The Edge of Science
|Bernard Banks||June 17th 2015|
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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.
The Aviation Edge
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
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.
"This study proposes a potential therapeutic approach for treating brain disorders associated with dysregulated expression of the Dscam protein, which is seen in both Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome," said senior study author Bing Ye, whose lab is in the LSI. Graduate student Gabriella Sterne and postdoctoral fellow Jung Hwan Kim are co-first authors of the paper.
Down syndrome and Fragile X are the two most prevalent genetic causes of intellectual disabilities. Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21, while Fragile X is caused by a mutation in a single gene. Recent studies by the Ye lab and by researchers at other institutions have pointed to a possible link between the two conditions.
During early development, neurons produce high levels of the proteins encoded by a gene called DSCAM as they undergo an intense period of extending and branching to connect with other neurons. (DSCAM stands for Down Syndrome Cell-Adhesion Molecule.) But problems can occur when Dscam levels don't go back down. Read more ..
The Race for Biogas
|Abigail Klein Leichman ||May 21st 2015|
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
|Beata Mostavi||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
|Julien Happich||May 13th 2015|
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 ..
|Natalie Foxon Phillips||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
|Hannah Hoag||April 12th 2015|
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
|Matthias Poppel||April 9th 2015|
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
|Mark Schlueb||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
|Francis Reddy||April 5th 2015|
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 ..
|Diana Yates||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
|Megan Fellman||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
|Larry Greenemeier||February 15th 2015|
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
|Jim Erickson||February 9th 2015|
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
|Holly Evarts||February 5th 2015|
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
|Geoffrey Giller||February 2nd 2015|
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 ..
|Gabe Cherry||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 ..
|Laura Bailey||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
|William Raillant-Clark||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
|Jared Wadley||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
|Joseph Caputo||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
|Robin Ann Smith||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
|Poncie Rutsch||December 29th 2014|
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
|Sabine Guinsbourg||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 ..
Ageing with Grace
|Thekla Hritz||December 20th 2014|
Ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter drug used to relieve pain and fever, could hold the keys to a longer healthier life, according to a study by researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Buck Institute scientists showed that regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of yeast, worms and fruit flies. The research appears at PLOS Genetics.
"There is a lot to be excited about," said Brian Kennedy, PhD, CEO of the Buck Institute, who said treatments, given at doses comparable to those used in humans, extended lifespan an average of 15 percent in the model organisms. "Not only did all the species live longer, but the treated flies and worms appeared more healthy," he said. "The research shows that ibuprofen impacts a process not yet implicated in aging, giving us a new way to study and understand the aging process." Read more ..
Oil and Environment
|John Cramer||December 13th 2014|
Oil reservoirs are scattered deep inside the Earth like far-flung islands in the ocean, so their inhabitants might be expected to be very different, but a new study led by Dartmouth College and University of Oslo researchers shows these underground microbes are social creatures that have exchanged genes for eons.
The study, which was led by researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Oslo, appears in the ISME Journal. A PDF is available on request.
The findings shed new light on the "deep biosphere," or the vast subterranean realm whose single-celled residents are estimated to be roughly equal in number and diversity to all the microbes inhabiting the surface's land, water and air. Deep microbial research may also help scientists to better understand life's early evolution on Earth and aid the search for life on Mars and other planets. Read more ..
The Prehistoric Edge
|Jim Erickson||December 8th 2014|
|Credit: Johannes Foufopoulos|
Charles Darwin noted more than 150 years ago that animals on the Galapagos Islands, including finches and marine iguanas, were more docile than mainland creatures. He attributed this tameness to the fact that there are fewer predators on remote islands.
While "island tameness" is an old idea, there have been few rigorous studies of the phenomenon. Many aspects remain unclear, including the mechanisms behind it and the speed at which it evolves in island populations.
A new University of Michigan-led study of Aegean wall lizard (Podarcis erhardii) populations on 37 Greek islands shows that island tameness is determined by both the diversity of the local predator populations and the length of time an island has been separated from the mainland. Read more ..
The Way We Were
|Kyle Bocinsky||December 7th 2014|
Washington State University researchers have detailed the role of localized climate change in one of the great mysteries of North American archaeology: the depopulation of southwest Colorado by ancestral Pueblo people in the late 1200s.
In the process, they address one of the mysteries of modern-day climate change: How will humans react?
