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Are doctors necessary? Just how far might the automation of medicine go?

Are doctors necessary? Just how far might the automation of medicine go? | Amazing Science |

IBM's Watson—the same machine that beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy—is now churning through case histories at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, learning to make diagnoses and treatment recommendations. This is one in a series of developments suggesting that technology may be about to disrupt health care in the same way it has disrupted so many other industries. “n Brazil and India, machines are already starting to do primary care, because there’s no labor to do it. They may be better than doctors. Mathematically, they will follow evidence—and they’re much more likely to be right.


Harley Lukov didn’t need a miracle. He just needed the right diagnosis. Lukov, a 62-year-old from central New Jersey, had stopped smoking 10 years earlier—fulfilling a promise he’d made to his daughter, after she gave birth to his first grandchild. But decades of cigarettes had taken their toll. Lukov had adenocarcinoma, a common cancer of the lung, and it had spread to his liver. The oncologist ordered a biopsy, testing a surgically removed sample of the tumor to search for particular “driver” mutations. A driver mutation is a specific genetic defect that causes cells to reproduce uncontrollably, interfering with bodily functions and devouring organs. Think of an on/off switch stuck in the “on” direction. With lung cancer, doctors typically test for mutations called EGFR and ALK, in part because those two respond well to specially targeted treatments. But the tests are a long shot: although EGFR and ALK are the two driver mutations doctors typically see with lung cancer, even they are relatively uncommon. When Lukov’s cancer tested negative for both, the oncologist prepared to start a standard chemotherapy regimen—even though it meant the side effects would be worse and the prospects of success slimmer than might be expected using a targeted agent.


But Lukov’s true medical condition wasn’t quite so grim. The tumor did have a driver—a third mutation few oncologists test for in this type of case. It’s called KRAS. Researchers have known about KRAS for a long time, but only recently have they realized that it can be the driver mutation in metastatic lung cancer—and that, in those cases, it responds to the same drugs that turn it off in other tumors. A doctor familiar with both Lukov’s specific medical history and the very latest research might know to make the connection—to add one more biomarker test, for KRAS, and then to find a clinical trial testing the efficacy of KRAS treatments on lung cancer. But the national treatment guidelines for lung cancer don’t recommend such action, and few physicians, however conscientious, would think to do these things.


Did Lukov ultimately get the right treatment? Did his oncologist make the connection between KRAS and his condition, and order the test? He might have, if Lukov were a real patient and the oncologist were a real doctor. They’re not. They are fictional composites developed by researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, in order to help train—and demonstrate the skills of—IBM’s Watson supercomputer. Yes, this is the same Watson that famously went on Jeopardy and beat two previous human champions. But IBM didn’t build Watson to win game shows. The company is developing Watson to help professionals with complex decision making, like the kind that occurs in oncologists’ offices—and to point out clinical nuances that health professionals might miss on their own.


Watson has gotten some media hype already, including articles in Wired and Fast Company. Still, you probably shouldn’t expect to see it the next time you visit your doctor’s office. Before the computer can make real-life clinical recommendations, it must learn to understand and analyze medical information, just as it once learned to ask the right questions on Jeopardy. That’s where Memorial Sloan-Kettering comes in. The famed cancer institute has signed up to be Watson’s tutor, feeding it clinical information extracted from real cases and then teaching it how to make sense of the data. “The process of pulling out two key facts from aJeopardy clue is totally different from pulling out all the relevant information, and its relationships, from a medical case,” says Ari Caroline, Sloan-Kettering’s director of quantitative analysis and strategic initiatives. “Sometimes there is conflicting information. People phrase things different ways.” But Caroline, who approached IBM about the research collaboration, nonetheless predicts that Watson will prove “very valuable”—particularly in a field like cancer treatment, in which the explosion of knowledge is already overwhelming. “If you’re looking down the road, there are going to be many more clinical options, many more subtleties around biomarkers … There will be nuances not just in interpreting the case but also in treating the case,” Caroline says. “You’re going to need a tool like Watson because the complexity and scale of information will be such that a typical decision tool couldn’t possibly handle it all.”


The Cleveland Clinic is also helping to develop Watson, first as a tool for training young physicians and then, possibly, as a tool at the bedside itself. James Young, the executive dean of the Cleveland Clinic medical school, told The Plain Dealer, “If we can get Watson to give us information in the health-care arena like we’ve seen with more-general sorts of knowledge information, I think it’s going to be an extraordinary tool for clinicians and a huge advancement.” And WellPoint, the insurance company, has already begun testing Watson as a support tool for nurses who make treatment-approval decisions.


Whether these experiments show real, quantifiable improvements in the quality or efficiency of care remains to be seen. If Watson tells physicians only what they already know, or if they end up ordering many more tests for no good reason, Watson could turn out to be more hindrance than help. But plenty of serious people in the fields of medicine, engineering, and business think Watson will work (IBM says that it could be widely available within a few years). And many of these same people believe that this is only the beginning—that whether or not Watson itself succeeds, it is emblematic of a quantum shift in health care that’s just now getting under way.

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World's hardest material, diamond, is flexible when produced as nano-needles

World's hardest material, diamond, is flexible when produced as nano-needles | Amazing Science |

Diamond, the world's hardest natural material, is also flexible when made into nanoscale needles, according to a paper published in Science today about a surprising discovery by an international team of scientists that includes Prof Subra Suresh, President of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore).

The research team demonstrated that diamond nano-needles - about a thousand times thinner than a strand of human hair - can be bent and stretched up to nine per cent, before bouncing back to their original state when pressure is removed.


Bulk diamond, in sizes easily visible to the naked eye, would be expected to stretch by well below one per cent, while a similar lack of deformability is also observed for other typically strong and brittle materials, and attempts to flex them cause them to break.

