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The Edge of Health

U.S. Report Urges Deeper Look into Breast Cancer's Environmental Links

February 13th 2013

Smokestacks

A new federal advisory panel report makes a forceful case for more research into environmental causes of breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 227,000 women, killed 40,000 and cost more than $17 billion to treat in the United States last year.

Compiled by the congressionally mandated Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee, the report notes that most cases of breast cancer “occur in people with no family history,” suggesting that “environmental factors — broadly defined — must play a major role in the etiology of the disease.”

Yet only a fraction of federal research funding has gone toward examining links between breast cancer and ubiquitous chemicals such as the plastic hardening agent bisphenol A; the herbicide atrazine; and dioxin, a byproduct of plastics manufacturing and burning, says the report, prepared for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and released today. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

An Old Drug Shows the Way to Treat Diabetes and Obesity

February 12th 2013

Click to select Image

Researchers at the University of Michigan's Life Sciences Institute have found that amlexanox, an off-patent drug currently prescribed for the treatment of asthma and other uses, also reverses obesity, diabetes and fatty liver in mice.

The findings from the lab of Alan Saltiel, the Mary Sue Coleman director of the Life Sciences Institute, and appear online at the journal Nature Medicine.

"One of the reasons that diets are so ineffective in producing weight loss for some people is that their bodies adjust to the reduced calories by also reducing their metabolism, so that they are 'defending' their body weight," Saltiel said. "Amlexanox seems to tweak the metabolic response to excessive calorie storage in mice." Different formulations of amlexanox are currently prescribed to treat asthma in Japan and canker sores in the United States. Saltiel is teaming up with clinical-trial specialists at U-M to test whether amlexanox will be useful for treating obesity and diabetes in humans. He is also working with medicinal chemists at U-M to develop a new compound based on the drug that optimizes its formula. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Global Warming Releases Carbon-Laden Gas from Arctic Permafrost

February 12th 2013

Glacier

Ancient carbon trapped in Arctic permafrost is extremely sensitive to sunlight and, if exposed to the surface when long-frozen soils melt and collapse, can release climate-warming carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere much faster than previously thought. Former University of Michigan graduate student Katy Keller with a hand on eroded and melting permafrost near Toolik Lake, Alaska. The gully erosion seen here is a type of thermokarst failure, formed when ice-rich, permanently frozen soils are warmed and thawed.

University of Michigan ecologist and aquatic biogeochemist George Kling and his colleagues studied places in Arctic Alaska where permafrost is melting and is causing the overlying land surface to collapse, forming erosional holes and landslides and exposing long-buried soils to sunlight.

They found that sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas by at least 40 percent compared to carbon that remains in the dark. The team, led by Rose Cory of the University of North Carolina, reported its findings in an article to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Until now, we didn't really know how reactive this ancient permafrost carbon would be — whether it would be converted into heat-trapping gases quickly or not," said Kling, a professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. EEB graduate student Jason Dobkowski is a co-author of the paper. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

New Genes for Short-Sightedness Identified

February 10th 2013

Eye

An international team of scientists led by King's College London has discovered 24 new genes that cause refractive errors and myopia (short-sightedness).

Myopia is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment worldwide, and currently there is no cure. These findings, published today in the journal Nature Genetics, reveal genetic causes of the trait, which could lead to finding better treatments or ways of preventing the condition in the future.

Thirty per cent of Western populations and up to 80 per cent of Asian people suffer from myopia. During visual development in childhood and adolescence the eye grows in length, but in myopes it grows too long, and light entering the eye is then focused in front of the retina rather than on it. This results in a blurred image. This refractive error can be corrected with glasses, contact lenses or surgery. However, the eye remains longer, the retina is thinner, and this may lead to retinal detachment, glaucoma or macular degeneration, especially with higher degrees of myopia. Myopia is highly heritable, although up to now, little was known about the genetic background. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA: Asteroid to Pass Very Near Earth

February 9th 2013

Phoebe from Cassini

Astronomers around the world are preparing for a record-breaking asteroid flyby February 15. Measuring 45 meters in diameter and weighing an estimated 130,000 metric tons, Asteroid 2012 DA14 is considered small by scientists who track the solar system's rocky debris, but it will zip past our planet so closely that it will be even nearer to us than our orbiting weather and communications satellites.

