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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Researchers Map the 3D Structure of the Telomerase Enzyme

Researchers Map the 3D Structure of the Telomerase Enzyme | Amazing Science |
Researchers from UCLA and UC Berkeley have, for the first time ever, solved the puzzle of how the various components of an entire telomerase enzyme complex fit together and function in a three-dimensional structure.


The telomerase enzyme, which is known to play a significant role in aging and most cancers, represents a breakthrough that could open up a host of new approaches to fighting disease.


The creation of the first complete visual map of thetelomerase enzyme, which is known to play a significant role in aging and most cancers, represents a breakthrough that could open up a host of new approaches to fighting disease, the researchers said.

"Everyone in the field wants to know what telomerase looks like, and there it was. I was so excited, I could hardly breathe," said Juli Feigon, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a senior author of the study. "We were the first to see it."

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WIRED: Bioengineers Build Open Source Language for Programming Cells

WIRED: Bioengineers Build Open Source Language for Programming Cells | Amazing Science |

Drew Endy wants to build a programming language for the body.

Endy is the co-director of the International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology — BIOFAB, for short — where he’s part of a team that’s developing a language that will use genetic data to actually program biological cells. That may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but the project is already underway, and the team intends to open source the language, so that other scientists can use it and modify it and perfect it.


The effort is part of a sweeping movement to grab hold of our genetic data and directly improve the way our bodies behave — a process known as bioengineering. With the Supreme Court exploring whether genes can be patented, the bioengineering world is at crossroads, but scientists like Endy continue to push this technology forward.


Genes contain information that defines the way our cells function, and some parts of the genome express themselves in much the same way across different types of cells and organisms. This would allow Endy and his team to build a language scientists could use to carefully engineer gene expression – what they call “the layer between the genome and all the dynamic processes of life.”


The BIOFAB project is still in the early stages. Endy and the team are creating the most basic of building blocks — the “grammar” for the language. Their latest achievement, recently reported in the journalScience, has been to create a way of controlling and amplifying the signals sent from the genome to the cell. Endy compares this process to an old fashioned telegraph.


“If you want to send a telegraph from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the signals would get degraded along the wire,” he says. “At some point, you have to have a relay system that would detect the signals before they completely went to noise and then amplify them back up to keep sending them along their way.”


And, yes, the idea is to build a system that works across different types of cells. In the 90s, the computing world sought to create a common programming platform for building applications across disparate systems — a platform called the Java virtual machine. Endy hopes to duplicate the Java VM in the biological world.

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Last 30 years were the warmest in the last 1,400 years

Last 30 years were the warmest in the last 1,400 years | Amazing Science |

From 1971 to 2000, the world's land areas were the warmest they have been in at least 1,400 years, according to a new study inNature Geoscience. The massive new study, involving 80 researchers from around the world with the Past Global Changes (PAGES) group, is the first to look at continental temperature changes over two thousand years, providing insights into regional climatic changes from the Roman Empire to the modern day. According to the data, Earth's land masses were generally cooling until anthropogenic climate change reversed the long-term pattern in the late-19th Century.

"Even just a few years ago we would have aimed for a single worldwide temperature series," says co-author Ulf Büntgen with the Swiss Federal Research Institute (WSL) and PAGES. "Nowadays, we know how important it is to have a better understanding of regional differences."

Scientists were able to reconstruct continental temperatures across every continent except Africa, where data is still lacking. They found that continents could still show important idiosyncrasies even in the midst of global trends.

"Distinctive periods, such as the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age stand out, but do not show a globally uniform pattern," explains co-author Heinz Wanner with the University of Bern and a member of PAGES.

The researchers found that such temperature changes occurred during different times on continents. For example, the Medieval Warm Period occurred from around 830 to 1100 AD in the northern hemisphere, but a similar warm-up period doesn't show up in the southern hemisphere until 1160 to 1370 AD, a lag time of 300 years. Meanwhile, the Little Ice Age began decades earlier in the northern hemisphere than in the southern. The oddest continent proved to be Antarctica, which bucked trends elsewhere during several periods.

Looking at the temperature data over 30 years intervals allowed scientists to note that the most recent period (1971-2000) held the title for the warmest on record. Still, zooming into a continental view showed a slightly more diverse picture: for example, temperatures in Europe from 21-80 AD may rival those of 1971-2000. But globally the picture remains the same: over a thousand years of cooling, replaced suddenly by warming beginning in the late 19th Century. According to climatologists, temperatures have risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last hundred years over land and sea due to burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other land-use changes, and industrial agriculture. The most recent decade was the hottest yet.

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3 newly discovered exoplanets could host life

3 newly discovered exoplanets could host life | Amazing Science |
Scientists discovered 3 planets in the "habitable zone" of their host stars. Kepler-69c seems less clearly in the habitable zone than the other two planets. They are all more than 1,000 light-years away. The Kepler satellite is looking at more than 150,000 stars for possible planets orbiting them.

Two of the planets -- Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f -- are described in a study released Thursday in the journal Science. They are part of a five-planet system in which the candidates for life are the farthest from the host star.


Their host star -- which corresponds to Earth's sun, but is smaller and cooler -- takes the name Kepler-62. The star's planets are designated by letters after the star's name. A third planet that's potentially habitable, but not included in the Science study, is called Kepler-69c.


