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Glioblastoma multiforme: Incurable brain cancer gene BCL2L12 is silenced

Glioblastoma multiforme: Incurable brain cancer gene BCL2L12 is silenced | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists at Northwestern University say they were able to demonstrate the successful delivery of a drug that turns off a critical gene in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), increasing survival rates significantly in animals with the deadly disease. This form of brain cancer, which ended Sen. Edward Kennedy’s life, kills approximately 13,000 Americans a year.

 

According to the investigators, the novel therapeutic, which is based on nanotechnology, is small and nimble enough to cross the blood-brain barrier and get to where it is needed—the brain tumor.

 

Designed to target a specific cancer-causing gene in cells, the drug flips the switch of the oncogene to “off,” silencing the gene, they added. This knocks out the proteins that keep cancer cells immortal.

 

In a study of mice (“Spherical Nucleic Acid Nanoparticle Conjugates as an RNAi-Based Therapy for Glioblastoma”), the nontoxic drug was delivered by intravenous injection. In animals with GBM, the survival rate increased nearly 20%, and tumor size was reduced three to four fold, as compared to the control group. The results were published October 30 in Science Translational Medicine.

 

“We preclinically evaluate an RNA interference (RNAi)–based nanomedicine platform, based on spherical nucleic acid (SNA) nanoparticle conjugates, to neutralize oncogene expression in GBM,” wrote the scientists. “In vivo, the SNAs penetrated the blood-brain barrier and blood-tumor barrier to disseminate throughout xenogeneic glioma explants. SNAs targeting the oncoprotein Bcl2Like12 (Bcl2L12)—an effector caspase and p53 inhibitor overexpressed in GBM relative to normal brain and low-grade astrocytomas—were effective in knocking down endogenous Bcl2L12 mRNA and protein levels, and sensitized glioma cells toward therapy-induced apoptosis by enhancing effector caspase and p53 activity.”

 

“This is a beautiful marriage of a new technology with the genes of a terrible disease,” said Chad A. Mirkin, Ph.D., a nanomedicine expert and a senior co-author of the study.

 

“This proof-of-concept further establishes a broad platform for treating a wide range of diseases, from lung and colon cancers to rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.”

 

The power of gene regulation technology is that a disease with a genetic basis can be attacked and treated if scientists have the right tools, pointed out Dr. Mirkin. Thanks to the Human Genome Project and genomics research over the last two decades, there is an enormous number of genetic targets; having the right therapeutic agents and delivery materials has been the challenge, he explained.

 

“The RNA interfering-based SNAs are a completely novel approach in thinking about cancer therapy,” said Alexander H. Stegh, Ph.D., a co-author on the study. “One of the problems is that we have large lists of genes that are somehow disregulated in glioblastoma, but we have absolutely no way of targeting all of them using standard pharmacological approaches.

 

That's where we think nanomaterials can play a fundamental role in allowing us to implement the concept of personalized medicine in cancer therapy.”

 

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Rega air rescue drone can autonomously search for missing persons

Rega air rescue drone can autonomously search for missing persons | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

We've seen autonomous aircraft doing everything from spraying crops to surveying wildlife, and now the Swiss air rescue organization Rega has announced a drone that's capable of searching for and finding missing people all on its own.

 

Thanks to an array of on-board sensors, including a daylight camera, a thermal camera, an infrared camera, and a phone-tracking tool, the Rega drone is able to scan large areas of terrain for anyone who has got themselves into trouble in the mountains.

 

Custom-made algorithms crunch the data coming through from the various cameras on the Rega drone and identify potential sightings of people – any promising leads are then relayed to operators back at base. It can work in poor visibility too, conditions which can sometimes ground the standard air rescue helicopters.

 

Where the new aircraft has the edge over most commercially available drones is the way in which it can operate for several hours at a distance of several kilometers, without being directly controlled by a human operator.

 

The drone comprises three rotor blades with a diameter of just over 2 meters (6.5 ft). Designed to fly at an altitude of 80-100 meters (262-328 ft), it uses satellite navigation techniques to methodically cover a predefined area autonomously. It comes with anti-collision systems for avoiding power lines and other aircraft too.

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Bacterial factories could manufacture high-performance proteins for space missions

Bacterial factories could manufacture high-performance proteins for space missions | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Nature has evolved protein-based substances with mechanical properties that rival even the best synthetic materials. For example, pound for pound, spider silk is stronger and tougher than steel. But unlike steel, the natural fiber cannot be mass-produced. Today, scientists report a new method that takes advantage of engineered bacteria to produce spider silk and other difficult-to-make proteins that could be useful during future space missions.

The researchers will present their results today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition.

 

"In nature, there are a lot of protein-based materials that have amazing mechanical properties, but the supply of these materials is very often limited," says Fuzhong Zhang, Ph.D., the project's principal investigator. "My lab is interested in engineering microbes so that we can not only produce these materials, but make them even better."

 

If produced in sufficient quantities, spider silk could be used for a variety of applications, ranging from bullet-proof fabric to surgical sutures. But spider silk isn't easy to farm -- spiders produce tiny quantities, and some species turn cannibalistic when kept in groups. Therefore, scientists have tried engineering bacteria, yeast, plants and even goats to produce spider silk, but they haven't yet been able to fully replicate the natural fiber's mechanical properties.

 

Part of the problem is that spider silk proteins are encoded by very long, highly repetitive sequences of DNA. Spiders have evolved ways to keep these sequences in their genome. But when scientists put this type of DNA into other organisms, the genes are very unstable, often getting snipped or otherwise altered by the host's cellular machinery. Zhang and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis wondered if they could break the long, repetitive sequences into shorter blocks that bacteria could handle and make into proteins. Then, the researchers could assemble the shorter proteins into the longer spider silk fiber.

