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Potential diabetes and obesity therapy based on side effects from hedgehog inhibitors used to fight cancer

Potential diabetes and obesity therapy based on side effects from hedgehog inhibitors used to fight cancer | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Cancer, diabetes, and excess body weight have one thing in common: they alter cellular metabolism. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg and the Medical University of Vienna together with an international research team have jointly resolved a new molecular circuit controlling cellular metabolism. The previously unknown signalling pathway, acting downstream of the hedgehog protein enables muscle cells and brown fat cells to absorb sugars without relying on insulin. Substances that selectively activate the signalling pathway could thus be utilized in the treatment of diabetes and obesity. With their results, the researchers are also able to explain why various new anti-cancer agents have induced mysterious pronounced side effects in the clinics.

 

Hedgehog was initially identified as an important protein for embryonic development across various organisms. Without hedgehog, the physiological partitions of the embryo become indistinct. However, hedgehog also influences replication, migration and specialisation of cells – that is, the processes that also play a role in carcinogenesis. Mutation of genes also occurs concomitantly in various types of cancer, such as pancreatic, gastric or intestinal carcinomas. Above and beyond this, hedgehog inhibits the formation of “bad” white adipose tissue. Brown or “good” fat that serves to control body temperature, however, remains unaffected.

 

Hedgehog is therefore a very promising target for medications that fight cancer, diabetes and excess body weight. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first hedgehog inhibitor, Vismodegib, for treatment of cancer this year. There are presently at least six further agents being tested in clinical studies.

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Taking Over Your Brain... Who’s in Charge Inside Your Head?

Taking Over Your Brain... Who’s in Charge Inside Your Head? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
What can parasitic flukes and zombie bees tell us about love and free will? A lot.

 

"Zombie Bees" are victims of a parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis. The fly lays eggs within honeybees, inducing their hosts to make a nocturnal “flight of the living dead,” after which the larval flies emerge, having consumed the bee from the inside out.

 

These events, although bizarre, aren’t all that unusual in the animal world. Many fly and wasp species lay their eggs inside hosts. What is especially interesting, and a bit more unusual, is the way an internal parasite not only feeds on its host, but also frequently alters its behavior, in a way that favors the continued survival and reproduction of the parasite.

 

Not all internal parasites kill their hosts, of course: pretty much every multicellular animal is home to numerous fellow travelers, each of which has its own agenda, which in some cases involves influencing, or taking control of, part or all of the body in which they temporarily reside. And this, in turn, leads to the question: who’s in charge of your own mind? Think of the morgue scene in the movie “Men in Black,” when a human corpse is revealed to be a robot, its skull inhabited by a little green man from outer space. Science fiction, but less bizarre than you might expect, or want to believe.

 

Providing room and board to other life-forms doesn’t only compromise one’s nutritional status (not to mention peace of mind), it often reduces freedom of action, too. The technical phrase is “host manipulation.” Take the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, which causes its mouse host to become obese and sluggish, making it easy pickings for predators, notably foxes, which — not coincidentally — provide an optimal environment for the tapeworm to move into the next phase in its life cycle.

 

Sometimes the process is truly strange. For example, a kind of fluke known as Dicrocoelium dentriticum does time inside a snail, then an ant, followed by a sheep. Ensconced within an ant, some of the resourceful worms migrate to their host’s brain, where they manage to rewire its neurons, essentially hijacking its body. The manipulated ant, in response to Dicrocoelium’s demands, then climbs to the top of a blade of grass and waits patiently and conspicuously until it is consumed by a grazing sheep. Once in its desired happy breeding ground, the worm releases its eggs, which depart with a healthy helping of sheep poop, only to be consumed once more by snails, which eventually excrete the immature worms for another generation of unlucky ants to consume.

 

It may be distressing to those committed to “autonomy,” but such manipulators have inherited the earth. Including us. Take coughing, or sneezing. It may be beneficial for an infected person to cough up or sneeze out some of her tiny organismic invaders, although it isn’t so healthful for others nearby. But what if coughing and sneezing aren’t merely symptoms but also, even primarily, a manipulation of us, the “host,” by influenza viruses? Shades of zombie bees, fattened mice and grass-blade-besotted ants.

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Walter Tschinkel's Aluminum Casts of Ant Colonies Reveals Insect Architecture

Walter Tschinkel's Aluminum Casts of Ant Colonies Reveals Insect Architecture | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Retiree Walter R. Tschinkel is an entomologist and former professor of Biological Science at Florida State University. He recognizes ants as "some of nature's grand architects" and, curious to understand their self-created habitats, devised a clever (if cruel) way to do it: By pouring molten aluminum down into the hole.

