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Worldwide Patterns of Ancestry, Divergence, and Admixture in Domesticated Cattle

Worldwide Patterns of Ancestry, Divergence, and Admixture in Domesticated Cattle | Amazing Science |

Cattle were independently domesticated from the aurochs, a wild bovine species, in the vicinity of the current countries of Turkey and Pakistan ∼10,000 y ago. Cattle have since spread with humans across the world, including to regions where these two distinct lineages have hybridized. Using genomic tools, a team of researchers investigated the ancestry of cattle from across the world. They determined that the descendants of the cattle brought to the New World by the Spanish in the late 1400s show ancestry from multiple domesticated lineages. This pattern resulted from pre-Columbian introgression of genes from African cattle into southern Europe.

The domestication and development of cattle has considerably impacted human societies, but the histories of cattle breeds and populations have been poorly understood especially for African, Asian, and American breeds. Using genotypes from 43,043 autosomal single nucleotide polymorphism markers scored in 1,543 animals, a group of scientists now evaluatee the population structure of 134 domesticated bovid breeds. Regardless of the analytical method or sample subset, the three major groups of Asian indicine, Eurasian taurine, and African taurine were consistently observed.

Patterns of geographic dispersal resulting from co-migration with humans and exportation were recognizable in phylogenetic networks. All analytical methods revealed patterns of hybridization which occurred after divergence. Using 19 breeds, the researchers mapped the cline of indicine introgression into Africa. They inferred that African taurine possess a large portion of wild African auroch ancestry, causing their divergence from Eurasian taurine. They detected exportation patterns in Asia and identifed a cline of Eurasian taurine/indicine hybridization in Asia. They also identifed the influence of species other than Bos taurus taurus and B. t. indicus in the formation of Asian breeds. They detected the pronounced influence of Shorthorn cattle in the formation of European breeds. Iberian and Italian cattle possess introgression from African taurine. American Criollo cattle originate from Iberia, and not directly from Africa with African ancestry inherited via Iberian ancestors. Indicine introgression into American cattle occurred in the Americas, and not Europe. The researchers argued that cattle migration, movement and trading followed by admixture have been important forces in shaping modern bovine genomic variation.

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Scientists beam light in front of dolphins and accidentally creating 'rainbow lasers'

Scientists beam light in front of dolphins and accidentally creating 'rainbow lasers' | Amazing Science |
Using U.S. Navy dolphins, a physicist and a marine biologist confirmed the existence of sonically-activated lasers.

In a breakthrough that could upend the technology industry, changing everything from the way cell phones transmit data to how computer chips perform computations, researchers from Fermi National Laboratory and the U.S. Navy announced today a new way to create lasers beams, the tightly-focused beams of narrow-spectrum light. And the key to it all is dolphin sonar.

The finding confirmed decades of speculation. “Theorists have been predicting the existence of sonically-activated lasers since the mid-1990s,” said Katherine Johnson, a professor of photonics at the University of California, Berkeley. “But we didn’t have any proof. Now we do.”

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Stem Cell-Derived Beta Cells Under Skin Secret Insulin Only When Needed

Stem Cell-Derived Beta Cells Under Skin Secret Insulin Only When Needed | Amazing Science |

Scientists at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute have shown that by encapsulating immature pancreatic cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESC), and implanting them under the skin of diabetic mouse models, sufficient insulin is produced to maintain glucose levels without unwanted potential trade-offs of the technology.

The research, published online in Stem Cell Research, suggests that encapsulated hESC-derived insulin-producing cells may be an effective and safe cell replacement therapy for insulin dependent-diabetes.

“Our study critically evaluates some of the potential pitfalls of using stem cells to treat insulin dependent-diabetes,” said Pamela Itkin-Ansari, PhD, assistant project scientist in the UC San Diego Department of Pediatrics and adjunct assistant professor in Development, Aging and Regenerative program at Sanford-Burnham.

“We have shown that encapsulated hESC-derived insulin-producing cells are able to produce insulin in response to elevated glucose without an increase in the mass or their escape from the capsule,” said Itkin-Ansari. “These results are important because it means that the encapsulated cells are both fully functional and retrievable.”

Previous attempts to replace insulin producing cells, called beta cells, have met with significant challenges. For example, researchers have tried treating diabetics with mature beta cells, but because these cells are fragile and scarce, the method is fraught with problems. Moreover, since the cells come from organ donors, they may be recognized as foreign by the recipient’s immune system – requiring patients to take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent their immune system from attacking the donor’s cells, ultimately leaving patients vulnerable to infections, tumors and other adverse events.

Encapsulation technology was developed to protect donor cells from exposure to the immune system – and has proven extremely successful in preclinical studies.

Itkin-Ansari and her research team previously made an important contribution to the encapsulation approach by showing that pancreatic islet progenitor cells are an optimal cell type for encapsulation. They found that progenitor cells were more robust than mature beta cells to encapsulate, and while encapsulated, they matured into insulin-producing cells that secreted insulin only when needed.

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Australian Dingo is a unique species and not a kind of wild dog, study finds

Australian Dingo is a unique species and not a kind of wild dog, study finds | Amazing Science |

Australia's dingo is a unique species, not a kind of wild dog as previously believed, according to a new study that definitively classifies the country's largest land predator.

The research by Australian scientists, published in the Journal ofZoology, resurrected the species name Canis dingo, first adopted in 1793 by Friedrich Meyer, a German naturalist.

Dingoes were introduced to Australia around 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, with genetic evidence suggesting they originated from East Asian domestic dogs. They bred in isolation until the arrival of dogs accompanying European settlers from 1788.

Distinguishing pure dingoes from those mixed with feral dogs is an important issue as some parts of Australia support the conservation of dingoes but the extermination of "dingo dogs" that are seen as pests by farmers because they kill livestock.

