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Gigantic glowing ocean carpets due to phosphorescent bacteria that turn themselves into bait

Gigantic glowing ocean carpets due to phosphorescent bacteria that turn themselves into bait | Amazing Science |

On 25 January 1995, the British merchant vessel SS Lima was sailing through the Indian Ocean when its crew noticed something odd. In the ship’s log, the captain wrote, “A whitish glow was observed on the horizon and, after 15 minutes of steaming, the ship was completely surrounded by a sea of milky-white color.” The eerie glow appeared to “cover the entire sea area, from horizon to horizon . . . and it appeared as though the ship was sailing over a field of snow or gliding over the clouds”. The ship took six hours to sail through it.


These glowing seas have featured in sailor stories for centuries. The crew of the Nautilius encountered the phenomenon in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. And in 2006, Steven Miller actually managed to recover satellite images of the very same patch seen by the crew of the SS Lima – it stretched over 15,000 square kilometres, the size of Connecticut or Yorkshire.


The glowing waters are the work of bioluminescent bacteria – microbes that can produce their own light. They are found throughout the oceans, although usually in smaller numbers than the giant bloom responsible for the SS Lima’s sighting. In many cases, they form partnerships with animals like fish and squid, taking up residence inside their hosts and paying their rent by providing light for navigation or defence.


But many glowing bacteria live freely in the open ocean, and they glow nonetheless. Creating light takes energy, and it’s not something that’s done needlessly. So why do the bacteria shine? One of the most common answers – and one that Miller proposed to explain his satellite images – is that the bacteria are screaming “Eat me!” at passing fish. A fish’s guts are full of nutrients, and it can carry bacteria across large distances. The bacteria, by turning themselves into glowing bait, get a lift and a meal.


This idea has been around for more than three decades, but it has never actually been tested. Margarita Zarubin from the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences has finally done so.


Zarubin placed a transparent bag full of glowing bacteria (Photobacterium leiognathi) at one end of a large seawater tank. In the other end, she placed a bag full of mutant bacteria, which she had engineered to lose their light. The tank was full of zooplankton – small, drifting sea creatures including fish larvae, jellyfish, crustaceans, and more. Within just 15 minutes, most of these drifters had gathered round the glowing bag and ignored the dark one.

Zarubin thinks that the shrimp and other zooplankton aren’t out to eat the bacteria themselves. Instead, they’re after what the microbes are sitting on. The bacteria cluster around bits of food floating around the ocean. They only glow when they gather in enough numbers, so their light is indicative of a big enough morsel.


If Zarubin allowed the zooplankton members to actually eat the bacteria, they too started to glow. Shrimp will start to shine after just ten seconds of swimming in a soup of P. leiognathi. The bacteria clearly survive being eaten, and glow from within the shrimps’ guts. That can be lethal for the shrimp; its newly glowing guts attract larger predators like fish. Dark shrimp sneak by undetected, but glowing ones are almost always eaten. And the bacteria survive a trip through fish guts as well – Zarubin found that fish which eat glowing shrimp also expel glowing faeces.


For the zooplankton, eating glowing bacteria is a tricky trade-off. Zarubin thinks that the benefit of eating rich food in an otherwise empty ocean might outweigh the cost of attracting hungry fish. For the bacteria however, the benefits are clear: they get to bathe in the slosh of nutrients within a fish’s guts, and they get to travel a thousand times further than they could manage on their own.

Ron Peters's curator insight, September 22, 2013 11:13 AM

I've seen this, back in my Navy da

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Brain implants give rats an 'acquired sixth sense', enabling them to detect infrared light

Brain implants give rats an  'acquired sixth sense', enabling them to detect infrared light | Amazing Science |

US researchers have effectively given laboratory rats a "sixth sense" using an implant in their brains.


An experimental device allowed the rats to "touch" infrared light - which is normally invisible to them. The team at Duke University fitted the rats with an infrared detector wired up to microscopic electrodes that were implanted in the part of their brains that processes tactile information.


The researchers say that, in theory at least, a human with a damaged visual cortex might be able to regain sight through a device implanted in another part of the brain.


The experiment also shows that a new sensory input can be interpreted by a region of the brain that normally does something else (without having to "hijack" the function of that brain region).


"We could create devices sensitive to any physical energy," said Prof Nicolelis, from the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

"It could be magnetic fields, radio waves, or ultrasound. We chose infrared initially because it didn't interfere with our electrophysiological recordings."


His colleague Eric Thomson commented: "The philosophy of the field of brain-machine interfaces has until now been to attempt to restore a motor function lost to lesion or damage of the central nervous system. "This is the first paper in which a neuroprosthetic device was used to augment function - literally enabling a normal animal to acquire a sixth sense."


In their experiments, the researchers used a test chamber with three light sources that could be switched on randomly. They taught the rats to choose the active light source by poking their noses into a port to receive a sip of water as a reward. They then implanted the microelectrodes, each about a tenth the diameter of a human hair, into the animals' brains. These electrodes were attached to the infrared detectors. The scientists then returned the animals to the test chamber. At first, the rats scratched at their faces, indicating that they were interpreting the lights as touch. But after a month - as shown in these videos - the animals learned to associate the signal in their brains with the infrared source. They began to search actively for the signal, eventually achieving perfect scores in tracking and identifying the correct location of the invisible light source.


One key finding was that enlisting the touch cortex to detect infrared light did not reduce its ability to process touch signals.

