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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

IQ is in the genes: How parents raise children has almost no impact how smart they become, study finds

IQ is in the genes: How parents raise children has almost no impact how smart they become, study finds | Amazing Science |

Kids benefit when their parents spend quality time encouraging them to think and to take on challenging pursuits. But this won’t improve a child’s IQ, a new study finds.

Their reading to you, talking with you at the dinner table and taking an active interest in your life could make you happy. And that’s important. But it won’t make you smarter, says Kevin Beaver. Previous research has suggested different types of parenting could affect a child’s IQ. Short for intelligence quotient, IQ is a score that measures human intelligence. But those earlier data hadn’t separated out the effect of genetics on IQ. Beaver’s team wanted to know: Are children’s IQ scores really affected by how their parents raised them? Or are those scores just a reflection of what genes a child inherited?

To find out, the team pored over information from a study of more than 15,000 U.S. middle- and high-school students. It’s called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Starting in the 1994-to-1995 school year, researchers had asked students a series of questions. For instance: How warm and loving are your parents? How much do you talk with them? How close do you feel to your parents? How much do you think they care about you?

Students also were given a list of 10 activities. Then the questionnaire asked how many of those activities students had done with their parents in the previous week. Did they play sports together? Go shopping? Talk with each other over dinner? Watch a movie together?

Students also answered questions about how permissive their parents were. For example, did their parents let them choose their own friends, choose what to watch on TV or choose for themselves when to go to bed?

The researchers then gave the students a test to gauge their IQ. Called a Picture Vocabulary Test, it asked the students to link words and images. Scores on this test have been linked repeatedly to IQ. Later in life, between the ages of 18 and 26, these people were tested again. Beaver’s group was especially interested in results from a group of about 220 students who had been adopted. The parents who raised them had not passed on any genes to them. So if there was a link between the students’ IQs and the way their parents raised them, the researchers should see it most clearly in the adopted students’ scores.

What does Beaver make of the new findings? We all have strengths and weaknesses, he says. That means some of us will have to work harder than others to do well. And in some cases, other people will always be better than us at certain things. “The key is to find what you are good at and what you enjoy.” Then, he says, “Work your hardest to become the best you can be.”

RJ Lavallee's curator insight, November 30, 2014 8:54 AM

One study does not a total change make, but it does raise questions...

JebaQpt's comment, December 2, 2014 12:00 AM
Iq questions with answers
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Ancient Computer Even More Ancient Than Previously Thought

Ancient Computer Even More Ancient Than Previously Thought | Amazing Science |

The astonishing Antikythera mechanism is even older than previously suspected, new research suggests. Instead of being "1500 years ahead of its time," it may have been closer to 1800.

The mechanism was found in 1901 in the wreck of a ship that sank in the Aegean Sea around 60 BC. Though its origins are unknown, it could be used to calculate astronomical motion, making it a sort of forerunner to computers.

The sheer sophistication of the device makes it mysterious, being more advanced than any known instrument of its day – or for centuries thereafter. Even with parts missing after spending such a long time in the briny deep, it was examined to have at least 30 gears. This is perhaps why for many, it represents the pinnacle of technology of the ancient world and what was lost during the Dark Ages.

If devices such as this had survived, Kepler might have found the task of explaining the orbits of the planets far easier to achieve. Although the makers likely would not have understood why the moon slowed down and sped up in its orbit, they were sufficiently aware of the phenomenon. In fact, the mechanism mimics it precisely. One of the mechanism's functions was to predict eclipses, and a study of these dials indicates it was operating on a calender starting from 205 BC.

Estimates of the mechanism's date of manufacture have gradually been pushed back, starting with the year in which it sank. The device was housed in a box, which has engravings dated to 80 to 90BC, but the lettering appears consistent with a date of 100 to 150 BC

However, in The Archive of History of Exact Sciences, Dr. Christian Carman of Argentina's National University of Quilmes and Dr. James Evans of the University of Puget Sound believe they have identified the solar eclipse that occurs in the 13th month of the mechanism's calender. If so, this would make its start date, when the dials are set to zero, May 205 BC.

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Austrian Alps Are Dismantling Ski Lifts And Moving Villages To Adapt To Climate Change

Austrian Alps Are Dismantling Ski Lifts And Moving Villages To Adapt To Climate Change | Amazing Science |

With temperatures rising faster in the Alps than the rest of the world, alpine countries are working together to adapt to climate change and hope to set an example. A recent Austrian climate change report found that the country's temperatures had risen twice as fast as the global average since 1880, with the number of sunshine hours in the Alps increasing by 20 percent.  

While this may please vacationers or locals enjoying longer summers, it is also likely to cause more landslides and forest fires, affecting the agricultural sector and local economy, the Austrian Assessment Report found.

A UN report earlier this month warned that Earth was on a likely trajectory for at least 4 C warming over pre-industrial times by 2100 -- a recipe for worsening drought, flood, rising seas and species extinctions. Alpine countries are already shifting their focus to adaptation solutions, acknowledging that climate change will not be stopped or turned around anytime soon. 

"We have to take climate change very seriously. But we also need local support and to sensitize communities and the population, because the effects of climate change will be felt at a local level," said Siegwart.  Low-lying resorts have long invested in snow cannon to ensure white slopes during the ski season but some have radically changed their marketing strategies -- like Switzerland's Stockhorn ski region, which dismantled its ski lifts to refocus on winter hiking and snowshoeing. 

Rather than building flood defences, authorities in northern Austria relocated some 250 households which sat close to the Danube and were badly hit by flood waters in 2002. The move cost more than 90 million euros ($110 million).

"Danger zone plans" are regularly drawn up to identify no-build areas at risk of floods, landslides or erosion, while the mountainous Tirol region has invested some 125 million euros to build avalanche defences over 17.5 kilometres (11 miles) of roads, so they can remain open all year round.

Greg Robertson's curator insight, December 2, 2014 7:42 PM

This is scary because climate change is forcing the times to change since the average temperature is rising significantly faster in the Alps.

