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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Researchers cross a critical threshold in optical communications

Researchers cross a critical threshold in optical communications | Amazing Science |
Researchers from Lehigh University, Japan and Canada have advanced a step closer to the dream of all-optical data transmission by building and demonstrating what they call the 'world's first fully functioning single crystal waveguide in glass.'

In an article published in Scientific Reports, a Nature publication, the group said it had employed ultrafast femtosecond lasers to produce a three-dimensional single crystal capable of guiding light waves through glass with little loss of light. The article, published May 19, is titled "Direct laser-writing of ferroelectric single-crystal waveguide architectures in glass for 3D integrated optics."

The article's lead author, Adam Stone, received his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Lehigh in 2014. The coauthors are Himanshu Jain, professor of materials science and engineering, and Volkmar Dierolf, professor of physics, both at Lehigh, and researchers from Kyoto University in Japan and Polytechnique Montreal in Canada.

The group says its achievement will boost ongoing efforts to develop photonic integrated circuits (PICs) that are smaller, cheaper, more energy-efficient and more reliable than current networks that use discrete optoelectronic components—waveguides, splitters, modulators, filters, amplifiers—to transport optical signals.

"A major trend in optics," the researchers write, "has been a drive toward...replacing systems of large discrete components that provide individual functions with compact and multifunctional PICs, in much the same way that integration of electronics has driven the impressive advances of modern computer systems."

To make this transition, however, improved methods of fabricating 3D PICs are needed, the researchers say. "The methods currently employed for fabricating PICs are photolithographic and other processes suitable for planar geometries," the researchers write. "3D PIC fabrication techniques would enable a much higher density of components and much more compact devices, while at the same time creating opportunities for new technologies such as high density 3D optical memory."

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Global Diabetes Rates Are Rising as Obesity Spreads

Global Diabetes Rates Are Rising as Obesity Spreads | Amazing Science |

The global diabetes rate has risen by nearly half over the past two decades, according to a new study, as obesity and the health problems it spawns have taken hold across the developing world. The prevalence of diabetes has been rising in rich countries for several decades, largely driven by increases in the rate of obesity. More recently, poorer countries have begun to follow the trend, with major increases in countries like China, Mexico and India. The study, published Monday in the British medical journal The Lancet, reported a 45 percent rise in the prevalence of diabetes worldwide from 1990 to 2013. Nearly all the rise was in Type 2, which is usually related to obesity and is the most common form of the disease.

A major shift is underway in the developing world, in which deaths from communicable diseases like malaria and tuberculosis have declined sharply, and chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes are on the rise. The pattern is linked to economic improvement and more people living longer, but it has left governments in developing countries scrambling to deal with new and often more expensive ways to treat illnesses.

The study, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research group, was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is the largest analysis of global disability data to date, drawing on more than 35,000 data sources in 188 countries. The study measured the burden of disability by calculating the proportion of a population living with any given disorder in a year. It found that the numbers of people living with disability have gone up — largely a result of population growth and aging — but that the rate of disability declined slightly, dropping to 110 per 1,000 people in 2013, compared with 114 per 1,000 in 1990.

Nor had the top-ranking disabilities changed much. The top five werelower back painmajor depressioniron deficiency anemianeck pain, andhearing loss from aging. In a stark illustration of the decline of infectious diseases in many countries, diarrheal diseases fell to 25th place from 15th. But diabetes increased as a share of the overall burden of disability, moving to No. 7 in 2013 from No. 10 in 1990.

China helped drive the rise in the global toll of diabetes. The prevalence of the disease there increased by about 56 percent over the period of the study. But it was not the country with the largest rise. In the United States, the rate increased by 71 percent, and in Saudi Arabia by 60 percent. In Mexico it rose by 52 percent.

Saudi Arabia led the pack in terms of overall prevalence with 17,817 cases per 100,000 people in 2013 — more than double China’s 6,480 per 100,000. For comparison, the rate in the United States was roughly the same as China’s — 6,630 per 100,000, according to Amy VanderZanden, a data coordinator at the institute.

Theo Vos, a professor of global health at the institute, which is based at the University of Washington, noted that while the prevalence of diabetes had greatly increased, death rates from the disease had slowed substantially. People with diabetes are living longer, he said, in part because medical systems have gotten better at preventing people from dying from its complications.

In the United States, rates of diabetes complications including heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and amputations fell sharply over the past two decades, in part the result of better medical care, monitoring and medications. Middle-income countries like China have gotten better at treating the illness too, Professor Vos said.

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South Korean Kaist Team wins the DARPA Robotics Challenge

South Korean Kaist Team wins the DARPA Robotics Challenge | Amazing Science |

First place in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals this past weekend in Pomona, California went to Team Kaist of South Korea for its DRC-Hubo robot, winning $2 million in prize money. Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Fla., with its Running Man (Atlas) robot came in at second place ($1 million prize), followed by Tartan Rescue of Pittsburgh with its CHIMP robot ($500,000 prize).

The DARPA Robotics Challenge, with three increasingly demanding competitions over two years, was launched in response to a humanitarian need that became glaringly clear during the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, DARPA said. The goal was to “accelerate progress in robotics and hasten the day when robots have sufficient dexterity and robustness to enter areas too dangerous for humans and mitigate the impacts of natural or man-made disasters.”

The difficult course of eight tasks simulated Fukushima-like conditions, such as driving alone, walking through rubble, tripping circuit breakers, turning valves, and climbing stairs. Representing some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world, a dozen teams from the United States and another eleven from Japan, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea and Hong Kong competed.

More DARPA Robotics Challenge videos

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New instrument for imaging the magnetosensitivity of photochemical reactions on a submicron scale

New instrument for imaging the magnetosensitivity of photochemical reactions on a submicron scale | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have succeeded in developing a new microscope capable of observing the magnetic sensitivity of photochemical reactions believed to be responsible for the ability of some animals to navigate in Earth's magnetic field, on a scale small enough to follow these reactions taking place inside sub-cellular structures.

Several species of insects, fish, birds and mammals are believed to be able to detect magnetic fields -- an ability known as magnetoreception. For example, birds are able to sense Earth's magnetic field and use it to help navigate when migrating. Recent research suggests that a group of proteins called cryptochromes and particularly the molecule flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) that forms part of the cryptochrome, are implicated in magnetoreception. When cryptochromes absorb blue light, they can form what are known as radical pairs. The magnetic field around the cryptochromes determines the spins of these radical pairs, altering their reactivity. However, to date there has been no way to measure the effect of magnetic fields on radical pairs in living cells.