It is the closest-ever-predicted approach for an object this size. Experts emphasize there is no reason for concern. "There's no danger to the planet at all," Lindley Johnson of NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program in Washington told VOA. "We know the orbit quite well now."

Johnson said Asteroid 2012 DA14 will come as close as 27,700 kilometers - about one-tenth the distance between the Earth and the Moon. "Close flybys of asteroids happen quite frequently," explained Johnson, who said more than 20 asteroids have come between the Earth and the Moon in the past year. "But they're usually very small-sized objects - maybe only a few meters in size."  Read more ..


Electronic Edge

Improved 'Peacock' Technology Locks in Color for High-Res Displays

February 8th 2013

peacock display

In a peacock’s iridescent tail, precisely arranged hairline grooves reflect light of certain wavelengths, resulting in brilliant color that looks different depending on the movement of the animal or the observer. Imitating this system – minus the rainbow effect – has been a leading approach to developing advanced color reflective displays. University of Michigan researchers have taken a step toward that goal. Iridescence, or sheen that shifts color depending on your viewing angle, is pretty in peacock feathers. But it's been a nuisance for engineers trying to mimic the birds' unique color mechanism to make high-resolution, reflective, color display screens.

Now, researchers at the University of Michigan have found a way to lock in so-called structural color, which is made with texture rather than chemicals. A paper on the work is published online in the current edition of the Nature journal Scientific Reports. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Forcasting a Supernova Explosion

February 6th 2013

Chandra super nova

Type II supernovae are formed when massive stars collapse, initiating giant explosions. It is thought that stars emit a burst of mass as a precursor to the supernova explosion. If this process were better understood, it could be used to predict and study supernova events in their earliest stages. New observations from a team of astronomers including Carnegie's Mansi Kasliwal show a remarkable mass-loss event about a month before the explosion of a type IIn supernova. Their work is published on February 7 in Nature.

Several models for the supernova-creation process predict pre-explosion outbursts, but it has been difficult for scientists to directly observe this process. Observations of emission lines radiating out form type IIn supernovae are thought to represent interactions between the mass ejected during and prior to the star's explosion

The Palomar Transient Factory team, led by Eran Ofek of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, observed an energetic outburst from a supernova called SN2010mc that radiated at least 6x1040th joules of energy and released about 2x1028th kilograms (one hundredth of a solar mass). This mass-loss was observed 40 days before the supernova exploded. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

A Spellchecker on Speed

February 6th 2013

I-phone

Want going out in Friday?’ Make sure you’ve typed it right with high flying new Israeli software. Ginger understands language context enough to make sure you write what you intend to.

Speakers of English as a second language are painfully aware of the intricacies and nuances of their adopted tongue. “Want going out in Friday?” might make perfect sense to the non-native speaker but is utterly incorrect. Technology can help: Spellcheckers do a passable job at the basics and Microsoft Word understands how to match tense and suggest active versus passive construction.

But how about this text message: “Hey dude, let’s go grab a bear tonight.” The sender presumably intended to kick back with a few beers. However, “bear” is a perfectly fine word to a spellchecker.

Enter Ginger Proofreader from Israel’s Ginger Software, a new web and mobile product that understands language context well enough to make sure you’ve written what you intended to. Ginger works its magic through a deep connection to linguistics, semantics and the “wisdom of the crowds.” Read more ..


Electronic Edge

Green Method Creates Silicon Crystals just like Sugar Water makes Rock Candy

February 5th 2013

Silicon crystals from liquid metal

A new way of making crystalline silicon, developed by University of Michigan researchers, could make this crucial ingredient of computers and solar cells much cheaper and greener.

Silicon dioxide, or sand, makes up about 40 percent of the earth's crust, but the industrial method for converting sand into crystalline silicon is expensive and has a major environmental impact due to the extreme processing conditions.

"The crystalline silicon in modern electronics is currently made through a series of energy-intensive chemical reactions with temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit that produces a lot of carbon dioxide," said Stephen Maldonado, professor of chemistry and applied physics. Read more ..


Ancient Times

Neaderthals of Spain Didn't Co-Exist with Modern Homo sapiens

February 5th 2013

Neanderthal child mannequin

The theory that the last Neanderthals – Homo neanderthalensis– persisted in southern Iberia at the same time that modern humans –Homo sapiens sapiens– advanced in the northern part of the peninsula, has been widely accepted by the scientific community during the last twenty years. An international study, in which researchers of the Spanish National Distance Education University (UNED) participate, questions this hypothesis.

