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All of the gold on Earth might have come from cosmic crashes between superdense dead stars, new research suggests

All of the gold on Earth might have come from cosmic crashes between superdense dead stars, new research suggests | Amazing Science |

The origin of the universe's gold is mysterious, since it's not formed within stars like lighter elements such as carbon and iron. But the mystery may now be solved, as a new study posits that the collision of two neutron stars — the tiny, incredibly dense cores of exploded stars — could catalyze the creation of the valuable metal.


"We estimate that the amount of gold produced and ejected during the merger of the two neutron stars may be as large as 10 moon masses — quite a lot of bling!" lead author Edo Berger, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), said in a statement. "To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are all star stuff, and our jewelry is colliding-star stuff."

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20,000+ FREE Online Science and Technology Lectures from Top Universities

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



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A grain of sand harbors up to 100,000 microorganisms from thousands of species

A grain of sand harbors up to 100,000 microorganisms from thousands of species | Amazing Science |

Just imagine, you are sitting on a sunny beach, contentedly letting the warm sand trickle through your fingers. Millions of sand grains. What you probably can't imagine: at the same time, billions upon billions of bacteria are also trickling through your fingers. Between 10,000 and 100,000 microorganisms live on each single grain of sand, as revealed in a study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen. This means that an individual grain of sand can have twice as many residents as, say, the city of Fairbanks, Alaska!


It has long been known that sand is a densely populated and active habitat. Now David Probandt and his colleagues have described the microbial community on a single grain of sand using modern molecular methods. To do this, they used samples taken from the southern North Sea, near the island of Helgoland, off the German coast.


The bacteria do not colonize the sand grains uniformly. While exposed areas are practically uncolonized, the bacteria bustle in cracks and depressions. "They are well protected there," explains Probandt. "When water flows around the grains of sand and they are swirled around, rubbing against each other, the bacteria are safe within these depressions." These sites may also act as hiding grounds from predators, who comb the surface of the sand grains in search of food.


However, the diversity of the bacteria, and not just their numbers, is impressive. "We found thousands of different species of bacteria on each individual grain of sand," says Probandt. Some bacteria species and groups can be found on all investigated sand grains, others only here and there. "More than half of the inhabitants on all grains are the same. We assume that this core community on all sand grains displays a similar function," explains Probandt. "In principle, each grain has the same fundamental population and infrastructure." We can therefore really discover a great deal about the bacterial diversity of sand in general from investigating a single grain of sand.


Sand-dwelling bacteria play an important role in the marine ecosystem and global material cycles. Because these bacteria process, for example, carbon and nitrogen compounds from seawater and fluvial inflows, the sand acts as an enormous purifying filter. Much of what is flushed into the seabed by seawater doesn't come back out.


"Every grain of sand functions like a small bacterial pantry," explains Probandt. They deliver the necessary supplies to keep the carbon, nitrogen and sulphur cycles running. "Whatever the conditions may be that the bacterial community on a grain of sand is exposed to -- thanks to the great diversity of the core community there is always someone to process the substances from the surrounding water."

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New species of moth named in honor of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States

New species of moth named in honor of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States | Amazing Science |

Days before Donald J. Trump steps forward on the Inaugural platform in Washington to assume the role of the 45th President of the United States of America, evolutionary biologist and systematist Dr. Vazrick Nazari named a new species in his honor. The author, whose publication can be found in the open access journal ZooKeys, hopes that the fame around the new moth will successfully point to the critical need for further conservation efforts for fragile areas such as the habitat of the new species.

While going through material borrowed from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, Dr. Vazrick Nazari stumbled across a few specimens that did not match any previously known species. Following thorough analysis of these moths, as well as material from other institutions, the scientist confirmed he had discovered the second species of a genus of twirler moths.

While both species in the genus share a habitat, stretching across the states of California, USA, and Baja California, Mexico, one can easily tell them apart. The new moth, officially described as Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, stands out with yellowish-white scales present on the head in adults. In fact, it was in these scales that the author found an amusing reference to Mr. Trump's hairstyle and turned it into an additional justification for its name.

Donald Trump's flying namesake is announced only a month following the recently described species of basslet named after predecessor President Barack Obama. The fish is only known from coral reefs in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Northwestern Hawaii, a nature reserve which the 44th President of the United States of America expanded to become the largest protected marine area in the world.

Being a substantially urbanized and populated area, the habitat of N. donaldtrumpi is also under serious threat. "The discovery of this distinct micro-moth in the densely populated and otherwise zoologically well-studied southern California underscores the importance of conservation of the fragile habitats that still contain undescribed and threatened species, and highlights the paucity of interest in species-level taxonomy of smaller faunal elements in North America," says discoverer Dr. Vazrick Nazari. "By naming this species after the 45th President of the United States, I hope to bring some public attention to, and interest in, the importance of alpha-taxonomy in better understanding the neglected micro-fauna component of the North American biodiversity."

