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A microfluidic biochip for blood cell counts at the point-of-care

A microfluidic biochip for blood cell counts at the point-of-care | Amazing Science |
Teams of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have demonstrated a biosensor capable of counting the blood cells electrically using only a drop of blood. The blood cell count is among the most ubiquitous diagnostic tests in primary health care. The gold standard routinely used in hospitals and testing laboratories is a hematology analyzer, which is large and expensive equipment, and requires trained technicians and physical sample transportation. It slows turn-around time, limits throughput in hospitals, and limits accessibility in resource-limited settings. Bashir and his team have developed a biosensor to count red blood cell, platelet, and white blood cell counts, and its 3-part differential at the point-of-care while using only 11 microL of blood.

The microfluidic device can electrically count the different types of blood cells based on their size and membrane properties. To count leukocyte and its differentials, red blood cells are selectively lysed and the remaining white blood cells were individually counted. The specific cells like neutrophils were counted using multi-frequency analysis, which probe the membrane properties of the cells. However, for red blood cells and platelets, 1 microL of whole blood is diluted with PBS on-chip and the cells are counted electrically. The total time for measurement is under 20 minutes. The report appears in the December 2015 issue of the journal TECHNOLOGY.

"Our biosensor exhibits the potential to improve patient care in a spectrum of settings. One of the compelling is in resource-limited settings where laboratory tests are often inaccessible due to cost, poor prevalence of laboratory facilities, and the difficulty of follow-up upon receiving results that take days to process," says Professor Rashid Bashir of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Principal Investigator on the paper.

There exists a huge potential to translate our biosensor commercially for blood cell counts applications," says Umer Hassan, Ph.D., the lead author on this paper. "The translation of our technology will result in minimal to no experience requirement for device operation. Even, patients can perform the test at the comfort of their home and share the results with their primary care physicians via electronic means too." "The technology is scalable and in future, we plan to apply it to many other potential applications in the areas of animal diagnostics, blood transfusion analysis, ER/ICU applications and blood cell counting for chemotherapy management" says Professor Bashir. The clinical trials of the biosensor are done in collaboration with Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana, IL.
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Time Unidirectionally Moving Forward Even In The Quantum World

Time Unidirectionally Moving Forward Even In The Quantum World | Amazing Science |
Physicists have proven that the laws of thermodynamics work in the quantum world. This discovery has huge implications for technologies currently being developed, such as quantum computers. 

Researchers created an experiment in which they showed the irreversibility of a quantum mechanical process. They created an isolated quantum system and measured the change in entropy – defined as a gradual decline into disorder – when applying an oscillating magnetic field. If the process was reversible, the entropy wouldn’t increase and move towards disorder, but in reality it does. The team link this finding to the concept of the arrow of time.

We don’t know why time passes. We think that the arrow of time has a direction due to the second law of thermodynamics. The law states that the entropy of the universe always increases, with the entropy being the level of disorder of a system. Basically, the second law says that you can’t perfectly put back together a broken vase. If we see a broken vase, we know that it was broken in the past. 

Quantum mechanics has so far avoided being affected by thermodynamics. Most of the quantum laws are perfectly symmetric in time. “Quantum vases” break apart and jump back together and both situations are perfectly allowed. But this experiment showed that thermodynamics affects the quantum world as well and that the arrow of time arises naturally from the fundamental laws of the universe. 

In the experiment, the scientists measured the entropy of a sample of liquid chloroform. The substance is useful because the spin of the nucleus of the hydrogen atom couples with the spin of the nucleus of the carbon atom. A variable magnetic field was applied to the system, and every time the magnetic field would reverse, the spin would flip. 

The changes in the magnetic field were so rapid that the spins stopped keeping up with it and they ceased being in equilibrium, letting the entropy of the system increase. 

The researchers think that the lack of equilibrium arises directly from the initial condition of the system. The laws of quantum mechanics always start with systems in perfect equilibrium, but creating such a system in reality is very difficult and all the processes we have observed so far are not truly in equilibrium. "Full and perfect reversibility is an abstraction that might be approximately achieved in very controlled situations," Mauro Paternostro, co-author of the study, told IFLScience.
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Robot locust can jump 11 feet high

Robot locust can jump 11 feet high | Amazing Science |

A locust-inspired miniature robot that can jump 3.35 meters (11 ft.), covering a distance of 1.37 meters (4.5 ft.) horizontally in one leap is designed to handle search-and-rescue and reconnaissance missions in rough terrain.

The new locust-inspired robot, dubbed “TAUB” (for “Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College”), is 12.7 cm (5 in.) long and weighs weighs 23 grams (less than one ounce). It was developed by Tel Aviv University and Ort Braude College researchers.

The ABS plastic body of the robot was 3D-printed, its legs are composed of stiff carbon rods, and its torsion springs of steel wire. A small on-board battery powers the robot, which is remotely controlled via an on-board microcontroller.

A locust catapults itself in a three-stage process. First, the legs are bent in the preparation stage. Then the legs are locked in place at the joint. Finally, a sudden release of the flexor muscle on the upper leg unlocks the joint and causes a rapid release of energy. This creates a fast-kicking movement of the legs that propels the locust into the air.

Like the locust, which uses stored mechanical energy to enhance the action of its leg muscles, the robot’s “high-jump” is due to its ability to store energy in its torsion springs.

The researchers are currently working on a gliding mechanism that will enable the robot to extend its jumping range, lower its landing impact, execute multiple steered jumps, and stabilize while airborne, expanding the possible field applications of the robot.

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A new transparent metal has been developed for smartphone and TV displays

A new transparent metal has been developed for smartphone and TV displays | Amazing Science |

A new type of metal that’s both highly transparent and electrically conductive has been developed by researchers in the US, and at less than 5 percent the cost of current displays, it could see far cheaper smartphones in our pockets and enormous 'smart windows' in our homes.

