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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Paraplegic man has made the first kick of the Soccer World Cup using a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton

Paraplegic man has made the first kick of the Soccer World Cup using a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton | Amazing Science |

Juliano Pinto, a 29-year-old with complete paralysis of the lower trunk, performed the symbolic kick-off at the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.

Using his robotic suit, Mr Pinto kicked the official ball a short distance along a mat laid down by the touchline.

But some observers argued the historic event was not given the attention it deserved during the opening ceremony. The identity of the young volunteer was kept a secret until after the event. His robotic exoskeleton was created by a team of more than 150 researchers led by Brazilian neuroscientist Dr Miguel Nicolelis.

Dr Nicolelis tweeted called the event a "great team effort" and afterwards tweeted: "We did it!!!" "It was up to Juliano to wear the exoskeleton, but all of them made that shot. It was a big score by these people and by our science," he commented.

The neuroscientist, who is based at Duke University in the US, is a leading figure in the field of brain-machine interfaces. In breakthrough work published in 2003, he showed that monkeys could control the movement of virtual arms on an avatar using just their brain activity.

The scientists have been working under the banner of a consortium called the Walk Again Project. In a statement, the consortium said the World Cup demonstration would be "just the beginning" of a future "in which people with paralysis may abandon the wheelchair and literally walk again".

But some TV networks didn't capture the event, prompting criticism on Twitter. Some commentators also took aim at ceremony organizers for apparently sidelining the moment in favor of performing acts. "It's the first time an exoskeleton has been controlled by brain activity and offered feedback to the patients," Dr Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University, told the AFP news agency

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Goldilocks effect through histone anchors keep embryonic development balanced

Goldilocks effect through histone anchors keep embryonic development balanced | Amazing Science |

The "Goldilocks effect" in fruit fly embryos may be more intricate than previously thought. It's been known that specific proteins, called histones, must exist within a certain range—if there are too few, a fruit fly's DNA is damaged; if there are too many, the cell dies. Now research out of the University of Rochester shows that different types of histone proteins also need to exist in specific proportions. The work further shows that cellular storage facilities keep over-produced histones in reserve until they are needed.

Associate Professor of Biology Michael Welte has discovered that the histone balance is regulated by those storage facilities, called lipid droplets—which are best known as fat depots.

The findings were published today in the journal Current Biology.

Welte had previously discovered that another protein—called Jabba—anchored histones onto lipid droplets. In his latest research, he found that excess histones migrate outside the nucleus to the droplets, where they are temporarily held until needed to create new chromosomes.

"People have observed histone proteins on lipid droplets in multiple organisms, including mammals," said Welte. "The results of this research project may very well help us understand the role of histones and lipid droplets in humans."

Welte found that by deleting the Jabba anchors from the cell, one particular type of histone increased in proportion in the nucleus, since they had no way to be held in reserve away from the cell nuclei. That made the embryo more sensitive to environmental stresses like higher temperature, leading to defects during cell division and reduced viability.

Just as it is in humans, the embryonic stage is a crucial time for the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Starting from a single cell, it has to rapidly multiply in cell number and develop into a larva while coping with stresses from the environment. The embryo does all of that by activating a myriad of genetic on-off switches, a process that involves unwrapping and rewrapping various regions of DNA.

Histones are important to the process because they act as spools that DNA molecules wrap around to form chromosomes, making it possible for the DNA to do its work in the first place. Welte discovered that if the different histones are not in the correct proportion, the embryo has trouble developing correctly and may even die.

Achieving the correct proportion of histones is not something that happens automatically in the fruit fly embryo, as Welte found in his research. Instead, when a certain histone type is made in excess, it is redirected to the lipid-droplet holding sites outside the nucleus where it is kept until needed.

Welte and his team will try next to identify which parts of the Jabba protein actually bind with the histone. Once that's determined, scientists may have the ability to manipulate the histone storage process.

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Non-linear Interferometers: Viewing Deeper into the Quantum World

Non-linear Interferometers: Viewing Deeper into the Quantum World | Amazing Science |
Researchers have experimentally demonstrated that interferometers, the most sensitive measuring instruments yet invented, can be improved using nonlinear physics. The result answers a fundamental question in quantum mechanics and could open the way to more sensitive detection of magnetic fields in delicate systems such as the human heart.

As with all quantum objects, photons -- the basic building blocks of light -- display a "wave-particle" duality. Interferometers exploit the wave-like behaviour of photons to measure a signal, known as a phase shift, affected by tiny forces acting on the interferometer. However, the particle-like behaviour of the same photons introduces noise into the measurement, reducing the quality of the results and limiting the sensitivity of these instruments.

This limitation is an expression of Heisenberg's famous Uncertainty Principle, which, in this context, states that the more precisely we know the phase of an interferometer signal, the less precisely we know the number of particles that are being measured, and vice versa. The standard approach for overcoming this sensitivity limit is to use quantum-entanglement among the photons, meaning that individual photons become correlated at the quantum level. The noise introduced by a quantum fluctuation associated with one photon can be cancelled by an equivalent and opposite fluctuation from another photon.

An alternative approach exploits interactions between particles in a nonlinear interferometer to enhance the signal that is being measured. Theorists have predicted that such nonlinear interferometers should outperform their linear counterparts when a sufficiently large number of photons are used in the measurement. So what is the difference between these two types of interferometers? In a linear interferometer, the photons do not interact amongst each other within the device -- instead, researchers must first create a fragile entangled state and then send them through the interferometer. In contrast, in a nonlinear interferometer all interactions between photons take place within the device itself. Even without generating entanglement among the photons, the signal of the interferometer is enhanced because the response of one photon is increased by the presence of other photons within the device.

