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New optical microscopy technique unravels role of ‘oxidative stress’ in neural tissues

New optical microscopy technique unravels role of ‘oxidative stress’ in neural tissues | Amazing Science |

Scientists at the Technische Universität München (TUM) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) have developed a new optical microscopy technique to unravel the role of “oxidative stress” in healthy as well as injured nervous systems. The work is reported in the latest issue of Nature Medicine.

Reactive oxygen species are important intracellular signaling molecules, but their mode of action is complex. In low concentrations they regulate key aspects of cellular function and behavior, while at high concentrations they can cause “oxidative stress,” which damages organelles, membranes and DNA.

“Our new optical approach allows us to visualize the redox state of important cellular organelles, mitochondria, in real time in living tissue,” says LMU Professor Martin Kerschensteiner. Mitochondria are the cell’s power plants, which convert nutrients into usable energy.

In earlier studies, Kerschensteiner and and TUM Professor Thomas Misgeld obtained evidence that oxidative damage of mitochondria might contribute to the destruction of axons in inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The new method allows them to record the oxidation states of individual mitochondria with high spatial and temporal resolution. “Redox signals have important physiological functions, but can also cause damage, for example when present in high concentrations around immune cells.”

Kerschensteiner and Misgeld used redox-sensitive variants of the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) as visualization tools. “By combining these with other biosensors and vital dyes, we were able to establish an approach that permits us to simultaneously monitor redox signals together with mitochondrial calcium currents, as well as changes in the electrical potential and the proton (pH) gradient across the mitochondrial membrane,” says Thomas Misgeld.

The researchers have applied the technique to two experimental models, and have arrived at some unexpected insights. They can now study redox signal induction in response to neural damage — in this case, spinal cord injury — in the mammalian nervous system. The observations revealed that severance of an axon results in a wave of oxidation of the mitochondria, which begins at the site of damage and is propagated along the fiber. Also, an influx of calcium at the site of axonal resection was shown to be essential for the ensuing functional damage to mitochondria.

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Fungal Toxins Easily Become Airborne, Creating "Sick Building Syndrome"

Fungal Toxins Easily Become Airborne, Creating "Sick Building Syndrome" | Amazing Science |
Toxins produced by three different species of fungus growing indoors on wallpaper may become aerosolized, and easily inhaled. The findings, which likely have implications for “sick building syndrome,” were published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.  

“We demonstrated that mycotoxins could be transferred from a moldy material to air, under conditions that may be encountered in buildings,” said corresponding author Jean-Denis Bailly, DVM, PhD, Professor of Food Hygiene, National Veterinary School of Toulouse, France. “Thus, mycotoxins can be inhaled and should be investigated as parameters of indoor air quality, especially in homes with visible fungal contamination.”  

The impetus for the study was the dearth of data on the health risk from mycotoxins produced by fungi growing indoors. (image: microscopic view of a sporulating Aspergillus, showing numerous light spores that can be easily aerosolized and inhaled together with mycotoxins. credit: Sylviane Bailly.)

In the study, the investigators built an experimental bench that can simulate an airflow over a piece of contaminated wall paper, controlling speed and direction of the air. Then they analyzed the resulting bioaerosol.  

“Most of the airborne toxins are likely to be located on fungal spores, but we also demonstrated that part of the toxic load was found on very small particles—dust or tiny fragments of wallpaper, that could be easily inhaled,” said Bailly..  
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New study confirms the oceans are warming rapidly

New study confirms the oceans are warming rapidly | Amazing Science |

As humans put ever more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, the Earth heats up. These are the basics of global warming. But where does the heat go? How much extra heat is there? And how accurate are our measurements? These are questions that climate scientists ask. If we can answer these questions, it will better help us prepare for a future with a very different climate. It will also better help us predict what that future climate will be.


The most important measurement of global warming is in the oceans. In fact, “global warming” is really “ocean warming.” If you are going to measure the changing climate of the oceans, you need to have many sensors spread out across the globe that take measurements from the ocean surface to the very depths of the waters. Importantly, you need to have measurements that span decades so a long-term trend can be established.


These difficulties are tackled by oceanographers, and a significant advancement was presented in a paper just published in the journal Climate Dynamics. That paper, which I was fortunate to be involved with, looked at three different ocean temperature measurements made by three different groups. We found that regardless of whose data was used or where the data was gathered, the oceans are warming.

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Icelandic family of 10 suffering from psychosis helps to identify RBM12 as lead causative candidate

Icelandic family of 10 suffering from psychosis helps to identify RBM12 as lead causative candidate | Amazing Science |

A team from Iceland, Finland, and Germany have found evidence that links some forms of psychosis to mutations that lop off the end of the RNA-binding motif protein 12-coding gene RBM12.


As they reported in Nature Genetics, the researchers used genotyping and imputation-based long-range phasing to search for risky variants in a family from Iceland that included six individuals with of schizophrenia and two family members apiece with schizoaffective disorder or psychotic bipolar disorder. They also profiled seven psychosis-affected family members by whole-genome sequencing.


