Monthly Archives: December 2008

The End Of 2008 Is Near – Here’s My Take On The Year

I’ve been running this website since July 2005 now. Ofcourse, back in those days I was still doing it on my old Blogger domain.

I set up my technology website all those years ago because I was under the impression that technology was indeed accelerating exponentially and I felt I was one of few who seemed to understand that.

I started writing posts on the best technology breakthroughs I could find. Especially in the beginning, I would often comment on them to point out where I thought things were headed.

Nowadays, I don’t comment on breakthroughs anymore. I feel I’ve already said everything I wanted to say. So if you’re a relative new fan of this blog and you’d like to see my personal writings, feel free to browse through the older archives in the side column of this website.

When it comes to technological breakthroughs, 2008 has been a good year. I’m not even going to make an effort in summing them up. Someone else has already made a compilation of the top technology breakthroughs for 2008.

But what I will say is this…

This website is being fed with technology articles manually by yours truly. This requires me to constantly and tirelessly scavenge the web for the very best technology breakthroughs so that I can post them here for the Technut fans to read.

And let me tell you… I find more and more breakthroughs every single year. And the breakthroughs individually are starting to become more impressive.

Our technological progress is accelerating exponentially and I can see it clearly with my very own eyes.

I am drowning in links to fantastic techno breakthroughs and I’m posting them all. Rarely was there a day in 2008 where I did not post a new article on Technut News. At this time, I already have one and a half months worth of content to post. So look out for a good start of 2009!

Once again, we are talking about nothing less but the very best, nay, dare I say… most gruesomely awesomest technological breakthroughs that were made only recently.

So I’m hoping that all of you Technut fans out there will stick with me in 2009 and the many years after. This website is only going to get groovier with every passing year.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and that you will have a fantastic New Year!

(Oh and eh… if you’d ever like to leave me a comment saying how great or sucky this site is or whatever… now would be the time!)


See ya next year!

Harvard Team Unlocks Clues to Genes that Control Longevity

Harvard Medical School Researchers have used a single compound to increase the lifespan of obese mice, and found that the drug reversed nearly all of the changes in gene expression patterns found in mice on high calorie diets–some of which are associated with diabetes, heart disease, and other significant diseases related to obesity.

The research, led by investigators at Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging, is the first time that the small molecule resveratrol has been shown to offer survival benefits in a mammal.

“Mice are much closer evolutionarily to humans than any previous model organism treated by this molecule, which offers hope that similar impacts might be seen in humans without negative side-effects,” says co-senior author David Sinclair, HMS associate professor of pathology, and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Labs for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging.

“After six months, resveratrol essentially prevented most of the negative effects of the high calorie diet in mice,” said Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D., the study’s other co-senior investigator from the National Institute on Aging’s Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology, Aging, Metabolism, and Nutrition Unit. “There is a lot of work ahead that will help us better understand resveratrol’s roles and the best applications for it.”

Resveratrol is found in red wines and produced by a variety of plants when put under stress. It was first discovered to have an anti-aging properties by Sinclair, other HMS researchers, and their colleagues in 2003 and reported in Nature. The 2003 study showed that yeast treated with resveratrol lived 60 percent longer. Since 2003, resveratrol has been shown to extend the lifespan of worms and flies by nearly 30 percent, and fish by almost 60 percent. It has also been shown to protect against Huntington’s disease in two different animal models (worms and mice).

“The “healthspan” benefits we saw in the obese mice treated with resveratrol, such as increased insulin sensitivity, decreased glucose levels, healthier heart and liver tissues, are positive clinical indicators and may mean we can stave off in humans age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, but only time and more research will tell,” says Sinclair, who is also a co-founder of Sirtris, a company with an author on this paper and which is currently in a phase 1b trial in humans with diabetes using an enhanced, proprietary formulation of resveratrol. [Harvard has license and equity interests with Sirtris, which is not a public company.]


Scientists Decode the Super Computer Inside Our Brains

Scientists have decoded the short-term supercomputer that sits inside your head, the processor that wraps up trajectories, wind speeds, rebounds and rough surfaces into a gut feeling that lets you catch a football.  This advance could lead to a new wave of prosthetics, as well as being another piece in the permanently interesting puzzle that is “The Brain”.

Researchers from McGill, MIT and Caltech focused on the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), the section of brain responsible for taking all the “what is going on” data from the senses and planning what your thousand muscles and bones are going to do about it.

Working with robot-arm equipped monkeys (god but science is awesome), they discovered that the PPC runs its own realtime simulation of the future.  Of course, you instinctively knew that – when you try to catch a ball you don’t flail at where you see it, you run to where it’s going to be.  More usefully they uncovered the nature of two distinct signals from this gooey futurefinder: a “goal” signal which describes what the brain wants to happen, and a “trajectory” signal which lays out the path the body part must take to get there.

