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The Genetic Edge

Genetic Markers for Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar Disorder Discovered

September 19th 2011

Science - Brain Light

Several newly discovered genetic variants may increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or both, according to an international research consortium that includes the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Laura Scott, associate research scientist at U-M SPH, led the SPH group that participated along with more than 250 researchers from more than 20 countries that comprised the Psychiatric Genome-Wide Association Study Consortium. The various groups in the consortium found six variants not previously observed, and 11 variants total.

Scott said the U-M SPH study group focused on the bipolar analysis. She was one of the leaders of the consortium's bipolar analysis team, which also included biostatistics graduate student Phoenix Kwan and other members of the Michigan group. The team found two variants, one of which was novel, that were associated with increased risk of developing bipolar disorder and possibly other conditions. Read more ..


The Race for Wireless

Wireless Power Transmission Grows For Consumer Electronics And Electric Vehicles

September 17th 2011

Technology - tablet & laptop

Over the next decade, the most vibrant Wireless Power Transmission (WPT) markets will be the contactless charging of portable and mobile equipment, in particular consumer electronics and electric vehicles. This is the focus of a new IDTechEx report, "Wireless Power Transmission for Consumer Electronics and Electric Vehicles 2012-2022. The research carried out for this report describes technologies that will be a stepping stone to contactless power for a high proportion of static consumer, industrial and military electronics and electrics.
For now, it primarily concerns wireless charging of batteries in portable consumer electronics and in electric vehicles. Both travel considerable distances and ready availability of standard, convenient, contactless, charging capability are key to their further growth in adoption. For example, the user will enjoy ever greater functionality and longer hours of use of mobile phones despite the on-going shortcomings of their batteries. Read more ..


Digital Edge

Smartphones and Wi-Fi Mobile Devices to Save Batteries in 'Sub-conscious Mode'

September 16th 2011

Computer Topics - Smart phone

A new "subconscious mode" for smartphones and other WiFi-enabled mobile devices could dramatically extend battery life by as much as 54 percent for users on the busiest networks.

University of Michigan computer science and engineering professor Kang Shin and doctoral student Xinyu Zhang will present their new power management approach at the upcoming 'MobiCom' - ACM International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in Las Vegas. The new invention is still in the proof-of-concept stage and is not yet commercially available.

Even when smartphones are in power-saving modes and not actively sending or receiving messages, they are still on alert for incoming information and they're searching for a clear communication channel. The researchers have found that this kind of energy-taxing "idle listening" is occurring during a large portion of the time phones spend in power-saving mode—as much as 80 percent on busy networks. Their new approach could make smartphones perform this idle listening more efficiently. It's called E-MiLi, which stands for Energy-Minimizing Idle Listening. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Thermal Night Vision, a Feature on the Rise

September 12th 2011

Technology - Infrared

In a recent report on the uncooled infrared imaging market, Yole Développement highlights that commercial applications in surveillance, automotive and thermography will reach total volumes over 1 million units in 2016. Initially developed for the military market by US defense companies, infrared (IR) uncooled cameras are now widely used in many commercial applications. In the Infrared spectrum, long wave infrared (LWIR) is the most common wavelength (8-12 microns).

Commercial business is expanding at a high rate thanks to three main markets analyzed in this report. The thermography boom is confirmed with camera prices now available for near $1,000 from FLIR that expands the use of IR cameras to maintenance engineers and building inspectors. The automotive sector has increased by 40 percent in volume in 2010 with four new car models adopting thermal night vision. It is expected that automotive will exceed 500,000 units sales for 2016. Surveillance is becoming a key market with several CCTV big camera players introducing many new models of thermal camera: Pelco, Axis, Bosch Security, Samsung Techwin. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Developing the Next Generation of Drugs

September 9th 2011

Science - MMP-9 (enzyme)

Enzymes—the proteins responsible for chemical reactions in living cells—change their structure at dizzying speeds. This dynamic action makes them very efficient, but it can also make them difficult to study. Prof. Irit Sagi of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Biological Regulation develops new experimental tools and procedures to study shape-shifting enzymes in real time and at the scale of individual atoms. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

NovoSpeech Allows Devices to “Hear” Clearly

September 9th 2011

Technology - Novospeech

More devices than ever use automatic speech recognition (ASR), allowing users to “tell” their device what to do—like dial a phone number by speaking a name rather than tapping a button.

