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'Muscle mesh' revealed: Bulging biceps get their power from a mesh arrangement of cells rather than long ropes

'Muscle mesh' revealed: Bulging biceps get their power from a mesh arrangement of cells rather than long ropes | Amazing Science |
Scientists have discovered a new truth behind big muscles, turning 50 years of knowledge on its head.


Bulging biceps get their power from a mesh arrangement of cells rather than long ropes, detailed studies reveal. As muscles flex, tugging filaments fan out in a lattice, say the University of Washington team who made the breakthrough. This generates force in multiple directions, not just up and down the muscle, Proceedings B journal reports.


This aspect of muscle force generation has flown under the radar for decades and is now becoming a critical feature of our understanding of normal and pathological aspects of muscle.” And it's not just biceps that use this force - all muscles, including the heart appear to do it.


Prof. Thomas Daniel, one of the researchers, said: "This aspect of muscle force generation has flown under the radar for decades and is now becoming a critical feature of our understanding of normal and pathological aspects of muscle."


The basics of how muscle generates power remain the same - filaments of myosin tug on filaments of actin to shorten or contract the muscle. But myosin doesn't tug in one direction, as previously thought. Instead, it pulls at angles and this gives radial force.


The news will be of interest to bodybuilders who strive to max their muscle power, but could also help doctors treating heart problems. Michael Regnier said: "In the heart especially, because the muscle surrounds the chambers that fill with blood, being able to account for forces that are generated in several directions during muscle contraction allows for much more accurate and realistic study of how pressure is generated to eject blood from the heart.


"The radial and long axis forces that are generated may be differentially compromised in cardiac diseases and these new, detailed models allow this to be studied at a molecular level for the first time."

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NASA: Hidden Magnetic Portals Around Earth

A favorite theme of science fiction is "the portal"--an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms. A good portal is a shortcut, a guide, a door into the unknown. If only they actually existed....

It turns out that they do, sort of, and a NASA-funded researcher at the University of Iowa has figured out how to find them.

"We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions," explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa. "They're places where the magnetic field of Earth connects to the magnetic field of the Sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun's atmosphere 93 million miles away."

Observations by NASA's THEMIS spacecraft and Europe's Cluster probes suggest that these magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day. They're typically located a few tens of thousands of kilometers from Earth where the geomagnetic field meets the onrushing solar wind. Most portals are small and short-lived; others are yawning, vast, and sustained. Tons of energetic particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic storms, and igniting bright polar auroras.

NASA is planning a mission called "MMS," short for Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, due to launch in 2014, to study the phenomenon. Bristling with energetic particle detectors and magnetic sensors, the four spacecraft of MMS will spread out in Earth's magnetosphere and surround the portals to observe how they work.

Just one problem: Finding them. Magnetic portals are invisible, unstable, and elusive. They open and close without warning "and there are no signposts to guide us in," notes Scudder.

Actually, there are signposts, and Scudder has found them.

Portals form via the process of magnetic reconnection. Mingling lines of magnetic force from the sun and Earth criss-cross and join to create the openings. "X-points" are where the criss-cross takes place. The sudden joining of magnetic fields can propel jets of charged particles from the X-point, creating an "electron diffusion region."

To learn how to pinpoint these events, Scudder looked at data from a space probe that orbited Earth more than 10 years ago.

"In the late 1990s, NASA's Polar spacecraft spent years in Earth's magnetosphere," explains Scudder, "and it encountered many X-points during its mission."

Data from NASA's Polar spacecraft, circa 1998, provided crucial clues to finding magnetic X-points. Credit: NASABecause Polar carried sensors similar to those of MMS, Scudder decided to see how an X-point looked to Polar. "Using Polar data, we have found five simple combinations of magnetic field and energetic particle measurements that tell us when we've come across an X-point or an electron diffusion region. A single spacecraft, properly instrumented, can make these measurements."

This means that single member of the MMS constellation using the diagnostics can find a portal and alert other members of the constellation. Mission planners long thought that MMS might have to spend a year or so learning to find portals before it could study them. Scudder's work short cuts the process, allowing MMS to get to work without delay.

It's a shortcut worthy of the best portals of fiction, only this time the portals are real. And with the new "signposts" we know how to find them.

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Astronomers witness birth of Milky Way's most massive star

Astronomers witness birth of Milky Way's most massive star | Amazing Science |

Scientists have observed in unprecedented detail the birth of a massive star within a dark cloud core about 10,000 light years from Earth.

The team used the new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) telescope in Chile – the most powerful radio telescope in the world – to view the stellar womb which, at 500 times the mass of the Sun and many times more luminous, is the largest ever seen in our galaxy.

The researchers say their observations – to be published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics – reveal how matter is being dragged into the centre of the huge gaseous cloud by the gravitational pull of the forming star – or stars – along a number of dense threads or filaments.

"The remarkable observations from ALMA allowed us to get the first really in-depth look at what was going on within this cloud," said lead author Dr Nicolas Peretto, from Cardiff University. "We wanted to see how monster stars form and grow, and we certainly achieved our aim. One of the sources we have found is an absolute giant—the largest protostellar core ever spotted in the Milky Way!

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Goffin's Cockatoos Can Solve Complex Mechanical Problems, Study Shows

Goffin's Cockatoos Can Solve Complex Mechanical Problems, Study Shows | Amazing Science |

In a recent study, 10 untrained Goffin’s cockatoos faced a puzzle box showing a nut behind a transparent door secured by a series of five different interlocking devices, each one jamming the next along in the series. To retrieve the nut the birds had to first remove a pin, then a screw, then a bolt, then turn a wheel 90 degrees, and then shift a latch sideways.

