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Study Shows Some Turtles Urinate through Mouth

Study Shows Some Turtles Urinate through Mouth | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
A team of biologists led by Dr Yuen Ip of the National University of Singapore has discovered that Chinese soft-shelled turtles, Pelodiscus sinensis, effectively urinate through mouth.

 

Chinese soft-shelled turtles are exquisitely adapted to their aquatic lifestyle, sitting contentedly on the bottom of brackish muddy swamps or snorkelling at the surface to breath. They even immerse their heads in puddles when their swampy homes dry up. Why do these air-breathing turtles submerge their heads when they mainly depend on their lungs to breathe and are unlikely to breathe in water? Given that some fish excrete waste nitrogen as urea and expel the urea through their gills, the team wondered whether the turtles were plunging their heads into water to excrete waste urea through their mouths, where they have strange gill-like projections.

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20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

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Science Reveals More About The Secrets Of 'Super-Agers'

Science Reveals More About The Secrets Of 'Super-Agers' | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Aging well is a topic most people have a personal interest in—science certainly does. And it’s revealed some interesting findings in recent years, as long-term studies on “super agers” from across the globe have come in. Of the general population, about a third of people above the age of 90 have dementia, and another third have cognitive decline. But it’s the remaining group of healthy agers that’s so intriguing to researchers.

A couple of new studies presented at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting looked at people who live well as they age—often into their 90s or beyond. What’s peculiar, and encouraging, is that a lot of how we age has to do not with genetics but with our choices—how we live, physically and socially. And this means that more may be in our control than we think.

One of the new studies, “The 90+ Study,” as the name suggests, has tracked people in their 90s in just about every way possible for 15 years—physical exams, detailed analysis of their social lives and lifestyle habits, and multiple brain scans, before and (if the person died during the study) after death. The other study, on “Super Agers,” looked at people in their 80s, whose cognition and memory matches that of people decades younger.


One factor that played a big role in how a person aged was social interaction: People who lived longer had very close relationships over the years. This connection has been found in many studies on long-term health, the most famous of which was the 80-year Harvard study that found relationships were a key predictor of longevity. “There are brain benefits of having good friends,” said Super Ager study author Emily Rogalski at a press conference.

Another important factor in aging well was, interestingly, drinking alcohol: Those who drank a couple of glasses of wine or beer per day were more likely to live longer, compared to abstainers. “That’s been shown all over the world,” said 90+ Study author Claudia Kawas at the conference. ”I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking is associated with longevity.”

Happily, “modest” caffeine intake was also associated with living longer. “The sweet spot for caffeine was 200-400 milligrams a day,” said Kawas.”which, depending on whether you’re a Starbucks fan or an old-fashioned drinker, is about two cups of coffee probably.” People who took in this much from coffee or tea lived longer than people who consumed more or less caffeine.

Another factor was exercising regularly, which isn’t so surprising: People who got as little as 15 minutes per day had an advantage when it came to longevity, and the effect rose with 30 and 45 minutes/day. There was no huge benefit above that, so people who exercised for hours a day had no advantage over those who exercised for 45 minutes.
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Scientists deliver high-resolution glimpse of enzyme structure

Scientists deliver high-resolution glimpse of enzyme structure | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

New finding suggests differences in how humans and bacteria control production of DNA’s building blocks.

 

Using a state-of-the-art type of electron microscopy, an MIT-led team has discovered the structure of an enzyme that is crucial for maintaining an adequate supply of DNA building blocks in human cells. Their new structure also reveals the likely mechanism for how cells regulate the enzyme, known as ribonucleotide reductase (RNR). Significantly, the mechanism appears to differ from that of the bacterial version of the enzyme, suggesting that it could be possible to design antibiotics that selectively block the bacterial enzyme.

 

“People have been trying to figure out whether there is something different enough that you could inhibit bacterial enzymes and not the human version,” says Catherine Drennan, an MIT professor of chemistry and biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “By considering these key enzymes and figuring out what are the differences and similarities, we can see if there’s anything in the bacterial enzyme that could be targeted with small-molecule drugs.”

 

Drennan is one of the senior authors of the study, which appears in the Feb. 20 issue of the journal eLife. JoAnne Stubbe, the Novartis Professor of Chemistry Emerita at MIT, and Francisco Asturias, an associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, are also senior authors. The paper’s lead authors are MIT research scientist Edward Brignole and former Scripps Research Institute postdoc Kuang-Lei Tsai, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Texas Houston Medical Center.

 

The RNR enzyme, which is found in all living cells, converts ribonucleotides (the building blocks of RNA) to deoxyribonucleotides (the building blocks of DNA). Cells must keep a sufficient stockpile of these building blocks, but when they accumulate too many, RNR is shut off by a deoxynucleotide molecule known as dATP. When more deoxynucleotides are needed, a related molecule called ATP binds to RNR and turns it back on.

 

An unusual feature of RNR is that it can catalyze the production of four different products: the nucleotide bases often abbreviated as A, G, C, and T. In 2016, Drennan discovered that the enzyme achieves this by changing its shape in response to regulatory molecules. Most of the researchers’ previous work on RNR structure has focused on the version found inE. coli. For those studies, they used X-ray crystallography, a technique that can reveal the atomic and molecular structure of a protein after it has been crystallized.


Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Advanced artificial limbs mapped in the brain: The brain re-maps motor and sensory pathways

Advanced artificial limbs mapped in the brain: The brain re-maps motor and sensory pathways | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Targeted motor and sensory reinnervation (TMSR) is a surgical procedure on patients with amputations that reroutes residual limb nerves towards intact muscles and skin in order to fit them with a limb prosthesis allowing unprecedented control. By its nature, TMSR changes the way the brain processes motor control and somatosensory input; however the detailed brain mechanisms have never been investigated before and the success of TMSR prostheses will depend on our ability to understand the ways the brain re-maps these pathways. Now, EPFL scientists have used ultra-high field 7 Tesla fMRI to show how TMSR affects upper-limb representations in the brains of patients with amputations, in particular in primary motor cortex and the somatosensory cortex and regions processing more complex brain functions. The findings are published in Brain.

 

Targeted muscle and sensory reinnervation (TMSR) is used to improve the control of upper limb prostheses. Residual nerves from the amputated limb are transferred to reinnervate and activate new muscle targets. This way, a patient fitted with a TMSR prosthetic "sends" motor commands to the re-innervated muscles, where his or her movement intentions are decoded and sent to the prosthetic limb. On the other hand, direct stimulation of the skin over the re-innervated muscles is sent back to the brain, inducing touch perception on the missing limb.

 

But how does the brain encode and integrate such artificial touch and movements of the prosthetic limb? How does this impact our ability to better integrate and control prosthetics? Achieving and fine-tuning such control depends on knowing how the patient's brain re-maps various motor and somatosensory pathways in the motor cortex and the somatosensory cortex.


Via Daniel Perez-Marcos
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Atomic structure of ultrasound material is not what anyone expected

Atomic structure of ultrasound material is not what anyone expected | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Lead magnesium niobate (PMN) is a prototypical "relaxor" material, used in a wide variety of applications, from ultrasound to sonar. Researchers have now used state-of-the-art microscopy techniques to see exactly how atoms are arranged in PMN - and it's not what anyone expected.

 

"This work gives us information we can use to better understand how and why PMN behaves the way it does - and possibly other relaxor materials as well," says James LeBeau, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of a paper on the work.

 

"What we've found is that the arrangement of atoms in PMN gradually shift along a gradient, from areas of high order to areas of low order; this happens throughout the material," LeBeau says. "That's substantially different than what conventional wisdom predicted, which was there would be alternating areas of high order and no order, right next to each other."

 

This information can be fed into computational models to provide new insights into how PMN's atomic structure influences its characteristics. "This won't happen overnight, but we're optimistic that this may be a step toward the development of processes that create PMN materials with microstructures tailored to emphasize the most desirable characteristics for ultrasound, sonar or other applications," LeBeau says. "It could also potentially offer insights into the role of atomic structure in other relaxor materials, providing similar long-term benefits for the entire class of materials."


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Viruses - lots of them - are falling from the sky

Viruses - lots of them - are falling from the sky | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

An astonishing number of viruses are circulating around the Earth's atmosphere -- and falling from it -- according to new research from scientists in Canada, Spain and the U.S.

 

The study marks the first time scientists have quantified the viruses being swept up from the Earth's surface into the free troposphere, that layer of atmosphere beyond Earth's weather systems but below the stratosphere where jet airplanes fly. The viruses can be carried thousands of kilometers there before being deposited back onto the Earth's surface.

 

"Every day, more than 800 million viruses are deposited per square metre above the planetary boundary layer -- that's 25 viruses for each person in Canada," said University of British Columbia virologist Curtis Suttle, one of the senior authors of a paper in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal that outlines the findings.

 

"Roughly 20 years ago we began finding genetically similar viruses occurring in very different environments around the globe," says Suttle. "This preponderance of long-residence viruses traveling the atmosphere likely explains why -- it's quite conceivable to have a virus swept up into the atmosphere on one continent and deposited on another."

 

Bacteria and viruses are swept up in the atmosphere in small particles from soil-dust and sea spray. Suttle and colleagues at the University of Granada and San Diego State University wanted to know how much of that material is carried up above the atmospheric boundary layer above 2,500 to 3,000 meters. At that altitude, particles are subject to long-range transport unlike particles lower in the atmosphere.

 

Using platform sites high in Spain's Sierra Nevada Mountains, the researchers found billions of viruses and tens of millions of bacteria are being deposited per square meter per day. The deposition rates for viruses were nine to 461 times greater than the rates for bacteria.

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

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

Ecological scaling laws are intensively studied for their predictive power and universal nature but often fail to unify biodiversity across domains of life. Using a global-scale compilation of microbial and macrobial data, we uncover relationships of commonness and rarity that scale with abundance at similar rates for microorganisms and macroscopic plants and animals. We then show a unified scaling law that predicts the abundance of dominant species across 30 orders of magnitude to the scale of all microorganisms on Earth. Using this scaling law combined with the lognormal model of biodiversity, we predict that Earth is home to as many as 1 trillion (10^12) microbial species.

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In Continuation of Trend, 2017 Was Second Warmest Year on Record (Since 1880)

In Continuation of Trend, 2017 Was Second Warmest Year on Record (Since 1880) | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2017 ranked as the second warmest since reliable instrumental records began in 1880, according to an analysis by NASA released today. Continuing the planet’s long-term warming trend, globally averaged temperatures in 2017 were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.90 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. That is second only to global temperatures in 2016.

 

In a separate, independent analysis, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that 2017 was the third-warmest year in their record. The minor difference in rankings is due to the different methods used by the two agencies, although over the long term the agencies’ records remain in strong agreement. Both analyses show that the five warmest years on record all have taken place since 2010.

