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Harvard researchers find GDF11 protein turns old hearts into young hearts

Harvard researchers find GDF11 protein turns old hearts into young hearts | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Two Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers — a stem cell biologist and a practicing cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital — have identified a protein in the blood of mice and humans that may prove to be the first effective treatment for the form of age-related heart failure that affects millions of Americans.

 

When the protein, called GDF-11, was injected into old mice, which develop thickened heart walls in a manner similar to aging humans, the hearts were reduced in size and thickness, resembling the healthy hearts of younger mice.

 

Even more important than the implications for the treatment of diastolic heart failure, the finding by Richard T. Lee, a Harvard Medical Schoolprofessor at the hospital, and Amy Wagers, a professor in Harvard’sDepartment of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, ultimately may rewrite our understanding of aging.

 

“The most common form of heart failure in the elderly is actually a form that’s not caused by heart attacks but is very much related to the heart aging,” said Lee, who, like Wagers, is a principal faculty member at HSCI. 

“In this study, we were able to show that a protein that circulates in the blood is related to this aging process, and if we gave older mice this protein, we could reverse the heart aging in a very short period of time,” Lee said. “We are very excited about it because it opens a new window on the most common form of heart failure.”

 

“The blood is full of all kinds of things,” the biologist said, “and trying to narrow down what might be the responsible factor was going to be a big challenge.  I think that’s where the collaboration was so wonderful, in that we could take advantage of the expertise in both of our laboratories to really home in on what might be the responsible substance.”

 

Lee explained, “We thought it was interesting right away, and we repeated it right away. But we had to show that this was not a blood pressure effect, that the young mice didn’t just cause the old mice to have lower blood pressure. We had to build a custom device to measure blood pressures off their tails. It took a year to do the analysis to show that it was not a blood pressure effect.

 

“After about 2½ years we were convinced, and said, ‘We really have to identify this factor.’ It took about six months to find something, and another year to be convinced that it was real,” Lee said. “We looked at lipids; we looked at metabolites. Then we set up a collaboration with a startup company in Colorado, called SomaLogic, that had an interesting technology for analyzing factors in blood. And by working closely with SomaLogic, we found the likely factor.”

 

What the researchers found was that at least one of the factors causing the rejuvenation of the hearts was GDF-11, “a member of a very important family of proteins called TGF-beta proteins, for transforming growth factor. There are around 35 members of the family,” Lee said. “Some have been very well studied, and this is one that is relatively obscure.”

 
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Biosciencia's curator insight, May 10, 2013 1:40 PM

A finding by Richard T. Lee, a Harvard Medical School professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Amy Wagers, a professor in Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, ultimately may rewrite our understanding of aging.

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Mining PubMed for Biomarker-Disease Associations to Guide Discovery

Mining PubMed for Biomarker-Disease Associations to Guide Discovery | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Biomedical knowledge is growing exponentially. However, meta-knowledge around the data is often lacking. PubMed is a database comprising more than 21 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE and additional life science journals dating back to the 1950s. To explore the use and frequency of biomarkers across human disease, researchers have recently mined PubMed for biomarker-disease associations. They ranked the top 100 linked diseases by relevance and mapped them to medical subject headings (MeSH) and, subsequently, to the Disease Ontology. To identify biomarkers for each disease, they queried Covance BioPathways, an online data resource that maps commercial biomarker assays to biological and disease pathways. They then integrated pathways-based information to describe both known and potential biomarkers, as well as disease-associated genes/proteins for select diseases (e.g., atherosclerosis and asthma). This approach identifies therapeutic areas with candidate or validated biomarkers, and highlights those areas where a paucity of biomarkers exists.

 

Main conclusion: Given the molecular interdependencies within a cell, a disease is rarely a consequence of a single gene abnormality, but instead reflects the perturbation of a complex network of biological and signaling pathways. The approach outlined here describes the detection and ranking of human disease based on research/clinical activity surrounding biomarkers. It also enables the identification of therapeutic areas with candidate or validated biomarkers. The strategy takes an integrative approach to identify candidate disease biomarkers by combining disease-associated genes/proteins with commercially validated assays for known biomarkers. A system-level model of disease that incorporates molecular interactions across biological and signaling pathways has been built that allowed to identify each gene/protein in the model that has an existing commercially validated assay. This strategy offers an alternative, comprehensive view of key relationships and pathway perturbations that may identify biomarkers of disease emergence or progression.

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Steelmaking, a major emitter of climate-altering gases, could be transformed by a new process from MIT

Steelmaking, a major emitter of climate-altering gases, could be transformed by a new process from MIT | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Anyone who has seen pictures of the giant, red-hot cauldrons in which steel is made — fed by vast amounts of carbon, and belching flame and smoke — would not be surprised to learn that steelmaking is one of the world’s leading industrial sources of greenhouse gases. But remarkably, a new process developed by MIT researchers could change all that.

The new process even carries a couple of nice side benefits: The resulting steel should be of higher purity, and eventually, once the process is scaled up, cheaper. Donald Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT and senior author of a new paper describing the process, says this could be a significant “win, win, win” proposition.

Worldwide steel production currently totals about 1.5 billion tons per year. The prevailing process makes steel from iron ore — which is mostly iron oxide — by heating it with carbon; the process forms carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Production of a ton of steel generates almost two tons of CO2 emissions, according to steel industry figures, accounting for as much as 5 percent of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions.

