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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Amazing Science: Genomics Postings

Amazing Science: Genomics Postings | Amazing Science |

Genomics is a discipline within genetics that applies recombinant DNA, Next generation DNA sequencing methods, and bioinformatics to sequence, assemble, and analyze the function and structure of genomes - the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism). The field includes efforts to determine the entire DNA sequence of organisms and studies of intragenomic phenomena such as heterosis, epistasis, pleiotropy and other interactions between loci and alleles within the genome.

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New epigenetic paradigm for protein regulation - long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs)

New epigenetic paradigm for protein regulation - long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) | Amazing Science |

Since the discovery that genes are encoded within DNA, most biologists have focused on the protein-coding fraction of the genome. Surprisingly, the sequencing of the human genome revealed that this represents a mere 1% of the total genome with the other 99% of DNA then considered to be useless ‘junk.’ Within the last decade, however, large-scale deep sequencing of the complete RNA in cells has led to the surprising discovery that this 99% is not junk – at least 75% of genomic DNA is transcribed into RNA, including many *** tens of thousands of different non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) ***.  As the name implies, ncRNAs do not encode proteins, but recent data indicate they have many other important roles.  Research around the world, including Dr. Jeannie Lee of Massachusetts General Hospital and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has established that ncRNA perform a variety of critical regulatory functions in controlling gene expression, cell differentiation, and cell development and are increasingly recognized as having diverse regulatory effects on mRNA transcription.


These ncRNAs, of which long ncRNAs (lncRNAs) are a subset, far outnumber the ~20,000 protein-coding genes, and thus represent an enormous increase in the “target space” available for drug development.

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Amazing Science: Future and Singularity Postings

Amazing Science: Future and Singularity Postings | Amazing Science |

The future might hold a technological singularity and the emergence of superintelligence through technological means. Proponents of the singularity typically postulate an intelligence explosion, where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, that might occur very quickly and might not stop until the agent's cognitive abilities greatly surpass that of any human. Ray Kurzweil predicts the singularity to occur around 2045 whereas artificial intelligence predictions by experts found a wide range of dates, with a median value of 2040.

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Species visualization: Stunning new biodiversity maps show where to prioritize conservation

Species visualization: Stunning new biodiversity maps show where to prioritize conservation | Amazing Science |

In stunning color, new biodiversity research from North Carolina State University maps out priority areas worldwide that hold the key to protecting vulnerable species and focusing conservation efforts.


The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pinpoints the highest global concentrations of mammals, amphibians and birds on a scale that’s 100 times finer than previous assessments. The findings can be used to make the most of available conservation resources, said Dr. Clinton Jenkins, lead author and research scholar at NC State University.


“We must know where individual species live, which ones are vulnerable, and where human actions threaten them,” Jenkins said. “We have better data than in the past—and better analytical methods. Now we have married them for conservation purposes.”


To assess how well the bright-red priority areas are being protected, researchers calculated the percentage of priority areas that fell within existing protected zones. They produced colorful maps that offer a snapshot of worldwide efforts to protect vertebrate species and preserve biodiversity.


“The most important biodiversity areas do have a higher rate of protection than the global average. Unfortunately, it is still insufficient given how important these areas are,” said co-author Dr. Lucas Joppa with Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England. “There is a growing worry that we are running out of time to expand the global network of protected areas.”

Researchers hope their work can guide expansion of protected areas before it’s too late.


“The choice of which areas in the world receive protection will ultimately decide which species survive and which go extinct,” says co-author Dr. Stuart Pimm of Duke University. “We need the best available science to guide these decisions.”


Jenkins’ work was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Blue Moon Foundation and a National Aeronautics and Space Agency Biodiversity Grant.

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Self-Healing Flash Memory Survives 100 Million Cycles Versus 10k for Regular Flash

Self-Healing Flash Memory Survives 100 Million Cycles Versus 10k for Regular Flash | Amazing Science |

Macronix, one of the world’s largest producers of flash memory, has produced a new kind of flash memory that can survive more than 100 million program/erase (PE) cycles — most likely long enough to persist until the end of human civilization. By comparison, the NAND cells found in conventional flash memory — as in commercial SSDs — generally have a lifespan of just a few thousand PE cycles.


For such a huge advance you would expect an equally vast technological leap — but in this instance, that’s certainly not the case. Macronix just adds a bit of heat — literally, each of Macronix’s new memory cells contains a heating element that can deliver a jolt of 800C (1472F) heat to the cell, healing it and preventing wear-out. Furthermore, 100 million PE cycles is a low-ball estimate: In reality, Macronix’s new flash might survive billions of cycles — but it would take so long to test that the company doesn’t yet know.


