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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Welcome To A Fully Programmable World Where All Objects Act as One

Welcome To A Fully Programmable World Where All Objects Act as One | Amazing Science |

We are surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Soon we'll be able to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, and even save our lives.


Imagine a factory where every machine, every room, feeds back information to solve problems on the production line. Imagine a hotel room (like the ones at the Aria in Las Vegas) where the lights, the stereo, and the window shade are not just controlled from a central station but adjust to your preferences before you even walk in. Think of a gym where the machines know your workout as soon as you arrive, or a medical device that can point toward the closest defibrillator when you have a heart attack. Consider a hybrid car—like the new Ford Fusion—that can maximize energy efficiency by drawing down the battery as it nears a charging station.


There are few more appropriate guides to this impending future than Hawkinson, whose DC-based startup, SmartThings, has built what’s arguably the most advanced hub to tie connected objects together. At his house, more than 200 objects, from the garage door to the coffeemaker to his daughter’s trampoline, are all connected to his SmartThings system. His office can automatically text his wife when he leaves and tell his home A/C system to start powering up.


In this future, the intelligence once locked in our devices now flows into the universe of physical objects. Technologists have struggled to name this emerging phenomenon. Some have called it the Internet of Things or the Internet of Everything or the Industrial Internet—despite the fact that most of these devices aren’t actually on the Internet directly but instead communicate through simple wireless protocols. Other observers, paying homage to the stripped-down tech embedded in so many smart devices, are calling it the Sensor Revolution.


But here’s a better way to think about what we’re building: It’s the Programmable World. After all, what’s remarkable about this future isn’t the sensors, nor is it that all our sensors and objects and devices are linked together. It’s the fact that once we get enough of these objects onto our networks, they’re no longer one-off novelties or data sources but instead become a coherent system, a vast ensemble that can be choreographed, a body that can dance. Really, it’s the opposite of an “Internet,” a term that even today—in the era of the cloud and the app and the walled garden—connotes a peer-to-peer system in which each node is equally empowered. By contrast, these connected objects will act more like a swarm of drones, a distributed legion of bots, far-flung and sometimes even hidden from view but nevertheless coordinated as if they were a single giant machine.


For the Programmable World to reach its full potential, we need to pass through three stages. The first is simply the act of getting more devices onto the network—more sensors, more processors in everyday objects, more wireless hookups to extract data from the processors that already exist. The second is to make those devices rely on one another, coordinating their actions to carry out simple tasks without any human intervention. The third and final stage, once connected things become ubiquitous, is to understand them as a system to be programmed, a bona fide platform that can run software in much the same manner that a computer or smartphone can.


Once we get there, that system will transform the world of everyday objects into a design­able environment, a playground for coders and engineers. It will change the whole way we think about the division between the virtual and the physical. This might sound like a scary encroachment of technology, but the Programmable World could actually let us put more of our gadgets away, automating activities we normally do by hand and putting intelligence from the cloud into everything we touch.

CAEXI BEST's curator insight, May 15, 2013 5:21 PM
Bienvenue dans un monde entièrement programmable où tous les objets agissent comme un seul
Tom Leckrone's curator insight, May 26, 2013 10:03 AM

Excerpt: "The third and final stage, once connected things become ubiquitous, is to understand them as a system to be programmed, a bona fide platform that can run software in much the same manner that a computer or smartphone can." 

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Making “cognitive radio" practical which scans environments for vacant frequencies to use for transmissions

Making “cognitive radio" practical which scans environments for vacant frequencies to use for transmissions | Amazing Science |

The way in which radio spectrum is currently allocated to different wireless technologies can lead to gross inefficiencies. In some regions, for instance, the frequencies used by cellphones can be desperately congested, while large swaths of the broadcast-television spectrum stand idle.

One solution to that problem is the 15-year-old idea of “cognitive radio,” in which wireless devices would scan their environments for vacant frequencies and use these for transmissions. Different proposals for cognitive radio place different emphases on hardware and software, but the chief component of many hardware approaches is a bank of filters that can isolate any frequency in a wide band.

Researchers at MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratory (MTL) have developed a new method for manufacturing such filters that should improve their performance while enabling 14 times as many of them to be crammed on a single chip. That’s a vital consideration in handheld devices where space is tight. But just as important, the new method uses techniques already common in the production of signal-processing chips, so it should be easy for manufacturers to adopt. There are two main approaches to hardware-based radio-signal filtration: one is to perform the filtration electronically; the other is to convert the radio signal to an acoustic signal — a physical vibration — and then convert it back to an electrical signal.

Both types of filtration use devices called resonators, and acoustic resonators have a couple of clear advantages over electronic ones. One is that their filtration is more precise. 

“If I pluck a guitar string — that’s the easiest resonator to think of — it’s going to resonate at some frequency, and it’s going to die down due to losses,” Weinstein explains. “That loss is related to, basically, energy leaked away from that resonance mode into all other frequencies. Less loss means better frequency selectivity, and mechanical acoustic resonators have less loss than electrical resonators.”

Commercial adoption of cognitive radio has been slow for a number of reasons. “Part of it is being able to get the frequency-agile components and do it in a cost-effective manner,” says Thomas Kazior, a principal engineering fellow at Raytheon. “Plus the size constraint: Filters tend to be big to begin with, and banks of tunable filters just make things even bigger.”

The MTL researchers’ work could help with both problems, Kazior says. “We’re talking about making filters that are directly integrated onto, say, a receiver chip, because the little resonator devices are literally the size of a transistor,” he says. “These are all on a tiny scale.”

“They can help with the cost problem because these resonator-type structures almost come for free,” Kazior adds. “Building them is part of the semiconductor fabrication process, using pretty much the existing fabrication steps that you’re using to build the transistor and the rest of the circuits. You just may need to add one, or two at the most, additional steps — out of 100 or more steps."

