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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

New Single-Cell Technologies, Scientists Create Comprehensive Map of Human B Cell Development

New Single-Cell Technologies, Scientists Create Comprehensive Map of Human B Cell Development | Amazing Science |

In a new paper published in the journal Cell, a team of researchers led by Dana Pe’er at Columbia University and Garry Nolan at Stanford University describes a powerful new method for mapping cellular development at the single cell level. By combining emerging technologies for studying single cells with a new, advanced computational algorithm, they have designed a novel approach for mapping development and created the most comprehensive map ever made of human B cell development. Their approach will greatly improve researchers’ ability to investigate development in cells of all types, make it possible to identify rare aberrations in development that lead to disease, and ultimately help to guide the next generation of research in regenerative medicine.

Pointing out why being able to generate these maps is an important advance, Dr. Pe’er, an associate professor in the Columbia University Department of Systems Biology and Department of Biological Sciences, explains, “There are so many diseases that result from malfunctions in the molecular programs that control the development of our cell repertoire and so many rare, yet important, regulatory cell types that we have yet to discover. We can only truly understand what goes wrong in these diseases if we have a complete map of the progression in normal development. Such maps will also act as a compass for regenerative medicine, because it’s very difficult to grow something if you don’t know how it develops in nature. For the first time, our method makes it possible to build a high-resolution map, at the single cell level, that can guide these kinds of research.”

Just as genome sequencing transformed how biology was studied in the previous decade, new technologies for analyzing the molecular properties of single cells are currently revolutionizing the kinds of questions many biologists are asking. Dr. Pe’er sees single-cell approaches as an important step beyond genomics. “DNA sequencing can identify genes and mutations, but often they are not studied in context,” she points out. “With single-cell approaches, we can map the cells where the action actually happens and what the genes are doing inside them. Single-cell mapping will do for development what genome sequencing has done for genetics.”

Investigators in the Nolan lab used mass cytometry to profile 44 markers in a cohort of approximately 200,000 healthy immune cells that were gathered from one such sample. In each cell they measured cell surface markers that help identify what type of cell it is, as well as markers inside the cell that can reveal what the cell is doing, including markers for signaling, the cell cycle, apoptosis, and genome rearrangement.

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Scientists Use Liquid Metal (Gallium-Indium-Selenium Alloy) To Reconnect Severed Nerves

Scientists Use Liquid Metal (Gallium-Indium-Selenium Alloy) To Reconnect Severed Nerves | Amazing Science |
Chinese biomedical engineers have used liquid metal to transmit electrical signals across the gap in severed sciatic nerves. The work raises the prospect of a new treatment for nerve injuries, they say.

When peripheral nerves are severed, the loss of function leads to atrophy of the effected muscles, a dramatic change in quality of life and, in many cases, a shorter life expectancy.

Despite decades of research, nobody has come up with an effective way to reconnect nerves that have been severed. Various techniques exist to sew the ends back together or to graft nerves into the gap that is created between severed ends.

Ultimately, the success of these techniques depends on the ability of the nerve ends to grow back and knit together. But given that nerves grow at the rate of one mm per day, it can take a significant amount of time, sometimes years, to reconnect. And during this time, the muscles can degrade beyond repair, leading to long-term disability.

So neurosurgeons have long hoped for a way to keep muscles active while the nerves regrow. One possibility is to electrically connect the severed ends so that the signals from the brain can still get through. But how to do this effectively?

Today, Jing Liu at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a few pals say they’ve reconnected severed nerves using liquid metal for the first time. And they say that in conducting electrical signals between the severed ends of a nerve, the metal dramatically outperforms the standard saline electrolyte used to preserve the electrical properties of living tissue.

Biomedical engineers have been eyeing the liquid metal alloy gallium-indium-selenium for some time (67 percent Ga, 20.5 percent In and 12.5 percent Sn by volume). This material is liquid at body temperature and is thought to be entirely benign. Consequently, they have been studying various ways of using it inside the body, such as for imaging.

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Brain Control with a Flash of Light: Ready for Patients?

Brain Control with a Flash of Light: Ready for Patients? | Amazing Science |
Karl Deisseroth is among a group of scientists who have been working on a way to turn brain cells on and off using genetic engineering and light.

In 2005, Stanford scientist Dr Karl Deisseroth discovered how to switch individual brain cells on and off by using light in a technique he dubbed 'optogenetics'. Research teams around the world have since used this technique to study brain cells, heart cells, stem cells and others regulated by electrical signals.

However, light-sensitive proteins were efficient at switching cells on but proved less effective at turning them off. Now, after almost a decade of research, scientists have been able to shut down the neurons as well as activate them.

Dr Deisseroth’s team has now re-engineered its light-sensitive proteins to switch cells much more adequately than before. His findings are presented in the journal Science.

It’s not as if one person had a eureka moment,” Deisseroth said. “The time had come, and it was a question of who had put the resources and effort and people” on the task, and who would get there first. But it was he and his colleagues, Edward Boyden and Feng Zhang, who took those previous discoveries and devised a practical way to turn neurons on and off with light.

Ehud Isacoff, of the University of California, Berkeley, who recently wrote about the development of the technique, said that Dr. Deisseroth “was incredibly important in getting all the parts to come together.”

In 2005 Dr. Deisseroth; Dr. Boyden and Dr. Zhang, both of whom now have their own labs at M.I.T.; and Ernst Bamberg of the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics and Georg Nagel at the University of Würzburg published a paper showing that an opsin called channelrhodopsin-2 could be used to turn on mammalian neurons with blue light.

This was the breakthrough research, but it had antecedents. In 2002 Gero Miesenböck, now at Oxford, and Boris Zemelman, now at the University of Texas, proved that optogenetics could work. Both were then at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. They reported their success using opsins from the fruit fly to turn on mouse neurons that had been cultured in the lab.

Dr. Isacoff reviewed the development of optogenetics recently after the awarding of the 2013 European Brain Prize to six people, including Dr. Deisseroth and Dr. Boyden, for work on optogenetics. The other winners were Dr. Bamberg, Dr. Nagel, Dr. Miesenböck and Peter Hegemann at Humboldt University in Berlin. He wrote of Dr. Miesenböck’s work, “If one had to identify the paper that launched the thousand ships of optogenetics, this is it.”

