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The Edge of Healthcare

Nanoscale Scaffolds and Stem Cells in Cartilage Repair

July 18th 2012

Nanopillars

Johns Hopkins tissue engineers have used tiny, artificial fiber scaffolds thousands of times smaller than a human hair to help coax stem cells into developing into cartilage, the shock-absorbing lining of elbows and knees that often wears thin from injury or age. Investigators can produce an important component of cartilage in both laboratory and animal models. While the findings are still years away from use in people, the researchers say the results hold promise for devising new techniques to help the millions who endure joint pain.

"Joint pain affects the quality of life of millions of people. Rather than just patching the problem with short-term fixes, like surgical procedures such as microfracture, we're building a temporary template that mimics the cartilage cell's natural environment, and taking advantage of nature's signals to biologically repair cartilage damage," says Jennifer Elisseeff, Ph.D., Jules Stein Professor of Ophthalmology and director of the Translational Tissue Engineering Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Native American Populations Descend from Three Key Migrations

July 17th 2012

Arctic Ocean
During the last Ice Age, Beringia (top center) was above sea level, allowing
migrations of fauna, flora, and humans between Alaska and Siberia

Scientists have found that Native American populations—from Canada to the southern tip of Chile—arose from at least three migrations, with the majority descended entirely from a single group of First American migrants that crossed over through Beringia, a land bridge between Asia and America that existed during the ice ages, more than 15,000 years ago.

By studying variations in Native American DNA sequences, the international team found that while most of the Native American populations arose from the first migration, two subsequent migrations also made important genetic contributions. The paper is published in the journal Nature.

“For years it has been contentious whether the settlement of the Americas occurred by means of a single or multiple migrations from Siberia,” said Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares (UCL Genetics, Evolution, and Environment), who coordinated the study. “But our research settles this debate: Native Americans do not stem from a single migration. Our study also begins to cast light on patterns of human dispersal within the Americas.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Human Eye Inspires Clog-Free Ink Jet Printer

July 16th 2012

Eyeball Surveillance

Clogged printer nozzles waste time and money while reducing print quality. University of Missouri engineers recently invented a clog-preventing nozzle cover by mimicking the human eye.

“The nozzle cover we invented was inspired by the human eye,” said Jae Wan Kwon, associate professor in the College of Engineering. “The eye and an ink jet nozzle have a common problem: they must not be allowed to dry while, simultaneously, they must open. We used biomimicry, the imitation of nature, to solve human problems.”

Kwon’s invention uses a droplet of silicone oil to cover the opening of the nozzle when not in use, similar to the film of oil that keeps a thin layer of tears from evaporating off the eye. On the surface of the human eye, eyelids spread the film of oil over the layer of tears. However, at the tiny scale of the ink jet nozzle, mechanical shutters like eyelids would not work, as they would be stuck in place by surface tension. Instead, the droplet of oil for the nozzle is easily moved in and out of place by an electric field.

Kwon said this invention could make home and office printers less wasteful. To clear a clogged nozzle in most ink jet printers, a burst of fresh ink breaks through the crust of dried ink which forms if the machine isn’t used constantly. Over time this cleaning operation can waste a large amount of expensive ink. Kwon’s invention eliminates the need to waste that squirt of ink. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Star Trek-like Tractor Beams Show Promise

July 16th 2012

Star Trek

“Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life here,” a line long attributed to the 1960s Star Trek series might soon become a reality as a “tractor beam” may harness the energy of light to move physical objects in space. It was already known that light indeed pushes on objects, even while it is a weak nudge. In the field of optical manipulation, for example, optical tweezers use the tractor force of light to push objects of microscopic size, ranging from atoms to bacteria. The ability to pull with light would increase the precision and scope of such manipulation. And for future spaceflight, scientists proffer the idea of space ships winging through space with sails that capture light as if it were a cosmic wind.

In a paper published in April 2012, scientists propose that rather than towing future spaceships, tractor beams might be better used in biology and medicine. If you want to pull something towards you, you just reduce the pressure," says Mordechai Segev, a physicist at Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, who described the idea in an Optics Express paper. "You make a little bit of vacuum," he adds. The problem is that in sensitive medical applications, such as lung surgery, it is important not to change the pressure or introduce any new gases. "Here, the light will be the suction device," he says, "so the pressure would not change at all. It is just the light." Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Matching Cancer Drugs with Gene Targets

July 15th 2012

StethoscopeAndKeyboard

A new study details how a suite of web-based tools provides the research community with greatly improved capacity to compare data derived from large collections of genomic information against thousands of drugs. By comparing drugs and genetic targets, researchers can more easily identify pharmaceuticals that could be effective against different forms of cancer.

The newly updated software, called CellMiner, was built for use with the NCI-60, one of the most widely utilized collections of cancer cell samples employed in the testing of potential anti-cancer drugs. The tools, available free, provide rapid access to data from 22,379 genes catalogued in the NCI-60 and from 20,503 previously analyzed chemical compounds, including 102 U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs.