"It is improbable that the last Neanderthals of central and southern Iberia would have persisted until such a late date, approximately 30,000 years ago, as we thought before the new dates appeared," assured Jesús F. Jordá, researcher of the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology of the UNED and co-author of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Future Smart Devices Will Extend Our Senses

February 3rd 2013

Smart phone

Imagine shopping for clothes online and being able to run your hand across the screen on your computer or smartphone to feel the fabrics. That kind of simulation technology could be available within the next five years. “We’re talking about reinventing the way computers operate and you interact with them as humans,” says IBM Vice President Bernie Meyerson.

Extending our sense of touch is one of five innovatons IBM believes will change the world in the next five years, according to the company's annual "Five in Five" list. Smart machines will also soon be able to listen to the environment and highlight the sounds we care about most. For instance, an advanced speech recognition system will tell new parents why their baby is crying.

“Your child is hungry, versus ill, versus lonely," Meyerson says. "This kind of thing is not possible today, but with a sophisticated enough system, it’s actually possible.”

In the near future, personal computers will be able to do more than recognize images and visual data. Their built-in cameras will be able to analyze features such as colors, and understand the meaning of visual media, such as knowing how to sort family photos. Read more ..


Ancient America

Comet Impact Did Not Kill off Ancient American Clovis Culture

February 2nd 2013

comet strike earth edge

Rebutting a speculative hypothesis that comet explosions changed Earth's climate sufficiently to end the Clovis culture in North America about 13,000 years ago, Sandia lead author Mark Boslough and researchers from 14 academic institutions assert that other explanations must be found for the apparent disappearance.

"There's no plausible mechanism to get airbursts over an entire continent," said Boslough, a physicist. "For this and other reasons, we conclude that the impact hypothesis is, unfortunately, bogus." In a December 2012 American Geophysical Union monograph, the researchers point out that no appropriately sized impact craters from that time period have been discovered, nor have any unambiguously "shocked" materials been found. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Bioelectric Signals Can Be Used To Detect Early Cancer

February 2nd 2013

Tumor in Tadpole Embryo

Biologists at Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences have discovered a bioelectric signal that can identify cells that are likely to develop into tumors. The researchers also found that they could lower the incidence of cancerous cells by manipulating the electrical charge across cells' membranes.

"The news here is that we've established a bioelectric basis for the early detection of cancer," says Brook Chernet. Michael Levin,director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, notes, "We've shown that electric events tell the cells what to do. The voltage changes are not merely a sign of cancer. They control and direct whether the cancer occurs or not." Read more ..


Edge of Entomology

Cracking a Mystery of the Ravenous Gypsy Moth

February 1st 2013

gypsy moth caterpillar

Working beneath the towering oaks and maples on the University of Michigan's central campus Diag, undergraduate researchers and their faculty adviser helped explain an observation that had puzzled insect ecologists who study voracious leaf-munching gypsy moth caterpillars. The caterpillars, which defoliate and sometimes kill stands of trees in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast, are especially fond of oaks, but sugar maple trees appear to be relatively resistant to the European pest.

Biologists wondered whether the caterpillars shun sugar maples in part because their leaves are less nutritious than the leaves of other trees. To find out, U-M biochemist Ray Barbehenn and several of his undergraduate research assistants compared the protein quality of red oak and sugar maple leaves from trees on the Diag. Read more ..


Ancient America

DNA Evidence Offers Clues to Pre-Aztec Culture of Mexico

January 31st 2013

Aztec calendar

For centuries, the fate of the original Otomí inhabitants of Xaltocan, the capital of a pre-Aztec Mexican city-state, has remained unknown. Researchers have long wondered whether they assimilated with the Aztecs or abandoned the town altogether.

According to new anthropological research from The University of Texas at Austin, Wichita State University and Washington State University, the answers may lie in DNA. Following this line of evidence, the researchers theorize that some original Otomies, possibly elite rulers, may have fled the town. Their exodus may have led to the reorganization of the original residents within Xaltocan, or to the influx of new residents, who may have intermarried with the Otomí population. Read more ..