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Frozen Sun: Coldest brown dwarf discovered — as cold as the Earth's North Pole

Frozen Sun: Coldest brown dwarf discovered — as cold as the Earth's North Pole | Amazing Science |

A "brown dwarf" star that appears to be the coldest of its kind—as frosty as Earth's North Pole—has been discovered by a Penn State University astronomer using NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Spitzer Space Telescopes. Images from the space telescopes also pinpointed the object's distance at 7.2 light-years away, making it the fourth closest system to our Sun.

"It is very exciting to discover a new neighbor of our solar system that is so close," said Kevin Luhman, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and a researcher in the Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds. "In addition, its extreme temperature should tell us a lot about the atmospheres of planets, which often have similarly cold temperatures."

Brown dwarfs start their lives like stars, as collapsing balls of gas, but they lack the mass to burn nuclear fuel and radiate starlight. The newfound coldest brown dwarf, named WISE J085510.83-071442.5, has a chilly temperature between minus 54 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 48 to minus 13 degrees Celsius). Previous record holders for coldest brown dwarfs, also found by WISE and Spitzer, were about room temperature.

Although it is very close to our solar system, WISE J085510.83-071442.5 is not an appealing destination for human space travel in the distant future. "Any planets that might orbit it would be much too cold to support life as we know it" Luhman said.

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IRAS-Based Whole-Sky Search for Dyson Spheres

IRAS-Based Whole-Sky Search for Dyson Spheres | Amazing Science |

Advanced civilizations might undertake astroengineering projects on heroic scales. Searches for signs of astroengineering to look for intelligence elsewhere in the universe represent an approach that is complementary to conventional radio and optical SETI. A Dyson sphere (Dyson 1960) is a good example of an astroengineering project or "cosmic archaeology" artifact.

In 1960, Dyson suggested that an advanced civilization might break up a star's planets into very small planetoids or pebble-sized fragments to form a "loose collection or swarm of objects" that would gather all the visible light coming from the star. The shroud of objects forming a spherical shell would greatly increase the useful area and available energy for advanced activities. A Dyson sphere like this that totally envelopes the host star is called a pure Dyson sphere to distinguish it from a partial Dyson sphere that does not fully cloak the star.

Unlike SETI signals (Tarter 2001) generated as beacons or for communication, the creation of a cosmic archaeological signature such as a Dyson sphere would not have required an active strategy on the part of the originating "civilization." An interesting distinction between systematic searches for objects such as Dyson spheres and SETI searches for radio and laser beacons is that for a Dyson sphere search no presumption has to be made concerning the motivation of the originating civilization.

There could be several types of partial Dyson spheres. A star could be surrounded by a uniform shroud that did not fully attenuate the stellar visible light. A second possibility is a star eclipsed by a circling ring that is totally opaque to visible light. It is difficult to distinguish this case from a pure Dyson sphere. However, the Dyson sphere luminosity is reduced by, at minimum, two times the fractional coverage of the ring. The factor of 2 assumes that for small fractional coverage both the inside and outside of the ring radiate. In this article this possibility is subsumed in the pure Dyson sphere signature. Note that a ring could be easier to construct than a shell but would also have less useful area and available energy. Dyson sphere engineering is discussed in the Appendix.

For a Dyson sphere, the stellar energy from the star would be reradiated at a lower temperature. If the visible light was totally absorbed by a thin "shell" a pure Dyson sphere signature would be an infrared object with luminosity equivalent to the invisible star and a blackbody temperature corresponding to the radius of the spherical shell. For a Sun-like star with the shell at the radius of the Earth the temperature would be approximately 300 K. Interestingly Dyson does not discuss the radiation distribution from his object. Dyson's approach is a more general perspective since among other complications the different parts of the reradiating swarm of objects in the shell could be at different distances from the star.

The apparently distinct signature of a Dyson sphere would seem to make it an ideal candidate for cosmic archaeology. This article is devoted to a Dyson sphere search using LRS, the Low Resolution Spectrometer on board IRAS, an infrared satellite that flew in 1983. IRAS identified 250,000 infrared point sources and scanned 96% of the sky. IRAS is described in more detail in Section 3. In many ways, the IRAS database is ideal for a Dyson sphere search because IRAS employed four filters centered at 12, 25, 60, and 100 μm and a spectrometer that together covered much of the radiation range emitted by a Dyson sphere with temperature between 100 and 600 K.

Prior to the search reported here using the LRS plus the IRAS filters, a preliminary search was performed using only the filter information. For the preliminary search sources were retained only if the estimated temperatures lay between 150 K ≤ Te ≤ 500 K based on the 12, 25, and 60 μm filters. Sources were selected by several cuts including the temperature estimate and the requirement that FQUAL, the IRAS database flux quality factor, be greater than 1 for all of the 12, 25, and 60 filters. (In the database, FQUAL(i) was set to 1 if there was only an upper limit in the ith filter because there was no "hours-confirming" observation, to 2 for moderate quality where at least one "hours-confirming'' observation was missing, or to 3 for high quality.) The preliminary search estimated one out of every 600 IRAS sources might pass a test making it a potential Dyson sphere candidate.

However, the actual temperature difference distribution formed from the filter temperatures estimated from the ratios F[12]/F[25] and F[25]/F[[60] was flat so that a 3σ peak in one bin might have required about 25 sources. This suggested that less than one in 10,000 of the IRASsources could potentially be a Dyson sphere. The filter technique suffered from a significant limitation because of the effects of zodiacal light and cirrus in the 60 and 100 μm bands. The presence of zodiacal or cirrus dust in these bands is a limitation on the use of all four filters. To overcome these problems, the search reported here has used only the 12 and 25 μm filters coupled with theIRAS spectrometer.

Earlier searches for Dyson spheres included a program by J. Jugaku and his collaborators (see, for example, Jugaku & Nishimura 2004) to look for partial Dyson spheres as well as several IRAS-based searches by Slysh (1985) and Timofeev et al. (2000) using all four IRAS filters.