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A time cloak that conceals events rather than objects

A time cloak that conceals events rather than objects | Amazing Science |

A "time cloak" that conceals events rather than objects can hide secret messages through a trick of light, making information invisible to all but the intended recipient. Like an invisibility cloak that makes something disappear in plain sight, a time cloak makes an event disappear in time. It works by manipulating light traveling along an optical fiber.

Imagine a row of cars speeding along a road slowing down in concert to create brief paths for pedestrians to safely cross. When the cars that let the pedestrians cross ahead of them speed up and re-join the rest of the traffic, no one can tell there was ever a gap in the flow – the pedestrians' presence has been cloaked. In the same way, photons' paths can be tweaked to create brief gaps where information can safely hide.

Last year, a team at Purdue University in Indiana built a cloak that could transfer hidden data at 1.5 gigabits a second, fast enough to make it theoretically useful for real communication. The only thing was, the message was hidden so well that no one could actually read it. That problem has now been solved.

"With this new device, we don't just limit ourselves to thinking about cloaks as a way of preventing somebody from getting information, but also as a way to enable communication," says Joseph Lukens, an electrical engineer at Purdue. "One guy sees nothing, the other guy sees everything."

Lukens and his colleagues created two different communications channels using lasers tuned to two different frequencies. One is a regular frequency and the other is a time-cloaked channel that remains hidden unless you know it's there. Photons from each laser traveled along the same fibre, but the intended recipient just needs to tune in to the right channel to reveal the secret information.

Not only could the cloak deliver the messages, it also successfully fended off outside attempts to scramble the information. A similar device could one day improve current communication systems, says Moti Fridman at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

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Fragile X study offers hope of new autism treatment

Fragile X study offers hope of new autism treatment | Amazing Science |

People affected by a common inherited form of autism could be helped by a drug that is being tested as a treatment for cancer, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh and McGill University. Fragile X Syndrome is the most common genetic cause of autism spectrum disorders. It affects around 1 in 4,000 boys and 1 in 6,000 girls. Currently, there is no cure.

The scientists, who have identified a chemical pathway that goes awry in the brains of Fragile X patients, say a cancer drug candidate could reverse their behavioral symptoms. The researchers have found that a naturally occurring anti-fungal called cercosporamide can block the pathway and improve sociability in mice with the condition.

The team identified a key molecule – eIF4E – that drives excess protein production in the brains of Fragile X patients. This can cause behavioural symptoms that include learning difficulties. It can also lead to more serious intellectual disabilities, delays in speech and language development and problems with social interactions.

“We found that eIF4E regulates the production of an enzyme called MMP-9, which breaks down and re-orders the connections between brain cells called synapses,” says Nahum Sonenberg, McGill professor in the Faculty of Medicine and the Goodman Cancer Research Centre and co-author of the study, “Excess MMP-9 disrupts communication between brain cells, leading to changes in behavior.”

The team found that treatment with cercosporamide blocks the activity of eIF4E, and therefore reduces the amounts of MMP-9, and reverses the behavioral symptoms in mice with a version of Fragile X Syndrome. The new findings suggest that it could have a use as a treatment for patients with Fragile X Syndrome. The study is published in the journal Cell Reports.

Co-first author of the study Arkady Khoutorsky said that “the enzyme MMP-9 has been implicated before in Fragile X Syndrome. What’s new in our research is the demonstration that the symptoms of the disease can be controlled by manipulating eIF4E activity with available drug candidates.”

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Wireless electronic implants deliver antibiotics, then harmlessly dissolve

Wireless electronic implants deliver antibiotics, then harmlessly dissolve | Amazing Science |

Imagine an electronic implant that delivers a drug when triggered by a remote wireless signal — then harmlessly dissolves (no post-surgical infection concerns, no fuss, no muss) within minutes or weeks. That’s what researchers at Tufts University and the  University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana have demonstrated* in mice, using a resistor (as a source of heat for releasing drug and help dissolving the implant) and a power-receiving coil made of magnesium deposited onto a silk protein”pocket” that also protects the electronics and controls its dissolution time. There have been other implantable medical devices, but they typically use non-degradable materials that have limited operational lifetimes and must eventually be removed or replaced — requiring more surgery.

Devices were implanted in vivo in S. aureus-infected tissue and activated by a wireless transmitter for two sets of 10-minute heat treatments. Tissue collected from the mice 24 hours after treatment showed no sign of infection, and surrounding tissues were found to be normal. Devices completely dissolved after 15 days, and magnesium levels at the implant site and surrounding areas were comparable to levels typically found in the body. The researchers also conducted in vitro experiments in which similar remotely controlled devices released the antibiotic ampicillin to kill E. coli and S. aureus bacteria. The wireless activation of the devices was found to enhance antibiotic release without reducing antibiotic activity.

The research was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition the week of November 24–28, 2014. and was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

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40,000-year-old blood brings mammoth cloning closer

40,000-year-old blood brings mammoth cloning closer | Amazing Science |
Mammoth cloning is closer to becoming a reality following the discovery of blood in the best-preserved specimen ever found.

An autopsy on a 40,000-year-old mammoth has yielded blood that could contain enough intact DNA to make cloning possible, galvanising scientists who have been working for years to bring back the extinct elephant relative. Tests are still being conducted on the blood to see if it will yield a complete genome – the genetic code necessary to build an organism.

The mammoth (nicknamed Buttercup) was discovered in 2013 on Maly Lyakhovsky Island in northern Siberia and excavated from the permafrost. The flesh was remarkably well-preserved, and oozed a dark red liquid when scientists cut into it. That liquid has now been confirmed as blood, following an autopsy conducted by scientists including Museum palaeobiologist Dr Tori Herridge.