The problem with current displays is that they’re based on indium tin oxide (ITO), with more than 90 percent of the display market being wholly dependent on this material. And it’s by no means cheap. Over the past decade, the cost of ITO has jumped all over the place, from US$200/kg in 2004 to more than $1,000/kg in 2006, then back down to between $400 and $750/kg in recent years.

ITO can now contribute up 40 percent of the cost of a smartphone or tablet, and while the cost of memory chips and processors continues to drop, the materials we’re using to build our screens and displays is holding us back from developing bigger and better technologies.

So researchers at Pennsylvania State University have been working on something to replace indium tin oxide, and they say they’ve managed to match its optical transparency, electrical conductivity, and efficiency of manufacture in a strange new class of material called correlated metal.

Led by engineer Roman Engel-Herbert, the team developed 10-namometre-thick films of correlated metal, which are characterised by their unique molecular structure. While in most metals, such as copper, gold, silver, and aluminium, the electrons flow like a gas cloud, in correlated metals, they move more like a liquid, allowing the material to change phases depending on how it's used.

"We are trying to make metals transparent by changing the effective mass of their electrons," said Engel-Herbert. "We are doing this by choosing materials in which the electrostatic interaction between negatively charged electrons is very large compared to their kinetic energy. As a result of this strong electron correlation effect, electrons 'feel' each other and behave like a liquid rather than a gas of non-interacting particles."

Publishing in Nature Materials, the researchers describe how their material retains its conductivity while shifting phases when exposed to light. "When you shine light on it, it becomes less reflective, thus much more transparent," Engel-Herbert explains.

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Compound found to trigger innate immunity against viruses (Ebola, West Nile and other RNA viruses)

Compound found to trigger innate immunity against viruses (Ebola, West Nile and other RNA viruses) | Amazing Science |

Research from UW Medicine and collaborators indicates that a drug-like molecule can activate innate immunity and induce genes to control infection in a range of RNA viruses, including West Nile, dengue, hepatitis C, influenza A, respiratory syncytial, Nipah, Lassa and Ebola. 

The findings, published today in the Journal of Virology, show promising evidence for creating a broad-spectrum antiviral. “Our compound has an antiviral effect against all these viruses,” said Michael Gale Jr., University of Washington professor of immunology and director of the UW Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease.  The finding emerged from research by his lab in concert with scientists at Kineta Inc. and the University of Texas at Galveston.

Gale said he thinks the findings are the first to show that innate immunity can be triggered therapeutically through a  molecule present in all our cells, known as RIG-I. 

RIG-I is a cellular protein known as a pathogen recognition receptor. These receptors detect viral RNA and signal an innate immune response inside the cell that is essential for limiting and controlling viral infections. The signal induces the expression of many innate immune and antiviral genes and the production of antiviral gene products, pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines and interferons.

Such activation of the innate immune response to control viral infection has been tested successfully in cells and in mice.  Next steps would be to test dosing and stability in animal models and then in humans, a process that could take two to five years, Gale said. 

Currently, there are no known broad-spectrum antiviral drugs and few therapeutic options against infection by RNA viruses. RNA viruses pose a significant public health problem worldwide because their high mutation rate allows them to escape the immune response. They are a frequent cause of emerging and re-emerging viral infections. West Nile virus infections, for example, started in the United States in 2000 and remerged in 2012. The World Health Organization reports 50 million to 100 million new cases of dengue fever yearly and 22,000 deaths caused by the related dengue virus. Dengue is now present in the southern U.S. 

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Study links epigenetic processes to the development of brain circuitry

Study links epigenetic processes to the development of brain circuitry | Amazing Science |

From before birth through childhood, connections form between neurons in the brain, ultimately making us who we are. So far, scientists have gained a relatively good understanding of how neural circuits become established, but they know less about the genetic control at play during this crucial developmental process.

Now, a team led by researchers at The Rockefeller University has described for the first time the so-called epigenetic mechanisms underlying the development of the cerebellum, the portion of the brain that allows us to learn and execute complex movements. The term epigenetics refers to changes to DNA that influence how and when genes are expressed.

“Until now, nobody knew what genes control the steps needed to make the circuitry that in turn controls the behavior the cerebellum is famous for,” says Mary E. Hatten, Frederick P. Rose Professor and head of the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology. “Our study shows that pivotal changes in the levels of all epigenetic pathway genes are needed to form the circuits.” These epigenetic pathway genes modify chromatin, which is DNA packaged with protein. Alterations to chromatin are an important type of epigenetic change because they affect which genes are available for translation into proteins.

Further investigation revealed that one of these epigenetic regulators was specifically responsible for processes crucial to forming connections between these neurons and other parts of the brain and for the expression of ion channels that transmit signals across synapses, which are gaps between neurons.

Two developments in technology made the current study possible. The first, TRAP, was developed at Rockefeller. It enables researchers to map gene expression in specific types of neurons. Hatten’s team applied this method to identify the genes expressed in granule cells, one of the two cell types that make up the cerebellum, in the mouse brain from birth through adulthood. They focused on changes in gene expression 12 to 21 days after birth, since this is the main period during which the circuitry of the cerebellum is formed.

The second key method used in the study is metagene analysis, a mathematical model developed at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard that allows researchers to study large sets of genes and see changes in patterns that would be too difficult to interpret by looking at individual genes. Three investigators from Broad collaborated on the current study. “Using this analytical tool, we showed that during this crucial period of time in development, all the pathways that control the remodeling of chromatin changed,” Hatten says.