The research group of Associate Professor Jonathan Woodward at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are specialists in radical pair chemistry and investigating the magnetic sensitivity of biological systems. In this latest research, PhD student Lewis Antill made measurements using a special microscope to detect radical pairs formed from FAD, and the influence of very weak magnetic fields on their reactivity, in volumes less than 4 millionths of a billionth of a liter (4 femtoliters). This was possible using a technique the group developed called TOAD (transient optical absorption detection) imaging, employing a microscope built by postdoctoral research associate Dr. Joshua Beardmore based on a design by Beardmore and Woodward.

"In the future, using another mode of the new microscope called MIM (magnetic intensity modulation), also introduced in this work, it may be possible to directly image only the magnetically sensitive regions of living cells," says Woodward. "The new imaging microscope developed in this research will enable the study of the magnetic sensitivity of photochemical reactions in a variety of important biological and other contexts, and hopefully help to unlock the secrets of animals' miraculous magnetic sense."

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Researchers targeting the host rather than the flu virus have success with new treatment tested in mice

Researchers targeting the host rather than the flu virus have success with new treatment tested in mice | Amazing Science |

The flu kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year, yet there is essentially only one class of drugs to fight the ever-changing virus. Cases of flu resistant to this class of drugs have already been reported and researchers worry a completely new strain of flu could evolve, leading to a pandemic like the one in 1918 that killed approximately 50 million people.

Many researchers are trying to develop new drugs to defeat the flu virus. But researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital had a completely different idea. People who die from the flu actually die from respiratory failure, when the lung’s tiny blood vessels start leaking fluid into the lung’s air sacs. Dr. Warren Lee, a researcher with the hospital’s Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Sciences, wondered what would happen if someone developed a treatment that would prevent those blood vessels from leaking?

Working with mice, Dr. Lee tested a new drug developed by researchers at Sunnybrook Hospital that acts on the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels.

Their work, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, found that: The drug, Vasculotide, was effective against multiple strains of influenza, including the 2009 swine flu pandemic strain. Without the drug, 100 per cent of the mice died within one week. With the drug, more than 80 per cent survived.

In addition:

  • The drug worked even if it was administered days after the infection began. Traditional antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu must be started immediately.
  • The drug worked alone and in combination with antivirals.
  • It worked without compromising the body’s ability to mount an immune response to the virus.

Dr. Lee, a critical care physician and cell biologist, said that while this research was conducted in mice, he found the results exciting since the drug was effective in two different strains of mice and three different strains of flu. He said that since the mechanism of blood vessels leaking into lungs is common throughout animals, he was optimistic the drug could be effective in animals other than mice, including humans. St. Michael’s and Sunnybrook have jointly applied for a U.S. patent for the drug.

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Superdense Teleportation: Transporting Quantum Information Without Moving Matter

Superdense Teleportation: Transporting Quantum Information Without Moving Matter | Amazing Science |

A team of scientists have taken quantum teleportation – a method of communicating information from one location to another without having to physically move it – to a higher level by using certain high-dimensional states (which they dubbed “donut” states) for teleportation. Stony Brook University physicist Tzu-Chieh Wei, PhD, and colleagues nationally demonstrated that their method works, is more reliable than previous teleportation schemes, and could be a stepping stone toward building a quantum communications network. Their findings appear in Nature Communications.

The researchers developed entangled elementary particles – in this case photons, the smallest units of light – to transmit information through a shared pair of entangled quantum state of photons – both the sender and receiver have one photon, one half of each entangled pair. In simple communication terms, the process of superdense-teleporting would involve one person to encode information in the form of a quantum state on his photon. Then the person would perform measurement on his photon and then use traditional communication channels (phone or email) to let the other person know what operation to perform on her photon in the laboratory to re-create the same quantum state.

“This process of a re-creation is essentially a transport without having any matter move from location A to location B,” said Dr. Wei, an Assistant Professor in Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. “Loosely speaking you could also view teleportation as a miniature version of teletransportation in the ‘Star Trek’ movies.”

Dr. Wei also likened the teleportation method as quantum information created and then stored in a kind of invisible parallel “shared folder” for end users. A broadening and testing of this concept could help to form a quantum communications network that could potentially be used to encode and transmit useful quantities of quantum data for scientific experimentation and communication virtually anywhere on earth or in space.

In “Superdense teleportation using hyper-entangled photons,” the team took advantage of the mathematical properties intrinsic to the shape of a donut – or torus, in mathematical terms to use “superdense teleportation.” The work, led by physicist Paul Kwiat of the University of Illinois, built on this new protocol for teleportation that was developed by co-author physicist Herbert Bernstein of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. The method effectively reduces the resources required to teleport quantum information, while at the same time improving the rate and reliability of the information transfer.

With this new method, the researchers experimentally achieved 88 percent transmission fidelity, twice that of 44 percent, the very best that could be achieved by any system that didn’t have access to the entangled quantum resource. To make the whole process more efficient, the protocol uses pairs of photons that are “hyperentangled” – simultaneously entangled in more than one property, in this case in polarization and in orbital angular momentum – with a restricted number of possible states in each variable. Using multiple properties allows each photon to carry more information than the earlier quantum teleportation experiments.

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Going places: Chikungunya virus is on the move

Going places: Chikungunya virus is on the move | Amazing Science |

The chikungunya virus spreads via mosquitoes in tropical regions. Now it has found a way to hijack a second mosquito, posing a threat to people in Europe, North America and China.

In one decade, chikungunya (chihk-uhn-GUHN-yuh) fever has gone from an obscure tropical ailment to an international threat, causing more than 3 million infections worldwide. The virus has established itself in Latin America and may now have the wherewithal to inflict its particular brand of misery in cooler climates.

Chikungunya rarely kills its victims, but it can bring a world of hurt. It comes on like the flu — fever, chills, headache, aching joints — and typically lingers for a week. Many patients later develop severe joint pain that can recur for months or years. In the Makonde language of East Africa, where the virus was first identified in 1952, chikungunya means “to walk bent over” or “to become contorted,” a reference to the stooped posture of many sufferers.

