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The Edge of Medicine

Is That Bacteria Dead Yet?

June 30th 2013

TB Bacteria

Researchers at EPFL have built a matchbox-sized device that can test for the presence of bacteria in a couple of minutes, instead of up to several weeks. A nano-lever vibrates in the presence of bacterial activity, while a laser reads the vibration and translates it into an electrical signal that can be easily read—the absence of a signal signifies the absence of bacteria. Thanks to this method, it is quick and easy to determine if a bacteria has been effectively treated by an antibiotic, a crucial medical tool especially for resistant strains. Easily used in clinics, it could also prove useful for testing chemotherapy treatment. The research is published in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology. "This method is fast and accurate. And it can be a precious tool for both doctors looking for the right dosage of antibiotics and for researchers to determine which treatments are the most effective," explains Giovanni Dietler. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Microscopy Technique Could Help Develop 3-D Components

June 28th 2013

computer chip

A technique developed several years ago at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for improving optical microscopes now has been applied to monitoring the next generation of computer chip circuit components, potentially providing the semiconductor industry with a crucial tool for improving chips for the next decade or more.

The technique, called Through-Focus Scanning Optical Microscopy (TSOM), has now been shown able to detect tiny differences in the three-dimensional shapes of circuit components, which until very recently have been essentially two-dimensional objects. TSOM is sensitive to features that are as small as 10 nanometers (nm) across, perhaps smaller—addressing some important industry measurement challenges for the near future for manufacturing process control and helping maintain the viability of optical microscopy in electronics manufacturing. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Kenya Repurposing Satellite Dishes for Space Exploration

June 27th 2013


The construction of a huge radio telescope in South Africa is giving a boost to the science and space industries in Kenya.  The country’s top space physicist says telecommunication companies are leasing out their now-obsolete satellite dishes for use in the new project.

Several African countries are working to build a large radio telescope known as the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA.  The core station will be in South Africa, while other countries across the continent - Ghana, Mauritius, Botswana and Kenya - will host nodes that will operate together.

Professor Paul Baki, head of pure and applied science at the Technical University of Kenya, is looking for land to build on in the east African country.  Baki says Kenya's node of the SKA needs about one square kilometer of land that is free from electronic interference. Read more ..

Laser Edge

New Laser Provides New Eyes for Military and Security Applications

June 26th 2013

A new laser that can show what objects are made of could help military aircraft identify hidden dangers such as weapons arsenals far below. "For the defense and intelligence communities, this could add a new set of eyes," said Mohammed Islam, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan.

The system, which is made of off-the-shelf telecommunications technology, emits a broadband beam of infrared light. While most lasers emit light of one wavelength, or color, super-continuum lasers like this one give off a tight beam packed with columns of light covering a range of wavelengths – a blend of colors. Because this beam is in the infrared region, it's invisible to human eyes. But it can illuminate deep information. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Mining the Brain's History

June 25th 2013

Eye biometrics

What if experts could dig into the brain, like archaeologists, and uncover the history of past experiences? This ability might reveal what makes each of us a unique individual, and could enable the objective diagnosis of a wide range of neuropsychological diseases. New research at the Weizmann Institute hints that such a scenario is within the realm of possibility: It shows that spontaneous waves of neuronal activity in the brain bear the imprints of earlier events for at least 24 hours after the experience has taken place.

The new research stems from earlier findings in the lab of Prof. Rafael (Rafi) Malach of the Institute’s Department of Neurobiology and others showing that the brain never rests, even when its owner is resting. When a person is resting with closed eyes – that is, no visual stimulus is entering the brain – the normal bursts of nerve cell activity associated with incoming information are replaced by ultra-slow patterns of neuronal activity. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Solar Splashdown

June 23rd 2013


 On June 7, 2011, our Sun erupted, blasting tons of hot plasma into space. Some of that plasma splashed back down onto the Sun's surface, sparking bright flashes of ultraviolet light. This dramatic event may provide new insights into how young stars grow by sucking up nearby gas.

The eruption and subsequent splashdown were observed in spectacular detail by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. This spacecraft watches the Sun 24 hours a day, providing images with better-than-HD resolution. Its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument was designed and developed by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

"We’re getting beautiful observations of the Sun. And we get such high spatial resolution and high cadence that we can see things that weren’t obvious before," says CfA astronomer Paola Testa.