Role of Tet1/3 Genes and Chromatin Remodeling Genes in Cerebellar Circuit FormationNeuron 89, 1–13
Xiaodong Zhu, David Girardo, Eve-Ellen Govek, Keisha John, Marian Mellén, Pablo Tamayo, Jill P. Mesirov, and Mary E. Hatten

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Chandra finds remarkable ribbon of hot gas trailing behind a galaxy

Chandra finds remarkable ribbon of hot gas trailing behind a galaxy | Amazing Science |

An extraordinary ribbon of hot gas trailing behind a galaxy like a tail has been discovered using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This ribbon, or X-ray tail, is likely due to gas stripped from the galaxy as it moves through a vast cloud of hot intergalactic gas. With a length of at least 250,000 light years, it is likely the largest of such a tail ever detected.

The tail is located in the galaxy cluster Zwicky 8338, which is almost 700 million light years from Earth. The length of the tail is more than twice the diameter of the entire Milky Way galaxy. The tail contains gas at temperatures of about ten million degrees, about twenty million degrees cooler than the intergalactic gas, but still hot enough to glow brightly in X-rays that Chandra can detect.

The researchers think the tail was created as a galaxy known as CGCG254-021, or perhaps a group of galaxies dominated by this large galaxy, plowed through the hot gas in Zwicky 8338. The pressure exerted by this rapid motion caused gas to be stripped away from the galaxy.

Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity. They consist of hundreds, or even thousands, of galaxies, enormous pools of hot gas, and vast amounts of unseen dark matter. "Since galaxy clusters are so enormous, they play a critical role in understanding how our Universe evolves," said Gerrit Schellenberger of the University of Bonn in Germany, who led the study. "To understand galaxy clusters we need to understand how their galaxies change with time, and these X-ray tails provide an important element."

Images from Chandra and the NSF's Karl Jansky Very Large Array show that the galaxy CGCG254-021 appears to be moving towards the bottom of the image, with the tail following behind. There is a significant gap between the X-ray tail and the galaxy, the largest ever seen.

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Lakes around the world are rapidly warming

Lakes around the world are rapidly warming | Amazing Science |
Climate change is rapidly heating up lakes around the world, threatening freshwater supplies and ecosystems across the planet, according to a study spanning six continents.

More than 60 scientists took part in the research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and announced today at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

"Our knowledge of how lakes are responding to global change has been lacking," said Henry Gholz, program director in the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation, which funded the research. "That has made forecasting the future of lakes -- and the life and livelihoods they support -- very challenging. These newly reported trends are a wake-up call to scientists and citizens, including water resource managers and those who depend on freshwater fisheries."

The study found that lakes are warming an average of 0.61 degrees Fahrenheit each decade. That's greater than the warming rate of the oceans or the atmosphere, and it can have profound effects, the scientists say.

At the current rate, algal blooms, which ultimately rob water of oxygen, should increase by 20 percent over the next century. Some 5 percent of the blooms will be toxic to fish and animals.

Emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, will increase 4 percent over the next decade. "Lakes are important because society depends on surface water for the vast majority of human uses -- not just for drinking water, but manufacturing, energy production, irrigation and crops," said paper co-author Stephanie Hampton of Washington State University. "Protein from freshwater fish is especially important in the developing world."

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Mystery material stuns scientists

Mystery material stuns scientists | Amazing Science |

It's a UV light, semiconductor, sensor, superconductor, ferromagnet, optoelectronic device. Just add water.

In a remarkable chance landmark discovery, a team of researchers at four universities has discovered a mysterious material that emits ultraviolet light and has insulating, electrical conducting, semiconducting, superconducting, and ferromagnetic properties — all controlled by surface water. It happened while the researchers were studying a sample of lanthanum aluminate film on a strontinum titanate crystal. The sample mysteriously began to glow, emitting intense levels of ultraviolet light from its interior. After carefully reproducing the experimental conditions, they tracked down the unlikely switch that turns UV light on or off: surface water moisture.

The team of researchers from Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at Berkeley, and Temple University also found that the interface between the materials’ two layers of electrical insulators also had an unusual electrical conducting state that, like UV, could also be altered by the water on the surface. On top of that, the material also exhibited superconducting, ferromagnetic ordering, and photoconductive properties. Even weirder, “we can also make [the effects] stronger by increasing the distance between the molecules and surface and the buried interface, by using thicker films for example,” said Drexel College of Engineering Professor Jonathan E. Spanier.

Puzzled, the researchers turned to their theory collaborators on the team: Penn’s Andrew M. Rappe, Fenggong Wang, and Diomedes Saldana-Grego. “Dissociation of water fragments on the oxide surface releases electrons that move to the buried interface, cancelling out the ionic charges,” Wang said. “This puts all the light emission at the same energy, giving the observed sharp photoluminescence.”

According to Rappe, this is the first report of the introduction of molecules to the surface controlling the emission of light — of any color — from a buried solid-surface interface. “The mechanism of a molecule landing and reacting, called dissociative chemisorption, as a way of controlling the onset and suppression of light is unlike any other previously reported,” Saldana-Grego added. The team recently published its findings in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.

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MERS virus: Drying out the reservoir

MERS virus: Drying out the reservoir | Amazing Science |

The recently discovered coronavirus now referred to as MERS (for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) causes an infectious respiratory disease in humans, which can be fatal. The virus is thought to be transmitted to humans primarily via contact with dromedary camels. Now researchers led by virologist Gerd Sutter at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich, in collaboration with teams led by Professor Bart L. Haagmans of the Erasmus Medical Center (MC) in Rotterdam and Professor Albert Osterhaus of University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Foundation (TiHo), have successfully tested a candidate vaccine against MERS, in camels. "We have been able to show, for the first time, that our vaccine can significantly reduce the virus load in infected camels," says Sutter. The results of the trial appear in the latest issue of the journal "Science".

The new vaccine, MVA-MERS-S, was developed by Sutter and his team two years ago. In cooperation with researchers based at Philipps University in Marburg and the team in Rotterdam, he introduced a gene for the so-called spike protein of MERS into the genome of a weakened strain of poxvirus (MVA). The resulting modified poxvirus particles expressed the MERS protein on the surface of infected cells, and these engineered viruses form the basis of the new vaccine. Several preliminary data over the past two years have confirmed the immunogenicity and efficacy of MVA-MERS-S in mice. The scientists now describe the outcome of the first direct test of the vaccine in camels.

