The Edge of Space
|Lee Billings||August 26th 2016|
It was just over 20 years ago—a blink of a cosmic eye—that astronomers found the first planets orbiting stars other than our sun. All these new worlds were gas-shrouded giants like Jupiter or Saturn and utterly inhospitable to life as we know it. But for years each discovery was dutifully reported as front-page news, while scientists and the public alike dreamed of a day when we would find a habitable world. An Earth-like place with plentiful surface water, neither frozen nor vaporized but in the liquid state so essential to life. Back then the safe bet was to guess that the discovery of such a planet would only come after many decades, and that when a promising new world’s misty shores materialized on the other side of our telescopes, it would prove too faraway and faint to study in any detail.
Evidently the safe bet was wrong. On Wednesday astronomers made the kind of announcement that can only occur once in human history: the discovery of the nearest potentially habitable world beyond our solar system. This world may be rocky like ours and whirls in a temperate orbit around the sun’s closest stellar neighbor, the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri just over four light-years away. Their findings are reported in a study in Nature. Read more ..
The Race for Smart Cars
|Christoph Hammerschmidt ||August 19th 2016|
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Motorists in places like Paris, London or Rome are familiar the situation: To find a free parking spot, drivers have to go for miles; at average it takes 4.5 kilometres. According to a recent study from Apcoa, up to 30 percent of the traffic in cities today are accounted to searching for parking lots. A network of radar sensors mounted on lamp post now is the basis for a smart parking management solution currently tested in Munich.
The Race for Connected Cars
|Christoph Hammerschmidt ||August 9th 2016|
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The IoT is currently the big thing in technology, and the automotive version of the IoT is the Connected Car. No wonder the growth is similarly astronomic - and now Gartner came up with figures. By 2015 (that is, during the current year), the number of connected things will reach 4,9 billion units - up 30 percent from 2014. By 2020, this figure will quintuple to 25 billion units, believes Gartner. In this picture, connected cars are a major element. "The connected car is already a reality", said Gartner research director James F. Hines. "and in-vehicle wireless connectivity is rapidly expanding from luxury models and premium brands to high-volume mid-market models."
The Race for Autonomous Cars
|Junko Yoshida||August 4th 2016|
In last year’s hack, which led to Chrysler’s recall for 1.4 million vehicles, Miller and Valasek focused on pulling off “wireless attack” on the Jeep.
The two at that time exploited a Harman “head unit,” which offers a Wi-Fi hot spot — in a 2014 Jeep Cherokee — to get into the vehicle’s network. Later the hackers invaded the car through its cellular connection, via Sprint’s wireless network.
This year, the security experts turned their attention to injecting rogue messages into a vehicle’s CAN bus, which resulted in a full-speed attack on the Jeep’s steering and acceleration.
Instead of getting into the guts of a car wirelessly, Miller and Valasek this year used a laptop directly plugged into the Jeep’s CAN network through a port under its dashboard. They confirmed that they used the patched Jeep for this hacking. Read more ..
The Race for E-Bikes
|Nick Flaherty ||July 14th 2016|
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Increasing urbanization and a desire to move away from cars for motorized transportation are creating more opportunities for alternative mobility devices such as e-bikes which will be the highest selling electric vehicle globally with nearly 35 million units sold this year. Navigant predicts the market will grow from $15.7 bn this year to $24.3 billion by 2025.
“Rising levels of population density and traffic congestion are driving interest in different modes of transportation,” says Ryan Citron, research analyst at Navigant Research. “E-bikes are uniquely positioned to be a primary benefactor of this trend since they are low in cost relative to cars, do not require licenses to operate, and can take advantage of existing bicycling infrastructure.”