The scientists predict that their discovery may lead to new applications in bioimaging and biosensing, drug delivery, data storage, opto-electronic devices and ultra-strength nanostructures. Using elastic strains induced by mechanical deformation, such as bending, also opens up new avenues to tailor electrical, magnetic, optical and other physical properties.


Published 20 Apr 2018 in the journal Science, the finding was made by an interdisciplinary team whose senior author is Prof Subra Suresh, President and also Distinguished University Professor at NTU Singapore. Other corresponding authors include Prof Yang Lu and Prof Wenjun Zhang from the City University of Hong Kong, Dr Ming Dao from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in United States, with other co-authors from Hong Kong, United States and South Korea.

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New microscope captures 3D movies of cells inside living organisms in unprecedented details

New microscope captures 3D movies of cells inside living organisms in unprecedented details | Amazing Science |

In a new study in the April 20 issue of Science, researchers from Howard Hughes Medical Institute's (HHMI) Janelia Research Campus, Harvard Medical School and collaborating institutions report the development of a microscope capable of capturing 3-D images and videos of cells inside living organisms in unprecedented detail.


“It’s like ‘Star Trek.’ It’s the age of exploration again." - Gokul Upadhyayula, HMS instructor of pediatrics said. Adapting a technique used by astronomers to study distant stars, the research team, led by Nobel laureate and Janelia group leader Eric Betzig, showcased the new technology by generating a series of stunning movies: cancer cells crawling through blood vessels, spinal nerve cells wiring up into circuits, immune cells cruising through a zebrafish’s inner ear and much more.


The resolution of the microscope is powerful enough to even capture subcellular details such as the dynamics of miniscule bubbles known as vesicles, which transport molecular cargo through to the cell. “This is the miracle of being able to see what we have never been able to see before. It’s simply incredible,” said study co-author Tomas Kirchhausen, HMS professor of cell biology, the Springer Family Chair of pediatrics and a senior investigator at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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Finding the Flyways for Migrating Birds

Finding the Flyways for Migrating Birds | Amazing Science |

Birds fly hundreds of miles every night when they migrate south for winter. Now it seems all North American land birds use one of just three routes when they seek out the sun. Different bird species often converge on the most efficient routes, resulting in clustered routes called “flyways”, not that dissimilar to a human highway.


The flyways of water birds are well-established, but land birds migrate at night and less is known about the paths they follow. So Frank La Sorte and his colleagues from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, mapped the flyways of 93 land birds, from the 2-gram ruby-throated hummingbird to the 500-gram broad-winged hawk. All fly at night and roost and feed during the day.


Using a database called eBird that stores reports from birdwatchers, the team created maps showing spring and autumn migration routes. Three flyways emerged: an eastern route used by 45 species, a central one with 17 and a western one with 31.

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Dinosaurs ended - and originated - due to a mass extinction

Dinosaurs ended - and originated - due to a mass extinction | Amazing Science |

It is commonly understood that the dinosaurs disappeared with a bang – wiped out by a great meteorite impact on the Earth 66 million years ago.


But their origins have been less understood. In a new study, scientists from MUSE - Museum of Science, Trento, Italy, Universities of Ferrara and Padova, Italy and the University of Bristol show that the key expansion of dinosaurs was also triggered by a crisis – a mass extinction that happened 232 million years ago.


In the new paper, published today in Nature Communications, evidence is provided to match the two events – the mass extinction, called the Carnian Pluvial Episode, and the initial diversification of dinosaurs.


Dinosaurs had originated much earlier, at the beginning of the Triassic Period, some 245 million years ago, but they remained very rare until the shock events in the Carnian 13 million years later.


The new study shows just when dinosaurs took over by using detailed evidence from rock sequences in the Dolomites, in north Italy – here the dinosaurs are detected from their footprints.

First there were no dinosaur tracks, and then there were many.


This marks the moment of their explosion, and the rock successions in the Dolomites are well dated. Comparison with rock successions in Argentina and Brazil, here the first extensive skeletons of dinosaurs occur, show the explosion happened at the same time there as well.


Lead author Dr Massimo Bernardi, Curator at MUSE and Research associate at Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, said: “We were excited to see that the footprints and skeletons told the same story. We had been studying the footprints in the Dolomites for some time, and it’s amazing how clear cut the change from ‘no dinosaurs’ to ‘all dinosaurs’ was.”

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One strange retrotransposon has inserted itself into many species and has spread throughout the world oceans

One strange retrotransposon has inserted itself into many species and has spread throughout the world oceans | Amazing Science |

In the late 1970s, scientists noticed that soft-shell clams from Maine were dying from a strange kind of leukemia. Large, cannonball-shaped cancer cells would fill their blood, turning it milky white, and eventually fatally clogging the mollusks’ organs.

For almost 40 years, scientists struggled to work out what was causing the cancer. But once they noticed that the disease seemed to spread from infected clams to uninfected ones, they suspected that a virus might be involved. That’s when Stephen Goff from Columbia University, who studies viruses that cause leukemia in mice, got a call.

He couldn’t find any viruses in the affected mollusks. Instead, his team discovered that the leukemia was associated with a new gene, which they called Steamer. It’s a retrotransposon—a jumping gene that can make copies of itself and paste those facsimiles elsewhere in the clam’s genome. Healthy clams have between two and 10 copies of Steamer in their DNA. But the cancer-afflicted ones had between 150 and 300 copies.