Dingo behavior was at the center of one of Australia's longest-lived legal mysteries, resolved in 2012 by a coroner's finding that one of the animals had carried off an infant, Azaria Chamberlain, from a tent in the outback in 1980.

The body was never found and although her parents always maintained she had been taken by a dingo, the mother was jailed for three years while the father received a suspended sentence as an accessory. Both were later cleared.

Dingoes play a vital role by regulating populations of animals such as kangaroos, wallabies and invasive red foxes. The scientists hope a better understanding of dingo numbers based on the clearer identification will help determine their place in biodiversity.

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Ultra tiny camera without a lens uses mathematical algorithm to develop pictures

Ultra tiny camera without a lens uses mathematical algorithm to develop pictures | Amazing Science |

An extremely tiny lensless camera, developed by Rambus, has been slowly making waves over the past year. Researchers for the company, David Stork and Patrick Gill won a Best Paper award at last year's Sencomm 2013 for describing what the company has created. They spoke again at last month's Mobile World Congress, describing their new type of camera—one that might someday soon be used to give virtually any digital device, some degree of vision.

The camera is both simple and complex, it's really just a very tiny chip (CMOS imager) embedded in a piece of glass. Instead of a lens, a pattern is etched into the glass above the chip—the imager reads the light that is received, processes it using an algorithm developed by Rambus and converts it into a recognizable image. What's amazing is that the etched pattern on the glass and the chip are both roughly the size of a period at the end of a sentence.

Particular etched patterns allow for light to be intentionally refracted in different ways as it passes through the glass—images made from them would appear unrecognizable to the human eye, but the algorithm makes use of refraction properties to reconstruct the light received into a recognizable image.

The whole point of the camera is to show that cameras can be made smaller than has been envisioned by engineers of late. Trying to grind ever smaller lenses has reached its limits, thus something new had be developed. The camera by Rambus is one such possibility. Its images are not sharp—in fact at a resolution of just 128x128, its images are downright blurry—but at this point, that doesn't matter, because images taken by the camera are recognizable, and that's all digital devices of the near future likely need. Perhaps just as remarkable is that the tiny camera can be used to capture real-time video too, which makes it a likely candidate for future motion sensing devices.

Making a camera so tiny opens the door for its use in a whole host of new applications, allowing them to become aware of their physical surroundings, all at a very low cost—perhaps just pennies per chip—that means they could be embedded in clothes, toys, mirrors, security systems, etc., bounded only by the imagination of device makers. On the other hand, such tiny cameras could also open a Pandora's box if they are used to invade privacy or for control purposes.

Victor Jimenez's curator insight, April 4, 2014 9:23 AM

Applications abound! Rambus, a California-based technology company, has come up with a tiny chip running an algorithm which can serve as a camera that can (one day) add the power of sight to any digital device. How tiny? The size of the period at the end of this sentence.    <- O.O

Investors Europe Stock Brokers's curator insight, September 1, 2014 1:42 AM

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Download Offshore Trading DEMO:

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Was a methane-spewing microbe the cause for Earth's worst mass extinction

Was a methane-spewing microbe the cause for Earth's worst mass extinction | Amazing Science |

A microbe that spewed humongous amounts of methane into Earth's atmosphere triggered a global catastrophe 252 million years ago that wiped out upwards of 90 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land vertebrates.

That's the hypothesis offered on Monday by researchers aiming to solve one of science's enduring mysteries: what happened at the end of the Permian period to cause the worst of the five mass extinctions in Earth's history.

The scale of this calamity made the one that doomed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago - a six-mile wide asteroid smacking the planet - seem like a picnic by comparison.

The implicated microbe, Methanosarcina, is a member of a kingdom of single-celled organisms distinct from bacteria called archaea that lack a nucleus and other usual cell structures.

"I would say that the end-Permian extinction is the closest animal life has ever come to being totally wiped out, and it may have come pretty close," said Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Greg Fournier, one of the researchers.

"Many, if not most, of the surviving groups of organisms barely hung on, with only a few species making it through, many probably by chance," Fournier added.

Previous ideas proposed for the Permian extinction include an asteroid and large-scale volcanism. But these researchers suggest a microscope would be needed to find the actual culprit.

Methanosarcina grew in a frenzy in the seas, disgorging huge quantities of methane into Earth's atmosphere, they said.

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New evidence that Autism 'begins long before birth'

New evidence that Autism 'begins long before birth' | Amazing Science |

Patchy changes in the developing brain long before birth may cause symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research suggests.

The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, raises hopes that better understanding of the brain may improve the lives of children with autism. It reinforces the need for early identification and treatment, says a University of California team.

US scientists analysed post-mortem brain tissue of 22 children with and without autism, all between two and 15 years of age. This reinforces the importance of early identification and intervention”, said Dr. Thomas Insel from the National Institute of Mental Health.

They used genetic markers to look at how the outermost part of the brain, the cortex, wired up and formed layers. Abnormalities were found in 90% of the children with autism compared with only about 10% of children without.

The changes were dotted about in brain regions involved in social and emotional communication, and language, long before birth, they say.

The researchers, from the University of California, San Diego and theAllen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, say their patchy nature may explain why some toddlers with autism show signs of improvement if treated early enough.

They think the plastic infant brain may have a chance of rewiring itself to compensate. "The finding that these defects occur in patches rather than across the entirety of cortex gives hope as well as insight about the nature of autism," said Prof Eric Courchesne, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Diego.

Dr Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said: "If this new report of disorganised architecture in the brains of some children with autism is replicated, we can presume this reflects a process occurring long before birth.

