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CERN experiment brings precision to a cornerstone of particle physics

CERN experiment brings precision to a cornerstone of particle physics | Amazing Science |

 In a recent paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the COMPASS experiment at CERN reports a key measurement on the strong interaction. The strong interaction binds quarks into protons and neutrons, and protons and neutrons into the nuclei of all the elements from which matter is built. Inside those nuclei, particles called pions made up of a quark and an antiquark mediate the interaction. Strong interaction theory makes a precise prediction on the polarisability of pions – the degree to which their shape can be stretched. This polarisability has baffled scientists since the 1980s, when the first measurements appeared to be at odds with the theory. Today’s result is in close agreement with theory.

“The theory of the strong interaction is one of the cornerstones of our understanding of nature at the level of the fundamental particles,” said Fabienne Kunne and Andrea Bressan, spokespersons of the COMPASS experiment, “so this result, in perfect agreement with the theory, is a very important one.”

Despite the high energies available at CERN, the experiment is a big challenge, as the pion polarizability is tiny and its effect hard to isolate,” said Jan Friedrich, researcher at the Technische Universität München and leading scientist in the project.

Everything we see in the universe is made up of fundamental particles called quarks and leptons. Quarks are bound together in groups of three to make up the building blocks of the nuclei of elements – protons and neutrons. The hydrogen nucleus, for example, consists of a single proton, whereas the nucleus of a gold atom consists of 79 protons and 118 neutrons. Flitting between the protons and neutrons in a nucleus are pions, which mediate the strong force binding the nucleus together. These pions are made up of a quark and an antiquark, themselves held tightly bound by the strong force. This makes their deformability, or polarisability, a direct measure of the strong binding force between the quarks.

To measure the polarizability of the pion, the COMPASS experiment shot a beam of pions at a target of nickel. As the pions approached the nickel on average at distances twice the radius of the particles themselves, they experienced the very strong electric field of the nickel nucleus, which caused them to deform, and change trajectory, in the process emitting a particle of light called a photon. It is by measuring the photon energy and the deflection of the pion for a large sample of 63000 pions that the polarisability could be measured. The result reveals that the pion is significantly stiffer than shown by previous measurements, as expected from strong interaction theory.

“This result is admirably complementary to the studies of fundamental interactions performed at the LHC and a testimony to the diversity and strength of CERN’s research program,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “While the Higgs boson – proposed by Brout, Englert and Higgs – accounts for the masses of the fundamental particles, thereby allowing composite objects such as us to exist, the bulk of our mass comes from the binding energy of the strong interaction holding them together.”

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

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



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Beyond Limits - How the internet is becoming a part of us

Beyond Limits - How the internet is becoming a part of us | Amazing Science |

For Professor Yuval Noah Harari from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the merging of man and machine will be the “greatest evolution in biology.”


“I think it is likely in the next 200 years or so Homo sapiens will upgrade themselves into some idea of a divine being, either through biological manipulation or genetic engineering of by the creation of cyborgs, part organic part non-organic. It will be the greatest evolution in biology since the appearance of life. Nothing really has changed in four billion years biologically speaking. But we will be as different from today’s humans as chimps are now from us.”


But what role will the internet and all its devices – ever smaller and ever closer to us – play in this great evolution? Meet E-man…

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Designer proteins activate fluorescent molecules

Designer proteins activate fluorescent molecules | Amazing Science |
A method for designing β-barrels that bind to any small molecule.


Proteins are the molecular machines of life: they carry out the complex molecular processes required by cells with unrivalled accuracy and efficiency. Many of these processes depend on proteins having the ability to bind specifically to a given small molecule. If we could make proteins from scratch to bind any desired target molecule, it would open the door to a wide range of biotechnological applications that are not currently possible using natural proteins. Writing in Nature, Dou et al.1describe a computational method for designing proteins tailored to bind a small molecule of interest, and use it to make ‘fluorescence-activating’ proteins — biotechnological tools that have potential applications in biomedical research.

Via Krishan Maggon
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New nanotechnology breakthrough uses atmospheric carbon to make useful chemicals

New nanotechnology breakthrough uses atmospheric carbon to make useful chemicals | Amazing Science |

Burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas releases carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 while the production of methanol and other valuable fuels and chemicals requires a supply of carbon. There is currently no economically or energy efficient way to collect CO2 from the atmosphere and use it to produce carbon-based chemicals, but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering have just taken an important step in that direction.


The team worked with a class of nanomaterials called metal-organic frameworks or "MOFs," which can be used to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and combine it with hydrogen atoms to convert it into valuable chemicals and fuels. Karl Johnson, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the Swanson School's Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, led the research group as principal investigator.


"Our ultimate goal is to find a low-energy, low-cost MOF capable of separating carbon dioxide from a mixture of gases and prepare it to react with hydrogen," says Dr. Johnson. "We found a MOF that could bend the CO2 molecules slightly, taking them to a state in which they react with hydrogen more easily."


The Johnson Research Group published their findings in the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) journal Catalysis Science & Technology (DOI: 10.1039/c8cy01018h). The journal featured their work on its cover, illustrating the process of carbon dioxide and hydrogen molecules entering the MOF and exiting as CH2O2 or formic acid—a chemical precursor to methanol. For this process to occur, the molecules must overcome a demanding energy threshold called the hydrogenation barrier.


Dr. Johnson explains, "The hydrogenation barrier is the energy needed to add two H atoms to CO2, which transforms the molecules into formic acid. In other words, it is the energy needed to get the H atoms and the CO2 molecules together so that they can form the new compound. In our previous work we have been able to activate H2 by splitting two H atoms, but we have not been able to activate CO2 until now."