Writing in Nature Communications, WSU archaeologist Tim Kohler and post-doctoral researcher Kyle Bocinsky use tree-ring data, the growth requirements of traditional maize crops and a suite of computer programs to make a finely scaled map of ideal Southwest growing regions for the past 2,000 years. Their data paint a narrative of some 40,000 people leaving the Mesa Verde area of southwest Colorado as drought plagued the niche in which they grew maize, their main food source. Meanwhile, the Pajarito Plateau of the northern Rio Grande saw a large population spike. Read more ..
The Way We Were
|Jenny Watkinson||December 4th 2014|
The first scientific evidence of frankincense being used in Roman burial rites in Britain has been uncovered by a team of archaeological scientists led by the University of Bradford. The findings - published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science - prove that, even while the Roman Empire was in decline, these precious substances were being transported to its furthest northern outpost.
The discovery was made by carrying out molecular analysis of materials previously thought to be of little interest - debris inside burial containers and residues on skeletal remains and plaster body casings. Until now, evidence for the use of resins in ancient funerary rites has rarely come to light outside of Egypt.
The samples came from burial sites across Britain, in Dorset, Wiltshire, London and York, dating from the third to the fourth century AD. Of the forty-nine burials analysed, four showed traces of frankincense - originating from southern Arabia or eastern Africa - and ten others contained evidence of resins imported from the Mediterranean region and northern Europe. Read more ..
|Nicole Casal Moore||December 2nd 2014|
The spaghetti-like internal structure of most plastics makes it hard for them to cast away heat, but a U-M research team has made a plastic blend that does so 10 times better than its conventional counterparts.
Plastics are inexpensive, lightweight and flexible, but because they restrict the flow of heat, their use is limited in technologies like computers, smartphones, cars or airplanes — places that could benefit from their properties but where heat dissipation is important.
The new U-M work could lead to light, versatile, metal-replacement materials that make possible more powerful electronics or more efficient vehicles, among other applications.
The new material, which is actually a blend, results from one of the first attempts to engineer the flow of heat in an amorphous polymer. A polymer is a large molecule made of smaller repeating molecules. Plastics are common synthetic polymers. Read more ..
|Jana Smith||December 1st 2014|
Led by a University of Oklahoma professor, an international team of researchers has discovered the first evidence of milk consumption in the ancient dental calculus--a mineralized dental plaque--of humans in Europe and western Asia. The team found direct evidence of milk consumption preserved in human dental plaque from the Bronze Age to the present day.
"The study has far-reaching implications for understanding the relationship between human diet and evolution," said Christina Warinner, professor in the OU Department of Anthropology. "Dairy products are a very recent, post-Neolithic dietary innovation, and most of the world's population is unable to digest lactose, often developing the symptoms of lactose intolerance." Warinner led a group of researchers from the universities of York and Copenhagen, and the University College London. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Josh Fischman||November 28th 2014|
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Dramatic stone masks, iconic finds in the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan, were supposed to be made from a jadelike stone. Many researchers also thought the large faces were made on the site of the pre-Columbian metropolis. Instead, they seem to have been made in workshops a great distance to the south of the city. And they are made of softer stone like serpentinite and polished with quartz. Quartz does not appear around Teotihuacan, bolstering the notion that the masks were made far away. “Almost everything that has been written about the making of the Teotihuacan masks is untrue,” says Jane Walsh, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
New details about the manufacture of these old and valuable masks are coming to light, thanks to modern technology: a special analytical scanning electron microscope that can identify the atoms and minerals that make up the stone, and show miniscule marks left by the artisans who carved them. Timothy Rose, a geologist at the Smithsonian, presented the results of microscope studies last week at the annual meeting of the American Vacuum Society, a group of material scientists, in Baltimore. “We examined about 150 of these masks with good provenance, from several museum collections,” says Rose, who works with Walsh.
The Edge of Climate Change
|Jim Erickson||November 24th 2014|
|Sagavanirktok River, Alaska. Credit: George W. Kling|
Just how much Arctic permafrost will thaw in the future and how fast heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be released from those warming soils is a topic of lively debate among climate scientists.
To answer those questions, scientists need to understand the mechanisms that control the conversion of organic soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas. Until now, researchers believed that bacteria were largely responsible.
