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New Evidence of Human Influence on Global Warming - Troposphere warms and stratosphere cools

New Evidence of Human Influence on Global Warming - Troposphere warms and stratosphere cools | Amazing Science |
Using state-of-the-art climate models, a new study has found clear evidence of a discernible human influence on atmospheric temperature.


Specifically, Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and 21 colleagues found that while the troposphere — the lowest part of the atmosphere — has warmed over the past three decades, the stratosphere, which starts 5 to 12 miles above the ground, has cooled. This is exactly what you’d expect if greenhouse gases were trapping heat near the surface rather than letting it percolate upward. “This is not a new idea,” Santer said in an interview. “We did the first fingerprinting studies of the troposphere and stratosphere back in 1996.”


The problem back then, Santer said, was that only a couple of climate models were available for studies like this. Models are crucial in this kind of research because you can’t do controlled experiments with the planet the way doctors do when they test new pharmaceuticals. With medicines, you give some patients the drug and others a placebo, or sugar pill, and see the difference in how their illnesses respond.


With the climate system, by contrast, there’s only one patient, and it’s already been dosed with extra greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. So scientists like Santer do simulations of how the atmosphere should look both with and without those extra gases. Unlike in 1996, Santer and his co-authors had 20 different simulations to work with for this study, all of them state-of-the-art models developed for the upcoming major report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due out starting in 2014.


The obtained results mean, that the warming of the troposphere and cooling of the stratosphere can’t be explained in any other way than by the heat-trapping effects of human-generated greenhouse gases. “It was surprising to me how large the signal was,” Santer said

This is only one of the fingerprints scientists expect to see in a human–influenced climate, moreover. “In the past we’ve looked at ocean surface temperatures changes in hurricane-forming regions, patterns in atmospheric pressure; rainfall patterns, and changes in Arctic sea ice,” Santer said. All of these and more can be identified more easily and clearly with the new models. “I think these simulations are like a scientific gold mine,” Santer said. “Analysts will be exploiting them for many years to come.”

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Apple's VR Project: Apple's Secret Work on Virtual and Augmented Reality

Apple's VR Project: Apple's Secret Work on Virtual and Augmented Reality | Amazing Science |

Apple is investigating multiple ways virtual and augmented reality could be implemented into future iOS devices or new hardware products.


Apple has been exploring virtual reality and augmented reality technologies for more than 10 years based on patent filings, but with virtual and augmented reality exploding in popularity with the launch of ARKit, Apple's dabbling may be growing more serious and could lead to an actual dedicated AR/VR product in the not-too-distant future.


Apple is rumored to have a secret research unit comprising hundreds of employees working on AR and VR, exploring ways the emerging technologies could be used in future Apple products. VR/AR hiring has ramped up and Apple has acquiredmultiple AR/VR companies, suggesting something is afoot in Cupertino.


There are dozens of possibilities for VR/AR technology in Apple products, and in 2017, Apple is betting big on both AR and VR. VR support is included in Metal 2 in macOS High Sierra, and in iOS 11, Apple has developed an ARKit API that lets developers create impressive AR-based apps and games with little effort. Along with software support for AR/VR, Apple is said to be working on hardware, with the focus currently on an augmented reality headset or "smart glasses." According to rumors, Apple is developing on an augmented reality headset with a dedicated display, a built-in processor, and a new "rOS" or reality operating system. rOS is said to be based on iOS, the operating system that runs on the iPhone. For the AR headset, Apple is developing a "system-on-a-package" chip similar to what's in the Apple Watch.


As for input methods, Apple is considering touch panels, voice activation, and head gestures, and a range of applications from mapping to texting are being prototyped. Virtual meeting rooms and 360-degree video playback are also concepts that are being explored.


As Apple prepares to launch its new AR headset, the company will introduce a new version of ARKit for developers, perhaps as soon as 2018. The new ARKit will be used to make AR games for multiple players and it will reportedly introduce persistent tracking, aka a feature that remembers where a digital object was placed in a virtual space.


Apple may actually be experimenting with several augmented reality headset prototypes as engineers search for the "most compelling application" for such a device. At least one group at Apple is pushing for glasses that feature a 3D camera but no screen, similar to Snap's Spectacles.


Apple is aiming to finish work on its augmented reality headset by 2019, and a finished product could be ready to ship as soon as 2020. Apple's timeline is said to be "very aggressive," though, and could change, but the hardware still has a few years of development to go.

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Your Pun-Divided Attention: How the Brain Processes Wordplay

Your Pun-Divided Attention: How the Brain Processes Wordplay | Amazing Science |

To understand puns, the left and right brain hemispheres have to work together.


Puns are divisive in comedy. Critics groan that they are the “lowest form of wit,” a quote attributed to various writers. Others—including Shakespeare—pun with abandon. The brain itself seems divided over puns, according to a recent study published in Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition. The results suggest the left and right hemispheres play different roles in processing puns, ultimately requiring communication between them for the joke to land.


To observe how the brain handles this type of humor, researchers at the University of Windsor in Ontario presented study participants with a word relating to a pun in either the left or right visual field (which corresponds to the right or left brain hemisphere, respectively). They then analyzed a subject's reaction time in each situation to determine which hemisphere was dominant. “The left hemisphere is the linguistic hemisphere, so it's the one that processes most of the language aspects of the pun, with the right hemisphere kicking in a bit later” to reveal the word's dual meanings, explains Lori Buchanan, a psychology professor and co-author of the study.