The key to reducing the hydrogenation barrier was to identify a MOF capable of pre-activating carbon dioxide. Pre-activation is basically preparing the molecules for the chemical reaction by putting it into the right geometry, the right position, or the right electronic state. The MOF they modeled in their work achieves pre-activation of CO2 by putting it into a slightly bent geometry that is able to accept the incoming hydrogen atoms with a lower barrier.

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Surgery Robot Remotely Hacked by Computer Science Experts

Surgery Robot Remotely Hacked by Computer Science Experts | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have demonstrated the ability to remotely hack a research surgical robot, the RAVEN II platform.


Before continuing, I'll stop to clarify one thing. The RAVEN II is not a clinically used surgical robot like, say, the Da Vinci surgical robot. It's an "open-source" surgical robot developed at the University of Washington to test and demonstrate advanced concepts in robotic surgery. We contacted Applied Dexterity, which is now in charge of the RAVEN platform.


Co-founder David Drajeske explained: "The RAVEN II platform is not approved for use on humans. The system has been placed at 18 robotics research labs worldwide...that are using it to make advances in surgical robotics technologies ...The low-  level software is open-source and it is designed to be “hackable” or readily reprogrammed."


Clinically used surgical robots, like the Da Vinci platform, operate on secure local networks using proprietary (i.e. not publicly available) communications protocols between the console and the robot. By contrast, RAVEN II can work on unsecured public networks and uses a publicly available communications protocol (see below). So while some have proclaimed an imminent threat to robotic telesurgery based on this study, that's simply not the case.


That said, the work does have interesting implications; as pointed out by Mr. Drajeske and co-founder Blake Hannaford, RAVEN II is a great platform for testing these type of security issues. Tamara Bonaci, a graduate student at the University of Washigton, led this study to test the security vulnerabilities that could threaten surgeons using these tools and their patients. In this simulation, they aimed to recreate an environment that would be more akin to using these robots in remote areas, such as the use of public or unsecured networks to connect the robot to a remote surgeon. 


They tested a series of attacks on the RAVEN II system while an operator used it to complete a simulated task -- moving rubber blocks around. They found that not only were they able to disrupt the "surgeon" by causing erratic movements of the robot, they were able to hijack the robot entirely. They also discovered they were able to easily access the video feed from the robot.

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Genome wide association analyses in type 2 diabetes: The gift that keeps on giving

Genome wide association analyses in type 2 diabetes: The gift that keeps on giving | Amazing Science |

Recently, Nature Genetics published the latest iteration of a series of genome wide association analysis for type 2 diabetes that has been compiled (as the DIAGRAM consortium) over the past decade. Genome-wide association data from nearly 900,000 individuals from 32 studies, focusing on individuals of European descent, were analyzed. Just under 10% of these participants had type 2 diabetes, making this comfortably the largest such study yet conducted for type 2 diabetes.


In addition to increasing the number of samples tested, this analysis was the first T2D association analysis to take full advantage of the much more detailed imputation reference panels now available. By upgrading from the 1000 Genomes panel (of a few hundred European genomes) to the Haplotype Reference Consortium panel (of around 30,000 genomes), the T2D consortium was able to undertake a much more robust survey of the contribution to T2D risk made by low frequency alleles.


It’s worth for a moment contemplating the staggering volume of data that a study such as this generates, and the scale of the advance over the past decade. The type 2 diabetes analysis conducted in 2007 as part of the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium featured 500K SNPs and 5K individuals (a total of 2.5billion genotypes). A decade on, the current study includes 27M SNPs and 900K individuals (25trillion genotypes). If each genotype was a 1cm marble, 25 trillion would be enough to fill – from pitch to brim –  around 20 stadia the size of Wembley.


These numbers would be expected to bring increased power to detect and characterise novel association signals, and the present study does not disappoint. The details are available in the manuscript, but the main “discovery” findings are these:

  • 243 loci at genome-wide significance, including 135 loci never previously implicated in type 2 diabetes predisposition were detected.
  • By performing conditional analyses around these primary signals, a further 160 secondary signals within these loci, for a total of 403 significant signals across the 243 loci were identified. (Note that this study was limited to European descent individuals, so there are a set of about 40-50 additional signals that were first described in non-European samples: because of ethnic differences in allele frequency and effect size, not all of these reached genome-wide significance in the present study, so the total number of confirmed T2D signals sits around the 450 mark).
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Ants regulate growth of seemingly 'useless' organ to make huge soldiers

Ants regulate growth of seemingly 'useless' organ to make huge soldiers | Amazing Science |

Scientists have found the answer to a question that perplexed Charles Darwin. So much so, that it actually led him to doubt his own theory of evolution. He wondered, if natural selection works at the level of the individual, fighting for survival and reproduction, how can a single colony produce worker ants that are so dramatically different in size—from the "minor" workers with their small heads and bodies, to the large-headed soldiers with their huge mandibles—especially if, as in the genus Pheidole, they are sterile? The answer, according to a paper published in Nature, is that the colony itself generates soldiers and regulates the balance between soldiers and "minor" workers thanks to a seemingly unimportant rudimentary "organ" which appears only briefly during the final stages of larval development. And only in some of the ants—the ones that will become soldiers.


"It was a completely unexpected finding. People had noticed that during the development of soldiers that a seemingly useless rudimentary "organ" would pop up and then disappear. But they assumed that it was just a secondary effect of the hormones and nutrition that were responsible for turning the larvae into soldiers," says Ehab Abouheif from McGill's Biology Department, the senior author on the paper.


