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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Google buys Boston Dynamics, one of the most well-known robotics companies in the world

Google buys Boston Dynamics, one of the most well-known robotics companies in the world | Amazing Science |
Google has confirmed it's buying Boston Dynamics -- one of the most well-known robotics companies in the world -- but isn't saying much about why.

When it wants something, Google doesnt just stick its toe in the water. No, it simply dives in head first. Less than two weeks after reports circulated that Google has been buying up robotics companies for the past six months as part of an effort to develop its own robotics technology, the company said it's buying Boston Dynamics, one of the most well-known robotics companies in the world.

Boston Dynamics confirmed to the IDG News Service this weekend that it is acquiring the company behind the four-legged rough-terrain traversing BigDog robot, as well as Atlas, a six-foot-tall, 330-pound robot designed to function much like a human.

Atlas is the focus of a DARPA-sponsored robotics challenge later this week that will have 17 teams from the likes of Carnegie Mellon University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory vying to create the best software to enable the robot to turn valves, use human tools, climb a ladder and even drive a car.

And Boston Dynamics was at a robotics demonstration for the U.S. Army at Fort Benning in Georgia in October, showing off its BigDog robot. While the company declined to talk about its work there, officials did say they were under contract with DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

For several years now, Google has been working to develop autonomous cars, logging thousands of miles on the road, getting the first license for a driverless car and even approaching major auto makers in Detroit as potential partners in their effort.

For the last six months, Google has been buying robotics companies in an effort to develop technology that can be used in its manufacturing operation, which largely focuses on electronics assembly. Boston Dynamics will be the eighth robotics company acquired.

"We are looking forward to this next chapter in robotics and in what we can accomplish as part of the Google team," Boston Dynamics co-founder Marc Raibert said in a statement.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, noted that at first glance, this does seem like an odd purchase for Google, which is known for search, its highly popular Android platform, the Chromebook and Maps. But it's just an extension of their recent robotics interest.

"Well, much of what Google does is experiment with stuff and that's what makes them Google," said Kerravala. "With Boston Dynamics, they get a bunch of robots in different shapes and sizes. And Google is just a company that's really out there and has deep pockets."

Vloasis's curator insight, December 22, 2013 6:07 PM

Pretty soon that mechanical ox chasing your car will be Google's new IRL tracking cookie.

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Stephen Wolfram's utterly new, insanely ambitious computational paradigm

Stephen Wolfram's utterly new, insanely ambitious computational paradigm | Amazing Science |

Computational knowledge. Symbolic programming. Algorithm automation. Dynamic interactivity. Natural language. Computable documents. The cloud. Connected devices. Symbolic ontology. Algorithm discovery. These are all things Stephen Wolfram and his team has been energetically working on—mostly for years—in the context of Wolfram|AlphaMathematicaCDF and so on.

In 2002 Stephen Wolfram released A New Kind of Science and immediately unleashed a firestorm of wonder, controversy, and criticism as the British-born scientist, programmer, and entrepreneur overturned conventional ideas on how to pursue knowledge. Earlier this month, he teased something with the capacity to create as much passion — and, likely, much more actual change — in the world of programming, computation, and applications.

Whether you think his 1,300-page tome on the future of scientific exploration is seminal or fanciful, you can’t question that the man is a genius. Born of Jewish parents who fled persecution in pre-WWII Germany (remind you of another scientist?), Wolfram wrote a dictionary on physics at age 12 and three books on particle physics by the time he was 14, publishing his first scientific papers at 15.

In 1988 he released the first version of Mathematica, a platform for technical computation, and in 2009, he released the Wolfram Alpha search engine, a computational knowledge engine. His new project, he says, is a perfect marriage. “The knowledge graph is a vastly less ambitious project than what we’ve been doing at Wolfram Alpha,” Wolfram says quickly when I bring it up. But don’t compare it to Google’s knowledge graph or semantic search. “It’s just Wikipedia and other data.”

Google wants to understand objects and things and their relationships so it can give answers, not just results. But Wolfram wants to make the world computable, so that our computers can answer questions like “where is the International Space Station right now.” That requires a level of machine intelligence that knows what the ISS is, that it’s in space, that it is orbiting the Earth, what its speed is, and where in its orbit it is right now.

That’s not static data; that’s a combination of computation with knowledge. WolframAlpha does that today, but that is just the beginning. Search engines aren’t good at that, Wolfram argues, because they’re too messy. Questions in a search engine have many answers, with varying degrees of applicability and “rightness.” That’s not computable, not clean enough to program or feed into a system. “We want to be right,” Wolfram told me. “Making the world computable is a much higher bar than being able to generate Wikipedia-style information … a very different thing. What we’ve tried to do is insanely more ambitious.”

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Scientists make new exotic chemicals with high-pressure salt

Scientists make new exotic chemicals with high-pressure salt | Amazing Science |
It's time to rewrite the chemistry textbooks: NaCl isn't the only option.

Everything around you is made of elements that scientists have studied in quite some detail over the last 200 years. But all that understanding breaks down when these elements are subjected to high pressure and temperature. Now, using an advanced theoretical understanding and extreme conditions, researchers have converted table salt into exotic chemicals.

Salt is made from one part sodium (Na) and one part chlorine (Cl). If somehow salt were transported to the center of the Earth, where the pressure is three million times that on the surface, its crystalline structure would change but the ratio of those two elements would remain the same.

Vitali Prakapenka at the University of Chicago and his colleagues wanted to find out what would happen if there were an excess of either sodium or chlorine at such high pressures. Would the ratio between the elements change? “It might,” said Prakapenka, “because chemistry completely changes in such conditions.” If it did, the result would not just be formation of a new compound, but a serious revision of what we think about chemistry.