 

Unsurprisingly, the ants die in the process. But after the aluminum cools and Tschinkel has completed a meticulous excavation, he unearths these wondrous, chandelier-esque shapes revealing the alien architectures of the colony.


Via Alessio Erioli, Tudor Cosmatu
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Deepest Man-made Hole In The World Drilled For Scientific Reasons

Deepest Man-made Hole In The World Drilled For Scientific Reasons | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The deepest hole in the world is on the Kola peninsula of Russia near the Norwegian border. This hole is being drilled for scientific study purposes and is currently over 12,200 meters deep.

 

In 1926, Harold Jeffreys hypothesized that a transition zone within the crust, identifiable on seismic records as a “jump” in seismic velocity, could be attributed to a change in rock type from granite to a denser basalt. The deepest hole in the world being drilled at the Kola well has now penetrated about halfway through the crust of the Baltic continental shield, exposing rocks 2.7 billion years old at the bottom. One of the more fascinating scientific findings to emerge from this well is that the change in seismic velocities was not found at a boundary marking(Jeffreys’ hypothetical transition from granite to basalt), but it was at the bottom of a layer of metamorphic rock that extended from about 3.5 to about 9.8 km beneath the surface. This rock had been thoroughly fractured and was saturated with water. Free water should not be found at these depths. This could only mean that water which had originally been a part of the chemical composition of the rock minerals themselves had been forced out and prevented from rising by a cap of impermeable rock.

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Study Shows Some Turtles Urinate through Mouth

Study Shows Some Turtles Urinate through Mouth | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A team of biologists led by Dr Yuen Ip of the National University of Singapore has discovered that Chinese soft-shelled turtles, Pelodiscus sinensis, effectively urinate through mouth.

 

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are exquisitely adapted to their aquatic lifestyle, sitting contentedly on the bottom of brackish muddy swamps or snorkelling at the surface to breath. They even immerse their heads in puddles when their swampy homes dry up. Why do these air-breathing turtles submerge their heads when they mainly depend on their lungs to breathe and are unlikely to breathe in water? Given that some fish excrete waste nitrogen as urea and expel the urea through their gills, the team wondered whether the turtles were plunging their heads into water to excrete waste urea through their mouths, where they have strange gill-like projections.

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Crows and humans share the ability to recognize faces and associate them with negative or positive feelings

Crows and humans share the ability to recognize faces and associate them with negative or positive feelings | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Cross a crow and it’ll remember you for years. Crows and humans share the ability to recognize faces and associate them with negative, as well as positive, feelings. The way the brain activates during that process is something the two species also appear to share, according to new research being published this week. “The regions of the crow brain that work together are not unlike those that work together in mammals, including humans,” said John Marzluff, University of Washington professor of environmental and forest sciences. “These regions were suspected to work in birds but not documented until now. “For example it appears that birds have a region of their brain that is analogous to the amygdala of mammals,” he said. “The amygdala is the region of the vertebrate brain where negative associations are stored as memories. Previous work primarily concerned its function in mammals while our work shows that a similar system is at work in birds. Our approach could be used in other animals – such as lizards and frogs – to see if the process is similar in those vertebrates as well.”

 

Previous research on the neural circuitry of animal behavior has been conducted using well-studied, often domesticated, species like rats, chickens, zebra finches, pigeons and rhesus macaques – and not wild animals like the 12 adult male crows in this study.

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An artificially intelligent gamer bot UT^2 beats Turing test and scores higher than fellow humans

An artificially intelligent gamer bot UT^2 beats Turing test and scores higher than fellow humans | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

An AI virtual gamer has won the BotPrize by convincing a panel of judges that it was more human-like than half of its human opponents. The competition was sponsored by 2K Games and was set inside the virtual world of “Unreal Tournament 2004,” a first-person shooter video game.

 

“The idea is to evaluate how we can make game bots, which are non-player characters (NPCs) controlled by AI algorithms, appear as human as possible,” says Risto Miikkulainen, professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin. Miikkulainen created the bot, called the UT^2 game bot, with doctoral students Jacob Schrum and Igor Karpov.

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A First - Organbuilders: Scientists Make Progress in Tailor-Made Organs

A First - Organbuilders: Scientists Make Progress in Tailor-Made Organs | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Tissue engineers have succeeded in making artificial organs that use a patient’s cells to become a living part of the body, with hope for eventual organ regeneration.