Just how chikungunya went global in 10 years is a story of international travel, viral mutations and an accomplice with wings. Historical accounts suggest that the mosquito-borne virus has ventured from its natural home in Africa several times, even hitting North America in the 1820s. But apart from settling into Southeast Asia in the late 1950s, other sorties from Africa have fizzled.

Not this time. In 2005, chikungunya departed Kenya, hit several islands in the Indian Ocean and spread like a brush fire through India and Southeast Asia, where it lingers today. In 2013, the strain of chikungunya that had been ensconced in Asia since the 1950s found its way to the Caribbean and even nicked Florida in 2014.

It’s not unprecedented for a tropical disease to reach other warm regions. But one strain of the chikungunya virus has found a way to survive in mosquitoes that live in temperate zones, leading to recent forays into Italy and France. North America, China and Europe are now fair game.

That means chikungunya could be coming to a mosquito near you. The virus has not established long-term roots in temperate zones, and no one knows whether it has the chops to do so. But Stephen Higgs, a parasitologist and chikungunya expert at Kansas State University in Manhattan, says U.S. outbreaks are a real possibility.

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CRISPR, a powerful gene-editing technology is the biggest game changer to hit biology since PCR

CRISPR, a powerful gene-editing technology is the biggest game changer to hit biology since PCR | Amazing Science |

Three years ago, Bruce Conklin came across a method that made him change the course of his lab. Conklin, a geneticist at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, California, had been trying to work out how variations in DNA affect various human diseases, but his tools were cumbersome. When he worked with cells from patients, it was hard to know which sequences were important for disease and which were just background noise. And engineering a mutation into cells was expensive and laborious work. “It was a student's entire thesis to change one gene,” he says.

Then, in 2012, he read about a newly published technique1 called CRISPR that would allow researchers to quickly change the DNA of nearly any organism — including humans. Soon after, Conklin abandoned his previous approach to modelling disease and adopted this new one. His lab is now feverishly altering genes associated with various heart conditions. “CRISPR is turning everything on its head,” he says.

The sentiment is widely shared: CRISPR is causing a major upheaval in biomedical research. Unlike other gene-editing methods, it is cheap, quick and easy to use, and it has swept through labs around the world as a result. Researchers hope to use it to adjust human genes to eliminate diseases, create hardier plants, wipe out pathogens and much more besides. “I've seen two huge developments since I've been in science: CRISPR and PCR,” says John Schimenti, a geneticist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Like PCR, the gene-amplification method that revolutionized genetic engineering after its invention in 1985, “CRISPR is impacting the life sciences in so many ways,” he says.

But although CRISPR has much to offer, some scientists are worried that the field's breakneck pace leaves little time for addressing the ethical and safety concerns such experiments can raise. The problem was thrust into the spotlight in April, when news broke that scientists had used CRISPR to engineer human embryos (see Nature 520, 593–595; 2015). The embryos they used were unable to result in a live birth, but the report2 has generated heated debate over whether and how CRISPR should be used to make heritable changes to the human genome. And there are other concerns. Some scientists want to see more studies that probe whether the technique generates stray and potentially risky genome edits; others worry that edited organisms could disrupt entire ecosystems.

“This power is so easily accessible by labs — you don't need a very expensive piece of equipment and people don't need to get many years of training to do this,” says Stanley Qi, a systems biologist at Stanford University in California. “We should think carefully about how we are going to use that power.”

Biologists have long been able to edit genomes with molecular tools. About ten years ago, they became excited by enzymes called zinc finger nucleases that promised to do this accurately and efficiently. But zinc fingers, which cost US$5,000 or more to order, were not widely adopted because they are difficult to engineer and expensive, says James Haber, a molecular biologist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. CRISPR works differently: it relies on an enzyme called Cas9 that uses a guide RNA molecule to home in on its target DNA, then edits the DNA to disrupt genes or insert desired sequences. Researchers often need to order only the RNA fragment; the other components can be bought off the shelf. Total cost: as little as $30. “That effectively democratized the technology so that everyone is using it,” says Haber. “It's a huge revolution.”

CRISPR methodology is quickly eclipsing zinc finger nucleases and other editing tools (see 'The rise of CRISPR'). For some, that means abandoning techniques they had taken years to perfect. “I'm depressed,” says Bill Skarnes, a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, “but I'm also excited.” Skarnes had spent much of his career using a technology introduced in the mid-1980s: inserting DNA into embryonic stem cells and then using those cells to generate genetically modified mice. The technique became a laboratory workhorse, but it was also time-consuming and costly. CRISPR takes a fraction of the time, and Skarnes adopted the technique two years ago.

Researchers have traditionally relied heavily on model organisms such as mice and fruit flies, partly because they were the only species that came with a good tool kit for genetic manipulation. Now CRISPR is making it possible to edit genes in many more organisms. In April, for example, researchers at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reported using CRISPR to study Candida albicans, a fungus that is particularly deadly in people with weakened immune systems, but had been difficult to genetically manipulate in the lab3. Jennifer Doudna, a CRISPR pioneer at the University of California, Berkeley, is keeping a list of CRISPR-altered creatures. So far, she has three dozen entries, including disease-causing parasites called trypanosomes and yeasts used to make biofuels.

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World's first biolimb: Rat forelimb grown in the lab

World's first biolimb: Rat forelimb grown in the lab | Amazing Science |

IT MIGHT look like an amputated rat forelimb, but the photo above is of something much more exciting: the limb has been grown in the lab from living cells. It may go down in history as the first step to creating real, biologically functional limbs for amputees.

"We're focusing on the forearm and hand to use it as a model system and proof of principle," says Harald Ott of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who grew the limb. "But the techniques would apply equally to legs, arms and other extremities."

"This is science fiction coming to life," says Daniel Weiss at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington, who works on lung regeneration. "It's a very exciting development, but the challenge will be to create a functioning limb."

Many amputees receive artificial replacements that look fine cosmetically, but don't function as well as real limbs. And while bionic replacement limbs that work well

 are now being made, they look unnatural. Hand transplants have also been successful, but the recipient needs lifelong immunosuppressive drugs to prevent their body rejecting the hand. "This is the first attempt to make a biolimb, and I'm not aware of any other technology able to generate a composite tissue of this complexity," says Ott.

