The Industrial Revolution may seem like a thing of the past to residents of developed countries, but those who live in developing countries are still very much in the thick of it. Air pollution claimed 7 million lives in 2012, according to a report just released by the World Health Organization, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
One out of every eight premature deaths in 2012 was attributable to air pollution, the numbers reveal — a rate double that reported in previous years due to more accurate measures of pollution in both outdoor and indoor environments and in a broader range of rural areas.
The numbers also reveal that the link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease and cancer is even stronger than previously believed. A recent analysis of life expectancy in more and less polluted regions of China also suggested that air quality levies a high tax on health than documented in prior studies.
“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution,” Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, said in a news release.
(Phys.org) —Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have overcome one of the greatest challenges in biology and taken a major step toward being able to grow whole organs and tissues from stem cells. By manipulating the appropriate signaling, the U.Va. researchers have turned embryonic stem cells into a fish embryo, essentially controlling embryonic development.
The research will have dramatic impact on the future use of stem cells to better the human condition, providing a framework for future studies in the field of regenerative medicine aimed at constructing tissues and organs from populations of cultured pluripotent cells.
Computer scientists have discovered a way to number-crunch an individual’s own preferences to recommend content from others with opposing views. The goal? To burst the “filter bubble” that surrounds us with people we like and content that we agree with.
The term “filter bubble” entered the public domain back in 2011when the internet activist Eli Pariser coined it to refer to the way recommendation engines shield people from certain aspects of the real world.
Pariser used the example of two people who googled the term “BP”. One received links to investment news about BP while the other received links to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, presumably as a result of some recommendation algorithm.
This is an insidious problem. Much social research shows that people prefer to receive information that they agree with instead of information that challenges their beliefs. This problem is compounded when social networks recommend content based on what users already like and on what people similar to them also like.
This is the filter bubble—being surrounded only by people you like and content that you agree with.
And the danger is that it can polarise populations creating potentially harmful divisions in society.
An international team of scientists led by Jef Boeke, PhD, director of NYU Langone Medical Center's Institute for Systems Genetics, has synthesized the first functional chromosome in yeast, an important step in the emerging field of synthetic biology, designing microorganisms to produce novel medicines, raw materials for food, and biofuels.
Over the last five years, scientists have built bacterial chromosomes and viral DNA, but this is the first report of an entire eukaryotic chromosome, the threadlike structure that carries genes in the nucleus of all plant and animal cells, built from scratch. Researchers say their team's global effort also marks one of the most significant advances in yeast genetics since 1996, when scientists initially mapped out yeast's entire DNA code, or genetic blueprint.
"Our research moves the needle in synthetic biology from theory to reality," says Dr. Boeke, a pioneer in synthetic biology who recently joined NYU Langone from Johns Hopkins University.
A new research study suggests that online gaming may actually broaden players’ social lives.
“Gamers aren’t the antisocial basement-dwellers we see in pop culture stereotypes, they’re highly social people,” said Dr. Nick Taylor, an assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the study.
“This won’t be a surprise to the gaming community, but it’s worth telling everyone else. Loners are the outliers in gaming, not the norm.”
In the study, researchers traveled to more than 20 public gaming events in Canada and the United Kingdom, from 2,500-player events held in convention centers to 20-player events held in bars.
The researchers observed the behavior of thousands of players, and had 378 players take an in-depth survey, with a focus on players of massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft.
The researchers were interested in tracking the online and offline behavior of gamers, focusing on how they communicated with each other. They found that gaming was only one aspect of social behavior at the gaming events.
“We found that gamers were often exhibiting many social behaviors at once: watching games, talking, drinking, and chatting online,” Taylor said. “Gaming didn’t eliminate social interaction, it supplemented it.
Humans, as a species, are around 200,000 years old. Compared to the age of the universe we’re clearly infants but compared to the internet, we’re pretty old and compared to social media, which is still in its infancy, we’re positively ancient.
