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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

For a large class of materials increase in electrical conductivity when exposed to strong electric fields

For a large class of materials increase in electrical conductivity when exposed to strong electric fields | Amazing Science |

A recent study investigated the electrical conductivity of a solid electrolyte, a system of positive and negative atoms on a crystal lattice. The behavior of this system is an indicator of the universal behavior occurring within a broad range of materials from pure water to conducting glasses and biological molecules. Electrical conductivity, a measure of how strongly a given material conducts the flow of electric current, is generally understood in terms of Ohm's law, which states that the conductivity is independent of the magnitude of an applied electric field, i.e. the voltage per meter.

This law is widely obeyed in weak applied fields, which means that most material samples can be ascribed a definite electrical resistance, measured in Ohms. However, at strong electric fields, many materials show a departure from Ohm's law, whereby the conductivity increases rapidly with increasing field. The reason for this is that new current-carrying charges within the material are liberated by the electric field, thus increasing the conductivity. Remarkably, for a large class of materials, the form of the conductivity increase is universal - it doesn't depend on the material involved, but instead is the same for a wide range of dissimilar materials.


The universality was first comprehended in 1934 by the future Nobel Laureate Lars Onsager, who derived a theory for the conductivity increase in electrolytes like acetic acid, where it is called the "second Wien effect". Onsager's theory has recently been applied to a wide variety of systems, including biochemical conductors, glasses, ion-exchange membranes, semiconductors, solar cell materials and to "magnetic monopoles" in spin ice.


Researchers at the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN), the Max Plank Institute for Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany and the University of Lyon, France, succeeded for the first time in using computer simulations to look at the second Wien effect. The study, by Vojtech Kaiser, Steve Bramwell, Peter Holdsworth and Roderich Moessner, reveals new details of the universal effect that will help interpret a wide varierty of experiments.


Professor Steve Bramwell of the LCN said: "Onsager's Wien effect is of practical importance and contains beautiful physics: with computer simulations we can finally explore and expose its secrets at the atomic scale.

"As modern science and technology increasingly explores high electric fields, the new details of high field conduction revealed by these simulations, will have increasing importance."

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Fast population growth has littered our genomes with five times as many rare gene variants as would be expected

Fast population growth has littered our genomes with five times as many rare gene variants as would be expected | Amazing Science |

Most Mutations in the Human Genome are Recent and Probably Harmful. Our genomes are strewn with millions of rare gene variations, the result of the very fast, very recent population growth of the human species. From an estimated 5 million individuals just 10,000 years ago, we ballooned to more than 7 billion. On average, every duplication of the human genome includes 100 new errors, so all that reproducing gave our DNA many opportunities to accumulate mutations. But evolution hasn’t had enough time to weed out the dangerous ones: gene variants that might make us prone to illness, or simply less likely to survive. 


Joshua Akey of the University of Washington recently explored the average age of our species’s gene variants, finding that most are very young. About three-quarters of single nucleotide variants — a mutation that substitutes just one nucleotide (an A, C, T or G) in the long string of DNA — occurred within the past 5,000 years, surprising considering that our species may be 200,000 years old. Using several techniques to gauge the effects of these mutations, which are the most common type of variant in the human genome, Akey estimated that more than 80 percent are probably harmful to us. 


All of these mutations — roughly 100 billion for each generation in the entire population — potentially accelerate the pace of evolution by giving it more raw materials with which to work. A small percentage may be beneficial; abilities such as digesting milk in adulthood and living at high altitude are recent acquisitions of the human genome. Given how many mutations are now circulating among living humans, we may be evolving new capabilities already.


Akey says determining the age of our mutations is made possible only by the stupendous increase in gene sequencing speed and power. Just a few years ago, this kind of experiment was inconceivable.



WalkerKyleForrest's curator insight, August 28, 2013 9:58 AM

This article talks about how our population rising rapidly is related to gene mutations in our species. The higher the population rises, the higher the chance of mutations is. These mutations can have harmful effects such as causing life expectancies to as little as 25 years in some cases. Also these mutations can cause some people to become prone to illness, depending on thier region and whats around them. This article also predicts the worlds total population to be as high as 9 billion in the year of 2050.

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How cancer chromosome abnormalities form in living cells

How cancer chromosome abnormalities form in living cells | Amazing Science |

Chromosome translocations have been found in almost all cancer cells, and it has long been known that translocations can play a role in cancer development. However, despite many years of research, just exactly how translocations form in a cell has remained a mystery. To better understand this process, the researchers created an experimental system in which they induced, in a controlled fashion, breaks in the DNA of different chromosomes in living cells. Using sophisticated imaging technology, they were then able to watch as the broken ends of the chromosomes were reattached correctly or incorrectly inside the cells.


Translocations are very rare events, and the scientists’ ability to visualize their occurrence in real time was made possible by recently available technology at NCI that enables investigators to observe changes in thousands of cells over long time periods. “Our ability to see this fundamental process in cancer formation was possible only because of access to revolutionary imaging technology,” said the study’s senior author, Tom Misteli, Ph.D., Laboratory of Receptor Biology and Gene Expression, Center for Cancer Research, NCI.


The scientists involved with this study were able to demonstrate that translocations can occur within hours of DNA breaks and that their formation is independent of when the breaks happen during the cell division cycle. Cells have built-in repair mechanisms that can fix most DNA breaks, but translocations occasionally occur.


To explore the role of DNA repair in translocation formation, the researchers inhibited key components of the DNA damage response machinery within cells and monitored the effects on the repair of DNA breaks and translocation formation. They found that inhibition of one component of DNA damage response machinery, a protein called DNAPK-kinase, increased the occurrence of translocations almost 10-fold. The scientists also determined that translocations formed preferentially between pre-positioned genes.


“These observations have allowed us to formulate a time and space framework for elucidating the mechanisms involved in the formation of chromosome translocations,” said Vassilis Roukos, Ph.D., NCI, and lead scientist of the study. “We can now finally begin to really probe how these fundamental features of cancer cells form,” Misteli added.

Via Ray and Terry's
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Researchers mass produce reprogrammed T cells that target cancer cells

Researchers mass produce reprogrammed T cells that target cancer cells | Amazing Science |

( —A team of researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has developed a method for mass producing T cells that have been reprogrammed using stem cell technology to target and destroy cancerous tumors.