 

So far, only a few organs have been made and transplanted, and they are relatively simple, hollow ones — like bladders and Mr. Beyene’s windpipe, which was implanted in June 2011. But scientists around the world are using similar techniques with the goal of building more complex organs. At Wake Forest University in North Carolina, for example, where the bladders were developed, researchers are working on kidneys, livers and more. Labs in China and the Netherlands are among many working on blood vessels.

 

The work of these new body builders is far different from the efforts that produced artificial hearts decades ago. Those devices, which are still used temporarily by some patients awaiting transplants, are sophisticated machines, but in the end they are only that: machines.

Tissue engineers aim to produce something that is more human. They want to make organs with the cells, blood vessels and nerves to become a living, functioning part of the body. Some, like Dr. Macchiarini, want to go even further — to harness the body’s repair mechanisms so that it can remake a damaged organ on its own.

 

Researchers are making use of advances in knowledge of stem cells, basic cells that can be transformed into types that are specific to tissues like liver or lung. They are learning more about what they call scaffolds, compounds that act like mortar to hold cells in their proper place and that also play a major role in how cells are recruited for tissue repair.

 

Tissue engineers caution that the work they are doing is experimental and costly, and that the creation of complex organs is still a long way off. But they are increasingly optimistic about the possibilities.

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String theory tackles strange metals : Link found between black holes and mysterious materials

String theory tackles strange metals : Link found between black holes and mysterious materials | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
String theory, which some physicists hope may be able to unify gravity and quantum mechanics, may have found a real-world application. A type of black hole predicted by string theory may help to explain the properties of a mysterious class of materials called 'strange metals'.

 

The electrical resistance of strange metals increases linearly with temperature rather than with the square of the temperature as in normal metals. They also have other excitations of energy that can be thought of as especially short-lived particles.

 

Strange metals include high-temperature superconductors, which have no electrical resistance at all below a critical temperature that is generally defined as above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen (−196 °C). Their properties have baffled condensed matter physicists for over 20 years because strange metals cannot be explained by the Fermi liquid model, which captures the properties of normal metals.

 

In 2003, condensed matter physicist Subir Sachdev of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues, put forward a new model called fractionalized Fermi liquid (FFL) that seemed to account for some of the properties of strange metals, including the variation of their resistance with temperature1. Unlike in the standard Fermi liquid model, the quantum mechanical spins of some electrons in the material are linked together in an FFL.

 

Now, Sachdev shows that the FFL model's characteristics match those of a type of black hole in string theory. "We're still a long way from saying string theory explains strange matter but we have hope," Sachdev says. "It's very exciting because it's a whole new perspective."

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Rare Striped Cheetahs in Africa: Genetic Mutation Gives Stripes to King Cheetahs

Rare Striped Cheetahs in Africa: Genetic Mutation Gives Stripes to King Cheetahs | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Rare stripes in some cheetahs found only in sub-Saharan Africa made scientists classify it as different species. Now, researchers have finally solved the mystery. Mutation in a single gene is causing the stripes in the cheetah similar to the blotched pattern or stripes in feral cats.

 

While some tabby cats have stripes on their back, some tabbies do have stripes in irregular swirls. These tabbies were called as "blotched" and were not considered as common in the wild. Even the cheetahs with the blotched pattern were initially thought to belong to a separate species and were known as "king cheetahs."

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Carbon-containing exoplanet slightly bigger than Earth discovered around a sun-like star

Carbon-containing exoplanet slightly bigger than Earth discovered around a sun-like star | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Orbiting a star that is visible to the naked eye, astronomers have discovered a planet twice the size of our own made largely out of diamond. The rocky planet, called '55 Cancri e', orbits a sun-like star in the constellation of Cancer and is moving so fast that a year there lasts a mere 18 hours. Cancri e is about 40 light years, or 230 trillion miles away from Earth.

 

Discovered by a U.S.-Franco research team, its radius is twice that of Earth's but it is much more dense with a mass eight times greater. It is also incredibly hot, with temperatures on its surface reaching 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (1,648 Celsius).

 

"The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite," said Nikku Madhusudhan, the Yale researcher whose findings are due to be published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

 

The study - with Olivier Mousis at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulose, France - estimates that at least a third of the planet's mass, the equivalent of about three Earth masses, could be diamond. Diamond planets have been spotted before but this is the first time one has been seen orbiting a sun-like star and studied in such detail.

 

"This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with a fundamentally different chemistry from Earth," Madhusudhan said, adding that the discovery of the carbon-rich planet meant distant rocky planets could no longer be assumed to have chemical constituents, interiors, atmospheres, or biologies similar to Earth. David Spergel, an astronomer at Princeton University, said it was relatively simple to work out the basic structure and history of a star once you know its mass and age.