At the time, Goff wondered if something was making Steamer run amok, pasting new copies of itself throughout the clams’ DNA, disrupting important genes, and ultimately leading to cancer. If that was the case, each diseased clam should have a unique pattern of Steamer copies, strewn across its DNA. But instead, Goff’s student Michael Metzger found that clams across the eastern seaboard all had Steamer in the same places. Their tumors were all genetically identical.

The team eventually realized that the leukemia is a contagious cancer. Unlike almost every other tumor, which begins in an individual and then dies with it, the clam cancer cells are immortal, independent parasites that can move through the water from one host to another. So far, only eight such cancers have been discovered—two in Tasmanian devils, one in dogs, one in the clams, and four more in other kinds of shellfish.

Steamer’s role in all of this is unclear. It’s still possible that the gene’s cut-and-paste antics were the original trigger that created the contagious leukemia in the first place. But cancer aside, Goff and Metzger have found that Steamer has an extraordinary story of its own.

They found Steamer-like genes in the DNA of many species of shellfish—clams, oysters, mussels, cockles, and more. Bizarrely, some of these genes were incredibly similar, even when their hosts were only distantly related. For example, Atlantic razor clams and soft-shell clams have been evolving separately for between 300 and 500 million years, and many of their genes are only 65 percent identical. By contrast, their copies of Steamer are around 97 percent identical.

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Thin film captures waste heat from electronics and converts it to usable energy

Thin film captures waste heat from electronics and converts it to usable energy | Amazing Science |

Nearly 70 percent of the energy produced in the United States each year is wasted as heat. Much of that heat is less than 100 degrees Celsius and emanates from things like computers, cars or large industrial processes. Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a thin-film system that can be applied to sources of waste heat like these to produce energy at levels unprecedented for this kind of technology.


The thin-film system uses a process called pyroelectric energy conversion, which the engineers’ new study demonstrates is well suited for tapping into waste-heat energy supplies below 100 degrees Celsius, called low-quality waste heat. Pyroelectric energy conversion, like many systems that turn heat into energy, works best using thermodynamic cycles, kind of like how a car engine works. But unlike the engine in your car, pyroelectric energy conversion can be realized entirely in the solid state with no moving parts as it turns waste heat into electricity.


The new results suggest that this nanoscopic thin-film technology might be particularly attractive for installing on and harvesting waste heat from high-speed electronics but could have a large scope of applications. For fluctuating heat sources, the study reports that the thin film can turn waste heat into useable energy with higher energy density, power density and efficiency levels than other forms of pyroelectric energy conversion.


“We know we need new energy sources, but we also need to do better at utilizing the energy we already have,” said senior author Lane Martin, associate professor of materials science and engineering. “These thin films can help us squeeze more energy than we do today out of every source of energy.”


The research will be published April 16 in the journal Nature Materials. The research was supported, in part, by grants from the Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

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Elon Musk is raising half a billion in cash for SpaceX - and there are 3 epic projects to spend it on

Elon Musk is raising half a billion in cash for SpaceX - and there are 3 epic projects to spend it on | Amazing Science |

Elon Musk's rocket company, SpaceX, is likely raising about $500 million in new funding. The cash investment would be a boon to SpaceX, which is chasing three incredibly ambitious projects in the coming decade. Those plans include (i) a global satellite-internet network, (ii) a spaceship to explore and colonize Mars, and (iii) the world's fastest transportation system.


Starlink satellite internet

One of SpaceX's biggest new initiatives is called Starlink. The plan, which the US Federal Communications Initiative approved in March, is to surround Earth with 12,000 internet-providing satellites. That's more than twice the number of all spacecraft launched by humanity. The ultimate goal of the project is to achieve global broadband coverage with speeds more than 178 times as fast as the current worldwide average. In 2015, according to Akamai's "State of the Internet" report, that was 5.6 megabits per second; Starlink's goal is 1 Gbps. Musk also plans to bring the web to those who can't afford it. "If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served," he tweeted in February.


SpaceX has already built a satellite factory in Redmond, Washington, and it launched two experimental Starlink satellites on February 22. But manufacturing thousands of spacecraft and launching them into low-Earth orbit — even dozens at a time with the Falcon Heavy rocket — will require serious capital.


"Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach," Ajit Pai, the FCC's chairman, previously said of SpaceX's plans.


Big Falcon Rockets for Mars and beyond

SpaceX has achieved a swath of feats since its founding in 2002, not least of which is disrupting an expensive and relatively stagnant space industry. Musk even recently called for a "new space race." On February 6, just after SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy — the world's most powerful operational rocket — Musk said most of the company's engineering resources were shifting toward a system called BFR.


The Big Falcon Rocket, BRF, is a 348-foot-tall reusable launch system designed to ferry up to 100 people and 150 tons of payload toward Mars at a time. The BFR design has two main sections: a rocket and a spaceship. The 191-foot-tall rocket would push the spaceship into orbit around Earth, then the 157-foot-long spaceship would fly toward the moon or Mars. Everything would run on liquid methane and oxygen. The BFR would land itself and be fully reusable — a scheme that could slash the cost of access to space thousandfold. The first uncrewed launch to Mars is optimistically slated for 2022, followed by a crewed launch in 2024.


Due its presumable low cost — the system would be used over and over like a jet aircraft, rather than a one-off rocket — Musk envisions BFR as a replacement to all of the company's offerings over time. "We want to have one system, one booster and ship, that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon," Musk said in September 2017. "If we can do that, then all the resources that are used for Falcon 9, Heavy, and Dragon can be applied to this system." Business InsiderSpaceX recently secured a lease for a historic yet derelict site at the Port of Los Angeles. There, the company is about to build a 200,000-square-foot factory to make the spaceships and booster rockets that comprise BFR. The location is just 14 miles south of the company's headquarters and an ideal place to ship the rockets by water to its Texas-based test and launch facilities.