Progress in adoptive T-cell therapy for cancer and infectious diseases is hampered by the lack of readily available, antigen-specific, human T lymphocytes. Pluripotent stem cells could provide an unlimited source of T lymphocytes, but the therapeutic potential of human pluripotent stem cell–derived lymphoid cells generated to date remains uncertain. A research team from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center recently combines induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) technologies to generate human T cells targeted to CD19, an antigen expressed by malignant B cells, in tissue culture. These iPSC-derived, CAR-expressing T cells display a phenotype resembling that of innate γδ T cells. Similar to CAR-transduced, peripheral blood γδ T cells, the iPSC–derived T cells potently inhibit tumor growth in a xenograft model. This approach of generating therapeutic human T cells 'in the dish' may be useful for cancer immunotherapy and other medical applications.

To mass produce the cells, the researchers started by extracting T cells from a donor mouse. Those T cells were then modified to reprogram them into stem cells. Next, the researchers transferred gene information from a disabled retrovirus into the stem cells. The final step was reprogramming the stem cells back into T cells. Because they contained new gene information the newly minted T cells were capable of attacking cancer cells. Once created, the T cells were then nurtured into reproducing naturally—creating up to 1000 copies of themselves. Those cells were then injected back into the original donor mouse where they set to work destroying tumor cells.


The researchers note that the reprogrammed T cells are not really T cells in a technical sense—they're actually a new type of cell that closely resemble T cells, but have added capabilities. They add that their technique should also allow for the creation of different types of the T cell mimics allowing for targeting different types of cancer cells.

As with all such research, more studies will need to be conducted to learn more about the cells the team is creating before they can be tested in human trials. The researchers are optimistic, however, suggesting that their technique for treating cancer could be in general use as early as 2020.

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Physicists Pursue the Perfect Lens by Bending Light the Wrong Way

Physicists Pursue the Perfect Lens by Bending Light the Wrong Way | Amazing Science |

From ribosomes assembling proteins to viruses attacking cells, the main dramas in biology happen on a scale that is, tantalizingly, just one order of magnitude below the resolution of the best optical microscopes. Conventional lenses have a hard limit: The light waves propagating through them cannot carry details much smaller than their own crests and troughs. Clever workarounds have emerged, such as structured illumination microscopy, but all have limitations: They are too slow to image dynamic processes, or they poison cells with too much light.

The effect was first demonstrated in limited cases more than a decade ago, but by achieving it in novel ways, two groups “have made negative refraction a practical reality at optical frequencies,” said Sir John Pendry, a professor of physics at Imperial College London who was not involved in the new work.


Now, following recent breakthroughs, researchers are laying the groundwork for a “perfect lens” that can resolve sub-wavelength features in real time, as well as a suite of other optical instruments long thought impossible. These devices sidestep old optical limits by bending rays of light the “wrong” way — a phenomenon known as negative refraction.

In addition to biological imaging, perfect lenses could be used for single molecule biosensing, nanofabrication, light harvesting and (in theory) perfectly efficient solar panels, among other possibilities.

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The Possible Parallel Universe of Dark Matter

The Possible Parallel Universe of Dark Matter | Amazing Science |
As researchers learn more about dark matter's complexities, it seems possible that our galaxy lives on top of a shadow galaxy without us even knowing it.


All known particles make up only a small fraction of the energy density in our universe, yet the Standard Model is extremely complicated: three forces, one Higgsed, one confining, plus quarks and leptons organized into three generations. This model — the components of the visible universe — deviates markedly from any apparent principle of minimality. Yet, when considering the 85% of the matter in the universe that is dark, our usual response is to turn to minimal models of a cold, collisionless particle: a WIMP, perhaps, or an axion.


Two recent advances hint at just how much we have been missing about the dark side. In January 2012, Christoph Weniger, a physicist at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, started noticing hints of a strange type of radiation around the center of our galaxy. To his excitement, he realized that the glow could be a signal of dark-matter particles smashing into each other and, in the process, transforming from something invisible to something visible. If so, it might finally be possible to go beyond simply deducing where dark matter gathers, and start learning how it actually behaves.


The other shoe dropped earlier this year, when a group of Harvard University theorists, including Lisa Randall and JiJi Fan, formulated a new theory of dark matter. One of the oddest things about Weniger’s detection, Randall notes, is that it was possible at all. “The signal would be too small for you to see under most reasonable models of dark matter,” she says. But Randall and her collaborators realized they could tidily explain the observation if there were a second type of dark matter out there: one that is not as diffuse as the dominant component of dark matter, but can interact with itself, just like visible matter. Clumps of this interacting kind of dark matter could form a disk, collapsing into a plane that could produce a correspondingly concentrated signal like the one Weniger saw.


Acknowledging that dark matter might have some of the same kind of diversity as visible matter may seem a minor adjustment. But it’s one that has, as Randall narrates in an excited staccato, “super-dramatic consequences.” If one variety of dark matter can clump together, it could form a panoply of previously unimagined dark structures. It could ball up into dark stars surrounded by dark planets made of dark atoms. In the most extravagant leap of possibility, this new kind of dark matter might even allow the existence of dark life.


Getting mainstream scientists to move past their light-matter chauvinism and take that shadow world seriously will require some highly convincing evidence. Weniger frets that the Fermi observations are too ambiguous to do the trick. “What one needs is more data with the same experiment to establish that the signal is there,” he says. 


Harvard astronomer Douglas Finkbeiner is making an independent analysis of the Fermi data and likewise is finding that his results hang halfway between verification and falsification. “It’s the most frustrating possible outcome,” he sighs. “One option is that the signal is just not as bright as we thought it was.” 


Randall is ready to forge ahead regardless of the fate of this particular observation. “The gamma ray line may not stay, but this just turns out to be independently such an interesting scenario, with so many interesting implications,” she says. And if our galaxy really does live right on top of a shadow galaxy, there are other ways to prove it.


Researchers are working on a new European space observatory called Gaia, scheduled to launch this autumn, which should perform a particularly telling test. Gaia will map the locations and velocities of about 1 billion stars within the Milky Way. Searching for anomalous motions could shade in the outlines of an invisible, dense disk of dark matter pulling on those stars. 



Miro Svetlik's curator insight, August 12, 2013 3:50 AM

This is a nice one and I like the idea, however I am asking myself what features are causing dark world weigth to be so much more than barryonic matter? Symmetrical anti particles idea is condemned to the fairyland.

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A multipronged approach that directly attacks cancer cells, blocks the growth of blood vessels and stimulates an antitumor immune response

A multipronged approach that directly attacks cancer cells, blocks the growth of blood vessels and stimulates an antitumor immune response | Amazing Science |

 A unique nanoscale drug that can carry a variety of weapons and sneak into cancer cells to break them down from the inside has a new component: a protein that stimulates the immune system to attack HER2-positive breast cancer cells.


