Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Friday, 29 August 2008

The miracles of Dubai

Yeah, while we're sitting here talking, some people invest big time in technology and science. I can't but respect those countries that host crazy and amazing achievements of terrestrial engineering. You think it's too much wasted money? Well, I don't see the difference whether we spend big money to go to Mars or to build extremely luxurious and complicated hotel. Yeah, I also prefer to colonise Mars, but well, that's hard and requires continuous flow of money that we cannot secure. So, let's appreciate the miracles of Dubai and imagine what we'd do with the same amount of money.
And if you read the second article, you'll see it's not only beautiful, it looks like it will be also functional!

Dubai Will Build & Export Rotating Pre-Fabricated Units For Rotating Towers

Dubai Rotating Tower

Dubai will be home to and international hub for an innovative skyscraper, which will keep changing its shape and generate surplus energy from the wind as well as the sun.

The ’tower in motion’ is a revolutionary project based on “Dynamic Architecture”, a new concept introduced by Florentine architect David Fisher. The project has generated considerable interest all over the world even before its launch, as a trend-setting architecture.

Details of the unique building design, production of clean energy and the innovative technology that distinguishes this milestone in contemporary architecture were presented to an audience that included local and international media at the Burj Al Arab yesterday.

The new building will be the first skyscraper “produced” with industrial systems process: in fact, 90% of the building will be constructed as modules in an industrial plant and, then, assembled on the central core, the only part that will be built “on-site” using traditional techniques.

Dubai will be home to this revolutionary architecture in all sense as the pre-fabricated units for the tower will be produced in a facility set up in Jebel Ali. These units will then be shipped to 11 other major cities including Moscow, Milan, New York and Tokyo where similar towers will come up following Dubai.

Each floor of the tower will consist of 12 modules that will arrive at the job site completely finished and with electrical, plumbing as well as air-conditioning systems ready for use. The modules will then be mechanically assembled at the rate of one floor every seven days.

This provides a series of important advantages: first of all, the application of industrial quality control techniques to the finished product, the possibility of customizing individual apartments, reduced production times and costs and, last but not least, reducing the risks of accidents and injuries on the job site. In fact, production and installation will require only 90 technicians and workers on the site, as against over 2,000 for a comparable traditional building.

Dubai Rotating Tower

Another innovation that distinguishes the tower of endless shapes is its dynamic use of space, which not only adapts to its surroundings but also to the tenant’s needs and, why not, the tenant’s caprices. Thanks to a mechanism that allows each floor to rotate autonomously by virtue of voice activated technology, it will be possible to select the view from the window at any moment, deciding how to use the daylight or to let it rotate slowly as viewers enjoy the surroundings. The external shape and profile of the tower can also change constantly, letting a new way to see architecture come to life: non motionless anymore, but dynamic.

But that's not all. The tower is also a “green” building that generates electricity for itself and five other equivalent buildings. The secret is 48 wind turbines mounted horizontally between one floor and the next, and the photovoltaic cells located on the roofs of the individual apartments. Never before has a building been designed to produce so much more energy than it consumes.

When completed, the skyscraper will have 68 floors and will be 313 meters (1,027 feet) high. Built in association with local entrepreneurs, the tower will comprise a 6-star hotel, offices and apartments of various sizes besides five villas on the top floor. Each of the villas will have designated parking on the same floor with vehicles brought up and down in special elevators. The roof of the “Penthouse” villa will also have a swimming pool, a garden and an Arabian majlis.

For a quick return home, the tower will have a retractable heliport, a platform that will extend from the shell of the building at the 64th floor at the moment of landing, hus maintaining the ergonomics of the tower.

Since such features calls for a high level of integration between concept, design, planning, manufacturing of components and construction, many of the world’s leading companies and professionals have been contracted for this project.

The project has already aroused intense interest among both institutional and private investors. The first apartments could be delivered to buyers in a full ten months earlier than traditional delivery times.

Sales for the skyscraper, the construction of which will involve a total investment of $350 million, will be handled by Gowealthy, leading real estate company in Dubai.source

Skyscraper Creates All Its Own Energy


This skyscraper, to be built in Dubai, is called the Burj al-Taqa (’Energy Tower’), and it will produce 100% of its own power. The tower will have a huge (197 foot diameter) wind turbine on its roof, and arrays of solar cells that will total 161,459 square feet in size. Additional energy is provided by an island of solar panels, which drifts in the sea within viewing distance of the tower.