The study is written by the scientists that developed the tools at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. "Previously you would have to hire a bioinformatics team to sort through all of the data, but these tools put the entire database at the fingertips of any researcher," explained Yves Pommier, M.D., Ph.D., of the NCI's Center for Cancer Research. "These tools allow researchers to analyze drug responses as well as make comparisons from drug to drug and gene to gene."  Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Climate Change Presents Greater Danger to Australia's Barrier Reef than Pollution or Over-Fishing

July 15th 2012

great barrier reef

A document signed by more than 2,500 scientists at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Australia said that climate change is a greater threat to coral reefs than pollution and overfishing. Marine scientists are also warning that the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia's Queensland state will degenerate if the oceans continue to acidify.

The repeated warning from delegates is that manmade climate change is posing a serious risk to coral expanses across the planet. Marine scientists say other factors, such as pollution and increased shipping, also present risks.

The head of the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, said Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is facing particular threats.

​​“The Great Barrier Reef is a obviously spectacular place and thanks to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, it has been relatively well managed. It's really a model that has been emulated elsewhere," said Lubchenco. "Part of what makes a healthy reef is not only paying attention to activities on the water and under the water, but land, what's happening on the land, and how much sedimentation, how much pollution is washing into the reef and of course that's an ongoing concern for the Great Barrier Reef.” Read more ..


The Edge on Medicine

Critical Cell Identifies Molecular Role in Fighting E. Coli Infection

July 15th 2012

E. Coli

Despite ongoing public health efforts, E. coli outbreaks continue to infiltrate the food supply, annually causing significant sickness and death throughout the world. But the research community is gaining ground. In a major finding, published today in the scientific journal Nature, researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology have discovered a molecule's previously unknown role in fighting off E. coli and other bacterial infections, a discovery that could lead to new ways to protect people from these dangerous microorganisms.

"We've found that a certain molecule, known as HVEM, expressed by the cells lining the surface of the lung and intestine, is critical to protecting the body from E. coli, pneumococcus and other bacterial infections that enter our bodies through the lining of our respiratory or intestinal tracts," said Mitchell Kronenberg, Ph.D., La Jolla Institute's president and chief scientific officer, who led the research team. "We discovered that HVEM acts in these cells like a border guard that responds to the presence of invasive bacteria and signals the immune system to send in more troops. Without its involvement as part of the epithelial protective barrier, the body could be overrun by certain disease causing bacteria," said Dr. Kronenberg, adding that he is hopeful the discovery will advance efforts toward developing new treatments or vaccines against bacterial infections. Read more ..


The Race for EVs

Keeping Electric Vehicle Batteries Cool

July 14th 2012

Electric car Israel

Heat can damage the batteries of electric vehicles – even just driving fast on the freeway in summer temperatures can overheat the battery. An innovative new coolant conducts heat away from the battery three times more effectively than water, keeping the battery temperature within an acceptable range even in extreme driving situations.

Batteries provide the “fuel” that drives electric cars – in effect, the vehicles’ lifeblood. If batteries are to have a long service life, overheating must be avoided. A battery’s “comfort zone” lies between 20°C and 35°C. But even a Sunday drive in the midday heat of summer can push a battery’s temperature well beyond that range. The damage caused can be serious: operating a battery at a temperature of 45°C instead of 35°C halves its service life. And batteries are expensive – a new one can cost as much as half the price of the entire vehicle. Read more ..


The Automotive Edge

Mechanical Engineers Develop an ‘Intelligent Co-pilot’ for Cars

July 13th 2012

Automated driving Mercedes Benz

Barrels and cones dot an open field in Saline, Mich., forming an obstacle course for a modified vehicle. A driver remotely steers the vehicle through the course from a nearby location as a researcher looks on. Occasionally, the researcher instructs the driver to keep the wheel straight — a trajectory that appears to put the vehicle on a collision course with a barrel. Despite the driver’s actions, the vehicle steers itself around the obstacle, transitioning control back to the driver once the danger has passed.

The key to the maneuver is a new semiautonomous safety system developed by Sterling Anderson, a PhD student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Karl Iagnemma, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Robotic Mobility Group.

The system uses an onboard camera and laser rangefinder to identify hazards in a vehicle’s environment. The team devised an algorithm to analyze the data and identify safe zones — avoiding, for example, barrels in a field, or other cars on a roadway. The system allows a driver to control the vehicle, only taking the wheel when the driver is about to exit a safe zone. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Solar Storm Protection

July 12th 2012

Solar Flare

Now, researchers from the U.S. and South Korea have developed a warning system capable of forecasting the radiation from these violent solar storms nearly three hours (166 minutes) in advance, giving astronauts, as well as air crews flying over Earth’s polar regions, time to take protective action.