Elemental behavior changes at such high pressures. For example, molecules of oxygen, which normally contain two atoms, break down at increased pressures, and the element forms an eight-atom box. Raise the pressure some more to about 300,000 atmospheres, and it starts to superconduct. Chemists are trying to develop chemicals that exhibit similar properties but are stable under normal conditions—learning about these exotic compounds can help them achieve that goal.

Sodium chloride (i.e., table salt) is a different beast. It is bound in a one-to-one ratio by very strong ionic bonds. However, calculations done by Prakapenka’s colleague and lead researcher Artem Oganov at the State University of New York in Stony Brook indicated that even sodium chloride could be twisted to produce exotic chemicals. Those calculations, just published in Science, gave them precise pressures at which, in the presence of excess sodium or chlorine, salt could be transformed.

The calculations indicated that NaCl3, Na3Cl, Na2Cl, Na3Cl2, and NaCl7 could all be stable at pressures ranging from 20GPa to 142GPa, where 1GPa is about 10,000 atmospheres of pressure. High pressure physicists have many models to predict behavior of elements under extreme conditions, but rarely do those models agree with experiment.

Remarkably their calculations stood the test of experiment in at least two cases: Na3Cl and NaCl3. To run such an experiment, you need a fancy device called the diamond anvil cell. Chemicals are added between two diamonds, which can be compressed to produce pressures up to 300GPa. This is what Prakapenka’s colleague used to make Na3Cl and NaCl3, structures that were verified by Prakapenka using X-ray analysis.

“Nobody thought this could happen, given how strong the bond is between sodium and chlorine,” said Prakapenka. “What we have shown is that theory can be translated into experiment, which doesn’t happen often in high pressure physics.”

Malcolm McMahon, professor of high pressure physics at the University of Edinburgh, said, “These are surprising results, and they are guided by remarkable theoretical predictions. Without tools like the ones they have built, we would not have been able to think that sodium chloride could be transformed this way.”

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Hyoid bone analysis supports hypothesis that Neanderthals could talk

Hyoid bone analysis supports hypothesis that Neanderthals could talk | Amazing Science |

Could Neanderthals talk? The latest X-ray analysis conducted at the Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste research center (Italy) on the hyoid bone of a Neanderthal Man found in 1989 on the archaeological site of Kebara (Israel), strongly supports this hypothesis. The paper was published in the international journal Plos One, and presents the results of a comparison between the biomechanical properties of the Kebara hyoid and those of the same bone in Homo sapiens. The study was conducted by an international research team with members from Elettra, the University of Chieti and ICTP (Unesco) in Italy, the University of New England and of New South Wales in Australia, and the University of Toronto in Canada.

Scholars dealing with the question of complex language and its evolution, already had focused their attention on the hyoid bone. This is the only bone of the vocal tract and therefore the only part that can fossilize. The hyoid provides support to the larynx and serves as anchor for the tongue and other muscles needed - at least in Homo sapiens - in phonation. It is already known, from the study of external morphology, that the hyoid bones of Homo neanderthalensis and modern man don't differ significantly, as they have a different shape from that of other primates such as chimpanzees. "This observation," says Ruggero D'Anastasio, paleontologist at the University of Chieti, "while being compatible with the use of language by this species of Homo that lived between two hundred and thirty thousand years ago, is in no way sufficient. To be able to say something about the function of the hyoid bone, it was crucial to analyze its internal microstructure, which remodels in response to the mechanical stress to which the bone is subjected."

"Although we plan to analyze other hyoids to further increase the significance of the data," says D' Anastasio, "I believe that this work represents a decisive step forward supporting the hypothesis that the Neanderthals were using complex language. Our results confirm in fact that the hyoid bone of the two species had the same type of biomechanical usage. That this also corresponds to the same function—that is speech—it really seems the most reasonable conclusion. Our results, added to other evidence coming from paleontology, archaeology and paleogenetics, goes in the same direction. The use of pigments, the subdivision of residential areas into zones, the use of animal remains (for instance feathers) as personal ornament and other behaviors that can be interpreted as forms of complex comunication, were attributed before only to Homo sapiens, but recently they have been been confirmed also for the Neanderthals. All this adds up to conclude that our ancestors could actually talk."

"Maybe the Neanderthals could also sing and dance to the sound of music," adds Claudio Tuniz, physicist Claudio Tuniz of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste "as suggested by our recent studies on the flute made from the femur of a bear, found in Slovenia on a site that was frequented by Neanderthals 60 millennia ago."

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World's Smallest Pacemaker Can Be Implanted Without Surgery

World's Smallest Pacemaker Can Be Implanted Without Surgery | Amazing Science |
New cardiac devices are small enough to be delivered through blood vessels into the heart.

Pacemaker surgery typically requires a doctor to make an incision above a patient’s heart, dig a cavity into which he can implant the heartbeat-regulating device, and then connect the pulse generator to wires delivered through a vein near the collarbone. Such surgery could soon be completely unnecessary. Instead, doctors could employ miniaturized wireless pacemakers that can be delivered into the heart through a major vein in the thigh.

On Monday, doctors in Austria implanted one such device into a patient—the first participant in a human trial of what device-manufacturer Medtronic says is the smallest pacemaker in the world.

The device is 24 millimeters long and 0.75 cubic centimeters in volume—a tenth the size of a conventional pacemaker. Earlier this year, another device manufacturer, St. Jude Medical, bought a startup called Nanostim that makes another tiny pacemaker, and St. Jude is offering it to patients in Europe. This device is 41 millimeters long and one cubic centimeter in volume.