Why does heat fix a flash memory cell? It’s all down to the physical structure. NAND flash is constructed from floating-gate transistors, which are exactly what they sound like. Basically, the control gate (which controls the flow of electricity across the transistor) floats above an additional oxide layer. In effect, the bit value of the cell is stored in this floating gate. To trigger the gate — to change the bit value — a certain threshold of current is required to jump through the oxide layer. Over time, this oxide layer degrades, eventually causing the cell to fail.


By applying heat, this oxide layer can be annealed, returning it to its base state. Macronix has known about this annealing effect for years — but historically its testing involved putting a bunch of memory chips in an oven and baking at 250C (482F) for a few hours. Obviously this wasn’t the best solution for consumer electronics, and so a new method had to be devised. Ta’da: Macronix’s NAND memory cell with built-in heat plates.


Macronix intends to capitalize on the self-healing flash breakthrough, but he would not give details about how and when. He was more forthcoming about when the flash industry should have worked in this technology. “It took a leap of imagination to jump into a completely different regime…very high temperature and in a very short time,” says Lue. “Afterward, we realized that there was no new physics principle invented here, and we could have done this 10 years ago.”

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World’s first road-powered electric vehicle network switches on in South Korea

World’s first road-powered electric vehicle network switches on in South Korea | Amazing Science |

South Korea has rolled out the world’s first road-powered electric vehicle network. The network consists of special roads that have electrical cables buried just below the surface, which wirelessly transfer energy to electric vehicles via magnetic resonance. Road-powered electric vehicles are exciting because they only require small batteries, significantly reducing their overall weight and thus their energy consumption. There’s also the small fact that, with an electrified roadway, you never have to plug your vehicle in to recharge it, removing most of the risk and range anxiety associated with electric vehicles (EVs).


The network consists of 24 kilometers (15 miles) of road in the city of Gumi, South Korea. For now, the only vehicles that can use the network are two Online Electric Vehicles (OLEV) — public transport buses that run between the train station and In-dong.

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Transparent graphene-based display could enable contact lens computers

Transparent graphene-based display could enable contact lens computers | Amazing Science |

Augmented reality generated in the form of a contact lens, with embedded pixels, would have many advantages over a glasses-based design. Many companies are currently working on ways to build curved LCDs, or even flexible LCDs, that could be embedded into a contact. Unless you want a full-scale bionic vision implant which sends the data to the lens, a stand-alone LCD is not going to cut it. A group of researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea are now working on a solution to this this problem — the contact lens computer.

The Ulsan researchers had previously worked in an area seemingly unrelated to display technology. Their claim to fame was a graphene-based “nanoplatelet” material that was stable and conductive enough to act as a fuel cell cathode. These nanoplatelets could be separated into individual sheets by a process called ball milling. On larger scales, ball milling is typically used to uniformly grind powders with a small agitated ball bouncing around inside a closed vessel. Inside a mini ball mill, graphene can be mixed with various halogens, like chlorine or bromine, which then creep in between the graphene sheets to make a robust material.

The researchers were able to build miniature inorganic LEDs by connecting the graphene sheets together with silver nanowires into a hybrid structure. The flexible silver nanowires enabled the hybrid strucuture to maintain its high conductivity even when bent. The most important factor for using the hybrid graphene in a contact lens-based computer is its high transparency. Other transparent materials like indium tine oxide (ITO) become much less conductive when bent. When the hybrid LEDs were embedded into a regular soft contact and tested in a rabbit no ill effects were observed.

At this point the contact developed by the researchers is really just a single pixel display, but the goal of the effort is to build a device that can do everything that something like Google Glass can do. There are many forms a contact computer might take. Embedding all that hardware inside a transparent device is currently impossible. One shortcut might be to use a tether for power and communications, although that probably wouldn’t be too comfortable. Wireless options have already been developed, at least in crude form, and may ultimately be the way to go. Once the device is powered and connected, we might imagine some of the rudimentary essentials such a device might do. At a minimum, one task might be to maintain the display settings to locally to match the changing optics of the eye as they search for some stability in a detached and partially artificial world.

Via Kalani Kirk Hausman
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As self-driving cars move from fantasy to reality, what kind of effect will they have on cities?

As self-driving cars move from fantasy to reality, what kind of effect will they have on cities? | Amazing Science |

A fantastical research and urban prototyping project called Shuffle Cityinvestigates, and in the process, becomes a manifesto for a new kind of modern city--one that depends less on traditional public transportation like buses or light rail and more on creating a fleet of continuously moving automated vehicles to serve urban mobility needs.


Focusing on Houston--the country’s car-oriented fourth largest city--the project "identifies opportunities outside of the ownership model to liberate an otherwise suppressed urban landscape, by programming a dynamic system of flow that is made more immediately possible through a public autonomous (driverless) vehicle fleet," according to its website. The project wonders: "Is there a new model for American cities, in which mobility can reverse the effect of city centers consumed by the private motor car and its needs?"