Movies of the June 7th eruption show dark filaments of gas blasting outward from the Sun's lower right. Although the solar plasma appears dark against the Sun's bright surface, it actually glows at a temperature of about 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit. When the blobs of plasma hit the Sun's surface again, they heat up by a factor of 100 to a temperature of almost 2 million degrees F. As a result, those spots brighten in the ultraviolet by a factor of 2 – 5 over just a few minutes. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Say Goodbye to Surgical Stiches and Staples

June 22nd 2013


If a new Israeli product from IonMed gets market approval, surgeons will have a revolutionary tool in their hands for scar-free incision closure.

Women giving birth by Caesarean section could be the first to benefit from a revolutionary Israeli invention for closing surgical incisions without stitches or staples. The technique also promises to leave patients less prone to infection and scarring. BioWeld1, a unique trademarked product from Israeli startup IonMed, welds surgical incisions using cold plasma.

Plasma is a gas in which a certain proportion of the particles are ionized. It has been shown to offer manifold benefits including tissue welding, control of bleeding, enhancement of tissue repair, disinfection and destruction of cancer cells. However, plasma has enjoyed a limited role in surgery due to the high temperatures it creates and resulting harmful effects on body tissue. IonMed’s scientists found a way to make use of cold plasma as the power behind the BioWeld1. The procedure takes a few minutes, seals the area completely, leaves minimal scarring or painful stitches, and does not require complex training. Read more ..

The Edge of Science

Particle Acceterator that Can Fit on a Tabletop

June 21st 2013


Physicists at The University of Texas at Austin have built a tabletop particle accelerator that can generate energies and speeds previously reached only by major facilities that are hundreds of meters long and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build.

"We have accelerated about half a billion electrons to 2 gigaelectronvolts over a distance of about 1 inch," said Mike Downer. "Until now that degree of energy and focus has required a conventional accelerator that stretches more than the length of two football fields. It's a downsizing of a factor of approximately 10,000."

The results, which were published this week in Nature Communications, mark a major milestone in the advance toward the day when multi-gigaelectronvolt (GeV) laser plasma accelerators are standard equipment in research laboratories around the world. Downer said he expects 10 GeV accelerators of a few inches in length to be developed within the next few years, and he believes 20 GeV accelerators of similar size could be developed within a decade. Read more ..

The Edger of Space

Humans Could Visit Asteroid in 2021

June 20th 2013

Phoebe from Cassini

The U.S. space agency says its proposed asteroid capture mission takes several of NASA's ongoing initiatives and aligns them for one major mission. 

These chunks of ancient space rocks hold clues about the formation of the universe, pose threats to our planet, and present new territory for explorers. NASA's proposed asteroid mission is a logical next leap for the space agency, says associate administrator for human exploration and operations Bill Gerstenmaier.

"It essentially fits right with what we were doing already.  This whole mission activity captures a lot of what we were doing before.  It captures the observation things.  It captures the electric propulsion, and it captures and utilizes our Orion [capsule] and SLS [rocket] just as it was envisioned," said Gerstenmaier. Astronomers already are identifying and tracking near-Earth asteroids in an attempt to find potential threats, which will help as NASA chooses a target. Read more ..

Environmental Edge

Record 'Dead Zone' Expected in Gulf of Mexico

June 19th 2013

Click to select Image

Spring floods across the Midwest are expected to contribute to a very large and potentially record-setting 2013 Gulf of Mexico "dead zone," according to a University of Michigan ecologist and colleagues who released their annual forecast today, along with one for the Chesapeake Bay. The Gulf forecast, one of two announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls for an oxygen-depleted, or hypoxic, region of between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles, which would place it among the 10 largest on record.

The low end of the forecast range is well above the long-term average and would be roughly equivalent to the size of Connecticut, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia combined. The upper end would exceed the largest ever reported (8,481 square miles in 2002) and would be comparable in size to New Jersey.

Farmland runoff containing fertilizers and livestock waste, some of it from as far away as the Corn Belt, is the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that cause the annual Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. In its 2001 and 2008 action plans, the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, a coalition of federal, state and tribal agencies, set the goal of reducing the five-year running average areal extent of the Gulf hypoxic zone to 5,000 square kilometers (1,950 square miles) by 2015. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

New Array Measures Vibrations Across Skin

June 15th 2013

Woman Finge/Handr manicured

In the near future, a buzz in your belt or a pulse from your jacket may give you instructions on how to navigate your surroundings. Think of it as tactile Morse code: vibrations from a wearable, GPS-linked device that tell you to turn right or left, or stop, depending on the pattern of pulses you feel. Such a device could free drivers from having to look at maps, and could also serve as a tactile guide for the visually and hearing impaired.

