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Optogenetics Makes Mice Resistant to Pain

Optogenetics Makes Mice Resistant to Pain | Amazing Science |

Scientists turn pain on and off, with a beam of light.

Some of the mice squeaked in agony when researchers aimed a blue light at their paws. Other mice felt nothing at all when zapped with a laser.

In the latest demonstration of optogenetics, a versatile but complex technology for controlling nerve cells, a research team at Stanford University has sketched out how patients afflicted by chronic pain might one day find relief: simply by pressing a bright flashlight to their skin.

“Patients could be given their own ability to create a pain block on demand,” says Michael Kaplitt, a neurosurgeon and chief scientific officer of Circuit Therapeutics, a three-year-old Palo Alto, California, biotechnology startup now working on a pain treatment along with the Stanford scientists.

Optogenetics is a breakthrough technology that is giving scientists precise control over what animals feel, how they behave, and even what they think. It relies on modifying the DNA of neurons so that they send signals—or are blocked from firing—in response to light (see “Brain Control”). The technique was invented nine years ago in the laboratory of Karl Deisseroth, one of Circuit’s cofounders and an author of the new pain study.

So far, the most striking use of optogenetics has been to produce effects directly inside animals’ brains, using light piped in with an implanted fiber-optic cable. In an earlier study, Deisseroth’s group made mice feel fear or become fearless (“An On-Off Switch for Anxiety”).

Circuit, which now has 47 employees, is working to engineer light sources and perfect genetic tools to take advantage of optogenetics. Kaplitt says that in addition to its research on pain, the company hopes to figure out how to treat serious psychiatric disease with implants that carry light into the brain.

But controlling nerves outside the brain could prove easier. The sensitive nerve endings, or nociceptors, that fire off warnings in response to heat or pressure lie only two hair-breadths beneath human skin, and could be controlled by a bright handheld light. “We have engineers thinking about what that kind of device would look like,” says Kaplitt. “Pain is a perception. So the idea is to stop the perception of it.”

In the Stanford group’s latest work, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, they first used gene therapy to install light-sensitive molecules into the nerve endings in the skin of mice. Each animal was then placed into a small plexiglass chamber with a transparent floor.

When the researchers shined blue light through the floor, the mice “flinched,” cried out, or “engaged in prolonged paw licking,” all signs of pain. The team could also block sensation. In those tests, mice that were bathed in yellow light designed to block nerve impulses weren’t greatly bothered by a band pinching their leg. When the researchers pointed hot lasers at their paws, they were slow to react.

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Artificially Intelligent Robot Predicts Its Own Future by Learning Like a Baby

Artificially Intelligent Robot Predicts Its Own Future by Learning Like a Baby | Amazing Science |

For toddlers, playing with toys is not all fun-and-games—it’s an important way for them to learn how the world works. Using a similar methodology, researchers from UC Berkeley have developed a robot that, like a child, learns from scratch and experiments with objects to figure out how to best move them around. And by doing so, this robot is essentially able to see into its own future.


A robotic learning system developed by researchers at Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences visualizes the consequences of its future actions to discover ways of moving objects through time and space. Called Vestri, and using technology called visual foresight, the system can manipulate objects it’s never encountered before, and even avoid objects that might be in the way.


Most importantly, the system learns from a tabula rasa, using unsupervised and unguided exploratory sessions to figure out how the world works. That’s an important advance because the system doesn’t require an army of programmers to code in every single possible physical contingency which, given how complicated and varied the world is, would be a hideously onerous (and even intractable) task.


In future, scaled-up versions of this self-learning predictive system could make robots more adaptable in factory and residential settings, and help self-driving vehicles anticipate future events on the road.

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New type of photosynthesis discovered

New type of photosynthesis discovered | Amazing Science |

The discovery changes our understanding of the basic mechanism of photosynthesis and should rewrite the textbooks. It will also tailor the way we hunt for alien life and provide insights into how we could engineer more efficient crops that take advantage of longer wavelengths of light.


The discovery, published today in Science, was led by Imperial College London, supported by the BBSRC, and involved groups from the ANU in Canberra, the CNRS in Paris and Saclay and the CNR in Milan.


The vast majority of life on Earth uses visible red light in the process of photosynthesis, but the new type uses near-infrared light instead. It was detected in a wide range of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) when they grow in near-infrared light, found in shaded conditions like bacterial mats in Yellowstone and in beach rock in Australia.


As scientists have now discovered, it also occurs in a cupboard fitted with infrared LEDs in Imperial College London.


Photosynthesis beyond the red limit

The standard, near-universal type of photosynthesis uses the green pigment, chlorophyll-a, both to collect light and use its energy to make useful biochemicals and oxygen. The way chlorophyll-a absorbs light means only the energy from red light can be used for photosynthesis.


Since chlorophyll-a is present in all plants, algae and cyanobacteria that we know of, it was considered that the energy of red light set the 'red limit' for photosynthesis; that is, the minimum amount of energy needed to do the demanding chemistry that produces oxygen. The red limit is used in astrobiology to judge whether complex life could have evolved on planets in other solar systems.


However, when some cyanobacteria are grown under near-infrared light, the standard chlorophyll-a-containing systems shut down and different systems containing a different kind of chlorophyll, chlorophyll-f, takes over.


Until now, it was thought that chlorophyll-f just harvested the light. The new research shows that instead chlorophyll-f plays the key role in photosynthesis under shaded conditions, using lower-energy infrared light to do the complex chemistry. This is photosynthesis 'beyond the red limit'.