The Edge of the Solar System
|George Musser||July 8th 2016|
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NASA's Juno spacecraft has successfully entered orbit around Jupiter. At 8:53 P.M. Pacific time, ground controllers received a telemetry tone of 2,327 hertz -- equivalent to the highest D note on a piano keyboard—indicating that Juno's 35-minute engine burn had slowed the spacecraft enough to slip into the giant planet’s gravitational embrace. Launched in 2011 on a nearly five-year interplanetary voyage, Juno is only the second spacecraft to ever orbit Jupiter, after the Galileo mission that explored the giant planet from 1995 to 2003. During its capture into orbit Juno passed just 4,490 kilometers above the Jovian cloud tops, so close that the planet filled half its sky. Even so, Jupiter is so immense that an astronaut riding along would have seen only about 5 percent of the planet’s cloud-shrouded face.
At 9:50 P.M., the maneuver was officially complete as the spacecraft turned its solar arrays back toward the sun. “I won't exhale until we’re sun-pointed again,” Juno's principal investigator Scott Bolton had said at a press conference earlier in the day.
The spacecraft plummeted in from interplanetary space over Jupiter's north pole at about 7:30 P.M., falling ever faster as it plunged deeper into the planet’s gravitational field. Just two days ago its speed relative to Jupiter was nine kilometers per second; midday yesterday, 12 kilometers per second; and by the rocket burn, 54 kilometers per second. The burn reduced its speed by just 1 percent, but that was enough. (Theoretically, the spacecraft was captured by the planet at 8:38 P.M., about halfway through the burn, but confirmation did not come until later.) After skimming so close to Jupiter's upper atmosphere, the spacecraft soared back up from the planet’s cloud tops at about 9:30 P.M. into a looping, elongated orbit out to 8.1 million kilometers.
|Martin Barillas||May 30th 2016|
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Kettering University has long been known as an adjunct of the automobile and other manufacturing industries. And it has faculty members who are looking squarely into the future and how to put Kettering on the best footing for the way forward. Among them are Dr. Matthew Sanders of the Industrial Engineering department, who is fully engaged in advancing Kettering’s Community Vitality portion of Pillars of Success commitments.
Sanders has been nominated for this year’s Faculty Distinguished Citizenship Award at Kettering in recognition of his work at the university and the surrounding community of Flint. Besides his involvement in many projects involving innovative industrial processes and computer applications, over the last few years, his engagement with community projects has served students, as well as the people of the city of Flint and Genesee County.
The Edge of Medicine
Cutting Edge contributor
ApiFix, a Treadlines company, was awarded Best Start-Up 2012 by Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy for a less invasive, less painful, and less costly option for spine curvature correction. Apifix is developing a truly breakthrough minimally invasive deformity correction system for patients with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS).
Today’s gold standard for correcting spinal deformities involves fusing an average of 10 motion levels using a large number of screws in a surgical procedure that lasts an average of six hours and costs upward of $100,000.
As opposed to the current procedure, ApiFix uses only two screws to support its ratchet-based, small expandable rod inserted through a small incision in the patient’s back. In addition to the smaller incision, a shortened surgery time (1 hour vs. 4-6 hours) and reduced hospitalization stay.
I interviewed Uri Arnin, Founder and CEO and chief innovator of ApiFix Ltd. about the success of his company and the distinctive characteristics of the Israeli biotech cluster. “We have close communication between companies of the same field and willingness to assist each other. The same subcontractors and advisers support similar companies and help to share the experience,” Arnin said. “We have a fast turnaround of production cycles, due to personal relationship with suppliers.” Read more ..
IBM on Edge
|Bob Joseph||January 15th 2016|
IBM has paid several million dollars to hundreds of people who have been seeking compensation for claims related to chemical contamination at the company’s Endicott microelectronics facility. The company and many of the plaintiffs who had taken IBM to court last year agreed to a settlement of the lawsuit filed nearly a decade ago. Endicott Mayor John Bertoni told WNBF News he has heard that compensation checks have been received in recent days. Although IBM reportedly had agreed to pay settlements totaling several million dollars to several hundred plaintiffs, it’s not known how much money is now being paid out. Business owners in the lawsuit received more than owners of residential property near the North Street manufacturing complex.