Burj al-Taqa’s cylindrical shape is designed to expose as little surface area to the sun as possible. A protective solar shield reaches from the ground to the roof, covering 60 degrees of the giant circular building. It protects the side most affected from the sun’s glaring rays, making sure that none of the rooms are exposed to direct sunlight. The diffuse light on the other sides of the building is tempered by a mineral coating on the windows.


The tower’s façade is to be built from a new generation of vacuum glazing that will only come on the market in 2008. The new top-quality windows are meant to largely shield the interior of the tower from outside heat — indispensable in a region where outside temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer. This is made possible by a new breakthrough in the quality of the materials used: the new vacuum glazing windows transmit as much as two thirds less heat compared to today’s products.

The architects chose an ancient Persian architectural feature as their model. Hundreds of years ago, wealthy merchants erected wind towers on the roofs of their houses, an idea which was eventually exported to the Arab world. The buildings, which have now become tourist attractions, have a natural air conditioning system. Lateral openings in the towers suck in cool air like a chimney. The heavier cool air sinks down and displaces the lighter hot air, creating a comfortable temperature inside the living space despite the scorching sun.

Gerbers’s design is designed to function in a similar way: The negative pressure created by winds breaking along the tower will suck the spent air from the rooms out of the building via air slits in the façade. The plan is for fresh air to be pumped into the interior of the building by means of a duct system at the same time.

Seawater will be used to pre-cool the air. Three large cooling units in the giant building’s cellar will eventually lower the temperature to a comfortable 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Transparent ducts will channel the fresh air into spacious atriums and from there into the corridors and offices. The building’s designers want to use steel ropes to suspend hanging gardens inside the air ducts, transforming a feature which is often regarded as an architectural blemish and hidden behind sheet metal in other buildings.

At the same time, the underground cooling center also cools the water in the pipelines running through the underside of each floor’s ceiling. The system of tubes is designed to be a modern air-conditioning system which cools gently without unpleasant air currents.

The Burj al-Taqa seems like the most recent example of a trend that has been observable for some time. In large cities such as Chicago, New York or Paris, environmentally friendly skyscrapers are being built that win ecological awards and apparently herald a new green wave in the construction of tall buildings.

Via Spielgel Online source

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Technology in July,2008-robots, caterpillars and implants

In this edition:

  1. Sweeping Panoramas, Courtesy of a Robot
  2. Brain implant helps stroke victim speak again
  3. Spinal implant grows with the patient
  4. Cold war 'caterpillar drive' could harvest sea power
  5. Weight-sensitive aircraft seats

Sweeping Panoramas, Courtesy of a Robot

ROBOTS already cut the grass and vacuum rugs. Now they are helping with a more artistic job: creating vast photographic panoramas with ordinary cameras.

A new, inexpensive robotic device from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University attaches snugly to almost any standard digital camera, tilting and panning it to fashion highly detailed panoramic vistas — whether of the Grand Canyon, a rain forest or a backyard Easter egg hunt. The robot is called GigaPan, named “giga” for the billion or more pixels it can marshal for a typical panorama. It creates the huge, high-resolution vista by extending its robotic finger and repeatedly clicking the camera shutter, taking tens, hundreds or even thousands of overlapping images, each at a slightly different angle, that are then stitched together by software to create one gigapixel shot.

Viewers can explore a panorama in detail when it is displayed on a computer screen, clicking on any part of the image and then zooming in for crisp close-ups. You can move from an overall shot of the forest, for instance, to an image of one small moth resting on the side of a single tree trunk.

The roboticized camera mount and related software were devised by a team led by Randy Sargent, a senior systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon West and the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and Illah Nourbakhsh, an associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. The work was part of a project to introduce people to different countries and cultures through images.

The GigaPan provides a low-cost alternative to sophisticated motorized camera mounts on the market used to take panoramic photos, said Greg Downing, co-founder of the xRez Studio in Santa Monica, Calif., which specializes in gigapixel photography. The motorized mounts can cost thousands of dollars, he said, and typically require a high-end camera.

Dr. Nourbakhsh said the Carnegie Mellon robotic mount, to be released commercially later this year, would be priced “so that as many people as possible can afford to use it.”

“We hope it will cost in the low hundreds of dollars — well below $500,” he said. The GigaPan will attach to any ordinary point-and-shoot digital camera.

About 300 test models of the GigaPan robot and software have been tried worldwide during the past year by scientists, schoolchildren and photography fans, among others, Dr. Nourbakhsh said.