Shuffle City looks at the new possibilities that could arise from cities transitioning away from cars with drivers to cars without drivers. If cars were put into some constant flow as a public good, and if people didn’t all have their own vehicles, there would be no need for the concrete wastelands and lifeless towers that serve as a parking infrastructure in the urban landscapes of car-centric cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles. Under the current ownership model, the average car spends 21 hours per day parked. The share of city space ruled by parking lots will shrink, making way for more green space, environmental buffers, workspace, housing, retail, and denser planning for more walkable cities.


Shuffle City includes maps of Houston that re-imagine the city with parking spaces cut out and filled in with new development, parks, and infrastructure. Calling itself "an alternative framework for future growing cities in America," the project is more of a visual exploration than a policy recommendation, and questions about radically altering the ownership model for automobiles in America are left unanswered. But the project’s bold take on unforeseen futures is thought-provoking all the same.

Via Lauren Moss
José Antônio Carlos - O Professor Pepe's curator insight, August 7, 2013 8:41 AM

Um desenho da cidade de nossos sonhos. Carros sem motoristas, ruas sem espaço para estacionamento, e por aí vai.

Kim Spence-Jones's curator insight, August 8, 2013 2:53 AM

Interface between cars and homes is an interesting area of R&D. Everything from entertainment synchronising to battery management.

miguel sa's curator insight, September 4, 2013 4:17 PM

Jacque Fresco has been talking about this sort of thing for awhile now, looks like its coming closer to reality~ 

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DNA Founder Closes in on Genetic Culprit for Undescribed Syndrome

DNA Founder Closes in on Genetic Culprit for Undescribed Syndrome | Amazing Science |

Hugh Rienhoff says that his nine-year-old daughter, Bea, is “a fire cracker”, “a tomboy” and “a very sassy, impudent girl”. But in a forthcoming research paper, he uses rather different terms, describing her hypertelorism (wide spacing between the eyes) and bifid uvula (a cleft in the tissue that hangs from the back of the palate). Both are probably features of a genetic syndrome that Rienhoff has obsessed over since soon after Bea’s birth in 2003. Unable to put on much muscle mass, Bea wears braces on her skinny legs to steady her on her curled feet. She is otherwise healthy, but Rienhoff has long worried that his daughter’s condition might come with serious heart problems.


Rienhoff, a biotech entrepreneur in San Carlos, California, who had trained as a clinical geneticist in the 1980s, went from doctor to doctor looking for a diagnosis. He bought lab equipment so that he could study his daughter’s DNA himself — and in the process, he became a symbol for the do-it-yourself biology movement, and a trailblazer in using DNA technologies to diagnose a rare disease (see Nature 449,773–776; 2007).


“Talk about personal genomics,” says Gary Schroth, a research and development director at the genome-sequencing company Illumina in San Diego, California, who has helped Rienhoff in his search for clues. “It doesn’t get any more personal than trying to figure out what’s wrong with your own kid.”


Now nearly a decade into his quest, Rienhoff has arrived at an answer. Through the partial-genome sequencing of his entire family, he and a group of collaborators have found a mutation in the gene that encodes transforming growth factor-β3 (TGF-β3). Genes in the TGF-β pathway control embryogenesis, cell differentiation and cell death, and mutations in several related genes have been associated with Marfan syndrome and Loeys–Dietz syndrome, both of which have symptomatic overlap with Bea’s condition. The mutation, which has not been connected to any disease before, seems to be responsible for Bea’s clinical features, according to a paper to be published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics.


Hal Dietz, a clinician at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, where Rienhoff trained as a geneticist, isn’t surprised that the genetic culprit is in this pathway. “The overwhelming early hypothesis was that this was related,” says Dietz, who co-discovered Loeys–Dietz syndrome in 2005.


Rienhoff had long been tapping experts such as Dietz for assistance. In 2005, an examination at Johns Hopkins revealed Bea’s bifid uvula. This feature, combined with others, suggested Loeys–Dietz syndrome, which is caused by mutations in TGF-β receptors. But physicians found none of the known mutations after sequencing these genes individually. This was a relief: Loeys–Dietz is associated with devastating cardiovascular complications and an average life span of 26 years.

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Using Infrared Date, Astronomers Image Lowest-mass Exoplanet Around a Sun-like Star

Using Infrared Date, Astronomers Image Lowest-mass Exoplanet Around a Sun-like Star | Amazing Science |

Using infrared data from the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, an international team of astronomers has imaged a giant planet around the bright star GJ 504. Glowing a dark magenta, the newly discovered exoplanet GJ 504b weighs in with about four times Jupiter's mass, making it the lowest-mass planet ever directly imaged around a star like the sun.


"If we could travel to this giant planet, we would see a world still glowing from the heat of its formation with a color reminiscent of a dark cherry blossom, a dull magenta," said Michael McElwain, a member of the discovery team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Our near-infrared camera reveals that its color is much more blue than other imaged planets, which may indicate that its atmosphere has fewer clouds."


