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Hawaii land board approves plan to build world's largest telescope atop Mauna Kea summit

Hawaii land board approves plan to build world's largest telescope atop Mauna Kea summit | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A plan by California and Canadian universities to build the world's largest telescope at the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano won approval from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources on Friday.

 

The decision clears the way for the group managing the Thirty Meter Telescope project to negotiate a sublease for land with the University of Hawaii.

 

The telescope would be able to observe planets that orbit stars other than the sun and enable astronomers to watch new planets and stars being formed. It should also help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.

 

Construction costs are expected to top $1 billion. The telescope's segmented primary mirror, which is nearly 100 feet long, will give it nine times the collecting area of the largest optical telescopes in use today. Its images will also be three times sharper.

 

But the telescope may not hold the world's largest title for long. A group of European countries plans to build the European Extremely Large Telescope, which will have a 138-foot-long mirror.

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Nanoparticle disguised as blood cell fights bacterial infections

Nanoparticle disguised as blood cell fights bacterial infections | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A nanoparticle wrapped in a red blood cell membrane can remove toxins from the body and could be used to fight bacterial infections, according to research published today in Nature Nanotechnology.

 

The results demonstrate that the nanoparticles could be used to neutralize toxins produced by many bacteria, including some that are antibiotic-resistant, and could counteract the toxicity of venom from a snake or scorpion attack, says Liangfang Zhang, a professor of nanoengineering at the University of California, San Diego. Zhang led the research.

 

The “nanosponges” work by targeting so-called pore-forming toxins, which kill cells by poking holes in them. One of the most common classes of protein toxins in nature, pore-forming toxins are secreted by many types of bacteria, includingStaphylococcus aureus, of which antibiotic-resistant strains, called MRSA, are endemic in hospitals worldwide and cause tens of thousands of deaths annually. They are also present in many types of animal venom.

 

There are a range of existing therapies designed to target the molecular structure of pore-forming toxins and disable their cell-killing functions. But they must be customized for different diseases and conditions, and there are over 80 families of these harmful proteins, each with a different structure. Using the new nanosponge therapy, says Zhang, “we can neutralize every single one, regardless of their molecular structure.”

 

Zhang and his colleagues wrapped real red blood cell membranes around biocompatible polymeric nanoparticles. A single red blood cell supplies enough membrane material to produce over 3,000 nanosponges, each around 85 nanometers (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter) in diameter. Since red blood cells are a primary target of pore-forming toxins, the nanosponges act as decoys once in the bloodstream, absorbing the damaging proteins and neutralizing their toxicity. And because they are so small, the nanosponges will vastly outnumber the real red blood cells in the system, says Zhang. This means they have a much higher chance of interacting with and absorbing toxins, and thus can divert the toxins away from their natural targets.

 

In animal tests, the researchers showed that the new therapy greatly increased the survival rate of mice given a lethal dose of one of the most potent pore-forming toxins. Liver biopsies several days following the injection revealed no damage, indicating that the nanosponges, along with the sequestered toxins, were safely digested after accumulating in the liver.

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Breakthrough in quantum communications and computing using a teleporter and a paradoxical cat

Breakthrough in quantum communications and computing using a teleporter and a paradoxical cat | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The breakthrough is the first-ever transfer, or teleportation, of a particular complex set of quantum information from one point to another, opening the way for high-speed, high-fidelity transmission of large volumes of information, such as quantum encryption keys, via quantum communications networks. The research was published in the April edition of the journal Science. Teleportation – the transfer of quantum information from one location to another using normal, "classical" communications - is one of the fundamental quantum communication techniques. The cat in the equation was not a living, breathing feline but rather "wave packets" of light representing the famous "thought experiment" known as Schrodinger’s Cat. Schrodinger’s Cat was a paradox proposed by early 20th century physicist Erwin Schrodinger to describe the situation in which normal, "classical" objects can exist in a quantum "superposition" - having two states at once.

 

Professor Elanor Huntington, in the School of Engineering and Information Technology at UNSW's Canberra campus at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), was part of a team led by University of Tokyo researchers. She said the team’s achievement was another step towards building a super-powerful quantum computer and transmitting quantum information. "One of the limitations of high-speed quantum communication at present is that some detail is lost during the teleportation process. It’s the Star Trek equivalent of beaming the crew down to a planet and having their organs disappear or materialise in the wrong place. We’re talking about information but the principle is the same – it allows us to guarantee the integrity of transmission. "Just about any quantum technology relies on quantum teleportation. The value of this discovery is that it allows us, for the first time, to quickly and reliably move quantum information around. This information can be carried by light, and it’s a powerful way to represent and process information. Previous attempts to transmit were either very slow or the information might be changed. This process means we will be able to move blocks of quantum information around within a computer or across a network, just as we do now with existing computer technologies. "If we can do this, we can do just about any form of communication needed for any quantum technology." The experiments were conducted on a machine known as "the teleporter" in the laboratory of Professor Akira Furusawa in the Department of Applied Physics in the University of Tokyo. Professor Huntington, who leads a research program for the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication, developed the high-speed communication part of the teleporter at UNSW’s Canberra campus with PhD student James Webb.

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NASA Announces Plan for Capturing an Asteroid

NASA Announces Plan for Capturing an Asteroid | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

NASA wants to identify an asteroid in deep space, figure out a way to capture the spinning and hard-to-grab orb, nudge it into our planetary region, and then set it into orbit around the moon, the agency announced Wednesday.


