Monthly Archives: February 2008

Human skin cells ordered to be embryonic stem cells

Human skin cells ordered to be embryonic stem cells

As expected, genetics evolves everyday and finds more new and unexpected solutions to some of the most puzzling problems we have faced yet. Such a problem was the ethical side of using embrionic stem cells. But now, it seems it won’t be necessary to figure out whether it’s ethical or not, because we can bypass it.

This is because UCLA stem cell scientists have reprogrammed human skin cells into cells with the same unlimited properties as embryonic stem cells without using embryos or eggs. Led by scientists Kathrin Plath and William Lowry they used what is called a genetic alteration to rewind time for the human skin cells and they were able to create cells which are nearly identical to human embryonic stem cells (which also have the ability to become every cell type).

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Accidental Discovery During Surgery Reverses Memory Loss

Accidental Discovery During Surgery Reverses Memory Loss

A “pacemaker” for the human brain might be on the horizon

A 50 year old man, dangerously obese, goes to the hospital for experimental brain surgery to suppress his appetite. A small piece of his skull is removed, and an electrical probe inserted deep into his brain tissue. It reaches his hypothalamus and current is switched on. Suddenly the patient — awake through the procedure — begins to speak uncontrollably about events in his past, events he had long forgotten. He remembers a day’s walk in the park 30 years ago, complete with what people were wearing, all in vivid color. He sees them speaking to him, every motion they made. The intensity and level of detail of the memories is frightening.

The scene may read like the script of a bad science fiction flick but it comes from an unidentified patient at Ontario’s Toronto Western Hospital. No one was more astonished than the man’s doctors, who began to experiment further on him. Over the next few weeks, they continued testing. His ability to both learn and remember was substantially increased when the electrodes were turned on. Continuous stimulation also had a residual effect — after the electrodes were off, there was still a slight benefit.

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Electrode being inserted into brain

‘Holy Grail’ Of Nanoscience: DNA Technique Yields 3-D Crystalline Organization Of Nanoparticles

‘Holy Grail’ Of Nanoscience: DNA Technique Yields 3-D Crystalline Organization Of Nanoparticles

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In an achievement some see as the “holy grail” of nanoscience, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have for the first time used DNA to guide the creation of three-dimensional, ordered, crystalline structures of nanoparticles (particles with dimensions measured in billionths of a meter). The ability to engineer such 3-D structures is essential to producing functional materials that take advantage of the unique properties that may exist at the nanoscale – for example, enhanced magnetism, improved catalytic activity, or new optical properties.

“From previous research, we know that highly selective DNA binding can be used to program nanoparticle interactions,” said Oleg Gang, a scientist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), who led the interdisciplinary research team, which includes Dmytro Nykypanchuk and Mathew Maye of the CFN, and Daniel van der Lelie of the Biology Department. “But while theory has intriguingly predicted that DNA can guide nanoparticles to form ordered, 3-D phases, no one has accomplished this experimentally, until now.”

As with the group’s previous work, the new assembly method relies on the attractive forces between complementary strands of DNA – the molecule made of pairing bases known by the letters A, T, G, and C that carries the genetic code of living things. First, the scientists attach to nanoparticles hair-like extensions of DNA with specific “recognition sequences” of complementary bases. Then they mix the DNA-covered particles in solution. When the recognition sequences find one another in solution, they bind together to link the nanoparticles.

“This work is the first step to demonstrate that it is possible to obtain ordered structures. But it opens so many avenues for researchers, and this is why it is so exciting,” Gang says.

Particle Accelerator May Reveal Shape Of Alternate Dimensions

Particle Accelerator May Reveal Shape Of Alternate Dimensions

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When the world’s most powerful particle accelerator starts up later this year, exotic new particles may offer a glimpse of the existence and shapes of extra dimensions.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Berkeley say that the telltale signatures left by a new class of particles could distinguish between possible shapes of the extra spatial dimensions predicted by string theory.

String theory, which describes the fundamental particles of the universe as tiny vibrating strings of energy, suggests the existence of six or seven unseen spatial dimensions in addition to the time and three space dimensions that we normally see.

Much as the shape of a musical instrument determines its sound, the shape of these dimensions determines the properties and behavior of our four-dimensional universe, says Gary Shiu, lead author of a paper appearing in the Jan. 25 issue of Physical Review Letters.

“The shape of the dimensions is crucial because, in string theory, the way the string vibrates determines the pattern of particle masses and the forces that we feel,” says the UW-Madison physics professor.

New Electronics Promise Wireless at Warp Speed

New Electronics Promise Wireless at Warp Speed

Wireless networking technology will one day deliver high-definition video content and other large data files via the airwaves far faster than that information can be now be delivered over wired systems. But it will take major advances in the electronics that drive computer and radio-frequency systems to create such a high-powered wireless highway.

One of the most basic examples of such a system is a laptop computer equipped with a radio for wireless connectivity. The computer’s performance has generally been improved through upgrades in digital semiconductor performance: shrinking the size of the semiconductor’s transistors to ramp up transaction speed, packing more of them onto the chip to increase processing power, and even substituting silicon with compounds such as gallium arsenide or indium phosphide, which allow electrons to move at a higher velocity.