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Team uncovers fundamental property of astatine, rarest element on Earth

Team uncovers fundamental property of astatine, rarest element on Earth | Amazing Science |

An international team of scientists, including a University of York researcher, has carried out ground-breaking experiments to investigate the atomic structure of astatine (Z=85), the rarest naturally occurring element on Earth. Astatine (At) is of significant interest as its decay properties make it an ideal short-range radiation source for targeted alpha therapy in cancer treatment.

The results of the project, which was conceived by Professor Andrei Andreyev, an Anniversary Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of York, and Dr Valentine Fedosseev, from CERN, the European laboratory for nuclear physics research in Geneva.


Through experiments conducted at the radioactive isotope facility ISOLDE at CERN, scientists have accessed, for the first time, the ionization potential of the astatine atom. This represents the essential quantity defining chemical and physical properties of this exclusively radioactive element. At ISOLDE, short-lived isotopes created in nuclear reactions induced by a high energy proton beam release from target material and can immediately interact with laser beams inside the hot cavity of laser ion source.


Once the wavelengths of lasers are tuned in resonance with selected atomic transitions the atoms are step-wise excited and ionized due to absorption of several photons with total energy exceeding the ionization threshold. This so-called Resonance Ionization Laser Ion Source (RILIS), in combination with electromagnetic separator, supplies pure isotopic beams of different elements for many experiments performed at ISOLDE.


Among these, is a study of short-lived nuclides by in-source resonance ionization spectroscopy using a highly sensitive (below 1 isotope per second) detection of nuclear decay. Physicists from KU Leuven, Belgium developed the setup for this study. The first laser-ionized ions of astatine were observed and identified by its characteristic alpha-decay in these experiments. Also the ionization threshold of astatine was found by scanning the wavelength of ionizing UV laser.


A second phase of the study of the atomic spectrum of astatine took place at the ISAC radioactive isotope facility of the Canadian national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics TRIUMF in Vancouver, where new optical transitions in the infrared region of spectrum were found. With the newly found transitions a highly efficient three-step ionization scheme of astatine was defined and used at ISOLDE RILIS for further study of astatine spectrum.


The researchers probed the interesting region around the ionization threshold and found a series of highly excited resonances – known as Rydberg states. From this spectrum the first ionization potential of astatine was extracted with high accuracy.


Dr Fedosseev, the RILIS team leader working at CERN, said: "The in-source laser spectroscopy today is a most sensitive method to study atomic properties of exotic short-lived isotopes. For artificially produced elements, like super-heavy ones, this could be a real way to probe their spectra. The success in the study of astatine spectrum added confidence to such projects started recently at GANIL, France and at JINR, Russia."

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New principle may help explain why nature is quantum

New principle may help explain why nature is quantum | Amazing Science |
Like small children, scientists are always asking the question 'why?'. One question they've yet to answer is why nature picked quantum physics, in all its weird glory, as a sensible way to behave.


We know that things that follow quantum rules, such as atoms, electrons or the photons that make up light, are full of surprises. They can exist in more than one place at once, for instance, or exist in a shared state where the properties of two particles show what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance", no matter what their physical separation. Because such things have been confirmed in experiments, researchers are confident the theory is right. But it would still be easier to swallow if it could be shown that quantum physics itself sprang from intuitive underlying principles.

One way to approach this problem is to imagine all the theories one could possibly come up with to describe nature, and then work out what principles help to single out quantum physics. A good start is to assume that information follows. Einstein's special relativity and cannot travel faster than light. However, this alone isn't enough to define quantum physics as the only way nature might behave. Corsin and Stephanie think they have come across a new useful principle. "We have found a principle that is very good at ruling out other theories," says Corsin.


In short, the principle to be assumed is that if a measurement yields no information, then the system being measured has not been disturbed. Quantum physicists accept that gaining information from quantum systems causes disturbance. Corsin and Stephanie suggest that in a sensible world the reverse should be true, too. If you learn nothing from measuring a system, then you can't have disturbed it.


As is often the case in research, Corsin and Stephanie reached this point having set out to solve an entirely different problem altogether. Corsin was trying to find a general way to describe the effects of measurements on states, a problem that he found impossible to solve. In an attempt to make progress, he wrote down features that a 'sensible' answer should have. This property of information gain versus disturbance was on the list. He then noticed that if he imposed the property as a principle, some theories would fail.


Corsin and Stephanie are keen to point out it's still not the whole answer to the big 'why' question: theories other than quantum physics, including classical physics, are compatible with the principle. But as researchers compile lists of principles that each rule out some theories to reach a set that singles out quantum physics, the principle of information gain versus disturbance seems like a good one to include.

Tom Leckrone's curator insight, May 26, 2013 10:07 AM

Investigation all comes down to "information gain versus disturbance."

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New Skin Patch Warns People When It’s Time to Get Out of the Sun

New Skin Patch Warns People When It’s Time to Get Out of the Sun | Amazing Science |

By the time most of us realize we’ve been out in the sun too long, it’s too late. It can take up to 24 hours after exposure before you realize you have a sunburn.


Now, a Michigan Technological University Senior Design team has devised a sensor that tells you when it’s time to seek shelter, long before your skin gets red and tender.


The biomedical engineering seniors developed a skin patch imprinted with a graphic—in this case, a happy face design. The nickel-size patch gradually darkens under ultraviolet light, the type of light that causes sunburn and skin cancer.  When you can’t see the happy face anymore, it’s time to get out of the sun.


Not everyone burns at the same rate, and the team took that into account. “We calibrated it based on skin type,” said team member Anne François. Their prototypes were made for the three skin types that are most susceptible to sunburn.


The patch is made with UV-sensitive film bonded to a special tape with medical-grade adhesive that can withstand plenty of trips into the swimming pool. Because it measures total UV exposure, it “knows” when a user applies sunscreen or goes in the shade and darkens more slowly.

The team has filed a provisional patent on their invention and received Best Overall Award in the  Invention Disclosure Competition at Michigan Tech’s 2013 Undergraduate Expo. If it makes it to market, it would be inexpensive: the prototypes cost only 13 cents apiece in materials.