However, ASR technology often doesn’t work well, says Zvi Hava, the CEO of Petah Tikva-based NovoSpeech. “Current ASR solutions are unable to attain 100 percent real-time accuracy of all words spoken by a person, because of background noise, accents and vocabulary,” says Hava.

“In general, these systems succeed only when they are in low noise-controlled environments or when they are either ‘trained’ to recognize a voice, or when the task involved requires some basic and simple commands with a limited vocabulary.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

German Giant Bosch Invests $10 million in "Gesture Chip"

September 6th 2011

Computer Topics - Computer chips

Robert Bosch Venture Capital has led an investment of 7.1 million euro (about $10 million) in Ident Technology AG (Gilching, Germany), a developer of electric field sensors that can be used for 3-D gesture recognition. Bosch participated with existing investors MIG Funds and Danube Equity and the money is intended to support introduction of a 3D gesture recognition chip.

"Our Z-Sense technology is all about making the user experience natural, intuitive, simple and fun," said Roland Aubauer, chief technology officer of Ident, in a statement. "With our proximity technology already in production we have decided to take our innovations further and launch our own GestIC chip for the fast growing three-dimensional gesture control market in 2012."

The GestIC is set to address needs of mobile devices, consumer electronics and allows real-time tracking of free-space hand or finger movements in front of a device or display. The chip enables a broad range of signals from simple touch detection to complex 3-D movements. Read more ..


Medcial Edge

New Laser Technology will Zap Away Acne Pimples

September 2nd 2011

Science - Laser burst

A laser developed at the University of Michigan is designed to melt fat without burning surrounding tissue. It could potentially be used to treat acne, researchers say. Its 1,708-nanometer, infrared beam takes advantage of a unique wavelength that fat can absorb more efficiently than water , which makes up more than half of the human body. It can penetrate skin with minimal harm on its way to reach and destroy deeper pockets of fat, said Mohammed Islam, a professor of electrical engineering and internal medicine. The research is described in a paper published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine.

The laser could treat acne by targeting the oil-producing sebaceous glands, which are known to be involved in the development of the skin disease. Read more ..


Edge on Health

Commonly Prescribed Anti-Biotic Reduces Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Attacks

August 30th 2011

Health/Medicine - nurse w/stethoscope

Adding a common antibiotic to the usual treatment regimen for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can reduce acute exacerbations –sudden onsets of worsened cough, wheeze, and labored breathing – and improve quality of life, reports a new clinical trial funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The University of Michigan Health System and Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System, under the direction of lung specialists Fernando Martinez, M.D., M.S., and Jeffrey Curtis, M.D., were one of 10 centers involved in the large-scale clinical trial. Martinez and his colleagues in U-M’s Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine provided key preliminary data supporting antibiotic treatment and were involved in the trial’s design.

Findings appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Exacerbations account for a significant part of COPD’s health burden,” said Susan Shurin, M.D., acting director of the NHLBI. “These promising results with azithromycin may help us reduce that burden and improve the lives of patients at risk of these acute attacks.” Read more ..


Animal Edge

Hyenas’ Ability to Count Helps them Decide to Fight or Flee

August 28th 2011

Animals - Sarah Benson-Amram
Sarah Benson-Amram

Being able to count helps spotted hyenas decide to fight or flee, according to research at Michigan State University. When animals fight, the larger group tends to win.

In the current issue of Animal Behaviour, Sarah Benson-Amram, an MSU graduate student studying zoology, showed that hyenas listen to the sound of intruders’ voices to determine who has the advantage.

“They’re more cautious when they’re outnumbered and take more risks when they have the numerical advantage,” said Benson-Amram, who conducted the study through MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. “Hyenas appear to be as capable as chimpanzees or lions at assessing their advantage.”

The finding supports the concept that living in complex social groups, as hyenas, lions and chimpanzees do, is one of the keys to the evolution of big brains, Benson-Amram added.