We’re definitely quite experienced when it comes to human interactions, expressions and relations and have even come up with a field of study to describe, analyse and account for this experience in the form of the humanities. In the information age, humanities is turning into a whole new beast. It’s time to stop defending the field as though it needs our help and show the world that it really can’t live without us.
Craig Venter, who managed to make science both lucrative and glamorous with his pioneering approach to gene sequencing and synthetic biology, is taking on a new venture: aging.
He has joined forces with the founder of the X Prize and an expert in cell therapy to launch on Tuesday a new company called Human Longevity Inc. The man who once took off on his personal yacht to sample all the microscopic life in the seas plans to leverage some of the most fashionable new scientific approaches to figure out what makes us sick and old.
The San Diego-based company will tackle aging using gene sequencing; stem cell approaches; the collection of bacteria and other life forms that live in and on us called the microbiome; and the metabolome, which includes the byproducts of life called metabolites.
They’ll start out with what they are calling the largest human sequencing operation in the world.
“We are building a lab to a scale never attempted (before),” Venter told NBC News.
Venter first shot to fame when he raced with government scientists to finish the first map of all human DNA, called the human genome. Venter, himself a former government scientist, annoyed his former colleagues with a brash new approach to gene sequencing that was much faster but far less accurate, in their opinion.
Think back to a time when you were completely engaged in an activity. Maybe it was reading a comic book, or catching up with an old friend. Whatever it was, what do you remember about the experience? Are “effort” and “persistence” words you would use to describe the activity? Even though something technically got done (a comic book was read, a fruitful discussion ensued), it most likely felt effortless and enjoyable.
After interviewing people about their “peak experiences” —from rock climbers to chess masters to artists to scientists— psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi found that people kept describing a state of intense concentration and absorption in which no mental resources were left over for distraction. In this state of flow, people felt in control of their consciousness, their inner critic disappeared, and time seemed to recede in the background. Importantly, the activity felt effortless.
The great educational philosopher John Dewey was one of the first to emphasize the important linkages among interest, curiosity, and effort. Dewey made the persuasive case that interest-based learning is more beneficial than effort-based learning. He noted that “willing attention” is more effective than “forced effort” because interest drives active learning: “If we can secure interest in a given set of facts or ideas we may be perfectly sure that the pupil will direct his energies toward mastering them.” In contrast, he noted, an education based on forcing children to expend energy unwillingly only results in a “character dull, mechanical, unalert, because the vital juice of spontaneous interest has been squeezed out.”
Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a de facto antibiotic “smart bomb” that can identify specific strains of bacteria and sever their DNA, eliminating the infection. The technique offers a potential approach to treat infections by multi-drug resistant bacteria.
“Conventional antibiotic treatments kill both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, leading to unintended consequences, such as opportunistic infections,” says Dr. Chase Beisel, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work. “What we’ve shown in this new work is that it is possible to selectively remove specific strains of bacteria without affecting populations of good bacteria.”
The new approach works by taking advantage of a part of an immune system present in many bacteria called the CRISPR-Cas system. The CRISPR-Cas system protects bacteria from invaders such as viruses by creating small strands of RNA called CRISPR RNAs, which match DNA sequences specific to a given invader. When those CRISPR RNAs find a match, they unleash Cas proteins that cut the DNA.
The NC State researchers have demonstrated that designing CRISPR RNAs to target DNA sequences in the bacteria themselves causes bacterial suicide, as a bacterium’s CRISPR-Cas system attacks its own DNA.
In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality - another announcement was made last week. It's becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin's theory of evolution?
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.
It mocks those who "think it's a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion - man-made rewiring of a predisposition". A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.
But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant - although in no way proof - is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.
But since gay and lesbian people have fewer children than straight people, a problem arises.
"This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective," says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. "How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?"
Scientists don't know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It's possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied - it may work in a similar way or be completely different.
Everyone brainstorms a little differently, but over on the MIT Sloan Management Review they've put together a seven step plan that should help make the brainstorming process more fruitful.