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Creating a sense of touch in a prosthetic hand

Creating a sense of touch in a prosthetic hand | Amazing Science |

Scientists have made tremendous advances toward building lifelike prosthetic limbs that move and function like the real thing. But what’s missing is a sense of touch, so a patient knows how hard he or she is actually squeezing something, or exactly where the object is positioned relative to his or her hand.

“If you lose your somatosensory [body senses] system, it almost looks like your motor system is impaired,” he said. “If you really want to create an arm that can actually be used dexterously without the enormous amount of concentration it takes without sensory feedback, you need to restore the somatosensory feedback.”

This is the related to a similar problem with robots (see “Related” below), where researchers have built better sensors into their the robots’ limbs and hands, along with better processing systems and control systems. 


So a team of University of Chicago neurobiologists, headed by Sliman Bensmaia, assistant professor of organismal biology and anatomy, came up with an idea: why not try the same thing, starting with a monkey?

To restore the somatosensory feedback, they equipped a robotic hand with pressure sensors.


These send electrical signals for processing, and from there to electrodes implanted in the brain to recreate the same response to touch as a real hand. The researchers used rhesus macaques that were trained to respond to stimulation of the hand. Their hands were hidden so they wouldn’t see that they weren’t actually being touched, and were given electrical pulses to simulate the sensation of touch.

The animals had electrodes implanted into the area of the brain that responds to touch to check the animals’ responses to each type of stimulus. By combining the poking and brain-response data, the researchers were able to create a mathematical function that described the level of electrical pulses in the brain corresponding to different levels of physical pokes of the hand.

Then,switched to a prosthetic hand that was wired to the brain implants. They touched the prosthetic hand with the physical probe, which in turn sent similar electrical signals to the brain. Bensmaia said that the animals performed identically whether poked on their own hand or on the prosthetic one.

“This is the first time as far as I know where an animal or organism actually perceives a tactile stimulus through an artificial transducer,” Bensmaia said.

“It’s an engineering milestone. But from a neuroengineering standpoint, this validates this function. You can use this function to have an animal perform this very precise task, precisely identically.”

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New device can extract human DNA with full genetic data in minutes

New device can extract human DNA with full genetic data in minutes | Amazing Science |

Take a swab of saliva from your mouth and within minutes your DNA could be ready for analysis and genome sequencing with the help of a new device.


University of Washington engineers and NanoFacture, a Bellevue, Wash., company, have created a device that can extract human DNA from fluid samples in a simpler, more efficient and environmentally friendly way than conventional methods.


The device will give hospitals and research labs a much easier way to separate DNA from human fluid samples, which will help with genome sequencing, disease diagnosis and forensic investigations.


“It’s very complex to extract DNA,” said Jae-Hyun Chung, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering who led the research. “When you think of the current procedure, the equivalent is like collecting human hairs using a construction crane.”


This technology aims to clear those hurdles. The small, box-shaped kit now is ready for manufacturing, then eventual distribution to hospitals and clinics. NanoFacture, a UW spinout company, signed a contract with Korean manufacturer KNR Systems last month at aceremony in Olympia, Wash.


The UW, led by Chung, spearheaded the research and invention of the technology, and still manages the intellectual property. Separating DNA from bodily fluids is a cumbersome process that’s become a bottleneck as scientists make advances in genome sequencing, particularly for disease prevention and treatment. The market for DNA preparation alone is about $3 billion each year.


Conventional methods use a centrifuge to spin and separate DNA molecules or strain them from a fluid sample with a micro-filter, but these processes take 20 to 30 minutes to complete and can require excessive toxic chemicals.


UW engineers designed microscopic probes that dip into a fluid sample – saliva, sputum or blood – and apply an electric field within the liquid. That draws particles to concentrate around the surface of the tiny probe. Larger particles hit the tip and swerve away, but DNA-sized molecules stick to the probe and are trapped on the surface. It takes two or three minutes to separate and purify DNA using this technology.

Biosciencia's curator insight, May 15, 2013 7:25 AM

The device will give hospitals and research labs a much easier way to separate DNA from human fluid samples, which will help with genome sequencing, disease diagnosis and forensic investigations.

Linda Coburn's comment, May 15, 2013 11:28 AM
It bothers me that an American university which receives American tax dollars for funding has decided to contract with a Korean company to manufacture this amazing device. We will never solve our economic woes if we don't bring mfg back to the US.
Center for Accessible Living NKY's curator insight, May 15, 2013 5:29 PM

This should make obtaining genetic diagnosis much easier and faster.

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Ultra-Ever Dry hydrophobic and oleophobic coating repels almost any liquid

Ultra-Ever Dry hydrophobic and oleophobic coating repels almost any liquid | Amazing Science |

The two part Ultra-Ever Dry system creates a near invisible barrier of air over surfaces on the nanoscale. These surfaces can range from refined oil, wet concrete, water, mud and other liquids. In industrial application Ultra-Dry could prove ideal for specific applications, like when you drop your hammer in mud, and then step in the mud in your boots, and reach into the mud with your work-gloves.


Water proofing products and barriers are not new but according to the manufacturer, Ultra-Ever Dry has improved adhesion and abrasion resistance compared to previous iterations. The supposed adhesion and abrasive resistance traits then allow for a more diverse range of uses. Other claims include anti-icing, anti-corrosive, anti-contamination and self-cleaning capabilities.


But according to the abrasion resistance notes Ultra-Ever Dry provides "more abrasion resistance than previous superhydrophobic materials." Registering a 110 on the Taber Abrasion Method (ASTM D4060-10) the manufacturer recommends testing of surfaces if abrasion is a concern.


The product can be applied with a spray gun and finishes up to a translucent white sheen. A single coating is reported to last anywhere from 2-8 months in direct sunlight and outdoor conditions before a top-coat re-coating is needed. Indoor and protected outdoor applications put longevity at approximately one year or more. From the underside of a Polar Bear to the backside of a New York taxi driver in August, Ultra-tech professes a working hot/cold range of -30°F to 300°F (-34°C to 149°C).