Physicists from the University of Delaware and from Chungnam National University and Hanyang University developed the system and report on it in Space Weather. Prof. John Bieber at UD’s Bartol Research Institute, based in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, directed the scientific project. The article’s lead author is Su Yeon Oh, a postdoctoral researcher from Chungnam National University, who worked with Bieber on the project at UD. “Traveling nearly at the speed of light, it takes just 10 minutes for the first particles ejected from a solar storm to reach Earth,” Bieber says. These sun storms can cover thousands of miles on the sun, like a wave of exploding hydrogen bombs. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

White Rot Fungus Boosts Ethanol Production from Corn Stalks, Cobs and Leaves

July 11th 2012

Corn field

Scientists are reporting new evidence that a white rot fungus shows promise in the search for a way to use waste corn stalks, cobs and leaves – rather than corn itself – to produce ethanol to extend supplies of gasoline. Their study on using the fungus to break down the tough cellulose and related material in this so-called "corn stover" to free up sugars for ethanol fermentation appears in the ACS' journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

Yebo Li and colleagues explain that corn ethanol supplies are facing a crunch because corn is critical for animal feed and food. They note that the need for new sources of ethanol has shifted attention to using stover, which is the most abundant agricultural residue in the U.S., estimated at 170-256 million tons per year. The challenge is to find a way to break down tough cellulose material in cobs, stalks and leaves – so that sugars inside can be fermented to ethanol. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

First Look at Dark Galaxies of the Early Universe

July 11th 2012

Quasar he0109-3518
Region of the sky surrounding the quasar HE0109-3518
(credit: ESO; Digitized Sky Survey 2; S. Cantalupo, UC Santa Cruz)

Dark galaxies are small, gas-rich galaxies in the early Universe that are very inefficient at forming stars. They are predicted by theories of galaxy formation and are thought to be the building blocks of today’s bright, star-filled galaxies. Astronomers think that they may have fed large galaxies with much of the gas that later formed into the stars that exist today.

Because they are essentially devoid of stars, these dark galaxies don’t emit much light, making them very hard to detect. For years astronomers have been trying to develop new techniques that could confirm the existence of these galaxies. Small absorption dips in the spectra of background sources of light have hinted at their existence. However, this new study marks the first time that such objects have been seen directly.

“Our approach to the problem of detecting a dark galaxy was simply to shine a bright light on it.” explains Simon Lilly (ETH Zurich, Switzerland), co-author of the paper. “We searched for the fluorescent glow of the gas in dark galaxies when they are illuminated by the ultraviolet light from a nearby and very bright quasar. The light from the quasar makes the dark galaxies light up in a process similar to how white clothes are illuminated by ultraviolet lamps in a night club.” Fluorescence is defined as the emission of light by a substance illuminated by a light source. In most cases, the emitted light has longer wavelength than the source light. For instance, fluorescent lamps transform ultraviolet radiation—invisible to us—into optical light. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Muscles are Paralyzed During Sleep

July 11th 2012

Two powerful brain chemical systems work together to paralyze skeletal muscles during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The finding may help scientists better understand and treat sleep disorders, including narcolepsy, tooth grinding, and REM sleep behavior disorder.

During REM sleep — the deep sleep where most recalled dreams occur — your eyes continue to move but the rest of the body’s muscles are stopped, potentially to prevent injury. In a series of experiments, University of Toronto neuroscientists Patricia L. Brooks and John H. Peever, PhD, found that the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine caused REM sleep paralysis in rats by “switching off” the specialized cells in the brain that allow muscles to be active. This finding reversed earlier beliefs that glycine was a lone inhibitor of these motor neurons.

“The study’s findings are relevant to anyone who has ever watched a sleeping pet twitch, gotten kicked by a bed partner, or has known someone with the sleep disorder narcolepsy,” said Dennis J. McGinty, PhD, a behavioral neuroscientist and sleep researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Astronomers Discover Vanishing Act

July 10th 2012

Planet-forming disk
Artist's conception of a planet-forming disk similar to the one around
TYC 8241 2652—which vanished. (Credit: NASA JPL/CalTech)

Astronomers report a baffling discovery never seen before: An extraordinary amount of dust around a nearby star has mysteriously disappeared.

“It’s like the classic magician’s trick—now you see it, now you don't,” said Carl Melis, a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Diego and lead author of the research. “Only in this case, we're talking about enough dust to fill an inner solar system, and it really is gone!”

“It's as if the rings around Saturn had disappeared,” said co-author Benjamin Zuckerman, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. “This is even more shocking because the dusty disc of rocky debris was bigger and much more massive than Saturn's rings. The disc around this star, if it were in our solar system, would have extended from the sun halfway out to Earth, near the orbit of Mercury.”

The research on this cosmic vanishing act, which occurred around a star some 450 light years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Centaurus, appeared in July the journal Nature. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Bats Offer New Directions in Brain Research

July 9th 2012

Bat and moth

“Our memories are basically who we are,” says Dr. Nachum Ulanovsky of the Department of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science. “I suspect that this is why people are so afraid of the various memory dysfunctions—because if you lose your memory then, in some way, you lose your identity and personality.”
Dr. Ulanovsky investigates memory using an unconventional subject: bats. In addition to shedding light on the basic function of the memory system, his work could lead to new understanding of a range of neurological conditions. “There are dozens and dozens of disorders of the brain,” he says, “and these are some of the most difficult medical problems to tackle.”