 

The team introduced genes to bacteria that encoded two pieces of the spider silk protein, each flanked by a sequence called a split intein. Split inteins are naturally occurring protein sequences with enzymatic activity: Two split inteins on different protein fragments can join and then cut themselves out to yield an intact protein. After introducing the genes, the researchers broke open the bacteria and purified the short pieces of spider silk protein. Mixing the fragments caused them to join together through the "glue" of the split intein sequence, which then cut itself out to yield the full-length protein. When spun into fibers, the microbially produced spider silk had all of the properties of natural spider silk, including exceptional strength, toughness and stretchability. The researchers obtained more silk with this method than they could from spiders (as much as two grams of silk per liter of bacterial culture), and they are currently trying to increase the yield even more.

 

The researchers can make various repetitive proteins simply by swapping out the spider silk DNA and putting other sequences into bacteria. For example, the researchers used the technique to make a protein from mussels that adheres strongly to surfaces. The protein could someday be applied as an underwater adhesive. Now, the researchers are working on streamlining the process so that the protein-joining reaction can occur inside bacterial cells. This would improve the efficiency and potential automation of the system because researchers wouldn't have to purify the two pieces of the protein and then incubate them together.

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A Second Planet May Orbit Earth's Nearest Neighboring Star Proxima Centauri

A Second Planet May Orbit Earth's Nearest Neighboring Star Proxima Centauri | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Astronomers say they may have detected a second planet around Proxima Centauri, our solar system’s nearest neighboring star.

Announced at Breakthrough Discuss, an annual invitation-only interdisciplinary meeting held by the Breakthrough Initiatives, the planet’s existence remains unconfirmed—for now. Dubbed Proxima c, it would be a so-called super-Earth, with a minimum mass roughly six times that of our planet’s. Its nearly 1900-day orbit would likely make it a frigid, inhospitable place, orbiting some 1.5 times the Earth-sun distance from Proxima Centauri—which is a red dwarf star some four light-years away that is much smaller and dimmer than our familiar yellow sun. If confirmed, the newfound world would join Proxima b, a roughly Earth-mass planet discovered in 2016 in a more clement orbit around Proxima Centauri.

According to the scientists making the presentation (Mario Damasso of Turin Observatory and Fabio Del Sordo of the University of Crete), the tentative detection is based upon the same expansive multi-year dataset that first revealed Proxima b—with the addition of more than 60 further measurements of the star taken in 2017. The measurements, primarily gathered through the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) HARPS instrument, look for planets by the telltale wobbling they induce upon their host stars. The strength of such wobbles provides an estimate of the world’s mass; the wobble’s period yields the planet’s orbit.

 

Among other incidental evidence, the wobble of Proxima c—a subtle swerve in the position of Proxima Centauri by slightly more than a meter per second—appeared in earlier observations to be of borderline significance, but was pushed into firmer territory by the last few years of additional measurements. The search for Proxima Centauri's planets has been spearheaded by the international Pale Red Dot planet-hunting team. The results are summarized in a paper that has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

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Water that never freezes

Water that never freezes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Can water reach minus 263 degrees Celsius without turning into ice? Yes it can, say researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, if it is confined in nanometre-scale lipid channels.

 

Making ice cubes is a simple process: you take a plastic ice-cube tray like you'd find in most households, fill it with water and put it in the freezer. Before long, the water crystallizes and turns to ice.

If you were to analyze the structure of ice crystals, you'd see that the water molecules are arranged in regular 3-dimensional lattice structures. In water, by contrast, the molecules are unorganized, which is the reason that water flows.

 

Glassy water

Led by Professors Raffaele Mezzenga and Ehud Landau, a group of physicists and chemists from ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich have now identified an unusual way to prevent water from forming ice crystals, so even at extreme sub-zero temperatures it retains the amorphous characteristics of a liquid.

 

In a first step, the researchers designed and synthesized a new class of lipids (fat molecules) to create a new form of "soft" biological matter known as a lipidic mesophase. In this material, the lipids spontaneously self-assemble and aggregate to form membranes, behaving in a similar way as natural fat molecules. These membranes then adopt a uniform arrangement to form a network of connected channels that measure less than one nanometer in diameter. Temperature and water content, as well as the novel structure of the designed lipid molecules determine the structure that the lipidic mesophase takes.

 

No space for water crystals

What's so special about this structure is that -- unlike in an ice-cube tray -- there is no room in the narrow channels for water to form ice crystals, so it remains disordered even at extreme sub-zero temperatures. The lipids don't freeze either.

 

Using liquid helium, the researchers were able to cool a lipidic mesophase consisting of a chemically modified monoacylglycerol to a temperature as low as minus 263 degrees Celsius, which is a mere 10 degrees above the absolute zero temperature, and still no ice crystals formed. At this temperature, the water became "glassy," as the researchers were able to demonstrate and confirm in a simulation. Their study of this unusual behaviour of water when confined within a lipidic mesophase was recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

 

"The key factor is the ratio of lipids to water," explains Professor Raffaele Mezzenga from the Laboratory of Food & Soft Materials at ETH Zurich. Accordingly, it is the water content in the mixture that determines the temperatures at which the geometry of the mesophase changes. If, for example, the mixture contains 12 percent water by volume, the structure of the mesophase will transition at about minus 15 degrees Celsius from a cubic labyrinth to a lamellar structure.

 

Natural antifreeze for bacteria

"What makes developing these lipids so tricky is their synthesis and purification," says Ehud Landau, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Zurich. He explains that this is because lipid molecules have two parts; one that is hydrophobic (repels water) and one that is hydrophilic (attracts water). "This makes them extremely difficult to work with," he says.

