Times, “We could someday see this as a standard of care, where every child who comes into the pediatric hospital might get something like this. It’s not only the health and emotional and recovery benefits, but also logistical and financial, improving efficiency to the overall health system.”

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Simulating the jet streams and anticyclones of Jupiter and Saturn

Simulating the jet streams and anticyclones of Jupiter and Saturn | Amazing Science |

A University of Alberta researcher has successfully generated 3D simulations of deep jet streams and storms on Jupiter and Saturn, helping to satiate our eternal quest for knowledge of planetary dynamics. The results facilitate a deeper understanding of planetary weather and provide clues to the dynamics of Earth's weather patterns evidenced in jet streams and ocean currents.

"Since the pioneering telescope observations of Giovanni Cassini in the mid-17th century, stargazers have wondered about the bands and spots of Jupiter," says Moritz Heimpel, a physics professor at the University of Alberta whose study produced the simulations of the observable phenomena. The bands he references indicate jet streams while the spots signify storms; Heimpel is studying the dynamics between the two.

"The average citizen can now pick up a backyard telescope and see the structures that we write about today. However, even in the present age with the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn and the Juno craft approaching Jupiter, there is considerable debate about the dynamics of the atmospheres of the giant planets." Heimpel notes that despite 350 years of observation, the origin and dynamics of planetary jet streams and vortices or planetary storms remain debated.

Shallow weather layer simulations have struggled to adequately reproduce the jet streams on Jupiter and Saturn, while previous deep-flow models have not reproduced vortices. Heimpel and his colleagues have taken this challenge to the next level, using fluid dynamics equations and supercomputers to produce more realistic simulations that give insight into the origin of both features.

"One of the big questions we have is how deep do these structures go?" says Heimpel. "These storms are embedded in these jet streams, and there's no solid surface to stop them. Our simulations imply that the jet streams plunge deep into the interior, while the storms are rather shallow." Unlike great storms on Earth, which eventually lose steam after encountering land mass, planetary storms can continue for centuries.

"At its core, our research is curiosity-based, and our ideas are driven by observations. We have a wealth of those from NASA space missions and ground-based telescopes," says Heimpel. "Now we want match the observations with the theory."

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Blood Sugar Levels in Response to Foods Are Highly Individual

Blood Sugar Levels in Response to Foods Are Highly Individual | Amazing Science |
Which is more likely to raise blood sugar levels: sushi or ice cream? According to a Weizmann Institute study reported in the November 19 issue of the journal Cell, the answer varies from one person to another. The study, which continuously monitored blood sugar levels in 800 people for a week, revealed that the bodily response to all foods was highly individual.
The study, called the Personalized Nutrition Project (, was conducted by the groups of Prof. Eran Segal of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department and Dr. Eran Elinav of the Immunology Department. Segal said: “We chose to focus on blood sugar because elevated levels are a major risk factor for diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. The huge differences that we found in the rise of blood sugar levels among different people who consumed identical meals highlights why personalized eating choices are more likely to help people stay healthy than universal dietary advice.”
Indeed, the scientists found that different people responded very differently to both simple and to complex meals. For example, a large number of the participants’ blood sugar levels rose sharply after they consumed a standardized glucose meal, but in many others, blood glucose levels rose sharply after they ate white bread, but not after glucose. Elinav: “Our aim in this study was to find factors that underlie personalized blood glucose responses to food. We used that information to develop personal dietary recommendations that can help prevent and treat obesity and diabetes, which are among the most severe epidemics in human history.” 
David Zeevi and Tal Korem, PhD students in Segal’s lab, led the study. They collaborated with Dr. Niv Zmora, a physician conducting PhD studies in Elinav’s lab, and with PhD student Daphna Rothschild and research associate Dr. Adina Weinberger from Segal’s lab. The study was unique in its scale and in the inclusion of the analysis of gut microbes, collectively known as the microbiome, which had recently been shown to play an important role in human health and disease. Study participants were outfitted with small monitors that continuously measured their blood sugar levels. They were asked to record everything they ate, as well as such lifestyle factors as sleep and physical activity. Overall, the researchers assessed the response of different people to more than 46,000 meals.
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Scientists Identify Two Genes (SERIN C5 and SERIN C3) that ‘Shut Down’ Infectivity of the HIV-1 Virus

Scientists Identify Two Genes (SERIN C5 and SERIN C3) that ‘Shut Down’ Infectivity of the HIV-1 Virus | Amazing Science |

In their two studies, the scientists found that host cell membrane proteins called SERINC5 and SERINC3 greatly reduce the virulence of HIV-1 by blocking the ability of the virus to infect new cells.

HIV-1 Nef, a protein important for the development of AIDS, counteracts the SERINCs. New drugs that target Nef would permit the SERINC proteins to inactivate the virus.

“It’s amazing, the magnitude of the effect that these proteins have on infectivity. The SERINC proteins reduce the infectivity of HIV-1 virions by more than 100-fold,” said Prof. Jeremy Luban from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“The ability of HIV to inhibit these SERINC proteins has a profound impact on its capacity to infect other cells,” said Prof. Heinrich Gottlinger, also from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“Disrupting this mechanism could be a very powerful strategy for treating HIV and similar viruses that express the Nef protein.”

The two studies used completely different, yet complementary, methodologies to unravel the complex interaction between the HIV-1 protein Nef and the cell surface membrane proteins SERINC5 and SERINC3, both of which are expressed in the immune system’s T cells.