Even though spotted hyenas live in clans of up to 90 individuals, they spend much of the day in much smaller, more vulnerable groups. When researchers played recordings of potential intruders, the hyenas’ reaction depended on how many voices they heard compared to how many fellow pack members surrounded them. Groups of three or more hyenas were far more likely to approach the source of sound than pairs or individuals. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

White Space Frequencies Offer Tremendous Potential for Wireless Communications

August 28th 2011

Computer Topics - Motorola droid

Cambridge Consultants has released a report discussing the foremost business opportunities in wireless technologies enabled by White Space frequencies, predicting the development of the first White Space consumer devices in the next five years. The report entitled: ‘White Space radio: High Street Hit or Left In the Lab?’ is the culmination of a White Space workshop hosted by Cambridge Consultants, and brings together experts from across the wireless and broadcast industries including representatives from Nokia, Samsung, BBC, BSkyB, Neul and CSR to discuss White Space technology.

Consensus from the report views the use of White Space radio as an inevitability, addressing a critical need for redressing methods of spectrum usage and opening up new possibilities for wireless devices. Read more ..


Edge on Anthropology

Caveman Sex and Ancient Inter-Breeding Yielded Immunilogical Benefits for Future Generations

August 27th 2011

Science - Neanderthal

For a few years now, scientists have known that humans and their evolutionary cousins had some casual flings, but now it appears that these liaisons led to a more meaningful relationship.

Sex with Neanderthals and another close relative — the recently discovered Denisovans — has endowed some human gene pools with beneficial versions of immune system genes, report researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in an article published online in Science Express.

Although modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans share a common ancestor in Africa, the groups split into separate, distinct populations approximately 400,000 years ago. The Neanderthal lineage migrated northwestward into West Asia and Europe, and the Denisovan lineage moved northeastward into East Asia. The ancestors of modern man stayed in Africa until 65,000 years or so ago, when they expanded into Eurasia and then encountered the other human-like groups. In some cases, the rendezvous were amorous in nature.

Last year, a partial genome sequence of Neanderthals, who died out approximately 30,000 years ago, revealed that these trysts left as much as 4 percent Neanderthal DNA in the genetic blueprint of some present-day humans. Last December, the genome of another human cousin, the extinct Denisovans, made clear that up to 6 percent of some people's genomes are Denisovan in origin. Read more ..


Edge on Health

Handheld Gene-Z Device shows Promise for Detecting Cancer in Underdeveloped Countries

August 27th 2011

Science - Gene Z device demo
Syed Hashsham demonstrates Gene-Z

An engineering researcher and a global health expert from Michigan State University are working on bringing a low-cost, hand-held device to nations with limited resources to help physicians detect and diagnose cancer.

Syed Hashsham, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at MSU, is developing the Gene-Z device, which is operated using an iPod Touch or Android-based tablet and performs genetic analysis on microRNAs and other genetic markers. MicroRNAs are single-stranded molecules that regulate genes; changes in certain microRNAs have been linked to cancer and other health-related issues.

He is working with Reza Nassiri, director of MSU's Institute of International Health and an assistant dean in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, on the medical capabilities for the device and establishing connections with physicians worldwide.

Cancer is emerging as a leading cause of death in underdeveloped and developing countries where resources for cancer screening are almost non-existent, Nassiri said. Read more ..


The Oceanic Edge

Twisted Whales' Tale of Asymmetrical Skulls and Directional Hearing

August 26th 2011

Science - whale skull

Skewed skulls may have helped early whales discriminate the direction of sounds in water and are not solely, as previously thought, a later adaptation related to echo-location. University of Michigan researchers report the finding in a paper being published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Asymmetric skulls are a well-known characteristic of the modern whale group known as odontocetes (toothed whales). These whales also have highly modified nasal structures with which they produce high-frequency sounds for echolocation -- a sort of biological sonar used to navigate and find food. The other modern whale group, mysticetes (baleen whales), has symmetrical skulls and does not echolocate.

These observations led scientists to believe that archaeocetes -- the extinct, ancient whales that gave rise to all modern whales -- had symmetrical skulls, and that asymmetry later developed in toothed whales in concert with echolocation. But a new analysis of archaeocete skulls by U-Michigan postdoctoral fellow Julia Fahlke and coauthors shows that asymmetry evolved much earlier, as part of a suite of traits linked to directional hearing in water. Read more ..


The Nano Edge

Delicate Nanoscale Biological Balancing Act has Applications for Nanotechnology

August 26th 2011

Science - superclusters of nano thingys

A delicate balance of atomic forces can be exploited to make nanoparticle superclusters that are uniform in size—an attribute that's important for many nanotech applications but hard to accomplish, University of Michigan researchers say. The same type of forces are at work bringing the building blocks of viruses together, and the inorganic supercluster structures in this research are in many ways similar to viruses.