In a pioneering experiment that took place three years ago, ICFO researchers led by ICREA Prof at ICFO Morgan Mitchell were able to experimentally demonstrate a proof-of-principle nonlinear interferometer that exploited interactions between photons to measure the tiny magnetization of a cloud of laser-cooled atoms. Now the same group has gone further with a new study, recently published in Physical Review X, which, for the first time, demonstrates that such a nonlinear interferometer can outperform an equivalent linear measurement, confirming the proposed theoretical predictions.

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Human urine can be a cheap, durable and effective alternative to platinum-carbon as a catalyst for fuel cells

Human urine can be a cheap, durable and effective alternative to platinum-carbon as a catalyst for fuel cells | Amazing Science |
Human urine, otherwise potentially polluting waste, is an universal unused resource in organic form disposed by the human body. We present for the first time “proof of concept” of a convenient, perhaps economically beneficial, and innovative template-free route to synthesize highly porous carbon containing heteroatoms such as N, S, Si, and P from human urine waste as a single precursor for carbon and multiple heteroatoms. High porosity is created through removal of inherently-present salt particles in as-prepared “Urine Carbon” (URC), and multiple heteroatoms are naturally doped into the carbon, making it unnecessary to employ troublesome expensive pore-generating templates as well as extra costly heteroatom-containing organic precursors. Additionally, isolation of rock salts is an extra bonus of present work. The technique is simple, but successful, offering naturally doped conductive hierarchical porous URC, which leads to superior electrocatalytic ORR activity comparable to state of the art Pt/C catalyst along with much improved durability and methanol tolerance, demonstrating that the URC can be a promising alternative to costly Pt-based electrocatalyst for ORR. The ORR activity can be addressed in terms of heteroatom doping, surface properties and electrical conductivity of the carbon framework.
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p110δ inhibitors found to stimulate immunity against many cancer types

p110δ inhibitors found to stimulate immunity against many cancer types | Amazing Science |

new study, published in Nature, provides the first evidence that such drugs can significantly restrict tumor growth and spread and reduce the chances of relapse for a broad range of cancers. The researchers at UCL, the Babraham Institute and Queen Mary University of London, together with scientists from Genentech, South San Francisco, showed that inhibition of the p110δ enzyme helps to boost the body's immune system to kill tumor cells. The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

"Our study shows that p110δ inhibitors have the potential to offer effective immunity to many types of cancer by unleashing the body's own immune response," says study co-leader Professor Bart Vanhaesebroeck of the UCL Cancer Institute, who first discovered the p110δ enzyme in 1997. "p110δ is highly expressed and important in white blood cells, called 'leukocytes'. Given that leukemias are the result of leukocytes becoming cancerous, they are a natural target for p110δ inhibitors. Now, we have shown that blocking p110δ also has the remarkable effect of boosting the body's immune response against leukemias as well as other cancers."

The team showed that inhibiting p110δ in mice significantly increased cancer survival rates across a broad range of tumor types, both solid and haematological cancers. For example, mice in which p110δ was blocked survived breast cancer for almost twice as long as mice with active p110δ. Their cancers also spread significantly less, with far fewer and smaller tumors developing. Survival after surgical removal of primary breast cancer tumors was also vastly improved, which has important clinical implications for stopping breast cancer from returning following surgery. The team's data further show that following p110δ inhibition, the immune system could develop an effective memory response to completely fight off the cancer.

Lead author Dr Khaled Ali, who is now based at Amgen, San Francisco, says: "When we first introduced tumors in p110δ-deficient mice, we expected them to grow faster because p110δ is important for the immune system. Instead, some tumors started shrinking. When we investigated this unexpected effect, we found that p110δ is especially important in so-called regulatory T cells which are suppressive immune cells that the tumors engage to protect themselves against immune attack."

The p110δ enzyme is a member of the PI3-kinase family, and is sometimes called PI3Kδ. p110δ and the other PI3Ks are hot drug targets for the pharmaceutical industry as they are implicated in many cancers and are readily druggable.

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Consciousness more complex thought: after anesthesia, brain passes through multiple metastable activity states

Consciousness more complex thought: after anesthesia, brain passes through multiple metastable activity states | Amazing Science |
Research shows that recovery from deep anesthesia is not a smooth, linear process but is instead a dynamic journey with specific states of activity the brain must temporarily occupy on the way to full recovery.

"I always found it remarkable that someone can recover from anesthesia, not only that you blink your eyes and can walk around, but you return to being yourself. So if you learned how to do something on Sunday and on Monday, you have surgery, and you wake up and you still know how to do it," says Alexander Proekt, a visiting fellow in Don Pfaff's Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University and an anesthesiologist at Weill Cornell Medical College. "It seemed like there ought to be some kind of guide or path for the system to follow."

The obvious explanation is that as the anesthetic washes out of the body, electrical activity in the brain gradually returns to its conscious patterns. However, new research by Proekt and colleagues suggests the trip back is not so simple.

In the awake brain, of both humans and rats, neurons generate electrical voltage that oscillates. Many of these oscillations together form a signal that appears as a squiggly line on a recording of brain activity, such as an LFP. When someone is asleep, under anesthesia, or in a coma, these oscillations occur more slowly, or at a low frequency. When he or she is awake, they speed up. The researchers examined the recordings from the rats' brains to figure out how the electrical activity in these regions changed as they moved from anesthetized to awake.