The research team developing the drug – led by scientists at the Nanomedicine Research Center, part of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute in the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center – conducted the study in laboratory mice with implanted human breast cancer cells. Mice receiving the drug lived significantly longer than untreated counterparts and those receiving only certain components of the drug, according to a recent article in the Journal of Controlled Release.


Researchers from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai, the Division of Surgical Oncology at UCLA, and the Molecular Biology Institute at UCLA also participated in the study.


Unlike other drugs that target cancer cells from the outside, often injuring normal cells as a side effect, this therapy consists of multiple drugs chemically bonded to a "nanoplatform" that functions as a transport vehicle. HER2-positive cancers – making up 25 to 30 percent of breast and ovarian cancers – tend to be more aggressive and less responsive to treatment than others because the overactive HER2 gene makes excessive amounts of a protein that promotes cancer growth. One commonly used drug, Herceptin (trastuzumab), often is effective for a while, but many tumors become resistant within the first year of treatment and the drug can injure normal organs it contacts.


But Herceptin is an antibody to the HER2 gene – it naturally seeks out this protein – so the research team used key parts of Herceptin to guide the nanodrug into HER2-positive cancer cells.


"We genetically prepared a new 'fusion gene' that consists of an immune-stimulating protein, interleukin-2, and a gene of Herceptin," said Julia Y. Ljubimova, MD, PhD, professor of neurosurgery and biomedical sciences and director of the Nanomedicine Research Center. "IL-2 activates a variety of immune cells but is not stable in blood plasma and does not home specifically to tumor cells. By attaching the new fusion antibody to the nanoplatform, we were able to deliver Herceptin directly to HER2-positive cancer cells, at the same time transporting IL-2 to the tumor site to stimulate the immune system. Attaching IL-2 to the platform helped stabilize the protein and allowed us to double the dosage that could be delivered to the tumor."


Ljubimova led the study with Manuel Penichet, MD, PhD, associate professor of surgery, microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine. Ljubimova said the UCLA collaborators developed the fusion gene, and Cedars-Sinai chemists Eggehard Holler, PhD, professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, and Hui Ding, PhD, assistant professor, performed the technically difficult task of attaching it to the nanoplatform. Ding is the journal article's first author.


The researchers also attached other components, such as molecules to block a protein (laminin-411) that cancer cells need to make new blood vessels for growth. The nanodrug, Polycefin, is in an emerging class called nanobiopolymeric conjugates, nanoconjugates or nanobioconjugates. They are the latest evolution of molecular drugs designed to slow or stop cancers by blocking them in multiple ways. Polycefin is intended to slow their growth by entering cells and altering defined targets. The new version also stimulates the immune system to further weaken cancers.


"We believe this is the first time a drug has been designed for nano-immunology anti-cancer treatment," Ljubimova said. Bioconjugates are drugs that contain chemical "modules" attached (conjugated) to a delivery vehicle by strong chemical bonds. The nanoconjugate exists as a single chemical unit, and the tight bonds prevent the components from getting damaged or separated in tissues or blood plasma during transit. With inventive drug engineering, the anti-tumor components activate inside tumor cells.


"More study is needed to confirm our findings, improve the effectiveness of this approach and shed light on the anti-cancer mechanisms at work, but it appears that the nanobioconjugate may represent a new generation of cancer therapeutics in which we launch a multipronged attack that directly kills cancer cells, blocks the growth of cancer-supporting blood vessels and stimulates a powerful antitumor immune response," Ljubimova said, adding that this and previous animal studies have found the nanodrug to be a safe and efficient delivery platform.


Nano researchers manipulate substances and materials at the atomic level, generally working with substances smaller than 100 nanometers. Cedars-Sinai's nanoconjugate is estimated to be about 27 nanometers wide. A human hair is 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide.

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Swiss Space Program Targets Thousands Of Pieces Of 'Orbital Debris'

Swiss Space Program Targets Thousands Of Pieces Of 'Orbital Debris' | Amazing Science |

"More than 21,000 orbital debris larger than 10 cm are known to exist. The estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is approximately 500,000. The number of particles smaller than 1 cm exceeds 100 million."


Countries pursue space programs for a variety of reasons — to communicate faster; to track the weather; to spy on one another; to prove they, too, can put something in space. Leave it to Switzerland to launch a project that has the simple goal of keeping things tidy. As Global Post reports, the Swiss Space Center's CleanSpace One project is the start of an effort to clean up some of the space junk currently orbiting the Earth.


Enter the Swiss. They've only been putting things into orbit for a few years now, but now that they've gotten a look at the Earth's debris field, they've decided to do something about it — like playing Felix to the rest of the world's Oscar. GP's Thomas Mucha writes, "In other words, they're planning to launch giant vacuum cleaners into space to suck up debris, and then safely send it back down to earth."


At the website for Switzerland's Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, the process is explained in more technical detail: "After its launch, the cleanup satellite will have to adjust its trajectory in order to match its target's orbital plane. To do this, it could use a new kind of ultra-compact motor designed for space applications that is being developed in EPFL laboratories. When it gets within range of its target, which will be traveling at 28,000 km/h at an altitude of 630-750 km, CleanSpace One will grab and stabilize it – a mission that's extremely dicey at these high speeds, particularly if the satellite is rotating."

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Amazing Science: GeoSciences (Earth Sciences) Postings

Amazing Science: GeoSciences (Earth Sciences) Postings | Amazing Science |

GeoSciences (Earth Sciences) is an all-embracing term for the sciences related to the planet Earth. It is arguably a special case in planetary science, the Earth being the only known life-bearing planet. The formal discipline of Earth sciences may include the study of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, oceans and biosphere, as well as the solid earth. Typically, Earth scientists will use tools from physics, chemistry, biology, chronology, and mathematics to build a quantitative understanding of how the Earth system works, and how it evolved to its current state.

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How to measure and control the temperature inside a living cell?

How to measure and control the temperature inside a living cell? | Amazing Science |

The familiar thermometer from a doctor’s office is slightly too big considering the average human skin cell is only 30 millionths of a meter wide. But the capability is significant; developing the right technology to gauge and control the internal temperatures of cells and other nanospaces might open the door to a number of defense and medical applications: better thermal management of electronics, monitoring the structural integrity of high-performance materials, cell-specific treatment of disease and new tools for medical research.