Bats, which navigate freely and precisely, are well-suited to memory research because they have outstanding memory capabilities, including spatial memory. They also have a brain structure that is remarkably similar to our own, including the hippocampus, which plays a major role in episodic and spatial memory. “The hippocampus is an ancient structure,” says Dr. Ulanovsky. “It developed long ago, and so is anatomically very similar across all mammals, including bats and humans.” Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Immune System Molecule Could Help Treat Dangerous Skin Cancer

July 8th 2012

t cells attack cancer

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) have made a groundbreaking discovery that will shape the future of melanoma therapy. The team, led by Thomas S. Kupper, MD, chair of the BWH Department of Dermatology, and Rahul Purwar, PhD, found that high expression of a cell-signaling molecule, known as interleukin-9, in immune cells inhibits melanoma growth.

After observing mice without genes responsible for development of an immune cell called T helper cell 17 (TH17), researchers found that these mice had significant resistance to melanoma tumor growth, suggesting that blockade of the TH17 cell pathway favored tumor inhibition. The researchers also noticed that the mice expressed high amounts of interleukin-9. "These were unexpected results, which led us to examine a possible contribution of interleukin-9 to cancer growth suppression." said Purwar. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Exome Sequencing of Health Condition Extremes Can Reveal Susceptibility Genes

July 7th 2012

DNA Strands

Comparing the DNA from patients at the best and worst extremes of a health condition can reveal genes for resistance and susceptibly. This approach discovered rare variations in the DCTN4 gene among cystic fibrosis patients most prone to early, chronic airway infections.

The DCTN4 gene codes for dynactin 4. This protein is a component of a molecular motor that moves trouble-making microbes along a cellular conveyer belt into miniscule chemical vats, called lysosomes, for annihilation.

This study, led by the University of Washington, is part of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute GO Exome Sequencing Project and its Lung GO, both major National Institutes of Health chronic disease research efforts. Similar "testing the extremes" strategies may have important applications in uncovering genetic factors behind other more common, traits, such as healthy and unhealthy hearts. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

HI-C Rocket Mission has the Finest Mirrors Ever Made

July 6th 2012

the sun

On July 11, NASA scientists will launch into space the highest resolution solar telescope ever to observe the solar corona, the million degree outer solar atmosphere. The instrument, called HI-C for High Resolution Coronal Imager, will fly aboard a Black Brant sounding rocket to be launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The mission will have just 620 seconds for its flight, spending about half of that time high enough that Earth's atmosphere will not block ultraviolet rays from the sun. By looking at a specific range of UV light, HI-C scientists hope to observe fundamental structures on the sun, as narrow as 100 miles across.

"Other instruments in space can't resolve things that small, but they do suggest – after detailed computer analysis of the amount of light in any given pixel – that structures in the sun's atmosphere are about 100 miles across," says Jonathan Cirtain, a solar scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. who is the project scientist for HI-C. "And we also have theories about the shapes of structures in the atmosphere, or corona, that expect that size. HI-C will be the first chance we have to see them." Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

The New Particle Discovery—Could It Really Be the Higgs Boson?

July 5th 2012

cern-atlas nov 2006

The long and complicated journey to detect the Higgs boson, which started with one small step about 25 years ago, might finally have reached its goal. This was reported by Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator scientists on July 4 at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) near Geneva.

Named after Scottish physicist Peter Higgs, the Higgs boson is the final building block that has been missing from the “Standard Model,” which describes the structure of matter in the universe. The Higgs boson combines two forces of nature and shows that they are, in fact, different aspects of a more fundamental force. The particle is also responsible for the existence of mass in the elementary particles.

Weizmann Institute scientists have been prominent participants in this research from its onset. Prof. Giora Mikenberg was for many years head of the research group that searched for the Higgs boson in CERN’s OPAL experiment. He was then leader of the ATLAS Muon Project—one of the two experiments that eventually revealed the particle. Prof. Ehud Duchovni heads the Weizmann group that examines other key questions at CERN. Prof. Eilam Gross is currently the ATLAS Higgs physics group convener. Three scientific “generations” are represented in the Weizmann team: Prof. Mikenberg was Prof. Duchovni’s supervisor, who was, in turn, Prof. Gross’s supervisor.

Prof. Gross says, “This is the biggest day of my life. I have been searching for the Higgs since I was a student in the 1980s. Even after 25 years, it still came as a surprise. No matter what you call it—we are no longer searching for the Higgs but measuring its properties. Though I believed it would be found, I never dreamed it would happen while I was holding a senior position in the global research team.” Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Israeli Ice Device Freezes Out Breast Tumors

July 5th 2012

IceSense3 cryoablation probes

For the past year, a novel Israeli medical device has been changing the way American doctors remove fibro-adenoma tumors – benign breast lumps. Now an internationally renowned Japanese surgeon is testing IceSense3, made in Israel by IceCure Medical, to destroy small malignant tumors as well. “This is the future,” declares CEO Hezi Himelfarb.