Different groups are always going to brainstorm a little different and every project is different, but the authors at MIT Sloan Management Review have a pretty simple gameplan everyone can follow:
Define the problem and solutions space: Basically, create boundaries and rules for your solutions so you don't waste time thinking of solutions that aren't feasible.Break the problem down: Make the problem easier to tackle by breaking it into smaller parts using diagrams or mind maps.Make the problem personal: Think about how the problem effects you personally.Seek the perspectives of outsiders: Try and find as many people as possible who might have input and see what they have to say.Diverge before you converge: Breed a little conflict into the discussion when you can. One way to do this is to have everyone write down their ideas before the meeting starts so everyone doesn't rally around the first idea just to get out of the meeting quickly.Create "idea resumes": An "idea resume" is a one-page document that breaks down the basics of a solution.Create a plan to learn: Start designing a way to test your ideas and write out what you hope to learn from those tests.
The above seven steps certainly aren't the only way to brainstorm, but they do provide a pretty solid foundation for work off of.
The Discipline of Creativity | MIT Sloan Management Review via INC
What is consciousness? A neuroscientist's new book argues that it arises when information is broadcast throughout the brain
Quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli expressed disdain for sloppy, nonsensical theories by denigrating them as “not even wrong,” meaning they were just empty conjectures that could be quickly dismissed. Unfortunately, many remarkably popular theories of consciousness are of this ilk—the idea, for instance, that our experiences can somehow be explained by the quantum theory that Pauli himself helped to formulate in the early 20th century. An even more far-fetched idea holds that consciousness emerged only a few thousand years ago, when humans realized that the voices in their head came not from the gods but from their own internal spoken narratives.
Not every theory of consciousness, however, can be dismissed as just so much intellectual flapdoodle. During the past several decades, two distinct frameworks for explaining what consciousness is and how the brain produces it have emerged, each compelling in its own way. Each framework seeks to explain a vast storehouse of observations from both neurological patients and sophisticated laboratory experiments.
(Phys.org) —A team of Canadian and Singaporean researchers has discovered that remnants of ancient viral DNA in human DNA must be present for pluripotency to occur in human stem cells. In their paper published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, the team describes how they disabled ...
Using the Internet can destroy your faith. That’s the conclusion of a study showing that the dramatic drop in religious affiliation in the U.S. since 1990 is closely mirrored by the increase in Internet use.
Back in 1990, about 8 percent of the U.S. population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18 percent. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion.
That raises an obvious question: how come? Why are Americans losing their faith?
Today, we get a possible answer thanks to the work of Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the Internet. He concludes that the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation.
Scientists use video games to explain how the brain interprets the world around us.
For years now, physicists and engineers have been building computer simulations of physics in order to understand the behavior of objects in the world. Want to see if a bridge would be stable during an earthquake? Enter it into the simulation, apply earthquake dynamics, and see what happens.
Recently, the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published work by MIT psychologists (and my labmates) Peter Battaglia, Jessica Hamrick, and Joshua Tenenbaum, arguing that all humans do roughly the same thing when trying to understand or make predictions about the physical world. The primary difference is that we run our simulations in our brains rather than in digital computers, but the basic algorithms are roughly equivalent. The analogy runs deep: To model human reasoning about the physical world, the researchers actually used an open-source computer game physics engine — the software that applies the laws of physics to objects in video games in order to make them interact realistically (think Angry Birds).
Battaglia and colleagues found that their video game-based computer model matches human physical reasoning far better than any previous theory. The authors asked people to make a number of predictions about the physical world: will tower of blocks stand or fall over, what direction would it fall over, and where would the block that landed the farthest away land; which object would most likely fall off of a table if the table was bumped; and so on. In each case, human judgments closely matched the prediction of the computer simulation ... but not necessarily the actual world, which is where it gets interesting.
PewResearch Internet Project has just released a report on Digital Life in 2025 based on expert interviews. One of the interesting aspects of the report is the ‘theses‘ that they have distilled from the interviews, which they have divided into ‘more-hopeful and ‘less-hopeful’, concluding with one very important piece advice. These are: More-hopeful theses 1)Continue reading 15 theses about the future of the Internet and how we can shape it positively
A one-dimensional working model of a programmable vibration-damping material. Each stub has a piezoelectric disc (which converts mechanical to electrical
Researchers from Empa and ETH Zurich have developed a prototype of a selective vibration-damping material that they claim “could change the world of mechanics forever” as a step toward “programmable materials.”