A team of researchers working on DARPA’s Quantum-Assisted Sensing and Readout (QuASAR) program recently demonstrated sub-degree temperature measurement and control at the nanometer scale inside living cells. To measure temperature, the researchers used imperfections engineered into diamond, known as nitrogen-vacancy (NV) color centers, as nanoscale thermometers. Each NV center can capture an electron, such that the center behaves like an isolated atom trapped in the solid diamond. Changes in temperature cause the lattice structure of the diamond to expand or contract, similar to the way the surface of a bridge does when exposed to hot or cold weather. These shifts in the lattice induce changes in the spin properties of the trapped atoms, which researchers measure using a laser-based technique. The result is that scientists can now monitor sub-degree variations over a large range of temperatures in both organic and inorganic systems at length scales as low as 200 nanometers. For a sense of scale, see:


The diamond sensors are themselves only 100 nanometers in diameter. Each one contains multiple NV centers (the QuASAR team engineered 500 NV centers into each), and multiple sensors can be embedded in a single cell using nanowires. Given the extremely small size of the diamond sensors and their temperature sensitivity, researchers can accurately measure temperature within areas smaller than one percent of the total area of a cell.


The QuASAR team also demonstrated control and mapping of temperature gradients at the subcellular level by implanting gold nanoparticles into a human cell alongside the diamond sensors. The 100-nanometer-diameter nanoparticles were then heated using a separate laser. By varying the power of the heating laser and the concentration of gold nanoparticles, the researchers were able to modify and characterize (using the diamond sensors) the local thermal environment around the cell. In particular, they were able to verify that the heating was localized near the gold nanoparticles and that the cell did not experience an overall ambient rise in temperature.

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First Real-Time MRI-Guided Gene Therapy for Brain Cancer

First Real-Time MRI-Guided Gene Therapy for Brain Cancer | Amazing Science |

Neurosurgeons at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center are among the first in the world to utilize real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) guidance for delivery of gene therapy as a potential treatment for brain tumors. Using MRI navigational technology, neurosurgeons can inject Toca 511 (vocimagene amiretrorepvec), a novel investigational gene therapy, directly into a brain malignancy. This new approach offers a precise way to deliver a therapeutic virus designed to make the tumor susceptible to cancer-killing drugs.


“With chemotherapy, just about every human cell is exposed to the drug’s potential side-effects. By using the direct injection approach, we believe we can limit the presence of the active drug to just the brain tumor and nowhere else in the body,” said Clark Chen, MD, PhD, chief of stereotactic and radiosurgery and vice-chairman of neurosurgery at UC San Diego Health System. “With MRI, we can see the tumor light up in real time during drug infusion. The rest of the brain remains unaffected so the risk of the procedure is minimized.”


Toca 511 is a retrovirus engineered to selectively replicate in cancer cells, such as glioblastomas. Toca 511 produces an enzyme that converts an anti-fungal drug, flucytosine (5-FC), into the anti-cancer drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU).  After the injection of Toca 511, the patients are treated with an investigational extended-release oral formulation of 5-FC called Toca FC. Cancer cell killing takes place when 5-FC comes into contact with cells infected with Toca 511.


“Inevitably, almost all glioblastoma patients fail currently available therapy.  The challenge, in part, is knowing if current drugs are actually penetrating the tumor. This MRI-guided approach will help us deliver this drug into the tumor directly to see if the drug is working,” said Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, principal investigator and director of neuro-oncology at Moores Cancer Center.  “This approach may lead to new treatment options for patients battling several other types of brain cancers.”


Previous efforts using gene therapy to treat brain cancer were largely limited by the inability to deliver the drug into the brain. Under normal conditions, the brain is protected by the blood-brain barrier but this natural defense mechanism also prevents drugs from reaching the cancer cells in patients with brain tumors. Fortunately, 5-FC crosses the blood-brain barrier, and direct injection of Toca 511 into the tumor provides a means to selectively generate chemotherapy within the tumor mass.


To ensure that the adequate amount of Toca 511 is delivered to the region of the tumor, neurosurgeons at UC San Diego Health System utilize state-of-the art MRI guidance, called ClearPoint, to monitor the delivery and injection processes in real time. The MRI-guided process provides visual confirmation that the desired amount of drug is delivered into the tumor and provides physicians the ability to make adjustments to optimize the location of drug delivery.


Participants in this clinical trial must be 18 years or older; have a single, recurrent Grade 3 or 4 glioma; and have had prior surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The MRI-based procedure is minimally invasive and all participants of the study were discharged from the hospital one day after surgery and resumed their normal daily activity.

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New evidence surfaces that cosmic impact caused Younger Dryas extinctions 12,900 years ago

New evidence surfaces that cosmic impact caused Younger Dryas extinctions 12,900 years ago | Amazing Science |

A period of rapid, intense cooling, known as the Younger Dryas, took place about 13,000 years ago. Scientists think this sudden change in climate caused the extinction of many large mammals, such as the mammoth, and was the reason for the disappearance of North America's Clovis people. According to one hypothesis, a cosmic impact caused the climate to cool. Using data from the Greenland ice core, Michail Petaev and his colleagues at Harvard University have found what appears to be evidence of this impact.

Measurements of oxygen isotopes in the Greenland ice core show that around 13,000 years ago an episode of rapid cooling, which lasted about 1,000 years, occurred. During this time, many megafauna became extinct and evidence of the Clovis people, one of the earliest human societies to inhabit the Americas, disappeared from the archeological record.

Now Petaev's team claims to have uncovered evidence of a cosmic impact at the Younger Dryas boundary. When examining samples from Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2), they found that platinum concentration increased by about 100 times approximately 12,900 years ago.

Platinum/iridium and platinum/aluminum ratios were very high, indicating that the platinum probably did not have a terrestrial source. While most volcanic rocks have high Pt/Ir ratios, their Pt/Al ratios are low. Mantle rocks have low levels of aluminum, but their Pt/Ir ratios are much lower than that measured in the ice core.

On the other hand, Pt/Ir and Pt/Al ratios in magmatic iron meteorites are very high, suggesting that the platinum found in the ice core came from a meteor.

Debris from a cosmic impact would have caused the climate to cool so quickly that species would have been unable to adapt, leading to their extinction. The Clovis people would not have been able to cope with the catastrophic changes to their environment.


The research lends support to recent claims that a sedimentary layer containing iridium grains and glass-like carbon with nanodiamonds, found at many northern hemisphere sites around the Younger Dryas boundary, is evidence of a meteor impact.

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A Jovian Mystery: It's Time to Land On Europa

A Jovian Mystery: It's Time to Land On Europa | Amazing Science |
Europa has only been seen from afar, but its aura of intrigue has inspired scientists to study ideas as to how to explore the icy Jovian moon.


Understanding Europa's habitability is intimately tied to understanding what are commonly referred to as the three ingredients for life: water, chemistry, and energy. All of these could be well addressed by a landed mission to Europa. Measurements obtained from Europa's surface would provide direct analysis of the satellite's chemistry and mineralogy through in situ investigations and measurements that are not possible to achieve remotely. Most important, a properly equipped lander could sample beneath the radiation-processed uppermost portion of Europa's icy shell to provide insights about its native composition and implications for life. A lander also provides an excellent platform from which to perform geophysical measurements to probe Europa's ice shell and subsurface ocean. Moreover, a landed mission could permit analyses of local surface geology at a scale inaccessible from space.


