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Screen-On-A-Lens: A Liquid Crystal-based Contact Lens Display

Switching of a contact lens shaped display. The contact lens is still transparent but is able to modulate the transmitted light using LCD technology. Direct applications could be medical, as an artificial iris, or cosmetic, as an iris with tunable color, or it just could serve as a gimmick. The dollar sign is a reference to the many cartoons featuring people/figures with dollars in their eyes!


When worn, the image would only be visible to bystanders, since the eye cannot focus on objects in such a close proximity. Research is currently being performed to solve the focusing problem and to see whether an embedded contact lens display that can be seen by the lens wearer is feasible.


All work was performed in the Centre for Microsystems Technology, Ghent University, Belgium.

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New research challenges existing models of black holes

New research challenges existing models of black holes | Amazing Science |

Chris Packham, associate professor of physics and astronomy at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has collaborated on a new study that expands the scientific community's understanding of black holes in our galaxy and the magnetic fields that surround them. "Dr. Packham's collaborative work on this study is a great example of the innovative research happening now in physics at UTSA. I'm excited to see what new research will result from these findings," said George Perry, dean of the UTSA College of Sciences and Semmes Foundation Distinguished University Chair in Neurobiology.


Packham and astronomers lead from the University of Florida observed the magnetic field of a black hole within our own galaxy from multiple wavelengths for the first time. The results, which were a collective effort among several researchers, are deeply enlightening about some of the most mysterious objects in space. A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so strongly that even light cannot escape its grasp. Black holes usually form when a massive star explodes and the remnant core collapses under the force of intense gravity. As an example, if a star around 3 times more massive than our own Sun became a black hole, it would be roughly the size of San Antonio. The black hole Packham and his collaborators featured in their study, which was recently published in Science, contains about 10 times the mass of our own sun and is known as V404 Cygni.


"The Earth, like many planets and stars, has a magnetic field that sprouts out of the North Pole, circles the planet and goes back into the South Pole. It exists because the Earth has a hot, liquid iron rich core," said Packham. "That flow creates electric currents that create a magnetic field. A black hole has a magnetic field as it was created from the remnant of a star after the explosion."


As matter is broken down around a black hole, jets of electrons are launched by the magnetic field from either pole of the black hole at almost the speed of light. Astronomers have long been flummoxed by these jets. These new and unique observations of the jets and estimates of magnetic field of V404 Cygni involved studying the body at several different wavelengths. These tests allowed the group to gain a much clearer understanding of the strength of its magnetic field. They discovered that magnetic fields are much weaker than previously understood, a puzzling finding that calls into question previous models of black hole components. The research shows a deep need for continued studies on some of the most mysterious entities in space.


"We need to understand black holes in general," Packham said. "If we go back to the very earliest point in our universe, just after the big bang, there seems to have always been a strong correlation between black holes and galaxies. It seems that the birth and evolution of black holes and galaxies, our cosmic island, are intimately linked. Our results are surprising and one that we're still trying to puzzle out."

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Fast computer control for molecular machines

Fast computer control for molecular machines | Amazing Science |

Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed a novel electric propulsion technology for nanorobots. It allows molecular machines to move a hundred thousand times faster than with the biochemical processes used to date. This makes nanobots fast enough to do assembly line work in molecular factories. The new research results will appear as the cover story on 19th January, 2018 in Science.


Up and down, up and down. The points of light alternate back and forth in lockstep. They are produced by glowing molecules affixed to the ends of tiny robot arms. Prof. Friedrich Simmel observes the movement of the nanomachines on the monitor of a fluorescence microscope. A simple mouse click is all it takes for the points of light to move in another direction.


"By applying electric fields, we can arbitrarily rotate the arms in a plane," explains the head of the Chair of Physics of Synthetic Biological Systems at TU Munich. His team has for the first time managed to control nanobots electrically and has at the same time set a record: The new technique is 100 000 times faster than all previous methods.

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Cells lacking nuclei struggle to move in 3-D environments

Cells lacking nuclei struggle to move in 3-D environments | Amazing Science |
University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have revealed new details of how the physical properties of the nucleus influence how cells can move around different environments - such as "soft" tissue like brain and fat, or "stiff" tissue like cartilage or bone.

The researchers removed the nucleus from cells or disconnected them from the cell's structural scaffolding known as the "cytoskeleton." They watched how the modified cells were able to move in different surfaces to better understand the role of this central cell structure in movement. Their findings from the study, published in the Journal of Cell Biology, contribute to the basic scientific understanding of the mechanical properties of the nucleus, and they also may shine more light on the role of the nucleus in diseases in which the nucleus can be disrupted or corrupted - like cancer.

"Whereas much is known about the function of the nucleus as a repository of DNA and site of gene regulation, our analysis concerns the role of the nucleus as a physical structure that is affecting cell behavior independent of gene regulation," said UNC Lineberger's Keith Burridge, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Cell Biology and Physiology. "Our work shows that the physical presence of a cell nucleus regulates how a cell responds to the stiffness of its environment."