The MERS virus was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. To date, some 1400 cases of MERS have been reported, of which one-third proved fatal. Its primary hosts, however, are dromedary camels, as revealed by the detection of antiviral antibodies and the presence of MERS particles in the nasal cavity in infected animals. Although camels infected with the virus show relatively mild symptoms, all the evidence suggests that they can transmit the pathogen to humans, who can subsequently pass it on to others. Hence, vaccination of camels against MERS virus is an obvious method of choice for the prevention of human infections. Successful immunization would deprive the virus of its primary host and break the chain of transmission, effectively minimizing the risk of future MERS epidemics in human populations.

But the vaccine from Sutter's laboratory actually turns out to another advantage: "Immunization with MVA-MERS-S simultaneously protects camels from camelpox, a disease similar to smallpox in humans - which can be life-threatening in dromedaries," Bart L. Haagmans of the Erasmus Medical Center explains.

In camels infected with the MERS virus, symptoms of disease are confined to the upper respiratory tract. In the new study, the researchers infected a total of 8 camels. Half of these had been immunized, both intranasally and intramuscularly, with MVA-MERS-S three weeks prior to exposure to the virus. "In this group of animals, the vaccine had induced the development of sufficient amounts of antibodies to inhibit viral multiplication and prevent the appearance of disease symptoms upon infection," says Dr. Asisa Volz, a member of Prof. Sutter's group. In addition, anti-MERS antibodies were detected in both the nasal mucosa and in the bloodstream of immunized animals. The controls, on the other hand, which were injected with poxviruses particles lacking the S protein, exhibited the typical runny nose, and infectious virus was readily detectable in nasal secretions. "Our results clearly show that vaccination with MVA-MERS-S markedly reduces the numbers of viruses present in the nasal epithelia of camels," says Albert Osterhaus of the Universität der Veterinärmedizin, Hannover.

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Rocky Wolf 1061c Planet Sitting in the Habitable Zone of a Nearby Star

Rocky Wolf 1061c Planet Sitting in the Habitable Zone of a Nearby Star | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have discovered a rocky planet that sits perfectly in the habitable "Goldilocks" zone of a Sun-like star located just 14 light years away from Earth.

Just last month, astronomers from the Edinburgh University had found a planet-like object without any parent star about 75 light years away from Earth The new planet discovered, named Wolf 1061c, is about four times the size of Earth and is the nearest potentially habitable world, according to scientists. It has a rocky, solid surface which is usually considered to be necessary to support alien life. Presence of a planet in the "Goldilocks zone" makes the planet neither too hot nor too cold, meaning the planet could support life. Wolf 1061 lies in Ophiucus constellation and is the 35th closest star to Earth.

Lead researcher Dr Duncan Wright revealed in a statement that their team has actually found three planets revolving around a red dwarf star. These planets are of "low enough mass" and have a solid surface. Of these three planets, one is located very close to the star, while the other one lies too far out. The middle of these three planets, Wolf 1061c, "sits within the 'Goldilocks' zone where it might be possible for liquid water - and maybe even life - to exist."

Samuel Viana's curator insight, December 19, 2015 1:52 PM

Foi descoberto um potencial candidato de planeta habitável que orbita uma estrela anã vermelha "apenas" a 13 anos-luz da Terra.
Estima-se que o planeta se encontre na hipotética zona de habitabilidade da estrela.

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Asteroid impact helped create the birds we know today

Asteroid impact helped create the birds we know today | Amazing Science |

Modern birds originated in Southern Hemisphere about 95 million years ago.

Modern birds, a group called Neornithes are the most diverse and widespread vertebrates on Earth today. Previous studies that used only information from genetic analyses of current species have suggested that birds arose anywhere from 72 million to 170 million years ago. But the new study, which includes anatomical data extinct species preserved in the fossil record, narrows that window considerably, says Joel Cracraft, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

He and museum colleague Santiago Claramunt, also an ornithologist, didn’t include well-known ancient birds such as Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis, which belonged to lineages that eventually died out. They only looked at species that belonged to the three major groups of birds alive today: Palaeognathae (ostriches and their close relatives), Galloanseres (waterfowl, pheasants, and their close kin), and Neoaves (all other birds).

The team’s genetic information came from analyses of two particular genes from 230 species representing all major subgroups of modern birds. (Mutations in those genes, which are related to basic biochemical processes that take place in all cells, helped the researchers estimate when those groups arose or diverged from their closest relatives, Cracraft says.) Anatomical data from 130 extinct species that had once lived worldwide helped the team figure out when and where those groups originated, as well as how quickly they evolved.

The results suggest that the last common ancestor of all modern birds—in other words, the species at the base of the evolutionary family tree that includes all living bird species—lived in West Gondwana, a landmass that included what are now fragments of South America and large portions of Antarctica, about 95 million years ago. What’s more, all three major groups—Palaeognathae, Galloanseres, and Neoaves—had already arisen by the time the dino-killing asteroid smacked our planet 66 million years ago, the researchers report online today inScience Advances. So although the resulting die-offs may not have triggered the original diversification of birds, by eliminating many ecological competitors, the extinction provided opportunities for survivors to diversify and spread, Cracraft says.

In eras since the asteroid impact, changes in global climate significantly affected how quickly new species evolved, the researchers found. When global climate cooled, areas experiencing what are today considered tropical conditions shrank back toward the equator, and the net rate of species appearance (the number of new species that evolved minus the number that went extinct) increased. When global warmth returned, those newly minted species could then spread worldwide—as long as they didn’t run into gaps between continents too big for them to fly across. Birds stuck on landmasses that had drifted into isolation due to the long-term movement of Earth's tectonic plates, such as Australia and New Zealand, were consigned to evolve in isolation.