Doctors can implant such pacemakers into the heart through blood vessels, via an incision in the thigh. They use steerable, flexible tubes called catheters to push the pacemakers through a large vein.

The two new devices are the latest effort to make heart surgery less traumatic. Doctors began to widely use less invasive heart treatments in the late 1990s, when artery-unclogging balloons delivered by catheters started to replace bypass surgeries. Other cardiac technologies like stents, which prop open weak or narrow arteries, can also be delivered through blood vessels. More recently, researchers have developed artificial valves for patients whose natural valves have become damaged; these devices can also be delivered by catheters snaking through large blood vessels.

Brian Lindman, a cardiovascular specialist at Washington University School of Medicine, and colleagues have found that less invasive catheter-based procedures for valve repair can be safer for high-risk elderly patients and can enable doctors to treat patients who are too frail to undergo surgery.

More recently, Lindman published a study suggesting that the transcatheter method may improve the odds of survival for diabetic patients as well. However, for some cardiac treatments such as valve repair, a more invasive surgery enables longer-lasting repairs, and so may be the better option for patients strong enough for surgery. “Surgery or transcatheter is not always better,” says Lindman. “It depends on the cardiac problem and on the nuances of each procedure.

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Beam of darkness makes objects invisible from a distance

Beam of darkness makes objects invisible from a distance | Amazing Science |

A research team from the University of Singapore has developed a device that can make objects invisible by bathing them in a beam of darkness.

The system takes the conventional approach to optics -- which generally aims to make images as sharp and clear as possible -- and turns it completely on its head. Usually imaging systems focus light into a pattern known as a point spreading function, which consists of a spiked central region of high intensity (the main lobe) surrounded by a concentric region of lower intensity light and a higher intensity lobe after this. In order to achieve the best resolution, the central region should be narrowed and intensified, while the outer lobe is supressed. This makes sure that the image is very bright and sharp with well-defined edges.

The researchers' beam can hide macroscopic objects by taking the opposite approach: intensifying the outer lobes suppressing the central region. This means that the central region has a field intensity of light that is pretty much zero. They did this using special lenses that could smear out the central spike while increasing the intensity of the concentric lobes. Objects in this 3D region cannot be resolved and so are hidden from sight. The effect has been named "anti-resolution".

The research team managed to hide a three-dimensional object (the letter N) that was 40-micrometers in size from a single frequency of light (red laser light). "This new scheme of manoeuvring light creates a plethora of possibilities for optical imaging systems, superb surveillance by seeing things behind for the military use, or cloaking the object surrounded by high field intensity," explains lead author Chao Wan, from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National University of Singapore.

The technology could one day pave the way for a sort of "invisibility gun" that could be aimed at an object. In order to do this, the researchers would have to extend the effect to the wider spectrum of light.

You can read the full study online.

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A single-chain TALEN architecture for genome engineering

A single-chain TALEN architecture for genome engineering | Amazing Science |

Transcription-activator like effector nucleases (TALENs) are tailor-made DNA endonucleases and serve as a powerful tool for genome engineering. Site-specific DNA cleavage can be made by the dimerization of FokI nuclease domains at custom-targeted genomic loci, where a pair of TALENs must be positioned in close proximity with an appropriate orientation. However, the simultaneous delivery and coordinated expression of two bulky TALEN monomers (>100 kDa) in cells may be problematic to implement for certain applications. A team of researchers now reports the development of a single-chain TALEN (scTALEN) architecture, in which two FokI nuclease domains are fused on a single polypeptide. The scTALEN was created by connecting two FokI nuclease domains with a 95 amino acid polypeptide linker, which was isolated from a linker library by high-throughput screening. The scientists demonstrated that scTALENs were catalytically active as monomers in yeast and human cells. The use of this novel scTALEN architecture should reduce protein payload, simplify design and decrease production cost.

Via dromius
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Extinct Giant Moa Bird Loses Weight, Strength, in New Study

Extinct Giant Moa Bird Loses Weight, Strength, in New Study | Amazing Science |
The giant moa may have been tall, but it was not as hefty or strong boned as previous research has suggested, according to a new analysis of a full-body skeleton.

The scientific name of the giant moa — Dinornis robustus — translates to "robust strange bird," and the species was the largest of at least nine moa bird species that roamed New Zealand's jungles and shrublands for thousands of years, until going extinct about 500 years ago, likely due to overhunting. The giant birds looked much like ostriches and emus do today; but their skeletal remains show they would have towered over their cousins, reaching about 12 feet (3.7 meters) tall, which is nearly double the height of modern ostriches.

Moa may have been hunted to extinction within a century of human arrival to New Zealand. Moa made such easy prey that by AD 1200 the hunting of Moa alone provided food surpluses sufficient to provide for the settling of large villages up to 3 hectares. These villages were permanent coastal encampments from which bands would set out on several week hunts to slaughter and carry back Moa. Over 300 Moa butchering sites are known, 117 on South Island which together account for some 100,000-500,000 Moa. With such abundance came a good deal of waste: as much as 50% of usable weight was discarded in the field. At around the same time as hunting was at it peak, the forests of South Island were burned off. The extraordinary abundance of food resources supported a population of as many as 10,000 people. However, by the late 1400s the Moa hunting society collapsed. By about A.D. 1400 all moa are generally thought to have become extinct, along with the Haast's Eagle which had relied on them for food. Recent research using carbon-14 dating of middens strongly suggests that this took less than a hundred years.

