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The Race for IoT

Smart Buildings and IoT

September 15th 2016

Minneapolis skyline

Even though the smart buildings market still suffers from a fragmented ecosystem as proprietary building automation systems continue dominate, ABI Research expects that smart buildings global facility services revenue will grow from $625 million in 2015 to more than $8 billion in 2021.

The bulk of the revenue will stem from North America and Western Europe, as large buildings in these regions implement cloud-based smart building platforms or integrate existing building management systems to smart building platforms.

Read more ..

The Digital Age

Hacking a Car via the Driver's Smartphone

September 6th 2016

I-phone

In a recently published paper "A Security Analysis of an In Vehicle Infotainment and App Platform", researchers from New York University and George Mason University unveiled the vulnerabilities posed by MirroLink, an industry standard for connecting smartphones to in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems.

It is commonplace for car makers to allow the integration of trusted third-party apps with the IVI systems via smartphones, typically through a pair of apps, one that executes on the smartphone and one that executes on the IVI itself connected to the vehicle’s CAN bus.

"To what extent are these apps, protocols and underlining IVI implementations vulnerable to an attacker who might gain control of a driver’s smartphone?" Asked themselves the researchers led by Damon McCoy, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Mysterious Signal Prompts SETI Hopes

August 30th 2016

Solar System Birth

A powerful signal has been spotted coming from the vicinity of a sunlike star, and now astronomers are trying to figure out what it means.

In May 2015, researchers using a radio telescope in Russia detected a candidate SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) signal that seems to originate from HD 164595, a star system that lies about 94 light-years from Earth, the website Centauri Dreams reported over the weekend.

The astronomers have not yet published a study about the detection; they plan to discuss it next month at the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, according to Centauri Dreams' Paul Gilster, who wrote that one of the team members forwarded him the IAC presentation. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Alien Life]

Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Earth-like and Nearby

August 26th 2016

New Earth Sized Planets

It was just over 20 years ago—a blink of a cosmic eye—that astronomers found the first planets orbiting stars other than our sun. All these new worlds were gas-shrouded giants like Jupiter or Saturn and utterly inhospitable to life as we know it. But for years each discovery was dutifully reported as front-page news, while scientists and the public alike dreamed of a day when we would find a habitable world. An Earth-like place with plentiful surface water, neither frozen nor vaporized but in the liquid state so essential to life. Back then the safe bet was to guess that the discovery of such a planet would only come after many decades, and that when a promising new world’s misty shores materialized on the other side of our telescopes, it would prove too faraway and faint to study in any detail.

Evidently the safe bet was wrong. On Wednesday astronomers made the kind of announcement that can only occur once in human history: the discovery of the nearest potentially habitable world beyond our solar system. This world may be rocky like ours and whirls in a temperate orbit around the sun’s closest stellar neighbor, the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri just over four light-years away. Their findings are reported in a study in Nature. Read more ..


The Race for Smart Cars

Radar-Based Sensor Network Helps Drivers Finding A Parking Spot:

August 19th 2016

car door

Searching for a parking spot can be quite annoying. In particular in urban areas, motorists waste lots of time and fuel on the search for a place where they can leave their vehicle - for a couple of minutes or overnight. A test project in Munich currently puts a radar-based sensor network through its paces that could help drivers to find a parking spot faster and easier.

Motorists in places like Paris, London or Rome are familiar the situation: To find a free parking spot, drivers have to go for miles; at average it takes 4.5 kilometres. According to a recent study from Apcoa, up to 30 percent of the traffic in cities today are accounted to searching for parking lots. A network of radar sensors mounted on lamp post now is the basis for a smart parking management solution currently tested in Munich.

Read more ..

The Race for Connected Cars

Connected Car: Dramatic growth ahead

August 9th 2016

Dashboard for electric car

Already in a few years, the number of connected cars out on the roads will reach a quarter billion. Market research and IT consultant firm Gartner predicts a dramatic growth - and many new business opportunities for hardware and software vendors.