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Astronomers claim to have the most compelling case for annihilating dark matter yet

Astronomers claim to have the most compelling case for annihilating dark matter yet | Amazing Science |

Dark matter is arguably one of the universe’s most perplexing mysteries. Astronomers have gathered overwhelming evidence that it makes up roughly 84% of the universe's matter. Its extra gravity provides the most straightforward explanation for the rotations of individual galaxies, the motions of distant galaxy clusters, and the bending of distant starlight. 

So what is this elusive matter? A popular theory is that it consists of a yet-undiscovered exotic massive particle that barely interacts with normal matter. These particles have so far eluded detection. But theoretically they act as their own antiparticles, and can annihilate to produce a cascade of familiar particles, including electrons and positrons. The collision should generate gamma-rays — the most energetic photons in nature.

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope has been scouring the sky in search of this tell-tale annihilation signature since its launch in 2008. While the telescope has spotted a large number of gamma rays pouring outward from the center of our galaxy, astronomers have not been able to determine if this detection is due to dark matter annihilation or other natural particle accelerators. 

The most likely culprits for the latter alternative are undetected pulsars. These rotating neutron stars beam huge amounts of energy out of their poles, including matter-antimatter pairs that can annihilate in bursts of gamma rays.

A team of astronomers led by Tansu Daylan (Harvard University) has further scrutinized the excess Fermi signal, and has ruled out pulsars as the cause. This leads to the conclusion that the signal must be due to annihilating dark matter — a claim that would resolve one of the biggest mysteries in physics. 

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Where Art Meets Math: The Hypnotic Animated Gifs of David Szakaly

Where Art Meets Math: The Hypnotic Animated Gifs of David Szakaly | Amazing Science |

Since 2008 Hungarian/German graphic designer David Szakaly has been churning out some of the most dizzying, hypnotic and wholly original gifs on the web under the name Davidope. His blend of twisting organic forms, flashes of black and white, and forays into pulsing technicolor shapes have inspired legions of others to experiment with the medium, many of whom have been featured here on Colossal. It’s hard to determine the scale of Szakaly’s influence online, but a simple Google image search for “animated gif” brings up dozens of his images that have been shared around Tumblr hundreds of thousands of times.

Szakaly began experimenting with the vector animation program Macromedia Flash back in 1999 where he used the software to create presentations, banners, and other creatives for clients. It was nearly a decade later when he decided to dedicate more time to experimenting with motion graphics and found that Tumblr was a great platform to share his quirky gifs. While he still works in the corporate world on other digital projects, he has also found commercial success making animations for clients around the world. Though it’s his personal work that really stands out. If or when gifs end up on gallery walls, it will be hard to deny Szakaly’s role in getting them there.

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Stanford Study: 100% Renewable Energy Is Feasible and Affordable

Stanford Study: 100% Renewable Energy Is Feasible and Affordable | Amazing Science |

One of the greatest promises of the high-tech future, whether made explicitly or implicitly through shiny clean concept sketches, is that we will have efficient energy that doesn’t churn pollutants into the air and onto the streets.

But here in the present, politicians and even many clean energy advocates maintain that a world run on hydrogen and wind, water and solar power is not yet possible due to technical challenges like energy storage and cost.

Yet Stanford University researchers led by civil engineer Mark Jacobson have developed detailed plans for each state in the union that to move to 100 percent wind, water and solar power by 2050 using only technology that’s already available. The plan, presented recently at the AAAS conference in Chicago, also forms the basis for The Solutions Project nonprofit.

“The conclusion is that it’s technically and economically feasible,” states Jacobson. The plan doesn’t rely, like many others, on dramatic energy efficiency regimes. Nor does it include biofuels or nuclear power, whose green credentials are the source of much debate.

The proposal is straightforward: eliminate combustion as a source of energy, because it’s dirty and inefficient. All vehicles would be powered by electric batteries or by hydrogen, where the hydrogen is produced through electrolysis rather than natural gas. High-temperature industrial processes would also use electricity or hydrogen combustion.

The rest would simply be a question of allowing existing fossil-fuel plants to age out and using renewable sources to power any new plants that come online. The energy sources in the road map include geothermal energy, concentrating solar power, off-shore and on-land wind turbines and some and tidal energy. All but tidal energy collectors are already commercially available.

Clean energy would save an average American consumer $3,400 per year than the current fossil fuel regime by 2050, the study lays out. That’s because the price of fossil fuel rises regularly, but with clean energy — where raw materials are free — once the infrastructure is built, prices would fall.

Jacobson has previously mapped out a similar proposal for the global energy market, including China. A related plan with a greater emphasis on efficiency was recently released by the World Wildlife Fund.

Eli Levine's curator insight, March 30, 2014 1:12 PM

Way cool.


But it will not be put into place due to the politics of the fossil fuel industry and their undemocratic influence in our governments across the world.


They stand to lose a lot of money; forced to give up massive amounts of invested capital (even though the profits they've realized from those capital assets have, so far, more than paid for themselves already).


Here we are, contemplating putting a high polluting oil pipeline through our country while we frack for natural gas, and we could be spending our time getting off fossil fuels entirely in an economically viable manner.


Think about it.

Avneel Channan's curator insight, March 27, 2015 8:44 AM

Corroborating with the Costa Rica article, 100% renewable energy research is the stop towards a less polluted Earth. 

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5.1 earthquake in LA: Prototype early-warning system works again

5.1 earthquake in LA: Prototype early-warning system works again | Amazing Science |
A prototype earthquake early-warning system worked again Friday night, giving seismologists in Pasadena about a four-second heads-up before shaking was felt from the magnitude 5.1 quake that struck near La Habra.

Fully funded system could give LA 40-50 second warning "big one" is coming so firefighters to open up garage doors, high-speed trains to slow down to avoid derailment.

USGS seismologist Lucy Jones has said the system works because while earthquakes travel at the speed of sound, sensors that initially detect the shaking near the epicenter of a quake can send a message faster -- at the speed of light -- to warn residents farther away that the quake is coming.