Can I use it on my SquareBob lunchbox? Maybe. In addition to the "do not breathe this" warning a rather toxic grocery list of chemicals makes up the ingredients, thus making the coating a less than ideal Peanut Butter & Jam option. However, according to Ultra-tech there are no known environmental concerns. The coating is stated to be safe for use in "nonfood" (i.e. not your lunchbox) contact areas of food processing plants and meets FDA and USDA regulations for those types of applications.

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Tumor-Activated Protein Promotes Cancer Metastases

Tumor-Activated Protein Promotes Cancer Metastases | Amazing Science |

Roughly 90 percent of all cancer deaths are due to metastasis – the disease spreading from the original tumor site to multiple, distant tissues and finally overwhelming the patient’s body. Lymph vessels are often the path of transmission, with circulating tumor cells lodging in the lymph nodes – organs distributed throughout the body that act as immune system garrisons and traps for pathogens and foreign particles.


The researchers, led by principal investigator Judith A. Varner, PhD, professor of medicine at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, found that a protein growth factor expressed by tumors called VEGF-C activates a receptor called integrin α4β1 on lymphatic vessels in lymph node tissues, making them more attractive and sticky to metastatic tumor cells.


“One of the most significant features of this work is that it highlights the way that tumors can have long-range effects on other parts of the body, which can then impact tumor metastasis or growth,” said Varner.


Varner said α4β1 could prove to be a valuable biomarker for measuring cancer risk, since increased levels of the activated protein in lymph tissues is an indirect indicator that an undetected tumor may be nearby.


She said whole-body imaging scans of the lymphatic network might identify problem areas relatively quickly and effectively. “The idea is that a radiolabeled or otherwise labeled anti-integrin α4β1 antibody could be injected into the lymphatic circulation, and it would only bind to and highlight the lymphatic vessels that have been activated by the presence of a tumor.”


Varner noted that α4β1 levels correlate with metastasis – the higher the level, the greater the chance of the cancer spreading. With additional research and clinical studies, doctors could refine treatment protocols so that patients at higher risk are treated appropriately, but patients at lower or no risk of metastasis are not over-treated.


The researchers noted in their studies that it is possible to suppress tumor metastasis by reducing growth factor levels or by blocking activation of the α4β1 receptor. Varner said an antibody to VEGF-R3 is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials. An approved humanized anti-α4β1 antibody is currently approved for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. Varner said her lab at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center is investigating the possibility of developing one for treating cancer.

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Researchers Identify 4 New Genetic Risk Factors For Testicular Cancer

Researchers Identify 4 New Genetic Risk Factors For Testicular Cancer | Amazing Science |

Tapping into three genome-wide association studies (GWAS), the researchers, including Peter A. Kanetsky, PhD, MPH, an associate professor in the department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, analyzed 931 affected individuals and 1,975 controls and confirmed the results in an additional 3,211 men with cancer and 7,591 controls. The meta-analysis revealed that testicular germ cell tumor (TGCT) risk was significantly associated with markers at four loci—4q22, 7q22, 16q22.3, and 17q22, none of which have been identified in other cancers. Additionally, these loci pose a higher risk than the vast majority of other loci identified for some common cancers, such as breast and prostate.


This brings the number of genomic regions associated with testicular cancer up to 17—including eight new ones reported in another study in this issue of Nature Genetics.


Testicular cancer is relatively rare; however, incidence rates have doubled in the past 40 years. It is also highly heritable. If a man has a father or son with testicular cancer, he has a four-to six-fold higher risk of developing it compared to a man with no family history. That increases to an eight-to 10-fold higher risk if the man has a brother with testicular cancer.

Given this, researchers continue to investigate genetic variants and their association with cancer.


In 2009, Dr. Nathanson and colleagues uncovered variation around two genes—KITLG and SPRY4—found to be associated with an increased risk of testicular cancer. The two variants were the first striking genetic risk factors found for this disease at the time. Since then, several more variants have been discovered, but only through single GWAS studies.


"This analysis is the first to bring several groups of data together to identify loci associated with disease," said Dr. Nathanson, "and represent the power of combining multiple GWAS to better identify genetic risk factors that failed to reach genome-wide significance in single studies."

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Childhood diarrhea deaths decoded - Only 4 pathogens responsible

Childhood diarrhea deaths decoded - Only 4 pathogens responsible | Amazing Science |

Every year, 800,000 children under age 5 living in the developing world die from a disease that's usually considered a mere annoyance in the West—diarrhea. But until now, there's been very little reliable data on the microbes behind all this mortality, as well as their precise effects on children's health around the world. In order to fill in these knowledge gaps, a team of scientists spent 3 years studying diarrheal diseases at seven sites in south Asia and Africa. The results were sobering: children with moderate-to-severe diarrhea (MSD) were 8.5 times more likely to die within 60 days than children not suffering from MSD, the researchers report today in The Lancet. What's more, children who survived their bout with MSD showed signs of stunted growth that could impair their future development. On a microbial level, the team was surprised to discover that a majority of childhood MDS cases were caused by only four pathogens: rotavirus (pictured), the parasite Cryptosporidium, a strain of the Escherichia coli bacteria known as ST-ETEC, and the bacteria Shigella. The fact that rotavirus tops the list is actually good news, since efforts are already underway to vaccinate at-risk children against the virus. But the appearance of the Cryptosporidium is more troubling—scientists had no idea the parasite, which is usually seen in HIV-positive patients, was causing so many cases of childhood MSD. They hope this new study will fast-track much needed research about how to protect against this under-studied bug.

NHarbutt's curator insight, May 16, 2013 8:06 PM

depressing, and kind of wierd

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Alzheimer’s drug candidate reverses disease in mice

Alzheimer’s drug candidate reverses disease in mice | Amazing Science |
A drug called J147 reverses cellular signs of Alzheimer's in mouse models.


