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The Digital Edge

New Challenges Await Designers of Future Computer Chips

November 7th 2012

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Surprising findings could influence material choices in nanoelectronics. To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.

Now, a team of physicists at McGill University, in collaboration with researchers at General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current may be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge that could shape material choices and device design in the emerging field of nanoelectronics. The size of features in electronic circuits is shrinking every year, thanks to the aggressive miniaturization prescribed by Moore's Law, which postulated that the density of transistors on integrated circuits would double every 18 months or so. Read more ..

The Edge of Earth

Satellites Take the 'Pulse' of Volcanoes to Predict Seismic Events

November 6th 2012

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A new study by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science uses Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) data to investigate deformation prior to the eruption of active volcanoes in Indonesia's west Sunda arc. Led by geophysicist Estelle Chaussard and UM Professor Falk Amelung, the study uncovered evidence that several volcanoes did in fact 'inflate' prior to eruptions due to the rise of magma. The fact that such deformation could be detected by satellite is a major step forward in volcanology; it is the first unambiguous evidence that remotely detected ground deformation could help to forecast eruptions at volcanoes.

"Surveying entire volcanic regions using satellite data is of primary importance to the detection of ground deformation prior to the onset of eruptions. If volcanic inflation is observed, it can help us to predict where the next eruption may occur. Moreover, in regions like Indonesia, where volcanoes are prevalent and pose a threat to millions of people, and where ground-based monitoring is sparse, remote sensing via satellite could become a major forecasting tool," said Chaussard. Read more ..

Health Edge

When Your Memory is Playing Tricks on You, Check your Medicine Cabinet

November 6th 2012


Common medications to treat insomnia, anxiety, itching or allergies can have a negative impact on memory or concentration in the elderly, according to Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Research Chair at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM, Montreal Geriatric University Institute) and Associate Professor of Medicine and Pharmacy at the University of Montreal (UdeM).

Up to ninety percent of people over the age of 65 take at least one prescription medication. Eighteen percent of people in this age group complain of memory problems and are found to have mild cognitive deficits. Research suggests there may be a link between the two.

Dr. Tannenbaum recently led a team of international researchers to investigate which medications are most likely to affect amnestic (memory) or non-amnestic (attention, concentration, performance) brain functions. After analyzing the results from 162 experiments on medications with potential to bind to cholinergic, histamine, GABAergic or opioid receptors in the brain, Dr. Tannenbaum concluded that the episodic use of several medications can cause amnestic or non-amnestic deficits. This potential cause is often overlooked in persons who are otherwise in good health. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Asteroid Belts of Just the Right Size are Friendly to Life

November 6th 2012

Solar System Birth

Solar systems with life-bearing planets may be rare if they are dependent on the presence of asteroid belts of just the right mass, according to a study by Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.

They suggest that the size and location of an asteroid belt, shaped by the evolution of the sun's protoplanetary disk and by the gravitational influence of a nearby giant Jupiter-like planet, may determine whether complex life will evolve on an Earth-like planet. This might sound surprising because asteroids are considered a nuisance due to their potential to impact Earth and trigger mass extinctions. But an emerging view proposes that asteroid collisions with planets may provide a boost to the birth and evolution of complex life. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

In-sync Brain Waves Hold Memory Of Objects Just Seen

November 5th 2012

Baby Boomer

The brain holds in mind what has just been seen by synchronizing brain waves in a working memory circuit, an animal study supported by the National Institutes of Health suggests. The more in-sync such electrical signals of neurons were in two key hubs of the circuit, the more those cells held the short-term memory of a just-seen object.

Charles Gray, Ph.D., of Montana State University, Bozeman, a grantee of NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and colleagues, report their findings Nov. 1, 2012, online, in the journal Science Express. "This work demonstrates, for the first time, that there is information about short term memories reflected in in-sync brainwaves," explained Gray.

"The Holy Grail of neuroscience has been to understand how and where information is encoded in the brain. This study provides more evidence that large scale electrical oscillations across distant brain regions may carry information for visual memories," said NIMH director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Antibiotics May Have Contributed to Inadvertent Bee Die-off

November 5th 2012


A new study finds prolonged antibiotic use by beekeepers might play a role in the mysterious drop in honey bee populations in the United States.

Yale researchers found genetic evidence that helpful bacteria, which normally live the bellies of honeybees, have become highly resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline, possibly weakening the bees’ ability to fight disease.