With genetic data from that family — and from a psychosis-affected family from Finland — the team narrowed in on a rare, psychosis-related truncation mutation in RBM12. Although that mutation did segregate with psychosis, it did not appear to be fully penetrant. Instead, the group reported that some individuals carrying the mutation did share non-psychosis-related psychiatric and neuropsychological features with their affected relatives.


"In addition to identifying RBM12 … the work reported here provides a template for future familial studies of psychosis, suggesting that the mutations involved are likely to be recent, may be incompletely penetrant for psychosis, but lead to related phenotypes in carriers unaffected by psychosis, and are likely to act in concert with other sequence variants," corresponding author Kari Stefansson, with Decode/Amgen and the University of Iceland, and his colleagues wrote.


Based on array-based genotypes, long-range phasing, and/or genome sequence data for the 10 individuals with psychosis from the first family, the researchers narrowed in on a shared nonsense mutation in the last coding exon of RBM12 that was verified with Sanger sequencing. The alteration did not turn up in the Genome Aggregation Database (gnomAD), they reported, and was identified in fewer than two dozen other Icelanders, all descended from the family in question.


Along with experiments done to gauge expression of the RBM12 in lymphoblast cell lines from several individuals who did or did not carry mutated versions of the gene, the team scoured sequence databases for other suspicious looking changes in RBM12, narrowing in on another mutation in the gene in an individual from Finland who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.


That individual also carried a chromosome 22 deletion already associated with psychosis, the authors noted. But the same deletion was not present in four siblings with psychosis who shared RBM12 with the first Finnish family member. Conversely, unaffected siblings did carry the chromosome 22 deletion. The RBM12 mutation did not turn up in the unaffected Finnish family members, though findings from the Icelandic family indicated that mutations in that gene are not fully penetrant. 

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Graphene-based computer would be 1,000 times faster than silicon-based, use 100th the power

Graphene-based computer would be 1,000 times faster than silicon-based, use 100th the power | Amazing Science |

A future graphene-based transistor using spintronics could lead to tinier computers that are a thousand times faster and use a hundredth of the power of silicon-based computers. The radical transistor concept, created by a team of researchers at Northwestern University, The University of Texas at Dallas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and University of Central Florida, is explained this month in an open-access paper in the journal Nature Communications.


Transistors act as on and off switches. A series of transistors in different arrangements act as logic gates, allowing microprocessors to solve complex arithmetic and logic problems. But the speed of computer microprocessors that rely on silicon transistors has been relatively stagnant since around 2005, with clock speeds mostly in the 3 to 4 gigahertz range.


The researchers discovered that by applying a magnetic field to a graphene ribbon (created by unzipping a carbon nanotube), they could change the resistance of current flowing through the ribbon. The magnetic field — controlled by increasing or decreasing the current through adjacent carbon nanotubes — increased or decreased the flow of current.


A cascading series of graphene transistor-based logic circuits could produce a massive jump, with clock speeds approaching the terahertz range — a thousand times faster.* They would also be smaller and substantially more efficient, allowing device-makers to shrink technology and squeeze in more functionality, according to Ryan M. Gelfand, an assistant professor in The College of Optics & Photonics at the University of Central Florida.


The researchers hope to inspire the fabrication of these cascaded logic circuits to stimulate a future transformative generation of energy-efficient computing.

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Mapping gene expression, one cell at a time

Mapping gene expression, one cell at a time | Amazing Science |

EMBL researchers have succeeded in creating a molecular atlas of a whole organism, studying the expression patterns of more than 100 important genes in each cell of the marine worm Platynereis dumerilii, as they report in the journalPNAS. Study authors Hernando Martínez Vergara and Detlev Arendt explain.


The researchers are interested in the evolution of animals and in particular the evolution of the nervous system. Ultimately they would like to understand how simple nervous systems gave rise to the complexity of the human brain. An important step in answering this question is identifying all the types of cells that are present in various organisms. The scientists can then make comparisons to infer whether certain cell types in different organisms were inherited from a common ancestor, and at what point in the history of life they evolved. To be able to do this, they need to construct comprehensive atlases of cell types that exist in a range of organisms. That’s a huge technical challenge but they have now succeeded in creating one such atlas for Platynereis, focusing on gene expression. An international project is currently under way to create a human cell atlas, which is likely to take many years.


The technique used is called "whole mount in situ hybridization", in which a whole Platynereis larva is taken and label molecules are added. These labels then enter its cells and reveal where a particular gene is active. Separate observations in different larvae are carried out for each gene, and the researchers then use a computer to superimpose all the resulting images. This allows them to see which genes are active in different parts of the animal.


In this study they investigated about 100 genes that are known to be important for defining cell types.