 

Phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña, which warm or cool the upper tropical Pacific Ocean and cause corresponding variations in global wind and weather patterns, contribute to short-term variations in global average temperature. A warming El Niño event was in effect for most of 2015 and the first third of 2016. Even without an El Niño event – and with a La Niña starting in the later months of 2017 – last year’s temperatures ranked between 2015 and 2016 in NASA’s records. In an analysis where the effects of the recent El Niño and La Niña patterns were statistically removed from the record, 2017 would have been the warmest year on record.

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Drone footage reveals use for mysterious narwhal tusk

Drone footage reveals use for mysterious narwhal tusk | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Once said to possess magic powers, narwhal tusks were sold as unicorn horns centuries ago, and still today some mystique surrounds the overgrown tooth protruding from this unique whale's head. Scientists have never been able to pin down the exact purpose it serves, but have now captured the first-ever video evidence of it being used as a hunting tool, helping to unravel some of the mystery.

 

All kinds of theories have emerged regarding the use of the narwhal's tusk. The whales, which feed on squid, cod and shrimp in the Arctic, grow tusks up to 10 ft long (3 m) with up to 10 million nerve endings inside. But why? To bash through ice? Transmit sounds? To spear fish?

 

If you came here looking for dramatic footage of a whale impaling a fish and bursting triumphantly through the water's surface to show off its catch, you may be a little disappointed. Using drones to study narwhal behavior in far northern Canada, scientists have, however, seen narwhals using their tusks to capture their prey, though it is more of a subtle swipe, intended to stun the fish before scooping it up in their mouths.

 

The evidence, gathered by various research groups including the World Wildlife Fund Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is important all the same. The scientists say learning more about narwhals in the face of changing Arctic conditions will help conservation efforts moving forward.

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Rapid Progress of Molecular Robotics

Rapid Progress of Molecular Robotics | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Molecular Robotics capitalizes on the recent explosion of technologies that read, edit, and write DNA (like next-generation sequencing and CRISPR) to manipulate DNA and its single-stranded cousin, RNA, to create new nanoscale structures and devices that serve a variety of functions.

 

“We essentially treat DNA not only as a genetic material, but as an incredible building block for making molecular sensors, structures, computers, and actuators, all of which self-assemble in a way that today’s traditional robots can’t,” says Tom Schaus, a Staff Scientist at the Wyss Institute who works on Molecular Robotics.

 

Many of the group’s early projects taking advantage of DNA-based self-assembly were static structures. These include DNA folded into 3D origami-like objects and DNA “bricks” whose nucleotide sequences allow their spontaneous assembly into a specified shape, like tiny Lego™ bricks that are pre-programmed to put themselves together to create a castle. The most recent iteration of DNA bricks can incorporate as many as 30,000 unique DNA strands in a single complete structure, and could enable the creation of novel devices for electronics, photonics, and nanoscale machines.

 

The reliable specificity of DNA and RNA’s nucleotide pairing (A always binds with T or U, C always with G) allows for not only the construction of nanoscale structures, but also the programming of dynamic systems that achieve a given goal. For example, Molecular Robotics scientists have created a novel, highly controllable mechanism that automatically builds new DNA sequences from a mixture of short fragments in vitro. It utilizes a set of DNA strands folded into a hairpin shape with a single-stranded “overhang” sequence dangling off one end of the hairpin. The overhang sequence can be programmed to bind to a complementary free-floating fragment of DNA (a “primer”) and then fall off, after extending the primer with a newly synthetized sequence that is identical to part of the hairpin sequence. This hairpin sequence can then serve as a new primer for another hairpin containing a different sequence, and the process can be repeated many times to create long DNA product strands through a technique called “Primer Exchange Reactions” (PER).

Not only can PER be used to synthesize DNA sequences automatically, it can be programmed such that it only occurs in the presence of signal molecules, such as specific RNA sequences, thus allowing the system to respond to the molecular cues in the environment much like today’s commercial robots respond to verbal and visual cues. The PER product strand can in turn be programmed to enzymatically cut and destroy particular RNA sequences, record the order in which certain biochemical events happen, or generate components for DNA structure assembly.

 

PER reactions can also be combined into a mechanism called “Autocycling Proximity Recording” (APR), which records the geometry of nano-scale structures in the language of DNA. In this technique, unique DNA hairpins are attached to different target molecules and, if any two targets are close enough together, a reaction between the two hairpins bound to them produces new pieces of DNA that contain a record of both hairpins’ sequences, allowing the shape of the underlying structure to be determined by sequencing that novel DNA.

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Laser spotlight reveals machine 'climbing' DNA

Laser spotlight reveals machine 'climbing' DNA | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

New imaging technology has revealed how the molecular machines that remodel genetic material inside cells 'grab onto' DNA like a rock climber looking for a handhold. The experiments, reported in Science, use laser light to generate very bright patches close to single cells. When coupled with fluorescent tags this 'spotlight' makes it possible to image the inner workings of cells fast enough to see how the molecular machines inside change size, shape, and composition in the presence of DNA.

 

The Oxford team built their own light microscopy technology for the study, which is a collaboration between the research groups of Mark Leake in Oxford University's Department of Physics and David Sherratt in Oxford University's Department of Biochemistry. The molecular machines in question are called Structural Maintenance of Chromosome (SMC) complexes: they remodel the genetic material inside every living cell and work along similar principles to a large family of molecules that act as very small motors performing functions as diverse as trafficking vital material inside cells to allowing muscles to contract.

 

The researchers studied a particular SMC, MukBEF (which is made from several different protein molecules), inside the bacterium E.coli. David Sheratt and his team found a way to fuse 'fluorescent proteins' directly to the DNA coding for MukBEF, effectively creating a single dye tag for each component of these machines.