Ancient Times

Newly Discovered Fossil Evidence challenges Bird Evolution Theory

January 29th 2013

Eosinopteryx dinosaur  - Royal Belgian Ins of Natural Sci.
Eosinopteryx (Credit: Royal Belgian Ins. of Natural Science)

The discovery of a new bird-like dinosaur from the Jurassic period challenges widely accepted theories on the origin of flight. Co-authored by Dr Gareth Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Southampton, the paper describes a new feathered dinosaur about 30 cm in length which pre-dates bird-like dinosaurs that birds were long thought to have evolved from.

Over many years, it has become accepted among palaeontologists that birds evolved from a group of dinosaurs called theropods from the Early Cretaceous period of Earth’s history, around 120-130 million years ago. Recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs from the older Middle-Late Jurassic period have reinforced this theory. Read more ..


Microbiology Edge

Tricking Iron-Eating Bacteria into Breathing Electrons Instead

January 29th 2013

rust iron oxide wikipedia

Scientists have developed a way to grow iron-oxidizing bacteria using electricity instead of iron, an advance that will allow them to better study the organisms and could one day be used to turn electricity into fuel. The study will be published on January 29 in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

The method, called electrochemical cultivation, supplies these bacteria with a steady supply of electrons that the bacteria use to respire, or "breathe". It opens the possibility that one day electricity generated from renewable sources like wind or solar could be funneled to iron oxidizing bacteria that combine it with carbon dioxide to create biofuels, capturing the energy as a useful, storable substance.

"It's a new way to cultivate a microorganism that's been very difficult to study. But the fact that these organisms can synthesize everything they need using only electricity makes us very interested in their abilities," says Daniel Bond of the BioTechnology Institute at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, who co-authored the paper with Zarath Summers and Jeffrey Gralnick. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Artificial Pancreas: The Way of The Future for Treating Type 1 Diabetes

January 28th 2013

Diabetes

Researchers, led by endocrinologist Dr. Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret, were the first to conduct a trial comparing a dual-hormone artificial pancreas with conventional diabetes treatment using an insulin pump and showed improved glucose levels and lower risks of hypoglycemia. Their results can have a great impact on the treatment of type 1 diabetes by accelerating the development of the external artificial pancreas.

The artificial pancreas is an automated system that simulates the normal pancreas by continuously adapting insulin delivery based on changes in glucose levels. The dual-hormone artificial pancreas tested at the IRCM controls glucose levels by automatically delivering insulin and glucagon, if necessary, based on continuous glucose monitor (CGM) readings and guided by an advanced algorithm.

“We found that the artificial pancreas improved glucose control by 15 per cent and significantly reduced the risk of hypoglycemia as compared with conventional insulin pump therapy,” explains engineer Ahmad Haidar, first author of the study and doctoral student in Dr. Rabasa-Lhoret’s research unit at the IRCM and at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at McGill University. "The artificial pancreas also resulted in an 8-fold reduction of the overall risk of hypoglycemia, and a 20-fold reduction of the risk of nocturnal hypoglycemia." Read more ..


The Nanotechnology Edge

Potential Benefits and Threats of Nanotechnology Research

January 27th 2013

Human Eye by Suren Manvelyan

Every day scientists learn more about how the world works at the smallest scales. While this knowledge has the potential to help others, it's possible that the same discoveries can also be used in ways that cause widespread harm.

A new article in the journal Nanomedicine, born out of a Federal Bureau of Investigation workshop held at the University of Notre Dame in September 2012, tackles this complex "dual-use" aspect of nanotechnology research.

"The rapid pace of breakthroughs in nanotechnology, biotechnology, and other fields, holds the promise of great improvements in areas such as medical diagnosis and treatment" says Kathleen Eggleson, a research scientist in Notre Dame's Center for Nano Science and Technology and the author of the study. "But the risk of misuse of these breakthroughs rises along with the potential benefit. This is the essence of the 'dual-use dilemma.'"

The report examines the potential for nano-sized particles (which are measured in billionths of a meter) to breach the blood-brain barrier, the tightly knit layers of cells that afford the brain the highest level of protection—from microorganisms, harmful molecules, etc.—in the human body. Some neuroscientists are purposefully engineering nanoparticles that can cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) so as to deliver medicines in a targeted and controlled way directly to diseased parts of the brain. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA Spots Solar Braids

January 27th 2013

Red Giant engulfs one of its planets

Five or 10 minutes is not a long time when it comes to a NASA mission, but it was long enough for NASA's High Resolution Coronal Imager, or Hi-C, telescope to capture the sharpest images ever taken of the sun's scorching atmosphere.
 
