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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

New study suggests that Voynich text is not a hoax

New study suggests that Voynich text is not a hoax | Amazing Science |

Theoretical physicist Marcelo Montemurro and colleague Damián H. Zanette have published a paper in the journal PLOS ONE claiming that the Voynich text is likely not a hoax as some have suggested. The two researchers along with others at the University of Manchester in the U.K. analyzed a digital copy of the text and say that computer assisted analyses of the "book" suggest it does harbor meaning, though what that might be is still a mystery.

The Voynich text is a book made up of 104 folios—each page has graphemes (arrays of characters) and drawings on it. It first came to light in 1912 when Wilfrid Voynich claimed to have found it in an Italian Monastery. The graphemes suggest words made up of characters that do not appear in any other known language. Since the time of its discovery, various researchers have sought to determine if the text is written in an unknown language, or if it is instead a book created by someone as a hoax. Adding to the mystery of the text are the drawings of plants on most of the pages—none of them are known to exist in nature. Carbon dating of the text suggests it was created sometime in the 1400s—but that that doesn't offer proof that the writing on the parchment was done during that period, leaving some to suggest it was Voynich himself who created the characters and drawings. To date, no one has been able to prove whether the text has meaning or if it is simply pages of gibberish. To learn more, Montemurro and his team turned to advanced computer analysis.


To analyze the text, researchers assign modern language letters to characters; this allows for the application of algorithms. In this case, the team looked at global patterns of "words" that appear throughout the text. This process represents a novel way to view the semantics. One type of pattern distribution known as "entropy" allows researchers to compare documents to one another using a computer. The method offers a single number that describes the complexity of the text. The Voynich text received a score of 805, compared to 728 for text samples written in English and 580 for those written in Chinese. A comparison of the Voynich score to yeast DNA samples (25) and a program written in Fortran (285) suggests the Voynich text is more complicated than simple gibberish.


The team notes that the text also conforms to Zipf's law—it states that words in real languages are inversely proportional their rank in a frequency table. Taken together, the researchers conclude that the Vonynich text mostly likely contains real information and thus, is not a hoax.

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Eau de Manipulation: Malaria Infected Mosquitoes Express Enhanced Attraction to Human Odor

Eau de Manipulation: Malaria Infected Mosquitoes Express Enhanced Attraction to Human Odor | Amazing Science |

Responsible for the most dangerous kind of malaria and at least half of malaria cases worldwide, Plasmodium falciprum is estimated to kill somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million people every year. In recent years, the parasite has developed resistance to many of our best treatments, leaving doctors without options in the over one hundred countries where malaria is endemic. While scientists continue to research new means of treatment from vaccines to drugs, nations struggling with malaria have shifted focus to prevention. Recently, this means scientists have become particularly interested in mosquito behavior to develop better, cost-effective control mechanisms. But a new study in PLoS ONE today suggests we know less than we might have thought, and that the parasite may be influencing its host mosquitos in ways we never even imagined.


“So far, most studies of Anopheles gambiae mosquito behavior have been conducted with uninfected mosquitoes,” write the authors, “but our data demonstrate that such results may not be representative of infected mosquitoes.” Previous studies found that Plasmodium-infected mosquitosprobe skin more, bite more often and ingest larger meals than uninfected ones, but the scientific team comprised of scientists from the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States wondered whether infected mosquitos behave differently before they land.


Many parasites with multiple hosts are known to alter one hosts’ behavior to increase transmission to the next. Toxoplasma gondii, for example, suppresses rats’ fear of cats by altering how they respond to feline smells. The research team wondered if Plasmodium could control mosquitos along the same lines, so they tested how uninfected and infected mosquitos reacted to the scent of human skin. Their results were staggeringly significant. Infected Anopheles mosquitos landed on the human-scented surface more than three times as often as non-infected mosquitos. “These results suggest that malaria-infectious females are more attracted to human odors than uninfected mosquitoes,” write the authors. “This is the first indication of a change in [mosquito] behavior in response to human odor, caused by infection with P. falciparum.”


The authors hope this research spurs further study into the ways in whichPlasmodium alters mosquito senses. New types of attractant smells, for example, could lead to breakthroughs in trapping technology and provide powerful allies in the struggle against malaria.

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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Tracking the Future!

