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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

3D Printing Can Improve Face Transplants

3D Printing Can Improve Face Transplants | Amazing Science |

Surgeons are using new, highly accurate 3D printers to guide face transplantation operations, making the procedures faster and improving outcomes, according to a new report. The face replicas made on these printers take into account bone grafts, metal plates and the underlying bone structure of the skull. They improve surgical planning, which ultimately makes the surgery much shorter, the report authors said.

The new technique has already been used in several patients, including two high-profile face transplant patients — Carmen Tarleton, who was maimed by her husband and received a face transplant in 2013, and Dallas Wiens, who was the first person in the U.S. to receive a full face transplant, in 2011. The surgeries have dramatically improved the lives of the patients, the researchers said.

Having a better understanding of the facial anatomy can also improve outcomes in less dramatic types of facial reconstruction, said Dr. Edward Caterson, a plastic surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital who is part of the same face transplant team. For example, when someone's jaw is destroyed, doctors typically harvest a piece of rib or leg bone to replace the missing jaw. Because the tibia, or leg bone, is quite straight, it's tricky to cut it for a perfect fit. 3D printing allows that cut to be done more precisely, Caterson said.

Recently, 3D printing enabled Caterson to harvest bone from a completely new location — the femur, or thigh bone. Though doctors often use rib grafts to replace jawbone, ribs don't have their own blood supply, so they typically collapse after a few years. 3D modeling allowed Caterson to use a portion of the femur that has its own blood supply, which should last much longer, he said.

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What was Earth's first predator and when did it live?

What was Earth's first predator and when did it live? | Amazing Science |

Around the world right now, thousands of animals are about to die. The game is up for untold numbers of deep-sea fish, mountain-dwelling hares, subterranean earthworms and high-flying songbirds. They are all seconds away from becoming dinner for predators like lions, eagles and sharks.

But when did this carnage begin? Have predators stalked the Earth since the origin of life itself? Or was our primordial planet once a Garden of Eden where species lived in peaceful co-existence?

The truth is, no one actually knows for sure. But evolutionary biologists have learned enough about the history of life on Earth to begin the hunt for the first predator. Their work suggests it was about as far removed in appearance from today's killers as it's possible to imagine.

What sort of traces would the first predator have left behind? We often think of predators using jaws and sharp teeth to rip chunks out of their prey, so maybe we should look for the oldest jaws and teeth. In fact, just last year, we learned thatmodern vertebrate jaws date back 420 million years and that teeth appeared 500 million years ago.

But predators can kill without inflicting physical injury. Think of the predatory pitcher plants that trap, drown and devour insects. So if predators don't need teeth and jaws, they might have appeared long before the 500-million-year mark.

It turns out they really did. Palaeontologists have collected fossils of predators that existed tens of millions of years before teeth evolved. These predators date right back to the first abundant animal life, about 540 million years ago.

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European Planck space telescope shoots down dark-matter claims

European Planck space telescope shoots down dark-matter claims | Amazing Science |

Planck's four-year study of relic radiation also resolves other cosmological riddles. The first full analysis of the data gathered by the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft has resolved some conundrums raised by earlier cosmology studies — but has made the riddle of dark matter more obscure. The Planck team did not yet address a controversy over the gravitational waves from the Big Bang announced in March, but plans to do so in an upcoming study.

The space observatory has produced the most detailed full-sky survey yet of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), radiation left over from the explosive birth of the Universe some 13.8 billion years ago. The maps are based on all four years of Planck observations, from launch in 2009 to decommissioning in 2013, and include both the temperature and the polarization of the CMB.

Preliminary maps released last year had used just the first 15 months of data, and had only contained data about the temperature. Earlier this year, the team released maps of the polarization caused by galactic dust, which must be subtracted to reveal the background of primordial radiation. “The galaxy produces a lot of noise“ in the microwave signal, across almost the entire sky, said Planck astrophysicist Nazzareno Mandolesi as he presented the latest maps to the press on 1 December in Ferrara, Italy, during a conference on the latest Planck results. Previously, that noise had been recognized only in parts of the sky close to the visible Milky Way, said Mandolesi, who is from the University of Ferrara.

The observations — which used the CMB to examine minuscule temperature fluctuations in the early Universe from which all the structure in the Universe arose — reaffirm the standard model of cosmic evolution. But they put into question earlier claims to have detected evidence of dark matter, the invisible particles whose gravity keeps galaxies from flying apart.

The dark-matter riddle relates to an unexpected excess of positrons — the antimatter partners of electrons — among cosmic rays, highly energetic particles swirling around the galaxy. Theory predicts that at high energies, the ratio of positrons to electrons ought to be lower than it is at lower energies. But observations from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle detector on the International Space Station, revealed last year that the ratio of positrons to electrons actually increases with energy1. This confirmed earlier results from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and from the European satellite PAMELA (Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics).

Researchers have suggested that the positron excess could be caused by collisions in which dark-matter particles annihilate each other and produce a shower of debris, including positrons. However, that scenario works only if the probability of dark-matter particles colliding is significantly higher now than it was when the cosmos was a mere 380,000 years old, at the time when the CMB was emitted. Instead, Planck’s observations of the CMB find that, to account for the structure of the Universe, the probability of collision must remain the same over time.

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Tissint meteorite shows kerogen-like carbonaceous components, potential signs of past biological activity on Mars

Fallen in Morocco in 2011, the Tissint meteorite has since then been thoroughly studied by scientists. A new study, published 1st December 2014 in Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, shows that the meteorite contains organic carbon of biogenic origin, and that this carbon infiltrated the Tissint rock on Mars, before an asteroid shock sent it towards the Earth. Philippe Gillet, co-author of the article and head of the Earth and planetary science laboratory at EPFL, explains their findings.

