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IBM’s Watson goes to medical school

IBM’s Watson goes to medical school | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Next up for Watson: a stint as a medical student at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. The collaboration includes a bit of controlled crowdsourcing, with the Cleveland clinicians and medical school students answering Watson’s questions and correcting its mistakes. “Hopefully, we can contribute to the training of this technology,” said Dr. James K. Stoller, chairman of the Education Institute at Cleveland Clinic. The goal, he added, was for Watson to become a “very smart assistant.”

 

Part of Watson’s training will be to feed it test questions from the United States Medical Licensing Exam, which every human student must pass to become a practicing physician. The benefit for Watson should be to have a difficult but measurable set of questions on which to measure the progress of its machine-learning technology. Once trained, Watson ought to be able to help physicians cope better with the rapid pace of incoming new research. Dr. Stoller estimates that the “half-life of existing knowledge” in medicine is probably down to four to eight years on most topics. After that, it’s obsolete, or partly so. Someday, Watson should be able to collect and assess patient data, and then construct “inference paths” toward a probable diagnosis — digesting information, missing nothing and winnowing choices for a human doctor.

 

http://tinyurl.com/dyf9vew

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China is building a 100-petaflops supercomputer

China is building a 100-petaflops supercomputer | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

As the U.S. launched what’s expected to be the world’s fastest supercomputer at 20 petaflops (peak performance), China announced it is building a machine intended to be five times faster when it is deployed in 2015. China’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer will run at 100 petaflops (quadrillion floating-point calculations per second) peak performance, designed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, according to the Guangzhou Supercomputing Center, where the machine will be housed. Tianhe-2 could help keep China competitive with the future supercomputers of other countries, as industry experts estimate machines will start reaching 1,000-petaflops (1 exaflop) performance by 2018.

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3-D printing enters the fourth dimension

3-D printing enters the fourth dimension | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Saul Schleimer, a mathematician at the University of Warwick, and Henry Segerman, a mathematician at the University of Melbourne, are the co-creators of the Thirty Cell puzzle. They are both theoretical math researchers who also enjoy using 3-D printing—a technique for manufacturing a three-dimensional object from a computer program—to create mathematical art and visualizations. (In August, Scientific American featured some of Segerman’s sculptures in a slide show from the Bridges math-art conference.) This puzzle is a projection of a four-dimensional shape into our three-dimensional world. To explain how the projection was created, Schleimer brings it down a dimension and starts with a three-dimensional cube. Imagine a cube sitting inside a sphere. Now put yourself at the middle, holding a flashlight. The light projects all the edges and vertices out to the surface of the sphere. “We replace the usual cube that we know and love with a roundy cube on the sphere,” says Schleimer. This process is called radial projection.

 

Segerman and Schleimer use the company Shapeways to print their models. They use programs such as Python, Adobe Illustrator and Rhino to create files of an object that they send to Shapeways to translate into very precise 3-D models. Shapeways uses the computer files to program a laser to fuse powders into the shape of a 3-D object. It can even print objects with multiple interlinked components, such as the the fidget above. Another popular type of 3D printer, MakerBot, melts new layers of a material over previously deposited ones, so the models must be supported during the entire process. Shapeways doesn’t have that constraint, but its printers are more expensive. The company lets people upload their models and then ships the printed material out to them, rather than having users own printers themselves.

 

 

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Studying the hue of alien Earths - How to screen exoplanets for signatures of life

Studying the hue of alien Earths - How to screen exoplanets for signatures of life | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In astronomy, photometry is a way of measuring the flux of the electromagnetic radiation of an astronomical object. Filter photometry basically means that you split the collected light from a celestial object only into a few wavelength bins that are defined here by the commonly used filters in the visible called 'B, V, I Johnson–Cousins filters' [or blue, green and red colour bins]. The advantage of this approach is that lots of photons are gathered per bin, meaning a good signal-to-noise ratio is achieved, which in turn means that it may be possible to characterize dimmer planets. The researchers use this method to identify planets that have surfaces similar to those on Earth that harbour life. This is done by plotting the blue–green versus blue–red bins using customized filters, creating what is known as a "color–color diagram". While the technique does not provide the finer details of a planet, it can very easily be used to put together a follow-up prioritized "target list" of planets that should be studied in detail with spectroscopy.