Nazari V (2017) Review of Neopalpa Povolný, 1998 with description of a new species from California and Baja California, Mexico (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae). ZooKeys 646: 79-94.

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First-of-its-Kind Chemical Oscillator Using DNA Components Offers New Level of Molecular Control

First-of-its-Kind Chemical Oscillator Using DNA Components Offers New Level of Molecular Control | Amazing Science |

UT researchers successfully constructed a first-of-its-kind chemical oscillator that uses DNA components.


DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors. Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit computation within molecular systems designed for applications in health care, advanced materials and nanotechnology. The findings are published in the Dec. 15 issue of the journal Science.


Chemical oscillators have long been studied by engineers and scientists. The researchers who discovered the chemical oscillator that controls the human circadian rhythm —responsible for our bodies’ day and night rhythm — earned the 2017 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.


Though understanding of chemical oscillators and other biological chemical processes has evolved significantly, scientists do not know enough to control the chemical activities of living cells. This is leading engineers and scientists to turn to synthetic oscillators that work in test tubes rather than in cells.


In the new study, David Soloveichik and his research team in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin show how to program synthetic oscillators and other systems by building DNA molecules that follow specific instructions.

Soloveichik, an assistant professor in the Cockrell School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, along with Niranjan Srinivas, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, and the study’s co-authors, have successfully constructed a first-of-its-kind chemical oscillator that uses DNA components — and no proteins, enzymes or other cellular components — demonstrating that DNA alone is capable of complex behavior.


According to the researchers, their discovery suggests that DNA can be much more than simply a passive molecule used solely to carry genetic information. “DNA can be used in a much more active manner,” Soloveichik said. “We can actually make it dance — with a rhythm, if you will. This suggests that nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) might be doing more than we thought, which can even inform our understanding of the origin of life, since it is commonly thought that early life was based entirely on RNA.”

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Robot swarms to map the seafloor with high precision

Robot swarms to map the seafloor with high precision | Amazing Science |

It's one of those truisms that we know the shape of the surface of Mars and the Moon far better than we know our own planet. The reason for this is Earth's oceans: they cover 71% of the globe and are impenetrable to the satellite mapping techniques we use so capably on those other worlds.


The scientific community has set itself the ambitious goal of correcting this anomaly. The aim is to have no feature on the ocean floor larger than 100m unmapped by 2030. It's a huge task when you consider at the moment the vast majority of the water-covered parts of Earth are known to a resolution no better than about a kilometer.


Some big technological shifts will be required in the next 10 years to correct the picture. And that is really the raison d'être behind the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

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Artificial Intelligence Used NASA Data to Discover Exo Solar System with 8 Planets Like Ours

Artificial Intelligence Used NASA Data to Discover Exo Solar System with 8 Planets Like Ours | Amazing Science |
Our solar system now is tied for most number of planets around a single star, with the recent discovery of an eighth planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2,545 light years from Earth. The planet was discovered in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.


The newly-discovered Kepler-90i – a sizzling hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days – was found using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence in which computers “learn.” In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding in Kepler data instances where the telescope recorded signals from planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets. 


“Just as we expected, there are exciting discoveries lurking in our archived Kepler data, waiting for the right tool or technology to unearth them,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington. “This finding shows that our data will be a treasure trove available to innovative researchers for years to come.” 


The discovery came about after researchers Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg trained a computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in the light readings recorded by Kepler – the miniscule change in brightness captured when a planet passed in front of, or transited, a star. Inspired by the way neurons connect in the human brain, this artificial “neural network” sifted through Kepler data and found weak transit signals from a previously-missed eighth planet orbiting Kepler-90, in the constellation Draco.


While machine learning has previously been used in searches of the Kepler database, this research demonstrates that neural networks are a promising tool in finding some of the weakest signals of distant worlds.  


Other planetary systems probably hold more promise for life than Kepler-90. About 30 percent larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature is believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, on par with Mercury. Its outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits at a similar distance to its star as Earth does to the Sun.


“The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system. You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer,” said Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow and astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin.


Shallue, a senior software engineer with Google’s research team Google AI, came up with the idea to apply a neural network to Kepler data. He became interested in exoplanet discovery after learning that astronomy, like other branches of science, is rapidly being inundated with data as the technology for data collection from space advances.


“In my spare time, I started googling for ‘finding exoplanets with large data sets’ and found out about the Kepler mission and the huge data set available,” said Shallue. "Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can't search it for themselves.”

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Alpha Zero’s “Alien Way” of Playing Chess Shows the Power, and the Peculiarity, of AI

Alpha Zero’s “Alien Way” of Playing Chess Shows the Power, and the Peculiarity, of AI | Amazing Science |

Details how Alpha Zero played are here


The latest AI program developed by DeepMind is not only brilliant and remarkably flexible—it’s also quite weird.