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“Kill switches” could make it safer to put engineered microbes to work outside the lab

“Kill switches” could make it safer to put engineered microbes to work outside the lab | Amazing Science |

Many research teams are developing genetically modified bacteria that could one day travel around parts of the human body, diagnosing and even treating infection. The bugs could also be used to monitor toxins in rivers or to improve crop fertilization.

However, before such bacteria can be safely let loose, scientists will need to find a way to prevent them from escaping into the wider environment, where they might grow and cause harm. To this end, researchers at MIT, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the Wyss Institute at Harvard University have developed safeguards in the form of two so-called “kill switches,” which can cause the synthetic bacteria to die without the presence of certain chemicals.

In a paper published this week in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, the researchers describe their two kill switches, which they call “Deadman” and “Passcode.”

There have been a number of attempts to develop kill switches over the past year, according to James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), who led the research. These include efforts to reprogram the entire genome of the organism to ensure that it requires the presence of certain amino acids or other chemicals in order to survive, divide, and grow.

However, this approach can be both labor- and resource-intensive, and could introduce changes that might make the organism less useful as a monitoring or diagnostic tool, Collins says. “In our case, we are introducing standalone circuits that can be popped in to any number of different organisms, without needing to rewire or change much of the genome in order for it to accommodate the switch,” he says.

The Deadman switch, for example, is part of a bacterial strain that needs an external chemical to prevent a continuously expressed toxin from killing the cell. The switch was motivated by the so-called deadman brakes on old trains, which required a conductor to be in constant contact with the handle or pedal in order for the vehicle to move forwards, Collins says.

The system, which builds on previous work in Collin’s lab, consists of a genetic “toggle” switch made up of two transcription factor genes. The switch can flip between two states, in which either one of the two transcription factor genes is turned on. The researchers altered the expression of these two transcription factors, leading to strong expression for one gene and weak expression for the other.

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Researchers create technology to harness the electrical energy from algae

Researchers create technology to harness the electrical energy from algae | Amazing Science |

To limit climate change, experts say that we need to reach carbon neutrality by the end of this century at the latest. To achieve that goal, our dependence on fossil fuels must be reversed. But what energy source will take its place? Researchers from Concordia University in Montreal just might have the answer: algae.

In a study published in the journal Technology, a team led by Concordia engineering professor Muthukumaran Packirisamy describe their invention: a power cell that harnesses electrical energy from the photosynthesis and respiration of blue-green algae.

Why plants? Because the energy is already there. “Both photosynthesis and respiration, which take place in plants cells, involve electron transfer chains. By trapping the electrons released by blue-green algae during photosynthesis and respiration, we can harness the electrical energy they produce naturally,” says Packirisamy, whose research is funded in part by theNatural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Why blue-green algae? Because it’s everywhere. Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae are the most prosperous microorganisms on earth, evolutionarily speaking. They occupy a broad range of habitats across all latitudes. And they’ve been here forever: the planet's early fauna and flora owe their makeup to cyanobacteria, which produced the oxygen that ultimately allowed higher life forms to flourish.

“By taking advantage of a process that is constantly occurring all over the world, we’ve created a new and scalable technology that could lead to cheaper ways of generating carbon-free energy,” says Packirisamy.

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New technology makes metal wires on solar cells nearly invisible to light

New technology makes metal wires on solar cells nearly invisible to light | Amazing Science |
A solar cell is basically a semiconductor, which converts sunlight into electricity, sandwiched between metal contacts that carry the electrical current.

But this widely used design has a flaw: The shiny metal on top of the cell actually reflects sunlight away from the semiconductor where electricity is produced, reducing the cell's efficiency. Now, Stanford University scientists have discovered how to hide the reflective upper contact and funnel light directly to the semiconductor below. Their findings, published in the journal ACS Nano, could lead to a new paradigm in the design and fabrication of solar cells.

"Using nanotechnology, we have developed a novel way to make the upper metal contact nearly invisible to incoming light," said study lead author Vijay Narasimhan, who conducted the work as a graduate student at Stanford. "Our new technique could significantly improve the efficiency and thereby lower the cost of solar cells."

In most solar cells, the upper contact consists of a metal wire grid that carries electricity to or from the device. But these wires also prevent sunlight from reaching the semiconductor, which is usually made of silicon. "The more metal you have on the surface, the more light you block," said study co-author Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. "That light is then lost and cannot be converted to electricity."

Metal contacts, therefore, "face a seemingly irreconcilable tradeoff between electrical conductivity and optical transparency," Narasimhan added. "But the nanostructure we created eliminates that tradeoff."

For the study, the Stanford team placed a 16-nanometer-thick film of gold on a flat sheet of silicon. The gold film was riddled with an array of nanosized square holes, but to the eye, the surface looked like a shiny, gold mirror.

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Hyperloop Technologies To Test Elon Musk's Conceived Ultra-Fast Transport System

Hyperloop Technologies To Test Elon Musk's Conceived Ultra-Fast Transport System | Amazing Science |

Conceived by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, the Hyperloop is an incredibly futuristic transportation system that could potentially function at the speed of sound. To bring the concept to life, Hyperloop Technologies, one of the several companies currently working on the idea, has revealed plans to begin testing its innovative propulsion technology in Nevada next month, with the goal of attaining speeds of nearly 700 mph (around 1,126 km/h) by the end of next year.

In a 57-page presentation, held in August, 2013, Elon Musk first talked about the Hyperloop, a high speed transport concept that could potentially carry passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than 30 minutes. The system is based on the use of near-vacuum tubes to propel pods, levitated with the help of magnets and containing people or cargo, at nearly the speed of sound. To test such a system, Hyperloop Technologies has chosen Nevada’s Apex Industrial Park as its first test location.