Further reading about Dyson Spheres and Dyson Bubbles

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IBM invents ’3D nanoprinter’ for microscopic objects

IBM invents ’3D nanoprinter’ for microscopic objects | Amazing Science |

IBM scientists have invented a tiny “chisel” with a nano-sized heatable silicon tip that creates patterns and structures on a microscopic scale.

The tip, similar to the kind used in atomic force microscopes, is attached to a bendable cantilever that scans the surface of the substrate material with the accuracy of one nanometer.

Unlike conventional 3D printers, by applying heat and force, the nanosized tip can remove (rather than add) material based on predefined patterns, thus operating like a “nanomilling” machine with ultra-high precision.

This new capability could improve the prototyping of new transistor devices, such as tunneling field effect transistors, for more energy efficient and faster electronics for anything from cloud data centers to smartphones.

By the end 2014, IBM hopes to begin exploring the use of this technology for its research with graphene.

“To create more energy-efficient clouds and crunch Big Data faster we need a new generation of technologies including new transistors, but before going into mass production, new techniques are needed for prototyping below 30 nanometers,” said Dr. Armin Knoll, a physicist at IBM Research – Zürich.

“With our new technique, we achieve very high resolution at 10 nanometers at greatly reduced cost and complexity. In particular, by controlling the amount of material evaporated, 3D relief patterns can also be produced at the unprecedented accuracy of merely one nanometer in a vertical direction. Now it’s up to the imagination of scientists and engineers.”

Other applications include nano-sized security tags to prevent the forgery of documents like currency, passports and priceless works of art, and quantum computing and communications (the nano-sized tip could be used to create high quality patterns to control and manipulate light at unprecedented precision).

IBM has licensed this technology to a startup based in Switzerland called SwissLitho, which is bringing the technology to market under the name NanoFrazorSeveral weeks ago the firm shipped its first NanoFrazor to McGill University’s Nanotools Microfab, where scientists and students will use the tool’s unique fabrication capabilities to experiment with ideas for designing novel nano-devices.

To promote the new technology, scientists etched a microscopic National Geographic Kids magazine cover in 10 minutes onto a polymer. The resulting magazine cover is so small at 11 x 14 micrometers that 2,000 can fit on a grain of salt.

Today (April 25), IBM claimed its ninth GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS title for the Smallest Magazine Cover at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. Visible through a Zeiss microscope, the cover will be on display there on April 26 and 27.

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Membrane-coated coacervate droplets hint at formation of primitive cells on the early Earth

Membrane-coated coacervate droplets hint at formation of primitive cells on the early Earth | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the University of Bristol have designed a chemical system that brings together alternative ideas on how primitive cells were formed on the early Earth to produce a new model of protocell organization. The work is described in an article published this week in Nature Chemistry.

The most fundamental requirement for the emergence of cells on the early Earth is the existence of a closed compartment, but how this came about remains a mystery.

Two alternative theories based on the self-assembly of fatty acid membrane-bounded water droplets (vesicles) or the spontaneous phase separation of membrane-free liquid droplets (coacervates) are being tested experimentally, but neither model is fully satisfactory.

Prof Stephen Mann and Dr Dora Tang, with colleagues in the new Bristol Centre for Protolife Research in the School of Chemistry and collaborators at Imperial College London, have now addressed this problem by designing and constructing a new type of protocell that integrates aspects of both hypotheses to produce a hybrid model of prebiotic organization.

The team first prepared membrane-free droplets containing high concentrations of biomolecules such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), ribonucleic acid (RNA) and a short or long polymer of the natural amino acid lysine, and then added low amounts of a fatty acid.

The concentration of the fatty acid was too low for the molecules to self-organize into vesicles, and instead they became attached to the surface of the droplets to produce a continuous organic membrane.  In this way, the researchers were able to produce protocells that were both membrane-bounded and chemically enriched.

Professor Stephen Mann said: "This work could open up a new horizon in protocell research as it offers an integrated approach to the problem of how the first cells were formed and organized.

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Reconstructed ancient ocean reveals secrets about the origin of life

Reconstructed ancient ocean reveals secrets about the origin of life | Amazing Science |

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have published details about how the first organisms on Earth could have become metabolically active. The results, which are reported in the journal Molecular Systems Biology, permit scientists to speculate how primitive cells learned to synthesize their organic components – the molecules that form RNA, lipids and amino acids. The findings also suggest an order for the sequence of events that led to the origin of life.


A reconstruction of Earth's earliest ocean in the laboratory revealed the spontaneous occurrence of the chemical reactions used by modern cells to synthesize many of the crucial organic molecules of metabolism. Previously, it was assumed that these reactions were carried out in modern cells by metabolic enzymes, highly complex molecular machines that came into existence during the evolution of modern organisms.

Almost 4 billion years ago life on Earth began in iron-rich oceans that dominated the surface of the planet. An open question for scientists is when and how cellular metabolism, the network of chemical reactions necessary to produce nucleic acids, amino acids and lipids, the building blocks of life, appeared on the scene.


The observed chemical reactions occurred in the absence of enzymes but were made possible by the chemical molecules found in the Archean sea. Finding a series of reactions that resembles the “core of cellular metabolism” suggests that metabolism predates the origin of life. This implies that, at least initially, metabolism may not have been shaped by evolution but by molecules like RNA formed through the chemical conditions that prevailed in the earliest oceans.


“Our results demonstrate that the conditions and molecules found in the Earth’s ancient oceans assisted and accelerated the interconversion of metabolites that in modern organisms make up glycolysis and the pentose-phosphate pathways, two of the essential and most centrally placed reaction cascades of metabolism,” says Dr. Markus Ralser, Group Leader at the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge and the National Institute for Medical Research. “In our reconstructed version of the ancient Archean ocean, these metabolic reactions were particularly sensitive to the presence of ferrous iron that helped catalyze many of the chemical reactions that we observed.” From the analysis of early oceanic sediments, geoscientists such as Alexandra V. Turchyn from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge, one of the co-authors of the study, concluded that soluble forms of iron were one of the most frequently found molecules in the prebiotic oceans.