One bird, called Pipin, cracked the problem unassisted in less than two hours, and several others did it after being helped either by being presented with the series of locks incrementally or being allowed to watch a skilled partner doing it.


The study authors were interested in the birds’ progress towards the solution, and on what they knew once they had solved the full task. The scientists found that the birds worked determinedly to overcome one obstacle after another even though they were only rewarded with the nut once they had solved all five devices. They suggest that the birds seemed to progress as if they employed a ‘cognitive ratchet’ process: once they discovered how to solve one lock they rarely had any difficulties with the same device again. This is consistent with the birds having a representation of the goal they were pursuing.


After the cockatoos mastered the entire sequence, the scientists investigated whether the birds had learnt how to repeat a sequence of actions or instead responded to the effect of each lock.


“After they had solved the initial problem, we confronted six subjects with so-called ‘transfer tasks’ in which some locks were re-ordered, removed, or made non-functional. Statistical analysis showed that they reacted to the changes with immediate sensitivity to the novel situation,” explained lead author Dr Alice Auersperg from Vienna University.


“The birds’ sudden and often errorless improvement and response to changes indicates pronounced behavioral plasticity and practical memory. We believe that they are aided by species characteristics such as intense curiosity, tactile exploration techniques and persistence: cockatoos explore surrounding objects with their bill, tongue and feet. A purely visual explorer may have never detected that they could move the locks,” said senior author Dr Auguste von Bayern of Oxford University.

Esta Lessing, CBAP®'s curator insight, January 24, 11:40 PM

Are we as effective as Business Analysts when it comes to Problem Solving? An off the beaten track article about problem solving skills of Cockatoos.

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NATURE: Coal-burning in China cuts more than 5 years off the life expectancy of 500 million people

NATURE: Coal-burning in China cuts more than 5 years off the life expectancy of 500 million people | Amazing Science |
Historical study links higher levels of pollution to higher mortality.


In the same northern areas of China where government used to provide free coal for heating, particulate matter in the air was 55% higher — and respiratory ailments shortened life expectancy by five years. High levels of particulates from coal burning in China’s highly polluted north may have cut more than five years from life expectancy for the 500 million people who lived there in the 1990s, scientists report today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study can help to forecast the health effects of pollution in present-day China — where air quality has only gotten worse — as well as in other countries.

Chinese air pollution made global headlines during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and again this winter, when particulate levels in Beijing exceeded 700 micrograms per cubic metre — more than 50 times higher than those allowed by US air-quality standards.


But prior efforts to quantify the long-term risks of living in such conditions have been problematic, says Michael Greenstone, an environmental economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and a co-author of the latest study. That’s because earlier studies attempted to extrapolate health effects from US data, where even in the most polluted cities particulate levels are an order of magnitude lower than those found in China. Data for the health effects of high pollution levels are scarce, he says.


To fill the gap, Greenstone and his colleagues looked into the effects of a Chinese government policy that from 1950 to 1980 provided free coal for heating to people in the region north of the Huai River and the Qinling mountain range, a fairly traditional demarcation between northern and southern China.


The goal of the Huai River Policy was to provide a minimum of heating resources to those who most needed them. But in the process it accidentally provided an unintended experiment in which people north of the river were exposed to air particulate levels 55% higher than those to the south, with reported levels reaching 550 micrograms per cubic meter.

Adding to the impact was that during this period, Chinese citizens tended to stay in one city, breathing the same air, rather than moving away.


“There was not a lot of migration,” Greenstone says. “In fact, it was restricted by law.” Furthermore, the policy left a legacy of higher coal use north of the dividing line, where to this day homes are more likely to have coal-fired heating built decades ago.


Comparing Chinese air pollution and health data, Greenstone and colleagues found a marked jump not only in death rates, but in a single air-pollution variable — particulates — right at the Huai River line. Even more strikingly, the increased death rate north of the line was entirely due to cardiorespiratory illnesses.


Even though the study was based on data from two decades ago, the researchers say it can help to predict the health effects of the current levels of atmospheric pollution, which are even higher than in the 1990s. The finding, Greenstone says, is useful information to developing countries trying to find the balance between economic growth and environmental health. But it could also play a role in global climate-change debates.

Grace Macpherson's curator insight, July 27, 2013 11:10 PM

This article suggests that due to the extreme amounts of pollutants in the air, those that lived in the north region of China have a lower life expectancy compared to other regions, especially those living in there through the 1990's. The porr air quality in the north but also throughout the rest of china has major health effects on it's pooluation. The results published are targetd to the north reigion and particularly around the Huai River and Qinling mountain ranges. The reason for this is primarily due to what's known as the 'Haui river Policy', a governmnet funded policy, wich provided free heating to the people. But it caused large amounts of pollution in the air, degrading the air qaulity. This reigion is most effected because of the coal buring, but also because as suggested in the article during the 1900's their was a large migration to this area, increasing the pollution, also people tended to stay in the one city, breathing the same air, rather than moving.

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New language Quipper helps quantum coders build killer apps

New language Quipper helps quantum coders build killer apps | Amazing Science |

The first high-level programming language for quantum computers could guide the design of these futuristic machines – and make programming them.