The kiwi were formerly regarded as the closest relatives of the moa, but comparisons of their DNA in a paper published in 2005 suggested moa were more closely related to the Australian emu and cassowary. However research published in 2010 found that the moa's closest cousins were not the emu and cassowary but smaller terrestrial South American birds called the tinamous which are able to fly.

The Dinornis seem to have had the most pronounced degree of sexual dimorphism, with females being up to 150% as tall and 280% as heavy as males. The females were so much bigger that they were classified as separate species until 2003.

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Processors That Work Like Brains Will Accelerate Artificial Intelligence

Processors That Work Like Brains Will Accelerate Artificial Intelligence | Amazing Science |

A new breed of computer chips that operate more like the brain may be about to narrow the gulf between artificial and natural computation—between circuits that crunch through logical operations at blistering speed and a mechanism honed by evolution to process and act on sensory input from the real world. Advances in neuroscience and chip technology have made it practical to build devices that, on a small scale at least, process data the way a mammalian brain does. These “neuromorphic” chips may be the missing piece of many promising but unfinished projects in artificial intelligence, such as cars that drive themselves reliably in all conditions, and smartphones that act as competent conversational assistants.

Via Szabolcs Kósa
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Using hydrogel stamping to produce low-cost artificial cells

Using hydrogel stamping to produce low-cost artificial cells | Amazing Science |

Easily manufactured, low-cost artificial cells manufactured using microprinting may one day serve as drug and gene delivery devices and in biomaterials, biotechnology and biosensing applications, according to a team of Penn State biomedical engineers.

These artificial cells will also allow researchers to explore actions that take place at the cell membrane.

“In a natural cell, so much is going on inside that it is extremely complex,” said Sheereen Majd, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. Understanding how drugs and pathogens cross the cell membrane barrier is essential in preventing disease and delivering drugs.

“With these artificial cells — liposomes — we have just the shell, which gives us the ability to dissect the events that happen at the membrane.”

Using hydrogel stamping, a process that creates a stamp out of wet hydrogel that deposits dots of the lipid and protein mixture on the surface of the substrate, the researchers can lay out an array of potential artificial cell locations. They then apply an AC electric field to the substrate. Where the lipid and protein mixture exists, tiny bubbles form that eventually combine into one artificial cell. The result is an array of artificial cells neatly placed and spaced on the substrate.

“The AC electric field produces agitation that creates the tiny bubbles that merge to form the cells. This process is called electroformation,” said Majd. The variety of lipids and proteins used can vary depending on the ultimate purpose of the artificial cells. The cells that form are between 20 and 50 microns, within the range of natural cells.

“The beauty of this method is that a lot of labs already use liposomes and electroformation,” said Majd. “However, traditionally, they do not have proteins attached.” Another problem is the traditional method creates artificial cells in tens of sizes situated all over the place, she added. Other methods require complex devices such as microfluidics to create uniformly sized artificial cells. With the hydrogel stamping method, it is easy to control the size of artificial cells and to generate a large number of these cells efficiently.

The researchers would next like to incorporate more than just lipids and proteins into the artificial cells. One possibility is to bind potential drugs to the proteins and lipids.

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A naturally-produced compound rewinds aspects of age-related demise in mice

A naturally-produced compound rewinds aspects of age-related demise in mice | Amazing Science |

Mitochondria are often referred to as the cell's "powerhouse," generating chemical energy to carry out essential biological functions. These self-contained organelles, which live inside our cells and house their own small genomes, have long been identified as key biological players in aging. As they become increasingly dysfunctional overtime, many age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes gradually set in.

Researchers have generally been skeptical of the idea that aging can be reversed, due mainly to the prevailing theory that age-related ills are the result of mutations in mitochondrial DNA—and mutations cannot be reversed.

Sinclair and his group have been studying the fundamental science of aging—which is broadly defined as the gradual decline in function with time—for many years, primarily focusing on a group of genes called sirtuins. Previous studies from his lab showed that one of these genes, SIRT1, was activated by the compound resveratrol, which is found in grapes, red wine and certain nuts.

Ana Gomes, a postdoctoral scientist in the Sinclair lab, had been studying mice in which the SIRT1 gene had been removed. While they accurately predicted that these mice would show signs of aging, including mitochondrial dysfunction, the researchers were surprised to find that most mitochondrial proteins coming from the cell’s nucleus were at normal levels; only those encoded by the mitochondrial genome were reduced. “This was at odds with what the literature suggested,” said Gomes.

As Gomes and her colleagues investigated potential causes for this, they discovered an intricate cascade of events that begins with a chemical called NAD and concludes with a key molecule that shuttles information and coordinates activities between the cell’s nuclear genome and the mitochondrial genome. Cells stay healthy as long as coordination between the genomes remains fluid. SIRT1’s role is intermediary, akin to a security guard; it assures that a meddlesome molecule called HIF-1 does not interfere with communication.

For reasons still unclear, as we age, levels of the initial chemical NAD decline. Without sufficient NAD, SIRT1 loses its ability to keep tabs on HIF-1. Levels of HIF-1 escalate and begin wreaking havoc on the otherwise smooth cross-genome communication. Over time, the research team found, this loss of communication reduces the cell's ability to make energy, and signs of aging and disease become apparent.

“This particular component of the aging process had never before been described,” said Gomes. While the breakdown of this process causes a rapid decline in mitochondrial function, other signs of aging take longer to occur. Gomes found that by administering an endogenous compound that cells transform into NAD, she could repair the broken network and rapidly restore communication and mitochondrial function. If the compound was given early enough—prior to excessive mutation accumulation—within days, some aspects of the aging process could be reversed.