Rajendhran Rajakumar the first author adds, "What we discovered was that these rudimentary "organs" are not a secondary effect of hormones and nutrition, but are instead responsible for generating the soldiers. It is their passing presence that regulates the head and body of soldiers to grow at rapid rates, until you get these big-headed soldiers with huge mandibles and big bodies."


Now you see it, now you don't

Abouheif has been studying wings in ants for the past twenty-three years. He was curious about the function of the wing imaginal disc which appear, transiently, in the final stages of larval development among the soldier ants. Even though the soldier ants never actually develop wings. So he and his team, spent nine years in the lab, using various techniques (surgical and molecular) to cut away portions of the rudimentary wing discs from the larvae of soldier ants in the widespread and very diverse Pheidole genus. They discovered that by doing so, they affected the growth of the head and the body. Indeed, they found that they were able to scale the size of soldier ants by cutting away differing degrees of the imaginal wing discs, with a corresponding decrease in the size of the heads and bodies of the soldier ants. It was clear confirmation that the rudimentary wing discs play a crucial role in the development of soldier ants.

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Planned intermittent fasting may reverse type 2 diabetes, small study suggests

Planned intermittent fasting may reverse type 2 diabetes, small study suggests | Amazing Science |

Planned intermittent fasting may help to reverse type 2 diabetes, suggest doctors writing in the journal BMJ Case Reports after three patients in their care, who did this, were able to cut out the need for insulin treatment altogether.


Around one in 10 people in the US and Canada have type 2 diabetes, which is associated with other serious illness and early death. It is thought to cost the US economy alone US$245 billion a year. Lifestyle changes are key to managing the disease, but by themselves can't always control blood glucose levels, and while bariatric surgery (a gastric band) is effective, it is not without risk, say the authors. Drugs can manage the symptoms, and help to stave off complications, but can't stop the disease in its tracks, they add.


Three men, aged between 40 and 67, tried out planned intermittent fasting to see if it might ease their symptoms. They were taking various drugs to control their disease as well as daily units of insulin. In addition to type 2 diabetes, they all had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Two of the men fasted on alternate days for a full 24 hours, while the third fasted for three days a week. On fast days they were allowed to drink very low calorie drinks, such as tea/coffee, water or broth, and to eat one very low calorie meal in the evening.


Before embarking on their fasting regime, they all attended a 6-hour long nutritional training seminar, which included information on how diabetes develops and its impact on the body; insulin resistance; healthy eating; and how to manage diabetes through diet, including therapeutic fasting. They stuck to this pattern for around 10 months after which fasting blood glucose, average blood glucose (HbA1c), weight, and waist circumference were re-measured.


All three men were able to stop injecting themselves with insulin within a month of starting their fasting schedule. In one case this took only five days. Two of the men were able to stop taking all their other diabetic drugs, while the third discontinued three out of the four drugs he was taking. They all lost weight (by 10-18%) as well as reducing their fasting and average blood glucose readings, which may help lower the risk of future complications, say the authors.

Feedback was positive, with all three men managing to stick to their dietary schedule without too much difficulty. "The use of a therapeutic fasting regimen for treatment of type 2 diabetes is virtually unheard of," write the authors. "This present case series showed that 24-hour fasting regimens can significantly reverse or eliminate the need for diabetic medication," they conclude.


More information: 

Suleiman Furmli et al, Therapeutic use of intermittent fasting for people with type 2 diabetes as an alternative to insulin, BMJ Case Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1136/bcr-2017-221854.

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Viruses discern, destroy E. coli in drinking water | Cornell Chronicle

Viruses discern, destroy E. coli in drinking water | Cornell Chronicle | Amazing Science |

To rapidly detect the presence of E. coli in drinking water, Cornell food scientists now can employ a bacteriophage – a genetically engineered virus – in a test used in hard-to-reach areas around the world. Rather than sending water samples to laboratories and waiting days for results, this new test can be administered locally to obtain answers within hours, according to new research published by The Royal Society of Chemistry, August 2018.


“Drinking water contaminated with E. coli is a major public health concern,” said Sam Nugen ’99, Ph.D. ’08, Cornell associate professor of food science. “These phages can detect their host bacteria in sensitive situations, which means we can provide low-cost bacteria detection assays for field use – like food safety, animal health, bio-threat detection and medical diagnostics.”


The bacteriophage T7NLC carries a gene for an enzyme NLuc luciferase, similar to the protein that gives fireflies radiance. The luciferase is fused to a carbohydrate (sugar) binder, so that when the bacteriophage finds the E. coli in water, an infection starts, and the fusion enzyme is made. When released, the enzyme sticks to cellulose fibers and begins to luminesce.

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Nanoparticles offer extensive new cure for snakebites

Nanoparticles offer extensive new cure for snakebites | Amazing Science |

Engineered nanoparticles that bind toxins in snake venom could provide an effective means to treat dermonecrosis caused by many species of venomous snake.


Envenoming from snakes is a global problem that affects over two million people and kills 100,000 each year. The current treatment for snakebites is anti-venom containing IgG antibodies from immunized animals – but the narrow specificity of IgG means that it’s only effective against closely-related snake species. Treatment administration is also frequently delayed, which hampers the effectiveness of the anti-venom and can cause permanent tissue damage in victims.


Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, in the US, have discovered a cheap stable alternative in the form of synthetic polymer nanoparticles that can be administered immediately after a snakebite. These nanoparticles bind to and sequester isoforms of phospholipase A2 and three-finger toxin found in the venom of Elapidae snakes, a deadly family that includes cobras and mambas. By screening and selecting those with the highest affinity for the target toxins, the researchers obtained nanoparticles with optimal chemical composition for binding.