This interaction enables us to “get” the joke because puns, as a form of word play, complete humor's basic formula: expectation plus incongruity equals laughter. In puns—where words have multiple, ambiguous meanings—the sentence context primes us to interpret a word in a specific way, an operation that occurs in the left hemisphere. Humor emerges when the right hemisphere subsequently clues us in to the word's other, unanticipated meaning, triggering what Buchanan calls a “surprise reinterpretation.”

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A population of finches on the Galapagos has been discovered in the process of becoming a new species

A population of finches on the Galapagos has been discovered in the process of becoming a new species | Amazing Science |

This is the first example of speciation that scientists have been able to observe directly in the field. Researchers followed the entire population of finches on a tiny Galapagos island called Daphne Major, for many years, and so they were able to watch the speciation in progress.


The research was published in the journal Science. The group of finch species to which the Big Bird population belongs are collectively known as Darwin's finches and helped Charles Darwin to uncover the process of evolution by natural selection.


In 1981, the researchers noticed the arrival of a male of a non-native species, the large cactus finch. Professors Rosemary and Peter Grant noticed that this male proceeded to mate with a female of one of the local species, a medium ground finch, producing fertile young. Almost 40 years later, the progeny of that original mating are still being observed, and number around 30 individuals. "It's an extreme case of something we're coming to realise more generally over the years. Evolution in general can happen very quickly," said Prof Roger Butlin, a speciation expert who wasn't involved in the study.

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Proton–antiproton equivalence confirmed by best-ever measurement

Proton–antiproton equivalence confirmed by best-ever measurement | Amazing Science |

A new measurement technique used by CERN's BASE collaboration has constrained the magnetic moment of the antiproton with parts-per-billion precision – a huge improvement over the roughly one-part-per-million precision achieved by the same team in January. The result means that the magnetic moment of the antiproton is now known even more precisely than the magnetic moment of the proton itself.


Crucial to the 350-fold improvement in precision was the simultaneous measurement of the cyclotron frequency of one antiproton and of the Larmor frequency of another antiproton. By using a "hot" particle in the cyclotron measurement, the researchers avoided the need for a time-consuming cooling step in each cycle of their experiment. This allowed the team to make measurements at a much greater rate than before, and three times faster than they managed when they measured the proton's magnetic moment in 2014.

Equal and opposite

Discrepancies between the properties of protons and antiprotons could explain the overwhelming dominance of normal matter in the universe – something that is not explained by the Standard Model of particle physics. Anybody hoping for hints of new physics beyond the Standard Model will be disappointed, however, because the result is consistent with protons and antiprotons having magnetic moments that are opposite but equal.

The researchers expect to achieve a further improvement in precision by upgrading the experiment's magnetic shielding and cooling system, and by using a more homogeneous magnetic field in the precision trap.


The experiment is described in Nature.

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Cold atoms in space could target gravitational waves

Cold atoms in space could target gravitational waves | Amazing Science |

Atom interferometers could be more effective than light-based instruments in detecting gravitational waves.


Gravitational waves hit the headlines in February last year when the LIGO collaboration announced it had detected them directly for the first time using a pair of huge laser interferometers in the US. With a further five sightings reported since then by LIGO and its European counterpart Virgo, scientists have begun to open what they call a new window on the universe. Now, keen to open that window as wide as possible, several groups have proposed sending atomic interferometers into space to observe gravitational waves that are difficult to intercept on the ground.


Gravitational waves are ripples in space–time that create tiny periodic expansions and contractions of space along orthogonal axes as they propagate forward. And, like any waves, they come in a range of frequencies. LIGO, which stands for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, detects them by monitoring a change in the relative phase of two perpendicular laser beams. However, at frequencies below about 10 Hz, this signal tends to be drowned out by terrestrial sources of noise, such as seismic waves.


To avoid such interference and detect low-frequency waves, physicists are eager to launch interferometers into the quiet of space. The €1.5 Billion Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) would consist of three spacecraft positioned millions of kilometers apart in a triangular formation, and would detect gravitational waves by monitoring the interference between laser beams bounced back and forth off free-floating test masses inside each spacecraft. First proposed about 25 years ago, the project has suffered a series of funding problems and was only officially inserted into the European Space Agency’s science program in June this year, following the successful completion of its predecessor LISA Pathfinder. Its launch is planned for 2034.

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Researchers conduct chemical study of an old, metal-rich globular cluster

Researchers conduct chemical study of an old, metal-rich globular cluster | Amazing Science |

Researchers have presented a chemical study of the old, metal-rich globular cluster NGC 5927. The new research determines abundances of 22 elements in seven giant stars of the cluster. 


Discovered in 1826, NGC 5927 is a globular cluster near the Galactic plane, located about 7,700 light years from the Earth. It is one of most metal-rich globular clusters in the Milky Way and has an estimated age of approximately 12.25 billion years.


Galactic globular clusters, especially such old as NGC 5927, are important for astronomers since they are among the oldest objects in the universe. Therefore, they could serve as natural laboratories for the study of stellar evolution processes.


In the case of NGC 5927, it is believed that it was formed during the earliest stages of the formation of the Milky Way. Hence, researchers hope that this cluster could provide essential information about how the initial material got processed chemically.