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Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe of brain networks

Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe of brain networks | Amazing Science |

For most people, it is a stretch of the imagination to understand the world in four dimensions but a new study has discovered structures in the brain with up to eleven dimensions - ground-breaking work that is beginning to reveal the brain's deepest architectural secrets. Using algebraic topology in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.


The research, published today in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, shows that these structures arise when a group of neurons forms a clique: each neuron connects to every other neuron in the group in a very specific way that generates a precise geometric object. The more neurons there are in a clique, the higher the dimension of the geometric object.


"We found a world that we had never imagined," says neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project and professor at the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, "there are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to eleven dimensions."


Markram suggests this may explain why it has been so hard to understand the brain. "The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly."


If 4D worlds stretch our imagination, worlds with 5, 6 or more dimensions are too complex for most of us to comprehend. This is where algebraic topology comes in: a branch of mathematics that can describe systems with any number of dimensions. The mathematicians who brought algebraic topology to the study of brain networks in the Blue Brain Project were Kathryn Hess from EPFL and Ran Levi from Aberdeen University.


"Algebraic topology is like a telescope and microscope at the same time. It can zoom into networks to find hidden structures - the trees in the forest - and see the empty spaces - the clearings - all at the same time," explains Hess.


In 2015, Blue Brain published the first digital copy of a piece of the neocortex - the most evolved part of the brain and the seat of our sensations, actions, and consciousness. In this latest research, using algebraic topology, multiple tests were performed on the virtual brain tissue to show that the multi-dimensional brain structures discovered could never be produced by chance.


Experiments were then performed on real brain tissue in the Blue Brain's wet lab in Lausanne confirming that the earlier discoveries in the virtual tissue are biologically relevant and also suggesting that the brain constantly rewires during development to build a network with as many high-dimensional structures as possible.

Via Mariaschnee, CineversityTV
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Eye-opening picture of the fetal immune system finally emerges

Eye-opening picture of the fetal immune system finally emerges | Amazing Science |

A human fetus in its second trimester is extraordinarily busy. It is developing skin and bones, the ability to hear and swallow, and working on its first bowel movement. Now, a study published on 14 June in Nature finds that fetuses are also acquiring a functioning immune system — one that can recognize foreign proteins, but is less inclined than a mature immune system to go on the attack (N. McGovern et al. Nature; 2017).


The results add to a growing body of literature showing that the fetal immune system is more active than previously appreciated. “In general textbooks, you see this concept of a non-responsive fetus is still prevailing,” says immunologist Jakob Michaelsson at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. But the fetal immune system is unique, he says. “It’s not just immature, it’s special.”


A developing fetus is constantly exposed to foreign proteins and cells, which are transferred from the mother through the placenta. In humans, this exposure is more extensive than in many other mammals, says immunologist Mike McCune at the University of California, San Francisco. As a result, laboratory mice have proved a poor model for studying the developing human fetal immune system.


But fully understanding that development could reveal the reasons for some miscarriages, as well as explain conditions such as pre-eclampsia, which is associated with abnormal immune responses to pregnancy and causes up to 40% of premature births. And organ-transplant surgeons have long been interested in how a developing fetus and its mother tolerate one another without either of them launching an immune attack — the hope is to find ways to suppress the immune system’s response to transplanted organs. 


For Jerry Chan, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Singapore, understanding the fetal immune system was important for his goal of developing stem-cell treatments and gene therapies for genetic disorders in developing fetuses. Chan and his colleagues wanted to know whether there was a developmental stage at which such treatments could be given without the risk of the therapies themselves being attacked by the immune system. 


To do this, Chan teamed up with immunologist Florent Ginhoux at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore to study dendritic cells, immune cells that break down foreign material and present fragments of it to other immune cells called T cells. Some T cells are then activated to target the foreign material for destruction. The team found that human fetuses have functional dendritic cells by 13 weeks of gestation. But although the cells behave much like the adult versions, their response to foreign human proteins differs: rather than mark the foreign material for annihilation, fetal dendritic cells are more likely to activate a special category of T cell called regulatory T cells, which suppress immune responses.


This could reflect a need to avoid a catastrophic immune response against a mother’s cells. “You don’t want too much immune response in a developing fetus,” says Ginhoux. “It is very dangerous — this is a critical point in development.” Previous studies had found specialized immune cells — including T cells and natural killer cells — in fetuses as young as nine weeks, says Ginhoux. But the dendritic-cell findings are particularly important because these cells orchestrate immune responses, says Michaelsson. Without them, he says, the body can’t target specific foreign material for destruction.


The results highlight the fact that the fetal immune system is not merely an immature, less-active version of its adult counterpart, but one that has its own distinct function, says transplant immunologist William Burlingham at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

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Despite setbacks, Google's drone delivery project is moving forward rapidly

Despite setbacks, Google's drone delivery project is moving forward rapidly | Amazing Science |

Project Wing, the delivery drone initiative under development at Google-parent Alphabet, felt another jolt of turbulence as more members of the team were officially cut loose. But even as sources inside the high-profile group report ongoing challenges, the drone unit is preparing an important update to demonstrate progress that's expected in a matter of weeks.