DeepMind published a paper this week describing a game-playing program it developed that proved capable of mastering chess and the Japanese game Shoju, having already mastered the game of Go.

Demis Hassabis, the founder and CEO of DeepMind and an expert chess player himself, presented further details of the system, called Alpha Zero, at an AI conference in California on Thursday. The program often made moves that would seem unthinkable to a human chess player.

“It doesn’t play like a human, and it doesn’t play like a program,” Hassabis said at the Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference in Long Beach. “It plays in a third, almost alien, way.”

Besides showing how brilliant machine-learning programs can be at a specific task, this shows that artificial intelligence can be quite different from the human kind. As AI becomes more commonplace, we might need to be conscious of such “alien” behavior.

AlphaGo Zero Shows Machines Can Become Superhuman Without Any Help An upgraded version of the game-playing AI teaches itself every trick in the Go book, using a new form of machine learning.


Alpha Zero is a more general version of AlphaGo, the program developed by DeepMind to play the board game Go. In 24 hours, Alpha Zero taught itself to play chess well enough to beat one of the best existing chess programs around.

What’s also remarkable, though, Hassabis explained, is that it sometimes makes seemingly crazy sacrifices, like offering up a bishop and queen to exploit a positional advantage that led to victory. Such sacrifices of high-value pieces are normally rare. In another case the program moved its queen to the corner of the board, a very bizarre trick with a surprising positional value. “It’s like chess from another dimension,” Hassabis said.

Hassabis speculates that because Alpha Zero teaches itself, it benefits from not following the usual approach of assigning value to pieces and trying to minimize losses. “Maybe our conception of chess has been too limited,” he said. “It could be an important moment for chess. We can graft it into our own play.”


Original Paper from DeepMind

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Study Shows How 3D Printed Metals can be Ductile as well as Strong

Study Shows How 3D Printed Metals can be Ductile as well as Strong | Amazing Science |
A new method by which to 3D print metals, involving an extensively used stainless steel, has been shown to realize exceptional levels of both ductility and strength, when compared to counterparts from more conventional processes.


The research is opposing to the skepticism surrounding the ability to make robust and ductile metals using 3D printing, and as such the discovery is vital to moving the technology forward for the manufacturing of heavy duty components.


3D printing has long been accepted as a technology which can possibly transform the way of manufacturing, allowing one to quickly construct objects with intricate and tailored geometries.

With the technology rapidly developing in recent years, 3D printing, particularly metal 3D printing, is swiftly progressing toward extensive industrial application.


Indeed, the manufacturing leader General Electric (GE) has already been using metal 3D printing to create certain key parts, such as the fuel nozzles in their newest LEAP aircraft engine. The technology helps GE to minimize 900 separate parts into just 16, and make fuel nozzles 60% cheaper and 40% lighter.


The worldwide revenue from the industry is predicted to be more than 20 billion USD per year by the year 2025. Regardless of the bright future, the quality of the products from metal 3D printing has been susceptible to skepticism. In majority of metal 3D printing processes, products are directly made from metal powders, which make it prone to defects, therefore causing weakening of mechanical properties.


Dr. Leifeng Liu, who is the key participant of the project, lately moved to the University of Birmingham from Stockholm University as an AMCASH research fellow. He said, “Strength and ductility are natural enemies of one another, most methods developed to strengthen metals consequently reduce ductility.”

Via Alan Charky
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Cold Suns, Warm Exoplanets and Methane Gas Blankets

Cold Suns, Warm Exoplanets and Methane Gas Blankets | Amazing Science |

Somewhere in our galaxy, an exoplanet is probably orbiting a star that’s colder than our sun, but instead of freezing solid, the planet might be cozy warm thanks to a greenhouse effect caused by methane in its atmosphere.


NASA astrobiologists from the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a comprehensive new model that shows how planetary chemistry could make that happen. The model, published in a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience, was based on a likely scenario on Earth three billion years ago and was actually built around its possible geological and biological chemistry.


The sun produced a quarter less light and heat then, but Earth remained temperate, and methane may have saved our planet from an eon-long deep-freeze, scientists hypothesize. Had it not, we and most other complex life probably wouldn’t be here today.


The new model combined multiple microbial metabolic processes with volcanic, oceanic and atmospheric activities, which may make it the most comprehensive of its kind to date. But while studying Earth’s distant past, the Georgia Tech researchers aimed their model light-years away, wanting it to someday help interpret conditions on recently discovered exoplanets.


The researchers set the model’s parameters broadly so that they could apply not only to our own planet but potentially also to its siblings with their varying sizes, geologies, and lifeforms.