According to the most widely accepted picture, called the core-accretion model, Jupiter-like planets get their start in the gas-rich debris disk that surrounds a young star. A core produced by collisions among asteroids and comets provides a seed, and when this core reaches sufficient mass, its gravitational pull rapidly attracts gas from the disk to form the planet.


While this model works fine for planets out to where Neptune orbits, about 30 times Earth's average distance from the sun (30 astronomical units, or AU), it's more problematic for worlds located farther from their stars. GJ 504b lies at a projected distance of 43.5 AU from its star; the actual distance depends on how the system tips to our line of sight, which is not precisely known.


"This is among the hardest planets to explain in a traditional planet-formation framework," explained team member Markus Janson, a Hubble postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University in New Jersey. "Its discovery implies that we need to seriously consider alternative formation theories, or perhaps to reassess some of the basic assumptions in the core-accretion theory."


The research is part of the Strategic Explorations of Exoplanets and Disks with Subaru (SEEDS), a project to directly image extrasolar planets and protoplanetary disks around several hundred nearby stars using the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The five-year project began in 2009 and is led by Motohide Tamura at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ).

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New stamp-sized microfluidic chip sorts cells through a technique known as cell rolling

New  stamp-sized microfluidic chip sorts cells through a technique known as cell rolling | Amazing Science |

Early in 2012, MIT scientists reported on the development of a postage stamp-sized microchip capable of sorting cells through a technique, known as cell rolling, that mimics a natural mechanism in the body. The device successfully separated leukemia cells from cell cultures — but could not extract cells directly from blood. 

Now the group has developed a new microchip that can quickly separate white blood cells from samples of whole blood, eliminating any preliminary processing steps — which can be difficult to integrate into point-of-care medical devices. The hope, the researchers say, is to integrate the microchip into a portable diagnostic device that may be used to directly analyze patient blood samples for signs of inflammatory disease such as sepsis — particularly in regions of developing countries where diagnostic lab equipment is not readily available.


In their experiments, the scientists pumped tiny volumes of blood through the microchip and recovered a highly pure stream of white blood cells, virtually devoid of other blood components such as platelets and red blood cells. What’s more, the team found that the sorted cells were undamaged and functional, potentially enabling clinicians not only to obtain a white blood cell count, but also to use the cells to perform further genetic or clinical tests. 

Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, says the key to recovering such pure, functional cells lies in the microchip’s adaption of the body’s natural process of cell rolling. 

“We believe that because we’re using a very biomimetic process, the cells are happier,” Karnik says. “It’s a more gentle process, and the cells are functionally viable.”

H. Fai Poon's curator insight, October 17, 2013 12:56 AM

Now someone make it into a cell sorter please.

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Making a smartphone even smarter: Turning it into a biosensor for toxins and bacteria

Afraid there may be peanuts or other allergens hiding in that cookie? Thanks to a cradle and app that turn your smartphone into a handheld biosensor, you may soon be able to run on-the-spot tests for food safety, environmental toxins, medical diagnostics and more.

The handheld biosensor was developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. A series of lenses and filters in the cradle mirror those found in larger, more expensive laboratory devices. Together, the cradle and app transform a smartphone into a tool that can detect toxins and bacteria, spot water contamination and identify allergens in food.


Kenny Long, a graduate researcher at the university, says the team was able to make the smartphone even smarter with modifications to the cellphone camera.

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Scientists serve lab-made burger from cow cells

Scientists serve lab-made burger from cow cells | Amazing Science |

For hamburgers that cost more than $300,000 to produce, you might expect fries and a shake too. But this is no ordinary burger being served to two volunteer taste-testers in London on Monday. This meat was grown in a laboratory from stem cells of cattle.


Mark Post, whose team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands developed the burger after five years of research, hopes that making meat in labs could eventually help solve the food crisis and fight climate change.


But Post says success doesn't hinge on science. "For the burger to succeed it has to look, feel and taste like the real thing," he said. The meat was made from cow muscle cells from two organic cows. The resulting patties will be seasoned with salt, egg powder, breadcrumbs, red beet juice and saffron.


Post and colleagues took muscle cells from a cow and put them into a nutrient solution to help them develop into muscle tissue. The muscle cells grew into small strands of meat, and it takes nearly 20,000 strands to make one 140-gram (5-ounce) burger.


The project cost 250,000 euros ($332,000)."I'm a vegetarian but I would be first in line to try this," said Jonathan Garlick, a stem cell researcher at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. He has used similar techniques to make human skin but wasn't involved in the burger research.


Experts say new ways of producing meat are needed to satisfy growing carnivorous appetites without exhausting resources. By 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization predicts global meat consumption will double as more people in developing countries can afford it. Breeding animals destined for the dinner table takes up about 70 percent of all agricultural land.