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New 'e-dermis' brings sense of touch and even pain to prosthetic hands

New 'e-dermis' brings sense of touch and even pain to prosthetic hands | Amazing Science |

Engineers have created an electronic 'skin' in an effort to restore a real sense of touch for amputees using prosthetics.


Amputees often experience the sensation of a "phantom limb" -- a feeling that a missing body part is still there. That sensory illusion is closer to becoming a reality thanks to a team of engineers at the Johns Hopkins University that has created an electronic skin.


When layered on top of prosthetic hands, this e-dermis brings back a real sense of touch through the fingertips. "After many years, I felt my hand, as if a hollow shell got filled with life again," says the anonymous amputee who served as the team's principal volunteer tester.


Made of fabric and rubber laced with sensors to mimic nerve endings, e-dermis recreates a sense of touch as well as pain by sensing stimuli and relaying the impulses back to the peripheral nerves.


"We've made a sensor that goes over the fingertips of a prosthetic hand and acts like your own skin would," says Luke Osborn, a graduate student in biomedical engineering. "It's inspired by what is happening in human biology, with receptors for both touch and pain.


"This is interesting and new," Osborn said, "because now we can have a prosthetic hand that is already on the market and fit it with an e-dermis that can tell the wearer whether he or she is picking up something that is round or whether it has sharp points."


The work -- published June 20 in the journal Science Robotics - shows it is possible to restore a range of natural, touch-based feelings to amputees who use prosthetic limbs. The ability to detect pain could be useful, for instance, not only in prosthetic hands but also in lower limb prostheses, alerting the user to potential damage to the device.


Human skin contains a complex network of receptors that relay a variety of sensations to the brain. This network provided a biological template for the research team, which includes members from the Johns Hopkins departments of Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Neurology, and from the Singapore Institute of Neurotechnology.

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Seqster Platform to Integrate EHR, Wearable Health Data, Genomics and Ancestry Data

Seqster Platform to Integrate EHR, Wearable Health Data, Genomics and Ancestry Data | Amazing Science |

The San Diego startup company Seqster has launched a digital portal designed to let its users integrate, manage, and

access their health data within a single platform. Seqster says its highly unique platform consolidates in a single site a person's electronic health records (EHRs), wearable data, ancestry information, and genomics data; all contributed and owned by individual consumers, and until now largely stored and managed separately.


Seqster’s platform standardizes in a single database electronic health data collected and managed by EHR vendors Epic, Allscripts, and Cerner EHRs—giving the company access to 65% of the U.S. population’s electronic health records—as well as data from direct-to-consumer testing companies, and from several top wearable tech developers, including Garmin, Apple, and Nokia.


The platform incorporates data from more than 1,000 healthcare providers comprising more than 2,000 hospitals and clinics nation- wide. Healthcare providers include multi-hospital systems—including Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser, Mayo Clinic, Sutter Health, University of California, and San Francisco—as well as specialized providers.


“We’ve created the of health data,” Seqster CEO and co-founder Ardy Arianpour explains, referring to the financial data portal that lets users track their bank accounts, incoming bills, and credit score. “The same way that enables consumers to see their net worth, why don’t we have an ecosystem or a platform where we can actually aggregate our health data and see our net health?”


"While we cannot under any circumstances be seen as providing clinical advice, many of our alpha and beta users discovered important health trends in their lab data with the aid of the visualizations we provided that were never disclosed by their primary care physician because they were not out of normal range," Arianpour said.


It's free for consumers to use the Seqster's platform. Seqster relies on arrangements with partner organizations to make money. "There is an upfront cost to deploy our technology," Arianpour said, explaining that Seqster's partners will pay for providing research participants or organizational members access to the platform.


Seqster has had 1,000 alpha users give feedback on the platform, and Arianpour said the vast majority of these early users were "highly interested" in being more involved with their health data, in having more control over it, and in donating that data to advance research.


The platform is expected to be widely embraced by consumers, hospitals and doctor offices. The company plans to team up with Diagnomics, a genomics testing laboratory in San Diego, which is CLIA and CAP certified.


Seqster recently inked several partnerships to make its platform available to patients and caregivers served by the George G. Glenner Alzheimer's Family Centers and to the participants of a Boston University study on traumatic brain injury.

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AI beat astronomers in predicting survivability of exoplanets

AI beat astronomers in predicting survivability of exoplanets | Amazing Science |
Artificial intelligence is giving scientists new hope for studying the habitability of planets, in a study from astronomers Chris Lam and David Kipping. Their work looks at so-called ‘Tatooines’, and uses machine learning techniques to calculate how likely such planets are to survive into stable orbits. The study is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Circumbinary planets are those planets that orbit two stars instead of just one, much like the fictional planet Tatooine in the Star Wars franchise. Tens of these planets have so far been discovered, but working out whether they may be habitable or not can be difficult.
Moving around two stars instead of just one can lead to large changes in a planet’s orbit, which mean that it is often either ejected from the system entirely, or it crashes violently into one of its twin stars. Traditional approaches to calculating which of these occurs for a given planet get significantly more complicated as soon as the extra star is thrown into the mix.
“When we simulated millions of possible planets with different orbits using traditional methods, we found that planets were being predicted as stable that were clearly not, and vice versa,” explains Lam, lead author of the study and a recent graduate of Columbia University.
Planets need to survive for billions of years in order for life to evolve, so finding out whether orbits are stable or not is an important question for habitability. The new work shows how machine learning can make accurate predictions even if the standard approach - based on Newton’s laws of gravity and motion - breaks down.
“Classification with numerous complex, inter-connected parameters is the perfect problem for machine learning,” says Professor Kipping, supervisor of the work.\
After creating ten million hypothetical Tatooines with different orbits, and simulating each one to test for stability, this huge training set was fed into the deep learning network. Within just a few hours, the network was able to out-perform the accuracy of the standard approach.
More circumbinary planets look set to be discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, and Lam expects their work to help: “Our model helps astronomers to know which regions are best to search for planets around binary stars. This will hopefully help us discover new exoplanets and better understand their properties.”
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Scientists watch bacteria 'harpoon' DNA to speed their own evolution