“If one day humans send a robotic lander to the surface of Europa, we need to know what to look for and what tools it should carry,” said Robert Pappalardo, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the study’s lead author. “There is still a lot of preparation that is needed before we could land on Europa, but studies like these will help us focus on the technologies required to get us there, and on the data needed to help us scout out possible landing locations. Europa is the most likely place in our solar system beyond Earth to have life today, and a landed mission would be the best way to search for signs of life.”


Indeed, a mission to the Europan surface would be monumental. We know that the moon has a sub-surface liquid water ocean hidden beneath a icy crust. We also know that liquid lakes embedded below the ice cycle nutrients from the surface into the ocean below. To maintain Europa’s sub-surface liquid water oceans, there’s an internal heating mechanism driven by tidal interactions with its parent gas giant planet Jupiter.


In short, Europa has all the components to support life (as we know it). It seems that if the components are there, and basic organic chemistry is possible, then perhaps some form of extraterrestrial microbe could thrive. Some scientists have thrown caution into the wind and even speculated that complex lifeforms may cruise in the dark Europan ocean.

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Wireless devices go battery-free with new communication technique

Wireless devices go battery-free with new communication technique | Amazing Science |

We might be one step closer to an Internet-of-things reality. The new communication technique, which the researchers call "ambient backscatter," takes advantage of the TV and cellular transmissions that already surround us around the clock. Two devices communicate with each other by reflecting the existing signals to exchange information. The researchers built small, battery-free devices with antennas that can detect, harness and reflect a TV signal, which then is picked up by other similar devices.

The technology could enable a network of devices and sensors to communicate with no power source or human attention needed. "We can repurpose wireless signals that are already around us into both a source of power and a communication medium," said lead researcher Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. "It's hopefully going to have applications in a number of areas including wearable computing, smart homes and self-sustaining sensor networks."


Using ambient backscatter, these devices can interact with users and communicate with each other without using batteries. They exchange information by reflecting or absorbing pre-existing radio signals. Everyday objects could be enabled with battery-free tags to communicate with each other. A couch could use ambient backscatter to let the user know where his keys were left.

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How Squid and Octopus Might Point the Way to Nanotechnology-based Stealth Coatings

How Squid and Octopus Might Point the Way to Nanotechnology-based Stealth Coatings | Amazing Science |

"For a long time, scientists have been fascinated by the dramatic changes in color used by marine creatures like squids and octopuses, but they never quite understood the mechanism responsible for this. Only recently they found out that a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, sets in motion a cascade of events that culminate in the addition of phosphate groups to a family of unique proteins called reflectins. This process allows the proteins to condense, driving the animal's color-changing process. The latest findings revealed that there is a nanoscale mechanism behind cephalopods' ability to change color."

Via Miguel Prazeres
Ruth Obadia's curator insight, August 13, 2013 6:40 AM

Watch this amazing video of a camouflaging octopus

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Korean team employs a powerful strategy for developing microbial cell factories by using synthetic small RNAs

Korean team employs a powerful strategy for developing microbial cell factories by using synthetic small RNAs | Amazing Science |

The current systems for the production of chemicals, fuels and materials heavily rely on the use of fossil resources. Due to the increasing concerns on climate change and other environmental problems, however, there has been much interest in developing biorefineries for the production of such chemicals, fuels and materials from renewable resources. For the biorefineries to be competitive with the traditional fossil resource-based refineries, development of high performance microorganisms is the most important as it will affect the overall economics of the process most significantly. Metabolic engineering, which can be defined as purposeful modification of cellular metabolic and regulatory networks with an aim to improve the production of a desired product, has been successfully employed to improve the performance of the cell. However, it is not trivial to engineer the cellular metabolism and regulatory circuits in the cell due to their high complexity.


In metabolic engineering, it is important to find the genes that need to be amplified and attenuated in order to increase the product formation rate while minimizing the production of undesirable byproducts. Gene knock-out experiments are often performed to delete those metabolic fluxes that will consequently result in the increase of the desired product formation. However, gene knock-out experiments require much effort and time to perform, and are difficult to do for a large number of genes. Furthermore, the gene knock-out experiments performed in one strain cannot be transferred to another organism and thus the whole experimental process has to be repeated. This is a big problem in developing a high performance microbial cell factory because it is required to find the best platform strain among many different strains. Therefore, researchers have been eager to develop a strategy that allows rapid identification of multiple genes to be attenuated in multiple strains at the same time.


A Korean research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), a prestigious science and engineering university in Korea, reported the development of a strategy for efficiently developing microbial cell factories by employing synthetic small RNAs (sRNAs). They first reported the development of such system in Nature Biotechnology last February. This strategy of employing synthetic sRNAs in metabolic engineering has been receiving great interest worldwide as it allows easy, rapid, high-throughput, tunable, and un-doable knock-down of multiple genes in multiple strains at the same time. Now, a paper published online on August 8 as a journal cover paper in Nature Protocols, describes the detailed strategy and protocol for employing synthetic sRNAs for metabolic engineering.


In this paper, his team describes the detailed step-by-step protocol for synthetic sRNA-based gene expression control, including the sRNA design principles. Tailor-made synthetic sRNAs can be easily manipulated by using conventional gene cloning method. The use of synthetic sRNAs for gene expression regulation provides several advantages such as portability, conditionality, and tunability in high-throughput experiments. Plasmid-based synthetic sRNA expression system does not leave any scar on the chromosome, and can be easily transferred to many other host strains to be examined. Thus, the construction of libraries and examination of different host strains are much easier than the conventional hard-coded gene manipulation systems. Also, the expression of genes can be conditionally repressed by controlling the production of synthetic sRNAs. Synthetic sRNAs possessing different repression efficiencies make it possible to finely tune the gene expression levels as well. Furthermore, synthetic sRNAs allow knock-down of the expression of essential genes, which was not possible by conventional gene knock-out experiments.


Synthetic sRNAs can be utilized for diverse experiments where gene expression regulation is needed. One of promising applications is high-throughput screening of the target genes to be manipulated and multiple strains simultaneously to enhance the production of chemicals and materials of interest. Such simultaneous optimization of gene targets and strains has been one of the big challenges in metabolic engineering. Another application is to fine tune the expression of the screened genes for flux optimization, which would enhance chemical production further by balancing the flux between biomass formation and target chemical production. Synthetic sRNAs can also be applied to finely regulating genetic interactions in a circuit or network, which is essential in synthetic biology. Once a sRNA scaffold-harboring plasmid is constructed, tailor-made, synthetic sRNAs can be made within 3-4 days, followed by the desired application experiments.