 

The soft biomaterial formed from the lipid membranes and water has a complex structure that minimizes the water's contact with the hydrophobic parts and maximizes its interface with the hydrophilic parts. The researchers modeled the new class of lipids on membranes of certain bacteria. These bacteria also produce a special class of self-assembling lipids that can naturally confine water in their interior, enabling the microorganisms to survive in very cold environments. "The novelty of our lipids is the introduction of highly strained three-membered rings into specific positions within the hydrophobic parts of the molecules," says Landau. "These enable the necessary curvature to produce such tiny water channels and prevent lipids to crystallize."

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Study: Nearest exoplanets like Proxima-B could host life

Study: Nearest exoplanets like Proxima-B could host life | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Cornell astronomers say that life already has survived the kind of fierce radiation found on such faraway planets as Proxima-B, 4.24 light years from Earth, and they have proof: you.

 

Rocky, Earth-like planets orbiting our closest stars could host life, according to a new study that raises the excitement about exoplanets. When rocky, Earth-like planets were discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of some of our closest stars, excitement skyrocketed -- until hopes for life were dashed by the high levels of radiation bombarding those worlds.

 

Proxima-b, only 4.24 light years away, receives 250 times more X-ray radiation than Earth and could experience deadly levels of ultraviolet radiation on its surface. How could life survive such a bombardment? Cornell University astronomers say that life already has survived this kind of fierce radiation, and they have proof: you.

Lisa Kaltenegger and Jack O'Malley-James make their case in a new paper, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Kaltenegger is associate professor of astronomy and director of Cornell's Carl Sagan Institute, at which O'Malley-James is a research associate.

 

All of life on Earth today evolved from creatures that thrived during an even greater UV radiation assault than Proxima-b, and other nearby exoplanets, currently endure. The Earth of 4 billion years ago was a chaotic, irradiated, hot mess. Yet in spite of this, life somehow gained a toehold and then expanded. The same thing could be happening at this very moment on some of the nearest exoplanets, according to Kaltenegger and O'Malley-James. The researchers modeled the surface UV environments of the four exoplanets closest to Earth that are potentially habitable: Proxima-b, TRAPPIST-1e, Ross-128b and LHS-1140b.

 

These planets orbit small red dwarf stars which, unlike our sun, flare frequently, bathing their planets in high-energy UV radiation. While it is unknown exactly what conditions prevail upon the surface of the planets orbiting these flaring stars, it is known that such flares are biologically damaging and can cause erosion in planetary atmospheres. High levels of radiation cause biological molecules like nucleic acids to mutate or even shut down.

 

O'Malley-James and Kaltenegger modeled various atmospheric compositions, from ones similar to present-day Earth to "eroded" and "anoxic" atmospheres -- those with very thin atmospheres that don't block UV radiation well and those without the protection of ozone, respectively. The models show that as atmospheres thin and ozone levels decrease, more high-energy UV radiation reaches the ground. The researchers compared the models to Earth's history, from nearly 4 billion years ago to today.

 

Although the modeled planets receive higher UV radiation than that emitted by our own sun today, this is significantly lower than what Earth received 3.9 billion years ago. "Given that the early Earth was inhabited," the researchers wrote, "we show that UV radiation should not be a limiting factor for the habitability of planets orbiting M stars. Our closest neighboring worlds remain intriguing targets for the search for life beyond our solar system."

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Researchers Warn That The Arctic Has Entered An 'Unprecedented State' That Threatens Global Climate Stability

Researchers Warn That The Arctic Has Entered An 'Unprecedented State' That Threatens Global Climate Stability | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
"Never have so many Arctic indicators been brought together in a single paper." And the findings spell trouble for the entire planet.

 

A new research paper by American and European climate scientists focused on Arctic warming published Monday reveals that the "smoking gun" when it comes to changes in the world's northern polar region is rapidly warming air temperatures that are having—and will continue to have—massive and negative impacts across the globe.

 

The new paper—titled "Key Indicators of Arctic Climate Change: 1971–2017"—is the work of scientists at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland in Copenhagen (GUES).

 

"The Arctic system is trending away from its 20th century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic." —Jason Box, GUES "The Arctic system is trending away from its 20th century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic," said Jason Box of the GUES, lead author of the study. "Because the Arctic atmosphere is warming faster than the rest of the world, weather patterns across Europe, North America, and Asia are becoming more persistent, leading to extreme weather conditions. Another example is the disruption of the ocean circulation that can further destabilize climate: for example, cooling across northwestern Europe and strengthening of storms."

John Walsh, chief scientist at AUF's research center, was the one who called arctic air temperatures the "smoking gun" discovered during the research—a finding the team did not necessarily anticipate.

 

"I didn't expect the tie-in with temperature to be as strong as it was," Walsh said. "All the variables are connected with temperature. All components of the Arctic system are involved in this change." 

 

The study is the first of its kind to combine observations of physical climate indicators—such as snow cover, rainfall, and seasonal measurements of sea ice extent—with biological impacts, such as a mismatch in the timing of flowers blooming and pollinators working.  According to Walsh, "Never have so many Arctic indicators been brought together in a single paper."

 

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AI pioneer: ‘The dangers of abuse are very real’

AI pioneer: ‘The dangers of abuse are very real’ | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Yoshua Bengio, winner of the prestigious Turing award for his work on deep learning, is establishing international guidelines for the ethical use of AI.

 

Yoshua Bengio is one of three computer scientists who last week shared the US$1-million A. M. Turing award — one of the field’s top prizes. The three artificial-intelligence (AI) researchers are regarded as the founders of deep learning, the technique that combines large amounts of data with many-layered artificial neural networks, which are inspired by the brain. They received the award for making deep neural networks a “critical component of computing”.