The animal rights group PETA has thrown its support behind the lab-meat initiative. "As long as there's anybody who's willing to kill a chicken, a cow or a pig to make their meal, we are all for this," said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA's president and co-founder. "Instead of the millions and billions (of animals) being slaughtered now, we could just clone a few cells to make burgers or chops."

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Amazing Science: Education and Learning Postings

Amazing Science: Education and Learning Postings | Amazing Science |

Education in Science is a collection of resources for learners. Resources include videos and interactives that help scientific learners find out about the different fields of science and make connections to what they are learning in school, college or university.

Lessons are inquiry based and encourage exploration in life science, physical science, earth science and technology/innovation. We are at a point where almost everyone has a computer at home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers.

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Over 1,000 Drugs in Development for Cancer (2013): A Timeline

In 400 B.C., Hippocrates first used the word "carcinoma" to describe a tumor. Since then, scientists have made leaps and bounds in the field of cancer research, much of it occuring in the wake of the U.S. declaring "The War on Cancer" in 1971. Today, people have access to many innovative therapies, and research continues that opens a vast horizon of hope and opportunity for people around the world. For more, see:

HUB: Medicines in Development for Cancer - ;
REPORT: Nearly 1,000 Medicines & Vaccines in Testing Offer Hope in the Fight Against Cancer -
MAP: Cancer Rates Across the U.S. -
BLOG: Progress in the Fight Against Cancer -


A comprehensive pdf report can be found here:

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Mini Lisa: Nanotechnique creates smallest "Mona Lisa" ever - Image is 30 microns wide!

Mini Lisa: Nanotechnique creates smallest "Mona Lisa" ever - Image is 30 microns wide! | Amazing Science |

The world’s most famous painting has now been created on the world’s smallest canvas. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have “painted” the Mona Lisa on a substrate surface approximately 30 microns in width – or one-third the width of a human hair. The team’s creation, the “Mini Lisa,” demonstrates a technique that could potentially be used to achieve nanomanufacturing of devices because the team was able to vary the surface concentration of molecules on such short-length scales.


The image was created with an atomic force microscope and a process called ThermoChemical NanoLithography (TCNL). Going pixel by pixel, the Georgia Tech team positioned a heated cantilever at the substrate surface to create a series of confined nanoscale chemical reactions. By varying only the heat at each location, Ph.D. Candidate Keith Carroll controlled the number of new molecules that were created. The greater the heat, the greater the local concentration. More heat produced the lighter shades of gray, as seen on the Mini Lisa’s forehead and hands. Less heat produced the darker shades in her dress and hair seen when the molecular canvas is visualized using fluorescent dye. Each pixel is spaced by 125 nanometers.


“By tuning the temperature, our team manipulated chemical reactions to yield variations in the molecular concentrations on the nanoscale,” said Jennifer Curtis, an associate professor in the School of Physics and the study’s lead author. “The spatial confinement of these reactions provides the precision required to generate complex chemical images like the Mini Lisa.”


Production of chemical concentration gradients and variations on the sub-micrometer scale are difficult to achieve with other techniques, despite a wide range of applications the process could allow. The Georgia Tech TCNL research collaboration, which includes associate professor Elisa Riedo and Regents Professor Seth Marder, produced chemical gradients of amine groups, but expects that the process could be extended for use with other materials. 


“We envision TCNL will be capable of patterning gradients of other physical or chemical properties, such as conductivity of graphene,” Curtis said. “This technique should enable a wide range of previously inaccessible experiments and applications in fields as diverse as nanoelectronics, optoelectronics and bioengineering.”

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Smart neural dust could carry sensors deep into the human brain and send data back out

Smart neural dust could carry sensors deep into the human brain and send data back out | Amazing Science |
You can't do science without data, and a team at Berkeley has proposed a method to get a lot more data about the brain. All they need to do is sprinkle your brain with tiny dust-like sensors.


The key to unraveling the mysteries of the brain may lie in getting better real time data from that cluster of neurons. We have effective imaging technologies like functional MRI and positron emission tomography (PET), which can even be used to interact with machines. However, an MRI machine isn’t very portable. Science has been exploring the role of implantable devices for years, but a new paper from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley proposes a new kind of implantable sensor — intelligent dust that can infiltrate the brain, record data, and communicate with the outside world.


The preliminary design was undertaken by Berkeley’s Dongjin Seo and colleagues. They describe a network of tiny sensors that could be introduced into the brain. Each package would be little more than a speck 100 micrometers (one-tenth of a millimeter) across, which is why the team decided to call it neural dust.


The smart particles would all contain a standard (but very small) CMOS sensor capable of measuring electrical activity in nearby neurons. Rather than design a microscopic battery that would only die after a short time, the researchers envision a piezoelectric material backing the CMOS capable of generating electrical signals from ultrasound waves. The process would also work in reverse, allowing the dust to beam data back out via high-frequency sound waves. The entire package would be coated in a polymer, thus making it bio-neutral.


