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Ageing with Grace

Is Ibuprofen a Fountain of Youth for Ageing Adults?

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

Oil-dwelling Bacteria are Social Creatures in Earth's Deep Biosphere

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

Isolation and Predators Shape Evolution of 'Island Tameness'

December 8th 2014

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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

Climate Change Killed Off Ancient Americans

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

New Insights into the Lives of Ancient Romans and International Trade

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 ..


New Materials

Innovative Heat-Conducting Plastic

December 2nd 2014

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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 ..


Ancient Ways

Evidence Discovered of Earliest Consumption of Milk by Humans

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

Electron Scans Reveal Origins of Teotihuacan Stone Faces

November 28th 2014

Laser burst

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.

Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Sunlight Controls Fate of Carbon Released from Thawing Arctic Permafrost

November 24th 2014

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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

The Early Role of Serotonin in Childhood Brain Development

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 ..


Ancient Days

Ancient New Zealand 'Dawn' Whale Identified as a New Genus

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

Graphene/Nanotube Hybrid Improves Flexible Solar Cells

November 18th 2014

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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

The Perennial Problem of Water Scarcity in the Mideast

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

Supercomputers Reveal Surprising European Ancestors and Stuns Geneaologists

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

Protecting Bees Promotes Biofuel Capacity

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 ..


Energy and Environment

Outgoing Infrared Radiation is the Missing Piece of the Global Climate Change Puzzle

November 11th 2014

In classrooms and everyday conversation, explanations of global warming hinge on the greenhouse gas effect. In short, climate depends on the balance between two different kinds of radiation: The Earth absorbs incoming visible light from the sun, called “shortwave radiation,” and emits infrared light, or “longwave radiation,” into space.

Upsetting that energy balance are rising levels of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), that increasingly absorb some of the outgoing longwave radiation and trap it in the atmosphere. Energy accumulates in the climate system, and warming occurs. But in a paper out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, MIT researchers show that this canonical view of global warming is only half the story Read more ..


The LED edge

Live Long and Phosphor: Advances in OLED Displays

November 10th 2014

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In a step that could lead to longer battery life in smartphones and lower power consumption for large-screen televisions, researchers at the University of Michigan have extended the lifetime of blue organic light emitting diodes by a factor of 10.

Blue OLEDs are one of a trio of colors used in OLED displays such as smartphone screens and high-end TVs. The improvement means that the efficiencies of blue OLEDs in these devices could jump from about 5 percent to 20 percent or better in the near future. OLEDs are the latest and greatest in television technology, allowing screens to be extremely thin and even curved, with little blurring of moving objects and a wider range of viewing angles. In these "RGB" displays, each pixel contains red, green and blue modules that shine at different relative brightness to produce any color desired. Read more ..


Environment on Edge

Important Food Sources Endangered by Loss of Freshwater Fish Habitat

November 7th 2014

What sounds counter-intuitive to an activity commonly perceived as quiet is the broad recommendation of scientists at Michigan State University recommending that small-scale fishing in the world’s freshwater bodies must have a higher profile to best protect global food security. In this month’s journal Global Food Security,scientists note that competition for freshwater is ratcheting up all over the world for municipal use, hydropower, industry, commercial development and irrigation.

Rivers are being dammed and rerouted, lakes and wetlands are being drained, fish habitats are being altered, nutrients are being lost, and inland waters throughout the world are changing in ways, big and small, that affect fish. Yet while the commercial fishing enterprises in oceans are accounted for, millions of individuals who fish for subsistence, livelihoods, or recreation are largely unaccounted for. It’s a collective voice researchers say need to be heard. Read more ..


The Cosmos

European Satellite May Discover Thousands of Planets in the Milky Way

November 6th 2014

A recently launched European satellite could reveal tens of thousands of new planets within the next few years, and provide scientists with a far better understanding of the number, variety and distribution of planets in our galaxy. 

Researchers from Princeton University and Lund University in Sweden calculated that the observational satellite Gaia could detect as many as 21,000 exoplanets, or planets outside of Earth's solar system, during its five-year mission. If extended to 10 years, Gaia could detect as many as 70,000 exoplanets, the researchers report. The researchers' assessment was accepted in the Astrophysical Journal and was published at arXiv, a preprint database run by Cornell University. Read more ..