A team of astronomers led by Aldo Mura-Guzman of the University of Concepción in Chile, has lately performed a chemical study of NGC 5927. They obtained high-resolution spectra using the FLAMES/UVES spectrograph at the UT2 telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, which allowed them to conduct a detailed chemical abundances analysis of this cluster.

"In this paper we present a chemical study of the GC NGC 5927 based on high-resolution spectra taken from UVES," the authors wrote in the paper.


The researchers determined chemical abundances 22 such as sodium, aluminum, iron, oxygen and heavy elements like yttrium and zirconium. They found that NGC 5927 hosts multiple stellar populations with oxygen-sodium anti-correlation, and moderate spread in aluminum abundances.


According to the paper, NGC 5927 has a mean metallicity of –0.47 dex, what is consistent with previous studies. This value is comparable with field stars and globular clusters in the Milky Way's bulge. Moreover, the scientists noted that no significant spread in other iron-peak elements is visible in the studied cluster.


Furthermore, the researchers confirmed a sodium-aluminum correlation but found no clear evidence for magnesium-aluminum anti-correlation in NGC 5927.

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Too much antimatter is hitting Earth and scientists aren't sure why

Too much antimatter is hitting Earth and scientists aren't sure why | Amazing Science |

Scientists aren't sure why so much antimatter is hitting Earth. New observations at the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory may offer an answer.


The Earth is constantly being hit by cosmic rays, but scientists have noticed an unusually large amount of high-energy positrons – the antimatter counterparts of electrons. Now a group of researchers from the United States, Mexico, Germany, and Poland might have an explanation. According to the Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences (IFJ PAN), the excess positrons might be “the first particles recorded by humans to be derived from the interaction of dark matter.”

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Just How Little Do We Know about the Ocean Floor?

Just How Little Do We Know about the Ocean Floor? | Amazing Science |
Less than 0.05 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped to a level of detail useful for detecting items such as airplane wreckage or the spires of undersea volcanic vents


Unlike mapping the land, we can’t measure the landscape of the sea floor directly from satellites using radar, because sea water blocks those radio waves. But satellites can use radar to measure the height of the sea’s surface very accurately. And if there are enough measurements to subtract the effects of waves and tides, satellites can actually measure bumps and dips in the sea surface that result from the underlying landscape of the ocean floor.


Where there’s a large underwater mountain or ridge, for example, the tiny local increase in gravity resulting from its mass pulls sea water into a slight bump above it. If instead there is an ocean trench, the weaker local gravity produces a comparative dip in the ocean surface.


Reading those bumps and dips in the sea’s surface is an astounding feat of precision measurement, involving lasers to track the trajectory of the measuring satellite and inevitably a lot of maths to process the data. The new map uses data from the Cryosat-2 and Jason-1 satellites and shows features not seen in earlier maps using data from older satellites. The previous global map of the ocean floor, created using the same techniques and published in 1997, had a resolution of about 20km.


So we do actually have a map of 100% of the ocean floor to a resolution of around 5km. From that, we can see the main features of its hidden landscape, such as the mid-ocean ridges and ocean trenches – and, in that sense, the ocean floor is certainly not “95% unexplored”. But that global map of the ocean floor is admittedly less detailed than maps of Mars, the Moon, or Venus, because of our planet’s watery veil.


NASA’s Magellan spacecraft mapped 98% of the surface of Venus to a resolution of around 100 meters. The entire Martian surface has also been mapped at that resolution and just over 60% of the Red Planet has now been mapped at around 20m resolution. Meanwhile, selenographers have mapped all of the lunar surface at around 100 meter resolution and now even at seven meter resolution.

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Physicists unify quantum coherence with nonclassicality of light

Physicists unify quantum coherence with nonclassicality of light | Amazing Science |

Physicists have demonstrated that two independently developed concepts—quantum coherence and the nonclassicality of light—both arise from the same underlying resources. The ability to explain seemingly distinct phenomena within a single framework has long been a fulfilling aspiration in physics, and here it may also have potential applications for quantum information technologies.

The physicists, Kok Chuan Tan, Tyler Volkoff, Hyukjoon Kwon, and Hyunseok Jeong, at Seoul National University, have published a paper on their work in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters. "The results unify two well-known yet independently developed notions inquantum information theory and quantum optics: the concept of quantumcoherence that was recently developed based on the framework of quantum resource theories, and the notion of nonclassicality of light that has been established since the 1960s based on the quantum theory of light," Jeong explains.


As Jeong stated, an important question in physics is how to draw the line between "quantum" and "classical" and how to quantify the degree of "quantum." In their new work, the physicists developed a procedure that quantifies the amount of coherence in a superposition of coherent states. This information essentially tells how "quantum" vs. how "classical" these states are, which is useful for many quantum information tasks.


In the process of doing this, the scientists found that the same resource that measures coherence can also be used to measure the nonclassicality of light. This finding helps to explain some previous observations, such as that both coherence and nonclassical light can be converted to quantum entanglement. As the new results show, this is because nonclassical light may be interpreted as a form of coherence.


"I think it is always interesting to apply new ideas to old concepts to see if we can get additional insight," Tan said. "In this case, the resource theory of coherence is a relatively new tool available to the community while nonclassical light is, comparatively speaking, a much older concept from a mature field of study. By providing a connection between the two concepts, our hope is to be able to create synergy, where the tools and insights we gain from coherence can be used to achieve greater insight into the inner workings of nonclassical light and vice versa. For instance, our work suggests that the fact that both coherence and nonclassical light can both be converted to entanglement is no mere accident."