The new broad-spectrum treatment effectively neutralizes the venom’s effects by preventing or reducing local tissue damage. It also stops the toxins from spreading to other parts of the body after envenoming and wasn’t seen to trigger any toxicity in healthy mice.


J O’Brien et al, PLoS Negl. Trop. Dis., 2018, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0006736

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Shark genomes provide insights into elasmobranch evolution and the origin of vertebrates

Shark genomes provide insights into elasmobranch evolution and the origin of vertebrates | Amazing Science |

Modern cartilaginous fishes are divided into elasmobranchs (sharks, rays and skates) and chimaeras, and the lack of established whole-genome sequences for the former has prevented our understanding of early vertebrate evolution and the unique phenotypes of elasmobranchs.


Scientists now present de novo whole-genome assemblies of brown-banded bamboo shark and cloudy catshark and an improved assembly of the whale shark genome. These relatively large genomes (3.8–6.7 Gbp) contain sparse distributions of coding genes and regulatory elements and exhibit reduced molecular evolutionary rates. Thorough genome annotation revealed Hox C genes previously hypothesized to have been lost, as well as distinct gene repertories of opsins and olfactory receptors that would be associated with adaptation to unique underwater niches. The researchers also show the early establishment of the genetic machinery governing mammalian homoeostasis and reproduction at the jawed vertebrate ancestor.


This study, supported by genomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic resources, provides a foundation for the comprehensive, molecular exploration of phenotypes unique to sharks and insights into the evolutionary origins of vertebrates.

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Novel technology enables detection of early-stage lung cancer when surgical cure still is possible

Novel technology enables detection of early-stage lung cancer when surgical cure still is possible | Amazing Science |

 Non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) is often fatal because most cases are not diagnosed until they are so advanced that surgical intervention is no longer possible. To improve outcomes researchers are developing a blood test to detect lung cancer earlier in the disease.


report in The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics describes a new technology, electric field-induced release and measurement (EFIRM) that is both highly sensitive and specific in detecting two epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations associated with lung cancer in the blood of NSCLC patients with early-stage disease. This platform is relatively inexpensive and capable of high-throughput testing.

Despite advances in chemotherapy, five-year survival for patients diagnosed with unresectable NSCLC is less than 10 percent. The ability to diagnose NSCLC in stages 1 and 2, when surgical resection and potential cure are still possible, could significantly reduce the mortality from NSCLC worldwide.


"The revolutionary EFIRM technology is the most exciting development in noninvasive liquid biopsy in recent years. The potential to detect early-stage lung cancer patients with an affordable blood or saliva test could save thousands to tens of thousands of lives annually worldwide," stated Charles M. Strom, MD, PhD, co-director of the Center for Oral/Head and Neck Oncology Research at the UCLA School of Dentistry, Los Angeles, CA, USA, and Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of EZLife Bio, USA, Woodland Hills, CA, USA.


The EFIRM technology can also be used to monitor treatment and detect recurrence in patients already diagnosed with NSCLC.

Previously, the investigators had successfully measured two actionable EGFR mutations (p.L858R and Exon 19del) in blood samples from patients with late-stage NSCLC using EFIRM technology. In the current study, they investigated whether the mutations could be found in samples from patients with early-stage disease.


The researchers collected plasma samples from 248 patients with radiographically-determined pulmonary nodules. Of those, 44 were diagnosed with Stage I or Stage II NSCLC (23 with biopsy-proven benign pulmonary nodules and 21 with Stage I or Stage II adenocarcinoma). EFIRM was able to detect the p.L858R mutation in 11 of 12 samples and the Exon 19del mutation in seven of nine samples, resulting in greater than 90 percent sensitivity and 80 percent specificity.

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Guided by CRISPR, Prenatal Gene Editing Shows Proof-of-Concept in Treating Congenital Disease before Birth

Guided by CRISPR, Prenatal Gene Editing Shows Proof-of-Concept in Treating Congenital Disease before Birth | Amazing Science |

For the first time, scientists have performed prenatal gene editing to prevent a lethal metabolic disorder in laboratory animals, offering the potential to treat human congenital diseases before birth. Published today in Nature Medicine, research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and offers proof-of-concept for prenatal use of a sophisticated, low-toxicity tool that efficiently edits DNA building blocks in disease-causing genes.


Using both CRISPR-Cas9 and base editor 3 (BE3) gene-editing tools, the team reduced cholesterol levels in healthy mice treated in utero by targeting a gene that regulates those levels. They also used prenatal gene editing to improve liver function and prevent neonatal death in a subgroup of mice that had been engineered with a mutation causing the lethal liver disease hereditary tyrosinemia type 1 (HT1).


HT1 in humans usually appears during infancy, and it is often treatable with a medicine called nitisinone and a strict diet. However, when treatments fail, patients are at risk of liver failure or liver cancer. Prenatal treatment could open a door to disease prevention, for HT1 and potentially for other congenital disorders.


“Our ultimate goal is to translate the approach used in these proof-of-concept studies to treat severe diseases diagnosed early in pregnancy,” said study co-leader William H. Peranteau, MD, a pediatric and fetal surgeon in CHOP’s Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment. “We hope to broaden this strategy to intervene prenatally in congenital diseases that currently have no effective treatment for most patients, and result in death or severe complications in infants.”