 

A way of looking for these extreme environments is to study the "albedo" of a planet – its reflectivity as a function of wavelength. For example, snow has a high albedo, meaning that it reflects well, while water has a low albedo and so does not reflect as well. A previous study, conducted in 2003, compared the colour–colour diagrams of rocky and Jupiter-like planets in our solar system to see whether they were the same – they were not. That study concluded that a color–color diagram can be used to make a first-order basic characterization of a planet's nature. Siddharth Hegde of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany and colleague Lisa Kaltenegger from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts extended this idea to rocky exoplanets based on the assumption that these habitats best determine the environmental limits for harboring Earth-type extremophiles.

 

The method is similar to another already used by exoplanet hunters who look for the "red-edge" – a telltale sign of vegetation – in the spectra of planets. This is a large and abrupt change in the absorption of light by plants that occurs at about 700 nm. At shorter wavelengths, chlorophyll absorbs very strongly and therefore plants reflect little light; above 700 nm, chlorophyll does not absorb light, which means that leaves are able to reflect much more sunlight back into space. Combining such spectral readings with color–color diagrams could clearly indicate if a planet has any Earth-like life, or is capable of harboring it. In the future, the researchers are keen to study possible changes in a planet's atmosphere caused by different kinds of extremophiles that might inhabit its surface – for the moment, their model assumes the extremophiles do not affect the atmosphere significantly. "Maybe, with the help of biologists who culture such extremophiles in the lab, we can find out if there are gases in the atmosphere that can tell us whether such surfaces really harbour life," muses Hegde.

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First ever family tree for all living birds reveals evolution and diversification

First ever family tree for all living birds reveals evolution and diversification | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Experts used the family tree to map out where the almost 10,000 species of birds live to show where the most diversification has taken place in the world. Researchers, from the University of Sheffield, Yale University, University of Tasmania and Simon Fraser University, say the creation of new species has speeded-up over the last 50 million years. Surprisingly, species formation is not faster in the species rich tropics, but was found to be faster in the Western Hemisphere compared to the Eastern Hemisphere as well as on islands.

 

As well as being the first time scientists have created a family tree for birds, it is hoped the research could help prioritise conservation efforts in a bid to save the most diverse species from extinction. Dr. Gavin Thomas, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: "We have built the first ever family tree showing the evolutionary relationship among the species of birds. We used fossils and genetic data to estimate the ages of all the different branches of the bird tree so that we could assess how diversity has accumulated through time. Our work is indebted to researchers from museums and universities who have collected astounding amounts of genetic data from birds around the world."

 

Despite major steps forward in modern super computers it has still taken the researchers almost five years to analyse the millions of year’s worth of fossil data, DNA, maths and maps, to create this never-before-snapshot of how the thousands of birds alive made it to where they are today. To even enable the scientists to calculate which species were more or less diverse they had to create a new 'species rate' measure. Dr. Thomas added: "Diversification is the net outcome of new species arising, called speciation, and existing species going extinct. We combined this data with existing data on the geographic ranges of all living bird species so that we could map diversification across the world. "This phylogeny is important because it is the first that includes all living birds. It means we can ask questions about biodiversity and evolution on a global scale and gain new insight into how diversity has changed over millions of years as well as understand those changes. More widely, one way in which the phylogeny can be used, and which may not be obvious, is in helping to prioritise conservation efforts. "We can identify where species at greatest risk of extinction are on the tree and ask how much distinct evolutionary history they represent. Some species have many close relatives and represent a small amount of distinct evolutionary history whereas others have few close relatives and their loss would represent the disappearance of vast amounts of evolutionary history that could never be recovered. Environmental change has very likely affected diversification over time. Climate change could be a part of that through its effects on the extent of different types of habitat."