Via Mariaschnee
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Fruit Fly Brains Could Help AI Perform Much Better Content Searches

Fruit Fly Brains Could Help AI Perform Much Better Content Searches | Amazing Science |
The neural architecture of a fruit fly brain is better at some types of searches than computers today.


The content you see on the internet is increasingly becoming tailored to you: Music based on your favorite jams, shopping suggestions corresponding to your recent purchases, and television shows similar to your most beloved episodes. These “similarity searches” drive custom content, and they’re pretty tricky to do correctly and quickly.


That is, for computers at least. Fruit flies, on the other hand, seem to be pretty good at them. A new study in the journal Science takes a look at how fruit flies quickly and efficiently sort out and identify different smells. Their neural architecture is so well-designed in fact, that it could hold the key to more effective similarity searches.


For brains, especially human brains, this kind of recognition isn’t too difficult, according to Saket Navlakha, assistant professor in Salk’s Integrative Biology Laboratory and lead author of the new paper. Many animals perform similarity searches all the time. “For example, you might see someone and be like, ‘That guy reminds me of my uncle.’ Or you might hear a song and be like, ‘That band sounds like Nirvana.’ Or you might smell a perfume and be like, ‘That smell reminds me of an orange,’” Navlakha explains.


He says in each of these instances we’re comparing new stimuli to an existing database of information stored in our brains. It would be much the same with animals in the wild — seeing a red berry may trigger a similarity search to other red berries to indicate that it might be poisonous. “It’s quite a general problem faced by many species,” says Navlakha.


The problem of categorizing and understanding new information is a little trickier for computers — you’ve likely received an automated suggestion for a movie or product that seemed way off base. That’s because when most computers analyze data to categorize items, they pare down the information to work more efficiently. Computers assign a kind of digital shorthand, called a “hash,” to each item. From there, hashes are compared and matched with other, similar hashes, a process known as called locality-sensitive hashing. The simplified hashes make searching through thousands, if not millions, of other items faster and easier.


Fruit flies, however, have a mechanism in their brains that performs similarity searches in a very different way. Specifically, they expand the stimuli information, as opposed to compressing and simplifying it. When fruit flies first sense an odor, 50 neurons fire in a combination unique to that smell. But instead of simplifying that information as computer programs would, the flies’ brains then send that information to a total of 2,000 neurons. With more neurons in play, the fly’s brain is able to give each smell a more unique label, meaning that it’s easier to categorize.


The flies then pare this information down to the top five percent or so of neural signals, effectively sorting out only the most salient information. This creates a pattern similar to a digital hash that the fly can then use to identify scents and respond accordingly.

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As Earth's rotation slows, 2018 could see a spike in large earthquakes

As Earth's rotation slows, 2018 could see a spike in large earthquakes | Amazing Science |

Every so often, the Earth’s rotation slows by a few milliseconds per day. This is inconsequential to the average human, and causes only mild annoyance to the people whose job it is to measure Earth’s rotation with great precision.


That may be about to change, if the hypothesis set out by two geologists proves true. In a study published in Geophysical Research Letters earlier this year, Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana predict that, because of Earth’s slowing rotation, the world will see a significant spike in large earthquakes in 2018.


To make this prediction, Bilham and Bendick studied every earthquake since 1900 that recorded more than 7.0 on the moment magnitude scale. They found that approximately every 32 years, there is an uptick in these large quakes. The only factor that strongly correlates is a slight slowing of the Earth’s rotation in a five-year period before the uptick.

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Exoplanet hunters rethink search for alien life

Exoplanet hunters rethink search for alien life | Amazing Science |
Astronomers expand ideas of how chemistry and geology could affect chances for life on other worlds.


Steve Desch can see the future of exoplanet research, and it’s not pretty. Imagine, he says, that astronomers use NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to scour the atmosphere of an Earth-mass world for signs of life. Then imagine that they chase hints of atmospheric oxygen for years — before realizing that those were false positives produced by geological activity instead of living things.


Desch, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University in Tempe, and other planet hunters met from 13-17 November in Laramie, Wyoming, to plot better ways to scout for life beyond Earth. Many are starting to argue that habitability — having liquid water on a planet’s surface — is not the factor that should guide exoplanet exploration. Instead, the scientists say, the field should focus on the chances of detecting alien life, should it exist. “Planets can be habitable and not have life with any impact,” Desch told researchers at the meeting.

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This robot made of algae can swim through your body—thanks to magnets

This robot made of algae can swim through your body—thanks to magnets | Amazing Science |

Biohybrid bot could one day deliver drugs or do surgery.


For decades, engineers have been trying to build medical robots that can deliver drugs or do surgery inside the human body—a somewhat less fantastic version of the 1966 sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage. Now, scientists have manipulated spirulina, a microscopic plant and food supplement, to travel through people in response to magnetic signals. The biohybrid robot could one day carry drugs to specific parts of the body, minimizing side effects. What’s more, the robot—and its magnetic coat—appear to kill cancer cells.