The researchers are now looking at the longer-term outcomes of the NAD-producing compound in mice and how it affects the mouse as a whole. They are also exploring whether the compound can be used to safely treat rare mitochondrial diseases or more common diseases such as Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Longer term, Sinclair plans to test if the compound will give mice a healthier, longer life.

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Neanderthal genome shows early human inbreeding and interbreeding

Neanderthal genome shows early human inbreeding and interbreeding | Amazing Science |

The most complete sequence to date of the Neanderthal genome, using DNA extracted from a woman's toe bone that dates back 50,000 years, reveals a long history of interbreeding among at least four different types of early humans living in Europe and Asia at that time, according to University of California, Berkeley, scientists.

Population geneticist Montgomery Slatkin, graduate student Fernando Racimo and post-doctoral student Flora Jay were part of an international team of anthropologists and geneticists who generated a high-quality sequence of the Neanderthal genome and compared it with the genomes of modern humans and a recently recognized group of early humans called Denisovans.

The comparison shows that Neanderthals and Denisovans are very closely related, and that their common ancestor split off from the ancestors of modern humans about 400,000 years ago. Neanderthals and Denisovans split about 300,000 years ago.

Though Denisovans and Neanderthals eventually died out, they left behind bits of their genetic heritage because they occasionally interbred with modern humans. The research team estimates that between 1.5 and 2.1 percent of the genomes of modern non-Africans can be traced to Neanthertals.

Denisovans also left genetic traces in modern humans, though only in some Oceanic and Asian populations. The genomes of Australian aborigines, New Guineans and some Pacific Islanders are about 6 percent Denisovan genes, according to earlier studies. The new analysis finds that the genomes of Han Chinese and other mainland Asian populations, as well as of native Americans, contain about 0.2 percent Denisovan genes.

The genome comparisons also show that Denisovans interbred with a mysterious fourth group of early humans also living in Eurasia at the time. That group had split from the others more than a million years ago, and may have been the group of human ancestors known as Homo erectus, which fossils show was living in Europe and Asia a million or more years ago.

"The paper really shows that the history of humans and hominins during this period was very complicated," said Slatkin, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. "There was lot of interbreeding that we know about and probably other interbreeding we haven't yet discovered."

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Resistance gene identified in malaria parasite

Resistance gene identified in malaria parasite | Amazing Science |

Mutations in the malaria parasite that underlie its resistance to the potent drug artemisinin have been pinpointed for the first time. By testing for these genetic variants, public-health officials now plan to map malaria strains that are impervious to the drug in southeast Asia, with the hope of stemming their spread to Bangladesh, India and Africa.

"If full-blown artemisinin resistance were to reach Africa, it could be, truly, a global health catastrophe," says Christopher Plowe, a malariologist at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

“We will very soon know where artemisinin resistance is and where it has spread,” says Pascal Ringwald, a co-author of the latest study and the coordinator of drug resistance and containment for the Global Malaria Programme of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. His team's paper is published today in Nature1.

Artemisinin is made from sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine. In the 1960s and early 1970s, China operated a secret military research programme to combat resistance to another malaria drug, chloroquinone, and researchers discovered that the plant’s extract removed malaria parasites from the blood of infected mice and, later, humans.

When used in combination with one of several other malaria drugs, artemisinin-based drugs typically vanquish the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum from people's blood within two days.

But from the early 2000s in western Cambodia, health officials noticed malaria cases that took longer to clear — up to five days. And some strains were completely unaffected by artemisinin. Resistant strains have since popped up in regions that neighbour Cambodia in Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.

  1. Ariey, F. et alNature (2013)

  2. Cheeseman, I.H. et alScience 336, 7982 (2012).

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Nanotechnology for self-powered systems

Nanotechnology for self-powered systems | Amazing Science |

There is an almost infinite number of mechanical energy sources all around us – basically, anything that moves can be harvested for energy. These environmental energy sources can the very large, like wave power in the oceans, or very small, like rain drops or biomechanical energy from heart beat, breathing, and blood flow. With the increasing use of nanotechnology materials and applications in energy research, scientists are finding more and more ways to tap into these pretty much limitless sources of energy.

The continued miniaturization of portable electronics is increasingly challenged by the reliance on conventional battery technology. But for the near future, micro- and even nanoscale devices will be widely used in health monitoring; infrastructure and environmental monitoring; internet of things; and of course defense technologies. In these application areas, battery design will have to go way beyond today's typical lithium-ion batteries. Rather than relying on stored power, nanodevices will probably rely on novel, also nanoscale, power sources.

Via Szabolcs Kósa
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Method for mass production of graphene-based field-effect transistors (FETs) developed

Method for mass production of graphene-based field-effect transistors (FETs) developed | Amazing Science |

Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology(UNIST) researchers in Korea have announced a method for mass production of graphene-based field-effect transistors (FETs).

The design creates boron/nitrogen co-doped graphene nanoplatelets (BCN-graphene) via a simple solvothermalreaction of BBr3/CCl4/N2 in the presence of potassium.

Various methods of making graphene-based FETs have been exploited, including doping graphene, tailoring graphene like a nanoribbon, and using boron nitride as a support, the researchers said. Among the methods of controlling the bandgap* of graphene, doping methods show the most promise in terms of industrial-scale feasibility, they suggest.

Researchers have previously tried to add boron to graphene to open its bandgap to achieve semiconductor performance, without success, because the atomic size of boron, 85 pm (atomic radius) is larger than that of carbon (77 pm).