The industry has met little success in its search for carbon-free methods of manufacturing steel. The idea for the new method, Sadoway says, arose when he received a grant from NASA to look for ways of producing oxygen on the moon — a key step toward future lunar bases.

Sadoway found that a process called molten oxide electrolysis could use iron oxide from the lunar soil to make oxygen in abundance, with no special chemistry. He tested the process using lunar-like soil from Meteor Crater in Arizona — which contains iron oxide from an asteroid impact thousands of years ago — finding that it produced steel as a byproduct.

 

Sadoway’s method used an iridium anode, but since iridium is expensive and supplies are limited, that’s not a viable approach for bulk steel production on Earth. But after more research and input from Allanore, the MIT team identified an inexpensive metal alloy that can replace the iridium anode in molten oxide electrolysis.

It wasn’t an easy problem to solve, Sadoway explains, because a vat of molten iron oxide, which must be kept at about 1600 degrees Celsius, “is a really challenging environment. The melt is extremely aggressive. Oxygen is quick to attack the metal.”

Many researchers had tried to use ceramics, but these are brittle and can shatter easily. “I had always eschewed that approach,” Sadoway says. 

But Allanore adds, “There are only two classes of materials that can sustain these high temperatures — metals or ceramics.” Only a few metals remain solid at these high temperatures, so “that narrows the number of candidates,” he says.

Allanore, who worked in the steel industry before joining MIT, says progress has been slow both because experiments are difficult at these high temperatures, and also because the relevant expertise tends to be scattered across disciplines. “Electrochemistry is a multidisciplinary problem, involving chemical, electrical and materials engineering,” he says.


Apart from eliminating the emissions, the process yields metal of exceptional purity, Sadoway says. What’s more, it could also be adapted to carbon-free production of metals and alloys including nickel, titanium and ferromanganese, with similar advantages.

Ken Mills, a visiting professor of materials at Imperial College, London, says the approach outlined in this paper “seems very sound to me,” but he cautions that unless legislation requires the industry to account for its greenhouse-gas production, it’s unclear whether the new technique would be cost-competitive. Nevertheless, he says, it “should be followed up, as the authors suggest, with experiments using a more industrial configuration.”

Sadoway, Allanore and a former student have formed a company to develop the concept, which is still at the laboratory scale, to a commercially viable prototype electrolysis cell. They expect it could take about three years to design, build and test such a reactor.

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The Greater Wax Moth Has 15 Times Greater Sensitivity To Sounds Than Humans: Highest In The Whole Animal Kingdom

The Greater Wax Moth Has 15 Times Greater Sensitivity To Sounds Than Humans: Highest In The Whole Animal Kingdom | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers have found that the greater wax moths have the capability to sense sound frequencies up to 300 kHz, the highest recorded of any species' hearing capability, according to the University's news release.

 

 The greater wax moth otherwise known as honeycomb moth or Galleria Mellonella belongs to the Pyralidae family. The greater wax moths measuring about 1 1/2 inches long, lay their eggs in beehives where the larvae feed on the wax and the debris of the honeycombs, hence the name. But the extra-ordinary factor about these moths is their sensory characteristic.

 

The research team led by Dr. James Windmill, said that the discovery will help in better understanding the "air-coupled ultrasound."

 

"The use of ultrasound in air is extremely difficult as such high frequency signals are quickly weakened in air," Dr. Windmill said. "Other animals such as bats are known to use ultrasound to communicate and now it is clear that moths are capable of even more advanced use of sound."

 

In comparison to sound-sensitive dolphins, which sense sounds up to 160 kHz, greater wax moth still stands apart with its highest hearing capability. Humans can only hear sounds up to 20 kHz. Scientists say that the moth's super-sensitivity to sound may have been evolved as a result of evasion from their natural predators, bats.


Bats are known for their echolocation with which they can sense a presence of an object even in complete darkness. Echolocation helps bats in flight navigation and even hunting. Bats can accurately identify the location, size and direction or even a nature of an object by emitting ultrasonic chirps. Even with such accuracy, bats can only hear up to 212 kHz.

 

For the study, researchers used an advanced laser Doppler vibrometer to record the hearing of 20 moths. With the help of the findings, Dr. Windmill and his team hope to understand the gist of ultrasound transmission. With the highest capability of hearing sounds, studying moth's ear will represent the beginning of developing new technologies, which may be useful in miniature microphones or mobile devices.


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Engineered spider protein used for anti-venom vaccine against ‘brown recluse’

Engineered spider protein used for anti-venom vaccine against ‘brown recluse’ | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
New approach to act as model for the development of non-toxic vaccines against Loxosceles spider venoms, say researchers in the journal Vaccine.

 

Researchers have engineered a spider protein that could be the start of a new generation of anti-venom vaccines with the potential to save thousands of lives worldwide. “In Brazil we see thousands of cases of people being bitten by spiders, and the bites can have very serious side-effects,” said Dr. Carlos Chávez-Olórtegui of Federal University Minas Gerais in Brazil, the corresponding author of the study.

 

“Existing anti-venoms are made of the pure toxins and can be harmful to people who take them,” he said. “We wanted to develop a new way of protecting people from the effects of Reaper spider bites, without them having to suffer from side effects.”

 

Loxosceles spiders, commonly known as reaper or recluse spiders, are found all over the world and produce harmful venoms. The toxic bite of these spiders causes skin around the bite to die and can lead to more serious effects like kidney failure and hemorrhaging. These Loxosceles spiders are most prevalent in Brazil, where they cause almost 7,000 cases of spider bites every year.