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An integrated map of genetic variation from 1,092 human genomes

An integrated map of genetic variation from 1,092 human genomes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

By characterizing the geographic and functional spectrum of human genetic variation, the 1000 Genomes Project aims to build a resource to help to understand the genetic contribution to disease. The genomes of 1,092 individuals from 14 populations, constructed using a combination of low-coverage whole-genome and exome sequencing were analyzed. By developing methods to integrate information across several algorithms and diverse data sources, a validated haplotype map of 38 million single nucleotide polymorphisms, 1.4 million short insertions and deletions, and more than 14,000 larger deletions were provided. Individuals from different populations carry different profiles of rare and common variants, and low-frequency variants show substantial geographic differentiation, which is further increased by the action of purifying selection. An evolutionary conservation was found and coding consequence are key determinants of the strength of purifying selection, rare-variant load varies substantially across biological pathways, and each individual contains hundreds of rare non-coding variants at conserved sites, such as motif-disrupting changes in transcription-factor-binding sites. This extensive resource, which captures up to 98% of accessible single nucleotide polymorphisms at a frequency of 1% in related populations, enables researchers to perform a detailed analysis of common and low-frequency variants in individuals from diverse backgrounds.

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World's Lightest Running Shoe Created With 3D Printer By Student

World's Lightest Running Shoe Created With 3D Printer By Student | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A design student has created what might be the lightest running shoe ever made. Luc Fusaro, who is also part of the team which designed the London 2012 podium, made the shoes while a student at the Royal College of Art in London. The shoes are custom-made for each athlete, and are produced using a 3D printer. Weighing just 90 grams, they are among the lightest ever made. Fusaro thinks they could be ready for competition by the 2016 games in Rio - and even the current prototypes could shave fractions off a 100m time.

 

"The current mass-manufacturing process only allows to produce shoes with standard mechanical properties and geometries," his website explains. "Using the opportunities offered by additive manufacturing... opens up the possibility of whole new generation of athlete-specific footwear." French-born Fusaro previously studied General Engineering at Ecole Centrale Lyon - but also competed in athletics "at a national level" for a number of years.

 

More fine-tuning is needed - the upper part of the shoe is reportedly too stiff and more comfort needs to be added. But Fusaro said they still showcase the "unlimited potential" of 3D technology.

 

http://www.scoop.it/search?q=3d+printing&type=topic&page=1&limit=24


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Boeing’s Microwave Missile Project: Working like a CHAMP

Boeing’s Microwave Missile Project: Working like a CHAMP | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

To destroy an opponents intelligence, an often chosen method is to blow entire communication building to smithereens. While effective, destroying entire buildings not only ensures plenty of collateral damage, it also makes it much easier to paint a nation as blood-thirsty savages. Believing there to be a better way, Boeing Phantom Works teamed up with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to create the Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP for short.

 

CHAMP is an experimental missile which replaces common munitions with high-powered microwaves. CHAMP is designed to fly safely over buildings with the aforementioned satellites and communications equipment and fire directed and potent microwave beams at these buildings. Its designed to do this in order to ruin all electronics equipment inside, such as computers, networks and the like.

 

The Boeing and Air Force team conducted a test in an undisclosed location in Utah on October 16th and found that the CHAMP system worked, well, just like a champ. "Today we turned science fiction into science fact,” explained CHAMP program manager for Boeing Phantom Works, Keith Coleman in a statement.

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WIRED: In Billions of Years, Aliens Will Find These Photos in a Dead Satellite

WIRED: In Billions of Years, Aliens Will Find These Photos in a Dead Satellite | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Long after human civilization is gone without a trace, our satellites will still orbit Earth intact. Last Pictures is a project to store 100 images on one of them to be discovered later.