Two law firms – Levene Gouldin and Thompson of Vestal and Faraci Lange of Rochester – mailed out settlement checks in late December. Some plaintiffs had alleged spills of the chemical TCE may have resulted in illnesses and deaths. The lawsuit also contended property values dropped and nearby businesses were harmed because of the contamination. IBM was founded more than a century ago in Endicott. The company now is based in Westchester County. Read more ..
The Refugee Crisis
|Stephen Bryen||January 4th 2016|
With the flood of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa overwhelming Europe, and with the Obama administration allowing large numbers to come to the United States, there is a justifiable fear that embedded in the ranks of the refugees are trained terrorists.
Until now, identifying embedded terrorists has been nearly an impossible challenge. People have called for better "vetting," but to "vet" means to look back at people's history based on their documentation. For most people, certainly for most Syrians, there is no "back" - even a legitimate passport can't be verified with Passport Control in Damascus. With whom would one check local police, employment or education records? Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Rob Norman MD||December 17th 2015|
Cutting Edge contributor
â€œI call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may liveâ€
On my many trips to Israel as the national chairman of the Jewish National Fundâ€™s Doctors for Israel, I have observed the amazing life-saving and life-enhancing advances of Israeli medicine and discussed the future of medicine and science with many leading scientists.
I visited the makers of Rewalk robotic exoskeleton (featured on the hit TV show â€œGleeâ€) that enables paraplegic runners in London and Tel Aviv to complete marathons and spent time at Given Imagingâ€™s PillCam capsule endoscopy company. Among other Israeli medical leaders are Itamar Medicalâ€™s fingertip monitors for sleep disorders and cardiac issues, IceCure Medicalâ€™s IceSense3 and Surpass Medicalâ€™s NeuroEndoGraft. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Richard Pell||August 3rd 2015|
Social networking giant Facebook (Cambridge, MA) has unveiled a full-scale version of its solar-powered drone designed to provide Internet connectivity to remote regions of the world.
Code-named Aquila, and with a wingspan of a Boeing 737, the connected drone is designed to fly for three months at a time - above weather systems and other aircraft - and create about a 30-mile (50-km) communications radius. It will use free-space laser communication technology to send and receive data to other drones and base stations at up to tens of gigabits per second.
According to the company, the drone will fly at a varying altitude of between 60,000 and 90,000 feet (18 to 27 km). During the day it will operate at its maximum height to capture as much of the sun's energy as possible, while at night, when not receiving solar energy, it will descend to its lower altitude to conserve energy. Read more ..
The Edge of Science
|Bernard Banks||June 17th 2015|
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Bioengineers have invented the worldâ€™s first engine that runs on energy created from the process of natural water evaporation at room temperature, by utilizing cleverly engineered artificial muscles.
The small device, created by researchers at Columbia University, is a fully functional engine which can generate 1.8 microwatts of energy â€“ enough to power LED lights or even a tiny car â€“ all for the cost of $5. It works by drawing power from a process never considered to be a potential energy source before.
â€œEngineered systems rarely, if ever, use evaporation as sources of energy, despite myriad examples of such adaptations in the biological world,â€ a paper published in Nature by a team of authors, including researchers Xi Chen, Ozgur Sahin and others, claimed.
The Aviation Edge
The team, led by Eric Masanet who heads the Energy and Resource Systems Analysis Laboratory at Northwestern, used aircraft industry data to study the life-cycle environmental effects of using 3-D printing - or 'additive manufacturing' - for building select metal aircraft parts. While 3-D printing has begun to be adopted by the airline industry, the study concluded that widespread adoption of the technique to print lighter and higher-performance aircraft parts could significantly reduce manufacturing waste and the weight of the airplane, resulting in fuel and cost saving as well as a reduction in carbon emissions.