The system being tested by scientists at the USGS and Caltech previously gave officials at the Pasadena center about a two-second warning ahead of a magnitude 4.4 earthquake that struck near Westwood in March.

Once developed, the system could give downtown Los Angeles 40 to 50 seconds of warning that the “Big One” was headed from the San Andreas fault, giving time for elevators to stop at the next floor and open up, firefighters to open up garage doors, high-speed trains to slow down to avoid derailment and surgeons to take the scalpel out of a patient.

Explore large earthquakes in the Los Angeles area

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First comprehensive atlas of human gene activity released

First comprehensive atlas of human gene activity released | Amazing Science |

A large international consortium of researchers has produced the first comprehensive, detailed map of the way genes work across the major cells and tissues of the human body. The findings describe the complex networks that govern gene activity, and the new information could play a crucial role in identifying the genes involved with disease.

“Now, for the first time, we are able to pinpoint the regions of the genome that can be active in a disease and in normal activity, whether it’s in a brain cell, the skin, in blood stem cells or in hair follicles,” said Winston Hide, associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and one of the core authors of the main paper in Nature.

“This is a major advance that will greatly increase our ability to understand the causes of disease across the body.”

The research is outlined in a series of papers published March 27, 2014, two in the journal Nature and 16 in other scholarly journals. The work is the result of years of concerted effort among 250 experts from more than 20 countries as part of FANTOM 5 (Functional Annotation of the Mammalian Genome). The FANTOM project, led by the Japanese institution RIKEN, is aimed at building a complete library of human genes.

Researchers studied human and mouse cells using a new technology called Cap Analysis of Gene Expression (CAGE), developed at RIKEN, to discover how 95% of all human genes are switched on and off. These “switches” — called “promoters” and “enhancers” — are the regions of DNA that manage gene activity. The researchers mapped the activity of 180,000 promoters and 44,000 enhancers across a wide range of human cell types and tissues and, in most cases, found they were linked with specific cell types.

“We now have the ability to narrow down the genes involved in particular diseases based on the tissue cell or organ in which they work,” said Hide. “This new atlas points us to the exact locations to look for the key genetic variants that might map to a disease.”

Eli Levine's curator insight, March 28, 2014 7:27 PM
There it is. As it is in our genes, so too is it in our individual psyches and societies. Check it out!
Martin Daumiller's curator insight, March 29, 2014 12:27 PM

original article:



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Revolutionary solar cells double up as lasers

Revolutionary solar cells double up as lasers | Amazing Science |
Commercial silicon-based solar cells - such as those seen on the roofs of houses across the country - operate at about 20% efficiency for converting the Sun’s rays into electrical energy. It’s taken over 20 years to achieve that rate of efficiency. A relatively new type of solar cell based on a perovskite material - named for scientist Lev Perovski, who first discovered materials with this structure in the Ural Mountains in the 19th century - was recently pioneered by an Oxford research team led by Professor Henry Snaith.

Latest research finds that the trailblazing ‘perovskite’ material used in solar cells can double up as a laser, strongly suggesting the astonishing efficiency levels already achieved in these cells is only part of the journey.

Now, researchers from Professor Sir Richard Friend’s group at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory - working with Snaith’s Oxford group - have demonstrated that perovskite cells excel not just at absorbing light but also at emitting it. The new findings, recently published online in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, show that these ‘wonder cells’ can also produce cheap lasers.

By sandwiching a thin layer of the lead halide perovskite between two mirrors, the team produced an optically driven laser which proves these cells “show very efficient luminescence” - with up to 70% of absorbed light re-emitted.

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Ordered carbon-nanotube design may increase conductivity of solar cells by 100 million times

Ordered carbon-nanotube design may increase conductivity of solar cells by 100 million times | Amazing Science |

Controlled placement of carbon nanotubes in nanostructures could result in a huge boost in electronic performance in photovoltaic solar cells, researchers at Umeå University in Sweden have discovered.

In the new study, published in Advanced Materials, the researchers were able to engineer the nanotubes into complex network architectures with controlled nanoscale dimensions inside a polymer matrix. That structure allows for better conductivity (lower loss of power) and reduction of the number of high-cost nanotubes needed.

“We have found that the resulting nano networks possess exceptional ability to transport charges, up to 100 million times higher than previously measured carbon nanotube random networks produced by conventional methods,” says David Barbero, project leader and assistant professor at the Department of Physics at Umeå University.

“This innovation has direct implications for the next generation of carbon-based solar cells, which use carbon nanotubes and other carbon materials (graphene, semi-conducting polymers, etc.),” Barbero told KurzweilAI. “That’s because the new nano-engineered networks show much increased charge transport compared to commonly used networks today. These new nano-networks could also in principle be advantageously used in any nanocomposite material where efficient charge transport is required, and where low amounts of nanotubes are necessary.

“This new architecture enables a higher degree of interconnection between nanotubes and more robust charge transport pathways in the device,” he explained. “This is expected to increase device efficiency, but also to reduce materials costs because at least 100 times less nanotubes are necessary to form efficient charge transport networks.”

Barbero could not predict when this new technology might go into production, but hinted that “this field is moving fast and things can happen quickly, so stay tuned.”

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Ancient Nomads Spread Earliest Domestic Grains Along The Silk Road 5,000 Years Ago

Ancient Nomads Spread Earliest Domestic Grains Along The Silk Road 5,000 Years Ago | Amazing Science |

Charred grains of barley, millet and wheat deposited nearly 5,000 years ago at campsites in the high plains of Kazakhstan show that nomadic sheepherders played a surprisingly important role in the early spread of domesticated crops throughout a mountainous east-west corridor along the historic Silk Road, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

"Our findings indicate that ancient nomadic pastoralists were key players in an east-west network that linked innovations and commodities between present-day China and southwest Asia," said study co-author Michael Frachetti, PhD, an associate professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University and principal investigator on the research project.