After six years of preclinical studies, J147 is ready for human clinical trials, said Dave Schubert, head of Salk’s cellular neurobiology laboratory. The compound, derived from the curry spice component curcumin, has low toxicity and actually reverses damage in neurons associated with Alzheimer’s, said Schubert, the study’s senior author. The lead author is Marguerite Prior, a research associate in Schubert’s laboratory.


However, a history of failed or disappointing drugs for the brain-destroying disease indicates a steep uphill road. Last week. Baxter International said it would stop late-stage trials of its Alzheimer’s drug Gammaguard, after it failed its main goal of slowing cognitive and functional decline in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.


And those Alzheimer’s drugs that have reached the market only temporarily relieve symptoms. J147’s ability to reverse cellular damage and low toxicity puts it in a class apart from all other Alzheimer drugs. And the ability to repair neuronal damage may make J147 useful in treating other neurodegenerative diseases, Schubert said.


The study subjected mice to various memoery tests. One test placed mice in a pool with a submerged escape platform. The platform was identifiable by cues they had been exposed to earlier, Prior said. The mice had been treated with the drug scopolamine, causing Alzheimer’s-like memory loss. In another variant, aged transgenic mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms were tested in the pool.


In both cases, mice that got J147 “significantly” outperformed mice that didn’t get it, Prior said.

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Brain DNA changes throughout life

Brain DNA changes throughout life | Amazing Science |

Researchers from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh have found brain cells alter their genetic make-up during a person's lifetime. They have identified genes - known as retrotransposons - responsible for thousands of tiny changes in the DNA of brain tissue.


Researchers, whose work is published in the journal Nature, found that the genes were particularly active in areas of the brain linked to cell renewal. By mapping the locations of these genes in the human genome, scientists could identify mutations that impact on brain function and that may cause diseases to develop.


The study shows for the first time that brain cells are genetically different to other cells in the body and are also genetically distinct from each other.

Scientists are now researching whether brain tumour formation and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's are associated with a change in retrotransposon activity.


Dr Geoff Faulkner said: "This research completely overturns the belief that the genetic make-up of brain cells remains static throughout life and provides us with new information about how the brain works.


"If we can understand better how these subtle genetic changes occur we could shed light on how brain cells regenerate, how processes like memory formation may have a genetic basis and possibly link the activity of these genes to brain diseases."


The research was carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Japan and the United States, and was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

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Emerging Technologies: Touchable Holography

Recently, mid-air displays are attracting a lot of attention in the fields of digital signage and home TV, and many types of holographic displays have been proposed and developed. Although we can "see" holograhpic images as if they are really floating in front of us, we cannot "touch" them, because they are nothing but light. This project adds tactile feedback to the hovering image in 3D free space. Tactile sensation requires contact with objects, but including a stimulator in the work space dilutes the appearance of holographic images. The Airborne Ultrasound Tactile Display solves this problem by producing tactile sensation on a user's hand without any direct contact and without diluting the quality of the holographic projection.
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Secret of efficient photosynthesis in purple bacteria is decoded

Secret of efficient photosynthesis in purple bacteria is decoded | Amazing Science |
MIT researchers find that the key to purple bacteria’s light-harvesting prowess lies in highly symmetrical molecules.


Purple bacteria are among Earth’s oldest organisms, and among its most efficient in turning sunlight into usable chemical energy. Now, a key to their light-harvesting prowess has been explained through a detailed structural analysis by scientists at MIT.

A ring-shaped molecule with an unusual ninefold symmetry is critical, the researchers found. The circular symmetry accounts for its efficiency in converting sunlight, and for its mechanical durability and strength. The new analysis, carried out by professors of chemistry Jianshu Cao and the late Robert Silbey, postdoc Liam Cleary, and graduate students Hang Chen and Chern Chuang, has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The symmetry makes the energy transfer much more robust,” Cao says. “Most biological systems are quite soft and disordered. You would not expect a regular structure, almost a perfect structure,” as is found in this primitive microbe, he says.

In these regular round complexes, Cao says, “nature only used certain symmetry numbers: mostly ninefold, some eightfold, very few tenfold. It’s very selective.” His group’s mathematical analysis shows there are good reasons for that, he says.

These ring-shaped molecules, in turn, are arranged in a hexagonal pattern on the spherical photosynthetic membrane of purple bacteria, Cao says. 

“With these symmetry numbers, the interactions between all pairs of the symmetric rings are optimized at the same time. … We believe that nature found the most robust structures in terms of energy transfer,” Cao says. Both eightfold and tenfold symmetries also work, though not as well: Only a lattice made up of ninefold symmetric complexes can tolerate an error in either direction. “You want consecutive numbers so it can tolerate such mistakes,” Cao says.

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Discovery of new hormone opens doors to new type 2 diabetes treatments

Discovery of new hormone opens doors to new type 2 diabetes treatments | Amazing Science |
Researchers have discovered that a particular type of protein (hormone) found in fat cells helps regulate how glucose (blood sugar) is controlled and metabolized in the liver.


Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers have discovered that a particular type of protein (hormone) found in fat cells helps regulate how glucose (blood sugar) is controlled and metabolized (used for energy) in the liver. Using experimental models and state-of-the-art technology, the scientists found that switching off this protein leads to better control of glucose production from the liver, revealing a potential new target that may be used to treat type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

The study appears online in the May 7, 2013 issue of Cell Metabolism.

"Although it has long been recognized that a key event leading to development of type 2 diabetes is uncontrolled glucose production from the liver, underlying mechanisms have been elusive," said senior author Gökhan S. Hotamisligil, chair of the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases and J.S. Simmons Professor of Genetics and Metabolism at HSPH. "We now have identified aP2 as a novel hormone released from fat cells that controls this critical function."


The ability of one organ -- in this case, the adipose tissue -- to so directly and profoundly control the actions of another -- the liver -- is in itself very exciting, said Hotamisligil. "We suspect this communication system between adipose tissue and liver may have evolved to help fat cells command the liver to supply the body with glucose in times of nutrient deprivation. However, when the engorged fat cells lose control over this signal in obesity, the blood levels of aP2 rise, glucose is poured into the bloodstream and cannot be cleared by other tissues. The result is high blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetes."

