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Gene circuits in live cells that perform complex analog/digital computations

June 14, 2016

MIT spinout Synlogic is re-programming bacteria found in the gut as "living therapeutics" to treat major diseases and rare genetic disorders (credit: Synlogic)

MIT researchers have developed synthetic biological circuits that combine both analog (continuous) and digital (discrete) computation — allowing living cells to carry out complex processing operations, such as releasing a drug in response to low glucose levels.

The research is presented in an open-access paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

Background: analog vs. digital biological circuits

Like electronic circuits, living… read more

Are you smarter than a macaw?

Ounce for ounce, bird brains have significantly more neurons than mammal or primate brains
June 13, 2016

(credit: Vanderbuilt University)

The first study to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of more than two dozen species of birds has found that the birds that were studied consistently have more neurons packed into their small brains than those in mammalian or even primate brains of the same mass.

The study results were published online in an open-access paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy ofread more

Higher intake of whole grains associated with lower risk of major chronic diseases and death

Even small increases in consumption could bring substantial health benefits
June 13, 2016

Cereal Plant, 7-Grain Bread,Wholegrain Food (credit iStock)

A meta-analysis of 45 studies (64 publications) of consumption of whole grain by an international team of researchers, led by Dagfinn Aune, PhD, at Imperial College London, found lower risks of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease overall, as well as deaths from all causes and from specific diseases, including stroke, cancer, diabetes, infectious and respiratory diseases.

The researchers say these results “strongly support dietary recommendations to increase intake… read more

Hierarchies exist in the brain because of lower connection costs, research shows

Findings may also improve artificial intelligence and robotics systems
June 10, 2016

heirarchical network ft

New research suggests why the human brain and other biological networks exhibit a hierarchical structure, and the study may improve attempts to create artificial intelligence.

The study, by researchers from the University of Wyoming and the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA, in France), demonstrates that the evolution of hierarchy — a simple system of ranking — in biological networks may arise because of the… read more

Mobilizing mitochondria to regenerate damaged neurons

June 10, 2016

After axonal injury, nearby mitochondria become incapable of producing ATP, as indicated by their change in color from yellow (healthy) to green (damaged). (credit: Zhou et al., 2016)

Boosting the transport of mitochondria (cell energy suppliers) along neuronal axons enhances the ability of mouse nerve cells to repair themselves and regrow after injury or disease, researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke report in The Journal of Cell Biology.

Neurons need large amounts of energy to extend their axons long distances through the body. This energy — in the form of… read more

Electrical fields aid wound healing

June 10, 2016

Time-lapse photo of human macrophages migrating directionally toward an anode . Left: no electric field. Right: Two hours after 150 mV/mm electric field applied (white lines shows the movement path toward candida yeast; numbers indicate start and end positions of cells). (credit: Joseph I. Hoare et al./JLB)

Small electrical currents appear to activate certain immune cells to jumpstart or speed wound healing and reduce infection when there’s a lack of immune cells available, such as with diabetes, University of Aberdeen (U.K.) scientists have found.

In a lab experiment, the scientists exposed healing macrophages (white blood cells that eat things that don’t belong), taken from human blood, to electrical fields of strength similar to that… read more

Built-in miniaturized micro-supercapacitor powers silicon chip

Replaces bulky batteries in wearable electronics, mobile internet-of-things (IoT) devices, and autonomous sensor networks
June 8, 2016

PS-TiN supercapacitor ft

Finnish researchers have developed a method for building highly efficient miniaturized micro-supercapacitor energy storage directly inside a silicon microcircuit chip, making it possible to power autonomous sensor networks, wearable electronics, and mobile internet-of-things (IoT) devices.

Supercapacitors function similar to standard batteries, but store electrostatic energy instead of chemical energy.

The researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have developed a hybrid nano-electrode that’s only a few nanometers… read more

How creating defective nanodiamonds could revolutionize nanotechnology and quantum computing

June 8, 2016

This electron microscope image shows a hybrid nanoparticle consisting of a nanodiamond (roughly 50 nanometers wide) covered in smaller silver nanoparticles that enhance the diamond's optical properties. (credit: Min Ouyang)

University of Maryland researchers have developed a method to quickly and inexpensively assemble diamond-based hybrid nanoparticles from the ground up in large quantities while avoiding many of the problems with current methods.