The capture would be performed robotically, and the relocated asteroid would become a destination for astronauts to explore—and, possibly, for space entrepreneurs to mine.

 

The idea may sound more like science fiction than national policy, but it actually fits in with key goals of the Obama administration and the space community.

 

Those goals include learning how to identify asteroids heading toward us and to change their course, finding destinations where astronauts can go as they try to learn how to make the longer trip to Mars, and providing opportunities for space investors.

 

"This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities and help protect our home planet," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement before the plan was announced on Wednesday.

 

"This asteroid initiative brings together the best of NASA's science, technology, and human exploration efforts to achieve the president's goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025," his statement continued.

Planning for the effort has just begun, and Bolden said teams will meet over the summer to work out how to select the right asteroid, how to get a spacecraft to it, and how to tow it many millions of miles to our moon.

As envisioned in a new NASA video (below), the asteroid would be caught and then surrounded by a large, flexible covering that will be towed by a spacecraft with two large solar arrays.

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Animal self-medication: Parasite-infected butterflies lay eggs on medicinal plant for better survival of offspring

Animal self-medication: Parasite-infected butterflies lay eggs on medicinal plant for better survival of offspring | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

It's been known for decades that animals such as chimpanzees seek out medicinal herbs to treat their diseases. But in recent years, the list of animal pharmacists has grown much longer, and it now appears that the practice of animal self-medication is a lot more widespread than previously thought, according to a University of Michigan ecologist and his colleagues.

 

Animals use medications to treat various ailments through both learned and innate behaviors. The fact that moths, ants and fruit flies are now known to self-medicate has profound implications for the ecology and evolution of animal hosts and their parasites, according to Mark Hunter, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

 

In addition, because plants remain the most promising source of future pharmaceuticals, studies of animal medication may lead the way in discovering new drugs to relieve human suffering, Hunter and two colleagues wrote in a review article titled "Self-Medication in Animals," published online April 11 in the journal Science.

 

"When we watch animals foraging for food in nature, we now have to ask, are they visiting the grocery store or are they visiting the pharmacy?" Hunter said. "We can learn a lot about how to treat parasites and disease by watching other animals."

 

Much of the work in this field has focused on cases in which animals, such as baboons and woolly bear caterpillars, medicate themselves. One recent study has suggested that house sparrows and finches add high-nicotine cigarette butts to their nests to reduce mite infestations.

 

But less attention has been given to the many cases in which animals medicate their offspring or other kin, according to Hunter and his colleagues. Wood ants incorporate an antimicrobial resin from conifer trees into their nests, preventing microbial growth in the colony. Parasite-infected monarch butterflies protect their offspring against high levels of parasite growth by laying their eggs on anti-parasitic milkweed.

 

Hunter and his colleagues suggest that researchers in the field should "de-emphasize the 'self' in self-medication" and base their studies on a more inclusive framework.

 

"Perhaps the biggest surprise for us was that animals like fruit flies and butterflies can choose food for their offspring that minimizes the impacts of disease in the next generation," Hunter said. "There are strong parallels with the emerging field of epigenetics in humans, where we now understand that dietary choices made by parents influence the long-term health of their children."

 

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Evolving Soft Robots with Multiple Materials (muscle, bone, etc.)

Here we evolve the bodies of soft robots made of multiple materials (muscle, bone, & support tissue) to move quickly. Evolution produces a diverse array of fun, wacky, interesting, but ultimately functional soft robots. Enjoy!

This video accompanies the following paper: Unshackling Evolution: Evolving Soft Robots with Multiple Materials and a Powerful Generative Encoding. Cheney, MacCurdy, Clune, & Lipson. Proceedings of the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference. 2013. 

PDF: http://jeffclune.com/publications/201...

The work was performed by members of the Cornell Creative Machines Lab: http://creativemachines.cornell.edu and the Evolving Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Wyoming:http://JeffClune.com

The simulator we used is called VoxCad, by Jon Hiller:http://www.VoxCad.com

 

More videos: http://jeffclune.com/videos.html

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6 year project to map how nerve connections develop in babies' brains while still in the womb and after birth

6 year project to map how nerve connections develop in babies' brains while still in the womb and after birth | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists in the UK have launched a six-year project to create the first map of babies' brain in a critical period of growth in the womb and after birth.

 

By the time a baby takes its first breath many of the key pathways between nerves have already been made. And some of these will help determine how a baby thinks or sees the world, and may have a role to play in the development of conditions such as autism, scientists say.

 

But how this rich neural network assembles in the baby before birth is relatively unchartered territory.

 

Researchers from Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, King's College London, Imperial College and Oxford University aim to produce a dynamic wiring diagram of how the brain grows, at a level of detail that they say has been impossible until now.

 

They hope that by charting the journeys of bundles of nerves in the final three months of pregnancy, doctors will be able to understand more about how they can help in situations when this process goes wrong.

 

Prof David Edwards, director of the Centre for the Developing Brain, who is leading the research, says: "There is a distressing number of children in our society who grow up with problems because of things that happen to them around the time of birth or just before birth.

 

"It is very important to be able to scan babies before they are born, because we can capture a period when an awful lot is changing inside the brain, and it is a time when a great many of the things that might be going wrong do seem to be going wrong."

 

The study - known as the Developing Human Connectome Project - hopes to look at more than 1,500 babies, studying many aspects of their neurological development.