 

The other two Turing winners, Geoff Hinton and Yann LeCun, work for Google and Facebook, respectively; Bengio, who is at the University of Montreal, is one of the few recognized gurus of machine learning to have stayed in academia full time.

But alongside his research, Bengio, who is also scientific director of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), has raised concerns about the possible risks from misuse of technology. In December, he presented a set of ethical guidelines for AI called the Montreal declaration at the Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) meeting in the city.

 

Nature sat down with Bengio in London in January.

Do you see a lot of companies or states using AI irresponsibly?

There is a lot of this, and there could be a lot more, so we have to raise flags before bad things happen. A lot of what is most concerning is not happening in broad daylight. It’s happening in military labs, in security organizations, in private companies providing services to governments or the police.

What are some examples?

Killer drones are a big concern. There is a moral question, and a security question. Another example is surveillance — which you could argue has potential positive benefits. But the dangers of abuse, especially by authoritarian governments, are very real. Essentially, AI is a tool that can be used by those in power to keep that power, and to increase it. Another issue is that AI can amplify discrimination and biases, such as gender or racial discrimination, because those are present in the data the technology is trained on, reflecting people’s behavior.

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"Open the pod-bay door, HAL"

 

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave,"

-- 2001, A Space Odyssey (1967)

Matthew Rodriguez's curator insight, April 8, 6:12 PM
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Fastest Connection Ever: How Google Is Cramming More Data Into Its New Atlantic Cable

Fastest Connection Ever: How Google Is Cramming More Data Into Its New Atlantic Cable | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Google says its planned Dunant cable from Virginia to France will transmit 250 terabits per second, enough to zap the Library of Congress through it three times a second.

 

Google states that the fiber optic cable it's building across the Atlantic Ocean will be the fastest of its kind. When the cable goes live next year, the company estimates it will transmit around 250 terabits per second, fast enough to zap all the contents of the Library of Congress from Virginia to France three times every second. That's about 56 percent faster than Facebook and Microsoft's Marea cable, which can transmit about 160 terabits per second between Virginia and Spain.

 

Fiber-optic networks work by sending light over thin strands of glass. Fiber-optic cables, which are about the diameter of a garden hose, enclose multiple pairs of these fibers. Google’s new cable is so fast because it carries more fiber pairs. Today, most long-distance undersea cables contain six or eight fiber-optic pairs. Google said Friday that its new cable, dubbed Dunant, is expected to be the first to include 12 pairs, thanks to new technology developed by Google and SubCom, which designs, manufactures, and deploys undersea cables.

 

Dunant might not be the fastest for long: Japanese tech giant NEC says it has technology that will enable long-distance undersea cables with 16 fiber-optic pairs. And Vijay Vusirikala, head of network architecture and optical engineering at Google, says the company is already contemplating 24-pair cables.

 

The surge in intercontinental cables, and their increasing capacity, reflect continual growth in internet traffic. They enable activists to livestream protests to distant countries, help companies buy and sell products around the world, and facilitate international romances.

 

"Many people still believe international telecommunications are conducted by satellite," says NEC executive Atsushi Kuwahara. "That was true in 1980, but nowadays, 99 percent of international telecommunications is submarine."

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New antibiotics could be developed using fish slime, scientists say

New antibiotics could be developed using fish slime, scientists say | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Fish slime could be key to the development of new antibiotics, researchers say. Antibiotic resistance is a growing danger, with experts warning of a return to a situation where everyday infections could become life-threatening.

 

The NHS is aiming to cut antibiotic use by 15% by 2024 in a bid to tackle the problem – which has been called a danger to humanity – while the government has also announced it is looking into offering incentives to drug companies to come up with new antibiotics. But academics are also on the case. Now researchers say new antibiotics might be found in the layer of mucus that coats the outer surface of young fish.

 

While the mucus itself helps protect fish from harmful bacteria, fungi and viruses, the team are interested in the collection of microbes it is home to – the so-called microbiome – and the substances it produces. “We believe the microbes in the mucus add chemistry to the antiseptic power of the mucus and that new bioactive compounds might be discovered from the fish microbiome,” said Dr Sandra Loesgen, the head of the research group behind the work at Oregon State University.

 

The research, presented at the American Chemical Society spring national meeting in Orlando, Florida, involved the team swabbing 17 species of fish caught off the southern California coast.

In total, 47 different strains of bacteria found in the mucus of the fish were grown separately and the cocktails of substances they produced were collected and tested for their antimicrobial prowess.

 

The team say a number of the strains produced chemical mixtures that were able to tackle the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, with a smaller proportion able to tackle E coli. Some also proved effective against the problematic yeast Candida albicans, and even colon cancer cells.

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NASA Selects Two Missions to Explore the Early Solar System

NASA Selects Two Missions to Explore the Early Solar System | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
NASA has selected two missions that have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system – a time less than 10 million years after the birth of our sun. The missions, known as Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists and will proceed to mission formulation.

 

To help researchers better understand Jupiter's Trojan asteroids — and by extension Jupiter's mysterious core and the early solar system — NASA plans to launch the Lucy mission in October 2021. Named after a famed 3.2-million-year-old hominin fossil that helped us explore human evolution, Lucy is a Discovery-class robotic spacecraft that aims to shed light on how our solar system came to be.

 
The above  diagram illustrates the path Lucy will take during its 12-year journey, which will take it close by four L4 asteroids, two L5 asteroids, and one main-belt asteroid for good measure.
Astronomy: Roen Kelly after Southwest Research Institute

Over the course of more than a decade, Lucy will venture out to the orbit of Jupiter to explore six different Trojans — targeting asteroids in both the Greek and Trojan camps — along with a main-belt asteroid for good measure.

