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Rescooped by Kim Frye from Amazing Science!

Ancient galaxy holds oldest oxygen in universe

Ancient galaxy holds oldest oxygen in universe | SciFrye |

One of the oldest known galaxies in the universe is now home to the oldest oxygen yet spotted, a new study suggests. That massive group of stars, dubbed SXDF-NB1006-2, lies about 13.1 billion light-years from Earth and was the oldest known galaxy when it was discovered in 2012 (a record that has been toppled several times since). When first observed, astronomers also discerned that the galaxy had a halo of ionized hydrogen (purple in the artist’s sketch above), a sign that radiation streaming from the galaxy’s stars was energetic enough to strip electrons from atoms in that region of space.


Now, new observations of a particular wavelength of infrared light from that galaxy betrays the presence of oxygen atoms that have two electrons missing (in the smaller region depicted in green), researchers report online today in Science. Because all elements in the universe heavier than hydrogen, helium, and lithium have been forged by nuclear fusion in the cores of stars and then scattered into space by supernova explosions, the find indicates that the galaxy, at the age we’re now observing it, was old enough for at least one generation of stars to have formed, lived, and died.


The lack of infrared glow from the galaxy across a broad range of wavelengths, however, suggests that there’s very little dust there to absorb and then re-radiate the stars’ radiation, the team notes. There are likely many other galaxies of the same age sporting haloes of oxygen, the team notes, and detecting and then analyzing them will help shed light on how stars and galaxies formed and evolved in the early universe.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Rescooped by Kim Frye from Plant-Microbe Symbiosis!

Plant G-Proteins Come of Age: Breaking the Bond with Animal Models

Plant G-Proteins Come of Age: Breaking the Bond with Animal Models | SciFrye |
G-proteins are universal signal transducers mediating many cellular responses. Plant G-protein signaling has been modeled on the well-established animal paradigm but accumulated experimental evidence indicates that G-protein-dependent signaling in plants has taken a very different evolutionary path. Here we review the differences between plant and animal G-proteins reported over past two decades. Most importantly, while in animal systems the G-protein signaling cycle is activated by seven transmembrane-spanning G-protein coupled receptors, the existence of these type of receptors in plants is highly controversial. Instead plant G-proteins have been proven to be functionally associated with atypical receptors such as the Arabidopsis RGS1 and a number of receptor-like kinases. We propose that, instead of the GTP/GDP cycle used in animals, plant G-proteins are activated/de-activated by phosphorylation/de-phosphorylation. We discuss the need of a fresh new look at these signaling molecules and provide a hypothetical model that departs from the accepted animal paradigm.

Via Jean-Michel Ané
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Artificial optical nanostructure outperforms butterfly wings

Artificial optical nanostructure outperforms butterfly wings | SciFrye |

"Gyroid" photonic crystal could have a number of technological applications.


Using optical two-beam lithography with improved resolution and enhanced mechanical strength, we demonstrate the replication of gyroid photonic nanostructures found in the butterfly Callophrys rubi. These artificial structures are shown to have size, controllability, and uniformity that are superior to those of their biological counterparts. In particular, the elastic Young’s modulus of fabricated nanowires is enhanced by up to 20%. As such, the circular dichroism enabled by the gyroid nanostructures can operate in the near-ultraviolet wavelength region, shorter than that supported by the natural butterfly wings of C. rubi. This fabrication technique provides a unique tool for extracting three-dimensional photonic designs from nature and will aid the investigation of biomimetic nanostructures.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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This is the end of the fossil fuel age as we know it, says report

This is the end of the fossil fuel age as we know it, says report | SciFrye |

You can't fight the future.
BEC CREW 16 JUN 2016

Fossil fuels are holding on, but end of their reign is nigh, says a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which predicts that wind and solar will be cheaper than coal and gas generators by 2027, and electric vehicles could make up 25 percent of the global car fleet by 2040.

The peak year for coal, gas, and oil looks to be 2025, and then it’s all downhill from there. For big oil guys, at least. "You can't fight the future," says lead researcher, Seb Henbest. "The economics are increasingly locked in."

Released on Monday, Bloomberg’s New Energy Outlook report has found that US$11.4 trillion will be invested in new energy sources over the next 25 years, and two thirds of that will go towards renewables, particularly wind and solar. 

Any new coal plants will mostly be cropping up in India and other emerging markets in Asia. 

The report explains:

"Cheaper coal and cheaper gas will not derail the transformation and decarbonisation of the world’s power systems. By 2040, zero-emission energy sources will make up 60 percent of installed capacity.

Wind and solar will account for 64 percent of the 8.6TW [1 Terawatt = 1,000 Gigawatts] of new power generating capacity added worldwide over the next 25 years, and for almost 60 percent of the $11.4 trillion invested."

The report predicts that coal, gas, and oil will peak by 2025, and will hit its final decline even sooner than that, concluding that, "coal and gas will begin their terminal decline in less than a decade".