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Tasmanian tigers were in 'poor genetic health' long before they went extinct

Tasmanian tigers were in 'poor genetic health' long before they went extinct | Amazing Science |
The species would have struggled to survive even without human contact, research finds.


Australian scientists sequenced the genome of the native marsupial, also known as the thylacine. It showed the species, alive until 1936, would have struggled to survive even without human contact. The research also provides further insights into the marsupial's unique appearance.


"Even if we hadn't hunted it to extinction, our analysis showed that the thylacine was in very poor [genetic] health," said lead researcher Dr Andrew Pask, from the University of Melbourne. "The population today would be very susceptible to diseases, and would not be very healthy."


He said problems with genetic diversity could be traced back as far as 70,000 years ago, when the population is thought to have suffered due to a climatic event. The researchers sequenced the genome from a 106-year-old specimen held by Museums Victoria. They said their study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is one of the most complete genetic blueprints of an extinct species.

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Two Holograms in One Surface

Two Holograms in One Surface | Amazing Science |

A team of scientists at Caltech has figured out a way to encode more than one holographic image in a single surface without any loss of resolution. The engineering feat overturns a long-held assumption that a single surface could only project a single image regardless of the angle of illumination.


The technology hinges on the ability of a carefully engineered surface to reflect light differently depending on the angle at which incoming light strikes that surface.


Holograms are three-dimensional images encoded in two-dimensional surfaces. When the surface is illuminated with a laser, the image seems to pop off the surface and becomes visible. Traditionally, the angle at which laser light strikes the surface has been irrelevant—the same image will be visible regardless. That means that no matter how you illuminate the surface, you will only create one hologram.


Led by Andrei Faraon, assistant professor of applied physics and materials science in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, the team developed silicon oxide and aluminum surfaces studded with tens of millions of tiny silicon posts, each just hundreds of nanometers tall. (For scale, a strand of human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide.) Each nanopost reflects light differently due to variations in its shape and size, and based on the angle of incoming light.


That last property allows each post to act as a pixel in more than one image: for example, acting as a black pixel if incoming light strikes the surface at 0 degrees and a white pixel if incoming light strikes the surface at 30 degrees.


"Each post can do double duty. This is how we're able to have more than one image encoded in the same surface with no loss of resolution," says Faraon (BS '04), senior author of a paper on the new material published by Physical Review X on December 7, 2017.

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We can make plants pass out—with the same drugs that mysteriously knock us out

We can make plants pass out—with the same drugs that mysteriously knock us out | Amazing Science |
It’s unclear if researchers asked the plants to count backward first, though.


Just like humans, plants can succumb to the effects of general anesthetic drugs, researchers report this week in the Annals of Botany. The finding is striking for a variety of reasons—there’s the pesky fact that plants lack a central nervous system, for one thing. But, perhaps more noteworthy is that scientists still aren’t sure how general anesthetics work on humans—let alone plants.


Despite that, doctors have been using the drugs daily for more than a century to knock people out and avert pain during surgeries and other medical procedures. Yet the drugs’ exact effects on our body’s cells and electrical signals remain elusive.


The authors of the new study, led by Italian and German plant biologists, suggest that plants could help us—once and for all—figure out the drugs’ mechanism of action. Moreover, the researchers are hopeful that after that’s sorted out, plants could be a useful tool to study and develop new anesthetic drugs. “As plants in general, and the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana in particular, are suitable to experimental manipulation (they do not run away) and allow easy electrical recordings, we propose them as ideal model objects to study anaesthesia and to serve as a suitable test system for human anaesthesia,” they conclude.


The researchers exposed the plants to a few different general anesthetics, in a few different ways. They enclosed some in chambers where they were surrounded by diethyl ether vapor or xenon gas. For some, the researchers washed their roots and exposed them to lidocaine.


In all cases, the anesthetics temporarily caused the plants to go still and unresponsive. The Venus flytrap's spikey trap didn’t slam shut when poked. The shy plant was no longer shy; it’s leaves stayed open when gently brushed. Similarly, the sundew plants didn’t bend to capture dead fruit flies and the pea plant’s tendrils drooped and curled up instead of whirling in normal upward fashion.

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Superfast Camera Sees Mach Cone Shock Wave From Light

Superfast Camera Sees Mach Cone Shock Wave From Light | Amazing Science |

A camera system that captures a snapshot of overlapping light waves in a tiny fraction of a second could lead to new methods for imaging, allowing scientists to watch the brain’s neurons interacting or see neutrinos colliding with matter.


The camera system took snapshots at a rate of 100 billion frames per second, fast enough to capture a pulse of laser light spreading out in a Mach cone, the optical equivalent of the sonic boom created by an airplane traveling faster than the speed of sound. “You can think of the laser source as the supersonic jet and everything is dragged behind. Instead of generating a sound, we’re generating a scattered wavelet,” says Jinyang Liang, a postdoctoral research associate in Lihong Wang’s Optical Imaging Lab at Washington University, in St. Louis. The researchers and their collaborators from Tsinghua University in China and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describe their work in today’s issue of Science Advances.