 

With the help of Lucy, astronomers will soon explore the dim diamonds in the sky known as the Trojans asteroids. And because these ancient relics likely hold valuable information concerning Jupiter's core and the infant solar system, the first results of the mission cannot come soon enough.

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Scientists trial drones to protect coffee plants from devastating fungal disease

Scientists trial drones to protect coffee plants from devastating fungal disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Researchers are trialling the use of drones to monitor coffee plant health in Thailand in a bid to prevent the spread of disease.

 

Around 95 million cups of coffee are drunk a day in the UK alone, but the coffee plant is susceptible to a fungal disease known as coffee rust. This disease is devastating to the plant and can wipe out vast swathes of crops or even entire plantations.

 

If a coffee plantation is hit by disease it can destroy an entire family's livelihood. In the lower-income regions where coffee is grown, farmers also tend not to use expensive fungicides that could prevent the disease. This is also because they want to grow coffee without using chemicals to secure organic certification.

 

Now, a team led by Dr. Oliver Windram from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial are hoping to be able to prevent the spread of coffee rust using drones, and have been testing this out in the coffee growing areas of Thailand.

 

The idea is that if farmers can spot that disease has started to affect their crops, they can remove the affected plants to prevent it spreading further. This method would also allow them to control disease without chemical fungicides.

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A possible explanation for Enceladus having an underground ocean

A possible explanation for Enceladus having an underground ocean | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A pair of researchers, one with the University of Maryland the other with Southwest Research Institute, has found what they believe is a plausible explanation for the existence of the ocean beneath the surface of one of Saturn's moons. In their paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, Marc Neveu and Alyssa Rhoden describe the computer model they built to replicate conditions near Saturn over time and what they showed.

 

Saturn has over 60 moons, ranging in size from tiny globes less than 300 meters across to the giant moon Titan, which has a larger circumference than Mercury. Some of the moons orbit close to the planet, others quite far away. Scientists believe that only one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus, has a subsurface ocean. In this new effort, the researchers sought to determine why Enceladus is unique in the Saturn system.

 

The researchers started by noting that Saturn has just five inner moons, each of which is large enough to have a subsurface ocean and close enough to the planet to melt ice. They also noted that prior work by others has suggested that all of the inner moons likely developed as a result of coalesced material pulled together from debris around the planet, which would have included ice. They also noted that all five of the moons are impacted by the gravitational pull of the planet, and from one another. And finally, they noted that prior researchers have created computer models meant to mimic the tides on Saturn's moons and their geology, but to date, no models had been created to model both—the only kind of model that might explain why only one of the moons has a subsurface ocean.

 

The researchers designed their model to mimic the behavior of Saturn and its moons over the course of the past 4.5 billion years. The model showed that Enceladus developed a subsurface ocean because of its unique gravitational interactions with the other moons—they forced Enceladus into an oblong orbit. They also found that Saturn's pull on the moon continually distorted it, and that the flexing heated the moon's interior, allowing the water underground to remain liquid. None of the other four moons had conditions similar enough to allow water to remain liquid beneath their surfaces.

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Scientists Plan To Start Human Trials Testing CRISPR-Cas Soon

Scientists Plan To Start Human Trials Testing CRISPR-Cas Soon | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The powerful gene-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas has been in the news a lot. And not all the news has been good: A Chinese scientist stunned the world last year when he announced he had used CRISPR to create genetically modified babies.

 

But scientists have long hoped CRISPR-Cas — a technology that allows scientists to make very precise modifications to DNA — could eventually help cure many diseases. And now scientists are taking tangible first steps to make that dream a reality.

 

For example, NPR has learned that a U.S. CRISPR-Cas study that had been approved for cancer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has finally started. A university spokesman on Monday confirmed for the first time that two patients had been treated using CRISPR.

 

One patient had multiple myeloma, and one had sarcoma. Both had relapsed after undergoing standard treatment. The revelation comes as several other human trials of CRISPR are starting or are set to start in the U.S., Canada and Europe to test CRISPR's efficacy in treating various diseases.

 

"2019 is the year when the training wheels come off and the world gets to see what CRISPR can really do for the world in the most positive sense," says Fyodor Urnov, a gene-editing scientist at the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Seattle and the University of California, Berkeley.

 
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Scientists unveil world’s first 3D-printed heart with human tissue

Scientists unveil world’s first 3D-printed heart with human tissue | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists in Israel unveiled a 3D print of a heart with human tissue and vessels on Monday, calling it a first and a “major medical breakthrough” that advances possibilities for transplants. While it remains a far way off, scientists hope one day to be able to produce hearts suitable for transplant into humans as well as patches to regenerate defective hearts.

 
 
The heart produced by researchers at Tel Aviv University is about the size of a rabbit heart. It marked “the first time anyone anywhere has successfully engineered and printed an entire heart replete with cells, blood vessels, ventricles and chambers,” said Tal Dvir, who led the project. “People have managed to 3D-print the structure of a heart in the past, but not with cells or with blood vessels,” he said.
 
But the scientists said many challenges remain before fully working 3D printed hearts would be available for transplant into patients. Journalists were shown a 3D print of a heart about the size of a cherry, immersed in liquid, at Tel Aviv University on Monday as the researchers announced their findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Science.
 
Researchers must now teach the printed hearts “to behave” like real ones. The cells are currently able to contract, but do not yet have the ability to pump.
 
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Melting Glaciers Causing Sea Levels to Rise at Ever Greater Rates

Melting Glaciers Causing Sea Levels to Rise at Ever Greater Rates | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Melting ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic as well as ice melt from glaciers all over the world are causing sea levels to rise. Glaciers alone lost more than 9,000 billion tons of ice since 1961, raising water levels by 27 millimeters, an international research team under the lead of the University of Zürich has now found.