Up until now conventional techniques of biological physics or biochemistry have not been sufficiently fast or precise to monitor such tiny machines inside living cells at the level of single molecules.

 

'Each machine functions in much the same way as rock-climber clinging to a cliff face,' says Mark Leake of Oxford University's Department of Physics, 'it has one end anchored to a portion of cellular DNA while the other end opens and closes randomly by using chemical energy stored in a ubiquitous bio-molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or 'ATP': the universal molecular fuel for all living cells.

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Cancer ‘vaccine’ eliminates all traces of cancer in mice

Cancer ‘vaccine’ eliminates all traces of cancer in mice | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Cancer-destroying T cells that target other tumors in the body: Effects of in situ vaccination with CpG and anti-OX40 agents

 

Injecting minute amounts of two immune-stimulating agents directly into solid tumors in mice was able to eliminate all traces of cancer in the animals — including distant, untreated metastases (spreading cancer locations), according to a study by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers.

 

The researchers believe this new “in situ vaccination” method could serve as a rapid and relatively inexpensive cancer therapy — one that is unlikely to cause the adverse side effects often seen with bodywide immune stimulation.

 

The  approach works for many different types of cancers, including those that arise spontaneously, the study found.

“When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumors all over the body,” said Ronald Levy*, MD, professor of oncology and senior author of the study, which was published Jan. 31 in Science Translational Medicine. “This approach bypasses the need to identify tumor-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient’s immune cells.”

 

Many current immunotherapy approaches have been successful, but they each have downsides — from difficult-to-handle side effects to high-cost and lengthy preparation or treatment times.** “Our approach uses a one-time application of very small amounts of two agents to stimulate the immune cells only within the tumor itself,” Levy said. “In the mice, we saw amazing, bodywide effects, including the elimination of tumors all over the animal.”

 

Levy’s method reactivates cancer-specific T cells (a type of white blood cell) by injecting microgram (one-millionth of a gram) amounts of the two agents directly into the tumor site.*** Because the two agents are injected directly into the tumor, only T cells that have infiltrated the tumor are activated. In effect, these T cells are “prescreened” by the body to recognize only cancer-specific proteins. Some of these tumor-specific, activated T cells then leave the original tumor to find and destroy other identical tumors throughout the body.

 

The approach worked “startlingly well” in laboratory mice with transplanted mouse lymphoma tumors in two sites on their bodies, the researchers say. Injecting one tumor site with the two agents caused the regression not just of the treated tumor, but also of the second, untreated tumor. In this way, 87 of 90 mice were cured of the cancer. Although the cancer recurred in three of the mice, the tumors again regressed after a second treatment. The researchers saw similar results in mice bearing breast, colon and melanoma tumors.

 

Mice genetically engineered to spontaneously develop breast cancers in all 10 of their mammary pads also responded to the treatment. Treating the first tumor that arose often prevented the occurrence of future tumors and significantly increased the animals’ life span, the researchers found.

 

Finally, researchers explored the specificity of the T cells. They transplanted two types of tumors into the mice. They transplanted the same lymphoma cancer cells in two locations, and transplanted a colon cancer cell line in a third location. Treatment of one of the lymphoma sites caused the regression of both lymphoma tumors but did not affect the growth of the colon cancer cells. “This is a very targeted approach,” Levy said. “Only the tumor that shares the protein targets displayed by the treated site is affected. We’re attacking specific targets without having to identify exactly what proteins the T cells are recognizing.”

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Low-cost, handheld scanner that generates clinical-quality ultrasounds on a smartphone

Low-cost, handheld scanner that generates clinical-quality ultrasounds on a smartphone | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Butterfly Network, a startup co-founded by an MIT alumnus, aims to make ultrasound imaging as simple and ubiquitous as blood-pressure or temperature checks — in hospitals and, eventually, in consumers’ homes.

 

The startup has developed a low-cost, handheld scanner, based in part on work done by co-founder Nevada Sanchez ’10, SM ’11, that generates clinical-quality ultrasounds on a smartphone.

 

Ultrasounds are uploaded to the cloud, where any expert with permission can give second opinions or help analyze images. By making ultrasound imaging more ubiquitous, the co-founders aim to help health care professionals more quickly generate life-saving diagnoses.

 

Traditional ultrasound machines rely on vibrating crystals and other components to produce ultrasound images. These are generally large, stationary machines that cost anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000. But the startup’s device, called iQ, which resembles an electric razor that plugs into an iPhone lightning jack, essentially puts an entire ultrasound system on a chip, meaning it’s portable and sells for about $2,000.

 

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the device for numerous clinical applications, including urological, abdominal, cardiovascular, fetal, gynecological, and musculo-skeletal. Tens of thousands of orders have been placed and will be shipped over the next few months.

 

“First users will be doctors and clinicians who are more comfortable with ultrasounds,” says Sanchez, now the startup’s chip design lead. “But, eventually, everyone from paramedics to nurses to doctors who have never used ultrasound will carry with them.”

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This Tiny Robot Walks, Crawls, Jumps and Swims. But It Is Not Alive, Yet

This Tiny Robot Walks, Crawls, Jumps and Swims. But It Is Not Alive, Yet | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers have created a tiny robot, small enough to navigate a stomach or urinary system, that one day may be used to deliver drugs inside the body. Researchers in Germany have developed a robot that is about a seventh of an inch long and looks at first like no more than a tiny strip of something rubbery. Then it starts moving.