An airplane creates a Mach cone when it passes Mach 1, the speed of sound. Because the source of the noise—the plane’s engines—is moving faster than sound itself, the sound waves get compressed and spread out in a cone shape behind the aircraft. The same thing can happen to light.


To generate their optical Mach cone, the researchers made two silicone display panels, which they laced with aluminum oxide powder to scatter the light toward the cameras. They placed the panels on opposite sides of an air-filled tunnel, then threw in a chunk of dry ice to create a fog meant to scatter light. The researchers then fired a laser beam through the tunnel. Because the silicone has a higher index of refraction than the air, light striking the panels moves more slowly than the light striking the fog, so the source of the light waves is “moving faster” than the waves in the silicone are, the same as with the supersonic jet.

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Ebola survivors still immune to virus after 40 years

Ebola survivors still immune to virus after 40 years | Amazing Science |



Survivors of the world’s first known Ebola outbreak have immunity to the virus 40 years after they were infected, scientists have found. These people who beat infection in 1976 can make antibodies against Ebola today.


“It’s interesting to see that after such a long time, people still have this kind of reactivity against the virus,” says virologist Stephan Becker of the Philipps University of Marburg in Germany. The findings were published online on 14 December in the Journal of Infectious Diseases1.


Becker says that the discovery was “not completely unexpected”, because previous studies had found that survivors had immune responses to Ebola virus as long as 11 years after they were infected2.


But until last year, no one had ever studied immunity in the survivors of the first recorded Ebola outbreak, which occurred in 1976 near the town of Yambuku, in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).


“Nobody even knew if these people were still alive,” says Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the lead author of the latest study.

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Artificial Intelligence Used to Identify Bacteria Quickly and Accurately

Microscopes enhanced with artificial intelligence (AI) could help clinical microbiologists diagnose potentially deadly blood infections and improve patients' odds of survival, according to microbiologists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). In a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, the scientists demonstrated that an automated AI-enhanced microscope system is "highly adept" at identifying images of bacteria quickly and accurately. The automated system could help alleviate the current lack of highly trained microbiologists, expected to worsen as 20 percent of technologists reach retirement age in the next five years.


"This marks the first demonstration of machine learning in the diagnostic area," said senior author James Kirby, MD, Director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at BIDMC and Associate Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. "With further development, we believe this technology could form the basis of a future diagnostic platform that augments the capabilities of clinical laboratories, ultimately speeding the delivery of patient care."


Kirby's team used an automated microscope designed to collect high-resolution image data from microscopic slides. In this case, blood samples taken from patients with suspected bloodstream infections were incubated to increase bacterial numbers. Then, slides were prepared by placing a drop of blood on a glass slide and stained with dye to make the bacterial cell structures more visible.

Next, they trained a convolutional neural network (CNN) -- a class of artificial intelligence modeled on the mammalian visual cortex and used to analyze visual data -- to categorize bacteria based on their shape and distribution


These characteristics were selected to represent bacteria that most often cause bloodstream infections; the rod-shaped bacteria including E. coli; the round clusters of Staphylococcus species; and the pairs or chains of Streptococcus species.

"Like a child, the system needed training," said Kirby.


"Learning to recognize bacteria required a lot of practice, making mistakes and learning from those errors."

To train it, the scientists fed their unschooled neural network more than 25,000 images from blood samples prepared during routine clinical workups. By cropping these images -- in which the bacteria had already been identified by human clinical microbiologists -- the researchers generated more than 100,000 training images. The machine intelligence learned how to sort the images into the three categories of bacteria (rod-shaped, round clusters, and round chains or pairs), ultimately achieving nearly 95 percent accuracy.


Next, the team challenged the algorithm to sort new images from 189 slides without human intervention. Overall, the algorithm achieved more than 93 percent accuracy in all three categories. With further development and training, Kirby and colleagues suggest the AI-enhanced platform could be used as fully automated classification system in the future.

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Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live

Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live | Amazing Science |

Self-folding of an information-carrying polymer into a defined structure is foundational to biology and offers attractive potential as a synthetic strategy. Although multicomponent self-assembly has produced complex synthetic nanostructures, unimolecular folding has seen limited progress. This new work describes a framework to design and synthesize a single DNA or RNA strand to self-fold into a complex yet unknotted structure that approximates an arbitrary user-prescribed shape. The scientists experimentally constructed diverse multikilobase single-stranded structures, including a ~10,000-nucleotide (nt) DNA structure and a ~6000-nt RNA structure. They were able to demonstrate facile replication of the strand in vitro and in living cells. The work here thus establishes unimolecular folding as a general strategy for constructing complex and replicable nucleic acid nanostructures, and expands the design space and material scalability for bottom-up nanotechnology.