Tissint landed in the desert of Guelmim-Es Semara, Morocco, on July 18, 2011. It was thrown from the surface of Mars by an asteroid collision some 700,000 years ago -- and there is no other meteorite quite like it. The 7-11 kilogram grey rock -- seared glassy black on the outside by the heat of entry, called a fusion crust -- showed evidence of water. It was riddled with tiny fissures, into which water had deposited material.

This material, on analysis, turned out to be an organic carbon compound -- one that was biological in origin. It is not the only meteorite in which organic carbon has been found, but the debate has always centered on whether the carbon was deposited before or after the meteorite in question landed on Earth -- to wit, whether it is terrestrial or extraterrestrial in origin.

A team of researchers now studied the organic carbon found in the fissures of Tissint and determined that it is not of this world. There are several points of evidence put forward by the team. First, there was a relatively short timeframe between when the meteorite was observed falling to Earth and when it was collected. The second is that the microscopic fissures in the rock would have had to have been produced by a sudden high heat -- such as, for example, the heat of atmospheric entry. This shock, and the temperatures required to open the fissures, could not have come from the Moroccan desert. Thirdly, some of the carbon grains inside Tissint had hardened into diamond. There are no known conditions under which this could have occurred on the surface of the Moroccan desert -- and certainly not in the time it took between the meteorite's fall and discovery.

More on this story:

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Ground-based detection of super-Earth transit paves way to remote sensing of exoplanets

Ground-based detection of super-Earth transit paves way to remote sensing of exoplanets | Amazing Science |

For the first time, a team of astronomers - including York University Professor Ray Jayawardhana - have measured the passing of a super-Earth in front of a bright, nearby Sun-like star using a ground-based telescope. The transit of the exoplanet 55 Cancri e is the shallowest detected from the ground yet, and the success bodes well for characterizing the many small planets that upcoming space missions are expected to discover in the next few years.

The international research team used the 2.5-meter Nordic Optical Telescope on the island of La Palma, Spain - a moderate-sized facility by today's standards - to make the detection. Previous observations of this planet transit had to rely on space-borne telescopes. During its transit, the planet crosses its host star, 55 Cancri, located just 40 light-years away from us and visible to the naked eye, blocking a tiny fraction of the starlight, dimming the star by 1/2000th (or 0.05%) for almost two hours.

"Our observations show that we can detect the transits of small planets around Sun-like stars using ground-based telescopes," says Dr. Ernst de Mooij, of Queen's University Belfast, UK, the study's lead author. "This is especially important because upcoming space missions such as TESS and PLATO should find many small planets around bright stars." TESS is a NASA mission scheduled for launch in 2017, while PLATO is to be launched in 2024 by the European Space Agency; both will search for transiting terrestrial planets around nearby bright stars.

"It's remarkable what we can do by pushing the limits of existing telescopes and instruments, despite the complications posed by the Earth's own turbulent atmosphere," says Jayawardhana, the study's co-author and de Mooij's former postdoctoral supervisor. "Observations like these are paving the way as we strive towards searching for signs of life on alien planets from afar. Remote sensing across tens of light-years isn't easy, but it can be done with the right technique and a bit of ingenuity."

Bella Reagan's curator insight, March 24, 2015 2:52 AM

Unit 1-


People now have for the very first time been able to measure the passing of a "super earth" in front of a star using a ground based telescope and remote sensing. A team of astronomers was able to do this with a .5-meter Nordic Optical Telescope. They did this on the island La Palma in Spain with the telescope. This feat of being able to detect these small planets is huge and is a basis for more in the future.


This is incredible that technology has evolved so much that it is able to do things like thing, like see in to space from an island of Spain with a ground based telescope. Technology in building telescopes has improves remote sensing and astronomy studies. This is not only amazing now and today, but is amazing for the future. If this is possible now, then it just shows what is possible in the future. 

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People have infrared vision, possibly the result of pairs of photons combining their energy

People have infrared vision, possibly the result of pairs of photons combining their energy | Amazing Science |

Although we do not have X-ray vision like Superman, we have what could seem to be another superpower: we can see infrared light — beyond what was traditionally considered the visible spectrum. A series of experiments now suggests that this little-known, puzzling effect could occur when pairs of infrared photons simultaneously hit the same pigment protein in the eye, providing enough energy to set in motion chemical changes that allow us to see the light.

Received wisdom, and the known chemistry of vision, say that human eyes can see light with wavelengths between 400 (blue) and 720 nanometers (red). Although this range is still officially known as the 'visible spectrum', the advent of lasers with very specific infrared wavelengths brought reports that people were seeing laser light with wavelengths above 1,000 nm as white, green and other colors.

Krzysztof Palczewski, a pharmacologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, says that he has seen light of 1,050 nm from a low-energy laser. “You see it with your own naked eye,” he says. To find out whether this ability is common or a rare occurrence, Palczewski scanned the retinas of 30 healthy volunteers with a low-energy beam of light, and changed its wavelength. As the wavelength increased into the infrared (IR), participants found the light at first harder to detect, but at around 1,000 nm the light became easier to see. How humans can do this has puzzled scientists for years.

Although the researchers do not yet have direct evidence that two-photon reactions power infrared vision, the team's computer simulations suggests that this is the case. Their quantum-chemistry calculations showed that rhodopsin can absorb two low-energy photons and kick into the same excited state as when it absorbs one photon of visible light. The same calculations also predicted that the double absorption should peak between 1,000 and 1,100 nm, something that the team's experiements confirmed. The results are published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science1.

The next step is to look at exploiting this work. “An interesting possibility is to try to create mutants in the laboratory which would respond to IR light of even lower intensity,” says Olivucci.

UpTempo Group's curator insight, December 5, 2014 9:05 PM

This is a very interesting scientific article regarding the visible spectrum and recent research that suggests that people can see infrared light.