 

"Planets are much more complex. This 'diamond-rich super-Earth' is likely just one example of the rich sets of discoveries that await us as we begin to explore planets around nearby stars."

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Fossil traces dog domestication back 33,000 years

Fossil traces dog domestication back 33,000 years | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The bond between man and dog has always been extremely evident, an unconditioned friendship, at least from the dog’s part, which has lead the latter to be rightfully often referred to as man’s best friend. But how, why, and when did dogs become such a significant part of our lives. By domesticating farm animals like cattle, pigs or sheep, man has come a long way in sustaining himself, and one can assert that both animal domestication and farming played a major role in man’s socio-cultural and psychological evolution. But dogs? While some parts of the world today consume dog meat, and it’s been proven that some North American cultures devised clothing from fabric made out of dog hair, it’s rather safe to say that dogs weren’t domesticated with a practical goal in mind. Man’s ubiquitous need for company might have been the cause for the first domestication attempts, and one of the first such acts might have taken place in the freezing solitude of a cave in the middle of the last ice age.


Recently, scientists have come across a 33,000 year old dog fossil in Siberia, that bears the oldest signs of domestication by man so far found. A similar find was found in Belgium, when a dog fossil from the same period was discovered. When correlating the two, it seems that dog domestication didn’t result from a single event that than sparked a cultural phenomenon, but rather that it came naturally for man to befriend canines, as these isolated fossils suggest.

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Sucking CO2 from the skies with artificial trees

Sucking CO2 from the skies with artificial trees | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists are looking at ways to lower the global temperature by removing greenhouse gases from the air. Could super-absorbent fake leaves be the answer?

 

It may be a colorless, odorless and completely natural gas, but carbon dioxide is beginning to cause us a lot of problems. It only makes up a tiny fraction of the atmosphere (0.04% of all the gas by volume – or 395 parts per million) but it has a huge effect on the Earth’s temperature. That's because unlike nitrogen or oxygen, carbon dioxide molecules absorb the Sun's heat rays even though they let light rays pass through, like a greenhouse.

 

Scientists are looking at ways to modulate the global temperature by removing some of this carbon dioxide from the air. If it works, it would be one of the few ways of geo-engineering the planet with multiple benefits, beyond simply cooling the atmosphere. Every time we breathe out, we emit carbon dioxide just like all other metabolic life forms. Meanwhile, photosynthetic organisms like plants and algae take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. This balance has kept the planet at a comfortably warm average temperature of 14˚C (57˚F), compared with a chilly -18˚C (0˚F) if there were no carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

 

In the Anthropocene (the Age of Man), we have shifted this balance by releasing more carbon dioxide than plants can absorb. Since the industrial revolution, humans have been burning increasing amounts of fossil fuels, releasing stored carbon from millions of years ago. Eventually the atmosphere will reach a new balance at a hotter temperature as a result of the additional carbon dioxide, but getting there is going to be difficult.

 

The carbon dioxide we are releasing is changing the climate, the wind and precipitation patterns, acidifying the oceans, warming the habitats for plants and animals, melting glaciers and ice sheets, increasing the frequency of wildfires and raising sea levels. And we are doing this at such a rapid pace that animals and plants may not have time to evolve to the new conditions. Humans won't have to rely on evolution, but we will have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on adapting or moving our cities and other infrastructure, and finding ways to grow our food crops under these unfamiliar conditions. Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels today, there is enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that temperatures will continue to rise for a few hundred years. We won't stop emitting carbon dioxide today, of course, and it is now very likely that within the lifetime of people born today we will increase the temperature of the planet by at least 3˚C more than the average temperature before the industrial revolution.

 

The problem with removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is that it’s present at such a low concentration. In a power plant chimney, for instance, carbon dioxide is present at concentrations of 4-12% within a relatively small amount of exhaust air. Removing the gas takes a lot of energy, so it is expensive, but it’s feasible. To extract the 0.04% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would require enormous volumes of air to be processed. As a result, most scientists have baulked at the idea.

 

Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University, has come up with a technique that he thinks could solve the problem - Fake plastic trees. Lackner has designed an artificial tree that passively soaks up carbon dioxide from the air using “leaves” that are 1,000 times more efficient than true leaves that use photosynthesis. "We don't need to expose the leaves to sunlight for photosynthesis like a real tree does," Lackner explains. "So our leaves can be much more closely spaced and overlapped – even configured in a honeycomb formation to make them more efficient."

 

The leaves look like sheets of papery plastic and are coated in a resin that contains sodium carbonate, which pulls carbon dioxide out of the air and stores it as a bicarbonate (baking soda) on the leaf. To remove the carbon dioxide, the leaves are rinsed in water vapour and can dry naturally in the wind, soaking up more carbon dioxide.