Researchers say decades of use may have unknowingly encouraged antibiotic resistance by genetically altering the beneficial bacteria. Past studies show helpful bacterial play an important role in protecting the honeybee by neutralizing toxins found in their diets while also helping fight off various pathogens. The researchers have identified eight different tetracycline resistance genes among U.S. honeybees that were exposed to antibiotics. Those same resistance genes were missing in bees from countries where antibiotic use is banned. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Curiosity on Sits on Martian Rocks Similar to Marshes in Mexico

November 4th 2012

Curiosity Rover at work

Millions of years ago fire and water forged the gypsum rocks locked in at Cuatro Ciénegas, a Mexican valley similar to the Martian crater where NASA's Rover Curiosity roams. A team of researchers have now analysed the bacterial communities that have survived in these inhospitable springs since the beginning of life on Earth.

"Cuatro Ciénegas is extraordinarily similar to Mars. As well as the Gale crater where Curiosity is currently located on its exploration of the red planet, this landscape is the home to gypsum formed by fire beneath the seabed," as explained to SINC by Valeria Souza, evolutionary ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

The researcher states that sulphur components from magma and minerals from the sea (carbonates and molecules with magnesium) are required to form gypsum. In the case of the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin, the magma under the seabed was very active. In fact, it allowed for the continent displacement during the Jurassic Period: "Here was where the supercontinent Pangea opened up some 200 million years ago, pushing the hemisphere north from the equator where it is now." Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Universe's Earliest Stars Detected

November 4th 2012

protoplanetary disk

The most-distant, super-luminous supernovae found to date have been observed by an international team, including Raymond Carlberg of the University of Toronto's Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The stellar explosions would have occurred at a time when the universe was much younger and probably soon after the Big Bang.

"The objects are both unusually bright and unusually slow to fade. These are properties that are consistent with what is known as pair-instability supernova, a rare mechanism for explosion which is expected to happen for high-mass stars with almost no metal content. That is, the very first stars to form," said Carlberg.

The two supernovae, identified as SN2213 and SN1000+2016, were discovered in image data obtained via the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey. In recent years, various surveys have enabled astronomers to open new windows on the universe, including the discovery over the past decade of super-luminous supernovae that are tens to hundreds of times more luminous than regular supernovae. "The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey stands out as the first really deep survey of the sky, covering large volumes of the universe," said Carlberg, a Canadian leader of the Survey. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

MRI Research Sheds New Light on Nerve Fibers in The Brain

November 3rd 2012

MRI Machine

World-leading experts in Magnetic Resonance Imaging from The University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre  have made a key discovery which could give the medical world a new tool for the improved diagnosis and monitoring of neuro-degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reveals why images of the brain produced using the latest MRI techniques are so sensitive to the direction in which nerve fibres run.

The white matter of the brain is made up of billions of microscopic nerve fibres that pass information in the form of tiny electrical signals. To increase the speed at which these signals travel, each nerve fibre is encased by a sheath formed from a fatty substance, called myelin. Previous studies have shown that the appearance of white matter in magnetic resonance images depends on the angle between the nerve fibres and the direction of the very strong magnetic field used in an MRI scanner. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Maternal Smoking Triggers Asthma in Grandchildren, Studies Show

November 3rd 2012

exploding cigaret

We knows that smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products is bad for your health... and for those around you. Now, there’s new evidence from studies with lab rats that the habit can cause asthma not only in smokers' children, but in their grandchildren, as well. Researchers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, have found evidence of a generational effect of tobacco-smoking on lung development. The scientists gave a group of pregnant rats injections of nicotine, the amount an average smoker would receive, exposing the animals' unborn pups to the chemical. Nicotine is one of more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke known to adversely affect lung development. As predicted, the injections caused changes in the fetal animals' upper and lower airway development consistent with asthma. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Solar System's Birth Record Revised

November 2nd 2012

Solar System Birth

THE SOLAR SYSTEM Some 4.567 billion years ago, our solar system’s planets spawned from an expansive disc of gas and dust rotating around the sun. While similar processes are witnessed in younger solar systems throughout the Milky Way, the formative stages of our own solar system were believed to have taken twice as long to occur. Now, new research lead by the Centre for Star and Planet Formation at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, suggests otherwise. Indeed, our solar system is not quite as special as once believed.

