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Chemicals that make plants defend themselves could replace pesticides

New study identifies five candidate chemicals to help rice beat planthoppers without pesticides
December 8, 2015

Sogatella furcifera

Chemical triggers that make plants defend themselves against insects could replace pesticides, causing less damage to the environment. New research published in an open-access paper in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters identifies five chemicals that trigger rice plants to fend off a common pest — the white-backed planthopper, Sogatella furcifera.

Pesticides have a detrimental effect on ecosystems, ravaging food chains and damaging the environment. One of the problems with many… read more

Parkinson’s disease researchers discover a way to reprogram the genome to produce dopamine neurons

May enable researchers to generate patient-specific neurons to be transplanted into the brain to repair faulty neurons; also a generic way to change cells from one type to another
December 8, 2015

Image shows a protein found only in neurons (red) and an enzyme that synthesizes dopamine (green). Cell DNA is labeled in blue. (credit: Jian Feng, University at Buffalo)

Parkinson’s disease researchers at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo have developed a way to ramp up the conversion of skin cells into neurons that can produce dopamine.

For decades, the elusive holy grail in Parkinson’s disease research has been finding a way to repair faulty dopamine neurons and put them back into patients, where they will start producing dopamine… read more

Can physical activity make you learn better?

Apparently so --- at least for speed of recovery of vision after an eye-patch test; may offer hope for people with traumatic brain injury or eye conditions such as amblyopia
December 8, 2015

This is an artistic representation of the take home messages in Lunghi and Sale: "A cycling lane for brain rewiring," which is that physical activity (such as cycling) is associated with increased brain plasticity. (credit: Dafne Lunghi Art)

Exercise may enhance plasticity of the adult brain — the ability of our neurons to change with experience — which is essential for learning, memory, and brain repair, Italian researchers report in an open-access paper in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

Their research, which focused on the the visual cortex, may offer hope for people with traumatic brain injury or eye conditions such as amblyopia,… read more

As the worm turns: research tracks how an embryo’s brain is assembled

December 7, 2015

Untwisting-Software-ft

New open-source software that can help track the embryonic development and movement of neuronal cells throughout the body of a worm is now available to scientists. The software is described in a paper published in the open access journal, eLife on December 3rd by a research team*.

One significant challenge is determining the formation of complex neuronal structures made up of billions of cells in the human brain. As… read more

How robots can learn from babies

Are babies smarter than AI programmers?
December 7, 2015

baby & bot

Babies learn about the world by exploring how their bodies move in space, grabbing toys, pushing things off tables and by watching and imitating what adults are doing. So instead of laboriously writing code (or moving a robot’s arm or body to show it how to perform an action), why not just let them learn like babies?

That’s exactly what University of Washington (UW) developmental psychologists and computer scientists… read more

‘Nanobombs’ that blow up cancer cells

These nanoparticles contain a chemical used in baking bread that makes cancer cells swell and burst when exposed to near-infrared laser light
December 7, 2015

nanobomb ft

Researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed nanoparticles that swell and burst when exposed to near-infrared laser light.

These “nanobombs” may be able to kill cancer cells outright, or at least stall their growth — overcoming a biological barrier that has blocked development of drug agents that attempt to alter cancer-cell gene expression (conversion of genes to proteins). These kinds of drug agents… read more

Hybrid solid-state chips and biological cells integrated at molecular level

Biological ion channels combine with solid-state transistors to create a new kind of hybrid bioelectronics. Imagine chips with dog-like capability to taste and smell, or even recognize specific molecules.
December 7, 2015

Illustration depicting biocell attached to CMOS integrated circuit with membrane containing sodium-potassium pumps in pore (credit: Trevor Finney and Jared Roseman/Columbia Engineering)

Columbia Engineering researchers have combined biological and solid-state components for the first time, opening the door to creating entirely new artificial biosystems.

In this experiment, they used a biological cell to power a conventional solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit. An artificial lipid bilayer membrane containing adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-powered ion pumps (which provide energy for cells) was used as a source of ions (which were converted to… read more

Possible biochemical mechanism underlying long-term memories identified

Why is a prion-like molecular state necessary for persistence of memory? Could a transient memory be made permanent with a "Limitless" NZT-type neurotropic drug --- or permanently forgotten?
December 4, 2015

Neuronal synapse-ft

It’s a nagging question: why do some of our memories fade away, while others last forever? Now scientists at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research have identified a possible biochemical mechanism: a specific synaptic protein called Orb2 can either block or maintain neural synapses (connections between neurons), which create and maintain long-term memories.