Lynette Jones, a senior research scientist in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering, designs wearable tactile displays. Through her work, she's observed that the skin is a sensitive — though largely untapped — medium for communication.

"If you compare the skin to the retina, you have about the same number of sensory receptors, you just have them over almost two square meters of space, unlike the eye where it's all concentrated in an extremely small area," Jones says. "The skin is generally as useful as a very acute area. It's just that you need to disperse the information that you're presenting." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Israelis Build World's First Eye-Free Smartphone

June 14th 2013


Project RAY, now launching in the US, opens the benefits of digital access to commercial and public services to people with visual disabilities.

The world’s first smartphone for people with visual disabilities, already making daily life easier for many Israelis, is launching in the United States in collaboration with Qualcomm, Amazon and T-Mobile. Three Israelis poured extensive mobile telecommunications experience into Project RAY. They leveraged advanced smartphone technologies (multiple sensors, camera, compass and audio) and communication services (phone, messaging and cloud) to give users greater independence and accessibility to essential public digital services. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Activating Brain Circuits Can Block Compulsive Disorders and Tourettes's Syndrome

June 13th 2013

Baby Boomer

By activating a brain circuit that controls compulsive behavior, neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown that they can block a compulsive behavior in mice — a result that could help researchers develop new treatments for diseases such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Tourette’s syndrome. About 1 percent of U.S. adults suffer from OCD, and patients usually receive antianxiety drugs or antidepressants, behavioral therapy, or a combination of therapy and medication. For those who do not respond to those treatments, a new alternative is deep brain stimulation, which delivers electrical impulses via a pacemaker implanted in the brain.

For this study, the MIT team used optogenetics to control neuron activity with light. This technique is not yet ready for use in human patients, but studies such as this one could help researchers identify brain activity patterns that signal the onset of compulsive behavior, allowing them to more precisely time the delivery of deep brain stimulation. “You don’t have to stimulate all the time. You can do it in a very nuanced way,” says Ann Graybiel, an Institute Professor at MIT, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the senior author of a Science paper describing the study. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Alternative Fuel Automobiles are No Cure-All for Environmental Woes

June 12th 2013

Click to select Image

Making cars more fuel-efficient is great for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but rather than promoting sales of electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles, policymakers should turn their focus to cutting emissions in other energy sectors—from oil wells and power plants to farms and forests affected by biofuels production—says a University of Michigan researcher.

"While the rush to get alternative fuels on the road has become dogma in many policy circles, such haste cannot be justified by careful analysis," said John DeCicco, a research professor at the U-M Energy Institute and professor of practice at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Alternative fuel vehicles have been promoted for decades—plug-in electric cars as well as those powered by ethanol, natural gas, hydrogen or other nonpetroleum fuels. Federal tax credits for electric vehicles range up to $7,500 per car and many other alternative fuels are also subsidized. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Reduced Calorie Intake Delays Nerve Cell Loss

June 9th 2013

Activating an enzyme known to play a role in the anti-aging benefits of calorie restriction delays the loss of brain cells and preserves cognitive function in mice, according to a study published in the May 22 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings could one day guide researchers to discover drug alternatives that slow the progress of age-associated impairments in the brain.

According to a release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, previous studies have shown that reducing calorie consumption extends the lifespan of a variety of species and decreases the brain changes that often accompany aging and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. There is also evidence that caloric restriction activates an enzyme called Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1), which studies suggest offers some protection against age-associated impairments in the brain.

In the current study, Li-Huei Tsai — director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT — along with postdoc Johannes Gräff and others at MIT tested whether reducing caloric intake would delay the onset of nerve cell loss that is common in neurodegenerative disease, and if so, whether SIRT1 activation was driving this effect. The group not only confirmed that caloric restriction delays nerve cell loss, but also found that a drug that activates SIRT1 produces the same effects.