The researchers performed parallel sequencing on 31 human cell lines that differed in terms of the magnitude of dependence on Nef for HIV-1 replication. They also approached the problem biochemically. Conducting proteomic analysis of purified virions, they were able to identify host cell proteins that Nef regulated.

“It has been known for more than 20 years that Nef is needed to make HIV-1 such a deadly virus. Our new studies may finally give us an important glimpse into how Nef might do this,” Prof. Luban said.

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New ultrasound technique for rapidly creating a 3D view of blood vessels in microscopic details

New ultrasound technique for rapidly creating a 3D view of blood vessels in microscopic details | Amazing Science |
Scientists use ultrasound to scan the blood vessels of an entire rat brain in microscopic 3D detail, pioneering a technique they say will improve cancer and stroke diagnosis.

They used it to scan the blood vessels throughout the brain of a live rat.

Within a few years, the researchers say their system could reach the clinic and help with cancer and stroke diagnosis. For the procedure, published in Nature, the rat was injected with millions of very tiny bubbles, which reflect sound waves much better than blood vessels.

"Ultrasound propagates easily in water - or in our organs, because almost 90% of our soft tissue is water," explained the study's senior author, Mickael Tanter, from the Institut Langevin in Paris. But as soon as it hits a very small microbubble of gas, there's a big reflection. It's a very good scatterer of ultrasound." This is what makes these bubbles, which are already used for some scans in humans, a "contrast agent" for ultrasound.

But the key to getting a sharp, super-resolution image - unlike conventional ultrasound, which is limited to capturing objects at millimeter scales - was to scan at a very high frame-rate. Instead of spending a long time acquiring a single, beautifully detailed image, the team snapped more than 500 coarse images every second and then compared them. The system they have built is able to compile those thousands of images and create a single, high-resolution view by looking at the differences between them - caused as the bubbles move around.

"We found a way to separate these bubbles by using ultrafast imaging," Prof Tanter explains. "If you take ultrafast images of the bubble cloud, and then you take one and you subtract the previous one, you see all the bubbles individually, time after time."

In two-and-a-half minutes he and his colleagues acquired enough images (75,000 to be precise) to compile a 3D view of the rat's brain with pixels just 10 micrometers (0.01mm) in size. "It makes a very, very nice map of the brain vasculature... even down to 2cm deep. You can see the whole brain, with microscopic resolution," Prof Tanter said.

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New Sepsis Detector Shrinks the Diagnosis from Days to Hours

New Sepsis Detector Shrinks the Diagnosis from Days to Hours | Amazing Science |

Hospitals are beginning to use a new, more potent weapon against sepsis, the devastating condition that kills more than 25 percent of its victims and costs hospitals billions of dollars annually. In the U.S. alone, more than a million people become infected each year, and it contributes to as many half of all deaths in hospitals.

Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the new technology, developed by T2 Biosystems, for diagnosing sepsis caused by a fungus calledCandida. Several hospitals have begun deploying T2’s Candida-detection system, which is based on the same physical principle behind magnetic resonance imaging. By the end of this year the company aims to have 30 hospitals signed on to purchase and use the technology.

Sepsis is a destructive reaction to an infection marked by an overwhelming inflammatory response throughout the body. If left untreated, sepsis can cause organ malfunction and death. Treating a septic patient requires pinpointing the bacterial or fungal organism that is the root cause. Today that process takes at least a day, and can take up to five days, as the patient’s condition worsens. T2 Biosystems says its novel pathogen detector, called T2 Magnetic Resonance (T2MR), can identify the bug within five hours.

Doctors typically give a septic patient an immediate dose of a so-called broad-spectrum antibiotic that kills a variety of different bacteria, and then try to figure out the specific bug at fault by drawing blood and performing a lab test called a blood culture. At that point it is a race against the unidentified pathogen, and the blood culture step, which often doesn’t work, simply takes too long, says T2 Biosystems CEO John McDonough. McDonough cites clinical data that implies that if patients can get the right drug within 12 hours of first showing symptoms, the chance of death can be cut in half. “Every hour of delayed therapy increases mortality by 7 to 8 percent,” he says.

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Half of Amazon Rainforests on the verge of extinction

Half of Amazon Rainforests on the verge of extinction | Amazing Science |
Up to 57 per cent of all tree species in the Amazon Rainforest are on the verge of extinction, shows new research.

The world's rainforests face a far worse situation than scientists had originally thought, according to a new study. At least 36 per cent and perhaps up to 57 per cent of tree species in the Amazon are already on the verge of extinction and classified as globally threatened, according to Red List criteria of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), is the conclusion of the new research.

The threat primarily comes from rampant deforestation, which has transformed millions of hectares of rainforest into agricultural land. If we continue on this track, there may not be much rainforest left in 50 to 100 years time, says one of the researchers behind the new study.

"57 per cent is a wildly high figure. It’s worse in the Amazon than we had feared, and it looks even worse in Africa and Southeast Asia,” says co-author Professor Henrik Balslev, from the Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University, Denmark. “The big culprit is deforestation--where large areas of rainforest are felled and converted, for example, into palm oil plantations. And we have to stop this if we don’t want the rain forests and their biodiversity to disappear completely," he says.

The new study is published in the scientific journal Science Advances.

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First evidence of a generalized active network for cognitive brain functions found

First evidence of a generalized active network for cognitive brain functions found | Amazing Science |

Norwegian researchers have recently found evidence of a generalized active network for cognitive functions of the brain.