Machine Learning and Big Data Are Changing the Face of Biological Sciences

Until recently, the wet lab has been a crucial component of every biologist. Today's advances in the production of massive amounts of data and the creation of machine-learning algorithms for processing that data are changing the face of biological science—making it possible to do real science without a wet lab. David Heckerman shares several examples of how this transformation in the area of genomics is changing the pace of scientific breakthroughs.

Via Szabolcs Kósa
davidgibson's curator insight, May 28, 2013 11:05 PM

This 36 min video is well worth the time spent - to get an idea (hopefully a transferrable one) about Big Data and the frontiers of science. In this case both "wet lab" (test tubes microscopes) and "dry lab" (computer modeling with machine learning) and needed and so is content as well as computational literacy.

Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Miscellaneous Topics!

Researchers Try to Explain How Perfectly Round Pearls Form

Researchers Try to Explain How Perfectly Round Pearls Form | Amazing Science |

Pearls develop as nacre and other liquids accumulate around grains of sand or other foreign objects inside certain oysters and other shellfish.

“But how do pearls grow into such perfect spheres?”


Dr Julyan Cartwright from the CSIC – Universidad de Granada in Spain and colleagues point out that the most flawless and highly prized pearls have perhaps the most perfectly spherical, or ball-like, shape among all the objects in nature that are visible without a microscope. “The answer may be relatively simple — with developing pearls having a saw-toothed, or ratchet-like, surface,” Dr Cartwright and his colleagues said.

That texture generates forces that make the pearl turn inside the oyster’s tissues in response to movements in the environment.


“The result is a spherical build-up of nacre and other textures. Rotating pearls are a perhaps unique example of a natural ratchet,” the scientists concluded.

Via David Simpson
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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from The NewSpace Daily!

Swiss Rocket Plane May Launch People on Private Science Trips

Swiss Rocket Plane May Launch People on Private Science Trips | Amazing Science |

PARIS — A startup Swiss spaceflight company is planning to upgrade its proposed private satellite launch system into a manned suborbital space shuttle for science missions, the company announced Monday (June 17).


The company Swiss Space Systems (S3) has no immediate plans to enter the space tourism market, but does see a market for low-cost microgravity research flights that may be more attractive to researchers than launching experiments on satellites or to the International Space Station, the company's founder and CEO Pascal Jaussi said.


Via Stratocumulus
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Researchers discover way to allow 80 percent of sound to pass through walls

Researchers discover way to allow 80 percent of sound to pass through walls | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers in Korea has discovered a way to allow sound to pass through walls almost as if they were not there at all. As the group describes in their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the technique involves drilling very small holes in a wall and then tightly covering them with a thin sheet of plastic.

In this new effort, the researchers sought to extend prior research done by Thomas Ebbesen and colleagues in 1998 where it was discovered that holes, made in a metal sheet that were smaller than the wavelength of light shone on it, allowed more light to pass through than expected—a property that has come to be known as extraordinary optical transmission. Subsequent research found the principle did not apply to sound waves due to rigid parts of the barrier reflecting back most of the applied sound. The researchers on this new team suspected that altering certain aspects of the barrier might allow for the property to hold for sound after all.

They began by drilling several holes (10 millimeters in diameter) in a 5-millimeter -thick piece of metal. Next, they placed a speaker on one side of the "wall" and a microphone on the other. With just the holes, they found the wall blocked sound almost as effectively as if there were no holes drilled in it. Next, they covered one side of the wall with a thin tensioned membrane (plastic wrap). After playing the sound again, the researchers discovered that the addition of the membrane allowed much more sound to pass through the wall—on average 80 percent more—almost as if the wall weren't there at all.


The membrane, the team explains, allows for "zero resistance" as the sound encounters the holes. At the resonance frequency of the membrane (1200 hertz), air moved in the holes as if it had no mass at all. That in turn allowed sound waves to move through very quickly. The sound in the holes was actually concentrated as it passed through, suggesting that the technique might be used as a way to magnify small signals. One application of this discovery could be walls that serve as security barriers.

Chris Upton + helpers's comment, June 24, 2013 1:57 PM
"80% more" than almost nothing, isn't much - perhaps it's mis-written
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By combining self-assembling DNA molecules with simple dye molecules, 3D DNA antenna harvests solar energy

By combining self-assembling DNA molecules with simple dye molecules, 3D DNA antenna harvests solar energy | Amazing Science |

Researchers at Chalmers have found an effective solution for collecting sunlight for artificial photosynthesis. By combining self-assembling DNA molecules with simple dye molecules, the researchers have created a system that resembles nature's own antenna system.