U-Michigan chemical engineering professors Nicholas Kotov and Sharon Glotzer led the research. The findings are newly published online in Nature Nanotechnology.

In another instance of forces behaving in unexpected ways at the nanoscale, they discovered that if you start with small nanoscale building blocks that are varied enough in size, the electrostatic repulsion force and van der Waals attraction force will balance each other and limit the growth of the clusters. This equilibrium enables the formation of clusters that are uniform in size. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Breakthrough Discovery of Human Immune Response to the Flu

August 26th 2011

Social Topics - Big sneeze

Why do some folks who take every precaution still get the flu, while others never even get the sniffles?

It comes down to a person's immune system response to the flu virus, says Alfred Hero, professor at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. In one of the first known studies of its kind, Hero and colleagues from Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, used genomics to begin to unravel what in our complex genomic data accounts for why some get sick while others don't. The study findings will appear in PLoS Genetics. Read more ..


Digital Edge

U.S. could see $53 billion in 4G Network Investments in Five Years

August 23rd 2011

Computer Topics - 4G gizmo

A new Deloitte report states that wireless telecommunications companies in the United States could invest $25 to $53 billion in fourth generation cellular wireless networks (4G) between 2012 and 2016, triggering $73 to $151 billion in gross domestic product growth and creating 371,000 to 771,000 jobs. Additional growth could occur as high-tech companies create new mobile broadband products and services, further changing the way people live, work and learn.

The Deloitte report, "The Impact of 4G Technology on Commercial Interactions, Economic Growth, and U.S. Competitiveness," investigates the economic dynamics surrounding 4G technology and explains how the U.S. can maintain the global leadership position in mobile broadband innovation it won during the 3G era.

The $25 billion figure assumes a baseline scenario in which U.S. 4G deployment proceeds at a moderate pace and the transition from 3G to 4G extends to the middle of the decade. Under these conditions, U.S. firms are vulnerable to incursions by foreign competitors capitalizing on aggressive efforts in their home markets to deploy 4G networks and develop 4G-based devices and services. Read more ..


The Weapon's Edge

America's Warriors to Get Boost from Antennae in Clothing

August 23rd 2011

Military - Soldiers In Afghanistan

To make communications devices more reliable, Ohio State University researchers are finding ways to incorporate radio antennas directly into clothing, using plastic film and metallic thread. In the current issue of the journal IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters, they report a new antenna design with a range four times larger than that of a conventional antenna worn on the body – one that is used by American soldiers today.

"Our primary goal is to improve communications reliability and the mobility of the soldiers," said Chi-Chih Chen, a research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State. "But the same technology could work for police officers, fire fighters, astronauts – anybody who needs to keep their hands free for important work." Read more ..


The Nano Edge

National Institute of Standards and Technology Researchers Question Carbon Nanotube Reliability

August 23rd 2011

Science - Graphene carbon mesh

National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers have found in recent reliability tests that carbon nanotubes device reliability is a major issue. NIST test results from numerous nanotube interconnects between metal electrodes show that nanotubes can sustain extremely high current densities — tens to hundreds of times larger than that in a typical semiconductor circuit — for several hours but slowly degrade under constant current.

And in about 40 hours the researchers found that the metal electrodes fail when currents rise above a certain threshold.

NIST is developing measurement and test techniques and studying a variety of nanotube structures, zeroing in on what happens at the intersections of nanotubes and metals and between different nanotubes.

"The common link is that we really need to study the interfaces," said Mark Strus, a NIST postdoctoral researcher, in a statement. Read more ..


Ancient Edge

The Role of an Ancient Fungus Remains Mysterious

August 22nd 2011

Science - Pure culture of Archaeorhizomyces finlayi - Timothy James
Culture of A.Finlayi (Credit: Timothy James)

A type of fungus that's been lurking underground for millions of years, previously known to science only through its DNA, has been cultured, photographed, named and assigned a place on the tree of life.

Researchers say it represents an entirely new class of fungi: the Archaeorhizomycetes. Like the discovery of a weird type of aquatic fungus that made headlines a few months ago, this finding offers a glimpse at the rich diversity of microorganisms that share our world but remain hidden from view.

The fungal phenomenon, brought to light by researchers at the University of Michigan, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the Imperial College London and Royal Botanic Gardens and the University of Aberdeen, is described in the journal Science.