“There has been great interest in finding compounds that mimic the benefits of caloric restriction that could be used to delay the onset of age-associated problems and/or diseases,” says Dr. Luigi Puglielli, who studies aging at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and was not involved in this study. “If proven safe for humans, this study suggests such a drug could be used as a preventive tool to delay the onset of neurodegeneration associated with several diseases that affect the aging brain." Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Astronomers Gear Up to Discover Earth-Like Plants

June 8th 2013

Exoplanet candidate UCF-1.01

As part of an international team of exoplanets hunters, astronomers at the University of Arizona are developing a technique to detect faint dust clouds around other stars, many of which might hide Earth-like planets.

If one looks only for the shiniest pennies in the fountain, chances are one misses most of the coins because they shimmer less brightly. This, in a nutshell, is the conundrum astronomers face when searching for Earth-like planets outside our solar system.

Astronomers at the University of Arizona are part of an international team of exoplanets hunters developing new technology that would dramatically improve the odds of discovering planets with conditions suitable for life – such as having liquid water on the surface. The team presented its results at a scientific conference sponsored by the International Astronomical Union in Victoria, British Columbia. Read more ..

The Edge of Geology

Meteor Shower Deposited a Ton on Earth

June 7th 2013

Meteor Crater

Every 6.6 years, the comet Giacobini-Zinner circulates through the inner solar system and passes through the perihelion, the closest point to the Sun of its orbit. Then, the comet sublimates the ices and ejects a large number of particles that are distributed in filaments. The oldest of these particles have formed a swarm that the Earth passes trough every year in early October. The result is a Draconid meteor shower –meteors from this comet come from the northern constellation Draco–, which hits the Earth's atmosphere at about 75,000 km/h, a relatively slow speed in comparison with other meteoric swarms.

Josep Maria Trigo, researcher from the CSIC Institute of Space Sciences (ICE), states: "When a comet approaches the Sun, it sublimates part of its superficial ice and the gas pressure drives a huge number of particles that adopt orbits around the Sun, forming authentic swarms. The study shows that in the evening from October 8th to 9th 2011, the Earth intercepted three dense spindles of particles left behind by the comet when it crossed through the perihelion". Read more ..

The Edge of Evolution

Sturgeons are Evolutionary Speedsters, not Living Fossils

June 6th 2013

Click to select Image

Efforts to restore sturgeon in the Great Lakes region have received a lot of attention in recent years, and many of the news stories note that the prehistoric-looking fish are "living fossils" virtually unchanged for millions of years.

But a new study by University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues reveals that in at least one measure of evolutionary change—changes in body size over time—sturgeon have been one of the fastest-evolving fish on the planet.

"Sturgeon are thought of as a living fossil group that has undergone relatively slow rates of anatomical change over time. But that's simply not true," said Daniel Rabosky, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a curator of herpetology at the Museum of Zoology. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Gene Associated with Down Syndrome leads to Therapeutic Approaches

June 6th 2013

Click to select Image

University of Michigan researchers have determined how a gene that is known to be defective in Down syndrome is regulated and how its dysregulation may lead to neurological defects, providing insights into potential therapeutic approaches to an aspect of the syndrome.

Normally, nerve cells called neurons undergo an intense period of extending and branching of neuronal protrusions around the time of birth. During this period, the neurons produce the proteins of the gene called Down syndrome cell-adhesion molecule, or Dscam, at high levels. After this phase, the growth and the levels of protein taper off.

However, in the brains of patients with Down syndrome, epilepsy and several other neurological disorders, the amount of Dscam remains high. The impact of the elevated Dscam amount on how neurons develop is unknown.

Bing Ye, a faculty member at U-M's Life Sciences Institute, found that in the fruit fly Drosophila, the amount of Dscam proteins in a neuron determines the size to which a neuron extends its protrusions before it forms connections with other nerve cells. An overproduction of Dscam proteins leads to abnormally large neuronal protrusions.

Ye also identified two molecular pathways that converge to regulate the abundance of Dscam. One, dual leucine zipper kinase (DLK), which is involved in nerve regeneration, promotes the synthesis of Dscam proteins. Another, fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), which causes fragile X syndrome when defective, represses Dscam protein synthesis. Because humans share these genes with Drosophila, the DLK-FMRP-Dscam relationship presents a possible target for therapeutic intervention, Ye said. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

NASA Prepares for Next Solar Mission

June 5th 2013


The U.S. space agency NASA is preparing to launch a new mission to study the sun. The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, will observe the way solar material gathers energy and heats up as it moves through the sun's lower atmosphere.