The Race for Hydropower

Innovative Synthetic Fish Provides Data to Design Fish-Friendly Hydropower

November 5th 2014

In the Pacific Northwest, young salmon must dodge predatory birds, sea lions and more in their perilous trek toward the ocean. Hydroelectric dams don't make the trip any easier, with their manmade currents sweeping fish past swirling turbines and other obstacles. Despite these challenges, most juvenile salmon survive this journey every year.

Now, a synthetic fish is helping existing hydroelectric dams and new, smaller hydro facilities become more fish-friendly. The latest version of the Sensor Fish — a small tubular device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stresses fish experience — measures more forces, costs about 80 percent less and can be used in more hydro structures than its predecessor, according to a paper published in the American Institute of Physics' Review of Scientific Instruments.

"The earlier Sensor Fish design helped us understand how intense pressure changes can harm fish as they pass through dam turbines," said lead Sensor Fish developer Daniel Deng, a chief scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Read more ..


The Way We Were

Ancient Romano-Britons had Healthier Teeth than Modern Brits

November 2nd 2014

The Roman-British population from c. 200-400 AD appears to have had far less gum disease than we have today, according to a study of skulls at the Natural History Museum led by a King's College London periodontist. The surprise findings provide further evidence that modern habits like smoking can be damaging to oral health.

Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is the result of a chronic inflammatory response to the build-up of dental plaque. Whilst much of the population lives with mild gum disease, factors such as tobacco smoking or medical conditions like diabetes can trigger more severe chronic periodontitis, which can lead to the loss of teeth. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Warring Amazonian Bands of Brothers-in-Law Lend Clues to the Nature of Violence

November 2nd 2014

When Yanomamö men in the Amazon raided villages and killed decades ago, they formed alliances with men in other villages rather than just with close kin like chimpanzees do. And the spoils of war came from marrying their allies' sisters and daughters, rather than taking their victims' land and women.

Those findings – which suggest how violence and cooperation can go hand-in-hand and how culture may modify any innate tendencies toward violence – come from a new study of the so-called "fierce people" led by provocative anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and written by his protégé, University of Utah anthropologist Shane Macfarlan. Read more ..


Genetics Edge

Study Reveals Flaws in Claims that Complete Genes Pass from Food to Human Blood

November 1st 2014

Laboratory contaminants likely explain the results of a recent study claiming that complete genes can pass from foods we eat into our blood, according to a University of Michigan molecular biologist who re-examined data from the controversial research paper.

Richard Lusk said his findings highlight an underappreciated problem—contamination of laboratory samples—with one of the most popular and powerful new tools of the discipline: high-throughput sequencing, in which the exact sequences of billions of pieces of DNA are determined simultaneously.

Lusk said the technique has generated some extraordinary biological insights, as well as a few puzzling results, including a July 2013 paper in the journal PLOS ONE concluding that complete genes from some of the foods we eat—including tomatoes, soybeans, rice and corn—manage to survive digestion intact and make it into our bloodstream. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Adolescent Drinking Binges Lead to Brain Death

October 29th 2014

Heavy drinking during adolescence may lead to structural changes in the brain and memory deficits that persist into adulthood, according to an animal study published October 29 in The Journal of Neuroscience. The study found that, even as adults, rats given daily access to alcohol during adolescence had reduced levels of myelin — the fatty coating on nerve fibers that accelerates the transmission of electrical signals between neurons.

These changes were observed in a brain region important in reasoning and decision-making. Animals that were the heaviest drinkers also performed worse on a memory test later in adulthood. The findings suggest that high doses of alcohol during adolescence may continue to affect the brain even after drinking stops. Further research is required to determine the applicability of these findings to humans. Read more ..


Global Warming

Past Climate Change was Caused by the Ocean

October 26th 2014

Most of the concerns about climate change have focused on the amount of greenhouse gases that have been released into the atmosphere. ut in a new study published in Science, a group of Rutgers University researchers have found that circulation of the ocean plays an equally important role in regulating the earth’s climate.