 

According to a World Health Organization report, a review of current antivenom production methods indicates that the majority of antivenoms are still produced by traditional technology using animals. The production method involves injecting the venom into animals and removing the resulting antibodies to use in the anti-venom serum for humans. These antibodies enable the human immune system to prepare to neutralize venom from bites. Although this method is somewhat effective, it is problematic as the animals required to produce the antibodies do suffer from the effects of the venom.In an attempt to improve these conditions Dr. Chávez-Olortegui and his team of researchers identified a protein that can be engineered in the lab, omitting the need to use real spider venom. It is made up of three proteins rather than the whole venom toxin, so it is not harmful to the immunized animal that produces the antibodies for use in the human serum. It is also more effective than existing approaches and easier to produce than preparing crude venom from spiders.

 

The researchers tested the lab-engineered protein on rabbits and showed an immune response similar to the way they respond to the whole toxin, previously experienced in the old method. The protein was effective for venom of two sub-species of Loxosceles spiders, which have similar toxins. The rabbits were protected from skin damage at the site of the venom injection and from hemorrhaging.

 

The authors concluded that this engineered protein may be a promising candidate for vaccination against Loxosceles spider bites in the future.

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Privacy protections needed? The genome hacker shows how individuals can be identified from 'anonymous' DNA

Privacy protections needed? The genome hacker shows how individuals can be identified from 'anonymous' DNA | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Late at night, a video camera captures a man striding up to the locked door of the information-technology department of a major Israeli bank. At this hour, access can be granted only by a fingerprint reader — but instead of using the machine, the man pushes a button on the intercom to ring the receptionist's phone. As it rings, he holds his mobile phone up to the intercom and presses the number 8. The sound of the keypad tone is enough to unlock the door. As he opens it, the man looks back to the camera with a shrug: that was easy.

 

Yaniv Erlich — the star of this 2006 video — considers this one of his favourite hacks. Technically a “penetration exercise” conducted to expose the bank's vulnerabilities, it was one of several projects that Erlich worked on during a two-year stint with a security firm based near Tel Aviv. Since then, the 33-year-old computational biologist has been bringing his hacker ethos to biology. Now at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he is using genome data in new ways, and in the process exposing vulnerabilities in databases that hold sensitive information on thousands of individuals around the world.

 

In a study published in January, Erlich's lab showed that it is possible to discover the identities of people who participate in genetic research studies by cross-referencing their data with publicly available information. Previous studies had shown that people listed in anonymous genetic data stores could be unmasked by matching their data to a sample of their DNA. But Erlich showed that all it requires is an Internet connection.

 

Erlich's work has exposed a pressing ethical quandary. As researchers increasingly combine patient data with other types of information — everything from social-media posts to entries on genealogy websites — protecting anonymity becomes next to impossible. Studying these linked data has its benefits, but it may also reveal genetic and medical information that researchers had promised to keep private — and that, if made public, might hurt people's employability, insurability or even personal relationships.

 

Such revelations may make the scientific community uncomfortable and undermine the public's trust in medical research. But Erlich and his colleagues see their work as a way to alert the world about flawed systems, keep researchers honest and ultimately strengthen science. In March, for instance, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, claimed that the genome sequence that it had published for the HeLa cell line would not reveal anything about Henrietta Lacks — the source of the cells — or her descendants. Erlich issued a tart response: “Nice lie EMBL!” he tweeted. The sequence was later pulled from public databases, and the EMBL admitted that it would indeed be possible to glean information about the Lacks family from it, even though much of the HeLa genetic data had already been published as part of other studies.

 

“Most scientists would not go anywhere close to these questions, out of a sense of what it might mean for the field, or for them personally,” says David Page, director of the Whitehead Institute, who has advised Erlich about his research. “But this is not about publicity-seeking — this is about fearlessness, and a kind of interest in how all the parts of the Universe fit together that mark all of Yaniv's work.”

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Image Gallery > Earth as Art

Image Gallery > Earth as Art | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Via Sakis Koukouvis
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Alice Wujciak's curator insight, May 9, 2013 5:47 AM

Take a different look at the U.S.!

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Ancient DNA Found Hidden Below Sea Floor

Ancient DNA Found Hidden Below Sea Floor | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In the middle of the South Atlantic, there's a patch of sea almost devoid of life. There are no birds, few fish, not even much plankton. But researchers report that they've found buried treasure under the empty waters: ancient DNA hidden in the muck of the sea floor, which lies 5000 meters below the waves.

 

The DNA, from tiny, one-celled sea creatures that lived up to 32,500 years ago, is the first to be recovered from the abyssal plains, the deep-sea bottoms that cover huge stretches of Earth. In a separate finding published this week, another research team reports teasing out plankton DNA that's up to 11,400 years old from the floor of the much shallower Black Sea. The researchers say that the ability to retrieve such old DNA from such large stretches of the planet's surface could help reveal everything from ancient climate to the evolutionary ecology of the seas.

 

"We have been able to show that the deep sea is the largest long-time archive of DNA, and a major window to study past biodiversity," says Pedro Martinez Arbizu, a deep-sea biologist of the German Centre for Marine Biodiversity Research in Wilhelmshaven.

 

The new studies are "very exciting," says micropaleontologist Bridget Wade of the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, who was not connected to the research. Until now, it wasn't clear "how far back in time you could take these DNA studies. … These records are telling you new information that wasn't found in the fossil record."