“I experienced a kind of moment that may be more common for theoretical physicists: the idea that something just has to be there, even though you cannot see it,” says neuroscientist Kenneth Hugdahl from the Bergen fMRI Group in an interview with the University of Bergen’s newspaper På Høyden.

Initially Hugdahl thought that he was just misunderstanding. But during preparations for a lecture he sat with nine fMRI images in front of him, when he suddenly discovered that the active red and yellow regions in the brain-map appeared in almost the same places in all images. The neuroscientist had to ask himself: could it be possible that there was an existing fn the brain that overlapped between all cognitive functions

The article On the existence of a generalized non-specific task-dependent network was published in the online journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Although the idea has been mentioned before, no brain researchers previously have been able to empirically prove that there is a cognitive network “for everything”. The idea of something that works as some sort of wiring diagram for the brain is therefore quite revolutionary.

Traditionally, this kind of brain research has focused on looking at individual functions of problem solving in specific areas of the brain. Hugdahl and his colleagues' article could be the first step in a new direction, toward something that can become the neuroscientific version of the “theory of everything” – one single explanation for all active, cognitive functions.

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Discovery of corrosion-resistant 'stainless magnesium' to enable lightweight vehicles

Discovery of corrosion-resistant 'stainless magnesium' to enable lightweight vehicles | Amazing Science |

Researchers led by a team at UNSW Australia have used the Australian Synchrotron to turn the discovery of an ultra-low density and corrosion-resistant magnesium alloy into the first step toward mass-producing ‘stainless magnesium’, a new high-strength, lightweight metal, paving the way for cars, trucks and airplanes that can travel further distances on less gasoline.

The magnesium-lithium alloy weighs half as much as aluminum and is 30 percent lighter than magnesium, making it an attractive candidate to replace these commonly used metals to improve fuel efficiency and greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport vehicles.

The findings, published in the current edition of Nature Materials with researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, describe how the alloy forms a protective layer of carbonate-rich film upon atmospheric exposure, making it immune to corrosion when tested in laboratory settings.

Professor Michael Ferry, from UNSW’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, says this formation of a protective surface layer can be considered similar to the way a layer of chromium oxide enables the protection of stainless steel.

‘Many similar alloys have been created as researchers seek to combine the incredible lightness of lithium with the strength and durability of magnesium to develop a new metal that will boost the fuel efficiency and distance capacity of airplanes, cars and spacecraft. ‘This is the first magnesium-lithium alloy to stop corrosion from irreversibly eating into the alloy, as the balance of elements interacts with ambient air to form a surface layer which, even if scraped off repeatedly, rapidly reforms to create reliable and durable protection.’

Professor Ferry, senior author of the paper led by Dr Wanqiang Xu also from UNSW, says this excellent corrosion resistance was observed by chance, when his team noticed a heat-treated sample from Chinese aluminum-production giant, CHALCO, sitting, inert, in a beaker of water.

‘To see no corroded surfaces was perplexing and, by partnering with scientists on the Powder Diffraction (PD) beamline at the Australian Synchrotron, we found the alloy contains a unique nanostructure that enables the formation of a protective surface film. ‘Now we’ve turned our attention to investigating the molecular composition of the underlying alloy and the carbonate-rich surface film, to understand how the corrosion process is impeded in this “stainless magnesium”.’

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Meet The Revolutionary Wireless Technology That Is 100 Times Faster Than Wi-Fi

Meet The Revolutionary Wireless Technology That Is 100 Times Faster Than Wi-Fi | Amazing Science |

Imagine a world where every one of the billions of lightbulbs in use today is a wireless hotspot delivering connectivity at speeds that can only be dreamed of with Wi-Fi. That's the goal of the man who invented such a technology, and this week Li-Fi took a step out of the domain of science fiction and into the realm of the real when it was shown to deliver speeds 100 times faster than current Wi-Fi technology in actual tests.

An Estonian startup called Velmenni used a Li-Fi-enabled lightbulb to transmit data at speeds as fast as 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), which is about 100 times faster than current Wi-Fi technology, meaning a high-definition film could be downloaded within seconds. The real-world test is the first to be carried out, but laboratory tests have shown theoretical speeds of 224 Gbps.

So, just what is Li-Fi, how does it work, and will it really revolutionize the way we connect to the Internet? Li-Fi refers to visible light communications (VLC) technology, which delivers high-speed, bidirectional, networked mobile communications in a manner similar to Wi-Fi. It promises huge speed advantages, as well as more-secure communications and reduced device interference.

The term was coined by German physicist Harald Haas during a TED Talk when he outlined the idea of using lightbulbs as wireless routers. That address was delivered four years ago, and many people speculated that, like a lot of apparent revolutionary breakthroughs, Li-Fi would go the way of other "next big things" and not come to fruition. A year after his TED Talk, though, Haas, a professor of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh, created pureLiFi with a group of people who had been researching the technology since 2008. The company has claimed to be the "recognized leaders in Li-Fi technology" and has already produced two products. On Wednesday, pureLiFi announced a partnership in which a French industrial-lighting company will roll out the firm's VLC technology in its products by the third quarter of 2016.

Haas said during his Ted Talk in 2011 that the current infrastructure would allow every single LED lightbulb to be transformed into an ultrafast wireless router. "All we need to do is fit a small microchip to every potential illumination device and this would then combine two basic functionalities: illumination and wireless data transmission," Haas said. "In the future, we will not only have 14 billion lightbulbs, we may have 14 billion Li-Fis deployed worldwide for a cleaner, greener and even brighter future."