So for a memory to persist, the synaptic connections must be kept strong. But how? The… read more

First direct evidence for synaptic plasticity in fruit fly brain

December 4, 2015

A singe dopamine neuron (yellow) in the mushroom body of the fruit fly Drosophila. Glenn Turner and colleagues trained flies to avoid certain odors by pairing them with stimulations of dopamine neurons signaling punishment. They found that this form of associative learning is driven by changes in synaptic strength between mushroom body neurons that process odors and downstream neurons that generate behavioral responses. (credit: Turner Lab, CSHL)

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory  (CSHL) have resolved a decades-long debate about how the brain is modified when an animal learns.

Using newly developed tools for manipulating specific populations of neurons, the researchers have for the first time observed direct evidence of synaptic plasticity — changes in the strength of synapse connections between neurons — in the fruit fly brain while flies are learning.

Due… read more

Recyclable, sustainable petroleum-free bioplastics

December 4, 2015

A graphical illustration of the researchers’ polymer synthesis process. The single molecules, or monomers, are cooled in order to polymerize; to cycle back, heat is applied. (credit: Jing Tang/Chen lab)

The textbooks and journals (and especially the oil companies) said making a completely recyclable, biodegradable, petroleum-free polymer couldn’t be done.

But Colorado State University chemists have done it — paving a potential new road to truly sustainable, petroleum-free plastics. Just reheat is for an hour and it converts back to its original molecular state, ready for reuse.

Their starting feedstock: a biorenewable monomer that textbooks and journal… read more

These are the thinnest, strongest plates that can be picked up by hand

Could be used in flying insect-inspired robots, solar-powered drones, and other structural applications where low weight and high material strength are essential
December 4, 2015

Even though they are less than 100 nanometers thick, the researchers' plates are strong enough to be picked up by hand and retain their shape after being bent and squeezed. (credit: University of Pennsylvania)

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have created the thinnest plates that can be picked up and manipulated by hand, using corrugated plates of aluminum oxide. They are thousands of times thinner than a sheet of paper and hundreds of times thinner than household cling wrap, but they spring back to their original shape after being bent and twisted.

Like cling wrap, comparably thin materials immediately curl… read more

White graphene + graphene –> super-thin, cooler, more flexible electronics

December 2, 2015

Growth and transfer of 2-D material such as hexagonal boron nitride and graphene was performed by a team that included Yijing Stehle of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (credit: ORNL)

A new era of electronics and even quantum devices could be ushered in with the fabrication of a virtually perfect single layer of “white graphene,” according to researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The material is technically known as hexagonal boron nitride (see “New inventions track greenhouse gas, remediate oil spills“). It is an insulator (instead of a conductor of electricity as with… read more

Evidence that our Sun could release ‘superflares’ 1000x greater than previously recorded

Could release energy equivalent to a billion megaton bombs, potentially disastrous for life on Earth
December 2, 2015

SUN_B & BORDER: What the Sun might look like if it were to produce a superflare. A large flaring coronal loop structure is shown towering over a solar active region (credit: University of Warwick/Ronald Warmington)

Astrophysicists have discovered a stellar “superflare” on a star observed by NASA’s Kepler space telescope with wave patterns similar to those that have been observed in the Sun’s solar flares. (Superflares are flares that are thousands of times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun, and are frequently observed on some stars.)

The scientists found the evidence in the star KIC9655129 in the Milky Way. They suggest… read more

How to make diamond objects with a laser at room temperature

December 1, 2015

This is a scanning electron microscopy image of microdiamonds made using the new technique (credit: Jagdish Narayan, Anagh Bhaumik/APL Materials)

Researchers from North Carolina State University have discovered a new phase of solid carbon, called Q-carbon, that is distinct from the known phases of graphite and diamond. They have also developed a technique for using Q-carbon to make diamond-related structures at room temperature and at ambient atmospheric pressure in air.*

Phases are distinct forms of the same material. Graphite is one of the solid phases of carbon;… read more

Supermassive black-hole-eating star ejects high-speed flare

December 1, 2015

Artist’s conception of a star being drawn toward a black hole and destroyed (left), and the black hole later emitting a “jet” of plasma composed of the debris left from the star’s destruction. (credit: modified from an original image by Amadeo Bachar.)

An international team of astrophysicists has for the first time witnessed a black hole swallowing a star and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light.

The finding, reported in the journal Science, tracks the star — about the size of our sun — as it shifts from its customary path, slips into the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole and is sucked in,… read more

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