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Scientists Discover the Brain Signature that Sets Creative Thinkers Apart

Scientists Discover the Brain Signature that Sets Creative Thinkers Apart | Amazing Science |

One of the most important aspects of innovation is creativity. But the trait has been elusive. How on earth do you generate it? Stories of artists regale us with bizarre methods. For instance, Salvador Dali would nap in a chair with his keys dangling over a metal plate. Once he relaxed enough to let go of the keys, they’d go crashing down onto the plate, rousing him from his slumber, his dream still fresh in his mind. Dali would then rush to capture the memory of his dream.


Russian-American composer Igor Stravinsky had an altogether different but no less bizarre method. He would stand on his head, in a way taught to him by a Hungarian gymnast. The act, he claimed, would “clear his brain.” While inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu who had 3,000 patents to his name—including the floppy disc—would go on dives and wait beneath the waves for inspiration to come, which he said often arrived “just 0.5 seconds before death.”

We don’t get progress on technology or the arts without creativity. And yet, artists and inventors have had such varying and oftentimes outlandish methods that neuroscientists have wondered whether or not there are certain uniform patterns associated with the creative state. Due to its centrality, such scientists have argued whether they can decipher creativity, or boost it in a methodical way. This latest study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests we can.

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Accidental Discovery Could Save Honey Bees From Their Greatest Threat

Accidental Discovery Could Save Honey Bees From Their Greatest Threat | Amazing Science |

V. destructor, more commonly known as the Varroa mite, is a scourge of honeybees across the globe. Upon infiltrating a colony, the mites latch on to bees, sucking their hemolymph (essentially blood) and spreading the diseases they carry. According to the USDA, 42 percent of commercial hives in the U.S. were infested in summer 2017, and 40 percent of beekeepers said the parasite seriously harmed their colonies. By comparison, only 13 percent reported harm from pesticides.


Chemical compounds exist to combat the parasites but they are outdated and growing increasingly ineffective, the researchers write, adding that no new active compounds have been registered in the last 25 years.


The dearth of options prompted scientists at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem to experiment with a technique called RNA interference. In their study, they fed bees double-stranded RNA via a sugar solution to knockout vital genes in Varroamites. The mites ingested the lethal RNA via bees' hemolymph and subsequently died.


Inspired by those results, the German researchers sought to replicate them by repeating the experiment with slightly tweaked methods. Indeed, mites infesting bees that were fed sugar water with the designed RNA rapidly died, but so did mites in a control group given another RNA that should have been ineffective. The astonishing results prompted the researchers to suspect that the lithium chlorideused to produce the RNA – and thus present in the sugar water – was actually killing the parasites. A battery of subsequent examinations confirmed their hypothesis.

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Hacked Dog Pics Can Play Tricks on Computer Vision AI

Hacked Dog Pics Can Play Tricks on Computer Vision AI | Amazing Science |

An MIT student lab shows how to trick computer vision AI to see the wrong objects in pictures.


Tricking Google’s computer vision AI into seeing a pair of human skiers as a dog may seem mostly harmless. But the possibilities become more unnerving when considering how hackers could trick a self-driving car’s AI into seeing a plastic bag instead of a child up ahead. Or making future surveillance systems overlook a gun because they see it as a toy doll.


An independent AI research group run by MIT students has demonstrated a new way to fool the computer vision algorithms that enable AI systems to see the world—an approach that could prove up to 1000 times as fast as other existing ways of hacking “black box” systems whose inner workings remain hidden to outsiders. That idea of a black box perfectly describes the neural networks behind the deep learning algorithms enabling computer vision services for Google, Facebook, and other companies. In fact, the MIT team showed how its attack algorithm could readily trick Google’s service to misclassify dogs and all sorts of objects.


In a new paper, Athalye and his colleagues at the LabSix research group group describe how they exploited the Google Cloud Vision API that has been made publicly available to developers who want their programs to have the capability to perform “image labeling, face and landmark detection, optical character recognition (OCR), and tagging of explicit content.” But the LabSix group notes that any computer vision service that relies upon deep learning—such as Amazon Rekognition or Clarifai’s image classification—could be vulnerable to their approach.

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Reading Through a Closed Book

Reading Through a Closed Book | Amazing Science |

Spatial resolution, spectral contrast, and occlusion are three major bottlenecks in current imaging technologies for non-invasive inspection of complex samples such as closed books. A team of scientists empower the time-of-flight capabilities of conventional THz time domain spectroscopy and combine it with its spectral capabilities to computationally overcome these bottlenecks. Their study reports successful unsupervised content extraction through a densely layered structure similar to that of a closed book.



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Ants can sense a chemical cue a fungal infected colony and respond by spraying an antiseptic poison that kills ant pupae and fungus

Ants can sense a chemical cue a fungal infected colony and respond by spraying an antiseptic poison that kills ant pupae and fungus | Amazing Science |
Upon detecting a fatal infection using chemical cues, ants puncture the cuticle of sick brood and inject antimicrobial poison that disrupts the pathogen's life cycle and prevents it from reproducing, thus protecting the colony from disease.


In social groups, infections have the potential to spread rapidly and cause disease outbreaks. Here, we show that in a social insect, the ant Lasius neglectus, the negative consequences of fungal infections (Metarhizium brunneum) can be mitigated by employing an efficient multicomponent behavior, termed destructive disinfection, which prevents further spread of the disease through the colony. Ants specifically target infected pupae during the pathogen’s non-contagious incubation period, utilizing chemical ‘sickness cues’ emitted by pupae. They then remove the pupal cocoon, perforate its cuticle and administer antimicrobial poison, which enters the body and prevents pathogen replication from the inside out. Like the immune system of a metazoan body that specifically targets and eliminates infected cells, ants destroy infected brood to stop the pathogen completing its lifecycle, thus protecting the rest of the colony. Hence, in an analogous fashion, the same principles of disease defense apply at different levels of biological organization.