"Recordings from each animal wound up having particular features that spontaneously appeared, suggesting their brain activity was abruptly transitioning through particular states," Hudson says. "We analyzed the probability of a brain jumping from one state to another, and we found that certain states act as hubs through which the brain must pass to continue on its way to consciousness." While the electrical activity in all the rats' brains passed through these hubs, the precise path back to consciousness was not the same each time, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Andrew E. Hudson, Diany Paol Calderon, Donald W. Pfaff and Alex Proekt.Recovery of consciousness is mediated by a network of discrete metastable activity statesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 9, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1408296111

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Actionable Diagnosis of Neuroleptospirosis by Next-Generation Sequencing

Actionable Diagnosis of Neuroleptospirosis by Next-Generation Sequencing | Amazing Science |

Because more than 100 different infectious agents can cause encephalitis, establishing a diagnosis with the use of cultures, serologic tests, and pathogen-specific PCR assays can be difficult. Unbiased next-generation sequencing has the potential to revolutionize our ability to discover emerging pathogens, especially newly identified viruses [5-8]. However, the usefulness of next-generation sequencing for the diagnosis of infectious diseases in a clinically relevant timeframe is largely unexplored. [9] A group of scientists and medical doctors now used unbiased next-generation sequencing to identify a treatable, albeit rare, bacterial cause of meningoencephalitis. In the case they showed, the results of next-generation sequencing contributed directly to a dramatic effect on the patient's care, resulting ultimately in a favorable outcome. Thus, unbiased next-generation sequencing coupled with a rapid bioinformatics pipeline provided a clinically actionable diagnosis of a specific infectious disease from an uncommon pathogen that eluded conventional testing for months after the initial presentation. This approach facilitated the use of targeted and efficacious antimicrobial therapy.

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Long-time predicted object found: Red supergiant replaced its core with a neutron star

Long-time predicted object found: Red supergiant replaced its core with a neutron star | Amazing Science |
A type of object first predicted 40 years ago has been found.

In the mid-1970s, theoretical astrophysicist Kip Thorne, working with collaborator Anna Zytkow, postulated the existence of a bizarre form of star. Now known as Thorne-Zytkow objects (TZOs), these bodies were the product of the merger of two separate stars: one a giant star, the second a neutron star. They were able to calculate several likely properties of these stars, making predictions for what they might look like. But in the intervening years, none have been discovered.

Anna Zytkow, however, did not give up the search. And now, 40 years later, she may have spotted one. She and three collaborators (Phil Massey, Nidia Morrell, and Emily Levesque) have reported what may be the first observational evidence that TZOs exist.

Neutron stars are the cores of massive stars that have undergone a supernova. Their massive gravity compresses matter so much that an object the mass of the Sun can squeeze into a sphere about 20 km across. At these densities, matter is compressed down to neutrons—and possibly even a sea of subatomic particles.

To form a star massive enough to undergo a supernova generally requires a dense cloud of gas, which often forms additional stars. These companions can exchange mass with the neutron stars in various ways, but Thorne and Zytkow suggested that they may do more than interact—the companion can swallow the neutron star. Many stars evolve through a giant phase in which their envelope expands significantly. Should the neutron star be orbiting close enough, this expansion could cause the giant star to envelop its companion.

Once this happens, the neutron star's orbit would rapidly be slowed down by its interactions with the gas, causing it to spiral toward the star's center. Once there, it would displace the normal core of the star, in effect taking over the center of the object. Although its intense gravity would draw matter in, its equally intense heat would drive it off, creating a stable balance—the TZO.

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Complex Neural Circuitry Keeps You from Biting Your Own Tongue

Complex Neural Circuitry Keeps You from Biting Your Own Tongue | Amazing Science |

Eating, like breathing and sleeping, seems to be a rather basic biological task. Yet chewing requires a complex interplay between the tongue and jaw, with the tongue positioning food between the teeth and then moving out of the way every time the jaw clamps down to grind it up. If the act weren't coordinated precisely, the unlucky chewer would end up biting more tongue than burrito.

Duke University researchers have used a sophisticated tracing technique in mice to map the underlying brain circuitry that keeps mealtime relatively painless. The study, which appears June 3 in eLife, could lend insight into a variety of human behaviors, from nighttime teeth grinding to smiling or complex vocalizations.

"Chewing is an activity that you can consciously control, but if you stop paying attention these interconnected neurons in the brain actually do it all for you," said Edward Stanek IV, lead study author and graduate student at Duke University School of Medicine. "We were interested in understanding how this all works, and the first step was figuring out where these neurons reside."

Previous mapping attempts have produced a relatively blurry picture of this chewing control center. Researchers know that the movement of the muscles in the jaw and tongue are governed by special neurons called motoneurons and that these are in turn controlled by another set of neurons called premotor neurons. But the exact nature of these connections -- which premotor neurons connect to which motoneurons -- has not been defined.

Senior study author Fan Wang, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology and a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, has been mapping neural circuits in mice for many years. Under her guidance, Stanek used a special form of the rabies virus to trace the origins of chewing movements.

The rabies virus works naturally by jumping backwards across neurons until it has infected the entire brain of its victim. For this study, Stanek used a genetically disabled version of rabies that could only jump from the muscles to the motoneurons, and then back to the premotor neurons. The virus also contained a green or red fluorescent tag, which enabled the researchers to see where it landed after it was done jumping.

Stanek injected these fluorescently labeled viruses into two muscles, the tongue-protruding genioglossus muscle and the jaw-closing masseter muscle. He found that a group of premotor neurons simultaneously connect to the motoneurons that regulate jaw opening and those that trigger tongue protrusion. Similarly, he found another group that connects to both motoneurons that regulate jaw closing and those responsible for tongue retraction. The results suggest a simple method for coordinating the movement of the tongue and jaw that usually keeps the tongue safe from injury.

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Rats Show Regret After Making Wrong Choices, Scientists Say

Rats Show Regret After Making Wrong Choices, Scientists Say | Amazing Science |

Researchers studied brain areas involved in decision making, evaluating outcomes.

Could've, should've, would've. Everyone has made the wrong choice at some point in life and suffered regret because of it. Now a new study shows we're not alone in our reaction to incorrect decisions. Rats too can feel regret.

Regret is thinking about what you should have done, says David Redish, a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. It differs from disappointment, which you feel when you don't get what you expected. And it affects how you make decisions in the future.