'As a palaeontologist, you normally have to imagine the extinct animals you work on,' said Dr Herridge. 'So actually coming face-to-face with a mammoth in the flesh, and being up to my elbows in slippery, wet, and frankly rather smelly mammoth liver, counts as one of the most incredible experiences of my life.' The South Korean firm Sooam Biotech Research Foundation is leading the research project.

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Where did all the xenon go?

Where did all the xenon go? | Amazing Science |

The noble gas xenon should be found in terrestrial and Martian atmospheres, but researchers have had a hard time finding it.

The prevailing theory claims that due to xenon’s weight -- it is a heavy gas -- it could be trapped in a planet’s core or in the mantle during the planet’s formation.  Lawrence Livermore scientists and collaborators have discovered that the xenon can be trapped in the subsurface of the Earth, shedding new insights into the long-standing mysteries of the “missing xenon” in earth science.

The discovery of the noble gas xenon (Xe) has led to the synthesis of hundreds of Xe compounds (for example, it is thought that a compound made up of xenon and iron may lie in Earth’s core). Its reactivity also has been estimated to be the cause of its depletion by a factor of 20 relative to the lighter noble gases -- neon, argon and krypton -- in the atmosphere of Earth, Mars and other planetary bodies. Specifically, xenon reacts with hydrogen and ice at high pressures to form stable compounds.

The team used a high pressure diamond anvil cell, which applies extreme pressures on materials, and advanced synchrotron X-ray scattering techniques to show that under high pressure and temperature, a silicate mineral, made up mostly of silver, irreversibly inserts xenon into its micropores and undergoes charge separation. As opposed to other noble gases such as argon and krypton, xenon stays within the pores even after pressure and heat are decreased.

“This is a new chemical reaction that could account for the ‘missing xenon’ observed in terrestrial and Martian atmospheres," said Hyunchae Cynn, one of the LLNL physicists involved in the research. The team found missing xenon from the atmosphere trapped within porous rocks in a planet’s core or mantle.

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For $25 a year, Google will keep a copy of any genome in the cloud

For $25 a year, Google will keep a copy of any genome in the cloud | Amazing Science |

Google is approaching hospitals and universities with a new pitch. Have genomes? Store them with us. The search giant’s first product for the DNA age is Google Genomics, a cloud computing service that it launched last March but went mostly unnoticed amid a barrage of high profile R&D announcements from Google, like one late last month about a far-fetched plan to battle cancer with nanoparticles (see “Can Google Use Nanoparticles to Search for Cancer?”).

Google Genomics could prove more significant than any of these moonshots. Connecting and comparing genomes by the thousands, and soon by the millions, is what’s going to propel medical discoveries for the next decade. The question of who will store the data is already a point of growing competition between Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft.

Google began work on Google Genomics 18 months ago, meeting with scientists and building an interface, or API, that lets them move DNA data into its server farms and do experiments there using the same database technology that indexes the Web and tracks billions of Internet users.

“We saw biologists moving from studying one genome at a time to studying millions,” says David Glazer, the software engineer who led the effort and was previously head of platform engineering for Google+, the social network. “The opportunity is how to apply breakthroughs in data technology to help with this transition.”

Some scientists scoff that genome data remains too complex for Google to help with. But others see a big shift coming. When Atul Butte, a bioinformatics expert at Stanford heard Google present its plans this year, he remarked that he now understood “how travel agents felt when they saw Expedia.”

The explosion of data is happening as labs adopt new, even faster equipment for decoding DNA. For instance, the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that during the month of October it decoded the equivalent of one human genome every 32 minutes. That translated to about 200 terabytes of raw data.

This flow of data is smaller than what is routinely handled by large Internet companies (over two months, Broad will produce the equivalent of what gets uploaded to YouTube in one day) but it exceeds anything biologists have dealt with. That’s now prompting a wide effort to store and access data at central locations, often commercial ones. The National Cancer Institute said last month that it would pay $19 million to move copies of the 2.6 petabyte Cancer Genome Atlas into the cloud. Copies of the data, from several thousand cancer patients, will reside both at Google Genomics and in Amazon’s data centers.

The idea is to create “cancer genome clouds” where scientists can share information and quickly run virtual experiments as easily as a Web search, says Sheila Reynolds, a research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. “Not everyone has the ability to download a petabyte of data, or has the computing power to work on it,” she says.

corneja's curator insight, November 27, 2014 7:20 PM

"Our genome in the cloud"... it sounds like the title of a song. Google is offering to keep genome data in the cloud.

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New device could make large biological circuits practical

New device could make large biological circuits practical | Amazing Science |

Innovation from MIT could allow many biological components to be connected to produce predictable effects.

Researchers have made great progress in recent years in the design and creation of biological circuits — systems that, like electronic circuits, can take a number of different inputs and deliver a particular kind of output. But while individual components of such biological circuits can have precise and predictable responses, those outcomes become less predictable as more such elements are combined.

A team of researchers at MIT has now come up with a way of greatly reducing that unpredictability, introducing a device that could ultimately allow such circuits to behave nearly as predictably as their electronic counterparts. The findings are published this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology, in a paper by associate professor of mechanical engineering Domitilla Del Vecchio and professor of biological engineering Ron Weiss.

The lead author of the paper is Deepak Mishra, an MIT graduate student in biological engineering. Other authors include recent master’s students Phillip Rivera in mechanical engineering and Allen Lin in electrical engineering and computer science. There are many potential uses for such synthetic biological circuits, Del Vecchio and Weiss explain. “One specific one we’re working on is biosensing — cells that can detect specific molecules in the environment and produce a specific output in response,” Del Vecchio says. One example: cells that could detect markers that indicate the presence of cancer cells, and then trigger the release of molecules targeted to kill those cells.