 

Of all the images that have ever been made, would you be able to select just 100 to represent our species and human achievement Trevor Paglen’s Last Pictures is a project to do not only that, but also launch those images into geosynchronous orbit around Earth – all so that long after humans are gone, any space-wanderer will be able to fathom what humanity was all about. The project is based on the idea that after billions of years, all signs of human civilization will have eroded away on Earth, but its satellites will still spin around the planet, making them the best bet for an indefinite time capsule. “Any group of people would come up with 100 totally different images, but that is part of the fun. It’s an impossible project. Part of it was to engage peoples’ imaginations,” says artist Trevor Paglen, who conceived of the concept and collaborated with scientists, anthropologists, curators and corporations to get the images into space.

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Slippery when wet: Netherlands highways will glow in the dark with warning signs starting 2013

Slippery when wet: Netherlands highways will glow in the dark with warning signs starting 2013 | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A smart road design that features glow-in-the-dark tarmac and illuminated weather indicators will be installed in the Netherlands from mid-2013. "One day I was sitting in my car in the Netherlands, and I was amazed by these roads we spend millions on but no one seems to care what they look like and how they behave," the designer behind the concept, Daan Roosegaarde, told Wired.co.uk. "I started imagining this Route 66 of the future where technology jumps out of the computer screen and becomes part of us."

 

The Smart Highway by Studio Roosegaarde and infrastructure management group Heijmans won Best Future Concept at the Dutch Design Awards, and has already gone beyond pure concept. The studio has developed a photo-luminising powder that will replace road markings—it charges up in sunlight, giving it up to ten hours of glow-in-the-dark time come nightfall. "It's like the glow in the dark paint you and I had when we were children," designer Roosegaarde explained, "but we teamed up with a paint manufacture and pushed the development. Now, it's almost radioactive".

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Scientists build 'mechanically active' DNA material

Scientists build 'mechanically active' DNA material | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The DNA gel is composed of stiff DNA nanotubes connected to each other via long, flexible DNA linkers. 

 

"DNA gives you a lot more design control," said Fygenson, associate professor of physics and also affiliated with UCSB's BMSE program. "This system is exciting because we can build nano-scale filaments to specifications." Using DNA design, she said, they can control the stiffness of the nanotubes and the manner and extent of their cross-linking, which will determine how the gel responds to stimuli.

 

Using a bacterial motor protein called FtsK50C, the scientists can cause the gel to react in the same way cytoskeletons react to the motor protein myosin—by contracting and stiffening. The protein binds to predetermined surfaces on the long linking filaments, and reels them in, shortening them and bringing the stiffer nanotubes closer together. To determine the gel's movement the scientists attached a tiny bead to its surface and measured its position before and after activation with the motor protein.

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Can scientists read dreams? Brain scans during sleep can decode visual content of dreams

Can scientists read dreams? Brain scans during sleep can decode visual content of dreams | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Brain scans during sleep can decode visual content of dreams.

 

Researchers in Japan can predict certain features of dreams by looking at the brain activity of sleeping volunteers. A team of researchers led by Yukiyasu Kamitani of the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, used functional neuroimaging to scan the brains of three people as they slept, simultaneously recording their brain waves using electroencephalography (EEG).

 

The researchers woke the participants whenever they detected the pattern of brain waves associated with sleep onset, asked them what they had just dreamed about, and then asked them to go back to sleep.

 

This was done in three-hour blocks, and repeated between seven and ten times, on different days, for each participant. During each block, participants were woken up ten times per hour. Each volunteer reported having visual dreams six or seven times every hour, giving the researchers a total of around 200 dream reports.

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Wounded Eagle Gets New 3D Printed Beak

Wounded Eagle Gets New 3D Printed Beak | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

After being shot in the face by a poacher seven years ago, Beauty the bald eagle lost most of her beak. Without it, the eagle couldn’t feed herself, and likely would have died in the wild. But now, Beauty’s getting a second chance at survival in the form of a 3D printed beak. A team of researchers, engineers and dentists created the world’s first prosthetic beak, which was modeled with CAD software and 3D-printed from nylon polymers. After a two-hour-long procedure, Beauty can now eat and drink by herself, though she’s not ready to be released back into the wild. The eagle remains at Birds of Prey Northwest, the conservation facility that spearheaded the recovery project.