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Observation of Accelerating Wave Packets in Curved Space

Observation of Accelerating Wave Packets in Curved Space | Amazing Science |

By shining a laser along the inside shell of an incandescent light bulb, physicists have performed the first experimental demonstration of an accelerating light beam in curved space.


Light can be described as rays that travel in straight lines, which is convenient for explaining a large number of phenomena such as reflection or propagation through free space. Consequently, natural intuition about light relies on rays, and one expects light to go from one point to another in a straight line. However, light is actually a wave and therefore exhibits numerous features that are unique to waves.


In recent years, researchers have shown that optical wave packets (beams) can propagate in a self-accelerating manner, where the structure of a beam is engineered to move along a curved trajectory. This field has attracted major interest, with many potential applications. Here, scientists now take these accelerating beams one step further, demonstrating them in a medium that has a curved space geometry, where the trajectory of the accelerating beam is determined by the interplay between the curvature of space and interference effects arising from the beam’s structure.


The simplest example of a curved object is a sphere because it has the same constant curvature everywhere. Normally, optical beams that are confined to propagate on the surface of a sphere would move along geodesic paths, the largest circle on the sphere’s surface. But, as this experiment shows, theoretically and experimentally, one can shape the structure of a beam such that it will accelerate and evolve in a shape-preserving manner on a nongeodesic line, such as a circle close to the North Pole. The experimenters use a thin hemispheric glass shell as the curved-space landscape for the light, and they couple a specifically shaped beam into this glass waveguide. The brightest lobe of this beam bends away from the shortest (geodesic) path, which is the trajectory that light would normally take on the sphere.

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Noise pollution causes PTSD-like symptoms in birds, with health consequences for the young

Noise pollution causes PTSD-like symptoms in birds, with health consequences for the young | Amazing Science |

Birds exposed to the persistent noise of natural gas compressors show symptoms remarkably similar to those in humans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, new research shows.


In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers found that adults and nestlings of three species showed multiple signs of chronic stress caused by noise pollution, including skewed stress hormone levels, possibly due to increased anxiety, distraction and hypervigilance.

The study is the first to test the relationships between noise, stress hormones and fitness in animals that breed in natural areas with unrelenting, human-made noise.


Constant noise could be acting as an “acoustic blanket,” muffling the audio cues birds rely on to detect predators, competitors and their own species, said study co-author Rob Guralnick, associate curator of biodiversity informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Unable to discern whether their environment is safe, mother birds must choose between staying on guard at the nest and finding food for their young.

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Continental’s 3D Touch Surface Display Receives Highest Honor at CES 2018 Innovation Awards

Continental’s 3D Touch Surface Display Receives Highest Honor at CES 2018 Innovation Awards | Amazing Science |

The world’s first touchscreen, featuring a 3D surface, combines a unique visual appearance with a brand-new operating concept by Continental. The innovative 3D touch surface display can be operated instinctively, enhancing the user experience and increasing safety. The technology company was awarded the CES 2018 Best of Innovation Award in the “In-Vehicle Audio/Video” category, the highest awarded honor in its category, for its state of the art design and breakthrough technology.


“Our latest display solution combines three elements: design, safety and user experience. The 3D surface not only allows for exciting design, but it also ensures that drivers can operate the various functions without having to take their eyes off the road,” said Dr. Frank Rabe, head of the Instrumentation & Driver HMI business unit at Continental. “The CES Innovation Awards honor technologies for the very highest standards of design and engineering prowess, so we are absolutely delighted to have received this award.”


The growing demand among users for new features and digital content means that in-vehicle touch screens are getting bigger and bigger. While conventional screens are ideal for the flexible display of digital information, their shortcomings quickly become apparent when it comes to user-friendliness and design possibilities for vehicle manufacturers. To address this, Continental developed a 3D surface for its new touchscreen. The 3D elements allow brand-specific individualization of the high-quality plastic surface and, at the same time, finger guidance that users can actually feel.

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Oldest Monster Black Hole Ever Found Is 800 Million Times More Massive Than the Sun

Oldest Monster Black Hole Ever Found Is 800 Million Times More Massive Than the Sun | Amazing Science |

Astronomers have discovered the oldest supermassive black hole ever found — a behemoth that grew to 800 million times the mass of the sun when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age, a new study finds. This newly found giant black hole, which formed just 690 million years after the Big Bang, could one day help shed light on a number of cosmic mysteries, such as how black holes could have reached gargantuan sizes quickly after the Big Bang and how the universe got cleared of the murky fog that once filled the entire cosmos, the researchers said in the new study.


Supermassive black holes with masses millions to billions of times that of the sun are thought to lurk at the hearts of most, if not all, galaxies. Previous research suggested these giants release extraordinarily large amounts of light when they rip apart stars and devour matter, and likely are the driving force behind quasars, which are among the brightest objects in the universe. [see: The Strangest Black Holes in the Universe]


Astronomers can detect quasars from the farthest corners of the cosmos, making quasars among the most distant objects known. The farthest quasars are also the earliest known quasars — the more distant one is, the more time its light took to reach Earth.