Now, the UNIST researcher team, led by Prof. Jong-Beom Baek, has found that boron/nitrogen co-doping is only feasible when carbon tetrachloride (CCl4 ) is treated with boron tribromide (BBr3 ) and nitrogen (N2) gas, which at 70 pm is a bit smaller than carbon and boron.

Pairing two nitrogen atoms and two boron atoms can compensate for the atomic size mismatch, so boron and nitrogen pairs can be easily introduced into the graphitic network, the researchers say. The resultant BCN-graphene generates a bandgap appropriate for FETs.

“Although the performance of the FET is not in the range of commercial silicon-based semiconductors, this initiative work should be the proof of a new concept and a great leap forward for studying graphene with bandgap opening,” said Baek. “Now, the remaining challenge is fine-tuning a bandgap to improve the on/off current ratio for real device applications.”

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Aliens, computers and synthetic biology

Our capacity to partner with biology to make useful things is limited by the tools that we can use to specify, design, prototype, test, and analyze natural or engineered biological systems. However, biology has typically been engaged as a "technology of last resort" in attempts to solve problems that other more mature technologies cannot. This lecture will examine some recent progress on virus genome redesign and hidden DNA messages from outer space, building living data storage, logic, and communication systems, and how simple but old and nearly forgotten engineering ideas are helping make biology easier to engineer.

Via Szabolcs Kósa
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H. pylori Vaccine Shows Promise in Mouse Studies

H. pylori Vaccine Shows Promise in Mouse Studies | Amazing Science |

Researchers from Southern Medical University in Guangdong, Guangzhou, China, have developed an oral vaccine against Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria responsible for peptic ulcers and some forms of gastric cancer, and have successfully tested it in mice. The research is published ahead of print in the journal Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.

The investigators constructed a live recombinant bacterial vaccine, expressing the H. pylori antigen, adhesin Hp0410, in the food-grade bacterium, Lactobacillus acidophilus. They then used it to orally vaccinate the mice.


The vaccine elicited specific anti-Hp0410 IgG antibodies in serum, and showed “a significant increase” in the level of protection against gastric Helicobacter infection, according to the report. When assayed, following challenge with H. pylori, immunized mice had significantly lower bacterial loads than non-immunized mice.


H. pylori is a class 1 human carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization. It causes gastritis, peptic ulcers, stomach cancer, and mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma. Antibiotic therapy is complex, unsuccessful in some patients (particularly in developing countries) and relapse is common. A vaccine against H. pylori could circumvent these difficulties.

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New Tech Embeds ID in 3D-Printed Products

New Tech Embeds ID in 3D-Printed Products | Amazing Science |

Researchers at Microsoft have developed an answer: a new method of marking objects without leaving a visual trace. The method involves creating objects with various internal gaps, or bubbles, within its body that form predetermined patterns. These patterns can then be observed using a Terahertz scanner, a device that has been used in airport security since 2007.

Terahertz radiation is a type of electromagnetic light that is not visible to the human eye and also doesn't harm organic matter like nuclear radiation does. It can also pass through most plastics, fabric, wood and organic material, making it ideal for imaging the insides of objects. By analyzing the rate at which the Terahertz radiation beams pass through the object, the scanner can locate the gaps that make up the pattern and interpret the gaps' meaning.

Microsoft calls this type of tag an InfraStruct. It's similar to a barcode or a QR code, but the mark is structural, not visual, and therefore doesn't have to be on the outside of an object. Unlike radio-frequency identification tags, or RFIDs, tags such as InfraStructs don't require any kind of electricity to exist; they're just a part of the object's architectural makeup.

This method is particularly easy to implement with 3D-printed objects, as the printers work by creating an object layer by layer, so adding the pattern is a relatively simple modification.

3D printers capable of printing in multiple materials, such as different types of polymers or even metal, could easily create a different type of InfraStruct. If you were to make one of those layers a different material than the rest, a Terahertz scanner would detect it because the radiation would pass through that layer at a different rate than the rest.

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Cell-suicide blocker holds promise as HIV therapy

Cell-suicide blocker holds promise as HIV therapy | Amazing Science |

HIV infection causes a mass suicide of immune cells — a process that can be halted by an experimental drug that blocks cellular self-destruction, studies in cell cultures suggest. Researchers are now proposing a clinical trial of the drug in people with HIV.

Current HIV therapies act by targeting key proteins made by the virus. But findings from cell cultures, published today in Science[1] and Nature[2], suggest that targeting proteins in host cells might be an alternative approach to preserving the immune system in the face of an HIV infection.

The papers also address a decades-old mystery: why infection-fighting immune cells die off in people with HIV. A 2010 study[3] showed that HIV does not directly kill most of these cells, called CD4 cells. Instead, the cells often self-destruct. “It’s much more a suicide than it is a murder,” says Warner Greene, a molecular virologist at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology in San Francisco, California, and a co-author of both the latest works.

In the latest studies, Greene’s team investigated these ‘abortive’ infections. They identified a sensor that detects viral DNA in the cell and activates the suicide response[4]. And they found that most of the cellular suicide occurs via a process called pyroptosis, in which the dying cells unleash a ferocious inflammatory response[5]. A key protein involved in pyroptosis is caspase 1, and an experimental caspase-1 inhibitor made by Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had already been tested in humans as a potential treatment for epilepsy. The drug, VX-765, failed to help epileptics, but six-week-long studies suggested that it was safe.