But in a study scheduled for online publication in Science, University of Michigan researchers show for the first time that sunlight, not microbial activity, dominates the production of carbon dioxide in Arctic inland waters. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Alexandre Dayer||November 20th 2014|
A lot of research has shown that poor regulation of the serotonin system, caused by certain genetic variations, can increase the risk of developing psychiatric illnesses such as autism, depression, or anxiety disorders. Furthermore, genetic variations in the components of the serotonin system can interact with stress experienced during the foetal stages and/or early childhood, which can also increase the risk of developing psychiatric problems later on.
In order to better understand serotonin's influence in the developing brain, Alexandre Dayer's team in the Psychiatry and Fundamental Neuroscience Departments of UNIGE's Faculty of medicine examined a particular receptor for this neurotransmitter, and its role in the formation of brain circuits.
The researchers were able to show that this receptor, which is expressed in inhibitory interneurons (cells that regulate excitement in order to avoid potentially pathological cerebral over activity), was indispensable in order for neurons to find their correct location in the developing cortex. Read more ..
|Robert Boessenecker||November 19th 2014|
University of Otago palaeontologists are rewriting the history of New Zealand's ancient whales by describing a previously unknown genus of fossil baleen whales and two species within it.
Otago Department of Geology PhD student Robert Boessenecker and his supervisor Professor Ewan Fordyce have named the new genus Tohoraata, which translates as 'Dawn Whale' in Māori.
The two whales, which lived between 27-25 million years ago, were preserved in a rock formation near Duntroon in North Otago. At that time the continent of Zealandia was largely or completely under water and the whales were deposited on a continental shelf that was perhaps between 50 to 100 metres deep.
The new genus that the fossils represent belongs to the toothless filter-feeding family Eomysticetidae, and it is the first time members of this family have been identified in the Southern Hemisphere. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|David Ruth||November 18th 2014|
Rice University scientists have invented a novel cathode that may make cheap, flexible dye-sensitized solar cells practical.
The Rice lab of materials scientist Jun Lou created the new cathode, one of the two electrodes in batteries, from nanotubes that are seamlessly bonded to graphene and replaces the expensive and brittle platinum-based materials often used in earlier versions.
The discovery was reported online in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Journal of Materials Chemistry A.
Dye-sensitized solar cells have been in development since 1988 and have been the subject of countless high school chemistry class experiments. They employ cheap organic dyes, drawn from the likes of raspberries, which cover conductive titanium dioxide particles. Read more ..
Ancient Days and Modern Ways
|Inga Kidera||November 15th 2014|
The Assyrian Empire once dominated the ancient Near East. At the start of the 7th century BC, it was a mighty military machine and the largest empire the Old World had yet seen. But then, before the century was out, it had collapsed. Why? An international study now offers two new factors as possible contributors to the empire's sudden demise - overpopulation and drought.
Adam Schneider of the University of California, San Diego and Selim Adalı of Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey, have just published evidence for their novel claim.
"As far as we know, ours is the first study to put forward the hypothesis that climate change - specifically drought - helped to destroy the Assyrian Empire," said Schneider, doctoral candidate in anthropology at UC San Diego and first author on the paper in the Springer journal Climatic Change. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Jorge Salazar||November 13th 2014|
What if you researched your family's genealogy, and a mysterious stranger turned out to be an ancestor? That's the surprising feeling had by a team of scientists who peered back into Europe's murky prehistoric past thousands of years ago. With sophisticated genetic tools, supercomputing simulations and modeling, they traced the origins of modern Europeans to three distinct populations.
The international research team published their September 2014 results in the journal Nature.
Genomic analysis code ran on Stampede, the nearly 10 petaflop Dell/Intel Linux supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). The research was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
"The main finding was that modern Europeans seem to be a mixture of three different ancestral populations," said study co-author Joshua Schraiber, a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington. Read more ..
The Race for Biofuels
|Holly Whetstone ||November 12th 2014|
Bioenergy policies based strictly on economic or energy considerations that lack attention to biodiversity impacts will likely have serious consequences for the conservation of wild bees and their pollination services, according to a newly published scientific journal paper.
The new research explores how bees might respond to two contrasting bioenergy production scenarios: annual row crops such as corn or soybeans, and perennial grasslands such as switchgrass or diverse prairie. The projections are strikingly different – pollinators are expected to have a highly favorable response to grassland bioenergy production and an unfavorable reaction to increasing amounts of annual row crop production.
Michigan State University postdoctoral scientist Ashley Bennett, lead author of the paper published in PLOS-ONE, collaborated on the project with scientists at MSU and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Read more ..
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