Ultrasound would likely be considerably safer than beaming electromagnetic waves back and forth. Ultrasound transfers much less energy to surrounding tissues — Seo and company believe it could keep the neural network charged and connected without heating the brain or skull (which is always good to hear).


The patient could have thousands of these devices nestled in their brain tissue, but a few additional components would be needed. A larger subdural transceiver would send the ultrasound waves to the dust and pick up the return signal. The internal transceiver would be wirelessly connected to an external device on the scalp (again, via ultrasound) that contains data processing hardware, a long range transmitter, storage, and a battery. It would be considerably easier to replace this external transmitter than a thousand microscopic sensors in the brain.

Via Szabolcs Kósa
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Engineering life - synthetic biologists - the ultimate “tinkerers” at the cellular level

Engineering life - synthetic biologists - the ultimate “tinkerers” at the cellular level | Amazing Science |
Cellular “tinkering” is critical for establishing a new engineering discipline that will lead to the next generation of technologies based on life’s building blocks.


Engineering began as an outgrowth of the craftwork of metallurgical artisans. In a constant quest to improve their handiwork, those craftsmen exhaustively and empirically explored the properties—alone and in combination—of natural materials. The knowledge accumulated from this exploration and experimentation with natural building blocks eventually led to today’s modern technologies. We can now readily build things like super-lightweight cars and electrical circuits containing billions of transistors that encode highly sophisticated functions, using reliable design and manufacturing frameworks—a vast leap from artisanal craft.


Today, there is a parallel progression unfolding in the field of synthetic biology, which encompasses the engineering of biological systems from genetically encoded molecular components.1-7 The first decade or so of synthetic biology can be viewed as an artisanal exploration of subcellular material. Much as in the early days of other engineering disciplines, the field’s focus has been on identifying the building blocks that may be useful for constructing synthetic biological circuits—and determining the practical rules for connecting them into functional systems. This artisanal tinkering with cells is necessary for arriving at a rigorous understanding of subcellular construction material and for determining the extent to which it can be manipulated.


Unlike other engineering disciplines, synthetic biology can—and should—be guided by the natural blueprints and organizational principles of evolution, the ultimate “tinkerer” at the cellular level.


Unlike other engineering disciplines, however, synthetic biology can—and should—be guided by the natural blueprints and organizational principles of evolution, the ultimate “tinkerer” at the cellular level. As a result, physical intuition, which has played such a central role in developing other engineering fields, may be less helpful in guiding this exploration, and we should always question whether we are using the best construction techniques. By following natural design principles, can we build better systems? Will the field of synthetic biology progress from a modest group of skilled artisans to a thriving industry on par with modern mechanical and electrical engineering? Will it ever fulfill its many promises to reprogram natural organisms and create new organisms for addressing a range of applications in human health, energy, and the environment?

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Scientists make lightweight wire from carbon that may rival copper

Scientists make lightweight wire from carbon that may rival copper | Amazing Science |

Ten times lighter than copper and 30 times stronger — scientists at Cambridge University are hoping carbon nanotubes will replace copper as a way to conduct electricity in the future.


Scientists have made a strong, lightweight wire from carbon that might eventually be a rival to copper if its ability to conduct electricity can be improved, Cambridge University said.


They said it was the first time that the super-strong carbon wires, spun in a tiny furnace that looks like a cotton candy machine with temperatures above 1,800 F, had been made "in a usable form" a millimeter thick.


Krzysztof Koziol of the University's department of materials science and metallurgy told Reuters in a telephone interview that commercial applications were still years away but that "our target is to beat copper".


Wire made in the laboratory from carbon nanotubes (CNTs) — microscopic hollow cylinders composed of carbon atoms — is 10 times lighter than copper and 30 times stronger, the university said in a statement.

Via Kalani Kirk Hausman
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Graphene-based supercapacitors a step closer to commerical reality

Graphene-based supercapacitors a step closer to commerical reality | Amazing Science |

Graphene-based supercapacitors have already proven the equal of conventional supercapacitors – in the lab. But now researchers at Melbourne’s Monash University claim to have developed of a new scalable and cost-effective technique to engineer graphene-based supercapacitors that brings them a step closer to commercial development.


With their almost indefinite lifespan and ability to recharge in seconds, supercapacitors have tremendous energy-storage potential for everything from portable electronics, to electric vehicles and even large-scale renewable energy plants. But the drawback of existing supercapacitors has been their low energy density of around 5 to 8 Wh/liter, which means they either have to be exceedingly large or recharged frequently.