The IoT is currently the big thing in technology, and the automotive version of the IoT is the Connected Car. No wonder the growth is similarly astronomic - and now Gartner came up with figures. By 2015 (that is, during the current year), the number of connected things will reach 4,9 billion units - up 30 percent from 2014. By 2020, this figure will quintuple to 25 billion units, believes Gartner. In this picture, connected cars are a major element. "The connected car is already a reality", said Gartner research director James F. Hines. "and in-vehicle wireless connectivity is rapidly expanding from luxury models and premium brands to high-volume mid-market models."

Read more ..

The Race for Autonomous Cars

Car Hacking Remains a Viable Threat

August 4th 2016

new cars close up

In last year’s hack, which led to Chrysler’s recall for 1.4 million vehicles, Miller and Valasek focused on pulling off “wireless attack” on the Jeep.

The two at that time exploited a Harman “head unit,” which offers a Wi-Fi hot spot — in a 2014 Jeep Cherokee — to get into the vehicle’s network. Later the hackers invaded the car through its cellular connection, via Sprint’s wireless network.

This year, the security experts turned their attention to injecting rogue messages into a vehicle’s CAN bus, which resulted in a full-speed attack on the Jeep’s steering and acceleration.

Instead of getting into the guts of a car wirelessly, Miller and Valasek this year used a laptop directly plugged into the Jeep’s CAN network through a port under its dashboard. They confirmed that they used the patched Jeep for this hacking. Read more ..


The Race for E-Bikes

Battery Technology Drives E-Bike Boom

July 14th 2016

Battery-single-use

Improvements in lithium ion battery technology are driving a boom in electric bicycle shipments around the world says a new report from market researchers Navigant Research.

Increasing urbanization and a desire to move away from cars for motorized transportation are creating more opportunities for alternative mobility devices such as e-bikes which will be the highest selling electric vehicle globally with nearly 35 million units sold this year. Navigant predicts the market will grow from $15.7 bn this year to $24.3 billion by 2025.

“Rising levels of population density and traffic congestion are driving interest in different modes of transportation,” says Ryan Citron, research analyst at Navigant Research. “E-bikes are uniquely positioned to be a primary benefactor of this trend since they are low in cost relative to cars, do not require licenses to operate, and can take advantage of existing bicycling infrastructure.”

Read more ..

The Edge of the Solar System

Juno Arrives at Jupiter

July 8th 2016

Jupiter

NASA's Juno spacecraft has successfully entered orbit around Jupiter. At 8:53 P.M. Pacific time, ground controllers received a telemetry tone of 2,327 hertz -- equivalent to the highest D note on a piano keyboard—indicating that Juno's 35-minute engine burn had slowed the spacecraft enough to slip into the giant planet’s gravitational embrace. Launched in 2011 on a nearly five-year interplanetary voyage, Juno is only the second spacecraft to ever orbit Jupiter, after the Galileo mission that explored the giant planet from 1995 to 2003. During its capture into orbit Juno passed just 4,490 kilometers above the Jovian cloud tops, so close that the planet filled half its sky. Even so, Jupiter is so immense that an astronaut riding along would have seen only about 5 percent of the planet’s cloud-shrouded face.

At 9:50 P.M., the maneuver was officially complete as the spacecraft turned its solar arrays back toward the sun. “I won't exhale until we’re sun-pointed again,” Juno's principal investigator Scott Bolton had said at a press conference earlier in the day.

The spacecraft plummeted in from interplanetary space over Jupiter's north pole at about 7:30 P.M., falling ever faster as it plunged deeper into the planet’s gravitational field. Just two days ago its speed relative to Jupiter was nine kilometers per second; midday yesterday, 12 kilometers per second; and by the rocket burn, 54 kilometers per second. The burn reduced its speed by just 1 percent, but that was enough. (Theoretically, the spacecraft was captured by the planet at 8:38 P.M., about halfway through the burn, but confirmation did not come until later.) After skimming so close to Jupiter's upper atmosphere, the spacecraft soared back up from the planet’s cloud tops at about 9:30 P.M. into a looping, elongated orbit out to 8.1 million kilometers.

Read more ..