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Forms of Immunological Memory (CRISPR) May Well Exist in Non-vertebrates, Even Bacteria

Forms of Immunological Memory (CRISPR) May Well Exist in Non-vertebrates, Even Bacteria | Amazing Science |

In their struggle to survive and thrive, all living things must defend themselves from predatory attack. Microbes, in the form of parasites, bacteria, fungi, and viruses, are life's most accomplished predators. Therefore, all living things have evolved mechanisms to defend against them. Historically, biological defense systems have been classified into two broad categories—innate systems that provide nonspecific defense against invading pathogens and adaptive systems that provide long-lasting defense against attack by specific pathogens. Recently, a growing body of literature in comparative immunology has indicated that these categories may not be as distinct as was originally believed. Instead, a variety of immune mechanisms that share properties of both innate and adaptive systems have been recently elucidated.

Bacteria are assaulted by bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria), which can compromise or threaten host viability. To address this threat, bacteria have evolved diversity-generating retroelements, restriction enzyme modification, and phase variation mechanisms, which alter the susceptibility of bacteria to phage attachment, internalization, and attack. However, these mechanisms do not confer species-specific immunological memory, and thus, a novel adaptive bacterial immunological system has evolved to provide an additional layer of immune protection in Bacteria and Archaea. The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) locus contains repetitive sequences interleaved with captured pathogen sequences that confer resistance to exogenous genetic elements by recognizing and degrading invading nucleic acids through a conserved catabolic process. Briefly, invading nucleic acids are integrated into the bacterial genome at the CRISPR locus, thereby maintaining a record of specific pathogens that have successfully invaded the pathogen. Importantly, CRISPR loci can be transcribed and processed into collections of short CRISPR-derived RNAs (crRNAs). These nucleic acids, in a manner analogous to RNAi in mammalian cells, can hybridize to invading nucleic acids and drive their destruction upon detection. The plastic CRISPR locus maintains immunogenetic memory of plasmids and phage and thus is under selective pressure itself to maintain the most useful repertoire. The locus has also evolved protective mechanisms preventing autoimmune attacks from the CRISPR RNA silencing effector mechanisms. So in stark contrast to what many of us were taught as immunology schoolchildren, adaptive immunity (with its hallmark characteristics of specificity and memory) may be nearly as old as cellular life itself.

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High Diversity of Viruses Identified on the Human Skin by Deep Sequencing

High Diversity of Viruses Identified on the Human Skin by Deep Sequencing | Amazing Science |

The human skin is a complex ecosystem that hosts a heterogeneous flora. Until recently, the diversity of the cutaneous microbiota was mainly investigated for bacteria through culture based assays subsequently confirmed by molecular techniques. There are now many evidences that viruses represent a significant part of the cutaneous flora as demonstrated by the asymptomatic carriage of beta and gamma-human papillomaviruses on the healthy skin. Furthermore, it has been recently suggested that some representatives of the Polyomavirusgenus might share a similar feature. In the present study, the cutaneous virome of the surface of the normal-appearing skin from five healthy individuals and one patient with Merkel cell carcinoma was investigated through a high throughput metagenomic sequencing approach in an attempt to provide a thorough description of the cutaneous flora, with a particular focus on its viral component. The results emphasize the high diversity of the viral cutaneous flora with multiple polyomaviruses, papillomaviruses and circoviruses being detected on normal-appearing skin.


Moreover, this approach resulted in the identification of new Papillomavirusand Circovirus genomes and confirmed a very low level of genetic diversity within human polyomavirus species. Although viruses are generally considered as pathogen agents, our findings support the existence of a complex viral flora present at the surface of healthy-appearing human skin in various individuals. The dynamics and anatomical variations of this skin virome and its variations according to pathological conditions remain to be further studied. The potential involvement of these viruses, alone or in combination, in skin proliferative disorders and oncogenesis is another crucial issue to be elucidated.


Further information on the total virome inside of us:

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No Escape From It: Dive Into a Black Hole That Distorts Space and Time

No Escape From It: Dive Into a Black Hole That Distorts Space and Time | Amazing Science |

When matter is compressed beyond a certain density, a black hole is created. It is called black because no light can escape from it. Some black holes are the tombstones of what were once massive stars. An enormous black hole is thought to lurk at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.


All the mass of a black hole is concentrated into a point at its center called the singularity. Gravity surrounding the singularity is so strong, you would have to travel faster than light to escape. This creates a spherical zone surrounding the singularity called the event horizon from which nothing can escape.


At about one and a half times the diameter of the event horizon, photons become trapped in circular orbits around the black hole. All the mass of a black hole is concentrated into a point at its center called the singularity.


Gravity surrounding the singularity is so strong, you would have to travel faster than light to escape. This creates a spherical zone surrounding the singularity called the event horizon from which nothing can escape.


In theory, a black hole of any size could exist. A black hole with the mass of our sun would be 3.7 miles (6 km) in diameter. In practice, the death of a star like the sun does not compress the material enough to form a black hole. Stars with about two times the sun’s mass or more form black holes.


Astronomers recognize two major types. Stellar-mass black holes have the mass of several sun-sized stars. They form when a dying star explodes in a supernova, then collapses under its own gravity. Matter drawn toward the black hole forms an accretion disc.


Supermassive black holes can have billions of times our sun’s mass. Matter drawn toward a supermassive black hole is compressed, heats up and may be blasted out into jets thousands of light-years long.