 

The robot walks, jumps, crawls, rolls and swims. It even climbs out of the pool, moving from a watery environment into a dry one. The robot prototype is small enough to move around in a stomach or urinary system, said Metin Sitti, head of the physical intelligence department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, who led the research team.

 

The robot hasn’t been tested in humans yet, but the goal is to improve it for medical use — for instance, delivering drugs to a target within the body. What is most unusual about the research, Dr. Sitti said, is that such a “minimalist robot” can achieve “all different type of motion possibilities to navigate in complex environments.”

 

Leif Ristroph, a mathematician at New York University’s Courant Institute who developed a small flying robot that mimics the motion of jellyfish, wrote in an email: “The array of behaviors and capabilities is certainly impressive and sets this robot apart from most others.”

 

“These critters are very cute!” he said. “Love how the authors put the little guy through mini-obstacle courses.”

 

“My other thought is that the pilot, who we don’t see, is also quite impressive,” added Dr. Ristroph, who was not involved in the research. “Clearly whoever is controlling the magnetic fields has gained some hard-earned intuition and fine skills based on a lot of experience and trial-and-error.”

 

The research was reported Wednesday in the journal Nature. Below are excerpts from a telephone conversation with Dr. Sitti. They have been edited for length and clarity.

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We finally know how vampire bats are able to drink blood and survive

We finally know how vampire bats are able to drink blood and survive | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Vampire bats are probably not the cuddliest of critters, considering nearly their entire food source consists of blood.

 

There are three types of bats who solely drink blood, the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus), the hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata), and the white-winged vampire bat (Diaemus youngi). All three of these animals evolved from bats who eat fruit, but we still aren't sure how they managed to make the huge leap to the minimally nutritious, and relatively dangerous activity of drinking blood.

 

This is because subsisting on just blood, called hematophagy, is very uncommon. The amount of liquid can overwhelm the kidneys, too much can cause iron poisoning, and excessive protein isn't good for the body either. And blood is super high in protein (93 percent), but extremely low in carbohydrates (1 percent) and vitamins. Plus there are a bunch of blood-borne diseases.

 

The international group of researchers took samples of the bats' droppings to look at something called the 'hologenome' – the entire set of genes of an organism, including all the bacteria and other microbes that make that creature their home. They analyzed the common vampire bat's hologenome against a number of insect-, fruit-, or meat-eating bats to try and determine what makes the vampire bat so weird.

 

What they found is that the gut microbes in the bat were an especially unique combination, which most other bats (or other mammals) wouldn't be able to stomach. In fact, more than 280 of the bacterial species found in the droppings are known to cause disease in other mammals.

 

"The data suggests that there is a close evolutionary relationship between the gut microbiome and the genome of the vampire bat for adaptation to sanguivory (feeding exclusively on blood)," biologist Marie Zepeda Mendoza of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark explains.

 

The researchers also found that the vampire bat's genome had more transposons, also known as 'jumping genes' - genes in the DNA that are able to multiply and move around the genome. There was as much as a 2.2 fold increase in the amount of one particular transposon, called MULE-MuDR in the vampire bat, compared to other types of bats the researchers looked at. The extra MULE-MuDR copies were mostly found in areas involved in immune response, viral defence and metabolism. The researchers think this helps the bat better process the huge amount of blood it can ingest per day, without getting sick. "It is clear from our results that the common vampire bat has adapted to sanguivory through a close relationship between its genome and gut microbiome," the researchers write in the paper.

 
 
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Skyrora: Scotland joins space race with 3D printed suborbital launch vehicle

Skyrora: Scotland joins space race with 3D printed suborbital launch vehicle | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Edinburgh-based Skyrora, a company with partners in Ukraine, will launch a partially 3D printed suborbital vehicle from the north of Scotland later this year. Skyrora’s rocket engines run on hydrogen peroxide and kerosene.

 

America, Russia, China, and… Scotland? Yes, the newest contender in the space race is that tiny northern country of the United Kingdom, Scotland, whose very own Skyrora has developed a suborbital launch vehicle that will take off from northern Scotland in the last three months of 2018.

 

It’s a great achievement for the company, which also operates from Ukraine and which has used 3D printing to develop parts for its spacecraft. Potential launch locations include Shetland, where the Shetland Space Centre is bidding for a license from the UK Space Agency. If the company can secure a launch location, its partly 3D printed suborbital launch vehicle could be taking off within the year.


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Here are some of the ways experts think AI might screw with us in the next five years

Here are some of the ways experts think AI might screw with us in the next five years | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

When we talk about the dangers posed by artificial intelligence, the emphasis is usually on the unintended side effects. We worry that we might accidentally create a super-intelligent AI and forget to program it with a conscience; or that we’ll deploy criminal sentencing algorithms that have soaked up the racist biases of their training data. But this is just half the story.

 

What about the people who actively want to use AI for immoral, criminal, or malicious purposes? Aren’t they more likely to cause trouble — and sooner? The answer is yes, according to more than two dozen experts from institutes including the Future of Humanity Institute, the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, and the Elon Musk-backed non-profit OpenAI. Very much yes.

 

In a report published today titled “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation,” these academics and researchers lay out some of the ways AI might be used to sting us in the next five years, and what we can do to stop it. Because while AI can enable some pretty nasty new attacks, the paper’s co-author, Miles Brundage of the Future of Humanity Institute, tells The Verge, we certainly shouldn’t panic or abandon hope.

 

“I like to take the optimistic framing, which is that we could do more,” says Brundage. “The point here is not to paint a doom-and-gloom picture — there are many defenses that can be developed and there’s much for us to learn. I don’t think it’s hopeless at all, but I do see this paper as a call to action.”