UpTempo Group's curator insight, December 5, 2014 9:06 PM

Interesting research regarding the visible spectrum for the human eye.

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Synthetic XNA, with a different sugar backbone to natural DNA, can mimic many properties of the real thing

Synthetic XNA, with a different sugar backbone to natural DNA, can mimic many properties of the real thing | Amazing Science |

The "XNAzymes", as the researchers call them, could jump-start simple reactions, such as cutting and joining RNA strands in a test tube. One of the XNAzymes joined XNA strands together - something that represents one of the first steps to creating a living system, say scientists. Dr Holliger said: "Our work suggests that, in principle, there are a number of possible alternatives to nature's molecules that will support the catalytic processes required for life. Life's 'choice' of RNA and DNA may just be an accident of prehistoric chemistry." He said it was possible that life could be found on other planets, born from a molecular "backbone" other than DNA.

Back here on Earth, synthetic enzymes might be useful for treating human diseases such as cancer. Dr Holliger explained that XNAs are ideally suited as a therapy. Chemically, they are extremely hardy and, because they do not occur in nature, they can evade the body's natural degrading enzymes.

"This might make them an attractive candidate for long-lasting treatments that can disrupt disease-related RNAs," he said.

"And because we can modify chemistry at least to some extent to our hearts' content, we can make tailor-made enzymes for particular purposes." Prof Paul Freemont, an expert in structural biology at Imperial College London, said: "I can see how there could be therapeutic strategies downstream if we can start to mimic nature and develop synthetic variants. "What excites me more is the questions it raises about the origins of life. It provokes people to think that what we see on our planet is just one chemical possibility. It's the pure challenge of the chemistry of life."

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Design and Development of a Novel Vaccine for Protection against Lyme Disease (Borreliosis)

Design and Development of a Novel Vaccine for Protection against Lyme Disease (Borreliosis) | Amazing Science |

There is currently no Lyme borreliosis vaccine available for humans, although it has been shown that the disease can be prevented by immunization with an OspA-based vaccine (LYMErix). Outer surface protein A (OspA) is one of the dominant antigens expressed by the spirochetes when present in a tick. The Borrelia species causing Lyme borreliosis in Europe express different OspA serotypes on their surface, B. burgdorferi (serotype 1), B. afzelii (serotype 2), B. garinii (serotypes, 3, 5 and 6) and B. bavariensis(serotype 4), while only B. burgdorferi is present in the US. In order to target all these pathogenic Borreliaspecies, scientists have now designed a multivalent OspA-based vaccine. The vaccine includes three proteins, each containing the C-terminal half of two OspA serotypes linked to form a heterodimer. In order to stabilize the C-terminal fragment and thus preserve important structural epitopes at physiological temperature, disulfide bonds were introduced. The immunogenicity was increased by introduction of a lipidation signal which ensures the addition of an N-terminal lipid moiety. Three immunizations with 3.0 µg adjuvanted vaccine protected mice from a challenge with spirochetes expressing either OspA serotype 1, 2 or 5. Mice were protected against both challenge with infected ticks and in vitro grown spirochetes. Immunological analyses (ELISA, surface binding and growth inhibition) indicated that the vaccine can provide protection against the majority of Borrelia species pathogenic for humans. This technique allows for the generation of a hexavalent vaccine that can potentially protect against a broad range of globally distributed Borrelia species causing Lyme borreliosis.

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The smart mouse with the partially human brain

The smart mouse with the partially human brain | Amazing Science |

Mice have been created whose brains are half human. As a result, the animals are smarter than their siblings. The idea is not to mimic fiction, but to advance our understanding of human brain diseases by studying them in whole mouse brains rather than in dishes. The altered mice still have mouse neurons – the "thinking" cells that make up around half of all their brain cells. But practically all the glial cells in their brains, the ones that support the neurons, are human.

"It's still a mouse brain, not a human brain," says Steve Goldman of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. "But all the non-neuronal cells are human." Goldman's team extracted immature glial cells from donated human fetuses. They injected them into mouse pups where they developed into astrocytes, a star-shaped type of glial cell.

Within a year, the mouse glial cells had been completely usurped by the human interlopers. The 300,000 human cells each mouse received multiplied until they numbered 12 million, displacing the native cells.

"We could see the human cells taking over the whole space," says Goldman. "It seemed like the mouse counterparts were fleeing to the margins."

Human astrocytes are 10 to 20 times the size of mouse astrocytes and carry 100 times as many tendrils. This means they can coordinate all the neural signals in an area far more adeptly than mouse astrocytes can. "It's like ramping up the power of your computer," says Goldman.

A battery of standard tests for mouse memory and cognition showed that the mice with human astrocytes are much smarter than their mousy peers. In one test that measures ability to remember a sound associated with a mild electric shock, for example, the humanized mice froze for four times as long as other mice when they heard the sound, suggesting their memory was about four times better. "These were whopping effects," says Goldman. "We can say they were statistically and significantly smarter than control mice."

Goldman first reported last year that mice with human glial cells are smarter. But the human cells his team injected then were mature so they simply integrated into the mouse brain tissue and stayed put. This time, he injected the precursors of these cells, glial progenitor cells, which were able to divide and multiply. That, he says, explains how they were able to take over the mouse brains so completely, stopping only when they reached the physical limits of the space.

To explore further how the human astrocytes affect intelligence, memory and learning, Goldman is already grafting the cells into rats, which are more intelligent than mice. "We've done the first grafts, and are mapping distributions of the cells," he says.

Although this may sound like the work of science fiction – think Deep Blue Sea, where researchers searching for an Alzheimer's cure accidently create super-smart sharks, or Algernon, the lab mouse who has surgery to enhance his intelligence, or even the pigoons, Margaret Atwood's pigs with human stem cells – and human thoughts – Goldman is quick to dismiss any idea that the added cells somehow make the mice more human.