 

The South Atlantic team went looking for DNA in plugs of silt and clay coaxed out of the ocean floor hundreds of kilometers off the Brazilian coast. The researchers were after genetic material from two related groups of marine organisms, the foraminifera and the radiolarians. Both are single-celled, and both include many species with beautiful pearly shells that fossilize nicely, making them a favorite target of researchers studying the prehistoric oceans.

 

The researchers used special pieces of DNA specific to radiolarians and foraminifera to fish out DNA from those groups. Then they sequenced the DNA and compared the results to known foraminifera and radiolarian DNA sequences. Their analysis showed they'd found 169 foraminifera species and 21 radiolarian species, many of which were unknown. What's more, many of the foraminifera species belonged to groups that don't form fossils

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Tongue bristles help bats lap up nectar

Tongue bristles help bats lap up nectar | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A rush of blood to the tongue helps some bats slurp up their food. Erect bristles that spring from the tongue tip of a nectar-feeding bat, Glossophaga soricina, help the bats snag sweetness from flowers, a new study finds.

 

As a bat reaches its tongue deep into a flower (or a manmade feeder), muscles stretch out, forcing blood from the middle of the tongue down into hairlike nubs that sprout from the tip, biomechanist Cally Harper and her colleagues at Brown University in Providence, R.I., report. The nubs are like water balloons that fill up when the bat feeds.

 

Those blood-inflated bristles grab lots of nectar quickly, making it easier for the mammals to snatch food on the fly.

 

Scientists had assumed the hairy bristles lining nectar-feeding bats’ tongue tips were like floppy mop strands, limply soaking up liquid. But the new study shows that the tongue bristles are actually much more active.

“It’s like if you walked into your kitchen, picked up the mop out of the corner, and the mop reached down to the floor and spread out all of its tendrils,” says biologist Margaret Rubega of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, who studies hummingbird tongues.

 

To see the bristles in action, Harper and colleagues stuck a high-speed video camera on a clear acrylic feeder, and rigged up fiber optics to shine bright lights on the bats’ tongues. Then the team filled the feeder with sugar water and watched as bats swooped in for the treat.

 

When the animals lapped up the sweet water, the sides of their glistening pink tongues turned bright red and blood-engorged bristles swelled into spikes. Like a multipronged soup ladle, the swollen spikes each pull in some nectar, Harper says.

 

Unlike with other mammals’ tongues, the nubs of nectar-feeding bats have adapted to the flowers the animals drink from, says biologist Alejandro Rico-Guevara, a colleague of Rubega’s at the University of Connecticut. Other nectar-feeding animals such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, use different strategies to suck up food, but all have evolved long tongues with special tubes, tweezers or bristles to help them drink.

 

The findings suggest that the honey possum, a mammal with a brush-shaped tongue tip, might also use the inflate-a-bristle technique to gather its treats, Harper says. And perhaps the bats’ tongue action could one day inspire floppy surgical tools that become firm when pumped full of air or liquid, she says.

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Climate change, not human activity, led to megafauna extinction

Climate change, not human activity, led to megafauna extinction | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Most species of gigantic animals that once roamed Australia had disappeared by the time people arrived, a major review of the available evidence has concluded.

 

The research challenges the claim that humans were primarily responsible for the demise of the megafauna in a proposed "extinction window" between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, and points the finger instead at climate change.

 

An international team led by the University of New South Wales, and including researchers at the University of Queensland, the University of New England, and the University of Washington, carried out the study. It is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

"The interpretation that humans drove the extinction rests on assumptions that increasingly have been shown to be incorrect. Humans may have played some role in the loss of those species that were still surviving when people arrived about 45,000 to 50,000 years ago -- but this also needs to be demonstrated," said Associate Professor Stephen Wroe, from UNSW, the lead author of the study.

 

"There has never been any direct evidence of humans preying on extinct megafauna in Sahul, or even of a tool-kit that was appropriate for big-game hunting," he said.

 

About 90 giant animal species once inhabited the continent of Sahul, which included mainland Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania.

 

"These leviathans included the largest marsupial that ever lived -- the rhinoceros-sized Diprotodon - and short-faced kangaroos so big we can't even be sure they could hop. Preying on them were goannas the size of large saltwater crocodiles with toxic saliva and bizarre but deadly marsupial lions with flick-blades on their thumbs and bolt cutters for teeth," said Associate Professor Wroe.

 

The review concludes there is only firm evidence for about 8 to 14 megafauna species still existing when Aboriginal people arrived. About 50 species, for example, are absent from the fossil record of the past 130,000 years.

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Marco Bertolini's curator insight, May 7, 2013 3:21 AM

Des scientifiques sont à présent certains qu'un changement climatique a détruit la mégafaune d'Australie.  Et non pas l'action humaine, comme on l'a longtemps cru.  Un avertissement ?

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Individual Brain Cells Track Where We Are and How We Move

Individual Brain Cells Track Where We Are and How We Move | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Leaving the house in the morning may seem simple, but with every move we make, our brains are working feverishly to create maps of the outside world that allow us to navigate and to remember where we are.

 

Take one step out the front door, and an individual brain cell fires. Pass by your rose bush on the way to the car, another specific neuron fires. And so it goes. Ultimately, the brain constructs its own pinpoint geographical chart that is far more precise than anything you'd find on Google Maps.