Using improved methods of analysis of uranium and lead isotopes, the current study of primitive meteorites has enabled researchers to date the formation of two very different types of materials, so-called calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (or CAI’s for short) and chondrules, found within the same meteorite. By doing so, the chronology and therefore overall understanding of our solar system’s development has been altered. The study has just been published in the renowned scientific journal, Science. Read more ..

The Genetic Edge

'1,000 Genomes Project' Paints Detailed Picture of Human Variation

November 1st 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

Results of a project that has mapped the genetic material, or genomes, of 1,092 individuals from 14 countries will help researchers interpret genetic changes in people with disease. The first phase of the so-called '1,000 Genomes Project,' published in the journal Nature, profiles the rare and common genetic variations in the human species.

Scientists believe that rare variants in human DNA - found in just one of every 100 people or fewer - are the major contributors to common complex diseases such as cancer, heart ailments and diabetes. The multinational team of researchers divided the sample populations into four ancestry groups - European, African, East Asian and the Americas - and found that these rare gene variants tend to be restricted to specific geographic regions. Data from the study, which is available on a public database, already is being used to screen cancer genomes for mutations that might suggest new therapy approaches, and to speed diagnoses of diseases. The next phase of the project will include as many as 3,000 individuals. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Mars Soil Similar to Hawaiian Volcanic Soil

October 31st 2012

Mars Rover

The soil on Mars appears to be very similar to the volcanic soils of Hawaii, according to scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.

The results come after the first chemical and mineralogy tests performed on Martian soil scooped up and taken aboard NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity. NASA said the soil analysis was carried out by the rover’s Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin). The U.S. space agency said the study concluded that the Mars soil sample “is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii.”

"Our team is elated with these first results from our instrument," said David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "They heighten our anticipation for future [chemistry and mineralogy] analyses in the months and miles ahead for Curiosity." Curiosity scooped up the sample in an area of Mars called NASA scientists call “Rocknest.” The sample was then sifted to exclude any particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 micrometers), roughly the width of a human hair. Scientists said the sample contained two basic components dust and sand. Read more ..

The Prehistoric Edge

Mass Extinction Study Provides Lessons for Modern World

October 31st 2012

Aurochs Skeleton

The Cretaceous Period of Earth history ended with a mass extinction that wiped out numerous species, most famously the dinosaurs. A new study now finds that the structure of North American ecosystems made the extinction worse than it might have been. Researchers at the University of Chicago, the California Academy of Sciences and the Field Museum of Natural History will publish their findings Oct. 29 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The mountain-sized asteroid that left the now-buried Chicxulub impact crater on the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is almost certainly the ultimate cause of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, which occurred 65 million years ago. Nevertheless, "Our study suggests that the severity of the mass extinction in North America was greater because of the ecological structure of communities at the time," noted lead author Jonathan Mitchell, a Ph.D. student of UChicago's Committee on Evolutionary Biology.

Mitchell and his co-authors, Peter Roopnarine of the California Academy of Sciences and Kenneth Angielczyk of the Field Museum, reconstructed terrestrial food webs for 17 Cretaceous ecological communities. Seven of these food webs existed within two million years of the Chicxulub impact and 10 came from the preceding 13 million years. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Hermit Crabs Socialize to Evict Neighbors from their Homes

October 30th 2012

Hermit crab scrum

Social animals usually congregate for protection or mating or to capture bigger prey, but a University of California, Berkeley, biologist has found that the terrestrial hermit crab has a more self-serving social agenda: to kick another crab out of its shell and move into a larger home.

All hermit crabs appropriate abandoned snail shells for their homes, but the dozen or so species of land-based hermit crabs – popular terrarium pets – are the only ones that hollow out and remodel their shells, sometimes doubling the internal volume. This provides more room to grow, more room for eggs – sometimes 1,000 more – and a lighter home to lug around as they forage.

But empty snail shells are rare on land, so the best hope of moving to a new home is to kick others out of their remodeled shells, said Mark Laidre, a UC Berkeley Miller Post-Doctoral Fellow who reported this unusual behavior in this month's issue of the journal Current Biology. Read more ..

Energy vs Environment

US Shale Gas Drives Up US Coal Exports

October 30th 2012

Coal and hammer

US carbon dioxide emissions from domestic energy have declined by 8.6% since a peak in 2005, the equivalent of 1.4% per year. However, the researchers warn that more than half of the recent emissions reductions in the power sector may be displaced overseas by the trade in coal.

