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New clues to how synapses in the brain are programmed

July 25, 2014

Cerebellar granule cells, parallel fibers, and flattened dendritic trees of Purkinje cells (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Washington University School of Medicine researchers have identified a group of proteins that program synapses in the brain, controlling neural development and learning, with implications for conditions such as autism.

In a study of the cerebellum (which plays a central role in controlling the coordination of movement and is essential for “procedural motor learning”) of mice, published in the journal Neuron, they found that a complex of… read more

A fly-inspired miniature microphone

Hypersensitive 2-millimeter-wide device could lead to a new generation of miniaturized low-power hearing aids
July 25, 2014

This is a photograph of the biologically-inspired microphone taken under a microscope, providing a top-side view. The tiny structure rotates and flaps about the pivots (labeled), producing an electric potential across the electrodes (labeled). (Credit: N. Hall/UT Austin)

University of Texas Austin researchers have developed a tiny prototype microphone device that mimics the Ormia ochraceafly’s hearing mechanism. The design may be useful for a new generation of hypersensitive, millimeter-sized, low-power hearing aids.

The yellow-colored Ormia ochracea fly, the inspiration for the design, can pinpoint the location of a chirping cricket with remarkable accuracy because of its freakishly acute hearing, which relies upon a sophisticated sound processing… read more

New Google X Project to look for disease and health patterns in collected data

July 25, 2014

Smart contact lens (credit: Google)

Google X has launched a new Moonshot project called Baseline Study to “collect anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people—and later thousands more—to create what the company hopes will be the fullest picture of what a healthy human being should be,” says The Wall Street Journal.

Specifically, Google will collect samples and look for disease and health biomarkers, or patterns.

The project is run by… read more

How to prevent diseases of aging

July 24, 2014

By 2050, the number of people aged over 60 years is projected to be five times that in 1950 (credit: Luigi Fontana, Brian K. Kennedy, and and Valter D. Longo/Nature)

By 2050, the number of people over the age of 80 will triple globally, which could come at great cost to individuals and economies.

Unfortunately, medicine focuses almost entirely on fighting chronic diseases in a piecemeal fashion as symptoms develop, researchers writing in the journal Nature say. Instead, more efforts should be directed to promoting interventions that have the potential to prevent multiple chronic diseases and extend healthy lifespans.… read more

A new approach to SETI: targeting alien polluters

July 24, 2014

In this artist's conception, the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet displays a brownish haze - the result of widespread pollution. New research shows that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope potentially could detect certain pollutants, specifically CFCs, in the atmospheres of Earth-sized planets orbiting white dwarf stars. (Credit: Christine Pulliam (CfA))

We might be able to spot extraterrestrial civilizations if we assume they spew industrial pollution into the atmosphere, say theorists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Conversely, ET could spot us.

The team suggests that under ideal conditions, the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should be able to detect two kinds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — aerosols and ozone-destroying chemicals used in solvents.… read more

Designing the exascale computers of the future

July 24, 2014

Tianhe-2-supercomputer

Several groups in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), are contributing to the basic science and engineering that will be needed to create the hardware and software for the next generation of supercomputers.

The goal: an exascale machine, performing at least 1018 (sextillian) operations per second — 30 times faster than the current fastest machine in the world, China’s Tianhe-2, capable of an Rmax* of 33.86… read more

A robot with two extra fingers helps you grip stuff

July 23, 2014

The 7-fingered hand can perform tasks that would usually require two hands, such as holding up a tablet computer and typing letters on it (credit: Harry Asad and Faye Wu)

MIT researchers have developed a robot that enhances the grasping motion of the human hand.

The device, worn around your wrist, works like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb.

A novel control algorithm enables it to move in sync with the wearer’s fingers to grasp objects of various shapes and sizes. Wearing the robot, a user could use one hand to hold the… read more

Chinese city sealed off after man dies from bubonic plague

July 23, 2014

Yersinia pestis bacteria (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Chinese city of Yumen in Gansu province in China was sealed off Tuesday for nine days (ending today) after a man died of bubonic plague,  South China Post reports, based on a report by China Central Television.