“We used base editing to turn off the effects of a disease-causing genetic mutation,” said study co-leader Kiran Musunuru, MD, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Penn. “We also plan to use the same base-editing technique not just to disrupt a mutation’s effects, but to directly correct the mutation.” Musunuru is an expert in gene-editing technology and previously showed that it can be used to reduce cholesterol and fat levels in the blood, which could lead to the development of a “vaccination” to prevent cardiovascular disease.

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Cell-sized robots can sense their environment

Cell-sized robots can sense their environment | Amazing Science |

Researchers at MIT have created what may be the smallest robots yet that can sense their environment, store data, and even carry out computational tasks. These devices, which are about the size of a human egg cell, consist of tiny electronic circuits made of two-dimensional materials, piggybacking on minuscule particles called colloids.


Colloids, which insoluble particles or molecules anywhere from a billionth to a millionth of a meter across, are so small they can stay suspended indefinitely in a liquid or even in air. By coupling these tiny objects to complex circuitry, the researchers hope to lay the groundwork for devices that could be dispersed to carry out diagnostic journeys through anything from the human digestive system to oil and gas pipelines, or perhaps to waft through air to measure compounds inside a chemical processor or refinery.


“We wanted to figure out methods to graft complete, intact electronic circuits onto colloidal particles,” explains Michael Strano, the Carbon C. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and senior author of the study, which was published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. MIT postdoc Volodymyr Koman is the paper’s lead author.


“Colloids can access environments and travel in ways that other materials can’t,” Strano says. Dust particles, for example, can float indefinitely in the air because they are small enough that the random motions imparted by colliding air molecules are stronger than the pull of gravity. Similarly, colloids suspended in liquid will never settle out.

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Killer cell immunotherapy offers potential cure for advanced pancreatic cancer

Killer cell immunotherapy offers potential cure for advanced pancreatic cancer | Amazing Science |
A new approach to treating pancreatic cancer using 'educated killer cells' has shown promise, according to early research by Queen Mary University of London.


The new cell-based immunotherapy, which has not yet been tested in humans with pancreatic cancer, led to mice being completely cancer-free, including cancer cells that had already spread to the liver and lungs.


Each year around 9,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The disease is particularly aggressive and has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. This is because it is often diagnosed at a late and advanced stage, when the tumor has already spread to other organs.


In the study, published in the journal Gut, the team used pancreatic cancer cells from patients with late-stage disease, and transplanted them into mice. They then took the patients' immune cells and modified them to specifically identify and eliminate the cancer cells - creating 'educated killer cells', or CAR-T cells. And for the first time, the team introduced a new technology that allowed them to completely control the activity of CAR-T cells, making them potentially safer.


First author Dr Deepak Raj from Queen Mary University of London, said: "Immunotherapy using CAR-T cells has been tremendously successful in blood cancers, but unfortunately, there have been toxic side effects in its treatment of solid tumors. Given the dismal prognosis of pancreatic cancer with conventional treatments, it's vitally important that we develop safe and effective CAR-T cell therapies for solid tumors, such as pancreatic cancer. "Our work suggests that our new 'switchable' CAR-T cells could be administered to human patients with pancreatic cancer, and we could control their activity at a level that kills the tumor without toxic side effects to normal tissues."


The team's new 'switchable' CAR-T system means the treatment can be turned on and off, or have its activity changed to a desired level, making the therapy extremely safe and minimizing the side effects and improving the safety of the treatment. The activity of the treatment was controlled through administration or withdrawal of the 'switch' molecule within living mice, without affecting the ability of the treatment to kill the pancreatic cancers. The team now hopes to bring this promising therapy to the clinic.

Via Krishan Maggon
Omar Castro's curator insight, October 14, 11:11 PM
Reputation-The reputation of the article and where it comes from is a "claimed global source for science", the article itself comes from a university in London Queen Mary. 

Ability to see- This article has the ability to see due to the fact the University has documented its research and explains the capabilities the uses for the research
Vested interest- The article doesn't have a particular vested interest in explaining its research.

Expertise - When it comes to expertise the article covered are from scientist looking for a new approach in a University. 

Neutrality- This article leans toward the more optimistic view of the study instead of an analytical approach. So far this article from what is written is very hopeful in making this approach come to fruition.
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Novel design could help shed excess heat in next-generation fusion power plants

Novel design could help shed excess heat in next-generation fusion power plants | Amazing Science |

A class exercise at MIT, aided by industry researchers, has led to an innovative solution to one of the longstanding challenges facing the development of practical fusion power plants: how to get rid of excess heat that would cause structural damage to the plant.


The new solution was made possible by an innovative approach to compact fusion reactors, using high-temperature superconducting magnets. This method formed the basis for a massive new research program launched this year at MIT and the creation of an independent startup company to develop the concept. The new design, unlike that of typical fusion plants, would make it possible to open the device's internal chamber and replace critical components; this capability is essential for the newly proposed heat-draining mechanism.


The new approach is detailed in a paper in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design, authored by Adam Kuang, a graduate student from that class, along with 14 other MIT students, engineers from Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, and Professor Dennis Whyte, director of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center, who taught the class.


In essence, Whyte explains, the shedding of heat from inside a fusion plant can be compared to the exhaust system in a car. In the new design, the "exhaust pipe" is much longer and wider than is possible in any of today's fusion designs, making it much more effective at shedding the unwanted heat. But the engineering needed to make that possible required a great deal of complex analysis and the evaluation of many dozens of possible design alternatives.

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DNA Forensics: Even if you’ve never taken a DNA test, a distant relative’s could reveal your identity

DNA Forensics: Even if you’ve never taken a DNA test, a distant relative’s could reveal your identity | Amazing Science |

The genetic sleuthing approach that broke open the Golden State Killer case could potentially be used to identify more than half of Americans of European descent from anonymous DNA samples, according to a provocative new study that highlights the unintended privacy consequences of consumer genetic testing for ancestry and health.