"We have suboptimal designs because we're limited by conventional manufacturing,â€ Masanet says. â€œWhen you can make something in layer-by-layer fashion, those constraints diminish." Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
A class of FDA-approved cancer drugs may be able to prevent problems with brain cell development associated with disorders including Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome, researchers at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute have found.
The researchers' proof-of-concept study using fruit fly models of brain dysfunction was published today in the journal eLife. They show that giving the leukemia drugs nilotinib or bafetinib to fly larvae with the equivalent of Fragile X prevented the wild overgrowth of neuron endings associated with the disorder. Meanwhile, the drugsâ€”both tyrosine-kinase inhibitorsâ€”did not adversely affect the development or neuronal growth in healthy flies. Read more ..
The Race for Biogas
|Abigail Klein Leichman ||May 21st 2015|
When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the sukkah of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during the Jewish harvest holiday last October, he was treated to a demo of a machine the government has given to Bedouin families to convert organic waste into clean biogas for cooking, heating and lighting, as well as organic liquid crop fertilizer.
"He got very excited and told us, 'Millions of women and children die each year due to indoor smoke from open fires. This is just the thing they need. The UN should be purchasing these units!' recalls Ami Amir of HomeBioGas, which develops and manufactures a new class of anaerobic biodigesters to convert organic waste to clean renewable energy. He asked us to be in touch with the UNâ€™s Food and Agriculture Organization to see where and when our systems could be deployed.â€ Read more ..
Technology and Health
|Beata Mostavi||May 15th 2015|
Kaiba was just a newborn when he turned blue because his little lungs werenâ€™t getting the oxygen they needed. Garrett spent the first year of his life in hospital beds tethered to a ventilator, being fed through his veins because his body was too sick to absorb food. Baby Ianâ€™s heart stopped before he was even six months old.
Three babies all had the same life-threatening condition: a terminal form of tracheobronchomalacia, which causes the windpipe to periodically collapse and prevents normal breathing. There was no cure and life-expectancies were grim.
The three boys became the first in the world to benefit from groundbreaking 3D printed devices that helped keep their airways open, restored their breathing and saved their lives at the University of Michiganâ€™s C.S. Mott Childrenâ€™s Hospital. Researchers have closely followed their cases to see how well the bioresorable splints implanted in all three patients have worked, publishing the promising results in todayâ€™s issue of Science Translational Medicine. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Julien Happich||May 13th 2015|
In this age of encrypted messaging and secure email services, researchers from the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) have demonstrated password-protected paper envelopes that could inform the sender in real-time if the mail has been received by its intended recipient or if it has been opened by a third party. This password-protected envelope is one of three demonstrators developed during the four-year ROPAS (ROll-to-roll PAper Sensors) European project involving 11 partners from research and industry.
Other demonstrators included a security tag to be used for sending physical goods through traditional mail and enabling recipients to check that the box was not opened during transport and that the good is in its genuine package, and a smart label able to measure and record environmental parameters such as humidity and temperature during transport to display them on a display at the push of a button. Read more ..
|Natalie Foxon Phillips||April 27th 2015|
4D printing is unfolding as technology that takes 3D printing to an entirely new level.
The fourth dimension is time, shape shifting in fact, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong is helping to set the pace in the next revolution in additive manufacturing.
Just as the extraordinary capabilities of 3D printing have begun to infiltrate industry and the family home, researchers have started to develop 3D printed materials that morph into new structures, post production, under the influence of external stimuli such as water or heat - hence the name, 4D printing. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Hannah Hoag||April 12th 2015|
The virus that caused the 1918 influenza pandemic probably sprang from North American domestic and wild birds, not from the mixing of human and swine viruses. A study reconstructs the origins of influenza A virus and traces its evolution and flow through different animal hosts over two centuries. â€œThe methods weâ€™ve been using for years and years, and which are crucial to figuring out the origins of gene sequences and the timing of those events, are all flawed,â€ says lead author Michael Worobey, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Worobey and his colleagues analyzed more than 80,000 gene sequences from flu viruses isolated from humans, birds, horses, pigs and bats using a model they developed to map evolutionary relationships between viruses from different host species. The branched tree that resulted showed that the genes of the deadly 1918 pandemic virus are of avian origin. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Matthias Poppel||April 9th 2015|
Matthias Poppel, chief operating officer for EnOcean GmbH claims that all of the technologies are in place to allow the Internet of Things to flourish. All that is needed are the standards and the vision to overcome the fragmented nature of the applications space.