These hybrid nanoparticles could speed the design of room-temperature qubits for quantum computers and create brighter dyes for biomedical imaging or highly sensitive magnetic and temperature sensors, for example.

When impurities are betterread more

Universe’s first life might have been born on diamond planets

June 7, 2016

In this artist's conception, a carbon planet orbits a sunlike star in the early universe. Young planetary systems lacking heavy chemical elements but relatively rich in carbon could form worlds made of graphite, carbides and diamond rather than Earth-like silicate rocks. Blue patches show where water has pooled on the planet's surface, forming potential habitats for alien life. (credit: Christine Pulliam (CfA). Sun image: NASA/SDO)

New findings by scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) suggest that planet formation in the early universe might have created carbon planets consisting of graphite, carbides, and diamond and that astronomers might find these diamond worlds by searching a rare class of stars.

“This work shows that even stars with a tiny fraction of the carbon in our solar system can host planets,” says lead… read more

New material kills E. coli bacteria in 30 seconds

Destroys bacteria cell membrane, blocking development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
June 6, 2016

A microscopic image of the E. coli bacteria (credit:Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology)

A new material that can kill E. coli bacteria within 30 seconds has been developed by researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR in Singapore.

Triclosan, a common antibacterial ingredient found in many products such as toothpastes, soaps, and detergents to reduce or prevent bacterial infections, has been linked to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics, with adverse health effects. The European Union… read more

Scientists plan to build human genome from scratch

June 6, 2016

Efficiency trends in DNA sequencing (green) and synthesis of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA, blue) and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA, red) over the past ~35 years. Double-stranded DNA, or<br />
gene synthesis, has improved noticeably over the past ~10 years, but still lags behind<br />
sequencing and ssDNA synthesis. The disruptive improvement in sequencing and ssDNA (oligonucleotides) synthesis technologies has improved from multiplex and miniaturization technologies in high-throughput DNA sequencing and oligo microarray technologies, respectively. Commercial gene synthesis technologies relies on both oligo synthesis (building blocks) and sequencing (validation of synthesis) technologies. (credit: Jef D. Boeke/Science)

Leading genomics experts have announced Genome Project-write (HGP-write), which aims to synthesize entire genomes of humans and other species from chemical components and get them to function in living cells.

As explained in Science, the goal of HGP-write is to reduce the costs of engineering large genomes, including a human genome, and to develop an ethical framework for genome-scale engineering and transformative medical applications.

Impactsread more

Chronic stroke patients safely recover after injection of human stem cells

Stanford researchers now actively recruiting 156 patients for new trial
June 3, 2016

Sonia Olea Coontz had a stroke in 2011 that affected the movement of her right arm and leg. After modified stem cells were injected into her brain as part of a clinical trial, she says her limbs "woke up." (credit: Mark Rightmire/Stanford University School of Medicine)

Injecting specially prepared human adult stem cells directly into the brains of chronic stroke patients proved safe and effective in restoring motor (muscle) function in a small clinical trial led by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators.

The 18 patients had suffered their first and only stroke between six months and three years before receiving the injections, which involved drilling a small hole through their skulls.

For most… read more

Dietary fiber has biggest influence on successful aging, research reveals

June 2, 2016

(credit: iStock)

Eating the right amount of dietary fiber from breads, cereals, and fruits can help us avoid disease and disability into old age, according to an open-access paper published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences by scientists from The Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Australia.

Using data compiled from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, a benchmark population-based study… read more

Soft, safe robot actuators inspired by human bicep muscles

"A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." --- Isaac Asimov's first law of robotics
June 2, 2016

VAMP

If robots are going work around humans, they will have to be softer and safer. A Harvard team has designed a new actuator with that in mind. Its movements are similar to those of a human bicep muscle, using vacuum power to automate soft rubber beams. Like real muscles, the actuators are soft, shock-absorbing, and pose no danger, according to the researchers.

The work is led by… read more

Implanted neuroprosthesis improves walking ability in stroke patient

June 1, 2016

gait-assist system ft

A surgically implanted neuroprosthesis has led to substantial improvement in walking speed and distance in a patient with limited mobility after a stroke, according to a single-patient study in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.

The system, programmed to stimulate coordinated activity of hip, knee, and ankle muscles, “is a promising intervention to provide assistance to stroke survivors during daily walking,” write Nathaniel S. Makowski, PhD,… read more

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