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Solar Flares Pack the Power of Millions of H-Bombs

Solar Flares Pack the Power of Millions of H-Bombs | Amazing Science |

Exploding from the Sun’s surface with energy equivalent to millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs, the flare spewed intense radiation into space. It was not directed toward Earth, but NASA says solar material from all three of the recent flares will pass by the Spitzer Space Telescope  and could give a “glancing blow” to the STEREO-B and Epoxi spacecraft. All these spacecraft can be put into a protective safe mode.


The latest eruption was characterized as an X3.2-class flare. The X-class category is the most powerful, and each step up in number indicates a doubling of energy. So this flare was more than twice as powerful as Sunday’s X1.7-class flare.


The panel of images above, from NASA’s Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, shows the massive eruption of energy in four different wavelengths. Each panel shows what was happening at a different temperature. According to NASA, this provides scientists with insights into the causes of solar flares.

SSMS Science's curator insight, November 1, 2013 11:39 PM

Solar flares are very powerful. In fact, sometimes, when one erupts it will shoot out and then come back down making an arc of plasma called a prominence. Normally, these arcs are so big that you could run the planet Jupiter through one without touching any of the sides. When a giant solar flare happens, sometimes a big ball of radiation particles shoot out. Now, if this ball were to hit earth, if big enough it could knock out power, communication lines, radio waves, and in general cause mayhem. What's even more cool is that compared to some other stars in the universe, the sun can be considered small. This is just one example of how amazing the universe is. ET

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Double Mastectomy: What We Know About BRCA Mutations and Breast Cancer

Double Mastectomy: What We Know About BRCA Mutations and Breast Cancer | Amazing Science |

Angelina Jolie decided to go for a double mastectomy. She doesn’t have cancer yet, but like many women with breast cancer mutations, she had the radical surgery to lower her risk.


Describing her decision as “My Medical Choice,” the 37-year-old actress revealed in an op-ed in the New York Times that she carries the BRCA1 gene mutation, which gives her an 87% risk of developing breast cancer at some point in her life. The abnormal gene also increases her risk of getting ovarian cancer, a typically aggressive disease, by 50%. To counteract those odds, Jolie wrote that she decided to have both her breasts removed.


While radical, her decision to pre-empt any future cancer is a common one, and backed by studies. In 2010, Australian scientists found that women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations who chose to have preventive mastectomies did not develop breast cancer over the three-year follow-up. What’s more, since the genetic abnormalities increase the risk of ovarian cancer, women who had their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed also dramatically lowered their risk of developing ovarian or breast cancers. They were 89% less likely to develop ovarian cancer and 61% less likely to develop breast cancer over three years than their counterparts who did not have prophylactic surgery. Among the 250 study participants who underwent preventive mastectomies, none developed breast cancer during the study follow-up. Additionally, a patient’s surgical choice affected overall mortality rates, both cancer related and not: only 3 percent of surgery participants died at the time of the study follow-up versus 10 percent of those who avoided the surgery.


And while the mutations are inherited – a mother with either aberration has a 50-50 chance of passing it on to her children – women who don’t get the mutation are not at increased risk of developing breast cancer, even if they belong to families with a history of the disease. Previous studies had suggested that women who did not have the mutations but had a mother or sister who did, could have up to a five times greater risk of developing different types of breast cancer, which led them to schedule frequent biopsies and even preventive mastectomies. The latest research, however, suggests that’s not necessarily the case.


But the new study counters those findings, concluding that the risk of breast cancer in women from BRCA families, who do not carry the mutations themselves, are no higher than that of women in families with other types of breast cancer. The study involved more than 3,000 families with breast cancer, including nearly 300 who had the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.


The genetic test for the BRCA mutations isn’t done for every woman, or even for every woman who is at risk of developing breast cancer. Doctors recommend it for those who develop cancer at a young age, or have multiple family members with the disease. It’s expensive – up to $3000 – and insurers require that patients meet a threshold for needing the test before they cover its cost. Jolie is fortunate to be able to afford not just the test but the reconstructive surgery following the procedure as well. But she’s aware that not all women are even aware of the genetic screening and may not be able to afford the testing. She wrote that her goal in announcing her choice to remove her breasts prophylactically is to raise awareness of the test and the treatment options that women have if they are positive for the mutations.

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Bitcoin Network Speed 8 Times Faster than Top 500 Supercomputers Combined

Bitcoin Network Speed 8 Times Faster than Top 500 Supercomputers Combined | Amazing Science |
The bitcoin network speed estimate on passed 1 exaFLOPS (1,000 petaFLOPS) this week - over 8 times the combined speed of the top 500 supercomputers.


The bitcoin network hashrate estimate on bitcoinwatch.compassed 1 exaFLOPS (1,000 petaFLOPS) this week – over 8 times the combined speed of the top 500 supercomputers. Experts will be quick to point out that this estimate is flawed, since no FLOPS are actually used in bitcoin mining. FLOPS stands for FLoating-point Operations Per Second, and is frequently used as a standard to measure computer speed. Bitcoin mining uses an integer calculation and almost no floating-point operations, so converting bitcoin network speed to this standard is somewhat clumsy.


The FLOPS estimate is based on the opportunity cost of computers using their hardware for mining instead of other applications.  Miners are using their graphics cards to perform hashes instead of other FLOPS-based distributed computing. Therefore, a conversion rate of 1 hash = 12.7K FLOP is used to estimate what this hardware could be doing.


The estimate was created in 2011, before the production of ASIC hardware that now dominates the network. ASICS are custom designed chips that can only perform bitcoin mining calculations. The exaFLOPS estimate breaks down with ASICs, because they are not capable of floating-point operations, and therefore there is no opportunity cost associated with their use.