Although unseen until recently, the fungus was known to be extremely common in soil. Its presence was detected in studies of environmental DNA—genetic material from a living organism that is detected in bulk environmental samples, such as samples of the soil or water in which the organism lives. Read more ..


Edge of Space

Presence of Liquid Brine may Herald Life on Mars

August 22nd 2011

Science - Brine on Mars
Leg of Mars Phoenix Lander exhibiting droplets of liquid brine

How common are droplets of saltwater on Mars? Could microbial life survive and reproduce in them? A new million-dollar NASA project led by the University of Michigan aims to answer those questions. This project begins three years after beads of liquid brine were first photographed on one of the Mars Phoenix lander's legs.

"On Earth, everywhere there's liquid water, there is microbial life," said Nilton Renno, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences who is the principal investigator. Researchers from NASA, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Georgia and the Centro de Astrobiologia in Madrid are also involved. Read more ..


The Edge of Science

Fruit Bats Outfitted with GPS Illustrate Navigation with Internal Cognitive Maps

August 17th 2011

Animals - egyptian fruit bat

GPS technology can make our travels easier and more efficient. But for many animals, the ability to successfully navigate a landscape is not just a matter of convenience—their very survival depends on it. Egyptian fruit bats, for instance, fly dozens of kilometers each night to feed on specific fruit trees, making the return trip the same night. To understand how the bats locate individual trees night after night, scientists attached tiny GPS devices to the bats in the first-ever, comprehensive, GPS-based field study of mammal navigation. The results of this study showed that the bats carry around an internal, cognitive map of their home range, based on such visual landmarks as lights or hills. The study, which appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) online Early Edition, reveals for the first time how mammals find their way around their natural environment. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Mobile Phones Beat Dedicated Navigation Systems

August 16th 2011

Computer Topics - Motorola droid

German IT industry association Bitkom observes significant shifts in the market for navigation systems. The association expects that in the current year the number of dedicated navigation systems will decline by 11 percent; at the same time, the number of navigation apps for mobile phones and tablet computers will rise.

Bitkom believes that the industry will sell 3.1 million navigation systems in Germany in 2011, down from 3.5 million units in 2010. In other European countries, the trends are similar. The experts see two main reasons for the shift: Once, the market for dedicated systems is approaching saturation, and second, the navigation apps are increasingly powerful and at the same time very affordable.

"Every third household already has a navigation system," Bitkom vice president Heinz Paul Bonn said. "In contrast, only on four percent of all smart phones such an app is installed." Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Universal Donor Immune Cells in the Works

August 15th 2011

Health/Medicine - t cells attack cancer

One of the latest attempts to boost the body’s defenses against cancer is called adoptive cell transfer, in which patients receive a therapeutic injection of their own immune cells. This therapy, currently in early clinical trials for use on melanoma and neuroblastoma, has its limitations: Removing immune cells from a patient and growing them outside the body for future reinjection is extremely expensive and not always technically feasible.

Weizmann Institute scientists have now tested in mice a new form of adoptive cell transfer, which overcomes these limitations while enhancing the tumor-fighting ability of the transferred cells. The research, reported recently in Blood, was performed by graduate student Assaf Marcus and lab technician Tova Waks in the lab of Prof. Zelig Eshhar of the Institute’s Department of Immunology. Read more ..


The Computer Edge

Shipments of Internet-enabled Consumer Devices to Exceed PCs by 2013

August 15th 2011

Technology - tablet & laptop

In another sign of the Internet's transformative impact on the electronics industry, shipments of Internet-enabled consumer electronics devices will soar to exceed those of the traditional platform used for accessing the Internet—the PC—for the first time in 2013, according to a latest IHS iSuppli Consumer Platforms Report.

Shipments of Internet-enabled consumer electronics devices, a category including a wide range of products—from televisions to video game consoles, to Blu-ray players—will surge to 503.6 million units in 2013, up from 161 million in 2010. In comparison, PC shipments during the same period will amount to 433.7 million, up from 345.4 million.

In 2015, shipments of Internet-enabled consumer devices will breach three-quarters of a billion units, at 780.8 million units, massively exceeding PC shipments of 479.1 million. Read more ..