 

By examining the brains of babies while they are still growing in the womb, as well as those born prematurely and at full term, the scientists will try to define baselines of normal development and investigate how these may be affected by problems around birth.

 

Researchers aim to understand more about how the brain is affected by prematurity and they plan to share their map with the wider research community.

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Oldest dinosaur embryo fossils discovered in China

Oldest dinosaur embryo fossils discovered in China | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Nesting site yields earliest known organic remains of a terrestrial vertebrate.

 

Palaeontologists working in China have unearthed the earliest collection of fossilized dinosaur embryos to date. The trove includes remains from many individuals at different developmental stages, providing a unique opportunity to investigate the embryonic development of a prehistoric species.

 

Robert Reisz, a palaeontologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, Canada, and his colleagues discovered the sauropodomorph fossils in a bone bed in Lufeng County that dates to the Early Jurassic period, 197 million to 190 million years ago. The site contained eggshells and more than 200 disarticulated bones — the oldest known traces of budding dinosaurs, the researchers report in Nature.

 

“Most of our record of dinosaur embryos is concentrated in the Late Cretaceous period,” says David Evans, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “This [study] takes a detailed record of dinosaur embryology and pushes it back over 100 million years.”

But it is not just the age of the fossils that is notable, the researchers say. Spectroscopic analysis of bone-tissue samples from the Chinese nesting site revealed the oldest organic material ever seen in a terrestrial vertebrate. That was surprising because the fossilized femur bones were delicate and porous, which made them vulnerable to the corrosive effects of weathering and groundwater, says Reisz.

 

“That suggests to us that other dinosaur fossils might have organic remains,” he says. “We just haven’t looked at them in the right ways.” 

Reisz thinks that the complex proteins his team detected in that organic material are preserved collagen. Because collagen composition varies across species, further analyses could help researchers to compare the sauropodomorph fossils with those of other creatures. They include the mighty sauropods, close relatives — and perhaps descendants — of early sauropodomorphs that weighed in at about 100,000 kilograms each, making them the largest animals ever to roam Earth.

 

The researchers think that the Lufeng dinosaurs are sauropodomorphs because they are similar in many ways to intact embryonic skeletons of Massospondylus, a sauropodomorph that Reisz unearthed in South Africa in 20052. But their analysis does identify key differences between the two fossil finds. The Lufeng embryos were less developmentally advanced than the Massospondylus embryos, and they seem to be examples of a different genus, Lufengosaurus.

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Shingled recording pattern may lead to increased hard drive capacities

Shingled recording pattern may lead to increased hard drive capacities | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Modern hard drive technology is reaching its limits. Engineers have increased data-storage capacities by reducing the widths of the narrow tracks of magnetic material that record data inside a hard drive. Narrowing these tracks has required a concordant reduction in the size of the magnetic write head—the device used to create them. However, it is physically difficult to reduce the size of write heads any further. Kim Keng Teo and co-workers at the A*STAR Data Storage Institute, Singapore, and the Niigata Institute of Technology, Japan, have recently performed an analysis that highlights the promise of an alternative approach, which may sidestep this problem completely.

 

In a conventional hard drive, a write head stores data by applying a magnetic field to a series of parallel, non-overlapping tracks. Halving the width of the track effectively doubles the data-storage capacity, but also requires the size of the write head to be halved. The head therefore produces less magnetic field than is needed to enable stable data storage. This is because the small magnetic grains that are characteristic of modern hard drive media need to be thermally stable at room temperature. Shingled magnetic recording represents a step towards solving this problem as it allows for narrower track widths without smaller write heads. Rather than writing to non-overlapping tracks, the approach overlaps tracks just as shingles on a roof overlap (see image). Tracks are written in a so-called 'raster' pattern, with new data written to one side only of the last-written track. Teo and co-workers analyzed the scaling behavior of this approach by using both numerical analysis and experimental verification. Their results showed that the size of the data track is not limited by the size of the write head, as in conventional hard drives. Instead, the track size is limited by the size of the magnetic read head, and by the 'erase bandwidth', which represents the portion of the track edge that is affected by adjacent tracks. "This is a paradigm shift for the industry," says Teo.

 

"A relatively small difference in the way that writing occurs calls for a completely new approach to head design." Teo expects the shingled approach to be a useful stop-gap measure prior to the arrival of more advanced, next-generation technologies in the next decade or so that will apply more radical modifications to the hard drive such as the use of heat to assist the write head.

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World First: Device keeps human liver alive outside body

World First: Device keeps human liver alive outside body | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In a world first, a donated human liver has been 'kept alive' outside a human being and then successfully transplanted into a patient in need of a new liver.

 

So far the procedure has been performed on two patients on the liver transplant waiting list and both are making excellent recoveries.

Currently transplantation depends on preserving donor organs by putting them ‘on ice’ – cooling them to slow their metabolism. But this often leads to organs becoming damaged.

 

The technology, developed at Oxford University and now being trialled at the liver transplant centre at King’s College Hospital as part of a controlled clinical investigation, could preserve a functioning liver outside the body for 24 hours. A donated human liver connected to the device is raised to body temperature and oxygenated red blood cells are circulated through its capillaries. Once on the machine, a liver functions normally just as it would inside a human body, regaining its colour and producing bile.

 

The results from the first two transplants, carried out at King’s College Hospital in February 2013, suggest that the device could be useful for all patients needing liver transplants. Based on pre-clinical data, the new device could also enable the preservation of livers which would otherwise be discarded as unfit for transplantation – potentially as much as doubling the number of organs available for transplant and prolonging the maximum period of organ preservation to 24 hours.