Inside Education

Kudos For Kettering University Professor And Community Vitality Projects

May 30th 2016

Test Tubes

Kettering University has long been known as an adjunct of the automobile and other manufacturing industries. And it has faculty members who are looking squarely into the future and how to put Kettering on the best footing for the way forward. Among them are Dr. Matthew Sanders of the Industrial Engineering department, who is fully engaged in advancing Kettering’s Community Vitality portion of Pillars of Success commitments.
 
According to a press release, Sanders has been nominated for this year’s Faculty Distinguished Citizenship Award at Kettering in recognition of his work at the university and the surrounding community of Flint. Besides his involvement in many projects involving innovative industrial processes and computer applications, over the last few years, his engagement with community projects has served students, as well as the people of the city of Flint and Genesee County.
Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Fast-tracking Innovation for Spinal Correction

May 12th 2016

medicine and money

ApiFix, a Treadlines company, was awarded Best Start-Up 2012 by Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy for a less invasive, less painful, and less costly option for spine curvature correction. Apifix is developing a truly breakthrough minimally invasive deformity correction system for patients with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS).

Today’s gold standard for correcting spinal deformities involves fusing an average of 10 motion levels using a large number of screws in a surgical procedure that lasts an average of six hours and costs upward of $100,000. 

As opposed to the current procedure, ApiFix uses only two screws to support its ratchet-based, small expandable rod inserted through a small incision in the patient’s back. In addition to the smaller incision, a shortened surgery time (1 hour vs. 4-6 hours) and reduced hospitalization stay.

I interviewed Uri Arnin, Founder and CEO and chief innovator of ApiFix Ltd. about the success of his company and the distinctive characteristics of the Israeli biotech cluster. “We have close communication between companies of the same field and willingness to assist each other. The same subcontractors and advisers support similar companies and help to share the experience,” Arnin said. “We have a fast turnaround of production cycles, due to personal relationship with suppliers.”   Read more ..


IBM on Edge

Millions in IBM Endicott Pollution Claims Paid

January 15th 2016

Computer chips

IBM has paid several million dollars to hundreds of people who have been seeking compensation for claims related to chemical contamination at the company’s Endicott microelectronics facility. The company and many of the plaintiffs who had taken IBM to court last year agreed to a settlement of the lawsuit filed nearly a decade ago. Endicott Mayor John Bertoni told WNBF News he has heard that compensation checks have been received in recent days. Although IBM reportedly had agreed to pay settlements totaling several million dollars to several hundred plaintiffs, it’s not known how much money is now being paid out. Business owners in the lawsuit received more than owners of residential property near the North Street manufacturing complex.

Two law firms – Levene Gouldin and Thompson of Vestal and Faraci Lange of Rochester – mailed out settlement checks in late December. Some plaintiffs had alleged spills of the chemical TCE may have resulted in illnesses and deaths. The lawsuit also contended property values dropped and nearby businesses were harmed because of the contamination. IBM was founded more than a century ago in Endicott. The company now is based in Westchester County. Read more ..


The Refugee Crisis

It is Possible to Vet Syrian Refugees

January 4th 2016

Syrian Refugees


With the flood of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa overwhelming Europe, and with the Obama administration allowing large numbers to come to the United States, there is a justifiable fear that embedded in the ranks of the refugees are trained terrorists.
Until now, identifying embedded terrorists has been nearly an impossible challenge.  People have called for better "vetting," but to "vet" means to look back at people's history based on their documentation. For most people, certainly for most Syrians, there is no "back" - even a legitimate passport can't be verified with Passport Control in Damascus. With whom would one check local police, employment or education records? Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Choose Life: How Israeli Medicine and Biotechnology Will Help Save The World

December 17th 2015

human ovum and sperm

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live”
Deuteronomy 30:19

On my many trips to Israel as the national chairman of the Jewish National Fund’s Doctors for Israel, I have observed the amazing life-saving and life-enhancing advances of Israeli medicine and discussed the future of medicine and science with many leading scientists.