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First Shape-Shiftiong 'Chameleon' Vine Discovered That Can Mimic Other Plant's Leaves

First Shape-Shiftiong 'Chameleon' Vine Discovered That Can Mimic Other Plant's Leaves | Amazing Science |

Plant ecologists find the first shape-shifting plant that can mimic multiple hosts.

Move over, Sherlock Holmes. There is a new master of disguise—and it’s a plant. Camouflage and mimicry are usually reserved for the animal realm. The hawk moth caterpillar scares away predators by resembling a snake. Myrmarachne jumping spiders imitate ants as they creep up on unsuspecting insects—fangs ready. Fewer examples of mimicry—or crypsis—are known for plants. But as in some mistletoe species in Australia, all of these imposters copy only one other species. That’s not the case with the woody vine Boquila trifoliolata, which transforms its leaves to copy a variety of host trees. Native to Chile and Argentina, B. trifoliolata is the first plant shown to imitate several hosts.

It is a rare quality—known as a mimetic polymorphism—that was previously observed only in butterflies, according to this study, published today in Current Biology. When the vine climbs onto a tree’s branches, its versatile leaves (inset) can change their size, shape, color, orientation, and even the vein patterns to match the surrounding foliage (middle panel; the red arrow points to the vine, while the blue arrow indicates the host plant). If the vine crosses over to a second tree, it changes, even if the new host leaves are 10 times bigger with a contrasting shape (right panel). The deceit serves as a defense against plant-eating herbivores like weevils and leaf beetles, according the researchers. They compared the charlatan leaves hanging on branches with the leaves on vines still crawling on the forest floor in search of a tree or scaling leafless trunks. Herbivory was 33% and 100% worse for the vines on the ground and on tree trunks, respectively. It is unclear how B. trifoliolata vines discern the identity of individual trees and shape-shift accordingly. The vines could read cues hidden in odors, or chemicals secreted by trees or microbes may transport gene-activating signals between the fraud and the host, the researchers say.

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Human consciousness is simply a quantum state of matter, physicists claim

Human consciousness is simply a quantum state of matter, physicists claim | Amazing Science |
Thanks to the work of a small group neuroscientists and theoretical physicists over the last few years, we may finally have found a way of analyzing the mysterious, metaphysical realm of consciousness in a scientific manner. The latest breakthrough in this new field, published by Max Tegmark of MIT, postulates that consciousness is actually a state of matter, allowing us to scientifically tackle murky topics such as self awareness, and why we perceive the world in classical three-dimensional terms, rather than the infinite number of objective realities offered up by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

The latest attempts to formalize consciousness come from Giulio Tononi, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who proposed the integrated information theory (IIT) model of consciousness — and now Max Tegmark of MIT, who has attempted to generalize Tononi’s work in terms of quantum mechanics. In his research paper, “Consciousness as a State of Matter” [arXiv:1401.1219], Tegmark theorizes that consciousness can be understood as a state of matter called “perceptronium” that can be differentiated from other kinds of matter (solids, liquids, gases) using five, mathematically sound principles.

The paper, as you can imagine, is a beastly 30-page treatise, but the Physics arXiv Blog does a good job of summarizing it (if you’re comfortable with quantum mechanics, anyway). In short, though, it outlines Tononi’s ITT — that consciousness results from a system that can store and retrieve vast amounts of information efficiently — and then moves onto his own creation, perceptronium, which he describes as “the most general substance that feels subjectively self-aware.” This substance can not only store and retrieve data, but it’s also indivisible and unified (this is where we start to wander into the “here be dragons” realm of souls and spirits and so forth). The rest of the paper mostly deals with describing perceptronium in terms of quantum mechanics, and trying to work out why we steadfastly perceive the world in terms of classical, independent systems — rather than one big interconnected quantum mess.

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Space Radiation Remains Major Hazard for Humans Going to Mars

Space Radiation Remains Major Hazard for Humans Going to Mars | Amazing Science |

During a conference in Washington D.C., enthusiasts are attempting to rouse support for a manned mission to Mars sometime in the next two decades. NASA is there, as are many key players in the spaceflight community. But there continue to be major obstacles to manned Mars missions.

A new study highlights one of the big problems with extended space travel: galactic cosmic ray radiation. According to the report, astronauts on the International Space Station would receive doses that exceed their lifetime limits after just 18 months for women and two years for men. A Mars mission crew would be spending at least this long in the harsh radiation of deep space.

Cosmic rays are a unique type of radiation in that they are difficult to shield against. And the new research points out that the cancer an astronaut could contract after too much cosmic ray radiation is bound to be very dangerous.

“The type of tumors that cosmic ray ions make are more aggressive than what we get from other radiation,” said Francis Cucinotta a radiation expert at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of the new report published Apr. 23, 2014 in PLoS One.

One way to reduce astronauts’ exposure to galactic cosmic rays could be to send them to space only during the peak of the sun’s natural 11-year solar cycle. During solar maximum, the sun’s radiation blows counteractively against the cosmic rays streaming in to our solar system, reducing an astronaut’s exposure. Of course, being in space during this time also means the sun could unleash a potentially deadly solar flare, frying astronauts in their spaceship.

What kinda of extra exposure are astronauts normally dealing with? People living in the U.S. are exposed to about 3 millisieverts of radiation from natural background sources each year (millisieverts are units of radiation exposure in the human body). A nuclear accident, like Fukushima, might raise this by about 1 millisievert. An astronaut on a round-trip, two-and-a-half-year Mars mission, by contrast, can expect to receive around a sievert of cosmic ray radiation, nearly 1,000 times more.

If 41 percent of people in the U.S. can expect to be diagnosed with cancer that means, out of 100 people, on average 41 of them will get cancer. If you exposed 100 people to the 1 sievert of cosmic ray radiation that a Mars astronaut would get, there would now be 61 total incidents of cancer, an increase of 20, according toreports from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (.pdf) and United Nations Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). About half of those tumors would result in death.

Certain types of cancer, including lung, breast, and colorectal cancer, are the most likely to appear from cosmic ray radiation and tend to be more aggressive than normal. Cucinotta estimates that an astronaut’s lifespan after exposure to radiation on a Mars trip would be shortened between 15 and 24 years from the average.