"Ancient wheat and broomcorn millet, recovered in nomadic campsites in Kazakhstan, show that prehistoric herders in Central Eurasia had incorporated both regional crops into their economy and rituals nearly 5,000 years ago, pushing back the chronology of interaction along the territory of the 'Silk Road' more than 2,000 years," Frachetti said.

The study, to be published April 2 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, establishes that several strains of ancient grains and peas had made their way across Eurasia thousands of years earlier than previously documented.

While these crops have been known to exist much earlier in ancient China and Southwest Asia, finding them intermingled in the Bronze Age burials and households of nomadic pastoralists provides some of the earliest concrete signs for east-west interaction in the vast expanse of Eurasian mountains and the first botanical evidence for farming among Bronze Age nomads.

Bread wheat, cultivated at least 6,000 years ago in Southwest Asia, was absent in China before 2500 B.C. while broomcorn millet, domesticated 8,000 years ago in China, is missing in southwest Asia before 2000 B.C. This study documents that ancient grains from eastern China and soutwest Asia had made their way to Kazakhstan in the center of the continent by 2700-2500 B.C. (nearly 5,000 years ago).

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Experimental Cancer Drug FRAX486 Reverses Schizophrenia Symptoms in Mice

Experimental Cancer Drug FRAX486 Reverses Schizophrenia Symptoms in Mice | Amazing Science |

Johns Hopkins researchers discover anticancer compound reverses schizophrenic behaviors in mice.

The team say an experimental anticancer compound - FRAX486 – can reverse behaviours associated with schizophrenia in adolescent mice with the rodent version of the disease. They also discovered some of the lost brain cell function was restored in mice being administered the cancer drug.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers discovered the compound FRAX486 appears to halt a pruning process in the schizophrenic brain in which vital neural connections are destroyed.

The drug is one of a class of compounds called PAK inhibitors which provide some protection from brain damage caused through inherited disease. There is also evidence to show the drug could be used to treat Alzheimer's, while previous studies have found the PAK protein can initiate cancer and cell growth, meaning inhibitors could be developed to fight cancers.

The team said they were able to restore disabled neurons in adolescent and young adult mice with schizophrenia through FRAX486.

Study leader Akira Sawa said: "By using this compound to block excess pruning in adolescent mice, we also normalised the behaviour deficit. That we could intervene in adolescence and still make a difference in restoring brain function in these mice is intriguing."

In their experiments, the researchers reduced the expression of a gene called Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia 1 (DISC1), which appears to regulate the fate of neurons involved in higher order functions like information processing.

The deficit in DISC1 caused deterioration of parts of the brain that help neurons to communicate with one another. It also means the regulation of another protein, Rac1, cannot be controlled. Excess Rac1 leads to excess PAK in mice.

By reducing the activity of PAK, the team was able to protect the mice against the effects of having too little DISC1. It is not yet known if PAK is elevated in the brains of humans with schizophrenia, meaning further research is needed before the drug is considered for use in humans.

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MIT: U.N. Warns Crops Are at Greater Risk than Thought from Climate Change

MIT: U.N. Warns Crops Are at Greater Risk than Thought from Climate Change | Amazing Science |

A few years ago scientists thought climate change wouldn’t cause much harm to overall food production until temperatures in a region rose by three to four degrees Celsius compared to current levels. But in the latest United Nations report on climate change, released today, scientists have revised those estimates, pointing to significant losses with a temperature rise of just two degrees Celsius.

The report is part of the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 837 researchers from around the world who assess and summarize the scientific literature on climate change. The fourth assessment report came out in 2007, and since then scientists have accumulated far more data, revised their computer models, and done more to study how factors such as changes in precipitation and extreme weather interact.

Changes in crop yield—the amount of produced per hectare—are only one part of the current report, which has over 30 chapters. But the changes in scientists’ estimates of how climate change will affect agriculture are some of the most remarkable in the report. The report, looking at the major food crops of corn, wheat, and rice, says that yields are likely to start decreasing by 2030 and decline up to 2 percent a decade (climate change seems to be affecting crops already, but so far this has been offset by improvements in crop yield). Such a reduction in yield is particularly worrying because demand for food is expected to increase in coming years, at a rate of about 2 percent a year.

Assessing how climate change will affect crops is tricky. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide, changes in temperature and precipitation, the increased frequency of extremely hot days, and changing patterns of crop disease all play a role. In some areas, climate change could help improve production—growing seasons may improve in cold areas, for example. But scientists are finding that even with current levels of warming, the negative impacts of climate change are more common. And as the climate continues to change, the negative impacts are expected to get worse.

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Nanoparticles trapped with laser light temporarily violate the second law of thermodynamics

Nanoparticles trapped with laser light temporarily violate the second law of thermodynamics | Amazing Science |

Watching a movie played in reverse often makes us laugh because unexpected and mysterious things seem to happen: glass shards lying on the floor slowly start to move towards each other, magically assemble and suddenly an intact glass jumps on the table where it gently gets to a halt. Or snow starts to from a water puddle in the sun, steadily growing until an entire snowman appears as if molded by an invisible hand. When we see such scenes, we immediately realize that according to our everyday experience something is out of the ordinary. Indeed, there are many processes in nature that can never be reversed. The physical law that captures this behavior is the celebrated second law of thermodynamics, which posits that the entropy of a system – a measure for the disorder of a system – never decreases spontaneously, thus favoring disorder (high entropy) over order (low entropy).