 

The report is expansive, but focuses on a few key ways AI is going to exacerbate threats for both digital and physical security systems, as well as create completely new dangers. It also makes five recommendations on how to combat these problems — including getting AI engineers to be more upfront about the possible malicious uses of their research; and starting new dialogues between policymakers and academics so that governments and law enforcement aren’t caught unawares.

 

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University of Washington and Microsoft researchers achieve random access in large-scale DNA data storage

University of Washington and Microsoft researchers achieve random access in large-scale DNA data storage | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

University of Washington and Microsoft researchers revealed today that they have taken a significant step forward in their quest to develop a DNA-based storage system for digital data. In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, the members of the Molecular Information Systems Laboratory (MISL) describe the science behind their world record-setting achievement of 200 megabytes stored in synthetic DNA. They also present their system for random access — that is, the selective retrieval of individual data files encoded in more than 13 million DNA oligonucleotides. While this is not the first time researchers have achieved random access in DNA, the UW and Microsoft team have produced the first demonstration of random access at such a large scale.

 

One of the big advantages to DNA as a digital storage medium is its ability to store vast quantities of information, with a raw limit of one exabyte — equivalent to one billion gigabytes — per cubic millimeter. The data must be converted from digital 0s and 1s to the molecules of DNA: adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. To restore the data to its digital form, the DNA is sequenced and the files decoded back to 0s and 1s. This process becomes more daunting as the amount of data increases — without the ability to perform random access, the entire dataset would have to be sequenced and decoded in bulk in order to find and retrieve specific files. In addition, the DNA synthesis and sequencing processes are error-prone, which can result in data loss.

 

MISL researchers addressed these problems by designing and validating an extensive library of primers for use in conjunction with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to achieve random access. Before synthesizing the DNA containing data from a file, the researchers appended both ends of each DNA sequence with PCR primer targets from the primer library. They then used these primers later to select the desired strands through random access, and used a new algorithm designed to more efficiently decode and restore the data to its original, digital state.

 

“Our work reduces the effort, both in sequencing capacity and in processing, to completely recover information stored in DNA,” explained Microsoft Senior Researcher Sergey Yekhanin, who was instrumental in creating the codec and algorithms used to achieve the team’s results. “For the latter, we have devised new algorithms that are more tolerant to errors in writing and reading DNA sequences to minimize the effort in recovering this information.”

 

Using synthetic DNA supplied by Twist Bioscience, the MISL team encoded and successfully retrieved 35 distinct files ranging in size from 29 kilobytes to over 44 megabytes — amounting to a record-setting 200 megabytes of high-definition video, audio, images, and text. This represents a significant increase over the previous record of 22 megabytes set by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Technicolor Research & Innovation in Germany.

 

“The intersection of biotech and computer architecture is incredibly promising and we are excited to detail our results to the community,” said Allen School professor Luis Ceze, who co-leads the MISL. “Since this paper was submitted for publication we have reached over 400 megabytes, and we are still growing and learning more about large-scale DNA data storage.”


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Gene therapy: Deaf to hearing a whisper

Gene therapy: Deaf to hearing a whisper | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Deaf mice have been able to hear a tiny whisper after being given a "landmark" gene therapy by US scientists. They say restoring near-normal hearing in the animals paves the way for similar treatments for people "in the near future".

Studies, published in Nature Biotechnology, corrected errors that led to the sound-sensing hairs in the ear becoming defective. The researchers used a synthetic virus to nip in and correct the defect.

"It's unprecedented, this is the first time we've seen this level of hearing restoration," said researcher Dr Jeffrey Holt, from Boston Children's Hospital.

About half of all forms of deafness are due to an error in the instructions for life - DNA. In the experiments at Boston Children's Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, the mice had a genetic disorder called Usher syndrome. It means there are inaccurate instructions for building microscopic hairs inside the ear.

In healthy ears, sets of outer hair cells magnify sound waves and inner hair cells then convert sounds to electrical signals that go to the brain. The hairs normally form these neat V-shaped rows.

 

Sound waves produce the sensation of hearing by vibrating hair-like structures on the inner ear’s sensory hair cells. But how this mechanical motion gets converted into electrical signals that go to our brains has long been a mystery.

 

Scientists have believed some undiscovered protein is involved. Such proteins have been identified for taste, smell and sight, but the protein required for hearing has been elusive. In part, that’s because it’s hard to get enough cells from the inner ear to study – they’re embedded deep in the cochlea.

 

“People have been looking for more than 30 years,” says Jeffrey Holt of the department of otolaryngology at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Five or six possibilities have come up, but didn’t pan out.”

 

Recently, in the Journal of Clinical Investigationteam led by Holt and Andrew Griffith, of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), demonstrated that two related proteins, TMC1 and TMC2, are essential for normal hearing – paving the way for a test of gene therapy to reverse a type of genetic deafness. 

 

The two proteins make up gateways known as ion channels, which sit atop the hair-like structures (a.k.a. stereocilia) and let electrically charged molecules move in to the cell, generating an electrical signal that ultimately travels to the brain.  When both the TMC1 and the TMC2 genes are mutated, sound waves can’t be converted to electrical signals – they literally fall on deaf ears.

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Quantum Field Theory - A 20 Part Series

Quantum Field Theory - A 20 Part Series | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

These notes mean to give an expository but rigorous introduction to the basic concepts of relativistic perturbative quantum field theories, specifically those that arise as the perturbative quantization of a Lagrangian field theory — such as quantum electrodynamics, quantum chromodynamics, and perturbative quantum gravity appearing in the standard model of particle physics.