A major challenge implementing the Internet of Things (IoT) is deploying large numbers of sensor and actuator nodes and connecting them in a suitable way. The characteristics of energy-harvesting wireless technology make it the perfect fit to bridge the last mile in an IoT network: small devices working without cables and batteries allowing a simple installation as well as quite easy gradual up-scaling in the number of deployed units. At the same time, the components require minimal service and maintenance effort. Read more ..
Edge of Nano-Technology
|Mark Schlueb||April 5th 2015|
A test that costs less than a $1 and yields results in minutes has been shown in newly published studies to be more sensitive and more exact than the current standard test for early-stage prostate cancer.
The simple test developed by University of Central Florida scientist Qun "Treen" Huo holds the promise of earlier detection of one of the deadliest cancers among men. It would also reduce the number of unnecessary and invasive biopsies stemming from the less precise PSA test that's now used.
"It's fantastic," said Dr. Inoel Rivera, a urologic oncologist at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute, which collaborated with Huo on the recent pilot studies. "It's a simple test. It's much better than the test we have right now, which is the PSA, and it's cost-effective." Read more ..
The Edge of the Universe
|Francis Reddy||April 5th 2015|
Using archival data from the Japan-led Suzaku X-ray satellite, astronomers have determined the pre-explosion mass of a white dwarf star that blew up thousands of years ago. The measurement strongly suggests the explosion involved only a single white dwarf, ruling out a well-established alternative scenario involving a pair of merging white dwarfs.
"Mounting evidence indicates both of these mechanisms produce what we call type Ia supernovae," said lead researcher Hiroya Yamaguchi, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "To understand how these stars explode, we need to study the debris in detail with sensitive instruments like those on Suzaku." Read more ..
|Diana Yates||March 18th 2015|
A genetic study of papaya sex chromosomes reveals that the hermaphrodite version of the plant, which is of most use to growers, arose as a result of human selection, most likely by the ancient Maya some 4,000 years ago.
The study, reported in the journal Genome Research, homes in on a region of papaya's male sex chromosome that, the study indicates, gave rise to the hermaphrodite plants.
"This research will one day lead to the development of a papaya that produces only hermaphrodite offspring, an advance that will enhance papaya root and canopy development while radically cutting papaya growers' production costs and their use of fertilizers and water," said University of Illinois plant biology professor Ray Ming, who led the research. Ming is a professor in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. Read more ..
The Science of Art
|Megan Fellman||February 18th 2015|
French artist Paul Gauguin is well known for his colorful paintings of Tahitian life -- such as the painting that sold recently for nearly $300 million -- but he also was a highly experimental printmaker. Little is known, however, about the techniques and materials Gauguin used to create his unusual and complex graphic works.
Now a team of scientists and art conservators from Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago has used a simple light bulb, an SLR camera and computational power to uncover new details of Gauguin's printmaking process -- how he formed, layered and re-used imagery to make 19 unique graphic works in the Art Institute's collection.
Northwestern computer scientist Oliver S. Cossairt provided a a surprising new explanation of how Gauguin created one of these artworks at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Jose, last week. He provided the first report of the Northwestern-Art Institute study of the 3-D surface of the print "Nativity (Mother and Child Surrounded by Five Figures)," made by Gauguin in 1902. Read more ..