Scientists watch bacteria 'harpoon' DNA to speed their own evolution | Amazing Science |

Indiana University scientists have made the first direct observation of a key step in the process that bacteria use to rapidly evolve new traits, including antibiotic resistance. Using methods invented at IU, researchers recorded the first images of bacterial appendages -- over 10,000 times thinner than human hair -- as they stretched out to catch DNA. These DNA fragments can then be incorporated into bacteria's own genome through a process called DNA uptake or "horizontal gene transfer."


The work is reported in Nature Microbiology"Horizontal gene transfer is an important way that antibiotic resistance moves between bacterial species, but the process has never been observed before, since the structures involved are so incredibly small," said senior author Ankur Dalia, an assistant professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology.


"It's important to understand this process, since the more we understand about how bacteria share DNA, the better our chances are of thwarting it," he added. Nearly 1 million people are affected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, according to the World Health Organization. WHO has found evidence of these strains in nearly490,000 people with tuberculous and 500,000 people with other infectious diseases.

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Mosquito saliva vaccines: a weapon against arbovirus infections?

Mosquito saliva vaccines: a weapon against arbovirus infections? | Amazing Science |

A soon-to-be-published study supports the development of arbovirus vaccines targeting mosquito salivary proteins rather than the viruses present in their saliva.

Arbovirus infections represent 17% of all communicable diseases in humans, causing one billion cases and one million deaths annually. An arbovirus is a virus that is transmitted by insects to a vertebrate host, mainly mammals. The most common vectors of the arbovirus are mosquitos, ticks, and sandflies.


The most prevalent mosquito-borne viruses are dengue, yellow fever, West Nile, Zika, and chikungunya. These viruses have been responsible for emerging and re-emerging outbreaks and epidemics in the last years, thus representing a huge global health burden. Among all vector-borne viruses, Dengue is the most clinically significant arbovirus, infecting 390 million people each year with nearly 100 million symptomatic infections.

There are currently only vaccines for three arbovirus infections

Currently, vaccines exist for only three arbovirus infections: tick-borne encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis, and yellow fever. Dengue virus vaccines have been tested, but due to the complexity within the four dengue subgroups and genetic similarities with Zika virus, further studies must be conducted.


Since the development of viral protein-based vaccines has not been successful due to the intricacies of the vector-arbovirus-host interactions, some studies have supported the use of salivary proteins to develop “universal” arbovirus vaccines.


American researchers recently conducted a review study and its manuscript will bepublished soon in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. In their article, the authors review the literature and encourage the research and development of such vaccines.

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Move over, cyanobacteria - Study indicates novel and abundant nitrogen fixers in the Earth's surface ocean

Move over, cyanobacteria - Study indicates novel and abundant nitrogen fixers in the Earth's surface ocean | Amazing Science |

Nitrogen fixation in the surface ocean impacts global marine nitrogen bioavailability and thus microbial primary productivity. Until now, cyanobacterial populations have been viewed as the main suppliers of bioavailable nitrogen in this habitat. Although PCR amplicon surveys targeting the nitrogenase reductase gene have revealed the existence of diverse non-cyanobacterial diazotrophic populations, subsequent quantitative PCR surveys suggest that they generally occur in low abundance. Now, a team of scientists used state-of-the-art metagenomic assembly and binning strategies to recover nearly one thousand non-redundant microbial population genomes from the TARA Oceans metagenomes. Among these, they provided the first genomic evidence for non-cyanobacterial diazotrophs inhabiting surface waters of the open ocean, which correspond to lineages within the Proteobacteria and, most strikingly, the Planctomycetes. Members of the latter phylum are prevalent in aquatic systems, but have never been linked to nitrogen fixation previously. Moreover, using genome-wide quantitative read recruitment, the group of scientists were able to demonstrate that the discovered diazotrophs were not only widespread but also remarkably abundant (up to 0.3% of metagenomic reads for a single population) in both the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean northwest.


These results extend decades of PCR-based gene surveys, and substantiate the importance of heterotrophic bacteria in the fixation of nitrogen in the surface ocean.

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The first stellar-mass black hole found in a globular cluster

The first stellar-mass black hole found in a globular cluster | Amazing Science |
By the way, it’s also the first stellar-mass black hole ever found based on its gravitational pull.


The word globule isn’t the most appealing term. Maybe this is why globular clusters don’t get as much press as they deserve. These dense collections of ancient stars numbering in the tens of thousands are home to some of the oldest stars in the universe. If nebulae are the stellar nurseries of the cosmos, then globular clusters are the stellar nursing homes. But just as nebulae can teach us about how young stars form, globular clusters can teach us about how old stars evolve and age – which occasionally ends with an older, massive star collapsing into a black hole.

In a study published today in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers announced the discovery of one such black hole in the globular cluster NGC 3201. By noticing the exceptionally bizarre orbital behavior of a specific star in the cluster, the researchers were able to conclude that a black hole is lurking in the core of NGC 3201, located some 16,000 light-years away. The discovery of the black hole – which is not feeding on nearby material, and therefore invisible to direct observations – is the first detection of a stellar-mass black hole made purely by measuring its gravitational influence on other stars.