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Winter Olympics 2018: Inside the Opening Ceremonies Drone Show

Winter Olympics 2018: Inside the Opening Ceremonies Drone Show | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The Pyeongchang opening ceremonies included a performance by 1,218 drones working in concert—a new world record.

 

The opening ceremony of any Olympics provides pageantry at a global scale, a celebration that, at its best, can create moments every bit as indelible as the games themselves. For the Pyeongchang Games, those watching the curtain-raiser at home also witnessed a sight never seen before: a record-setting 1,218 drones joined in a mechanical murmuration.

 

Drone shows like the one on display at the Pyeongchang Games have taken place before; you may remember the drone army that flanked Lady Gaga at last year's Super Bowl. But the burst of drones that filled the sky Friday night—or early morning, depending on where in the world you watched—comprised four times as many fliers. Without hyperbole, there's really never been anything like it.

 

Intel had planned to produce a live version of the show for the Pyeongchang opening ceremony crowd, but had to scrap it at the last minute due to what the company describes as "impromptu logistical changes." Television audiences, though, were always only going to see the prerecorded version of the record-setting aerial spectacle. And the Intel plans to lean into live shows throughout the week, with a separate, 300-drone act expected to take off nightly for the medal ceremonies.

 

In previous outings, the drone fleet has taken forms like a waving American flag backing Gaga, or a twirling Christmas tree at Disney's Starbright Holidays. The Pyeongchang production, as you might expect, includes more Olympic-themed animations, like a gyrating snowboarder and those iconic interlocking rings, all made possible by careful coding, and the four billion color combinations enabled by onboard LEDs.

 

"In order to create a real and lifelike version of the snowboarder with more than 1,200 drones, our animation team used a photo of a real snowboarder in action to get the perfect outline and shape in the sky," says Natalie Cheung, Intel's general manager of drone light shows.

 

As it turns out, bring 1,218 of those drones into harmony doesn't present much more of a logistical challenge than 300, thanks to how the Shooting Star platform works. After animators draw up the show using 3-D design software, each individual drone gets assigned to act as a kind of aerial pixel, filling in the 3-D image against the night sky. And while more drones does provide a broader canvas, it perhaps more importantly affords a better sense of depth. "What you have is a complete three-dimensional viewing space, so you can create lots of interesting effects and transformations when you use that full capability," says Nanduri. "It's aways easy to fly more drones for an animation and increase the perspective."

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"Thermal Touch" can turn any surface into an augmented reality touchscreen

"Thermal Touch" can turn any surface into an augmented reality touchscreen | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Augmented reality company Metaio is developing "Thermal Touch," a technology that combines infrared and visible light cameras to detect the heat signature from your fingers and turn any object into a touchscreen. The technology could be embedded in the smartphones and wearable devices of the future to offer new ways of interacting with our environment.

 

Back in 2004, the best-selling mobile phone had a 128 x 128-pixel screen, no camera or Bluetooth, and a whopping 4 MB of internal memory. Ten years from now, smartphones and other wearable devices will in all likelihood push the envelope much further than we can now imagine, by embedding all sorts of advanced, miniaturized sensors.

 

Metaio, an augmented reality company based in Munich, believes that thermal imaging cameras will be a staple in the personal electronics of the future, and has developed the prototype of a user interface that relies on them to turn any object into a heat-sensitive touchscreen.

 

The prototype, currently mounted on a tablet device, consists of an infrared camera coupled with a standard, visible light camera. The device registers the heat signature left by a person's finger when they touch a surface, and then uses augmented reality software to add new interesting, context-sensitive functions that allow users to interact with their environment in new ways and in real time.

 

For instance, while shopping at the supermarket, you could touch an item and immediately bring up online consumer reviews for that product; design 3D objects and see how they would sit in your room before they're sent to the presses; or even draw the outline of a TV remote on your hand, and then press a virtual button to change the channel or adjust the volume.

 

One interesting feature is that the technology can easily discriminate between the user actually touching a surface and hovering over it, since the heat transfer is significantly reduced. This could open up even more ways of interacting with the environment (and which are likely to look even more bizarre to an outside observer).

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Metaio utilise une caméra infrarouge pour transformer les objets en interfaces quand on les touche. Une manière de rendre la surface du papier sensible ?
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Bundled RNA balls silence brain cancer gene expression : Spoonful of Medicine

Bundled RNA balls silence brain cancer gene expression : Spoonful of Medicine | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have developed a nanotechnology-based way to silence a key genetic switch involved in the formation of glioblastoma brain cancer. The technique, which delayed tumor growth in mice, consists of an injection of synthetic balls of RNA with a gold nanoparticle core. Researchers think similarly engineered RNA blobs, called spherical nucleic acids(SNAs), could eventually be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative ailments.

 

“We are really excited about this,” says Alexander Stegh, a cancer biologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago who helped develop the new cancer-killing SNA platform. “It’s a really novel approach.”

 

One of the biggest challenges for researchers wishing to treat brain-related diseases is crossing the blood-brain barrier, a separation of circulating blood that blocks bacteria and large molecules from entering the brain. Recent attempts to address this issue in brain cancer have involved injecting gene-silencing RNA directly into brain tumors. This method, called RNA interference (RNAi), is designed to neutralize the expression of important oncogenes. But injecting RNA through the skull poses a number of safety and logistical issues, and is inefficient in cases involving more than one tumor site.