The key to squeezing higher performance out of the radio side of the equation, according to one company, is using metal-insulator components. “We are potentially at another stepping point, where instead of solid-state semiconductor electronics, we will have metal-insulator electronics,” says Garret Moddel, chief technology officer and chairman of Phiar Corporation in Boulder, Colo.

Fully Robotic Observatory Set Up In Antarctica

Fully Robotic Observatory Set Up In Antarctica

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A team of scientists representing six international institutions, including Texas A&M University, has succeeded in reaching the summit of Antarctica — also a monumental achievement for ground-based astronomy — to establish a new astronomical observatory at Dome Argus on the highest point of the Antarctic Plateau.

Two weeks after arriving Jan. 11 at “Dome A” for only the second time in history, an expedition team led by the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC) has completed installation work on a revolutionary fully robotic observatory, dubbed PLATeau Observatory or PLATO, that Texas A&M astrophysicist Dr. Lifan Wang predicts will result in new insights into the universe once possible only from space.

“Dome A is believed to be the best site for ground-based astronomy,” explains Wang, one of the leaders of the scientific planning phase of the expedition, who holds the Mitchell-Heep-Munnerlyn Endowed Career Enhancement Professorship in Physics at Texas A&M and is head of the Chinese Center for Antarctic Astronomy. “Unlike the stormy Antarctic coast, the plateau is a very quiet place with very low wind speed. It is the coldest and driest place on Earth. These are critical conditions of a good site at which to build an observatory.”

Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome; Synthetic Life Comes Next

Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome; Synthetic Life Comes Next

Scientists have built the first synthetic genome by stringing together 147 pages of letters representing the building blocks of DNA.

The researchers used yeast to stitch together four long strands of DNA into the genome of a bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium. They said it’s more than an order of magnitude longer than any previous synthetic DNA creation. Leading synthetic biologists said with the new work, published Thursday in the journal Science, the first synthetic life could be just months away — if it hasn’t been created already.

“We consider this the second in our three-step process to create the first synthetic organism,” said J. Craig Venter, president of the J. Craig Venter Institute where scientists performed the study, on Thursday during a teleconference. “What remains now that we have this complete synthetic chromosome … is to boot this up in a cell.”

With the new ability to sequence a genome, scientists can begin to custom-design organisms, essentially creating biological robots that can produce from scratch chemicals humans can use. Biofuels like ethanol, for example.

Double amputee walks again due to Bluetooth

Double amputee walks again due to Bluetooth

Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill lost both his legs above the knees when a bomb exploded under his Humvee while on patrol in Iraq on October 15, 2006. He has 32 pins in his hip and a 6-inch screw holding his pelvis together.

Now, he’s starting to walk again with the help of prosthetic legs outfitted with Bluetooth technology more commonly associated with hands-free cell phones.

“They’re the latest and greatest,” Bleill said, referring to his groundbreaking artificial legs.

Bleill, 30, is one of two Iraq war veterans, both double leg amputees, to use the Bluetooth prosthetics. Computer chips in each leg send signals to motors in the artificial joints so the knees and ankles move in a coordinated fashion.

Bleill’s set of prosthetics have Bluetooth receivers strapped to the ankle area. The Bluetooth device on each leg tells the other leg what it’s doing, how it’s moving, whether walking, standing or climbing steps, for example.

“They mimic each other, so for stride length, for amount of force coming up, going uphill, downhill and such, they can vary speed and then to stop them again,” Bleill told CNN from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he’s undergoing rehab.

Scientists succeed in storing quantum bit

Scientists succeed in storing quantum bit

A team of scientists from the University of Heidelberg (Germany), the Technical University of Vienna (Austria) and the University of Science and Technology of China for the first time has succeeded in buffering a quantum bit during its transmission. The achievement could be used for the construction of quantum repeaters and perhaps, eventually, to build a memory for a quantum computer.

The team succeeded in storing the quantum bit while performing an experimental transmittal of an unknown quantum state, a spokesperson of the group explained. Hitherto, it was not possible to store and read out a quantum state.

During the experiment, the scientists transferred the state of a photon to what they called an atomic quantum store. In this atomic ensemble, the state was stored for 8 microseconds before it was read out again and transferred to a photon.

DNA Molecules Display Telepathy-like Quality

DNA Molecules Display Telepathy-like Quality

DNA molecules can display what almost seems like telepathy, research now reveals.

Double helixes of DNA can recognize matching molecules from a distance and then gather together, all seemingly without help from any other molecules, scientists find. Previously, under the classic understanding of DNA, scientists had no reason to suspect that double helixes of the molecule could sort themselves by type, let alone seek each other out.

The spiraling structure of DNA includes strings of molecules called bases. Each of its four bases, commonly known by the letters A, T, C and G, is chemically attracted to a specific partner — A likes binding to T, and C to G. The scheme binds paired strands of DNA into the double helix the molecule is famous for.

Scientists investigated double-stranded DNA tagged with fluorescent compounds. These molecules were placed in saltwater that contained no proteins or other material that could interfere with the experiment or help the DNA molecules communicate.