Redish and colleague Adam Steiner at the University of Minneapolis, found that rats expressed regret through both their behavior and their neural activity. Those signals, researchers report today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, were specific to situations the researchers set up to induce regret, which led to specific neural patterns in the brain and in behavior.

When Redish and Steiner looked for neural activity, they focused on two areas known in people—and in some animals—to be involved in decision-making and the evaluation of expected outcomes: the orbitofrontal cortex and the ventral striatum. Brain scans have revealed that people with a damaged orbitofrontal cortex, for instance, don't express regret. To record nerve-cell activity, the researchers implanted electrodes in the brains of four rats—a typical sample size in this kind of experiment—then trained them to run a "choice" maze.

Each rat had its own preferences regarding flavor and patience. And those preferences manifested in specific nerve-cell patterns in its brain. Redish and Steiner could thus tell when a particular rat was thinking about, say, the chocolate-flavored versus the cherry-flavored food. When a rat passed up food at one spoke and moved on to the next, then realized it would have to wait even longer for food at the second spoke, two things happened: It would look back to the previous spoke, and the specific nerve-cell pattern in its brain that represented that first choice would light up.

"That's the regret," says Redish. Not only were the rats physically looking backward; they were also thinking about the choice they hadn't made. What's more, "just like humans," says Redish, the rats were more likely to take a "bad deal"—or wait longer than they normally would for their next piece of food—after a regretful decision. The rats would also hastily consume food that stemmed from a bad choice, spending only about five seconds with the treat. Normally the rats would spend about 20 seconds grooming themselves and eating their food.

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DARPA's Z-Man Program Demonstrates Human Climbing Like Geckos

DARPA's Z-Man Program Demonstrates Human Climbing Like Geckos | Amazing Science |

DARPA’s Z-Man program has demonstrated the first known human climbing of a glass wall using climbing devices inspired by geckos. The historic ascent involved a 218-pound climber ascending and descending 25 feet of glass, while also carrying an additional 50-pound load in one trial, with no climbing equipment other than a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles. The novel polymer microstructure technology used in those paddles was developed for DARPA by Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Mass.

Historically, gaining the high ground has always been an operational advantage for warfighters, but the climbing instruments on which they’re frequently forced to rely—tools such as ropes and ladders—have not advanced significantly for millennia. Not only can the use of such tools be overt and labor intensive, they also only allow for sequential climbing whereby the first climber often takes on the highest risk.

DARPA created the Z-Man program to overcome these limitations and deliver maximum safety and flexibility for maneuver and rapid response to warfighters operating in tight urban environments. The goal of the program is to develop biologically inspired climbing aids to enable warfighters carrying a full combat load to scale vertical walls constructed from typical building materials.

“The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the Animal Kingdom, so it was natural for DARPA to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the maneuver challenges that U.S. forces face in urban environments,” said Dr. Matt Goodman, the DARPA program manager for Z-Man. “Like many of the capabilities that the Department of Defense pursues, we saw with vertical climbing that nature had long since evolved the means to efficiently achieve it. The challenge to our performer team was to understand the biology and physics in play when geckos climb and then reverse-engineer those dynamics into an artificial system for use by humans.”

Geckos can climb on a wide variety of surfaces, including smooth surfaces like glass, with adhesive pressures of 15-30 pounds per square inch for each limb, meaning that a gecko can hang its entire body by one toe. The anatomy of a gecko toe consists of a microscopic hierarchical structure composed of stalk-like setae (100 microns in length, 2 microns in radius). From individual setae, a bundle of hundreds of terminal tips called spatulae (approximately 200 nanometers in diameter at their widest) branch out and contact the climbing surface.

A gecko is able to climb on glass by using physical bond interactions—specifically van der Waals intermolecular forces—between the spatulae and a surface to adhere reversibly, resulting in easy attachment and removal of the gecko’s toes from the surface. The van der Waals mechanism implied that it is the size and shape of the spatulae tips that affect adhesive performance, not specific surface chemistry. This suggested that there were design principles and physical models derived from nature that might enable scientists to fabricate an adhesive inspired by gecko toes.

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Scientists Create Shatterproof Phone Screens

Scientists Create Shatterproof Phone Screens | Amazing Science |

Too many of us are carrying shattered phones because screens we can't afford new screens. However, scientists from the University of Akron may have discovered a solution to save fragile phones their dilapidated doom.

Lead researcher Yu Zhu, assistant professor of polymer science at University of Akron, and his team created a transparent electrode that could make phones shatterproof.

Zhu and his team found that that a transparent layer of electrodes on a polymer surface helps boost surface toughness and flexibility. Researchers said that latest findings were proven with repeated scotch tape peeling and bending tests.

Conductive metal films are patterned into transparent metal nanowire networks by using electrospun fibers as a mask. Both the transmittance and sheet resistance (6 Ω/□ at 83% transmittance and 24 Ω/□ at 92% transmittance) of the metal nanowire-based electrode out-perform commercial indium doped tin oxide (ITO) electrodes.

The metal nanowire-based transparent electrodes were fabricated on both rigid glass and flexible polyethylene terephthalate (PET) substrates. In addition to state of art performance, the transparent electrodes also exhibit outstanding toughness. They can withstand repeated scotch tape peeling and various bending tests. The method for making the metal nanowire is scalable, and a touch screen on flexible substrate is demonstrated.

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WISE 0855-0714: Astronomer discovers fourth-closest star system - the coldest brown dwarf known

WISE 0855-0714: Astronomer discovers fourth-closest star system - the coldest brown dwarf known | Amazing Science |
U.S. astronomer has discovered WISE J085510.83-071442.5, the fourth closest system to our Sun and the coldest brown dwarf yet seen in the known Universe.

WISE 0855-0714 is estimated to be 3 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter and has a chilly temperature between minus 48 to minus 13 degrees Celsius.