The sun's surface is about 5,000 degrees Celsius, but its atmosphere can be millions of degrees hotter.  Scientists, including Hi-C mission principal investigator Jonathan Cirtain, are working to figure out what energy source is heating the solar atmosphere.  
 
"This high temperature atmosphere is where space weather is initiated and where energetic events like flares and coronal mass ejections can originate," Cirtain told reporters during a NASA teleconference.  "So understanding the energy supply for the corona has implications across the stellar structure and heliophysics, in general." NASA launched a suborbital rocket carrying the telescope last July.  Hi-C snapped 165 images of an active region in the sun's corona, and the telescope could see features in the solar atmosphere that were only 150-kilometers across.
Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Roman-Era Skeleton shows Ovarian Tumor with Teeth

January 26th 2013

Roman era ovarian tumor with teeth

A team of researchers led by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), Spain, has found the first ancient remains of a calcified ovarian teratoma, in the pelvis of the skeleton of a woman from the Roman era. The find confirms the presence in antiquity of this type of tumour - formed by the remains of tissues or organs, which are difficult to locate during the examination of ancient remains. Inside the small round mass, four teeth and a small piece of bone were found.

Teratomas are usually benign and contain remains of organic material, such as hair, teeth, bones and other tissues. There are no references in the literature to ovarian teratomas in ancient remains like those found in this study, led by the researcher Núria Armentano of the Biological Anthropology Unit of the UAB and published in the International Journal of Paleopathology. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Chameleon Star Baffles Astronomers

January 26th 2013

gaseous ring on star

Pulsars — tiny spinning stars, heavier than the sun and smaller than a city — have puzzled scientists since they were discovered in 1967. Now, new observations by an international team, including University of Vermont astrophysicist Joanna Rankin, make these bizarre stars even more puzzling. The scientists identified a pulsar that is able to dramatically change the way in which it shines. In just a few seconds, the star can quiet its radio waves while at the same time it makes its X-ray emissions much brighter. The research “challenges all proposed pulsar emission theories,” the team writes in the Jan. 25 edition of the journal Science and reopens a decades-old debate about how these stars work.

Unexpected X-rays
Like the universe’s most powerful lighthouses, pulsars shine beams of radio waves and other radiation for trillions of miles. As these highly magnetized neutron stars rapidly rotate, a pair of beams sweeps by, appearing as flashes or pulses in telescopes on Earth. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Greenland Ice Cores Offer Preview Climate Change

January 25th 2013

Glaciers

Ice cores drilled in the Greenland ice sheet, recounting the history of the last great warming period more than 120,000 years ago, are giving scientists their clearest insight to a world that was warmer than today.

In a paper published today in the journal Nature, scientists have used a 2,540 metre long Greenland ice core to reach back to the Eemian period 115-130 thousand years ago and reconstruct the Greenland temperature and ice sheet extent back through the last interglacial. This period is likely to be comparable in several ways to climatic conditions in the future, especially the mean global surface temperature, but without anthropogenic or human influence on the atmospheric composition.

The Eemian period is referred to as the last interglacial, when warm temperatures continued for several thousand years due mainly to the earth's orbit allowing more energy to be received from the sun. The world today is considered to be in an interglacial period and that has lasted 11,000 years, and called the Holocene. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Satellites and Cell Towers Yield Climate Clues

January 24th 2013

Hurricane Isabel

An Israeli professor’s recent article in the American Journal of Climate Change is making waves for its suggestion of how to standardize global testing of pollution levels toward a better understanding of how smog affects the weather.

Working with graduate student Olga Shvainshtein and scientist Pavel Kishcha, Prof. Pinhas Alpert of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences pored over eight years’ worth of comprehensive data from three NASA aerosol-monitoring satellites to track pollution trends in 189 large cities, including New York City, Tokyo and Mumbai.