Steve Hill, the Director of the Governer’s Office of Economoic Development in Nevada, said: Hyperloop Tech is a cutting-edge company focused on changing the way the world views transportation, and we could not be more excited about the role the state of Nevada is going to play in this first phase of testing.

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Researchers Report Possibility of Using Unused Human Pancreata to Build New Organs

Researchers Report Possibility of Using Unused Human Pancreata to Build New Organs | Amazing Science |

Researchers have been working for years to develop an artificial pancreas in the lab to help the millions of people with type 1 diabetes. But what if the answer is to “recycle” the more than 300 human pancreata from organ donors that aren’t currently being used? Online ahead of print in the Annals of Surgery, regenerative medicine researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine and colleagues report on the potential to use human pancreata as the “hardware” of a new-generation, bio-artificial pancreas. The pancreas is a large gland near the stomach that secretes insulin to regulate the metabolism of glucose and other nutrients.

Currently, about 25 percent of the approximately 1,300 pancreata recovered for transplant cannot be used due to defects and other reasons. “We see these unused organs as potential ‘hardware.” The ‘software’ would be the patient’s own cells, so that there would be no issues with rejection,” said lead author Giuseppe Orlando, M.D., Ph.D., a transplant surgeon and regenerative medicine researcher. “We believe this research represents the first critical step toward a fully human-derived artificial pancreas.”

Currently, most patients who have type 1 diabetes must take injections of insulin because their bodies do not produce insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Other options, such as a pancreas transplant or transplant of insulin-producing islet cells are rarely offered due to the lack of suitable pancreas donors and the toxic effects of anti-rejection drugs. In the U.S., for every 10,000 patients with type 1 diabetes, only three will receive a pancreas transplant or islet transplant in their lifetime, according to the authors.

The goal of the research was to test the suitability of pancreata from organ donors as a platform for building a new bio-artificial pancreas. First, the discarded organs were washed in a mild detergent to remove all cells, a process that is known as decellularization. A similar procedure is being used by Wake Forest Baptist regenerative medicine researchers in efforts to engineer human kidneys, livers and intestine.

The goal of both projects is to develop a new, potentially inexhaustible source of organs that would not require patients to take powerful anti-rejection drugs. The idea is based on evidence that the decellularized organs contain proteins and other substances that play a vital role in the survival, welfare and function of the organ’s cells. 

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Blood sample RNA test of platelets presents a new way of detecting cancer

Blood sample RNA test of platelets presents a new way of detecting cancer | Amazing Science |
A new RNA test of blood platelets can be used to detect, classify and pinpoint the location of cancer by analysing a sample equivalent to one drop of blood. Using this new method for blood-based RNA tests of blood platelets, researchers have been able to identify cancer with 96 per cent accuracy and classifying the type of cancer at an accuracy of 71 per cent. This according to a study at Umeå University that has recently been published in the journal Cancer Cell.

“Being able to detect cancer at an early stage is vital. We have studied how a whole new blood-based method of biopsy can be used to detect cancer, which in the future renders an invasive cell tissue sample unnecessary in diagnosing lung cancer, for instance. In the study, nearly all forms of cancer were identified, which proves that blood-based biopsies have an immense potential to improve early detection of cancer,” according to Jonas Nilsson, cancer researcher at Umeå University and co-author of the article.

In the study, researchers from Umeå University, in collaborations with researchers from the Netherlands and the US, have investigated how a new method of blood-based RNA tests of the part of the blood called platelets could be used in detecting and classifying cancer. The results show that blood platelets could constitute a complete and easily accessible blood-based source for sampling and hence be used in diagnosing cancer as well as in the choice of treatment method.

Blood samples from 283 individuals were studied of which 228 people had some form of cancer and 55 showed no evidence of cancer. By comparing the blood samples RNA profiles, researchers could identify the presence of cancer with an accuracy of 96 per cent among patients. Among the 39 patients in the study in which an early detection of cancer had been made, 100 per cent of the cases could be identified and classified.

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Bitcoin's technology may transform banking

Bitcoin's technology may transform banking | Amazing Science |
The technology that drives the shadowy cryptocurrency bitcoin is drawing interest from the established banking industry, which sees a potential to revolutionize the sector.

Although bitcoin and related virtual currencies are limited to a small set of transactions and are often associated with the underground economy, the so-called blockchain technology is gaining currency in the financial world. A blockchain is essentially a shared, encrypted "ledger" that cannot be manipulated, offering promise for secure transactions that allow anyone to get an accurate accounting of money, property or other assets.

"The blockchain, which is the technology behind the encryption and e-certification, that is a technology which might very well be very useful," said Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase at a conference earlier this year.

Leah Gerstner, a vice president for public affairs at American Express, said the financial group made its first investment in a digital currency company called Abra "as a way to get a better understanding of blockchain technology and explore its potential."

Gerstner told AFP that "we believe blockchain technology is playing an important role." The use of blockchain began in 2009 with the introduction of bitcoin and other virtual currencies that are generated by complex chains of interactions among a huge network of computers around the planet, and are not backed by any government or central bank, unlike traditional currencies.

The blockchain offers potential to the traditional finance sector due to its ease of transaction with verification from any point on the platform. "You can imagine a number of potential use cases for this technology in financial services across both business-to-consumer and business-to-business transactions—from international money transfers to stored value," Gerstner said.

The Linux Foundation recently announced a new collaborative "Open Ledger" project to advance blockchain technology, teaming with tech firms such as IBM and Intel, stock exchanges and major banks including Wells Fargo and Mitsubishi UFJ.