“[The star] was orbiting something that was completely invisible, which had a mass more than four times the Sun,” said Benjamin Giesers, an astrophysicist at the University of Göttingen and lead author of the study, in a press release. “This could only be a black hole! The first one found in a globular cluster by directly observing its gravitational pull.”

As part of a large survey of globular clusters orbiting the Milky Way, an international team of astronomers used the ESO’s Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explore (MUSE) instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile to search for stellar binaries – pairs of stars that orbit each other. In addition to analyzing the light of individual stars, MUSE measures their radial velocities, or relative back-and-forth motions. Among the plethora of radial velocity measurements taken for the globular cluster survey, the researchers found one oddball star.

They noticed that this particular star was being flung back and forth so quickly (over 200,000 miles per hour) that it must be orbiting an invisible black hole at least four times as massive as the Sun. Though the researchers acknowledge the possibility that the fast-moving star is being rag-dolled around within a triple star system containing two exceptionally large and tightly bound neutron stars, “since such a system was not observed to date and the actual mass of the discovered object is probably higher, a black hole scenario is more likely.”

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INTEL is now capable of producing full silicon wafers of quantum computing chips

INTEL is now capable of producing full silicon wafers of quantum computing chips | Amazing Science |
Mass production of quantum compute devices could fundamentally change how we look at traditional silicon. Although not necessarily a replacement for conventional hardware, quantum technologies allow for many difficult problems to be solved that would otherwise be impossible to comprehend.

Last year, Intel was able to take a few steps forward towards the commercialization of quantum computing. A 17-qubit superconducting chip was built followed by CEO Brian Krzanich showing off a test chip at CES 2018 with 49 qubits.


Unlike previous quantum efforts at Intel, this latest batch of wafers are focusing on spin qubits instead of superconducting qubits. This secondary technology is still a few years behind superconducting quantum efforts but could turn out to be more easily scalable.


Moving forward, Intel now has the capability to produce up to five silicon wafers every week containing up to 26-qubit quantum chips. This achievement means that Intel has greatly increased the number of quantum devices in existence and could be looking to increase the number of qubits steadily in the coming years.

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Magnetic beads can destroy brain tumors in ten minutes using MRI scanners to heat up the cancer cells

Magnetic beads can destroy brain tumors in ten minutes using MRI scanners to heat up the cancer cells | Amazing Science |

Deadly brain tumors could be removed in just ten minutes with a groundbreaking new treatment which uses MRI scanners to heat up cancer cells until they die.


The new therapy, developed by University College London (UCL), involves injecting tiny magnetic metal beads into the bloodstream and directing it to the site of the cancer.


The scanner is then used to heat up the metal seed which causes the cells to die in the surrounding tissue. Not only does it quickly kill cancer cells, but it saves healthy cells from the damaging effects of invasive surgery or radiotherapy.


The team at UCL has already proven it is effective in the brains of pigs and plans to move to human trials on patients with prostate cancer within the next two years with the hope it will be available for many cancers on the NHS within five years. 


Launching the new technology at The Cheltenham Science Festival, Mark Lythgoe, professor of imaging at UCL, said: “The aim is to turn every MRI scanner in the world into a therapeutic device. At the moment it just take pictures. “The simple idea is the patient goes into the MRI scanner, you locate a tumor in the brain or the prostate and then we implant a tiny magnetic particle, a little bit smaller than a grain of rice, to the site of the tumur.


“We can guide it with real precision avoiding any areas that we don’t want to go to, like the sensory motor-cortex in the brain, the area with memories. Once it’s in there we’re able to fire in a simple radio wave and these seeds heat up remarkably well, and kills all the cells around it. You then just guide the seed through the tumor, killing all the cells. And you can do it with real precision right up to the margins of the tumor so there is no tumor left. This is a life-changing technology.”

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How Humans Evolved Supersize Brains

How Humans Evolved Supersize Brains | Amazing Science |

Scientists have begun to identify the symphony of biological triggers that powered the extraordinary expansion of the human brain.


When it comes to brains, size isn’t everything. The human brain is much smaller than that of an elephant or whale. But there are far more neurons in a human’s cerebral cortex than in the cortex of any other animal.


The human brain has 86 billion neurons in all: 69 billion in the cerebellum, a dense lump at the back of the brain that helps orchestrate basic bodily functions and movement; 16 billion in the cerebral cortex, the brain’s thick corona and the seat of our most sophisticated mental talents, such as self-awareness, language, problem solving and abstract thought; and 1 billion in the brain stem and its extensions into the core of the brain. In contrast, the elephant brain, which is three times the size of our own, has 251 billion neurons in its cerebellum, which helps manage a giant, versatile trunk, and only 5.6 billion in its cortex.


Considering brain mass or volume alone masks these important distinctions. Based on her studies, Herculano-Houzel has concluded that primates evolved a way to pack far more neurons into the cerebral cortex than other mammals did. The great apes are tiny compared to elephants and whales, yet their cortices are far denser: Orangutans and gorillas have 9 billion cortical neurons, and chimps have 6 billion. Of all the great apes, we have the largest brains, so we come out on top with our 16 billion neurons in the cortex. In fact, humans appear to have the most cortical neurons of any species on Earth. “That’s the clearest difference between human and nonhuman brains,” Herculano-Houzel says. It’s all about the architecture, not just size.


Data taken from the following studies: Cellular scaling rules for primate brains;Cellular scaling rules for rodent brainsGorilla and Orangutan Brains Conform to the Primate Cellular Scaling Rules: Implications for Human Evolution; The elephant brain in numbers.