However, when we zoom into the microscopic world of atoms and molecules, this law softens up and looses its absolute strictness. Indeed, at the nanoscale the second law can be fleetingly violated. Recently, a team of physicists of the University of Vienna, the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich succeeded in accurately predicting the likelihood of events transiently violating the second law of thermodynamics. They immediately put the mathematical fluctuation theorem they derived to the test using a tiny glass sphere with a diameter of less than 100 nm levitated in a trap of laser light. Their experimental set-up allowed the research team to capture the nano-sphere and hold it in place, and, furthermore, to measure its position in all three spatial directions with exquisite precision. In the trap, the nano-sphere rattles around due to collisions with surrounding gas molecules. By a clever manipulation of the laser trap the scientists cooled the nano-sphere below the temperature of the surrounding gas and, thereby, put it into a non-equilibrium state. They then turned off the cooling and watched the particle relaxing to the higher temperature through energy transfer from the gas molecules. The researchers observed that the tiny glass sphere sometimes, although rarely, does not behave as one would expect according to the second law: the nano-sphere effectively releases heat to the hotter surroundings rather than absorbing the heat. The theory derived by the researchers to analyze the experiment confirms the emerging picture on the limitations of the second law on the nanoscale.

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Novel paper nanofilter can remove viruses efficiently

Novel paper nanofilter can remove viruses efficiently | Amazing Science |
Researchers at the Division of Nanotechnology and Functional Materials, Uppsala University have developed a paper filter, which can remove virus particles with an efficiency matching that of the best industrial virus filters. The paper filter consists of 100 percent high purity cellulose nanofibers, directly derived from nature.

The research was carried out in collaboration with virologists from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences/Swedish National Veterinary Institute and is published in the Advanced Healthcare Materials journal.

Virus particles are very peculiar objects- tiny (about thousand times thinner than a human hair) yet mighty. Viruses can only replicate in living cells but once the cells become infected the viruses can turn out to be extremely pathogenic. Viruses can actively cause diseases on their own or even transform healthy cells to malignant tumors.

‘Viral contamination of biotechnological products is a serious challenge for production of therapeutic proteins and vaccines. Because of the small size, virus removal is a non-trivial task, and, therefore, inexpensive and robust virus removal filters are highly demanded’, says Albert Mihranyan, Associate Professor at the Division of Nanotechnology and Functional Materials, Uppsala University, who heads the study.

Cellulose is one of the most common materials to produce various types of filters because it is inexpensive, disposable, inert and non-toxic. It is also mechanically strong, hydrophyllic, stable in a wide range of pH, and can withstand sterilization e.g. by autoclaving. Normal filter paper, used for chemistry, has too large pores to remove viruses.

The undergraduate student Linus Wågberg, Professor Maria Strømme, and Associate Professor Albert Mihranyan at the Division of Nanotechnology and Functional Materials, Uppsala University, in collaboration with virologists Dr. Giorgi Metreveli, Eva Emmoth, and Professor Sándor Belák from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)/Swedish National Veterinary Institute (SVA), report a design of a paper filter which is capable of removing virus particles with the efficiency matching that of the best industrial virus filters. The reported paper filter, which is manufactured according to the traditional paper making processes, consists of 100 percent high purity cellulose nanofibers directly derived from nature.

The discovery is a result of a decade long research on the properties of high surface area nanocellulose materials, which eventually enabled the scientists to tailor the pore size distribution of their paper precisely in the range desirable for virus filtration.

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CRISPR-CAS9 Reverses Disease Symptoms in Living Animals for First Time

CRISPR-CAS9 Reverses Disease Symptoms in Living Animals for First Time | Amazing Science |

MIT scientists report the use of a CRISPR methodology to cure mice of a rare liver disorder caused by a single genetic mutation. They say their study (“Genome editing with Cas9 in adult mice corrects a disease mutation and phenotype”), published in Nature Biotechnology, offers the first evidence that this gene-editing technique can reverse disease symptoms in living animals. CRISPR, which provides a way to snip out mutated DNA and replace it with the correct sequence, holds potential for treating many genetic disorders, according to the research team.

“What's exciting about this approach is that we can actually correct a defective gene in a living adult animal,” says Daniel Anderson, Ph.D., the Samuel A. Goldblith associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the senior author of the paper.

The recently developed CRISPR system relies on cellular machinery that bacteria use to defend themselves from viral infection. Researchers have copied this cellular system to create gene-editing complexes that include a DNA-cutting enzyme called Cas9 bound to a short RNA guide strand that is programmed to bind to a specific genome sequence, telling Cas9 where to make its cut.

At the same time, the researchers also deliver a DNA template strand. When the cell repairs the damage produced by Cas9, it copies from the template, introducing new genetic material into the genome. Scientists envision that this kind of genome editing could one day help treat diseases such as hemophilia, and others that are caused by single mutations.

For this study, the researchers designed three guide RNA strands that target different DNA sequences near the mutation that causes type I tyrosinemia, in a gene that codes for an enzyme called FAH. Patients with this disease, which affects about 1 in 100,000 people, cannot break down the amino acid tyrosine, which accumulates and can lead to liver failure. Current treatments include a low-protein diet and a drug called NTCB, which disrupts tyrosine production.

In experiments with adult mice carrying the mutated form of the FAH enzyme, the researchers delivered RNA guide strands along with the gene for Cas9 and a 199-nucleotide DNA template that includes the correct sequence of the mutated FAH gene.

“Delivery of components of the CRISPR-Cas9 system by hydrodynamic injection resulted in initial expression of the wild-type Fah protein in ~1/250 liver cells,” wrote the investigators. “Expansion of Fah-positive hepatocytes rescued the body weight loss phenotype.”

While the team used a high pressure injection to deliver the CRISPR components, Dr. Anderson envisions that better delivery approaches are possible. His lab is now working on methods that may be safer and more efficient, including targeted nanoparticles. 