Now Peter Selinger of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and colleagues have brought the field up to speed by creating Quipper, the first high-level quantum programming language. Quipper is designed to express instructions in terms of bigger concepts, and to make it easy to bring together multiple algorithms in a modular way. High-level languages for classical computers such as Java do most of the heavy lifting in modern computation.


Quipper is based on a classical programming language called Haskell, which is particularly suited to programming for physics applications. What Selinger's team has done is to customise it to deal with qubits.

They have also produced a library of Quipper code to carry out seven existing quantum algorithms, including an algorithm for estimating the ground-state energy of molecules. They hope that others will add to the library by writing more algorithms, creating a resource that will allow quantum programmers to build software by sticking modules together, as classical programmers do with Java.


"Having a well-designed programming language helps structure your thinking and informs the way you think about a problem," says Selinger. "It may become a useful tool in the design of new quantum algorithms."

Thorsten Altenkirch of the University of Nottingham, UK, who was not involved in the work, agrees. "People can use languages like Quipper as a test bed for ideas and understanding for how to write quantum software," he says.


Selinger's team released their outline of the language, together with their preliminary library, at the Programming Language Design and Implementation conference in Seattle, Washington, last month.

It may seem strange to create a language for a quantum computer, given that the hardware is still rudimentary. But developing the software – which is tested by simulating a quantum computer on a classical one – could influence the design of future quantum computers.


Quipper's creation was funded by IARPA, the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, in order to pin down how many bits a quantum computer would need in order to outperform a classical one on certain tasks. Writing programs in Quipper makes the hardware requirements of an algorithm clearer and that has already led to some surprises. "It will take a lot more resources than people had thought," says Selinger, who can't talk about specific results.


He expects that with advances in engineering, such as reducing noise, the number of qubits necessary for a practical quantum computer will decrease over time.


The team made their estimates based on various existing forms of quantum hardware, including devices that use ion traps and photons.However, they did not include the only quantum computer in the market today, the D-wave computer. It uses a novel approach called adiabatic quantum computing and so is not currently compatible with Quipper.

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Amazing Science: Neuroscience Postings

Amazing Science: Neuroscience Postings | Amazing Science |

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system and has traditionally been a branch of biology. The scope of neuroscience has recently broadened to include approaches to study the molecular, cellular, developmental, structural, functional, evolutionary, computational, and medical aspects of the nervous system. The techniques used by neuroscientists have also expanded enormously, from molecular and cellular studies of individual nerve cells to imaging of sensory and motor tasks in the brain. Recent theoretical advances in neuroscience have also been aided by the study of neural networks.

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Study sheds new light on how cellular transport systems harness energy to perform work inside the cell

Study sheds new light on how cellular transport systems harness energy to perform work inside the cell | Amazing Science |

Using highly sensitive fluorescent probes, a team of scientists from the University of Connecticut has captured the never-before-seen structural dynamics of an important protein channel inside the cell's primary power plant – the mitochondrion.


The University of Connecticut team's study found that the channel complex - known as the translocase of the inner mitochondrial membrane 23 or TIM23 – is not only directly coupled to the energized state of the mitochondrial inner membrane as scientists have long suspected, it also changes its fundamental structure - altering the helical shape of protein segments that line the channel - when voltage along the membrane's electrical field drops.

It also shows how fluorescent mapping at the subcelllar level may reveal new insights into the underlying causes of neurodegenerative and metabolic disorders associated with mitochondrial function.


In an overview of the research accompanying the paper's publication, Nikolaus Pfanner of the University of Freiberg in Germany and an international leader in the field of cellular protein trafficking, and several members of his research group, called the study "a major step towards a molecular understanding of a voltage-gated protein translocase."


"The molecular nature of voltage sensors in membrane proteins is a central question in biochemical research," Pfanner and his colleagues said. "The study…is not only of fundamental importance for our understanding of mitochondrial biogenesis, but also opens up new perspectives in the search for voltage-responsive elements in membrane proteins."

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Tissue engineering: Scientists are beginning to engineer hearts by decellularizing donor hearts and using them as a scaffold for stem cells

Tissue engineering: Scientists are beginning to engineer hearts by decellularizing donor hearts and using them as a scaffold for stem cells | Amazing Science |
With thousands of people in need of heart transplants, researchers are trying to grow new organs.


Doris Taylor doesn't take it as an insult when people call her Dr Frankenstein. “It was actually one of the bigger compliments I've gotten,” she says — an affirmation that her research is pushing the boundaries of the possible. Given the nature of her work as director of regenerative medicine research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Taylor has to admit that the comparison is apt. She regularly harvests organs such as hearts and lungs from the newly dead, re-engineers them starting from the cells and attempts to bring them back to life in the hope that they might beat or breathe again in the living.


Taylor is in the vanguard of researchers looking to engineer entire new organs, to enable transplants without the risk of rejection by the recipient's immune system. The strategy is simple enough in principle. First remove all the cells from a dead organ — it does not even have to be from a human — then take the protein scaffold left behind and repopulate it with stem cells immunologically matched to the patient in need. Voilà! The crippling shortage of transplantable organs around the world is solved.