Professor Dan Li and his team at Monash University’s Department of Materials Engineering has created a graphene-based supercapacitor with an energy density of 60 Wh/liter, which is around 12 times higher than that of commercially available supercapacitors and in the same league as lead-acid batteries. The device also lasts as long as a conventional battery.


To maximize the energy density, the team created a compact electrode from an adaptive graphene gel film they had previously developed. To control the spacing between graphene sheets on the sub-nanometer scale, the team used liquid electrolytes, which are generally used as the conductor in conventional supercapacitors.


Unlike conventional supercapacitors that are generally made of highly porous carbon with unnecessarily large pores and rely on a liquid electrolyte to transport the electrical charge, the liquid electrolyte in Li’s team’s supercapacitor plays a dual role of conducting electricity and also maintaining the minute space between the graphene sheets. This maximizes the density without compromising the supercapcitor’s porosity, they claim.


To create their compact electrode, the researchers used a technique similar to one used in traditional paper making, which they say makes the process cost-effective and easily scalable for industrial applications.


"We have created a macroscopic graphene material that is a step beyond what has been achieved previously. It is almost at the stage of moving from the lab to commercial development," Professor Li said.

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'Total Recall' for Mice: Implanting False Memories into a Mouse Brain

'Total Recall' for Mice: Implanting False Memories into a Mouse Brain | Amazing Science |

Our imperfect memory is inconvenient at the grocery store and downright dangerous on the witness stand. In extreme cases, we may be confident that we remember something that never happened at all. Now, a group of neuroscientists say that they’ve identified a potential mechanism of false memory creation and have planted such a memory in the brain of a mouse.

Neuroscientists are only beginning to tackle the phenomenon of false memory, says Susumu Tonegawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, whose team conducted the new research. “It’s there, and it’s well established,” he says, “but the brain mechanisms underlying this false memory are poorly known.” With optogenetics—the precise stimulation of neurons with light—scientists can seek out the physical basis of recall and even tweak it a bit, using mouse models.


Like us, mice develop memories based on context. When a mouse returns to an environment where it felt pain in the past, it recalls that experience and freezes with fear. Tonegawa’s team knew that the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for establishing memory, plays a role in encoding context-based experiences, and that stimulating cells in a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus can make a mouse recall and react to a mild electric shock that it received in the past. The new goal was to connect that same painful shock memory to a context where the mouse had not actually received a shock.


First, the team introduced a mouse to a chamber that it had never seen before and allowed it to explore the sights and smells: a black floor, dim red light, and the scent of acetic acid. In this genetically modified variety of mouse, neurons in the hippocampus will produce a light-sensitive protein when they become active. Because only the neurons involved in the mouse’s experience of this chamber became sensitive to light, these cells were essentially labeled for later reactivation.


The next day, the mouse found itself in a decidedly more unpleasant chamber: The lights, colors, and smells were all different, and it received a series of mild electric shocks to its feet. While the mouse was getting shocked, the scientists used optical fibers implanted in its brain to shine pulses of blue light on its dentate gyrus, reactivating specific cells that had been labeled the day before as the mouse explored the first, less painful chamber. The hope was that the mouse would form a new (and totally false) association between the first room and the painful shocks.


Even though the mouse never got shocked in the red-and-black, acid-scented room, it froze in fear when it returned there, confirming that it had formed a false, context-specific memory, the team reports online today in Science. Tonegawa says that it’s impossible to know just what the mouse experienced as the scientists stimulated its brain with light—whether it felt some or all of those earlier sensations, or even perceived that it was back in the first chamber during the shocks. But it is clear that the rodent recalled a painful experience when it returned to that first environment. It showed no signs of fear when placed in a third, unfamiliar chamber, demonstrating that the fear response was indeed triggered by the first room.


Tonegawa suggests that these results could help explain some of the cases in which humans form false memories. We are constantly imagining, daydreaming, and remembering, and these activities might alter our experience of the events around us, he says. He offers the extreme example of a woman who was watching a TV show at home when someone broke in and assaulted her. She later insisted that the host of the show had been her attacker, apparently transplanting the object of her attention into a memory of the physical experience.


The results are “clear and strong,” and the work is “a very profound finding,” says neuroscientist Mark Mayford of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, who was not involved in the study. No previous experiment has shown that activating a precise pattern of cells can serve as a substitute for a real-life experience and create a learned behavior, he says. Mayford, whose work also focuses on learning and memory manipulation in mice, says it’s theoretically possible that humans form false memories in a similar way. But more importantly, he says, the research offers clues about where and how a new experience gets encoded in the brain to begin with. With this knowledge, he believes that neuroscientists can start to take a more quantitative approach, someday figuring out how many neurons it takes to give us the perception of what’s around us and what goes on in our neural wiring when we remember—or misremember—the past.