By 2027, the real tipping point will occur, when fossil fuels will be well and truly on the decline and renewables have been established long enough that they’ll likely be generating energy more cheaply than existing coal, gas, and oil refineries. And there’s nothing quite like a cheaper price to accelerate an industry even further.  

Let's just take a moment and think about that for a second. For the first time since humanity fell in love with producing crazy amounts of energy to give us such luxuries as cars, electricity, industrial-level food production, and overseas vacations, we've figured out how to do it without stomping all over the environment in the process.

We're not there yet, but the writing is well and truly on the wall, and that's a pretty phenomenal achievement by researchers all over the world who have been working their butts off to make renewable technologies viable on a massive scale - even more viable than fossil fuels.

But here's the bad news. For as promising as the rise of renewables and the fall of fossil fuels is, Bloomberg's report says their projections won't be enough to limit the global warming increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) that was targeted by the 2015 Paris Climate Conference.

"Some US$7.8 trillion will be invested globally in renewables between 2016 and 2040, two-thirds of the investment in all power generating capacity, but it would require trillions more to bring world emissions onto a track compatible with the United Nations 2 degrees Celsius climate target," says Henbest.

According to Andrew Freedman at Mashable, to meet what everyone agreed needed to happen at the Paris Conference, an additional US$5.3 trillion in new clean energy investment would need to be invested worldwide in the next 25 years.

Below are some more insights from the report:

Coal and gas prices will stay low.

Wind and solar costs fall sharply.

An electric car boom is expected, and will likely represent 35 percent of worldwide new light-duty vehicle sales in 2040 - which is 90 times the 2015 figure - and 25 percent of the global car fleet overall.

Small-scale battery storage will become a US$250 billion market to enable more residential and commercial solar systems. 

India, not China, will be the key to the future global emissions trend, with its electricity demand forecast to grow 3.8 times between 2016 and 2040. 

Renewables will dominate in Europe, and overtake gas in the US. 
 You can access the report online here. 

To be clear, these are just very educated predictions based on government and industry spending, so none of this is set in stone. But experts have been predicting the end of the fossil fuel era for years now, and we're probably going to see it within our lifetime. What an awesome thing to look forward to.

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Goethe on the Psychology of Color and Emotion

Goethe on the Psychology of Color and Emotion | SciFrye |

"Colour itself is a degree of darkness."

Color is an essential part of how we experience the world, both biologically and culturally. One of the earliest formal explorations of color theory came from an unlikely source — the German poet, artist, and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in 1810 published Theory of Colors (public library; public domain), his treatise on the nature, function, and psychology of colors. Though the work was dismissed by a large portion of the scientific community, it remained of intense interest to a cohort of prominent philosophers and physicists, including Arthur Schopenhauer, Kurt Gödel, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Via Mariaschnee
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Cats seem to use the simple laws of physics to hunt down prey

Cats seem to use the simple laws of physics to hunt down prey | SciFrye |


New research suggests that your cat might actually have a handle on some very basic physics, and can use it to help them hunt down hidden prey.

If the thought of your cat being better than you at physics - as well as being allowed to sleep all day - is getting you down, don't worry, because we're talking very simple cause-and-effect concepts here, and they only work when paired with cats' extraordinary hearing and eyesight.

The research, led by scientists from Kyoto University in Japan, was following on from an earlier study that showed cats could predict whether or not an opaque container would have an object inside, based on whether it rattled or not.

That's pretty smart, but the cats could have just been conditioned to expect objects when they heard a rattle, kind of like Pavlov's dog. So the team wanted to see whether the cats actually had a basic understanding of cause and effect.

To figure this out, they took 30 domestic cats and shook a container in front of them - sometimes the shaking was silent and sometimes it rattled. They then turned the container over to show the cat if something was hidden inside. To keep them off guard, half the time their experiment followed the laws of physics, and half the time it didn't.

In other words, 50 percent of the time, the container rattled and contained an object, just like you'd expect. But the other 50 percent of the time the container was silent but contained an object, or vice versa.

That meant that the cats couldn't be trained to associate the rattle with the presence of an object, so if the kitties spent more time inspecting the rattling containers - a sign that they were expecting an object to be inside them - they must be figuring out by themselves that a rattle = contents. And that right there is an indication that they grasp of some very basic physical laws.

The study also showed that the cats spent more time checking out containers that rattled, which suggests that they had some kind of grasp on the idea of cause and effect.

"Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects," said lead researcher Saho Takagi.

What does all that have to do with hunting? The researchers hypothesise that this ability, paired with super-sharp hearing and vision, allows cats to seek out hidden prey. 

Of course, this is a very preliminary study involving only a small sample size, so it's way too soon to say anything for sure about what cats can and can't comprehend.

But it's an interesting indication of what they might be capable of, and Takagi explains that further research is needed to figure out whether cats can also deduce information about the quantity and size of hidden objects based on what they sound like.

The research has been published in Animal Cognition.