I visited the makers of Rewalk robotic exoskeleton (featured on the hit TV show “Glee”) that enables paraplegic runners in London and Tel Aviv to complete marathons and spent time at Given Imaging’s PillCam capsule endoscopy company. Among other Israeli medical leaders are Itamar Medical’s fingertip monitors for sleep disorders and cardiac issues, IceCure Medical’s IceSense3 and Surpass Medical’s NeuroEndoGraft.  Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Facebook Unveils Solar-Powered Internet-Beaming Drone

August 3rd 2015

Random Radio Telescope Array

Social networking giant Facebook (Cambridge, MA) has unveiled a full-scale version of its solar-powered drone designed to provide Internet connectivity to remote regions of the world.

Code-named Aquila, and with a wingspan of a Boeing 737, the connected drone is designed to fly for three months at a time - above weather systems and other aircraft - and create about a 30-mile (50-km) communications radius. It will use free-space laser communication technology to send and receive data to other drones and base stations at up to tens of gigabits per second.

According to the company, the drone will fly at a varying altitude of between 60,000 and 90,000 feet (18 to 27 km). During the day it will operate at its maximum height to capture as much of the sun's energy as possible, while at night, when not receiving solar energy, it will descend to its lower altitude to conserve energy. Read more ..


The Edge of Science

Bioengineers Invent Engine Powered By Water Vapor and Artificial Muscles

June 17th 2015

Caribbean Sea Shore

Bioengineers have invented the world’s first engine that runs on energy created from the process of natural water evaporation at room temperature, by utilizing cleverly engineered artificial muscles.

The small device, created by researchers at Columbia University, is a fully functional engine which can generate 1.8 microwatts of energy – enough to power LED lights or even a tiny car – all for the cost of $5. It works by drawing power from a process never considered to be a potential energy source before.

“Engineered systems rarely, if ever, use evaporation as sources of energy, despite myriad examples of such adaptations in the biological world,” a paper published in Nature by a team of authors, including researchers Xi Chen, Ozgur Sahin and others, claimed.

Read more ..

The Aviation Edge

3-D Printed Aircraft Parts Will Save Weight, Fuel Says Study

June 5th 2015

United Airlines jet liner

The team, led by Eric Masanet who heads the Energy and Resource Systems Analysis Laboratory at Northwestern, used aircraft industry data to study the life-cycle environmental effects of using 3-D printing - or 'additive manufacturing' - for building select metal aircraft parts. While 3-D printing has begun to be adopted by the airline industry, the study concluded that widespread adoption of the technique to print lighter and higher-performance aircraft parts could significantly reduce manufacturing waste and the weight of the airplane, resulting in fuel and cost saving as well as a reduction in carbon emissions.

"We have suboptimal designs because we're limited by conventional manufacturing,” Masanet says. “When you can make something in layer-by-layer fashion, those constraints diminish." Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Cancer Drugs May Prevent Down Syndrome and Fragile X

May 26th 2015

A class of FDA-approved cancer drugs may be able to prevent problems with brain cell development associated with disorders including Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome, researchers at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute have found.

The researchers' proof-of-concept study using fruit fly models of brain dysfunction was published today in the journal eLife. They show that giving the leukemia drugs nilotinib or bafetinib to fly larvae with the equivalent of Fragile X prevented the wild overgrowth of neuron endings associated with the disorder. Meanwhile, the drugs—both tyrosine-kinase inhibitors—did not adversely affect the development or neuronal growth in healthy flies. Read more ..


The Race for Biogas

Backyard Unit Eats Trash to make Biofuel

May 21st 2015

Arab Vendor

When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the sukkah of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during the Jewish harvest holiday last October, he was treated to a demo of a machine the government has given to Bedouin families to convert organic waste into clean biogas for cooking, heating and lighting, as well as organic liquid crop fertilizer.

"He got very excited and told us, 'Millions of women and children die each year due to indoor smoke from open fires. This is just the thing they need. The UN should be purchasing these units!' recalls Ami Amir of HomeBioGas, which develops and manufactures a new class of anaerobic biodigesters to convert organic waste to clean renewable energy. He asked us to be in touch with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to see where and when our systems could be deployed.” Read more ..