Business Insider has heard from multiple people that a group of employees left the team this week. And despite getting a big shout-out from Alphabet CEO Larry Page in a recent public letter, Project Wing is still not close to being ready to launch, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Our sources are calling the latest job reductions at Wing a layoff, however an X spokesperson explains that these cuts are not new but rather the final part of the reorganization that began in January, shortly after the departure of the unit's leader Dave Vos in the fall.

Employees were informed back then that their jobs were going away and they had until mid-April to land another one elsewhere including within Google. Some of the affected employees managed to get hired into new groups, while others are no longer employed by Alphabet.

"X (and Alphabet generally) typically gives people time and support to find new roles when there are changes in teams/projects," a spokesperson told Business Insider.

Ambitious initiatives like Project Wing, which is trying to invent a drone that can deliver packages, is by definition a risky undertaking with no guarantee of success. 

Wing is part of X, formerly known as Google X, which is the company's R&D unit working on far-out "moonshot" projects, racing against Amazon and drone makers like DJI to usher in what may one day be a massive new market, delivering everything from food to medicine straight to people's doorsteps.

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HAL: An Artificial Intelligence Developed Its Own Non-Human Language

HAL: An Artificial Intelligence Developed Its Own Non-Human Language | Amazing Science |
When Facebook designed chatbots to negotiate with one another, the bots made up their own way of communicating.


A buried line in a new Facebook report about chatbots’ conversations with one another offers a remarkable glimpse at the future of language. In the report, researchers at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab describe using machine learning to train their “dialog agents” to negotiate. (And it turns out bots are actually quite good at dealmaking.) At one point, the researchers write, they had to tweak one of their models because otherwise the bot-to-bot conversation “led to divergence from human language as the agents developed their own language for negotiating.” They had to use what’s called a fixed supervised model instead.


In other words, the model that allowed two bots to have a conversation—and use machine learning to constantly iterate strategies for that conversation along the way—led to those bots communicating in their own non-human language. If this doesn’t fill you with a sense of wonder and awe about the future of machines and humanity then, I don’t know, go watch Blade Runner or something.


The larger point of the report is that bots can be pretty decent negotiators—they even use strategies like feigning interest in something valueless, so that it can later appear to “compromise” by conceding it. But the detail about language is, asone tech entrepreneur put it, a mind-boggling “sign of what’s to come.”


To be clear, Facebook’s chatty bots aren’t evidence of the singularity’s arrival. Not even close. But they do demonstrate how machines are redefining people’s understanding of so many realms once believed to be exclusively human—like language.


Already, there’s a good deal of guesswork involved in machine learning research, which often involves feeding a neural net a huge pile of data then examining the output to try to understand how the machine thinks. But the fact that machines will make up their own non-human ways of conversing is an astonishing reminder of just how little we know, even when people are the ones designing these systems.

Via Fernando Gil
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Blood-red ‘zombie’ worms that suck at the bone marrow of dead whales found in abyss off Australian coast

Blood-red ‘zombie’ worms that suck at the bone marrow of dead whales found in abyss off Australian coast | Amazing Science |

Blood-red zombie worms that suck on the bone marrow of dead whales have been found in Australian waters for the first time.

After hauling up the skeleton of a pilot whale lying four kilometers underwater just off the northern seaside town of Byron Bay, scientists discovered the worms burrowed deep inside the mammal’s bones and sucking on the marrow.

The one-centimetre long worms have previously been found in parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, but never off the Australian coast.


Scientists believe the animals been around for millions of years and once feasted on the bones of aquatic dinosaurs.

The worms were among hundreds of new and rarely seen marine creatures discovered by the team of 58 scientists, technicians and crew during a month-long voyage, which ended in Brisbane yesterday.


Dr Tim O'Hara, the chief scientist on board and Museum Victoria's senior curator of marine invertebrates, described the worms as an “exciting find” given their unusual way of feeding.

Via Grant W. Graves
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A Theory of Reality is More Than Just the Sum of Its Parts

A Theory of Reality is More Than Just the Sum of Its Parts | Amazing Science |
New math shows how, contrary to conventional scientific wisdom, conscious beings and other macroscopic entities might have greater influence over the future than does the sum of their microscopic components.

Via Complexity Digest, Bernard Ryefield
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Mammals Seem to Have a 12-Hour Clock in Addition to the 24-Hour Circadian Clock

Mammals Seem to Have a 12-Hour Clock in Addition to the 24-Hour Circadian Clock | Amazing Science |

Along with their standard 24-hour circadian cycle, mammals may also harbor a distinct 12-hour clock, scientists report in Cell Metabolism.