The technique behind the rat forelimb – dubbed "decel/recel" – has previously been used to build hearts

lungs and kidneys in the lab. Simpler organs such as windpipes and voicebox tissue have been built and transplanted into people with varying levels of success, but not without controversy (see "Rocky road to replacement organs").

In the first, decel step – short for decellularisation – organs from dead donors are treated with detergents that strip off the soft tissue, leaving just the"scaffold" of the organ, built mainly from the inert protein collagen. This retains all the intricate architecture of the original organ. In the case of the rat forearm, this included the collagen structures that make up blood vessels, tendons, muscles and bones.

In the second recel step the flesh of the organ is recellularised by seeding the scaffold with the relevant cells from the recipient. The scaffold is then nourished in a bioreactor, enabling new tissue to grow and colonize the scaffold.

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New color blindness gene identified: ATF6

New color blindness gene identified: ATF6 | Amazing Science |

A rare eye disorder marked by color blindness, light sensitivity, and other vision problems can result from a newly discovered gene mutation identified by an international research team, including scientists from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). The findings, which were published today in the online edition of Nature Genetics, could lead to new, targeted treatments for this form of color blindness.

The researchers found that mutations to a gene called ATF6, a key regulator of the unfolded protein response, can lead to achromatopsia, a hereditary visual disorder characterized by color blindness, decreased vision, light sensitivity, and uncontrolled eye movement in children. The unfolded protein response is a mechanism cells use to prevent the dangerous accumulation of unfolded or mis-folded proteins.

Based on mouse studies, the researchers suspect that the cone cells of people with achromatopsia are not permanently damaged and could be revived by enhancing the pathway that regulates the unfolded protein response. "Several drugs that activate this pathway have already been approved by the FDA for other conditions and could potentially benefit patients with achromatopsia," said one of the study leaders, Stephen Tsang, MD, PhD, who is the Laszlo Z. Bito Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, and is affiliated with the Institute of Human Nutrition, at CUMC.

"Dr. Tsang's innovative research continues to unfold the genetic basis for a variety of ocular diseases. This finding is an example of the finest clinically based science that will ultimately allow us to overcome preventable vision loss," said George A. Cioffi, MD, Edward S. Harness Chairman and Ophthalmologist-in-Chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

"Five genes had previously been linked to achromatopsia; however, they accounted for only about half of all cases," said Dr. Tsang. "Using next-generation gene sequencing on a small group of patients, we found that mutations in a sixth gene -- ATF6 -- can independently lead to the disease."

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World’s smallest spirals could guard against identity theft

World’s smallest spirals could guard against identity theft | Amazing Science |
Vanderbilt researchers have made the world’s smallest spirals and found they have unique optical properties that are nearly impossible to counterfeit.

Take gold spirals about the size of a dime…and shrink them down about six million times. The result is the world’s smallest continuous spirals: “nano-spirals” with unique optical properties that would be almost impossible to counterfeit if they were added to identity cards, currency and other important objects.

Students and faculty at Vanderbilt University fabricated these tiny Archimedes’ spirals and then used ultrafast lasers at Vanderbilt and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, to characterize their optical properties. The results are reported in a paper published online by the Journal of Nanophotonics on May 21.

“They are certainly smaller than any of the spirals we’ve found reported in the scientific literature,” said Roderick Davidson II, the Vanderbilt doctoral student who figured out how to study their optical behavior. The spirals were designed and made at Vanderbilt by another doctoral student, Jed Ziegler, now at the Naval Research Laboratory.

When these spirals are shrunk to sizes smaller than the wavelength of visible light, they develop unusual optical properties. For example, when they are illuminated with infrared laser light, they emit visible blue light. A number of crystals produce this effect, called frequency doubling or harmonic generation, to various degrees. The strongest frequency doubler previously known is the synthetic crystal beta barium borate, but the nano-spirals produce four times more blue light per unit volume.

When infrared laser light strikes the tiny spirals, it is absorbed by electrons in the gold arms. The arms are so thin that the electrons are forced to move along the spiral. Electrons that are driven toward the center absorb enough energy so that some of them emit blue light at double the frequency of the incoming infrared light.

“This is similar to what happens with a violin string when it is bowed vigorously,” said Stevenson Professor of Physics Richard Haglund, who directed the research. “If you bow a violin string very lightly it produces a single tone. But, if you bow it vigorously, it also begins producing higher harmonics, or overtones. The electrons at the center of the spirals are driven pretty vigorously by the laser’s electric field. The blue light is exactly an octave higher than the infrared – the second harmonic.”

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Study Suggests that Dinosaurs were Warm-Blooded - Stony Brook University Newsroom

Study Suggests that Dinosaurs were Warm-Blooded - Stony Brook University Newsroom | Amazing Science |

Dinosaurs grew as fast as your average living mammal, according to a research paper published by Stony Brook University paleontologist Michael D’Emic, PhD. The paper, to published in Science on May 29,is a re-analysis of a widely publicized  2014 Science paper on dinosaur metabolism and growth that concluded dinosaurs were neither ectothermic nor endothermic—terms popularly simplified as ‘cold-blooded’ and ‘warm-blooded’—but instead occupied an intermediate category.

“The study that I re-analyzed was remarkable for its breadth—the authors compiled an unprecedented dataset on growth and metabolism from studies of hundreds of living animals,” said Dr. D’Emic, a Research Instructor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences as Stony Brook, when referring to “Evidence for mesothermy in dinosaurs.”

“Upon re-analysis, it was apparent that dinosaurs weren’t just somewhat like living mammals in their physiology—they fit right within our understanding of what it means to be a ‘warm-blooded’ mammal,” he said. 

To learn more about this finding and Dr. D’Emic’s research, see this Stony Brook University videoDr. D’Emic specializes in bone microanatomy, or the study of the structure of bone on scales that are just a fraction of the width of a human hair. Based on his knowledge of how dinosaurs grew, Dr. D’Emic re-analyzed that study, which led him to the strikingly different conclusion that dinosaurs were more like mammals than reptiles in their growth and metabolism.

Dr. D’Emic re-analyzed the study from two aspects. First, the original study had scaled yearly growth rates to daily ones in order to standardize comparisons. “This is problematic,” Dr. D’Emic explains, “because many animals do not grow continuously throughout the year, generally slowing or pausing growth during colder, drier, or otherwise more stressful seasons. “Therefore, the previous study underestimated dinosaur growth rates by failing to account for their uneven growth. Like most animals, dinosaurs slowed or paused their growth annually, as shown by rings in their bones analogous to tree rings,” he explained.