The Edge of Medicine
|Larry Greenemeier||February 15th 2015|
For much of its brief history, robot-assisted surgery has been synonymous with Intuitive Surgical, Inc.â€™s da Vinci system. Itâ€™s the only robot with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to help surgeons perform a number of laparoscopic soft-tissue procedures, including hysterectomies, gall bladder and kidney removals, prostate cancer treatment and heart valve operations. Da Vinci has improved vastly since Intuitive introduced it more than a decade ago. Like many new technologies, however, it has experienced growing pains, leading some engineers and medical professionals to question whether a single company can meet growing demand while still delivering a safe product.
A team of researchers is looking to address these issues by developing a robotic surgery system based on hardware designs and software that are freely available. In this open-source approach, the builders would keep whatever intellectual property theyâ€™ve invested in the project but must make their knowledge and discoveries available to others. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|Jim Erickson||February 9th 2015|
Mercury concentrations in Hawaiian yellowfin tuna are increasing at a rate of 3.8 percent or more per year, according to a new University of Michigan-led study that suggests rising atmospheric levels of the toxic substance are to blame.
Mercury is a toxic trace metal that can accumulate to high concentrations in fish, posing a health risk to people who eat large, predatory marine fish such as swordfish and tuna. In the open ocean, the principal source of mercury is atmospheric deposition from human activities, especially emissions from coal-fired power plants and artisanal gold mining.
For decades, scientists have expected to see mercury levels in open-ocean fish increase in response to rising atmospheric concentrations, but evidence for that hypothesis has been hard to find. In fact, some studies have suggested that there has been no change in mercury concentration in ocean fish. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Holly Evarts||February 5th 2015|
A team of researchers, led by Samuel K. Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, has developed a low-cost smartphone accessory that can perform a point-of-care test that simultaneously detects three infectious disease markers from a finger prick of blood in just 15 minutes. The device replicates, for the first time, all mechanical, optical, and electronic functions of a lab-based blood test.
Specifically, it performs an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) without requiring any stored energy: all necessary power is drawn from the smartphone. It performs a triplexed immunoassay not currently available in a single test format: HIV antibody, treponemal-specific antibody for syphilis, and non-treponemal antibody for active syphilis infection. Read more ..
The Genetic Edge
|Geoffrey Giller||February 2nd 2015|
For the first time, researchers have sequenced the full genome of the bacterium that caused a plague that killed millions of people in the 6th century A.D., and discovered to their surprise that the outbreak was caused by a different strain of the same germ that was to blame for the more famous Black Death 800 years later. Their findings offer insight into the genetic factors that influence the virulence of the plague bacterium as well as other pathogens.
Estimates vary for the number of people killed by the plague during the so-called Black Death that ravaged Europe from 1347 to 1351. But the number was certainly in the tens of millions; it is thought that as much as half of the entire European population at the time may have been killed by Yersinia pestis
, the bacterium that causes the plague. Read more ..
|Gabe Cherry||February 1st 2015|
A new process that can sprout microscopic spikes on nearly any type of particle may lead to more environmentally friendly paints and a variety of other innovations.
Made by a team of University of Michigan engineers, the "hedgehog particles" are named for their bushy appearance under the microscope. Their development is detailed in a study published in Nature.
The new process modifies oily, or hydrophobic, particles, enabling them to disperse easily in water. It can also modify water-soluble, or hydrophilic, particles, enabling them to dissolve in oil or other oily chemicals.
The unusual behavior of the hedgehog particles came as something of a surprise to the research team, says Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering. Read more ..
|Laura Bailey||January 25th 2015|
Escherichia coliform usually brings to mind food poisoning and beach closures, but researchers recently discovered a protein in E. coli that inhibits the accumulation of potentially toxic amyloidsâ€”a hallmark of diseases such as Parkinson's.