It is important for such circuits to be able to discriminate accurately between cancerous and noncancerous cells, so they don’t unleash their killing power in the wrong places, Weiss says. To do that, robust information-processing circuits created from biological elements within a cell become “highly critical,” Weiss says.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Amazing: Artist creates nanosculptures much smaller than a human hair

Amazing: Artist creates nanosculptures much smaller than a human hair | Amazing Science |

A sculpture so tiny that it cannot be seen by the naked eye is claimed to be the smallest sculpture of the human form ever created. Measuring a picayune 20 x 80 x 100 microns, artist Jonty Hurwitz’s tiny human statue is part of a new series of equally diminutive new sculptures that are at a scale so infinitesimally miniscule that each of the figures is approximately equal in size to the amount your fingernails grow in around about 6 hours, and can only be viewed using a scanning electron microscope.

Sculpted with an advanced new nano 3D printing technology coupled with a technique called multiphoton lithography, these works of art are created using a laser that uses the phenomenon of two photon absorption. In this way, an object is traced out by a laser in a block of light-sensitive monomer or polymer gel, and the excess is then washed away to leave a solid form.

As this method of two photon absorption only takes place at the tiny focal point of the laser, it essentially creates a tiny 3D pixel (a voxel) at that juncture. The laser is then moved along a fractional distance under computer control and the next voxel in the series is formed. In a long and painstaking process that takes place over many hours, the complete 3D sculpture is assembled voxel by voxel.

"We live in an era where the impossible has finally come to pass," said Hurwitz. "In our own little way we have become demi-gods of creation. Contemporary art, in my humble view, needs to reflect the human condition as it is today, it needs to represent the state of society at the time of its creation. Take a moment to consider that only 6,000 years ago we were painting crude animal images on the walls of caves with rocks. We have come far. This nano sculpture is the collective achievement of all of humanity. It is the culmination of thousands of years of R&D."

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Elixir of Youth: Factors Within the Blood of Young Mice Have the Ability to Restore Aspects of Youth in Old Mice

Elixir of Youth: Factors Within the Blood of Young Mice Have the Ability to Restore Aspects of Youth in Old Mice | Amazing Science |

Emerging evidence indicates that there are factors within the blood of young animals that have the ability to restore youthful characteristics to a number of organ systems in older animals. Recent work regarding age-related cardiac hypertrophy identified growth/differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) as one such factor with rejuvenating powers. As animals become older, levels of circulating GDF11 normally decline.

Remarkably, injecting GDF11 into aged mice recapitulates the effects of heterochronic parabiosis, reversing cardiac hypertrophy7. However, it remained unclear whether the effects of GDF11 were unique to the heart.

Sinha et al.8 have now shown that increasing the systemic levels of GDF11 in aged mice also has rejuvenating effects on skeletal muscle. Aged mice injected daily with recombinant GDF11 (rGDF11) for four weeks have greater numbers of satellite cells, the local muscle stem cell population. Moreover, these satellite cells have less DNA damage and generate more myogenic cells in culture. rGDF11 supplementation also improves the in vivo regenerative capacity of satellite cells, resulting in the growth of larger muscle fibers after injury. Treatment with rGDF11 even increases exercise endurance and grip strength, demonstrating that the improvements seen in satellite cells relate to a functional enhancement in muscle performance. While it remains unclear whether these results are due primarily to effects on skeletal muscle, particularly given the known enhancement of cardiac function observed with rGDF11 treatment, this work demonstrates that a single systemic factor can help restore physiological properties of youth.

Studies regarding the rejuvenating capacity of young blood and rGDF11 have also been extended to the aged brain by Katsimpardi et al.9. The authors focused on the adult neural stem cells (NSCs) of the subventricular zone (SVZ) and found that heterochronic parabiosis enhances proliferation of Sox2+ NSCs in the aged mice. SVZ NSCs differentiate into neuroblasts that migrate to the olfactory bulb, and heterochronic parabiosis almost doubles the number of new neurons in the olfactory bulb of aged mice. Interestingly, these mice exhibit improved olfactory discrimination, but whether this behavioral change results directly from the enhanced neurogenesis or more generally to the whole-animal effects of heterochronic parabiosis is not yet known.

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Complex life may be possible in only 10% of all galaxies

Complex life may be possible in only 10% of all galaxies | Amazing Science |

Stellar explosions called gamma ray bursts emit beams of radiation that could render 90% of galaxies barren of complex life. The universe may be a lonelier place than previously thought. Of the estimated 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, only one in 10 can support complex life like that on Earth, a pair of astrophysicists argues. Everywhere else, stellar explosions known as gamma ray bursts would regularly wipe out any life forms more elaborate than microbes. The detonations also kept the universe lifeless for billions of years after the big bang, the researchers say.

"It's kind of surprising that we can have life only in 10% of galaxies and only after 5 billion years," says Brian Thomas, a physicist at Washburn University in Topeka who was not involved in the work. But "my overall impression is that they are probably right" within the uncertainties in a key parameter in the analysis.

Scientists have long mused over whether a gamma ray burst could harm Earth. The bursts were discovered in 1967 by satellites designed to spot nuclear weapons tests and now turn up at a rate of about one a day. They come in two types. Short gamma ray bursts last less than a second or two; they most likely occur when two neutron stars or black holes spiral into each other. Long gamma ray bursts last for tens of seconds and occur when massive stars burn out, collapse, and explode. They are rarer than the short ones but release roughly 100 times as much energy. A long burst can outshine the rest of the universe in gamma rays, which are highly energetic photons.

That seconds-long flash of radiation itself wouldn't blast away life on a nearby planet. Rather, if the explosion were close enough, the gamma rays would set off a chain of chemical reactions that would destroy the ozone layer in a planet's atmosphere. With that protective gas gone, deadly ultraviolet radiation from a planet’s sun would rain down for months or years—long enough to cause a mass die-off.

How likely is that to happen? Tsvi Piran, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Raul Jimenez, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Barcelona in Spain, explore that apocalyptic scenario in a paper in press at Physical Review Letters.

Jeff Morris's curator insight, November 26, 2014 12:08 PM

10% of 100 billion still leaves 10 billion! That's 10,000,000,000!