Lackner calculates that his tree can remove one tonne of carbon dioxide a day. Ten million of these trees could remove 3.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to about 10% of our global annual carbon dioxide emissions. "Our total emissions could be removed with 100 million trees," he says, "whereas we would need 1,000 times that in real trees to have the same effect."

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Learnable Programming: Designing programming systems for understanding programs

Learnable Programming: Designing programming systems for understanding programs | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

How do we get people to understand programming?

 

Khan Academy recently launched an online environment for learning to program. It offers a set of tutorials based on the JavaScript and Processing languages, and features a "live coding" environment, where the program's output updates as the programmer types.

 

Because my work was cited as an inspiration for the Khan system, I felt I should respond with two thoughts about learning: Programming is a way of thinking, not a rote skill. Learning about "for" loops is not learning to program, any more than learning about pencils is learning to draw.

 

People understand what they can see. If a programmer cannot see what a program is doing, she can't understand it. Thus, the goals of a programming system should be:

 

• to support and encourage powerful ways of thinking
• to enable programmers to see and understand the execution of their programs

 

A live-coding Processing environment addresses neither of these goals. JavaScript and Processing are poorly-designed languages that support weak ways of thinking, and ignore decades of learning about learning. And live coding, as a standalone feature, is worthless. Alan Perlis wrote, "To understand a program, you must become both the machine and the program." This view is a mistake, and it is this widespread and virulent mistake that keeps programming a difficult and obscure art. A person is not a machine, and should not be forced to think like one.

 

How do we get people to understand programming? We change programming. We turn it into something that's understandable by people.

 

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Researchers Grow Biological Hard Drive Surface From Bacteria

Researchers Grow Biological Hard Drive Surface From Bacteria | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers at Britain’s University of Leeds and Japan’s Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology use bacteria to organically grow tiny magnets which can store bits of data. Conventionally, hard disks are manufactured by breaking down a big magnet into nanoscale pieces called grains which are deposited on a disc. A few hundred grains form a magnetic region which can store one bit of information. The increasing capacity of storage devices is the result of the miniaturization of components. But this can’t go on indefinitely and hard disk manufacturers are quickly reaching the limits of traditional electronic manufacturing as computer components get smaller. The machines traditionally used to build them are clumsy at such small scales. Nature has provided us with the perfect tool to circumvent this problem’, said Dr Sarah Staniland in a press release.

 

Instead of using the top down approach of breaking down a magnet, the researchers are having nature build tiny magnets from scratch. For this purpose the team used the bacterium Magnetsopirilllum magneticum, a naturally magnetic microorganism. It uses its magnetic property to navigate along the earth’s magnetic lines. The bacterium derives its magnetism from ingesting iron. Once in its system the iron interacts with a protein producing a magnetic mineral called magnetite.

 

Once they understood how the Magnetsopirilllum magneticum worked its magic, the team figured out how to replicate this process outside its body. They coated a surface in gold and added the protein in a chessboard pattern. When the surface is dipped in an iron solution, those squares covered with the protein start producing nanocrystals of magnetite. Each square covered with nanomagnets can store one bit.

 

The research is still at an experimental stage. The squares are 20 micrometers wide, that’s 2000 times larger than magnetic bits in conventional hard drives. But Staniland is confident they can bring the size down. It is not just the problem of the fast approaching miniaturization limits of silicon-based electronics the researchers are hoping to solve. They’re looking to radically change the future of electronics. ‘Our aim is to develop a toolkit of proteins and chemicals which could be used to grow computer components from scratch’, Staniland said.

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See-Through 3D Desktop from MIT Media Lab Presents a Looking Glass into a Mathematical Wonderland

See-Through 3D Desktop from MIT Media Lab Presents a Looking Glass into a Mathematical Wonderland | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Computer scientist Ivan Sutherland once called a computer display “a looking glass into a mathematical wonderland.” and I have always aspired to walk in this wonderland to interact with those abstract beings. Despite advances in 3D sensing and display technologies, our interactions with computer desktops have remained stagnant from the form that evolved under 2D I/O modalities. See Through 3D desktop is a 3D spatial operating environment that allows the user to directly interact with his or her virtual desktop. The user can reach into the projected 3D output space with his/her hands to directly manipulate the windows.

 

Users can casually open up the See-Through 3D Desktop and Type on the keyboard or use a trackpad as in traditional 2D operating environment. Windows or files are perceived to be placed in a 3D space between a screen and the input plane. The user can lift up his hands to reach the displayed windows and arrange them in this 3D space.