Artificial photosynthesis is one of the hot trends in energy research. A large number of the worlds' energy problems could be resolved if it were possible to recreate the ability plants have to transform solar energy into fuel. The Earth receives enough solar energy every hour to satisfy our energy needs for an entire year.


A research team at Chalmers University of Technology has made a nanotechnological breakthrough in the first step required for artificial photosynthesis. The team has demonstrated that it is possible to use self-assembling DNA molecules as scaffolding to create artificial systems that collect light. The results were recently published in the esteemed scientific Journal of the American Chemical Society. Scaffolding in plants and algae consists of a large number of proteins that organise chlorophyll molecules to ensure effective light collection. The system is complicated and would basically be impossible to construct artificially.


"It's all over if a bond breaks," says Jonas Hannestad, PhD of physical chemistry. "If DNA is used instead to organise the light-collecting molecules, the same precision is not achieved but a dynamic self-constructing system arises." With a system that builds itself, the researchers have begun to approach nature's method. If any of the light-collecting molecules break, it will be replaced with another one a second later. In this sense, it is a self-repairing system as opposed to if molecules had been put there by researchers with synthetic organic chemistry. The sun's light is moved to a reaction centre in plants and algae so they can synthesise sugars and other energy-rich molecules. "We can move energy to a reaction center, but we have not resolved how the reactions themselves are to take place there," says Bo Albinsson, professor of physical chemistry and head of the research team.


"This is actually the most difficult part of artificial photosynthesis. We have demonstrated that an antenna can easily be built. We have recreated that part of the miracle."

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New Study Extends “Mind Reading” Research to Feelings by Applying Machine Learning Techniques to fMRI Data

New Study Extends “Mind Reading” Research to Feelings by Applying Machine Learning Techniques to fMRI Data | Amazing Science |

For the first time, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have identified which emotion a person is experiencing based on brain activity.


The study, published in the June 19 issue of PLOS ONE, combines functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and machine learning to measure brain signals to accurately read emotions in individuals. Led by researchers in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the findings illustrate how the brain categorizes feelings, giving researchers the first reliable process to analyze emotions. Until now, research on emotions has been long stymied by the lack of reliable methods to evaluate them, mostly because people are often reluctant to honestly report their feelings. Further complicating matters is that many emotional responses may not be consciously experienced.


Identifying emotions based on neural activity builds on previous discoveries by CMU’s Marcel Just and Tom M. Mitchell, which used similar techniques to create a computational model that identifies individuals’ thoughts of concrete objects,often dubbed “mind reading.”


“This research introduces a new method with potential to identify emotions without relying on people’s ability to self-report,” said Karim Kassam, assistant professor ofsocial and decision sciences and lead author of the study. “It could be used to assess an individual’s emotional response to almost any kind of stimulus, for example, a flag, a brand name or a political candidate.”


One challenge for the research team was find a way to repeatedly and reliably evoke different emotional states from the participants. Traditional approaches, such as showing subjects emotion-inducing film clips, would likely have been unsuccessful because the impact of film clips diminishes with repeated display. The researchers solved the problem by recruiting actors from CMU’s School of Drama.


“Our big breakthrough was my colleague Karim Kassam’s idea of testing actors, who are experienced at cycling through emotional states. We were fortunate, in that respect, that CMU has a superb drama school,” saidGeorge Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology.


For the study, 10 actors were scanned at CMU’s Scientific Imaging & Brain Research Center while viewing the words of nine emotions: anger, disgust, envy, fear, happiness, lust, pride, sadness and shame. While inside the fMRI scanner, the actors were instructed to enter each of these emotional states multiple times, in random order.

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Segue 2: Most Lightweight Galaxy in Universe Containing Only 1,000 Stars

Segue 2: Most Lightweight Galaxy in Universe Containing Only 1,000 Stars | Amazing Science |

Segue 2 is located in the constellation of Aries about 114,000 light-years away. It was discovered in 2009 as part of the massive Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The galaxy consists of just 1,000 or so stars with a bit of dark matter holding them together. It is also one of the faintest known galaxies with light output just 900 times that of the Sun. That’s miniscule compared to the Milky Way, which shines 20 billion times brighter.


“Finding a galaxy as tiny as Segue 2 is like discovering an elephant smaller than a mouse,” said Dr. James Bullock from the University of California Irvine.


“Astronomers have been searching for years for this type of dwarf galaxy, long predicted to be swarming around the Milky Way. Their inability to find any has been a major puzzle, suggesting that perhaps our theoretical understanding of structure formation in the universe was flawed in a serious way.”


