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Moon Express: The world's first mission to the South Pole of the Moon by 2016

Moon Express: The world's first mission to the South Pole of the Moon by 2016 | Amazing Science |

The world's first mission to the South Pole of the Moon was announced recently by the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and Moon Express, Inc. The private enterprise mission will be both scientific and commercial, and will deliver the International Lunar Observatory (ILO) to the Moon's South Pole aboard a Moon Express robotic lander, establishing permanent astrophysical observations and lunar commercial communications systems for professional and amateur researchers.


Moon Express will also utilize the mission to explore the Moon’s South Pole for mineral resources and water. Lunar probes have provided compelling evidence of mineral and volatile deposits in the Moon’s southern polar region where energy and resources may be very abundant.

The ILO, with its 2-meter antenna dish, will be the world’s first instrument to conduct international astrophysical observations and communications from the lunar surface, providing scientific research, commercial broadcasting and enabling Galaxy 21st Century education and "citizen science" on the Moon.

The announcement was made during a NASA Lunar Science Institute conference at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. “The ILO will demonstrate the value of the Moon for scientific study of the Galaxy, Moon, Earth, Sun and Stars,” said Steve Durst, founder and director of the ILOA and Space Age Publishing Company.


“We are a global consortium of scientists, educators, entrepreneurs and visionaries who seek to establish a scientific presence on the Moon followed by human exploration and eventual settlement.” Space Age Publishing Company, ILOA's commercial affiliate, intends to broadcast its Space Calendar weekly and Lunar Enterprise Daily via the ILO. ILOA expects that the South Pole mission could take place as early as 2016 and contribute to humanity’s growth as a multi-world species.


Moon Express is the mission partner in the venture, providing the lunar lander, mission architecture and operations. The company was unveiled in August 2010 as a commercial lunar resource company and is partnered with NASA for its lunar lander development. Moon Express will send a series of robotic missions to the Moon in support of science, commerce and exploration starting in 2015.

The International Lunar Observatory is destined for a Malapert Mountain site near the Moon's South Pole for galaxy / astronomy observation and communication.

“We are very excited to our announce that our second Moon mission will be to the lunar South Pole to deliver the International Lunar Observatory and to prospect for resources,” said Moon Express CEO Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards.

“The mission will provide a historic landing in an unexplored region of the Moon that may harbor some of the greatest resource deposits in the solar system.”

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Children

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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Zooniverse citizen science project discovers five-exoplanet system

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

When is it coming?

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Via Levin Chin
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Oxygen is disappearing from the world's oceans at an alarmingly rapid pace

Oxygen is disappearing from the world's oceans at an alarmingly rapid pace | Amazing Science |

The ocean is running out of oxygen at a rapid speed—and the depletion could choke to death much of the marine life these waters support. A sweeping review published Thursday in Science documented the causes, consequences and solutions to what is technically called “deoxygenation.” They discovered a four-to-tenfold increase in areas of the ocean with little to no oxygen, which researchers say is alarming because half of Earth’s oxygen originates from the ocean.


Oxygen is crucial for marine life in the oceans. Without oxygen, marine life will die off or relocate. “Animal life in the ocean needs oxygen to breathe,” Lisa Levin, study co-author and biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, told Newsweek. “If we want a healthy ocean, we need an ocean with oxygen in it.”


The team of scientists is from the United Nations Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s working group, created in 2016 and called the Global Ocean Oxygen Network. They noted that the amount of water in the open ocean without oxygen has quadrupled in 50 years. It is more than twice as bad for coastal waters, such as estuaries and seas. In those sites, low-oxygen areas have increased tenfold since 1950. This paper is the first to look at both ocean and coastal waters, which are often studied separately.


Deoxygenation directly results in devastation for people’s livelihoods. Fish kills in a single town in the Philippines cost over $10 million, according to the researchers. Coral reefs are valued at $172 billion per year, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Already stressed and bleaching corals, caused by increased sea surface temperatures, can be harmed by a lack of oxygen too. “There are a whole bunch of livelihoods that depend on a healthy ocean that doesn't smell and have a lot of dead stuff in it,” Levin said.“When the oxygen gets very low in the ocean, animals leave if they can,” Levin added. Those species will relocate, get eaten or starve to death.