These are the smallest planets ever found in the "habitable zone," the area near a star in which a planet can theoretically hold liquid water. Kepler-69c seems less clearly in the habitable zone than the other two planets, but scientists haven't ruled it out.


"With all of these discoveries we're finding, Earth is looking less and less like a special place and more like there's Earth-like things everywhere," said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, California.


You won't be swimming on the planets anytime soon, though. The Kepler-62 star is 1,200 light-years away; Kepler-69 is 2,700 light-years away. A light-year, the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one year, is nearly 6 trillion miles.

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Dinosaurs Sat on Nests Like Birds, Pores in Egg Shells Reveal

Dinosaurs Sat on Nests Like Birds, Pores in Egg Shells Reveal | Amazing Science |

Dinosaurs laid eggs, of that there is no doubt. But what scientists haven't been as clear on is whether they brooded over their eggs like birds or buried them like crocodiles.


Now, a new study finds that at least one dino took a birdlike approach to hatching eggs. Troodon was a small, meat-eatingdinosaur that grew to be about 8 feet (2.4 meters) long. Thedinosaurs date back to the Late Cretaceous, about 75 million years ago, and they apparently incubated their eggs much like modern birds.


Most birds sit on their eggs to warm them, but crocodiles and their relatives completely bury their nests. The difference between the two shows up in the eggshells: Croc eggs have many pores to allow for air and water exchange, lest the eggs suffocate in their closed, humid nests. Bird eggs exposed to the air have fewer pores, because their eggs would be more in danger of drying out.


University of Calgary dinosaur researcher Darla Zelenitsky and Montana State University paleontologist David Varricchio studied Troodon egg clutches from Canada and Montana, examining the fossilized shells for signs of burial. They compared the porosity of the eggshells with that of eggshells from modern-day crocodiles, birds that nest by burying their eggs in mounds, and birds that nest by brooding, or sitting on their eggs. 

They found that porosity varied across the dino eggshell, suggesting the dinosaur laid its eggs almost vertically in sand or mud, but didn't bury the eggs completely. The adult would have had direct contact with the upper portions of these partially buried eggs, Varricchio said.


"There are similarities with a peculiar nester among birds called the Egyptian plover that broods its eggs while they're partially buried in sandy substrate of the nest," Varricchio said in a statement.


The plover, a wading bird, nests by laying its eggs in warm sand and then sitting on the nest with a wet belly, cooling the eggs from above.

The findings demonstrate that birdlike behavior evolved in theropods, the caste of bipedal dinosaurs related to today's birds, Zelenitsky said in a statement. The researchers reported their findings in the spring issue of the journal Paleobiology.

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Barcodes let scientists track every ant in an ant colony

Barcodes let scientists track every ant in an ant colony | Amazing Science |
Study tracks workers as they change jobs with age.


For creatures with very small brains, ants build strikingly complex societies. How a colony of hundreds or thousands of ants maintains order remains poorly understood, but new high tech research methods might be able to shed some light on the complexity of the colony.


A team of Swiss scientists glued barcodes to hundreds of ants living in six laboratory colonies and recorded all of their movements for more than a month. The video analysis recorded the position and orientation of every ant, twice a second. They published the results of the ant tracking in Science this week.


What can you learn from watching 9 million ant-to-ant interactions?

Not surprisingly, the researchers found out that ants divide and conquer. They found three main groups of workers—one tends the young, another forages for food, and a third keeps the nest clean. Other studies have documented this segregation of labor before, but Mersch et al wanted to figure out how the ants know which groups they belong to.


Each colony has a queen ant, the only member who reproduces, but previous research has shown that despite the regal name, she doesn’t lead or organize the colony activity.


These researchers suspected that age might play a role in the division of labor, but it’s not easy to figure out how old an ant is. Instead, the researchers spent 60 weeks in advance of the experiment tagging the ants as they emerged from their pupal state—each week got its own color code.


Analyzing the color codes, they found that younger ants were more likely to work nursing the young, and older ants were more likely to be foragers. In general, they watched ants transition from nursing to cleaning to foraging as they age, but there’s a lot of individual variation in how quickly these transitions took place.


If you’ve ever watched an army of ants invade a picnic, marching in line to haul your crumbs back to the nest, you know that they are capable of highly coordinated action. This coordination comes via a combination of communication using scents deposited in the environment and through touching antennas, which probably provides a combination of chemical and sensory stimuli.


To measure how fast ants could spread information like “food over here” or “threat over there” throughout the community, the researchers measured how many degrees of separation exist between all the ants. They found that for one theoretical ant with important news, it takes about an hour of individual ant-to-ant interactions for almost all of community—about 150 individuals on average—to receive the information.


This intensive ant tracking technique provided researchers with 3 key Ws of communication: who, where, and when. However, science still can’t tell us what the ants are actually saying to each other, or anything about the fifth W: why.

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Unique view of Earth's most biodiverse ecosystems from 400 square metres of mesh high up in the rainforest canopy

Unique view of Earth's most biodiverse ecosystems from 400 square metres of mesh high up in the rainforest canopy | Amazing Science |

Scientists have taken to the trees to study rainforest habitats for years, but getting to the top of the canopy can be problematic. Now a French pilot and Swedish aeronautical expert have created a range of inventive solutions, including an inflatable raft that can be lowered from the sky right onto the tree tops.