In practice, however, the process is beset with tremendous challenges. Researchers have had some success with growing and transplanting hollow, relatively simple organs such as tracheas and bladders. But growing solid organs such as kidneys or lungs means getting dozens of cell types into exactly the right positions, and simultaneously growing complete networks of blood vessels to keep them alive. The new organs must be sterile, able to grow if the patient is young, and at least nominally able to repair themselves. Most importantly, they have to work — ideally, for a lifetime. The heart is the third most needed organ after the kidney and the liver, with a waiting list of about 3,500 in the United States alone, but it poses extra challenges for transplantation and bioengineering. The heart must beat constantly to pump some 7,000 litres of blood per day without a back-up. It has chambers and valves constructed from several different types of specialized muscle cells called cardiomyocytes. And donor hearts are rare, because they are often damaged by disease or resuscitation efforts, so a steady supply of bioengineered organs would be welcome.

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Operations in China will soon be performed by American doctors in Texas, via robots

Operations in China will soon be performed by American doctors in Texas, via robots | Amazing Science |
A new partnership between two hospitals in China and the US will soon have Chinese patients on an operating table with a robot standing over them. At the controls will be a US doctor in Texas.
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Interstellar gas allows impossible chemical reactions to occur based on quantum tunneling

Interstellar gas allows impossible chemical reactions to occur based on quantum tunneling | Amazing Science |

In recent years, astronomers have detected some simple organic chemicals in the disks of material surrounding some stars. In our own Solar System, these seem to have undergone reactions that converted them into more complex molecules—some of them crucial for life—that have been found on meteorites. So, understanding the reactions that can take place in space can help provide an indication of the sorts of chemistry available to start life both here and around other stars.


Based on a publication in Nature Chemistry, it seems that the chemistry that can take place in the cold clouds of gas of space is much more complex than we had predicted. Reactions that would be impossible under normal circumstances—simply because there's not enough energy to push them forward—can take place in cold gasses due to quantum mechanical effects. That's because one of the reactants (a hydrogen nucleus) can undergo quantum tunneling between two reactants.


The key to understanding the work is the idea of activation energy. Many reactions that are energetically favorable (think burning wood) simply don't happen spontaneously. That's because the intermediate steps of the reaction are higher energy states. You need some additional energy (like a lit match) to push things over the activation energy barrier and get things to run downhill to the product state.


This, as you might imagine, is a problem in a cold gas cloud. With very little energy around, there's nothing available to hop a reaction over an activation energy barrier. On energetic considerations alone, there are some reactions that are simply impossible in that environment. And yet the authors of the new paper actually found that the reaction rate went up as the temperature went down.


The reaction the authors were looking at involved methanol, which has been found in gas clouds, and a hydroxyl radical. The latter is a water molecule with one of the hydrogens stripped away, leaving an unpaired electron. When these two molecules react, the favored outcome is to strip a hydrogen off the methanol, forming water and leaving a methoxy radical behind. Both hydroxyl and methoxy radicals have been detected in space.

Under normal circumstances, the intermediates of the reaction are energetic molecules with two oxygens bound to methanol's lone carbon. They require a fair bit of energy to create, which means there's a large activation energy to the reaction.


Once the temperature drops sufficiently, however, things start to change. At temperatures below 70K, rather than forming a covalently bonded intermediate, the two molecules can form a hydrogen bond. And at these temperatures, that bond will be relatively stable, keeping the two molecules in close proximity for extended periods of time. The proximity allows for quantum tunneling, in which small objects pass through a large energy barrier without occupying the intermediate, high energy states. In this case, one of the protons from the methanol simply tunnels over to the hydroxyl radical to form water, leaving a methoxy radical behind.

Methanol has four hydrogens, but the regular chemical reaction favors the transfer of specific ones when forming the water molecule. The authors found that the preference went away at low temperatures, confirming that something other than standard chemistry was going on here.


The fact that quantum tunneling allows reactions that would never take place in their own right is pretty impressive. But the results are also important because they give us a clearer picture of what's likely to be going on in the neighborhood of distant stars. Because of their distance, it's hard to detect anything other than raw materials around them. To infer the actual chemistry of the gas clouds, we have to look at the raw materials and the conditions, then figure out what reactions are likely to take place. By confirming that otherwise-impossible reactions can take place in these gas clouds, the authors have greatly expanded the range of chemistry we can expect to be taking place. And that can tell us something about the chemicals that are likely to be present in any planets formed under similar conditions.

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Feel the force: Atomic Van der Waals force measured for the first time

Feel the force: Atomic Van der Waals force measured for the first time | Amazing Science |

Scientists in France are the first to make a direct measurement of the Van der Waals force between two atoms. They did this by trapping two Rydberg atoms with a laser and then measuring the force as a function of the distance separating them. The two atoms were in a coherent quantum state and the researchers believe that their system could be used to create quantum logic gates or to perform quantum simulations of condensed-matter systems.


The Van der Waals force between atoms, molecules and surfaces is a part of everyday life in many different ways. Spiders and geckos rely on it to walk up smooth walls, for example, and the force causes proteins inside our bodies to fold into complicated shapes.


Named after the Dutch scientist Johannes Diderik van der Waals – who first proposed it in 1873 to explain the behaviour of gases – it is a very weak force that only becomes relevant when atoms and molecules are very close together. Fluctuations in the electronic cloud of an atom mean that it will have an instantaneous dipole moment. This can induce a dipole moment in a nearby atom, the result being an attractive dipole–dipole interaction.

There have been many indirect measurements of Van der Waals forces between atoms. Examples include analysing the net forces experienced by macroscopic bodies or using spectroscopy to work out the long-range behaviour of the force between two atoms in a diatomic molecule. However, a direct measurement has eluded scientists until now.