People can share their panoramas at a Web site provided by Carnegie Mellon (

One of Dr. Palmer’s panoramas — of Hanauma Bay on the coast of Oahu in Hawaii — has 1,750 total frames, 25 rows by 70 columns. ( The exposures and number of frames were calculated automatically by the computer inside the GigaPan.

It took about an hour and a half for the robot to shoot the scene in a fairly silent process, with only “a low hum, and the steady click of the camera,” he said.source

My comment: Here's something practical and if you click on any of the links, you'll see the pictures are awesome! I want one of those for sure.

Brain implant helps stroke victim speak again

Movie Camera
  • 18:00 09 July 2008
An implant and specialised software have been used to interpret a paralysed man's brain signals and produce recognisable sounds

Nine years ago, a brain-stem stroke left Erik Ramsey almost totally paralysed, but with his mental faculties otherwise intact. Today he is learning to talk again – although so far he can only manage basic vowel sounds.

In 2004, Ramsey had an electrode implanted in his speech-motor cortex by Philip Kennedy's team at Neural Signals, a company based in Duluth, Georgia, US, who hoped the signal from Ramsey's cortex could be used to restore his speech.

Interpreting these signals proved tricky, however. Fortunately, another team headed by Frank Guenther at Boston University, Massachusetts, US, has been working on the same problem from the opposite direction.

Guenther and his colleagues have used information from brain scans of healthy patients to monitor neural activity during speech. These studies show that the brain signals don't code for words, but instead control the position of the lips, tongue, jaw and larynx to produce basic sounds.

Guenther's research group then developed software that could recognise and translate the patterns of brain activity during speech.

When they teamed up with Kennedy, they could use their software to interpret the signals from Ramsey's implanted electrode and work out the shape of the vocal tract that Ramsey is attempting to form. This information can then be fed to a vocal synthesiser that produces the corresponding sound.

The software is now translating Ramsey's thoughts into sounds in real time, so Ramsey hears his "voice" as he makes a sound, effectively bypassing the damaged region of his brain stem.

This gives Ramsey immediate feedback on his pronunciation, which he can use to rapidly hone his speaking skills in the same way infants do when learning to talk. Initially, when prompted to produce a vowel sound such as "ee" or "oh", he hit the correct sound around 45% of the time. Over the course of a few weeks, Ramsey's accuracy has risen to 80%.

In the future, Guenther says that the goal is to give Ramsey the ability to speak complete words with fluency, but that will require software and hardware improvements.

"The synthesiser is good for vowels, but not for consonants," he says. "We're going to move to a synthesiser with better consonant capabilities, where the patient would have more control over jaw height, for instance."

But a more complicated system would be harder to control, says Guenther. "Right now, Erik is controlling two dimensions to create vowels," he says. "But for consonants he would need seven dimensions – three to control tongue movement, two for lip movement, and one each for jaw and larynx height."

Ramsey still retains control of one muscle in his eye, through which he can communicate. Although that communication route is very slow, Müller thinks it might produce more data given sufficient time.

He also thinks that Guenther and Kennedy's technique might not be suitable for fully "locked-in" patients, who can't control any muscles.

"If you have a completely locked-in patient then maybe the brain begins to degrade because they're not able to control anything," he says. "Those patients might be completely unable to communicate even using a brain-control interface."

Guenther presented his latest results at the Acoustics'08 Paris conference in France on 3 July. source

My comment: Good, huh? That's certainly a hope for many people after strokes.

Spinal implant grows with the patient

  • 14 July 2008

CHILDREN suffering from the spinal condition scoliosis face the prospect of major surgery with lifelong complications. To try to avoid this, a new corrective implant is under development that "grows" with the child, harvesting the energy it needs from its host's movements.

Scoliosis affects as many as 1 in 50 adult women and 1 in 200 men, causing their spines to curve from side to side into unnatural "C" or "S" shapes. In severe cases, it is treated by grafting sections of bone or metallic fixators onto the spine to help straighten it. But this "spinal fusion" surgery usually cannot be done until a child is almost fully grown, by which time the symptoms are already advanced.

The technique has other drawbacks, too: it restricts movement, and can cause surrounding muscles and ligaments to atrophy. "Vertebral fusion drastically [weakens] the strength of the skeleton," says Jose Alvarez Canal. spine over time.

The new implant, developed in collaboration with spine experts from Spain and France, uses
a hydraulic piston to apply a force between two points along the spine, gradually correcting its curvature.