Dany Cleyet-Marrel has been a hot air balloon and airship pilot since 1975. In 1986, he came up with the concept of the Canopy Raft, a platform 'aeroported' in by hot air balloon. The raft itself has a hexagonal design, with sides made from inflatable material and webbing in between each strut. Scientists can use the raft as a workstation nestling in the canopy of the rainforest. It has already been used in Cameroon, Gabon, and Madagascar and was featured on the British website, Deputy Dog. 

After testing with a hot air balloon, but then Cleyet-Marrel teamed up with Lindstrand Technologies to design an airship for towing the raft. This company is run by Per Lindstrand, a Swede best known for his series of record-breaking trans-oceanic hot air balloon flights with Sir Richard Branson.


Lindstrand Technologies created the AS 300, which at 8,500 cubic metres is said to be the biggest airship in the world. It needed to be this size to carry the 750kg Canopy Raft. It was later used to carry what the Lindstrand team calls a sledge – a kind of inflatable gondola that can lift three people into the canopy to collect botanical and entomological samples.


The effectiveness of the contraption has led to some problems. Lindstrand said that the team are not using the AS 300 airship and raft at the moment because officials in some  countries were unhappy that it allowed scientists to see vast areas of deforestation that governments did not want to be publicised.


Cleyet-Marrel is planning further trips, but instead of the raft he'll be using the Canopy Bubble (shown above), a one-seater 210 cubic metre helium balloon, designed to let scientists move around the treetops, gliding along ropes up to two kilometres long. Cleyet-Marrel says: "The Canopy Bubble allows a researcher to remain in contact with the canopy during two or three hours in the morning, evening or at night. The passenger can move along the rope simply by pulling him or herself along the rope by hand or with a jumar clamp in case of adverse wind. A secondary rope attached to the main rope enables a researcher to cover greater distances away from the main rope and thus increases the field of investigation."

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Proof of Quantum Annealing in over 100 qubits in Dwave's Quantum Computer leading to speedups over classical

Proof of Quantum Annealing in over 100 qubits in Dwave's Quantum Computer leading to speedups over classical | Amazing Science |

Experiments by researchers at USC, ETH Zürich, and the Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology, Microsoft Research have demonstrated that quantum annealing with more than one hundred qubits takes place in the D-Wave One device, despite limited qubit coherence times. The key evidence is the rich, correlation between the success probabilities on the device and a simulated quantum annealer. In particular we see a bimodal distribution of easy and hard instances, where the hard instances are characterized by avoided level crossings with small gaps. Sensitivity to these small gaps of the quantum model demonstrates that the device has sufficient ground state quantum coherence to realize a quantum annealing of a transverse field Ising model. Considering the pure annealing time, the performance for typical (median) instances matches that of a highly optimised classical annealing code on a high-end Intel CPU.

While for 108 spins a majority of optimization problems is still relatively easy, experiments using up to 512 spins on the next generation device will enter a very interesting regime where almost all instances become hard for both simulated annealing and simulated quantum annealing. Simulated annealers require about three orders of magnitude more computational effort for N = 512 spins compared to N = 108 spins for our problems, and there will be potential to see advantages of a quantum annealer over classical algorithms.

Quantum speedup can then be detected by comparing the scaling results of the simulated classical and quantum annealers to experiments, as we discuss in detail in the supplementary material. Going to even larger problem sizes we soon approach the limits of classical computers. Optimistically extrapolating using the observed scaling, the median time to find the best solution for our test problem will increase from milliseconds to minutes for 2048 variables, and months for 4096 variables, and the scaling might be much worse if fat tailed distributions start to dominate, as we had previously observed for other Monte Carlo algorithms. A quantum annealer showing better scaling than classical algorithms for these problem sizes would be an exciting breakthrough, validating the potential of quantum information processing to outperform its classical counterpart.

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Bees Age Faster When They Raise Offspring

Bees Age Faster When They Raise Offspring | Amazing Science |

Your parents always said you were giving them gray hair. Now, science is backing them up, at least in the case of bees. Researchers have found that nurturing the hive's progeny accelerates aging in the insects. In summer, worker honey bees usually spend several weeks feeding the queen's new larvae (the queen is marked in green). Workers then change careers, living out their days as pollen-collecting foragers. They die a mere 2 weeks after making the switch, showing a steep decline in brain function. But bees born just before winter, without a brood to nourish, live nearly a year. To investigate, researchers placed winter bees in a summerlike environment, both with and without young bees to care for. The bees with a brood played along, feeding the babies and then developing into foragers who died after 2 weeks. But brood-free foragers lived up to 10 weeks with no cognitive decline, the researchers report online today in The Journal of Experimental Biology. They noticed high levels of lipofuscin, an "age pigment," in short-lived foragers and much lower levels in longer-lived bees. These changing levels suggest that, for bees, aging is a dynamic process that can be slowed or even reversed. Maybe that explains why your dad started playing bass in a garage band after you left the nest.