Because Li-Fi technology uses visible light as its means of communication, it won't work through walls. This means that to have a Li-Fi network throughout your house, you will need these lightbulbs in every room (and maybe even the fridge) to have seamless connectivity.

Another major issue is that Li-Fi does not work outdoors, meaning that public Li-Fi will not be able to replace public Wi-Fi networks any time soon. While Li-Fi's employment in direct sunlight won't be possible, pureLiFi said that through the use of filters the technology can be used indoors even when sunlight is present.

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Heisenberg's quantum uncertainty theory works in 'big' things visible with the naked eye

Heisenberg's quantum uncertainty theory works in 'big' things visible with the naked eye | Amazing Science |

The uncertainty principle is based on how disruptive any act of measurement is. If, for instance, a photon, or particle of light, from a microscope is used to view an electron, the photon will bounce off that electron and disrupt its momentum, said study co-author Tom Purdy, a physicist at JILA, a joint institute of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

But the bigger the object, the less of an effect a bouncing photon will have on its momentum, making the uncertainty principle less and less relevant at larger scales.

In recent years, however, physicists have been pushing the limits on which scales the principle appears in. To that end, Purdy and his colleagues created a 0.02-inch-wide (0.5 millimeters) drum made of silicon nitride, a ceramic material used in spaceships, drawn tight across a silicon frame.

They then set the drum between two mirrors, and shined laser light on it. Essentially, the drum is measured when photons bounce off the drum and deflect the mirrors a given amount, and increasing the number of photons boosts the measurement accuracy. But more photons cause greater and greater fluctuations that cause mirrors to shake violently, limiting the measurement accuracy. That extra shaking is the proof of the uncertainty principle in action.

The setup was kept ultra-cold to prevent thermal fluctuations from drowning out this quantum effect. The findings could have implications for the hunt for gravitational waves predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. In the next few years, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), a pair of observatories in Louisiana and Washington, is set to use tiny sensors to measure gravitational waves in space-time, and the uncertainty principle could set limits on LIGO's measurement abilities.

Via Jocelyn Stoller
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Biomedical imaging at one-thousandth the cost

Biomedical imaging at one-thousandth the cost | Amazing Science |
Mathematical modeling enables $100 depth sensor to approximate the measurements of a $100,000 piece of lab equipment.

The system uses a technique called fluorescence lifetime imaging, which has applications in DNA sequencing and cancer diagnosis, among other things. So the new work could have implications for both biological research and clinical practice.

“The theme of our work is to take the electronic and optical precision of this big expensive microscope and replace it with sophistication in mathematical modeling,” says Ayush Bhandari, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab and one of the system’s developers. “We show that you can use something in consumer imaging, like the Microsoft Kinect, to do bioimaging in much the same way that the microscope is doing.”

The MIT researchers reported the new work in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Optica. Bhandari is the first author on the paper, and he’s joined by associate professor of media arts and sciences Ramesh Raskar and Christopher Barsi, a former research scientist in Raskar’s group who now teaches physics at the Commonwealth School in Boston.

Fluorescence lifetime imaging, as its name implies, depends on fluorescence, or the tendency of materials known as fluorophores to absorb light and then re-emit it a short time later. For a given fluorophore, interactions with other chemicals will shorten the interval between the absorption and emission of light in a predictable way. Measuring that interval — the “lifetime” of the fluorescence — in a biological sample treated with a fluorescent dye can reveal information about the sample’s chemical composition.

In traditional fluorescence lifetime imaging, the imaging system emits a burst of light, much of which is absorbed by the sample, and then measures how long it takes for returning light particles, or photons, to strike an array of detectors. To make the measurement as precise as possible, the light bursts are extremely short.

The fluorescence lifetimes pertinent to biomedical imaging are in the nanosecond range. So traditional fluorescence lifetime imaging uses light bursts that last just picoseconds, or thousandths of nanoseconds.

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MIT finger reader reads to the blind in real time

MIT finger reader reads to the blind in real time | Amazing Science |
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing an audio reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired, giving them affordable and immediate access to printed words.

The so-called FingerReader, a prototype produced by a 3-D printer, fits like a ring on the user’s finger, equipped with a small camera that scans text. A synthesized voice reads words aloud, quickly translating books, restaurant menus and other needed materials for daily living, especially away from home or office.

Reading is as easy as pointing the finger at text. Special software tracks the finger movement, identifies words and processes the information. The device has vibration motors that alert readers when they stray from the script, said Roy Shilkrot, who is developing the device at the MIT Media Lab.

For Jerry Berrier, 62, who was born blind, the promise of the FingerReader is its portability and offer of real-time functionality at school, a doctor’s office and restaurants.

“When I go to the doctor’s office, there may be forms that I wanna read before I sign them,” Berrier said. He said there are other optical character recognition devices on the market for those with vision impairments, but none that he knows of that will read in real time.

Berrier manages training and evaluation for a federal program that distributes technology to low-income people in Massachusetts and Rhode Island who have lost their sight and hearing. He works from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.

“Everywhere we go, for folks who are sighted, there are things that inform us about the products that we are about to interact with. I wanna be able to interact with those same products, regardless of how I have to do it,” Berrier said.

Pattie Maes, an MIT professor who founded and leads the Fluid Interfaces research group developing the prototype, says the FingerReader is like “reading with the tip of your finger and it’s a lot more flexible, a lot more immediate than any solution that they have right now.”