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Researchers break bandwidth record for data communication using laser-based visible light

Researchers break bandwidth record for data communication using laser-based visible light | SciFrye |
Cell phones and Wi-Fi devices typically transmit data using radio waves, but as the demand for wireless data transfer increases, congestion in the radio spectrum is expected to become more of a problem. One way to solve this problem is with visible light communication (VLC), a technology that uses visible light rather than radio waves for data transmission.

VLC uses lasers or LEDs that look just like traditional lights, but by rapidly switching on and off faster than the eye can see, the light transmits data in binary code to a receiver. Besides expanding the spectrum of data transfer, VLC is expected to have other advantages over wireless radio communication, including faster speeds, higher security, and better energy efficiency.

Currently, however, one of the biggest challenges facing VLC is a very small bandwidth, which greatly limits the speed of data transmission. The main reason for this problem is the small bandwidth of the color converter—a component that converts blue LED light into the different colors needed to make the white light that is ultimately used to transmit data.

In a new paper published in ACS Photonics, a team of researchers led by Osman Bakr and Boon Ooi at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia has developed a new VLC color converter that has a bandwidth that is 40 times greater than that of commercial converters, and more than twice as large as that of any potential candidate converter proposed to date.

"In this work we break the record for data communication using visible light, and more impressively produce white light with a very high color rendering index of 89, by designing a special color converter based on hybrid perovskite nanocrystals," Bakr told "Our work demonstrates white light as both a lighting source and a system for ultra-high-speed data communications."

Via Mariaschnee, Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Deep Learning Isn’t a Dangerous Magic Genie — It’s Just Math

Deep Learning Isn’t a Dangerous Magic Genie — It’s Just Math | SciFrye |
Pundits often describe deep learning as an imitation of the human brain. But it's really just simple math executed on an enormous scale.


Deep learning is a subfield of machine learning, which is a vibrant research area in artificial intelligence, or AI. Abstractly, machine learning is an approach to approximating functions based on a collection of data points. For example, given the sequence “2, 4, 6,…” a machine might predict that the 4th element of the sequence is 8, and that the 5th is 10, by hypothesizing that the sequence is capturing the behavior of the function 2 times X, where X is the position of the element in the sequence. This paradigm is quite general. It has been highly successful in applications ranging from self-driving cars and speech recognition to anticipating airfare fluctuations and much more.


In a sense, deep learning is not unique. Any machine learning system—deep or not—consists of the following fundamental components:

Performance element: the component of the system that takes some action in the world (e.g., making moves in the game of Go).Target function: the function being learned (e.g., a mapping from board positions to move choices in Go).Training data: the set of labeled data points used to approximate the target function (e.g., a set of Go board positions, each labeled with the move chosen by a human expert in that position).Data representation: each data point is typically represented as a vector of pre-determined variables (e.g., the position of a piece on the Go board).Learning algorithm: the algorithm that computes an approximation of the target function based on the training data.Hypothesis space: the space of possible functions the learning algorithm can consider.


This architecture captures the full gamut of machine learning methods from simple linear regression methods to complex deep-learning algorithms. Technically, we are referring to supervised learning where each data point is labeled, typically by humans. When the data isn’t labeled, we have unsupervised learning or clustering, and that’s much harder to pull off. When some of the data is labeled, we have semi-supervised learning. Statisticians refer to estimating the value of an independent variable based on dependent variables as regression.


It’s important to realize that the first five components of a machine learning architecture are manually crafted inputs; the human programmer constructs each of these elements, and they are outside of the control of the learning program. In fact, the programmer typically analyzes the behavior of the learning program, realizes that it is unsatisfactory, and manually modifies one or more of these elements. This laborious process is often repeated many times over the course of a year or more before the desired performance level is achieved.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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How creating defective nanodiamonds could revolutionize quantum computing

How creating defective nanodiamonds could revolutionize quantum computing | SciFrye |

University of Maryland researchers have developed a method to quickly and inexpensively assemble diamond-based hybrid nanoparticles from the ground up in large quantities while avoiding many of the problems with current methods. These hybrid nanoparticles could speed the design of room-temperature qubits for quantum computers and create brighter dyes for biomedical imaging or highly sensitive magnetic and temperature sensors, for example.


The basic trick in creating a interesting or useful diamond is, ironically: Add a defect in the diamond’s crystal lattice. It’s similar to doping silicon to give it special electronic properties (such as making it work as a transistor). Pure diamonds consist of an orderly lattice of carbon atoms and are completely transparent. However, pure diamonds are quite rare in natural diamond deposits; most have defects resulting from non-carbon impurities such as nitrogen, boron and phosphorus. Such defects create the subtle and desirable color variations seen in gemstone diamonds.


