A large international consortium of researchers has produced the first comprehensive, detailed map of the way genes work across the major cells and tissues of the human body. The findings describe the complex networks that govern gene activity, and the new information could play a crucial role in identifying the genes involved with disease.“Now, for the first time, we are able to pinpoint the regions of the genome that can be active in a disease and in normal activity, whether it’s in a brain cell, the skin, in blood stem cells or in hair follicles,” said Winston Hide, associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and one of the core authors of the main paper in Nature.“This is a major advance that will greatly increase our ability to understand the causes of disease across the body.”The research is outlined in a series of papers published March 27, 2014, two in the journal Nature and 16 in other scholarly journals. The work is the result of years of concerted effort among 250 experts from more than 20 countries as part of FANTOM 5 (Functional Annotation of the Mammalian Genome). The FANTOM project, led by the Japanese institution RIKEN, is aimed at building a complete library of human genes.Researchers studied human and mouse cells using a new technology called Cap Analysis of Gene Expression (CAGE), developed at RIKEN, to discover how 95% of all human genes are switched on and off. These “switches” — called “promoters” and “enhancers” — are the regions of DNA that manage gene activity. The researchers mapped the activity of 180,000 promoters and 44,000 enhancers across a wide range of human cell types and tissues and, in most cases, found they were linked with specific cell types.“We now have the ability to narrow down the genes involved in particular diseases based on the tissue cell or organ in which they work,” said Hide. “This new atlas points us to the exact locations to look for the key genetic variants that might map to a disease.”
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
Earth's upper atmosphere—below freezing, nearly without oxygen, flooded by UV radiation—is no place to live. But last winter, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that billions of bacteria actually thrive up there.
Expecting only a smattering of microorganisms, the researchers flew six miles above Earth's surface in a NASA jet plane. There, they pumped outside air through a filter to collect particles. Back on the ground, they tallied the organisms, and the count was staggering: 20 percent of what they had assumed to be just dust or other particles was alive. Earth, it seems, is surrounded by a bubble of bacteria.Scientists don't yet know what the bacteria are doing up there, but they may be essential to how the atmosphere functions, says Kostas Konstantinidis, an environmental microbiologist on the Georgia Tech team. For example, they could be responsible for recycling nutrients in the atmosphere, like they do on Earth. And similar to other particles, they could influence weather patterns by helping clouds form.However, they also may be transmitting diseases from one side of the globe to the other. The researchers found E. coli in their samples (which they think hurricanes lifted from cities), and they plan to investigate whether plagues are raining down on us. If we can find out more about the role of bacteria in the atmosphere, says Ann Womack, a microbial ecologist at the University of Oregon, scientists could even fight climate change by engineering the bacteria to break down greenhouse gases into other, less harmful compounds.Click headline to read more--
Will the dating of the volcanic eruption of Santorini remain an unsolved mystery? The question whether this natural disaster occurred 3,500 or 3,600 years ago is of great historiographical importance and has indeed at times been the subject of heated discussion among experts. After investigating tree rings, scientists have concluded that the volcano erupted in the 16th century BC, rather than any earlier than that.
“ Modern software has made manipulation of photographs easier to carry out and harder to uncover than ever before, but the technology also enables new methods of detecting doctored images”
Via Dennis T OConnor, Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Using stones to raise water in a pitcher isn't just the stuff of fiction: experiments show that crows have an understanding of water displacement.
To see if New Caledonian crows could handle some of the basic principles of volume displacement, Sarah Jelbert at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and her colleagues placed scraps of meat just out of a crow's reach, floating in a series of tubes that were part-filled with water. Objects potentially useful for bringing up the water level, like stones or heavy rubber erasers, were left nearby. The crows successfully figured out that heavy and solid objects would help them get a treat faster. They also preferred to drop objects in tubes where they could access a reward more easily, picking out tubes with higher water levels and choosing tubes of water over sand-filled ones.