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Scientists track 3-D nanoscale changes in rechargeable battery material during operation

Scientists track 3-D nanoscale changes in rechargeable battery material during operation | Amazing Science |

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have made the first 3D observations of how the structure of a lithium-ion battery anode evolves at the nanoscale in a real battery cell as it discharges and recharges.

"This work offers a direct way to look inside the electrochemical reaction of batteries at the nanoscale to better understand the mechanism of structural degradation that occurs during a battery's charge/discharge cycles," said Brookhaven physicist Jun Wang, who led the research. "These findings can be used to guide the engineering and processing of advanced electrode materials and improve theoretical simulations with accurate 3D parameters."

Chemical reactions in which lithium ions move from a negatively charged electrode to a positive one are what carry electric current from a lithium-ion battery to power devices such as laptops and cell phones. When an external current is applied-say, by plugging the device into an outlet-the reaction runs in reverse to recharge the battery.

Scientists have long known that repeated charging/discharging (lithiation and delithiation) introduces microstructural changes in the electrode material, particularly in some high-capacity silicon and tin-based anode materials. These microstructural changes reduce the battery's capacity-the energy the battery can store-and its cycle life-how many times the battery can be recharged over its lifetime. Understanding in detail how and when in the process the damage occurs could point to ways to avoid or minimize it.

Via José Gonçalves
Mikko Hakala's curator insight, March 27, 2014 5:24 PM

What happens in the real battery's anode material during the initial charge/discharge cycles? For the first time structural evolution could be observed by in situ at nanoscale resolution (~30 nm) in 3D. 


Measurements with transmission x-ray microscope at Brookhaven National Synchrotron Light Source.

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Greenland’s icecap - once thought stable - is losing stability due to melting at an accelerating pace

Greenland’s icecap - once thought stable - is losing stability due to melting at an accelerating pace | Amazing Science |

The Greenland ice sheet is the largest terrestrial ice mass in the Northern hemisphere. A recent study in Nature Climate Change by Shfaqat Khan from the Technical University of Denmark and colleagues indicates that the ice sheet could be melting faster than previously thought. This would mean Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise has been under-estimated (once again!), and oceanographers may need to think again about their projections.

The scientists used more than 30 years of surface elevation measurements of the entire ice sheet to discover that overall loss is accelerating. Previous studies had identified melting of glaciers in the island’s south-east and north-west, but the assumption had been that the ice sheet to the north-east was stable.

The report says: “It was stable, at least until about 2003. Then higher air temperatures set up the process of so-called dynamic thinning. Ice sheets melt every Arctic summer, under the impact of extended sunshine, but the slush on the glaciers tends to freeze again with the return of the cold and the dark, and since under historic conditions glaciers move at the proverbial glacial pace, the loss of ice is normally very slow.”

The new research by the Danish-led team considers changes linked to the 600 kilometer-long Zachariae ice stream in the north-east, using satellite measurements. It has retreated by some 20 kilometers in the last DECADE, whereas Sermeq Kujalleq has retreated about 35 kms in 150 years. The Zachariae stream drains around one-sixth of the Greenland ice sheet, and because warmer summers have meant significantly less sea ice in recent years, icebergs have more easily broken off and floated away, which means that the ice stream can move faster. “North-east Greenland is very cold. It used to be considered the last stable part of the Greenland ice sheet,” said one of the team, Michael Bevis of Ohio State University in the US, in an interview with the Climate News Network.

The scientists used a GPS network to calculate the loss of ice. Glacial ice presses down on the bedrock below it: when the ice melts, the bedrock rises in response to the drop in pressure, and sophisticated satellite measurements help scientists put a figure on the loss of ice. They calculate that between April 2003 and April 2012, the region was losing ice at the rate of 10 billion tons a year.

Eli Levine's curator insight, April 24, 2014 2:10 PM

There she, very slowly, goes.


Well humanity, this environment which we evolved into was fun.  Will we survive this new one we've produced through our economic and social activity?

I don't know.


But what I do know, is that the old normal is gone, thanks largely to the conservatives who wanted to preserve the old normal.


A silly brain type at best, who can't accept reality for what it actually is, and thus, leads us all into misery, pain and destruction as a result of their willful and unacknowledged unwillful ignorance.


Think about it.

Elijah Startin's curator insight, July 15, 2014 10:27 PM

This report shows that the icecaps are melting due to the earth's climate getting warmer. This means that as the ice melts the sea levels rise.

Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Research Workshop!

'Chameleon' crystals could camouflage clothing and cars

'Chameleon' crystals could camouflage clothing and cars | Amazing Science |

Just as a chameleon can instantly morph its skin color to match its surroundings, a new method of controlling crystals using light and chemistry could make clothing or cars change color on demand.

The method involves shining a laser on tiny latex particles to make them assume a 3-D crystalline shape or pattern, such as a letter M. When the laser is switched on or off, the crystals appear or disappear.
Unlike for chameleons or octopuses, creating man-made materials that change color on demand is really difficult, said Mike Solomon, a chemical engineer at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and senior researcher of a study detailed in a forthcoming issue of the journal Nature Communications. [Biomimicry: 7 Clever Technologies Inspired by Nature]
"Wouldn't it be neat if you could change some attribute — such as a display, part of car, or clothing — on demand?" Solomon told Live Science. Solomon and his graduate student, Youngri Kim, sought to develop technology that could ultimately do just that.

Via Jocelyn Stoller
Diane Johnson's curator insight, April 29, 2014 10:38 PM

Engineering implications

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Scientists Use Satellite Images to Track Uncontacted Amazonian Tribes

Scientists Use Satellite Images to Track Uncontacted Amazonian Tribes | Amazing Science |
U.S. researchers have used satellite images to track the movements and demographic health of an uncontacted tribe in the Brazilian state of Acre.

Remote surveillance is the only method to safely track uncontacted indigenous societies and may offer information that can improve their chances for long-term survival.

The scientists used Google Earth satellite imagery to estimate the area of the fields and the size of the village belonging to the tribe, as well as the living area of the tribe’s temporary housing, and compared that with similar estimates for 71 other Brazilian indigenous communities.