This altered bond is also the source of the optical, electromagnetic, and quantum physical properties that will make a nanodiamond useful when paired with other nanomaterials. The most useful impurity — and used in the Maryland study — is the famous “nitrogen vacancy” defect: Sticking in a single nitrogen atom where a carbon atom should be, with an empty space right next to it. A nitrogen vacancy in a diamond (or other crystalline materials) can lead to a variety of interesting new properties, such as a highly sensitive way to detect neural signals, an ultrasensitive real-time magnetic field detector, and importantly, making a nanodiamond behave as a quantum bit (qubit) for use in quantum computing and other applications. Nearly all qubits studied to date require ultra-cold temperatures to function properly. A qubit that works at room temperature would represent a significant step forward, helping use quantum circuits in industrial, commercial and consumer-level electronics. That’s of special interest to Ougang’s team.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Rescooped by Kim Frye from Amazing Science!

Rodent with a human-like menstrual cycle found

Rodent with a human-like menstrual cycle found | SciFrye |

A team of researchers working at Monash University in Australia has found an example of a rodent that has a human-like menstrual cycle. 


Mice, as most people are aware, are very commonly used to study diseases in humans, and more importantly, to test treatments. Unfortunately, this has not included human female reproductive ailments, such as endometriosis, because until now, it was believe that there were no mice that had a similar reproductive system, which would of course include a menstrual cycle.


The rodents, a type of spiny mice, were discovered by the team to have not only a menstrual cycle, but one that was similar to human females—they had on average a nine day cycle which included bleeding on average for three days—which works out to bleeding for approximately 20 to 40 percent of their cycle. The human cycle is longer, averaging 28 days, but because the bleeding is approximately 15 to 35 percent of the days of the cycle, the range between the two species is similar.


Because it has been widely believed that mice do not menstruate, the researchers conducted a very careful study. In addition to simply watching and recording females, the team also flushed the vaginas of some of them to make sure they were getting the right counts. And then to make sure the rinsing was not the cause of the bleeding, they did the same to another species of mice that do not menstruate, and found no bleeding. They also killed several specimens and dissected their uteri at different stages of their observed cycles. Notably, the genome of spiny mice was just recently sequenced by another team, which means that studies can begin immediately to ascertain which genes are responsible for regulating the menstruation cycle.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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New treatment improves pancreatic cancer survival rate for the first time in a decade

New treatment improves pancreatic cancer survival rate for the first time in a decade | SciFrye |

This is awesome. 
BEC CREW 10 JUN 2016

Scientists have just increased the survival rate of pancreatic cancer for the first time over a decade. At the world’s biggest cancer drug conference over the weekend, it was announced that a new combination of chemotherapy drugs has pushed the five-year survival rate from 16 percent to 29 percent of patients.

The team behind the trial says this treatment should become the new standard for pancreatic cancer patients around the world.

"This important trial shows that this drug combination could give pancreatic patients valuable extra months and even years and so will become the new treatment for patients with this disease," lead researcher John Neoptolemos from the University of Liverpool in the UK told James Gallagher at BBC News.

"The difference in short-term survival may seem modest, but improvement in long-term survival is substantial for this cancer," he added. "This drug combination will become the new standard of care for patients with the disease." 

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously deadly, because symptoms often don’t appear until it’s too late. Once the telltale signs start to appear, such as weight loss, abdominal pain, and jaundice, the cancer has likely spread to other parts of the body. 

"At that point, the tumours are significant in size and may encapsulate major veins and arteries," Natalie Wolchover explains for Live Science. "Furthermore, because the pancreas is located at a junction of several organs, cancerous tissue often spreads to the liver, gallbladder, or intestines early on." 

If the tumour is caught while still localised, it can be surgically removed, but in the majority of cases - around 85 percent - the cancer returns even after this procedure. 

At that point, chemo is one of the only real options to continue fighting the disease, and researchers have been working for decades to make this a more viable option. 

Neoptolemos has been leading a series of international trials over the past 20 years called ESPAC (European study group for pancreatic cancer), and their first published results, back in 2004, showed that the drug gemcitabine could bring five-year survival up to 15-17 percent. Right there, they doubled the rate of survival with surgery alone. 

Now, the team has reported the results of a new trial of 732 patients from hospitals in the UK, Sweden, France, and Germany, saying they’ve almost doubled this five-year survival rate to 29 percent. 

With the overall average survival rate of pancreatic cancer across all treatment types being devastatingly low, this is pretty huge news. 

"These are incredibly exciting results from a major trial for those diagnosed with this dreadful disease," Alex Ford, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, told the BBC. "The outlook for pancreatic cancer has been grim. With few treatment options, survival rates have barely changed in 40 years in the UK."

The new treatment also uses the chemo drug gemcitabine, but in conjunction with another drug, capecitabine.

The results of the trial, which were made public at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual conference in Chicago, showed that average survival times increased from 25 to 28 months, and the overall survival rate for five years after diagnosis was 29 percent of patients. 

There was no difference in side-effects between the single and combination drug treatments, which is important - you don’t want to spend whatever time you have left with your family and friends feeling sick and fatigued. 