The Climate's Edge

Eat, Prey, Rain

August 15th 2011

Animals - lion stalking gazelles
Credit: Paul Renner

What do a herd of gazelles and a fluffy mass of clouds have in common? A mathematical formula that describes the population dynamics of such prey animals as gazelles and their predators has been used to model the relationship between cloud systems, rain, and tiny floating particles called aerosols. This model may help climate scientists understand, among other things, how human-produced aerosols affect rainfall patterns. The research recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more ..


The Computer Edge

Samsung Galaxy tablet Temporarily Banned in Europe

August 15th 2011

Technology - galaxy tablet

Apple has obtained a temporary injunction that prevents Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. from distributing the Samsung Galaxy 10.1-inch screen size tablet computer in all countries of the European Union except The Netherlands, according to reports.

According to reports, the banning order was issued by a district court in Dusseldorf without Samsung being aware of or represented at the hearing.

A Bloomberg report references an Apple spokesperson as confirming the report and Samsung spokesperson saying the company would fight to make its products available. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

New Drug could Identify Virus-Infected Cells and Terminate Infections

August 13th 2011

Science - MIT antiviral

Most bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin, discovered decades ago. However, such drugs are useless against viral infections, including influenza, the common cold, and deadly hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.

Now, in a development that could transform how viral infections are treated, a team of researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection.

The microscope images to the left show that DRACO successfully treats viral infections. In the left set of four photos, rhinovirus (the common cold virus) kills untreated human cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right). Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Possible Biological Marker for Autism Found

August 11th 2011

Science - Brain Light

The biological causes of autism are still not understood. A diagnosis of autism is only possible after ages three or four and the tests are subjective, based on behavioral symptoms. Now, in research that appeared in Neuron, scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of California, San Diego have found, for the first time, a method that can accurately identify a biological sign of autism in very young toddlers. In scanning the brain activity of sleeping children, the scientists discovered that the autistic brains exhibited significantly weaker synchronization between brain areas tied to language and communication compared to that of non-autistic children.

“Identifying biological signs of autism has been a major goal for many scientists around the world, both because they may allow early diagnosis, and because they can provide researchers with important clues about the causes and development of the disorder,” says postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ilan Dinstein, a member of the group of Prof. Rafael Malach, the incumbent of the Barbara and Morris L. Levinson Professorial Chair in Brain Research, who headed this study in the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Neurobiology. While many scientists believe that faulty lines of communication between different parts of the brain are involved in the spectrum of autism disorders, there was no way to observe this in very young children, who are unable to lie still inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner while they are awake. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA Says Possible Flowing Water on Red Planet

August 10th 2011

Science - Mars -- Water

A NASA spacecraft that is orbiting Mars has revealed that liquid water might still flow on the Red Planet. We have more about this new discovery as scientists continue to "follow the water" in an attempt to learn if Mars might be habitable. Scientists say there is a possibility that there is flowing water on Mars during the planet's warmest months.

Philip Christensen, a geophysicist at Arizona State University, Tempe, focuses his attentions on Mars and Earth.  He spoke to reporters at NASA headquarters in Washington Thursday about a revelation that is exciting the science community. "We know Mars has a lot of ice, but this is the first time we've seen the potential for liquid water.  It might be salty water, but it still could [be] still liquid, and I think that's the real key here," said Christensen. "It's not that Mars doesn't have a lot of ice, but liquid water - certainly to an organism - is very, very, very different than ice." Read more ..


Environmental Edge

Invasive Plant Species Persist even after Removal and Threaten Biodiversity

August 10th 2011

Environment Topics - Holcus lanatus
Holcus lanatus 'Velvet grass'

Invasive species cost an estimated $1.4 trillion annually in their environmental and economic impacts worldwide and are second only to habitat loss as a threat to biodiversity. As scientists struggle with the challenge of controlling invasive species, the question of why some species are so successful continually arises.

Recent research conducted by Dr. Alison Bennett and Dr. Sharon Strauss at the University of California, Davis and Dr. Meredith Thomsen at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse has shed some light on this complex question. Most previous studies addressing the issue of species success have focused on the effect of individual factors, such as release from native enemies, disturbance, or allelopathy, but the interactions among these factors have not been taken into consideration. Bennett and colleagues investigated the effects of four primary mechanisms that potentially contribute to the success of invasive velvetgrass, Holcus lanatus.