“Other reports said the 38-year-old victim had come across a dead marmot on July 13. He is said to have chopped it up to feed to his dog, but… read more

More-efficient solar-powered steam

Can convert 85 percent of incoming solar energy into steam, eliminating need for complex, costly systems to highly concentrate sunlight
July 22, 2014

solar steam generator - ft

A new carbon-based material structure developed at MIT generates steam from solar energy.

The structure — a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam — is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water.

When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam. The brighter the light,… read more

Noninvasive retinal imaging device detects Alzheimer’s 20 years in advance

Device could be FDA-approved by 2015 and early signs of Alzheimer's could be detected in a regular ophthalmologist exam
July 22, 2014

Retina test for Alzheimers - feat

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center researchers have developed a noninvasive retinal imaging device that can provide early detection of changes indicating Alzheimer’s disease 15 to 20 years before clinical diagnosis.

“In preliminary results in 40 patients, the test could differentiate between Alzheimer’s disease and non-Alzheimer’s disease with 100 percent sensitivity and 80.6 percent specificity, meaning that all people with the disease tested positive and most of the people without… read more

3D-printed-anatomy developers aim to revolutionize medical education

July 22, 2014

Part of the ‘3D Printed Anatomy Series’ thought to be the first commercially available resource of its kind (credit: Monash University)

A kit of 3D-printed anatomical body parts could revolutionize medical education and training, according to its developers at Monash University.

Professor Paul McMenamin, Director of the University’s Centre for Human Anatomy Education, said the simple and cost-effective anatomical kit would dramatically improve trainee doctors’ and other health professionals’ knowledge and could even contribute to the development of new surgical treatments.

“Many medical… read more

One injection stops type 2 diabetes without side effects

Helps keep blood sugar under control and reverses insulin insensitivity
July 21, 2014

In the liver tissue of obese animals with type 2 diabetes, unhealthy, fat-filled cells are prolific (small white cells, panel A). After chronic treatment through FGF1 injections, the liver cells successfully lose fat and absorb sugar from the bloodstream (small purple cells, panel B) and more closely resemble cells of normal, non-diabetic animals. (Credit: Salk Institute)

In mice with diet-induced diabetes — the equivalent of type 2 diabetes in humans — a single injection of the protein FGF1 is enough to restore blood sugar levels to a healthy range for more than two days. The discovery by Salk Institute scientists, published in the journal Nature, could lead to a new generation of safer, more effective diabetes drugs.

The team found that… read more

Powerful new sensor identfies molecules containing fewer than 20 atoms

July 21, 2014

Rice’s SECARS molecular sensor contains an optical amplifier made of four gold discs arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern. A two-coherent-laser setup amplifies the optical signatures of molecules in the center of the structure as much as 100 billion times. (Credit: Y. Zhang/Rice University)

Researchers at Rice University’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) have created a unique sensor that amplifies the optical signature of molecules by about 100 billion times — accurately identifying the composition and structure of individual molecules containing fewer than 20 atoms.

The new single-molecule imaging method, described  in the journal Nature Communications, uses a form of Raman spectroscopy in combination with optical amplifier, making the sensor… read more

Is our universe a bubble in the multiverse?

July 21, 2014

Screenshot from a video of Matthew Johnson explaining the related concepts of inflation, eternal inflation, and the multiverse (see http://youtu.be/w0uyR6JPkz4).<br />
Credit: Image courtesy of Perimeter Institute

Researchers at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics are working to bring the multiverse hypothesis — we are living in one universe of many — into the realm of testable science.

Perimeter Associate Faculty member Matthew Johnson and his team are looking for clues for the existence of multiverses (a.ka. parallel universes) in the cosmic microwave background data, assumed to be left over from… read more

Generating electricity from water droplets

Camping-cooler-size device could charge a cellphone in 12 hours
July 18, 2014

droplet

MIT researchers discovered last year that when water droplets spontaneously jump away from superhydrophobic (water-repelling) surfaces during condensation, the droplets can gain electric charge in the process.

Now the same team has demonstrated that this process can generate small amounts of electricity, which could lead to devices that can charge cellphones or other electronics using just the humidity in the air. As a side benefit, the system… read more

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