Researchers led by Bert O’Malley of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, identified a set of metabolism and stress genes in mouse liver cells that followed a pattern of expression on a 12-hour cycle—starting in the morning and again in the evening. O’Malley’s team also found that a 12-hour clock, distinct from the 24-hour circadian clock, drives this morning-evening rhythm in gene expression.


The clock’s origin, the scientists suggest, may be rooted in organisms’ initial evolution in the ocean millions of years ago. “It’s a provocative argument,” Cambridge University biologist Michael Hastings tells The Scientist in a phone interview. He is cautious about the claim of an evolutionary connection between the 12-hour clock in sea creatures and the 12-hour cycles seen in mammals. Still, he commends the team on taking a “cross-biology” approach toward exploring 12-hour gene-expression rhythms in a range of animals.


In past studies, researchers have shown that coastal sea animals, such as the crustacean Eurydice pulchra have a dominant body clock driven by the 12-hour ebb and flow of the tides. Rhythms of gene expression every 12-hours have also been found in mammals, such as mice. Whether mammals’ 12-hour rhythms are driven by the body’s circadian clock or something else, however, has remained a mystery.


Interested in that question and also observations that the time of day can affect humans’ ability to think clearly, handle stress, and respond to medicine, O’Malley and colleagues began to look more closely at mammals’ 12-hour gene-expression rhythms. In the new study, they analyzed gene-expression data of 18,108 mouse liver genes. Using a mathematical technique developed by researchers at Rice University, the team identified 3,652 genes that had 12-hour rhythms that didn’t appear to be associated with the mouse’s circadian clock.

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Plankton at risk from seafloor acoustic mining surveys

Plankton at risk from seafloor acoustic mining surveys | Amazing Science |

Climate scientists are agreed that global warming will have significant long-term impacts on plankton, the creatures that underpin the health and productivity of global marine ecosystems and which play a critical role in the planetary carbon cycle, though they are less sure what exactly those impacts will be.


But more immediate effects from human reliance on fossil fuels are now clearer, thanks to research that shows acoustic survey techniques used to explore the seafloor for oil and gas deposits is associated with the widespread death of plankton.


The study by marine scientists from Curtin University, in Western Australia, and the University of Tasmania has beenpublished in Nature Ecology & Evolution. It concludes that “potential large-scale modification of plankton community structure and abundance due to seismic survey operations has enormous ramifications for larval recruitment processes, all higher order predators and ocean health in general” and flags the “urgent need to prioritise development and testing of alternative surveying techniques”.

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A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL | Amazing Science |

EPFL researchers have found a way around what was considered a fundamental limitation of physics for over 100 years. They were able to conceive resonant systems that can store electromagnetic waves over a long period of time while maintaining a broad bandwidth.


Their study, which has just been published in Science, opens up a number of doors, particularly in telecommunications. At EPFL, researchers challenge a fundamental law and discover that more electromagnetic energy can be stored in wave-guiding systems than previously thought. The discovery has implications in telecommunications. Working around the fundamental law, they conceived resonant and wave-guiding systems capable of storing energy over a prolonged period while keeping a broad bandwidth. Their trick was to create asymmetric resonant or wave-guiding systems using magnetic fields.


The study, which has just been published in Science, was led by Kosmas Tsakmakidis, first at the University of Ottawa and then at EPFL’s Bionanophotonic Systems Laboratory run by Hatice Altug, where the researcher is now doing post-doctoral research. This breakthrough could have a major impact on many fields in engineering and physics. The number of potential applications is close to infinite, with telecommunications, optical detection systems and broadband energy harvesting representing just a few examples.


Resonant and wave-guiding systems are present in the vast majority of optical and electronic systems. Their role is to temporarily store energy in the form of electromagnetic waves and then release them. For more than 100 hundred years, these systems were held back by a limitation that was considered to be fundamental: the length of time a wave could be stored was inversely proportional to its bandwidth. This relationship was interpreted to mean that it was impossible to store large amounts of data in resonant or wave-guiding systems over a long period of time because increasing the bandwidth meant decreasing the storage time and quality of storage.

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Cancer cells seem to streamline their genomes in order to get a growth advantage

Cancer cells seem to streamline their genomes in order to get a growth advantage | Amazing Science |

Research from the Stowers Institute provides evidence suggesting that cancer cells might streamline their genomes in order to proliferate more easily. The study, conducted in both human and mouse cells, shows that cancer genomes lose copies of repetitive sequences known as ribosomal DNA. While downsizing might enable these cells to replicate faster, it also seems to render them less able to withstand DNA damage.


The findings, published in PLoS Genetics, suggest that ribosomal DNA copy number could be used to predict which cancers will be sensitive to DNA-damaging chemotherapeutics.


“Drugs that damage DNA are often used to treat cancer, but it’s not clear why they would selectively kill cancer cells,” says Jennifer L. Gerton, Ph.D., an investigator at the Stowers Institute who led the study. “Our results suggest that off-loading copies of ribosomal DNA could create instability in the genome that makes cells particularly susceptible to chemotherapy with DNA-damaging drugs.”