The idea that people who voluntarily spit into a tube and share their genetic data online to search for relatives could unwittingly aid law enforcement was thrust into the spotlight recently. This spring, genetic genealogy helped California police identify a suspected serial killer and rapist in a grisly, decades-old cold case. But the new study, published in the journal Science, drives home the reality that that instance was not an outlier; a majority of Americans of European descent could be matched to a third cousin or closer using an open-access genetic genealogy database.


“Each individual in the database is like a beacon of genetic information, and this beacon illuminates hundreds of individuals — distant relatives connected to this person via their family tree,” said Yaniv Erlich, the chief science officer of the direct-to-consumer genetics company MyHeritage, who led the study.


Erlich and colleagues then showed how a match, combined with basic information such as age and a reconstructed family tree, could be used to figure out the identity of an anonymous person who participated in a research project. A separate study found that even the minimal DNA kept in law enforcement databases could be cross-referenced with consumer genetic data to identify relatives.


“This really brings us to the crossroads of where science and technology and law and policy and ethics meet,” said Frederick Bieber, a medical geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who consults with crime labs and public defenders’ offices. “Both of these papers are very important because they ... raise the issue that we, collectively, are beginning to face head-on: Where do our privacy expectations interfere with the natural social instinct for public safety?”


The public is overwhelmingly supportive of police searches of genetic websites to solve violent crimes, according to a recent survey published in PLOS Biology. Leading consumer genetics companies signed on to guidelines to be transparent about how people’s data is used, and many have policies that do not allow law enforcement to search their databases without explicit approval. The website commonly used in law enforcement cases, GEDmatch, is an open-access genetic genealogy database, and people must voluntarily decide to upload their genetic profile.

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Model helps robots to navigate more like humans do

Model helps robots to navigate more like humans do | Amazing Science |

When moving through a crowd to reach some end goal, humans can usually navigate the space safely without thinking too much. They can learn from the behavior of others and note any obstacles to avoid. Robots, on the other hand, struggle with such navigational concepts.


MIT researchers have now devised a way to help robots navigate environments more like humans do. Their novel motion-planning model lets robots determine how to reach a goal by exploring the environment, observing other agents, and exploiting what they've learned before in similar situations. A paper describing the model was presented at this week's IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS).


Popular motion-planning algorithms will create a tree of possible decisions that branches out until it finds good paths for navigation. A robot that needs to navigate a room to reach a door, for instance, will create a step-by-step search tree of possible movements and then execute the best path to the door, considering various constraints. One drawback, however, is these algorithms rarely learn: Robots can't leverage information about how they or other agents acted previously in similar environments.


"Just like when playing chess, these decisions branch out until [the robots] find a good way to navigate. But unlike chess players, [the robots] explore what the future looks like without learning much about their environment and other agents," says co-author Andrei Barbu, a researcher at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines (CBMM) within MIT's McGovern Institute. "The thousandth time they go through the same crowd is as complicated as the first time. They're always exploring, rarely observing, and never using what's happened in the past."


The researchers developed a model that combines a planning algorithm with a neural network that learns to recognize paths that could lead to the best outcome, and uses that knowledge to guide the robot's movement in an environment.


In their paper, "Deep sequential models for sampling-based planning," the researchers demonstrate the advantages of their model in two settings: navigating through challenging rooms with traps and narrow passages, and navigating areas while avoiding collisions with other agents. A promising real-world application is helping autonomous cars navigate intersections, where they have to quickly evaluate what others will do before merging into traffic. The researchers are currently pursuing such applications through the Toyota-CSAIL Joint Research Center.

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The experience of mathematical beauty and its neural correlates in the brain

The experience of mathematical beauty and its neural correlates in the brain | Amazing Science |

The beauty of mathematical formulas lies in abstracting, in simple equations, truths that have universal validity. Many—among them the mathematicians Bertrand Russell (1919) and Hermann Weyl (Dyson, 1956Atiyah, 2002), the physicist Paul Dirac (1939) and the art critic Clive Bell (1914)—have written of the importance of beauty in mathematical formulations and have compared the experience of mathematical beauty to that derived from the greatest art (Atiyah, 1973). Their descriptions suggest that the experience of mathematical beauty has much in common with that derived from other sources, even though mathematical beauty has a much deeper intellectual source than visual or musical beauty, which are more “sensible” and perceptually based. Past brain imaging studies exploring the neurobiology of beauty have shown that the experience of visual (Kawabata and Zeki, 2004), musical (Blood et al., 1999Ishizu and Zeki, 2011), and moral (Tsukiura and Cabeza, 2011) beauty all correlate with activity in a specific part of the emotional brain, field A1 of the medial orbito-frontal cortex, which probably includes segments of Brodmann Areas (BA) 10, 12 and 32 (see Ishizu and Zeki, 2011 for a review).


It is hypothesized that the experience of beauty derived from so abstract an intellectual source as mathematics will correlate with activity in the same part of the emotional brain as that of beauty derived from other sources. Plato (1929) thought that “nothing without understanding would ever be more beauteous than with understanding,” making mathematical beauty, for him, the highest form of beauty. The premium thus placed on the faculty of understanding when experiencing beauty creates both a problem and an opportunity for studying the neurobiology of beauty.