He added that the growth rates were especially underestimated for larger animals and animals that live in very stressful or seasonal environments—both of which characterize dinosaurs.

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Muscles engineered to be photosensitive could lead to treatments for paralysis

Muscles engineered to be photosensitive could lead to treatments for paralysis | Amazing Science |

Scientists have genetically engineered muscles to move in response to pulses of light. The technique, demonstrated on vocal cords removed from mice, is reported on 2 June in Nature Communications1. Researchers say that it could probe how muscles function — and might eventually help to treat people who have a paralysis that interferes with speech and breathing.  The work relies on a method called optogenetics, which can make cells that usually respond to electrical signals also react to light. The approach alters mammalian cells by inserting a gene for a protein such as channelrhodopsin, which in its natural setting allows blue-green algae to swim towards or away from light.

Optogenetics was first used in 2005 to modify neurons2, and has since become a standard tool to study the brain and nervous system. Applications outside neuroscience, however, are less common. The latest study is fascinating, says Julio Vergara, a physiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies how electrical signals cause muscles to contract. “It shows the potential use of this very powerful technique for very important medical problems,” he says.

The study's authors had previously used optogenetics to engineer heart muscle in mice3 — light caused parts of the heart to beat out of sync, simulating arrhythmias. The latest research extends this to muscles that move under conscious command.

“Skeletal muscles follow different rules than the heart,” says Philipp Sasse, a co-author of the study and a physiologist at the University of Bonn in Germany. “Each fibre in a skeletal muscle can contract separately, which allows controlling movements as well as muscle strength very precisely.”

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Scientists develop catalyst that removes cancer-causing benzene from gasoline

Scientists develop catalyst that removes cancer-causing benzene from gasoline | Amazing Science |

Northwestern University scientists are experimenting with ways to eliminate a cancer-causing agent from gasoline by neutralizing the benzene compound found in gasoline. They developed a catalyst that effectively removed benzene from the other aromatic compounds in gasoline, making it cleaner and more efficient.

An estimated 137 billion gallons of gasoline were consumed in the United States last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a daily average of about 375 million gallons. Within each gallon of gas is a chemical compound known as benzene, which has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as a known contributor to cancer. A research team led by Northwestern's Tobin J. Marks has found a way to remove it.

"The gasoline we buy is one-third a mixture of aromatics, and benzene is one of them," said Marks, explaining that aromatics are necessary to improve gas octane numbers and fuel efficiency. "Only benzene is known to be cancer causing, and it's very difficult to remove. Our catalyst opened a whole new way to do that—and probably a very inexpensive way."

Marks is the Vladimir N. Ipatieff Research Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

"We could keep the cost of gasoline down," Marks added, "and a big environmental and health problem would be solved." He describes his team's catalyst as an organometallic molecule, which is not composed of an expensive platinum metal but an affordable, simple metal, which is absorbed onto a particular oxide support. After almost two years of research experimenting with the selective hydrogenation of benzene, the team created a catalyst that removed the benzene from the other aromatics with high selectivity.

"We really know what the catalyst structure looks like," Marks said, "the relative rates of reactions, how the catalyst and aromatics interact with each other and how selective the catalyst is." The research team, which includes scientists from Argonne National Laboratory and Universal Oil Products, released their findings in a paper featured on the cover of the June 3 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The cover image depicts their catalyst, with a backdrop of the Chicago River and the architecture that towers over it along Michigan Avenue. "It's eye catching," Marks said. "We tried to blend science with something that looks a little bit different."

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Super-high resolution non-destructive electron microscopy of soft materials like biomaterials

Super-high resolution non-destructive electron microscopy of soft materials like biomaterials | Amazing Science |

Soft matter encompasses a broad swath of materials, including liquids, polymers, gels, foam and — most importantly — biomolecules. At the heart of soft materials, governing their overall properties and capabilities, are the interactions of nano-sized components. Observing the dynamics behind these interactions is critical to understanding key biological processes, such as protein crystallization and metabolism, and could help accelerate the development of important new technologies, such as artificial photosynthesis or high-efficiency photovoltaic cells.

Observing these dynamics at sufficient resolution has been a major challenge, but this challenge is now being met with a new non-invasive nanoscale imaging technique that goes by the acronym of CLAIRE.

CLAIRE stands for “cathodoluminescence activated imaging by resonant energy transfer.” Invented by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, CLAIRE extends the extremely high resolution of electron microscopy to the dynamic imaging of soft matter.

“Traditional electron microscopy damages soft materials and has therefore mainly been used to provide topographical or compositional information about robust inorganic solids or fixed sections of biological specimens,” says chemist Naomi Ginsberg, who leads CLAIRE’s development and holds appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and its Materials Sciences Division, as well as UC Berkeley’s departments of chemistry and physics.

“CLAIRE allows us to convert electron microscopy into a new non-invasive imaging modality for studying soft materials and providing spectrally specific information about them on the nanoscale.”

Ginsberg is also a member of the Kavli Energy NanoScience Institute (Kavli-ENSI) at Berkeley. She and her research group recently demonstrated CLAIRE’s imaging capabilities by applying the technique to aluminum nanostructures and polymer films that could not have been directly imaged with electron microscopy.

“What microscopic defects in molecular solids give rise to their functional optical and electronic properties? By what potentially controllable process do such solids form from their individual microscopic components, initially in the solution phase? The answers require observing the dynamics of electronic excitations or of molecules themselves as they explore spatially heterogeneous landscapes in condensed phase systems,” Ginsberg says.

“In our demonstration, we obtained optical images of aluminum nanostructures with 46 nanometer resolution, then validated the non-invasiveness of CLAIRE by imaging a conjugated polymer film. The high resolution, speed and non-invasiveness we demonstrated with CLAIRE positions us to transform our current understanding of key biomolecular interactions.”