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Researchers Reveal Hidden Magnetic Waves in High-Temperature Superconductors

Researchers Reveal Hidden Magnetic Waves in High-Temperature Superconductors | Amazing Science |

New research from the Brookhaven National Laboratory has revealed that magnetic excitations, quantum waves believed by many to regulate high-temperature superconductors, exist in both non-superconducting and superconducting materials.

Intrinsic inefficiencies plague current systems for the generation and delivery of electricity, with significant energy lost in transit. High-temperature superconductors (HTS)—uniquely capable of transmitting electricity with zero loss when chilled to subzero temperatures—could revolutionize the planet’s aging and imperfect energy infrastructure, but the remarkable materials remain fundamentally puzzling to physicists. To unlock the true potential of HTS technology, scientists must navigate a quantum-scale labyrinth and pin down the phenomenon’s source.


Now, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and other collaborating institutions have discovered a surprising twist in the magnetic properties of HTS, challenging some of the leading theories. In a new study, published online in the journal Nature Materials on August 4, 2013, scientists found that unexpected magnetic excitations—quantum waves believed by many to regulate HTS—exist in both non-superconducting and superconducting materials.


“This is a major experimental clue about which magnetic excitations are important for high-temperature superconductivity,” said Mark Dean, a physicist at Brookhaven Lab and lead author on the new paper. “Cutting-edge x-ray scattering techniques allowed us to see excitations in samples previously thought to be essentially non-magnetic.”


On the atomic scale, electron spins—a bit like tiny bar magnets pointed in specific directions—rapidly interact with each other throughout magnetic materials. When one spin rotates, this disturbance can propagate through the material as a wave, tipping and aligning the spins of neighboring electrons. Many researchers believe that this subtle excitation wave may bind electrons together to create the perfect current conveyance of HTS, which operates at slightly warmer temperatures than traditional superconductivity.


“Proving or disproving this hypothesis remains one of the holy grails of condensed matter physics research,” Dean said. “This discovery gives us a new way to evaluate rival theories of HTS.”

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Hubble Reveals a New Kind of Stellar Blast Called a Kilonova

Hubble Reveals a New Kind of Stellar Blast Called a Kilonova | Amazing Science |

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope revealed a new type of stellar explosion called a kilonova. Kilonovas are about 1,000 times brighter than a nova, but they are 1/10th to 1/100th the brightness of a typical supernova.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently provided the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma ray bursts are produced by the merger of two small, super-dense stellar objects.


The evidence is in the detection of a new kind of stellar blast called a kilonova, which results from the energy released when a pair of compact objects crash together. Hubble observed the fading fireball from a kilonova last month, following a short gamma ray burst (GRB) in a galaxy almost 4 billion light-years from Earth. A kilonova had been predicted to accompany a short-duration GRB, but had not been seen before.


“This observation finally solves the mystery of the origin of short gamma ray bursts,” said Nial Tanvir of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. Tanvir lead a team of researchers using Hubble to study the recent short-duration GRB. “Many astronomers, including our group, have already provided a great deal of evidence that long-duration gamma ray bursts (those lasting more than two seconds) are produced by the collapse of extremely massive stars. But we only had weak circumstantial evidence that short bursts were produced by the merger of compact objects. This result now appears to provide definitive proof supporting that scenario.”

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World's Smallest Terahertz Detector Invented by University of Pittsburgh Physicists

World's Smallest Terahertz Detector Invented by University of Pittsburgh Physicists | Amazing Science |

Molecules could soon be “scanned” in a fashion similar to imaging screenings at airports, thanks to a detector developed by University of Pittsburgh physicists. The detector, featured in a recent issue of Nano Letters, may have the ability to chemically identify single molecules using terahertz radiation—a range of light far below what the eye can detect.

“Our invention allows lines to be ‘written’ and ‘erased’ much in the manner that an Etch A Sketch® toy operates,” said study coauthor Jeremy Levy, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. “The only difference is that the smallest feature is a trillion times smaller than the children’s toy, able to create conductive lines as narrow as two nanometers.”

Terahertz radiation refers to a color range far beyond what the eye can see and is useful for identifying specific types of molecules. This type of radiation is generated and detected with the help of an ultrafast laser, a strobe light that turns on and off in less than 30 femtoseconds (a unit of time equal to 10-15- of a second). Terahertz imaging is commonly used in airport scanners, but has been hard to apply to individual molecules due to a lack of sources and detectors at those scales.

“We believe it would be possible to isolate and probe single nanostructures and even molecules—performing ‘terahertz spectroscopy’ at the ultimate level of a single molecule,” said Levy. “Such resolution will be unprecedented and could be useful for fundamental studies as well as more practical applications.”

Levy and his team are currently performing spectroscopy of molecules and nanoparticles. In the future, they hope to work with a C60, a well-known molecule within the terahertz spectrum. 

The oxide materials used for this research were provided by study coauthor Chang-Beom Eom, Theodore H. Geballe Professor and Harvey D. Spangler Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering. 

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