With such a low mass, the object could be a gas giant that was ejected from its star system. But astronomers estimate WISE 0855-0714 is probably a brown dwarf rather than a planet since brown dwarfs are known to be fairly common.

At a distance of about 7.2 light-years away from Earth, this object is the fourth closest system to us, after Alpha Centauri AB – Proxima Centauri, Barnard’s Star and WISE 1049-5319 (also known as Luhman 16AB).

“It is very exciting to discover a new neighbor of our Solar System that is so close. In addition, its extreme temperature should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures,” said Dr Kevin Luhman from the Pennsylvania State University, the author of a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters ( version).

“This object appeared to move really fast in the data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). That told us it was something special.”

WISE was able to spot WISE 0855-0714 because it surveyed the entire sky twice in infrared light, observing some areas up to three times. Cool objects like brown dwarfs can be invisible when viewed by visible-light telescopes, but their thermal glow stands out in infrared light.

Reference: K.L. Luhman. 2014. Discovery of a ~250 K Brown Dwarf at 2 pc from the Sun.ApJ 786, L18; doi: 10.1088/2041-8205/786/2/L18

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Massive body of water discovered towards Earth's core - 3 times bigger than all oceans combined

Massive body of water discovered towards Earth's core - 3 times bigger than all oceans combined | Amazing Science |

A huge expanse of water trapped in a layer of the Earth's mantle could help explain the origin of our oceans.

A reservoir of water three times the volume of all the oceans has been discovered deep beneath the Earth's surface. The water is hidden inside a blue rock called ringwoodite that lies 700 kilometres underground in the mantle, the layer of hot rock between Earth's surface and its core.

The huge size of the reservoir throws new light on the origin of Earth's water. Some geologists think water arrived in comets as they struck the planet, but the new discovery supports an alternative idea that the oceans gradually oozed out of the interior of the early Earth.

"It's good evidence the Earth's water came from within," says Steven Jacobsen of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The hidden water could also act as a buffer for the oceans on the surface, explaining why they have stayed the same size for millions of years.

Jacobsen's team used 2000 seismometers to study the seismic waves generated by more than 500 earthquakes. These waves move throughout Earth's interior, including the core, and can be detected at the surface. "They make the Earth ring like a bell for days afterwards," says Jacobsen.

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Oxytocin helps old muscle work like new, study finds

Oxytocin helps old muscle work like new, study finds | Amazing Science |
UC Berkeley researchers have discovered that oxytocin — a hormone associated with maternal nurturing, social attachments, childbirth and sex — is indispensable for healthy muscle maintenance and repair. It is the latest target for development into a potential treatment for age-related muscle wasting.

A few other biochemical factors in blood have been connected to aging and disease in recent years, but oxytocin is the first anti-aging molecule identified that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for clinical use in humans, the researchers said. Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin, is already used to help with labor and to control bleeding after childbirth. Clinical trials of an oxytocin nasal spray are also underway to alleviate symptoms associated with mental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and dementia.

“Unfortunately, most of the molecules discovered so far to boost tissue regeneration are also associated with cancer, limiting their potential as treatments for humans,” said study principal investigator Irina Conboy, associate professor of bioengineering. “Our quest is to find a molecule that not only rejuvenates old muscle and other tissue, but that can do so sustainably long-term without increasing the risk of cancer.”

Conboy and her research team say that oxytocin, secreted into the blood by the brain’s pituitary gland, is a good candidate because it is a broad range hormone that reaches every organ, and it is not known to be associated with tumors or to interfere with the immune system.

The new study determined that in mice, blood levels of oxytocin declined with age. They also showed that there are fewer receptors for oxytocin in muscle stem cells in old versus young mice.

To tease out oxytocin’s role in muscle repair, the researchers injected the hormone under the skin of old mice for four days, and then for five days more after the muscles were injured. After the nine-day treatment, they found that the muscles of the mice that had received oxytocin injections healed far better than those of a control group of mice without oxytocin.

“The action of oxytocin was fast,” said Elabd. “The repair of muscle in the old mice was at about 80 percent of what we saw in the young mice.”

Interestingly, giving young mice an extra boost of oxytocin did not seem to cause a significant change in muscle regeneration.

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Superelastic lithium-ion batteries can be woven into textiles for wearable devices

Superelastic lithium-ion batteries can be woven into textiles for wearable devices | Amazing Science |

Huisheng Peng and colleagues at Fudan University made the superelastic batteries by winding two carbon nanotubes–lithium oxide composites yarns, which served as the positive and negative electrodes, onto an elastomer substrate and covering this with a layer of gel electrolyte. The batteries owe their stable electrochemical performance under stretching to the twisted structure of the fibre electrodes and the stretchability of the substrate and gel electrolyte, with the latter also acting as an anchor. When the batteries were stretched, the spring-like structure of the two electrodes was maintained.

Previous stretchable batteries have generally been produced in a planar format, which has been an obstacle for their development for small, lightweight, wearable electronics. ‘Our fibre-shaped batteries can easily be scaled-up to an appropriate length and woven into clothing that can adapt to the body’s movement,’ says Peng.

The battery recorded a specific capacity of 91.3mAh/g and this was maintained at over 88% after stretching by 600%.

Ray Baughman, an electrochemical device expert at the University of Texas at Dallas, US, says the superelasticity achieved for the operating battery is fascinating. ‘A future challenge will be to dramatically increase the volume fraction of energy-storing material in the total elastomeric structure and to the decrease overall diameter to those conventionally used for weaving, while still maintaining a useful degree of rubber-like elasticity.’

Reference: Y Zhang et alJ. Mater. Chem. A, 2014, DOI: 10.1039/c4ta01878h

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Herpes Virus was Passed On to Humans 1.6 Million Years Ago

Herpes Virus was Passed On to Humans 1.6 Million Years Ago | Amazing Science |

Herpes virus was passed on to humans by primate ancestors, according to a study.