Several studies of the neurobiology of musical or visual beauty, in which participating subjects were neither experts nor trained in these domains, were recently performed. If the experience of mathematical beauty is not strictly related to understanding (of the equations), what can the source of mathematical beauty be? That is perhaps more difficult to account for in mathematics than in visual art or music. Whereas the source for the latter can be accounted for, at least theoretically, by preferred harmonies in nature or preferred distribution of forms or colors (see Bell, 1914Zeki and Stutters, 2011Zeki, 2013), it is more difficult to make such a correspondence in mathematics.


The Platonic tradition would emphasize that mathematical formulations are experienced as beautiful because they give insights into the fundamental structure of the universe (see Breitenbach, 2013). For Immanuel Kant, by contrast, the aesthetic experience is as well grounded in our own nature because, for him, “Aesthetic judgments may thus be regarded as expressions of our feeling that something makes sense to us” (Breitenbach, 2013). Dirac (1939) wrote: “the mathematician plays a game in which he himself invents the rules while the physicist plays a game in which the rules are provided by Nature, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly evident that the rules which the mathematician finds interesting are the same as those which Nature has chosen” and therefore that in the choice of new branches of mathematics, “One should be influenced very much… by considerations of mathematical beauty” (ellipsis added).


Several recent studies highlight further the extent to which even future mathematical formulations may, by being based on beauty, reveal something about our brain on the one hand, and about the extent to which our brain organization reveals something about our universe on the other.

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Never forget a face? Research suggests people know an average of 5,000 faces

Never forget a face? Research suggests people know an average of 5,000 faces | Amazing Science |

For the first time scientists have been able to put a figure on how many faces people actually know- a staggering 5,000 on average.


The research team, from the University of York, tested study participants on how many faces they could recall from their personal lives and the media, as well as the number of famous faces they recognized.


Humans have typically lived in small groups of around one hundred individuals, but the study suggests our facial recognition abilities equip us to deal with the thousands of faces we encounter in the modern world—on our screens as well as in social interactions.


The results provide a baseline with which to compare the "facial vocabulary" size of humans with facial recognition software that is increasingly used to identify people at airports and in police investigations.


Dr. Rob Jenkins, from the Department of Psychology at the University of York, said: "Our study focused on the number of faces people actually know- we haven't yet found a limit on how many faces the brain can handle.


"The ability to distinguish different individuals is clearly important—it allows you to keep track of people's behavior over time, and to modify your own behavior accordingly."

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What is directed evolution and why did it win the chemistry Nobel prize?

What is directed evolution and why did it win the chemistry Nobel prize? | Amazing Science |

The 2018 chemistry Nobel prize was awarded for putting the power of evolution into chemists’ hands. Frances Arnold was recognized for inventing directed enzyme evolution, while George Smith and Gregory Winter received the prize for discovering how to get bacteria to make proteins to order.

What is directed evolution and what does it have to do with chemistry?

Arnold herself summed it up nicely: ‘In directed evolution we provide a new niche in the laboratory, so to speak, and encourage evolution of enzymes to catalyze commercially useful reactions.’

Enzymes can speed up reactions dramatically while carrying out their work in water at room temperature. They are also really good at making one specific bond – without messing around with other functional groups – and are often enantio-selective too. So it’s easy to understand why chemists like using enzymes to catalyze reactions. However, many bonds chemists are interested in aren’t made by any natural enzyme. This is simply because organisms have never needed to evolve the ability to make, for example, carbon–silicon bonds.

How does it work? Can’t we just make new enzymes from scratch?

Although most enzymes are built from only 20 different amino acids, thousands of these protein building blocks can make up each enzyme. Apart from the synthesis challenge, knowing how to connect them to create a catalyst that will do something useful is incredibly difficult. This is why Arnold decided to abandon this approach and instead use nature’s sophisticated machinery that has even allowed bacteria to evolve to feed on synthetic compounds such as plastics.


Directed evolution starts off with an enzyme that has properties similar to the desired ones. In her earliest work, Arnold created an enzyme that cleaves peptide bonds in organic solvents. The natural protein only does this in water – in fact, organic solvents change its structure and stop it working. Arnold then introduced random changes – mutations – into the gene that encodes the peptide-cleaving enzyme. Different versions of the mutated gene were then inserted into bacteria that started churning out many, slightly different enzymes. Arnold then selected the bacteria whose enzymes worked best in organic solvents and subjected them to further rounds of test-tube evolution. After only three generations, an enzyme was created that worked 256 times better in organic solvents than the original type.

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A cartography of consciousness – researchers map where subjective feelings are located in the body

A cartography of consciousness – researchers map where subjective feelings are located in the body | Amazing Science |

“How do you feel?” is a simple and commonly asked question that belies the complex nature of our conscious experiences. The feelings and emotions we experience daily consist of bodily sensations, often accompanied by some kind of thought process, yet we still know very little about exactly how these different aspects relate to one another, or about how such experiences are organized in the brain.  


Now, reporting their results in PNAS, a team of researchers in Finland, led by neuroscientist Lauri Nummenmaa of the University of Turku, has produced detailed maps of what they call the “human feeling space”, showing how each of dozens of these subjective feelings is associated with a unique set of bodily sensations.


In 2014, Nummenmaa and his colleagues published bodily maps of emotions showing the distinct bodily sensations associated with six basic emotions, such as anger, fear, happiness and sadness, and seven complex emotional states, such as anxiety, love, pride, and shame. 


Building on this earlier work, for their new research they recruited 1,026 participants and asked them to complete an online survey designed to assess how they perceive 100 “core” subjective feelings, compiled from the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, ranging from homeostatic states such as hunger and thirst, to emotional states such as anger and pleasure, and cognitive functions such as imagining and remembering. 