During an ultrasound-guided procedure, the IceSense3 probe penetrates the tumor and destroys it by engulfing it with ice. Needing only local anesthetic, the cryoablation process takes five or 10 minutes in a doctor’s office, clinic, or breast center, and the patient can get up and leave afterward. No recovery period or post-care is necessary.

Before the Israeli device received US Food and Drug Administration approval in December 2010, many women preferred to simply monitor harmless growths instead of having an expensive, time-consuming, and painful surgical procedure. The new solution, which is quick and virtually painless with no scarring, offers a more attractive option. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Data Abuse Spreads in Smart Phone Apps

July 4th 2012

HTC thunderbold droid phone

Increasingly often, mobile applications on web-enabled mobile phones and tablet computers do more than they appear to.

In secrecy, the "apps" forward private data to a third party. Computer scientists from Saarbrücken have developed a new approach to prevent this data abuse. They can put a stop to the data theft through the app "SRT AppGuard". The chief attraction: For the protection to work, it is not necessary to identify the suspicious programs in advance, nor must the operating system be changed. Instead, the freely available app attacks the program code of the digital spies.

"My smartphone knows everything about me, starting with my name, my phone number, my e-mail address, my interests, up to my current location," explains computer science professor Michael Backes, who manages the Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability at Saarland University. "It even knows my friends quite well, as it saves their contact details, too," says Backes. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

On Mars, Life’s Molecules Could Lie within Reach of Curiosity

July 3rd 2012

Curiosity Rover at work
Artist’s conception of Curiosity Rover at work on Mars
(credit: NASA JPL-Caltech)

Stick a shovel in the ground and scoop. That’s about how deep scientists need to go in order to find evidence for ancient life on Mars, if there is any to be found, a new study suggests. That’s within reach of Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory rover expected to land on the Red Planet in August.

The new findings, which suggest optimal depths and locations to probe for organic molecules like those that compose living organisms as we know them, could help the newest Mars rover scout for evidence of life beneath the surface and within rocks. The results suggest that, should Mars harbor simple organic molecules, NASA’s prospects for discovering them during Curiosity’s explorations are better than previously thought, said Alexander Pavlov of NASA GSFC in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of the study.

While these simple molecules could provide evidence of ancient Martian life, they could also stem from other sources like meteorites and volcanoes. Complex organic molecules could hint more strongly at the possibility of past life on the planet. These molecules, made up of 10 or more carbon atoms, could resemble known building blocks of life such as the amino acids that make up proteins. Read more ..


Edge of Environment

North Atlantic Algae Blooms and Uptakes Humanity's Carbon Output

July 1st 2012

North America sat image

On the extended July 4th week, U.S. beachgoers have thronged their way to seaside resorts and parks to celebrate with holiday fireworks. Across the horizon and miles out to sea toward the north, the Atlantic Ocean's own spring and summer ritual is unfolding: the blooming of countless microscopic plant plankton, or phytoplankton. In what's known as the North Atlantic Bloom, an immense number of phytoplankton burst into color, first "greening" then "whitening" the sea as one species follows another.

In research results published in this week's issue of the journal Science, scientists report evidence of what triggers this huge bloom. Whirlpools, or eddies, swirl across the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean sustaining phytoplankton in the ocean's shallower waters where they can get plenty of sunlight to fuel their growth, keeping them from being pushed downward by the ocean's rough surface. The result is a burst of spring and summer color atop the ocean's waters.

How important is the bloom to the North Atlantic Ocean and beyond--to the global carbon cycle? Much like forests, springtime blooms of microscopic plants in the ocean absorb enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, emitting oxygen via photosynthesis. Their growth contributes to the oceanic uptake of carbon dioxide, amounting globally to about one-third of the carbon dioxide humans put into the air each year through the burning of fossil fuels. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Israeli Company Grows New Bones from Fat

June 30th 2012

Docs and Tech

Bonus Biogroup’s major breakthrough generates new healthy bone from stem cells harvested from the patient’s own fat.

Make no bones about this technology: Bonus Biogroup, a regenerative medicine company in Israel, has found a way to grow human bone from a patient’s own fat, culled during liposuction. Following successful pre-clinical testing, clinical trials will begin within the next year in Europe or in Israel on applications ranging from growing bones for dental surgery to replacing bone tissue lost through trauma or illness.

“The standard of care today is autologous bone grafting — taking bone from other parts of the body, breaking it and putting it in where needed,” Bonus founder and CEO Shai Meretzki states. “Two operations are needed for the treatment of harvesting bone from another part of the body,” he says. Obviously, this solution isn’t optimal. “Our advantage is that the healing process is much faster, and patients of course don’t have to suffer the harvesting procedure,” he adds. Read more ..


Edge of Nanotechnology

Nano-Diamonds Make Laundry Detergents Eco-Friendly

June 28th 2012

Nanodiamond and human blood
Nanodiamond and human blood.

Nanodiamonds, pieces of carbon less than ten-thousandths the diameter of a human hair, have been found to help loosen crystallized fat from surfaces in a project led by research chemists at the University of Warwick that transforms the ability of washing powders to shift dirt in eco friendly low temperature laundry cycles.