Herpes simplex virus type-1 and type-2 or HSV-1 and HSV-2 spread from person to person through close contact like sexual activity, saliva and skin. Experts from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine discovered the virus infected hominids or our bipedal ancestors much before evolution. The virus first infected chimpanzees 6 million years ago and then was passed on to hominids about 1.6 million years ago. Among primates only humans carry both HSV-1 AND HSV-2 viruses.   

For the study, researchers examined HSV-1 and HSV-2 gene sequences to the pedigree of simplex viruses in eight monkeys and ape host species. The advanced models of molecular evolution helped determine the period of advent of the virus in humans. The genetic data of both humans and primate herpes virus revealed HSV-1 prevailed in humans much before HVS-2. This called for further study on HSV-2 to identify its origin.

It was observed HSV-2 had close genetic similarities with the herpes virus found in chimpanzees. This indicates that we acquired the virus from the forerunners of modern chimpanzees before the age of Homo sapiens or modern humans almost 200,000 years ago.

According to the study reports, about two-third of human population are infected with one of the two HSV viruses that usually occur like cold sores on mouth, lips and rashes or blisters on genitals.

These findings explain the evolution of viruses and its nature to prevent occurrence of diseases and deadly infections in humans.

"Animal disease reservoirs are extremely important for global public health. Understanding where our viruses come from will help guide us in preventing future viruses from making the jump into humans," said Joel O. Wertheim, study author and assistant research scientist at the University of California San Diego Anti-Viral Research Center, in a news release.

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The Drive to Life on Wet and Icy Extraterrestrial Worlds

The Drive to Life on Wet and Icy Extraterrestrial Worlds | Amazing Science |

A recent study presents the reformulation of the submarine alkaline hydrothermal theory for the emergence of life in response to recent experimental findings on Enceladus and other extraterrestrial worlds. The theory views life, like other self-organizing systems in the Universe, as an inevitable outcome of particular disequilibria. In this case, the disequilibria were two: (1) in redox potential, between hydrogen plus methane with the circuit-completing electron acceptors such as nitrite, nitrate, ferric iron, and carbon dioxide, and (2) in pH gradient between an acidulous external ocean and an alkaline hydrothermal fluid. Both CO2 and CH4 were equally the ultimate sources of organic carbon, and the metal sulfides and oxyhydroxides acted as protoenzymatic catalysts.

The realization, now 50 years old, that membrane-spanning gradients, rather than organic intermediates, play a vital role in life's operations calls into question the idea of “prebiotic chemistry.” It informs our own suggestion that experimentation should look to the kind of nanoengines that must have been the precursors to molecular motors—such as pyrophosphate synthetase and the like driven by these gradients—that make life work. It is these putative free energy or disequilibria converters, presumably constructed from minerals comprising the earliest inorganic membranes, that, as obstacles to vectorial ionic flows, present themselves as the candidates for future experiments.

In systems driven far from equilibrium, self-organized dynamic structures, acting as engines (i.e., “free energy converters”), arise spontaneously (Cottrell, 1979). Their effect is invariably to accelerate the rate at which the driving disequilibrium generates entropy and is thereby dissipated (Prigogine, 1978). Tellingly, the Universe itself, at the moment of its Big Bang birth, was by a vast measure the most extreme example, known or conceivable, of a far-from-equilibrium system, born as it was in a condition of disequilibrium so great as to be virtually inestimable (Penrose, 2005). From this pinnacle of improbability, it could only, as the second law of thermodynamics demands, go endlessly “down” to ever increasing total entropy. Indeed, the history of the Universe has been “nothing but” the playing out of the dynamics of accelerated entropy production via emergent, self-organizing engines. All the dynamic structures and processes of the Universe, both great and small, from galactic superclusters to burning and dying stars, black holes, the writhing pirouettes of quasar jets, planetary systems, convective currents in myriad guises, to the poppies on the cool green hills of Earth—all are engines, all contributing members of this great self-organizing cascade of accelerated entropy production.

But in this medley of engines, black holes stand apart and have a special role to play. They are not only an end point in the production of entropy through gravitational collapse, at which the entropy per unit mass is a maximum; but almost all the Universe's entropy inventory is currently, and will increasingly be, in the form of supermassive black holes (Ruffini and Wheeler, 1971; Penrose, 2005; Scharf, 2012). Finally, they are themselves the most powerful and consequential engines in the Universe. When they accrete matter from other stars or the interstellar medium, they become extraordinarily powerful internal combustion engines, with fuel, carburetion, a combustion chamber, and multiple exhaust systems. They can be throttled from a quiet idling to an explosive roar of transgalactic impact. These engines are suspected of regulating the formation of stars and galaxies and driving their evolution, creating most of the magnetic flux in the universe, and ionizing the Universe itself shortly after the Big Bang (Meier, 2012).

We are thus justly, and most ironically, to be seen as the spawn of black holes, themselves the spawn of a Universe born in the greatest possible discomfort of disequilibrium. Without going into detail, we can follow the history of the Universe's engines from galactic and stellar processes through planetary accretion and geophysical convection to the emergence and evolution of life itself (Russell, 2007; Nitschke and Russell, 2010; Branscomb and Russell, 2013; Vattuone et al.2013). And as the mist begins to lift from the divide that separates geochemistry from biochemistry, we can glimpse the biological bank that lies directly opposite. What is revealed is that, whereas life, like all other dynamic phenomena in the Universe, is forced to operate through the invention and deployment of engines to convert disequilibria—dissipating one to create another—the engines of living cells comprise a vast and uniquely complex heterarchical networked system of linked conversions. This great system, driven by externally supplied disequilibria, produces a myriad of internal “intermediate” and enabling disequilibria in the form of both structures and processes. These it uses, among much else, to drive the otherwise intractable reactions at the very beginnings of metabolic pathways up such steep thermodynamic gradients. The challenge before us, then, is to work out how it could all have gotten started.