"This does not provide the animals with additional capabilities that could in any way be ascribed or perceived as specifically human," he says. "Rather, the human cells are simply improving the efficiency of the mouse's own neural networks. It's still a mouse."

However, the team decided not to try putting human cells into monkeys. "We briefly considered it but decided not to because of all the potential ethical issues," Goldman says. "It could be difficult to decide which animals to put human brain cells into. If you make animals more human-like, where do you stop?" he says.

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Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy: Computer Simulation Sharpens Insight into Molecules

Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy: Computer Simulation Sharpens Insight into Molecules | Amazing Science |

The resolution of scanning tunnelling microscopes can be improved dramatically by attaching small molecules or atoms to their tip. The resulting images were the first to show the geometric structure of molecules and have generated a lot of interest among scientists over the last few years. Scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague have now used computer simulations to gain deeper insights into the physics of these new imaging techniques. One of these techniques was presented in the journal Science by American scientists this spring. The results have now been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Together with his colleagues from the Peter Grünberg Institute (PGI-3), in 2008 Tautz introduced the method of attaching single molecules – initially hydrogen molecules, later molecules such as carbon monoxide – to the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope and using them as extremely sensitive measuring probes. The scientific community responded with great interest to this method, and the technique has since been continuously refined. It enables scanning tunneling microscopes to be used as a kind of atomic force microscope that is able to image the geometric structure of molecules with unprecedented accuracy.

In the last few years, such atomic sensors have also proven useful for work with atomic force microscopes. Then, in May 2014, scientists from the University of California, Irvine, showed for the first time that these sensors can also be used to improve signals in a related imaging mode known as inelastic electron tunneling spectroscopy. In this case, it is the vibration of the sensor molecule against the microscope tip that reacts sensitively to the surface potential of the scanned sample.

"Our calculations show the effect of the electrostatic forces on the high-resolution AFM, STM, and IETS images", explains Dr. Pavel Jelínek from the Institute of Physics at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague. "We believe that the results of this work are an important contribution to the use of inelastic electron tunnelling spectroscopy that will allow the technique to be used as an additional source of information in materials science and to derive additional parameters from the images."

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Experiment demonstrates direct brain to brain interface between humans

Experiment demonstrates direct brain to brain interface between humans | Amazing Science |

University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

At the time of the first experiment in August 2013, the UW team was the first to demonstrate two human brains communicating in this way. The researchers then tested their brain-to-brain interface in a more comprehensive study, published Nov. 5 in the journal PLOS ONE ("A Direct Brain-to-Brain Interface in Humans").

“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. “Now we have replicated our methods and know that they can work reliably with walk-in participants.”

In this photo, UW students Darby Losey, left, and Jose Ceballos are positioned in two different buildings on campus as they would be during a brain-to-brain interface demonstration. The sender, left, thinks about firing a cannon at various points throughout a computer game. That signal is sent over the Web directly to the brain of the receiver, right, whose hand hits a touchpad to fire the cannon.

Read more: Study shows direct brain interface between humans (w/video) 

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An impenetrable barrier to ultrarelativistic electrons in the Van Allen radiation belts

An impenetrable barrier to ultrarelativistic electrons in the Van Allen radiation belts | Amazing Science |

A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered an invisible shield some 7,200 miles above Earth that blocks so-called “killer electrons,” which whip around the planet at near-light speed and have been known to threaten astronauts, fry satellites and degrade space systems during intense solar storms.

The barrier to the particle motion was discovered in the Van Allen radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped rings above Earth that are filled with high-energy electrons and protons, said Distinguished Professor Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Held in place by Earth’s magnetic field, the Van Allen radiation belts periodically swell and shrink in response to incoming energy disturbances from the sun.

As the first significant discovery of the space age, the Van Allen radiation belts were detected in 1958 by Professor James Van Allen and his team at the University of Iowa and were found to be comprised of an inner and outer belt extending up to 25,000 miles above Earth’s surface. In 2013, Baker -- who received his doctorate under Van Allen -- led a team that used the twin Van Allen Probes launched by NASA in 2012 to discover a third, transient “storage ring” between the inner and outer Van Allen radiation belts that seems to come and go with the intensity of space weather.

The latest mystery revolves around an “extremely sharp” boundary at the inner edge of the outer belt at roughly 7,200 miles in altitude that appears to block the ultrafast electrons from breeching the shield and moving deeper towards Earth’s atmosphere.

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Rare Black Sea Anlerfish Caught on Film for the First Time

Rare Black Sea Anlerfish Caught on Film for the First Time | Amazing Science |

Made famous in the movie Finding Nemo, a sea devil is caught on film for the first time. The anglerfish survived capture and is now being studied in a specially equipped laboratory.

With its gaping mouth, needle-sharp teeth, and slightly startled expression, the black sea devil anglerfish seems tailor-made for the spotlight. And in fact, one particular female got her close-up on November 17 when researchers got footage of this rare anglerfish—the first time this species has been filmed alive and in its natural habitat—off of central California.

A team using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in the Monterey Bay Canyon spied this 3.5-inch-long (9 centimeter) black sea devil about 1,900 feet (580 meters) deep. The scientists were then able to bring her up to the surface alive—no mean feat—and have been monitoring the fish ever since. Bruce Robison, a deep-sea ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, has brought up sea devils from the deep before, but never with an ROV. "It came up in absolutely perfect condition," he says.

Having a living animal to study is telling scientists so much more than they could ever have gotten from the dead, preserved specimens floating around various research facilities, Robison explains. "One of the first things that we got back from ichthyologists was astonishment at how the fish uses its dorsal fin to swim," he says. "Nobody had ever seen that." The anglerfish also appeared to be breathing more than expected, given its build, Robison added.