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Fresh bean leaves can trap bedbugs, researchers find

Fresh bean leaves can trap bedbugs, researchers find | Amazing Science |

Inspired by a traditional Balkan bedbug remedy, researchers have documented how microscopic hairs on kidney bean leaves effectively stab and trap the biting insects, according to findings published online today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Scientists at UC Irvine and the University of Kentucky are now developing materials that mimic the geometry of the leaves. Next step is to perfect synthetic materials that can do the same


Bedbugs have made a dramatic comeback in the U.S. in recent years, infesting everything from homes and hotels to schools, movie theaters and hospitals. Although not known to transmit disease, their bites can cause burning, itching, swelling and psychological distress. It helps to catch infestations early, but the nocturnal parasites’ ability to hide almost anywhere, breed rapidly and “hitchhike” from place to place makes detection difficult. They can survive as long as a year without a blood meal.


Current commercial prevention methods, including freezing, extreme heating, vacuuming and pesticides, can be costly and unreliable. Many sufferers resort to ineffective, potentially dangerous measures, such as spraying nonapproved insecticides themselves rather than hiring a professional.


Doctoral student Megan Szyndler, entomologist Catherine Loudon and chemist Robert Corn of UC Irvine and entomologists Kenneth Haynes and Michael Potter of the University of Kentucky collaborated on the new study.


Their work was motivated by a centuries-old remedy for bedbugs used in Bulgaria, Serbia and other southeast European countries. Kidney bean leaves were strewn on the floor next to beds and seemed to ensnare the blood-seeking parasites on their nightly forays. The bug-encrusted greenery was burned the next morning to exterminate the insects.


Through painstaking detective work, the scientists discovered that the creatures are trapped within seconds of stepping on a leaf, their legs impaled by microscopic hooked hairs known botanically as trichomes.


Using the bean leaves as templates, the researchers have microfabricated materials that closely resemble them geometrically. The synthetic surfaces snag the bedbugs temporarily but do not yet stop them as effectively as real leaves, Loudon said, suggesting that crucial mechanics of the trichomes still need to be determined.


Theoretically, bean leaves could be used for pest control, but they dry out and don’t last very long. They also can’t easily be applied to locations other than a floor. Synthetic materials could provide a nontoxic alternative.


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Treating plants with hydrogen sulfide doubles crop yields

Treating plants with hydrogen sulfide doubles crop yields | Amazing Science |

Hydrogen sulfide, the pungent stuff often referred to as sewer gas, is a deadly substance implicated in several mass extinctions, including one at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago that wiped out more than three-quarters of all species on Earth.

But in low doses, hydrogen sulfide could greatly enhance plant growth, leading to a sharp increase in global food supplies and plentiful stock for biofuel production, new University of Washington research shows.

"We found some very interesting things, including that at the very lowest levels plant health improves. But that's not what we were looking for," said Frederick Dooley, a UW doctoral student in biology who led the research.

Dooley started off to examine the toxic effects of hydrogen sulfide on plants but mistakenly used only one-tenth the amount of the toxin he had intended. The results were so unbelievable that he repeated the experiment. Still unconvinced, he repeated it again – and again, and again. In fact, the results have been replicated so often that they are now "a near certainty," he said. "Everything else that's ever been done on plants was looking at hydrogen sulfide in high concentrations," he said.

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Nanotechnology Imaging Breakthrough in Measuring Nanomaterials Under Extremely High Pressures

Nanotechnology Imaging Breakthrough in Measuring Nanomaterials Under Extremely High Pressures | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers has made a major breakthrough in measuring the structure of nanomaterials under extremely high pressures. For the first time, they developed a way to get around the severe distortions of high-energy X-ray beams that are used to image the structure of a gold nanocrystal. The technique, described in April 9, 2013, issue of Nature Communications, could lead to advancements of new nanomaterials created under high pressures and a greater understanding of what is happening in planetary interiors.
Lead author of the study, Wenge Yang of the Carnegie Institution’s High Pressure Synergetic Consortium explained: “The only way to see what happens to such samples when under pressure is to use high-energy X-rays produced by synchrotron sources. Synchrotrons can provide highly coherent X-rays for advanced 3-D imaging with tens of nanometers of resolution. This is different from incoherent X-ray imaging used for medical examination that has micron spatial resolution. The high pressures fundamentally change many properties of the material.”
The team found that by averaging the patterns of the bent waves—the diffraction patterns—of the same crystal using different sample alignments in the instrumentation, and by using an algorithm developed by researchers at the London Centre for Nanotechnology, they can compensate for the distortion and improve spatial resolution by two orders of magnitude.
“The wave distortion problem is analogous to prescribing eyeglasses for the diamond anvil cell to correct the vision of the coherent X-ray imaging system,” remarked Ian Robinson, leader of the London team.
The researchers subjected a 400-nanometer (.000015 inch) single crystal of gold to pressures from about 8,000 times the pressure at sea level to 64,000 times that pressure, which is about the pressure in Earth’s upper mantle, the layer between the outer core and crust.

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Researchers build fiber cable capable of carrying data at 99.7% of the vaccuum-speed of light

Researchers build fiber cable capable of carrying data at 99.7% of the vaccuum-speed of light | Amazing Science |

A research team at the University of Southampton in England has built a fiber cable that is capable of carrying data at 99.7 percent of the vacuum-speed of light. They have done so, they report in their paper published in the journal Nature Photonics, by constructing a cable with a hollow core and special inner walls that prevent refraction.