Dr. John Broderick, lead author on the report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, comments: "Research papers and newspaper column inches have focussed on the relative emissions from coal and gas. "However, it is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate. Despite lower-carbon rhetoric, shale gas is still a carbon intensive energy source. We must seriously consider whether a so-called "golden age" would be little more than a gilded cage, locking us into a high-carbon future."

Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre notes: "Since 2008 when the shale gas supply became significant, there has been a large increase in US coal exports. This increases global emissions as the UK, Europe and Asia are burning the coal instead.

Earlier Tyndall analysis suggests that the role for gas in a low carbon transition is extremely limited, with shale gas potentially diverting substantial funds away from genuinely low and zero carbon alternatives" This Co-operative commissioned report "Has US Shale Gas Reduced CO2 Emissions?" is the third on shale gas from the Tyndall Centre – and builds on several years of research and submissions to the UK and European Parliaments as well as the International Energy Agency. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Childhood Migraine Affects School Performance

October 30th 2012

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Children with migraine are more likely to have below average school performance than kids who do not have headaches, according to new research published in the October 30, 2012, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study of 5,671 Brazilian children ages 5 to 12 found that those with migraine were 30 percent more likely to have below average school performance than those with no headaches.

"Studies have looked at the burden of migraine for adolescents, but less work has been done to determine the effect of migraine on younger children," said study author Marcelo E. Bigal, MD, PhD, of Merck & Co. in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

New Supercomputer Could be World's Fastest

October 29th 2012

Oak Ridge Super Computer

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the U.S. state of Tennessee have unveiled what could be the world’s fastest supercomputer.

The new computer, named Titan, is capable of making more than 20,000 trillion calculations each second (20 petaflops), according to officials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). That is roughly equivalent to each of the world’s seven billion people being able to carry out three million calculations per second, according to ORNL. Titan also has more than 700 terabytes of memory.

“The numbers just end up so big that I struggle to come up with a way to explain it,” said Buddy Bland, the project director of ORNL’s Leadership Computing Facility.  “It’s unimaginable. Twenty petaflops is [the number] 20 followed by 15 zeros.” Read more ..

The Edge of Space

After-effects of Saturn’s Super Storm Shine On

October 29th 2012


The heat-seeking capabilities of the international Cassini spacecraft and two ground-based telescopes have provided the first look at the aftermath of Saturn’s ‘Great Springtime Storm’. Concealed from the naked eye, a giant oval vortex is persisting long after the visible effects of the storm subsided.
The ground-based observations were made by the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The vivid cloud structures that wreaked havoc across wide swathes of the mid-northern latitudes of Saturn’s atmosphere captured the imaginations of amateur and professional astronomers alike, from its first appearance in December 2010 through much of 2011. But in new reports that focus on the temperatures, winds and composition of Saturn’s atmosphere, scientists find that the spectacular cloud displays were only part of the story. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Extinct Species Discovered--100 million-year-old Coelacanth in Texas is Latest Fish from Cretaceous

October 28th 2012

Hiawatha Natl Forest Michigan

A new species of coelacanth fish has been discovered in Texas.

Pieces of tiny fossil skull found in Fort Worth have been identified as 100 million-year-old coelacanth bones, according to paleontologist John F. Graf, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The coelacanth has one of the longest lineages — 400 million years — of any animal. It is the fish most closely related to vertebrates, including humans.

The SMU specimen is the first coelacanth in Texas from the Cretaceous, said Graf, who identified the fossil. The Cretaceous geologic period extended from 146 million years ago to 66 million years ago. Graf named the new coelacanth species Reidus hilli.

Coelacanths have been found on nearly every continent
Reidus hilli is now the youngest coelacanth identified in the Lone Star State. Previously the youngest was a 200 million-year-old coelacanth from the Triassic. Reidus hilli is the first coelacanth ever identified from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Small Organisms Could Dramatically Impact World's Climate

October 28th 2012

E. Coli

Warmer oceans in the future could significantly alter populations of phytoplankton, tiny organisms that could have a major impact on climate change.