"The last thing you want if you may be going to die of cancer is fatigue," Neoptolemos told Sarah Boseley at The Guardian. "The rate of fatigue was quite low - for gemcitabine it is 5 percent and adding capecitabine it is 6 percent."

The team isn’t entirely sure why the combination of drugs works so much better than the single drug, but it could be that the toxicity is decreased, which means patients can receive more of the treatment. 

"It is a major win to find that adding a generic chemotherapy not only improves survival for these patients, but does so with little effect on patients' quality of life," Smitha Krishnamurthi from the American Society of Clinical Oncology told the BBC.

The results have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, but we should see a paper in the coming months. The ESPAC trials are ongoing, and hopefully the next time we hear from Neoptolemos and his team, they’ll have at least doubled that 29 percent. 

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Ancient asteroid impacts yield evidence for the nature of the early Earth

Ancient asteroid impacts yield evidence for the nature of the early Earth | SciFrye |
The nature of the early Earth’s crust prior to about 4 billion years ago – about half a billion years following formation of the Earth – is shrouded in mystery.
Via Mariaschnee
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This new drug is super effective at clearing up severe psoriasis, trials find

This new drug is super effective at clearing up severe psoriasis, trials find | SciFrye |


Psoriasis shows itself as red and blotchy skin (often around the elbows and knees) and is caused by an abnormal build-up of skin cells. Its severity varies from person to person, and it's a chronic condition for which there is no cure. But that could now change, thanks to a new drug developed by scientists in the US.

After three long-term clinical trials, 70-80 percent of psoriasis patients saw it completely or almost completely cured - an impressive result for such a stubborn disease.

The drug is called ixekizumab, and it offers a new hope for a psoriasis-free future for the 3 percent of the world's population living with the condition.

It's not just the skin irritation and psychological damage caused by this very visible disease that people have to deal with - psoriasis is also linked to an increased risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes. 

"This group of studies not only shows very high and consistent levels of safety and efficacy, but also that the great majority of the responses persist at least 60 weeks," said one of the team, dermatologist Kenneth Gordon, from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

What makes the research so promising is the number of people involved: 3,736 adult patients across more than 100 study sites in 21 different countries. All those involved had moderate to severe psoriasis, which means more than 10 percent of their bodies were covered.

By the 60th week, the psoriasis was classified as 'clear' or 'minimal' for 76.4 to 81.8 percent of the participants, depending on the study group. That compares very favourably to the 3.2 percent figure recorded for the control group on placebos.

"Ten years ago, we thought complete clearance of this disease was impossible," says Gordon. "It wasn't something we would even try to do. Now with this drug, we're obtaining response levels higher than ever seen before."

Based on the findings of the study, Gordon says he would expect 80 percent of patients to have an "extremely high response rate" to ixekizumab, while about 40 percent will find their disease completely cleared up.

Ixekizumab works by neutralising a pathway in the immune system that's known to promote psoriasis, and the drug has now been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US.

But there are some side effects to consider, including slightly higher rates of neutropenia (low white blood cell count), yeast infection, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Monitoring will continue beyond 60 weeks for patients on the treatment so the researchers can get a better understanding of these side effects. 

The results of the trial have been published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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New ‘camera’ produces panoramic images of brain activity

New ‘camera’ produces panoramic images of brain activity | SciFrye |
A new multi-step brain imaging method called ClearMap creates a snapshot of neuronal activity across the entire brain of an adult mouse1.

The tool, described 25 May in Cell, could help researchers understand how symphonies of neurons firing during social interactions differ between mouse models of autism and typical mice.

Scientists have used various methods, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, to record synchronized activity in brain regions. But these techniques cannot identify which patterns of activity correspond with particular behaviors.

In the new method, a specialized microscope shines light on various depths of the mouse brain to produce a three-dimensional (3D) rendering of active neurons. New software then superimposes this image onto a publicly available atlas of brain structures. Scientists can analyze this combination to pinpoint the brain regions that fire in synchrony and match that activity to what the animal was doing just before they examined its brain.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Astronomers detect glitch in a millisecond pulsar

Astronomers detect glitch in a millisecond pulsar | SciFrye |
European astronomers have uncovered evidence of a small glitch in the spin of a millisecond pulsar. According to a research paper published on June 13 on, the pulsar, designated PSR J0613-0200, exhibits sudden changes in spin frequency, known as timing glitches. It is so far the smallest glitch size recorded and the second detection of a glitch in a millisecond pulsar to date.

Millisecond pulsars have highly stable rotation, thus they are used as extremely precise clocks in timing experiments, and the most stable are used as probes of space-time in pulsar timing array (PTA) experiments. PSR J0613-0200 in particular, is used in gravitational wave searches with pulsar timing arrays.

Recently, a team of European researchers, led by James McKee of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, U.K., detected the glitch in PSR J0613-0200, using data from four different telescopes across Europe. For their study, the astronomers employed the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank in the U.K., the Nançay Radio Telescope in France, the Effelsberg Radio Telescope in Germany, and the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope in the Netherlands.