In their study, the researchers say the major cooling of Earth and continental ice build-up in the Northern Hemisphere 2.7 million years ago coincided with a shift in the circulation of the ocean – which pulls in heat and carbon dioxide in the Atlantic and moves them through the deep ocean from north to south until it’s released in the Pacific.

The ocean conveyor system, Rutgers scientists believe, changed at the same time as a major expansion in the volume of the glaciers in the northern hemisphere as well as a substantial fall in sea levels. It was the Antarctic ice, they argue, that cut off heat exchange at the ocean's surface and forced it into deep water. They believe this caused global climate change at that time, not carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Read more ..


The Robotic Edge

Murata Cheerleaders Demonstrate Sensors, Swarm Intelligence

October 24th 2014

Terminator Robot

The Murata cheerleaders are a team of small robots that use both sensing and communications to achieve stability and group synchronization. They are the latest creations from Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (Kyoto, Japan), a supplier of passive, RF and power components, that also developed Murata Boy and Murata Girl as platforms to prove out the compony's components.

Murata Boy rode a bicycle while Murata Girl rode a unicycle. The Murata cheerleaders are self-balancing on top of a ball and can move in any direction while remaining upright using three gyroscope sensors that incorporate inverted-pendulum control technology, to detect tilt angles.

Each robot is equipped with four infrared sensors and five ultrasonic microphones to detect surrounding objects, even in the dark. Based on the differing speeds of sound and light waves, this system is capable of determining the relative positions of the robots within a 16 square meter space. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

New Analysis Methodology Revolutionizes Breast Cancer Therapy

October 22nd 2014

Stroma cells are derived from connective tissue and may critically influence tumour growth. This knowledge is not new. However, bioanalyst Christopher Gerner and an interdisciplinary team from the University of Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna have developed a novel methodology for investigation. Using modern mass spectrometry, tumour-promoting activities from breast fibroblasts were directly determined from needle biopsy samples. Recently this experimental break-through is published in the renowned Journal of Proteome Research.

The potential contribution of stroma cells to tumour growth has been widely recognised. It is not easy to understand whether a diseased stroma state supports tumour initiation or, alternatively, tumour- stroma cells are responsible for the formation of such diseased stroma. Read more ..


Edge of Nanotechnology

Resistance is Futile: Unlocking the Power of Super-Conducting Computer Chips

October 19th 2014

Computer chips with superconducting circuits — circuits with zero electrical resistance — would be 50 to 100 times as energy-efficient as today's chips, an attractive trait given the increasing power consumption of the massive data centers that power the Internet's most popular sites.

Superconducting chips also promise greater processing power: Superconducting circuits that use so-called Josephson junctions have been clocked at 770 gigahertz, or 500 times the speed of the chip in the iPhone 6.

But Josephson-junction chips are big and hard to make; most problematic of all, they use such minute currents that the results of their computations are difficult to detect. For the most part, they've been relegated to a few custom-engineered signal-detection applications. Read more ..


The Ebola Pandemic

Where Does Ebola Hide?

October 16th 2014

Bat and moth

The people of Guinea have been locked in a life-and-death struggle with Ebola virus since last December. Nearly 60 percent of Guineans infected with the virus since then have died. To cope with the unprecedented disease, the government went so far as to ban soup made from bats.

Why bats? Because three kinds of bats from the region are believed to harbor the deadly filovirus. That's based on a survey of small animals in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Ebola virus seems to be endemic. The DRC even hosts the Ebola River that gave the virus its name. (It is a tributary of the Congo River that gives the country its name.)

Although Ebola does not kill the bats as far as scientists know, it does kill more than humans: the virus has devastated chimpanzee and gorilla populations as well. So intrepid researchers from the International Center for Medical Research of Franceville in Gabon set out to trap small animals that might harbor the disease from forest regions that had recently been devastated, starting in 2001.

  Read more ..


Ancient Days

Archaeologists find the Largest Shipwreck of Antiquity

October 11th 2014

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Antikythera mechanism

An international team of divers and archaeologists has retrieved stunning new finds from an ancient Greek ship that sank more than 2,000 years ago off the remote island of Antikythera. The rescued antiquities include tableware, ship components, and a giant bronze spear that would have belonged to a life-sized warrior statue.