Stellar-mass black holes are scattered throughout the galaxy. A supermassive black hole lies at the core of many galaxies, including our own. The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole is called SgrA* (Sagittarius A-star), and it is seen from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. The supermassive black hole is about 26,000 light-years away, and has a mass of at least 4 million times the mass of our sun.


The powerful gravity of a black hole distorts light, space and time. One effect is gravitational lensing. A black hole between us and a distant galaxy will bend the rays of light, causing our view of the galaxy to be warped. We have yet to photograph a black hole in detail, but simulations suggest that the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way’s center might appear to be a distorted crescent.

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Brain plasticity: Babies are born with synaesthesia which is 'pruned' off shortly after toddlerhood

Brain plasticity: Babies are born with synaesthesia which is 'pruned' off shortly after toddlerhood | Amazing Science |

Babies' brains are highly plastic, meaning they're constantly adapting as they learn and respond to the world and the people around them. It's now known that adult brains can change too, but are far less plastic than very young children's. The challenge is to find ways of unlocking this plasticity when it's needed, say if we've had a brain injury.


According to Canadian research, video games may be one way. Daphne Maurer is director of the Visual Development Laboratory at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario. She has found clues to when plasticity might be locked off in babies and how in some adults it actually may persist unbeknownst to them. The baby is learning 'my people talk that language, my people look like that, my people eat this kind of food'. So the early brain plasticity, the baby's brain starts with an exuberance of connections, it's choosing to reinforce those that match the cultural environment, and those that don't match get pruned away. And that's what neurobiologists call critical periods, periods during which the child must hear language, must have vision, must be exposed to foods in order for that stabilisation to the environment to occur. Instead of being born with connections that process exactly what we need to process in our lives, babies are born with this process of tuning by experience. The brain has to work really hard not to be plastic, and that has allowed us to discover ways to renew plasticity in the adult brain.

In adults with synaesthesia, stimulation of one sensory modality—let's say hearing—causes something extra, typically the perception of color. C sharp might be vermillion and D flat might be turquoise. And it can be across any of our sensory systems, so some people taste words. Some people, it's just within one sensory modality, so when they see black letters they perceive color. Some people when they think of numbers they see them in patterns. They see them in space. So someone might tell you January is here, February is there, March is behind my back.

Before the toddlers start to prune, they're synesthetic. In toddlers, C sharp might be vermillion for one synesthete but turquoise for another synesthete. But they agree that as the pitch gets higher, the colors get lighter. Is there an age where synaesthesia is lost? Probably never. There is underground synaesthesia in all of us. Adults asked to make connections between pitch and surface lightness, or between letters and colors, color associations exactly match the toddlers and the synesthetes. So the pruning is incomplete in everyone, not just in synesthetes. But in those of us without synaesthesia it's been sufficient that the synaesthesia doesn't get to the conscious perception.

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Vast swarm of ice bodies in the Oort Cloud is the source of some of history's finest comets that hit Earth

Vast swarm of ice bodies in the Oort Cloud is the source of some of history's finest comets that hit Earth | Amazing Science |
Far beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, where the sun is a pinprick of light not much brighter than other stars, a vast swarm of icy bodies circles the solar system.


Comet Pan-STARRS was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System atop the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii. Astronomers use the massive 1.8 meter telescope to scan the heavens for Earth-approaching objects, both asteroids and comets, that might pose a danger to our planet. In June 2011 a comet appeared, and it was named "Pan-STARRS" after the acronym for the telescope.

In early March, the comet will pass about 100 million miles from Earth as it briefly dips inside the orbit of Mercury. Most experts expect it to become a naked-eye object about as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper. "But" says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab, "prepare to be surprised. A new comet from the Oort Cloud is always an unknown quantity equally capable of spectacular displays or dismal failures."

The Oort cloud is named after the 20th-century Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, who argued that such a cloud must exist to account for all the "fresh" comets that fall through the inner solar system. Unaltered by warmth and sunlight, the distant comets of the Oort cloud are like time capsules, harboring frozen gases and primitive, dusty material drawn from the original solar nebula 4.5 billion years ago. When these comets occasionally fall toward the sun, they bring their virgin ices with them.

Because this is Comet Pan-STARRS first visit, it has never been tested by the fierce heat and gravitational pull of the sun. "Almost anything could happen," says Battams. On one hand, the comet could fall apart—a fizzling disappointment. On the other hand, fresh veins of frozen material could open up to spew garish jets of gas and dust into the night sky.

"Because of its small distance from the sun, Pan-STARRS should be very active, producing a lot of dust and therefore a nice dust tail," predicts Matthew Knight of the Lowell Observatory. "However," he cautions, "it could still be difficult to see. From our point of view on Earth, the comet will be very close to the sun. This means that it is only observable in twilight when the sky is not fully dark."

The best dates to look may be March 12th and 13th when Pan-STARRS emerges in the western sunset sky not far from the crescent Moon. A comet and the Moon, together, framed by twilight-blue is a rare sight. "My guess is that the primary feature visible to the naked eye will be the gaseous coma around the head of the comet," says Knight.

"The comet's tail will probably require binoculars or a small telescope." Two other key dates are March 5th when the comet comes closest to Earth (about 100 million miles away) and March 10th, when the comet comes closest to the sun. The dose of solar heating it receives just inside the orbit of Mercury could be just what the comet needs to push it into the realm of naked-eye visibility.

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Defense system uses sun to vaporize asteroids as far away as the distance of the sun

Defense system uses sun to vaporize asteroids as far away as the distance of the sun | Amazing Science |

As an asteroid roughly half as large as a football field readies for a fly-by of Earth on Friday, February 15, 2013, two scientists are unveiling a system that could—in one hour—eliminate a threat of this size.