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Scientists identify single-gene mutations (CARD11) that lead to atopic dermatitis

Scientists identify single-gene mutations (CARD11) that lead to atopic dermatitis | Amazing Science |

Researchers have identified mutations in a gene called CARD11 that lead toatopic dermatitis, or eczema, an allergic skin disease. Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and other institutions discovered the mutations in four unrelated families with severe atopic dermatitis and studied the resulting cell-signaling defects that contribute to allergic disease. Their findings, reported in Nature Genetics, also suggest that some of these defects potentially could be corrected by supplementation with the amino acid glutamine.


The scientists analyzed the genetic sequences of patients with severe atopic dermatitis and identified eight individuals from four families with mutations in the CARD11 gene, which provides instructions for production of a cell-signaling protein of the same name. While some people with these mutations had other health issues, such as infections, others did not, implying that mutations in CARD11 could cause atopic dermatitis without leading to other medical issues often found in severe immune system syndromes.

The scientists next set out to understand how the newly discovered CARD11 mutations contribute to atopic dermatitis.


Each of the four families had a distinct mutation that affected a different region of the CARD11 protein, but all the mutations had similar effects on T-cell signaling. With cell culture and other laboratory experiments, the researchers determined that the mutations led to defective activation of two cell-signaling pathways, one of which typically is activated in part by glutamine.  


Growing cultured T cells from patients with CARD11 mutations with excess glutamine boosted mTORC1 activation, a key part of one of the affected pathways, suggesting the potential to partially correct the cell-signaling defects that may contribute to atopic dermatitis. The scientists now are planning a study to assess the effect of supplemental glutamine and leucine, another amino acid that activates mTORC1, in people with atopic dermatitis with and without CARD11 mutations.

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Crystal ‘domain walls’ may lead to tinier electronic devices

Crystal ‘domain walls’ may lead to tinier electronic devices | Amazing Science |

Queen’s University Belfast physicists have discovered a radical new way to modify the conductivity (ease of electron flow) of electronic circuits — reducing the size of future devices. This new research takes another approach: Altering the properties of a crystal to eliminate the need for multiple circuits in devices.


To do that, the scientists used “ferroelectric copper-chlorine boracite” crystal sheets, which are almost as thin as graphene. The researchers discovered that squeezing the crystal sheets with a sharp needle at a precise location causes a jigsaw-puzzle-like pattern of “domains walls” to develop around the contact point.

Then, using external applied electric fields, these writable, erasable domain walls can be repeatedly moved around in the crystal to create a variety of new electronic properties. They can appear, disappear, or move around within the crystal, all without permanently altering the crystal itself.


Eliminating the need for multiple circuits may reduce the size of future computers and other devices, according to the researchers. The team’s findings have been published in an open-access paper in Nature Communications.

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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from DNA and RNA research!

A molecular plaster to repair DNA

A molecular plaster to repair DNA | Amazing Science |

All cells are confronted with DNA damage, for example by exposure of the skin to UV rays, chemical byproducts of nerve cells consuming sugar, or immune cells destroying bacteria. If these DNA lesions are not - or badly - repaired, they may initiate tumor formation. Thankfully, cells have evolved an elaborate control system to correct these DNA anomalies. Uli Rass and Nico Thomä at the FMI, together with colleagues at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), have now discovered the key role of a protein called Rif1 in the protection, stabilization and repair of damaged DNA. This study, published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, uncovers a DNA maintenance function likely to be present in all eukaryotes because the region of Rif1 that enables the formation of a protective sheath around DNA lesions is similar in humans and yeast.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Close-up View of DNA Replication Yields Surprises

Close-up View of DNA Replication Yields Surprises | Amazing Science |

Almost all life on earth is based on DNA being copied, or replicated, and understanding how this process works could lead to a wide range of discoveries in biology and medicine. Now for the first time scientists have been able to watch individual steps in the replication of a single DNA molecule, with some surprising findings. For one thing, there’s a lot more randomness at work than has been thought.


“It’s a different way of thinking about replication that raises new questions,” said Stephen Kowalczykowski, distinguished professor in microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of California, Davis, and at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. The work is published June 15 in the journal Cell with co-authors James Graham, postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis, and Kenneth Marians, Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


Using sophisticated imaging technology and a great deal of patience, the researchers were able to watch DNA from E. coli bacteria as it replicated and measure how fast enzyme machinery worked on the different strands.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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China's quantum satellite clears a major hurdle on the way to ultrasecure communications

China's quantum satellite clears a major hurdle on the way to ultrasecure communications | Amazing Science |

The Chinese satellite is one giant step for the quantum internet. Just months into its mission, the world’s first quantum-communications satellite has achieved one of its most ambitious goals.

Researchers report in Science1 that, by beaming photons between the satellite and two distant ground stations, they have shown that particles can remain in a linked quantum state at a record-breaking distance of more than 1,200 kilometers. That phenomenon, known as quantum entanglement, could be used as the basis of a future secure quantum-communications network.