This pair of signals is incredibly useful data for any robotic limbs or other extras we might add to our limited human forms – whether they be replacements for carelessly lost parts, or entirely new structures. By working from the “goal” signal the mechanical parts can swiftly prepare to move in the desired manner, preparing any components needed and checking the path for hazards, before the “trajectory” signal gets to the fine details of movement.


iRobis Announces Complete Cognitive Software System for Robots

Institute of Robotics in Scandinavia (iRobis) has announced that the world’s first “complete cognitive software system for robotics” is ready for application. The system turns robots into self-developing, adaptive, problem-solving, “thinking” machines.

Brainstorm automatically adapts to onboard sensors and actuators, immediately builds a model of any robot on which it is installed, and automatically writes control programs for the robot’s movements. It can then explore and model its environment. Through simulated interaction using these models, it solves problems and develops new behavior using “imagination.” Once it has “learned” to do something, it can use its imagination to adapt its behavior to a wide range of circumstances.

A methodology known as genetic programming (GP) is “the trick” that makes it all possible. GP is an automated programming methodology inspired by natural evolution that is used to evolve computer programs. Evolving computer programs means the logic developed by the system can be anything that can be expressed by a computer program. That basically means anything. Robots need descriptions of things they are supposed to do and they figure out how to do them. GP itself is not an approach exclusive to robotic behavior. It has been applied to a variety of problems, some already yielding commercial successes. An example well-known to scientists in the field was the development of invention machines that had created two new patentable inventions by 2002. The potential for “thinking robots” goes well beyond developing their own actions.

The system is constructed using components and the learning / adaptive mechanisms can be turned on and off. This provides a broad range of choices to satisfy requirements. It can for example, be used for rapid development of control systems that cannot be modified after testing is complete or the learning adaptive system can remain on during use allowing the robot to continue to evolve as it gains real-life experience. The level of learning and adaptation can be adjusted to requirements. It can be used to build robot software from the ground up fulfilling all requirements or an add-on to an existing system that provides learning and adaptive behavior. Although product development time can be significantly shortened and less costly, it will still follow a familiar pattern. Product developers need to define their product requirements and engineers will make decisions about the best configurations and settings.


Harvard Scientists Unravel The Secret Of Aging

As we get older, our health becomes our worst enemy. What’s the secret of living a longer healthy life, is a question still unanswered. At least until today, when Harvard researchers sustain that they might know the secret of aging.

Their paper published in this week issue of the journal Cell is the latest to draw attention to sirtuins, proteins involved in the aging process. Sirtuins become increasingly important as people age, according to lead author David A. Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School professor and co-founder of the Cambridge biotechnology company Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The proteins help maintain a youthful pattern of gene expression by ensuring that the genes that should be “off” remain silent.

The same proteins appear to also repair DNA damage as we age, Harvard researchers found.

“The critical protein controls both which genes are off and on as well as DNA repair; it’s used for both processes, and that’s the catch,” said Sinclair.

As we get older, more and more chromosomes get damaged and the SIR1 proteins can’t handle both jobs as well. This causes gene activity to go “haywire” leading to symptoms associated with the process of aging.

Bu the good part is just starting. The scientists have found evidence that the aging process can be slowed. They discovered that mice with more SIRT1 proteins have an improved ability to repair the DNA and to prevent the unwanted changes in the gene expressions.

Previous studies have shown that resveratrol, a chemical found primarily in red wine, helps activate the SIRT1 protein, which aids in the repair of broken chromosome. It’s true that the studies have been conducted on mice, but it’s an important step forward and a reason to believe that the possibility of improving our life is closer than we think.


Scientists Use Paper To Develop A Futuristic Memory Device

The world of electronics could be changed forever as a team of scientists have developed a memory device made of organic materials. These organic memories are cost-efficient, easy to manufacture, and lightweight just like a memory device should be. In order to make it work, the scientists built a field-effect transistor on paper, and in the same time, they demonstrated its great performance.

“The longest time that has lasted from organic memories is about 5,000 seconds. This just doesn’t allow for practical use in many cases as a memory device. What we have shown is that it is possible to store information on paper, electronically, for more than a year and a half,” said Rodrigo Martins, a scientist at the New University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Probably the best part about this device is that it can already be to manufactured at room temperature with ease. This organic memory device is made of long fibers from pine and polyester which were coated with gallium indium zinc oxide. The scientists used a technique called magnetron sputtering, and all of these also made the paper to be erasable and rewritable, and that it can hold hold multiple layers of information.