Via Neelima Sinha
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Deep learning sharpens view of cells and genes: ​​​​​​​Neural networks are making biological images easier to process

Deep learning sharpens view of cells and genes: ​​​​​​​Neural networks are making biological images easier to process | Amazing Science |

Eyes are said to be the window to the soul — but researchers at Google see them as indicators of a person’s health. The technology giant is using deep learning to predict a person’s blood pressure, age and smoking status by analyzing a photograph of their retina. Google’s computers glean clues from the arrangement of blood vessels — and a preliminary study suggests that the machines can use this information to predict whether someone is at risk of an impending heart attack.  


The research relied on a convolutional neural network, a type of deep-learning algorithm that is transforming how biologists analyse images. Scientists are using the approach to find mutations in genomes and predict variations in the layout of single cells. Google’s method, described in a preprint in August (R. Poplin et al. Preprint at; 2017), is part of a wave of new deep-learning applications that are making image processing easier and more versatile — and could even identify overlooked biological phenomena. 


“It was unrealistic to apply machine learning to many areas of biology before,” says Philip Nelson, a director of engineering at Google Research in Mountain View, California. “Now you can — but even more exciting, machines can now see things that humans might not have seen before.”


Convolutional neural networks allow computers to process an image efficiently and holistically, without splitting it into parts. The approach took off in the tech sector around 2012, enabled by advances in computer power and storage; for example, Facebook uses this type of deep learning to identify faces in photographs. But scientists struggled to apply the networks to biology, in part because of cultural differences between fields. “Take a group of smart biologists and put them in a room of smart computer scientists and they will talk two different languages to each other, and have different mindsets,” says Daphne Koller, chief computing officer at Calico — a biotechnology company in San Francisco, California, that is backed by Google’s parent, Alphabet. 


Scientists also had to identify which types of study could be conducted using networks that must be trained with huge sets of images before they can start making predictions. When Google wanted to use deep learning to find mutations in genomes, its scientists had to convert strands of DNA letters into images that computers could recognize. Then they trained their network on DNA snippets that had been aligned with a reference genome, and whose mutations were known. The end result was DeepVariant, a tool released in December that can find small variations in DNA sequences. In tests, DeepVariant performed at least as well as conventional tools.

Via Sandeep Gautam
Sandeep Gautam's curator insight, January 7, 9:29 AM
using retinal image scan to predict heart attack probability!
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Hunting for the Quantum Limit: Can large objects exist in a quantum state?

Hunting for the Quantum Limit: Can large objects exist in a quantum state? | Amazing Science |
Even after an acclimatisation period of more than 100 years, quantum mechanical phenomena still conflicts with our intuition of how nature works. Quantum mechanics confuses and marvels us in equal measure.


How big can an object be and still exhibit quantum properties? And which mechanisms enforce this limit? These are open questions and the possible answers are highly technical. Schrödinger’s cat states have so far only been observed for electromagnetic fields and individual atoms. But the almost explosive development of optomechanical research (the interaction of light and mechanical objects), holds great promise that quantum mechanical superposition might be achieved on a larger scale. This would be a scientific breakthrough! Most revealingly, it will allow us to test why we don’t experience superposition in daily life. That is, the physical mechanisms responsible for why we so far have only observed superposition in small particles in the laboratory and not in larger objects.

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Using physics, math and models to fight cancer drug resistance

Using physics, math and models to fight cancer drug resistance | Amazing Science |

Despite the increasing effectiveness of breast cancer treatments over the last 50 years, tumors often become resistent to the drugs used. While drug combinations could be part of the solution to this problem, their development is very challenging. In this blog post Jorge Zanudo explains how it is possible to combine physical and mathemathical models with clinical and biological data to determine which drug combinations would be most effective in breast cancer therapy.