“We found that the estimated population of the village is no more than 40 people. A small, isolated village like this one faces an imminent threat of extinction,” said Dr Rob Walker, the first author of a paper appearing in theAmerican Journal of Human Biology.

“However, forced contact from the outside world is ill-advised, so a non-invasive means of monitoring the tribe is recommended.”

“A remote surveillance program using satellite images taken periodically of this group would help track the movements and demographic health of the population without disrupting their lives,” Dr Walker said.

Using information captured from remote surveillance, scientists can help shape policies that mitigate the threats of extinction including deforestation, illegal mining and colonization in these remote areas.

“Additionally, surveillance also can help locate isolated villages, track patterns of migration over time, and inform and create boundaries or buffer zones that would allow tribes to stay isolated,” Dr Walker added.

Amazonia harbors as many as 100 locations of isolated indigenous peoples.

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Brain circuits involved in emotion discovered by neuroscientists

Brain circuits involved in emotion discovered by neuroscientists | Amazing Science |
A brain pathway that underlies the emotional behaviors critical for survival have been discovered by neuroscientists. The team has identified a chain of neural connections which links central survival circuits to the spinal cord, causing the body to freeze when experiencing fear. Understanding how these central neural pathways work is a fundamental step towards developing effective treatments for emotional disorders such as anxiety, panic attacks and phobias.

New research by the University of Bristol, published in the Journal of Physiology, has identified a chain of neural connections which links central survival circuits to the spinal cord, causing the body to freeze when experiencing fear.

Understanding how these central neural pathways work is a fundamental step towards developing effective treatments for emotional disorders such as anxiety, panic attacks and phobias.

An important brain region responsible for how humans and animals respond to danger is known as the PAG (periaqueductal grey), and it can trigger responses such as freezing, a high heart rate, increase in blood pressure and the desire for flight or fight.

This latest research has discovered a brain pathway leading from the PAG to a highly localised part of the cerebellum, called the pyramis. The research went on to show that the pyramis is involved in generating freezing behaviour when central survival networks are activated during innate and learnt threatening situations.

The pyramis may therefore serve as an important point of convergence for different survival networks in order to react to an emotionally challenging situation.

Dr Stella Koutsikou, first author of the study and Research Associate in the School of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Bristol, said: "There is a growing consensus that understanding the neural circuits underlying fear behaviour is a fundamental step towards developing effective treatments for behavioural changes associated with emotional disorders."

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A new twist in the properties of light discovered

A new twist in the properties of light discovered | Amazing Science |

Light has some well-established dynamical properties that have defined our understanding of electromagnetic radiation for over a century. Two of the most fundamental of these properties are that photons of light carry momentum in the direction of propagation, and a 'spin' about the propagation axis defined by the electromagnetic wave's circular polarization. These properties play critical roles in a range of everyday phenomena and experimental interactions between light and matter.

Konstantin Bliokh from the RIKEN Interdisciplinary Theoretical Science Research Group (iTHES) and Aleksandr Bekshaev and Franco Nori from the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science have now made the remarkable discovery that a particular type of light known as evanescent waves possesses unexpected dynamical properties that are in sharp contrast with previous knowledge about light and photons.

Evanescent waves are produced, for example, when light undergoes total internal reflection at a boundary with another medium. In such situations, the main electromagnetic wave is reflected back into the originating medium and an evanescent wave is produced in the second medium. The evanescent wave decays rapidly away from the boundary but can propagate along the interface.

By investigating the dynamic characteristics of evanescent waves, Nori's team discovered that the momentum and spin of these waves have transverse components that are oriented at right angles to the plane of propagation. Equally surprising, they also found that the transverse momentum, and not the transverse spin, is determined by the wave's circular polarization—precisely the opposite to the dependence seen in normal light.

"Although these extraordinary properties seem to be in contradiction with what is known about photons," explains Bliokh, "we have shown that they reveal what is known as 'spin momentum'—an enigmatic quantity that was introduced more than 70 years ago to explain the spin of quantum particles." The research team's analysis suggests that these extraordinary properties of evanescent waves do in fact manifest in light–matter interactions, potentially leading to effects that are impossible to achieve and observe using normal light. For example, evanescent waves exert a transverse force and a transverse torque on small particles, where the force is dependent on the circular polarization but the torque is not.

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Cloaked DNA nanodevices evade immune system detection

Cloaked DNA nanodevices evade immune system detection | Amazing Science |

An enveloped virus (left) coats itself with lipid as part of its life cycle. New lipid-coated DNA nanodevices (right) closely resemble those viruses and evade.

Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have built the first DNA nanodevices that survive the body’s immune defenses.

The results pave the way for smart DNA nanorobots that could use logic to diagnose cancer earlier and more accurately than doctors can today, target drugs to tumors, or even manufacture drugs on the spot to cripple cancer, the researchers report in the April 22 online issue of ACS Nano.

“We’re mimicking virus functionality to eventually build therapeutics that specifically target cells,” said Wyss Institute Core Faculty member William Shih, Ph.D., the paper’s senior author. Shih is also an Associate Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School and Associate Professor of Cancer Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The same cloaking strategy could also be used to make artificial microscopic containers called protocells that could act as biosensors to detect pathogens in food or toxic chemicals in drinking water.

DNA is well known for carrying genetic information, but Shih and other bioengineers are using it instead as a building material. To do this, they use DNA origami — a method Shih helped extend from 2D to 3D. In this method, scientists take a long strand of DNA and program it to fold into specific shapes, much as a single sheet of paper is folded to create various shapes in the traditional Japanese art.

Shih’s team assembles these shapes to build DNA nanoscale devices that might one day be as complex as the molecular machinery found in cells. For example, they are developing methods to build DNA into tiny robots that sense their environment, calculate how to respond, then carry out a useful task, such as performing a chemical reaction or generating mechanical force or movement.

In 2012 Wyss Institute researchers reported in Science that they had built a nanorobot that uses logic to detect a target cell, then reveals an antibody that activates a “suicide switch” in leukemia or lymphoma cells.