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Someday, we may store our solar or wind power in a 'rhubarb battery' from Harvard

Someday, we may store our solar or wind power in a 'rhubarb battery' from Harvard | Amazing Science |
Researchers at Harvard University say their organic flow-battery would be affordable and efficient.

One of the greatest technical problems facing the development of renewable sources is storing the collected energy for later use. If your home or business is solar-powered, come the evening you have to buy electricity or use very expensive batteries to keep the lights on. Utilities with large-scale solar and wind farms have the same problem managing these intermittent power sources. And much of the power from the always-on nuclear and coal plants goes to waste at night because demand is low and it’s too expensive to store the energy.

Michael Aziz and his research team at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed what’s called an organic mega-flow battery, which has the potential to solve this problem.

The organic mega flow battery has two components: the energy source ("organic" substances) and the storage system (a "flow" battery.)

“The flow battery is different from a traditional solid electrode battery,” Aziz explains, “because it stores the energy outside the battery container itself in storage tanks full of fluids. When you want electricity, you flow [the fluids] into the cell past the electrodes, where they’re converted ... and they give off the energy in the form of electricity.”

One nice thing about a flow battery is that it can potentially be any size. The energy is stored in tanks separate from where the electrodes come together, so the amount of energy storage is limited only by the size of the tanks. "That’s potentially a much cheaper way of storing large amounts of energy than stacking up entire banks of solid electrode batteries," says Aziz.

In fact, Aziz says his team's inspiration came from how plants store energy from the Sun. They use quinones, which are abundant in plants. 

"When [the quinones] are in chlorophyll during photosynthesis, they switch back and forth between oxidized and reduced forms over and over again without any sign of degradation, and that’s exactly the functionality we want in a battery," he says. That change releases energy.

"So we modified them to make them highly soluble in water, and put them in a flow battery, and it works. Performance is terrific. After half a year at this, the performance is rivaling that of Vanadium."

One nice thing is that you don't use up the quinones — you flow the changed molecule back through the battery, adding solar or wind energy, and the battery is recharged.

Right now, the team extracts quinone molecules from crude oil because the method is cheap. “Ultimately,” Aziz says, “if we can get [quinones] out of rhubarb, that would be an extra bonus.”

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Multiverse Controversy Heats Up over Gravitational Waves

Multiverse Controversy Heats Up over Gravitational Waves | Amazing Science |

The multiverse is one of the most divisive topics in physics, and it just became more so. The major announcement last week of evidence for primordial ripples in spacetime has bolstered a cosmological theory called inflation, and with it, some say, the idea that our universe is one of many universes floating like bubbles in a glass of champagne. Critics of the multiverse hypothesis claim that the idea is untestable—barely even science. But with evidence for inflation theory building up, the multiverse debate is coming to a head.
The big news last week came from the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) experiment at the South Pole, which saw imprints in the cosmic microwave background—the oldest light in the universe, dating from shortly after the big bang—that appear to have been caused by gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of spacetime in the early universe. The finding was heralded as a huge breakthrough, although physicists say confirmation from other experiments will be needed to corroborate the results.
If verified, these gravitational waves would be direct evidence for the theory of inflation, which suggests the universe expanded exponentially in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born. If inflation occurred, it would explain many features of our universe, such as the fact that it appears to be fairly smooth, with matter spread evenly in all directions - early inflation would have stretched out any irregularities in the universe.

This picture is called eternal inflation. “Most inflationary models, almost all, predict that inflation should become eternal,” says Alan Guth, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who first predicted inflation in 1980.
If the BICEP2 results end up proving inflation occurred, then the multiverse may be part of the bargain. “I think the multiverse is a natural consequence of inflation ideas,” says theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek, also at MIT. “If you can start one universe form a very small seed, then other universes could also grow from small seeds. There doesn’t seem to be anything unique about the event we call the big bang. It is a reproducible event that could and would happen again, and again, and again.”

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CD47-signal regulatory protein alpha (SIRPa) interaction is a therapeutic target for human solid tumors

CD47-signal regulatory protein alpha (SIRPa) interaction is a therapeutic target for human solid tumors | Amazing Science |

CD47, a “don't eat me” signal for phagocytic cells, is expressed on the surface of all human solid tumor cells. Analysis of patient tumor and matched adjacent normal (nontumor) tissue revealed that CD47 is overexpressed on cancer cells. CD47 mRNA expression levels correlated with a decreased probability of survival for multiple types of cancer. CD47 is a ligand for SIRPα, a protein expressed on macrophages and dendritic cells. In vitro, blockade of CD47 signaling using targeted monoclonal antibodies enabled macrophage phagocytosis of tumor cells that were otherwise protected. Administration of anti-CD47 antibodies inhibited tumor growth in orthotopic immunodeficient mouse xenotransplantation models established with patient tumor cells and increased the survival of the mice over time. Anti-CD47 antibody therapy initiated on larger tumors inhibited tumor growth and prevented or treated metastasis, but initiation of the therapy on smaller tumors was potentially curative. The safety and efficacy of targeting CD47 was further tested and validated in immune competent hosts using an orthotopic mouse breast cancer model. These results suggest all human solid tumor cells require CD47 expression to suppress phagocytic innate immune surveillance and elimination. These data, taken together with similar findings with other human neoplasms, show that CD47 is a commonly expressed molecule on all cancers, its function to block phagocytosis is known, and blockade of its function leads to tumor cell phagocytosis and elimination. CD47 is therefore a validated target for cancer therapies.