Developing the gizmo has taken three years of software coding, experimenting with various designs and working on feedback from a test group of visually impaired people. Much work remains before it is ready for the market, Shilkrot said, including making it work on cellphones.

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Why mice have longer sperm than elephants

Why mice have longer sperm than elephants | Amazing Science |

In the animal world, if several males mate with the same female, their sperm compete to fertilize her limited supply of eggs. Longer sperm often seem to have a competitive advantage. However, a study conducted by researchers from the Universities of Zurich and Stockholm now reveals that the size of the animals also matters. The larger the animal, the more important the number of sperm is relative to sperm length. That's why elephants have smaller sperm than mice.

Based on their joint consideration of sperm size and number, and with the aid of new meta-analytical methods, the two researchers now reveal that species facing intense sperm competition invest more in their ejaculates on average than their monogamous counterparts. Moreover, they discovered that whether the length or the number of sperm is more important actually depends on the size of the animals. The bigger the animal, the greater the selection pressure on the overall investments in ejaculates and the more important the number of sperm becomes compared to sperm length. This is due to the more voluminous female reproductive tract, in which the sperm tend to get lost or become "diluted."

In larger species, sperm length or speed probably comes into effect only if a sufficient number of sperm manage to get near the egg. In smaller species, however, the distance for sperm to cover is shorter and the risk of loss much smaller, allowing the advantage of longer sperm to manifest itself. As a result, you tend to find the most complex sperm forms in small species, not in large ones. For instance, small fruit flies have the longest sperm ever described, not whales, whose sperm are less than a tenth of a millimeter long and almost a thousand times shorter than those of the flies.

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Mystery of how snakes lost their legs solved by reptile fossil

Mystery of how snakes lost their legs solved by reptile fossil | Amazing Science |
Fresh analysis of a reptile fossil is helping scientists solve an evolutionary puzzle -- how snakes lost their limbs. The findings show snakes did not lose their limbs in order to live in the sea, as was previously suggested.

The 90 million-year-old skull is giving researchers vital clues about how snakes evolved. Comparisons between CT scans of the fossil and modern reptiles indicate that snakes lost their legs when their ancestors evolved to live and hunt in burrows, which many snakes still do today.

The findings show snakes did not lose their limbs in order to live in the sea, as was previously suggested.

Scientists used CT scans to examine the bony inner ear of Dinilysia patagonica, a 2-meter long reptile closely linked to modern snakes. These bony canals and cavities, like those in the ears of modern burrowing snakes, controlled its hearing and balance. They built 3D virtual models to compare the inner ears of the fossils with those of modern lizards and snakes. Researchers found a distinctive structure within the inner ear of animals that actively burrow, which may help them detect prey and predators. This shape was not present in modern snakes that live in water or above ground.

The findings help scientists fill gaps in the story of snake evolution, and confirm Dinilysia patagonica as the largest burrowing snake ever known. They also offer clues about a hypothetical ancestral species from which all modern snakes descended, which was likely a burrower.


  1. H. Yi, M. A. Norell. The burrowing origin of modern snakesScience Advances, 2015; 1 (10): e1500743 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500743

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DNA Repair Protein BRCA1 Implicated in Cognitive Function and Dementia

DNA Repair Protein BRCA1 Implicated in Cognitive Function and Dementia | Amazing Science |

In dividing cells, BRCA1 helps repair a type of DNA damage known as double-strand breaks that can occur when cells are injured. In neurons, though, such breaks can occur even under normal circumstances, for example, after increased brain activity, as shown by the team of Gladstone scientists in an earlier study. The researchers speculated that in brain cells, cycles of DNA damage and repair facilitate learning and memory, whereas an imbalance between damage and repair disrupts these functions.

To test this idea, the scientists experimentally reduced BRCA1 levels in the neurons of mice. Reduction of the DNA repair factor led to an accumulation of DNA damage and to neuronal shrinkage. It also caused learning and memory deficits. Because Alzheimer’s disease is associated with similar neuronal and cognitive problems, the scientists wondered whether the problems might be mediated by depletion of BRCA1. They therefore analyzed neuronal BRCA1 levels in post-mortem brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Compared with non-demented controls, neuronal BRCA1 levels in the patients were reduced by 65-75%. To determine the causes of this depletion, the investigators treated neurons grown in cell culture with amyloid-beta proteins, which accumulate in Alzheimer brains. These proteins depleted BRCA1 in the cultured neurons, suggesting that they may be an important cause of the faulty DNA repair seen in Alzheimer brains. Further supporting this conclusion, the researchers demonstrated that accumulation of amyloid-beta in the brains of mice also reduced neuronal BRCA1 levels. They are now testing whether increasing BRCA1 levels in these mouse models can prevent or reverse neurodegeneration and memory problems.

“Therapeutic manipulation of repair factors such as BRCA1 may ultimately be used to prevent neuronal damage and cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or in people at risk for the disease,” says senior authorLennart Mucke, MD, director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease. “By normalizing the levels or function of BRCA1, it may be possible to protect neurons from excessive DNA damage and prevent the many detrimental processes it can set in motion.”

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Astronomers have discovered the hottest white dwarf star in the galaxy

Astronomers have discovered the hottest white dwarf star in the galaxy | Amazing Science |

A dying star located on the outskirts of the Milky Way is the hottest white dwarf ever found in our galaxy, boasting a record-setting temperature of 250,000 degrees Celsius despite the fact that it has already entered its cooling phase, according to a new study.