“Segue 2’s presence as a satellite of our home galaxy could be a tip-of-the-iceberg observation, with perhaps thousands more very low-mass systems orbiting just beyond our ability to detect them.”  The team determined the upper weight range of 25 of the major stars in the galaxy and found that it weighs at least 10 times less than previously estimated.


Dr. Evan Kirby of the University of California Irvine said: “it’s definitely a galaxy, not a star cluster. The stars are held together by a globule called a dark matter halo. Without this acting as galactic glue, the star body wouldn’t qualify as a galaxy.”

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Whole human brain mapped in 3D: Ten-year 'BigBrain' effort yields 10-trillion-byte brain atlas

Whole human brain mapped in 3D: Ten-year 'BigBrain' effort yields 10-trillion-byte brain atlas | Amazing Science |

An international group of neuroscientists has sliced, imaged and analysed the brain of a 65-year-old woman to create the most detailed map yet of a human brain in its entirety. The atlas, called ‘BigBrain’, shows the organization of neurons with microscopic precision, which could help to clarify or even redefine the structure of brain regions obtained from decades-old anatomical studies. Researchers used a special tool called a microtome cut a human brain preserved in paraffin wax into 20-micrometre thick slivers and map its anatomical structure with high resolution.

“The quality of those maps is analogous to what cartographers of the Earth offered as their best versions back in the seventeenth century,” says David Van Essen, a neurobiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who was not involved in the study. He says that the new and improved set of anatomical guideposts could allow researchers to merge different types of data — such as gene expression, neuroanatomy and neural activity — more precisely onto specific regions of the brain.

The atlas was compiled from 7,400 brain slices, each thinner than a human hair. Imaging the sections by microscope took a combined 1,000 hours and generated 10 trillion bytes of data. Supercomputers in Canada and Germany churned away for years reconstructing a three-dimensional volume from the images, and correcting for tears and wrinkles in individual sheets of tissue. Since the BigBrain effort began in 2003, technology has advanced to enable researchers to scan human brain sections at a resolution of one micrometre. But completing another atlas at such a high resolution would create about 20,000 trillion bytes of data — more than the most advanced computers today could process efficiently.

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A new way of harnessing photons for electricity, potential for capturing a wider spectrum of solar energy

A new way of harnessing photons for electricity, potential for capturing a wider spectrum of solar energy | Amazing Science |

The quest to harness a broader spectrum of sunlight's energy to produce electricity has taken a radically new turn, with the proposal of a 'solar energy funnel' that takes advantage of materials under elastic strain. "We're trying to use elastic strains to produce unprecedented properties," says Ju Li, an MIT professor. The new solar-funnel work uses precisely controlled elastic strain to govern electrons' potential in the material. The MIT team used computer modeling to determine the effects of the strain on a thin layer of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), a material that can form a film just a single molecule (about six angstroms) thick.


It turns out that the elastic strain, and therefore the change that is induced in electrons' potential energy, changes with their distance from the funnel's center—much like the electron in a hydrogen atom, except this "artificial atom" is much larger in size and is two-dimensional. In the future, the researchers hope to carry out laboratory experiments to confirm the effect.

Unlike graphene, another prominent thin-film material, MoS2 is a natural semiconductor: It has a crucial characteristic, known as a bandgap, that allows it to be made into solar cells or integrated circuits. But unlike silicon, now used in most solar cells, placing the film under strain in the "solar energy funnel" configuration causes its bandgap to vary across the surface, so that different parts of it respond to different colors of light.


In an organic solar cell, the electron-hole pair, called an exciton, moves randomly through the material after being generated by photons, limiting the capacity for energy production. "It's a diffusion process," Qian says, "and it's very inefficient."


But in the solar funnel, he adds, the electronic characteristics of the material "leads them to the collection site [at the film's center], which should be more efficient for charge collection."


The convergence of four trends, Li says, "has opened up this elastic strain engineering field recently": the development of nanostructured materials, such as carbon nanotubes and MoS2, that are capable of retaining large amounts of elastic strain indefinitely; the development of the atomic force microscope and next-generation nanomechanical instruments, which impose force in a controlled manner; electron microscopy and synchrotron facilities, needed to directly measure the elastic strain field; and electronic-structure calculation methods for predicting the effects of elastic strain on a material's physical and chemical properties.

