And now, nearly a half century after its beginnings, where are we? Herzog takes us to a place near Seattle where victims of Internet addiction are treated; a rural haven where there are no Internet signals, where humans who would die if they were exposed to Wi-Fi signals are forced to live (for real!); a revealing interview with Bay Area entrepreneur Elon Musk on how the Internet might ultimately save humankind and allow us to populate other planets; a talk with Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun on the potential of Wi-Fi-enhanced artificial intelligence; and a scientist who warns that just the right type of solar flare will destroy the Internet and lead to mass chaos, possibly throwing civilization back to a kind of Middle Ages.
Mushrooms aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but there’s certainly an abundance of them in nature. Over 10,00 species of mushrooms are known to man, and all but 50-100 of them are edible.
Certain varieties are prized for their abilities, like Tochukasu, which increases ATP production, boosts endurance and strength, and fights aging and Cordyceps, which are used to fight respiratory disorders and improve liver function (5,6).
You might not think of bacteria as technologically state-of-the-art, but some use some amazing tricks—like propellers powered by tiny self-assembling electric motors—to swim in their environment, as Dr Karl Kruszelnicki explains.
In a tiny quantum prison, electrons behave quite differently as compared to their counterparts in free space. They can only occupy discrete energy levels, much like the electrons in an atom -- for this reason, such electron prisons are often called "artificial atoms." Artificial atoms may also feature properties beyond those of conventional ones, with the potential for many applications for example in quantum computing. Such additional properties have now been shown for artificial atoms in the carbon material graphene. The results have been published in the journal Nano Letters, the project was a collaboration of scientists from TU Wien (Vienna, Austria), RWTH Aachen (Germany) and the University of Manchester (GB).
"Artificial atoms open up new, exciting possibilities, because we can directly tune their properties," says Professor Joachim Burgdörfer (TU Wien, Vienna). In semiconductor materials such as gallium arsenide, trapping electrons in tiny confinements has already been shown to be possible. These structures are often referred to as "quantum dots." Just like in an atom, where the electrons can only circle the nucleus on certain orbits, electrons in these quantum dots are forced into discrete quantum states.
Even more interesting possibilities are opened up by using graphene, a material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms, which has attracted a lot of attention in the last few years.
"In most materials, electrons may occupy two different quantum states at a given energy. The high symmetry of the graphene lattice allows for four different quantum states. This opens up new pathways for quantum information processing and storage" explains Florian Libisch from TU Wien. However, creating well-controlled artificial atoms in graphene turned out to be extremely challenging.
Last February, scientists made the groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves produced by two colliding black holes. Now researchers are expecting to detect similar gravitational wave signals in the near future from collisions involving neutron stars—for example, the merging of two neutron stars to form a black hole, or the merging of a neutron star and a black hole.
In a new study published in Physical Review Letters, Aleksi Kurkela at CERN and the University of Stavanger in Norway and Aleksi Vuorinen at the University of Helsinki in Finland have developed an improved method of analyzing the ultradense matter called "quark matter" that is thought to exist in the cores of neutron stars. Their method makes theoretical predictions regarding the properties of neutron star matter that researchers working with the future data will hopefully be able to test.
So far, the best quantitative description of quark matter works only at a temperature of absolute zero. Although this zero-temperature approximation is adequate for describing dormant neutron stars, neutron star collisions would have such drastically higher temperatures that thermal corrections are essential.
In the new study, Kurkela and Vuorinen have accounted for high-temperature effects and incorporated them into the equation of state that describes quark matter, generalizing the equation to relatively small but non-zero temperatures. This modified framework provides a much more accurate description of quark matter that is valid in the hot conditions present in neutron star mergers.
As their name implies, neutron stars are made mostly of neutrons, and like all known matter, neutrons are made of quarks. Usually quarks are tightly bound together in groups of three, but the enormous density and pressure in the core of a neutron star is thought to break the structure of the neutrons, so that the quarks separate and form quark matter. Whereas atoms are the basic constituents of the atomic matter that we're familiar with, the basic constituents of quark matter are quarks, along with gluons that hold the quarks together.
Currently, quark matter is not very well understood, mainly because it does not exist naturally on Earth. Researchers can produce quark-gluon plasma at high-energy particle colliders, such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), but it only exists for a fraction of a second before decaying because of the difficulty in maintaining the extreme conditions it requires.
The term "life hacking" usually refers to clever tweaks that make your life more productive. But this week in Science, a team of scientists comes a step closer to the literal meaning: hacking the machinery of life itself. They have designed—though not completely assembled—a synthetic Escherichia coli genome that could use a protein-coding scheme different from the one employed by all known life. Requiring a staggering 62,000 DNA changes, the finished genome would be the most complicated genetic engineering feat so far. E. coli running this rewritten genome could become a new workhorse for laboratory experiments and a factory for new industrial chemicals, its creators predict.
Such a large-scale genomic hack once seemed impossible, but no longer, says Peter Carr, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington who is not involved with the project. "It's not easy, but we can engineer life at profound scales, even something as fundamental as the genetic code."
The genome hacking is underway in the lab of George Church at Harvard University, the DNA-sequencing pioneer who has become the most high-profile, and at times controversial, name in synthetic biology. The work takes advantage of the redundancy of life's genetic code, the language that DNA uses to instruct the cell's protein-synthesizing machinery. To produce proteins, cells "read" DNA's four-letter alphabet in clusters of three called codons. The 64 possible triplets are more than enough to encode the 20 amino acids that exist in nature, as well as the "stop" codons that mark the ends of genes. As a result, the genetic code has multiple codons for the same amino acid: the codons CCC and CCG both encode the amino acid proline, for example.
Church and others hypothesized that redundant codons could be eliminated—by swapping out every CCC for a CCG in every gene, for instance—without harming the cell. The gene that enables CCC to be translated into proline could then be deleted entirely. "There are a number of 'killer apps'" of such a "recoded" cell, says Farren Isaacs, a bioengineer at Yale University, who, with Church and colleagues, showed a stop codon can be swapped out entirely from E. coli.
The cells could be immune to viruses that impair bioreactors, for example, if crucial viral genes include now untranslatable codons. The changes could also allow synthetic biologists to repurpose the freed redundant codons for an entirely different function, such as coding for a new, synthetic amino acid.
For this study, Church's team decided to eliminate seven of the microbe's 64 codons. That target seemed like "a good balance" between the number of changes that appeared technically achievable and the number that might be too many for a cell to survive, says Matthieu Landon, one of Church's Ph.D. students. And the seven spare codons could eventually be repurposed to code up to four different unnatural amino acids.
But making so many changes, even with the latest DNA editing techniques such as CRISPR, still appeared impossible. Luckily, the cost of synthesizing DNA has plummeted over the past decade. So instead of editing the genome one site at a time, Church's team used machines to synthesize long stretches of the recoded genome from scratch, each chunk containing multiple changes.
The team has now turned to the laborious job of inserting these chunks into E. coli one by one and making sure that none of the genomic changes is lethal to the cells. The researchers have only tested 63% of the recoded genes so far, but remarkably few of the changes have caused trouble, they say.
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