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Turning algae into biofuel: A one minute method for biocrude

Converting algae to biofuel could be a sustainable solution to the need for liquid fuel in the United States, according to U-M researchers. Scientists in the chemical engineering department are working to create an effective method for converting the plant, which can be harvested continuously and grown in any water condition.

 

Phil Savage (http://che.engin.umich.edu/people/savage.html) is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemical Engineering (http://che.engin.umich.edu/) at the University of Michigan. His research focus is on energy production from renewable resources, developing novel processes for converting biomass hydrogen, methane, and liquid transportation fuels.

 

Savage's ocean-going organism of choice is the green marine micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis. To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage's lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae's temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out. Previously, Savage and his team heated the algae for times ranging from 10 to 90 minutes. They saw their best results, with about half of the algae converted to biocrude, after treating it for 10 to 40 minutes at 570 degrees.

 

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World’s largest offshore wind farm generates first power

World’s largest offshore wind farm generates first power | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The first power has been produced at the London Array Offshore Wind Farm, DONG Energy, E.ON and Masdar have announced. The 630MW scheme, located in the Thames Estuary, will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm, with construction on schedule to be finished by the end of the year. The 175 turbines will produce enough power to supply over 470,000 UK homes with electricity.

 

London Array is being built about 20km off the coasts of Kent and Essex. The wind farm will be installed on a 245 square kilometers site and will be built in two phases. Phase One will include 175 turbines with a combined capacity of 630MW. If approved, the second phase will add enough capacity to bring the total to 870MW.

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Rollable, Foldable e-Devices Coming

Rollable, Foldable e-Devices Coming | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Advances that will eventually bring foldable/rollable e-devices as well as no pixel borders are experimentally verified and proven to work in concept at UC’s Novel Devices Laboratory.  The UC paper, “Bright e-Paper by Transport of Ink through a White Electrofluidic Imaging Film,” is authored by College of Engineering and Applied Science doctoral students Matthew Hagedon, Shu Yang, and Ann Russell, as well as Jason Heikenfeld, associate professor of electronic and computing systems. UC worked on this research with partner: start-up company Gamma Dynamics.

 

One challenge in creating foldable e-Paper devices has been the device screen, which is currently made of rigid glass. But what if the screen were a paper-thin plastic that rolled like a window shade? You’d have a device like an iPad that could be folded or rolled up repeatedly – even tens of thousands of time. Just roll it up and stick it in your pocket.

 

The UC research out today experimentally verifies that such a screen of paper-thin plastic, what the researchers refer to as “electrofluidic imaging film,” works. The breakthrough is a white, porous film coated with a thin layer of reflective electrodes and spacers that are then subjected to unique and sophisticated fluid mechanics in order to electrically transport the colored ink and clear-oil fluids that comprise the consumer content (text, images, video) of electronic devices. According to UC’s Hagedon, “This is the first of any type of electrowetting display that can be made as a simple film that you laminate onto a sheet of controlling electronics. Manufacturers prefer this approach compared to having to build up the pixels themselves within their devices, layer by layer, material by material. Our proof-of-concept breakthrough takes us one step closer to brighter, color-video e-Paper and the Holy Grail of rollable/foldable displays.”

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Nanolayers make a coating of many colors

Nanolayers make a coating of many colors | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers at Harvard University in the US have made a new type of optical coating that appears to change colour when its thickness is varied by just a few nanometres. The film, which is less than 20 nm thick, could be used to customize the colour of metal surfaces – a phenomenon that could not only be exploited to make pretty jewellery, but also a host of technologically advanced devices, including ultrathin light detectors and filters, displays, modulators and even solar cells.