♥ princess leia ♥'s curator insight, November 28, 2014 11:20 AM

And a galaxy far faraway

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Got milk? Humans did 5,000 years ago

Got milk? Humans did 5,000 years ago | Amazing Science |

Why do humans drink milk? Archaeologists and geneticists have been puzzling over this question since they discovered that the mutations allowing adults to drink milk are under the strongest selection of any in the human genome. These mutations cause the human body to produce the intestinal enzyme lactase, which digests lactose milk sugar during infancy, long after weaning. This lactase persistence is prevalent only in some populations around the world, such as in Northern Europe.

In most other people of the world, the lactose cannot be properly digested and can cause diarrhea or other symptoms of lactose intolerance resulting from the gases produced by fermentation by the gut bacteria. Some dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, have had their lactose content reduced or removed through processing. In the case of cheese, the lactose ends up in the whey, where it is often fed to pigs and other animals. If it is so easy to remove milk sugars, and the mutation is only required for drinking raw milk or whey, why is it under such strong selection?

An international team of researchers has shed new light on this puzzling question through an unusual source: calcified dental plaque on ancient human teeth. Now a breakthrough by the international team, reported in the journal Scientific Reports, provides the first direct evidence of milk drinking from human dental calculus, a mineralized form of dental plaque. Using the latest mass spectrometry-based techniques, the team detected a milk protein, beta-lactoglobulin (which they had previously reported from a modern dental plaque sample), in ancient remains.

“It seemed too good to be true; beta-lactoglobulin is the dominant whey protein—the one used by bodybuilders to build muscle mass—and therefore the ideal marker for milk consumption,” says Jessica Hendy from the University of York’s BioArCh research facility and the study’s co-lead author. The new research provides direct protein evidence that cattle, sheep, and goat whey has been consumed by human populations for at least 5,000 years. This corroborates previous isotopic evidence for milk fats identified on pottery and cooking utensils in early farming communities.

Saberes Sin Fronteras OVS's curator insight, November 30, 2014 5:27 PM

Sólo los pueblos de Europa norte tienen la enzima necesaria para procesar la lactosa, la mayoría de la humanidad no, Por eso la ganadería del vacuno es no sólo un problema ecológico, por producir demasiado dióxido de carbono, sino tambien un problema sanitario.

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Brain-dwelling tapeworm in man's head sequenced

Brain-dwelling tapeworm in man's head sequenced | Amazing Science |

For the first time, the genome of a rarely seen tapeworm has been sequenced. The genetic information of this invasive parasite, which lived for four years in a UK resident's brain, offers new opportunities to diagnose and treat this invasive parasite.

The tapeworm, Spirometra erinaceieuropaei, has been reported only 300 times worldwide since 1953 and has never been seen before in the UK. The worm causes sparganosis: inflammation of the body's tissues in response to the parasite. When this occurs in the brain, it can cause seizures, memory loss and headaches. The worm's rarity means that little is known about its complex lifecycle and biology, however it is thought that people may be infected by accidentally consuming tiny infected crustaceans from lakes, eating raw meat from reptiles and amphibians, or by using a raw frog poultice - a Chinese remedy to calm sore eyes.

Before the 1cm-long parasite was diagnosed and successfully removed by surgery, it had travelled 5cm from the right side of the brain to the left. The tapeworm was placed on a histology slide by the hospital to confirm the clinical diagnosis. The patient is now systemically well.

"The clinical histology slide offered us a great opportunity to generate the first genome sequence of this elusive class of tapeworms," says Dr Hayley Bennett, first author of the study from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "However, we only had a minute amount of DNA available to work with - just 40 billionths of a gram. So we had to make difficult decisions as to what we wanted to find out from the DNA we had."

To identify the exact species of worm, the researchers sequenced one particular gene, the so-called 'barcode of life'. Fortunately for the patient, the gene's DNA sequence revealed that the parasite was the more benign of the two sparganosis-causing worm species. Remarkably, the team also were able to generate sufficient DNA sequence data using standard next-generation sequencing techniques to piece together a draft genome. This is now being used to investigate known and potential treatment targets, which may help patients in the future.

"We did not expect to see an infection of this kind in the UK, but global travel means that unfamiliar parasites do sometimes appear," says Dr Effrossyni Gkrania-Klotsas, study author from the Department of Infectious Disease, Addenbrooke's NHS Trust. "We can now diagnose sparganosis using MRI scans, but this does not give us the information we need to identify the exact tapeworm species and its vulnerabilities. Our work shows that, even with only tiny amounts of DNA from clinical samples, we can find out all we need to identify and characterize the parasite.

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Graphene shows promise for body armor, 8 to 10 times stronger than steel

Graphene shows promise for body armor, 8 to 10 times stronger than steel | Amazing Science |

Graphene could be used to make bulletproof armor. US researchers carried out miniature ballistic tests by firing tiny silica spheres at sheets of graphene. In the Science magazine they report that atom-thick layers of this material can be stronger than steel when it comes to absorbing impacts. Graphene consists of a sheet of single atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure.

It is thin, strong, flexible and electrically conductive, and has the potential to transform electronics as well as other technologies.

Jae-Hwang Lee from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and colleagues used lasers to observe the silica "microbullets" as they penetrated sheets of graphene between 10 and 100 layers thick.

They compared the kinetic energy of the spheres before and after they pierced the graphene sheets.

Observations using an electron microscope revealed that graphene dissipates energy by stretching into a cone shape and then cracking in various directions. The mini-ballistic tests showed that grapheme's extraordinary strength, elasticity and stiffness allowed it to absorb between eight and 10 times the impacts that steel can withstand.

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Personalized cancer vaccines could prove very effective against certain cancers

Personalized cancer vaccines could prove very effective against certain cancers | Amazing Science |

With millions spent each year funding cancer research, a wide range of approaches to combat the development of cancer are investigated such as personalized vaccines. The immune system protects us from cancer throughout our lives in an evolutionary arms race.  Cancerous cells constantly mutate to evade detection from the immune cells, while the immune system adapt to these changes and get rid of them. However, as we age, our immune system weakens, increasing the chances of developing cancer.