Described in the journal Advanced Materials, this “material of the future” can damp mechanical vibrations completely or selectively suppress specific vibration frequencies or ranges of frequencies.
The one-dimensional working model consists of a simple aluminum sheet-metal strip, measuring one meter by one centimeter and one millimeter thick and designed to vibrate at different frequencies. To control the wave propagation through the plate, ten small aluminum cylinders (7 mm thick, 1 cm high) are attached to the metal.
Between the sheet and the cylinders sit piezoelectric discs, which can be stimulated electronically to instantly change their thickness.
That allows for controlling exactly how waves are allowed to propagate in the sheet-metal strip. The aluminum strip thus turns into an “adaptive phononic crystal” — a material with controllable vibration properties.
The Golden Age of universities may be dead. And while much of the commentary around the online disruption of education ranges from cost-benefit analyses to assessing ideology of what drives MOOCs (massively open online courses), the real question becomes — what is the point of the university in this landscape?
It’s clear that universities will have to figure out the balance between commercial relevance and basic research, as well as how to prove their value beyond being vehicles for delivering content. But lost in the shuffle of commentary here is something arguably more important than and yet containing all of these factors: culture.
Online courses can be part of, and have, their own culture, but university culture cannot be replicated in an online environment (at least not easily). Once this cultural difference is acknowledged, we can revisit the cost-benefit analysis: Is cheaper tuition worth it if it pays for education that isn’t optimized for innovation? Will university culture further stratify the socioeconomic difference MOOCs may level? And so on…
While innovation is a buzzword that’s bandied about a bit too loosely, we think this is the lens we need to use in judging the relevance of universities. It’s the only thing that prevents us from programming students as robots, a workforce whose jobs can be automated away. In fact, universities that excel at preparing students for such a creative economy prioritize the same three things that drive successful startup cultures: density, shared resources, and community.
Using ordinary fishing line, researchers have crafted coiled muscles that could revolutionize prosthetics and robotic exoskeletons.
Next time you spot a muscly athlete showing off at the gym, try out this compliment: “Wow! You’ve got arms like fishing line.”
Though it may not be taken well, it’s actually a flattering comparison. Scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas have designed super strong artificial muscles by simply twisting and coiling ordinary fishing line. The coiled muscles can lift more than 100 times the weight of a human muscle of the same size, and generate as much mechanical power per kilogram as a jet engine — perhaps offering an inexpensive new material to move prosthetics and robotic exoskeletons.
On a smaller scale, the twisted yarns of polymers could also one day yield clothing with pores that open and close based on temperature, or climate-controlled window shutters.
“There are many types of artificial muscles that have been talked about in the literature for years,” said the study’s lead author Ray Baughman, director of the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Very few are commercially used.”
Albert Einstein accepted the modern cosmological view that the universe is expanding long after many of his contemporaries. Until 1931, physicist Albert Einstein believed that the universe was static. An urban legend attributes this change of perspective to when American astronomer Edwin Hubble showed Einstein his observations of redshift in the light emitted by far away nebulae -- today known as galaxies. But the reality is more complex. The change in Einstein’s viewpoint, in fact, resulted from a tortuous thought process. Now researchers explain how Einstein changed his mind following many encounters with some of the most influential astrophysicists of his generation.
Penn State University chemists and engineers have, for the first time, placed tiny synthetic motors inside live human cells in a lab, propelled them with ultrasonic waves, and steered them magnetically.
The Penn State nanomotors are the closest so far to a “Fantastic Voyage” concept (without the miniature people).
The nanomotors, which are rocket-shaped gold rods ~300 nanometers in diameter and ~3 microns long, move around inside the cells, spinning and battering against the cell membrane.
The nanomotors are activated by resonant ultrasound operating at ~4 MHz, and show axial propulsion as well as spinning.