Archive for December, 2012
The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom
A virus called simply M13 has the power (literally) to change the world. A team of scientists at the Berkeley Lab have genetically engineered M13 viruses to emit enough electricity to power a small LED screen. M13 poses no threat to humans — it can only infect bacteria — but it could one day serve humanity by powering your laptop, or even your city.
The secret of M13 lies in something called the “piezoelectric effect,” which happens when certain materials like crystals (or viruses) emit a small amount of power when squeezed. M13 exhibits this effect, and also has the handy ability to organize itself into tidy, invisible sheets of film. Imagine painting a layer of this film onto the casing for your laptop. Every time you tap the keyboard, these viruses convert the pressure from your fingers into electricity that constantly powers up your battery. Any kind of motion can power up M13, so you could conceivably power your house by jumping up and down on a virus-coated floor, or power your iPod by jiggling it in your pocket.
“Intellect takes you to the door, but it doesn’t take you into the house.”
Art by: Dunno. You know? Let me know!
It is one of the lightest, strongest and most conductive materials known, with great commercialisation potential.
Now, £21.5m – £12m from a 2011 funding of £50m and nearly £10m from the science research council EPSRC – will be allocated to specific universities.
In addition, those universities and their industrial partners will commit a total of £14m to the effort.
Mr Osborne said the investment fund would aim to take the technology “from the British laboratory to the British factory floor”.
Graphene is sheets of carbon just one atom thick – the very same material making up a pencil’s “lead”, but with record-breaking mechanical strength and electronic properties.
Manchester University academics Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the 2010 physics Nobel Prize in Physics for isolating the material and measuring some of its astounding properties.
Mass-energy distribution of the Universe
Old medical practices, like bloodletting, are typically seen as reminders of a time when the human body was misunderstood. But some of these practices are now being revived – with scientific backing.
Scientists at the Charité Hospital in Berlin recently undertook a clinical study to test the benefits that bloodletting can have on obese people suffering from the metabolic syndrome, with symptoms including high blood pressure, high blood-sugar levels and excessive iron in their blood.
After withdrawing two vials of blood from patients with the syndrome, scientists compared the samples with patients from a control group, according to head researcher Andreas Michalsen. They noticed “a significant reduction of blood pressure” among the participants after four to six weeks, he told DW.
The German study was inspired by an old medical tradition – people with high blood pressure or those at high risk of having a stroke often had blood drawn from their bodies.
The practice dates back to ancient Roman times, according to Lindsay Fitzharris, a medical historian with Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom.
“Galen, a Roman physician in the 2nd Century A.D., believed blood was the product of food, so that when we eat, food is processed in the stomach and then moves into the liver, where it is processed as blood,” says Fitzharris.
Galen, she adds, also believed that the excess blood needed to be removed from the body to restore “harmony and balance.”
A series of rapid environmental changes in East Africa roughly 2 million years ago may be responsible for driving human evolution, according to researchers at Penn State and Rutgers University.
“The landscape early humans were inhabiting transitioned rapidly back and forth between a closed woodland and an open grassland about five to six times during a period of 200,000 years,” said Clayton Magill, graduate student in geosciences at Penn State. “These changes happened very abruptly, with each transition occurring over hundreds to just a few thousand years.” According to Katherine Freeman, professor of geosciences, Penn State, the current leading hypothesis suggests that evolutionary changes among humans during the period the team investigated were related to a long, steady environmental change or even one big change in climate.
“There is a view this time in Africa was the ‘Great Drying,’ when the environment slowly dried out over 3 million years,” she said. “But our data show that it was not a grand progression towards dry; the environment was highly variable.” According to Magill, many anthropologists believe that variability of experience can trigger cognitive development. “Early humans went from having trees available to having only grasses available in just 10 to 100 generations, and their diets would have had to change in response,” he said. “Changes in food availability, food type, or the way you get food can trigger evolutionary mechanisms to deal with those changes. The result can be increased brain size and cognition, changes in locomotion and even social changes—how you interact with others in a group. Our data are consistent with these hypotheses. We show that the environment changed dramatically over a short time, and this variability coincides with an important period in our human evolution when the genus Homo was first established and when there was first evidence of tool use.”
Firewall is a new interactive artwork by Aaron Sherwood created in collaboration with Michael Allison. The presentation is relatively straightforward but still visually stunning: different ‘modes’ of light are projected onto a taut membrane of spandex which then reacts kinetically in response to touch.