A new study published in Nature investigated the approach to combat cancer using vaccines. Cancer vaccines, much like the other vaccines, are designed to recognise proteins only found in cancerous cells and not normal cells. Using these vaccines, they were able to enhance the immune system against tumours, causing many to go into remission. 90% of mice with advanced muscle cancer were cured.

“This is proof that personalized cancer vaccines can be very powerful and need to be applied to human cancers now,” said senior author Robert Schreiber. “We believe we can incorporate those proteins into vaccines that only unleash the T cells on the tumours, and so far, our tests have been very successful.”

In the near future we could be seeing a surge in personalised vaccines against cancerous cells. Using DNA to identify proteins only found in cancer cells, the immune system will target the tumours to remove them without the risk of attacking healthy tissue.


Gubin MM, Zhang X, Schuster H, Caron E et al. Checkpoint blockade cancer immunotherapy targets tumour-specific mutant antigens. Nature 2014 Nov 26;515(7528):577-81.

Philippe Cherel's curator insight, December 3, 2014 2:50 AM

Prophylaxie personnalisée, les vaccins contre le cancer #prospective #santé

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Vultures evolved an extreme gut to cope with cocktail of deadly microbes

Vultures evolved an extreme gut to cope with cocktail of deadly microbes | Amazing Science |

How is it that vultures can live on a diet of carrion that would at least lead to severe food-poisoning, and more likely kill most other animals? This is the key question behind a recent collaboration between a team of international researchers from Denmark’s Centre for GeoGenetics and Biological Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University, the Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution in the USA. An “acidic” answer to this question is now published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

When vultures eat lunch they happily strip the rotting carcasses they find back to the bone. And if, however, the animal’s hide is too tough to easily pierce with their beak, they don’t hesitate to enter it using other routes, among them the back entrance – so to speak: via the anus. Although their diet of meat that is both rotting and liberally contaminated with feces would likely kill most other animals, they are apparently immune to the cocktail of deadly microbes within their dinner such as Clostridia, Fuso- and Anthrax-bacteria.

To investigate vultures’ ability to survive eating this putrid cocktail, a group of scientists generated DNA profiles from the community of bacteria living on the face and gut of 50 vultures from the USA. On average, the facial skin of vultures contained DNA from 528 different types of micro-organisms, whereas DNA from only 76 types of micro-organisms were found in the gut.

Michael Roggenbuck explains: "Our results show there has been strong adaptation in vultures when it comes to dealing with the toxic bacteria they digest. On one hand vultures have developed an extremely tough digestive system, which simply acts to destroy the majority of the dangerous bacteria they ingest. On the other hand, vultures also appear to have developed a tolerance towards some of the deadly bacteria – species that would kill other animals actively seem to flourish in the vulture lower intestine."

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These Engineered Parhyales Teach Us About How Evolution Works -- And Where It Fails

These Engineered Parhyales Teach Us About How Evolution Works -- And Where It Fails | Amazing Science |

A leg growing out of your mouth. Extra legs pushing out of your side. Walking parts where your swimming bits should be. If you’re a tiny crustacean in Nipam Patel’s lab, chances are good you’re not quite right—and that’s just the way these UC Berkley geneticists like it. By inducing birth defects in arthropods called parhyale, Patel’s team makes “monsters” that deliver a one-two punch, offering insights into the mechanics of evolution, and into ways we could treat (or even prevent) human birth defects and disease in the future.

The questions that drive Patel’s lab are deceptively simple, and brain-crushingly profound: How did Earth’s organisms become different from one another? How is an embryo “programmed” to know what it should look like? How might changes to that programming have advanced evolution itself? This frustrated, flailing parhyale—which, thanks to Patel’s crew, was born with almost perfect walking appendages where its swimming appendages should be—is helping to revolutionize how we think about all of it.

Welcome to the world of Hox genes, a roughly 600-million-year-old “toolkit” that controls how body plans—the head-to-tail layout of our symmetrical, physical selves—develop. Once thought to exist only in flies, Hox genes rocked biology in the mid-’80s when it was discovered that they were in every single animal on Earth. And while the number of Hox genes tends to vary according to how complex you are (insects have 8; humans have 39), the genes themselves have changed so little in millions of years that they’re what’s called "highly conserved" across species.

In labs, that means flies function surprisingly well when one of their Hox genes is swapped for the corresponding chicken Hox gene. From an evolutionary perspective, it means earthworms, humpback whales, butterflies, and humans are all just variations on a theme. “Despite the fact that we don’t think of ourselves as looking anything like a fly,” says Patel, “our development basically uses the same genes.”

Hox genes are “master instructors”—each oversees development in a different region of the body (head, thorax, abdomen), turning other genes on and off to ensure you grow the right form for your species. “In the field in general,” says Patel, “I think we’ve increasingly convinced people that single genes can have big roles in evolution,” but his team hunts proof, examples of how small tweaks to the Hox toolkit may have given rise to Earth’s massive species diversity.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Single-cell phytoplankton in the ocean are responsible for roughly half of global oxygen production

Single-cell phytoplankton in the ocean are responsible for roughly half of global oxygen production | Amazing Science |

In a paper published in PNAS on Monday November 24, scientists laid out a robust new framework based on in situ observations that will allow scientists to describe and understand how phytoplankton assimilate limited concentrations of phosphorus, a key nutrient, in the ocean in ways that better reflect what is actually occurring in the marine environment. This is an important advance because nutrient uptake is a central property of ocean biogeochemistry, and in many regions controls carbon dioxide fixation, which ultimately can play a role in mitigating climate change.

"Until now, our understanding of how phytoplankton assimilate nutrients in an extremely nutrient-limited environment was based on lab cultures that poorly represented what happens in natural populations," explained Michael Lomas of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, who co-led the study with Adam Martiny of University of California - Irvine, and Simon Levin and Juan Bonachela of Princeton University. "Now we can quantify how phytoplankton are taking up nutrients in the real world, which provides much more meaningful data that will ultimately improve our understanding of their role in global ocean function and climate regulation."