Via Complexity Digest
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White dwarf’s inner makeup is mapped for the first time

White dwarf’s inner makeup is mapped for the first time | Amazing Science |

Astronomers have probed the inner life of a dead star. Tiny changes in a white dwarf’s brightness reveal that the stellar corpse has more oxygen in its core than expected, researchers report online January 8 in Nature. The finding could challenge theories of how stars live and die, and may have implications for measuring the expansion of the universe.


As a star ages, it sheds most of its gas into space until all that remains is a dense core of carbon and oxygen, the ashes of a lifetime of burning helium (SN: 4/30/16, p. 12). That core, plus a thin shellacking of helium, is called a white dwarf. But the proportion of those elements relative to one another was uncertain. “From theory, we have a rough idea of how it’s supposed to be, but we have no way to measure it directly,” says astrophysicist Noemi Giammichele, now at the Institute of Research in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France.


Luckily, some white dwarfs encode their inner nature on their surface. These stars change their brightness in response to internal vibrations. Astrophysicists can infer a star’s internal structure from the vibrations, similar to how geologists learn about Earth’s interior by measuring seismic waves during an earthquake.

Giammichele and her colleagues used data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which watched stars unblinkingly to track periodic changes in their brightness. Kepler’s chief aim was to find exoplanets, the worlds orbiting distant stars (SN Online: 10/31/17).


But it also monitored white dwarf KIC 08626021, located 1,375 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, for 23 months. The observations provided the highest-precision data ever on tiny changes in a white dwarf’s brightness and, indirectly, its vibrations.

Next, Giammichele borrowed a computer simulation technique from her former life as an aeronautical engineer to figure out how the changes in vibrations related to the makeup of the core. The team ran millions of simulations, looking for one that reproduced the exact light changes that Kepler observed. One simulation fit the data perfectly, showing that the white dwarf had the expected carbon and oxygen core with a thin shell of helium.


But the details were surprising. The core was about 86 percent oxygen, 15 percent greater than physicists had previously calculated. That suggests that something about the processes that convert helium to carbon and oxygen or mix elements in the star’s core during its active lifetime must boost the amount of oxygen.


Four other white dwarfs show a similar trend, says study coauthor Gilles Fontaine, an astrophysicist at the University of Montreal.  “We certainly will go ahead and analyze many more.” If other white dwarfs turn out to be similar, the results will send theorists who study stellar evolution back to the drawing board, he says.


White dwarfs are also thought to be the precursors of type 1a supernovas. These catastrophic stellar explosions were once thought to have the same intrinsic brightness, meaning they appeared brighter or dimmer depending only on their distance from Earth. Measuring their actual distances led to the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate (SN: 8/6/16, p. 10), which physicists explain by invoking a mysterious substance called dark energy.

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Hacked Dog Pics Can Play Tricks on Computer Vision AI

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

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


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


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


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

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Reading Through a Closed Book

Reading Through a Closed Book | Amazing Science |

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



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

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


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

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Observation of Accelerating Wave Packets in Curved Space

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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Blood test spots ovarian cancer years before it is usually found

Blood test spots ovarian cancer years before it is usually found | Amazing Science |

A blood test that detects ovarian cancer in its early stages may reduce the deadliness of the disease. Ovarian cancer is known as the “silent killer” because most patients don’t know they have it until it spreads to other organs and causes symptoms, at which point it is usually too late to treat.


Now, Martin Widschwendter at University College London and his colleagues have shown that the disease can be detected years earlier by looking for tell-tale DNA fragments that ovarian tumours leak into the bloodstream. By analysing DNA fragments in 648 blood samples from healthy women and ovarian cancer patients, they were able to pinpoint 3 fragments that marked the presence of the disease.

Via Levin Chin
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At least three billion computer chips are vulnerable to a security flaw

At least three billion computer chips are vulnerable to a security flaw | Amazing Science |

Companies are rushing out software fixes for Chipmageddon 1.0. Tech companies are still working overtime on patching two critical vulnerabilities in computer chips that were revealed this week. The flaws, dubbed “Meltdown” and “Spectre,” could let hackers get hold of passwords, encryption keys, and other sensitive information from a computer’s core memory via malicious apps running on devices.