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Spectral technique promises to enable mass measurement for exoplanets around faint stars

Spectral technique promises to enable mass measurement for exoplanets around faint stars | Amazing Science |

Researchers have weighed a planet orbiting a distant star by measuring the starlight passing through its atmosphere. The technique could accelerate the hunt for Earth-like worlds.

Knowing the mass of an extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, is an important step in determining whether it is rocky, and thus potentially home to life. To find that mass, astronomers usually rely on radial-velocity measurements, in which tiny wobbles in a star’s orbit reveal the gravitational tug (and hence mass) of an orbiting planet. Radial velocity works best for big planets that orbit bright, steadily shining stars, so exoplanet scientists would like to have methods that they can apply to other planets around other types of stars, including fainter ones.

In a paper appearing today in Science1, Julien de Wit, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and his supervisor, Sara Seager, report that they can calculate a planet’s mass by analysing the spectrum of its star's light.

When a planet passes in front of its star as seen from Earth, it temporarily blocks a small fraction of the star's light — many exoplanets have been discovered by measuring this dip in the star's brightness. But an even tinier fraction of the light gets through after skirting the planet and passing through its atmosphere.

The atmosphere acts as a filter, changing the spectrum of the light. But the filtering effect is different at different altitudes, and it depends on conditions such as atmospheric pressure, temperature and the gravitational pull of the planet. De Wit worked through the equations and showed that while the planet is transiting in front of it, the star’s spectrum contains information about most of these factors. That leaves mass (which is related to the gravitational pull) as the only unknown, which can be calculated from the other parameters.

In one case where a planet's mass was already known from the radial-velocity method, de Wit showed that his technique gave the correct result.

The fraction of starlight that passes through the planetary atmosphere is especially minuscule for small-radius planets, which can make the effects on the spectrum so tiny as to be almost undetectable. With current telescopes, de Wit's method works only for Jupiter-sized planets that orbit close to their stars. But with better instruments on future telescopes, it might be particularly useful for planets around cool, faint but numerous M-dwarf stars, de Wit says. And the James Webb Space Telescope, which NASA plans to launch in 2018, might be able to weigh Earth-sized worlds around such stars as far away as 50 parsecs (about 160 light years).

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The Most Amazing Science Images of 2013

The Most Amazing Science Images of 2013 | Amazing Science |

From slow-motion footage on YouTube to deep-space satellite imagery to weird washcloths on the International Space Station, this was a big year for science.

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Machine-learning algorithms could make chemical reactions intelligent leading to "smart drugs"

Machine-learning algorithms could make chemical reactions intelligent leading to "smart drugs" | Amazing Science |

Computer scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have joined forces to put powerful probabilistic reasoning algorithms in the hands of bioengineers.

In a new paper presented at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference on December 7, Ryan P. Adams and Nils Napp have shown that an important class of artificial intelligence algorithms could be implemented using chemical reactions.

These algorithms, which use a technique called “message passing inference on factor graphs,” are a mathematical coupling of ideas from graph theory and probability. They represent the state of the art in machine learning and are already critical components of everyday tools ranging from search engines and fraud detection to error correction in mobile phones.

Adams’ and Napp’s work demonstrates that some aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) could be implemented at microscopic scales using molecules. In the long term, the researchers say, such theoretical developments could open the door for “smart drugs” that can automatically detect, diagnose, and treat a variety of diseases using a cocktail of chemicals that can perform AI-type reasoning.

“We understand a lot about building AI systems that can learn and adapt at macroscopic scales; these algorithms live behind the scenes in many of the devices we interact with every day,” says Adams, an assistant professor of computer science at SEAS whose Intelligent Probabilistic Systems group focuses on machine learning and computational statistics. “This work shows that it is possible to also build intelligent machines at tiny scales, without needing anything that looks like a regular computer. This kind of chemical-based AI will be necessary for constructing therapies that sense and adapt to their environment. The hope is to eventually have drugs that can specialize themselves to your personal chemistry and can diagnose or treat a range of pathologies.”

Adams and Napp designed a tool that can take probabilistic representations of unknowns in the world (probabilistic graphical models, in the language of machine learning) and compile them into a set of chemical reactions that estimate quantities that cannot be observed directly. The key insight is that the dynamics of chemical reactions map directly onto the two types of computational steps that computer scientists would normally perform in silico to achieve the same end.

This insight opens up interesting new questions for computer scientists working on statistical machine learning, such as how to develop novel algorithms and models that are specifically tailored to tackling the uncertainty molecular engineers typically face. In addition to the long-term possibilities for smart therapeutics, it could also open the door for analyzing natural biological reaction pathways and regulatory networks as mechanisms that are performing statistical inference. Just like robots, biological cells must estimate external environmental states and act on them; designing artificial systems that perform these tasks could give scientists a better understanding of how such problems might be solved on a molecular level inside living systems.

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New Superconducting Cable Brings Nuclear Fusion Power Closer to Reality

New Superconducting Cable Brings Nuclear Fusion Power Closer to Reality | Amazing Science |
Researchers at the University of Twente have developed a new superconducting cable system that is crucial to the success of nuclear fusion reactors.

The superconductivity research group of the University of Twente (UT) has made a technological breakthrough crucial to the success of nuclear fusion reactors, allowing for clean, inexhaustible energy generation based on the workings of the stars in our galaxy. The crux of the new development is a highly ingenious and robust superconducting cable system. This makes for a remarkably strong magnetic field that controls the very hot, energy-generating plasma in the reactor core, laying the foundation for nuclear fusion. The new cables are far less susceptible to heating due to a clever way of interweaving, which allows for a significant increase in the possibilities to control the plasma. Moreover, in combination with an earlier UT invention, the cables are able to withstand the immense forces inside the reactor for a very long time. The increased working life of the superconductors and the improved control of the plasma will soon make nuclear fusion energy more reliable: the magnet coils take up one third of the costs of a nuclear fusion power station. The longer their working life, the cheaper the energy will be. The research is a project within the context of the Green Energy Initiative of the University of Twente.