Conventional dielectric optical coatings, which are a key component of almost every optical device, are typically made of layers of transparent (or "lossless") material, with each layer being at least a quarter wavelength of light in thickness. The new ultrathin optical coatings made by Federico Capasso's team are different in that they comprise nanometre-thick, and nearly opaque, highly light-absorbing dielectric materials, such as semiconductors. The researchers have shown, for example, that adding a 7 nm layer of germanium to the surface of a gold sample changes its colour from gold to pink. Adding another 4 nm layer makes it violet, and another 4 nm turns the coating dark blue (4 nm is less than 15 atoms thick).


The effect is similar to what we see when there is a thin film of oil of the road on a wet day and we see many different colours, explains Capasso. The colours appear thanks to interfering light waves as they pass through the oil into the water below and then are reflected back up. Some wavelengths of incident and reflected light constructively interfere with one another and are "boosted", while others destructively interfere and are absorbed.

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Asian Elephant Imitates Human Speech: Korean Language Transcriptions

Asian Elephant Imitates Human Speech: Korean Language Transcriptions | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

New research from the Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, reveals that a 22-year-old male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) born and raised in captivity, spending intensive amounts of time exposed to human speech from trainers, veterinarians, guides, and tourists, seems to have been imitating Korean speech sounds for eight years. As the physical construction of an elephant’s vocal system is not similar to that in humans, in order to create and produce recognizable speech sounds the researchers state that Koshik seems to deliberately place his trunk inside his mouth and manipulate its position and movement in order to adjust the shape of his vocal tract.

 

To check Koshik’s trainers’ claims that his speech sound repertoire comprises six Korean words, the researchers analysed the transcriptions of 16 Korean native speakers who had listened to and interpreted 47 recordings of Koshik’s speech imitations. The researchers’ transcripts also revealed, however, that although 67% of Koshik’s vowel imitations could be transcribed accurately, only 21% transcription accuracy was possible for his production of consonants. His weakness of consonant control was evident in his spoken attempts of words such as “choah” (good) which was transcribed almost 40% of the time as the Korean word ‘‘boah’’ (look) and over 20% as ‘‘moa’’ (collect) words not used in Koshik’s presence.

 

His imitation of consonant fidelity lead to the transcriptions providing exact spelling matches in Korean for only one word – ‘‘annyong,’’ (hello) for which 56% agreement was reached. Two other imitations, ‘‘aniya’’ and ‘‘nuo’’ received fairly high agreements amongst the transcribers of 44% and 31%.

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Trick or Treat: 12 Amazing Things About Bats

Trick or Treat: 12 Amazing Things About Bats | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Bats are among the world's most successful mammals. Found on six continents, they do at night what birds do in daytime.

 

Bat echolocation works much like radar. As it happens, Mexican free-tailed bats live in colonies so large that when they emerge at night, they show up on human radars.

 

North American bats are sadly threatened by the most virulent disease outbreak ever seen in animals. White Nose Syndrome was first detected in a New York cave in 2006; since then it's killed more than 6 million bats, threatening some species with extinction and leaving much of the eastern United States nearly bat-free.

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After feeding a "cryoprotectant", frozen Drosophila fruit flies come back to life

After feeding a "cryoprotectant", frozen Drosophila fruit flies come back to life | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Freeze tolerance is thought to be a highly complicated process in animals — only a few insects can do it at all, while the accumulation of ice crystals in most vertebrates’ bodies is either very harmful or fatal. Koštál and colleagues wanted to find out how complex it would be to help D. melanogaster, one of the most important model organisms in modern biology, survive freezing temperatures. Pretty easy, actually, as long as they were fed a cocktail of cryopreservative before entering the big chill.