Technology and Health

Saving Babies' Lives with 3-D Printing Technology

May 15th 2015

Kaiba was just a newborn when he turned blue because his little lungs weren’t getting the oxygen they needed. Garrett spent the first year of his life in hospital beds tethered to a ventilator, being fed through his veins because his body was too sick to absorb food. Baby Ian’s heart stopped before he was even six months old.

Three babies all had the same life-threatening condition: a terminal form of tracheobronchomalacia, which causes the windpipe to periodically collapse and prevents normal breathing. There was no cure and life-expectancies were grim.

The three boys became the first in the world to benefit from groundbreaking 3D printed devices that helped keep their airways open, restored their breathing and saved their lives at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Researchers have closely followed their cases to see how well the bioresorable splints implanted in all three patients have worked, publishing the promising results in today’s issue of Science Translational Medicine. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

How about Password-Protected Paper Mail?

May 13th 2015

Paper Stack

In this age of encrypted messaging and secure email services, researchers from the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) have demonstrated password-protected paper envelopes that could inform the sender in real-time if the mail has been received by its intended recipient or if it has been opened by a third party. This password-protected envelope is one of three demonstrators developed during the four-year ROPAS (ROll-to-roll PAper Sensors) European project involving 11 partners from research and industry.

Other demonstrators included a security tag to be used for sending physical goods through traditional mail and enabling recipients to check that the box was not opened during transport and that the good is in its genuine package, and a smart label able to measure and record environmental parameters such as humidity and temperature during transport to display them on a display at the push of a button. Read more ..


Technology Edge

Shape-Shifting 4D Technology takes 3D Printing to a New Level

April 27th 2015

4D printing is unfolding as technology that takes 3D printing to an entirely new level.

The fourth dimension is time, shape shifting in fact, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong is helping to set the pace in the next revolution in additive manufacturing.

Just as the extraordinary capabilities of 3D printing have begun to infiltrate industry and the family home, researchers have started to develop 3D printed materials that morph into new structures, post production, under the influence of external stimuli such as water or heat - hence the name, 4D printing. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Birds the Probable Cause for 1918 Flu Pandemic

April 12th 2015

skull archaeological

The virus that caused the 1918 influenza pandemic probably sprang from North American domestic and wild birds, not from the mixing of human and swine viruses. A study reconstructs the origins of influenza A virus and traces its evolution and flow through different animal hosts over two centuries. “The methods we’ve been using for years and years, and which are crucial to figuring out the origins of gene sequences and the timing of those events, are all flawed,” says lead author Michael Worobey, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Worobey and his colleagues analyzed more than 80,000 gene sequences from flu viruses isolated from humans, birds, horses, pigs and bats using a model they developed to map evolutionary relationships between viruses from different host species. The branched tree that resulted showed that the genes of the deadly 1918 pandemic virus are of avian origin. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

The Internet of Things: How will the Dream Come True?

April 9th 2015

Retail Sales Target Cashier

Matthias Poppel, chief operating officer for EnOcean GmbH claims that all of the technologies are in place to allow the Internet of Things to flourish. All that is needed are the standards and the vision to overcome the fragmented nature of the applications space.

A major challenge implementing the Internet of Things (IoT) is deploying large numbers of sensor and actuator nodes and connecting them in a suitable way. The characteristics of energy-harvesting wireless technology make it the perfect fit to bridge the last mile in an IoT network: small devices working without cables and batteries allowing a simple installation as well as quite easy gradual up-scaling in the number of deployed units. At the same time, the components require minimal service and maintenance effort. Read more ..


Edge of Nano-Technology

New Nano-Tech System for Early Prostate Cancer Detection for One Dollar

April 5th 2015

A test that costs less than a $1 and yields results in minutes has been shown in newly published studies to be more sensitive and more exact than the current standard test for early-stage prostate cancer.

The simple test developed by University of Central Florida scientist Qun "Treen" Huo holds the promise of earlier detection of one of the deadliest cancers among men. It would also reduce the number of unnecessary and invasive biopsies stemming from the less precise PSA test that's now used.