Avoiding phagocytosis by tumor-associated macrophages is required for the growth and metastasis of solid tumors (1). Accumulating evidence suggests that cell-surface expression of CD47 is a common mechanism by which cells protect themselves from phagocytosis (1). CD47 expression is required to protect transfused red blood cells, platelets, and lymphocytes from rapid elimination by splenic macrophages (24). Mobilized hematopoietic stem cells protect themselves from phagocytosis by increasing CD47 expression as they pass through phagocyte-lined sinusoids and decrease it after relocating to marrow niches (5). Moreover, CD47 expression levels predicted the probability that hematopoietic stem cells would be phagocytosed while circulating (5).

CD47 is a widely expressed transmembrane protein with numerous functions (6). CD47 functions as a ligand for signal regulatory protein-α (SIRPα), a protein expressed on macrophages and dendritic cells (7). Upon binding CD47, SIRPα initiates a signaling cascade that results in the inhibition of phagocytosis (6). This “don't eat me” signal is transmitted by phosphorylation of the immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibition motifs present on the cytoplasmic tail of SIRPα (8). Subsequent binding and activation of SHP-1 and SHP-2 [src homology-2 (SH2)-domain containing protein tyrosine phosphatases] blocks phagocytosis, potentially by preventing the accumulation of myosin-IIA at the phagocytic synapse (912).

Scientists now show that CD47 is expressed on all human patient cancer cells tested. It appears that CD47 is a unique non-housekeeping cell-surface marker expressed by all human cancers. Increased CD47 mRNA expression levels in some solid tumors correlated with a decreased probability of patient survival. Monoclonal antibodies targeted to CD47 enabled the phagocytosis of patient solid tumor cells in vitro, inhibited the growth of orthotopically xenotransplanted human patient tumors, and prevented the metastasis of human patient tumor cells. These results establish CD47 as a critical regulator of innate immune surveillance.

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Cancer vaccine a step closer as natural killer cells are correctly activated

Cancer vaccine a step closer as natural killer cells are correctly activated | Amazing Science |

The E3 ligase Cbl-b and TAM receptors regulate cancer metastasis via natural killer cells.

Vaccines work. Their widespread use has saved millions of lives. With an ageing population that is increasingly becoming a victim to cancer, a vaccine to treat it would do wonders. In a study published in Nature, scientists have taken a step in that direction.

Few attempts to develop a cancer vaccine have been made, but the side effects have been overwhelming, such as the immune system turning against not just diseased but also healthy cells. Researchers need to understand how to activate our immune system such that it kills only cancer cells, and does not have any side effects.

In a new study, Josef Penninger at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and his colleagues have identified the molecular mechanism underlying this strategy.

The immune system protects human beings from diseases caused by viruses or parasites, and it even tries to fight cancer. It has the ability to distinguish external agents from our own healthy tissue, and kill them.

Natural killer (NK) cells in our immune system are like the soldiers of an army, they mediate a rapid response to an infection or a growing tumor. They constitute the first line of body’s defence mechanism. These cells can also inhibit the spread of cancer to different parts of the body, which is not only beyond the scope of current treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but also accounts for more than 90% of deaths due to cancer.

Penninger has now shown, using mice that act as proxy for humans, that natural killer cells can be activated to inhibit the spread of cancer, and thus the survival of cancer patients can be prolonged, without any side effects.

First they showed that natural killer cells where a specific enzyme was not active killed target tumor cells more efficiently than natural killer cells that had normal enzyme activity. They also showed that cancer-bearing mice in which the enzyme, known as Cbl-b, had been deleted had fewer sites to which the cancer had spread, and a longer survival rate.

What’s more is that the loss of Clb-b did not lead to any side effects as seen with previous attempts to boost the immune system against cancer. The usual function of the enzyme is to help inhibit the immune response by preventing many lines of defence becoming active, including natural killer cells.

As an aside, understanding this mechanism helped Penninger answer how warfarin, a drug widely used to stop blood from clotting, also reduces cancer spread in mice. He showed warfarin adopts a similar strategy to activate natural killer cells by having a similar effect as that of the loss of Cbl-b. Thus, the hope is now that we can develop a vaccine that wakes up our immune system to stop the spread of cancer.

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Cologuard stool-based DNA test for colon cancer demonstrates 93.3% sensitivty

Cologuard stool-based DNA test for colon cancer demonstrates 93.3% sensitivty | Amazing Science |

Colon cancer screening is crucial because it can prevent colon-related cancer deaths by as much as 60 percent if adults who are at least 50-years old get screened routinely. What stops many people from getting screened though is the discomfort associated with traditional screening methods.

The number of adults getting screened for colon cancer, however, may soon increase as the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is likely to give its approval to a less invasive stool-based DNA test for detecting colon cancer.

On Thursday, a panel of FDA advisers unanimously recommended the approval of Cologuard, a colon cancer screening test that analyzes DNA found in the stool. The FDA may not follow the panel's recommendation but it usually does. Cologuard was developed by Madison-based Exact Sciences which specializes in colon cancer.

"Exact Sciences Corp. (Nasdaq: EXAS) today announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Molecular and Clinical Genetics Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory .

Committee determined by a unanimous vote of 10 to zero that Exact Sciences has demonstrated safety, effectiveness and a favorable risk benefit profile of Cologuard, the company's stool-based DNA (sDNA), non-invasive colorectal cancer screening test," Exact Sciences announced on its website.

Findings of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week suggest that Cologuard is more efficient in detecting early-stage cancer than the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), another non-invasive colon cancer screening test. The study, which was participated by 12,776 individuals, found that Exact Science's stool-based DNA test could detect 92.3 percent of colon cancers. Cologuard was also found to be 94 percent efficient in detecting early stage cancers.

Colonoscopy remains to be the most accurate way of detecting colon cancer but many avoid it because of its invasive approach of inserting a tube into the patient's anus. Cologuard will be used as a screening test if it gets FDA's approval but patients found positive of cancer will still be asked to undergo colonoscopy.

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