To address the knowledge gap about the globally-relevant ecosystem process of nutrient uptake, researchers worked to identify how different levels of microbial biodiversity influenced in situ phosphorus uptake in the Western Subtropical North Atlantic Ocean. Specifically, they focused on how different phytoplankton taxa assimilated phosphorus in the same region, and how phosphorus uptake by those individual taxa varied across regions with different phosphorus concentrations. They found that phytoplankton were much more efficient at assimilating vanishingly low phosphorus concentrations than would have been predicted from culture research. Moreover, individual phytoplankton continually optimized their ability to assimilate phosphorus as environmental phosphorus concentrations increased. This finding runs counter to the commonly held, and widely used, view that their ability to assimilate phosphorus saturates as concentrations increase.

"Prior climate models didn't take into account how natural phytoplankton populations vary in their ability to take up key nutrients, "said Martiny. "We were able to fill in this gap through fieldwork and advanced analytical techniques. The outcome is the first comprehensive in situ quantification of nutrient uptake capabilities among dominant phytoplankton groups in the North Atlantic Ocean that takes into account microbial biodiversity."

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Lawrence Livermore scientist develops uncrackable code for nuclear weapons

Lawrence Livermore scientist develops uncrackable code for nuclear weapons | Amazing Science |

Mark Hart, a scientist and engineer in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) Defense Technologies Division, has been awarded the 2015 Surety Transformation Initiative (STI) Award from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Enhanced Surety Program.

The STI award aims to stimulate and encourage the development of potentially transformational nuclear weapon surety technologies and explore innovative, preferably monumental shift solutions, to unmet surety needs. 

“STI’s task is to reach beyond the traditional stockpile stewardship function of maintaining existing nuclear weapon capability in the absence of supercritical testing,” said Robert Sherman, enhanced surety federal program manager in NNSA’s Technology Maturation Division. “STI is intended not to maintain or polish ‘your grandfather’s Oldsmobile,’ but to go beyond it:  to invent devices and technologies that serve the 21st century nuclear security needs of the American people better than they are served by existing Cold War legacy technologies.”

Hart’s winning proposal is for Intrinsic Use Control (IUC), a concept that is capable of providing improved quantifiable safety and use control within a nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons exist, therefore control is essential. Use control of a weapon is focused on providing unencumbered authorized use while restricting unauthorized use. Safety, use control and physical security work in concert for the weapon’s surety. IUC provides a less than 10-18 chance of controlling or operating an individual protected component, and a less than 10-72 chance of controlling or operating the entire protected system.

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Whole-Body Imaging with Single-Cell Resolution by Tissue Decolorization

Whole-Body Imaging with Single-Cell Resolution by Tissue Decolorization | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center in Japan, together with collaborators from the University of Tokyo, have developed a method that combines tissue decolorization and light-sheet fluorescent microscopy to take extremely detailed images of the interior of individual organs and even entire organisms. The work, published in Cell, opens new possibilities for understanding the way life works—the ultimate dream of systems biology—by allowing scientists to make tissues and whole organisms transparent and then image them at extremely precise, single-cell resolution.

To achieve this feat, the researchers, led by Hiroki Ueda, began with a method called CUBIC (Clear, Unobstructed Brain Imaging Cocktails and Computational Analysis), which they had previously used to image whole brains. Though brain tissue is lipid-rich, and thus susceptible to many clearance methods, other parts of the body contain many molecular subunits known as chromophores, which absorb light. One chromophore, heme, which forms part of hemoglobin, is present in most tissues of the body and blocks light. The group decided to focus on this issue and discovered, in a surprise finding, that the aminoalcohols included in the CUBIC reagent could elute the heme from the hemoglobin and by doing so make other organs dramatically more transparent.

Using the method, they took images of mouse brains, hearts, lungs, kidneys, and livers, and then went on to attempt the method on infant and adult mice, and found that in all cases they could get clear tissues. They used the technique of light-sheet fluorescent microscopy, which involves taking "slices" of tissues without having to actually cut into it, to gain 3D images of the organs. To test the practicability of the method, they examined the pancreases of diabetic and non-diabetic mice, and found clear differences in the isles of Langerhans, the structures in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Although these methods could not be used in living organisms, since they require the tissues to be fixed using reagents, they could, according to Kazuki Tainaka, the first author of the paper, be very useful for gaining new understanding of the 3D structure of organs and how certain genes are expressed in various tissues. He said, "We were very surprised that the entire body of infant and adult mice could be made nearly transparent by a direct transcardial CUBIC perfusion coupled with a two-week clearing protocol. It allowed us to see cellular networks inside tissues, which is one of the fundamental challenges in biology and medicine."

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X Challenge winner diagnoses diseases in minutes from a single drop of blood

X Challenge winner diagnoses diseases in minutes from a single drop of blood | Amazing Science |

For the last two years, the US$2.25 million Nokia Sensing X Challenge has lured entrants from around the globe to submit groundbreaking technologies that improve access to health care. A panel of experts have awarded this year's grand prize to Massachusetts-based DNA Medical Institute (DMI), whose hand-held device is capable of diagnosing ailments in minutes, using only a single drop of blood.

The DMI team were selected from 11 finalists. Among them were Swiss team Biovotion, whose wearable computer monitors vital signs such heart rate and breathing, along with the US-based Eigen Lifescience team, whose low-cost, portable device is capable of testing for Hepatitis B in less than 10 minutes. But it was DMI's Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Lab Technology for Humans system (rHealth) that impressed the judges most.

"Our expert judging panel reviewed a very exciting group of sensing technologies, all with the potential to address a wide array of diagnostic and personal health needs,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, chairman and CEO of X Prize, the foundation behind the competition. “DMI’s rHealth system embodies the original goal of the Nokia Sensing X Challenge, to advance sensor technology in a way that will enable faster diagnoses and easier, more sophisticated personal health monitoring.”