Spirulina, an alga, looks like a tiny coiled spring at the microscopic level. Researchers had been trying, and succeeding to various degrees, to build bots out of rods, tubes, spheres, and even cages no bigger than a cell. Outfitting these tiny devices with an ample power supply has been quite a challenge, as most potential fuels are toxic to humans. Another problem is steering such a microrobot through the body’s maze of proteins and other molecules, which requires both a way to control its movements and to see where it is.


So Li Zhang, a materials scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shatin, turned to magnetism—and living organisms. Magnetic fields created outside the body can penetrate living tissue without harm, allowing researchers to move magnetized objects around inside. For maximum mobility, a helical body propelled by twirling works best. Enter Spirulina. “It’s surprising that you can find in nature such a convenient structure and that it can behave so nicely,” says Peer Fischer, a physical chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, who was not involved in the study.


Several years ago, Zhang and his colleagues used the alga as inspiration for a synthetic microbot, which worked to some degree. This time, the scientists decided to use the alga itself. They needed a way to track the robot in the body, and the alga produces a fluorescent glow. The researchers wondered whether they could follow the robot's course near the body surface by detecting this fluorescence, and then use a commonly used medical imaging technology called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to track it in deeper parts of the body. NMR works by detecting magnetic particles given to a patient before the imaging takes place.


They developed a one-step method to magnetize the alga, coating millions of Spirulina with iron oxide nanoparticles. A longer dip time allows for more control, but a shorter dip time allows researchers to detect the fluorescence more readily. When the bot is too deep for that technique to work, NMR can still follow the robot’s course because of the coating, the researchers report today in Science Robotics. Using NMR, they observed the microrobots swarm in a rat’s stomach as directed by the magnetic field.


“It’s a step forward that you can track these swimmers in the body,” says Joseph Wang, a nanoengineer at the University of California, San Diego, who is developing a different sort of medical microbot. “And it’s biocompatible and low cost.”

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Alzheimer's Tau protein forms toxic complexes with cell membranes

Alzheimer's Tau protein forms toxic complexes with cell membranes | Amazing Science |

The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease contain characteristic tangles inside neurons. These tangles are formed when a protein called Tau aggregates into twisted fibrils. As a result, the neurons’ transport systems disintegrate, essential nutrients can’t move through, and the cells begin to die, affecting the brain’s functions and giving rise to the disease’s symptoms.


Given its role in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, Tau protein has been extensively investigated. With several clinical trials of amyloid-targeting therapies failing recently, Tau has become one of the most actively pursued therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s disease. However, questions still remain about how Tau spreads in the brain and kills neurons. The cell membrane has been shown to play a role in regulating Tau’s aggregation properties and physiological functions, but we still do not understand how the interplay between Tau and lipid membranes can lead to the loss of neurons seen in Alzheimer’s disease.


Now, the lab of Hilal Lashuel at EPFL, in collaboration with the lab of Thomas Walz at the Rockefeller University, found that individual Tau proteins interact with and disrupt the cell membrane of neurons. This disruption gives rise to highly stable complexes made up of several Tau proteins as well as fat molecules (phospholipids) from the membrane.


Subsequent studies showed that the protein/phospholipid complexes are more readily taken up by neurons compared to the fibril form of the protein, and induce toxicity in primary neurons of the hippocampus in vitro. The hippocampus is where memory is processed, and loss of hippocampal neurons is a classic symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. The complexes were detectable with an antibody (MC-1) that is used as a standard for detecting pathological conformations of Tau, meaning that they share some features of the pathological form of the protein.


“Our goal was to identify the sequence and structural factors that drive Tau interaction with membranes and the formation of these complexes so that we can develop strategies to interfere with their formation and block their toxicity,” says Nadine Ait Bouziad, the PhD student who led the study.

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The Human Cell Atlas: an ambitious project to map all the cells in the human body gets officially under way

The Human Cell Atlas: an ambitious project to map all the cells in the human body gets officially under way | Amazing Science |

Our knowledge of the cells that make up the human body, and how they vary from person to person, or throughout development and in health or disease, is still very limited. Recently, a year after project planning began, more than 130 biologists, computational scientists, technologists and clinicians are reconvening in Rehovot, Israel, to kick the Human Cell Atlas initiative1 into full gear. This international collaboration between hundreds of scientists from dozens of universities and institutes — including the UK Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, RIKEN in Japan, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts — aims to create comprehensive reference maps of all human cells as a basis for research, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment.


On behalf of the Human Cell Atlas organizing committee, we outline here some of the key challenges faced in building such an atlas — and our proposed strategies. For more details on how the atlas will be built as an open global resource, see the white paper2 posted on the Human Cell Atlas website.


Cells have been characterized and classified with increasing precision since Robert Hooke first identified them under the microscope in the seventeenth century. But biologists have not yet determined all the molecular constituents of cells, nor have they established how all these constituents are associated with each other in tissues, systems and organs. As a result, there are many cell types we don’t know about. We also don’t know how all the cells in the body change from one state to another, which other cells they interact with or how they are altered during development.

Technology revolution 

New technologies offer an opportunity to build a systematic atlas at unprecedented resolution. These tools range from single-cell RNA sequencing to techniques for assessing a cell’s protein molecules and profiling the accessibility of the chromatin. For example, we can now determine the RNA profiles for millions of individual cells in parallel (see ‘From one to millions’). Protein composition and chromatin features can be studied in hundreds or thousands of individual cells, and mutations or other markers tracked to reconstruct cell lineages. We can also profile multiple variants of RNA and proteins in situ to map cells and their molecules to their locations in tissues.