This latest research was done by researchers at the Laboratoire Charles Fabry (LCF) in Palaiseau and the University of Lille. "What we have done here, for the first time to our knowledge, is to measure directly the Van der Waals interaction between two single atoms that are located at a controlled distance, chosen by the experimenter," says Thierry Lahaye, who is part of the LCF team.


Controlling the distance between normal atoms – while measuring the force between them – is extremely difficult because the relevant distances are tiny. To get round this problem the team used Rydberg atoms, which are much larger than normal atoms. Such atoms have one electron in a highly excited state. This means that they have a very large instantaneous dipole moment – and therefore should have very strong Van der Waals interactions over relatively long distances. They also have unique properties that allow them to be controlled with great precision in the lab.

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Adipolin and KLF3: Mutant mice stay skinny even on high fatty diet

Adipolin and KLF3: Mutant mice stay skinny even on high fatty diet | Amazing Science |

The mystery of why some people get fat eating high-fat foods while others can stay skinny on a diet of burgers and chips is closer to being solved.

A research team led by UNSW's Professor Merlin Crossley and Dr Kim Bell-Anderson, of the University of Sydney, investigated a genetically modified strain of mice. They unexpectedly found that the mice remained thin on a high-fat diet. The findings are published in the journal Diabetes.


The researchers already knew that a protein called KLF3 turns off genes involved in blood production.


“We were trying to work out the function of the protein KLF3 by making a mouse that didn’t have any KLF3. To our surprise we found that these mice remained lean on a high-fat diet. They also showed signs of improved glucose metabolism and insulin action,” said Dr Bell-Anderson, the lead author of the paper.


“We knew KLF3 was important for turning off gene expression, but we didn’t know which genes it targeted, so we looked at the gene expression of about 20,000 genes to see which ones were abnormally expressed in our mutant mice.”


Researchers from Professor Crossley’s laboratory in the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences used the Ramaciotti Centre facility to carry out the genome analysis.


“One of our investigators, Dr Alister Funnell, noticed that the expression of a gene, recently discovered to encode a hormone called adipolin, was increased in the mutant mice,” said Professor Crossley.


Adipolin is a type of hormone, produced by fat cells, that enters the blood and modulates responses to food.


If mice have a lot of adipolin they can better maintain a stable blood glucose level and remain thin even on a high fat diet. If mice have less adipolin they can’t lower their blood glucose levels after a meal and are fatter.


“The amount of adipolin circulating in the blood of our mutant mice was more than doubled,” said Dr Bell-Anderson.


“The roles of KLF3 and adipolin in humans and their beneficial or harmful effects are yet to be determined, but therapies aimed at increasing adipolin levels may be a promising target for treatment of type 2 diabetes and obesity.” 

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5D optical memory in glass could record almost eternally lasting evidence of our civilization

5D optical memory in glass could record almost eternally lasting evidence of our civilization | Amazing Science |

Using nanostructured glass, scientists at the University of Southampton have, for the first time, experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing. The storage allows unprecedented parameters including 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C and practically unlimited lifetime.

Coined as the 'Superman' memory crystal, as the glass memory has been compared to the "memory crystals" used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz, which is able to store vast quantities of data for over a million years. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.

A 300 kb digital copy of a text file was successfully recorded in 5D using ultrafast laser, producing extremely short and intense pulses of light. The file is written in three layers of nanostructured dots separated by five micrometers. The self-assembled nanostructures change the way light travels through glass, modifying polarisation of light that can then be read by combination of optical microscope and a polariser, similar to that found in Polaroid sunglasses.

The research is led by the ORC researcher Jingyu Zhang and conducted under a joint project with Eindhoven University of Technology. "We are developing a very stable and safe form of portable memory using glass, which could be highly useful for organisations with big archives. At the moment companies have to back up their archives every five to ten years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan," says Jingyu.


"Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit."


The Physical Optics group from the ORC presented their ground-breaking paper at the photonics industry's renowned Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO'13) in San Jose. The paper, '5D Data Storage by Ultrafast Laser Nanostructuring in Glass' was presented by the during CLEO's prestigious post deadline session.


Professor Peter Kazansky, the ORC's group supervisor, adds: "It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race. This technology can secure the last evidence of civilisation: all we've learnt will not be forgotten."

The team are now looking for industry partners to commercialise this ground-breaking new technology.

Vloasis's curator insight, July 10, 2013 9:20 PM

5-dimensional data at 360 TB per disc?  Newegg, Amazon, are you hearing this?  :)

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Neanderthals shared speech and language with modern humans, study suggests

Neanderthals shared speech and language with modern humans, study suggests | Amazing Science |

Fast-accumulating data seem to indicate that our close cousins, the Neanderthals, were much more similar to us than imagined even a decade ago. But did they have anything like modern speech and language? And if so, what are the implications for understanding present-day linguistic diversity? The MPI for Psycholinguistics researchers Dan Dediu and Stephen C. Levinson argue in their paper in Frontiers in Language Sciences that modern language and speech can be traced back to the last common ancestor we shared with the Neandertals roughly half a million years ago.


The Neanderthals have fascinated both the academic world and the general public ever since their discovery almost 200 years ago. Initially thought to be subhuman brutes incapable of anything but the most primitive of grunts, they were a successful form of humanity inhabiting vast swathes of western Eurasia for several hundreds of thousands of years, during harsh ages and milder interglacial periods. We knew that they were our closest cousins, sharing a common ancestor with us around half a million years ago (probably Homo heidelbergensis), but it was unclear what their cognitive capacities were like, or why modern humans succeeded in replacing them after thousands of years of cohabitation. Recently, due to new palaeoanthropological and archaeological discoveries and the reassessment of older data, but especially to the availability of ancient DNA, we have started to realise that their fate was much more intertwined with ours and that, far from being slow brutes, their cognitive capacities and culture were comparable to ours.