 

‘These first clinical cases confirm that we can support human livers outside the body, keep them alive and functioning on our machine and then, hours later, successfully transplant them into a patient,’ said Professor Constantin Coussios of Oxford University's Department of Engineering Science, one of the machine's inventors and Technical Director of OrganOx, the University spin-out created to bring the device from bench to bedside.

 

‘The device is the very first completely automated liver perfusion device of its kind: the organ is perfused with oxygenated red blood cells at normal body temperature, just as it would be inside the body, and can for example be observed making bile, which makes it an extraordinary feat of engineering.

 

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Thunderstorms contain invisible pulses of ‘dark lightning’ - powerful radiation

Thunderstorms contain invisible pulses of ‘dark lightning’ - powerful radiation | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists investigate previously unknown sprays of X-rays and bursts of gamma rays.

 

A lightning bolt is one of nature’s most over-the-top phenomena, rarely failing to elicit at least a ping of awe no matter how many times a person has witnessed one. With his iconic kite-and-key experiments in the mid-18th century, Benjamin Franklin showed that lightning is an electrical phenomenon, and since then the general view has been that lightning bolts are big honking sparks no different in kind from the little ones generated by walking in socks across a carpeted room.

 

But scientists recently discovered something mind-bending about lightning: Sometimes its flashes are invisible, just sudden pulses of unexpectedly powerful radiation. It’s what Joseph Dwyer, a lightning researcher at the Florida Institute of Technology, has termed dark lightning.

 

Unknown to Franklin but now clear to a growing roster of lightning researchers and astronomers is that along with bright thunderbolts, thunderstorms unleash sprays of X-rays and even intense bursts of gamma rays, a form of radiation normally associated with such cosmic spectacles as collapsing stars. The radiation in these invisible blasts can carry a million times as much energy as the radiation in visible lightning, but that energy dissipates quickly in all directions rather than remaining in a stiletto-like lightning bolt.

 

Dark lightning appears sometimes to compete with normal lightning as a way for thunderstorms to vent the electrical energy that gets pent up inside their roiling interiors, Dwyer says. Unlike with regular lightning, though, people struck by dark lightning, most likely while flying in an airplane, would not get hurt. But according to Dwyer’s calculations, they might receive in an instant the maximum safe lifetime dose of ionizing radiation — the kind that wreaks the most havoc on the human body.

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Drawing Einstein’s face with math: start with x(t)=-38/9sin(11/7-3t)

Drawing Einstein’s face with math: start with x(t)=-38/9sin(11/7-3t) | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Wolfram Alpha collects famous faces into functions: Obama, 2pac, Sergey Brin.

 

A post on StackExchange from a couple of months ago inquired how to create the line drawings in the style that Wolfram Alpha has curated. Some debate ensued about whether the equations that produced the drawings were handwritten, but one commenter, Simon Woods, described a way to produce the curves.

 

Woods’ method, adapted from another comment by Rahul Narain, involves reverse engineering the curves using Wolfram's Mathematica by converting an image to grayscale, extracting the contours, and plotting the curve using a function “tocurve” that takes the line, a number of modes, and “symbolic parameter t” that parameterizes the line. The “Fourier” function in Mathematica will approximate the line with sinusoids, and the “Rationalize” function converts all the numbers to rational to produce equations that look similar to WolframAlpha’s collection.

 

This procedure would cover one closed-line element of a drawing, but many of the portraits on WolframAlpha have multiple elements (for instance, the color in Barack Obama’s hair, or Adele’s eyes, or Alexander Graham Bell’s beard). But once you have all that, drawing Sergey Brin wearing a set of Google Glasses is extremely easy. 

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Wearable Gesture Control from Thalmic Labs Senses Your Muscles

Wearable Gesture Control from Thalmic Labs Senses Your Muscles | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

With visions of Minority Report, many a user's hoped to control gadgets by wildly waving at a Kinect like a symphony conductor. Now there's another way to make your friends laugh at you thanks to the Thalmic Labs' MYO armband, which senses motion and electrical activity in your muscles to let you control your computer or other device via Bluetooth 4.0. The company says its proprietary sensor can detect signals right down to individual fingers before you even move them, which -- coupled with an extremely sensitive 6-axis motion detector -- makes for a highly responsive experience. Feedback to the user is given through haptics in the device, which also packs an ARM processor and onboard Lithium-Ion batteries. MYO is now up for a limited pre-order with Thalmic saying you won't be charged until it ships near year's end, while developers can also grab the API. If you're willing to risk some ridicule to be first on the block to grab one, hit the source.

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A Wireless Micro LED Device Controls Mouse Behavior

A Wireless Micro LED Device Controls Mouse Behavior | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Mice tap into their own neural reward circuits with the help of a new optogenetics device.

 

A microscopic light-emitting diode device that controls the activity of neurons has given researchers wireless control over animal behavior. The tiny device, tested in mice, causes less damage than other methods used to deliver light into the brain, report researchers in Thursday’s issue ofScience, and it does not tether mice to a light source, enabling scientists to study behaviors more naturally than is normally possible.

 

Many groups of neuroscientists have turned to light-based control of neurons to study the neuronal basis of behavior. To control the brain cells, researchers use optogenetics, a method for genetically modifying neurons that allows them to be activated or silenced with flashes of light.