The previous record for the earliest, most distant quasar was set by ULAS J1120+0641. That quasar is located 13.04 billion light-years from Earth and existed about 750 million years after the Big Bang. The newfound quasar (and its black hole), named ULAS J1342+0928, is 13.1 billion light-years away.

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Mapping the malaria parasite druggable genome by using in vitro evolution and chemogenomics

Mapping the malaria parasite druggable genome by using in vitro evolution and chemogenomics | Amazing Science |

Malaria is a deadly disease with no effective vaccine. Physicians thus depend on antimalarial drugs to save lives, but such compounds are often rendered ineffective when parasites evolve resistance. Cowell et al. systematically studied patterns of Plasmodium falciparum genome evolution by analyzing the sequences of clones that were resistant to diverse antimalarial compounds across the P. falciparum life cycle.


Chemogenetic characterization through in vitro evolution combined with whole-genome analysis can identify antimalarial drug targets and drug-resistance genes. The scientists performed a genome analysis of 262 Plasmodium falciparum parasites resistant to 37 diverse compounds. They found 159 gene amplifications and 148 nonsynonymous changes in 83 genes associated with drug-resistance acquisition, where gene amplifications contributed to one-third of resistance acquisition events. Beyond confirming previously identified multidrug-resistance mechanisms, they discovered hitherto unrecognized drug target–inhibitor pairs, including thymidylate synthase and a benzoquinazolinone, farnesyltransferase and a pyrimidinedione, and a dipeptidylpeptidase and an arylurea. This exploration of the P. falciparum resistome and druggable genome will likely guide drug discovery and structural biology efforts, while also advancing our understanding of resistance mechanisms available to the malaria parasite.

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How massive can neutron stars be?

How massive can neutron stars be? | Amazing Science |

Astrophysicists at Goethe University Frankfurt set a new limit for the maximum mass of neutron stars: They cannot exceed 2.16 solar masses.


Since their discovery in the 1960s, scientists have sought to answer an important question: How massive can neutron stars actually become? By contrast to black holes, these stars cannot gain in mass arbitrarily; past a certain limit there is no physical force in nature that can counter their enormous gravitational force. For the first time, astrophysicists at Goethe University Frankfurt have succeeded in calculating a strict upper limit for the maximum mass of neutron stars.


With a radius of about 12 kilometres and a mass that can be twice as large as that of the sun, neutron stars are amongst the densest objects in the universe, producing gravitational fields comparable to those of black holes. Whilst most neutron stars have a mass of around 1.4 times that of the sun, massive examples are also known, such as the pulsar PSR J0348+0432 with 2.01 solar masses.


The density of these stars is enormous, as if the entire Himalayas were compressed into a beer mug. However, there are indications that a neutron star with a maximum mass would collapse to a black hole if even just a single neutron were added. Together with his students Elias Most and Lukas Weih, Professor Luciano Rezzolla, physicist, senior fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) and professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at Goethe University Frankfurt, has now solved the problem that had remained unanswered for 40 years: With an accuracy of a few percent, the maximum mass of non-rotating neutron stars cannot exceed 2.16 solar masses.


The basis for this result was the "universal relations" approach developed in Frankfurt a few years ago []. The existence of "universal relations" implies that practically all neutron stars "look alike," meaning that their properties can be expressed in terms of dimensionless quantities. The researchers combined these "universal relations" with data on gravitational-wave signals and the subsequent electromagnetic radiation (kilonova) obtained during the observation last year of two merging neutron stars in the framework of the LIGO experiment. This simplifies calculations tremendously because it makes them independent of the equation of state. This equation is a theoretical model for describing dense matter inside a star that provides information on its composition at various depths in the star. Such a universal relation therefore played an essential role in defining the new maximum mass.

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'Chemical MP3 Player' Can 3D Print Pharmaceuticals On-Demand from Digital Code

'Chemical MP3 Player' Can 3D Print Pharmaceuticals On-Demand from Digital Code | Amazing Science |

Have you ever taken your old compact discs and converted them to MP3 files so you could listen to your favorite music on your laptop, or through a portable MP3 device that’s much smaller than an unwieldy portable CD player? Now, researchers from the University of Glasgow are working on a very similar process, but instead of music files, they are using a chemical-to-digital converter to digitize the process of drug manufacturing; a chemical MP3 player, if you will, that can 3D print pharmaceuticals on demand.


3D printing in the pharmaceutical field is a fascinating concept, though not a new one. But this ‘Spotify for chemistry’ concept is new: it’s the first time we’ve seen an approach to manufacturing pharmaceuticals using digital code. According to Science, the University of Glasgow team “tailored a 3D printer to synthesize pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from simple, widely available starting compounds fed into a series of water bottle–size reactors.”

Via Mariaschnee
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Construction of an infectious horsepox virus vaccine from chemically synthesized DNA fragments

Construction of an infectious horsepox virus vaccine from chemically synthesized DNA fragments | Amazing Science |

Edward Jenner and his contemporaries believed that his variolae vaccinae originated in horses and molecular analyses show that modern vaccinia virus (VACV) strains share common ancestry with horsepox virus (HPXV). Given concerns relating to the toxicity of modern VACV vaccines, we asked whether an HPXV-based vaccine might provide a superior alternative. Since HPXV may be extinct and the only specimen of HPXV that has been identified is unavailable for investigation, a group of scientists now explored whether HPXV could be obtained by large-scale gene synthesis.