Carlos Garcia Pando's comment, April 26, 2014 4:10 AM
This might also be used as a powerful and controlled weapon against individuals or groups (ethnic selection, or just other type of genetic or environmental factors). Very dangerous.
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Over 400 acquired genetic mutations found in healthy blood of a supercentenarian

Over 400 acquired genetic mutations found in healthy blood of a supercentenarian | Amazing Science |

Genetic mutations are commonly studied because of links to diseases such as cancer; however, little is known about mutations occurring in healthy individuals. In a study published online in Genome Research, researchers detected over 400 mutations in healthy blood cells of a 115-year-old woman, suggesting that lesions at these sites are largely harmless over the course of a lifetime.

Our blood is continually replenished by hematopoietic stem cells that reside in the bone marrow and divide to generate different types of blood cells, including white blood cells. Cell division, however, is error-prone, and more frequently dividing cells, including the blood, are more likely to accumulate genetic mutations. Hundreds of mutations have been found in patients with blood cancers such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), but it is unclear whether healthy white blood cells also harbor mutations.

In this new study, the authors used whole genome sequencing of white blood cells from a supercentenarian woman to determine if, over a long lifetime, mutations accumulate in healthy white blood cells. The scientists identified over 400 mutations in the white blood cells that were not found in her brain, which rarely undergoes cell division after birth. These mutations, known as somatic mutations because they are not passed on to offspring, appear to be tolerated by the body and do not lead to disease. The mutations reside primarily in non-coding regions of the genome not previously associated with disease, and include sites that are especially mutation-prone such as methylated cytosine DNA bases and solvent-accessible stretches of DNA.

By examining the fraction of the white blood cells containing the mutations, the authors made a major discovery that may hint at the limits of human longevity. "To our great surprise we found that, at the time of her death, the peripheral blood was derived from only two active hematopoietic stem cells (in contrast to an estimated 1,300 simultaneously active stem cells), which were related to each other," said lead author of the study, Dr. Henne Holstege.

The authors also examined the length of the telomeres, or repetitive sequences at the ends of chromosomes that protects them from degradation. After birth, telomeres progressively shorten with each cell division. The supercentenarian's white blood cell telomeres were extremely short.

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Study links California drought to global warming

Study links California drought to global warming | Amazing Science |

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it’s not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought and the polar vortex blamed for a harsh winter that mercifully has just ended in many places.

The new study blames an unusual “dipole,” a combination of a strong Western high pressure ridge and deep Great Lakes low pressure trough. That dipole is linked to a recently found precursor to El Nino, the world-weather changing phenomenon. And that precursor itself seems amplified by a build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the study says.

It’s like a complex game of weather dominos that starts with cold water off China and ends with a devastating drought and memorable winter in the United States, said study author Simon Wang, a Utah State University climate scientist.

Wang was looking at colder water off China as a precursor to an El Nino. The colder water there triggers westerly winds in the tropical Pacific. Those westerly winds persist for several months and eventually push warmed up water and air to the central Pacific where an El Nino forms, Wang said.

An El Nino is a warming of the central Pacific once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the tropics. It shakes up climate around the world, changing rain and temperature patterns. Wang saw the precursors and weather event coming months before federal weather officials issued an official El Nino watch last month.

Then Wang noticed the connection between that precursor — cold water off China, Vietnam and Taiwan — and the recent wild winter. He tracked similar combinations of highs and lows in North America. And he found those combination extremes are getting stronger.

Wang based his study, soon to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, on computer simulations, physics and historical data. It is not as detailed and doesn’t involve numerous computer model simulations as more formal attribution studies. Still, Wang said his is a proper connection.

Wang compared computer simulations with and without gases from the burning of fossil fuels. When he included carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, he got a scenario over the past few decades that mirrored what has happened, including this past weird winter and other worsening dipole conditions. When he took out the greenhouse gases, the increasing extremes actually went down — not what happened in real life.

“We found a good link and the link is becoming stronger and stronger,” Wang said.

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Gravitational Lensing: Supernova PS1-10afx has shown brighter than 100 billion suns

Gravitational Lensing: Supernova PS1-10afx has shown brighter than 100 billion suns | Amazing Science |

When astronomers first spotted the supernova PS1-10afx in 2010, they were stunned by its brilliant, red glow. An otherwise unremarkable star, 10afx detonated nine billion years ago. But because its glow is so bright, astronomers estimated that it once shone brighter than 100 billion suns. In 2013, Harvard scientists concluded that 10afx must be a new, remarkably bright class of supernova. Unless, of course, distant galaxies are playing tricks on our eyes. 

A new study published in the journal Science argues that 10afx is, in fact, an utterly average supernova. But this supernova is conveniently positioned in front of a giant, cosmic lens that makes it appear up to 30 times brighter. 

"Between us and the supernova, there is a massive object—a galaxy that bends space-time and acts as a giant magnifying glass," Robert Quimby, an astronomer at the University of Tokyo and coauthor on the study, said in a press conference. 

Quimby's giant magnifying glass is a gravitational lens, a result of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Gravitational lensing occurs in space when an object with a large gravitational pull, like a galaxy, bends incoming light and refocuses it elsewhere. This can cause the image to scatter or, in some cases, appear brighter. 

"It's rather like an extra telescope," said Marcus Werner, a physicist at the University of Tokyo and coauthor on the study. "This magnification allows us to see objects that would be too faint to see otherwise." 

In the case of 10afx, Quimby and his team suspected that the supernova's bright red light had bent around a nearby galaxy before its sufficiently magnified rays could reach Earth. That brilliant, reddish glow, then, would have been just an artifact of an intervening galaxy. "We found that, aside from its brightness, [10afx] actually appeared very similar to a normal supernova, but one seen through a gravitational lens." Quimby said. 

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Inside an animal's mind: Crow Solves A Complicated 8 Step Puzzle

This Is Really Amazing: Dr. Alex Taylor has set up an 8-step puzzle to try and confuse one of the smartest crows he’s been studying in captivity. This bird solved the complex puzzle pretty quickly, even though he never saw the objects arranged together before. Watch the amazing experiment in this clip from the BBC’s ‘Inside the Animal Mind’.

Eli Levine's curator insight, April 24, 2014 8:02 PM

So YOU think you're the only one who's got "it".