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Design of self-assembling protein nanomachines: A nanocage builds itself from engineered components

Design of self-assembling protein nanomachines: A nanocage builds itself from engineered components | Amazing Science |
Biological systems produce an incredible array of self-assembling protein tools on a nanoscale, such as molecular motors, delivery capsules and injection devices. Inspired by sophisticated molecular machines naturally found in living things, scientists want to build their own with forms and functions customized to tackle modern day challenges. A new computational method, proven to accurately design protein nanomaterials that arrange themselves into a symmetrical, cage-like structure, may be an important step toward that goal.
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Gene editing tool CRISPR-CAS can write HIV out of the picture

Gene editing tool CRISPR-CAS can write HIV out of the picture | Amazing Science |

The latest form of genetic engineering can give human cells a rare mutation that keeps them HIV-free.

Take a hot new method that's opened up a new era of genetic engineering, apply it to the wonder stem cells that in 2012 won their discoverer a Nobel prize, and you might just have a tool to cure HIV infection. That's the hope of researchers led by Yuet Kan of the University of California, San Francisco – and they have proved the basic principle, altering the genome of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to give them a rare natural mutation that allows some people to resist HIV.

Kan's work relies on "genome editing" – snipping out a particular DNA sequence and replacing it with another. It's much more precise than traditional forms of genetic engineering, in which sequences are added to the genome at random locations.

To alter the stem cells, Kan's team turned to the CRISPR-Cas9 system, asuper-efficient method of genome editing based on an ancient bacterial "immune system". In bacteria, the system takes fragments of DNA from invading viruses and splices them into the cell's own DNA, where they act like "wanted" posters, allowing the viruses to be recognised and attacked in future.

About 1 per cent of people of European descent are resistant to HIV, because they carry two copies of a mutation in the gene for a protein called CCR5. The virus must lock onto this protein before it can invade white blood cells, and the mutations prevent it from doing so.

Using a bone marrow transplant from a naturally HIV-resistant person,Timothy Ray Brown was famously "cured" of HIV infection. Kan's goal is to achieve the same result without the need to find compatible HIV-resistant bone marrow donors – who are in vanishingly short supply.

It's fairly easy to make iPSCs from a person's cells, which then have the potential to grow into any type of cell in the body. So if iPSCs could be given two copies of the protective mutation, it should be possible to make personalised versions of the therapy that cleared HIV from Brown's body. Kan's team has now shown that CRISPR-Cas9 can efficiently make the necessary genome edit. As expected, white blood cells grown from these altered stem cells were resistant to HIV upon testing.

"It's a really fantastic application of the tool," says Philip Gregory, chief scientific officer with Sangamo BioSciences of Richmond, California. However, he warns that there is a long way to go before it can be turned into a practical therapy.

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's curator insight, June 11, 2014 5:23 AM

Cancer and AIDS are widely thought to be the bane of mankind’s existence. Any therapy which could restrict either of these diseases is significant! Read about more novel therapies here:

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Scientists Successfully Transplant and Grow Stem Cells in Pigs

Scientists Successfully Transplant and Grow Stem Cells in Pigs | Amazing Science |
One of the biggest challenges for medical researchers studying the effectiveness of stem cell therapies is that transplants or grafts of cells are often rejected by the hosts. This rejection can render experiments useless, making research into potentially life-saving treatments a long and difficult process. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have shown that a new line of genetically modified pigs will host transplanted cells without the risk of rejection.

"The rejection of transplants and grafts by host bodies is a huge hurdle for medical researchers," said R. Michael Roberts, Curators Professor of Animal Science and Biochemistry and a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center. "By establishing that these pigs will support transplants without the fear of rejection, we can  move stem cell therapy research forward at a quicker pace."

In a published study, the team of researchers implanted human pluripotent stem cells in a special line of pigs developed by Randall Prather, an MU Curators Professor of reproductive physiology. Prather specifically created the pigs with immune systems that allow the pigs to accept all transplants or grafts without rejection. Once the scientists implanted the cells, the pigs did not reject the stem cells and the cells thrived. Prather says achieving this success with pigs is notable because pigs are much closer to humans than many other test animals.

"Many medical researchers prefer conducting studies with pigs because they are more anatomically similar to humans than other animals, such as mice and rats," Prather said. "Physically, pigs are much closer to the size and scale of humans than other animals, and they respond to health threats similarly. This means that research in pigs is more likely to have results similar to those in humans for many different tests and treatments."

"Now that we know that human stem cells can thrive in these pigs, a door has been opened for new and exciting research by scientists around the world," Roberts said. "Hopefully this means that we are one step closer to therapies and treatments for a number of debilitating human diseases."

Roberts and Prather published their study, "Engraftment of human iPS cells and allogeneic porcine cells into pigs with inactivated RAG2 and accompanying severe combined immunodeficiency" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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Rising global temperatures could increase the amount of carbon dioxide naturally released by the world's oceans

Rising global temperatures could increase the amount of carbon dioxide naturally released by the world's oceans | Amazing Science |

Fresh insight into how the oceans can affect CO2 levels in the atmosphere shows that rising temperatures can indirectly increase the amount of the greenhouse gas emitted by the oceans.

Scientists studied a 26,000-year-old sediment core taken from the Gulf of California to find out how the ocean's ability to take up atmospheric CO2 has changed over time.

They tracked the abundance of the key elements silicon and iron in the fossils of tiny marine organisms, known as plankton, in the sediment core. Plankton absorb CO2 from the atmosphere at the ocean surface, and can lock away vast quantities of carbon.

Researchers found that those periods when silicon was least abundant in ocean waters corresponded with relatively warm climates, low levels of atmospheric iron, and reduced CO2 uptake by the oceans' plankton. Scientists had suspected that iron might have a role in enabling plankton to absorb CO2. However, this latest study shows that a lack of iron at the ocean surface can limit the effect of other key elements in helping plankton take up carbon.