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China wants to build a massive solar power station in space, so large, it would appear like a star in the sky

China wants to build a massive solar power station in space, so large, it would appear like a star in the sky | Amazing Science |

Moving away from fossil fuels and towards green energy generation is becoming increasingly important, not just because fossil fuels will eventually run out, but the emissions they produce are choking the atmosphere. That’s why we are seeing huge solar farms being built, but China is considering a much more ambitious project. Chinese scientists want to construct a massive solar power station in space.


By massive I mean the largest man-made construction ever in space. The station when finished would see 6 square kilometers of solar panels orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 36,000km. It’s so large in fact, that from the Earth’s surface it would apparently look like a star in the sky.


There are a number of benefits to having such a power station operating in space. For one, it can collect energy all the time because there is no day-night cycle, and there’s also no weather, so no clouds to block the sun’s rays. It also doesn’t take up any valuable land back on Earth while holding the potential to be expanded or repeated at another location once proven to work.

Of course, there’s also a few major problems to overcome. Getting the energy back to Earth is apparently pretty simple and would use microwaves or lasers. However, such a massive construction would weigh over 10,000 tons. Our best rockets today can carry a 100 ton payload, so such a project would require a few breakthroughs on that front and much lighter solar panels / components, otherwise it will be a very long and expensive build. Maintenance would also be an expensive endeavor, especially if panels needed replacing.

Even if such a project does sound crazy, the research to make it happen should be encouraged. Having the Chinese government throw money at heavy-lift launch vehicles and super efficient and lightweight solar panels is going to aid many more projects than this, even if asolar power space station never gets off the ground.

The images and video included here are from the National Space Society and give you an idea of what a solar power station in space could look like.


Via Fernando Gil
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Novel human pain insensitivity disorder caused by a point mutation in ZFHX2

Novel human pain insensitivity disorder caused by a point mutation in  ZFHX2 | Amazing Science |

Researchers have traced a rare pain insensitivity disorder affecting one family to a single point mutation. By studying people who don't experience pain or experience it differently than most people, the researchers hope to tease out possible drug targets to treat people who suffer from chronic pain, a condition affecting more than 11 percent of adults in the US.


Members of the Italian family in this new study have broken bones or burned themselves without feeling any pain, despite possessing the usual complement of nerves. By sequencing the exomes of family members, researchers led by University College London's James Cox uncovered a point mutation in the ZFHX2 gene among affected family members, as they reported yesterday in the journal Brain. In mice, this mutation also leads to decreased pain sensitivity.


"We're working to gain a better understanding of exactly why they don't feel much pain, to see if that could help us find new pain relief treatments," Cox said in a statement. Studies of other families with recessive forms of congenital insensitivity to pain have previously linked mutations in PRDM12 to alterations in pain perception.


Since childhood, six members from three generations of this family have exhibited hypoalgesia. In addition to pain insensitivity, the affected family members rarely, if ever, sweat. And, although they show variable sensitivity to heat and cold, some members can withstand extreme temperatures. They also have low sensitivity to capsaicin, a component of chili peppers.


Hypoalgesia within the family appears to be autosomal dominantly inherited, Cox and his colleagues added. However, they noted that affected family members did feel some pain, such as headaches, back pain, and during childbirth, and could feel innocuous light touches.


Using blood samples obtained from family members, the researchers sequenced their exomes. After filtering and Sanger sequencing verification, Cox and his colleagues uncovered two novel coding variants that segregated with affected family members. As one variant, in SUPT3H, was marked as benign by two pathogenicity prediction tools and isn't suspected to alter splicing, the researchers focused on the second variant, a point mutation in ZFHX2. This variant was predicted by those same two tools to be deleterious and was absent from public SNP databases.


ZFHX2 encodes a large, 2,572 amino-acid protein containing 17 zinc-finger motifs and three homeodomains. The mutation is located in one of the homeodomains and changes a highly conserved arginine to lysine.


Global knockout ZFHX2 mice similarly have low pain sensitivity, as compared to their wild-type littermates, the researchers reported. In mice, the ZFHX2 gene is highly expressed in the dorsal root ganglion, which relays pain signals. Additionally, the researchers generated transgenic mice with the orthologous amino acid in ZFHX2 mutated, and found that they also had lower sensitivity to high heat and capascin.


As ZFHX2 is suspected to be a transcriptional regulator, Cox and his colleagues traced the effects of the mutation on other genes in mice. Sixteen genes were downregulated in mutant dorsal root ganglia, as compared to controls, and these genes included ones like GAL, SST, and PTGIR that have previously been linked to pain signaling. A further analysis of these genes found that they harbored four common AG-rich DNA sequence motifs. A Gene Ontology analysis found this motif to be enriched among gene families involved in signal sensitizing nociceptors. This suggested to the researchers that ZFHX2 is key part of normal pain perception.