Bennett and colleagues focused on the effects of H. lanatus on a native daisy, Erigeron glaucus, at the Bodega Marine Reserve in Bodega Bay, California. In a series of greenhouse and field experiments, these researchers studied the effects of direct competition, changes to the soil community, indirect competition due to changes in herbivore feeding, and interference competition due to allelopathy. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Human Ancestors Flourished and Developed on African Savannas

August 10th 2011

Africa - African savanna and elephants

Scientists using chemical isotopes in ancient soil to measure prehistoric tree cover--in effect, shade--have found that grassy, tree-dotted savannas prevailed at most East African sites where human ancestors and their ape relatives evolved during the past six million years.

"We've been able to quantify how much shade was available in the geological past," says University of Utah geochemist Thure Cerling, lead author of a paper titled "Woody cover and hominin environments in the past 6 million years" on the results in the journal Nature.

"It shows there have been open habitats for the last six million years in the environments in East Africa where some of the most significant early human fossils were found. Read more ..


Race for Alt Energy

Water/Methanol Hybrid Energy System Boosts Rooftop Solar Power

August 10th 2011

Science - hydrogen system

While roofs across the world sport photovoltaic solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity, a Duke University engineer believes a novel hybrid system can wring even more useful energy out of the sun's rays.

Instead of systems based on standard solar panels, Duke engineer Nico Hotz proposes a hybrid option in which sunlight heats a combination of water and methanol in a maze of glass tubes on a rooftop. After two catalytic reactions, the system produces hydrogen much more efficiently than current technology without significant impurities. The resulting hydrogen can be stored and used on demand in fuel cells.

For his analysis, Hotz compared the hybrid system to three different technologies in terms of their exergetic performance. Exergy is a way of describing how much of a given quantity of energy can theoretically be converted to useful work. Read more ..


The Edge of Rare Earth

Prices for Rare Earths Skyrocket as China Throttles Supply

August 9th 2011

Science - rare earth
Rare earth samples

Rare earth materials are becoming increasingly rare as dominant supplier China tightens restrictions on production, essentially cutting already short-supply exports by a third.

As a result, rare earth prices are skyrocketing in a market where supply can only meet only about 40 percent of the demand outside China, according to a recent report from rare earths expert Dudley Kingsnorth, executive director of the Industrial Minerals Co. of Australia.

"Prices for rare earths are going wild," said Mike Pugh, director of operations for Intematix Corp. "For instance, the price of europium more than doubled during a three-week period in June of this year."

The U.S., Canada and Australia all have strategic efforts underway to reopen rare earth mines outside China, including new mines in Russia and Malaysia. Still, these new mines are not expected to significantly reduce the shortfall for at least three years. As a result, hoarding and price gouging are already rampant as is a concerted effort by manufacturers to either move manufacturing operations to China or find alternatives to rare earths. Read more ..


Edge on Space

Liquid Water may be Flowing on Mars

August 7th 2011

Science - Mars flowing waters

NASA spacecraft that is orbiting Mars has revealed that liquid water might still flow on the Red Planet. We have more about this new discovery as scientists continue to "follow the water" in an attempt to learn if Mars might be habitable. Scientists say there is a possibility that there is flowing water on Mars during the planet's warmest months. Philip Christensen, a geophysicist at Arizona State University, Tempe, focuses his attentions on Mars and Earth. He spoke to reporters at NASA headquarters in Washington Thursday about a revelation that is exciting the science community.

"We know Mars has a lot of ice, but this is the first time we've seen the potential for liquid water. It might be salty water, but it still could [be] still liquid, and I think that's the real key here," said Christensen. " It's not that Mars doesn't have a lot of ice, but liquid water - certainly to an organism - is very, very, very different than ice."

And what are the indications that there could be flowing water? NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed dark, finger-like features that extend down some steep mountain slopes in the Martian middle latitudes during late spring and summer. The features fade in winter, and they return the next Martian spring. Read more ..


The Race for Wind Power

Inflatable Wind Turbines Proving to be an Affordable Energy Solution

August 5th 2011

Energy / Environment - Inflatable Wind Turbine

Inflatable wind turbines are now lighter and cheaper than heavy conventional ones. Following a number of  Israeli clean technology companies being winners in the General Electric Company’s Green Innovation Marathon, GE has announced plans to establish a “Green Tech Shop” in Haifa in which a number of renewable energy and other green technology projects will be developed under the giant American electronics company’s sponsorship. One of these green companies, Winflex LTD, is set on proving that harnessing energy from the wind does not have to involve the use of  large cumbersome wind turbines, such as the wind turbines now churning away on the Golan Heights.