They discovered that Northeast China, India, the Middle East and Central Africa suffered the highest increases in atmospheric pollutant particles between 2002 and 2010, while Europe and northeast and central North America are experiencing the greatest decreases in aerosol concentrations. The air over Houston, Texas; Curitiba, Brazil; and Stockholm, Sweden, is slowly getting cleaner. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

Water Source for Millions Endangered by Retreating Andean Glaciers

January 23rd 2013

Andes glacier

Glaciers in the tropical Andes have been retreating at increasing rate since the 1970s, scientists write in the most comprehensive review to date of Andean glacier observations. The researchers blame the melting on rising temperatures as the region has warmed about 0.7°C over the past 50 years (1950-1994). This unprecedented retreat could affect water supply to Andean populations in the near future. These conclusions were published The Cryosphere, an Open Access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

The international team of scientists – uniting researchers from Europe, South America and the US – shows in the new paper that, since the 1970s, glaciers in tropical Andes have been melting at a rate unprecedented in the past 300 years. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

American Midwest to Experience Significant Events in Global Climate Change

January 22nd 2013

Minneapolis skyline

Climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common, and existing risks to the Great Lakes will be exacerbated. Those are some of the conclusions contained in the Midwest chapter of a draft report released by the U.S. government that assesses the key impacts of climate change on every region in the country and analyzes its likely effects on human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, ecosystems and biodiversity.

Three University of Michigan researchers were lead convening authors of chapters in the 1,100-plus-page National Climate Assessment, which was written by a team of more than 240 scientists. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Melt Ponds Cause Arctic Ice to Melt More Rapidly

January 21st 2013

Glacier

The Arctic sea ice has not only declined over the past decade but has also become distinctly thinner and younger. Researchers are now observing mainly thin, first-year ice floes which are extensively covered with melt ponds in the summer months where once metre-thick, multi-year ice used to float. Sea ice physicists at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), have now measured the light transmission through the Arctic sea ice for the first time on a large scale, enabling them to quantify consequences of this change. They come to the conclusion that in places where melt water collects on the ice, far more sunlight and therefore energy is able to penetrate the ice than is the case for white ice without ponds. The consequence is that the ice is absorbing more solar heat, is melting faster, and more light is available for the ecosystems in and below the ice. The researchers have now published these new findings in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Read more ..

The Edge of Meicine

Placenta May Be a Source for Human Eggs

January 20th 2013

pregnancy

Israeli researchers report that cells from the placenta may one day be used to produce human eggs for women who do not ovulate. Women who want to become pregnant but do not ovulate – whether because of premature menopause or some other condition – have few choices today aside from using eggs surgically harvested from another woman.

In the future, however, thanks to Israeli research, it may be possible to generate human eggs from amniotic membrane cells taken from the placenta – the protective afterbirth normally discarded after a baby is born. The first-of-its-kind discovery was made by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology doctoral student Ayelet Evron under the mentorship of Dr. Eliezer Shalev, dean of the medical school.

The experiments were carried out with Dr. Shulamit Goldman of Emek Medical Center’s Laboratory for Research in Reproductive Sciences. Amniotic membrane cells arise about eight days after conception. Their job is to preserve the plasticity of an embryo’s cells before they differentiate. Evron and Shalev found that these cells also have the ability to differentiate into ones that express the properties of the germ cells that produce eggs in a woman’s ovaries. Read more ..


America' s Darkest Edge

Homemade Gun Technology Vexes Effort to Control Weapons

January 19th 2013

3 D Printer

As lawmakers seek to curb gun violence in the United States, they may need to address technological advances in how firearms can be made.  In recent years, there has been a great increase in the use of 3-D printers that produce plastic forms, including gun parts.  Some political activists are promoting homemade firearms as a way around legal constraints.

Cody Wilson thinks everyone should be able to own semi-automatic weapons like the one he has. "For me it is a demonstration of radical equality," he said. "Anything that law enforcement and the military can have I believe an individual person should be able to have. It is a simple demonstration of individual sovereignty."

This self-described anarchist made his rifle from designs found online and used a 3-D printer to produce some of the parts in hard plastic.

"If the piece is designed well in the software, all you have to do is click 'print' and it is created for you in the machine," Wilson explained.

As lawmakers try to limit the capacity of ammunition clips, Wilson makes his own. "They want to ban anything that accepts more than 10 rounds, and if it is New York state, seven rounds.  All right, if I tell you I can print this, it completely pierces any ban," he said. But the firing chamber and barrel of this rifle still need to be made of metal.  And while an individual can legally make one,  federal law prohibits the sale of such homemade guns. Security analyst Fred Burton at Austin-based Stratfor, a private global intelligence organization, thinks printable guns are not a big threat at present. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Australian Researchers Use HIV to Prevent AIDS

January 18th 2013

HIV/AIDS

Australian scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research say they have found a way to use the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, to prevent AIDS, describing the technique as "fighting fire with fire."