 

Glaciers have lost more than 9,000 billion tons (that is 9,625,000,000,000 tons) of ice between 1961 and 2016, which has resulted in global sea levels increasing by 27 millimeters in this period. The largest contributors were glaciers in Alaska, followed by the melting ice fields in Patagonia and glaciers in the Arctic regions. Glaciers in the European Alps, the Caucasus and New Zealand were also subject to significant ice loss; however, due to their relatively small glacierized areas they played only a minor role when it comes to the rising global sea levels.

 

Combination of field observations and satellite measurements

For the new study, the international research team combined glaciological field observations with geodetic satellite measurements. The latter digitally measure the surface of the Earth, providing data on ice thickness changes at different points in time. The researchers were thus able to reconstruct changes in the ice thickness of more than 19,000 glaciers worldwide. This was also possible thanks to the comprehensive database compiled by the World Glacier Monitoring Service from its worldwide network of observers, to which the researchers added their own satellite analyses. "By combining these two measurement methods and having the new comprehensive dataset, we can estimate how much ice has been lost each year in all mountain regions since the 1960s," explains Michael Zemp, who led the study. "The glaciological measurements made in the field provide the annual fluctuations, while the satellite data allows us to determine overall ice loss over several years or decades."

 

335 billion tons of ice lost each year

The global mass loss of glacier ice has increased significantly in the last 30 years and currently amounts to 335 billion tons of lost ice each year. This corresponds to an increase in sea levels of almost 1 millimeter per year. "Globally, we lose about three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps -- every single year!" says glaciologist Zemp. The melted ice of glaciers therefore accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the current increase in global sea levels. This ice loss of all glaciers roughly corresponds to the mass loss of Greenland's Ice Sheet, and clearly exceeds that of the Antarctic.

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New extinct human relative found in Philippines

New extinct human relative found in Philippines | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

There's a new addition to the family tree: an extinct species of human that's been found in the Philippines. It's known as Homo luzonensis, after the site of its discovery on the country's largest island Luzon. Its physical features are a mixture of those found in very ancient human ancestors and in more recent people. That could mean primitive human relatives left Africa and made it all the way to South-East Asia, something not previously thought possible.

 

The find shows that human evolution in the region may have been a highly complicated affair, with three or more human species in the region at around the time our ancestors arrive. One of these species was the diminutive "Hobbit" - Homo floresiensis - which survived on the Indonesian island of Flores until 50,000 years ago.

 

Prof Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, commented: "After the remarkable finds of the diminutive Homo floresiensis were published in 2004, I said that the experiment in human evolution conducted on Flores could have been repeated on many of the other islands in the region. "That speculation has seemingly been confirmed on the island of Luzon... nearly 3,000km away."


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Robots created with 3D printers could be caring for those in golden years: New design method to create soft robots

Robots created with 3D printers could be caring for those in golden years: New design method to create soft robots | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Researchers have developed a new design method to create soft robots that may help in caregiving for elderly family members.

 

The world's elderly population is booming. The number of older people -- those age 60 years or older -- is expected to more than double by 2050 and is growing faster than all younger age groups across the globe. This trend comes with an increasing demand for caregivers capable of providing 24-hour care, not only at hospitals or nursing homes, but also at private homes and apartments. Already, caregiving robots are programmed to ask questions a nurse would ask and can monitor patients for falls. These robotic assistants are expected to become increasingly marketable and reach 450,000 by 2045 because of the expected caregiver shortage in the United States.

 

"Unfortunately, the external hard structure of current caregiving robots prevents them from a safe human-robot interaction, limiting their assistance to mere social interaction and not physical interaction," said Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in Purdue's College of Engineering. "After all, would you leave babies or physically or cognitively impaired old people in the hands of a robot?"

 

Recent advances in material science have enabled the fabrication of robots with deformable bodies or the ability to reshape when touched, but the complex design, fabrication, and control of soft robots currently hinders the commercialization of this technology and its use for at-home applications.

 

Martinez and other Purdue University researchers have developed a new design method that shows promise in enabling the efficient design and fabrication of soft robots using a 3D printer. The technology is published in the April 8 edition of Advanced Functional Materials. A video showing the technology is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDpzuLbtzDM.

 

The design process involves three steps. First, a user makes a computer-aided design file with the shape of the robot. The user then paints the CAD file to show which directions the different joints of the soft robot will move. A fast computer algorithm takes a few seconds to convert the CAD model into a 3D architected soft machine (ASM) that can be printed using any conventional 3D printer. The architected soft machines move like humans, except instead of muscles they rely on miniaturized motors that pull from nylon lines tied to the ends of their limbs. They can be squeezed and stretched to more than 900 percent of their original length. A video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0L0lP0g4tg.

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First Images of A Black Hole! - Explained

The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration observed the supermassive black holes at the center of M87 and our Milky Way galaxy (SgrA*) finding the dark central shadow in accordance with General Relativity, further demonstrating the power of this 100 year-old theory.

To understand more about why the shadows look the way they do, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUyH3...