Winflex wind rotor

What is unique about Winflex’s inflatable wind turbines is that they are made out of “light, flexible and inexpensive cloth sheets made out of composite materials.” The result are light weight portable wind turbines that can be installed virtually anywhere – even on home rooftops – and result in a much shorter return on equipment investment than conventional wind turbines. By reducing costs and erection time of equipment, it reduces need for government subsidies, according to Winflex’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Vladimir Kliatzkin.

Using inflatable, easily installed wind turbines is a novel idea, especially compared to those giant whirling wind turbines are now becoming commonplace in many western European countries, such as Spain, France, Belgium, Denmark, and Holland. Winflex’s designs uses a much lighter rotor around which the turbine blades revolve like sails from a sailing vessel. Read more ..


Inside the Brain

Advances Made in Generating Brain Cells for Potential Therapies

August 4th 2011

Science - Brain Light

University of Florida scientists have discovered a way to separate the neural wheat from the chaff during the process of generating brain cells for potential patient therapies. The technique, recently detailed in the online journal PLoS ONE, could be applied to long-awaited stem cell treatments for Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and other brain disorders. It would allow doctors to deliver neurons to patients, without including vast amounts of other types of unnecessary brain cells.

"We need to be able to deliver precise doses of our therapeutic drug, which in this case is neurons that are needed to restore function lost as a result of disease or injury," said Brent A. Reynolds, Ph.D., a professor of neurosurgery with UF's Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute. "Prior to the development of our technology, it was not possible to deliver highly pure populations of neurons, or to control the number of neurons that were delivered." Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Our Sun and Planets were made Differently

August 4th 2011

Science - Cloud D2 Cygnus region, Spitzer

The sun and the solar system's rocky inner planets, including the Earth, may have formed differently than previously thought, according to UCLA scientists and colleagues analyzing samples returned by NASA's Genesis mission.

The data from Genesis, which collected material from the solar wind blowing from the sun, reveal differences between the sun and planets with regard to oxygen and nitrogen, two of the most abundant elements in our solar system, the researchers report in two studies in the journal Science. And although the differences are slight, the research could help determine how our solar system evolved.

"We want to understand how rocky planets form, particularly our rocky planet," said Genesis co-investigator and UCLA professor of Earth and space sciences Kevin McKeegan, who was the lead author of the Science study on oxygen. "To understand that, we need to understand how the isotope composition of the most abundant element in the Earth came to be what it is." Read more ..


Edge of Space

Hydrogen Peroxide Found in Space

August 4th 2011

Science - Revolving galaxy

An international team of astronomers made the discovery with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope (APEX), situated on the 15,000-foot-high Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes. They observed a region in our galaxy close to the star Rho Ophiuchi, about 400 light-years away.

The region contains very cold (around -250 degrees Celsius), dense clouds of cosmic gas and dust, in which new stars are being born. The clouds are mostly made of hydrogen, but contain traces of other chemicals, and are prime targets for astronomers hunting for molecules in space. Telescopes such as APEX, which make observations of light at millimetre- and submillimetre-wavelengths, are ideal for detecting the signals from these molecules.

Now, the team has found the characteristic signature of light emitted by hydrogen peroxide, coming from part of the Rho Ophiuchi clouds Read more ..


Edge of the Universe

Zombie Stars are Key to Measuring mysterious Dark Energy

August 4th 2011

Science - Chandra super nova
Tycho's supernova remnant

"Zombie" stars that explode like bombs as they die, only to revive by sucking matter out of other stars. According to an astrophysicist at UC Santa Barbara, this isn't the plot for the latest 3D blockbuster movie. Instead, it's something that happens every day in the universe –– something that can be used to measure dark energy.

This special category of stars, known as Type Ia supernovae, help to probe the mystery of dark energy, which scientists believe is related to the expansion of the universe.

Andy Howell, adjunct professor of physics at UCSB and staff scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT), wrote a review article about this topic, published recently in Nature Communications. LCOGT, a privately funded global network of telescopes, works closely with UCSB. Supernovae are stars that have been observed since 1054 A.D., when an exploding star formed the crab nebula, a supernova remnant. Read more ..



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