Ten large (10–30 kb) fragments of DNA were synthesized based on the HPXV sequence along with two 157 nt VACV terminal sequences, and were recombined into a live synthetic chimeric HPXV (scHPXV) in cells infected with Shope fibroma virus (SFV). Sequencing of the 212 kbp scHPXV confirmed it encoded a faithful copy of the input DNA.


This is the first complete synthesis of a poxvirus using synthetic biology approaches. This scHPXV produced smaller plaques, produced less extracellular virus and exhibited less virulence in mice than VACV, but still provided vaccine protection against a lethal VACV challenge. Collectively, these findings support further development of scHPXV as a novel replication-proficient smallpox vaccine.

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Widespread bone-based fluorescence in chameleons

Widespread bone-based fluorescence in chameleons | Amazing Science |

Chameleons have fluorescent bones which might play a role in sexual attraction.


Fluorescence is widespread in marine organisms but uncommon in terrestrial tetrapods. We here show that many chameleon species have bony tubercles protruding from the skull that are visible through their scales, and fluoresce under UV light. Tubercles arising from bones of the skull displace all dermal layers other than a thin, transparent layer of epidermis, creating a ‘window’ onto the bone. In the genus Calumma, the number of these tubercles is sexually dimorphic in most species, suggesting a signaling role, and also strongly reflects species groups, indicating systematic value of these features. Co-option of the known fluorescent properties of bone has never before been shown, yet it is widespread in the chameleons of Madagascar and some African chameleon genera, particularly in those genera living in forested, humid habitats known to have a higher relative component of ambient UV light.


The fluorescence emits with a maximum at around 430 nm in blue color which contrasts well to the green and brown background reflectance of forest habitats. This discovery opens new avenues in the study of signaling among chameleons and sexual selection factors driving ornamentation.

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Scientists just uncovered the cause of a massive epidemic which killed the Aztecs, using 500-year-old teeth

Scientists just uncovered the cause of a massive epidemic which killed the Aztecs, using 500-year-old teeth | Amazing Science |
Nearly 500 years ago, in what we know call Mexico, a disease started rippling through the population.


It bore the name cocoliztli, meaning ‘pestilence,’ and it killed between five and 15 million people in just three years. As many plagues were at the time, it proved deadly and mysterious, burning through entire populations. Occurring centuries before John Snow’s work on cholera gave rise to epidemiology, data on the disease’s devastation was sparse. Over the years, researchers and historians attempted to pin the blame for the illness on measles, plague, viral hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola, and typhoid fever—a disease caused by a variation of the bacteria Salmonella enterica.


In a paper published this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers present evidence that the latter was the most likely candidate in this cast of microbial miscreants. The study was pre-printed in biorxiv last year. The researchers detected the genome of a different variety of Salmonella enterica (the specific variety is Paratyphi C) in teeth of individuals buried in a cemetery historically linked to the deadly outbreak.


The researchers used a technique called MALT (MEGAN Alignment Tool) to analyze DNA left behind in the pulp of the teeth. MALT takes a sample of material, in this case from a tooth, and compares it to 6,247 known bacterial genomes. The results identified Salmonella enterica in 10 burials associated with the epidemic.

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Computational method improves the resolution of time-of-flight depth sensors 1,000-fold

Computational method improves the resolution of time-of-flight depth sensors 1,000-fold | Amazing Science |
A computational technique developed at MIT improves the resolution of time-of-flight depth sensors 1,000-fold while combating the type of light scattering caused by fog and rain. The work points toward practical sensor systems for self-driving cars.


For the past 10 years, the Camera Culture group at MIT’s Media Lab has been developing innovative imaging systems — from a camera that can see around corners to one that can read text in closed books — by using “time of flight,” an approach that gauges distance by measuring the time it takes light projected into a scene to bounce back to a sensor.


In a new paper appearing in IEEE Access, members of the Camera Culture group present a new approach to time-of-flight imaging that increases its depth resolution 1,000-fold. That’s the type of resolution that could make self-driving cars practical. The new approach could also enable accurate distance measurements through fog, which has proven to be a major obstacle to the development of self-driving cars.


At a range of 2 meters, existing time-of-flight systems have a depth resolution of about a centimeter. That’s good enough for the assisted-parking and collision-detection systems on today’s cars. But as Achuta Kadambi, a  joint PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science and media arts and sciences and first author on the paper, explains, “As you increase the range, your resolution goes down exponentially. Let’s say you have a long-range scenario, and you want your car to detect an object further away so it can make a fast update decision. You may have started at 1 centimeter, but now you’re back down to [a resolution of] a foot or even 5 feet. And if you make a mistake, it could lead to loss of life.”


At distances of 2 meters, the MIT researchers’ system, by contrast, has a depth resolution of 3 micrometers. Kadambi also conducted tests in which he sent a light signal through 500 meters of optical fiber with regularly spaced filters along its length, to simulate the power falloff incurred over longer distances, before feeding it to his system. Those tests suggest that at a range of 500 meters, the MIT system should still achieve a depth resolution of only a centimeter.