 

But just how neurons make these maps of space has fascinated scientists for decades. It is known that several types of stimuli influence the creation of neuronal maps, including visual cues in the physical environment -- that rose bush, for instance -- the body's innate knowledge of how fast it is moving, and other inputs, like smell. Yet the mechanisms by which groups of neurons combine these various stimuli to make precise maps are unknown.

 

To solve this puzzle, UCLA neurophysicists built a virtual-reality environment that allowed them to manipulate these cues while measuring the activity of map-making neurons in rats. Surprisingly, they found that when certain cues were removed, the neurons that typically fire each time a rat passes a fixed point or landmark in the real world instead began to compute the rat's relative position, firing, for example, each time the rodent walked five paces forward, then five paces back, regardless of landmarks. And many other mapping cells shut down altogether, suggesting that different sensory cues strongly influence these neurons.

 

Finally, the researchers found that in this virtual world, the rhythmic firing of neurons that normally speeds up or slows down depending on the rate at which an animal moves, was profoundly altered. The rats' brains maintained a single, steady rhythmic pattern.

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Stop the Autonomous Killer Robots on the Battlefield

Stop the Autonomous Killer Robots on the Battlefield | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

With the rapid development and proliferation of robotic weapons, machines are starting to take the place of humans on the battlefield. Some military and robotics experts have predicted that “killer robots”—fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without human intervention—could be developed within 20 to 30 years. At present, military officials generally say that humans will retain some level of supervision over decisions to use lethal force, but their statements often leave open the possibility that robots could one day have the ability to make such choices on their own power.

 

Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) believe that such revolutionary weapons would not be consistent with international humanitarian law and would increase the risk of death or injury to civilians during armed conflict. A preemptive prohibition on their development and use is needed.


A relatively small community of specialists has hotly debated the benefits and dangers of fully autonomous weapons. Military personnel, scientists, ethicists, philosophers, and lawyers have contributed to the discussion. They have evaluated autonomous weapons from a range of perspectives, including military utility, cost, politics, and the ethics of delegating life-and-death decisions to a machine. According to Philip Alston, then UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, however, “the rapid growth of these technologies, especially those with lethal capacities and those with decreased levels of human control, raise serious concerns that have been almost entirely unexamined by human rights or humanitarian actors.” It is time for the broader public to consider the potential advantages and threats of fully autonomous weapons.

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Pacific Cove's curator insight, September 6, 2013 9:29 PM

 Some military and robotics experts have predicted that “killer robots”—fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without human intervention—could be developed within 20 to 30 years. 

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Plants communicate with each other through fungus network of roots

Plants communicate with each other through fungus network of roots | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Researchers show that plants can communicate the need to protect themselves from attack by aphids by making use of an underground network of fungi.

 

Instances of plant communication through the air have been documented, in which chemicals emitted by a damaged plant can be picked up by a neighbour. But below ground, most land plants are connected by fungi called mycorrhizae.

 

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen, the James Hutton Institute and Rothamsted Research, all in the UK, devised a clever experiment to isolate the effects of these thread-like networks of mycorrhizae. The team concerned themselves with aphids, tiny insects that feed on and damage plants.

 

Many plants have a chemical armoury that they deploy when aphids attack, with chemicals that both repel the aphids and attract parasitic wasps that are aphids' natural predators.

 

The team grew sets of five broad bean plants, allowing three in each group to develop mycorrhizal networks, and preventing the networks' growth in the other two. To prevent any through-the-air chemical communication, the plants were covered with bags.

 

As the researchers allowed single plants in the sets to be infested with aphids, they found that if the infested plant was connected to another by the mycorrhizae, the un-infested plant began to mount its chemical defence.

 Those unconnected by the networks appeared not to receive the signal of attack, and showed no chemical response. 

"Mycorrhizal fungi need to get [products of photosynthesis] from the plant, and they have to do something for the plant," explained John Pickett of Rothamsted Research.

 

"In the past, we thought of them making nutrients available from the [roots and soil], but now we see another evolutionary role for them in which they pay the plant back by transmitting the signal efficiently," he told BBC News. Prof Pickett expressed his "abject surprise that it was just so powerful - just such a fantastic signalling system".

 

The finding could be put to use in many crops that suffer aphid damage, by arranging for a particular, "sacrificial" plant to be more susceptible to aphid infestation, so that when aphids threaten, the network can provide advance notice for the rest of the crop.

 

"Now we've got a chance in a really robust manner of switching on the defence when it is needed - not straining the plant to do it all the time - and to reduce the development of resistance (of the aphids to the plants' defences)," Prof Pickett said.

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3D-Printed Rocket Parts Will Take NASA to Mars

3D-Printed Rocket Parts Will Take NASA to Mars | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

NASA engineers are building the largest rocket ever constructed — one that will eventually take us beyond the moon — using 3D-printed materials.

 

Creating this rocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS), is a top priority at the agency because it has a big date: Obama wants to get humans to an asteroid and then on to Mars by the mid 2030s. To speed up the construction process, NASA is relying on a form of 3D printing to fabricate some of its engine parts virtually out of thin air.

 

The machine, called selective laser melting, uses a laser to build a component. Unlike traditional rocket building, which relies on welding together disparate parts, 3D printing starts with an empty table. That space fills up with a completed component, built one layer at a time, out of NASA's 3D-printing material of choice. What used to take weeks to build now only takes hours.

 

"We were looking at a way to save costs, be more efficient and reduce weight. That's how we got here," says NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr.