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How Artificial Intelligence Could Help Us Live Longer By Bringing Novel Drugs to Market at Lightning Speed

How Artificial Intelligence Could Help Us Live Longer By Bringing Novel Drugs to Market at Lightning Speed | Amazing Science |
AI will help bring novel therapies to market at lightning speeds, at much lower cost, and with no requirement for massive infrastructure and investments.


What if we could generate novel molecules to target any disease, overnight, ready for clinical trials? Imagine leveraging machine learning to accomplish with 50 people what the pharmaceutical industry can barely do with an army of 5,000.


It’s a trillion-dollar opportunity that can help billions of patients. The worldwide pharmaceutical market, one of the slowest monolithic industries to adapt, surpassed $1.1 trillion in 2016. In 2018, the top 10 pharmaceutical companies alone are projected to generate over $355 billion in revenue.


At the same time, it currently costs more than $2.5 billion (sometimes up to $12 billion) and takes over 10 years to bring a new drug to market. Nine out of 10 drugs entering Phase I clinical trials will never reach patients.


As the population ages, we don’t have time to rely on this slow, costly production rate. Some 12 percent of the world population will be 65 or older by 2030, and “diseases of aging” like Alzheimer’s will pose increasingly greater challenges to society.


But a world of pharmaceutical abundance is already emerging.

As artificial intelligence converges with massive datasets in everything from gene expression to blood tests, novel drug discovery is about to get >100X cheaper, faster, and more intelligently targeted.


One of the hottest startups I know in this area is Insilico Medicine.

Leveraging AI in its end-to-end drug pipeline, Insilico Medicine is extending healthy longevity through drug discovery and aging research. Their comprehensive drug discovery engine uses millions of samples and multiple data types to a) discover signatures of disease and b) identify the most promising targets for billions of molecules. These molecules either already exist or can be generated de novo with the desired set of parameters.


Insilico’s CEO Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov recently joined me on an Abundance Digital webinar to discuss the future of longevity research. Just recently, Insilico announced the completion of a strategic round of funding led by WuXi AppTec’s Corporate Venture Fund, with participation from Pavilion Capital, Juvenescence, and my venture fund BOLD Capital Partners.


What they’re doing is extraordinary, and it’s an excellent lens through which to view converging exponential technologies.

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Chameleon-inspired nanolaser changes colors | EurekAlert! Science News

Chameleon-inspired nanolaser changes colors | EurekAlert! Science News | Amazing Science |

As a chameleon shifts its color from turquoise to pink to orange to green, nature's design principles are at play. Complex nano-mechanics are quietly and effortlessly working to camouflage the lizard's skin to match its environment.


Inspired by nature, a Northwestern University team has developed a novel nanolaser that changes colors using the same mechanism as chameleons. The work could open the door for advances in flexible optical displays in smartphones and televisions, wearable photonic devices and ultra-sensitive sensors that measure strain.


"Chameleons can easily change their colors by controlling the spacing among the nanocrystals on their skin, which determines the color we observe," said Teri W. Odom, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "This coloring based on surface structure is chemically stable and robust."


The research is published in the journal Nano Letters. The same way a chameleon controls the spacing of nanocrystals on its skin, the Northwestern team's laser exploits periodic arrays of metal nanoparticles on a stretchable, polymer matrix. As the matrix either stretches to pull the nanoparticles farther apart or contracts to push them closer together, the wavelength emitted from the laser changes wavelength, which also changes its color. "Hence, by stretching and releasing the elastomer substrate, we could select the emission color at will," Odom said.


The resulting laser is robust, tunable, reversible and has a high sensitivity to strain. These properties are critical for applications in responsive optical displays, on-chip photonic circuits and multiplexed optical communication.

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Nearly 80 exoplanet candidates identified in record time

Nearly 80 exoplanet candidates identified in record time | Amazing Science |
Scientists at MIT and elsewhere have analyzed data from K2, the follow-up mission to NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, and have discovered nearly 80 possible exoplanets amid some 50,000 stars.

The search is considered a successful “dress rehearsal” for the exoplanet hunter TESS.


In a paper that appears in The Astronomical Journal, the scientists report the discovery of nearly 80 new planetary candidates, including a particular standout: a likely planet that orbits the star HD 73344, which would be the brightest planet host ever discovered by the K2 mission.


The planet appears to orbit HD 73344 every 15 days, and based on the amount of light that it blocks each time it passes in front of its star, scientists estimate that the planet is about 2.5 times the size of the Earth and 10 times as massive. It is also likely incredibly hot, with a temperature somewhere in the range of 1,200 to 1,300 degrees Celsius, or around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit -- about the temperature of lava from an erupting volcano.


The planet lies at a relatively close distance of 35 parsecs, or about 114 light years from Earth. Given its proximity and the fact that it orbits a very bright star, scientists believe the planet is an ideal candidate for follow-up studies to determine its atmospheric composition and other characteristics. "We think it would probably be more like a smaller, hotter version of Uranus or Neptune," says Ian Crossfield, an assistant professor of physics at MIT who co-led the study with graduate student Liang Yu.


The new analysis is also noteworthy for the speed with which it was performed. The researchers were able to use existing tools developed at MIT to rapidly search through graphs of light intensity called "lightcurves" from each of the 50,000 stars that K2 monitored in its two recent observing campaigns. They quickly identified the planetary candidates and released the information to the astronomy community just weeks after the K2 mission made the spacecraft's raw data available. A typical analysis of this kind takes between several months and a year.