The same system could destroy asteroids 10 times larger than the one known as2012 DA14 in about a year, with evaporation starting at a distance as far away as the Sun.


Philip M. Lubin, a physicist and professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Gary B. Hughes, a researcher and professor from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, conceived DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids an exploRation, as a realistic means of mitigating potential threats posed to the Earth by asteroids and comets.


“We have to come to grips with discussing these issues in a logical and rational way,” says Lubin, who began work on DE-STAR a year ago. “We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats.


“Duck and cover is not an option. We can actually do something about it and it’s credible to do something. So let’s begin along this path. Let’s start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start.”

Described as a “directed energy orbital defense system,” DE-STAR is designed to harness some of the power of the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy, or evaporate, asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth.


It is equally capable of changing an asteroid’s orbit—deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun—and may also prove to be a valuable tool for assessing an asteroid’s composition, enabling lucrative, rare-element mining. And it’s entirely based on current essential technology.

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Genetically engineered virus kills liver cancer and prolongs lives (14.1 mo vs. 6.7 mo)

Genetically engineered virus kills liver cancer and prolongs lives (14.1 mo vs. 6.7 mo) | Amazing Science |

A genetically-engineered virus tested in 30 terminally-ill liver cancer patients significantly prolonged their lives, killing tumors and inhibiting the growth of new ones, scientists reported on Sunday.


Sixteen patients given a high dose of the therapy survived for 14.1 months on average, compared to 6.7 months for the 14 who got the low dose. "For the first time in medical history we have shown that a genetically-engineered virus can improve survival of cancer patients," study co-author David Kirn told AFP. The four-week trial with the vaccine Pexa-Vec or JX-594, reported in the journal Nature Medicine, may hold promise for the treatment of advanced solid tumors. "Despite advances in cancer treatment over the past 30 years with chemotherapy and biologics, the majority of solid tumours remain incurable once they are metastatic (have spread to other organs)," the authors wrote. There was a need for the development of "more potent active immunotherapies", they noted.

Pexa-Vec "is designed to multiply in and subsequently destroy cancer cells, while at the same time making the patients' own immune defence system attack cancer cells also," said Kirn from California-based biotherapy company Jennerex. "The results demonstrated that Pexa-Vec treatment at both doses resulted in a reduction of tumour size and decreased blood flow to tumours," said a Jennerex statement. "The data further demonstrates that Pexa-Vec treatment induced an immune response against the tumor."

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Cosmic rays originate from supernova shockwaves

Cosmic rays originate from supernova shockwaves | Amazing Science |
The remnants of self-destructing stars can accelerate particles to higher energies than world's most powerful accelerator.


It's a cosmic whodunnit that has been puzzling astronomers for 100 years. What is shooting protons through our Galaxy at energies up to thousands of times greater than those in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva, the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth? Two new sets of observations again implicate the leading suspects: supernova remnants, the expanding shrapnel from stellar explosions. But they may not be the only culprits.


Protons make up about 90% of the high-energy charged particles, or cosmic rays, that constantly rain down on Earth. But directly tracing their origin has been impossible because magnetic fields threading through the Galaxy push the charged particles off their original paths.


Nevertheless, astronomers have long assumed that supernova remnants act as the Galaxy's particle accelerators. That is because the expanding stellar debris creates a shockwave when it slams into the surrounding gas, compressing and enhancing any magnetic fields present. Charged particles traveling through the shock front can get accelerated, and some also get deflected back by the magnetic fields. Some particles may travel back and forth across the front — and gain energy — for thousands of years before escaping as cosmic rays.

Indeed, radiation at a range of wavelengths reveals unequivocally that electrons get such a boost inside supernova remnants — they produce telltale radiation when they move through a magnetic field. Various lines of evidence hint that protons do the same, as expected theoretically. But those observations could have alternative interpretations, leaving the case for the remnants as proton accelerators stubbornly open.


The two new studies — at γ-ray and visible wavelengths — may close the case beyond reasonable doubt. "This is as close as you can get to a smoking gun," says Francis Halzen, a particle astrophysicist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is not involved with either study.

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Tech, telecom giants take sides as FCC proposes nation-wide public WiFi network for everyone

Tech, telecom giants take sides as FCC proposes nation-wide public WiFi network for everyone | Amazing Science |

The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.


The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea, analysts say. That has been countered by an equally intense campaign from Google, Microsoft and other tech giants who say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.


The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.


The new WiFi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.


If approved by the FCC, the free networks would still take several years to set up. And, with no one actively managing them, con­nections could easily become jammed in major cities. But public WiFi could allow many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. The frugal-minded could even use the service in their homes, allowing them to cut off expensive Internet bills.

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Ant parasite turns host ant into ripe red berry, biologists discover

Ant parasite turns host ant into ripe red berry, biologists discover | Amazing Science |

A newly discovered parasite so dramatically transforms its host, an ant, that the ant comes to resemble a juicy red berry, ripe for picking, according to a report accepted for publication in The American Naturalist. This is the first example of fruit mimicry caused by a parasite, the co-authors say.


Presumably, the dramatic change in appearance and behavior tricks birds into eating infected ants - parasites and all - so that the bird can spread the parasite in its feces. The fruit-eating birds' droppings, which are mostly seeds and insect parts, are gathered by other ants who then feed and unwittingly infect their young.