Cost-effective clean energy Project leader Arend Nijhuis: ‘The worldwide development of nuclear fusion reactors is picking up steam, and this breakthrough leads to a new impulse. Our new cables have already been extensively tested in two institutes.’ Mr Nijhuis has been invited for a new collaboration with China and expects that the UT system will become a global standard. The world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor, ITER, is under construction in Cadarache in France, and is expected to start operation by 2020, as a joint project of the US, EU, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea and China. However, China and South Korea have also initiated their own national large-scale nuclear fusion projects, in which the UT technology can be incorporated.

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Top 10 tech trends for 2014: Wearables, 3D printers, mobile money, and more

Top 10 tech trends for 2014: Wearables, 3D printers, mobile money, and more | Amazing Science |

As 2013 draws to a close Juniper Research has drawn up a list of predictions for the coming year, all neatly wrapped up as the top trends for the technologies industries for 2014.

2014: When Cities Get Smarter
The idea of connecting every physical object to the Internet and communicating with each other is not new, but there has been an ever increasing activity within the industry over the past 12 months towards enabling a well-connected infrastructure via the evolution of efficient and intelligent systems. As technology continues to enable more economic and efficient living for the urban population next year, the need for municipal authorities to cut carbon footprints and reduce overall expenditure will provide additional pressures.

There are already a number of high-profile urban testbeds for smart technology, notably Singapore, Barcelona and Nice, where the introduction of connected sensors has improved parking, lighting and environmental monitoring. Juniper anticipates that the next 12 months will see a host of other cities follow suit, resulting not only in increased efficiencies but also in the provision of new business for the population.

Top Ten Tech Predictions for 2014
The full list of our top ten tech predictions follow below, with each prediction explained in more detail in the free report available to download from  the Juniper Research website.

1. 2014: When Cities Get Smarter
2. mAgri to Build on mPayment Success in Developing Markets
3. The Watershed Year for Wearables
4. iPads & Tablets Flourish in Educational Settings
5. Mobile Fitness Devices Diversify into mHealth Arenas
6. Global 4G LTE Subscribers to double in 2014, as 4G LTE-Advanced roll out increases
7. Context Awareness in Mobile Computing Gathers Pace
8. Disruption in the Home Gaming Market
9. The Cloud Becomes Personal
10. 3D Printer Shipments to Surge

Buda Jang's curator insight, December 19, 2013 10:03 PM

2014sus 탑 10 유행. 한국처럼 유행이 빠른 IT국가에서 개인적으로 제일 관심가는 트렌드는 9번 클라우드의 개인화이다. 각각의 우주는 어떻게 소통하게 될까?

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Epidemic of E. coli infections traced to one single strain of bacteria

Epidemic of E. coli infections traced to one single strain of bacteria | Amazing Science |
In the past decade, a single strain of Escherichia coli, or E. coli, has become the main cause of bacterial infections in women and the elderly by invading the bladder and kidneys, according to a new study.

Besides becoming more resistant to antibiotics, the strain H30-Rx gained an unprecedented ability to spread from the urinary tract to the blood, leading to the most lethal form of bacterial infections -- sepsis -- and posing a looming threat to the more than 10 million Americans who annually suffer from urinary tract infections (UTIs).

This new study could help trace the evolutionary history of this superbug and possibly lead to the development of a vaccine, according to Lance B. Price, Ph.D., the study's lead author. Price is professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), and is an associate professor in the Pathogen Genomics Division of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Previous research suggested that the ST131 group of E. coli -- a family of many genetically related strains of bacteria -- had independently gained resistance to antibiotics through separate genetic events. The ST131 group had been identified as a major source of superbugs -- microbes resistant to multiple antibiotics -- among UTI bacteria. If true, the existence of many different resilient strains would prove a formidable threat with multiple ways of evading the immune system and medical treatment, according to the new study.

Using advanced genomic techniques, Price and collaborators -- James R. Johnson of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Minnesota, and Evgeni V. Sokurenko of the University of Washington School of Medicine -- discovered that the ST131 strains represented genetic clones abruptly evolved from a single strain of E. coli.

Using whole-genome sequencing -- spelling out, in order, each molecule of DNA -- researchers analyzed the genomes of E. coli samples from patients and animals in five countries over 44 years, 1967-2011. They created a family tree tracing how the superbug clones emerged as the result of discrete genetic events.

"Astoundingly, we found that all of the resistance could be traced back to a single ancestor," Price said. "Our research shows this superbug then took off, and now causes lots of drug-resistant infections."

H30-Rx, appears to be much more adept than other E. coli at ascending from the bladder to the kidneys and then into the bloodstream, where it can be lethal, and the study suggests that H30-Rx may be responsible for 1.5 million UTIs and tens of thousands of deaths annually in the United States.

This study shows that, by focusing on H30-Rx, researchers might find a vaccine that could prevent many infections. Vaccines for highly resistant strains of superbugs could protect people from ever getting sick in the first place, Price said.

"This strain of E. coli spreads from person to person and seems to be particularly virulent," Johnson said. "This study might help us develop better tools to identify, stop or prevent its spread by finding better ways to block the transmission of the superbug, or by finding a diagnostic test that would help doctors identify such an infection early on -- before it might have the chance to turn lethal."

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