Dediu and Levinson review all these strands of literature and argue that essentially modern language and speech are an ancient feature of our lineage dating back at least to the most recent ancestor we shared with the Neanderthals and the Denisovans (another form of humanity known mostly from their genome). Their interpretation of the intrinsically ambiguous and scant evidence goes against the scenario usually assumed by most language scientists, namely that of a sudden and recent emergence of modernity, presumably due to a single – or very few – genetic mutations. This pushes back the origins of modern language by a factor of 10 from the often-cited 50 or so thousand years, to around a million years ago – somewhere between the origins of our genus, Homo, some 1.8 million years ago, and the emergence of Homo heidelbergensis. This reassessment of the evidence goes against a saltationist scenario where a single catastrophic mutation in a single individual would suddenly give rise to language, and suggests that a gradual accumulation of biological and cultural innovations is much more plausible.


Interestingly, given that we know from the archaeological record and recent genetic data that the modern humans spreading out of Africa interacted both genetically and culturally with the Neanderthals and Denisovans, then just as our bodies carry around some of their genes, maybe our languages preserve traces of their languages too. This would mean that at least some of the observed linguistic diversity is due to these ancient encounters, an idea testable by comparing the structural properties of the African and non-African languages, and by detailed computer simulations of language spread.

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Worms regrow their decapitated heads, along with the memories inside

Worms regrow their decapitated heads, along with the memories inside | Amazing Science |

Some memories just won't die — and some can even be transferred to a whole new brain. Researchers at Tufts University have determined that a small, yellow worm known as a planarian, which has long been studied for its regenerative properties, is able to grow back a lot more than just its body parts: after the worm's small, snake-like head and neck are removed, its body will even regrow a brain that's capable of quickly relearning its lost skills.


The researchers tested the memory of planarians by measuring how long it took for them to reach food in a controlled setting. The small worms dislike open spaces and bright lights — but they had been trained to ignore it so that they could find their meals. Even after decapitation, worms that had gone through training were able to overcome their fears and start eating much faster than worms that hadn't been trained. However, the memories didn't come back immediately. Each worm still had to be reminded of its earlier knowledge, though it only took a single lesson for it to all come back.


Why this happens is still unclear. Planarians' brains control their behavior, but the researchers suggest that some of their memories might be stored elsewhere in their body. Alternatively, they suggest that the worms' original brain may have modified their nervous systems, and their nervous systems may have then altered how the new brains formed during regrowth.

Vloasis's curator insight, July 10, 2013 9:22 PM

This university study was done just up the street from me.  Jeez...worms regrowing heads and brains and memories right in my own neighborhood.  But can they remember what they did when they were drunk?

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Breakthrough could lead to "artificial skin" that senses touch, humidity and temperature

Breakthrough could lead to "artificial skin" that senses touch, humidity and temperature | Amazing Science |

Using tiny gold particles and a kind of resin, a team of scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has discovered how to make a new kind of flexible sensor that one day could be integrated into electronic skin, or e-skin. If scientists learn how to attach e-skin to prosthetic limbs, people with amputations might once again be able to feel changes in their environments. The findings appear in the June issue of ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Researchers have long been interested in flexible sensors, but have had trouble adapting them for real-world use. To make its way into mainstream society, a flexible sensor would have to run on low voltage (so it would be compatible with the batteries in today's portable devices), measure a wide range of pressures, and make more than one measurement at a time, including humidity, temperature, pressure, and the presence of chemicals. In addition, these sensors would also have to be able to be made quickly, easily, and cheaply.


The Technion team's sensor has all of these qualities. The secret is the use of monolayer-capped nanoparticles that are only 5-8 nanometers in diameter. They are made of gold and surrounded by connector molecules called ligands. In fact, "monolayer-capped nanoparticles can be thought of as flowers, where the center of the flower is the gold or metal nanoparticle and the petals are the monolayer of organic ligands that generally protect it," says Haick.


The team discovered that when these nanoparticles are laid on top of a substrate – in this case, made of PET (flexible polyethylene terephthalate), the same plastic found in soda bottles – the resulting compound conducted electricity differently depending on how the substrate was bent. (The bending motion brings some particles closer to others, increasing how quickly electrons can pass between them.) This electrical property means that the sensor can detect a large range of pressures, from tens of milligrams to tens of grams. "The sensor is very stable and can be attached to any surface shape while keeping the function stable," says Dr. Nir Peled, Head of the Thoracic Cancer Research and Detection Center at Israel's Sheba Medical Center, who was not involved in the research.

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Visual Odometry for GPS-denied Flight and Environment Mapping using a Kinect mounted to a Quadrotor

Visual Odometry for GPS-denied Flight and Environment Mapping using a Kinect mounted to a Quadrotor | Amazing Science |

A robotics group at MIT has developed a real-time visual odometry system that can use a Kinect to provide fast and accurate estimates of a vehicle's 3D trajectory. This system is based on recent advances in visual odometry research, and combines a number of ideas from the state-of-the-art algorithms. It aligns successive camera frames by matching features across images, and uses the Kinect-derived depth estimates to determine the camera's motion.