Senior researcher David Harrich has designed a way to modify a protein in HIV to alter the virus so that it provides long-lasting, and possibly permanent, protection against AIDS, the disease that HIV causes. In his experiments, Harrich altered a protein that is a critical component of all living cells and includes many substances, among them - antibodies and hormones - which would usually help the virus to grow.  Instead, the modified protein helps to prevent the virus from replicating or spreading. Patients would still be infected with HIV, said Harrich, but it would not develop into AIDS. Read more ..


The Race for Nano-Technology

New Nano-Coating Makes Liquids "Bounce Off"--Millitary and Navigational Applications

January 17th 2013

Navy Seal
 

A nanoscale coating that's at least 95 percent air repels the broadest range of liquids of any material in its class, causing them to bounce off the treated surface, according to the University of Michigan engineering researchers who developed it.

In addition to super stain-resistant clothes, the coating could lead to breathable garments to protect soldiers and scientists from chemicals, and advanced waterproof paints that dramatically reduce drag on ships. Droplets of solutions that would normally damage either your shirt or your skin recoil when they touch the new "superomniphobic surface."

"Virtually any liquid you throw on it bounces right off without wetting it. For many of the other similar coatings, very low surface tension liquids such as oils, alcohols, organic acids, organic bases and solvents stick to them and they could start to diffuse through and that's not what you want," said Anish Tuteja, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, chemical engineering and macromolecular science and engineering. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

New Sunspots Producing Space Weather

January 17th 2013

Solar Flare

On Jan. 13, 2013, at 2:24 a.m. EST, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection or CME. Not to be confused with a solar flare, a CME is a solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and reach Earth one to three days later. Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the ESA/NASA mission the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, show that the CME left the sun at speeds of 275 miles per second. This is a fairly typical speed for CMEs, though much slower than the fastest ones, which can be almost ten times that speed.

When Earth-directed, CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they successfully connect up with the outside of the Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. In the past, CMEs of this speed have not caused substantial geomagnetic storms. They have caused auroras near the poles but are unlikely to affect electrical systems on Earth or interfere with GPS or satellite-based communications systems. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Is Teleportation Possible?

January 17th 2013

Eye biometrics

For the last ten years, theoretical physicists have shown that the intense connections generated between particles as established in the quantum law of 'entanglement' may hold the key to eventual teleportation of quantum information. Now, for the first time, researchers have worked out how entanglement could be 'recycled' to increase the efficiency of these connections.

The team have also devised a generalised form of teleportation, which allows for a wide variety of potential applications in quantum physics. Once considered impossible, in 1993 a team of scientists calculated that teleportation could work in principle using quantum laws. Quantum teleportation harnesses the 'entanglement' law to transmit particle-sized bites of information across potentially vast distances in an instant. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Gene Sequencing Leads to Better Outcomes for Cancer Patients

January 16th 2013

Click to select Image

It started with a 44-year-old woman with solitary fibrous tumor, a rare cancer seen in only a few hundred people each year. By looking at the entire DNA from this one patient’s tumor, researchers have found a genetic anomaly that provides an important clue to improving how this cancer is diagnosed and treated.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center sequenced the tumor’s genome through a new program called MI-ONCOSEQ, which is designed to identify genetic mutations in tumors that might be targeted with new therapies being tested in clinical trials. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Global Warming Trend is Unmistakeable, says UN Conference

January 16th 2013

Arid Desert

The United Nations' chief science body is meeting in Tasmania as climate scientists urge Australia to prepare for rising sea levels that could put about $300 billion worth of commercial property, infrastructure and homes at risk. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summit in Hobart is the latest round of talks before the release of its fifth major paper in September.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change insists its methods are both vigorous and reliable. The United Nations' main climate agency says the global warming trend is "unmistakable" and it is defending the science behind its assertion.
More than 250 scientists who will contribute to the September report, have promised to deliver "scientifically defensible" conclusions when the study is released.

Global warming trend

The IPCC meets as Australia confronts a record-breaking heat wave that has sparked widespread wild fires across the country’s southeast. IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri has no doubt that the extreme heat is part of a global warming trend.