"It's fantastic," said Dr. Inoel Rivera, a urologic oncologist at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute, which collaborated with Huo on the recent pilot studies. "It's a simple test. It's much better than the test we have right now, which is the PSA, and it's cost-effective." Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Supernova 'Crime Scene' Revealed

April 5th 2015

Andromeda galaxy

Using archival data from the Japan-led Suzaku X-ray satellite, astronomers have determined the pre-explosion mass of a white dwarf star that blew up thousands of years ago. The measurement strongly suggests the explosion involved only a single white dwarf, ruling out a well-established alternative scenario involving a pair of merging white dwarfs.

"Mounting evidence indicates both of these mechanisms produce what we call type Ia supernovae," said lead researcher Hiroya Yamaguchi, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "To understand how these stars explode, we need to study the debris in detail with sensitive instruments like those on Suzaku." Read more ..


Ancient Days

Papayas, like Chocolate, are Another Gift from Ancient Mayas

March 18th 2015

A genetic study of papaya sex chromosomes reveals that the hermaphrodite version of the plant, which is of most use to growers, arose as a result of human selection, most likely by the ancient Maya some 4,000 years ago.

The study, reported in the journal Genome Research, homes in on a region of papaya's male sex chromosome that, the study indicates, gave rise to the hermaphrodite plants.

"This research will one day lead to the development of a papaya that produces only hermaphrodite offspring, an advance that will enhance papaya root and canopy development while radically cutting papaya growers' production costs and their use of fertilizers and water," said University of Illinois plant biology professor Ray Ming, who led the research. Ming is a professor in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. Read more ..


The Science of Art

New Method Reveals Unknown Details of Gauguin's Prints

February 18th 2015

French artist Paul Gauguin is well known for his colorful paintings of Tahitian life -- such as the painting that sold recently for nearly $300 million -- but he also was a highly experimental printmaker. Little is known, however, about the techniques and materials Gauguin used to create his unusual and complex graphic works.

Now a team of scientists and art conservators from Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago has used a simple light bulb, an SLR camera and computational power to uncover new details of Gauguin's printmaking process -- how he formed, layered and re-used imagery to make 19 unique graphic works in the Art Institute's collection.

Northwestern computer scientist Oliver S. Cossairt provided a a surprising new explanation of how Gauguin created one of these artworks at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Jose, last week. He provided the first report of the Northwestern-Art Institute study of the 3-D surface of the print "Nativity (Mother and Child Surrounded by Five Figures)," made by Gauguin in 1902. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Robot Surgeons Are Coming

February 15th 2015

Surgery

For much of its brief history, robot-assisted surgery has been synonymous with Intuitive Surgical, Inc.’s da Vinci system. It’s the only robot with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to help surgeons perform a number of laparoscopic soft-tissue procedures, including hysterectomies, gall bladder and kidney removals, prostate cancer treatment and heart valve operations. Da Vinci has improved vastly since Intuitive introduced it more than a decade ago. Like many new technologies, however, it has experienced growing pains, leading some engineers and medical professionals to question whether a single company can meet growing demand while still delivering a safe product.

A team of researchers is looking to address these issues by developing a robotic surgery system based on hardware designs and software that are freely available. In this open-source approach, the builders would keep whatever intellectual property they’ve invested in the project but must make their knowledge and discoveries available to others. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

Yellowfin Tuna Shows Increased Concentrations of Deadly Mercury

February 9th 2015

Click to select Image

Mercury concentrations in Hawaiian yellowfin tuna are increasing at a rate of 3.8 percent or more per year, according to a new University of Michigan-led study that suggests rising atmospheric levels of the toxic substance are to blame.

Mercury is a toxic trace metal that can accumulate to high concentrations in fish, posing a health risk to people who eat large, predatory marine fish such as swordfish and tuna. In the open ocean, the principal source of mercury is atmospheric deposition from human activities, especially emissions from coal-fired power plants and artisanal gold mining.

For decades, scientists have expected to see mercury levels in open-ocean fish increase in response to rising atmospheric concentrations, but evidence for that hypothesis has been hard to find. In fact, some studies have suggested that there has been no change in mercury concentration in ocean fish. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Breakthrough Blood Test Via SmartPhone

February 5th 2015

Click to select Image

A team of researchers, led by Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a low-cost smartphone accessory that can perform a point-of-care test that simultaneously detects three infectious disease markers from a finger prick of blood in just 15 minutes. The device replicates, for the first time, all mechanical, optical, and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test.