This effect is magnified in the southern ocean and equatorial Pacific and coastal areas, which are known to play a crucial role in influencing levels of CO2 in the global atmosphere.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh say their findings are the first to pinpoint the complex link between iron and other key marine elements involved in regulating atmospheric CO2 by the oceans. Their findings were verified with a global calculation for all oceans. The study, published in Nature Geoscience, was supported by Scottish Alliance for Geoscience Environment Society and the Natural Environment Research Council.

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40 Maps that explain the Internet and its history

40 Maps that explain the Internet and its history | Amazing Science |

good example of content curation at work is the Vox feature collection entitled "40 maps that explain the internet", which showcases in a highly digestible and visual format where the Internet came from, how it works, and how it's used by people around the world.

Although at first glance this may look just as a list of maps with descriptions, there's a lot of curation work that can be appreciated by looking just a bit beyond the surface. 

a) Titles and descriptions are well crafted, short, focused, but consistently clear and to the point. 

b) The 40 maps are intelligently organized into six different groups: 

  1. How the Internet was created
  2. The Internet around the world
  3. Threats to the Internet
  4. The geography of online services
  5. How America gets online
  6. How we use the Internet

c) Images of maps sourced from elsewhere are properly credited and linked. 

To the ignorant eye, this will look like "oh, just another collection of maps", but to the avid reader, scholar and to the curious enough to look beyond appearances, the value of this editorial work is on how it perfectly hides the amount of complexity and research work it has required while organizing and presenting an extremely clear and comprehensive body of valuable information on the chosen topic.

Curated by Timothy B. Lee together with editor Eleanor Barkhorn,

designer Uy Tieu and developer Yuri Victor.

A good example of curation at work. 8/10

Full feature: 

Via Robin Good
Gonzalo Moreno's curator insight, June 10, 2014 7:20 AM

40 mapas que explican INTERNET


Mechanical Walking Space Man's curator insight, June 14, 2014 7:27 AM

Mapping virtual experience…

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World first: Australian solar plant has generated “supercritical” steam that rivals fossil fuels’

World first: Australian solar plant has generated “supercritical” steam that rivals fossil fuels’ | Amazing Science |
A CSIRO test plant in Australia has broken a world record and proved solar power could efficiently replace fossil fuels.

A solar thermal test plant in Newcastle, Australia, has generated “supercritical” steam at a pressure of 23.5 mpa (3400 psi) and 570°C (1,058°F). CSIRO is claiming it as a world record, and it’s a HUGE step for solar thermal energy.

"It's like breaking the sound barrier; this step change proves solar has the potential to compete with the peak performance capabilities of fossil fuel sources," Dr Alex Wonhas, CSIRO’s Energy Director, said.

The Energy Centre uses a field of more than 600 mirrors (known as heliostats) which are all directed at two towers housing solar receivers and turbines, Gizmag reports.

This supercritical steam is used to drive the world’s most advanced power plant turbines, but previously it’s only been possible to produce it by burning fossil fuels such as coal or gas.

"Instead of relying on burning fossil fuels to produce supercritical steam, this breakthrough demonstrates that the power plants of the future could instead be using the free, zero emission energy of the sun to achieve the same result,” Dr Wonhas explained.

Currently, commercial solar thermal or concentrating solar power power plants only operate a “subcritical” levels, using less pressurised steam. This means that they’ve never been able to match the output or efficiency of the world’s best fossil fuel power plants - until now.

The commercial development of this technology is still a fair way off, but this is an important first step towards a more sustainable future.

Marc Kneepkens's curator insight, June 8, 2014 6:11 PM

Renewable energy is catching up quickly.

Eric Chan Wei Chiang's curator insight, June 9, 2014 1:50 AM

Supercritical water have properties between those of a gas and a liquid. Generating supercritical water is not an easy task as very high temperatures and pressures are required i.e. more than 374 °C and 218 atm.


Power plants can extract ten times more energy from supercritical water as compared to typical steam or hot water.


Icelandic scientists previously tried to generate supercritical water from geothermal means


Annenkov's curator insight, June 9, 2014 5:12 AM

Технический прорыв в единстве с местными условиями?

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Who invented pants? First pants worn by horse riders 3,000 years ago

Who invented pants? First pants worn by horse riders 3,000 years ago | Amazing Science |
A new study indicates horse-riding Asians wove and wore wool trousers by around 3,000 years ago.

Two men whose remains were recently excavated from tombs in western China put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. But these nomadic herders did so between 3,300 and 3,000 years ago, making their trousers the oldest known examples of this innovative apparel, a new study finds.

With straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch, the ancient wool trousers resemble modern riding pants, says a team led by archaeologists Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. The discoveries, uncovered in the Yanghai graveyard in China’s Tarim Basin, support previous work suggesting that nomadic herders in Central Asia invented pants to provide bodily protection and freedom of movement for horseback journeys and mounted warfare, the scientists report May 22 in Quaternary International.

“This new paper definitely supports the idea that trousers were invented for horse riding by mobile pastoralists, and that trousers were brought to the Tarim Basin by horse-riding peoples,” remarks linguist and China authority Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania.

Previously, Europeans and Asians wore gowns, robes, tunics, togas or — as observed on the 5,300-year-old body of Ötzi the Iceman — a three-piece combination of loincloth and individual leggings.

A dry climate and hot summers helped preserve human corpses, clothing and other organic material in the Tarim Basin. More than 500 tombs have been excavated in a graveyard there since the early 1970s.

Earlier research on mummies from several Tarim Basin sites, led by Mair, identified a 2,600-year-old individual known as Cherchen Man who wore burgundy trousers probably made of wool. Trousers of Scythian nomads from West Asia date to roughly 2,500 years ago.

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