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South Korean MERS outbreak is not a global threat

South Korean MERS outbreak is not a global threat | Amazing Science |

The world is watching as the largest outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outside the Middle East continues in South Korea. According to the most recent figures from the World Health Organization, 30 people have been infected, two of whom have died. Hundreds of schools have been closed. The causal coronavirus, MERS-CoV, is one of many viruses that are considered potential pandemic threats. But experts do not consider this outbreak, in which all cases are hospital-associated, to have pandemic potential or even expect it to spread further within South Korea. Here are some of the reasons why:

• MERS-CoV is not a human virus

• MERS-CoV mainly spreads in hospitals

• South Korea is doing a great job

• MERS is not SARS

• This outbreak is not that big

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First Demonstration of a Surveillance Camera Powered by Ordinary Wi-Fi Broadcasts

First Demonstration of a Surveillance Camera Powered by Ordinary Wi-Fi Broadcasts | Amazing Science |
The ability to power remote sensors and devices using Wi-Fi signals could be the enabling technology behind the Internet of things, say electrical engineers.

One of the most significant barriers to deploying sensors, cameras, and communicators is the question of power. The task of fitting a security camera on an external wall or a temperature sensor in an attic immediately runs into the question of how to run a power cable to the device or to arrange for batteries to be replaced on a regular basis.

Then there is the Internet of things, the idea that almost every object could be fitted with a chip that broadcasts data such as its location, whether it is full or empty or whether some other parameter such as temperature or pressure is dangerously high or low.

Great things are expected of the Internet of things but only if engineers can solve one potential show-stopper of a question: how to power these numerous tiny machines. Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Vamsi Talla and pals at the University of Washington in Seattle. These guys have developed a way to broadcast power to remote devices using an existing technology that many people already have in their living rooms: ordinary Wi-Fi. They call their new approach power over Wi-Fi or PoWi-Fi.

The University of Washington team’s approach to this is refreshingly straightforward. They simply connect an antenna to a temperature sensor, place it close to a Wi-Fi router and measure the resulting voltages in the device and for how long it can operate on this remote power source alone. The simple answer is that the voltage across the sensor is never high enough to cross the operating threshold of around 300 millivolts. However, it often comes close.

But a closer examination of the data makes for interesting reading. The problem is that Wi-Fi broadcasts are not continuous. Routers tend to broadcast on a single channel in bursts. This provides enough power for the sensor but as soon as the broadcast stops, the voltages drop. The result is that, on average, the sensor does not have enough juice to work.

That gave Talla and pals an idea. Why not program the router to broadcast noise when it is not broadcasting information and employ adjacent Wi-Fi channels to carry it so that it doesn’t interfere with data rates. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. To do this they require the electronic innards of three routers, one for each of the channels they intend to broadcast on. Wi-Fi broadcasts can be on any of 11 overlapping channels within a 72 MHz band centered on the 2.4 GHz frequency. This allows for three non-overlapping channels to be broadcast simultaneously.

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Planarian regeneration model discovered by AI algorithm

Planarian regeneration model discovered by AI algorithm | Amazing Science |
An artificial intelligence system has for the first time reverse-engineered the regeneration mechanism of planaria — the small worms whose extraordinary power to regrow body parts has made them a research model in human regenerative medicine.

The discovery by Tufts University biologists presents the first model of regeneration discovered by a non-human intelligence and the first comprehensive model of planarian regeneration, which had eluded human scientists for more than 100 years. The work, published in the June 4 issue of PLOS Computational Biology (open access), demonstrates how “robot science” can help human scientists in the future.

To bioengineer complex organs, scientists need to understand the mechanisms by which those shapes are normally produced by the living organism.

However, there’s a significant knowledge gap between the molecular genetic components needed to produce a particular organism shape and understanding how to generate that particular complex shape in the correct size, shape and orientation, said the paper’s senior author, Michael Levin, Ph.D., Vannevar Bush professor of biology and director of the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology.

“Most regenerative models today derived from genetic experiments are arrow diagrams, showing which gene regulates which other gene. That’s fine, but it doesn’t tell you what the ultimate shape will be. You cannot tell if the outcome of many genetic pathway models will look like a tree, an octopus or a human,” said Levin.

“Most models show some necessary components for the process to happen, but not what dynamics are sufficient to produce the shape, step by step. What we need are algorithmic or constructive models, which you could follow precisely and there would be no mystery or uncertainty. You follow the recipe and out comes the shape.”
Josep M Torra Colom's curator insight, June 6, 2015 5:53 AM

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Biochemists devise new technique for blueprinting cell membrane proteins

Biochemists devise new technique for blueprinting cell membrane proteins | Amazing Science |
Biochemists from Trinity College Dublin have devised a new technique that will make the difficult but critical job of blueprinting certain proteins considerably faster, easier and cheaper.

The breakthrough will make a big splash in the field of drug discovery and development, where precise protein structure blueprints can help researchers understand how individual proteins work. Critically, these blueprints can show weaknesses that allow drug developers to draw up specific battle plans in the fight against diseases and infections.

Professor of Membrane Structural and Functional Biology at Trinity, Martin Caffrey, is the senior author of the research, which has just been published in the international peer-reviewed journal Acta Crystallographica D.

He said: "This is a truly exciting development. We have demonstrated the method on a variety of cell membrane proteins, some of which act as transporters. It will work with existing equipment at a host of facilities worldwide, and it is very simple to implement."

Over 50% of drugs on the market target cell membrane proteins, which are vital for the everyday functioning of complex cellular processes. They act as transporters to ensure that specific molecules enter and leave our cells, as signal interpreters important in decoding messages and initiating responses, and as agents that speed up appropriate responses.

The major challenge facing researchers is the production of large membrane protein crystals, which are used to determine the precise 3-D structural blueprints. That challenge has now been lessened thanks to the Trinity biochemists' advent - the in meso in situ serial crystallography (IMISX) method.

Beforehand, researchers needed to harvest protein crystals and cool them at inhospitable temperatures in a complex set of events that was damaging, inefficient and prone to error. The IMISX method allows researchers to determine structural blueprints as and where the crystals grow.

Professor Caffrey added: "The best part of this is that these proteins are as close to being 'live' and yet packaged in the crystals we need to determine their structure as they could ever be. As a result, this breakthrough is likely to supplant existing protocols and will make the early stages of drug development considerably more efficient."

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Most dinosaurs had scales, not feathers, fossil analysis concludes

Most dinosaurs had scales, not feathers, fossil analysis concludes | Amazing Science |

Despite recent theories suggesting a common feathered ancestor or proto-feathers on all dinosaurs, new survey confirms that scales were the norm.