The group has integrated the visual odometry into our Quadrotor system, which was previously developed for controlling the vehicle with laser scan-matching. The visual odometry runs in real-time, onboard the vehicle, and its estimates have low enough delay that we are successfully able to control the quadrotor using only the Kinect and onboard IMU, enabling fully autonomous 3D flight in unknown GPS-denied environments. Notably, it does not require a motion capture system or other external sensors -- all sensing and computation required for local position control is done onboard the vehicle.

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Ice Worlds at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

Ice Worlds at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition | Amazing Science |

At huge distances from the Sun, the moons of the outer planets and dwarf planets, such as Pluto, reside in a bizarre world of extreme cold where water behaves like a solid rock. However, despite the biting cold, many of these worlds are alive with activity, such as the erupting geysers on the surface of Neptune’s moon Triton.


Visitors to the exhibit will be able to experience reconstructions of the often rugged icy surfaces of these worlds, which lie hundreds of millions of miles away from our own planet. Scientists from UCL, the University of Kent, Queen’s University Belfast, and Imperial College London, will be on hand to explain the spectacular images, scale models and 3D images that have been captured during their research into the edges of our solar system.


Lead exhibitor Dr Geraint Jones, from UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said: “We hope to demonstrate to the public how exciting these ice worlds are. They have everything: towering cliffs of ice, active geysers, complex atmospheres, and hidden oceans of water.”


He added: “A few icy moons even have oceans of water hidden beneath their outer crust. There’s an extremely remote possibility that these hidden seas could even be home to very primitive life forms. ”We hope to demonstrate to the public how exciting these ice worlds are. They have everything: towering cliffs of ice, active geysers, complex atmospheres, and hidden oceans of water.


 Among other scale models, a highlight of the exhibit is a reconstruction of the active south polar region of Enceladus. Discovered by William Herschel in 1789 from his home in Slough, this 500km-wide moon of Saturn was recently revealed by the Cassini-Huygens mission to be active today. Using data from the mission, detailed maps of the moon have been used to build an accurate reconstruction of its tortured icy surface.

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Cancer-Linked Fam190a Gene Found to Regulate Cell Division and Chromosomal Stability

Cancer-Linked Fam190a Gene Found to Regulate Cell Division and Chromosomal Stability | Amazing Science |

Johns Hopkins cancer scientists have discovered that a little-described gene known as FAM190A plays a subtle but critical role in regulating the normal cell division process known as mitosis, and the scientists’ research suggests that mutations in the gene may contribute to commonly found chromosomal instability in cancer.


In laboratory studies of cells, investigators found that knocking down expression of FAM190A disrupts mitosis. In three pancreatic cancer-cell lines and a standard human-cell line engineered to be deficient in FAM190A, researchers observed that cells often had difficulty separating at the end of mitosis, creating cells with two or more nuclei. The American Journal of Pathology published a description of the work online May 17, which comes nearly a century after German scientist Theodor Boveri linked abnormal mitosis to cancer. Until now, there had been no common gene alteration identified as the culprit for cancer-linked mitosis.


“These cells try to divide, and it looks like they succeed, except they wind up with a strand that connects them,” explains Scott Kern, M.D., professor of oncology and pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Kimmel Cancer Center. “The next time they try to divide, all the nuclei come together, and they try to make four cells instead of two. Subsequently, they try to make eight cells, and so on.” Movies of the process taken by Kern’s laboratory are available on the journal Web site.


Kern’s group previously reported that deletions in the FAM190A gene could be found in nearly 40 percent of human cancers. That report, published in 2011 in the journal Oncotarget, and the current one are believed to be the only published papers focused solely on FAM190A, which is frequently altered in human cancers but whose function has been unknown. Alterations in FAM190A messages may be the third most common in human cancers after those for the more well-known genes p53 and p16, Kern says.


“We don’t think that a species can exist without FAM190, but we don’t think severe defects in FAM190A readily survive among cancers,” Kern says. “The mutations seen here are very special – they don’t take out the whole gene but instead remove an internal portion and leave what we call the reading frame. We think we’re finding a more subtle defect in human cancers, in which mitosis defects can occur episodically, and we propose it may happen in about 40 percent of human cancers.”


Abnormalities in FAM190A may cause chromosomal imbalances seen so commonly in cancers, Kern says. Multipolar mitosis is one of the most common functional defects reported in human cancers, and more than 90 percent of human cancers have abnormal numbers of chromosomes.

Kern says he plans to study FAM190A further by creating lab models of the subtle defects akin to what actually is tolerated by human cancer cells.

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"Champion" nanostructures are able to produce hydrogen in the most environmentally friendly and cheap manner

"Champion" nanostructures are able to produce hydrogen in the most environmentally friendly and cheap manner | Amazing Science |
EPFL and Technion researchers have figured out the 'champion' nanostructures able to produce hydrogen in the most environmentally friendly and cheap manner, by simply using daylight.


In the quest for the production of renewable and clean energy, photoelectrochemical cells (PECs) constitute a sort of a Holy Grail. PECs are devices able of splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen in a single operation, thanks to solar radiation. "As a matter of fact, we've already discovered this precious chalice, says Michael Grätzel, Director of the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces (LPI) at EPFL and inventor of dye-sensitized photoelectrochemical cells. Today we have just reached an important milestone on the path that will lead us forward to profitable industrial applications."

By using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) techniques, researchers were able to precisely characterize the movement of the electrons through the cauliflower-looking nanostructures forming the iron oxide particles, laid on electrodes during the manufacturing process. "These measures have helped us understand the reason why we get performance differences depending on the electrodes manufacturing process", says Grätzel.