An Arctic fruit fly relative called Chymomyza costata can survive being submerged in liquid nitrogen — that’s -320 degrees F — and in previous research, Koštál et. al figured out they do this by accumulating an amino acid called L-proline in their bodies. In this new study, the Czech researchers fed fruit fly larvae a diet containing L-proline and glycerol, another cryoprotectant, and cooled them down. Treated larvae were able to survive after half their body water froze, which happened at 23˚ F (-5˚C). The flies were frozen for 75 minutes before being slowly warmed.


“Upon melting, these larvae were able to continue development, metamorphosed into adults, and produced viable offspring,” the researchers say.

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Curiosity's First X-Ray Analysis Reveals Martian Soil is of Volcanic Origin

Curiosity's First X-Ray Analysis Reveals Martian Soil is of Volcanic Origin | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

NASA’s Curiosity rover has completed the first-ever detailed X-ray analysis of Martian sand, determining that it contains minerals similar to volcanic soil found at places like the Mauna Kea shield volcano in Hawaii. Curiosity has been scooping and sampling the Martian regolith at an area called Rocknest for the past month. The probe is starting to live up to its original, official name Mars Science Laboratory, doing lab work that hasn’t until now been possible on Mars. No previous lander or rover has been able to perform X-ray diffraction because the machines required for the technique are typically the size of a refrigerator. Engineers were able to shrink the instrument down to roughly the size of a shoebox and make it less power-hungry, allowing it to be packed and sent to Mars on the rover.

 

Curiosity recently delivered an aspirin-sized sample of fine soil to CheMin, which was placed in one of the windowed cells seen in the image below. Those cells vibrate 2,000 times a second to shake up the Martian sand, which is then blasted with X-rays. The X-rays penetrate into the tiny grains, determining the spacing of their atoms and uniquely identifying which minerals are present and their quantity.

 

CheMin revealed the presence of crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes, and olivine, which on Earth can be formed from volcanic processes and broken down by weathering, which may include rain and flowing water. Nothing about the analysis was particularly surprising because scientists have in the past had indications of all these minerals on Mars, but it is the first direct measurement of them. Because these fine particles are blown from all over the Martian surface by wind, future analysis will help researchers understand more about the complex geological history of Mars.

 

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Genomics: Sequencing DNA from individual cells is changing the way researchers think of humans as a whole

Genomics: Sequencing DNA from individual cells is changing the way researchers think of humans as a whole | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The ability to sequence 100 human cancer genomes was unthinkable a decade ago, and it is still a remarkable feat. Technology has moved forward at a rapid pace, dramatically reducing costs and making genome sequencing fairly routine now. But most human genomes, cancer or otherwise, are still sequenced from DNA extracted from multiple cells, which misses differences between cells that could be crucial in controlling gene expression, cell behavior and drug response. But challenges are still abound. Amplifying tiny amounts of DNA from a single cell until there is enough to sequence without introducing too many errors is still difficult. The bioinformatics required to stitch all the data back together and deal with artefacts can be fiendishly complicated. And even isolating a single cell as the origin for sequencing can be tough. For this reason, several research groups have started with cells that are easily separated, such as sperm cells, or those that are likely to have dramatic genomic differences, such as tumor cells. But as the techniques are being refined, scientists hope to work out ever more subtle differences between cells, such as the tiny genomic rearrangements that happen in many neurons of the brain and may serve a purpose in organizing information flow.

 

The Chinese sequencing powerhouse BGI collaborated with other scientists to sequence nearly 200 sperm cells and was able to estimate the recombination rate for the man who had donated them. Researchers found an average of 24.5 recombination events per sperm cell, which is in line with estimates from indirect experiments. Stephen Quake, a bioengineer at Stanford University in California, has performed similar experiments in 100 sperm cells and identified several places in the genome in which recombination is more likely to occur. The location of these recombination ‘hotspots’ could help population biologists to map the position of genetic variants associated with disease.