Via Mariaschnee
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Photons with half-integer angular momentum are the latest twist on light

Photons with half-integer angular momentum are the latest twist on light | SciFrye |
Surprising effect occurs when light is confined to fewer than three dimensions


Photons can have half-integer values of angular momentum when they are confined to fewer than three dimensions. That is the conclusion of physicists in Ireland, who have revived an experiment first done in the 1830s to show that photons are not limited to having just integer values of angular momentum. The discovery could have applications in quantum computing and could also boost the capacity of optical-fibre data transmission.

The angular momentum of light comes in two varieties: spin and orbital. Spin is associated with optical polarization, which is the orientation of light's electric-field oscillations. Orbital angular momentum rotates a light beam's wavefront around its propagation axis, giving it a corkscrew shape.


Individually, the two types of angular momentum come in multiples of the reduced Planck's constant, ħ. For spin, those multiples are either +1 or –1, while the orbital variety can take any integer value. To date, physicists have assumed that a photon's total angular momentum is simply the sum of these two parts and that it therefore comes in integer multiples of ħ. But in the latest research, Paul Eastham of Trinity College Dublin and colleagues have shown that the total angular momentum can in fact take on half-integer values.


Inspiration for the work, says Eastham, came from celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Irish mathematician William Hamiltonin 2005. Hamilton and physicist Humphrey Lloyd showed, in the 1830s, that a beam of light passing through a "biaxial" crystal takes on the shape of a hollow cylinder. The void at its centre is now known to be caused by the light acquiring orbital angular momentum. The bicentennial prompted renewed interest in this effect among physicists in Ireland, says Eastham, who joined Trinity College in 2009 and then started to think about exactly how such beams behave quantum-mechanically.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Structure and Functions of the Bacterial Microbiota of Plants

Structure and Functions of the Bacterial Microbiota of Plants | SciFrye |

Plants host distinct bacterial communities on and inside various plant organs, of which those associated with roots and the leaf surface are best characterized. The phylogenetic composition of these communities is defined by relatively few bacterial phyla, including Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Proteobacteria. A synthesis of available data suggests a two-step selection process by which the bacterial microbiota of roots is differentiated from the surrounding soil biome. Rhizodeposition appears to fuel an initial substrate-driven community shift in the rhizosphere, which converges with host genotype–dependent fine-tuning of microbiota profiles in the selection of root endophyte assemblages. Substrate-driven selection also underlies the establishment of phyllosphere communities but takes place solely at the immediate leaf surface. Both the leaf and root microbiota contain bacteria that provide indirect pathogen protection, but root microbiota members appear to serve additional host functions through the acquisition of nutrients from soil for plant growth. Thus, the plant microbiota emerges as a fundamental trait that includes mutualism enabled through diverse biochemical mechanisms, as revealed by studies on plant growth–promoting and plant health–promoting bacteria.

Via Kamoun Lab @ TSL, Jean-Michel Ané
Jean-Michel Ané's curator insight, June 15, 8:01 PM

A bit old but still a very good one.

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Where our food came from

Where our food came from | SciFrye |

"Explore the geographic origins of our food crops – where they were initially domesticated and evolved over time – and discover how important these 'primary regions of diversity' are to our current diets and agricultural production areas."

Via Seth Dixon
Seth Dixon's curator insight, June 14, 2:57 PM

This is an incredibly rich website with great interactive maps, dynamic charts, and text with rich citations.  This is one of those resources that an entire class could use as a starting point to create 30+ distinct project.  This is definitely one of the most important and best resources that I've shared recently, one that I'm going to use in my class.  Where did a particular crop originally come from?  Where is it produced today?   How do these historic and current agricultural geographies change local diets and economies around the world?  All these issues can be explored with this interactive that includes, but goes beyond the Columbian Exchange


Tags: foodeconomicfood production, agribusiness, agriculture, APHG, unit 5 agriculture, globalizationbiogeography, ecology, diffusion.

Sally Egan's curator insight, June 16, 6:43 PM

Great interactive map to illustrate the source regions of the world and foods that originated there. Hover over each region and the foods of that area popup.

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This is the first mammal to go extinct because of human-caused climate change

This is the first mammal to go extinct because of human-caused climate change | SciFrye |

We did it :(

15 JUN 2016

Rising sea levels appear to have wiped out a rodent species living on an island in the Great Barrier Reef. This is the first documented case of a mammal species going extinct due to man-made climate change.

The mammal, called the Bramble Cay melomys, was a long-tailed, whiskered critter, with reddish-brown fur that was about the same size as a small rat.

It was considered the only mammal endemic - or native - to the Great Barrier Reef, living on a tiny island in the northeast Torres Strait between Queensland, Australia, and the southern shores of Papua New Guinea.

While melomys had been abundant on the island in the 1970s, their populations had dwindled rapidly since over the last few decades, leading them to being listed as endangered. They were last spotted on the island in 2009.