Musk also recently unveiled an enormous 30-by-40-foot tool to build the system's spaceship out of carbon-fiber composite. SpaceX is bringing other BFR tooling to the port to start building spaceships as well. This work and the future test launches in Texas (scheduled for sometime in early 2019) will not be cheap. Half a billion dollars could help make it happen, though. Shotwell, SpaceX's president, said at the 2018 TED Conference on Wednesday that she "might out-vision Elon" with her goals for BFR.


"Mars is fine, but it's a fixer-upper planet," Shotwell said. "I want to find people, or whatever they call themselves, in another solar system."


The world's fastest transportation system

SpaceX's big rocket system wouldn't just be useful for reaching destinations far from Earth. "If we're building this thing to go to the moon and Mars, then why not go to other places on Earth as well?" Musk previously said.


A BFR spaceship could fly more than 4.6 miles per second, according to SpaceX, which is more than 12 times as fast as the now-retired supersonic Concorde jets. That would make it the world's fastest transportation system. Passengers might fly from Los Angeles to New York in just 25 minutes, Bangkok to Dubai in 27 minutes, London to New York in 29 minutes, and Delhi to San Francisco in 40 minutes, according to a SpaceX video.


"This would not be for the faint of heart, and it is difficult to see how this would be inexpensive," Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut, previously told Business Insider of SpaceX's goals. "But the one thing I've learned from observing Elon is not to count him out."

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AI chips soon will power PCs, cars, security cameras and smart speakers

AI chips soon will power PCs, cars, security cameras and smart speakers | Amazing Science |
Processors with artificial intelligence will spread from today's top-end phones to cars, PCs, security cameras, smart speakers and mainstream phones.


AI is already a buzzword used by phone makers like Apple, Samsung and LG. "Most new high-end smartphones have an AI accelerator," including Apple's A11 chip in the iPhone X and Samsung's Exynos 9810 in the Galaxy S9, said Linley Gwennap, an analyst with the Linley Group. "We're already seeing it trickle down to mid-premium phones, and it'll probably continue to trickle down to lower-end phones over time," he said at the chip analysis firm's processor conference last week.


AI-capable chips will spread much farther than smartphones, boosted by custom chip designs from startups and bigger efforts like the Trillium AI project from mobile chip power Arm. That'll mean today's revolution in computing smarts really is only just getting started. It could eventually help digital assistants from Amazonand Google spread into new devices, let your car recognize pedestrians and everything else around it, and make your PC a lot cleverer for things like photo and video editing.


Take internet-enabled security cameras, which today can burden your home network and broadband connection with a constant stream of video. "What you really want is the camera to be able to look at the scene and say nothing's happening, I don't need to send the video up. When something changes, then it can send an image or a notification," Gwennap said.


PCs can run AI on their relatively powerful main processors, but they'll get AI chips too as more software arrives to use the technology, Gwennap predicted. Adobe Systems software like Photoshop and Premiere Pro already pushes processors to their limits, and the company has introduced Sensei AI technology for speeding up tasks like photo editing.

Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Systems Theory!

Google Is Working on Its Own Blockchain-Related Technology

Google Is Working on Its Own Blockchain-Related Technology | Amazing Science |
Google is working on blockchain-related technology to support its cloud business and head off competition from emerging startups that use the heavily-hyped technology to operate online in new ways, according to people familiar with the situation.


Companies use blockchain and other so-called digital ledgers to securely record transactions and process other data over the internet -- a service Google could use, for example, to reassure customers that their information is protected when stored on the giant network of computer servers that power its cloud services.


The Alphabet Inc. unit is developing its own distributed digital ledger that third parties can use to post and verify transactions, one of the people said. Although the timing of any product release is unclear, the company plans to offer this to differentiate its cloud service from rivals. It will also provide a white-label version that other companies can run on their own servers, the person added.


The internet giant has also been acquiring and investing in startups with digital ledger expertise. Many of the deals haven’t been announced, the person said. Still, Alphabet was a leading corporate investor in the field last year, ahead of Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., according to research firm CB Insights.


Several people in Google’s infrastructure group, which reports to cloud chief Diane Greene, have been tinkering with blockchain protocols in recent months, according to another person familiar with the company. Other Google insiders said recently that the cloud business is a natural place for blockchain-related services. The people asked not to be identified talking about the subject because the company isn’t ready to make an announcement yet.

“Like many new technologies, we have individuals in various teams exploring potential uses of blockchain but it’s way too early for us to speculate about any possible uses or plans,” a Google spokesman said.


In 2016, Google started a trial for developers testing blockchain services on its cloud. The company is now exploring much more expansive ways to deploy the technology, the people said. Digital ledgers like blockchain power Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. They are databases that are updated regularly across thousands of computers over the internet. Each entry is confirmed by these machines, which can be part of public networks or run privately by companies. There are different kinds of digital ledgers -- blockchain is only one. Data crunched by this technology range from transactions to supply-chain updates to digital cats.

Via Ben van Lier
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Surprise: Older adults grow just as many new brain cells as young people

Surprise: Older adults grow just as many new brain cells as young people | Amazing Science |
Researchers show for the first time that healthy older men and women can generate just as many new brain cells as younger people.


There has been controversy over whether adult humans grow new neurons, and some research has previously suggested that the adult brain was hard-wired and that adults did not grow new neurons. This study, to appear in the journal Cell Stem Cell on April 5, counters that notion. Lead author Maura Boldrini, associate professor of neurobiology at Columbia University, says the findings may suggest that many senior citizens remain more cognitively and emotionally intact than commonly believed.