Writing in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, a team of astronomers from the University of Tübingen reported that analysis of ultraviolet spectra taken by the Hubble Space Telescope show that the white dwarf RX J0439.8-6809 has a temperature of a quarter of a million degrees.

Such extreme heat can only be reached by a star five times more massive than the sun, and even more remarkably, the white dwarf is already in the process of cooling down. At its peak about 1,000 years ago, RX J0439.8-6809 likely reached a maximum of 400,000 degrees.

Previously, the hottest temperature observed on a dying star was measured to be 200,000 degrees Celsius, the study authors said. For the sake of reference, our sun’s surface temperature has been a fairly constant 6,000 degrees since it was born 4.6 million years ago.

The study authors added that they witnessed an intergalactic gas cloud moving towards the Milky Way for the first time. This, they explained, would suggest that at least some galaxies gather new materials from deep space and use those substances to manufacture new stars.

The chemical composition of RX J0439.8-6809 is not yet fully understood. The star, which was first discovered two decades ago, appears to have both carbon and oxygen on its surface. Those elements are the products of the nuclear fusion of helium, but in most cases, that process occurs deep within the core of a star, the researchers said.

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Researchers find new phase of carbon, make diamond at room temperature

Researchers find new phase of carbon, make diamond at room temperature | Amazing Science |
Researchers from North Carolina State University have discovered a new phase of solid carbon, called Q-carbon, which is distinct from the known phases of graphite and diamond. They have also developed a technique for using Q-carbon to make diamond-related structures at room temperature and at ambient atmospheric pressure in air.

Phases are distinct forms of the same material. Graphite is one of the solid phases of carbon; diamond is another. "We've now created a third solid phase of carbon," says Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan, Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State and lead author of three papers describing the work.

"The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets." Q-carbon has some unusual characteristics. For one thing, it is ferromagnetic – which other solid forms of carbon are not. "We didn't even think that was possible," Narayan says.

In addition, Q-carbon is harder than diamond, and glows when exposed to even low levels of energy. "Q-carbon's strength and low work-function – its willingness to release electrons – make it very promising for developing new electronic display technologies," Narayan says. But Q-carbon can also be used to create a variety of single-crystal diamond objects.

To understand that, you have to understand the process for creating Q-carbon. Researchers start out with a substrate such as sapphire, glass or a plastic polymer. The substrate is then coated with amorphous carbon – elemental carbon that, unlike graphite or diamond, does not have a regular, well-defined crystalline structure. The carbon is then hit with a single laser pulse lasting approximately 200 nanoseconds. During this pulse, the temperature of the carbon is raised to 4,000 Kelvin (or around 3,727 degrees Celsius) and then rapidly cooled. This operation takes place at one atmosphere – the same pressure as the surrounding air. The end result is a film of Q-carbon, and researchers can control the process to make films between 20 nanometers and 500 nanometers thick.

By using different substrates and changing the duration of the laser pulse, the researchers can also control how quickly the carbon cools. By changing the rate of cooling, they are able to create diamond structures within the Q-carbon. "We can create diamond nanoneedles or microneedles, nanodots, or large-area diamond films, with applications for drug delivery, industrial processes and for creating high-temperature switches and power electronics," Narayan says. "These diamond objects have a single-crystalline structure, making them stronger than polycrystalline materials. And it is all done at room temperature and at ambient atmosphere – we're basically using a laser like the ones used for laser eye surgery. So, not only does this allow us to develop new applications, but the process itself is relatively inexpensive."

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Cambridge holographic technology adopted by Jaguar Land Rover

Cambridge holographic technology adopted by Jaguar Land Rover | Amazing Science |

Cambridge researchers have developed a new type of head-up display for vehicles which is the first to use laser holographic techniques to project information such as speed, direction and navigation onto the windscreen so the driver doesn't have to take their eyes off the road.

The technology – which was conceptualized in the University's Department of Engineering more than a decade ago – is now available on all Jaguar Land Rover vehicles. According to the researchers behind the technology, it is another step towards cars which provide a fully immersive experience, or could even improve safety by monitoring driver behavior.

Cars can now park for us, help us from skidding out of control, or even prevent us from colliding with other cars. Head-up displays (HUD) are one of the many features which have been incorporated into cars in recent years. Alongside the development of more sophisticated in-car technology, various companies around the world, most notably Google, are developing autonomous cars.

"We're moving towards a fully immersive driver experience in cars, and we think holographic technology could be a big part of that, by providing important information, or even by encouraging good driver behavior," said one of the technology's developers, Professor Daping Chu of the University's Department of Engineering, who is also Chairman of the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE).

CAPE was established in 2004 to enable Cambridge researchers to work in partnership with industry to translate science into new technologies and products. The holographic HUD technology originated with Professor Bill Crossland in 2001, and was licensed to and developed by CAPE partner company Alps Electric, and then by Two Trees Photonics Ltd at Milton Keynes, in collaboration with researchers at CAPE. Products were designed by Two Trees Photonics and Alps, and manufactured by Alps for Jaguar Land Rover. The HUD became an available option on their vehicles in September 2014.

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First map of Earth's hidden groundwater

First map of Earth's hidden groundwater | Amazing Science |
Groundwater: it's one of the planet's most exploited, most precious natural resources. It ranges in age from months to millions of years old. Around the world, there's increasing demand to know how much we have and how long before it's tapped out.