 

"The big thing about 3D printing is that there are no welds with seams, no places for stuff to leak in a component," he tells Mashable. "It starts from nothing and grows into what you want in one fell swoop."

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Rich Rawdin's curator insight, May 10, 2013 2:43 PM

Now you know that we are in BIG trouble.

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Directly visible giant exoplanets around star HR8799, one containing water in its atmosphere

Directly visible giant exoplanets around star HR8799, one containing water in its atmosphere | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Unlike most exoplanet discoveries, which are inferred from analysis of data, the planets of the HR8799 system are directly visible from Earth. The planets were discovered in 2008 using the Keck and Gemini telescopes in Hawaii. The star HR8799, about 1.5 times the size of the sun and about five times brighter, lies 130 light years from Earth. Each of the star's four known planets is larger than any planet in our solar system. The star formed only 30 million years ago and is a variable star, meaning that its luminosity changes over a period of about half a day. By studying light reflected from planet HR8799c, astronomers have found water and carbon monoxide in its atmosphere.

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Neptune has a Giant Blue Spot, just like Jupiter has a Giant Red Spot

Neptune has a Giant Blue Spot, just like Jupiter has a Giant Red Spot | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

This is how Neptune's Great Dark Spot and rings may have looked in 1989 from a position just beneath Neptune's ring plane. The outermost Adams ring is near the top of the frame, and beneath that is the much broader and diffuse Lassell ring. Further in toward Neptune and abutting the Lassell ring is the thin LeVerrier ring, and beyond that is the diffuse Galle ring.

The Great Dark Spot is believed to be a storm similar to, but only half the size of, Jupiter's Great Red Spot. While Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been raging for at least 400 years, subsequent observations of Neptune's Great Dark Spot in 1994 by the Hubble Space Telescope revealed that this storm has since disappeared.

 

The Great Dark Spot was a very dynamic weather system, generating massive, white clouds similar to high-altitude cirrus clouds on Earth. Unlike cirrus clouds on Earth however, which are composed of crystals of water ice, Neptune's cirrus clouds are made up of crystals of frozen methane. Neptune's clouds are driven by winds of 1,200 mph, the fastest winds of any planet in the Solar System. How such high-velocity winds come to be on a planet so far from the Sun is still a mystery.

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Researchers at CERN have turned up the first evidence of exotic short-lived atoms with pear-shaped nuclei

Researchers at CERN have turned up the first evidence of exotic short-lived atoms with pear-shaped nuclei | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

It's only a small thing, but it could be big news: researchers at CERN have turned up the first evidence of exotic (and short-lived) atoms with pear-shaped nuclei.

 

The reasons the boffins are excited is they believe the eccentric nuclei can help them probe one of physics' official Big Questions: how come there's something instead of nothing?

 

Instead of the more typical profile for a nucleus – spherical or elliptical – the “pear shaped” nuclei were created by whacking beams of radium and radon atoms into targets of nickel, cadmium and tin, using CERN's ISOLDE ion separator facility. The collisions excited the nuclei to energy levels at which they revealed their internal structures via the patterns of gamma rays they gave off.

 

According to University of Michigan professor and co-atom-squeezer Tim Chupp, the pear shape “means the neutrons and protons, which compose the nucleus, are in slightly different places along an internal axis.”

That's special because the placement of the neutrons and protons provides hints at the subatomic interactions taking place.

 

Drilling into this is tortuous, but let's make the attempt. The reason this universe exists and we're here to wonder about it is that for some reason, back at Big Bang time, we ended up with a small asymmetry: there was more matter than antimatter. If matter and antimatter had been perfectly in balance, they would have annihilated each other.

 

To make the quest for a reason even more tasty: there's nothing in the Standard Model that predicts the matter-antimatter asymmetry.

 

Hence experiments such as this one: the researchers hope exotic atoms will hint at interactions that aren't seen in normal matter, and that by analysing those interactions, they can shed light on why we're all here.

 

One suggestion is that a type of interaction not yet written into the Standard Model exists – and if it does, its nature might be revealed in the relationship between the axis of atomic nuclei and their spin. In the pear-shaped nuclei, nuclear forces are presumed to be pushing the protons away from the centre of the nucleus – and that's what has Chupp's interest.

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Activision Shows Animated Human That Looks So Real, It's Uncanny

Activision Shows Animated Human That Looks So Real, It's Uncanny | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Activision showed off the state of the art of real-time graphics on Wednesday, releasing this mind-boggling character demo. The character's skin, facial expressions and eyes look so real, it's uncanny.

 

When you watch this video, see if you think this character has reached the other side of what's commonly called the "uncanny valley," a term first uttered by early robotics guruMasahiro Mori in 1970. It describes the range of sophistication of animated graphics, from one side of the valley where human figures simply look unrealistic, to the middle of the valley — where they look just realistic enough to be creepy — to our side of the valley, where animation is indistinguishable from reality.

 

Whenever the uncanny valley is mentioned, the animation techniques from the November, 2004 movie Polar Express come to mind. Most viewers noticed the characters weren't quite photorealistic enough to keep them out of the creepy zone. But that was nearly 8 years ago, and graphics technology has made spectacular progress since then.


Via Marco Bertolini
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Marco Bertolini's curator insight, March 28, 2013 4:59 PM

Une vidéo bluffante : ce monsieur est en réalité une animation réalisée par la société Activision.  Une reconstitution incroyable des expressions faciales, de la texture de la peau, etc.