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Every Other Summer Will Shatter Heat Records Within a Decade

Every Other Summer Will Shatter Heat Records Within a Decade | Amazing Science |

Think of the stickiest, record-hot summer you've ever experienced, whether you're 30 or 60 years old. In 10 years or less, that miserable summer will happen every second year across most of the US and Canada, the Mediterranean, and much of Asia, according to a study to be published in the open access journal Earth's Future.


By the 2030s, every second summer over almost all of the entire Northern hemisphere will be hotter than any record-setting hot summer of the past 40 years, the study found. By 2050, virtually every summer will be hotter than anything we've experienced to date.


"In the last 10 years, summers have become noticeably warmer," said co-author Francis Zwiers, director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at Canada's University of Victoria. In 2017, California experienced its hottest summer ever that extended well into fall. In Europe, an incredible heat wave named "Lucifer" led to catastrophic forest fires in Portugal and a number of deaths. "Parts of China and East Asia are already experiencing record warm summers," Zwiers told me in an interview.


Record hot summers are now 70 times more likely than they were in the past 40 years over the entire Northern hemisphere, the peer-reviewed study found. What does all this mean? Heat alerts will be increasing, cities will have to employ aggressive cooling strategies most summers, and in places like South Asia, it will be too dangerous to work outside, he said.

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A dolphin’s forehead acts like an acoustic metamaterial

A dolphin’s forehead acts like an acoustic metamaterial | Amazing Science |

Echolocation beam controlled with deformable tissue is the trick many dolphins use.


A porpoise’s forehead acts like a ‘metamaterial’ to create the directional sound beam used by the marine mammals to detect and track prey, claim researchers in the US and China. The acoustics experts and biologists also found that the animals can adjust the acoustic properties of their foreheads to control the width of the beam. They believe that the structure of the porpoise forehead could inspire the development of new materials to control sound, with applications in underwater sonar and ultrasonic imaging.


Porpoises use directional acoustic waves as a sonar system to hunt. When first searching for prey they use a narrow beam of sound to scan the water. But as they close in on a target they dramatically increase the width of the beam, to keep it in their field of view.


Scientists have struggled to understand how porpoises produce, and control, this directional echolocation beam. Porpoises produce the sounds, or 'clicks', by forcing air through a structure in their blowhole called the phonic lips. But this sound source is smaller than the wavelength of the sound it produces, which should, in theory, make the acoustic beam hard to control. And the phonic lips emit sound in all directions, not just forwards.

Laurent's curator insight, Today, 6:49 AM
20 years ago at Telecom ParisTech, our signal processing teacher showed us this amazing Nature miracle : how the nose of the dolphin shapes the ultrasonic impulse to make it super sharp therefore super efficient as a sonar signal !
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Microchip enables fast, precise measurement of single-cell growth

Microchip enables fast, precise measurement of single-cell growth | Amazing Science |
An MIT-invented microfluidics device that uses an array of suspended microchannel resonators (SMR) to measure cell mass can precisely measure the growth of many individual cells simultaneously, with aims of producing faster drug tests.

The technique, described in a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, uses an array of suspended microchannel resonators (SMR), a type of microfluidic device that measures the mass of individual cells as they flow through tiny channels. A novel design has increased throughput of the device by nearly two orders of magnitude, while retaining precision. The paper’s senior author, MIT professor Scott Manalis, and other researchers have been developing SMRs for nearly a decade.  


In the new study, the researchers used the device to observe the effects of antibiotics and antimicrobial peptides on bacteria, and to pinpoint growth variations of single cells among populations, which has important clinical applications. Slower-growing bacteria, for instance, can sometimes be more resistant to antibiotics and may lead to recurrent infections. 


“The device provides new insights into how cells grow and respond to drugs,” says Manalis, the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor in the MIT departments of Biological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.


The paper’s lead authors are Nathan Cermak, a recent PhD graduate from MIT’s Computational and Systems Biology Program, and Selim Olcum, a research scientist at the Koch Institute. There are 13 other co-authors on the paper, from the Koch Institute, MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratory, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Innovative Micro Technology, and CEA LETI in France.

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An interstellar asteroid has been studied for the 1st time... and it looks really odd

An interstellar asteroid has been studied for the 1st time... and it looks really odd | Amazing Science |

In October, astronomers using a powerful telescope in Hawaii caught sight of something they'd never seen before: an asteroid from interstellar space hurtling through our solar system.


Now, about a month later, we have some sense of what that far-flung object looks like, and it's unlike anything we've seen in our solar system. 


According to a new study published in the journal Nature this week, the asteroid, named `Oumuamua, is "about 10 times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape," Karen Meech, an astronomer with the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii, said in a statement.


`Oumuamua, which is the first interstellar visitor of its kind to be seen by Earthlings, appears to have come from the general direction of where the Vega star system is now. This fact should make any space nerd squeal with glee as it's the same star featured in the novel and movie Contact. Unfortunately, Vega wasn't actually in that part of the sky when the asteroid was there 300,000 years ago, according to the European Southern Observatory.

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Slaughterbots: Disturbing video depicts near-future ubiquitous lethal autonomous weapons

Slaughterbots: Disturbing video depicts near-future ubiquitous lethal autonomous weapons | Amazing Science |

In response to growing concerns about autonomous weapons, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of AI researchers and advocacy organizations, has released a fictional video that depicts a disturbing future in which lethal autonomous weapons have become cheap and ubiquitous worldwide.