The upper layer of the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, is thousands of times hotter than the sun's surface. 

Scientists want to figure out how that happens, so they are preparing a mission to study the sun's so-called interface region, the area between the sun's photosphere and its corona.  Energy and plasma that flow through the interface region have an impact on us here on Earth. That region is the source of the sun's ultraviolet emission, which has an effect on our planet's climate, as well as the near-Earth space environment. Energy that seeps through the interface region drives solar wind.    Read more ..

The Water's Edge

Acidifying Oceans Could Spell Trouble for Squid

June 4th 2013

Stormy Seas

Acidifying oceans could dramatically impact the world's squid species, according to a new study led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) researchers and soon to be published in the journal PLOS ONE. Because squid are both ecologically and commercially important, that impact may have far-reaching effects on the ocean environment and coastal economies, the researchers report.

"Squid are at the center of the ocean ecosystem—nearly all animals are eating or eaten by squid," says WHOI biologist T. Aran Mooney, a co-author of the study. "So if anything happens to these guys, it has repercussions down the food chain and up the food chain."

Research suggests that ocean acidification and its repercussions are the new norm. The world's oceans have been steadily acidifying for the past hundred and fifty years, fueled by rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Seawater absorbs some of this CO2,turning it into carbonic acid and other chemical byproducts that lower the pH of the water and make it more acidic. As CO2 levels continue to rise, the ocean's acidity is projected to rise too, potentially affecting ocean-dwelling species in ways that researchers are still working to understand. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Bioresorbable Splint made by 3D Printer Restores Breathing to Endangered Infant

June 3rd 2013

bioresorbable broncheal splint
Model of infant tranchea and bioresorbable splint

Every day, their baby stopped breathing, his collapsed bronchus blocking the crucial flow of air to his lungs. April and Bryan Gionfriddo watched helplessly, just praying that somehow the dire predictions weren’t true. “Quite a few doctors said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive,” says April Gionfriddo, about her now 20-month-old son, Kaiba. “At that point, we were desperate. Anything that would work, we would take it and run with it.” They found hope at the University of Michigan, where a new, bioresorbable device that could help Kaiba was under development. Kaiba’s doctors contacted Glenn Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan.

Green and his colleague, Scott Hollister, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery at U-M, went right into action, obtaining emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to create and implant a tracheal splint for Kaiba made from a biopolymer called polycaprolactone. Read more ..

Edge of Space

Why the Moon's Gravity is So Uneven

June 2nd 2013

Click to select Image

Ever since the first satellites were sent to the moon to scout landing sites for Apollo astronauts, scientists have noticed a peculiar phenomenon: As these probes orbited the moon, passing over certain craters and impact basins, they periodically veered off course, plummeting toward the lunar surface before pulling back up.

As it turns out, the cause of such bumpy orbits was the moon itself: Over the years, scientists have observed that its gravity is stronger in some regions than others, creating a “lumpy” gravitational field. In particular, a handful of impact basins exhibit unexpectedly strong gravitational pull. Scientists have suspected that the explanation has to do with an excess distribution of mass below the lunar surface, and have dubbed these regions mass concentrations, or “mascons.”

Exactly how these mascons came to be has remained a mystery — until now.

Using high-resolution gravity data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, researchers at MIT and Purdue University have mapped the structure of several lunar mascons and found that their gravitational fields resemble a bull’s-eye pattern: a center of strong, or positive, gravity surrounded by alternating rings of negative and positive gravity. Read more ..

Edge of Space

NASA's Curiosity Rover Discovers Water on the Red Planet

June 2nd 2013

NASA’s Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars at a few sites, including a rocky outcrop which the science team has named “Hottah.”

The discovery suggests that the stream bed examined by the rover provides evidence that water, possibly lots of it, once flowed on Mars.

In a new study, scientists say their findings represent the first on-site evidence of sustained water flow on the Martian landscape. The discovery also supports the theory Mars would have once been able to host life. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Researchers Design Sensitive New Microphone Modeled on Fly Ear

June 2nd 2013

Man cupping his ear

Using the sensitive ears of a parasitic fly for inspiration, a group of researchers has created a new type of microphone that achieves better acoustical performance than what is currently available in hearing aids.