Fiber cables technically at least, carry data at the speed of light (299,792,458 meters per second in a vacuum), because the media they carry, is in fact a beam of light. But, in practice, data is carried far slower than that because of latency delays caused by refraction as light moves through the silica glass, which reduces common fiber cable data rate throughput by approximately 31 percent. To get around this problem, researchers have been looking at ways to replace the core of the fibers with air, which suffers far less from refraction.

The stumbling point has been how to get the light beams moving through the cables to follow the cable when bends and turns are encountered. That's where this new research comes in—the group has found a new way to build a hollow core fiber cable that allows for bending light as it moves around turns while minimizing loss due to refraction. The secret is, the team reports, an "ultra-thin photonic-bandgap rim" that provides low data loss, a wide bandwidth and far less latency than standard fiber cables. The result is a cable that in the lab was able to move data, using division multiplexing, at a rate of 73.7 terabits per second, which is approximately 1000 times better than standard fiber cable.

There is a hitch, of course. While data loss is relatively low (3.5 dB/km), it's still too high for use with anything but very short-hop applications, such as the fiber connections inside of supercomputers or perhaps within a data center where the paths the fiber cables take can be run in extremely straight lines. Because of that, the researchers will be working to improve their cable—if they succeed it could one day mean the end of waiting when downloading files, or better yet, to making applications such as real-time ultra high definition 3D transmissions, possible for general use across the Internet.

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Antares rocket launch heats up private space race

Antares rocket launch heats up private space race | Amazing Science |

Watch out, SpaceX, there's a new commercial rocket in town. After a few delays due to weather and a technical glitch, the Antares launch vehicle lifted off on its maiden flight on 21 April, 2013. The launch sets the stage for a second company to begin resupply missions to the International Space Station.


Since the space shuttles retired in 2011, NASA has been contracting with private firms to deliver cargo – and soon hopefully astronauts – to the space station. California-based SpaceX became the first private firm to officially resupply the ISS last October. Its Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida carrying a Dragon capsule filled with cargo and science experiments.


Antares, built by spaceflight company Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Virginia, lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia, at 22.00 GMT.


Antares was designed to deliver the company's Cygnus cargo craft to the ISS. For the test flight, the rocket climbed high into a clear blue sky carrying a mock cargo ship with the same mass and dimensions as Cygnus, to avoid putting the real thing at risk.


About 10 minutes into the mission, the Cygnus dummy successfully separated from the rocket and went into a temporary orbit. It will fall back to Earth in about two weeks and disintegrate upon re-entering the atmosphere. The dummy contains instruments that will collect data about the launch, to be transmitted back to mission managers before re-entry.


When the real Cygnus flies, it will carry about 2 tonnes of cargo per trip. The Dragon capsule can deliver a payload of 3 tonnes. The two craft have comparable capabilities, claims Mark Pieczynski of Orbital Sciences. But while Dragon can return from its missions loaded with cargo, no Cygnus craft will ever make it back to Earth. These craft will leave the ISS filled with trash and will burn up in Earth's atmosphere.


Orbital's agreement with NASA includes this trial launch and a full demonstration mission in which the rocket will bring a real, loaded Cygnus craft to dock with the ISS, perhaps as early as June. If all goes well, the company is contracted to make a total of eight cargo missions to the station over the next three or four years.

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Fukushima Radiation Significantly Lower Than Expected, Study Says

Fukushima Radiation Significantly Lower Than Expected, Study Says | Amazing Science |

A new study on the radiation levels in Japanese locals after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant incident states that Cesium levels in the population are much lower than expected.


Based on studies from the Chernobyl incident in Russia in 1986, researchers anticipated that the levels of Cesium in those exposed to radiation after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi campus to be equivalent with the deposition density, or the activity of a radioactive molecules in an area of ground, which is in Fukushima is reported measured at 2 millisieverts (mSv).


"Findings suggest that the level of internal radiation exposure brought about by pollution from the soil within the Fukushima Prefecture is much less than originally believed. The amount is so negligible that it is difficult to imagine there being any risk to the health," said Ryugo Hayano, a professor at Tokyo University's Science Research Department.


Fear of radiation exposure was rampant in many parts of Japan in the days and weeks after the Fukushima incident, which occurred March 11, 2011 after the largest earthquake in Japan's recorded history unleashed a tsunami that ravaged northeastern Japan's coastal communities and overcame the Daiichi reactors, causing the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.


Because more than two years have passed since the Fukushima incident, now the greatest risk from ongoing exposure to radioactive Cesium is through eating food grown in contaminated soil.


But of more than 100,000 people screened with whole-body scanners, the study showed 99.9 percent of them with a committed effective dose (CED) of less than 1 mSv. The safety standard and recommended maximum for artificial radiation exposure is 1 mSv.

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DARPA Looks To New Form Of Computation That Mimics The Human Brain

DARPA Looks To New Form Of Computation That Mimics The Human Brain | Amazing Science |

DARPA's Physical Intelligence program represents a potential major advance in artificial intelligence research, as the “physical intelligence” device would not require computer programming or the use of human controllers to provide directions, as with traditional robots. Instead, the device operates via nano-scale interconnected wires that send signals through synthetic synapses, just like the human brain. Such a system is capable of remembering information, meaning that robots might be able to act like humans in the foreseeable future.