Interestingly, the estimate may still be useful for estimating how well other supercomputers and distributed networking projects would be able to mine bitcoins. Their speed is measured in FLOPS, but they also have the capability of performing the integer operations used in hashing. What would happen if the top 10 supercomputers all switched to bitcoin mining? How much would that affect the network? Lets reverse the equation, and say that they would receive 1 hash for every 12.7k FLOP.


The fastest computer, Sequoia, would measure at about 1.6% of the bitcoin network. Their combined speed is 48 petaFLOPS, roughly equivalent to 5% of the bitcoin network. In fact, the top 500 supercomputers have a combined speed of 12% of the bitcoin network.


To actually use these computers for mining, It would take more than just installing standard mining software. But lets be honest, these computers have better things to work on like curing cancer, solving global warming, and monitoring banking transactions.

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Valles Marineris: Facts About the Grand Canyon of Mars

Valles Marineris: Facts About the Grand Canyon of Mars | Amazing Science |
This 2,500-mile system is one of the larger canyons in the solar system. 

Covering nearly a fifth the circumference of Mars, the canyon system Valles Marineris reigns as the largest canyon system on the red planet. Dwarfing its Earthly counterpart, the Grand Canyon, the Martian feature is one of the larger canyons in the solar system.


Valles Marineris is a system of canyons that spans 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers). At some points, the canyon is 125 miles (200 km) wide. Regions can reach depths of 6 miles (10 km). If the system were located on Earth, it would stretch across the United States, from Los Angeles to the Atlantic coast.


By comparison, Earth's natural wonder, the Grand Canyon, is only 227 miles (446 km) long, 18 miles (30 km) wide, and 1 mile (1.6 km) deep. A windy channel on Venus, Baltis Valles, extends longer than the Martian system, as do a handful of rift valleys on Earth, which form along fault lines as the crust breaks apart.


Valles Marineris stretches east-west just below the Martian equator. It starts in the west in the Noctis Labyrinthus, a system of maze-like valleys and canyons, and stretches around 20 percent of the planet to the chaotic terrain near the Chryse Planitia basin.


The canyon system contains a number of different features that give clues to its formation. Collapse pits created by rushing water eating away at the land, massive floods, and seeping along canyon walls all point to water just at or beneath the surface at some point in the Martian history. Cracks in the crust, cliffs and walls, and landslides also exist along the expanse of Valles Marineris.


The vast canyon can be seen from Earth through a telescope as a dark scarring on the planet's surface. Features known as chasmata, steep depressions that resemble canyons on Earth, dominate the canyon.

The canyon begins in the Noctis Labyrinthus on the western edge, a region of material thought to have volcanic origins. Two parallel chasmata, Ius and Tithonium, stretch eastward, and contain lava flows and faults from the Tharsis Bulge.


Three more chasmata, Melas, Candor and Ophir, are connected on the east side of the parallel features. Their floors contain eroded material and volcanic ash. The floor of the Melas chasma contains the deepest point of the canyon system. Coprates Chasma lies farther east, with well-defined layered deposits. These deposits may have formed from landslides or wind-blown material, although the region may once have housed isolated lakes. Eos and Ganges are another set of chasmata that contain volcanic or windblown deposits that have slowly eroded over time.


The Valles Marineris system empties into the Chryse region, one of the lowest regions on Mars. Any water from the canyon system would have flown into the lowlands, and it may have once contained an ancient lake or ocean.

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Make your own RADAR invisibility cloak with a 3D printer

Make your own RADAR invisibility cloak with a 3D printer | Amazing Science |
Researchers at Duke University have developed an invisibility cloak that can be made by an entry-level 3D printer.


Invisibility cloaks have been around in various forms since 2006, when the first cloak based on optical metamaterials was demonstrated. The design of cloaking devices has come a long way in the past seven years, as illustrated by a simple, yet highly effective, radar cloak developed by Duke University Professor Yaroslav Urzhumov, that can be made using a hobby-level 3D printer.


As envisioned by Harry Potter and DARPA, invisibility cloaks are an important new direction for camouflage technology. In contrast to conventional stealth technology, which concentrates on reducing the detection signature (radar cross section, heat signatures, optical detection, etc.) of an object, invisibility cloaks work by making it seem as if radar and light flows around the cloaked object. When successfully accomplished, neither the cloaked object nor the cloak will be detected.


How a cloak works can be illustrated by an analogy offered by Duke University Professor David Smith. Imagine a fabric in which the threads are optical fibers. As seen on the left of the image below, light will travel freely from one edge to the opposite edge of a piece of this fabric. If an opaque object is placed so that it blocks some of the light, it is equivalent to cutting a hole in the optical fiber fabric, as seen in the top right-hand image.

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Emergence of individuality in genetically identical mice raised identically

Emergence of individuality in genetically identical mice raised identically | Amazing Science |

How do people and other organisms evolve into individuals that are distinguished from others by their own personal brain structure and behavior? Why do identical twins not resemble each other perfectly even when they grew up together?

To shed light on these questions, the scientists observed 40 genetically identical mice that were kept in an enclosure that offered a rich shared environment with a large variety of activity and exploration options.

They showed that individual experiences influence the development of new neurons in mice, leading to measurable changes in the brain.


“The animals were not only genetically identical, they were also living in the same environment,” explained principal investigator Gerd Kempermann, Professor for Genomics of Regeneration, CRTD, and Site Speaker of the DZNE in Dresden. “However, this environment was so rich that each mouse gathered its own individual experiences in it. Over time, the animals therefore increasingly differed in their realm of experience and behavior.”


Each of the mice was equipped with a special microchip emitting electromagnetic signals. This allowed the scientists to construct the mice movement profiles and quantify their exploratory behavior.


The result: despite a common environment and identical genes, the mice showed highly individualized behavioral patterns. In the course of the three-month experiment, these differences increased in size.


“These differences were associated with differences in the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that supports learning and memory,” said Kempermann “Animals that explored the environment to a greater degree also grew more new neurons than animals that were more passive.”