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165-million-year-old proto-mammal shows that traits like hair and fur originated well before the rise of mammals

165-million-year-old proto-mammal shows that traits like hair and fur originated well before the rise of mammals | Amazing Science |

A newly discovered fossil reveals the evolutionary adaptations of a 165-million-year-old proto-mammal, providing evidence that traits such as hair and fur originated well before the rise of the first true mammals. The biological features of this ancient mammalian relative, named Megaconus mammaliaformis, were described by scientists from the University of Chicago in the Aug 8, 2013 issue of Nature.


"We finally have a glimpse of what may be the ancestral condition of all mammals, by looking at what is preserved in Megaconus. It allows us to piece together poorly understood details of the critical transition of modern mammals from pre-mammalian ancestors," said Zhe-Xi Luo, professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago.


Discovered in Inner Mongolia, China, Megaconus is one of the best-preserved fossils of the mammaliaform groups, which are long-extinct relatives to modern mammals. Dated to be around 165 million years old,Megaconus co-existed with feathered dinosaurs in the Jurassic era, nearly 100 million years before Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed Earth.


Preserved in the fossil is a clear halo of guard hairs and underfur residue, making Megaconus only the second known pre-mammalian fossil with fur. It was found with sparse hairs around its abdomen, leading the team to hypothesize that it had a naked abdomen.


On its heels, Megaconus possessed a long keratinous spur, which was possibly poisonous. Similar to spurs found on modern egg-laying mammals, such as male platypuses, the spur is evidence that this fossil was most likely a male member of its species.


"Megaconus confirms that many modern mammalian biological functions related to skin and integument had already evolved before the rise of modern mammals," said Luo, who was also part of the team that first discovered evidence of hair in pre-mammalian species in 2006 (Science, 331: 1123-1127, DOI:10.1126/science.1123026).


A terrestrial animal about the size of a large ground squirrel, Megaconuswas likely an omnivore, possessing clearly mammalian dental features and jaw hinge. Its molars had elaborate rows of cusps for chewing on plants, and some of its anterior teeth possessed large cusps that allowed it to eat insects and worms, perhaps even other small vertebrates. It had teeth with high crowns and fused roots similar to more modern, but unrelated, mammalian species such as rodents. Its high-crowned teeth also appeared to be slow growing like modern placental mammals.

Anela Leilani Kaiawe's curator insight, September 25, 2013 9:34 AM

this is a test run

Olivia Haltom's curator insight, December 6, 2013 9:44 AM

i think this is interesting because its talking anout an extinct animal from 165 million years ago.

Sydney Bolyard's curator insight, December 6, 2013 11:21 AM

This article reveals new found information stating that scientists have discovered a fossil of an animal (resembling a small squirrel), which leads to further discovery of evolution. The primary of form of evolution scientist are interested in are the adaptations of fur. Later in the article, it describes the hypothesis that scientists have formed as to what this newly discovered mammal's characteristics were likely to be. Any new discorvery of species is facinating because you figure how old the earth is and how long people have been around, and we are still finding new organisms.

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Genetically-modified rice delivers antibodies against deadly rotavirus

Genetically-modified rice delivers antibodies against deadly rotavirus | Amazing Science |

Researchers have added an antibody to fight rotavirus into the rice genome. A strain of rice genetically engineered to protect against diarrhoeal disease could offer a cost-effective way to protect children in developing countries, according a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.


Researchers engineered the rice, called MucoRice-ARP1, by adding an antibody to fight rotavirus originally found in llamas in the rice genome.

Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in young children and infants, killing more than 520,000 people each year, according to the WHO. More than 85 per cent of those deaths occur in impoverished countries in Africa and Asia. The team fed MucoRice-ARP1 to mice they subsequently infected with rotavirus, and found these mice had significantly less virus than mice fed normal rice.


The rice could be used to complement vaccinations to protect children when they are at their most vulnerable to rotavirus, say the researchers. But it had not yet been tested on humans, and could take a decade before a final product is ready for distribution, says one of the study's authors Yoshikazu Yuki, of the University of Tokyo in Japan.


The WHO has recommended since 2009 that rotavirus vaccines be included in national immunisation programmes.


But studies have since shown that these vaccines are less effective in developing countries than in industrialised countries, protecting only 50–60 per cent of people immunised in developing countries, compared with 85–98 per cent in industrialised countries. The reasons for the drop in effectiveness are not yet established, but weakened immune systems are a likely factor says Miren Iturriza-Gomara, a virologist at the UK-based University of Liverpool and one of the study's authors.


MucoRice-ARP1 could complement existing vaccine schedules. It would not be a substitute for a vaccine, she says, "but it's something that in certain situations could be very helpful". For example, the rice could be given to children under two years old when rotavirus infection is most likely to prove fatal.


The research team found that MucoRice-ARP1 is most effective when consumed as a powder diluted with water, although the antibodies could also be ingested either in cooked rice or by drinking the water in which MucoRice-ARP1 is boiled.


Iturriza-Gomara says the rice could also prove useful during rotavirus outbreaks by lowering transmission rates. Previous clinical trials in Bangladesh have already established that the antibody arp1 can protect against rotavirus. Originally found in llamas, arp1 is ideal for oral immunotherapy as it is not readily digested by the acids in the human stomach, according to Iturriza-Gomara.


"Llamas produce single-chain antibodies which have two important properties: one, they are very small and can reach areas of the pathogen which otherwise might not be reached by other antibodies and also because they are single-chain they are very resistant," Iturriza-Gomara says. "Normal human antibodies are dual-chained. If you eat it and it goes through the stomach, the acid will break it and therefore it won't be active in the intestine which is where you want it."


MucoRice-ARP1 would have to be eaten regularly to ensure protection.

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Elusive Skyrmions made in the Lab: Twisted magnetic fields tie information into a knot

Elusive Skyrmions made in the Lab: Twisted magnetic fields tie information into a knot | Amazing Science |

Tying knots in a piece of string is an age-old way of remembering things. Now physicists have succeeded in tying and untying microscopic magnetic vortices that may lead to more efficient computer memory.


The twisted vortices, known as skyrmions, are arrangements of atoms, with each atom acting like a bar magnet owing to a quantum property of its electrons called spin. An external magnetic field would normally tend to align all the atomic bar magnets in the same direction, but in the case of a skyrmion, the magnetization of the atoms is arrayed in a twisted vortex.