Compared to traditional artificial intelligence systems that rely on conventional computer programming, this one “looks and ‘thinks’ like a human brain,” said James K. Gimzewski, professor of chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Gimsewski is a member of the team that has been working under sponsorship of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on a program called Physical Intelligence.

The stated objective of the program is: "The analysis domain is to develop analytical tools to support the development of human-engineered physically intelligent systems and to understand physical intelligence in the natural world".

Nacho Vega's curator insight, April 22, 2013 2:52 AM

DARPA has changed our world with Internet and now... Quantum computer

Helena Capela's curator insight, April 22, 2013 9:55 AM

We are closer to create artificial intelligence.Are we? A litle bit scary, no?

Marco Bertolini's curator insight, April 23, 2013 3:41 AM

Le Département américain de la défense étudie de nouveaux modes de calcul, basés sur le fonctionnement du cerveau.

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Enormous Methane Releases from the Arctic Shelf

Enormous Methane Releases from the Arctic Shelf | Amazing Science |

A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team led by University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov.

The research results, published in the March 5, 2013 edition of the journal Science, show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is starting to leak large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.

"The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world's oceans," said Shakhova, a researcher at UAF's International Arctic Research Center. "Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap."

Methane is a greenhouse gas more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is released from previously frozen soils in two ways. When the organic material (which contains carbon) stored in permafrost thaws, it begins to decompose and, under anaerobic conditions, gradually releases methane. Methane can also be stored in the seabed as methane gas or methane hydrates and then released as subsea permafrost thaws. These releases can be larger and more abrupt than those that result from decomposition.

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is a methane-rich area that encompasses more than 2 million square kilometers of seafloor in the Arctic Ocean. It is more than three times as large as the nearby Siberian wetlands, which have been considered the primary Northern Hemisphere source of atmospheric methane. Shakhova's research results show that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is already a significant methane source, releasing 7 teragrams of methane yearly, which is as much as is emitted from the rest of the ocean. A teragram is equal to about 1.1 million tons.

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Extreme Miniaturization: Seven Devices, One Chip to Navigate without GPS

Extreme Miniaturization: Seven Devices, One Chip to Navigate without GPS | Amazing Science |

The U.S. Military relies on the space-based Global Positioning System (GPS) to aid air, land and sea navigation. Like the GPS units in many automobiles today, a simple receiver and some processing power is all that is needed for accurate navigation. But, what if the GPS satellites suddenly became unavailable due to malfunction, enemy action or simple interference, such as driving into a tunnel? Unavailability of GPS would be inconvenient for drivers on the road, but could be disastrous for military missions. DARPA is working to protect against such a scenario, and an emerging solution is much smaller than the navigation instruments in today’s defense systems.


DARPA researchers at the University of Michigan have made significant progress with a timing & inertial measurement unit (TIMU) that contains everything needed to aid navigation when GPS is temporarily unavailable. The single chip TIMU prototype contains a six axis IMU (three gyroscopes and three accelerometers) and integrates a highly-accurate master clock into a single miniature system, smaller than the size of a penny. This chip integrates breakthrough devices (clocks, gyroscopes and accelerometers), materials and designs from DARPA’s Micro-Technology for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (Micro-PNT) program.


Three pieces of information are needed to navigate between known points ‘A’ and ‘B’ with precision: orientation, acceleration and time. This new chip integrates state-of-the-art devices that can measure all three simultaneously. This elegant design is accomplished through new fabrication processes in high-quality materials for multi-layered, packaged inertial sensors and a timing unit, all in a tiny 10 cubic millimeter package. Each of the six microfabricated layers of the TIMU is only 50 microns thick, approximately the thickness of a human hair.  Each layer has a different function, akin to floors in a building. 


“Both the structural layer of the sensors and the integrated package are made of silica,” said Andrei Shkel, DARPA program manager. “The hardness and the high-performance material properties of silica make it the material of choice for integrating all of these devices into a miniature package. The resulting TIMU is small enough and should be robust enough for applications (when GPS is unavailable or limited for a short period of time) such as personnel tracking, handheld navigation, small diameter munitions and small airborne platforms.” 

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Interactive map plots locations of more than 100 million species

Interactive map plots locations of more than 100 million species | Amazing Science |

The United States Geological Society (USGS) has launched an online database and map that keeps track of more than 100 million different species and where they live within the United States.


Biodiversity Serving Our Nation, or BISON (a backronym if ever there was one), contains location-specific records of where living species are within the US. Its data comes from hundreds of different organisations and thousands of scientists, making it the most comprehensive map of American biodiversity ever made.


Anyone can search by scientific or common name of any living species (plant or animal), and can look to see what lives within any specific geographic area they want by drawing a perimeter—so, for example, searching to see exactly which forests in Virginia have been infected with a tree fungus.


All the results give a breakdown of the data (in map and list form), with information relating to where the data came from and how it was collected. BISON is hosted on servers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which are often used for large data processing like this. Not only are the locations of each species displayed, but up to 50 different environmental factors are also noted for each location to give a full ecological picture of everywhere within the US.