From August to September 2014, scientists conducted a thorough survey effort of the island, using traps, cameras and daytime searches to try to spot and count the species - all to no avail - leading them to conclude that it had likely gone extinct.

"The assertion that Australia has lost another mammal species can be made with considerable confidence," they wrote in their report to Queensland’s government. And anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change was blamed for the extinction.

"The key factor responsible for the death of the Bramble Cay melomys is almost certainly high tides and surging seawater, which has travelled inland across the island," Luke Leung, study co-author and scientist at the University of Queensland told The New York Times.

The seawater is believed to have destroyed the creature's small habitat. In March of 2014, the livable surface of the island had shrunk to its smallest point ever and refuge sites used by the critters, such as rock caves and crevices, had started to disappear.

This also led to problems with food. While its diet was poorly researched, melomys were believed to be mostly vegetarian and they had to compete for food with nesting seabirds and turtles.

Many believe this extinction is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Climate change is putting enormous strains on species all across the globe, with a 2015 report finding that one-sixth of the planet’s species could face extinction as a result.

"Certainly, extinction and climatic change has gone hand in hand throughout the history of the world," John White, an ecologist from Deakin University, told The Guardian. "So, if this is one of the first, it is more than likely not going to be the last."

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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Rescooped by Kim Frye from Fragments of Science!

Study provides up-close insight on connections between retina and thalamus

Study provides up-close insight on connections between retina and thalamus | SciFrye |
Crack open just about any biology textbook to read up on the thalamus, and you'll find that its function is mainly to serve as a relay station, handing off sensory input to the cerebral cortex for processing.

But when a pair of Harvard researchers took a closer look at the connections between the retina and thalamus in mice, they found a very different story.

By creating highly detailed neural wiring diagrams, Jeff Lichtman, the Jeremy R. Knowles Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Santiago Ramón y Cajal Professor of Arts and Sciences, and postdoctoral fellow Joshua Morgan showed that the neural networks that connect the retina and thalamus are far more complex than initially believed, and may even represent the first stage in processing visual information learned by experience. The study was described in a paper recently published in the journal Cell.

"If you go just one synapse deeper than a highly ordered structure like the retina, you see an explosion in complexity," Lichtman said. "Rather than having a pathway associated with one retinal axon type, and another pathway associated with another cell type, we saw a completely intermixed network—each retinal cell diverged to contact different kinds of thalamic cells, and each thalamic cell received convergent information from many different types of retinal cells."

That convergence is particularly important when you consider how retinal cells work.

Via Mariaschnee
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New material kills E. coli bacteria in 30 seconds

New material kills E. coli bacteria in 30 seconds | SciFrye |

A new material that can kill E. coli bacteria within 30 seconds has been developed by researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR in Singapore.


Triclosan, a common antibacterial ingredient found in many products such as toothpastes, soaps, and detergents to reduce or prevent bacterial infections, has been linked to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics, with adverse health effects. The European Union has restricted the use of triclosan in cosmetics, and the U.S. FDA is conducting an ongoing review of this ingredient.


To find a more suitable alternative, IBN Group Leader Yugen Zhang, PhD, and his team synthesized a chemical compound made up of molecules linked together in a chain (“imidazolium oligomers”), which they found can kill 99.7% of the E. coli bacteria within 30 seconds. The chain-like structure helps to penetrate the cell membrane and destroy the bacteria.

Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Rescooped by Kim Frye from Fragments of Science!

Physicists measured something new in the radioactive decay of neutrons

Physicists measured something new in the radioactive decay of neutrons | SciFrye |
A physics experiment performed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has enhanced scientists' understanding of how free neutrons decay into other particles. The work provides the first measurement of the energy spectrum of photons, or particles of light, that are released in the otherwise extensively measured process known as neutron beta decay. The details of this decay process are important because, for example, they help to explain the observed amounts of hydrogen and other light atoms created just after the Big Bang.

Published in Physical Review Letters, the findings confirm physicists' big-picture understanding of the way particles and forces work together in the universe—an understanding known as the Standard Model. The work has stimulated new theoretical activity in quantum electrodynamics (QED), the modern theory of how matter interacts with light. The team's approach could also help search for new physics that lies beyond the Standard Model.

Neutrons are well known as one of the three kinds of particles that form atoms. Present in all atoms except the most common form of hydrogen, neutrons together with protons form the atomic nucleus. However, "free" neutrons not bound within a nucleus decay in about 15 minutes on average. Most frequently, a neutron transforms through the beta decay process into a proton, an electron, a photon, and the antimatter version of the neutrino, an abundant but elusive particle that rarely interacts with matter.

Via Mariaschnee
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Scientists have figured out how to embed light-emitting nanoparticles into glass

Scientists have figured out how to embed light-emitting nanoparticles into glass | SciFrye |

Change the way you see the world.