These new findings tackle a problem that forces consumers to wash some of their laundry at between 60 and 90 degrees centigrade more than 80 times a year.

Even with modern biological washing powders, some fats and dirt cannot be removed at the lower temperatures many prefer to use for their weekly wash.

A desire to reduce the significant energy burden of regular high temperature washes, and understand the behaviour of these new materials, brought University of Warwick scientists and colleagues at Aston University together in a project funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and P&G plc.

This “Cold Water Cleaning Initiative” funded a group of chemists, physicists and engineers led by Dr. Andrew Marsh in the University of Warwick’s Department of Chemistry to explore how new forms of carbon might work together with detergents in everyday household products. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Hubble Spots Rare Gravitational Arc from Distant Galaxy Cluster

June 26th 2012

Gravitational Arc from Distant Galaxy Cluster
Distant, massive galaxy cluster IDCS J1426.5+3508
(credit: NASA, ESA, A. Gonzalez, M. Brodwin, and A. Stanford)

Seeing is believing—except when you don’t believe what you see.

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found a puzzling arc of light behind an extremely massive cluster of galaxies residing 10 billion light-years away. The galactic grouping, discovered by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, was observed when the universe was roughly a quarter of its current age of 13.7 billion years. The giant arc is the stretched shape of a more distant galaxy whose light is distorted by the monster cluster’s powerful gravity, an effect called gravitational lensing.

The trouble is, the arc shouldn’t exist.

“When I first saw it, I kept staring at it, thinking it would go away,” said study leader Anthony Gonzalez of the University of Florida in Gainesville. “According to a statistical analysis, arcs should be extremely rare at that distance. At that early epoch, the expectation is that there are not enough galaxies behind the cluster bright enough to be seen, even if they were ‘lensed’ or distorted by the cluster. The other problem is that galaxy clusters become less massive the farther back in time you go. So it’s more difficult to find a cluster with enough mass to be a good lens for gravitationally bending the light from a distant galaxy.” Read more ..


The Aviation Edge

New Air Safety Guidelines

June 26th 2012

Thunder Storm

Aircraft turbulence guidelines should be completely rewritten after new research revealed thunderstorms could produce unexpected turbulence more than 100km away from storm cells.

The research by University of Melbourne and the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science researcher Dr Todd Lane has highlighted the impact of atmospheric gravity waves caused by thunderstorms and how air safety guidelines have not taken them into account.

“It is likely that many reports of encounters with turbulence are caused by thunderstorm generated gravity waves, making them far more important for turbulence than had previously been recognised,” Dr Lane said.

“Previously it was thought turbulence outside of clouds was mostly caused by jet streams and changes in wind speed at differing altitudes, known as wind shear, but this research reveals thunderstorms play a more critical role,” he said. Dr Lane said it is now recognised that thunderstorms have far reaching effects, modifying airflow, strengthening the jet stream and enhancing wind shear at a significant distance from the storm cell itself. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Planetrise: Alien Planet Looms Large in its Neighbor’s Sky

June 26th 2012

Kepler 36-c from Kepler 36-b
Artist’s conception of Kepler-36c rising over Kepler-36b’s horizon
(credit: David A. Aguilar, CfA)

Few nighttime sights offer more drama than the full Moon rising over the horizon. Now imagine that instead of the Moon, a gas giant planet spanning three times more sky loomed over the molten landscape of a lava world. This alien vista exists in the newly discovered two-planet system of Kepler-36.

“These two worlds are having close encounters,” said Josh Carter, a Hubble Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “They are the closest to each other of any planetary system we've found,” added co-author Eric Agol of the University of Washington.

Carter, Agol, and their colleagues report their discovery in June in Science Express. They spotted the planets in data from NASA's Kepler satellite, which can detect a planet when it passes in front of, and briefly reduces the light coming from, its parent star.

The newly discovered system contains two planets circling a subgiant star much like the Sun except several billion years older. The inner world, Kepler-36b, is a rocky planet 1.5 times the size of Earth and weighing 4.5 times as much. It orbits about every 14 days at an average distance of less than 11 million miles. The outer world, Kepler-36c, is a gaseous planet 3.7 times the size of Earth and weighing 8 times as much. This “hot Neptune” orbits once each 16 days at a distance of 12 million miles. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Scientists Find Protein in Limb-Nerve Repair

June 23rd 2012

Docs and Tech

Researchers have identified a protein that's essential for the regrowth of nerves responsible for movement and sensation in injured limbs. They hope the finding might some day make it possible to repair crippling damage to other parts of the central nervous system.

Scientists have long known that severed nerves in the arms and legs have the ability to regenerate after they have been been surgically reattached. But until now, the mechanisms underlying that regrowth have been poorly understood.