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Cells stop dividing when CD36 kicks into high gear, study finds

Cells stop dividing when CD36 kicks into high gear, study finds | Amazing Science |

Scientists seeking to unlock secrets of cellular aging have identified a gene that triggers senescence, a phenomenon in which cells stop dividing. The gene, called CD36, is unusually active in older, senescent cells. Heightening CD36 activity also caused young, healthy cells to stop dividing, with the effect also spreading to nearby cells in the same petri dish.


Senescence is a natural occurrence in the life of a cell, and researchers have sought to learn about it for a couple of reasons. First, it's connected to old age: Senescent cells are thought to contribute to heart disease, arthritis, cataracts and a bevy of other age-linked conditions. Second, a lack of senescence is a hallmark of cancer cells, which bypass this process to replicate in an uncontrolled manner.


The new study -- published online on June 20, 2018 in Molecular Omics, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry -- illuminates genes involved in cellular senescence, and highlights one in particular that seems tightly associated with this crucial biological process.


In experiments, University at Buffalo researchers discovered that a gene called CD36 is unusually active in older, senescent cells.

What's more, scientists were able to cause young, healthy cells to stop dividing by heightening CD36 activity within those cells.


The effect spread to nearby cells, with almost all of the cells in a petri dish showing signs of senescence when only a small fraction of those cells -- about 10 to 15 percent -- were overexpressing CD36. New cells placed in the growth medium (a soupy substance) that previously housed the senescent cells also stopped replicating.


"What we found was very surprising," says Ekin Atilla-Gokcumen, PhD, an assistant professor of chemistry in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. "Senescence is a very complex process, and we didn't expect that altering expression of one gene could spark it, or cause the same effect in surrounding cells."


The results point to CD36 as an exciting topic of future research. The gene's exact role in senescence remains a mystery: Scientists know that the gene guides the body in building a protein of the same name that sits on the surface of cells, but this protein's functions are still being studied. Proposed activities include helping cells import lipids, and influencing how these lipids are used within cells.

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Giant lasers pass new milestone towards fusion energy

Giant lasers pass new milestone towards fusion energy | Amazing Science |

Physicists working at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the US say they have passed another important milestone in their quest for nuclear fusion energy. They have shown that the fusion energy generated by the laser implosion of a deuterium-tritium fuel capsule is twice that of the kinetic energy of the implosion. By further trebling the fusion energy, they say they will be close to the long-sought goal of an overall net energy gain.


The $3.5bn NIF trains 192 pulsed laser beams on to the inner surface of a centimetre-long hollow metal cylinder known as a hohlraum. Inside is a fuel capsule, which is a roughly 2 mm-diameter hollow sphere containing a thin deuterium-tritium layer. Each pulse lasts just a few nanoseconds and the lasers can deliver about 1.8 MJ of energy. This powerful blast causes the capsule to implode rapidly, creating immense temperatures and pressures inside a central “hot spot”, where fusion reactions occur.


The long-term goal is that the energy of neutrons given off by fusion can generate electricity. Before this is possible, NIF must show that it is possible to achieve ignition – the point at which fusion reactions generate at least as much energy delivered by the laser system. This involves self-sustaining reactions, in which the alpha particles that are also emitted during fusion give off enough heat to initiate further fusion.

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World can ‘safely’ store billions of tons of CO2 underground

World can ‘safely’ store billions of tons of CO2 underground | Amazing Science |
Storing billions of tonnes of CO2 underground would be a “safe and effective” way to help limit the effects of climate change, a new study says.


Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a process whereby CO2 is “captured” from the air and then transported to a storage site – which could be, for example, a depleted oil or gas field or a deep rock reservoir beneath the sea.


Though the technology is currently restricted to a few small pilot projects, many view its large-scale development as an essential step to limiting the effects of future climate change. In its most recent assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that avoiding dangerous climate change would cost twice as much without CCS.


One barrier to the development of CCS is the costs associated with directly capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. Another barrier is the fear that, once underground, stored CO2 could leak out into the atmosphere. It is this second barrier that is addressed by the new research, which is published in Nature Communications.


To address the question of leakage, the researchers developed a new model – known as the Storage Security Calculator – which looks at what would happen if 12bn tons of CO2 were injected under the ground and left for 10,000 years. The 12bn-ton target reflects the EU’s ambition for CO2 storage by 2050.


The findings suggest that – providing a suitable storage site is chosen – the risk of CO2 leakage would be minimal, says lead author Dr Juan Alcalde, a geologist at the University of Aberdeen. In a video filmed at the sidelines of this year’s European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly, he explains the study’s main findings to Carbon Brief.

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Pandoraviruses : Giant viruses which invent their own genes

Pandoraviruses : Giant viruses which invent their own genes | Amazing Science |

Three new members have been isolated and added to the Pandoravirus family by researchers at the Structural and Genomic Information Laboratory (CNRS/Aix‐Marseille Université), working with partners at the Large Scale Biology Laboratory (CEA/Inserm/Université Grenoble‐Alpes) and at CEA-Genoscope. This strange family of viruses, with their giant genomes and many genes with no known equivalents, surprised the scientists when they were discovered a few years ago. In the 11 June 2018 edition of Nature Communications, researchers offer an explanation: pandoviruses appear to be factories for new genes – and therefore new functions. From freaks of nature to evolutionary innovators, giant viruses continue to shake branches on the tree of life!

In 2013, the discovery of two giant viruses unlike anything seen before blurred the line between the viral and cellular world. Pandoraviruses are as big as bacteria, and contain genomes that are more complex than those found in some eukaryotic organisms1. Their strange amphora shape and enormous, atypical genome2 led scientists to wonder where they came from.