In the current issue of Science Express, Michigan State University researchers show that by the end of the 21st century, warmer oceans will cause populations of these marine microorganisms to thrive near the poles and may shrink in equatorial waters. Since phytoplankton play a key role in the food chain and the world’s cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and other elements, a drastic drop could have measurable consequences.

“In the tropical oceans, we are predicting a 40 percent drop in potential diversity,” said Mridul Thomas, MSU graduate student and one of the co-authors. “If the oceans continue to warm as predicted, there will be a sharp decline in the diversity of phytoplankton in tropical waters and a poleward shift in species’ thermal niches, if they don’t adapt to climate change.” Read more ..

The Medical Edge

New Rapid Malaria Treatment in the Offing

October 28th 2012

Malaria causes up to 3 million deaths each year, predominantly afflicting vulnerable people such as children under five and pregnant women, in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Treatments are available for this disease, but the Plasmodium parasite is fast becoming resistant to the most common drugs, and health authorities say they desperately need new strategies to tackle the disease. This new potential treatment uses molecules that interfere with an important stage of the parasite's growth cycle and harnesses this effect to kill them. The impact is so acute it kills ninety per cent of the parasites in just three hours and all those tested in laboratory samples of infected human blood cells, within twelve hours.

The research was carried out by chemists at Imperial College London and biological scientists from the research institutions Institut Pasteur and CNRS in France. Their work is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Magnetic Brain Stimulation Treats Depression Independent of Sleep Effect

October 27th 2012

Sullen Woman

While powerful magnetic stimulation of the frontal lobe of the brain can alleviate symptoms of depression, those receiving the treatment did not report effects on sleep or arousal commonly seen with antidepressant medications, researchers say.

"People's sleep gets better as their depression improves, but the treatment doesn't itself cause sedation or insomnia." said Dr. Peter B. Rosenquist, Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University.

The finding resulted from a secondary analysis of a study of 301 patients at 23 sites comparing the anti-depressive effects of the Neuronetics Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy System to sham (placebo) treatment in patients resistant to antidepressant medications. TMS sessions were given for 40 minutes, five days a week for six weeks. Initial findings, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2007, were the primary evidence in the Food and Drug Administration's approval of TMS for depression. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Telescope Survey Reveals Universe’s Dark Secrets

October 27th 2012

Dark Matter

Scientists have released the final version of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey (CFHTLS), data gathered over six years which probes deep recesses of the Universe, including galaxies as far as nine billion light-years away.

This treasure trove of information  will allow scientists to better study dark matter; energy;  new, developing and evolving galaxies; and any solar system bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune, in a region called the Kuiper Belt.

The unique and powerful multi-color collection of astronomical images and data put together by the international team,  was gathered from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) located atop the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Why Astronauts Experience Low Blood Pressure after Returning to Earth from Space

October 27th 2012


New research in the FASEB Journal suggests that a major cause of low blood pressure during standing is the compromised ability of arteries and veins to constrict normally and return blood back to the heart

Bethesda, MD—When astronauts return to Earth, their altitude isn't the only thing that drops—their blood pressure does too. This condition, known as orthostatic hypotension, occurs in up to half of those astronauts on short-term missions (two weeks or less) and in nearly all astronauts after long-term missions (four to six months). A new research report published online in The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) solves the biological mystery of how this happens by showing that low gravity compromises the ability of arteries and veins to constrict normally, inhibiting the proper flow of blood. Prevention and treatment strategies developed for astronauts may also hold promise for elderly populations on Earth who experience orthostatic hypotension more than any other age group.

"The idea of space exploration has been tantalizing the imagination of humans since our early existence. As a scientist, I have had the opportunity to learn that there are many medical challenges associated with travel in a weightless environment, such as orthostatic hypotension, bone loss and the recently recognized visual impairment that occurs in astronauts," said Michael D. Delp, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, and the Center for Exercise Science at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Mother Was Right: Make the Right Choice and Eat a Good Breakfast

October 27th 2012

Breakfast scrambled eggs

Eating breakfast may help keep you from getting fat and making poor food choices, and skipping breakfast sets the brain up to make poor food choices later in the day, according to a new study. Scientists from the MRC Clinical Science Centre at London’s Imperial College, compared the brain scans and eating patterns of people both after eating breakfast and when they were fasting. They found that those who avoid breakfast may overeat throughout the rest of the day, often choosing high-calorie or junk food over healthier selections.