A skyrmion resists unravelling because magnetic perturbations can change the arrangement of the atomic spins but will not undo the twisting. This property, called topological stability, is shared by geometric objects such as the Möbius strip, a shape that can be obtained by joining the two ends of a ribbon together with a half-twist in between. The half-twist in a Möbius strip is 'stable' because it can be pushed around but not undone — short of cutting the ribbon, untwisting it and pasting it back again.

Topological stability is attractive to scientists looking for improved ways to carry information, says Kirsten von Bergmann, a physicist at the University of Hamburg in Germany. Conventional magnetic storage media, such as the surface of a hard disk, carry information in the form of digital bits — states denoted '0' or '1' that are represented by the magnetization of the atoms, for example with their magnetic north pole pointing up or down. But when they are packed too densely or overheated, these magnetizations can easily become unstable and get scrambled.


A skyrmion offers the chance to store information stably, so that it can be read off again as a '0' or a '1' depending on whether or not the magnetic knot exists. But for that to work, scientists must be able to create or erase magnetic skyrmions as needed.


But although the existence of skyrmions was predicted already in the 1960s (by British physicist Tony Skyrme) and has since been demonstrated in magnetic materials, researchers have not been able to create and destroy them at will in a magnetic material — until now. Writing in Science, von Bergmann and her collaborators describe how they created skyrmions on a thin magnetic film of palladium and iron on an iridium crystal. They began with a sample in which all the atomic bar magnets were aligned. The team then used the tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope to apply a small current made up of electrons that had their spins aligned, or polarized, in a particular way. The polarized current interacted with the atomic bar magnets to twist them into knot-like configurations of skyrmions, each a few nanometres, or about 300 atoms, in diameter, says von Bergmann. The scientists could also use the polarized current to erase the knot, deleting the skyrmion.

Theoretically, a skyrmionic device could hold 20 times more data per unit surface than current hard disks, von Bergmann says. However, she warns that the technology is a long way from practical applications. The team managed to create and delete a total of four skyrmions at a time (see video), but the technique worked in only about 60% of attempts, “which is very miserable for data technology”, says von Bergmann. And the researchers could control the skyrmions only at 4.2 kelvins, the temperature of liquid helium, which is not a practical operating temperature for electronic devices.

Nevertheless, this is the first time that scientists have created and deleted individual magnetic skyrmions, says Stefan Blügel, a solid-state physicist at the Jülich Research Centre in Germany. “By this experiment we can create skyrmions where and when we want them and that means we can imprint a one or zero in a controlled fashion,” he adds.

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Camels implicated as possible hosts of MERS virus

Camels implicated as possible hosts of MERS virus | Amazing Science |

A deadly new virus has scientists scrambling to learn more about it and figure out whether the virus will become a pandemic or remain a limited threat. The virus has sickened 13 people and killed seven of them in the Middle East and England since last April. All but one of those infected were hospitalized with severe pneumonia and several also developed kidney failure.


“We have a new and virulent virus,” Gwen Stephens, of the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health in Riyadh, told members of the American Society of Microbiology on February 27 during the annual Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting. “We can only guess at its risks.” 


Not yet named, the mysterious culprit is a coronavirus, a class that includes the virus that causes SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS spread like wildfire in 2002 and 2003, infecting some 8,100 people and killing nearly 800. The virus uses DPP4 (dipeptidyl peptidase 4) to enter its host cells.


Camels may be intermediate hosts of a mysterious and deadly respiratory virus related to SARS that has sickened 94 people, killing 46, in parts of the Middle East, Europe and northern Africa.

Now, Chantal Reusken of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, and colleagues report August 9 in the Lancet Infectious Diseases that 50 retired racing camels from Oman carry antibodies against the MERS coronavirus in their blood. The result suggests that the animals have been exposed to MERS or a closely related virus.


The team also found low levels of antibodies against the virus in the blood of dromedary camels from the Canary Islands. Neither Oman nor the Canary Islands has reported human cases of the disease. But anecdotal reports suggest that some of the sick people from other countries may have been around camels or goats before falling ill.


The results could mean that camels and camel relatives such as goats may be intermediaries in a chain of infection that sometimes ends with humans or that a virus similar to MERS has been in camels for a long time and recently gained the ability to infect people.

C. B. E. M. Reusken et al. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus neutralizing serum antibodies in dromedary camels: a comparative serological study. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Published online August 9, 2013. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70164-6.

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Amazing Science: Green Energy Postings

Amazing Science: Green Energy Postings | Amazing Science |

Green energy is the sustainable provision of energy that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Green energy includes natural energetic processes that can be harnessed with little pollution. Anaerobic digestion, geothermal power, wind power, small-scale hydropower, solar energy, biomass power, tidal power, wave power, and some forms of nuclear power which are able to "burn" nuclear waste through nuclear transmutation and therefore belong in the "Green Energy" category.

Aulde de B's curator insight, August 10, 2013 11:44 AM

great posts with alot of little known information. Worth reading.

Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, August 10, 2013 7:24 PM

Sustainability - options for energy

Steve Mattison's curator insight, August 10, 2013 11:55 PM

Green is the future!

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How to verify quantum entanglement in the laboratory using a minimal number of assumptions and devices?

How to verify quantum entanglement in the laboratory using a minimal number of assumptions and devices? | Amazing Science |

Quantum computation, quantum communication and quantum cryptography often require entanglement. For many of these upcoming quantum technologies, entanglement – this hard to grasp, counter-intuitive aspect in the quantum world – is a key ingredient. Therefore, experimental physicists often need to verify entanglement in their systems. “Two years ago, we managed to verify entanglement between up to 14 ions”, explains Thomas Monz. He works in the group of Rainer Blatt at the Institute for Experimental Physics, University Innsbruck. This team is still holding the world-record for the largest number of entangled particles. “In order to verify the entanglement, we had to make some, experimentally calibrated, assumptions. However, assumptions, for instance about the number of dimensions of the system or a decent calibration, make any subsequently derived statements vulnerable”, explains Monz. Together with Julio Barreiro, who recently moved on the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, and Jean-Daniel Bancal from the group of Nicolas Gisin at the University of Geneva, now at the Center for Quantum Technologies in Singapore, the physicists derived and implemented a new method to verify entanglement between several objects.


The presented device-independent method is based on a single assumption: “We only have to make sure that we always apply the same set of operations on the quantum objects, and that the operations are independent of each other”, explains Julio Barreiro. “However, which operations we apply in detail – this is something we do not need to know.” This approach - called Device Independent - allows them to get around several potential sources of error, and subsequently wrong interpretations of the results. “In the end, we investigate the correlations between the settings and the obtained results. Once the correlations exceed a certain threshold, we know that the objects are entangled.” For the experimentally hardly avoidable crosstalk of operations applied to levitating calcium ions in the vacuum chamber in Innsbruck, the Swiss theorist Jean-Daniel Bancal managed to adapt the threshold according to a worst-case scenario. “When this higher threshold is breached, we can claim entanglement in the system with high confidence”, states Bancal. 