The Antikythera wreck was first discovered in 1900 by sponge divers who were blown off course by a storm. They subsequently recovered a spectacular haul of ancient treasure including bronze and marble statues, jewellery, furniture, luxury glassware, and the surprisingly complex Antikythera Mechanism. But they were forced to end their mission at the 55-meter-deep site after one diver died of the bends and two were paralyzed. Ever since, archaeologists have wondered if more treasure remains buried beneath the sea bed.

Now a team of international archaeologists including Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities have returned to the treacherous site using state-of-the-art technology. Read more ..


The Edhe of Health

Tumors Might Grow Faster At Night

October 9th 2014

Sleeping at computer

They emerge at night, while we sleep unaware, growing and spreading out as quickly as they can. And they are deadly. In a surprise finding that was recently published in Nature Communications, Weizmann Institute of Science researchers showed that nighttime is the right time for cancer to grow and spread in the body. Their findings suggest that administering certain treatments in time with the body’s day-night cycle could boost their efficiency.

This finding arose out of an investigation into the relationships between different receptors in the cell – a complex network that we still do not completely understand. The receptors – protein molecules on the cell’s surface or within cells – take in biochemical messages secreted by other cells and pass them on into the cell’s interior. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

China's Economic Boom Thwarts its Carbon Emissions Goals

October 6th 2014

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Efforts to reduce China’s carbon dioxide emissions are being offset by the country’s rampant economic growth, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA). Research published in Nature Climate Change reveals how carbon efficiency has improved in nearly all Chinese provinces. But the country’s economic boom has simultaneously led to a growth in CO2-emitting activities such as mining, metal smelting and coal-fired electricity generation – negating any gains.

According to the study, China, the world’s largest producer of CO2 emissions, increased its carbon intensity by 3 per cent during a period of unprecedented economic growth. This was despite its pledge to reduce carbon intensity by up to 45 per cent by 2020 (relative to the 2005 level). Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Air Pollution Increases River Flows

October 5th 2014

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A study published in Nature Geoscience shows that air pollution has had a significant impact on the amount of water flowing through many rivers in the northern hemisphere.

The paper shows how such pollution, known as aerosols, can have an impact on the natural environment and highlights the importance of considering these factors in assessments of future climate change.

The research resulted from a collaboration between scientists at the Met Office, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, University of Reading, Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in France, and the University of Exeter. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

New Light Emerges on Mankind's African Origins

October 5th 2014

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What can DNA from the skeleton of a man who lived 2,330 years ago in the southernmost tip of Africa tell us about ourselves as humans? A great deal when his DNA profile is one of the 'earliest diverged' – oldest in genetic terms – found to-date in a region where modern humans are believed to have originated roughly 200,000 years ago.

The man's maternal DNA, or 'mitochondrial DNA,' was sequenced to provide clues to early modern human prehistory and evolution. Mitochondrial DNA provided the first evidence that we all come from Africa, and helps us map a figurative genetic tree, all branches deriving from a common 'Mitochondrial Eve'.

When archaeologist Professor Andrew Smith from the University of Cape Town discovered the skeleton at St. Helena Bay in 2010, very close to the site where 117,000 year old human footprints had been found – dubbed "Eve's footprints" – he contacted Professor Vanessa Hayes, a world-renowned expert in African genomes. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Energy

Body Motion Drives Implantable Energy Harvester

October 3rd 2014

johnathon prince

The new concept combines MEMS microfluidics and piezoelectric micro-belts that convert changes in pressure (from random real-world vibrational sources) into electricity. Under the alternating pressure waves from the harnessed vibrations, a pressurized fluid in micro-channels synchronizes the random input vibrations into pre-defined resonance frequencies that make the most of the piezoelectric elements for charge generation, despite the irregularity and randomness of the vibrations.

MEMS energy harvesters are not new, but most concepts rely on vibrating piezoelectric cantilevers or micro-electrets, which only operate efficiently within very narrow frequency bands, if not only at one frequency. This limitation discards these concepts in most practical environments.