"We found that older people have similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do," Boldrini says. "We also found equivalent volumes of the hippocampus (a brain structure used for emotion and cognition) across ages. Nevertheless, older individuals had less vascularization and maybe less ability of new neurons to make connections."


The researchers autopsied hippocampi from 28 previously healthy individuals aged 14-79 who had died suddenly. This is the first time researchers looked at newly formed neurons and the state of blood vessels within the entire human hippocampus soon after death. The researchers had determined that study subjects were not cognitively impaired and had not suffered from depression or taken antidepressants, which Boldrini and colleagues had previously found could impact the production of new brain cells.


In rodents and primates, the ability to generate new hippocampal cells declines with age. Waning production of neurons and an overall shrinking of the dentate gyrus, part of the hippocampus thought to help form new episodic memories, was believed to occur in aging humans as well.

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How old is the oldest human language?

How old is the oldest human language? | Amazing Science |

How old is the oldest human language? It’s tough to say. Using linguistic analysis and statistics, scientists from the Max Planck Institute have estimated the date of the Dravidian family of languages on the southern parts of India at 4,500 years old. reports that Dravidians were present a thousand years before Indo-Aryans arrived in India. 80 derived dialects of the ancient language family are still spoken today by some 220 million people. On the one hand, they wish to think that our equals ‘evolved’ over 300,000 years ago, and soon after that migrated into Europe and Asia. Also, when they got there, they had no trouble interbreeding with the Neanderthals. But then, at the other extreme, one of the oldest language groups dates back no more than 4,500 years ago. What did people like us do for 295,000 years?


“The study of the Dravidian languages is crucial for understanding prehistory in Eurasia, as they played a significant role in influencing other language groups,” explains corresponding author Annemarie Verkerk of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Neither the geographical origin of the Dravidian language nor its exact dispersal through time is known with certainty. The consensus of the research community is that the Dravidians are natives of the Indian subcontinent and were present prior to the arrival of the Indo-Aryans (Indo-European speakers) in India around 3,500 years ago. It is likely that the Dravidian languages were much more widespread to the west in the past than they are today. The estimate appears to be on the high side, pushing back the language earlier than previously thought, but not more than 4,500 years in total.


The researchers used advanced statistical methods to infer the age and subgrouping of the Dravidian language family at about 4,000-4,500 years old. This estimate, while in line with suggestions from previous linguistic studies, is a more robust result because it was found consistently in the majority of the different statistical models of evolution tested in this study. This age also matches well with inferences from archaeology, which have previously placed the diversification of Dravidian into North, Central, and South branches at exactly this age, coinciding with the beginnings of cultural developments evident in the archaeological record.

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Mapping Minerals Deposits with Satellite Imagery

Mapping Minerals Deposits with Satellite Imagery | Amazing Science |

Mapping minerals from space was one of the main motivating reasons for creating the earliest multispectral satellite systems such as the Landsat satellites when they were launched in 1972. More modern systems, including the recent Landsat 8,Sentinel-2, and ASTER, have improved upon this endeavor by giving more accurate readings at higher resolutions.


Using spectral response functions along with pixel aggregate has shown that the Sentinel-2 satellite compares favorably to maps created by ASTER, which since the early 2000s had become among the leading multispectral satellite systems for geological mapping. In particular, shortwave infrared (SWIR; 0.9-1.7 microns for wavelength) and visible and near-infrared bands (VNIR; 0.36-1.05 microns for wavelength) show comparable results in detecting iron.


In 2000, NASA had launched its Hyperion system, which covers 0.4-2.5/spi mu/m spectral range with 242 bands. While hyperspectral imagery has been established with aircraft systems, where the wide band coverage means that many types of minerals could potentially be differentiated more easily, this type of system was not used on satellites. Hyperion was NASA’s way of testing the utility of hyperspectral satellite imagery for various applications. Because of the increased band coverage, what has been useful about Hyperion is that it does provide capabilities to detect a wide variety of minerals, comparable to some extent to some aircraft systems. Minerals such as carbonates, chlorite, epidote, kaolinite, alunite, buddingtonite, muscovite, hydrothermal silica, and zeolite are evident using different bands from the system.


In many regions, the most common surface minerals are found within clays. This has required new techniques to be made to utilize satellite systems to better map types of clays and minerals found within. Using SWIR and thermal infrared (TIR) bands, it has become possible to differentiate clay types that include illite from montmorillonite clays. This can have important implications for agricultural areas or areas that have greater or worse water retention, including groundwater deposits, due to clay and mineral types found affecting water deposits. Variation in the clay signatures could also be potentially used to monitor erosion activities, including wind and water erosion that affects surfaces.

Via Dr. Catherine Russell
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Researchers create super sponge that mops up oil spills

Researchers create super sponge that mops up oil spills | Amazing Science |

Australian scientists say new polymer can remove crude oil and diesel from seawater.


Oil spills could be soaked up by a new floating substance that combines waste from the petroleum industry and cooking oil, according to new research led by South Australia’s Flinders University.


The new polymer, made from sulphur and canola cooking oil, acted like a sponge to remove crude oil and diesel from seawater, according to a new study published in the Advanced Sustainable Systems journal. The polymer can be squeezed to remove the oil and then reused.


The lead researcher, Dr Justin Chalker, said it had the potential to be a cheap and sustainable recovery tool in areas affected by oil spills. “We anticipate that when we get to economies of scale we will be able to compete in price with other materials that are used to soak up oil,” said Chalker, senior lecturer in synthetic chemistry at Flinders University.


“Our goal is for this to be used globally. It is inexpensive, and we have an eye for it to be used in parts of the world such as the Amazon Basin in Ecuador and the Niger Delta that don’t have access to solutions to oil spills.”


The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation says about 7,000 tons of crude oil were spilt into oceans last year.