The same team has since isolated three new members of the family in Marseille, continental France, Nouméa, New Caledonia, and Melbourne, Australia. With another virus found in Germany, the team compared those six known cases using different approaches. Analyses showed that despite having very similar shapes and functions, these viruses only share half of their genes coding for proteins. Usually, however, members of the same family have more genes in common.

Furthermore, these new members contain a large number of orphan genes, i.e. genes which encode proteins that have no equivalent in other living organisms (this was already the case for the two previously discovered pandoraviruses). This unexplained characteristic is at the heart of many a debate over the origin of viruses. What most surprised researchers was that the orphan genes differed from one pandoravirus to another, making it less and less likely that they were inherited from a common ancestor!

Bioinformatic analysis showed that these orphan genes exhibit features very similar to those of non-coding (or intergenic) regions in the pandoravirus genome. Findings indicate the only possible explanation for the gigantic size of pandoravirus genomes, their diversity and the large proportion of orphan genes they contain: most of these viruses' genes may originate spontaneously and randomly in intergenic regions. In this scenario, genes “appear” in different locations from one strain to another, thus explaining their unique nature.  

If confirmed, this groundbreaking hypothesis would make these giant viruses craftsmen of genetic creativity – a central, but still poorly explained component of any understanding of the origin of life and its evolution.
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Delft scientists make first ‘on demand’ entanglement link

Delft scientists make first ‘on demand’ entanglement link | Amazing Science |

Researchers at QuTech in Delft have succeeded in generating quantum entanglement between two quantum chips faster than the entanglement is lost. Entanglement - once referred to by Einstein as "spooky action" - forms the link that will provide a future quantum internet its power and fundamental security. Via a novel smart entanglement protocol and careful protection of the entanglement, the scientists led by Prof. Ronald Hanson are the first in the world to deliver such a quantum link ‘on demand’. This opens the door to connect multiple quantum nodes and create the very first quantum network in the world. They publish their results on 14 June in Nature.

Quantum Internet

By exploiting the power of quantum entanglement it is theoretically possible to build a quantum internet that cannot be eavesdropped on. However, the realization of such a quantum network is a real challenge: you have to be able to create entanglement reliably, 'on demand', and maintain it long enough to pass the entangled information to the next node. So far, this has been beyond the capabilities of quantum experiments.


Scientists at QuTech in Delft have now been the first to experimentally generate entanglement over a distance of two meters in a fraction of a second, 'on demand', and subsequently maintain this entanglement long enough to enable -in theory- further entanglement to a third node. ‘The challenge is now to be the first to create a network of multiple entangled nodes: the first version of a quantum internet’, professor Hanson states. 

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Astronomers Just Cracked The Cosmic Mystery of Anomalous Microwave Glow in Our Galaxy

Astronomers Just Cracked The Cosmic Mystery of Anomalous Microwave Glow in Our Galaxy | Amazing Science |

The source of a mysterious microwave glow detected across our galaxy eluded astronomers for decades. But now a crack team has finally pinpointed the source: nanoscopic particles of crystalline carbon, otherwise known as diamond dust.


There are several environments across the Milky Way that produce a faint glow known as anomalous microwave emission (AME). Scientists have known for a while that this light was being produced by a small, rapidly spinning nanoparticle. But the type of particle was harder to pin down.


A team of researchers went looking for the glow of AME across the Milky Way. They studied 14 protoplanetary discs of dust and gas that surround newborn stars – and detected AME in three of them. This isn’t just the first time that AME has been detected in protoplanetary discs; it also allowed researchers to determine that the glow was most likely being produced by diamonds hundreds of thousands of times smaller than a grain of sand.


Previously, it was thought that carbon-based organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) were responsible for the glow. These are common throughout interstellar space, and emit a faint infrared light. Nanodiamond dust also emits infrared light, at a slightly different wavelength, which allows researchers to tell the two particles apart.


The three AME sources were also emitting infrared light that matched that of nanodiamonds – but not that of PAH. In addition, the PAH signature has been observed in protoplanetary discs throughout the Milky Way with no anomalous microwave emissions. “In a Sherlock Holmes-like method of eliminating all other causes, we can confidently say the best candidate capable of producing this microwave glow is the presence of nanodiamonds around these newly formed stars,” said astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales.

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The melting Continent: Sea level rise due to Antarctic ice melt has ‘tripled over past five years’

The melting Continent: Sea level rise due to Antarctic ice melt has ‘tripled over past five years’ | Amazing Science |

The rate of sea level rise resulting from the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet has tripled over the past five years, according to new research from a global team of scientists. The recent study, published in Nature, finds that ice loss from Antarctica has caused sea levels to rise by 7.6 mm from 1992-2017, with two fifths of this increase occurring since 2012.


At a press conference held in London, scientists said the results suggest that Antarctica has become “one of the largest contributors to sea level rise”. A glaciologist not involved in the paper tells Carbon Brief that the findings show “there now should be no doubt that Antarctica is losing ice due to regional climate change, likely linked to global warming”.

The new research was carried out by a team of scientists from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE). The international group was established in 2011 with the aim of creating a comprehensive view of how melting in world’s polar regions could be contributing to sea level rise.

In its last assessment report, released in 2012, it found that ice melt in Antarctica was causing global sea levels to rise by 0.2mm a year. (Over the past two decades, global sea levels have risen around 3.2 mm a year in total.)


However, the new analysis finds that Antarctic ice melt is now driving sea level rise of 0.6mm a year – suggesting that the rate of melting has increased three-fold in just five years. The results show that Antarctic ice melt has become “one of the largest contributors to sea level rise”, says Prof Andrew Shepherd, co-leader of IMBIE and director of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Polar Observation based at the University of Leeds.

