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Study of protein folds adds to evidence that viruses are alive and ancient

Scientists estimate there are more than a million viral species, but less than 4,900 viruses have been identified and sequenced
October 1, 2015


Viruses are actually living entities that share a long evolutionary history with cells, researchers report in a study that traces viral evolution back to a time when neither viruses nor cells existed in the forms recognized today.

The new findings appear in an open-access paper in the journal Science Advances.

Some scientists have argued that viruses are nonliving entities, bits of DNA and RNA shed by… read more

New test detects almost all viruses that infect people, animals

Additional research needed to validate the test accuracy
October 1, 2015

A new test developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis can detect virtually any virus that infects people and animals, including the Ebola virus (above). (credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

A new test that detects virtually any virus that infects people and animals has been developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Current tests aren’t sensitive enough to detect low virus levels or are limited to detecting only those viruses suspected of being responsible for a patient’s illness.

“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” said the study’s… read more

Invisibility cloak may enhance efficiency of solar cells

October 1, 2015

A special invisibility cloak (right) guides sunlight past the contacts for current removal to the active surface area of the solar cell. (credit: Graphics: Martin Schumann, KIT)

A new approach to increasing solar-cell panel efficiency using an “invisibility cloak” has been developed by scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany.

Up to one tenth of the surface area of solar cells is typically covered by “contact fingers” that extract current generated by solar cells. The fingers block some of the light from the active area of the solar cell, decreasing cell efficiency. By guiding… read more

A promising new 2-D semiconductor material

Berkeley Lab researchers produce first ultrathin sheets of perovskite hybrids
September 30, 2015

Ultrathin sheets of a new 2-D hybrid perovskite are square-shaped and relatively large in area, properties that should facilitate their integration into future electronic devices. (credit: Peidong Yang, Berkeley Lab)

The first atomically thin 2D sheets of organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites have been created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers, adding to the growing list of two-dimensional semiconductors, such as graphene, boron nitride, and molybdenum disulfide, whose unique electronic properties make them potential successors to silicon in future devices.

However, unlike the other contenders, which are covalent semiconductors,… read more

‘Designless’ nanoscale logic circuits resemble Darwinian evolution and neural networks

September 30, 2015

Schematic of a nanoparticle network (about 200 nanometres in diameter). By applying electrical signals at the electrodes (yellow), and using artificial evolution, this disordered network can be configured into useful electronic circuits. (credit: University of Twente)

Researchers at the University of Twente in The Netherlands have designed and demonstrated working electronic logic circuits produced using methods that resemble Darwinian evolution and neural networks like the human brain.

In a radical “designless” approach, the researchers used a 200-nanometer-wide cluster of 20-nanometer gold nanoparticles. They applied a series of voltages to eight electrodes and determined the resulting set of 16 different two-input Boolean logic gates.… read more

Living implants

September 29, 2015

Development of a CB[8]-addressable bacterial strain (credit: Shrikrishnan Sankaran et al./ACS Nano)

A method for merging bacteria in human cells as “living implants” has been developed by University of Twente researchers. The implants could include stents equipped with bacteria on which endothelial cells (cells that form the lining of blood vessels) can grow, or bacteria that can release medicines in specific parts of the body.

They achieved this by supramolecular assembly, modifying the DNA of E. coli bacteria in such a… read more

A biomimetic dental prosthesis

September 29, 2015

Cross section of the artificial tooth under an electron microscope (false colour): Ceramic platelets in the enamel are orientated vertically. In the dentin, they are aligned horizontally. (credit: Hortense Le Ferrand/ETH Zürich)

A new procedure that can mimic the complex fine structure of biological composite materials, such as teeth or seashells, has been developed by ETH Zurich researchers. It could allow for creating synthetic materials that are as hard and tough as their natural counterparts.

The secret of these hard natural biomaterials is in their unique fine structure: they are composed of different layers in which numerous micro-platelets are… read more

First optical ‘rectenna’ converts light to DC current

As an array of billions of carbon nanotubes, they could efficiently capture solar energy
September 28, 2015

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Using nanometer-scale components, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have demonstrated the first optical rectenna, a device that combines the functions of an antenna and a rectifier diode to convert light directly into DC current.