Links:

Event Horizon Telescope collaboration: https://ve42.co/EHT

Animations and simulations with English text:
L. R. Weih & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)
https://youtu.be/jvftAadCFRI

Video of observation of M87 courtesy of:
C. M. Fromm, Y. Mizuno & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)
https://youtu.be/meOKmzhTcIY

Video of observation of SgrA* courtesy of
C. M. Fromm, Y. Mizuno & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)
Z. Younsi (University College London)
https://youtu.be/VnsZj9RvhFU

Video of telescopes in the array 2017:
C. M. Fromm & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)
https://youtu.be/Ame7fzBuFnk

Animations and simulations (no text):
L. R. Weih & L. Rezzolla (Goethe University Frankfurt)
https://youtu.be/XmvpKFSvB7A

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Cold plasma can kill 99.9% of airborne viruses, study shows

Cold plasma can kill 99.9% of airborne viruses, study shows | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Dangerous airborne viruses are rendered harmless on-the-fly when exposed to energetic, charged fragments of air molecules, University of Michigan researchers have shown. They hope to one day harness this capability to replace a century-old device: the surgical mask.

 

The U-M engineers have measured the virus-killing speed and effectiveness of nonthermal plasmas -- the ionized, or charged, particles that form around electrical discharges such as sparks. A nonthermal plasma reactor was able to inactivate or remove from the airstream 99.9% of a test virus, with the vast majority due to inactivation. Achieving these results in a fraction of a second within a stream of air holds promise for many applications where sterile air supplies are needed.

 

"The most difficult disease transmission route to guard against is airborne because we have relatively little to protect us when we breathe," said Herek Clack, U-M research associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. To gauge non-thermal plasmas' effectiveness, researchers pumped a model virus -- harmless to humans -- into flowing air as it entered a reactor. Inside the reactor, borosilicate glass beads are packed into a cylindrical shape, or bed. The viruses in the air flow through the spaces between the beads, and that's where they are inactivated.

"In those void spaces, you're initiating sparks," Clack said. "By passing through the packed bed, pathogens in the air stream are oxidized by unstable atoms called radicals. What's left is a virus that has diminished ability to infect cells."

 

Notably, during these tests researchers also tracked the amount of viral genome that was present in the air. In this way, Clack and his team were able to determine that more than 99% of the air sterilizing effect was due to inactivating the virus that was present, with the remainder of the effect due to filtering the virus from the air stream.

 

"The results tell us that nonthermal plasma treatment is very effective at inactivating airborne viruses," said Krista Wigginton, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. "There are limited technologies for air disinfection, so this is an important finding."

 

The experiment and its results are published in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics.

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The molecular machinery of regulated cell death

The molecular machinery of regulated cell death | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Cells may die from accidental cell death (ACD) or regulated cell death (RCD). ACD is a biologically uncontrolled process, whereas RCD involves tightly structured signaling cascades and molecularly defined effector mechanisms. A growing number of novel non-apoptotic forms of RCD have been identified and are increasingly being implicated in various human pathologies.

 

This article critically reviews the current state of the art regarding non-apoptotic types of RCD, including necroptosis, pyroptosis, ferroptosis, entotic cell death, netotic cell death, parthanatos, lysosome-dependent cell death, autophagy-dependent cell death, alkaliptosis and oxeiptosis. The in-depth comprehension of each of these lethal subroutines and their intercellular consequences may uncover novel therapeutic targets for the avoidance of pathogenic cell loss.


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Vietnam’s Empty Forests

Vietnam’s Empty Forests | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Vietnam’s animal species decline is intense. For example, in a single remote national preserve set aside for the saola and other rare animals, 23,000 cheap but fatally efficient wire snares were found in 2015, the most recent year tallied. Tens of thousands more of these snares are placed each year, as fast as they can be confiscated. Despite intensive surveys, no verifiable sighting of a saola has occurred since a photo was taken of one, six years ago. The last rhino was shot by poachers in the Cat Tien National Park in 2010. Tigers have been effectively hunted out of existence. Only tiny populations of bears and elephants hang on in small, vulnerable pockets. Nearly all of the many primate species are at risk of extinction.

 

Some of this carnage supplies national appetites for Eastern traditional medicine in Vietnam and neighboring China. Examples from a lengthy catalog of purported remedies include: tiger penises for impotence, bear bile for cancer, rhino horn for a hangover, loris bile to ease the serious airway infections that arise from Vietnam’s air pollution.

 

Even more of the motivation, surveys have found, “is to supply the rampant demand for wildlife meat in urban restaurants, which is very much a status issue,” said Barney Long, director of species conservation for the nonprofit group Global Wildlife Conservation.

 

“This is not bush meat where poor people are hunting for food,” he said. “It’s a status symbol to take your business or government colleagues out for a wildlife meal. And honestly it’s on a scale that is mind boggling. We’re talking not about one or two species, but whole communities of wildlife disappearing.”

 

After further scouting, my wife and I decided to go anyway, arranging to fly into Hanoi, in the north, and move quickly to Vietnam’s green outback. Then we would head south to Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon, for a circuit of the parks and natural areas there.

 

Over the course of our two-week trip, we found that some exquisite wild species hold out, though in threatened circumstances. And we were fortunate, if half-willing, witnesses to the struggle by native Vietnamese, and their international conservation allies, to halt what amounts to animal genocide.

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Stephen Hawking was wrong: Dark matter is NOT made up of tiny black holes

Stephen Hawking was wrong: Dark matter is NOT made up of tiny black holes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

An international team of researchers has put a theory speculated by the late Stephen Hawking to its most rigorous test to date, and their results have ruled out the possibility that primordial black holes smaller than a tenth of a millimeter make up most of dark matter. Details of their study have been published in this week's Nature Astronomy.

 

Scientists know that 85 per cent of the matter in the Universe is made up of dark matter. Its gravitational force prevents stars in our Milky Way from flying apart. However, attempts to detect such dark matter particles using underground experiments, or accelerator experiments including the world's largest accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, have failed so far.

 

This has led scientists to consider Hawking's 1974 theory of the existence of primordial black holes, born shortly after the Big Bang, and his speculation that they could make up a large fraction of the elusive dark matter scientists are trying to discover today.