The feat is the first result reported from China’s Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) mission, also known as Micius after an ancient Chinese philosopher. Launched last August, the craft is designed to demonstrate principles underlying quantum communication. The team is likely to launch more quantum-enabled satellites to start building a network.

Quantum communication is secure because any interference is detectable. Two parties can exchange secret messages by sharing an encryption key encoded in the properties of entangled particles; any eavesdropper would affect the entanglement and so be detected.


The Micius team has already done experiments exploring whether it is possible to create such encryption keys using entangled photons, and even 'teleport' information securely between Earth and space, says Pan Jian-Wei, a physicist at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei and the main architect of the probe. But he says that his team is not yet ready to announce the results.


In theory, entangled particles should remain linked at any separation. That can be checked using a classic experiment called a Bell test. Central to QUESS's experiments is a laser beam mounted on the satellite. For the Bell test, the beam was split to generate pairs of photons that share a common quantum state, in this case related to polarization. The entangled photons were funneled into two onboard telescopes that fired them at separate stations on the ground: one in Delingha, on the northern Tibetan Plateau, and the other 1,203 kilometers south, at Gaomeigu Observatory in Lijiang. Once the particles arrived, the team used the Bell test to confirm that they were still entangled.

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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Papers!

Zika virus evolution and spread in the Americas

Zika virus evolution and spread in the Americas | Amazing Science |

One hundred and ten Zika virus genomes from ten countries and territories involved in the Zika virus epidemic reveal rapid expansion of the epidemic within Brazil and multiple introductions to other regions.


Although the recent Zika virus (ZIKV) epidemic in the Americas and its link to birth defects have attracted a great deal of attention1, 2, much remains unknown about ZIKV disease epidemiology and ZIKV evolution, in part owing to a lack of genomic data. A group of researchers now addresses this gap in knowledge by using multiple sequencing approaches to generate 110 ZIKV genomes from clinical and mosquito samples from 10 countries and territories, greatly expanding the observed viral genetic diversity from this outbreak. They analyzed the timing and patterns of introductions into distinct geographic regions. Their documented phylogenetic evidence suggests a rapid expansion of the outbreak in Brazil and multiple introductions of outbreak strains into Puerto Rico, Honduras, Colombia, other Caribbean islands, and the continental United States. Furthermore, they find that ZIKV circulated undetected in multiple regions for many months before the first locally transmitted cases were confirmed, highlighting the importance of surveillance of viral infections. The group succeeded to identify mutations with possible functional implications for ZIKV biology and pathogenesis, as well as those that might be relevant to the effectiveness of diagnostic tests.

Via Complexity Digest
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The world’s fastest supercomputer signals new dominance for Chinese hardware

The world’s fastest supercomputer signals new dominance for Chinese hardware | Amazing Science |
China now has more supercomputers among the world’s top 500 fastest machines than any other nation.


Housed in the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, China, TaihuLight is capable of performing 93 quadrillion calculations per second. That makes it three times faster than the previous number one, Tianhe-2—also from China—which achieves speeds of 33 quadrillion calculations per second.


TaihuLight uses 41,000 chips, each with 260 processor cores, to give it a grand total of 10.65 million cores. There’s also 1.3 petabytes of RAM—slightly less than Tianhe-2. The new computing champ is more efficient than its predecessor, too, drawing 15.3 megawatts of power, compared to 17.8 megawatts.


Today’s news also delivers two blows to American supercomputer dominance. Notably, it's the first time that more of the world’s top 500 supercomputers are Chinese than American. China now boasts 167 systems in the rankings, while the U.S. has 165. No other country rivals either nation: third on the list is Japan, with 29 systems.


Even more striking is the fact that TaihuLight doesn’t rely on Western hardware. In the past, the world’s fastest supercomputers have been built using U.S.-designed chips, with hardware from Intel or International Business Machines, or else silicon manufactured under license from Sun Microsystems. TaihuLight, however, uses Chinese-made processors.


In fact, the supercomputer was funded by China’s 863 program, sometimes known as the State High-Tech Development Plan. The program was set up in 1986 by the government of the People's Republic of China, with the aim of growing the nation’s domestic technology sectors and making China independent of other countries for its hardware.


To date, China’s wider chip business has lagged behind that of the U.S. and far, far behind those of Japan and South Korea. But in March the country announced it was investing $24 billion into its home-grown semiconductor industry. The state-owned chip maker XMC is already building facilities that will manufacture NAND flash-memory and DRAM chips, the first of which is expected to be operational in 2017.