By comparing several electrodes, whose manufacturing method is now mastered, scientists were able to identify the "champion" structure. A 10x10 cm prototype has been produced and its effectiveness is in line with expectations. The next step will be the development of the industrial process to large-scale manufacturing. A European funding and the Swiss federal government could provide support for this last part.


Evidently, the long-term goal is to produce hydrogen – the fuel of the future – in an environmentally friendly and especially competitive way. For Michael Grätzel, "current methods, in which a conventional photovoltaic cell is coupled to an electrolyzer for producing hydrogen, cost 15 € per kilo at their cheapest. We're aiming at a € 5 charge per kilo".

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Four New Species of Deep-Sea Anglerfish Found in New Zealand Waters

Four New Species of Deep-Sea Anglerfish Found in New Zealand Waters | Amazing Science |
Marine biologists from Taiwan and New Zealand have identified four new species of deep-sea fish in the anglerfish genus Chaunax.


The Chaunacidae is a group of medium-sized fishes inhabiting the continental slope at depths of up to 1.6 miles (2.5 km).


The newly discovered species, named Chaunax flavomaculatus, C. mulleus, C. reticulatus and C. russatus, have been described in a paper published in the journal Zootaxa.


Chaunax flavomaculatus is about 4 – 5 inches (10 – 12 cm) in length and lives at depths of 1,150-1,312 feet (350 – 400 m).


The specific name of Chaunax flavomaculatus derives from the Latin wordsflavo (yellow) and maculates (spot), in reference to the fresh coloration of the dorsal body. The proposed common name of the species is Yellowspot frogmouth.


“Chaunax flavomaculatus is most similar to C. abei and C. endeavouri, with which it shares a mix of numerous bifurcated and simple dermal spinules.Chaunax flavomaculatus is unique in having many large yellow spots on the pinkish background of the dorsal surface when fresh, and a creamy white body when preserved,” the biologists wrote in the Zootaxa paper.

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Diabetes Type 1 ‘Reverse Vaccine’ Passes Human Trial Hurdle

Diabetes Type 1 ‘Reverse Vaccine’ Passes Human Trial Hurdle | Amazing Science |

Could there be a cure for type 1 diabetes? It looks like we're headed in that direction. A "reverse vaccine" that targets the cells that attack insulin producers seems to have passed its first test in humans. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system typically attacks insulin-producing cells for reasons scientists still don't quite understand. So what makes the vaccine a reversal? Unlike normal vaccines, which train the immune system to destroy a certain kind of cell, this treatment instead suppresses immune cells to keep them from doing the same thing. Experts say the therapy needs to undergo much more testing before it's put on the market. But it's an exciting step. Still many more tests to go.

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X-ray videos reveal that bats store and recycle energy in their tendons

X-ray videos reveal that bats store and recycle energy in their tendons | Amazing Science |

X-ray videos reveal the movement of bats' skeletons as they fly and show how the mammals "recycle energy" in their tendons.


Tiny fruit bats have very stretchy tendons that connect their upper arm muscles to their bones. This strategy make them very efficient fliers. Since bats are also unique among mammals in their ability to fly, the animals could inspire the design of the search-and-rescue robots.


The idea behind a recent study, according to lead researcher Dr. Nicolai Konow from Brown University, was to show exactly "how the skeleton moves with in an organism".


"Bats don't like being on the ground, so we just put them on the ground and filmed them as they took off.

 Dr. Konow also measured the change in the length of the bats' muscles and tendons, which revealed the stretchy, energy-storing property. 

"Most small mammals have stiff, thick tendons so they cannot stretch or store energy in them like we do in our Achilles tendon when we run or walk," he explained.


But this 20g fruit bat stores energy as it stretches its bicep and tricep tendons during take‐off and climbing flight.


Releasing this "elastic energy" - just like a stretched rubber band snapping back - gives the animal an extra power boost.


The researchers say that this energy-recycling could be used to aid the design of more efficient flying robots.


"The way forward for bio-inspired design is to have energy is stored in the system, so it's available to power robotic movements," Dr. Konow explained. He added: "The fact that bats are able to pack such an incredible functional repertoire into such a tiny body utterly amazes me."


"And bats don't just fly - they walk, run jump and even swim, so we're pretty nicely set up to create the ultimate amphibian here.


"And that could have thrilling applications in terms of search and rescue in catastrophe zones."

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Larger habitable zone suggests 60 billion planets could sustain water and life in the Milky Way Galaxy alone

Larger habitable zone suggests 60 billion planets could sustain water and life in the Milky Way Galaxy alone | Amazing Science |

 A new study that calculates the influence of cloud behavior on climate doubles the number of potentially habitable planets orbiting red dwarfs, the most common type of stars in the universe. This finding means that in the Milky Way galaxy alone, 60 billion planets may be orbiting red dwarf stars in the habitable zone.

Researchers at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University based their study, which appears in Astrophysical Journal Letters, on rigorous computer simulations of cloud behavior on alien planets. This cloud behavior dramatically expanded the estimated habitable zone of red dwarfs, which are much smaller and fainter than stars like the sun.

Current data from NASA’s Kepler Mission, a space observatory searching for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars, suggest there is approximately one Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of each red dwarf. The UChicago-Northwestern study roughly doubles that estimate to two habitable planets for each red dwarf. It also suggests new ways for astronomers to test whether planets orbiting red dwarfs have cloud cover. 

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