“What we are doing is exploiting the memory effect. We have a sort of type of integrated foam composed of fibers set up that increases the capability of storing carriers or charges in our paper. We have integrated discrete fibers, and contacts are applied on the extremes of the channel region to allow the induced carriers to move. Electrons move along the fibers,” said Martins.

“If I want my paper to catch information I can apply a signal of, say, five volts. And it writes on the paper. If I want to erase the information, I basically apply minus five volts – the opposite. But, at the same time, I can write another layer of information using 10 volts. The paper can distinguish between the two, and even if I erase the five volt information, the 10 volt information remains,” he added.

In conclusion, Martins explained the implications that this technology could have and he let us know that he is very confident that in a few years this paper memory device could enter on the market and be commercialized worldwide.


Brain implant allows mute man to speak

An electrode implanted into the brain of a man who is unable to move or communicate has enabled him to use a speech synthesizer to produce vowel sounds as he thinks them.

The work could one day help similar patients to produce whole sentences using signals from their brains, say the researchers.

Frank Guenther of Boston University in Massachusetts and his colleagues worked with a patient who has locked-in syndrome, a condition in which patients are almost completely paralysed — often able to move only their eyelids — but still fully conscious.


Has universal ageing mechanism been found?

An overworked protein that causes yeast to age when it neglects one of its functions may trigger ageing in mice too. If the same effect is found in people, it may suggest new ways to halt or reverse age-related disease.

As we get older, genes can start to be expressed in the wrong body tissues – a process that is thought to contribute to diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. But while sunlight or chemicals are known to cause limited DNA damage, how more widespread changes in gene expression come about has been unclear.

To investigate, David Sinclair and colleagues at Harvard Medical School turned to yeast cells. These produce a dual-function protein called Sir2 that, while being involved in DNA repair, also helps keep certain genes switched off.

As yeast cells age, the protein can’t do both jobs and neglects its role as a gene suppressor.

Now Sinclair’s team has shown that SIRT1, the mammalian version of Sir2, also begins to neglect its gene-suppressor role in mice whose DNA is damaged, and that this may contribute to ageing.

This raises the hope that, if gene-suppressing proteins become similarly overworked in ageing people, they could become prime targets for drugs to keep us young.

This possibility is boosted by the team’s finding that mice engineered to over-express the gene for SIRT1 were better at repairing DNA, more resistant to cancer, and maintained a more youthful pattern of gene expression.

“The most exciting thing is that this work may unify in a single molecular pathway what we know about ageing in different organisms such as yeast and mammals,” says Maria Blasco of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid, who works on mechanisms of cellular ageing.

“It opens up the possibility of restoring youth in the elderly by re-establishing a useful pattern of gene expression,” adds Sinclair.


‘4-D’ Microscope Revolutionizes The Way We Look At Nano World

More than a century ago, the development of the earliest motion picture technology made what had been previously thought “magical” a reality: capturing and recreating the movement and dynamism of the world around us. A breakthrough technology based on new concepts has now accomplished a similar feat, but on an atomic scale–by allowing, for the first time, the real-time, real-space visualization of fleeting changes in the structure and shape of matter barely a billionth of a meter in size.

Such “movies” of atomic changes in materials of gold and graphite, obtained using the technique, are featured in a paper appearing in the November 21 issue of the journal Science. A patent on the conceptual framework of this approach was granted to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2006.

The new technique, dubbed four-dimensional (4D) electron microscopy, was developed in the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology, directed by Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry and professor of physics at Caltech, and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize for pioneering the science of femtochemistry, the use of ultrashort laser flashes to observe fundamental chemical reactions–atoms uniting into molecules, then breaking apart back into atoms–occurring at the timescale of the femtosecond, or one millionth of a billionth of a second. The work “captured atoms and molecules in motion,” Zewail says, akin to the freeze-frame stills snapped by 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge of a galloping horse (which proved for the first time that a horse does indeed lift all four hooves off the ground as it gallops) and other moving objects.


Scientists take a step closer to an elixir of youth

Researchers believe boosting the amount of a naturally forming enzyme in the body could prevent cells dying and so lead to extended, healthier, lifespans.

The protein telomerase helps maintain the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes which act like the ends of shoelaces and stop them unravelling.

As we age, and our cells divide, these caps become frayed and shorter and eventually are so damaged that the cell dies. Scientists believe boosting our natural levels of telomerase could rejuvenate them.

A team at the Spanish National Cancer Centre in Madrid tested the theory on mice and found that those genetically engineered to produce 10 times the normal levels of telomerase lived 50 per cent longer than normal.

Maria Blasco, who led the research, told the New Scientist said that the enzyme was capable of turning “a normal, mortal cell into an immortal cell”.

She added that she was optimistic that a similar approach may eventually lead to extended human lifespans – though she urged caution.

“You can delay the ageing of mice and increase their lifespan,” she said.