This bizarre lifecycle of a parasitic nematode, or roundworm, plays out in the high canopy of tropical forests ranging from Central America to the lowland Amazon, according to Robert Dudley, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley.


"It's just crazy that something as dumb as a nematode can manipulate its host's exterior morphology and behavior in ways sufficient to convince a clever bird to facilitate transmission of the nematode," Dudley said.

Giuliano Cipollari's curator insight, February 16, 2013 9:32 AM

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A real-life ‘holodeck’ in 10 years? Less far-fetched than many people think

A real-life ‘holodeck’ in 10 years? Less far-fetched than many people think | Amazing Science |

Tim Huckaby can’t sit still. During his hour-long presentation on the future of user interfaces at the recent 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), he leapt from demo to demo, his enthusiasm contagious, and his constant movement making it difficult for anyone in the audience with a camera to capture him in stasis.


Huckaby has good reason to be excited. The way this software expert sees it, we’re on the verge of a science-fiction-like future where doctors manipulate molecules in three-dimensional (3-D) space, augmented music players tune into your thoughts, and retailers deliver coupons in real time based on the focus of your gaze across store shelves.


Huckaby is founder and chairman of California-based InterKnowlogy, as well as the current chief executive officer of Actus Interactive Software. Both companies focus on user interface (UI) development, and Huckaby’s belief in the coming rapid evolution of the UI field is based on decades of work in emerging technology.


During his recent talk in Las Vegas, Huckaby was tasked with predicting what the interfaces we use to interact with computers and communications technologies will look like in five years. He didn’t stick to that time frame, but instead offered multiple examples of where UIs are headed, and how the evolution will unfold.


His predictions for what’s possible within the next 10 years are mind-blowing: a functioning “holodeck” (ala the sci-fi classic Star Trek) into which holographic images are displayed; a legitimate neural-based interface offering a direct pathway between the brain and external devices; and virtual objects that extend into practically every facet of life and that behave much as they would in the natural world.

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NIH: Taking the sting out of vaccination - polymer multilayer tattooing for DNA vaccines

NIH: Taking the sting out of vaccination - polymer multilayer tattooing for DNA vaccines | Amazing Science |

This might be a new way to get a shot. Funded in part by the NIH, this vaccine patch [1] is coated in a thin film that literally melts into the skin when the patch is applied. The film contains DNA, rather than protein, which is absorbed by the skin cells and triggers an immune reaction. It seems to be effective in animal models. DNA vaccines are attractive because they may not require refrigeration like typical protein vaccines and can be stably stored for weeks. And, though this patch looks spiky, the length of the needles can be adjusted so that they don’t reach the skin layers that contain nerves. Thus: no pain at all.


[1] Polymer multilayer tattooing for enhanced DNA vaccination. Demuth PC, Min Y, Huang B, Kramer JA, Miller AD, Barouch DH, Hammond PT, Irvine DJ. Nat Mater. 2013 Jan 27.

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Bacteria come in all sizes, ranging over 10 (!) orders of magnitude

Bacteria come in all sizes, ranging over 10 (!) orders of magnitude | Amazing Science |

A small number of prokaryotic species have a unique physiology or ecology related to their development of unusually large size. The biomass of bacteria varies over more than 10 orders of magnitude, from the 0.2 microm wide nanobacteria to the largest cells of the colorless sulfur bacteria, Thiomargarita namibiensis, with a diameter of 750 microm. All bacteria, including those that swim around in the environment, obtain their food molecules by molecular diffusion. Only the fastest and largest swimmers known, Thiovulum majus, are able to significantly increase their food supply by motility and by actively creating an advective flow through the entire population. Diffusion limitation generally restricts the maximal size of prokaryotic cells and provides a selective advantage for microm-sized cells at the normally low substrate concentrations in the environment. The largest heterotrophic bacteria, the 80 x 600 microm large Epulopiscium sp. from the gut of tropical fish, are presumably living in a very nutrient-rich medium. Many large bacteria contain numerous inclusions in the cells that reduce the volume of active cytoplasm. The most striking examples of competitive advantage from large cell size are found among the colorless sulfur bacteria that oxidize hydrogen sulfide to sulfate with oxygen or nitrate. The several-cm-long filamentous species can penetrate up through the ca 500-microm-thick diffusive boundary layer and may thereby reach into water containing their electron acceptor, oxygen or nitrate. By their ability to store vast quantities of both nitrate and elemental sulfur in the cells, these bacteria have become independent of the coexistence of their substrates. In fact, a close relative, T. namibiensis, can probably respire in the sulfidic mud for several months before again filling up their large vacuoles with nitrate.

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FDA Approves First Retinal Implant To Treat Blindness Caused by Retinitis Pigmentosa

FDA Approves First Retinal Implant To Treat Blindness Caused by Retinitis Pigmentosa | Amazing Science |

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Thursday approved the first retinal implant for use in the United States. The FDA’s green light for Second Sight’s Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System gives hope to those blinded by a rare genetic eye condition called advanced retinitis pigmentosa, which damages the light-sensitive cells that line the retina.


For Second Sight, FDA approval follows more than 20 years of development, two clinical trials and more than $200 million in funding—half from the National Eye Institute, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, and the rest from private investors. The Argus II has been approved for use in Europe since 2011 and implanted in 30 clinical-trial patients since 2007. The FDA’s Ophthalmic Devices Advisory Panel in September 2012 voted unanimously to recommend approval.