 

A unique combination of a transparent display and 3D gesture detection algorithm collocates input space and 3D rendering without tethering or encumbering users with wearable devices. See-through 3D desktop is a term for the entire ensemble of necessary software hardware and design technological components for realizing this volumetric operating environment.

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Planetary nebulas representing old dying suns in space

Planetary nebulas representing old dying suns in space | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A planetary nebula represents a phase of stellar evolution that the Sun should experience several billion years from now. When a star like the Sun uses up all of the hydrogen in its core, it expands into a red giant, with a radius that increases by tens to hundreds of times. In this phase, a star sheds most of its outer layers, eventually leaving behind a hot core that will soon contract to form a dense white dwarf star. A fast wind emanating from the hot core rams into the ejected atmosphere, pushes it outward, and creates the graceful, shell-like filamentary structures seen with optical telescopes.

 

The diffuse X-ray emission seen in about 30% of the planetary nebulas in the new Chandra survey, and all members of the gallery, is caused by shock waves as the fast wind collides with the ejected atmosphere. The new survey data reveal that the optical images of most planetary nebulas with diffuse X-ray emission display compact shells with sharp rims, surrounded by fainter halos. All of these compact shells have observed ages that are less than about 5000 years, which therefore likely represents the timescale for the strong shock waves to occur.

 

About half of the planetary nebulas in the study show X-ray point sources in the center, and all but one of these point sources show high energy X-rays that may be caused by a companion star, suggesting that a high frequency of central stars responsible for ejecting planetary nebulas have companions. Future studies should help clarify the role of double stars in determining the structure and evolution of planetary nebulas.

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The original Twitter? Tiny electronic tags monitor birds’ social networks

The original Twitter? Tiny electronic tags monitor birds’ social networks | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

If two birds meet deep in the forest, does anybody hear? Until now, nobody did, unless an intrepid biologist was hiding underneath a bush and watching their behavior, or the birds happened to meet near a research monitoring station. But an electronic tag designed at the University of Washington can for the first time see when birds meet in the wild.

 

A new study led by a biologist at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews used the UW tags to see whether crows might learn to use tools from one another. The findings, published last week in Current Biology, supported the theory by showing an unexpected amount of social mobility, with the crows often spending time near birds outside their immediate family.

 

A study led by St. Andrews University in Scotland tagged New Caledonian crows to learn about their social behavior. The study looked at crows in New Caledonia, an archipelago of islands in the South Pacific. The crows are famous for using different tools to extract prey from deadwood and vegetation. Biologists wondered whether the birds might learn by watching each other.

 

The results, as reported by St. Andrews, revealed “a surprising number of contacts” between non-related crows. During one week, the technology recorded more than 28,000 interactions among 34 crows. While core family units of New Caledonian crows contain only three members, the study found all the birds were connected to the larger social network.

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Most extensive pictures ever of an organism's DNA mutation rates and processes

Most extensive pictures ever of an organism's DNA mutation rates and processes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Biologists and informaticists at Indiana University have produced one of the most extensive pictures ever of mutation processes in the DNA sequence of an organism, elucidating important new evolutionary information about the molecular nature of mutations and how fast those heritable changes occur. By analyzing the exact genomic changes in the model prokaryote Escherichia coli that had undergone over 200,000 generations of growth in the absence of natural selective pressures, the team led by IU College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology professor Patricia L. Foster found that spontaneous mutation rates in E. coli DNA were actually three times lower than previously thought.

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Ingredient of life in space found! Enough water vapor in star cloud to fill 2,000 Earth's oceans

Ingredient of life in space found! Enough water vapor in star cloud to fill 2,000 Earth's oceans | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A distant gas and dust cloud that is likely to collapse into a Sun-like star has enough water vapor to fill Earth’s oceans more than 2,000 times over. The discovery marks the first time scientists have detected water vapor in a “pre-stellar core”—the cold, dark clouds of gas and dust from which stars form.


“To produce that amount of vapor, there must be a lot of water ice in the cloud, more than three million frozen Earth oceans’ worth,” says Paola Caselli, a professor at the University of Leeds.

 

The discovery was made using the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, in a pre-stellar core known as Lynds 1544, in the constellation of Taurus. Water has previously been detected outside of our Solar System as gas and ice coated onto tiny dust grains near sites of active star formation, and in proto-planetary discs capable of forming planetary systems. More than 2,000 Earth oceans-worth of water vapor were detected, liberated from icy dust grains by high-energy cosmic rays passing through the cloud. Some of the water vapor detected in L1544 will go into forming the star, but the rest will be incorporated into the surrounding disc, providing a rich water reservoir to feed potential new planets.