Dr Alex Gu, Technical Director of IMEs Sensors and Actuators Microsystems Programme, found an interesting way to expand the range of vibration frequencies within which the MEMS energy harvesters would be receptive. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Tracking One Virus Making Rare Cross-Kingdom Leap From Plants to Honeybees

September 29th 2014

Honeybee

When HIV jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900s, it crossed a gulf spanning several million years of evolution. But tobacco ringspot virus, scientists announced last week, has made a jump that defies credulity. It has crossed a yawning chasm ~1.6 billion years wide.

And this is likely bad news for its new host, the honeybee, matchmaker of crops and bringer of honey.  These are two services for which humans are both eternally indebted, and, in the case of the former, possibly unable to live without. Bees pollinate the majority of our fruit and nut crops and many vegetables — some 90 all told — without which humanity would be nutritionally impoverished. Yet shortages are a possibility we are confronting, as bee populations in America have declined in recent years for reasons that seem to be both diverse and elusive. Colony collapse disorder, as whatever it is is called, was first reported in 2006 and has spread globally. Many viruses, parasites, and pesticides have been implicated, but no smoking gun has emerged. Read more ..


The Battery Edge

Great Steps Made in Wearable Computers with Self-Contained Power Source

September 28th 2014

Researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas have created technology that could be the first step toward wearable computers with self-contained power sources or, more immediately, a smartphone that doesn’t die after a few hours of heavy use.

This technology, published online in Nature Communications, taps into the power of a single electron to control energy consumption inside transistors, which are at the core of most modern electronic systems.

Researchers from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science found that by adding a specific atomic thin film layer to a transistor, the layer acted as a filter for the energy that passed through it at room temperature. The signal that resulted from the device was six to seven times steeper than that of traditional devices. Steep devices use less voltage but still have a strong signal.

“The whole semiconductor industry is looking for steep devices because they are key to having small, powerful, mobile devices with many functions that operate quickly without spending a lot of battery power,” said Dr. Jiyoung Kim, professor of materials science and engineering in the Jonsson School and an author of the paper. “Our device is one solution to make this happen.” Read more ..


Ancient Days

The Water We Drink is Older Than the Sun

September 26th 2014

Up to half of the water on Earth is likely older than the solar system itself, University of Michigan astronomers theorize.

The researchers' work, published in the current issue of Science, helps to settle a debate about just how far back in galactic history our planet and our solar system's water formed. Were the molecules in comet ices and terrestrial oceans born with the system itself—in the planet-forming disk of dust and gas that circled the young sun 4.6 billion years ago? Or did the water originate even earlier—in the cold, ancient molecular cloud that spawned the sun and that planet-forming disk?

Between 30 and 50 percent came from the molecular cloud, says Ilse Cleeves, a doctoral student in astronomy at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. That would make it roughly a million years older than the solar system. Read more ..


The Caliphate

Significant War Damage Done to Syrian World Heritage Sites

September 25th 2014

Great Mosque of Aleppo before its destruction.

In war-torn Syria, five of six World Heritage sites now "exhibit significant damage" and some structures have been "reduced to rubble," according to new high-resolution satellite image analysis by the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS analysis, offering the first comprehensive look at the extent of damage to Syria's priceless cultural heritage sites, was completed in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology's Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) and the Smithsonian Institution, and in cooperation with the Syrian Heritage Task Force. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the analysis provides authoritative confirmation of previous on-the-ground reports of damage to individual sites. Read more ..


The Edge of Agriculture

Bio-Char Provides Contradictory but Beneficial Results for Marginal Soils

September 25th 2014

Click to select Image

As more gardeners and farmers add ground charcoal, or biochar, to soil to both boost crop yields and counter global climate change, a new study by researchers at Rice University and Colorado College could help settle the debate about one of biochar's biggest benefits -- the seemingly contradictory ability to make clay soils drain faster and sandy soils drain slower.

The study, available online this week in the journal PLOS ONE, offers the first detailed explanation for the hydrological mystery.

"Understanding the controls on water movement through biochar-amended soils is critical to explaining other frequently reported benefits of biochar, such as nutrient retention, carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions," said lead author Rebecca Barnes, an assistant professor of environmental science at Colorado College, who began the research while serving as a postdoctoral research associate at Rice. Read more ..



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