The Argus II includes a small video camera, a transmitter mounted on a pair of eyeglasses, a video processing unit and a 60-electrode implanted retinal prosthesis that replaces the function of degenerated cells in the retina, the membrane lining the inside of the eye. Although it does not fully restore vision, this setup can improve a patient’s ability to perceive images and movement, using the video processing unit to transform images from the video camera into electronic data that is wirelessly transmitted to the retinal prosthesis.


Retinitis pigmentosa—which affects about one in 4,000 people in the US and about 1.5 million people worldwide—kills the retina’s photoreceptors, the rod and cone cells that convert light into electrical signals transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain’s visual cortex for processing. Second Sight plans to adapt its technology to someday assist people afflicted with age-related macular degeneration, a similar but more common disease.

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Absence of tousled-like kinases tells dormant virus to ‘wake up’

Absence of tousled-like kinases tells dormant virus to ‘wake up’ | Amazing Science |

Two cancer-causing viruses are tough to treat because they stay dormant in 95 percent of infected patients. Now scientists have found genes that are key to making them active.

Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) hide within the worldwide human population. While dormant in the vast majority of those infected, these active herpesviruses can develop into several forms of cancer.

In an effort to understand and eventually develop treatments for these viruses, researchers at the University of North Carolina have identified a family of human genes known as Tousled-like kinases (TLKs) that play a key role in the suppression and activation of these viruses.

Blossom Damania, a member of the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and colleagues found that suppressing the TLK enzyme causes the activation of the lytic cycle of both EBV and KSHV. During this active phase, these viruses begin to spread and replicate, and become vulnerable to anti-viral treatments. “When TLK is present, these viruses stay latent, but when it is absent, these viruses can replicate” says Damania, also of the department of microbiology and immunology.

KSHV and EBV are blood-borne viruses that remain dormant in more than 95 percent of those infected, making treatment of these viruses difficult. Both viruses are associated with a number of different lymphomas, sarcomas, and carcinomas, and many patients with suppressed immune systems are at risk for these virus-associated cancers. “The dormant state of these viruses is what makes it so hard to treat these infections and the cancers associated with these infections,” says Damania.


Researchers have known that stimuli such as stress can activate the virus from dormancy, but they do not understand the molecular basis of the viral activation cycle.


With the discovery of the link between these viruses and TLKs, Damania says that researchers can begin to look for the molecular actions triggered by events like stress, and how they lead to the suppression of the TLK enzymes.

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Bacterial Battlefield: Deadly bacteria attack not only us, but each other as well, with remarkable precision

Bacterial Battlefield: Deadly bacteria attack not only us, but each other as well, with remarkable precision | Amazing Science |

Vibrio cholerae, the scourge of nations lacking clean water. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the microbe that plagues people with cystic fibrosis.Acinetobacter species, opportunistic organisms that can infect vulnerable people. Escherichia coli, a culprit in food-borne illnesses.


When these bacteria invade their human hosts, they can cause misery and death. But these pathogens also do battle with each other—if provoked. New research sheds light on the tiny war machines that bacteria wield in surprisingly precise and selective counterattacks against their bacterial foes. Real-time fluorescent microscopy catches what HMS scientists call “bacterial tit-for-tat.”


John Mekalanos, HMS Adele Lehman Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and head of the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, last year noted “T6SS dueling” among bacteria of the same species. The name describes the interactions between two sister cells’ type 6 secretion systems. These dynamic nanomachines can deliver a toxic protein by piercing the threatening cell. A previous postdoctoral fellow in the Mekalanos lab, Joseph Mougous (now at the University of Washington, Seattle) discovered that immunity proteins likely protect these sister cells from such attacks. But the fact that the sisters fight back was appreciated only when Marek Basler, a research fellow in Microbiology and Immunobiology, and Mekalanos watched these pitched battles under the microscope.

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Water on the moon? It’s been there all along

Water on the moon? It’s been there all along | Amazing Science |

Traces of water have been detected within the crystalline structure of mineral samples from the lunar highland upper crust obtained during the Apollo missions, according to a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues.


The lunar highlands are thought to represent the original crust, crystallized from a magma ocean on a mostly molten early moon. The new findings indicate that the early moon was wet and that water there was not substantially lost during the moon's formation.


The results seem to contradict the predominant lunar formation theory — that the moon was formed from debris generated during a giant impact between Earth and another planetary body, approximately the size of Mars, according to U-M's Youxue Zhang and his colleagues.


"Because these are some of the oldest rocks from the moon, the water is inferred to have been in the moon when it formed," Zhang said. "That is somewhat difficult to explain with the current popular moon-formation model, in which the moon formed by collecting the hot ejecta as the result of a super-giant impact of a martian-size body with the proto-Earth.


"Under that model, the hot ejecta should have been degassed almost completely, eliminating all water," Zhang said.


A paper titled "Water in lunar anorthosites and evidence for a wet early moon" was published online Feb. 17 in the journal Nature Geoscience. The first author is Hejiu Hui, postdoctoral research associate of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences at the University of Notre Dame. Hui received his doctorate at U-M under Zhang, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and one of three co-authors of the Nature Geoscience paper.