 

“Thanks to Herschel, we can now follow the ‘water trail’ from a molecular cloud in the interstellar medium, through the star formation process, to a planet like Earth where water is a crucial ingredient for life,” says ESA’s Herschel project scientist, Göran Pilbratt.

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Google Now: An AI smartphone helper that answers questions before you even ask them

Google Now: An AI smartphone helper that answers questions before you even ask them | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Siri, the virtual assistant built into iPhones, launched to great fanfare last October and soon inspired a crowd of copycat apps, heated online arguments about its effectiveness, and an Apple ad campaign in which it played the starring role. Almost a year later, Google's vision of how a smartphone can become a trusted, all-knowing assistant is rolling out to consumers in the form of Google Now. It's a feature of the newest iteration of Android, Jelly Bean, which is so far available on only a handful of smartphones, and suggests that Google has ambitions to go well beyond what Siri has shown so far.

 

Google Now doesn't have a pretend personality like Apple's sassy assistant, instead just appearing as a familiar search box. But just like Siri, it can take voice commands related to phone functions such as setting reminders or sending messages, and field requests for information such as "How old is the Eiffel Tower?" and "Where can I find a good Chinese restaurant?"

 

Also like Siri, Google Now responds with speech. However, rather than passing along queries to third-party services such as Yelp for answers, Google's helper makes use of the company's recently launched Knowledge Graph, a database that categorizes information in useful ways (see "Google's New Brain Could Have a Big Impact").

 

Google Now also introduces a new trick. It combines the constant stream of data a smartphone collects on its owner with clues about the person's life that Google can sift from Web searches and e-mails to guess what he or she would ask it for next. This enables Google Now not only to meet a user's needs but also, in some cases, to preëmpt them. Virtual index cards appear offering information it thinks you need to know at a particular time.

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Is It Possible To Run An Experiment That Would Reveal Whether The Universe Is A Computer Simulation?

Is It Possible To Run An Experiment That Would Reveal Whether The Universe Is A Computer Simulation? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

If the cosmos is a numerical simulation, there ought to be clues in the spectrum of high energy cosmic rays, say theorists.

 

One of modern physics' most cherished ideas is quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes the strong nuclear force, how it binds quarks and gluons into protons and neutrons, how these form nuclei that themselves interact. This is the universe at its most fundamental. So an interesting pursuit is to simulate quantum chromodynamics on a computer to see what kind of complexity arises. The promise is that simulating physics on such a fundamental level is more or less equivalent to simulating the universe itself.

 

It's not hard to imagine that Moore's Law-type progress will allow physicists to simulate significantly larger regions of space. A region just a few micrometres across could encapsulate the entire workings of a human cell. Again, the behavior of this single human cell would be indistinguishable from the real thing. It's this kind of thinking that forces physicists to consider the possibility that our entire cosmos could be running on a vastly powerful quantum computer. If so, is there any way we could ever know?

 

Today, we get an answer of sorts from Silas Beane, at the University of Bonn in Germany, and a few pals. They say there is a way to see evidence that we are being simulated, at least in certain scenarios. So if our cosmos is merely a simulation, there ought to be a cut off in the spectrum of high energy particles. It turns out there is exactly this kind of cut off in the energy of cosmic ray particles, a limit known as the Greisen–Zatsepin–Kuzmin or GZK cut off. This cut-off has been well studied and comes about because high energy particles interact with the cosmic microwave background and so lose energy as they travel long distances.

 

But Beane and co calculate that the lattice spacing imposes some additional features on the spectrum. "The most striking feature...is that the angular distribution of the highest energy components would exhibit cubic symmetry in the rest frame of the lattice, deviating significantly from isotropy," they say. In other words, the cosmic rays would travel preferentially along the axes of the lattice, so we wouldn't see them equally in all directions. That's a measurement we could do now with current technology. Finding the effect would be equivalent to being able to to 'see' the orientation of lattice on which our universe is simulated.

 

That's cool or mind-blowing even. But the calculations by Beane and co are not without some important caveats. One problem is that the computer lattice may be constructed in an entirely different way to the one envisaged by these guys. Also, this is only measurable if the lattice cut off is the same as the GZK cut off. This occurs when the lattice spacing is about 10^-12 femtometers. If the spacing is significantly smaller than that, we'll see nothing. Nevertheless, it's surely worth looking for, if only to rule out the possibility that we're part of a simulation of this particular kind but secretly in the hope that we'll find good evidence of our robotic overlords once and for all.