 

When Michael Bruchas, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, began using optogenetics to study stress-related behaviors in mice, he was frustrated by the limits that tethered devices put on studies involving complex environments or multiple mice. So he teamed up with John Rogers, a materials scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and others, to develop a “device that has a very small ultrathin profile, is noninvasive, and can be controlled wirelessly,” says Bruchas. “It gives you more power to study different circuits wired for specific behaviors. Animals can be in their home cage or interacting with another animal or running on a wheel.”

 

The flexible device is roughly one-fifth the width of a human hair and can be implanted deep inside the brain with the help of a microneedle. A biodegradable adhesive holds the micro-LED implant onto the needle, but that grip is lost as the silk-based adhesive dissolves within a matter of minutes. The device is then left in the brain when the needle is removed. A wire even thinner than the device connects the micro-LED to electronics, including a wireless transmitter, that sit on top of the mouse’s head. Altogether, the setup weighs less than one gram, says Bruchas (a mouse weighs about 30 grams).

 

 This kind of device could eventually be used to control brain activity in an automated fashion: communicating with neurons though flashes of light in response to chemical, temperature, or electrical changes in the brain. “The ability to integrate sensors as well as LEDs could enable ‘closed-loop’ control of brain functions, which could be of use for applications in which information must be both observed and read,” says MIT’s Ed Boyden, one of the co-inventors of optogenetics.

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What we exhale is unique to us – our very own 'breathprint'

What we exhale is unique to us – our very own 'breathprint' | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Everyone's breath contains a distinctive set of metabolic compounds, so breath tests could be used to detect and monitor disease

Via Sakis Koukouvis
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Noor Fatima's curator insight, April 11, 2013 6:21 AM

INTERESTING.......

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Late-Holocene Bird Extinction Linked to Human Colonization

Late-Holocene Bird Extinction Linked to Human Colonization | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A new research suggests that more than 1,000 bird species became extinct on Pacific islands following human colonization.

 

Scientists had long known extinction rates in the region were high but estimates varied from 800 to 2,000 bird species. The researchers led by Prof Tim Blackburn of the University of Tennessee studied the extinction rates of nonperching land birds on Pacific islands from 700 to 3,500 years ago. They used fossil records from 41 Pacific islands such as Hawaii and Fiji to run an analytical technique called the Bayesian mark-recapture method. This allowed them to model gaps in the fossil record for more than 300 Pacific islands and estimate the number of unknown extinct species.

 

“We used information on what species are currently on the islands and what species are in the fossil record to estimate the probability of finding a species in the fossil record,” said co-author Prof Alison Boyer, also from the University of Tennessee.

 

The team found that nearly 983, or two-thirds, of land bird populations disappeared between the years of the first human arrival and European colonization. Disappearances are linked to overhunting by people, forest clearance and introduced species.

 

“We calculate that human colonization of remote Pacific islands caused the global extinction of close to a thousand species of nonperching land birds alone,” Prof Boyer said. “However, it is likely there are more species that were affected by human presence. Sea bird and perching bird extinctions will add to this total.”

 

Species lost include several species of moa-nalos, large flightless waterfowl from Hawai’i, and the New Caledonian Sylviornis, a relative of the game birds but which weighed in at around 30 kg, three times as heavy as a swan.

 

The researchers found the extinction rates differed depending on island and species characteristics. For example, larger islands had lower rates of extinction because they had larger populations of each bird species. Islands with more rainfall also had lower extinction rates because they experienced less deforestation by settlers. Bird species that were flightless and large-bodied had a higher rate of extinction because they were easier and more profitable to hunt and their lower rates of population growth inhibited recovery from overhunting or habitat loss.

 

“Flightless species were 33 times more likely to go extinct than those that could fly,” Prof Boyer explained. “Also, species that only populated a single island were 24 more times likely to go extinct than widespread species.”

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Deborah Verran's comment, April 13, 2013 6:39 PM
This image of the moa is one of the birds that became extinct in New Zealand after colonization. The adult birds were taller than humans.
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First algae powered building constructed in Hamburg, Germany

First algae powered building constructed in Hamburg, Germany | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A 15-unit apartment building has been constructed in the German city of Hamburg that has 129 algae filled louvered tanks hanging over the exterior of the south-east and south-west sides of the building—making it the first in the world to be powered exclusively by algae. Designed by Arup, SSC Strategic Science Consultants and Splitterwerk Architects, and named the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House, the building demonstrates the ability to use algae as a way to heat and cool large buildings.

To make use of the algae, which the team retrieved from the nearby Elbe river, it was put into large thin rectangular clear cases. Inside, the algae live in a water solution and are provided nutrients and carbon dioxide by an automated system. Each tank was then affixed to the outside walls of the building onto scaffolding that allows for turning the tanks towards the sun—similar to technology used for solar collectors. As the algae grows—mostly in the summer—it provides more shade for the building, helping to keep it cool (and serves as a sound buffer as well). Excess heat that builds up in the water in the tanks is transferred to saline water tanks underneath the building for use later. When the amount of algae growth in the tanks reach a certain point, some is harvested and taken to a processing facility inside the building. There the biomass is converted to biogas which can be burned to provide heat in the winter. Thus, the building makes use of both solar thermal and geothermal energy allowing it to be heated and cooled without using any fossil fuels.