 

Perhaps the most intriguing potential use of single-cell sequencing lies in neuroscience. Alysson Muotri, a neuro­scientist at the University of California, San Diego, studies how long interspersed nuclear elements (LINEs) — ‘jumping’ genes that can move around the genome — cause each neuron to differ from its neighbours. His group has compared the number of LINEs in human brain, heart and liver tissue, and found that brain tissue contains significantly more jumping genes than the others. Each human neuron probably has between 80 and 300 unique insertions, he says, differences that could affect a person’s susceptibility to neuro­logical disorders, or provide the brain with a reservoir of diversity with which to respond to challenges. He says that it would be useful to sequence individual neurons and work out what effect this heterogeneity is having on brain function and even on personality. “I think it’s the next level of complexity,” he says. “We look at the brain and we think about the tissue, but actually it seems like lots of tissues in one, because the cells are so heterogeneous. It’s almost like every cell was there for a purpose.”

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Previously Unknown Population Explosion of Human Species 40,000 Years Ago Discovered

Previously Unknown Population Explosion of Human Species 40,000 Years Ago Discovered | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
DNA sequencing of 36 complete Y chromosomes has uncovered a previously unknown population explosion that occurred 40 to 50 thousand years ago, between the first expansion of modern humans out of Africa 60 to 70 thousand years ago and the Neolithic expansions of people in several parts of the world starting 10 thousand years ago. This is the first time researchers have used the information from large-scale DNA sequencing to create an accurate family tree of the Y chromosome, from which the inferences about human population history could be made.

 

"We have always considered the expansion of humans out of Africa as being the largest population expansion of modern humans, but our research questions this theory," says Ms Wei Wei, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the West China University of Medical Sciences. "The out-of-Africa expansion, which happened approximately 60,000 years ago, was extremely large in geographical terms with humans spreading around the globe. Now we've found a second wave of expansion that is much larger in terms of human population growth and occurred over a very short period, somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 years ago."

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Advanced exoskeleton promises more independence for people with paraplegia

Advanced exoskeleton promises more independence for people with paraplegia | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The dream of regaining the ability to stand up and walk has come closer to reality for people paralyzed below the waist who thought they would never take another step. A team of engineers at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Intelligent Mechatronics has developed a powered exoskeleton that enables people with severe spinal cord injuries to stand, walk, sit and climb stairs. Its light weight, compact size and modular design promise to provide users with an unprecedented degree of independence.

 

The university has several patents pending on the design and Parker Hannifin Corporation – a global leader in motion and control technologies – has signed an exclusive licensing agreement to develop a commercial version of the device, which it plans on introducing in 2014.

 

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Tiny 'headless' insect turns out to be rarest ladybug in the United States

Tiny 'headless' insect turns out to be rarest ladybug in the United States | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Described in the journal Systemic Entomology, the new ladybug was crawling across a sand dune in southwest Montana when it dropped into a trap set by entomology grad student Ross Winton. The ladybug was so small that Winton said he originally thought he had found the body part of an ant. Then he thought the insect was missing its head. He wasn't even sure at first that he had found a ladybug because the insect was tan instead of red and didn't have the spots normally associated with ladybugs.


Closer inspection proved the insect was a male Ladybird Beetle, and its head was attached after all, Winton said. It was just tucked inside a tube in its thorax, much like a turtle pulls its head back into its shell.
Since Winton didn't recognize the ladybug, he took it to Ivie who realized he had once seen a female of that type from Idaho, about 90 miles away from Winton's discovery. Ivie also knew that one of his Australian colleagues was revising the group, so he mailed Winton's ladybug to Canberra.


Winton soon learned that his ladybug -- now in pieces and still in Australia -- belongs to a group of beetles that's both familiar and well-known in this country. Known as Ladybird Beetles, the group contains some of the most bizarre, smallest and least recognizable ladybugs in existence, according to Hermes Escalona and Adam Slipinski who published the Systemic Entomology article. Winton said, "This species and some of its sister species are some of the rarest mostly due to their size, collection frequency, techniques required to collect them and the fact that we know almost nothing about their biology (life cycle, where it lives, what it eats, etc)."

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