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, discovered that a protein, called dual-leucine zipper kinase (DLK), plays a key role in repairing the long, thin nerve fibers, or axons, that extend several meters from the nerve cell body within the spinal cord to so-called peripheral nerves in the limbs. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Little-studied Star Cluster Sheds Light on Search for Earth-like Planets

June 23rd 2012

Ruprecht 147 aka NGC 6774
Ruprecht 147 aka NGC 6774 (credit: Chris Beckett and Stefano Meneguolo,
Royal Astronomical Society of Canada)

A loose group of stars, known for over 180 years but never before studied in detail, has been revealed to be an important new tool in the quest to understand the evolution of stars like the Sun, and in the search for planets like Earth. "We have discovered that a previously unappreciated open star cluster, which is a little younger than our Sun, holds great promise for use as a standard gauge in fundamental stellar astrophysics," said Jason T. Wright, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University, who conceived and initiated the research.

Wright’s research team’s first paper on the cluster, known as Ruprecht 147 and NGC 6774, has been submitted to the Astronomical Journal for publication. Team member Jason Curtis, a graduate student in Wright’s lab, led the work for this paper and will present the team’s project in Barcelona later this month at the 17th Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems, and the Sun.

When searching for planets with an Earth-like mass and an orbit that allows liquid water to exist on the surface, astronomers often search around stars the mass of the Sun and smaller. Read more ..


The Environment Edge

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is an 'Ecological Time Bomb'

June 22nd 2012

Dead Zone Gulf of Mexico

A dry spring in portions of the Midwest is expected to result in the second-smallest Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" on record in 2012, according to a University of Michigan forecast. The prediction from the Ann Arbor-based instituted calls for a 2012 Gulf of Mexico dead zone of about 1,200 square miles, an area the size of Rhode Island. If the forecast is correct, 2012 would replace 2000 (1,696 square miles) as the year with the second-smallest Gulf dead zone. The smallest Gulf oxygen-starved, or hypoxic, zone was recorded in 1988 (15 square miles).

"While it's encouraging to see that this year's Gulf forecast calls for a significant drop in the extent of the dead zone, we must keep in mind that the anticipated reduction is due mainly to decreased precipitation in the upper Midwest and a subsequent reduced water flow into the Gulf," said aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia, professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment. "The predicted 2012 dead-zone decline does not result from cutbacks in nitrogen use, which remains one of the key drivers of hypoxia in the Gulf."

The U-M prediction is one of two Gulf dead zone forecasts released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which funds the research. The other NOAA-supported team, from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Louisiana State University, predicts a 2012 Gulf dead zone of 6,213 square miles. Read more ..


The Robitic Edge

Robotic Fish Attracts the Real Thing

June 20th 2012

Robotic fish

Robotic fish could one day play an important role in steering schools of real fish away from aquatic dangers, such as invasive species, pollution and other hazards, according to experimental evidence released in a new study.

Mechanical engineer Maurizio Porfiri works with zebrafish, the so-called lab rats of the aquatic world. He and his colleagues at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute designed a remote controlled, motorized zebrafish robot. Painted blue with bright yellow stripes, the robotic fish was shaped to resemble a female which was ready to mate.

It was then put into a 65-liter tank, separated from the school by a transparent piece of Plexiglas. Real fish like look of 'robo-fish'. And, says, Porfiri, "It worked!" The zebrafish were attracted to the shape and color of the robot as well as the movement of its tail. Although the real fish preferred each other to the robot, they preferred spending time beside the robot to staying next to an empty space. Both individual and groups of fish preferred the company of the robot.  Read more ..


The Edge of Pyschology

Losing Money, Emotions, and Evolution

June 20th 2012

roulette bet

Financial loss can lead to irrational behavior. Now, research by Weizmann Institute scientists reveals that the effects of loss go even deeper: Loss can compromise our early perception and interfere with our grasp of the true situation. The findings, which recently appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, may also have implications for our understanding of the neurological mechanisms underlying post-traumatic stress disorder.

The experiment was conducted by Dr. Rony Paz and research student Offir Laufer of the Neurobiology Department. Subjects underwent a learning process based on classic conditioning and involving money. They were asked to listen to a series of tones composed of three different notes. After hearing one note, they were told they had earned a certain sum; after a second note, they were informed that they had lost some of their money; and a third note was followed by the message that their bankroll would remain the same. According to the findings, when a note was tied to gain, or at least to no loss, the subjects improved over time in a learned task—distinguishing that note from other, similar notes. But when they heard the “lose money” note, they actually got worse at telling one from the other. Read more ..


The Edge of Science

The U.S. Scientific Community Benefits from Globalization

June 19th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

Globalization is a benefit to U.S. scientific achievement, not a threat. That's the conclusion of a new book that weighs the evidence from a number of recent surveys to answer its title question: "Is American Science in Decline?" American science is in good health, according to the book's authors, sociologists Yu Xie of the University of Michigan and Alexandra Achen Killewald of Harvard University.

Although there are areas of concern, they maintain that traditional American values will help the nation maintain its strength in science for the foreseeable future, and that globalization will promote efficiency in science through knowledge sharing. "In an age when other countries are catching up, American science will inevitably become less dominant but it will not decline relative to its own past," Xie said. "As technology continues to change the American economy, better-educated workers with a range of scientific skills will be in high demand." Read more ..