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Unprecedented wave of large-mammal extinctions linked to ancient humans, study finds

Unprecedented wave of large-mammal extinctions linked to ancient humans, study finds | Amazing Science |

Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and other recent human relatives may have begun hunting large mammal species down to size — by way of extinction — at least 90,000 years earlier than previously thought, says a new study published in the journal Science.

Elephant-dwarfing wooly mammoths, elephant-sized ground sloths and various saber-toothed cats highlighted the array of massive mammals roaming Earth between 2.6 million and 12,000 years ago. Prior research suggested that such large mammals began disappearing faster than their smaller counterparts — a phenomenon known as size-biased extinction — in Australia around 35,000 years ago.



With the help of emerging data from older fossil and geologic records, the new study estimated that this size-biased extinction started at least 125,000 years ago in Africa. By that point, the average African mammal was already 50 percent smaller than those on other continents, the study reported, despite the fact that larger landmasses can typically support larger mammals. But as humans migrated out of Africa, other size-biased extinctions began occurring in regions and on timelines that coincide with known human migration patterns, the researchers found. Over time, the average body size of mammals on those other continents approached and then fell well below Africa’s. Mammals that survived during the span were generally far smaller than those that went extinct.


The magnitude and scale of the recent size-biased extinction surpassed any other recorded during the last 66 million years, according to the study, which was led by the University of New Mexico’s Felisa Smith. “It wasn’t until human impacts started becoming a factor that large body sizes made mammals more vulnerable to extinction,” said the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Kate Lyons, who authored the study with Smith and colleagues from Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego. “The anthropological record indicates that Homo sapiens are identified as a species around 200,000 years ago, so this occurred not very long after the birth of us as a species. It just seems to be something that we do.


“From a life-history standpoint, it makes some sense. If you kill a rabbit, you’re going to feed your family for a night. If you can kill a large mammal, you’re going to feed your village.” By contrast, the research team found little support for the idea that climate change drove size-biased extinctions during the last 66 million years. Large and small mammals seemed equally vulnerable to temperature shifts throughout that span, the authors reported.

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Concepts in Light Microscopy of Viruses

Concepts in Light Microscopy of Viruses | Amazing Science |

This review gives an overview of recent technology for imaging cells and viruses by light microscopy, in particular fluorescence microscopy in static and live-cell modes. The review lays out guidelines for how novel fluorescent chemical probes and proteins can be used in light microscopy to illuminate cells, and how they can be used to study virus infections. Discussed are advantages and opportunities of confocal and multi-photon microscopy, selective plane illumination microscopy, and super-resolution microscopy. The authors emphasize the prevalent concepts in image processing and data analyses, and provide an outlook into label-free digital holographic microscopy for virus research.

Via Cindy
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Structure of the herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, viruses that cause cold sores and genital herpes

Structure of the herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, viruses that cause cold sores and genital herpes | Amazing Science |

The herpesvirus family includes herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which causes cold sores, and type 2 (HSV-2), which causes genital herpes. Herpesviruses comprise a large DNA genome enclosed in a large and complex protein cage called a capsid (see the Perspective by Heldwein).


Scientists now used electron microscopy to determine a high-resolution structure of the HSV-1 capsid bound to the tegument proteins that occupy the space between the capsid and the nuclear envelope. The structure suggests how these components may play a role in viral transport. Another team of researchers describes a higher-resolution structure of an HSV-2 capsid, providing insight into how the shell assembles and is stabilized.


Since Hippocrates first described the cutaneous spreading of herpes simplex lesions, many other diseases—chickenpox, infectious mononucleosis, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and Kaposi’s sarcoma—have been found to be associated with the nine known human herpesviruses. Among them, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1, causes cold sores), type 2 (HSV-2, causes genital herpes), and varicella-zoster virus (causes chickenpox and shingles)—which all belong to the α-herpesvirus subfamily—can establish lifelong latent infection within our peripheral nervous system.


A prominent feature of these neurotropic viruses is the long-range (up to tens of centimeters) axonal retrograde transport of the DNA-containing viral capsid from nerve endings at sites of infection (such as the lips) to neuronal cell bodies at the ganglia to establish latency or, upon reactivation, anterograde transport of the progeny viral particles from the ganglia to nerve terminals, resulting in reinfection of the dermis. Capsid-associated tegument complexes (CATCs) have been demonstrated to be involved in this cytoskeleton-dependent capsid transport. Because of the large size (~1300 Å) of HSV-1 particles, it has been difficult to obtain atomic structures of the HSV-1 capsid and CATC; consequently, the structural bases underlying α-herpesviruses’ remarkable capability of long-range neuronal transport and many other aspects of its life cycle are poorly understood.

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For the first time, researchers created a Bose–Einstein condensate of light coupled with metal electrons

For the first time, researchers created a Bose–Einstein condensate of light coupled with metal electrons | Amazing Science |

Researchers at Aalto University, Finland are the first to create a Bose–Einstein condensate of light coupled with metal electrons, so-called surface plasmon polaritons.


Nearly a hundred years ago, Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose predicted that quantum mechanics can force a large number of particles to behave in concert as if they were only a single particle. The phenomenon is called Bose–Einstein condensation, and it took until 1995 to create the first such condensate of a gas of alkali atoms.


Although Bose–Einstein condensation has been observed in several systems, the limits of the phenomenon need to be pushed further: to faster timescales, higher temperatures, and smaller sizes. The easier creating these condensates gets, the more exciting routes open for new technological applications. New light sources, for example, could be extremely small in size and allow fast information processing.