Forget sentient life on other planets, we have plenty of it here.


And we're killing it off, for the sake of pieces of cloth rag that aren't essential to our survival and well being.


Who's the dummy now?


Think about it.

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MIT’s fast synthesis system could boost peptide-drug development

MIT’s fast synthesis system could boost peptide-drug development | Amazing Science |

Peptide drugs are expected to become a $25 billion market by 2018, but current archaic manufacturing methods are too slow and cumbersome.

Small protein fragments, also called peptides, are promising as drugs because they can be designed for very specific functions inside living cells, but manufacturing the peptides takes several weeks, making it difficult to obtain large quantities, and to rapidly test their effectiveness.

A team of MIT chemists and chemical engineers has designed a way to manufacture peptides in mere hours. The new system, described in a recent issue of the journal ChemBioChem, could have a major impact on peptide drug development, says Bradley Pentelute, an assistant professor of chemistry and leader of the research team.

“Peptides are ubiquitous. They’re used in therapeutics, they’re found in hydrogels, and they’re used to control drug delivery.  They’re also used as biological probes to image cancer and to study processes inside cells,” Pentelute says. “Because you can get these really fast now, you can start to do things you couldn’t do before.”

Insulin and the HIV drug Fuzeon are some of the earliest successful examples, and peptide drugs are expected to become a $25 billion market by 2018, the researchers say.

Therapeutic peptides usually consist of a chain of 30 to 40 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Many universities, including MIT, have facilities to manufacture these peptides, but the process usually takes two to six weeks, using machines developed about 20 years ago. These machines require about an hour to perform the chemical reactions needed to add one amino acid to a chain.

To speed up the process, the MIT team adapted the synthesis reactions so they could be done in a continuous flow system. Using this approach, each amino acid addition takes only a few minutes, and an entire peptide can be assembled in little more than an hour.

In future versions, “we think we’re going to be able to do each step in under 30 seconds,” says Pentelute, who is also an associate member of the Broad Institute. “What that means is you’re really going to be able to do anything you want in short periods of time.”

The new system has storage vessels for each of the 20 naturally occurring amino acids, connected to pumps that pull out the correct one. As the amino acids flow toward the chamber where the reaction takes place, they travel through a coil where they are preheated to 60 degrees Celsius, which helps speed up the synthesis reaction.

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Molecular Robots: Making molecules that make molecules

Molecular Robots: Making molecules that make molecules | Amazing Science |

Nature builds proteins in complex molecular factories where information from the genetic code is used to program the linking of molecular building blocks in the correct order.1 The most extraordinary of these factories is the ribosome,2 a massive molecular machine found in all living cells that assembles amino acids from transfer RNA (tRNA) building blocks into a peptide chain with an order defined by the sequence of the messenger RNA (mRNA) strand that the molecular machine moves along.

Now Professor David Leigh’s group at the University of Manchester ( have built an artificial molecular machine that builds chemical structures in a similar way.3 Their molecular machine features a functionalized nanometer-sized ring that moves along a molecular track, picking up building blocks located on the path and connecting them together in a specific order to synthesize the desired new molecule.

The mechanism of operation of the molecular machine is shown in Figure 1 (and is also shown in a video). First the ring is threaded onto a molecular strand using copper ions to direct the assembly process. Then a “reactive arm” is attached and the machine starts to operate. The ring moves up and down the strand until its path is blocked by a bulky group. The reactive arm then detaches the obstruction from the track and transfers it to another site on the machine, regenerating the active site on the arm. The ring is then free to move further along the strand until its path is obstructed by the next building block. This, in turn, is removed and passed to the elongation site on the ring, thus building up a new molecular structure. Once all the building blocks are removed from the track, the ring de-threads and the synthesis is complete.

Today the chemical products of the modern world—plastics, paints, pharmaceuticals, catalysts etc—are made by mixing together successive cocktails of reactive chemicals, in processes that are often laborious, inefficient and require many expensive steps. By contrast, in nature molecules are made by other molecules with exquisite efficiency. Biology has not evolved to do this over 2.5 billion years for no good reason and when scientists learn how to use molecular machines to perform synthesis—positioning substrates and ‘reactive arms’ and controlling the dynamics of responsive centers—it will have the potential to revolutionize the whole approach to functional molecule and materials design.


[1] J. M. Berg, J. L. Tymoczko, L. Stryer, Biochemistry (W. H. Freeman, New York, 6th edition, 2006).

[2] A. Yonath, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 49, 4340 (2010).

[3] B. Lewandowski, G. De Bo, J. W. Ward, M. Papmeyer, S. Kuschel, M. J. Aldegunde, P. M. E. Gramlich, D. Heckmann, S. M. Goldup, D. M. D’Souza, A. E. Fernandes and D. A. Leigh, Science 339, 189-193 (2013).

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The Human Connectome Project: Brains versus Computers [VIDEO]

The Human Connectome Project: Brains versus Computers [VIDEO] | Amazing Science |

Recent advances in noninvasive neuroimaging have set the stage for the systematic exploration of human brain circuits in health and disease. The Human Connectome Project (HCP) is systematically characterizing brain circuitry, its variability, and its relation to behavior in a population of 1,200 healthy adults (twins and their non-twin siblings). This talk reviews the progress by the HCP consortium in acquiring, analyzing, and freely sharing these massive and highly informative datasets. The HCP obtains information about structural and functional connectivity using diffusion MRI and resting-state fMRI, respectively. Additional modalities include task-evoked fMRI and MEG, plus extensive behavioral testing and genotyping. Each of these methods is powerful, yet faces significant technical limitations that are important to characterize and be mindful of when interpreting neuroimaging data. Advanced visualization and analysis methods developed by the HCP enable characterization of brain circuits in individuals and group averages at high spatial resolution and at the level of functionally distinct brain parcels and brain networks. Comparisons across subjects are beginning to reveal aspects of brain circuitry that are heritable or are related to particular behavioral capacities. Data from the HCP is being made freely available to the neuroscience community via a user-friendly informatics platform. Altogether, the HCP is providing invaluable information about the healthy human brain and its variability.

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