The researchers studied the magnetic resonance images of 21 volunteer test subjects who didn’t eat anything before coming in for their tests. On one those visits, the volunteers were first given a 750-calorie breakfast before the researchers ran the MRI scans. On another visit to the research center, the test subjects weren’t fed any breakfast, but were always served lunch after each scanning session. “Through both the participants’ MRI results and observations of how much they ate at lunch, we found ample evidence that fasting made people hungrier, and increased the appeal of high-calorie foods and the amount people ate,” said Dr. Tony Goldstone, who led the study. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

One Chip for all European Radio Sets

October 26th 2012

computer chip

The BBC and Deutschlandradio have joined forces to support the rollout of a single, universal chip to enable radios to receive multiple broadcasting standards across Europe. The move aims to tackle uncertainty in the market and create a 'future proof' design with enough volume to bring costs down dramatically. The 'Euro-Chip' is an existing set of minimum features and functions, originally created by WorldDMB, for all new digital radio receivers. It ensures the interoperability of all new digital radio receivers in European countries where broadcasters are using DAB, DAB+ or DMB, and/or analogue AM and FM.

"Digital radio across Europe has been plagued by uncertainty," said Tim Davie, Director of Audio and Music at the BBC. "We may be reaching a tipping point, but first we have to bank what is certain about radio's digital hybrid future and join forces to promote a common vision across Europe." "Digital radio is a technology invented in Europe and we as broadcasters in Europe can show that we are able to work together to assure the future of radio," said Willi Steu, Director-General of Deutschlandradio. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Ancient European Hippos Met their Doom through Climate Change

October 25th 2012

Hippo and baby

Giant German hippopotamuses wallowing on the banks of the Elbe are not a common sight. Yet 1.8 million years ago hippos were a prominent part of European wildlife, when mega-fauna such as woolly mammoths and giant cave bears bestrode the continent. Now palaeontologists writing in Boreas, believe that the changing climate during the Pleistocene Era may have forced Europe's hippos to shrink to pygmy sizes before driving them to warmer climes.

"Species of hippo ranged across pre-historic Europe, including the giant Hippopotamus antiquus a huge animal which often weighed up to a tonne more than today's African hippos," said lead author Dr Paul Mazza from the University of Florence. "While these giants ranged across Spain, Italy and Germany, ancestors of the modern Hippo, Hippopotamus amphibius, reached as far north as the British Isles." Read more ..

The Edge of Life

Electric Currents on the Sea Floor Attributed to Bacteria Colonies

October 25th 2012

sea floor

Researchers at Aarhus University, Denmark, made a sensational discovery almost three years ago when they measured electric currents in the seabed. It was unclear as to what was conducting the current, but the researchers imagined the electric currents might run between different bacteria via a joint external wiring network. The researchers have now solved the mystery. It turns out that the whole process takes place inside bacteria that are one centimetre long. They make up a kind of live electric cable that no one had ever imagined existed. Each one of these 'cable bacteria' contains a bundle of insulated wires that conduct an electric current from one end to the other. Read more ..

The Edge of Life

Early Bacteria May Have Sparked Evolution of Multi-Celllular Life

October 25th 2012

Click to select Image

Bacteria have a bad rap as agents of disease, but scientists are increasingly discovering their many benefits, such as maintaining a healthy gut. Triggered by the presence of bacteria, the single-celled choanoflagellate Salpingoeca rosetta divides and stays with its sisters to form a colony. One reason may be that the colony is a more efficient way of capturing food, like a “Death Star” sitting amidst the bacteria and chowing down. The colony is about 15 microns in diameter, or less than one-thousandth of an inch across. Scanning electron microscope image courtesy of Nicole King.

A new study now suggests that bacteria may also have helped kick off one of the key events in evolution: the leap from one-celled organisms to many-celled organisms, a development that eventually led to all animals, including humans. Read more ..

The Edge of Earth

The Connection Between Hawaii's Dueling Volcanoes

October 24th 2012

Volcano erupting

A new Rice University-led study finds that a deep connection about 50 miles underground can explain the enigmatic behavior of two of Earth's most notable volcanoes, Hawaii's Mauna Loa and Kilauea. The study, the first to model paired volcano interactions, explains how a link in Earth's upper mantle could account for Kilauea and Mauna Loa's competition for the same deep magma supply and their simultaneous "inflation," or bulging upward, during the past decade.