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First flat panel OLED lighting going on sale, providing a new energy-efficient alternative to LED lights

First flat panel OLED lighting going on sale, providing a new energy-efficient alternative to LED lights | Amazing Science |

Where LED (light-emitting diode) lighting uses small, intensely bright sources of light, which are typically made to look like traditional light bulbs, OLED (organic light-emitting diode) lighting uses flat, dimmer sources of light, essentially resulting in a glowing square or rectangle. Steady advances in manufacturing technology have made OLEDs bright and long-lived enough to use, and now they're going mainstream: Acuity Brands, whose $2 billion in annual sales make it the largest lighting company in North America, is now selling OLED light fixtures in Home Depot, starting at $200. Because OLED panels are not piercingly bright, they can be mounted in fixtures seen directly by the eye; there's no need for reflectors or diffusers to cut the glare. The approach also opens new options for lighting designs.

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Wireless nanorod-nanotube film enables light stimulation of blind retina

Wireless nanorod-nanotube film enables light stimulation of blind retina | Amazing Science |

Scientists have developed a new light-sensitive film that could one day form the basis of a prosthetic retina to help people suffering from retinal damage or degeneration. Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers collaborated with colleagues from Tel Aviv University and Newcastle University in the research, which was published in the journal Nano Letters.

The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the inner surface of the eye. Composed of light-sensitive nerve cells, it converts images to electrical impulses and sends them to the brain. Damage to the retina from macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and other conditions can reduce vision or cause total blindness. In the United States alone, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects as many as 15 million Americans, with over 200,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

Scientists are currently designing a variety of medical devices to counter the effects of retinal disorders by sending visual signals to the brain. But these silicon-chip based solutions are typically hampered by their size, use of rigid parts, or requirement of external wiring such as to energy sources.

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Human genomes are extraordinarily individual, study finds

Human genomes are extraordinarily individual, study finds | Amazing Science |

In 2001 scientists announced the successful decoding of the first human genome. Since then, thousands more have been sequenced. The price of a genetic analysis will soon fall below the 1,000 dollar mark. Given this rapid pace of development, it’s easy to forget that the technology used only reads a mixed product of genetic information.

The analytical methods commonly employed do not take into account the fact that every person has two sets of genetic material. “So they are ignoring an essential property of the human genome. However, it’s important to know, for example, how mutations are distributed between the two chromosome sets,” says Margret Hoehe from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, who carried out the study.

Hoehe and her team have developed molecular genetic and bioinformatic methods that make it possible to sequence the two sets of chromosomes in a human separately. The researchers decoded the maternal and paternal parts of the genome in 14 people and supplemented their analysis with the genetic material of 372 Europeans from the 1000 Genomes Project. “Fourteen people may not sound like a lot, but given the technical challenge, it is an unprecedented achievement,” says Hoehe.

The results show that most genes can occur in many different forms within a population: On average, about 250 different forms of each gene exist. The researchers found around four million different gene forms just in the 400 or so genomes they analysed. This figure is certain to increase as more human genomes are examined. More than 85 percent of all genes have no predominant form which occurs in more than half of all individuals. This enormous diversity means that over half of all genes in an individual, around 9,000 of 17,500, occur uniquely in that one person - and are therefore individual in the truest sense of the word.

Some of the many variants that alter the genome also have an effect at the protein level. The researchers have now identified a set of 4,000 genes that are altered by mutations so that their proteins occur especially frequently in two different forms in humans. These genes mainly control signal transmission between cells, the immune system and gene activity. This dual gene and protein arrangement has the advantage that it allows the activity of genes to be more flexibly adjusted and altered. By using the more favourable variant, the body is better able to adapt to changes in its own processes and to environmental conditions. If the duality of genes goes awry and the wrong protein form is used, this can trigger pathogenic mechanisms. This is probably why those 4,000 genes include many disease genes.

These findings will change the interpretation of genetic analyses and the prediction of diseases. Moreover, individualised medicine cannot ignore the “dual nature” of human genomes. “Our investigations at the protein level have shown that 96 percent of all genes have at least 5 to 20 different protein forms. This results in tremendous individual diversity in possible interactions between genes, and shows how daunting the challenge is to develop individually tailored therapies,” says Hoehe.

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A sound loud enough to bend light on a computer chip

A sound loud enough to bend light on a computer chip | Amazing Science |
During a thunderstorm, we all know that it is common to hear thunder after we see the lightning. That's because sound travels much slower (768 miles per hour) than light (670,000,000 miles per hour).

Now, University of Minnesota engineering researchers have developed a chip on which both sound wave and light wave are generated and confined together so that the sound can very efficiently control the light. The novel device platform could improve wireless communications systems using optical fibers and ultimately be used for computation using quantum physicsThe research was recently published in Nature CommunicationsThe University of Minnesota chip is made with a silicon base coated with a layer of aluminum nitride that conducts an electric change. Applying alternating electrical signal to the material causes the material to deform periodically and generate sound waves that grow on its surface, similar to earthquake waves that grow from the center of the earthquake. The technology has been widely used in cell phones and other wireless devices as microwave filters.

"Our breakthrough is to integrate optical circuits in the same layer of material with acoustic devices in order to attain extreme strong interaction between light and sound waves," said Mo Li, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the lead researcher of the study.

The researchers used the state-of-the-art nanofabrication technology to make arrays of electrodes with a width of only 100 nanometers (0.00001 centimeters) to excite sound waves at an unprecedented high frequency that is higher than 10 GHz, the frequency used for satellite communications.

"What's remarkable is that at this high frequency, the wavelength of the sound is even shorter than the wavelength of light. This is achieved for the first time on a chip," said Semere Tadesse, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota's School of Physics and Astronomy and the first author of the paper. "In this unprecedented regime, sound can interact with light most efficiently to achieve high-speed modulation."

suresh mari's comment, December 2, 2014 12:15 AM
Recovering speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag filmed through soundproof glass
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Infinity and Beyond: In a Multiverse - What are the Odds?