Imagine a window with a weather forecast displayed right on top of it, or a bathroom mirror that could scroll through your emails while you brush your teeth. While early versions of this kind of tech already exist, new research has brought us a big step closer to manufacturing true smart glass.

Australian scientists have developed glass panes with the ability to emit light and display information without losing any of the natural properties of glass. It all comes down to how transparent they can get their glass, and the way it can be moulded into any shape, and the team has figured out how to do this using nanoparticles.

Researchers led by the University of Adelaide have found a way to embed microscopic, light-emitting nanoparticles into glass, opening up possibilities for new hybrid materials and devices where transparent displays could be useful.

The team embedded the nanoparticles into glass using a new technique called 'direct-doping', which works by synthesising the nanoparticles and the glass separately, before combining them under precisely cultivated conditions – involving temperatures of up to 625°C.

This careful integration means both the nanoparticles and the glass retain most of their original characteristics. And compared to previous methods for making smart glass, the new technique is simpler, more efficient and more adaptable, Brooks Hays reports for UPI.

One example of how these fluorescent nanoparticles could be used is tiny torches in neuroscience. These devices could help guide glass pipettes into specific regions of the brain – a process that currently relies on dye and lasers to find the right spot. 

In nuclear facilities, radiation-sensitive nanoparticles inserted into glass could be used to create more accurate remote sensors.

The team is now focusing on biological sensing, biomedical imaging, and 3D volumetric displays - hologram-like creations drawn with light - but there's a whole host of possibilities that this technology could be used for.

"These novel luminescent nanoparticles, called upconversion nanoparticles, have become promising candidates for a whole variety of ultra-high tech applications," explained one of the team, physicist Tim Zhao.

"Integrating these nanoparticles into glass, which is usually inert, opens up exciting possibilities for new hybrid materials and devices that can take advantage of the properties of nanoparticles in ways we haven't been able to do before."

While the process developed in Australia involves this specific type of nanoparticles, the team thinks it could be expanded to include nanoparticles with other photonic, electronic, and magnetic properties, widening the potential applications of the technology even further.

"The nanoparticles remain functional and the glass transparency is still very close to its original quality," said project leader Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem. "We are heading towards a whole new world of hybrid glass and devices for light-based technologies."

The research is published in Advanced Optical Materials.

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Drug discovery returns to the wild

Drug discovery returns to the wild | SciFrye |

Researchers now have the tools to unlock the potential of previously uncultivated microbes, prompting a return to drug discovery from natural products.

Via NatProdChem
NatProdChem's curator insight, June 12, 11:16 AM

Researchers now have the tools to unlock the potential of previously uncultivated microbes, prompting a return to drug discovery from natural products.

Scooped by Kim Frye!

Scientists are using mobile mitochondria to repair damaged nerve cells

Scientists are using mobile mitochondria to repair damaged nerve cells | SciFrye |

This is awesome.

There's hope for new treatments for neurological diseases, after scientists just discovered a link between the mobilisation of mitochondria inside nerve cells, and the cells' subsequent regrowth.

The team thinks that kicking the mitochondria into action could be the key to repairing damage done to the nervous system.

Mitochondria act as power supplies for cells, causing chemical reactions that give neurons the energy they need to extend nerve cells through the body. However, some aspects of the behaviour of mitochondria change over time.

In mature adult cells, mitochondria are locked in place by a protein called syntaphilin, which means they can't be as mobile as they are in younger cells. After taking steps to restore this mitochondrial mobility in groups of mice, researchers from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the US observed the regeneration of damaged nerve cells.

To make this happen, the team genetically removed the syntaphilin protein from damaged nerve cells containing non-functioning mitochondria. This led to the regrowth of healthy mitochondria, and gave back the neurons' ability to restore themselves.

In the case of the mice used in the tests, the animals were able to regenerate large nerve cells called sciatic nerves that had been damaged by injury.

So getting these power plants moving again was enough to kickstart a chain reaction leading to nerve cell regrowth. The scientists behind the study say that knowing this could help us figure out how to restore nerve cells in the human body too, provided the same results can be achieved in clinical trials.

"Our in vivo and in vitro studies suggest that activating an intrinsic growth program requires the coordinated modulation of mitochondrial transport and recovery of energy deficits," explained lead researcher Zu-Hang Sheng. "Such combined approaches may represent a valid therapeutic strategy to facilitate regeneration in the central and peripheral nervous systems after injury or disease."

Unlike other cells in the body, neurons cannot repair themselves, which is why diseases such as Alzheimer's can be so devastating in terms of their impact on the body. But progress is being made, with researchers looking at ways to restore nerve cells after they're damaged, including injecting healthy neurons into the brain.

And this restoration of mitochondrial mobility might not be the only way these cell power plants can help scientists fight disease.

Some researchers think mitochondria could even hold the key to reversing ageing itself, because of the way mitochondrial DNA degrades over time as we get older. It's early days, but there's a huge amount of promise in this area of research.

The new findings are published in the Journal of Cell Biology.

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