Via Ben van Lier
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How DNA-encoded libraries are revolutionizing drug discovery

How DNA-encoded libraries are revolutionizing drug discovery | Amazing Science |

With the bar-coding technology, drugmakers leverage the chemistry of large numbers.  Forty trillion is the kind of number that gives one pause. Consider it written out with its 13 zeros: 40,000,000,000,000. Assembling and maintaining a collection of 40 trillion of anything seems like a mind-bogglingly massive task. But in February the Danish biopharmaceutical company Nuevolution announced that it had created a library of 40 trillion unique molecules—quite possibly the largest collection of synthetic compounds in the world.


You might think it would require every building in Copenhagen to store batches of 40 trillion different compounds. Not so, says Alex Haahr Gouliaev, Nuevolution’s chief executive officer. “All of that fits into an Eppendorf tube and is handled by one person for screening,” he says.


The substance that makes it possible to maintain this multitudinous mixture of molecules is the same substance that contains the code of life—DNA.


Nuevolution covalently attaches a short, unique strand of DNA to each of its 40 trillion compounds. Instead of holding the directions for life, though, these DNA strands encode the recipe used to synthesize each linked molecule. This trick enables the firm to store all the compounds as a mixture in a small volume and later sequence, or read, them out. As the cost for DNA sequencing plummets and the repertoire of DNA-compatible chemical reactions grows, these so-called DNA-encoded libraries are becoming a go-to resource for finding new drug candidates and research tools for large pharmaceutical companies, small biotech companies, and academics alike.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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New open-source website provides microfluidics for the masses

New open-source website provides microfluidics for the masses | Amazing Science |

A new MIT-designed open-source website might well be the Pinterest of microfluidics. The site,, is a free repository of designs for lab-on-a-chip devices, submitted by all sorts of inventors, including trained scientists and engineers, hobbyists, students, and amateur makers. Users can browse the site for devices ranging from simple cell sorters and fluid mixers, to more complex chips that analyze ocular fluid and synthesize gene sequences.


The site also serves as a social platform for the microfluidics community: Any user can log in to submit a design; they can also like, comment on, and download design files to reproduce a featured device or improve on it.


David S. Kong, director of the MIT Media Lab’s new Community Biotechnology Initiative, says the new site is designed to accelerate innovation in microfluidic design, which until now has followed a conventional, academically peer-reviewed route.


“There’s a familiar experience for people in microfluidics: You see a really amazing paper that shows you a design, but if you want to try to copy the design, the actual design files that are a critical part of reproducing or remixing a device are not shared in any systematic way,” Kong says. “As a result, researchers around the world are in parallel reinventing the wheel. It’s one of the reasons why open-source in general is a very powerful set of principles. It can really accelerate the diffusion of technology.”


Kong and his colleagues outlined the open-source platform in a paper published last week in the journal Nature Biotechnology. His co-authors are Todd Thorsen, Peter Carr, and Scott Wick of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory; Jonathan Babb and Jeremy Gam in the Department of Biological Engineering; and Ron Weiss, professor of biological engineering and of electrical engineering and computer science.

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Apple Is Focusing on an Autonomous Car System to Revolutionize Industry

Apple Is Focusing on an Autonomous Car System to Revolutionize Industry | Amazing Science |
After years toiling away in secret on its car project, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has for the first time laid out exactly what the company is up to in the automotive market: It’s concentrating on self-driving technology.

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook said in a June 5 interview on Bloomberg Television that amounted to his most detailed comments yet on Apple’s automotive plans. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.” He likened the effort to “the mother of all AI projects,” saying it’s “probably one of the most difficult AI projects to work on.”

The prospect of self-driving cars has seen a slew of technology companies push into the auto industry, according to McKinsey & Co. Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo unit has signed partnerships with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Lyft Inc. to develop the technology. And carmakers from BMW AG to General Motors Co. have opened sizable Silicon Valley offices and dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire autonomous vehicle startups.

Apple had initially been seeking to build its own car, before recalibrating those ambitions last year to prioritize the underlying technology for autonomous driving, Bloomberg News reported. The iPhone maker had hired more than 1,000 engineers to work on Project Titan, as the car team is known internally, after it started in 2014.

Ballooning costs and headcount led to Apple veteran Bob Mansfield being given the reins of the team in 2016. Cook has never before openly outlined Apple’s plans, though public filings have surfaced in recent months that provided snapshots of Apple’s efforts.

The iPhone maker secured a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles in April to test three self-driving sports-utility vehicles, photos of which emerged several weeks later. A half-dozen vehicles had been surreptitiously testing the autonomous technology on public roads in and around the San Francisco Bay area for at least a year, according to someone familiar with Project Titan. Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr declined to comment on how long the company has been conducting road tests.

In December, Steve Kenner, Apple’s director of product integrity, penned a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealing the company’s interest in automotive technology. It became public when it was published on a federal website. In the letter, Kenner wrote about the company’s excitement surrounding the potential for automated systems in fields like transportation.

“There is a major disruption looming there,” Cook said on Bloomberg Television, citing self-driving technology, electric vehicles and ride-hailing. “You’ve got kind of three vectors of change happening generally in the same time frame.”
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