Researchers have called time on a growing suspicion that many dinosaurs were not the dry, scaly animals of popular conception, but fluffy, feathered beasts instead. Remains unearthed in recent years have revealed feathers or proto-feathers on a range of dinosaurs, leading some paleontologists to wonder if all of the animals evolved from a feathered ancestor and sported some kind of plumage themselves.

But while many meat-eating theropods, such as velociraptors and relatives of tyrannosaurs, were clearly clad in feathers, a fresh analysis of prehistoric remains suggests that most dinosaurs were scaly beasts after all.

Nicolás Campione, a dinosaur researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, worked with scientists at the Natural History Museum in London and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto to survey some of the best-preserved dinosaur fossils from museums around the world. 

The scientists collected information on around 75 species that are known from the fossil remains of their soft tissues to have had either scales or feathers. From these, they created a dinosaur family tree and used a statistical model to work out the odds of species having feathers at different points in dinosaur history.

“What we found from this analysis is that the first dinosaur was probably not feathered,” said Campione. “Feathers clearly evolved in the dinosaur lineage, but right now, the data do not point to a feathered ancestor for them all.”

The first dinosaurs evolved from reptiles more than 230 million years ago. Feathers are thought to have arisen more than once in dinosaur lineages, and while they live on and give flight to modern birds, feathers first emerged for other reasons: for warmth or to provide colorful plumage displays.

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We can see millions of colors but the brain stores them as basic, general hues

We can see millions of colors but the brain stores them as basic, general hues | Amazing Science |

Though people can distinguish between millions of colors, we have trouble remembering specific shades because our brains tend to store what we’ve seen as one of just a few basic hues, a Johns Hopkins University-led team discovered. In a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,researchers led by cognitive psychologist Jonathan Flombaum dispute standard assumptions about memory, demonstrating for the first time that people’s memories for colors are biased in favor of “best” versions of basic colors over colors they actually saw.

For example, there’s azure, there’s navy, there’s cobalt and ultramarine. The human brain is sensitive to the differences between these hues —we can, after all, tell them apart. But when storing them in memory, people label all of these various colors as “blue,” the researchers found. The same thing goes for shades of green, pink, purple, etc. This is why, Flombaum said, someone would have trouble glancing at the color of his living room and then trying to match it at the paint store.

“Trying to pick out a color for touch-ups, I’d end up making a mistake,” he said. “This is because I’d mis-remember my wall as more prototypically blue. It could be a green as far as Sherwin-Williams is concerned, but I remember it as blue.”

Flombaum, working with cognitive scientists Gi-Yeul Bae of the University of California, Davis, Maria Olkkonen of the University of Pennsylvania and Sarah R. Allred of Rutgers University, demonstrated that what seems like a difference in the memorability of certain colors is actually the result of the brain’s tendency to categorize colors. People remember colors more accurately, they found, when the colors are good examples of their respective categories.

The team established this color bias and its consequences through a series of experiments. First the researchers asked subjects to look at a color wheel made up of 180 different hues, and to find the “best” examples of blue, pink, green, purple, orange and yellow.  Next they conducted a memory experiment with a different group of participants. These participants were shown a colored square for one tenth of a second. They were asked to try to remember it, looking at a blank screen for a little less than one second, and then asked to find the color on the color wheel featuring the 180 hues.

When attempting to match hues, all subjects tended to err on the side of the basic, “best” colors, but the bias toward the archetypes amplified considerably when subjects had to remember the hue, even for less than a second. “We can differentiate millions of colors, but to store this information, our brain has a trick,” Flombaum said. “We tag the color with a coarse label. That then makes our memories more biased, but still pretty useful.”

The findings have broad implications for the understanding of visual working memory. When faced with a multitude of something — colors, birds, faces — people tend to remember them later as more prototypical, Flombaum said. It’s not that the brain “doesn’t have enough space” to remember the millions of options, he said, it’s that the mind tries to reconcile those precise details with more limited, language-driven categories. So an object that’s teal might be remembered as more “blue” or more “green,” while a coral object might be remembered as more “pink” or more “orange."

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Quantum hard drive breakthrough - prototype developed

Quantum hard drive breakthrough - prototype developed | Amazing Science |

Physicists developing a prototype quantum hard drive have improved storage time by a factor of more than 100

The team’s record storage time of six hours is a major step towards a secure worldwide data encryption network based on quantum information, which could be used for banking transactions and personal emails.

“We believe it will soon be possible to distribute quantum information between any two points on the globe,” said lead author Manjin Zhong, from the Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE).

Quantum states are very fragile and normally collapse in milliseconds. Our long storage times have the potential to revolutionise the transmission of quantum information.” Quantum information promises unbreakable encryption because quantum particles such as photons of light can be created in a way that intrinsically links them. Interactions with either of these entangled particles affect the other, no matter how far they are separated.

The team of physicists at ANU and the University of Otago stored quantum information in atoms of the rare earth element europium embedded in a crystal. Their solid-state technique is a promising alternative to using laser beams in optical fibers, an approach which is currently used to create quantum networks around 100 kilometers long.

“Our storage times are now so long that it means people need to rethink what is the best way to distribute quantum data,” Ms Zhong said.  “Even transporting our crystals at pedestrian speeds we have less loss than laser systems for a given distance.”

“We can now imagine storing entangled light in separate crystals and then transporting them to different parts of the network thousands of kilometers apart. So, we are thinking of our crystals as portable optical hard drives for quantum entanglement.” After writing a quantum state onto the nuclear spin of the europium using laser light, the team subjected the crystal to a combination of a fixed and oscillating magnetic fields to preserve the fragile quantum information.

“The two fields isolate the europium spins and prevent the quantum information leaking away,” said Dr Jevon Longdell of the University of Otago. The ANU group is also excited about the fundamental tests of quantum mechanics that a quantum optical hard drive will enable.

"We have never before had the possibility to explore quantum entanglement over such long distances," said Associate Professor Matthew Sellars, leader of the research team.

“We should always be looking to test whether our theories match up with reality. Maybe in this new regime our theory of quantum mechanics breaks.” Their research is published in Nature.