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New drug reverses loss of brain connections in Alzheimer's disease

New drug reverses loss of brain connections in Alzheimer's disease | Amazing Science |

The first experimental drug to boost brain synapses lost in Alzheimer's disease has been developed by researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. The drug, called NitroMemantine, combines two FDA-approved medicines to stop the destructive cascade of changes in the brain that destroys the connections between neurons, leading to memory loss and cognitive decline.


The decade-long study, led by Stuart A. Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research, who is also a practicing clinical neurologist, shows that NitroMemantine can restore synapses, representing the connections between nerve cells (neurons) that have been lost during the progression of Alzheimer's in the brain. The research findings are described in a paper published June 17 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).


The focus on a downstream target to treat Alzheimer's, rather than on amyloid beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles—approaches which have shown little success—"is very exciting because everyone is now looking for an earlier treatment of the disease," Lipton said. "These findings actually mean that you might be able to intercede not only early but also a bit later." And that means that an Alzheimer's patient may be able to have synaptic connections restored even with plaques and tangles already in his or her brain.

Vloasis's curator insight, June 19, 2013 7:01 PM

I wish something like this were available when my Dad was around.  They had prescribed him Aricept, which did not seem to slow down the disease.

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Physicists succeed in creating a tabletop antimatter 'gun'

Physicists succeed in creating a tabletop antimatter 'gun' | Amazing Science |

An international team of physicists working at the University of Michigan has succeeded in building a tabletop antimatter "gun" capable of spewing short bursts of positrons. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the team describes how they created the gun, what it's capable of doing, and to what use it may be put.

Positrons are anti-particles, the opposite twin of electrons. Besides being created in physics labs, they are also found in jets emitted by black holes and pulsars. To date, the creation of positrons for study has involved very big and expensive machines. One of those is the particle accelerator at CERN. Another is a device built by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that created positrons by firing a hugely powerful laser at a tiny disc made of gold. Other recent work by researchers at the University of Texas has involved building a desktop sized accelerator. This new effort builds on that work—this team has built a device not more than a meter long that is capable of generating short bursts of both electrons and positrons, very similar they report, to what is emitted by black holes and pulsars.


To achieve this feat, the team fired a petawatt laser at a sample of inert helium gas. Doing so caused the creation of a stream of electrons moving at very high speed. Those electrons were directed at a very thin sheet of metal foil which caused them to smash into individual metal atoms. Those collisions resulted in a stream of electron and positron emissions—the two were then separated using magnets.


The researchers report that each blast of their gun lasts just 30 femtoseconds, but each firing results in the production of quadrillions of positrons—a density level comparable to those produced at CERN. The researchers suggest their device could be used to mimic the jet streams from black holes and/or pulsars, hopefully offering some answers to questions such as, what sort of proportion of particles are present in such streams, how much energy is in them, and in what ways do the particles in them interact with the environment into which they are spewed.

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Particle accelerator that can fit on a tabletop opens new chapter for science research

Particle accelerator that can fit on a tabletop opens new chapter for science research | Amazing Science |

Physicists at The University of Texas at Austin have built a tabletop particle accelerator that can generate energies and speeds previously reached only by major facilities that are hundreds of meters long and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build."We have accelerated about half a billion electrons to 2 giga electronvolts over a distance of about 1 inch," said Mike Downer, professor of physics in the College of Natural Sciences. "Until now that degree of energy and focus has required a conventional accelerator that stretches more than the length of two football fields. It's a downsizing of a factor of approximately 10,000."The results, which were published this week in Nature Communications ("Quasi-monoenergetic laser-plasma acceleration of electrons to 2 GeV"), mark a major milestone in the advance toward the day when multi-gigaelectronvolt (GeV) laser plasma accelerators are standard equipment in research laboratories around the world.

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Females Choose Biological Fitness Over Other Traits In Mating Game

Females Choose Biological Fitness Over Other Traits In Mating Game | Amazing Science |
A new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis finds that a female's mating decisions are largely based on traits that reflect fitness or those that help males perform well under the local ecological conditions.

Via Maria Nunzia @Varvera
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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Science Fiction Future!

NASA to send DNA of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke into space

NASA to send DNA of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke into space | Amazing Science |

Washington: NASA is planning to send DNA of famed British science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke into space - five years after his death.


The author of the novel '2001: A Space Odyssey' died in 2008 in Sri Lanka, and now NASA scientists have announced plans to send his DNA into orbit around the Sun in 2014 aboard the Sunjammer, a solar-powered spacecraft which gets its name from the writings of Clarke.