 

An international team of researchers, led by Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe Principal Investigator Masahiro Takada, PhD candidate student Hiroko Niikura, Professor Naoki Yasuda, and including researchers from Japan, India and the US, have used the gravitational lensing effect to look for primordial black holes between Earth and the Andromeda galaxy.

 

Gravitational lensing, an effect first suggested by Albert Einstein, manifests itself as the bending of light rays coming from a distant object such as a star due to the gravitational effect of an intervening massive object such as a primordial black hole. In extreme cases, such light bending causes the background star to appear much brighter than it originally is.

 

However, gravitational lensing effects are very rare events because it requires a star in the Andromeda galaxy, a primordial black hole acting as the gravitational lens, and an observer on Earth to be exactly in line with one another. So to maximize the chances of capturing an event, the researchers used the Hyper Suprime-Cam digital camera on the Subaru telescope in Hawaii, which can capture the whole image of the Andromeda galaxy in one shot.

 

Taking into account how fast primordial black holes are expected to move in interstellar space, the team took multiple images to be able to catch the flicker of a star as it brightens for a period of a few minutes to hours due to gravitational lensing.

 

From 190 consecutive images of the Andromeda galaxy taken over seven hours during one clear night, the team scoured the data for potential gravitational lensing events. If dark matter consists of primordial black holes of a given mass, in this case masses lighter than the moon, the researchers expected to find about 1000 events. But after careful analyses, they could only identify one case. The team's results showed primordial black holes can contribute no more than 0.1 per cent of all dark matter mass. Therefore, it is unlikely the theory is true.

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TESS discovers its third new planet, with longest orbit yet

TESS discovers its third new planet, with longest orbit yet | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS, has discovered a third small planet outside our solar system, scientists announced this week at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

 

The new planet, named HD 21749b, orbits a bright, nearby dwarf star about 53 light years away, in the constellation Reticulum, and appears to have the longest orbital period of the three planets so far identified by TESS. HD 21749b journeys around its star in a relatively leisurely 36 days, compared to the two other planets — Pi Mensae b, a “super-Earth” with a 6.3-day orbit, and LHS 3844b, a rocky world that speeds around its star in just 11 hours. All three planets were discovered in the first three months of TESS observations.

 

The surface of the new planet is likely around 300 degrees Fahrenheit — relatively cool, given its proximity to its star, which is almost as bright as the sun. “It’s the coolest small planet that we know of around such a nearby star,” says Diana Dragomir, a postdoc in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, who led the new discovery. “We know a lot about atmospheres of hot planets, but because it’s very hard to find small planets that orbit farther from their stars, and are therefore cooler, we haven’t been able to learn much about these smaller, cooler planets. But here we were lucky, and caught this one, and can now study it in more detail.”

 

The planet is about three times the size of Earth, which puts it in the category of a “sub-Neptune.” Surprisingly, it is also a whopping 23 times as massive as the Earth. But it is unlikely that the planet is rocky and therefore habitable; it’s more likely made of gas, of a kind that is much more dense than the atmospheres of either Neptune or Uranus.

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The Making of the Largest 3D Map of the Universe Employing 5,000 Swiveling Robots

The Making of the Largest 3D Map of the Universe Employing 5,000 Swiveling Robots | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

On April 1, 2019, a telescope dome in Arizona opened to the sky to test the performance of a new assembly of lenses built for a new instrument called DESI.

 

DESI, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, will mobilize 5,000 swiveling robots – each one pointing a thin strand of fiber-optic cable – to gather the light from about 35 million galaxies. The little robots are designed to fix on a series of preselected sky objects that are as distant as 12 billion light-years away. By studying how these galaxies are drifting away from us, DESI will provide precise measurements of the accelerating rate at which the universe is expanding. This expansion rate is caused by an invisible force known as dark energy, which is one of the biggest mysteries in astrophysics and accounts for about 68 percent of all mass and energy in the universe. In this video, DESI project participants share their insight and excitement about the project and its potential for new and unexpected discoveries. 

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What Was It Like When Venus And Mars Became Uninhabitable Planets?

What Was It Like When Venus And Mars Became Uninhabitable Planets? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Earth wasn't the only potentially habitable planet in the early Solar System. What happened to Mars and what happened to Venus?

 

If you could travel back in time to the early stages of the Solar System, some 4.5 billion years ago, you wouldn't find one life-friendly world, but three. Venus, Earth, and Mars all looked very similar from a planetary perspective, as they all had substantial surface gravity and atmospheres similar to Earth's in thickness. There were volcanoes, watery oceans, and complex interactions that enabled these worlds to retain the heat they absorbed from the Sun.

 

Moreover, the compositions of their atmosphere were similar, all rich in hydrogen, ammonia, methane, nitrogen and water vapor. For a time, conditions were favorable to life arising on all three worlds, but it didn't last. Venus experienced a runaway greenhouse effect, boiling its oceans after perhaps 200 million years. But Mars lasted far longer before becoming inhospitable: over a billion years. These are their stories.

 

It's remarkable that worlds that are so different from one another might have had such similar histories in their early stages. Both Earth and Mars likely experienced catastrophic early collisions, with Earth's creating our Moon and Mars's creating three moons, the largest of which likely fell back onto Mars at a later date.

 

All three worlds — Venus, Earth, and Mars — were shaped by external impacts and internal geologic processes, formed mountain ranges atop extensive highlands, and great basins stretching across the dramatic lowlands. They had molten, liquid interiors, which caused large amounts of volcanic eruptions, adding both volatiles and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and creating relatively smooth ocean bottoms. The liquid water that survived became planet-wide oceans, completely covering the lowland areas.

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