The rHealth diagnostic system requires the patient to provide just a single drop of blood, with this small sample mixed with nanoscale test strips and streamed past lasers to process its signature. This can then identify ailments ranging from simple colds, to the flu, to more serious diseases like Ebola, with claimed gold standard accuracy. It comes accompanied by a wearable patch which is worn to monitor vital signs, such as breathing and heart rate, sharing data over Bluetooth with either the device or the user's smartphone.

In addition to the portable device, DMI produced two other diagnostics instruments under the rHealth label, intended more for researchers in the lab and medical professionals. It developed the tools in collaboration with NASA and with space travel in mind, which it says pushed them to focus on simplicity and accuracy for their design.

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Organovo now selling tiny 3D-printed human livers

Organovo now selling tiny 3D-printed human livers | Amazing Science |

When a medication enters the bloodstream, it ends up being concentrated in the liver – after all, one of the organ's main functions is to cleanse the blood. This means that if a drug is going to have an adverse effect on any part of the body, chances are it will be the liver. It would seem to follow, therefore, that if a pharmaceutical company wanted to test the safety of its products, it would be nice to have some miniature human livers on which to experiment – which is just what San Diego-based biotech firm Organovo is about to start selling.

Known as exVive3D, the three-dimensional liver models measure just a few millimeters across, and are created using a 3D bioprinter. The device incorporates two print heads, one of which deposits a support matrix, and the other of which precisely places human liver cells in it.

The resulting models are composed of living human liver tissue, and incorporate hepatocytes, stellate, and endothelial cells – just like a real, full-sized liver. They also produce liver proteins such as albumin, fibrinogen and transferrin, plus they synthesize cholesterol.

Additionally, the cells are arranged in a 3D orientation relative to one another, as they would be naturally. By contrast, the liver cell cultures currently used to test pharmaceuticals are two-dimensional, and thus may not always function in the same manner as the actual organ.

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One Man's Quest to Build a The First Mind-Warping 4-D Videogame

One Man's Quest to Build a The First Mind-Warping 4-D Videogame | Amazing Science |

THERE'S A ROW of books on a shelf in Marc ten Bosch's living room that contains a crash course in higher dimensions. Titles like Flatland. Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty That Causes Havoc. The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art. A young-adult novel called The Boy Who Reversed Himself. They're all devoted to helping our brains break out of the three dimensions in which we exist, to aid our understanding of a universe that extends beyond our perception.

This is not just a hypothetical pursuit. Most of us think of time as the fourth dimension, but modern physics theorizes that there is a fourth spatial dimension as well—not width, height, or length but something else that we can't experience through our physical senses. From this fourth dimension, we would be able to see every angle of the three-dimensional world at once, much as we three-dimensional beings can take in the entirety of a two-dimensional plane. Mathematician Bernhard Riemann came up with the concept in the 19th century, and physicists, artists, and philosophers have struggled with it ever since. Writers from Wilde to Proust, Dostoevsky to Conrad invoked the fourth dimension in their work. H. G. Wells' Invisible Man disappeared by discovering a way to travel along it. Cubism was in part an attempt by Picasso and others to visualize what fourth-dimensional creatures might see.

Still, most of us are no closer to fundamentally comprehending the fourth dimension than we were when Riemann first conceived it. People have written papers, drawn diagrams, taken psychedelics, but what we really want to do is witness it. Mathematician Rudy Rucker wrote that he had spent 15 years trying to imagine 4-D space and been granted for his labors “perhaps 15 minutes' worth of direct vision” of it.

But for the past five years, ten Bosch has been trying to take us directly into it, in the form of a videogame called Miegakure. The game, essentially a series of puzzles, augments the usual arsenal of in-game movement by allowing the player's avatar, with the press of a button, to travel along the fourth spatial dimension. Building something so ambitious has consumed ten Bosch's life. Chris Hecker, a friend and fellow game designer, marvels that ten Bosch “can't even see the game he's making.” Ten Bosch, who is 30, describes his daily schedule as “wake up, work on the game, go get lunch somewhere, work on the game, go to sleep.” Even after toiling for half a decade, he is still only about 75 percent done.

But among the tight-knit community of indie game developers, Miegakure is a hotly anticipated title. The select few who have played it have showered it with praise. 1 Ten Bosch has twice been invited to preview it at the prestigious Experimental Gameplay Workshop at the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. He won the “amazing game” award at IndieCade, the biggest annual showcase of independent games.

The interactions in Miegakure are basic: You can move the character, you can make him jump, you can press a button to enter one of the Torii gates (most of which lead to a puzzle). And you can press another button to travel along the unseeable fourth dimension. When you press it, the world appears to morph and fold in on itself, revealing colored slices to walk on. These slices look like parallel worlds; they're even visually distinct so that players can distinguish them as separate realms. One looks like desert, another like grass, another like ice. Walking onto each slice and then pressing the button seems to transport you into each new universe.

But here's the thing: They're not new universes. They're 3-D cross-sections—“hyperslices,” maybe?—of a 4-D shape. The “morph” button, which appears to make the world around you swirl and the objects within it disappear, does not in fact move your character even a millimeter. You're not teleporting. You're just changing perspective—except you're not looking left or right, not up or down or forward or back. You're looking into the unseeable fourth dimension and only then traveling along it.

Over time, the game nudges you toward an understanding of this by including 3-D objects that move in more than one “universe” when your character pushes them. You find maps that help to illustrate how the spaces intersect. And soon you're performing the miracles that mathematicians say a 4-D being could perform in three-dimensional space: walking through walls, making blocks seem to float in the air, disappearing and reappearing, and interlocking two seemingly impenetrable rings. The math is solid—every shape in the game is defined by four coordinates instead of three—but just as when an illusionist performs that same ring trick, it feels like magic.

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