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Mussel Glue Could Have Many Medical Applications

Mussel Glue Could Have Many Medical Applications | Amazing Science |

The adhesive strategies of marine mussels are key to their survival on wet, wind-swept, and wave-swept surfaces. Given this, mussel tenacity has become a poster child for the wet adhesion needed elsewhere in human technology, particularly in health-care delivery. Mussel adhesion is complex with both chemical and physical underpinnings at multiple length scales. The peculiar catechol-based chemistry of mussel adhesion has inspired a variety of applications ranging from hard and soft tissue repair to drug delivery to magnetic imaging agents. Although the emphasis on new bioinspired materials is inevitable, it should be coupled with the recognition that society is equally well served by the mussel byssus (holdfast) as an indicator of mussel well-being. Byssally interconnected mussel clusters are the basis of mariculture and diverse reef-like intertidal ecologies that resist coastal erosion. Given its exquisite sensitivity to environmental conditions, mussel byssus also serves as an important monitor of pollution and climate change.

To see if the compound worked in live animals, a veterinary surgeon collaborating with Messersmith's team made a 2.5-centimeter incision in the carotid artery of a dog and placed four stitches along the length of that incision to hold it in place. With the stitches alone, the incision bled when the surgeon pressed it. But just 20 seconds after the mussel-based glue was applied, the artery was sealed and didn’t bleed. 


More recently, Messersmith’s team began testing its glue on fetal membranes. For the past few decades, surgeons have begun surgically repairing birth defects like spina bifida while a fetus is still in utero. But the process is risky because the surgery risks rupturing the fetal membrane prematurely, sending the mother into premature labor. This can lead to the birth of a tiny, vulnerable preemie. 


There are no good adhesives on the market for surgeons to repair such fetal-membrane tears, and that’s the major reason fetal surgery remains risky. But in recent, unpublished experiments in rabbits, Messersmith and colleagues found that after a veterinary surgeon poked a 3.5-mm hole in the animal’s fetal membrane, the new, mussel-inspired glue readily sealed up the puncture. What’s more, without the glue, only 40% of the fetal rabbits survived the surgery, but with the glue, 60% did. 


In another recent result that’s in press at Advanced Health Materials, the researchers chemically altered the polyethylene glycol polymer so that the glue would shrink when it hardened. This could counter tissue swelling during surgery, which surgeons say is dangerous. And the fetal surgeons working with Messersmith are testing whether the glue can help reseal the tissue surrounding the spinal cord to repair a serious birth defect known spinal bifida in rabbits. 


“It seems like exactly what you want to seal up an artery,” says Emily Carrington, a biologist at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories who studies mussel adhesion and who did not take part in the research. The mussel-inspired glue is ideal, she added, because it is both strong and it has give. “I think it’s very exciting.”

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NASA's Messenger probe to Mercury shows a stunning new color map of the planet

NASA's Messenger probe to Mercury shows a stunning new color map of the planet | Amazing Science |
Scientists working on Nasa's Messenger probe to Mercury show off a stunning new colour map of the innermost world of the solar system.



The color map comprises thousands of images acquired by the spacecraft during its first year in orbit. This is not how we would see Mercury, which would look like a dull, brownish-grey globe to our eyes.


Rather, the map represents an exaggerated view of the planet that is intended to highlight variations in the composition of its rock.


"Messenger's camera has filters that go from the blue to the near-infrared of the spectrum, and we are able to use computer processing to enhance the very subtle but real color differences that are present on Mercury's surface," explained Dr. David Blewett from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Dr. Blewett and his colleagues are in the process of asking for a mission extension.


"The areas that you see that are orange - those are volcanic plains. There are some areas that are deep blue that are richer in an opaque mineral which is somewhat mysterious - we don't really know what that is yet.


The mission so far has been a triumph, which ought to make the current request to Nasa management for an operational extension a very easy case to make. Messenger's observations have thrown up many surprises and challenged a lot of assumptions.


The probe has revealed Mercury's rich volcanic history. It has confirmed the existence of great lava plains, but also uncovered evidence for explosive volcanism.


We know now, too, that the planet has ice in shadowed craters. "It's got polar ice caps. Who'd have thought that?" said Dr. Blewett.

In addition, the probe's instruments have detected relatively high abundances of sulphur and potassium in surface materials. These are volatile elements that should not really be present on such a scale on a planet that orbits so close to the Sun with its searing heat.


But these elements may help explain many puzzles, like the nature of those opaque terrains. These could get their dark hue from the presence of sulphides.

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We are living in a bacterial world: How do animals and bacteria affect each other's genomes?

We are living in a bacterial world: How do animals and bacteria affect each other's genomes? | Amazing Science |

In the last two decades, the widespread application of genetic and genomic approaches has revealed a bacterial world astonishing in its ubiquity and diversity. This review examines how a growing knowledge of the vast range of animal–bacterial interactions, whether in shared ecosystems or intimate symbioses, is fundamentally altering our understanding of animal biology.


Specifically, we highlight recent technological and intellectual advances that have changed our thinking about five questions: how have bacteria facilitated the origin and evolution of animals; how do animals and bacteria affect each other’s genomes; how does normal animal development depend on bacterial partners; how is homeostasis maintained between animals and their symbionts; and how can ecological approaches deepen our understanding of the multiple levels of animal–bacterial interaction. As answers to these fundamental questions emerge, all biologists will be challenged to broaden their appreciation of these interactions and to include investigations of the relationships between and among bacteria and their animal partners as we seek a better understanding of the natural world.

anthony amato's curator insight, February 16, 2013 1:01 PM

The book, The Viral Storm, adds another dimension to the interaction between organisms and viruses. This parallels the evolutionary link between bacteria and organisms described above.