The design and construction of the BIQ has taken three years and has cost approximately €5 million, all funded by Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) as part of the ongoing International Building Exhibition – 2013. The BIQ House is one of 16 projects undertaken by the group, with the goal of proving that cost effective ways of making bio-friendly buildings are available today. To highlight the building, the team has painted its exterior green and has added a giant cartoon-like bubble on one side with the word "Photosynthesis?" in it.

The building is to serve as a test case and will be studied by various architects and engineers from around the world to determine if the design is feasible and if so, to perhaps serve as a model when erecting buildings in other cities. 

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-04-algae-powered-hamburg.html#jCp

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Peter Phillips's curator insight, April 13, 2013 2:27 AM

Creative thinking. Love it! I wonder how much biomass the algae is capapble of producing?

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Cancer cells, stem cells and muscle cells may owe their unique identities to powerful gene-regulating structures called super-enhancers

Cancer cells, stem cells and muscle cells may owe their unique identities to powerful gene-regulating structures called super-enhancers | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Long chunks of DNA improve efficiency of gene activators.

 

Different cell types in the body contain the same genetic information but have different genes activated. Short stretches of DNA in the genome called enhancers act like switches for these genes, flipping them 'on' when certain proteins attach to them. Two studies published in Cell now show that enhancers become even more powerful when many of them join together. Richard Young, a cancer researcher at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and senior author of both papers, has dubbed these giant groupings super-enhancers.

 

In the study led by Jakob Lovén at the Whitehead Institute the team looked at cancer cells that owe their out-of-control growth to a notorious gene named MYC. They found that super-enhancers had formed within the cells near the MYC gene, and that the structures catalysed high production of MYC protein. They also found that the super-enhancers could easily be perturbed, causing MYC protein levels to plummet. The Whitehead Institute's Warren Whyte and his colleagues then went on to show that ordinary, healthy cells also seem to depend on super-enhancers.

 

Young says that the fragility of the super-enhancers means that scientists may have a fruitful new way to study cancers. Rather than designing drugs that block MYC — a technique that has thus far been unsuccessful — he suggests that investigators try to hinder the super-enhancer complex that brings MYC to power. Young’s teams discovered super-enhancers while pursuing a conundrum. Back in 2011, scientists had reported that blocking a protein called Brd4 in mice with leukaemia would cause the amounts of Myc protein in cancer cells to diminish sharply and stop the cancer cells from proliferating. But Brd4 is known to help activate enhancers in both healthy and cancerous cells, so how could the Brd4 inhibitors be leaving normal cells unscathed? “I thought, maybe BRD4 does something special to MYC that it does not do to other genes,” says Young.

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World’s first successful uterus transplant recipient is pregnant via in vitro fertilization

World’s first successful uterus transplant recipient is pregnant via in vitro fertilization | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The first woman ever to receive a uterus from a deceased donor, is two-weeks pregnant following a successful embryo transplant, her doctors said on Friday.

 

The 22-year-old Derya Sert was revealed to be almost two-weeks pregnant in preliminary results after in vitro fertilisation at Akdeniz University Hospital in Turkey’s southern province of Antalya, her doctor Mustafa Unal said in a written statement. “She is doing just fine at the moment,” Unal said.

 

Sert was described as a “medical miracle” when she became the first woman in the world to have a successful womb transplant from a dead donor in August 2011 at the same Antalya hospital.

 

The groundbreaking news of her pregnancy will rekindle hopes for thousands of childless women across the world who are unable to bear their own babies. Sert was born without a uterus, like one in every 5,000 women around the world, and her doctors waited 18 months before implanting the embryo to make sure the foreign organ was still functioning.

 

Hers was the second womb transplant to be performed in the world, the first being in Saudi Arabia in 2000 from a living donor, which failed after 99 days due to heavy clotting. Doctors had to remove the organ. The baby is expected to be delivered via C-section and the uterus to be removed from Sert in the months following the birth to avoid further complications and the risk of rejection. The young woman had started to menstruate after the transplant, which her doctors had said was an important signal that the womb was functional.

 

Experts however warn the pregnancy carries several health risks to the patient as well as to the baby, including birth defects due to the use of immunosuppressive drugs as well as preterm delivery.

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Superheated Bose-Einstein condensate exists above critical temperature

Superheated Bose-Einstein condensate exists above critical temperature | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

At very low temperatures, near absolute zero, multiple particles called bosons can form an unusual state of matter in which a large fraction of the bosons in a gas occupy the same quantum state—the lowest one—to form a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). In a sense, the bosons lose their individual identities and behave like a single, very large atom. But while previously BECs have only existed below a critical temperature, scientists in a new study have shown that BECs can exist above this critical temperature for more than a minute when different components of the gas evolve at different rates.

a superheated BEC is reminiscent of superheated distilled water (water that has had many of its impurities removed), which remains liquid above 100 °C, the temperature at which it would normally boil into a gas. In both cases, the temperature—as defined by the average energy per particle (boson or water molecule)—rises above a critical temperature at which the phase transition should occur, and yet it doesn't.


In BECs and distilled water, the inhibition of a phase transition at the critical temperature occurs for different reasons. In general, there are two types of phase transitions. The boiling of water is a first-order phase transition, and it can be inhibited in clean water because, in the absence of impurities, there is in an energy barrier that "protects" the liquid from boiling away. On the other hand, boiling a BEC is a second-order phase transition. In this case, superheating occurs because the BEC component and the remaining thermal (non-condensed) component decouple and evolve as two separate equilibrium systems.