However, the crows failed at more challenging tasks that required an understanding of the effect of tube width or the ability to infer a hidden connection between two linked tubes. The crows displayed reasoning skills equivalent to an average 5 to 7 year old human child, the researchers claim. Previously, Eurasian jays have shown some understanding of water displacement, as have chimpanzees and orang-utans, but using similar experiments could assess and compare their skill levels. "Any animal capable of picking up stones could potentially participate," write the researchers.
“ This isn't a new resource. Drew Minock and Brad Waid (Congrats again, Brad, on getting on this year's 20 to Watch List!) have mentioned the Elements 4D Cubes several times on their website as well...”
Via Pere Cornellà Canals, Javier Sánchez Bolado
Lab-on-fiber sensors could monitor the environment and hunt for disease inside your body.Imagine an entire laboratory that fits inside a case the size of a tablet computer. The lab would include an instrument for reading out results and an array of attachable microsize probes for detecting molecules in a fluid sample, such as blood or saliva. Each probe could be used to diagnose one of many different diseases and health conditions and could be replaced for just a few cents.This scenario is by no means a pipe dream. The key to achieving it will be optical glass fibers—more or less the same as the ones that already span the globe, ferrying voluminous streams of data and voice traffic at unmatchable speeds. Their tiny diameter, dirt-cheap cost, and huge information-carrying capacity make these fibers ideal platforms for inexpensive, high-quality chemical sensors.We call this technology a lab on fiber. Beyond being an affordable alternative to a traditional laboratory, it could take on tasks not possible now. For instance, it could be snaked inside industrial machines to ensure product quality and test for leaks. It could monitor waterways and waste systems, survey the oceans, or warn against chemical warfare. One day, maybe as soon as a decade from now, it could be injected into humans to look for disease orstudy the metabolism of drugs inside the body.It will probably be at least five years before lab-on-fiber instruments are ready for commercial use. For example, a remaining major challenge is figuring out how to toughen the surface coating on the probes so that they can be stored for several months without becoming unstable and thereby losing their ability to bind with target molecules.Nevertheless, lab-on-fiber technology is tantalizingly close to being able to compete in cost and performance with today’s diagnostic tools for many applications. One of the first might very well be a blood test: Imagine turning on your home lab kit, pricking your finger, and blotting the blood on an array of fiber probes. In just a few minutes, the machine would automatically e-mail the results to your doctor, who could get back to you within hours if there was a problem. Meanwhile, you could get on with the rest of your day.
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
WASHINGTON — As international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions stall, schemes to slow global warming using fantastical technologies once dismissed as a sideshow are getting serious consideration in Washington.
Helping STEM Learning Take Root Outside the Classroom Schools are working hard to engage students in computer programming and engineering, but resources are tight. And some kids lack access to high-tech tools at home.
Perhaps you've seen footage from National Geographic's "Crittercam," an underwater video camera that has been attached to animals such as sharks and whales. Well, scientists from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and the University of Tokyo have gone one better. Not only have they been putting cameras on sharks to see what they get up to, but they've also been slipping them ingestible sensors, to monitor their dietary habits. The data that they've gathered could help protect shark populations, and the overall health of the ocean.The video camera packages also include an accelerometer, a data-logging computer, and a VHF transmitter. They're strapped onto the pectoral fins of sharks that are caught and released by the researchers, and they then proceed to record footage from the sharks' point of view as they travel through the sea. The packs automatically release themselves from the fish after a set amount of time, at which point they float to the surface to be located and retrieved via their radio signal.The "feeder tags," on the other hand, are fed to the sharks. Once in the digestive tract, they measure electrical signals to track the ingestion and digestion of prey. Combined with the images and other data from the camera packs, they also provide a record of what animals the sharks have been eating, along with where and in what quantities.Click headline to read more and watch video clip--
Via Chuck Sherwood, Senior Associate, TeleDimensions, Inc
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