Called the Sunjammer Cosmic Archive (SCA), the flying time capsule is a first in the history of space travel, carrying digital files of human DNA including Clarke's aboard the sun-powered space ship

Via James Keith
Vloasis's curator insight, June 24, 2013 12:55 PM

And we can only hope that somewhere, at some point in the future, a monkey will find his DNA, and eat it.

Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from TAL effector science!

A Simple and Efficient Method for Assembling TALE Protein Based on Plasmid Library

A Simple and Efficient Method for Assembling TALE Protein Based on Plasmid Library | Amazing Science |

DNA binding domain of the transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs) from Xanthomonas sp. consists of tandem repeats that can be rearranged according to a simple cipher to target new DNA sequences with high DNA-binding specificity. This technology has been successfully applied in varieties of species for genome engineering. However, assembling long TALE tandem repeats remains a big challenge precluding wide use of this technology. Although several new methodologies for efficiently assembling TALE repeats have been recently reported, all of them require either sophisticated facilities or skilled technicians to carry them out. In a recent paper, researchers described a simple and efficient method for generating customized TALE nucleases (TALENs) and TALE transcription factors (TALE-TFs) based on TALE repeat tetramer library. A tetramer library consisting of 256 tetramers covers all possible combinations of 4 base pairs. A set of unique primers was designed for amplification of these tetramers. PCR products were assembled by one step of digestion/ligation reaction. 12 TALE constructs including 4 TALEN pairs targeted to mouse Gt(ROSA)26Sor gene and mouse Mstn gene sequences as well as 4 TALE-TF constructs targeted to mouse Oct4, c-Myc, Klf4 and Sox2 gene promoter sequences were generated by using our method. The construction routines took 3 days and parallel constructions were available. The rate of positive clones during colony PCR verification was 64% on average. Sequencing results suggested that all TALE constructs were performed with high successful rate. This is a rapid and cost-efficient method using the most common enzymes and facilities with a high success rate.

Via dromius
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Painting by numbers - how natural pigmentation variation of species is generated

Painting by numbers - how natural pigmentation variation of species is generated | Amazing Science |

Individuals of a particular species generally differ from one another by a variety of features, including pigmentation. We are clearly most adept at recognizing members of our own species, although dog and cat owners will be ready to confirm that their pets look unique. Differences within species relate to characteristics such as size and shape but also to color: it is not only humans that show a wide range of skin pigmentation. Nevertheless, the cause of the variation in skin color in animals has remained largely unknown. Recent work in the group of Christian Schlötterer at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna sheds light on the topic.


The skin color of humans ranges from pale pinkish-white to very dark brown and relates largely to the amount of melanin produced by specialized cells in the body. The synthesis of melanin is under the influence of a bewildering array of genes, each of which naturally occurs in a variety of different forms or alleles, thus accounting for the wide variety of skin colors found in our species.


Color also differs, albeit sometimes more subtly, in many other animals. For example, the color of the abdomen in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster varies considerably. Because flies are much more amenable to genetic study than humans, we know a good deal about pigmentation in Drosophila. At least nine genes are directly involved in the synthesis of pigment, together with a number of others that indirectly affect the pattern of pigmentation. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether changes in these genes account for the variation in the pigmentation of natural populations of flies or whether differences in other genes might somehow be responsible.


The issue has been tackled by Héloïse Bastide and Andrea Betancourt at the Institute of Population Genetics of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. The researchers examined 8,000 female flies, split into 5 groups, and chose 100 of the lightest and 100 of the darkest from each group for genetic comparison. Each group of light and dark flies was pooled and its DNA sequenced, resulting in a catalogue of the genetic differences between light and dark flies at over three million positions in the fly genome. Sophisticated statistical methods were used to compare the differences between the two groups, leading to the discovery of 17 sites where variation (SNPs), seemed to be associated with the extent of female abdominal pigmentation.


Gratifyingly, the SNPs were found to lie in or close to genes known to be involved in pigment synthesis, in particular the tan and bric-à-brac1 genes. Most of the SNPs were not in the coding sequence of these genes but instead in nearby sequences that had previously been shown to regulate their activity.


In other words, the variation in the colour of female flies is not a result of changes to the genes that produce pigments but stems instead from subtle alterations in the regulation of the pigmentation genes. Bastide and Betancourt are naturally excited by their findings. As they say, “Our work has taught us a lot about how pigment production can be controlled and at least some of our conclusions may apply to other species as well. But even more importantly, our experiments show that pooling and sequencing samples can represent an effective and low-cost method to examine the basis of natural variation in populations.”