The research offers the first plausible model that can explain both the opposing long-term eruptive patterns at Mauna Loa and Kilauea -- when one is active the other is quiet -- as well as the episode in 2003-2007 when GPS records showed that each bulged notably due to the pressure of rising magma. The study was conducted by scientists at Rice University, the University of Hawaii, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Opposite Behaviors? Arctic Sea Ice Shrinks, Antarctic Grows

October 24th 2012

Glacier calving

The steady and dramatic decline in the sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean over the last three decades has become a focus of media and public attention. At the opposite end of the Earth, however, something more complex is happening.

A new NASA study shows that from 1978 to 2010 the total extent of sea ice surrounding Antarctica in the Southern Ocean grew by roughly 6,600 square miles every year, an area larger than the state of Connecticut. And previous research by the same authors indicates that this rate of increase has recently accelerated, up from an average rate of almost 4,300 square miles per year from 1978 to 2006.

"There's been an overall increase in the sea ice cover in the Antarctic, which is the opposite of what is happening in the Arctic,” said lead author Claire Parkinson, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "However, this growth rate is not nearly as large as the decrease in the Arctic.” Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Discovering Stem Cell Bodyguards

October 23rd 2012

Red blood cells

Hiding deep inside the bone marrow are special cells. They wait patiently for the hour of need, at which point these blood-forming stem cells can proliferate and differentiate into billions of mature blood immune cells to help the body cope with infection, for example, or extra red blood cells for low oxygen levels at high altitudes. Even in emergencies, however, the body keeps to a long-term plan: It maintains a reserve of undifferentiated stem cells for future needs and crises. A research team headed by Prof. Tsvee Lapidot of the Institute’s Immunology Department recently discovered a new type of bodyguard that protects stem cells from over-differentiation. In a paper that appeared in Nature Immunology, they revealed how this rare, previously unknown sub-group of activated immune cells keeps the stem cells in the bone marrow “forever young.”

Blood-forming stem cells live in comfort in the bone marrow, surrounded by an entourage of support cells that cater to their needs and direct their development – the mesenchymal cells. Read more ..

The Geologic Edge

Rapid Changes in the Earth's Core and Its Impact on our Magnetic Field

October 23rd 2012

North America sat image

Annual to decadal changes in the earth's magnetic field in a region that stretches from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean have a close relationship with variations of gravity in this area. From this it can be concluded that outer core processes are reflected in gravity data. This is the result presented by a German-French group of geophysicists in the latest issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States).

The main field of the Earth's magnetic field is generated by flows of liquid iron in the outer core. The Earth's magnetic field protects us from cosmic radiation particles. Therefore, understanding the processes in the outer core is important to understand the terrestrial shield. Key to this are measurements of the geomagnetic field itself. A second, independent access could be represented by the measurement of minute changes in gravity caused by the fact that the flow in the liquid Earth's core is associated with mass displacements. The research group has now succeeded to provide the first evidence of such a connection of fluctuations in the Earth's gravity and magnetic field. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

How do Microoranisms Reject Arsenate and Select the Correct Substance

October 22nd 2012

Nanodiamond and human blood
An atypical microorganism

Not long ago, some unassuming bacteria found themselves at the center of a scientific controversy: A group claimed that these microorganisms, which live in an environment that is rich in the arsenic-based compound arsenate, could take up that arsenate and use it – instead of the phosphate on which all known life on Earth depends. The claim, since disproved, raised another question: How do organisms living with arsenate pick and choose the right substance?

Chemically, arsenate is nearly indistinguishable from phosphate. Prof. Dan Tawfik of the Biological Chemistry Department says: “Phosphate forms highly stable bonds in DNA and other key biological compounds, while bonds to arsenate are quickly broken. But how does a microorganism surrounded by arsenate distinguish between two molecules that are almost the same size and have identical shapes and ionic properties?” 

To investigate, Tawfik, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Mikael Elias, Ph.D. student Alon Wellner and lab assistant Korina Goldin, in collaboration with Tobias Erb and Julia Vorholt of ETH Zurich, looked at a protein in bacteria that takes up phosphate. This protein, called PBP (short for phosphate binding protein), sits near the bacteria’s outer membrane, where it latches onto phosphates and passes them on to pumps that transport them into the cell. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Engineering Organs--A Step Closer

October 22nd 2012

Premature Baby

Biologists have teamed up with mechanical engineers from the The University of Texas at Dallas to conduct cell research that provides information that may one day be used to engineer organs. The research sheds light on the mechanics of cell, tissue and organ formation. The research revealed basic mechanisms about how a group of bacterial cells can form large three-dimensional structures.