Pachauri hopes that the international community will rally behind the issue of climate change as it did with previous global efforts designed to stop the depletion of the ozone layer. “Yes, I am concerned no doubt, but I also have a high opinion of human wisdom that I think, at some stage, we will bring about change," Pachauri said. "I mean, the world did act on the Montreal Protocol, the whole problem of depletion of the ozone layer and it happened very fast. Now, I expect that perhaps this, as is the case, is going to take a little longer, but hopefully we will get action across the board.” Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Innovative Techniques Used to Find Lost Nubian Kingdom

January 16th 2013

Piye Pyramid remains Sudan

Geoff Emberling is doing what few archaeologists do anymore in a world that has been worked over pretty well by picks, trowels and shovels. He's searching for a lost royal city. The ancient capital was ruled by the kings of Nubia, which now lies in northern Sudan, just south of Egypt. Little is known about the kings who suddenly appeared on the historical stage about 800 B.C. and conquered all of Egypt before eventually fading back into the desert. "We have no idea where these kings came from," said Emberling, a research scientist at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. "They basically appeared out of nowhere."

Nubia, also known as Kush, was one of Africa's earliest centers of political authority, wealth and military power. But because of the lack of information about Nubia, it hasn't been part of the bigger discussion about the rise and fall of civilizations in the way that Egypt and Mesopotamia have. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Overactive Part of Brain Hinders Socialization Skills of Autistic Teens

January 15th 2013

Black infant

A new University of Michigan study finds that an overactive part of the brain hinders autistic teens from coping in unfamiliar social settings, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Seeing the same faces repeatedly can negatively affect autistic children, especially in social situations. If a teen looks away or does not pay attention, this is often interpreted as someone who isn't interested in other people, says U-M researcher Christopher Monk.

"The present findings along with other work suggest that for many kids with ASD, it may not be just a lack of interest," said Monk, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and a research associate professor at the Center for Human Growth and Development.

"They may find it distressing to look at and interact with other people. If kids find it distressing to watch and engage in social situations from an early age, they will disengage from them and miss many opportunities to learn about the social world."

Data were analyzed from 32 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and 56 typically developing youth. They underwent functional MRI scanning while performing a gender identification task for faces that were fearful, happy, sad or neutral. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Global Warming Has Increased Monthly Heat Records By A Factor Of Five

January 14th 2013

mexico drought

Monthly temperature extremes have become much more frequent, as measurements from around the world indicate. On average, there are now five times as many record-breaking hot months worldwide than could be expected without long-term global warming, shows a study now published in Climatic Change. In parts of Europe, Africa and southern Asia the number of monthly records has increased even by a factor of ten. 80 percent of observed monthly records would not have occurred without human influence on climate, concludes the authors-team of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Complutense University of Madrid.

“The last decade brought unprecedented heat waves; for instance in the US in 2012, in Russia in 2010, in Australia in 2009, and in Europe in 2003,” lead-author Dim Coumou says. “Heat extremes are causing many deaths, major forest fires, and harvest losses – societies and ecosystems are not adapted to ever new record-breaking temperatures.” The new study relies on 131 years of monthly temperature data for more than 12.000 grid points around the world, provided by NASA. Comprehensive analysis reveals the increase in records.

Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Scientists Use Marine Robots to Detect Endangered Whales

January 13th 2013

Blue whale

Two robots equipped with instruments designed to “listen” for the calls of baleen whales detected nine endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of Maine last month. The robots reported the detections to shore-based researchers within hours of hearing the whales (i.e., in real time), demonstrating a new and powerful tool for managing interactions between whales and human activities.

The team of researchers, led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists Mark Baumgartner and Dave Fratantoni, reported their sightings to NOAA, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA Fisheries Service, in turn, put in place on Dec. 5 a “dynamic management area,” asking mariners to voluntarily slow their vessel speed to avoid striking the animals. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Scientists Find the Backbone of the Milky Way

January 13th 2013

Milky Way spine structure

Scientists have announced the discovery of a spine-like structure within the Milky Way that might help explain the dynamics of galactic formation. The Milky Way is the spiral galaxy we live in and is one of billions of such vast pinwheel-like formations scattered throughout the universe, each containing hundreds of billions of stars.

Harvard University astronomy professor Alyssa Goodman is an expert on star formation. Not long ago, she and her colleagues at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics were reviewing data of a dense cosmic cloud nicknamed Nessie by the scientist who first described it. Goodman’s team saw a new feature, a long tendril of dust and gas, eight times longer, about 1,000 light years longer, than it was thought to be before. Read more ..



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