Ronald Miles studies the hearing of Ormia ochracea, a house fly-sized insect that is native to the southeast United States and Central America. Unlike most other flies, Ormia ochracea has eardrums that sense sound pressure, as do our ears, and they can hear "quite well," says Miles. The female flies use their "remarkable" directional hearing to locate singing male crickets, on which they deposit their larvae.

Previously, Miles and colleagues Daniel Robert and Ronald Hoy described the mechanism by which the fly achieves its directional hearing, despite its small size. Now Miles and his group have designed a new microphone inspired by the fly's ears. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Seeing HIV Up-Close by Cracking its Code

June 1st 2013


Researchers have determined the precise chemical structure of the HIV capsid, a protein shell that protects the virus's genetic material and is a key to its ability to infect and debilitate the human body's defense mechanism. Detailed simulations were achieved with the use of a supercomputer on a 64 million atom sample. The capsid has become an attractive target for the development of new antiretroviral drugs that suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of AIDS.

The research paper describing these results is the cover story of this week's journal Nature.

This discovery was enabled by a recently-dedicated, new supercomputer called Blue Waters, one of the world's most powerful computers. Read more ..

The Nanotechnology Edge

Breakthrough Provides Tools Control to Arrangement of Nano-Particles

May 31st 2013

Click to select Image

Leading nanoscientists created beautiful, tiled patterns with flat nanocrystals, but they were left with a mystery: Why did some sets of crystals arrange themselves in an alternating, herringbone style? To find out, they turned to experts in computer simulation at the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The result gives nanotechnology researchers a new tool for controlling how objects one-millionth the size of a grain of sand arrange themselves into useful materials—and a means to discover the rest of the tool chest. A paper on the research is published online in Nature Chemistry.

"The excitement in this is not in the herringbone pattern, it's about the coupling of experiment and modeling, and how that approach lets us take on a very hard problem," said Christopher Murray, the Richard Perry University Professor and professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Murray's group is renowned for making nanocrystals and arranging them into larger crystal superstructures. Read more ..

Healthy Edge

Gene Therapy May Limit Future Influenza Pandemics

May 30th 2013

Researchers have developed a gene therapy against pandemic influenza in laboratory animals, one that stops infection at the point of entry - the nose. The therapy could potentially thwart the most aggressive viral pathogens, saving the lives of an estimated 500,000 people who die worldwide each year from the flu.

The genetic therapy developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania expresses so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies, giving lab mice and ferrets almost complete protection against a number of lethal avian influenza strains, including those isolated from the deadly 1918 and 2009 pandemics.

Unlike conventional vaccines which stimulate the body’s natural immune system to fight an infection, broadly neutralizing antibodies halt a virus’s biological activity so it cannot make people sick by infecting cells in the first place. The antibodies can become effective in two to three days. Read more ..

The Water's Edge

Amazon River Exhales Virtually all Carbon Taken up by Rain Forest

May 28th 2013

Amazon rainforest

The Amazon rain forest, popularly known as the lungs of the planet, inhales carbon dioxide as it exudes oxygen. Plants use carbon dioxide from the air to grow parts that eventually fall to the ground to decompose or get washed away by the region’s plentiful rainfall.

Until recently people believed much of the rain forest’s carbon floated down the Amazon River and ended up deep in the ocean. University of Washington research showed a decade ago that rivers exhale huge amounts of carbon dioxide – though left open the question of how that was possible, since bark and stems were thought to be too tough for river bacteria to digest.

A study published this week in Nature Geoscience resolves the conundrum, proving that woody plant matter is almost completely digested by bacteria living in the Amazon River, and that this tough stuff plays a major part in fueling the river’s breath. Read more ..

The Edge of Mars

Bacterium from Canadian High Arctic and Life on Mars

May 27th 2013


The temperature in the permafrost on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian high Arctic is nearly as cold as that of the surface of Mars. So the recent discovery by a McGill University led team of scientists of a bacterium that is able to thrive at –15ºC, the coldest temperature ever reported for bacterial growth, is exciting.  The bacterium offers clues about some of the necessary preconditions for microbial life on both the Saturn moon Enceladus and Mars, where similar briny subzero conditions are thought to exist.