In equilibrium, a BEC can only exist below a critical transition temperature. If the temperature is increased towards the critical value, the BEC should gradually decay into the thermal component. The particles flow between the two components until they have the same chemical potential (a measure of how much energy it takes to add a particle to either component), or in other words, until they are in equilibrium with each other. However, maintaining this equilibrium relies on the interactions between the particles.

In the future, the researchers plan to further investigate the physical mechanism behind superheating. "We are primarily interested in further fundamental understanding of the superheating phenomenon," Smith said. "The funny thing is that the system is simultaneously in equilibrium in some respects (e.g., the BEC and the thermal component have the same temperature, the BEC has an equilibrium shape for the given number of condensed atoms, etc.) and out of equilibrium in other ways (primarily the fact that the number of condensed atoms is much higher than expected in equilibrium). This poses new question about how we define equilibrium in a quantum system, which we would like to understand better. Practical applications might come later, fully exploiting their potential being reliant on more complete fundamental understanding. "Also, it turns out that condensation in 2D systems is even more interesting than in 3D, and we plan to study superheating and other non-equilibrium phenomena for an ultracold 2D Bose gas."

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Beautiful New Bat Species Discovered in South Sudan

Beautiful New Bat Species Discovered in South Sudan | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

This is a special bat, and not just because of its strikingly beautiful spots and stripes. This is a rare specimen, whose discovery in South Sudan led researchers to identify a new genus of bat. The bat is just the fifth specimen of its kind ever collected.


The distinctly patterned bat was discovered by researchers from Bucknell University and Fauna & Flora International during a field research expedition with wildlife authorities in South Sudan.

 

DeeAnn Reeder, an Associate Professor of Biology at Bucknell and first author of the paper announcing the new bat genus, recognized the bat as the same species as a specimen captured in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1939. That specimen was classified as Glauconycteris superba, but after detailed analyses she and her colleagues determined it did not belong in the genus Glauconycteris. It was so unique that they needed to create a new genus for it.

 

Reeder and her colleagues named the new genus Niumbaha, which means “rare” or “unusual” in Zande, the language spoken in Western Equatoria State, where the bat was captured. The bat’s full scientific name is Niumbaha superba, reflecting both the rarity and the magnificence of this creature.


“Our discovery of this new genus of bat is an indicator of how diverse the area is and how much work remains,” Reeder said in a press release.

 



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Chemical treatment that turns whole organs transparent offers a big boost to the field of ‘connectomics’

Chemical treatment that turns whole organs transparent offers a big boost to the field of ‘connectomics’ | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Technique to make tissue transparent offers three-dimensional view of neural networks.

 

A chemical treatment that turns whole organs transparent offers a big boost to the field of ‘connectomics’ — the push to map the brain’s fiendishly complicated wiring. Scientists could use the technique to view large networks of neurons with unprecedented ease and accuracy. The technology also opens up new research avenues for old brains that were saved from patients and healthy donors.

 

“This is probably one of the most important advances for doing neuroanatomy in decades,” says Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, which funded part of the work. Existing technology allows scientists to see neurons and their connections in microscopic detail — but only across tiny slivers of tissue. Researchers must reconstruct three-dimensional data from images of these thin slices. Aligning hundreds or even thousands of these snapshots to map long-range projections of nerve cells is laborious and error-prone, rendering fine-grain analysis of whole brains practically impossible.

 

The new method instead allows researchers to see directly into optically transparent whole brains or thick blocks of brain tissue. Called CLARITY, it was devised by Karl Deisseroth and his team at Stanford University in California. “You can get right down to the fine structure of the system while not losing the big picture,” says Deisseroth, who adds that his group is in the process of rendering an entire human brain transparent.

 

The technique, published online in Nature on 10 April, turns the brain transparent using the detergent SDS, which strips away lipids that normally block the passage of light  (K. Chung et al., Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12107; 2013). Other groups have tried to clarify brains in the past, but many lipid-extraction techniques dissolve proteins and thus make it harder to identify different types of neurons. Deisseroth’s group solved this problem by first infusing the brain with acryl­amide, which binds proteins, nucleic acids and other biomolecules. When the acrylamide is heated, it polymerizes and forms a tissue-wide mesh that secures the molecules. The resulting brain–hydrogel hybrid showed only 8% protein loss after lipid extraction, compared to 41% with existing methods.

 

Applying CLARITY to whole mouse brains, the researchers viewed fluorescently labelled neurons in areas ranging from outer layers of the cortex to deep structures such as the thalamus. They also traced individual nerve fibres through 0.5-millimeter-thick slabs of formalin-preserved autopsied human brain — orders of magnitude thicker than slices currently imaged.

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MIT and Harvard engineers create graphene electronics with DNA-based lithography

MIT and Harvard engineers create graphene electronics with DNA-based lithography | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Chemical and molecular engineers at at MIT and Harvard have successfully used templates made of DNA to cheaply and easily pattern graphene into nanoscale structures that could eventually be fashioned into electronic circuits.

 

Graphene, as you are surely aware by now, is a material with almost magical properties. It is the strongest and most electrically conductive material known to humankind. Semiconductor masters, such as Intel and TSMC, would absolutely love to use graphene to fashion computer chips are capable of operating at hundreds of gigahertz while consuming tiny amounts of power. Unfortunately, though, graphene is much more difficult and expensive to work with than silicon — and, in its base state, it isn’t a semiconductor. The DNA patterning performed by MIT and Harvard seeks to rectify both of these issues, by making graphene easy to work with, and thus easy to turn it into a semiconductor for use in computer chips.