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A pain killer 1,000 times more powerful than morphin: novel analgesics from mother nature

A pain killer 1,000 times more powerful than morphin: novel analgesics from mother nature | Amazing Science |

Studying cone snail venom has yielded novel pain pathways, but the peptides that function as toxins are difficult to translate into drugs.


In the 1970s, University of Utah researcher Baldomero Olivera heard stories of Filipino fishermen dying after pulling in their nets. Their catches turned out to contain Conus geographus, a marine mollusk that produces some of the most potent venom of any cone snail species. The ultimate cause of death, then, seemed clear. But the details of how the cone snail toxin had killed the fishermen were more curious. According to medical reports, the men were not writhing in agony as their lives slipped from their grasp, leading researchers and clinicians to dub the tragic outcome a “painless death.”


“They didn’t cry out in pain, they weren’t doubling over, they weren’t getting swollen like you kind of do from a wasp sting or from a snakebite, where you get this massive inflammation,” says Mandë Holford, a biochemist at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center and the American Museum of Natural History who was a postdoc in Olivera’s lab in the early 2000s. “They were just sort of withering away.”


These painless deaths led researchers to wonder how cone snail venom was behaving inside the body. “A lot of [insect or snake] venom has acetylcholine in it, which reacts with pain receptors, so you get throbbing pain,” Holford says. “That doesn’t happen with cone snail venoms. Instead, it sort of restricts the diaphragm and the person sometimes dies from a heart attack because they can’t breathe, and that shock of not being able to breathe is what kills them.”


In the 1980s, researchers isolated a novel conotoxin peptide from the venom of a species, Conus magus, related to the fishermen’s killers, and derived a synthetic version of the peptide called ziconotide. Extensive functional studies revealed that ziconotide blocked CaV2.2, or N-type, voltage-gated calcium channels, and so inhibited the release of pain-transmitting chemical messengers, including glutamate and calcitonin gene–related peptide, in the central nervous system. In 2004, the drug, which is 1,000 times more potent than morphine, was approved for sale in the United States by the FDA for the treatment of intractable pain, especially neuropathic pain and pain in cancer patients, under the trade name Prialt. It is a very expensive treatment, and it’s only for certain types of patients.—Frank Mari, National Institute of Standards and Technology, explains.


Even though ziconotide didn’t turn out to be a blockbuster pain medication, it did shine a light on a novel pain pathway, says Richard Lewis, a University of Queensland, Australia, molecular pharmacologist and director of the school’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience Centre for Pain Research. The drug’s developers basically showed that a specific calcium channel was analgesic if you blocked it. That was proof of concept for that target.” Despite years of continued research into conotoxins as potential analgesics and a handful of clinical trials testing promising derivatives, however, no cone snail–inspired drugs other than ziconotide have made it to FDA approval. One reason is safety concerns, as venom peptides are extremely potent; another is the tendency for peptides to degrade quickly in the body. And in at least one case, a mid-course change in targeted indication is to blame, Lewis says.


About a decade ago, Lewis cofounded Xenome, a Brisbane-based biotech, to test a novel conotoxin-derived drug called Xen2174 for the treatment of cancer pain. Xen2174 blocked the reuptake of noradrenalin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and can be overproduced in some chronic pain cases. But after the FDA decided to reassign the drug to the treatment of post-surgical pain—in part to speed recruitment—Lewis says it failed to produce analgesic effects as promising as those the company had seen in patients with cancer-related pain. “It was disappointing that a promising molecule didn’t survive the change in direction at the clinical trial level.”


But researchers aren’t giving up. Lewis says that cone snails, of which there are believed to be about 750 or 800 species, represent fertile ground for the search for novel analgesics. Each species has its own unique blend of peptides that make up its venom, and he estimates that, so far, “we’re at about 1 percent of knowing the major components.”


The research—known as venomics—involves using genomics to assemble phylogenetic trees of known cone snail species. By targeting the venoms of species that are related to cone snails such as C. magus that have already yielded promising conotoxins, Newer peptides can be streamlined so that they may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier easier or target peripheral pain receptors better. “I like to call it ‘from mollusks to medicine’ or ‘from beach to bedside,’” Holford says.

Read about other animal groups researchers are exploring for pain-killing leads in “Animal Analgesics.”

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Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Children

Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Children | Amazing Science |
Dolphins develop the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror at an earlier age than children, which fits with how fast they develop generally.


Humans, chimpanzees, elephants, magpies and bottle-nosed dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, according to scientific reports, although as any human past age 50 knows, that first glance in the morning may yield ambiguous results. Mirror self-recognition, at least after noon, is often taken as a measure of a kind of intelligence and self-awareness, although not all scientists agree. And researchers have wondered not only about which species display this ability, but about when it emerges during early development.


Children start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months at the earliest and chimpanzees at two years old. But dolphins, researchers reported Wednesday, start mugging for the mirror as early as seven months, earlier than humans.