In experiments by Aalto researchers, the condensed particles were mixtures of light and electrons in motion in gold nanorods arranged into a periodic array. Unlike most previous Bose–Einstein condensates created experimentally, the new condensate does not need to be cooled down to temperatures near absolute zero. Because the particles are mostly light, the condensation could be induced in room temperature.


‘The gold nanoparticle array is easy to create with modern nanofabrication methods. Near the nanorods, light can be focused into tiny volumes, even below the wavelength of light in vacuum. These features offer interesting prospects for fundamental studies and applications of the new condensate,’ says Academy Professor Päivi Törmä.


The results are published in the journal Nature Physics:


The research article: T.K. Hakala, A.J. Moilanen, A.I. Väkeväinen, R. Guo, J.-P. Martikainen, K.S. Daskalakis, H.T. Rekola, A. Julku, P. Törmä. Bose-Einstein Condensation in a Plasmonic Lattice.


Open access to the article:

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Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase

Characterization and engineering of a plastic-degrading aromatic polyesterase | Amazing Science |

Synthetic polymers are ubiquitous in the modern world but pose a global environmental problem. While plastics such as poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) are highly versatile, their resistance to natural degradation presents a serious, growing risk to fauna and flora, particularly in marine environments. Here, scientists have now characterized the 3D structure of a newly discovered enzyme that can digest highly crystalline PET, the primary material used in the manufacture of single-use plastic beverage bottles, in some clothing, and in carpets. They engineered this enzyme for improved PET degradation capacity and further demonstrate that it can also degrade an important PET replacement, polyethylene-2,5-furandicarboxylate, providing new opportunities for bio-based plastics recycling.

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Internal Fire Heats Jupiter's Moon Io

Internal Fire Heats Jupiter's Moon Io | Amazing Science |

A global "ocean" of molten rock sloshes beneath the surface of Jupiter's moon Io, feeding the fiery satellite's prolific volcanism, a new study finds. Unlike Earth's magma, which tends to cluster in pockets around the edges of tectonic plates, Io's magma is found in a global reservoir at least 30 miles (48 kilometers) deep, the study suggests. This huge reserve of subsurface molten rock helps explain why Io is the most volcanically active object in the solar system, spewing out 100 times more lava than all of Earth's volcanoes combined.


"Now we know where all of that lava is coming from," said study lead author Krishan Khurana, a geophysicist at UCLA.

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TESS - NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is Launching Soon

TESS - NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is Launching Soon | Amazing Science |
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS is an all-sky survey mission that will discover thousands of exoplanets around nearby bright stars.


NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is scheduled to launch no earlier than 6:32 p.m. EDT Monday, April 16, 2018. TESS is on a mission to find planets outside of our solar system and the prelaunch mission coverage will start on NASA Television and the agency’s website Sunday, April 15, with three live briefings.


NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is prepared to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Once in space, TESS will spend approximately two years monitoring 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to detect planets outside our solar system.


TESS is NASA’s next step in the search for planets outside of our solar system, called exoplanets, including those that could support life. The mission is expected to catalog thousands of planet candidates and largely increase the current number of known exoplanets.


TESS will find the most promising exoplanets orbiting relatively close stars, giving future researchers a vast set of new targets for more comprehensive follow-up studies, such as the potential to assess their capacity to harbor life.


Launch Resources:

TESS Launch Blog
TESS Launch Team
TESS Briefings and Events
Launch Campaign Photos

TESS project website at NASA Goddard

TESS Guest Investigator Program Office website

TESS science writers guide

HD multimedia on TESS

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Peptide-based biogenic dental product may cure cavities

Peptide-based biogenic dental product may cure cavities | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the University of Washington have designed a convenient and natural product that uses proteins to rebuild tooth enamel and treat dental cavities. The research finding was first published in ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering.


“Remineralization guided by peptides is a healthy alternative to current dental health care,” said lead author Mehmet Sarikaya, professor of materials science and engineering and adjunct professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Department of Oral Health Sciences.


The new biogenic dental products can — in theory — rebuild teeth and cure cavities without today’s costly and uncomfortable treatments. “Peptide-enabled formulations will be simple and would be implemented in over-the-counter or clinical products,” Sarikaya said.


Cavities are more than just a nuisance. According to the World Health Organization, dental cavities affect nearly every age group and they are accompanied by serious health concerns. Additionally, direct and indirect costs of treating dental cavities and related diseases have been a huge economic burden for individuals and health care systems.


“Bacteria metabolize sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates in oral environments and acid, as a by-product, will demineralize the dental enamel,” said co-author Sami Dogan, associate professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry at the UW School of Dentistry.

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New Study Suggests Tens of Thousands of Black Holes Exist in Milky Way’s Center

New Study Suggests Tens of Thousands of Black Holes Exist in Milky Way’s Center | Amazing Science |

A Columbia University-led team of astrophysicists has discovered a dozen black holes gathered around Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.


The finding is the first to support a decades-old prediction, opening up myriad opportunities to better understand the universe. "Everything you'd ever want to learn about the way big black holes interact with little black holes, you can learn by studying this distribution,” said Columbia Astrophysicist Chuck Hailey, co-director of the Columbia Astrophysics Lab and lead author on the study. “The Milky Way is really the only galaxy we have where we can study how supermassive black holes interact with little ones because we simply can't see their interactions in other galaxies. In a sense, this is the only laboratory we have to study this phenomenon."


The study appears in the April 5 issue of Nature.


For more than two decades, researchers have searched unsuccessfully for evidence to support a theory that thousands of black holes surround supermassive black holes (SMBHs) at the center of large galaxies.


“There are only about five dozen known black holes in the entire galaxy -- 100,000 light years wide -- and there are supposed to be 10,000 to 20,000 of these things in a region just six light years wide that no one has been able to find,” Hailey said, adding that extensive fruitless searches have been made for black holes around Sgr A*, the closest SMBH to Earth and therefore the easiest to study. “There hasn’t been much credible evidence.”