Amyloids are formed by proteins that misfold and group together, and when amyloids assemble at the wrong place or time, they can damage brain tissue and cause cell death, according to Margery Evans, lead author of the University of Michigan study, and Matthew Chapman, principal investigator and associate professor in the department of U-M Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|William Raillant-Clark||January 20th 2015|
Recent scientific advances have meant that eyesight can be partially restored to those who previously would have been blind for life. However, scientists at the University of Montreal and the University of Trento have discovered that the rewiring of the senses that occurs in the brains of the long-term blind means that visual restoration may never be complete.
"We had the opportunity to study the rare case of a woman with very low vision since birth and whose vision was suddenly restored in adulthood following the implantation of a Boston Keratoprosthesis in her right eye," explained Giulia Dormal, who led the study.
"On one hand, our findings reveal that the visual cortex maintains a certain degree of plasticity - that is the capacity to change as a function of experience - in an adult person with low vision since early life. On the other, we discovered that several months after the surgery, the visual cortex had not regained full normal functioning." The visual cortex is the part of the brain that processes information from our eyes.
Scientists know that in cases of untreatable blindness, the occipital cortex - that is the posterior part of the brain that is normally devoted to vision - becomes responsive to sound and touch in order to compensate for the loss of vision. "This important brain reorganization represents a challenge for people encountering eye surgery to recover vision, because the deprived and reorganized occipital cortex may not be capable of seeing anymore after having spent years in the dark," Dormal said. Read more ..
The Way We Are
|Jared Wadley||January 9th 2015|
Activating the brain's amygdala, an almond-shaped mass that processes emotions, can create an addictive, intense desire for sugary foods, a new University of Michigan study found.
Rewards such as sweet tasty food or even addictive drugs like alcohol or cocaine can be extremely attractive when this brain structure is triggered.
"One reason they can be so problematic for certain individuals is their ability to become almost the sole focus of their daily lives, at the cost of one's health, job, family and general well-being," said the study's lead author, Mike Robinson, a former postdoctoral U-M fellow and currently an assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
The findings appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Most people encounter and consume highly delicious foods, such as chocolate chip cookies and candy, and addictive substances like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine on a regular basis. For many people, these rewards act as pleasurable treats that are both wanted and liked, but for the most part consumed in moderation.
Robinson said it is this moderation and balance of reward avenues that allows people to lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, for a small portion of vulnerable individuals, these rewards progressively become intensely craved, skewing their normal balance of desires and leading to addiction, he said. Read more ..
The Animal Kingdom
|Joseph Caputo||January 6th 2015|
A whale that can live over 200 years with little evidence of age-related disease may provide untapped insights into how to live a long and healthy life. In the January 6 issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Reports, researchers present the complete bowhead whale genome and identify key differences compared to other mammals.
Alterations in bowhead genes related to cell division, DNA repair, cancer, and aging may have helped increase its longevity and cancer resistance. "Our understanding of species' differences in longevity is very poor, and thus our findings provide novel candidate genes for future studies," says senior author Dr. JoÃ£o Pedro de MagalhÃ£es, of the University of Liverpool, in the UK.
"My view is that species evolved different 'tricks' to have a longer lifespan, and by discovering the 'tricks' used by the bowhead we may be able to apply those findings to humans in order to fight age-related diseases."
Also, large whales with over 1000 times more cells than humans do not seem to have an increased risk of cancer, suggesting the existence of natural mechanisms that can suppress cancer more effectively than those of other animals. Read more ..
The Healthy Edge
|Robin Ann Smith||January 3rd 2015|
With drug-resistant bacteria on the rise, even common infections that were easily controlled for decades -- such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections -- are proving trickier to treat with standard antibiotics. New drugs are desperately needed, but so are ways to maximize the effective lifespan of these drugs.
To accomplish that, Duke University researchers used software they developed to predict a constantly-evolving infectious bacterium's countermoves to one of these new drugs ahead of time, before the drug is even tested on patients. In a study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team used their program to identify the genetic changes that will allow methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, to develop resistance to a class of new experimental drugs that show promise against the deadly bug. Read more ..