Adult neurogenesis [generation of new neurons] in the hippocampus allows the brain to react to new information flexibly. With this study, the authors show for the first time that personal experiences and ensuing behavior contribute to the “individualization of the brain.” The individualization they observed cannot be reduced to differences in environment or genetic makeup.


“Adult neurogenesis also occurs in the hippocampus of humans,” said Kempermann. “Hence we assume that we have tracked down a neurobiological foundation for individuality that also applies to humans.”


“The finding that behavior and experience contribute to differences between individuals has implications for debates in psychology, education, biology, and medicine,” said Ulman Lindenberger, Director of the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (MPIB) in Berlin.


“Our findings show that development itself contributes to differences in adult behavior. This is what many have assumed, but now there is direct neurobiological evidence in support of this claim. Our results suggest that experience influences the aging of the human mind.”


In the study, a control group of animals housed in a relatively unattractive enclosure was also examined; on average, neurogenesis in these animals was lower than in the experimental mice. “When viewed from educational and psychological perspectives, the results of our experiment suggest that an enriched environment fosters the development of individuality,” said Lindenberger.

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'Einstein's Planet': New Alien World Revealed by Special Theory of Relativity

'Einstein's Planet': New Alien World Revealed by Special Theory of Relativity | Amazing Science |
Astronomers used a new method to discover a planet orbiting another star.


Einstein's special relativity has proven more useful than ever, as scientists have now used it todiscover an alien planet around another star. The newfound world — nicknamed "Einstein's planet" by the astronomers who discovered it — is the latest of more than 800 planets known to exist beyond our solar system, and the first to be found through this method.


The planet, officially known as Kepler-76b, is 25 percent larger than Jupiter and weighs about twice as much, putting it in a class known as "hot Jupiters." The world orbits a star located about 2,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.


The researchers capitalized on subtle effects predicted by Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity to find the planet. The first is called the "beaming" effect, and occurs when light from the parent star brightens as its planet tugs it a nudge closer to Earth, and dims as the planet pulls it away. Relativistic effects cause light particles, called photons, to pile up and become focused in the direction of the star's motion.


"This is the first time that this aspect of Einstein's theory of relativity has been used to discover a planet," research team member Tsevi Mazeh of Tel Aviv University in Israel said in a statement.

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Carnivorous Utricularia gibba plant cleans its genomic DNA from non-coding DNA

Carnivorous Utricularia gibba plant cleans its genomic DNA from non-coding DNA | Amazing Science |

Scientists have discovered that a carnivorous plant deletes so much of its own junk DNA that it has hardly any left. The finding, published online in Nature, hints that such noncoding DNA may not be as important as some scientists believe.


Junk DNA is probably well named as junk. There doesn’t seem to be any glorious reason or function behind it," said Victor Albert, a University at Buffalo molecular evolutionary biologist and one of the lead authors on the study.


Only 2% of the human genome is actually made up of functional elements such as  genes, according to Albert. The rest of it is non-coding DNA that doesn’t appear to carry active, relevant information for that living creature’s proper functioning (i.e. for building proteins).


But the carnivorous bladderwort plant, Utricularia gibba, has only about 3% junk, according to an international team of researchers -- which is unusual even by plant standards. About 97% of its code actually consists of genes -- making it a lean, mean genetic machine.

U. gibba is a feathery carnivorous plant that forms mats over water and traps single-celled organisms and tiny crustaceans in submerged, millimeter-wide bladders. It draws nutrients from those tiny carcasses in environments where the soil is often very nutrient-poor.

U. gibba's genome is already short -- it’s made of 82 million base pairs, while humans have over 3 billion base pairs, Albert said. Even the basic "lab rat" of plant science,Arabidopsis, has a genetic code that’s about 1.5 times as long as U. gibba's.


And yet the plant packs efficiently, stuffing all its useful genetic code into a fraction of the sprawling DNA real estate afforded other plants and animals.


Repeated segments buried in the plant's DNA show them that the entire genome has been duplicated three times since its lineage split off from its common ancestor with the tomato and the grape -- and yet this regular doubling of the code hasn’t increased its length. Clearly the plant must be cutting unnecessary DNA faster than it’s adding it, the researchers concluded.


The scientists aren’t sure why this particular bladderwort has such a tiny, efficient genetic code. It may be pure chance, Albert said, particularly since other carnivorous plants' codes can stretch much longer.


But it does show that perhaps all that junk DNA — which some scientists have argued serves some undiscovered purpose — may be getting more credit than is due, in humans as well as plants.


The bladderwort certainly shows that at least one plant makes a perfectly good plant without it," Albert said. "By extension, I would say it's suggestive that maybe junk DNA in general isn't of much importance."

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Bacteria that live in the gut have been used to reverse obesity and Type-2 diabetes in animal studies

Bacteria that live in the gut have been used to reverse obesity and Type-2 diabetes in animal studies | Amazing Science |

Research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that a broth containing a single species of bacteria could dramatically alter the health of obese mice. It is thought to change the gut lining and the way food is absorbed.


Similar tests now need to be take place in people to see if the same bacteria can be used to shed the pounds. The human body is teeming with bacteria - the tiny organisms outnumber human cells in the body 10 to one. And there is growing evidence that this collection of bacteria or "microbiome" affects health.


Studies have shown differences between the types and numbers of bacteria in the guts of lean and obese people. Meanwhile gastric bypass operations have been shown to change the balance of bacteria in the gut.


Researchers at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium, worked with a single species of bacteria Akkermansia muciniphila. It normally makes up 3-5% of gut bacteria, but its levels fall in obesity. Mice on a high fat diet - which led them to put on two to three times more fat than normal, lean, mice - were fed the bacteria. The mice remained bigger than their lean cousins, but had lost around half of their extra weight despite no other changes to their diet. They also had lower levels of insulin resistance, a key symptom of Type-2 diabetes. Prof. Patrice Cani, from the Catholic University of Louvain, told the BBC: "Of course it is an improvement, we did not completely reverse the obesity, but it is a very strong decrease in the fat mass. "It is the first demonstration that there is a direct link between one specific species and improving metabolism."

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