For the first time since a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the global volume of groundwater was attempted in the 1970s, an international group of hydrologists has produced the first data-driven estimate of the Earth's total supply of groundwater. The study, led by Dr. Tom Gleeson of the University of Victoria with co-authors at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Calgary and the University of Göttingen, was published today in Nature Geoscience.

The bigger part of the study is the "modern" groundwater story. The report shows that less than six per cent of groundwater in the upper two kilometres of the Earth's landmass is renewable within a human lifetime. "This has never been known before," says Gleeson. "We already know that water levels in lots of aquifers are dropping. We're using our groundwater resources too fast—faster than they're being renewed."

With the growing global demand for water—especially in light of climate change—this study provides important information to water managers and policy developers as well as scientists from fields such as hydrology, atmospheric science, geochemistry and oceanography to better manage groundwater resources in a sustainable way, he says.

Via Catherine Russell
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Tarantulas have evolved cobalt blue color at least eight times during evolution

Tarantulas have evolved cobalt blue color at least eight times during evolution | Amazing Science |

A study finds that tarantulas evolved almost exactly the same shade of vibrant blue at least eight separate times. That is the conclusion of a study by US biologists, exploring how the colour is created in different tarantula species. The hue is caused by tiny structures inside the animals' hairs, but those shapes vary across the family tree.

This suggests, the researchers say, that the striking blue is not driven by sexual selection - unlike many other bright colors in the animal kingdom. This argument is also supported by the fact that tarantulas have poor color vision, and do not appear to show off their hairy blue body parts during courtship.

Via CineversityTV
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Martian moon set to be torn apart and form ring around red planet

Martian moon set to be torn apart and form ring around red planet | Amazing Science |

One day, Mars may have rings like Saturn does. The martian moon Phobos, which is spiralling inexorably closer towards the red planet, will disintegrate to form a ring system some 20 million to 40 million years from now, according to calculations published on 23 November. Other research suggests that long grooves on Phobos's surface may represent the first stages of that inevitable crack-up.

Phobos may not be alone in its doom. Researchers have speculated that Neptune’s moon Triton might also be falling apart. And other, now-vanished moons elsewhere in the Solar System may have suffered a similar fate in the distant past, migrating towards their planet and shredding into a ring system before vanishing. Saturn's iconic rings may have formed in this way too.

Watching Phobos in the first stages of its death throes is a rare chance for scientists to witness a process that could have been widespread in the early Solar System, says Benjamin Black, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. He and his Berkeley colleague Tushar Mittal published the ring-system paper on 23 November in Nature Geoscience1.

By nearly any measure, Phobos is a bizarre place. It is tiny, measuring 22 kilometers across, and close to its planet — just 6,000 kilometers above the surface. Each year, Mars’s gravity pulls Phobos several centimeters closer, and scientists have long known that the moon would either plummet to its death intact or shred into a ring system before its doom.

To predict how Phobos’s death might unfold, Black and Mittal took information such as the density and strength of Phobos and compared it to a model used to estimate rock strength. They calculated that the weakest parts of Phobos would begin to spread out and form a ring about 20 million years from now.

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CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy – University of Copenhagen

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy – University of Copenhagen | Amazing Science |
The world’s most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding protons at record high energy since the summer, but now the time has now come to collide large nuclei (nuclei of lead, Pb, consist of 208 neutrons and protons). The experiments aim at understanding and studying the properties of strongly interacting systems at high densities and thus the state of matter of the Universe shortly after the Big Bang.

In the very beginning, just a few billionths of a second after the Big Bang, the Universe was made up of an extremely hot and dense ‘primordial soup’ consisting of the fundamental particles, especially quarks and gluons. This state is called the quark-gluon-plasma (QGP). Approximately one millionth of a second after the Big Bang, quarks and gluons became confined inside the protons and the neutrons, which are the present day constituents of the atomic nuclei.

The so-called strong force, mediated by the gluons, binds the quarks to each other and - under normal circumstances, trap them inside the nuclear particles. It is however, possible to recreate a state of matter consisting of quarks and gluons, and which behaves as a liquid, in close imitation of the state of matter prevailing in the very early universe. It is this state that has now been realised at the highest temperatures ever attained in collisions using lead ions from the LHC accelerator at CERN.

“The collision energy between two nuclei reaches 1000 TeV. This energy is that of a bumblebee hitting us on the cheek on a summer day. But the energy is concentrated in a volume that is approximately 10-27 (a billion-billion-billion) times smaller. The energy concentration (density) is therefore tremendous and has never been realised before under terrestrial conditions,” explains Jens Jørgen Gaardhøje, professor at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and head of the Danish research group within the ALICE experiment at CERN.

The first collisions were recorded by the LHC detectors, including the dedicated heavy-ion detector ALICE, which has significant Danish participation, immediately after the LHC’s two counter-circulating beams were aimed at each other this morning at 11:15 AM. 
“While it is still too early for a full analysis to have been carried out, the first collisions already tell us that more than 30,000 particles can be created in every central collision between two lead ions. This corresponds to an unprecedented energy density of around 20 GeV/fm3. This is more than 40 times the energy density of a proton,” says Jens Jørgen Gaardhøje.

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Biologists induce flatworms to grow heads and brains of other species | KurzweilAI

Biologists induce flatworms to grow heads and brains of other species | KurzweilAI | Amazing Science |

Tufts University biologists have electrically modified flatworms to grow heads and brains characteristic of another species of flatworm — without altering their genomic sequence. This suggests bioelectrical networks as a new kind of epigenetics (information existing outside of a genomic sequence) to determine large-scale anatomy. Besides the overall shape of the head, the changes included the shape of the brain and the distribution of the worm’s adult stem cells.