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Artificial Intelligence as a Supplement to the Human Immune System

Artificial Intelligence as a Supplement to the Human Immune System | Amazing Science |

The human immune system is a protective force honed by millions of years of evolution to provide a broad, yet thorough opposition to entities that harm the human body. It is capable of responding to microscopic antagonists such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites quickly enough to prevent the body from being overwhelmed, while tailoring its approach to maximize the effectiveness of the response. It is also capable of recognizing malfunctions within its own forces by locating faulty cells and taking the appropriate actions to fix the problem or simply eliminate the cells through apoptosis. This impressive range and power is due to the two-part structure of the immune system, which separates the strategy into 2 segments called innate and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is responsible for the very rapid response seen after the onset of infections, and runs on pattern recognition found in microorganisms. However, it cannot mount attacks on lone compounds such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, which may be byproducts of an infection.

It also has difficulty due to the evasive nature and highly evolved defensive mechanisms that microscopic agents have developed in the evolutionary battle between them and the human body. This is where the highly specific and flexible adaptive immune system comes in. While it takes longer to kick into action than the innate immune system, the adaptive branch has a very wide “library” of antigen1 receptors with great specificity, and has methods of “learning” from encounters with the antigens it encounters. It has mechanisms of tailoring its specificity to its targets and upon later encounters with the same antigen, mounts a stronger and faster response (Abbas & Lichtman, 2011). Most of the time this two-fold system does a remarkable job of covering any antagonists it encounters.

There are cases in which this system is lacking, or is simply unable to mount an effective response. Some microscopic foes have developed ways of incapacitating the system through hijacking the “police force” itself such as the notorious HIV virus, which attacks the T-cell subsection of the adaptive immune system. Occasionally the human body is its own enemy, as is seen in cancers. While the immune system is capable of identifying and attacking rogue human cells, the antigens can be difficult to identify due to their human origin and the cancers’ own evasive mechanisms.  By the time one’s body is ready to mount a defense, the number of cancerous cells is too great to overcome. Finally, the process of aging affects the effectiveness of the immune system, decreasing the quantity and quality of the cells present to protect the human body. The failure of this protective force leads to a greater susceptibility to opportunistic infections, and can lead to death from infections that would be successfully countered at a younger age.

These failings of the biological protective force lend themselves to an inorganic solution; a supplementary “immune system” made up of microscopic machines that lack the limitations inherent in all organic life forms.  The question is then how to train this inorganic squadron to be an effective and up-to-date force against possible antagonistic encounters. A potential solution is to have an AI system be the “brains” behind the approach these nanomachines take. In a way AI is a good match because like an immune system, it requires no higher consciousness and runs on a set of rules; genes in the case of the biological system and algorithms on the part of AI. This AI can be learn as it goes, becoming progressively better in its response with the experience it gains. This mirrors the adaptive immune system, as opposed to the innate immune system. With successful training, an AI with nanobots acting as its proxy would work well to enhance the human body’s response to cancer, HIV, and age-related immune decline.

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Pulsed laser light turns whole-brain activity on and off

Pulsed laser light turns whole-brain activity on and off | Amazing Science |

By flashing high-frequency (40 to 100 pulses per second) optogenetic lasers at the brain’s thalamus, scientists were able to wake up sleeping rats and cause widespread brain activity. In contrast, flashing the laser at 10 pulses per second suppressed the activity of the brain’s sensory cortex and caused rats to enter a seizure-like state of unconsciousness.

“We hope to use this knowledge to develop better treatments for brain injuries and other neurological disorders,” said Jin Hyung Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and bioengineering at Stanford University, and a senior author of the study, published in the open-access journal eLIFE.

Located deep inside the brain, the thalamus regulates arousal, acting as a relay station to the cortex for neural signals from the body. Damage to neurons in the central part of the thalamus may lead to problems with sleep, attention, and memory.*

The observations used a combination of optogenetics and whole-brain functional MRI (fMRI) — known as “ofMRI” — to detect overall effects on the brain, along with EEG and single-unit cell recordings.The researchers noted in the paper that “using targeted, temporally precise optogenetic stimulation in the current study allowed us to selectively excite a single group of neuronal elements and identify their specific role in creating distinct modes of network function.” That could not be achieved with conventional electrode stimulation, the researchers say.

They explain that this method may allow for direct-brain stimulation (DBS) therapeutic methods to be optimized in the clinic “for a wide range of neurological disorders that currently lack such treatment.” “This study takes a big step towards understanding the brain circuitry that controls sleep and arousal,” Yejun (Janet) He, Ph.D., program director at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which partially funded the study.

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Prime-boost concept for H7N9 influenza vaccine shows promise in clinical trial

Prime-boost concept for H7N9 influenza vaccine shows promise in clinical trial | Amazing Science |

In clinical trials, several candidate H7N9 pandemic influenza vaccines made from inactivated viruses have been shown to be safe and to generate an immune response. However, scientists believe for practical use, these potential vaccines would require multiple doses or the addition of adjuvants, which enhance the immune response. With hopes of making one dose of an inactivated H7N9 vaccine fully protective, scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) successfully tested a prime-boost concept in a small clinical trial. The 'primer' pandemic influenza vaccine -- made from live but weakened virus -- introduces the immune system to H7N9 influenza virus, and subsequent vaccination with the 'booster' inactivated virus vaccine recalls a more robust immune response.

H7N9 influenza emerged in spring 2013 in China, primarily affecting people who have close contact with poultry. Through Nov. 13, 2015, the World Health Organization has reported 681 confirmed cases with at least 275 deaths. H7N9 influenza has not been found in the United States.

The study, which appears in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, included 65 volunteers, 48 aged 18-49 years and 17 aged 50-70 years. Studies of live pandemic influenza vaccines in the older group had not been done before and are important because that is the age group most susceptible to severe disease from H7N9 influenza. Clinical researchers at the University of Rochester administered the vaccines and monitored volunteers. MedImmune, a Maryland company, created the live attenuated candidate H7N9 vaccine as part of a cooperative research and development agreement with NIAID. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority of the Department of Health and Human Services also supported the study.