 

Late last year, Harvard’s Wyss Institute announced that it had discovered a technique forbuilding intricately detailed DNA nanostructures out of DNA “Lego bricks.” These bricks are specially crafted strands of DNA that join together with other DNA bricks at a 90-degree angle. By joining enough of these bricks together, a three-dimensional 25-nanometer cube emerges. By altering which DNA bricks are available during this process, the Wyss Institute was capable of forming 102 distinct 3D shapes, as seen in the image and video below.

 

The MIT and Harvard researchers are essentially taking these shapes and binding them to a graphene surface with a molecule called aminopyrine. Once bound, the DNA is coated with a layer of silver, and then a layer of gold to stabilize it. The gold-covered DNA is then used as a mask for plasma lithography, where oxygen plasma burns away the graphene that isn’t covered. Finally, the DNA mask is washed away with sodium cyanide, leaving a piece of graphene that is an almost-perfect copy of the DNA template.

 

So far, the researchers have used this process — dubbed metallized DNA nanolithography— to create X and Y junctions, rings, and ribbons out of graphene. Nanoribbons, which are simply very narrow strips of graphene, are of particular interest because they have a bandgap — a feature that graphene doesn’t normally possess. A bandgap means that these nanoribbons have semiconductive properties, which means they might one day be used in computer chips. Graphene rings are also of interest, because they can be fashioned into quantum interference transistors — a new and not-well-understood transistor that connects three terminals to a ring, with the transistor’s gate being controlled by the flow of electrons around the ring.

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Solar Power Achieves Grid Parity

Solar Power Achieves Grid Parity | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Deutsche Bank has released a report concluding that the cost of unsubsidized solar power is about the same as the cost of electricity from the grid in India and Italy, and that by 2014 even more countries will achieve solar “grid parity.”

 

During 2013, China is expected to supplant Germany as the world’s biggest solar market. China expects to add 10 gigawatts of new solar projects this year, “more than double its previous target and three times last year’s expansion.”

 

In 2012, U.S. solar installations grew 73% over 2011 levels, driven by third party leasing agreements that eliminate up front costs in rooftop installation. The price of installed PV systems fell 27%.

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Danielle Schaeffer's curator insight, April 9, 2013 8:45 AM

Even if solar does bear the same price as power from the grid, the homeowner is better off having it, and having control of it, instead of a utiltiy company controlling it.

Zertrin's curator insight, April 12, 2013 4:21 AM

It is now, and will become in the future more and more interesting to use directly the electricity you produce from photovoltaic panels than to sell it.

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Memory that never forgets: non-volatile DIMMs hit the market

Memory that never forgets: non-volatile DIMMs hit the market | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The server world still waits for DDR4, the next generation of dynamic memory, to be ready for prime time. In the meantime, a new set of memory boards from Viking is looking to squeeze more performance out of servers not by providing faster memory, but by making it safer to keep more in memory and less on disk or SSD. Viking Technology has begun supplying dual in-line memory modules that combine DDR3 dynamic memory with NAND flash memory to create non-volatile RAM for servers and storage arrays—modules that don't lose their memory when the systems they're in lose power or shut down.

 

The ArxCis-NV DIMM, which Viking demonstrated at the Storage Networking Industry Association'sSNW Spring conference in Orlando this week, plugs into standard DIMM memory slots in servers and RAID controller cards.  Viking isn't the only player in the non-volatile DIMM game—Micron Technology and AgigA Tech announced their own NVDIMM effort in November—but they're first to market. The modules shipping now to a select group of server manufacturers have 4GB of dynamic RAM and 8GB of NAND memory. Modules with double those figures are planned for later in the year, and modules with 16GB of DRAM and 32GB of NAND are in the works for next year.

 

The ArxCis can be plugged into existing servers and RAID controllers today as a substitute for battery backed-up (BBU) memory modules. They are even equipped with batteries to power a last-gasp write to NAND memory in the event of a power outage. But the ArxCis is more than a better backup in the event of system failure. Viking's non-volatile DIMMs are primarily aimed at big in-memory computing tasks, such as high-speed in-memory transactional database systems and indices such as those used in search engines and other "hyper-scale" computing applications.  Facebook's "Unicorn" search engine system, for example, keeps massive indices in memory to allow for real-time response to user queries, as does the "type-ahead" feature in Google's search.

 

Viking's executives also claim that non-volatile DIMM cards can be paired with solid-state disks to extend the life and performance of the disks. Since DDR memory is much faster than the NAND memory used by SSDs, and it doesn't have the limited number of "writes" that flash memory has (see Lee Hutchinson's look at SSDs for an explanation of how SSDs "wear out"). This keeps more data in RAM for constant writing, preventing the "amplification" effect of SSD storage from being magnified and driving drives toward end-of-life that much faster. Since data gets written to the NAND memory on the DIMM only when the module detects a drop in voltage, the modules can last up to 10 years before the NAND memory "rots" and is unwritable, according to Viking's estimates.

 

While the cost of NVDIMM memory puts it out of reach of every-day applications, the DIMMs will cost "a few hundred dollars each," Viking Vice President of Marketing Adrian Proctor told ComputerWorld. The entry of Micron and others into the NVDIMM market could eventually drive costs down and make them more practical in consumer devices, making "instant on" computing that much more instant.

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