Specifically, it performs an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) without requiring any stored energy: all necessary power is drawn from the smartphone. It performs a triplexed immunoassay not currently available in a single test format: HIV antibody, treponemal-specific antibody for syphilis, and non-treponemal antibody for active syphilis infection. Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

Black Death Plague Strain Differs from One that Killed Millions 800 Years Earlier

February 2nd 2015

Test Tubes

For the first time, researchers have sequenced the full genome of the bacterium that caused a plague that killed millions of people in the 6th century A.D., and discovered to their surprise that the outbreak was caused by a different strain of the same germ that was to blame for the more famous Black Death 800 years later. Their findings offer insight into the genetic factors that influence the virulence of the plague bacterium as well as other pathogens.
 
Estimates vary for the number of people killed by the plague during the so-called Black Death that ravaged Europe from 1347 to 1351. But the number was certainly in the tens of millions; it is thought that as much as half of the entire European population at the time may have been killed by Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes the plague. Read more ..

Nano-Technology Edge

'Hedgehog Particles' Make for Environmentally Friendly Paint and Innovations

February 1st 2015

A new process that can sprout microscopic spikes on nearly any type of particle may lead to more environmentally friendly paints and a variety of other innovations.

Made by a team of University of Michigan engineers, the "hedgehog particles" are named for their bushy appearance under the microscope. Their development is detailed in a study published in Nature.

The new process modifies oily, or hydrophobic, particles, enabling them to disperse easily in water. It can also modify water-soluble, or hydrophilic, particles, enabling them to dissolve in oil or other oily chemicals.

The unusual behavior of the hedgehog particles came as something of a surprise to the research team, says Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering. Read more ..


Healthy Edge

Trust your Gut to Relieve Symptoms of Parkinsons' Disease

January 25th 2015

Escherichia coliform usually brings to mind food poisoning and beach closures, but researchers recently discovered a protein in E. coli that inhibits the accumulation of potentially toxic amyloids—a hallmark of diseases such as Parkinson's.

Amyloids are formed by proteins that misfold and group together, and when amyloids assemble at the wrong place or time, they can damage brain tissue and cause cell death, according to Margery Evans, lead author of the University of Michigan study, and Matthew Chapman, principal investigator and associate professor in the department of  U-M Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

How the Brain Responds to the Restoration of Eyesight

January 20th 2015

Recent scientific advances have meant that eyesight can be partially restored to those who previously would have been blind for life. However, scientists at the University of Montreal and the University of Trento have discovered that the rewiring of the senses that occurs in the brains of the long-term blind means that visual restoration may never be complete.

"We had the opportunity to study the rare case of a woman with very low vision since birth and whose vision was suddenly restored in adulthood following the implantation of a Boston Keratoprosthesis in her right eye," explained Giulia Dormal, who led the study.

"On one hand, our findings reveal that the visual cortex maintains a certain degree of plasticity - that is the capacity to change as a function of experience - in an adult person with low vision since early life. On the other, we discovered that several months after the surgery, the visual cortex had not regained full normal functioning." The visual cortex is the part of the brain that processes information from our eyes.

Scientists know that in cases of untreatable blindness, the occipital cortex - that is the posterior part of the brain that is normally devoted to vision - becomes responsive to sound and touch in order to compensate for the loss of vision. "This important brain reorganization represents a challenge for people encountering eye surgery to recover vision, because the deprived and reorganized occipital cortex may not be capable of seeing anymore after having spent years in the dark," Dormal said. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Root of Addiction in the Human Brain

January 9th 2015

Activating the brain's amygdala, an almond-shaped mass that processes emotions, can create an addictive, intense desire for sugary foods, a new University of Michigan study found.

Rewards such as sweet tasty food or even addictive drugs like alcohol or cocaine can be extremely attractive when this brain structure is triggered.