The discovery could help improve understanding of birth defects and regeneration by revealing a new pathway for controlling complex pattern formation similar to how neural networks exploit bioelectric synapses to store and re-write information in the brain.

The findings are detailed in the open-access cover story of the November 2015 edition of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, appearing online Nov. 24.

“These findings raise significant questions about how genes and bioelectric networks interact to build complex body structures,” said the paper’s senior author Michael Levin, Ph.D., who holds the Vannevar Bush Chair in biology and directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts. Knowing how shape is determined and how to influence it is important because biologists could use that knowledge, for example, to fix birth defects or cause new biological structures to grow after an injury, he explained.

The researchers worked with Girardia dorotocephala — free-living planarian flatworms, which have remarkable regenerative capacity. They induced the development of different species-specific head shapes by interrupting gap junctions, which are protein channels that enable cells to communicate with each other by passing electrical signals back and forth.

The ease with which a particular shape could be coaxed from a Girardia dorotocephala worm was proportional to the proximity of the target worm on the evolutionary timeline. The closer the two species were related, the easier it was to effect the change. This observation strengthens the connection to evolutionary history, suggesting that modulation of physiological circuits may be one more tool exploited by evolution to alter animal body plans.

However, this shape change was only temporary. Weeks after the planaria completed regeneration to the other species’ head shapes, the worms once again began remodeling and re-acquired their original head morphology. Additional research is needed to determine how this occurs. The authors also presented a computational model that explains how changes in cell-to-cell communication can give rise to the diverse shape types.

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Ancient viral molecules essential for human embryonic development

Ancient viral molecules essential for human embryonic development | Amazing Science |
Genetic residue from ancient viral infections has been repurposed to play a vital role in acquiring pluripotency, the developmental state that allows a fertilized human egg to become all the cells in the body.

Genetic material from ancient viral infections is critical to human development, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of MedicineThey’ve identified several noncoding RNA molecules of viral origins that are necessary for a fertilized human egg to acquire the ability in early development to become all the cells and tissues of the body. Blocking the production of this RNA molecule stops development in its tracks, they found.

The discovery comes on the heels of a Stanford study earlier this year showing that early human embryos are packed full of what appear to be viral particles arising from similar left-behind genetic material. “We’re starting to accumulate evidence that these viral sequences, which originally may have threatened the survival of our species, were co-opted by our genomes for their own benefit,” said Vittorio Sebastiano, PhD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “In this manner, they may even have contributed species-specific characteristics and fundamental cell processes, even in humans.”

Sebastiano is a co-lead and co-senior author of the study, published online Nov. 23 in Nature Genetics.Postdoctoral scholar Jens Durruthy-Durruthy, PhD, is the other lead author. The other senior author of the paper is Renee Reijo Pera, PhD, a former professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford who is now on the faculty of Montana State University.

Sebastiano and his colleagues were interested in learning how cells become pluripotent, or able to become any tissue in the body. A human egg becomes pluripotent after fertilization, for example. And scientists have learned how to induce other, fully developed human cells to become pluripotent by exposing them to proteins known to be present in the very early human embryo. But the nitty-gritty molecular details of this transformative process are not well understood in either case.

The researchers knew that a type of RNA molecules called long-intergenic noncoding, or lincRNAs, have been implicated in many important biological processes, including the acquisition of pluripotency. These molecules are made from DNA in the genome, but they don’t go on to make proteins. Instead they function as RNA molecules to affect the expression of other genes. 

Sebastiano and Durruthy-Durruthy used recently developed RNA sequencing techniques to examine which lincRNAs are highly expressed in human embryonic stem cells. Previously, this type of analysis was stymied by the fact that many of the molecules contain highly similar, very repetitive regions that are difficult to sequence accurately.

They identified more than 2,000 previously unknown RNA sequences, and found that 146 are specifically expressed in embryonic stem cells. They homed in on the 23 most highly expressed sequences, which they termed HPAT1-23, for further study. Thirteen of these, they found, were made up almost entirely of genetic material left behind after an eons-ago infection by a virus called HERV-H.

HERV-H is what’s known as a retrovirus. These viruses spread by inserting their genetic material into the genome of an infected cell. In this way, the virus can use the cell’s protein-making machinery to generate viral proteins for assembly into a new viral particle. That particle then goes on to infect other cells. If the infected cell is a sperm or an egg, the retroviral sequence can also be passed to future generations.

HIV is one common retrovirus that currently causes disease in humans. But our genomes are also littered with sequences left behind from long-ago retroviral infections. Unlike HIV, which can go on to infect new cells, these retroviral sequences are thought to be relatively inert; millions of years of evolution and accumulated mutations mean that few maintain the capacity to give instructions for functional proteins.

After identifying HPAT1-23 in embryonic stem cells, Sebastiano and his colleagues studied their expression in human blastocysts — the hollow clump of cells that arises from the egg in the first days after fertilization. They found that HPAT2, HPAT3 and HPAT5 were expressed only in the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, which becomes the developing fetus. Blocking their expression in one cell of a two-celled embryo stopped the affected cell from contributing to the embryo’s inner cell mass. Further studies showed that the expression of the three genes is also required for efficient reprogramming of adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells.

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