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Nanoparticles detect and track cancer months before traditional imaging techniques, study finds

Nanoparticles detect and track cancer months before traditional imaging techniques, study finds | Amazing Science |

Using light-emitting nanoparticles, Rutgers University-New Brunswick scientists have invented a highly effective method to detect tiny tumors and track their spread, potentially leading to earlier cancer detection and more precise treatment.

The technology, announced today, could improve patient cure rates and survival times.


“We’ve always had this dream that we can track the progression of cancer in real time, and that’s what  we’ve done here,” said Prabhas V. Moghe, a corresponding author of the study and distinguished professor of biomedical engineering and chemical and biochemical engineering at Rutgers–New Brunswick. “We’ve tracked the disease in its very incipient stages.”


The recent study, published online today in Nature Biomedical Engineering, shows that the new method is better than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other cancer surveillance technologies. The research team included Rutgers’ flagship research institution (Rutgers University-New Brunswick) and its academic health center (Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, or RBHS).


“The Achilles’ heel of surgical management for cancer is the presence of micro metastases. This is also a problem for proper staging or treatment planning. The nanoprobes described in this paper will go a long way to solving these problems,” said Dr. Steven K. Libutti, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. He is senior vice president of oncology services for RWJBarnabas Health and vice chancellor for cancer programs for Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.


The ability to spot early tumors that are starting to spread remains a major challenge in cancer diagnosis and treatment, as most imaging methods fail to detect small cancerous lesions. But the Rutgers study shows that tiny tumors in mice can be detected with the injection of nanoprobes, which are microscopic optical devices, that emit short-wave infrared light as they travel through the bloodstream – even tracking tiny tumors in multiple organs.


The nanoprobes were significantly faster than MRIs at detecting the minute spread of tiny lesions and tumors in the adrenal glands and bones in mice. That would likely translate to detection months earlier in people, potentially resulting in saved lives, said Vidya Ganapathy, a corresponding author and assistant research professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

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Hyperlens crystal capable of viewing living cells in unprecedented detail

Hyperlens crystal capable of viewing living cells in unprecedented detail | Amazing Science |

Just imagine: An optical lens so powerful that it lets you view features the size of a small virus on the surface of a living cell in its natural environment.


Construction of instruments with this capability is now possible because of a fundamental advance in the quality of an optical material used in hyperlensing, a method of creating lenses that can resolve objects much smaller than the wavelength of light. The achievement was reported by a team of researchers led by Joshua Caldwell, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, in a paper published Dec. 11 in the journal Nature Materials.


The optical material involved is hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), a natural crystal with hyperlensing properties. The best previously reported resolution using hBN was an object about 36 times smaller than the infrared wavelength used: about the size of the smallest bacteria. The new paper describes improvements in the quality of the crystal that enhance its potential imaging capability by about a factor of ten.


The researchers achieved this enhancement by making hBN crystals using isotopically purified boron. Natural boron contains two isotopes that differ in weight by about 10 percent, a combination that significantly degrades the crystal's optical properties in the infrared.


"We have demonstrated that the inherent efficiency limitations of hyperlenses can be overcome through isotopic engineering," said team member Alexander Giles, research physicist at the the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. "Controlling and manipulating light at nanoscale dimensions is notoriously difficult and inefficient. Our work provides a new path forward for the next generation of materials and devices."


 The researchers calculate that a lens made from their purified crystal can in principle capture images of objects as small as 30 nanometers in size. To put this in perspective, there are 25 million nanometers in an inch and human hair ranges from 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers in diameter. A human red blood cell is about 9,000 nanometers and viruses range from 20 to 400 nanometers.

Via CineversityTV
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Race to Decode Coral DNA to Save World’s Reefs From Extinction

Race to Decode Coral DNA to Save World’s Reefs From Extinction | Amazing Science |

Marine biologist Ruth Gates sat down in an oversized wooden rocking chair at an oceanside resort here last week to talk about the next frontier in coral science and a new hope for saving coral reefs reeling from climate change: genetic technology.


“There are hundreds of species of coral, all with complex biologies and physiological traits that vary based on their DNA and environment,” Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, said while seated on a sprawling lanai overlooking acres of coral reefs awash in turquoise waters.


“Using genetic technology to identify corals resilient to environmental stressors may allow us to save corals – which are some of the most threatened organisms on Earth,” added Gates, a leading coral scientist who was featured in the new documentary “Chasing Coral.”


Coral reefs provide habitat to a quarter of the world’s marine species and are crucial sources of food and income to hundreds of millions of people. While corals are typically hardy creatures, rising ocean temperatures, acidification and pollution are harming corals on a scale not seen in recorded history. The world has lost about 50 percent of its coral reefs in just the past three decades, and in the next three decades it’s expected to lose more than 40 percent more. The unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching events of 2014–17 devastated coral reefs worldwide.