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Saudi Arabia's envisioned 200 GW solar power plant

Saudi Arabia's envisioned 200 GW solar power plant | Amazing Science |

Saudi Arabia has a plan to wean its economy off oil. In the biggest sign of what the future of the Gulf state would look like, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Japanese multinational Softbank to build 200 GW of solar power by 2030 at a cost of $200 billion.


These are eye-popping numbers. If built, that solar-power plant will be about 200 times the size of the biggest solar plant operating today. It would more than triple Saudi Arabia’s capacity to produce electricity, from about 77 GW today. With current technology, solar panels capable of generating 200 GW would likely cover 5,000 sq km—an area larger than the the world’s largest cities, And, yet, these are not unrealistic figures.


Based on data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the global solar industry produced about 100 GW worth of solar panels last year, and production capacity is ramping up quickly.


But memorandums like the one signed by Bin Salman often don’t turn into reality. “I’ve probably made more binding agreements to grab a coffee,” Jenny Chase, a solar analyst with BNEF, joked on Twitter.



Still, the prince stands to damage his reputation if he doesn’t at least ramp up Saudi Arabia’s solar-power contribution. Though the country has talked about investing in clean energy for quite some time, it was only in 2017 that it began taking bids to build solar-power plants. And if any country could build a solar plant of this scale, it’s Saudi Arabia: the country gets plenty of sun, has vast areas of empty desert, and possibly has the financial power to pull it off.

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US beats China to build world's fastest supercomputer that's one million times faster than a laptop

US beats China to build world's fastest supercomputer that's one million times faster than a laptop | Amazing Science |

The US just took back the title for the world's fastest supercomputer. The US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee unveiled the 'Summit' supercomputer that can deliver a peak performance of 200 petaflops, or about 200 quadrillion calculations per second. It managed to beat out the previous record holder that was China's Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer.


Summit is 60% faster than the TaihuLight supercomputer, which could achieve a peak performance of 93 petaflops. The feat puts the US at the front of the top 500 supercomputers in the world -- the first time it has held such ranking since June 2013. Summit has been in development for several years now and is made up of thousands of chips. Specifically, it's powered by six Nvidia Tesla V100 GPUs and two 22-core IBM Power 9 chips. It features 4,608 servers and an insane 10 petabytes of memory. Summit is so big that the servers and other gear fill up to two tennis courts. It's heavier than a commercial aircraft and a million times faster than your average laptop. To keep cool, the network of servers requires about 4,000 gallons of water a minute so as to not overheat. 


Summit is now the world's 'most powerful and smartest scientific supercomputer,' according to IBM. ORNL noted that its capable of over three billion-billion mixed precision calculations per second.


Researchers and government officials will use Summit to carry out a variety of tasks tied to machine learning, neural networks and artificial intelligence. For example, it can analyze massive amounts of data, such as medical reports and images, to identify previously unknown causes of disease, according to MIT Technology Review.  It will also help inform scientists about 'exascale' computers, which can handle up to a billion billion calculations a second, MIT noted.      

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Study illuminates how quantum magnets mimic the emergence of light in its own little universe

Study illuminates how quantum magnets mimic the emergence of light in its own little universe | Amazing Science |

Scientists have turned an abstract theory about the quantum properties of magnets into a testable hypothesis about a new kind of light.


What is light? It sounds like a simple question, but it is one that has occupied some of the best scientific minds for centuries. Now, a collaborative study with scientists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) has added another twist to the story, turning an abstract theory about the quantum properties of magnets into a testable hypothesis about a new kind of light.


Models of the atomic lattice structure of the quantum spin ice, praseodymium hafnate (Pr2Hf2O7). (Image: OIST)
Ever since Isaac Newton refracted light through prisms in 1672, scientists have been split over whether light is made up of particles or waves. Light seems to travel in straight lines, as would be expected of a particle, but Newton’s experiments have shown it also has frequency and wavelength, like sound waves.


Almost 200 years later, the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell supplied one part of the answer, when he realized that light was made up of fluctuating electric and magnetic fields. It was only in the 20thcentury through the work of Einstein, that light was finally understood to be made up of fundamental particles called photons, which act like both particles and waves. This discovery helped inspire the new science of quantum mechanics, which describes the behavior of matter and energy on the atomic and subatomic level.


More recently, in the late 20th century, physicists began exploring a phenomenon called emergence. Just as the behavior of large groups of people can differ from that of any single member of the group, emergence describes how particles in large groups can behave in unexpected ways, revealing new laws of physics or providing a new context for old ones. One question being asked was, “Could there be such a thing as emergent light?”


This brings us to OIST Professor Nic Shannon, Han Yan, a PhD student in his Theory of Quantum Matter Unit, and their colleagues in Switzerland and in the US. Their recent work centers on a strange family of magnetic systems known as spin ice, which escape all conventional forms of magnetic order and instead open a window on the quantum world.


In conventional magnets like the ones on your fridge, magnetic atoms produce a tiny magnetic field and work together to generate the much larger magnetic fields which enable them to “stick” to metal objects. This is possible because the tiny magnetic fields associated with each different atom in the magnet order themselves so that they point in the same direction.


In spin ice, however, atoms do not order magnetically, but still work together to produce a magnetic field which fluctuates on the atomic scale.


Recently, researchers realized that quantum effects at low temperatures can introduce an emergent electric field in spin ice, with an amazing consequence: Emergent electric and magnetic fields combine to produce magnetic excitations that behave exactly like photons of light.

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