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Software upgrades to bionic eye enable color recognition, improve resolution, image focus, zooming

Software upgrades to bionic eye enable color recognition, improve resolution, image focus, zooming | Amazing Science |

The first bionic eye to be approved for patients in the U.S. is getting software upgrades. The FDA-approved Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System from Second Sight Medical Products transmits images from a small, eye-glass-mounted camera wirelessly to a microelectrode array implanted on a patient’s damaged retina. The array sends electrical signals via the optic nerve, and the brain interprets a visual image.

Now, to speed up the development process, Second Sight is working on a software platform called Acuboost that would make updating previously manufactured Argus models as easy as updating your computer’s operating system. This is especially important because the Argus is an implanted device, and installing it inside a patient’s eye requires pretty invasive surgery. So software upgrades would benefit both new patients and patients who already have the device implanted.

The company is currently developing algorithms to improve resolution, image focus and zooming. Their latest software can also automate brightness adjustments and enable color recognition.


Thus far, scientists at Second Sight have been able to produce the perception of multiple colors in the lab by sending different patterns of stimulation to each electrode in the retinal implant. When the Argus camera picks up red or green, that information would be encoded through different patterns of electrical activity, which would be sent to the electrodes in the patient’s eye, creating the perception of color.

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IBM's SyNAPSE chips could enable a new generation of intelligent sensor networks that mimic the brain

IBM's SyNAPSE chips could enable a new generation of intelligent sensor networks that mimic the brain | Amazing Science |

Scientists from IBM unveiled a breakthrough software ecosystem designed for programming silicon chips that have an architecture inspired by the function, low power, and compact volume of the brain. The technology could enable a new generation of intelligent sensor networks that mimic the brain’s abilities for perception, action, and cognition.

Dramatically different from traditional software, IBM’s new programming model breaks the mold of sequential operation underlying today’s von Neumann architectures and computers. It is instead tailored for a new class of distributed, highly interconnected, asynchronous, parallel, large-scale cognitive computing architectures.

“Architectures and programs are closely intertwined and a new architecture necessitates a new programming paradigm,” said Dr. Dharmendra S. Modha, Principal Investigator and Senior Manager, IBM Research. “We are working to create a FORTRAN [a pioneering computer language] for synaptic computing chips. While complementing today’s computers, this will bring forth a fundamentally new technological capability in terms of programming and applying emerging learning systems.”

To advance and enable this new ecosystem, IBM researchers developed the following breakthroughs that support all aspects of the programming cycle from design through development, debugging, and deployment:


– Simulator: A multi-threaded, massively parallel and highly scalable functional software simulator of a cognitive computing architecture comprising a network of neurosynaptic cores.


– Neuron Model: A simple, digital, highly parameterized spiking neuron model that forms a fundamental information processing unit of brain-like computation and supports a wide range of deterministic and stochastic neural computations, codes, and behaviors. A network of such neurons can sense, remember, and act upon a variety of spatio-temporal, multi-modal environmental stimuli.


– Programming Model: A high-level description of a “program” that is based on composable, reusable building blocks called “corelets.” Each corelet represents a complete blueprint of a network of neurosynaptic cores that specifies a based-level function. Inner workings of a corelet are hidden so that only its external inputs and outputs are exposed to other programmers, who can concentrate on what the corelet does rather than how it does it. Corelets can be combined to produce new corelets that are larger, more complex, or have added functionality.


– Library: A cognitive system store containing designs and implementations of consistent, parameterized, large-scale algorithms and applications that link massively parallel, multi-modal, spatio-temporal sensors and actuators together in real-time. In less than a year, the IBM researchers have designed and stored over 150 corelets in the program library.


– Laboratory: A novel teaching curriculum that spans the architecture, neuron specification, chip simulator, programming language, application library and prototype design models. It also includes an end-to-end software environment that can be used to create corelets, access the library, experiment with a variety of programs on the simulator, connect the simulator inputs/outputs to sensors/actuators, build systems, and visualize/debug the results.

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Hubble finds source of Magellanic Stream and solves 40 year old mystery

Hubble finds source of Magellanic Stream and solves 40 year old mystery | Amazing Science |

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have solved the 40-year-old mystery of the origin of the Magellanic Stream, a long ribbon of gas stretching nearly halfway around the Milky Way. New Hubble observations reveal that most of this stream was stripped from the Small Magellanic Cloud some two billion years ago, with a smaller portion originating more recently from its larger neighbour.

The Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies orbiting our galaxy, are at the head of a huge gaseous filament known as the Magellanic Stream. Since the Stream's discovery in the early 1970s, astronomers have wondered whether this gas comes from one or both of the satellite galaxies. Now, new Hubble observations show that most of the gas was stripped from the Small Magellanic Cloud about two billion years ago—but surprisingly, a second region of the stream was formed more recently from the Large Magellanic Cloud.


A team of astronomers determined the source of the gas filament by using Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), along with observations from ESO's Very Large Telescope, to measure the abundances of heavy elements, such as oxygen and sulphur, at six locations along the Magellanic Stream. COS detected these elements from the way they absorb the ultraviolet light released by faraway quasars as it passes through the foreground Stream. Quasars are the brilliant cores of active galaxies. The team found low abundances of oxygen and sulphur along most of the stream, matching the levels in the Small Magellanic Cloud about two billion years ago, when the gaseous ribbon was thought to have been formed.


In a surprising twist, the team discovered a much higher level of sulphur in a region closer to the Magellanic Clouds. "We're finding a consistent amount of heavy elements in the stream until we get very close to the Magellanic Clouds, and then the heavy element levels go up," says Andrew Fox, a staff member supported by ESA at the Space Telescope Science Institute, USA, and lead author of one of two new papers reporting these results. "This inner region is very similar in composition to the Large Magellanic Cloud, suggesting it was ripped out of that galaxy more recently."


This discovery was unexpected; computer models of the Stream predicted that the gas came entirely out of the Small Magellanic Cloud, which has a weaker gravitational pull than its more massive cousin.


"As Earth's atmosphere absorbs ultraviolet light, it's hard to measure the amounts of these elements accurately, as you need to look in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum to see them," says Philipp Richter of the University of Potsdam, Germany, and lead author on the second of the two papers. "So you have to go to space. Only Hubble is capable of taking measurements like these."

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