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Mars had oxygen 4 Billion years ago, and was wet, warm and rusty long before Earth had oxygen

Mars had oxygen 4 Billion years ago, and was wet, warm and rusty long before Earth had oxygen | Amazing Science |
Four billion years ago called, and they want their oxygen-rich atmosphere back, finds new research from Oxford University.


It all hinges on the differences between rocks that have traveled from Mars to Earth and rocks analyzed byNASA's Spirit Mars rover, a vintage robot that roamed the planet's surface from 2004 to 2010. The surface rocks examined by Spirit show more signs of oxidation than the Martian meteorites.


The meteorites are relatively young – between 180 million and 1.4 billion years old – compared to the surface rocks, which are thought to be 3.7 billion years old. The researchers believe that the surface rocks were drawn into the planet's interior through a process known as subduction, and then subsequently blasted back to the surface via volcanic eruptions. The meteorites, by contrast, originated from deeper inside the planet, and were therefore less affected by the atmospheric oxygen.


"As oxidation is what gives Mars its distinctive colour it is likely that the 'red planet' was wet, warm and rusty billions of years before Earth's atmosphere became oxygen rich," said Oxford professor and study co-author Bernard Wood, in press release.

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New system of 2D structures to guide plasmonic waves at ultrashort wavelength for improved information processing

New system of 2D structures to guide plasmonic waves at ultrashort wavelength for improved information processing | Amazing Science |

Researchers at MIT have proposed a new system that combines ferroelectric materials — the kind often used for data storage — with graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon known for its exceptional electronic and mechanical properties. The resulting hybrid technology could eventually lead to computer and data-storage chips that pack more components in a given area and are faster and less power-hungry.

The new system works by controlling waves called surface plasmons. These waves are oscillations of electrons confined at interfaces between materials; in the new system the waves operate at terahertz frequencies. Such frequencies lie between those of far-infrared light and microwave radio transmissions, and are considered ideal for next-generation computing devices.

The team’s new system allows waves to be concentrated at much smaller length scales, which could lead to a tenfold gain in the density of components that could be placed in a given area of a chip, Fang says. 

The team’s initial proof-of-concept device uses a small piece of graphene sandwiched between two layers of the ferroelectric material to make simple, switchable plasmonic waveguides. This work used lithium niobate, but many other such materials could be used, the researchers say. 

Light can be confined in these waveguides down to one part in a few hundreds of the free-space wavelength, Jin says, which represents an order-of-magnitude improvement over any comparable waveguide system. “This opens up exciting areas for transmitting and processing optical signals,” he says.

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Three-dimensional deep sub-diffraction optical beam lithography with 9 nm, useful for highly improved data storage

Three-dimensional deep sub-diffraction optical beam lithography with 9 nm, useful for highly improved data storage | Amazing Science |

The current nanofabrication techniques including electron beam lithography provide fabrication resolution in the nanometer range. The major limitation of these techniques is their incapability of arbitrary three-dimensional nanofabrication. This has stimulated the rapid development of far-field three-dimensional optical beam lithography where a laser beam is focused for maskless direct writing. However, the diffraction nature of light is a barrier for achieving nanometer feature and resolution in optical beam lithography. Here we report on three-dimensional optical beam lithography with 9 nm feature size and 52 nm two-line resolution in a newly developed two-photon absorption resin with high mechanical strength. The revealed dependence of the feature size and the two-line resolution confirms that they can reach deep sub-diffraction scale but are limited by the mechanical strength of the new resin. Our result has paved the way towards portable three-dimensional maskless laser direct writing with resolution fully comparable to electron beam lithography.


Compared with single-beam OBL, two-beam OBL utilizes a doughnut-shaped inhibition beam to inhibit the photopolymerization triggered by the writing beam at the doughnut ring, leading to reduced feature size and improved resolution. Although both focused writing and inhibition beams result in the spot size limited by diffraction, the fabricated feature size and resolution by two-beam OBL can break the limit defined by the diffraction spot size of the two focused beams. In fact, the smallest feature size and the highest resolution are limited by the mechanical strength of the solidified material, which can be far beyond the diffraction limit provided that an appropriate photoresin with high mechanical strength can be developed. But this breakthrough has not yet been achieved. Here, we demonstrate 3D deep sub-diffraction OBL with 9 nm (λ/42 for the wavelength of the inhibition beam) feature size and 52 nm (λ/7) two-line resolution in a resin that can efficiently harness two-photon polymerization (2PP) and single-photon inhibition.