Scientists designed the H7N9 clinical study after similar trials with other pandemic influenza viruses. Volunteers received either one or two doses of the candidate live attenuated vaccine and then 12 weeks later received an inactivated H7N9 vaccine, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur (Swiftwater, Pennsylvania). The live attenuated vaccine primer created strong immune memory in both age groups, regardless of whether volunteers received one or two doses. Both vaccines were well tolerated.

Whether the live-virus vaccine used alone would provide protection without the inactivated vaccine boost remains a question. Scientists do know, however, that live-attenuated influenza vaccines developed against H5N1, H7N7, and now H7N9 generate long-lasting immunity that is rapidly recalled by a dose of inactivated vaccine.

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LHC sees hint of boson heavier than Higgs (750 GeV)

LHC sees hint of boson heavier than Higgs (750 GeV) | Amazing Science |
Tantalizing results from upgraded collider will be followed up within a year.

The two experiments that discovered the Higgs boson in 2012 have sensed an intriguing — if very preliminary — whiff of a possible new elementary particle. Both collaborations announced their observations on 15 December, as they released their first significant results since a major upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) outside Geneva, Switzerland, was completed earlier this year.

The results largely match a rumour that has been circulating on social media and blogs for several days: that both the CMS and ATLAS detectors at the LHC have seen an unexpected excess of pairs of photons, together carrying around 750 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) of energy, in the debris of their proton–proton collisions. This could be a tell-tale sign of a new particle — also a boson, but not necessarily similar to the Higgs — decaying into two photons of equal mass. If so, the particle would be about four times more massive than the next heaviest particle discovered so far, the top quark, and six times more massive than the Higgs.

In their talks at CERN — the laboratory that hosts the LHC — the speakers for the two experiments took turns in surveying the results of the higher-energy, 'run 2' of experiments, which began in June and was suspended in early November. Both speakers left the results on photon pairs for the end of their talks.

In both cases, the statistical significances were very low. Marumi Kado of the Linear Accelerator Laboratory at the University of Paris-Sud said that his experiment, ATLAS, had detected about 40 more pairs of photons than would have been expected from the predictions of the standard model of particle physics. Jim Olsen of Princeton University in New Jersey reported that CMS saw merely ten. Neither team would have mentioned the excesses had the other experiment had not seen an almost identical hint. “It is a little intriguing,” says ATLAS spokesperson Dave Charlton of the University of Birmingham, UK. “But it can happen by coincidence.”

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Ceres has subsurface water, salt rich white spots, and was likely formed in outer Solar System

Ceres has subsurface water, salt rich white spots, and was likely formed in outer Solar System | Amazing Science |

At a distance from the sun that is three times that of the Earth (2.8AU), the dwarf planet Ceres is the asteroid belt’s largest object, and the subject of two back-to-back studies published today in Nature.

Until now, efforts to elucidate the identity of minerals on the surface of Ceres were precluded by the inability to observe telluric absorption bands (which occur in the wavelength region 2.5-2.9 micrometers) using ground-based and orbital-telescopes.

In the first study, researchers from Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali in Rome and colleagues acquired novel spectral data in the submicron range (0.4 to 5 micrometers) of the asteroid using the Visible-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer on the Dawn spacecraft, at distances between 4,300 and 82,000 kilometers from the surface of Ceres.

Previous ground-based spectra suggested that water ice, hydrated or NH4-bearing clays and brucite, as well as ammoniated mineral species, could account for Ceres’ 3.05-3.1 micrometer spectral band.

The best fit of Ceres’ spectrum, however, was obtained by supplementing magnetite, antigorite and carbonate with ammoniated phyllosilicates, inferring that this type of mineral indeed composed the Ceres’ surface. Additionally, researchers further postulates that ammonia may have incorporated into Ceres’ clays during its formation.

Since ammonia ice is only stable at very cold temperatures characteristic of the outer Solar System, this suggested that Ceres formed either outside of the Solar System, or that small objects were transported from that region and incorporated the main asteroid belt.

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Scientists have figured out what we need to achieve secure quantum teleportation

Scientists have figured out what we need to achieve secure quantum teleportation | Amazing Science |

"We've got this."

For the first time, researchers have demonstrated the precise requirements for secure quantum teleportation – and it involves a phenomenon known 'quantum steering', first proposed by Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger.

Before you get too excited, no, this doesn't mean we can now teleport humans like they do on Star Trek. Instead, this research will allow people to use quantum entanglement to send information across large distances without anyone else being able to eavesdrop. Which is almost as cool, because this is how we'll form the un-hackable communication networks of the future.

Quantum teleportation isn't new in itself. Researchers have already had a lot of success quantum teleporting information over 100 km of fiber. But there's a slight issue – the quantum message was getting to the other end kinda incoherent, and scientists haven't exactly known what to do to prevent that from happening, until now. 

"Teleportation works like a sophisticated fax machine, where a quantum state is transported from one location to another," said one of the researchers, Margaret Reid, from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. "Let’s say 'Alice' begins the process by performing operations on the quantum state – something that encodes the state of a system – at her station. Based on the outcomes of her operations, she communicates (by telephone or public Internet) to 'Bob' at a distant location, who is then able to create a replica of the quantum state," she explains.

"The problem is that unless special requirements are satisfied, quantum mechanics demands that the state at Bob’s end will be 'fuzzed up'." The researchers have now shown that to avoid this, Alice and Bob (or anyone else who wants to send an entangled message) need to use a special form of quantum entanglement known as 'Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen steering'.

"Only then can the quality of the transported state be perfect," said Reid. "The beauty is that quantum mechanics guarantees that a perfect state can only be transported to one receiver. Any second 'eavesdropper' will get a fuzzy version." Basically, in this quantum steering state, the measurement of one entangled particle can have an immediate 'steering' effect on the state of another distant particle.

The researchers will continue to investigate this phenomenon to figure out how it can be used to more reliably communicate using quantum entanglement.

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