“If you want to create an organism, the geometry of how a group of cells self-organizes is crucial,” said Dr. Hongbing Lu, professor of mechanical engineering and holder of the Louis Beecherl Jr. Chair at UT Dallas and an author of the study. “We found that cell death leads to wrinkles, and the stiffer the cell the fewer wrinkles.” Read more ..

The Prehistoric Edge

Global Warming Caused Global Extinction 250-Million Years Ago

October 22nd 2012

Dead dinosaur dinogorgon

Scientists have discovered why the 'broken world' following the worst extinction of all time lasted so long – it was simply too hot to survive. The end-Permian mass extinction, which occurred around 250 million years ago in the pre-dinosaur era, wiped out nearly all the world's species. Typically, a mass extinction is followed by a 'dead zone' during which new species are not seen for tens of thousands of years. In this case, the dead zone, during the Early Triassic period which followed, lasted for a perplexingly long period: five million years.

A study jointly led by the University of Leeds and China University of Geosciences (Wuhan), in collaboration with the University of Erlangen-Nurnburg (Germany), shows the cause of this lengthy devastation was a temperature rise to lethal levels in the tropics: around 50-60°C on land, and 40°C at the sea-surface. Lead author Yadong Sun, who is based in Leeds while completing a joint PhD in geology, says: "Global warming has long been linked to the end-Permian mass extinction, but this study is the first to show extreme temperatures kept life from re-starting in Equatorial latitudes for millions of years." Read more ..

The Edge of Space

How to Deal with Germs in Space

October 21st 2012

Orion and International Space Station

The cabin of a spacecraft halfway to Mars would be the least convenient place -- one cannot say “on earth” — for a Salmonella or Pneumococcus outbreak, but a wide-ranging new paper suggests that microgravity and prolonged space flight could give unique advantages to germs. What’s a space agency to do? Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital infectious disease expert Dr. Leonard Mermel offers several ideas. And no, they are not to add more Vitamin C to the Tang, or to give each crew member a bottle of Purell. It’s a lot more complicated than that.

“I’ve been involved for two decades with trying to prevent infections in the intensive care unit and general hospital settings and I’ve been involved with national and international guidelines, but there are a lot of constraints in space I had never thought of before,” said Mermel, who began investigating the infectious disease implications of space flight when he was invited to speak at a NASA-Johnson Space Center symposium in April 2011. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Dark Matter Filament Studied in 3D for the First Time

October 21st 2012

Dark Matter

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have studied a giant filament of dark matter in 3D for the first time. Extending 60 million light-years from one of the most massive galaxy clusters known, the filament is part of the cosmic web that constitutes the large-scale structure of the Universe, and is a leftover of the very first moments after the Big Bang. If the high mass measured for the filament is representative of the rest of the Universe, then these structures may contain more than half of all the mass in the Universe.

The theory of the Big Bang predicts that variations in the density of matter in the very first moments of the Universe led the bulk of the matter in the cosmos to condense into a web of tangled filaments. This view is supported by computer simulations of cosmic evolution, which suggest that the Universe is structured like a web, with long filaments that connect to each other at the locations of massive galaxy clusters. However, these filaments, although vast, are made mainly of dark matter, which is incredibly difficult to observe. Read more ..

The Education Edge

An A+ Israeli App for School

October 20th 2012


Writer’s block for professionals is one thing. But when a student can’t think of how to start an assignment or doesn’t know how to fine-tune an Internet search, schoolwork can quickly turn from educational to frustrating.

That’s where a new Israeli startup called Skills & Knowledge comes in. The company has created an application known as sCoolWork, which helps students write essays better and faster. “As soon as you’re being tasked with writing something, that’s where we kick in,” Shachar Tal, Skills & Knowledge vice president of marketing explains. This isn’t a tool for cheating, but an organizational aid to format an assignment, spell-check it, check grammar, put in a bibliography and even search the Internet more effectively. Opinion leaders say the app “has the potential to substantially influence how people in general, and students specifically, process information.” Moreover, it is teacher approved. Read more ..

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