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Dogs spot dogs: Dogs recognize the dog species among several other species on a computer screen

Dogs spot dogs: Dogs recognize the dog species among several other species on a computer screen | Amazing Science |

Dogs pick out faces of other dogs, irrespective of breeds, among human and other domestic and wild animal faces and can group them into a category of their own. They do that using visual cues alone, according to new research by Dr. Dominique Autier-Dérian from the LEEC and National Veterinary School in Lyon in France and colleagues. Their work, the first to test dogs' ability to discriminate between species and form a "dog" category in spite of the huge variability within the dog species.


Individuals from the same species get together for social life. These gatherings require recognition of similarities between individuals who belong to the same species and to a certain group. Research to date has shown that in some species, individuals recognize more easily, or are more attracted by images of, individuals belonging to their own species than those belonging to another species.


Autier-Derian and team studied this phenomenon among domestic dogs, which have the largest morphological variety among all animal species. Indeed, more than 400 pure breeds of dogs have been registered. The authors explored whether this large morphological diversity presented a cognitive challenge to dogs trying to recognize their species, when confronted with other species, using visual cues alone.


On a computer screen, the researchers showed nine pet dogs pictures of faces from various dog breeds and cross-breeds, and simultaneously faces of other animal species, including human faces. They exposed the dogs to diverse stimuli: images of dog faces; images of non-dog species from 40 different species, including domestic and wild animals; and humans. Overall, the dogs were shown more than 144 pairs of pictures to select from. The authors observed whether the nine dogs could discriminate any type of dog from other species, and could group all dogs together, whatever their breed, into a single category.


The results suggest that dogs can form a visual category of dog faces and group pictures of very different dogs into a single category, despite the diversity in dog breeds. Indeed, all nine dogs were able to group all the images of dogs within the same category.


The authors conclude: "The fact that dogs are able to recognize their own species visually, and that they have great olfactory discriminative capacities, insures that social behavior and mating between different breeds is still potentially possible. Although humans have stretched the Canis familiaris species to its morphological limits, its biological entity has been preserved."



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Tasting Data - The Tongueduino - A Hackable, High-bandwidth Sensory Augmentation System

Can you imagine feeling Earth's magnetic field on the tip of your tongue? Strangely, this is now possible, using a device that converts the tongue into a "display" for output from environmental sensors.


The tongue is known to have an extremely dense sensing resolution, as well as an extraordinary degree of neuroplasticity, the ability to adapt to and internalize new input. Research has shown that electro-tactile tongue displays paired with cameras can be used as vision prosthetics for the blind or visually impaired; users quickly learn to read and navigate through natural environments, and many describe the signals as an innate sense. However, existing displays are expensive and difficult to adapt. Tongueduino is an inexpensive, vinyl-cut tongue display designed to interface with many types of sensors besides cameras. Connected to a magnetometer, for example, the system provides a user with an internal sense of direction, like a migratory bird. Piezo whiskers allow a user to sense orientation, wind, and the lightest touch. Through tongueduino, we hope to bring electro-tactile sensory substitution beyond the discourse of vision replacement, towards open-ended sensory augmentation that anyone can access.


Gershon Dublon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology devised a small pad containing electrodes in a 5 × 5 grid. Users put the pad, which Gershon calls Tongueduino, on their tongue. When hooked up to an electronic sensor, the pad converts signals from the sensor into small pulses of electric current across the grid, which the tongue "reads" as a pattern of tingles.


Dublon says the brain quickly adapts to new stimuli on the tongue and integrates them into our senses. For example, if Tongueduino is attached to a sensor that detects Earth's magnetic field, users can learn to use their tongue as a compass. "You might not have to train much," he says. "You could just put this on and start to perceive."


Dublon has been testing Tongueduino on himself for the past year using a range of environmental sensors. He will now try the device out on 12 volunteers.


Blair MacIntyre at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta says a wireless version of Tongueduino could prove useful in augmented reality applications that deliver information to users inconspicuously, without interfering with their vision or hearing. "There's a need for forms of awareness that aren't socially intrusive," he says. Even Google's much-publicised Project Glass will involve wearing a headset, he points out.

Carlos Eduardo Santin Dominguez's curator insight, October 14, 2013 4:56 PM

Lo cual nos llevaria a considerar que somos por naturaleza potenciales cyborgs.

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Russian meteor largest in century: The explosion was more powerful than a nuclear blast

Russian meteor largest in century: The explosion was more powerful than a nuclear blast | Amazing Science |

A meteor that exploded over Russia this morning was the largest recorded object to strike the Earth in more than a century, scientists say. The explosion rivaled a nuclear blast, but the space rock was still too small for existing advance-warning networks to spot. Infrasound data collected by a network designed to watch for nuclear weapons testing suggests that today's blast released hundreds of kilotons of energy. That would make it far more powerful than the nuclear weapon tested by North Korea just days ago and the largest rock crashing on the planet since a meteor broke up over Siberia's Tunguska river in 1908.

"It was a very, very powerful event," says Margaret Campbell-Brown, an astronomer at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, who has studied data from two infrasound stations near the impact site. Her calculations show that the meteoroid was approximately 15 meters across when it entered the atmosphere, and put its mass at around 40 tons. "That would make it the biggest object recorded to hit the Earth since Tunguska," she says.


The meteor appeared at around 09:25 a.m. local time over the region of Chelyabinsk, near the southern Ural Mountains. The fireball blinded drivers and a subsequent explosion blew out windows and damaged hundreds of buildings. So far, more than 700 people are reported to have been injured, mainly from broken glass, according to a statement from the Russian Emergency Ministry.

Mercor's curator insight, February 16, 2013 9:30 AM

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