The idea is that it creates a unified source of information for everyone who needs to know the ecological status of a parcel of land. According to the USGS, that means "land managers, researchers, refuge managers, citizen scientists, agriculture professionals, fisheries managers, water resource managers, educators, and more." Altogether there are 110,233,486 individual species records on BISON's database. It forms the American government's node of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, a worldwide effort to make biodiversity data as free and open as possible as a way of encouraging sustainable development.

The UK is a part of that network, too. Most of Western Europe and the Americas, and Australia and New Zealand, is involved, but African and Asian countries are sadly lacking in enthusiasm thus far.

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When Do Babies Become Conscious?

When Do Babies Become Conscious? | Amazing Science |

For everyone who’s looked into an infant’s sparkling eyes and wondered what goes on in its little fuzzy head, there’s now an answer. New research shows that babies display glimmers of consciousness and memory as early as 5 months old.


For decades, neuroscientists have been searching for an unmistakable signal of consciousness in electrical brain activity. Such a sign could determine whether minimally conscious or anesthetized adults are aware—and when consciousness begins in babies.


Studies on adults show a particular pattern of brain activity: When your senses detect something, such as a moving object, the vision center of your brain activates, even if the object goes by too fast for you to notice. But if the object remains in your visual field for long enough, the signal travels from the back of the brain to the prefrontal cortex, which holds the image in your mind long enough for you to notice. Scientists see a spike in brain activity when the senses pick something up, and another signal, the “late slow wave,” when the prefrontal cortex gets the message. The whole process takes less than one-third of a second.


Researchers in France wondered if such a two-step pattern might be present in infants. The team monitored infants’ brain activity through caps fitted with electrodes. More than 240 babies participated, but two-thirds were too squirmy for the movement-sensitive caps. The remaining 80 (ages 5 months, 12 months, or 15 months) were shown a picture of a face on a screen for a fraction of a second.


Cognitive neuroscientist Sid Kouider of CNRS, the French national research agency, in Paris watched for swings in electrical activity, called event-related potentials (ERPs), in the babies’ brains. In babies who were at least 1 year old, Kouider saw an ERP pattern similar to an adult’s, but it was about three times slower. The team was surprised to see that the 5-month-olds also showed a late slow wave, although it was weaker and more drawn out than in the older babies. Kouider speculates that the late slow wave may be present in babies as young as 2 months.

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Parasite Inspires Surgical Patch

Parasite Inspires Surgical Patch | Amazing Science |

By mimicking a technique used by an intestinal parasite of fish, researchers have developed a flexible patch studded with microneedles that holds skin grafts in place more strongly than surgical staples do. After burrowing into the walls of a fish's intestines, the spiny-headed worm Pomphorhynchus laevis inflates its proboscis to better embed itself in the soft tissue. In the new patch (sample shown in main image), the stiff polystyrene core of the 700-micrometer-tall needles (inset) penetrates the tissue; then a thin hydrogel coating on the tip of each needle—a coating based on the material in disposable diapers that expands when it gets wet—swells to help anchor the patch in place. In tests using skin grafts, adhesion strength of the patch was more than three times higher than surgical staples, the researchers report online today in Nature Communications. Because the patch doesn't depend on chemical adhesives for its gripping power, there's less chance for patients to have an allergic reaction. And because the microneedles are about one-quarter the length of typical surgical staples, the patches cause less tissue damage when they're removed, the researchers contend. Besides holding grafts in place, the patch could be used to hold the sides of a wound or an incision together—even, in theory, ones inside the body if a slowly dissolving version of the patch can be developed. Moreover, the researchers say, the hydrogel coating holds promise as a way to deliver proteins, drugs, or other therapeutic substances to patients.

The Science & Education team's curator insight, April 19, 2013 12:20 AM

As someone who has sat and removed surgical staples this is a nice piece of technology

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The African coelacanth Latimeria - a living fossil - got its genome sequenced

The African coelacanth Latimeria - a living fossil - got its genome sequenced | Amazing Science |

The discovery of a living coelacanth specimen in 1938 was remarkable, as this lineage of lobe-finned fish was thought to have become extinct 70 million years ago. The modern coelacanth looks remarkably similar to many of its ancient relatives, and its evolutionary proximity to our own fish ancestors provides a glimpse of the fish that first walked on land. Here we report the genome sequence of the African coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae. Through a phylogenomic analysis, we conclude that the lungfish, and not the coelacanth, is the closest living relative of tetrapods. Coelacanth protein-coding genes are significantly more slowly evolving than those of tetrapods, unlike other genomic features. Analyses of changes in genes and regulatory elements during the vertebrate adaptation to land highlight genes involved in immunity, nitrogen excretion and the development of fins, tail, ear, eye, brain and olfaction. Functional assays of enhancers involved in the fin-to-limb transition and in the emergence of extra-embryonic tissues show the importance of the coelacanth genome as a blueprint for understanding tetrapod evolution.