Infinity and Beyond: In a Multiverse - What are the Odds? | Amazing Science |

Testing the multiverse hypothesis requires measuring whether our universe is statistically typical among the infinite variety of universes. But if modern physics is to be believed, we shouldn’t be here. The meager dose of energy infusing empty space, which at higher levels would rip the cosmos apart, is a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion times tinier than theory predicts. And the minuscule mass of the Higgs boson, whose relative smallness allows big structures such as galaxies and humans to form, falls roughly 100 quadrillion times short of expectations. Dialing up either of these constants even a little would render the universe unlivable.

To account for our incredible luck, leading cosmologists like Alan Guth and Stephen Hawking envision our universe as one of countless bubbles in an eternally frothing sea. This infinite “multiverse” would contain universes with constants tuned to any and all possible values, including some outliers, like ours, that have just the right properties to support life. In this scenario, our good luck is inevitable: A peculiar, life-friendly bubble is all we could expect to observe.

Many physicists loathe the multiverse hypothesis, deeming it a cop-out of infinite proportions. But as attempts to paint our universe as an inevitable, self-contained structure falter, the multiverse camp is growing. The problem remains how to test the hypothesis. Proponents of the multiverse idea must show that, among the rare universes that support life, ours is statistically typical. The exact dose of vacuum energy, the precise mass of our underweight Higgs boson, and other anomalies must have high odds within the subset of habitable universes. If the properties of this universe still seem atypical even in the habitable subset, then the multiverse explanation fails.

The multiverse hypothesis gained considerable traction in 1987, when the Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg used it to predict the infinitesimal amount of energy infusing the vacuum of empty space, a number known as the cosmological constant, denoted by the Greek letter Λ (lambda). Vacuum energy is gravitationally repulsive, meaning it causes space-time to stretch apart. Consequently, a universe with a positive value for Λ expands — faster and faster, in fact, as the amount of empty space grows — toward a future as a matter-free void. Universes with negative Λ eventually contract in a “big crunch.”

Weinberg turned to a concept called anthropic selection in response to “the continued failure to find a microscopic explanation of the smallness of the cosmological constant,” as he wrote in Physical Review Letters (PRL). He posited that life forms, from which observers of universes are drawn, require the existence of galaxies. The only values of Λ that can be observed are therefore those that allow the universe to expand slowly enough for matter to clump together into galaxies. In his PRL paper, Weinberg reported the maximum possible value of Λ in a universe that has galaxies. It was a multiverse-generated prediction of the most likely density of vacuum energy to be observed, given that observers must exist to observe it.

A decade later, astronomers discovered that the expansion of the cosmos was accelerating at a rate that pegged Λ at 10−123 (in units of “Planck energy density”). A value of exactly zero might have implied an unknown symmetry in the laws of quantum mechanics — an explanation without a multiverse. But this absurdly tiny value of the cosmological constant appeared random. And it fell strikingly close to Weinberg’s prediction.

The infinite multiverse can be divided into finite regions called causal diamonds that range from large and rare with many observers (left) to small and common with few observers (right). In this scenario, causal diamonds like ours should be large enough to give rise to many observers but small enough to be relatively common. The causal-diamond measure has now racked up a number of successes. It offers a solution to a mystery of cosmology called the “why now?” problem, which asks why we happen to live at a time when the effects of matter and vacuum energy are comparable, so that the expansion of the universe recently switched from slowing down (signifying a matter-dominated epoch) to speeding up (a vacuum energy-dominated epoch).

The causal-diamond measure falls short in a few ways, however. It does not gauge the probabilities of universes with negative values of the cosmological constant. And its predictions depend sensitively on assumptions about the early universe, at the inception of the future-pointing light cone. But researchers in the field recognize its promise. By sidestepping the infinities underlying the measure problem, the causal diamond “is an oasis of finitude into which we can sink our teeth,” said Andreas Albrecht, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Davis, and one of the early architects of inflation.

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Human ancestors may have begun evolving the knack for consuming alcohol about 10 million years ago

Human ancestors may have begun evolving the knack for consuming alcohol about 10 million years ago | Amazing Science |

The ability to break down alcohol likely helped human ancestorsmake the most out of rotting, fermented fruit that fell onto the forest floor, the researchers said. Therefore, knowing when this ability developed could help researchers figure out when these human ancestors began moving to life on the ground, as opposed to mostly in trees, as earlier human ancestors had lived. "A lot of aspects about the modern human condition — everything from back pain to ingesting too much salt, sugar and fat — goes back to our evolutionary history," said lead study author Matthew Carrigan, a paleogeneticist at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. "We wanted to understand more about the modern human condition with regards to ethanol," he said, referring to the kind of alcohol found in rotting fruit and that's also used in liquor and fuel.

To learn more about how human ancestors evolved the ability to break down alcohol, scientists focused on the genes that code for a group of digestive enzymes called the ADH4 family. ADH4 enzymes are found in the stomach, throat and tongue of primates, and are the first alcohol-metabolizing enzymes to encounter ethanol after it is imbibed. The researchers investigated the ADH4 genes from 28 different mammals, including 17 primates. They collected the sequences of these genes from either genetic databanks or well-preserved tissue samples.

The scientists looked at the family trees of these 28 species, to investigate how closely related they were and find out when their ancestors diverged. In total, they explored nearly 70 million years of primate evolution. The scientists then used this knowledge to investigate how the ADH4 genes evolved over time and what the ADH4 genes of their ancestors might have been like.