An experimental “Trojan-horse” cancer therapy has completely eliminated prostate cancer in experiments on mice, according to UK researchers.
The team hid cancer killing viruses inside the immune system in order to sneak them into a tumour.
Once inside, a study in the journal Cancer Research showed, tens of thousands of viruses were released to kill the cancerous cells.
Experts labelled the study “exciting,” but human tests are still needed.
Using viruses to destroy rapidly growing tumours is an emerging field in cancer therapy, however one of the challenges is getting the viruses deep inside the tumour where they can do the damage.
“The problem is penetration,” Prof Claire Lewis from the University of Sheffield told the BBC.
She leads a team which uses white blood cells as ‘Trojan horses’ to deliver the viral punch.
After chemotherapy or radiotherapy is used to treat cancer, there is damage to the tissue. This causes a surge in white blood cells, which swamp the area to help repair the damage.
“We’re surfing that wave to get as many white blood cells to deliver tumour-busting viruses into the heart of a tumour,” said Prof Lewis.
A number of projects are starting to work on 3D printing human tissues and body parts, such as a team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who are exploring ways to 3D print a kidney. Organovo Holdings, a manufacturer of functional 3D human tissues for medical research and therapeutic applications, is partnering with researchers at Autodesk, the leader in cloud-based design and engineering software, to create the first 3D design software for bioprinting.
The software will be used to control Organovo’s NovoGen MMX bioprinter, and will be a big step forward in usability and functionality for designing 3D human tissues. It also has the potential to open up bioprinting to a wider group of users. Keith Murphy, chairman and CEO of Organovo, said:
Autodesk is an excellent partner for Organovo in developing new software for 3D bioprinters. This relationship will lead to advances in bioprinting, including both greater flexibility and throughput internally, and the potential long-term ability for customers to design their own 3D tissues for production by Organovo.
“Chaos is what we’ve lost touch with. This is why it is given a bad name. It is feared by the dominant archetype of our world, which is Ego, which clenches because its existance is defined in terms of control.”
Our eyes may be our window to the world, but how do we make sense of the thousands of images that flood our retinas each day? Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that the brain is wired to put in order all the categories of objects and actions that we see. They have created the first interactive map of how the brain organizes these groupings.
The result — achieved through computational models of brain imaging data collected while the subjects watched hours of movie clips — is what researchers call “a continuous semantic space.”
Some relationships between categories make sense (humans and animals share the same “semantic neighborhood”) while others (hallways and buckets) are less obvious. The researchers found that different people share a similar semantic layout.
“Our methods open a door that will quickly lead to a more complete and detailed understanding of how the brain is organized. Already, our online brain viewer appears to provide the most detailed look ever at the visual function and organization of a single human brain,” said Alexander Huth, a doctoral student in neuroscience at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study published in the journal Neuron.
A carbon-nanotube-coated lens that converts light to sound can focus high-pressure sound waves to finer points than ever before. The University of Michigan engineering researchers who developed the new therapeutic ultrasound approach say it could lead to an invisible knife for noninvasive surgery.
Today’s ultrasound technology enables far more than glimpses into the womb. Doctors routinely use focused sound waves to blast apart kidney stones and prostate tumors, for example. The tools work primarily by focusing sound waves tightly enough to generate heat, says Jay Guo, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering. Guo is a co-author of a paper on the new technique published in the current issue of Nature’s journal Scientific Reports.
The beams that today’s technology produces can be unwieldy, says Hyoung Won Baac, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School who worked on this project as a doctoral student in Guo’s lab.
“A major drawback of current strongly focused ultrasound technology is a bulky focal spot, which is on the order of several millimeters,” Baac said. “A few centimeters is typical. Therefore, it can be difficult to treat tissue objects in a high-precision manner, for targeting delicate vasculature, thin tissue layer and cellular texture. We can enhance the focal accuracy 100-fold.”
The team was able to concentrate high-amplitude sound waves to a speck just 75 by 400 micrometers (a micrometer is one-thousandth of a millimeter). Their beam can blast and cut with pressure, rather than heat. Guo speculates that it might be able to operate painlessly because its beam is so finely focused it could avoid nerve fibers. The device hasn’t been tested in animals or humans yet, though.
“We believe this could be used as an invisible knife for noninvasive surgery,” Guo said. “Nothing pokes into your body, just the ultrasound beam. And it is so tightly focused, you can disrupt individual cells.”
“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretence. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”