 

To address this problem, Stegh teamed up with Northwestern chemist Chad Mirkin to engineer SNAs that serve as RNAi delivery vehicles capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. They packed the gold-cored spheres full of RNA molecules designed to silence the expression of Bcl2L12an oncogene that inhibits cancer-suppressing pathways and is over expressed in the brains of people with glioblastoma compared with healthy brains. The researchers injected the SNAs into the tails of glioma-bearing mice. The RNA balls then traveled through the bloodstream to various organs, including the brain. “The really interesting thing is that the SNAs have a GPS-like affinity for cancer cells that causes them to selectively accumulate in the tumor,” Stegh says. The tumor “acts like a sponge,” he explains, allowing the SNAs to enter through its “leaky blood vessels.”

 

Inside the tumor, the RNAs engaged scavenger receptors on the surface of cancer cells. There, the unique three-dimensional architecture of the SNAs—an orientation imparted by the gold core scaffolding—allowed the therapy to turn on the cells’ ability to internalize the RNA balls. Once inside the cells, the RNA molecules bound to the complementary strands of messenger RNA encoded by the Bcl2L12 oncogene. This induced specific degradation of the Bcl2L12-encoded messenger RNA, reducing protein level expression and increasing mouse survival time by several days, on average, compared with sham-treated controls. The study was published online today in Science Translational Medicine.

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Researchers create first optical transistor comparable to an electronic transistor

Researchers create first optical transistor comparable to an electronic transistor | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In an open-access paper published in Nature Communications, Ritesh Agarwal, a professor the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science, and his colleagues say that they have made significant progress in photonic (optical) computing by creating a prototype of a working optical transistor with properties similar to those of a conventional electronic transistor.

 

Optical transistors, using photons instead of electrons, promise to one day be more powerful than the electronic transistors currently used in computers. Agarwal’s research on photonic computing has been focused on finding the right combination and physical configuration of nonlinear materials that can amplify and mix light waves in ways that are analogous to electronic transistors. “One of the hurdles in doing this with light is that materials that are able to mix optical signals also tend to have very strong background signals as well. That background signal would drastically reduce the contrast and on/off ratios leading to errors in the output,” Agarwal explained.

 

The device is based on a cadmium sulfide nanobelt with source (S) and drain (D) electrodes. The fundamental wave at the frequency of ω, which is normally incident upon the belt, excites the second-harmonic (twice the frequency) wave at 2ω, which is back-scattered.

 

Agarwal’s research group started by creating a system with no disruptive optical background signal. To do that, they used a “nanobelt”* made out of cadmium sulfide. Then, by applying an electrical field across the nanobelt, the researchers were able to introduce optical nonlinearities (similar to the nonlinearities in electronic transistors), which enabled a signal mixing output that was otherwise zero.

 

“Our system turns on from zero to extremely large values,” Agarwal said.** “For the first time, we have an optical device with output that truly resembles an electronic transistor.”

 

The next steps toward a fully functioning photonic computer will involve integrating optical circuits with optical interconnects, modulators, and detectors to achieve actual on-chip integrated photonic computation.

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Experimental Japanese flu drug could kill the virus in one day

Experimental Japanese flu drug could kill the virus in one day | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A single-dose pill that can halt the flu virus within a day.

That's what Japanese drug maker Shionogi claims its new flu treatment can do, the Wall Street Journal reports, but the compound that could relieve one of the worst flu seasons in years wouldn't hit U.S. shelves until at least 2019.

 

It took a median time of 24 hours for Shionogi's experimental compound to kill the flu in American and Japanese patients during a late-stage trial, per the Journal, faster than any flu drug available. And it requires just a single dosage. Compare that to Tamiflu, the popular anti-flu drug that requires twice-a-day doses for five days. In the above trial, Tamiflu took three times longer to kill the virus.

 

Little surprise, then, that Roche — the Swiss company behind Tamiflu — came onboard to help develop the drug, Bloomberg reports.

 

The current flu season is putting Americans in hospitals and emergency rooms at levels not unlike the 2009 swine flu, experts said, with reports of otherwise healthy people dying from the infection.

 

Hence the rush of companies to respond with next-level iterations of anti-viral treatments: Johnson & Jonhnson is working on a drug that blocks many flu viruses' genetic material from replicating, Bloomberg notes, while its development of the "holy grail" — a universal flu vaccine that would prevent the need for new vaccines each year  — remains further off.

 

Shionogi's single-day drug has been fast-tracked for approval in Japan and could get approval there next month, the company told the Journal, but it won't submit for U.S. approval until this summer.

Flu treatments on the market like Tamiflu remain few and far between. Yet the flu vaccine is only about 30% effective against the flu's most common strain this year, according to the CDC. 

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Study reveals molecular mechanisms of memory formation

Study reveals molecular mechanisms of memory formation | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

MIT neuroscientists have uncovered a cellular pathway that allows specific synapses to become stronger during memory formation. The findings provide the first glimpse of the molecular mechanism by which long-term memories are encoded in a region of the hippocampus called CA3.

 

The researchers found that a protein called Npas4, previously identified as a master controller of gene expression triggered by neuronal activity, controls the strength of connections between neurons in the CA3 and those in another part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus. Without Npas4, long-term memories cannot form.

 

“Our study identifies an experience-dependent synaptic mechanism for memory encoding in CA3, and provides the first evidence for a molecular pathway that selectively controls it,” says Yingxi Lin, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

 

Lin is the senior author of the study, which appears in the Feb. 8 issue of Neuron. The paper’s lead author is McGovern Institute research scientist Feng-Ju (Eddie) Weng.

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