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GM silkworms bred to spin red, green and orange fluorescent silk

GM silkworms bred to spin red, green and orange fluorescent silk | Amazing Science |

Scientists in Japan have genetically engineered silkworms to create red, green or orange silks that glow under fluorescent lights.


The silkworm is the larval form of the domesticated silkmoth (Bombyx mori) and is one of only two insects domesticated by humans (the other being the bee). The larvae build a cocoon around themselves in which to pupate, and each cocoon is made from a fine protein thread of silk up to 900 meters in length. Silk is made by harvesting the cocoons (with larvae inside) and softening them so the threads can be reeled. Around 6,000 cocoons are needed to make a kilogram of silk. Normal silk is a soft, white thread.

Now a research team led by Tetsuya Iizuka and Toshiki Tamura of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Ibaraki, Japan, has genetically modified the silkworm by transplanting genes from organisms that produce fluorescent proteins into the silkworm genome at the site coding for the silk fiber protein fibroin. The genes they used to make the transgenic silkworms came from the Fungia concinna coral (orange), Discoma coral (red) or jellyfish (green).


Silkworms had previously been genetically modified to produce human collagen proteins and spider silk. Co-author Tamura, said they had earlier produced green fluorescent protein that was used to make beautiful silks, and the new research extended the method to produce the three fluorescent silks in large enough amounts to be useful in making fabrics.


The colored silk made by the over 20,000 transgenic silkworms raised in the lab has been demonstrated to remain vibrant in color under fluorescent light for over two years. In other types of light the colors are less noticeable.


Turning the threads into a fabric presented another challenge for the team because the normal method of producing silk (heating cocoons to 100 degrees C) destroys the fluorescent proteins. Their experiments showed that the cocoons could be softened and reeled by using a weak alkaline solution and heating them to lower temperature in a vacuum. Tamura said this more complex process would mean the fabric would be slightly more expensive than ordinary silk.

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First 3D printed battery that is the size of a grain of sand and comparable to current commercial batteries

First 3D printed battery that is the size of a grain of sand and comparable to current commercial batteries | Amazing Science |

A research team from Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has demonstrated the ability to 3D print a battery. 3D printing can now be used to print lithium-ion microbatteries the size of a grain of sand. The printed microbatteries could supply electricity to tiny devices in fields from medicine to communications, including many that have lingered on lab benches for lack of a battery small enough to fit the device, yet provide enough stored energy to power them. Novel application of 3D printing could enable the development of miniaturized medical implants, compact electronics, tiny robots, and more.


To make the microbatteries, a team based at Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign printed precisely interlaced stacks of tiny battery electrodes, each less than the width of a human hair.

“Not only did we demonstrate for the first time that we can 3D-print a battery; we demonstrated it in the most rigorous way,” said Jennifer A. Lewis, senior author of the study, who is also the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and a Core Faculty Member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Lewis led the project in her prior position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in collaboration with co-author Shen Dillon, an Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering there.


The scientists realized they could pack more energy if they could create stacks of tightly interlaced, ultrathin electrodes that were built out of plane. For this they turned to 3D printing. 3D printers follow instructions from three-dimensional computer drawings, depositing successive layers of material—inks—to build a physical object from the ground up, much like stacking a deck of cards one at a time. The technique is used in a range of fields, from producing crowns in dental labs to rapid prototyping of aerospace, automotive, and consumer goods. Lewis’ group has greatly expanded the capabilities of 3D printing. They have designed a broad range of functional inks—inks with useful chemical and electrical properties. And they have used those inks with their custom-built 3D printers to create precise structures with the electronic, optical, mechanical, or biologically relevant properties they want.

Vloasis's curator insight, June 19, 2013 7:05 PM

The implication of batteries so small that they cannot be seen definitely has a god-factor ring to it.

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Amazing Science: General Science Postings

Amazing Science: General Science Postings | Amazing Science |

Science (from Latin "scientia", meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. A practitioner of science is known as a scientist. Scientific fields are commonly divided into two major groups: natural sciences, which study natural phenomena (including biological life), and social sciences, which study human behavior and societies. Mathematics, which is classified as a formal science, has both similarities and differences with the empirical sciences (the natural and social sciences).

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