The team of researchers, led by Prof. Lyle Whyte and postdoctoral fellow Nadia Mykytczuk, both from the Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University, discovered Planococcus halocryophilus OR1 after screening about 200 separate High Arctic microbes looking for the microorganism best adapted to the harsh conditions of the Arctic permafrost. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Eyes on the Prey

May 26th 2013


Moving objects attract greater attention – a fact exploited by video screens in public spaces and animated advertising banners on the Internet. For most animal species, moving objects also play a major role in the processing of sensory impressions in the brain, as they often signal the presence of a welcome prey or an imminent threat. This is also true of the zebrafish larva, which has to react to the movements of its prey. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg have investigated how the brain uses the information from the visual system for the execution of quicker movements. The animals' visual system records the movements of the prey so that the brain can redirect the animals’ movements through targeted swim bouts in a matter of milliseconds. Two hitherto unknown types of neurons in the mid-brain are involved in the processing of movement stimuli. Read more ..

The Edge of the Cosmos

Detection of the Cosmic Ray Horizon

May 25th 2013


How much light has been emitted by all galaxies since the cosmos began? After all, almost every photon (particle of light) from ultraviolet to far infrared wavelengths ever radiated by all galaxies that ever existed throughout cosmic history is still speeding through the Universe today. If we could carefully measure the number and energy (wavelength) of all those photons—not only at the present time, but also back in time—we might learn important secrets about the nature and evolution of the Universe, including how similar or different ancient galaxies were compared to the galaxies we see today.

That bath of ancient and young photons suffusing the Universe today is called the extragalactic background light (EBL). An accurate measurement of the EBL is as fundamental to cosmology as measuring the heat radiation left over from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave background) at radio wavelengths. A new paper, called "Detection of the Cosmic γ-Ray Horizon from Multiwavelength Observations of Blazars," by Alberto Dominguez and six coauthors, just published today by the Astrophysical Journal—based on observations spanning wavelengths from radio waves to very energetic gamma rays, obtained from several NASA spacecraft and several ground-based telescopes—describes the best measurement yet of the evolution of the EBL over the past 5 billion years. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Facial Recognition Technology Proves its Mettle

May 24th 2013

FBI pic of Tsarnaev brothers

In a study that evaluated some of the latest in automatic facial recognition technology, researchers at Michigan State University were able to quickly identify one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects from law enforcement video, an experiment that demonstrated the value of such technology.

In the Pattern Recognition and Image Processing laboratory, Anil Jain, MSU Distinguished Professor of computer science and engineering, and Josh Klontz, a research scientist, tested three different facial-recognition systems.

By using actual law-enforcement video from the bombing, they found that one of the three systems could provide a “rank one” identification – a match – of suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev. “The other suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the one ultimately killed in the shootout with police, could not be matched at a sufficiently high rank, partly because he was wearing sunglasses,” Jain said. “The younger brother could be identified. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Mysterious and Alarming Resurgence of Whooping Cough

May 23rd 2013

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Whooping cough has exploded in the United States and some other developed countries in recent decades, and many experts suspect ineffective childhood vaccines for the alarming resurgence.

Some say the vaccine wears off quicker than public health officials had previously believed. Others suggest that the vaccine protects against illness but does not prevent transmission of the bacterial disease, which is also known as pertussis.

But a University of Michigan-led research team has concluded that neither of these proposed mechanisms for the resurgence of pertussis is supported by the best available evidence. In a study that reviewed 30 years of data from Thailand, they found that vaccines provided long-lived—possibly lifelong—protection against the disease and substantially reduced transmission, as well.

"What we found goes against much of what is currently suspected about pertussis resurgence," said U-M population ecologist and epidemiologist Pejman Rohani. "It's not difficult for us epidemiologists to propose some possible mechanism behind the resurgence, but what's been missing so far is an effort to challenge each of these hypotheses to explain the data. That's exactly what we did." Read more ..

The Food Edge

Future Astronauts Could Print Food

May 22nd 2013


Astronauts on future missions to Mars may be able to dial up a pizza via a 3D printer. NASA announced it awarded a $125,000 grant to Systems & Materials Research Corporation’s Anjan Contractor, who has already designed the printer.

The head of the printer will be fed with a combination of nutrients, water, oils and flavors, which can be sprayed, layer by layer to create three dimensional food.

The base ingredients could have a shelf life of up to 30 years. The first test: printing a pizza.

According to a proposal posted on the NASA website in March, “the 3D printing component will deliver macronutrients [starch, protein, and fat], structure, and texture while the ink jet will deliver micronutrients, flavor, and smell.”