How many chips are affected? The number is something of a moving target. But from the information released so far by tech companies and estimates from chip industry analysts, it looks as if at least three billion chips in computers, tablets, and phones now in use are vulnerable to attack by Spectre, which is the more widespread of the two flaws.


Apple says all its Mac and iOS products are affected, with the exception of the Apple watch. That’s a billion or so devices. Gadgets powered by Google’s Android operating system number more than two billion, the company said last year. Linley Gwennap of the Linley Group, which tracks the chip industry, thinks the security flaws could affect about 500 million of them. As practically all smartphones run on iOS and Android, this pretty much covers the mobile-device landscape.


Then there are PCs and servers. These are largely powered by chips from Intel, whose share price has been battered since news of the flaws emerged. Its chief U.S. competitor, AMD, which has been gaining ground on Intel, said in a blog post  that its chips are not vulnerable to Meltdown and there is a “near zero risk” from one variant of Spectre and zero risk from another.


Still, if some level of threat from Spectre exists, AMD chips merit inclusion. Between them Intel and AMD account for over a billion PC and server chips. In addition, there are a host of smaller chipmakers such as IBM, which has said at least some of its chips are affected. This brings the total to around three billion processors, though this could change as more information emerges. 

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Six drug firms are paying to sequence all the DNA in the UK Biobank by 2020, potentially transforming drug research

Six drug firms are paying to sequence all the DNA in the UK Biobank by 2020, potentially transforming drug research | Amazing Science |

In an effort to vault genetics into a new era of big data, six drug companies say they will decode the genes of half a million Brits and then make the data public—all by 2020. The plan will turn the UK Biobank, the source of the DNA samples, into the world’s single biggest concentration of genetic and health data anywhere, giving scientists and drug companies a powerful tool for understanding diseases. The UK Biobank is already a treasure trove: a public database containing carefully assembled medical records, test results, and even psychological assessments the country has collected from 500,000 volunteers. Its first big release of data last July—anonymized to protect people’s identities—electrified scientists. With a click of a mouse, they can inspect the genetic basis of everything from diabetes to TV-watching habits.


But the genetic data it contains are limited. Now the sequencing consortium plans to decode all 20,000 or so genes of each volunteer. Such “exome” sequencing falls short of decoding the complete genome, but it captures the parts most important to drug makers—the genetic sequences that code for proteins, the building blocks of life and, when they go awry, the cause of most health problems.


Adding those gene sequences would “increase [the Biobank’s] value 100 times for drug development, and 10 to 100 times for biology,” says Sek Kathiresan, who studies the genetics of heart disease at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The expanded database will, for instance, make it much easier to locate rare genetic mutants whose bodies suggest ideas for new drugs


Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, the company leading the sequencing consortium, based an anti-heart-attack drug, Praluent, on the 14-year-old chance discovery that certain unusual people who lack a working version of one gene, PCSK9, have incredibly low cholesterol. That kind of serendipity is being made commonplace by methods that automatically scour data on hundreds of thousands of people. “It takes me and my browser 30 seconds to rediscover PCSK9,” says Regeneron CSO George D. Yancopoulos. “And I think there are thousands of those in the genome.” 

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Loihi: Intel Presents its Neuromorphic Computing Chip which mimics the way the human brain observes, learns and understands

Intel's neuromorphic computing team is creating a chip that mimics the way the human brain observes, learns and understands. The company's prototype chip "Loihi" is the most recent step in that direction. Neuromorphic computing has the potential to change the future -- the way devices understand and interpret data.

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Robot fish shows how deep sea vertebrates tolerate the extreme pressures of their environment

Robot fish shows how deep sea vertebrates tolerate the extreme pressures of their environment | Amazing Science |

It’s like having “an elephant stand on your thumb.” That’s how deep-sea physiologist and ecologist Mackenzie Gerringer describes the pressure squeezing down on the deepest known living fish, some 8 kilometers down. What may help these small, pale Mariana snailfish survive elephantine squashing, says Gerringer of the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs, is a body bulked up, especially at the rump, with a watery goo.