Based on multiwall carbon nanotubes and tiny rectifiers fabricated onto them, the optical rectennas could provide a new technology for energy harvesters, including photodetectors that would operate without the need for… read more

Ultrafast lasers enable 3-D micropatterning of biocompatible hydrogels

Allows for high-resolution and scalability for engineering tissue scaffolds and implants
September 28, 2015

Illustration of laser-based micropatterning of silk hydrogels. The transparent gels enable the laser's photons to be absorbed more than 10 times deeper than with other materials, without damaging the cells surrounding the "Tufts" pattern. (credit: M.B. A)

Tufts University biomedical engineers have developed low-energy, ultrafast laser technology for micropatterning high-resolution, 3-D structures in silk-protein hydrogels.

Micropatterning is used to bring oxygen and nutrients to rapidly proliferating cells in an engineered tissue scaffold. The goal is “to controllably guide cell growth and create an artificial vasculature (blood vessel system) within an already densely seeded silk hydrogel,” said Fiorenzo G. Omenetto, Ph.D., senior author… read more

How to make 3-D objects totally disappear

A fully wraparound, ultrathin invisibility cloak at the microscale
September 28, 2015

This image shows a 3-D illustration of a metasurface skin cloak made from an ultrathin layer of nanoantennas (gold blocks) covering an arbitrarily shaped object. Light reflects off the cloak (red arrows) as if it were reflecting off a flat mirror. (credit: Image courtesy of Xiang Zhang group, Berkeley Lab/UC Berkeley)

An ultra-thin invisibility “skin” cloak that can conform to the shape of an object and conceal it from detection with visible light has been developed by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley.

Working with blocks of gold nanoantennas, the Berkeley researchers created a “skin cloak” just 80 nanometers in thickness that was wrapped around… read more

Liquid water flows on today’s Mars, NASA confirms

September 28, 2015

These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. (credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars, NASA announced today.

Researchers detected darkish signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes in several locations that appear to ebb and flow over time, based on spectrometer data. The signatures darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons.

“This… read more

These self-propelled microscopic carbon-capturing motors may reduce carbon-dioxide levels in oceans

September 25, 2015

Nanoengineers have invented tiny tube-shaped micromotors that zoom around in water and efficiently remove carbon dioxide. The surfaces of the micromotors are functionalized with the enzyme carbonic anhydrase, which enables the motors to help rapidly convert carbon dioxide to calcium carbonate. (credit: Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego have designed enzyme-functionalized micromotors the size of red blood cells that rapidly zoom around in water, remove carbon dioxide, and convert it into a usable solid form.

The proof-of-concept study represents a promising route to mitigate the buildup of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas in the environment, said the researchers.

The team, led by distinguished nanoengineering professor… read more

DNA-based nanodevices for molecular medicine: an overview

September 25, 2015

Virus-protein-coated DNA origami nanostructures. With the help of protein encapsulation, DNA origamis can be transported into human cells much more efficiently. (credit: Veikko Linko and Mauri Kostiainen)

KurzweilAI has covered a wide variety of research projects that explore how DNA molecules can be assembled into complex nanostructures for molecular-scale diagnostics, smart drug-delivery, and other uses. For example, tailored DNA structures could find targeted cancer cells and release their molecular payload (drugs or antibodies) selectively.

An article written by researchers from Aalto University just published in Trends in Biotechnology journal, comparing biological DNA-nanomachine developments… read more

Brain-computer interface enables paralyzed man to walk without robotic support

September 25, 2015

A man whose legs had been paralyzed for five years walks along a 12-foot course using UCI-developed technology that lets the brain bypass the spinal cord to send messages to the legs. (credit: courtesy of UCI’s Brain Computer Interface Lab)

A novel brain-computer-interface (BCI) technology created by University of California, Irvine researchers has allowed a paraplegic man to walk for a short distance, unaided by an exoskeleton or other types of robotic support.

The male participant, whose legs had been paralyzed for five years, walked along a 12-foot course using an electroencephalogram (EEG) brain-computer-interface system that lets the brain bypass the spinal cord to send messages to… read more

Pushing the resolution and exposure-time limits of lensless imaging

A custom-built ultrafast laser that could image everything from semiconductor chips to cells in real time
September 25, 2015

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Physicists at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany are pushing the boundaries of nanoscale imaging by shooting ultra-high-resolution, real-time images in extreme ultraviolet light — without lenses. The new method could be used to study everything from semiconductor chips to cancer cells, the scientists say.

They are improving a lensless imaging technique called “coherent diffraction imaging,” which has been around since the 1980s. To take a picture… read more

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