Health Edge

Killing Bats does not Reduce Rabies Exposure in Bat Colonies

June 18th 2012

vampire bat

A new study of rabies in vampire bats in Peru has found that culling bats—a common rabies control strategy—does not reduce rates of rabies exposure in bat colonies, and may even be counterproductive. The findings may eventually help public health and agriculture officials in Peru develop more effective methods for preventing rabies infections in humans and livestock, according to a team of scientists from the United States and Peru led by Daniel Streicker, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology.

The study was published online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The research team includes University of Michigan population ecologist Pejman Rohani.

"Our paper represents a significant move forward in the study of an important class of infectious diseases in a setting where the economic impact on livestock and the burden on humans is substantial," said Rohani, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a professor of complex systems and a professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Nanoparticles May improve Blood Cancer Treatments

June 18th 2012

Multiple myeloma cells internalizing nanoparticles

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame have engineered nanoparticles that show great promise for the treatment of multiple myeloma (MM), an incurable cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow.

One of the difficulties doctors face in treating MM comes from the fact that cancer cells of this type start to develop resistance to the leading chemotherapeutic treatment, doxorubicin, when they adhere to tissue in bone marrow.

"The nanoparticles we have designed accomplish many things at once," says Başar Bilgiçer, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry and biochemistry, and an investigator in Notre Dame's Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics (AD&T) initiative.

"First, they reduce the development of resistance to doxorubicin. Second, they actually get the cancer cells to actively consume the drug-loaded nanoparticles. Third, they reduce the toxic effect the drug has on healthy organs." Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Cancer’s Next Magic Bullet May Be Magic Shotgun

June 17th 2012

Research and Development Chemistry

A new approach to drug design, pioneered by a group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Mt. Sinai, New York, promises to help identify future drugs to fight cancer and other diseases that will be more effective and have fewer side effects.

Rather than seeking to find magic bullets — chemicals that specifically attack one gene or protein involved in one particular part of a disease process — the new approach looks to find “magic shotguns” by sifting through the known universe of chemicals to find the few special molecules that broadly disrupt the whole diseases process.

“We’ve always been looking for magic bullets,” said Kevan Shokat, PhD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at UCSF. “This is a magic shotgun — it doesn’t inhibit one target but a set of targets — and that gives us a much, much better ability to stop the cancer without causing as many side effects.” Read more ..


The Edge of Invention

Nature Inspires New Submarine Design

June 17th 2012

Click to select Image

Superhydrophobicity is one of most important interfacial properties between solids and liquids. SHI Yanlong and his group from the College of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Key laboratory of Hexi Corridor Resources Utilization of Gansu Universities, Hexi University investigated the superhydrophobicity of the water boatman's hind wings. The study showed that superhydrophobicity plays a crucial role in the water boatman's swimming, balance, and breathing in water, and in its escape ability from water area under unfavorable conditions. Their work, entitled "Investigation of superhydrophobicity on water boatman's hind wings", was published in the Chinese Science Bulletin 2012, Vol 57 (14).

Recently, studies of superhydrophobicity have attracted much interest because of its potential practical applications. In nature, lotus leaves, water-striders' legs, and some insects' wings exhibit perfect superhydrophobicity. Inspired by these superhydrophobic characteristics within living organisms, scientists have invented many ways to fabricate artificial superhydrophobic materials. Superhydrophobic surfaces are commonly constructed either by creating micro/nanostructures on hydrophobic substrates or by chemically modifying micro/nanostructured surfaces with materials of low surface free energy. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Apple Takes Position For 3D Indoor Mapping

June 17th 2012

Apple announced its own mapping solution at its worldwide developer's conference, ending its partnership with Google.

The focus has been on the 3D maps in Apple and Google’s recent mapping-related announcements, however, the indoors is also likely to emerge as key in future developments. A recent report from IMS Research covering the area of indoor positioning, including mapping, forecasts that almost 120,000 indoor venue maps will be available to the consumer in 2016.

“The announcement of Apple providing its own mapping solution comes as no surprise, with rumors of this circulating for some time, as a result of the firm’s previous acquisitions in the area,” said Alex West, research director of IMS Research’s Connectivity and Location group. “Apple has been trying to wean itself off of its dependence on Google, the release of Siri with the iPhone 4S represented a different way to search the internet, bypassing Google entirely, and its recent iPhoto application used OpenStreetMap data.” Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Artificial Pancreas Shows Promise in Humans

June 16th 2012

Docs and Tech

Human clinical trials of an advanced artificial pancreas look promising, according to researchers, who hope the device will help insulin-dependent diabetics avoid some of the devastating complications that go along with the disease.

For years, researchers have worked to develop a computerized, artificial pancreas, one that continuously measures blood sugar levels and transmits that information electronically to an insulin pump which automatically delivers the correct dose of the hormone.

A large, landmark study by the National Institutes of Health showed that keeping blood glucose levels in a very narrow range can minimize or delay diabetic complications. But constant blood sugar monitoring is exhausting, and even the most diligent diabetics are at risk for serious and life-threatening complications, including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and limb amputations.  Read more ..



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