The snailfish family gets its nickname from the way some shallow-water species in thundering tides grip a rock with a little suction cup on the belly and curl up. “Quite cute,” Gerringer says, and maybe, if you squint, somewhat like a snail.


She and colleagues discovered the deepest fish in 2014 in the western Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench and described the newly named Psuedoliparis swirei November 28 in Zootaxa. To catch specimens, Gerringer and colleagues turned to extreme trapping. They weighted a boxy, mesh-sided trap with steel plates to sink it. It took about four hours to fall to the bottom.


The scientists baited traps with mackerel, which snailfish don’t eat. But the fish do eat the underwater amphipods that mob a mackerel feast. Remotely related to harmless garden pill bugs, trench amphipods clean mackerel to the bones, Gerringer says. “I certainly wouldn’t swallow a live amphipod after seeing what they can do.” A snailfish, however, has a second set of jaws at the back of its throat that render crustaceans safe to swallow.


For animals that live in such extreme pressures and temperatures (1° or 2° Celsius), snailfish don’t “look very robust … or very armored,” she says. “You can actually see the brain through the skull.” Skimping on dense muscles and bones may improve snailfish buoyancy and save energy. These fish also lack air pockets that give a little lift to some other fishes, but that would get squashed to nothing so far down. Instead, the snailfish have inner deposits of a watery goo, more buoyant than muscles and bones and less compressible than air.


The goo also may aid swimming efficiency by offering a cheap shape improvement, Gerringer and colleagues proposed December 6 in Royal Society Open Science. To test the idea, she 3-D printed and motorized a robo-snailfish. Easier than catching a real one, Gerringer says. A latex sleeve around the robot tail let her add or subtract water as an approximation of the gelatinous tissue. With an empty sleeve, the wide fish body pinches in to a thin tail, inviting vortices that cause drag. With this abrupt narrowing, robo-swimming proved a struggle. Filling the tail-sleeve to create a tapering rear let the robo-snailfish swim faster.

This goo is cheap tissue to grow, Gerringer says. It’s mostly water, one thing a fish living underneath eight kilometers of ocean has in abundance.

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Turbulent to laminar flow conversion can save up to 95 percent of energy used for pipelines

Turbulent to laminar flow conversion can save up to 95 percent of energy used for pipelines | Amazing Science |

Scientists have assumed that once a flow of a fluid has become turbulent, turbulence would persist. Researchers at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), including Professor Björn Hof and co-first authors Jakob Kühnen and Baofang Song, have now shown that this is not the case. In their experiments, which they published in Nature Physics, they destabilized turbulence in a pipe so that the flow turned to a laminar (non-turbulent) state, and they observed that the flow remained laminar thereafter. Eliminating turbulence can save as much as 95 percent of the energy required to pump a fluid through a pipe.


The amount of energy used by industry to pump fluids through pipes is considerable and corresponds to approximately 10 percent of the global electricity consumption. It therefore does not come as a surprise that researchers worldwide are seeking ways to reduce these costs. The major part of these energy losses is caused by turbulence, a phenomenon that leads to a drastic increase of frictional drag, requiring much more energy to pump the fluid. Previous approaches have aimed to locally reduce turbulence levels. Now, the research group of Björn Hof at IST Austria has taken an entirely new approach, tackling the problem from a different side. Rather than temporarily weakening turbulence, they destabilized existing turbulence so that the flow automatically became laminar.


In a so-called laminar flow, a fluid flows in parallel layers which do not mix. The opposite of this is a turbulent flow, which is characterized by vortices and chaotic changes in pressure and velocity within the fluid. Most flows that we can observe in nature and in engineering are turbulent, from the smoke of an extinguished candle to the flow of blood in the left ventricle of our heart. In pipes, both laminar and turbulent flows can, in principle, exist and be stable, but a small disturbance can make a laminar flow turbulent. Turbulence in pipes was until now assumed to be stable, and efforts to save energy costs therefore only focused on reducing its magnitude but not to extinguish it completely. In their proof of principle, Björn Hof and his group have now shown that this assumption was wrong, and that a turbulent flow can, indeed, be transformed to a laminar one. The flow thereafter remains laminar unless it is disturbed again.

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