He explained that Sgr A* is surrounded by a halo of gas and dust that provides the perfect breeding ground for the birth of massive stars, which live, die and could turn into black holes there. Additionally, black holes from outside the halo are believed to fall under the influence of the SMBH as they lose their energy, causing them to be pulled into the vicinity of the SMBH, where they are held captive by its force.


While most of the trapped black holes remain isolated, some capture and bind to a passing star, forming a stellar binary. Researchers believe there is a heavy concentration of these isolated and mated black holes in the Galactic Center, forming a density cusp which gets more crowded as distance to the SMBH decreases.


In the past, failed attempts to find evidence of such a cusp have focused on looking for the bright burst of X-ray glow that occurs when black holes mate with companion stars. “It’s an obvious way to want to look for black holes,” Hailey said, “but the Galactic Center is so far away from Earth that those bursts are only strong and bright enough to see about once every 100 to 1,000 years.” To detect black hole binaries then, Hailey and his colleagues realized they would need to look for the fainter, but steadier X-rays emitted after the initial bonding, when the binaries are in an inactive state.

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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from The science toolbox!

High‐throughput genomic approaches for detailed biodiversity analysis

High‐throughput genomic approaches for detailed biodiversity analysis | Amazing Science |

The purpose of this review is to present the most common and emerging DNA‐based methods used to generate data for biodiversity and biomonitoring studies. As environmental assessment and monitoring programmes may require biodiversity information at multiple levels, we pay particular attention to the DNA metabarcoding method and discuss a number of bioinformatic tools and considerations for producing DNA‐based indicators using operational taxonomic units (OTUs), taxa at a variety of ranks and community composition. By developing the capacity to harness the advantages provided by the newest technologies, investigators can “scale up” by increasing the number of samples and replicates processed, the frequency of sampling over time and space, and even the depth of sampling such as by sequencing more reads per sample or more markers per sample. The ability to scale up is made possible by the reduced hands‐on time and cost per sample provided by the newest kits, platforms and software tools. Results gleaned from broad‐scale monitoring will provide opportunities to address key scientific questions linked to biodiversity and its dynamics across time and space as well as being more relevant for policymakers, enabling science‐based decision‐making, and provide a greater socio‐economic impact. As genomic approaches are continually evolving, we provide this guide to methods used in biodiversity genomics.

Via Francis Martin, Steve Marek, Niklaus Grunwald
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The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges

The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Amazing Science |
Even with no one in charge, army ants work collectively to build bridges out of their bodies. New research reveals the simple rules that lead to such complex group behavior.


Army ants form colonies of millions yet have no permanent home. They march through the jungle each night in search of new foraging ground. Along the way they perform logistical feats that would make a four-star general proud, including building bridges with their own bodies.


"Much like the swarms of cheap, dumb robots that I explored in my recent article, army ants manage this coordination with no leader and with minimal cognitive resources. An individual army ant is practically blind and has a minuscule brain that couldn’t begin to fathom their elaborate collective movement. There is no leader, no architect ant saying ‘we need to build here,” said Simon Garnier, director of the Swarm Lab at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and co-author of a new study that predicts when an army ant colony will decide to build a bridge.


Garnier’s study helps to explain not only how unorganized ants build bridges, but also how they pull off the even more complex task of determining which bridges are worth building at all.

Via Complexity Digest, june holley
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Genome evolution across 1,011 Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast isolates

Genome evolution across 1,011 Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast isolates | Amazing Science |

Large-scale population genomic surveys are essential to explore the phenotypic diversity of natural populations. Scientists now report the whole-genome sequencing and phenotyping of 1,011 Saccharomyces cerevisiae isolates, which together provide an accurate evolutionary picture of the genomic variants that shape the species-wide phenotypic landscape of this yeast. Genomic analyses support a single ‘out-of-China’ origin for this species, followed by several independent domestication events. Although domesticated isolates exhibit high variation in ploidy, aneuploidy and genome content, genome evolution in wild isolates is mainly driven by the accumulation of single nucleotide polymorphisms. A common feature is the extensive loss of heterozygosity, which represents an essential source of inter-individual variation in this mainly asexual species. Most of the single nucleotide polymorphisms, including experimentally identified functional polymorphisms, are present at very low frequencies. The largest numbers of variants identified by genome-wide association are copy-number changes, which have a greater phenotypic effect than do single nucleotide polymorphisms. This resource will guide future population genomics and genotype–phenotype studies in this classic model system.

Via Peris
Peris's curator insight, April 13, 10:22 AM
Large-scale population genomic surveys are essential to explore the phenotypic diversity of natural populations. Here we report the whole-genome sequencing and phenotyping of 1,011 Saccharomyces cerevisiae isolates, which together provide an accurate evolutionary picture of the genomic variants that shape the species-wide phenotypic landscape of this yeast. Genomic analyses support a single ‘out-of-China’ origin for this species, followed by several independent domestication events. Although domesticated isolates exhibit high variation in ploidy, aneuploidy and genome content, genome evolution in wild isolates is mainly driven by the accumulation of single nucleotide polymorphisms. A common feature is the extensive loss of heterozygosity, which represents an essential source of inter-individual variation in this mainly asexual species. Most of the single nucleotide polymorphisms, including experimentally identified functional polymorphisms, are present at very low frequencies. The largest numbers of variants identified by genome-wide association are copy-number changes, which have a greater phenotypic effect than do single nucleotide polymorphisms. This resource will guide future population genomics and genotype–phenotype studies in this classic model system.