According to Gates and other marine scientists, identifying both weak and resilient coral species is imperative to protect surviving reefs and help others recover. But cataloging corals with traditional visualization techniques can be challenging because even individuals belonging to the same species can be quite variable in appearance and react in different ways to the same environmental stressors.

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The Most Amazing Optical Illusions and Explanations How They Work

The Most Amazing Optical Illusions and Explanations How They Work | Amazing Science |

Optical illusions harness the shift between what your eyes see and what your brain perceives. They reveal the way your visual system edits images before you're even made aware of them like a personal assistant, deciding what is and isn't worthy of your attention.


People were creating optical illusions long before we knew what made them work. Today, advances in neuroscience have pinpointed the visual processes that fool your brain into falling for many of them. Others still elude explanation. Here, a selection of eye- and brain-boggling illusions, and explanations of how they work.

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Mathematicians crack 44-year-old problem

Mathematicians crack 44-year-old problem | Amazing Science |

Zilin Jiang from Technion — Israel Institute of Technology and Alexandr Polyanskii from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have proved László Fejes Tóth’s zone conjecture. Formulated in 1973, it says that if a unit sphere is completely covered by several zones, their combined width is at least π. The proof, published in the journal Geometric and Functional Analysis, is important for discrete geometry and enables new problems to be formulated.

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Artificial Intelligence Outperforms Pathologists in Diagnosing Metastatic Breast Cancer

Artificial Intelligence Outperforms Pathologists in Diagnosing Metastatic Breast Cancer | Amazing Science |

For the first time, computers have done better.  Researchers sponsored a worldwide competition to develop an algorithm that would identify breast cancer cells on scanned lymph node slides.


Teams that signed up were sent 270 slides, 110 with nodal mets, and 160 without that had been painstakingly hand-labeled to show the computers where the diseased cells were. After learning from that data, the algorithms were then unleashed on 129 brand new unlabeled slides. The winner was the algorithm that got the most slides right.


But let's start with the humans. 11 trained pathologists were given 2 hours to look at the 129 test slides – a workflow that is pretty standard I am told. Of the 49 test slides with metastatic disease, the pathologists found 31 on average. That’s an important false negative rate. One pathologist was allowed to work without time constraints, unrealistic as that is, he or she correctly identified 46 out of 49 slides with cancer and 79 out of 80 without.


AI-driven highlighting of areas highly suspicious for metastatic cancer. 32 machine-learning algorithms competed; the best came from a Harvard-MIT collaboration.  The performance of this algorithm on the test images was nearly perfect, identifying cancer and non-cancerous slides with almost 100% accuracy, and highlighting the areas of concern like this.


This is pretty impressive, but there's something really special about this study which has me excited.  In most of these image classification tasks, the gold-standard is human perception. Some human expert, or group of them, look at a slide or x-ray or retina image or something and say "yes, this is pulmonary edema". I am always left wondering like – well, ok, but how can we ever beat humans if humans are the gold-standard?

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Tick that fed on dinosaurs found preserved on its host’s fossilized feather

Tick that fed on dinosaurs found preserved on its host’s fossilized feather | Amazing Science |

In a discovery that seems straight out of Jurassic Park, researchers have identified a 99-million-year-old fossilized tick on a dinosaur feather. In a significant divergence from the Hollywood storyline, the fossils will not be yielding any dinosaur DNA. The tick’s last meal was not preserved, and even if it had been, the lifespan of DNA is too short for it to be successfully extracted.


However, because they were trapped together, the fossils offer the first direct evidence of ticks feeding on dinosaur blood.The study also examined other ticks trapped in amber, including a previously unknown species that is thought to have also fed on feathered dinosaurs. 

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2014: NASA Shows New Tongan Island Is Born and Is Made of Tuff

2014: NASA Shows New Tongan Island Is Born and Is Made of Tuff | Amazing Science |
In late December 2014, a submarine volcano in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga erupted, sending a violent stream of steam, ash and rock into the air. The ash plumes rose as high as 30,000 feet (9 kilometers) into the sky, diverting flights. When the ash finally settled in January 2015, a newborn island with a 400-foot (120-meter) summit nestled between two older islands – visible to satellites in space. 

The newly formed Tongan island, unofficially known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai after its neighbors, was initially projected to last a few months. Now it has a 6- to 30-year lease on life, according to a new NASA study.

Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai is the first island of this type to erupt and persist in the modern satellite era, it gives scientists an unprecedented view from space of its early life and evolution. The new study offers insight into its longevity and the erosion that shapes new islands. Understanding these processes could also provide insights into similar features in other parts of the solar system, including Mars.
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