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20 years in the making: Prospective Alzheimer’s drug builds new brain cell connections

20 years in the making: Prospective Alzheimer’s drug builds new brain cell connections | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Washington State University researchers have developed a new drug candidate that dramatically improves the cognitive function of rats with Alzheimer’s-like mental impairment. Their compound, which is intended to repair brain damage that has already occurred, is a significant departure from current Alzheimer’s treatments, which either slow the process of cell death or inhibit cholinesterase, an enzyme believed to break down a key neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory development.

 

Such drugs, says Joe Harding, a professor in WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, are not designed to restore lost brain function, which can be done by rebuilding connections between nerve cells.

"This is about recovering function,” he says. "That’s what makes these things totally unique. They’re not designed necessarily to stop anything. They’re designed to fix what’s broken. As far as we can see, they work.”

 

Harding, College of Arts and Sciences Professor Jay Wright and other WSU colleagues report their findings in the online "Fast Forward” section of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Their drug comes as the pharmacological industry is struggling to find an effective Alzheimer’s treatment. Last month, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, reported that only three of 104 possible treatments have been approved in the past 13 years. "This 34 to one ratio of setbacks to successes underlines the difficulty of developing new medicines for Alzheimer’s,” the trade group said in a news release.

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A Planned Plane Crash Of A Boeing 727 To Yield Invaluable Scientific Information

A Planned Plane Crash Of A Boeing 727 To Yield Invaluable Scientific Information | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
In an unprecedented event, two pilots will board a Boeing 727, fly it over a vast, empty desert, set it to crash land and parachute from the plane. Filmed for Channel 4, the resulting high-speed crash will provide scientists with invaluable information about how planes react in potentially fatal accidents.

 

You can check in and choose a seat on our flight to discover how this choice would have affected your chances of surviving our crash. If you have checked in, you can retrieve your booking online to find out how you would have fared and learn more about on-board safety. Don’t worry, plane crashes are rare and it is extremely unlikely you will ever be involved in a real one. All crashes are different – the feedback you’ll receive on your seat choice is based on the analysis and knowledge of our crash experts and relates only to this particular crash.

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Human neural stem cells transplanted into brains of four boys with rare fatal brain disease

Human neural stem cells transplanted into brains of four boys with rare fatal brain disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Four young boys with a rare, fatal brain condition have made it through a dangerous ordeal. Scientists have safely transplanted human neural stem cells into their brains. Twelve months after the surgeries, the boys have more myelin — a fatty insulating protein that coats nerve fibers and speeds up electric signals between neurons — and show improved brain function, a new study in Science Translational Medicine reports. The preliminary trial paves the way for future research into potential stem cell treatments for the disorder, which overlaps with more common diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

 

Without myelin, electrical impulses traveling along nerve fibers in the brain can’t travel from neuron to neuron says Nalin Gupta, lead author of the study and a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Signals in the brain become scattered and disorganized, he says, comparing them to a pile of lumber. “You wouldn’t expect lumber to assemble itself into a house,” he notes, yet neurons in a newborn baby’s brain perform a similar feat with the help of myelin-producing cells called oligodendrocytes. Most infants are born with very little myelin and develop it over time. In children with early-onset Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, he says, a genetic mutation prevents oligodendrocytes from producing myelin, causing electrical signals to die out before they reach their destinations. This results in serious developmental setbacks, such as the inability to talk, walk, or breathe independently, and ultimately causes premature death.

 

Although researchers have long dreamed of implanting human neural stem cells to generate healthy oligodendrocytes and replace myelin, it has taken years of research in animals to develop a stem cell that can do the job, says Stephen Huhn, vice president of Newark, California-based StemCells Inc., the biotechnology company that created the cells used in the study and that funded the research. However, he says, a separate study by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, found that the StemCell Inc. cells specialized into oligodendrocytes 60 percent to 70 percent of the time in mice, producing myelin and improved survival rates in myelin-deficient animals. So the team was able to test the cells’ safety and efficacy in the boys.

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Jooyeon Cho's curator insight, January 8, 2013 1:07 AM

This article is about human neural stem cell transplants that were done on the brains of 4 boys with rare, fatal brain conditions. The transplant was a success and has shown to improve the conditions of the boys. This transplant shows the potential that stem cell therapy holds and how it could vastly advance medical treatments.

Claire P-C's curator insight, January 23, 2013 7:26 AM

Promising results for patients! It would be highly interesting to assess the transplantation effects on these boys in few years.

 

For more information:

N. Gupta, et al., Neural Stem Cell Engraftment and Myelination in the Human Brain. Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 155ra137 (2012).