CAEXI BEST's curator insight, May 9, 2013 1:14 AM
Activision Montre homme animé qui semble si réel, c'est Uncanny
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Amherst Devises First Head-to-Head Speed Test with Conventional Computing, and the Quantum Computer Wins

Amherst Devises First Head-to-Head Speed Test with Conventional Computing, and the Quantum Computer Wins | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A computer science professor at Amherst College who recently devised and conducted experiments to test the speed of a quantum computing system against conventional computing methods will soon be presenting a paper with her verdict: quantum computing is, “in some cases, really, really fast.”

 

“Ours is the first paper to my knowledge that compares the quantum approach to conventional methods using the same set of problems,” says Catherine McGeoch, the Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Computer Science) at Amherst. “I’m not claiming that this is the last word, but it’s a first word, a start in trying to sort out what it can do and can’t do.”

 

The quantum computer system she was testing, produced by D-Wave just outside Vancouver, BC, has a thumbnail-sized chip that is stored in a dilution refrigerator within a shielded cabinet at near absolute zero, or .02 degrees Kelvin in order to perform its calculations. Whereas conventional computing is binary, 1s and 0s get mashed up in quantum computing, and within that super-cooled (and non-observable) state of flux, a lightning - quick logic takes place, capable of solving problems thousands of times faster than conventional computing methods can, according to her findings.

 

“You think you’re in Dr. Seuss land,” McGeoch says. “It’s such a whole different approach to computation that you have to wrap your head around this new way of doing things in order to decide how to evaluate it. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, or apples and fish, and the difficulty was coming up with experiments and analyses that allowed you to say you’d compared things properly. It definitely was the oddest set of problems I’ve ever coped with.”

 

McGeoch, author of A Guide to Experimental Algorithmics (Cambridge University Press, 2012), has 25 years of experience setting up experiments to test various facets of computing speed, and is one of the founders of “experimental algorithmics,” which she jokingly calls an “oddball niche” of computer science. Her specialty is, however, proving increasingly helpful in trying to evaluate different types of computing performance.

 

That’s why she spent a month last fall at D-Wave, which has produced what it claims is the world’s first commercially available quantum computing system. Geordie Rose, D-Wave’s founder and Chief Technical Officer, retained McGeoch as an outside consultant to help devise experiments that would test its machines against conventional computers and algorithms.

 

McGeoch will present her analysis at the peer-reviewed 2013 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Conference on Computing Frontiers in Ischia, Italy, on May 15. Her 10-page-paper, titled “Experimental Evaluation of an Adiabiatic Quantum System for Combinatorial Optimization,” was co-authored with Cong Wang, a graduate student at Simon Fraser University.

 

McGeoch says the calculations the D-Wave excels at involve a specific combinatorial optimization problem, comparable in difficulty to the more famous “travelling salesperson” problem that’s been a foundation of theoretical computing for decades.

 

Briefly stated, the travelling salesperson problem asks this question: Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the original city? Questions like this apply to challenges such as shipping logistics, flight scheduling, search optimization, DNA analysis and encryption, and are extremely difficult to answer quickly. The D-Wave computer has the greatest potential in this area, McGeoch says.

 

More info: http://tinyurl.com/cuoe7kk

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Shattered glass: New theory explains how things break

Shattered glass: New theory explains how things break | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Shattering a glass is a completely different experience than breaking a seashell, and Cornell physicists offer a notion – at the microscale – to explain why.

 

A new, unified theory of fracture is detailed in a Physical Review Letters paper published April 29, with senior author James P. Sethna, professor of physics, graduate student Ashivni Shekhawat, and Stefano Zapperi of CNR Milan. The paper was selected by the journal as an “Editor’s Choice.”

 

Glass, say the researchers, is a “clean” system that breaks abruptly in one nucleated event when the weakest spot fails. But materials like bones, seashells and composites, called disordered media, can have multiple microcracks that form and grow before the final failure. The researchers provided a universal scaling theory for this distributed damage that explains fundamentally why these types of materials break so differently.

Previous theories had held that a phase transition separates abrupt fracture in clean systems like glass, and fracture with substantial distributed damage, like bone.

 

The Cornell scientists instead offer the theory of a smoother crossover between abrupt fracture at low disorder (glass), and accumulation of distributed damage at high disorder (seashell), using universal scaling functions. Bones, seashells and modern composite materials are tougher than glass because of this phenomenon of distributed damage. The researchers show how disorder leads to damage for small systems, and catastrophic crack nucleation at longer length scales.

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Bioteeth From Stemcells Will Regrow Complete Tooth, Superior to Implants

Bioteeth From Stemcells Will Regrow Complete Tooth, Superior to Implants | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Replacing missing teeth with new bioengineered teeth, grown from stem cells generated from a person's own gum cells, is a new method that will be vastly superior to the currently used implant technology.

 

New research, published in the Journal of Dental Research and led by Professor Paul Sharpe, an expert in craniofacial development and stem cell biology at King's College London's Dental Institute, describes advances in the development of this method by sourcing the required cells from a patient's own gum.

 

Research towards producing bioengineered teeth, also called bioteeth, aims to grow new and natural teeth by employing stem cell technology which generates immature teeth (teeth primordia) that mimic those in the embryo. These can be transplanted as small cell pellets into the adult jaw to develop into functional teeth, the researchers say.

 

Remarkably, despite the very different environments, embryonic teeth primordia can develop normally in the adult mouth. Embryonic tooth primordia cells can readily form immature teeth following dissociation into single cell populations and subsequent recombination, but such cell sources are impractical to use in a general therapy.