"One reason they can be so problematic for certain individuals is their ability to become almost the sole focus of their daily lives, at the cost of one's health, job, family and general well-being," said the study's lead author, Mike Robinson, a former postdoctoral U-M fellow and currently an assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

The findings appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Most people encounter and consume highly delicious foods, such as chocolate chip cookies and candy, and addictive substances like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine on a regular basis. For many people, these rewards act as pleasurable treats that are both wanted and liked, but for the most part consumed in moderation.

Robinson said it is this moderation and balance of reward avenues that allows people to lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, for a small portion of vulnerable individuals, these rewards progressively become intensely craved, skewing their normal balance of desires and leading to addiction, he said. Read more ..


The Animal Kingdom

Can Whales Teach Us how to Live Longer?

January 6th 2015

A whale that can live over 200 years with little evidence of age-related disease may provide untapped insights into how to live a long and healthy life. In the January 6 issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Reports, researchers present the complete bowhead whale genome and identify key differences compared to other mammals.

Alterations in bowhead genes related to cell division, DNA repair, cancer, and aging may have helped increase its longevity and cancer resistance. "Our understanding of species' differences in longevity is very poor, and thus our findings provide novel candidate genes for future studies," says senior author Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães, of the University of Liverpool, in the UK.

"My view is that species evolved different 'tricks' to have a longer lifespan, and by discovering the 'tricks' used by the bowhead we may be able to apply those findings to humans in order to fight age-related diseases."

Also, large whales with over 1000 times more cells than humans do not seem to have an increased risk of cancer, suggesting the existence of natural mechanisms that can suppress cancer more effectively than those of other animals. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

New Software Predicts Evolution of Dangerous Super-Bugs

January 3rd 2015

With drug-resistant bacteria on the rise, even common infections that were easily controlled for decades -- such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections -- are proving trickier to treat with standard antibiotics. New drugs are desperately needed, but so are ways to maximize the effective lifespan of these drugs.

To accomplish that, Duke University researchers used software they developed to predict a constantly-evolving infectious bacterium's countermoves to one of these new drugs ahead of time, before the drug is even tested on patients. In a study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team used their program to identify the genetic changes that will allow methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, to develop resistance to a class of new experimental drugs that show promise against the deadly bug. Read more ..


Phase IV: Ants Rule

Pheidole: the Ants That Conquered the World

December 29th 2014

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About one tenth of the world's ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. "If you go into any tropical forest and take a stroll, you will step on one of these ants," says Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University's Professor Evan Economo. Pheidole fill niches in ecosystems ranging from rainforests to deserts.

Yet until now, researchers have never had a global perspective of how the many species of Pheidole evolved and spread across the Earth. Economo, researchers in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit, and colleagues at the University of Michigan compared gene sequences from 300 species of Pheidole from around the world. They used these sequences to construct a tree that shows when and where each species evolved into new species.

At the same time, in a parallel effort, they scoured the academic literature, museums around the world, and large databases to aggregate data on where all 1200 or so Pheidole species live on Earth, creating a range map for each species. Read more ..


Edge of Life Sciences

Scientists Create Precursors to Human Ova and Spermatozoa

December 27th 2014

Scientists at the University of Cambridge working with the Weizmann Institute have created primordial germ cells - cells that will go on to become egg and sperm - using human embryonic stem cells. Although this had already been done using rodent stem cells, the study, published today in the journal Cell, is the first time this has been achieved efficiently using human stem cells. When an egg cell is fertilised by a sperm, it begins to divide into a cluster of cells known as a blastocyst, the early stage of the embryo. Within this ball of cells, some cells form the inner cell mass - which will develop into the foetus - and some form the outer wall, which becomes the placenta.

Cells in the inner cell mass are 'reset' to become stem cells - cells that have the potential to develop into any type of cell within the body. A small number of these cells become primordial germ cells (PGCs) - these have the potential to become germ cells (sperm and egg), which in later life will pass on the offspring's genetic information to its own offspring. "The creation of primordial germ cells is one of the earliest events during early mammalian development," says Dr Naoko Irie, first author of the paper from the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge. Read more ..



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