Then, Carrigan and his colleagues took the genes for ADH4 from these 28 species, as well as the ancestral genes they modeled, and plugged them into bacteria, which read the genes and manufactured the ADH4 enzymes. Next, they tested how well those enzymes broke down ethanol and other alcohols. This method of using bacteria to read ancestral genes is "a new way to observe changes that happened a long time ago that didn't fossilize into bones," Carrigan said.

The results suggested there was a single genetic mutation 10 million years ago that endowed human ancestors with an enhanced ability to break down ethanol. "I remember seeing this huge difference in effects with this mutation and being really surprised," Carrigan said. The scientists noted that the timing of this mutation coincided with a shift to a terrestrial lifestyle. The ability to consume ethanol may have helped human ancestors dine on rotting, fermenting fruit that fell on the forest floor when other food was scarce.

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This year, record-breaking heat has been observed in every continent and major ocean of our planet

This year, record-breaking heat has been observed in every continent and major ocean of our planet | Amazing Science |

The first ten months of 2014 have been the hottest since record keeping began more than 130 years ago, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That may be hard to believe for people in places like Buffalo, New York, which saw a record early snowfall this year.

But NOAA says, despite the early bitter cold across parts of the United States in recent weeks, it's been a hot year so far for the Earth. With two months left on the calendar, 2014 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record. The average global temperature between January and October has been 0.68 degrees Celsius (1.22 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the 20th century's average global temperature of 14.1 C (57.4 F).

NOAA's analysis is an important "health gauge" indicating an ominous trend for the planet, says CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

"It's becoming increasingly more difficult to be a skeptic of the causes of our warming planet," he says. This October was the hottest October on record globally, NOAA data showed. The mercury climbed more than one degree Fahrenheit above the 20th century average of 57.1 F. It was the fourth warmest October on record for the United States, NOAA said. "The record high October temperature was driven by warmth across the globe over both the land and ocean surfaces and was fairly evenly distributed between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres," the agency said.

NOAA's analysis breaks down global temperatures into two categories -- land and ocean -- then an average that includes both. The record high temperatures in October were recorded across both land and sea. The surface temperature on land approached an important scientific benchmark. It was almost 2 degrees Celsius higher than the 20th century average for October of 9.3 C (48.7 F). According to the non-binding international agreement on climate change -- the Copenhagen Accord, reached in 2009 -- any temperature increase above the 2 degree Celsius mark is "dangerous."

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Cows with human chromosomes can now produce large amounts of human antibodies

Cows with human chromosomes can now produce large amounts of human antibodies | Amazing Science |

Humans have been using antibody therapies to treat infectious disease for more than 100 years. Blood plasma from influenza survivors administered to sick patients in 1912 may have contributed to their dramatic turnaround. In the years since, immune proteins from survivors have been administered to infected individuals in an attempt to combat diseases like Lassa fever, SARS, and even Ebola. 

It’s hard, however, to find survivors who can donate plasma containing these lifesaving immune proteins. Now, a team led by researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Frederick, Maryland, has used genetically engineered cows to produce large amounts of human antibodies against hantavirus, an often deadly disease mainly transmitted from rodents to people. In animal models, at least, these antibodies provided robust protection against the virus, opening the door to therapies to treat and prevent hantavirus, for which there is no cure. The bioproduction technique also holds promise for generating antibodies against other infectious agents.  

The work is preliminary and needs to be tested in people, but the team calls it a “proof-of-concept” that human antibodies can be grown in animals and retain their activity against disease. “I’m personally very excited about it. I think that this offers potential for treatment of patients with hantavirus infection,” says Greg Mertz, an infectious disease specialist at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, who was not involved in the research. “If you extrapolate this to other diseases, there are some where this approach might be promising.”

The USAMRIID researchers, led by virologist Jay Hooper, teamed up with SAB Biotherapeutics in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to use genetically engineered cows that, when presented with an antigen, could produce fully human polyclonal antibodies against both the Sin Nombre hantavirus strain, first isolated from the Four Corners region of the southwestern United Sates, and the Andes hantavirus strain, which is prevalent in Chile. There, it infects an average of 55 people annually and kills about a third of them. After a lengthy incubation period and a few days of fever and muscle aches, the virus attacks the lungs and often causes acute respiratory failure leading to death. There is no cure, and the experimental vaccines would be logistically challenging to use even if they passed clinical trials.

Diane Johnson's curator insight, December 2, 2014 7:45 AM

Bio-engineering example

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DNA surviving space flight and 1000˚C re-entry temperatures into Earth's atmosphere

DNA surviving space flight and 1000˚C re-entry temperatures into Earth's atmosphere | Amazing Science |

DNA can survive a flight through space and re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere and still pass on genetic information, scientists from the University of Zurich (UZH) found during a March 2011 experiment on the TEXUS-49 research rocket, the researchers reported in the journal PLOS ONE (open access) Thursday (Nov. 26, 2014).

The researchers applied plasmid DNA molecules to the outer shell of the payload section of a rocket using pipettes. Surviving space flight, 1000°C temperatures, re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, and landing, about half of the DNA molecules were still found on all the application points on the rocket.

In addition, up to 35% of the DNA retained its full biological function (mediating antibiotic resistance in bacteria and fluorescent marker expression in cells). DNA salvaged was even still able to transfer genetic information to bacterial and connective tissue cells.

“This study provides experimental evidence that the DNA’s genetic information is essentially capable of surviving the extreme conditions of space and the re-entry into Earth’s dense atmosphere,” says study head Professor Oliver Ullrich from the UZH Institute of Anatomy.

The additional experiment was intended to answer the question: “could the outer structure of the rocket be suitable for stability tests on biosignatures — molecules that can prove the existence of past or present extraterrestrial life,” explains Cora S. Thiel of the UZH Institute of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine.