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Hubble Finds Two Chaotically Tumbling Pluto Moons, Nix and Hydra

Hubble Finds Two Chaotically Tumbling Pluto Moons, Nix and Hydra | Amazing Science |

If you lived on one of Pluto's moons Nix or Hydra, you'd have a hard time setting your alarm clock. That's because you could not know for sure when, or even in which direction, the sun would rise. A comprehensive analysis of all available Hubble Space Telescope data shows that two of Pluto's moons, Nix and Hydra, are wobbling unpredictably. Scientists believe the other two small moons, Kerberos and Styx, are likely in a similar situation, pending further study.

"Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. "When the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July we'll get a chance to see what these moons look like up close and personal."

Why the chaos? Because the moons are embedded inside a dynamically shifting gravitational field caused by the system's two central bodies, Pluto and Charon, whirling about each other. The variable gravitational field induces torques that send the smaller moons tumbling in unpredictable ways. This torque is strengthened by the fact the moons are football shaped rather than spherical.

The surprising results of the Hubble research, conducted by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and Doug Hamilton of the University of Maryland at College Park, are appearing in the June 4 issue of the British science journal Nature.

"Prior to the Hubble observations nobody appreciated the intricate dynamics of the Pluto system," Showalter said. "Our report provides important new constraints on the sequence of events that led to the formation of the system."

Hubble's monitoring of Pluto's four outer moons has also revealed that three of them, Nix, Styx, and Hydra, are presently locked together in resonance where there is a precise ratio among their orbital periods. "This ties together their motion in a way similar to that of three of Jupiter's large moons," noted Hamilton. "If you were sitting on Nix you would see that Styx orbits Pluto twice for every three orbits made by Hydra."

Hubble provides observational evidence that the satellites are also orbiting chaotically. "However, that does not necessarily mean that the system is on the brink of flying apart," Showalter added. "We need to know a lot more about the system before we can determine its long-term fate."

To the surprise of astronomers, Hubble also found that the moon Kerberos is as dark as a charcoal briquette, while the other satellites are as bright as white sand. It was predicted that pollution by dust blasted off the satellites by meteorite impacts should overcoat all the moons, giving their surfaces a homogeneous look. "This is a very provocative result," Showalter said.

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Deepest known hydrothermal vents discovered in the Pacific Ocean

Deepest known hydrothermal vents discovered in the Pacific Ocean | Amazing Science |

In spring 2015, MBARI researchers discovered a large, previously unknown field of hydrothermal vents in the Gulf of California, about 150 kilometers (100 miles) east of La Paz, Mexico. Lying more than 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) below the surface, the Pescadero Basin vents are the deepest high-temperature hydrothermal vents ever observed in or around the Pacific Ocean. They are also the only vents in the Pacific known to emit superheated fluids rich in both carbonate minerals and hydrocarbons. The vents have been colonized by dense communities of tubeworms and other animals unlike any other known vent communities in the in the eastern Pacific.

Like another vent field in the Gulf that MBARI discovered in 2012, the Pescadero Basin vents were initially identified in high-resolution sonar data collected by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). MBARI’s yellow, torpedo-shaped seafloor-mapping AUV spent two days flying about 50 meters above the bottom of the Basin, using sound beams to map the depth and shape of the seafloor.

The AUV team, led by MBARI engineer David Caress, pored over the detailed bathymetric map they created from the AUV data and saw a number of mounds and spires rising up from the seafloor. Data from the AUV also showed slightly warmer water over some of the spires, which implied that they might be active hydrothermal-vent chimneys. A team of geologists led by David Clague then used a tethered underwater robot, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts, to dive down to the seafloor, fly around the vents, and collect video and samples of rocks and hot water spewing from the chimneys.

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Researchers Find Textbook-Altering Link Between Brain, Immune System

Researchers Find Textbook-Altering Link Between Brain, Immune System | Amazing Science |

In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.

That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.

“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?,’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?,’ now we can approach this mechanistically – because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels,” said Jonathan Kipnis, a professor in U.Va.’s Department of Neuroscience and director of U.Va.’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions."

He added, “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role. [It’s] hard to imagine that these vessels would not be involved in a neurological disease with an immune component.”

Kevin Lee, who chairs the Department of Neuroscience, described his reaction to the discovery by Kipnis’ lab: “The first time these guys showed me the basic result, I just said one sentence: ‘They’ll have to change the textbooks.’ There has never been a lymphatic system for the central nervous system, and it was very clear from that first singular observation – and they’ve done many studies since then to bolster the finding – that it will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system’s relationship with the immune system.”

Even Kipnis was skeptical initially. “I really did not believe there are structures in the body that we are not aware of. I thought the body was mapped,” he said. “I thought that these discoveries ended somewhere around the middle of the last century. But apparently they have not.”

The discovery was made possible by the work of Antoine Louveau, a postdoctoral fellow in Kipnis’ lab. The vessels were detected after Louveau developed a method to mount a mouse’s meninges – the membranes covering the brain – on a single slide so that they could be examined as a whole. “It was fairly easy, actually,” he said. “There was one trick: We fixed the meninges within the skullcap, so that the tissue is secured in its physiological condition, and then we dissected it. If we had done it the other way around, it wouldn’t have worked.”

After noticing vessel-like patterns in the distribution of immune cells on his slides, he tested for lymphatic vessels and there they were. The impossible existed. The soft-spoken Louveau recalled the moment: “I called Jony [Kipnis] to the microscope and I said, ‘I think we have something.’”

As to how the brain’s lymphatic vessels managed to escape notice all this time, Kipnis described them as “very well hidden” and noted that they follow a major blood vessel down into the sinuses, an area difficult to image. “It’s so close to the blood vessel, you just miss it,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re after, you just miss it.

“Live imaging of these vessels was crucial to demonstrate their function, and it would not be possible without collaboration with Tajie Harris,” Kipnis noted. Harris is an assistant professor of neuroscience and a member of the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. Kipnis also saluted the “phenomenal” surgical skills of Igor Smirnov, a research associate in the Kipnis lab whose work was critical to the imaging success of the study. 

The unexpected presence of the lymphatic vessels raises a tremendous number of questions that now need answers, both about the workings of the brain and the diseases that plague it. For example, take Alzheimer’s disease. “In Alzheimer’s, there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain,” Kipnis said. “We think they may be accumulating in the brain because they’re not being efficiently removed by these vessels.” He noted that the vessels look different with age, so the role they play in aging is another avenue to explore. And there’s an enormous array of other neurological diseases, from autism to multiple sclerosis, that must be reconsidered in light of the presence of something science insisted did not exist.