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Microbatteries: The most powerful batteries are only a few millimeters in size

Microbatteries: The most powerful batteries are only a few millimeters in size | Amazing Science |

Though they be but little, they are fierce. The most powerful batteries on the planet are only a few millimeters in size, yet they pack such a punch that a driver could use a cellphone powered by these batteries to jump-start a dead car battery – and then recharge the phone in the blink of an eye. Developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the new microbatteries out-power even the best supercapacitors and could drive new applications in radio communications and compact electronics. Led by William P. King, the Bliss Professor of mechanical science and engineering, the researchers published their results in the April 16 issue of Nature Communications.

“This is a whole new way to think about batteries,” King said. “A battery can deliver far more power than anybody ever thought. In recent decades, electronics have gotten small. The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a microtechnology that could change all of that. Now the power source is as high-performance as the rest of it.”

With currently available power sources, users have had to choose between power and energy. For applications that need a lot of power, like broadcasting a radio signal over a long distance, capacitors can release energy very quickly but can only store a small amount. For applications that need a lot of energy, like playing a radio for a long time, fuel cells and batteries can hold a lot of energy but release it or recharge slowly.

“There’s a sacrifice,” said James Pikul, a graduate student and first author of the paper. “If you want high energy you can’t get high power; if you want high power it’s very difficult to get high energy. But for very interesting applications, especially modern applications, you really need both. That’s what our batteries are starting to do. We’re really pushing into an area in the energy storage design space that is not currently available with technologies today.”

The new microbatteries offer both power and energy, and by tweaking the structure a bit, the researchers can tune them over a wide range on the power-versus-energy scale.

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Researchers Prevent HIV 'Reservoirs' from Forming

Researchers Prevent HIV 'Reservoirs' from Forming | Amazing Science |

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have discovered how the protein that blocks HIV-1 from multiplying in white blood cells is regulated. HIV-1 is the virus that causes AIDS, and the discovery could lead to novel approaches for addressing HIV-1 "in hiding" – namely eliminating reservoirs of HIV-1 that persist in patients undergoing antiretroviral therapy. The study was published today in the online edition of the journal Cell Host & Microbe.


Antiretroviral therapy can reduce blood levels of HIV-1 until they are undetectable. But despite drug therapy, reservoirs of HIV-1 can persist in several types of white cells, notably macrophages – important immune cells that help clear pathogens and other potentially harmful substances from the body.


"If you stop antiretroviral therapy, the virus emerges from these reservoirs and returns to the general circulation in a matter of days, as if the patient had never been treated," said senior author Felipe Diaz-Griffero, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology & immunology at Einstein. "Now we know the protein that we need to control so we can prevent HIV-1 reservoirs from forming or eliminate them entirely."


Scientists have known that a protein called SAMHD1 prevents HIV-1 from replicating in certain immune cells. But until now, it was not understood why SAMHD1 fails to function in immune cells like macrophages that are vulnerable to HIV-1 infection.


Using mass spectrometry, a tool for determining molecular composition, Dr. Diaz-Griffero found that SAMHD1 can exist in two configurations known as phosphorylated and unphosphorylated. (Phosphorylation is an important cellular process in which phosphate groups attach to other molecules, thereby activating various signaling and regulatory mechanisms within the cell.) When SAMHD1 is phosphorylated – the situation in immune cells that divide – the cell is not protected from being infected with HIV-1. When the protein is not phosphorylated – as occurs in the nondividing macrophages – the cell is protected from HIV infection.


"We are currently exploring ways to keep this protein unphosphorylated so that HIV reservoirs will never be formed," said Dr. Diaz-Griffero.

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Hybrid energy harvester generates electricity from vibrations and sunlight

Hybrid energy harvester generates electricity from vibrations and sunlight | Amazing Science |

Devices that harvest energy from the environment require specific environmental conditions; for instance, solar cells and piezoelectric generators require sunlight and mechanical vibration, respectively. Since these conditions don't exist all the time, most energy harvesters don't generate a constant stream of electricity. In order to harvest ubiquitous energy continuously, researchers have designed and fabricated a hybrid energy harvester that integrates a solar cell and piezoelectric generator, enabling it to harvest energy from both sunlight and sound vibration simultaneously.

The researchers, Dae-Yeong Lee, et al., from Sungkyunkwan University and Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, both in South Korea, have published their study on the hybrid energy harvester in a recent issue of Nanotechnology. "By using the hybrid energy harvester, two different energy sources can be utilized in one platform," coauthor Hyunjin Kim at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology told "Thus the total output power from the hybrid harvester can be increased compared to each separate harvester. Furthermore, by harvesting two energy sources in one device, continuous output can be generated even when only one energy source is available." To design the harvester, the researchers turned to silicon nanopillar solar cells for the sunlight harvesting half of the device. Previous research has shown that silicon nanopillar solar cells are promising candidates as photovoltaic devices due to their low reflection, high absorption, and potential for low-cost mass production.


"This energy harvester can be very useful where there is no electric grid connected," coauthor Won Jong Yoo at Sungkyunkwan University said. "For example, this device will be useful in moving vehicles such as moving boats, trains, automobiles, etc. The output of 0.8 V is just preliminary data. If we optimize the device structure and fabrication condition, the output power will be increased significantly." In the future, the researchers plan to fabricate all-flexible hybrid energy harvesting devices using plastic substrates in order to harvest mechanical energy more efficiently.

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