The researchers say the study reveals that genetic information from the DNA can essentially withstand the most extreme conditions, supporting the speculation that DNA could reach us from outer space in extraterrestrial material made of dust and meteorites, for instance, around 100 tons of which hits our planet every day.

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ThyssenKrupp, Germany, unveils the revolutionary multi-directional elevator concept

ThyssenKrupp, Germany, unveils the revolutionary multi-directional elevator concept | Amazing Science |

Elevator design hasn't progressed very much during the past 160 years, and still comprises cabins which move vertically in a shaft supported by cables. This is inefficient and limiting, taking up a relatively large footprint and requiring people to wait a long time for the next lift. However, German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp has unveiled a revolutionary Willy Wonka-style elevator concept that allows several cabins to move both horizontally and vertically in the same elevator shaft, at the same time.

Dubbed the "Multi", ThyssenKrupp's elevator concept is cited by the firm as the world's first cable-free elevator. We're not sure about this, as electromagnetic specialist MagneMotion may have got there first. Still, ThyssenKrupp's system looks far more involved than simply doing away with cables, and it poses potential implications for the future design of tall buildings. The Multi is propelled by a magnet-based drive that uses the same technology behind Shanghai's super-fast Maglev train, which was built by Transrapid International, a joint venture of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp. Each elevator will feature one motor for horizontal and vertical movement, and rather than a single shaft, a skyscraper featuring the Multi would sport a complex system of shafts that could offer passengers access to an elevator every 15 to 30 seconds.

ThyssenKrupp says that because the Multi requires smaller shafts than typical elevators, it could increase a building's usable area by up to 25 percent. It's lighter too, and the use of lightweight materials for cabins and doors slims the Multi down to around 50 percent of a typical elevator's weight. The firm says that a 300 m (984 ft)-tall building would be the ideal starting height for the technology.

Enrico De Angelis's curator insight, November 30, 2014 5:18 AM

Innovation starts, often, from dreams. Cinema often comes before technology:

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Centipede Genome Yields Surprises: Loss of Light Receptor Genes and Circadian Clock

Centipede Genome Yields Surprises: Loss of Light Receptor Genes and Circadian Clock | Amazing Science |

A team of scientists has sequenced the genome of the centipede for the first time and found that it has around 15,000 genes -- about 7,000 fewer than humans do.

Arthropods -- the most species-rich group of animals on Earth -- are divided into four classes, including insects, crustaceans, chelicerates and myriapods. The latter group, which includes centipedes, is the only class for which no genome had yet been sequenced, scientists said in a study, published in the journal PLOS Biology.

“With genomes in hand from each of the four classes of living arthropod, we can now begin to build a picture of the genetic make-up of their common ancestor,” Frank Jiggins, of the University of Cambridge's genetics department, and one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a statement. “For example, by comparing flies and mosquitoes with centipedes, we have shown that the innate immune systems of insects are much older than previously appreciated.”

As part of the study, the scientists sequenced the genome of “Strigamia maritima,” a northern European centipede. They found that its genome is more conserved than that of many other arthropods, such as the fruit fly, suggesting that the centipede has evolved more slowly from their common ancestor. Despite their name, centipedes do not have hundred legs. Strigamia maritima, which lives in coastal habitats, can have between 45 and 51 pairs of legs, but the number of pairs is always odd.

The researchers also discovered that the centipedes have lost the genes encoding all of the known light receptors used by animals, as well as the genes controlling the circadian rhythm, or the body clock.

“Strigamia live underground and have no eyes, so it is not surprising that many of the genes for light receptors are missing, but they behave as if they are hiding from the light. They must have some alternative way of detecting when they are exposed,” Michael Akam of the University of Cambridge and one of the lead researchers of the study, said in the statement.

Bernadette Cassel's curator insight, January 1, 2015 6:47 PM


→  Le premier génome de myriapode séquencé   

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High-fidelity photon-to-atom quantum state transfer could form backbone of quantum networks

High-fidelity photon-to-atom quantum state transfer could form backbone of quantum networks | Amazing Science |

In a quantum network, information is stored, processed, and transmitted from one device to another in the form of quantum states. The quantum nature of the network gives it certain advantages over classical networks, such as greater security.

One promising method for implementing a quantum network involves using both atoms and photons for their unique advantages. While atoms are useful as nodes (in the form of quantum memories and processors) due to their long storage times, photons are useful as links (on optical fibers) because they're better at carrying quantum information over large distances.

However, using both atoms and photons requires that quantum states be converted between single atoms and single photons. This in turn requires a high degree of control over the emission and absorption processes in which single atoms act as senders and receivers of single photons. Because it's difficult to achieve complete overlap between the atomic and photonic modes, photon-to-atom state transfer usually suffers from low fidelities of below 10%. This means that more than 90% of the time the state transfer is unsuccessful.

In a new paper published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers led by Jürgen Eschner, Professor at Saarland University in Saarbrucken, Germany, has experimentally demonstrated photon-to-atom quantum state transfer with a fidelity of more than 95%. This drastic improvement marks an important step toward realizing future large-scale quantum networksThe researchers' protocol consists of transferring the polarization state of a laser photon onto the ground state of a trapped calcium ion. To do this, the researchers prepared the calcium ion in a quantum superposition state, in which it simultaneously occupies two atomic levels. When the ion absorbs a photon emitted by a laser at an 854-nm wavelength, the photon's polarization state gets mapped onto the ion. Upon absorbing the photon, the ion returns to its ground state and emits a single photon at a 393-nm wavelength. Detection of this 393-nm photon signifies a successful photon-to-atom quantum state transfer.

he researchers showed that this method achieves very high fidelities of 95-97% using a variety of atomic states and both linear and circular polarizations. The method also has a relatively high efficiency of 0.438%. The researchers explain that the large fidelity improvement is due in large part to the last step involving the detection of the 393-nm photon.

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