UC Berkeley AI researcher Stuart Russell presented the video at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva, hosted by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots earlier this week. Russell, in an appearance at the end of the video, warns that the technology described in the film already exists* and that the window to act is closing fast.


Support for a ban against autonomous weapons has been mounting. On Nov. 2, more than 200 Canadian scientists and more than 100 Australian scientists in academia and industry penned open letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Malcolm Turnbull urging them to support the ban. Earlier this summer, more than 130 leaders of AI companies signed a letter in support of this week’s discussions. These letters follow a 2015 open letter released by the Future of Life Institute and signed by more than 20,000 AI/robotics researchers and others, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.


“Many of the world’s leading AI researchers worry that if these autonomous weapons are ever developed, they could dramatically lower the threshold for armed conflict, ease and cheapen the taking of human life, empower terrorists, and create global instability,” according to an article published by the Future of Life Institute, which funded the video. “The U.S. and other nations have used drones and semi-automated systems to carry out attacks for several years now, but fully removing a human from the loop is at odds with international humanitarian and human rights law.”


“The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is not trying to stifle innovation in artificial intelligence and robotics and it does not wish to ban autonomous systems in the civilian or military world,” explained Noel Sharkey of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control. Rather we see an urgent need to prevent automation of the critical functions for selecting targets and applying violent force without human deliberation and to ensure meaningful human control for every attack.”

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Can data storage in DNA solve our massive data storage problem in the future?

Can data storage in DNA solve our massive data storage problem in the future? | Amazing Science |

The latest in high-density ultra-durable data storage has been perfected over billions of years by nature itself.


Now ‘Smoke on the Water’ is making history again. This September, it was one of the first items from the Memory Of the World archive to be stored in the form of DNA and then played back with 100% accuracy. The project was a joint effort between the University of Washington, Microsoft and Twist Bioscience, a San Francisco-based DNA manufacturing company.

The demonstration was billed as a ‘proof of principle’ – which is shorthand for successful but too expensive to be practical. At least for now.


Many pundits predict it’s just a matter of time till DNA pips magnetic tape as the ultimate way to store data. It’s compact, efficient and resilient. After all, it has been tweaked over billions of years into the perfect repository for genetic information. It will never become obsolete, because as long as there is life on Earth, we will be interested in decoding DNA. “Nature has optimised the format,” says Twist Bioscience’s chief technology officer Bill Peck.


Players like Microsoft, IBM and Intel are showing signs of interest. In April, they joined other industry, academic and government experts at an invitation-only workshop (cosponsored by the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA)) to discuss the practical potential for DNA to solve humanity’s looming data storage crisis.


It’s a big problem that’s getting bigger by the minute. According to a 2016 IBM Marketing Cloud report, 90% of the data that exists today was created in just the past two years. Every day, we generate another 2.5 quintillion (2.5 × 1018) bytes of information. It pours in from high definition video and photos, Big Data from particle physics, genomic sequencing, space probes, satellites, and remote sensing; from think tanks, covert surveillance operations, and Internet tracking algorithms. EVERY DAY, WE GENERATE ANOTHER 2.5 QUINTILLION BYTES OF INFORMATION.


Right now all those bits and bytes flow into gigantic server farms, onto spinning hard drives or reels of state-of-the-art magnetic tape. These physical substrates occupy a lot of space. Compare this to DNA. The entire human genome, a code of three billion DNA base pairs, or in data speak, 3,000 megabytes, fits into a package that is invisible to the naked eye – the cell’s nucleus. A gram of DNA — the size of a drop of water on your fingertip — can store at least the equivalent of 233 computer hard drives weighing more than 150 kilograms. To store the all the genetic information in a human body — 150 zettabytes — on tape or hard drives, you’d need a facility covering thousands, if not millions of square feet.


And then there’s durability. Of the current storage contenders, magnetic tape has the best lifespan, at about 10-20 years. Hard drives, CDs, DVDs and flash drives are less reliable, often failing within five to ten years. DNA has proven that it can survive thousands of years unscathed. In 2013, for example, the genome of an early horse relative was reconstructed from DNA from a 700,000-year-old bone fragment found in the Alaskan permafrost.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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For the first time, a robot passed a medical licensing exam

For the first time, a robot passed a medical licensing exam | Amazing Science |

Experts generally agree that, before we might consider artificial intelligence (AI) to be truly intelligent —that is, on a level on par with human cognition— AI agents have to pass a number of tests. And while this is still a work in progress, AIs have been busy passing other kinds of tests.


Xiaoyi, an AI-powered robot in China, for example, has recently taken the national medical licensing examination and passed, making it the first robot to have done so. Not only did the robot pass the exam, it actually got a score of 456 points, which is 96 points above the required marks.


This robot, developed by leading Chinese AI company iFlytek Co., Ltd., has been designed to capture and analyze patient information. Now, they’ve proven that Xiaoyi could also have enough medical know-how to be a licensed practitioner.


Local newspaper China Daily notes that this is all part of the country’s push for more AI integration in a number of industries, including healthcare and consumer electronics. China is already a leading contender on the global AI stage, surpassing the United States in AI research, in an ultimate effort to become a frontrunner in AI development by 2030. The country’s determination, driven by the realization that AI is the new battleground for international development, could put the U.S. behind China in this worldwide AI race.