Diana Reiss a psychologist at Hunter College, and Rachel Morrison, then a graduate student working with Reiss, studied two young dolphins over three years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dr. Reiss first reported self-recognition in dolphins in 2001 with Lori Marino, now the head of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She and Dr. Morrison, now an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina Pembroke collaborated on the study and published their findings


in the journal PLoS One.Dr. Reiss said the timing of the emergence of self-recognition is significant, because in human children the ability has been tied to other milestones of physical and social development. Since dolphins develop earlier than humans in those areas, the researchers predicted that dolphins should show self-awareness earlier. Seven months was when Bayley, a female, started showing self-directed behavior, like twirling and taking unusual poses.


Dr. Reiss said dolphins “may put their eye right up against the mirror and look in silence. They may look at the insides of their mouths and wiggle their tongues.” Foster, the male, was almost 14 months when the study started. He had a particular fondness for turning upside down and blowing bubbles in front of the one-way mirror in the aquarium wall through which the researchers observed and recorded what the dolphins were doing.


The animals also passed a test in which the researchers drew a mark on some part of the dolphin’s body it could not see without a mirror. In this so-called mark test, the animal must notice and pay attention to the mark. Animals with hands point at the mark and may touch it.


The dolphins passed that test at 24 months, which was the earliest researchers were allowed to draw on the young animals. Rules for animal care prohibited the test at an earlier age because of a desire to have the animals develop unimpeded. During testing, the young animals were always with the group of adults they live with, and only approached a one-way mirror in the aquarium wall when they felt like it.


Rules for drawing on human children are apparently less strict, and they pass the mark test at 18-24 months.


Frans de Waal, of Emory University, who studies cognition in apes and other animals and is the author of “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” , said in an email, “Great study.”

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Zooniverse citizen science project discovers five-exoplanet system

Zooniverse citizen science project discovers five-exoplanet system | Amazing Science |

A discovery by citizen scientists has led to the confirmation of a system of five planets orbiting a far-off star. Furthermore, the planets' orbits are linked in a mathematical relationship called a resonance chain, with a pattern that is unique among the known planetary systems in our galaxy.


Studying the system could help unlock some mysteries surrounding the formation of planetary systems. The results were announced at the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting. The system was found by astronomy enthusiasts using Zooniverse, an online platform for crowdsourcing research.


"People anywhere can log on and learn what real signals from exoplanets look like, and then look through actual data collected from the Kepler telescope to vote on whether or not to classify a given signal as a transit, or just noise," said co-author Dr Jesse Christiansen, from Caltech in Pasadena.


Since the discovery of four planets in this system was announced last year, Dr Christiansen has been working to shed further light on this distant planetary neighbourhood, dubbed K2-138. This led to the discovery of the fifth planet and hints of a sixth.


All the worlds are a bit bigger than our own planet, ranging between 1.6 and 3.3 times the radius of Earth. The collected findings have now been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.


The raw data used in the discovery was provided by Nasa's Kepler space telescope, which identifies potential planets around other stars by looking for dips in the brightness of those stars when planets pass across their face - or transit them.

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German Volocopter’s fully-electric autonomous manned multicopter is performing its first passenger flights

German Volocopter’s fully-electric autonomous manned multicopter is performing its first passenger flights | Amazing Science |

Volocopter is the first company approved to put people in the skies with what’s essentially the equivalent of a driverless car in the air, ‘pilotless aircraft’ if you will, at the consumer level.


It’s a people's drone, and it’s a fantastic idea. In places where traffic is insane, like Los Angeles, and smog is bad, also like Los Angeles, a system of efficient travel that works like an Uber in the sky sounds terrifying, but also awesome and maybe even necessary. This is the future we’ve been asking for; finally a product worth drooling over to start the year! And Volocopter just reminded everyone that CES is the biggest show in tech.

When is it coming?

According to the company’s website: The Volocopter is the world’s first multicopter to be granted a certification for manned flights – as early as 2016. It fulfils stringent German and international safety standards. From the end of 2017 the Volocopter will get to prove this in Dubai: At the first ever autonomous air taxi test run in the history of aviation.


The Volocopter 2X turns the vision of “flight for all” into reality. Just step on board the first manned, fully electric and safe VTOLs in the world.

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Gene Therapy Had a Breakthrough 2017 — 2018 May Be Even Better

Gene Therapy Had a Breakthrough 2017 — 2018 May Be Even Better | Amazing Science |

Gene therapy had a very good year 2017. After decades of promises but failed deliveries,  in 2017 we finally saw some of the long awaited success.


The concept of gene therapy is elegant: like computer bugs, faulty letters in the human genome can be edited and replaced with healthy ones. But despite early enthusiasm, the field has suffered one setback after another. At the turn of the century, the death of an 18-year-old patient with inherited liver disease after an experimental gene therapy treatment put the entire field into a deep freeze.


But no more. Last year marked the birth of gene therapy 2.0, in which the experimental dream finally became a clinical reality. Here’s how the tech grew into its explosive potential — and a sneak peek at what’s on the horizon for 2018.


In 2017, the FDA approved a double whammy of CAR-T immunotherapies. The first, green-lighted in August, helps kids and young adults battle an especially nasty form of leukemia called B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Two months later, a therapy for adults with non-Hodgkin lymphoma hit the scene.  Already in the works are treatments that target multiple myeloma, which causes multiple tumors in the bone or soft tissue, and glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor for which there is no cure. But the technology’s potential is hardly limited to cancer. Last year, a preliminary study in two monkeys showed that genetically engineered stem cells can suppress and even eradicate HIV infections. The study, though small, tantalizingly suggests a whole new way to battle HIV after three decades of fruitless search for a vaccine. With multiple CAR-T therapies going through the pipeline, 2018 may very likely welcome new members onto the gene therapy scene.