 

"What is required is the identification of adult sources of human epithelialand mesenchymal [stem] cells that can be obtained in sufficient numbers to make biotooth formation a viable alternative to dental implants," said Sharpe.

 

This challenge was now solved by the researchers, who sucessfully isolated adult human gum (gingival) tissue from patients at the Dental Institute at King's College London, grew more of it in the lab, and then combined it with the cells of mice that form teeth (mesenchyme cells). By transplanting this combination of cells into mice, the researchers were able to grow hybrid human/mouse teeth containing dentine and enamel, as well as viable roots.

 

"Epithelial cells derived from adult human gum tissue are capable of responding to tooth inducing signals from embryonic tooth mesenchyme in an appropriate way to contribute to tooth crown and root formation and give rise to relevant differentiated cell types, following in vitro culture," said Sharpe.

 

"These easily accessible epithelial cells are thus a realistic source for consideration in human biotooth formation. The next major challenge is to identify a way to culture adult human mesenchymal cells to be tooth-inducing, as at the moment we can only make embryonic mesenchymal cells do this."

 

Current implant-based methods of whole tooth replacement fail to reproduce a natural root structure and as a consequence of the friction from eating and other jaw movement, loss of jaw bone can occur around the implant.

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Jennifer Frezza 's curator insight, December 8, 2013 6:28 PM

Isn't science amazing?

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Awesome infographic on the 100+ exoplanets discovered to date

Awesome infographic on the 100+ exoplanets discovered to date | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered more than 100 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars.

Via Guillaume Decugis
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Guillaume Decugis's curator insight, April 25, 2013 4:10 PM

Watch them orbit on scale and sort them by size: great job by the nytimes! 

Gust MEES's curator insight, April 27, 2013 10:37 AM

 

Nice interactive infographic, check it out an learn more...

 

John Purificati's comment, May 7, 2013 4:49 PM
Interesting stuff.
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Patterned hearts: Bioengineers create rubber-like material bearing micropatterns for stronger, more elastic hearts

Patterned hearts: Bioengineers create rubber-like material bearing micropatterns for stronger, more elastic hearts | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A team of bioengineers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is the first to report creating artificial heart tissue that closely mimics the functions of natural heart tissue through the use of human-based materials. Their work will advance how clinicians treat the damaging effects caused by heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.


"Scientists and clinicians alike are eager for new approaches to creating artificial heart tissues that resemble the native tissues as much as possible, in terms of physical properties and function," said Nasim Annabi, PhD, BWH Renal Division, first study author. "Current biomaterials used to repair hearts after a heart attack and other cardiovascular events lack suitable functionality and strength. We are introducing an alternative that has the mechanical properties and functions of native heart tissue."


The researchers created MeTro gel-an advanced rubber-like material made from tropoelastin, the protein in human tissues that makes them elastic. The gel was then combined with microfabrication techniques to generate gels containing well-defined micropatterns for high elasticity.

 

The researchers then used these highly elastic micropatterned gels to create heart tissue that contained beating heart muscle cells.

 

"The micropatterned gel provides elastic mechanical support of natural heart muscle tissue as demonstrated by its ability to promote attachment, spreading, alignment, function and communication of heart muscle cells," said Annabi.

 

The researchers state that MeTro gel will provide a model for future studies on how heart cells behave. Moreover, the work lays the foundation for creating more elaborate 3D versions of heart tissue that will contain vascular networks.

 

"This can be achieved by assembling tandem layers of micropatterned MeTro gels seeded with heart muscles cells in different layers," said Ali Khademhosseini, PhD, BWH Division of Biomedical Engineering, co-senior study author. "As we continue to move forward with finding better ways to mend a broken heart, we hope the biomaterials we engineer will allow us to successfully address the limitations of current artificial tissues."


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RFduino: A Device That Will Let You Hack Almost Anything

RFduino: A Device That Will Let You Hack Almost Anything | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The RFduino is a tiny open source Arduino compatible development board, but with a few twists. Based on a Nordic Semiconductor 32-bit ARM system-on-chip that has built-in support for Bluetooth 4.0, the RFduino runs the same code as Arduino UNO and DUE boards, and it works with any type of sensor, servo, or other device that can communicate with an Arduino microcontroller.

Bluetooth 4.0's Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) feature allows the microcontroller to run on power sources as small as a button-cell battery for some applications—and the team has developed a "shield" for the CR2032 battery, as well as single- and dual-AAA battery configurations.


RFduino can also run off a USB power source or can be wired directly to a 3-volt DC power source. As a result, the RFduino could be used for a whole host of devices that interact with mobile devices, including remote controls, proximity-switch devices such as alarms, and home automation applications that control LED lighting. It could also allow devices programmed with Arduino Sketches to interact with each other over Bluetooth 4.0—potentially allowing for the development of swarms of smart devices that can talk both to smartphones and notebook computers and their environments.

 

Kazanchian, an electrical engineer with experience in the cellular, consumer electronics, aerospace, and industrial systems industries, founded RF Digital as a wireless electronic component design firm in 1999.  He said that in addition to the Kickstarter backers who have donated money to the project and the support from the Arduino "maker" community, there's already commercial interest in using the component. "We have quite a bit of interest from OEMs with mass-production volume uses and requirements for the RFduino and derivative implementations," he said.

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Richard Platt's curator insight, September 19, 2014 1:19 AM

Great set of examples