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Amish Mutation in PAI-1 Protects Against Diabetes and May Extend Life

Amish Mutation in PAI-1 Protects Against Diabetes and May Extend Life | Amazing Science |

Amish men and women who carried a genetic mutation appeared to be in better cardiovascular health and had longer telomeres, a barometer of longevity.


The findings, published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, shed light on the processes underlying cellular aging and could lead to new therapies for chronic diseases, some experts say. The researchers are planning at least one follow-up trial that will recreate the effects of the mutation so they can study its impact on obese people with insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.


The mutation described in the new paper affects a mysterious protein called plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, or PAI-1, that is known primarily for its role in promoting blood clotting. The mutation was first identified in 1991 in a secluded Amish farming community in Berne, Ind. An estimated 5 percent of the community carries the mutation, which causes them to produce unusually low levels of PAI-1.


Scientists have long suspected that PAI-1 has other functions outside of clotting that relate to aging. Dr. Douglas Vaughan, a cardiologist at Northwestern medical school, noticed, for example, that mice that had been genetically engineered to produce high levels of the protein age fairly quickly, going bald and dying of heart attacks at young ages. People who have higher levels of the protein in their bloodstreams also tend to have higher rates of diabetes and other metabolic problems and to die earlier of cardiovascular disease.


Dr. Vaughan took a team of 40 researchers to their town, set up testing stations in a recreation center, and spent two days doing extensive tests on 177 members of the community, many of whom arrived by horse and buggy. The researchers pored over birth and death records and took extensive genealogical histories. They drew blood, did ultrasounds of their hearts, and rigorously examined their cardiac and pulmonary function.


“Some of the young men we collected blood from fainted because they had never had a needle stick in their life,” said Dr. Vaughan, who is chairman of medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “These people live sort of an 18th century lifestyle and generally don’t take advantage of modern medicine. But they were so gracious and courteous and cooperative.”


What Dr. Vaughan and his colleagues discovered was striking. Amish carriers of the mutation live on average to age 85, about 10 years longer than their peers. Among the Amish who did not have the mutation, the rate of Type 2 diabetes was 7 percent. But for carriers of the mutation, the rate was zero, despite leading the same lifestyle and consuming similar diets. Tests showed that carriers of the mutation had 28 percent lower levels of insulin, a hormone whose chronic elevation can lead to Type 2 diabetes. “Diabetes is something that develops more as we age,” Dr. Vaughan said. “This is a terrific indicator that the mutation actually protected them from a metabolic consequence of aging.”

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Blood Pressure Control by a Secreted FGFBP1 (Fibroblast Growth Factor–Binding Protein)

Blood Pressure Control by a Secreted FGFBP1 (Fibroblast Growth Factor–Binding Protein) | Amazing Science |

In the fast-paced world of drug discovery, repurposing existing FDA-approved drugs is a logical strategy, as it not only can save time and money but can ultimately save lives since drugs can get to patients much quicker. It is incumbent upon researchers to explore all potential treatment possibilities for various compounds, even when they seem unlikely—as investigators from Georgetown University Medical Center have just discovered. The research team found that drugs designed to halt cancer growth may offer a new way to control hypertension.


Findings from the new study—published today in Hypertensionin an article entitled “Blood Pressure Control by a Secreted FGFBP1 (Fibroblast Growth Factor–Binding Protein)”—could offer a real advance in hypertension treatment because although a number of high blood pressure drugs are now available, they work by different mechanisms that are not suited for all patients.


The Georgetown team uncovered that fibroblast growth factors, or FGFs, involved in increasing blood vessel growth so that cancer can grow, also have a systemic effect on blood pressure. Moreover, results from the new study suggest that just as oncologists use FGF inhibitors to control cancer, clinicians may be able to use FGF inhibitors to regulate blood pressure and control disease associated with hypertension.


"It's rare that a single class of drugs can be used for such different conditions, but that is what our study strongly suggests," noted senior study investigator Anton Wellstein, M.D., Ph.D., professor of oncology and pharmacology at Georgetown University School of Medicine and a researcher at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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Zika virus-related nerve damage is caused by the body's immune response to the virus

Zika virus-related nerve damage is caused by the body's immune response to the virus | Amazing Science |

The immune system’s response to the Zika virus, rather than the virus itself, may be responsible for nerve-related complications of infection, according to a Yale study. This insight could lead to new ways of treating patients with Zika-related complications, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, the researchers said.


In mice models lacking a key antiviral response, infection with Zika virus causes paralysis and death. To understand the mechanism, a research team led by immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki examined the spread of infection in these mice.


The research team found that when the Zika infection spreads from the circulating blood into the brain, immune cells known as CD8 T cells flood the brain. While these T cells sharply limit the infection of nerve cells, they also trigger Zika-related paralysis, the researchers said.


The immune cells that are generated by infection start attacking our own neurons,” Iwasaki said. “The damage is not occurring through the virus infection, but rather the immune response to the virus.”


Immune-mediated nerve damage underlies Guillen-Barré syndrome, which affects some people infected with the Zika virus. The study findings suggest that suppressing the immune response might be an approach to treating the syndrome, which causes weakness, tingling, and, in rare cases, paralysis.


Read the full paper in Nature Microbiology.


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