Also in 2017, a 44-year-old man became the first person to receive a gene-editing therapy that directly modifies his cells. Here, the therapy used an older gene-editing tool called zinc finger nucleases, which corrected a genetic error that throws the body’s metabolism out of whack and slowly destroys its cells. While the therapy worked initially, the benefits didn’t last. Going forward, scientists will have to figure out a way to make the treatment stick. One potential solution is to engineer better carriers, so that components in those carriers will keep spurring the body to express the healthy gene.


A study in November of 2017 showed that all fifteen children with spinal muscular atrophy who were treated with gene therapy—a single injection into the vein—survived the disease. Scientists weren’t just blown away by the dramatic results. The study introduced a new virus that could carry the payload safely and directly into the brain through the bloodstream—something long sought-after.



In another dramatic case published a few days later, scientists helped a seven-year-old boy regain most of his skin, which had peeled off due to an inherited disease called epidermolysis bullosa (EB). The team replaced a defective gene with a healthy copy in the boy’s skin stem cells, then grew those cells into large sheets of skin, which were later grafted onto the boy. This was the second attempt in which the treatment worked—and more are slated to come.


CRISPR Therapeutics, based in Cambridge, has already sought approval from European regulatory agencies to begin a trial to fix a genetic defect that causes beta thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder. Also on their agenda is sickle-cell disease; the company is gearing up to seek FDA approval in early 2018 to conduct CRISPR-based trials in the US.


Hot on its heels is Stanford University. Like CRISPR Therapeutics, the school seeks to start a human trial for sickle-cell disease in 2018. Stanford’s approach is slightly different than that of the company: rather than fixing the faulty gene outside the body, Stanford plans on making edits directly inside patients.


That’s not all. A wealth of pre-clinical trials in 2017 suggests that CRISPR shows promise for a myriad of inherited diseases. In mice, it alleviates genetic-based hearing loss and extends lifespan in people with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Clinical studies using the technology for multiple types of cancer are amped up and ready to go.


But the best is yet to come. 2017 saw three incredible improvements to CRISPR 1.0. In one study, researchers modified the tool to target a single DNA typo instead of a gene in human cells. This opens the door to treatments for thousands of diseases: mistakes in a single base pair account for roughly half of the 32,000 mutations linked to human disease.

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The Vitamin Myth: Why We Still Think We Need Vitamins and Other Supplements

The Vitamin Myth: Why We Still Think We Need Vitamins and Other Supplements | Amazing Science |

Nutrition experts contend that all we need is what's typically found in a routine diet. Back on October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn't. Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer. "It's been a tough week for vitamins that time," said Carrie Gann of ABC News.


These findings weren't new. Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realized, however, is that the fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world's greatest quack.


In 1931, Linus Pauling published a paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society titled "The Nature of the Chemical Bond." Before publication, chemists knew of two types of chemical bonds: ionic, where one atom gives up an electron to another; and covalent, where atoms share electrons. Pauling argued that it wasn't that simple -- electron sharing was somewhere between ionic and covalent. Pauling's idea revolutionized the field, marrying quantum physics with chemistry. His concept was so revolutionary in fact that when the journal editor received the manuscript, he couldn't find anyone qualified to review it. When Albert Einstein was asked what he thought of Pauling's work, he shrugged his shoulders. "It was too complicated for me," he said.


For this single paper, Pauling received the Langmuir Prize as the most outstanding young chemist in the United States, became the youngest person elected to the National Academy of Sciences, was made a full professor at Caltech, and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was 30 years old.


In 1970, Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, urging the public to take 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C every day (about 50 times the recommended daily allowance). Pauling believed that the common cold would soon be a historical footnote. "It will take decades to eradicate the common cold completely," he wrote, "but it can, I believe, be controlled entirely in the United States and some other countries within a few years. I look forward to witnessing this step toward a better world." Pauling's book became an instant best seller. Paperback versions were printed in 1971 and 1973, and an expanded edition titled Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu, published three years later, promised to ward off a predicted swine flu pandemic. Sales of vitamin C doubled, tripled, and quadrupled. Drugstores couldn't keep up with demand. By the mid-1970s, 50 million Americans were following Pauling's advice. Vitamin manufacturers called it "the Linus Pauling effect."


After Pauling's pronouncement, researchers at the University of Maryland gave 3 grams of vitamin C every day for three weeks to eleven volunteers and a sugar pill (placebo) to ten others. Then they infected volunteers with a common cold virus. All developed cold symptoms of similar duration. At the University of Toronto, researchers administered vitamin C or placebo to 3,500 volunteers. Again, vitamin C didn't prevent colds, even in those receiving as much as 2 grams a day. In 2002, researchers in the Netherlands administered multivitamins or placebo to more than 600 volunteers. Again, no difference. At least 15 studies have now shown that vitamin C doesn't treat the common cold.


As a consequence, neither the FDA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association, the Center for Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, nor the Department of Health and Human Services recommend supplemental vitamin C for the prevention or treatment of colds.

Via Levin Chin
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