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Study opens route to flexible electronics made from exotic materials

Study opens route to flexible electronics made from exotic materials | Amazing Science |

The vast majority of computing devices today are made from silicon, the second most abundant element on Earth, after oxygen. Silicon can be found in various forms in rocks, clay, sand, and soil. And while it is not the best semiconducting material that exists on the planet, it is by far the most readily available. As such, silicon is the dominant material used in most electronic devices, including sensors, solar cells, and the integrated circuits within our computers and smartphones.


Now MIT engineers have developed a technique to fabricate ultrathin semiconducting films made from a host of exotic materials other than silicon. To demonstrate their technique, the researchers fabricated flexible films made from gallium arsenide, gallium nitride, and lithium fluoride — materials that exhibit better performance than silicon but until now have been prohibitively expensive to produce in functional devices.


The new technique, researchers say, provides a cost-effective method to fabricate flexible electronics made from any combination of semiconducting elements, that could perform better than current silicon-based devices.


“We’ve opened up a way to make flexible electronics with so many different material systems, other than silicon,” says Jeehwan Kim, the Class of 1947 Career Development Associate Professor in the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering. Kim envisions the technique can be used to manufacture low-cost, high-performance devices such as flexible solar cells, and wearable computers and sensors.


Details of the new technique are reported today in Nature Materials.

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Smuggling a CRISPR gene editor into staph bacteria can kill the pathogen

Smuggling a CRISPR gene editor into staph bacteria can kill the pathogen | Amazing Science |

Bits of DNA that make bacteria dangerous can be co-opted to bring the microbes down instead. Stretches of DNA called pathogenicity islands can jump between bacteria strains, introducing new toxin-producing genes that usually make a strain more harmful.


Scientists have now modified pathogenicity islands by replacing the toxin-producing genes with genes that, in mice, disabled or killed Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. If the approach works for humans, it could offer an alternative to traditional antibiotics that could one day be used against deadly drug-resistant Staphylococcus strains, researchers report September 24 2018 in Nature Biotechnology.


Pathogenicity islands are already primed for such inside jobs: The stretches of DNA naturally get bundled into small parcels that can easily enter bacteria to deliver new genes. Researchers turned those parcels into Trojan horses of sorts, replacing the toxin-producing genes with sequences of the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9, which snips DNA in specific places.


In one version, the Cas9 cuts the staph DNA, killing the bacteria. In another, a modified version of CRISPR/Cas9 doesn’t make any cuts; instead, the Cas9 latches onto a gene that controls how dangerous staph bacteria are to make them less effective at causing infection.


Researchers tested these DNA-loaded parcels, which they refer to as “drones,” in mice. Both versions, when injected under mice’s skin, stopped the animals from developing an abscess. And the mice that received the bacteria-killing version survived a lethal injection of S. aureus in their body cavity.


The drone treatment is somewhat akin to phage therapy, an alternative to antibiotics where patients are given a cocktail of different bacteriophages, viruses that target bacteria. Phage therapy, often used against multidrug resistant infections, isn’t currently approved for use in the United States, but is common in Eastern Europe.


But the drone approach is simpler, says coauthor Richard Novick, a microbiologist at the New York University School of Medicine. For a phage to kill a cell, it needs to reproduce inside the cell. But with a drone, “all it has to do is express one gene, and that'll kill the bacteria.”

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Genetics research 'biased towards studying white Europeans'

Genetics research 'biased towards studying white Europeans' | Amazing Science |

In a recent study, published in Psychiatric Genetics, scientists found that a commonly used genetic test to predict schizophrenia risk gives scores that are 10 times higher in people with African ancestry than those with European ancestry. This is not because people with African ancestry actually have a higher risk of schizophrenia, but because the genetic markers used were derived almost entirely from studies of individuals of European ancestry.


“This means that in the UK today we can test a white British subject and tell them their risk of diabetes or schizophrenia, but if they are of a different ethnicity we cannot offer them the test,” the lead author of the study said. Such tests are not yet used clinically, but in the future they could help identify those at risk of health problems in order to provide preventive treatment. Beyond clinical settings, some predict that such tests could be used to gauge the academic potential of school pupils.


recent international inventory of more than 3,000 papers describing polygenic scores found that 78% of the sequences used in research had come from individuals of European ancestry, up from 76% between 2011 and 2016. Individuals of east Asian descent accounted for 9% of samples, and non-European and non-Asian groups combined accounted for less than 4%.


Ethnic minorities are also underrepresented in the UK Biobank, which is aiming to genotype 500,000 individuals. In comparison with population data from the 2011 census, black participants are underrepresented by a third (making up 1.6% versus 2.4% in the census), people of Indian and Chinese origin are underrepresented by more than a third and people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin by more than half. White British participants make up 94.6% of Biobank samples, compared to 91.3% of the general population.

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Whale songs evolve, but calls persist for several generations

Whale songs evolve, but calls persist for several generations | Amazing Science |

Since 1971, when Roger Payne and Scott McVay first described the “surprisingly beautiful sounds” made by humpback whales in the journal Science – at the same time inventing the term whale songs – people have been fascinated by the vocalizations of whales. Humpback whales were the first species known to have songs, and their songs remain the best studied today.


Male humpbacks sing, sometimes in unison, in warm equatorial waters during the mating season. The songs are eerie, haunting, and, in the course of a single season, they evolve. Meanwhile, the other sounds of whales – known as calls – don’t change, or at least don’t change very rapidly, according to a new study of humpback whales in southeastern Alaska. Instead, the new study shows, some whale calls, at least, are passed down across generations.

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