Phase IV: Ants Rule
|Poncie Rutsch||December 29th 2014|
About one tenth of the world's ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. "If you go into any tropical forest and take a stroll, you will step on one of these ants," says Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University's Professor Evan Economo. Pheidole fill niches in ecosystems ranging from rainforests to deserts.
Yet until now, researchers have never had a global perspective of how the many species of Pheidole evolved and spread across the Earth. Economo, researchers in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit, and colleagues at the University of Michigan compared gene sequences from 300 species of Pheidole from around the world. They used these sequences to construct a tree that shows when and where each species evolved into new species.
At the same time, in a parallel effort, they scoured the academic literature, museums around the world, and large databases to aggregate data on where all 1200 or so Pheidole species live on Earth, creating a range map for each species. Read more ..
Edge of Life Sciences
|Sabine Guinsbourg||December 27th 2014|
Scientists at the University of Cambridge working with the Weizmann Institute have created primordial germ cells - cells that will go on to become egg and sperm - using human embryonic stem cells. Although this had already been done using rodent stem cells, the study, published today in the journal Cell, is the first time this has been achieved efficiently using human stem cells. When an egg cell is fertilised by a sperm, it begins to divide into a cluster of cells known as a blastocyst, the early stage of the embryo. Within this ball of cells, some cells form the inner cell mass - which will develop into the foetus - and some form the outer wall, which becomes the placenta.
Cells in the inner cell mass are 'reset' to become stem cells - cells that have the potential to develop into any type of cell within the body. A small number of these cells become primordial germ cells (PGCs) - these have the potential to become germ cells (sperm and egg), which in later life will pass on the offspring's genetic information to its own offspring. "The creation of primordial germ cells is one of the earliest events during early mammalian development," says Dr Naoko Irie, first author of the paper from the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge. Read more ..
Ageing with Grace
|Thekla Hritz||December 20th 2014|
Ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter drug used to relieve pain and fever, could hold the keys to a longer healthier life, according to a study by researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Buck Institute scientists showed that regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of yeast, worms and fruit flies. The research appears at PLOS Genetics.
"There is a lot to be excited about," said Brian Kennedy, PhD, CEO of the Buck Institute, who said treatments, given at doses comparable to those used in humans, extended lifespan an average of 15 percent in the model organisms. "Not only did all the species live longer, but the treated flies and worms appeared more healthy," he said. "The research shows that ibuprofen impacts a process not yet implicated in aging, giving us a new way to study and understand the aging process." Read more ..
Oil and Environment
|John Cramer||December 13th 2014|
Oil reservoirs are scattered deep inside the Earth like far-flung islands in the ocean, so their inhabitants might be expected to be very different, but a new study led by Dartmouth College and University of Oslo researchers shows these underground microbes are social creatures that have exchanged genes for eons.
The study, which was led by researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Oslo, appears in the ISME Journal. A PDF is available on request.
The findings shed new light on the "deep biosphere," or the vast subterranean realm whose single-celled residents are estimated to be roughly equal in number and diversity to all the microbes inhabiting the surface's land, water and air. Deep microbial research may also help scientists to better understand life's early evolution on Earth and aid the search for life on Mars and other planets. Read more ..
The Prehistoric Edge
|Jim Erickson||December 8th 2014|
|Credit: Johannes Foufopoulos|
Charles Darwin noted more than 150 years ago that animals on the Galapagos Islands, including finches and marine iguanas, were more docile than mainland creatures. He attributed this tameness to the fact that there are fewer predators on remote islands.
While "island tameness" is an old idea, there have been few rigorous studies of the phenomenon. Many aspects remain unclear, including the mechanisms behind it and the speed at which it evolves in island populations.
A new University of Michigan-led study of Aegean wall lizard (Podarcis erhardii) populations on 37 Greek islands shows that island tameness is determined by both the diversity of the local predator populations and the length of time an island has been separated from the mainland. Read more ..
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