“Using unflavored macronutrients, such as protein, starch and fat, the sustenance portion of the diet can be rapidly produced in a variety of shapes and textures directly from the 3D printer [already warm],” according to the proposal. The biggest advantage to 3D food printing, NASA says, is that there is no waste. According to the NASA proposal, printing food could have applications beyond space. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Pacemakers and Defibrillators Vulnerable to Electronic Hackers

May 21st 2013

Artificial cadaver and implantable defibrillator
Artificial cadaver and implantable defibrillator

The type of sensors that pick up the rhythm of a beating heart in implanted cardiac defibrillators and pacemakers are vulnerable to tampering, according to a new study conducted in controlled laboratory conditions. Implantable defibrillators monitor the heart for irregular beating and, when necessary, administer an electric shock to bring it back into normal rhythm. Pacemakers use electrical pulses to continuously keep the heart in pace.

In experiments in simulated human models, an international team of researchers demonstrated that they could forge an erratic heartbeat with radio frequency electromagnetic waves. Theoretically, a false signal like the one they created could inhibit needed pacing or induce unnecessary defibrillation shocks. The team includes researchers from the University of Michigan, University of South Carolina, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, University of Minnesota, University of Massachusetts and Harvard Medical School. Read more ..

The Edge of Disaster

How Should Geophysics Contribute to Disaster Planning

May 20th 2013

Staten Island community

Earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters often showcase the worst in human suffering – especially when those disasters strike populations who live in rapidly growing communities in the developing world with poorly enforced or non-existent building codes.

This week in Cancun, a researcher from Yale-National University of Singapore (NUS) College in Singapore is presenting a comparison between large-scale earthquakes and tsunamis in different parts of the world, illustrating how nearly identical natural disasters can play out very differently depending on where they strike.

The aim of the talk at the 2013 Meeting of the Americas, which is sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), is to focus on the specific role geoscientists can play in disaster risk reduction and how their work should fit in with the roles played by other experts for any given community. Read more ..

Ecology on Edge

Carbon Storing Qualities of Coastal Wetlands Explored In Australia

May 19th 2013

Peat Bog-Australia

The carbon-soaking qualities of Australia’s coastal and marine wetlands are the focus of a new international research project.  Experts from 20 countries have this week attended a special seminar in Sydney. 

Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney say that seagrass, mangroves and saltmarsh capture carbon up to 40 times faster than forests on land. 

Marine wetlands are able to store the carbon for very long periods, but scientists worry that these “critical ecosystems” are being destroyed around the world at a rapid rate by development and pollution.  It is estimated that this destruction releases as much as 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year into the atmosphere and oceans.  That is almost the equivalent of Japan’s yearly emissions. Read more ..

The Healthcare Edge

Scientists Race to Contain Malaria: New Discoveries, More Resistance

May 18th 2013

mosquito biting

Two new medical discoveries are raising hopes of containing malaria - the mosquito-borne parasitic disease that each year infects more than 200 million people and claims an estimated 660 thousand lives.  Meantime, the World Health Organization is warning about dire consequences if a drug-resistant form of malaria spreads beyond southeast Asia.

Artemisinin has helped cut global malaria deaths by more than 25 percent over the past decade. But now, in parts of Southeast Asia, this drug no longer works. And the World Health Organization's Dr. Shin Young-Soo warns of serious setbacks if drug resistance continues to spread. 

"The truth is, that malaria will beat us all unless we do more than what we are doing now, and we do it better," he said. Controlling malaria involves a range of strategies: using insecticidal bed nets to prevent mosquito bites, spraying insecticides, preventive treatment for children  and pregnant women, and controlling or changing mosquitoes, or the malaria parasites they carry. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Scientists Develop Experimental Vaccine Against Heroin

May 14th 2013

Docs and Tech

Scientists have developed an experimental vaccine to treat heroin addicts.  Such a vaccine would be a major advance for both public health and safety.  Addiction to the powerful, illicit narcotic not only destroys human lives, but also fuels a violent global drug trade. 

An estimated 20 million people around the world are addicted to heroin and related opiates.  Their addiction, and frequent use of contaminated syringes, put heroin users at risk of a variety of diseases - notably HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.  They are also more likely to die prematurely, either from a drug overdose or the violence related to drug trafficking. Drug relapse after conventional treatment for heroin addiction is an especially difficult challenge.  The experimental vaccine may prevent addiction even if a user is re-exposed to the drug. Read more ..

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