The device can be fitted to relatively young children, but as they grow and the piston moves, the force it exerts inevitably reduces. To correctthis, doctors need to top up the pressure on the piston. The NADAR device is designed to allow some free movement of the spine, some of
which it harnesses to pump hydraulic fluid from a low-pressure reserve within the device into a high-pressure reservoir. When adjustment is needed, the doctors use wireless telemetry to open a valve that releases fluid from the reservoir into the piston. The device is removed completely once the spine is straight, reducing the risk of complications.
. source

My comment: Another cool application of simple physics and complicated engineering.

Cold war 'caterpillar drive' could harvest sea power

  • 02 July 2008
  • David McNeill Miguel A. Quintana
  • Magazine issue 2663

WHEN it was launched in June 1992, Yamato 1 seemed to herald the future of marine transport. With its sleek lines and glass-encased cockpit, this 166-tonne catamaran resembled a cross between a bullet train and Thunderbird 2, but its most advanced feature was hidden from view: a revolutionary electromagnetic engine that used superconducting magnets rather than propellers to drive it through the water. The same technology featured in Tom Clancy's novel The Hunt for Red October, published eight years earlier, as the "caterpillar drive" that powered the fictional Soviet stealth submarine. According to Yamato 1's Japanese builders, this vibration-free and virtually silent engine would make their vessel the forerunner of a new generation of high-speed cargo ships. And that would also bring stealthy subs like Red October a step closer.

Sadly, the tests that followed told a different story. The vessel's electromagnetic drive was extremely inefficient and needed huge amounts . source
My comment:

Weight-sensitive aircraft seats

A seat's suspension can cut the risk of injury when a plane or helicopter crashes. But the suspension systems currently in use rely on "dumb" springs or other mechanical dampeners to cushion a person from impact.

However, a team funded by the US Naval Air Warfare Centerin Maryland say that "smart" suspension that is able to take a person's weight into account and detect external jolts can be safer.

The team's active suspension can sense the forces on the seat and change its levels of cushioning, using a magnetorheological fluid damper. Put simply, a magnetic fluid inside the damper can be made more or less viscous using a magnetic field.

The system can also tap into an aircraft's flight-control system to predict whether a crash is imminent, and has its own power source so it can work even if the aircraft's main power fails.

The team says the seat could save lives, as well as making flying more comfortable for the occupants.

Read the full weight-sensitive seat suspension patent application. source

My comment: That is cool, though I'm not sure how good will they do in case of actual crash or explosion of the plane which is the most common source of grieve in air plane crashes.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The ways of the Nature

In today's edition:

  1. Gene Variation May Raise Risk of H.I.V., Study Finds
  2. Counting monkeys tick off yet another 'human' ability
  3. Frozen embryos give bouncier babies
  4. Drought-resistant wheat beats Australian heat
  5. Making formula milk more like mum's
Very interesting articles, I suggest that you read them, especially the one for the counting monkeys. And also the last article which is more about the miracles of breast milk than about the formula.

Gene Variation May Raise Risk of H.I.V., Study Finds

July 17, 2008

A genetic variation that once protected people in sub-Saharan Africa from a now extinct form of malaria may have left them somewhat more vulnerable to infection by H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. The gene could account for 11 percent of the H.I.V. infections in Africa, explaining why the disease is more common there than expected, researchers based in Texas and London say. The researchers said their finding had no immediate public health consequences. But if confirmed, it would offer an important insight into the biology of the virus.

The genetic variation has been studied in United States Air Force personnel, whose H.I.V. infections have been followed for 25 years. African-Americans who carried the variation were 50 percent more likely to acquire H.I.V. than African-Americans who did not, although their disease progressed more slowly, say researchers led by Sunil K. Ahuja, director of the Veterans Administration H.I.V./AIDS Center, San Antonio, and Matthew J. Dolan of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md. Their results were reported Wednesday in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

The genetic variation, called a SNP, or snip, involves a change in one unit of DNA. This particular snip has a far-reaching consequence. It prevents red blood cells from inserting a certain protein on their surface. The protein is called a receptor because it receives signals from a hormone known as CCL5, which is part of the immune system’s regulatory system.

The receptor is also used by a malarial parasite called Plasmodium vivax to gain entry to the red blood cells it feeds on. About 10,000 years ago, people in Africa who possessed the SNP variation gained a powerful survival advantage from not being vulnerable to the ancestor of Plasmodium vivax. The SNP eventually swept through the population and the vivax parasite died out in Africa, to be replaced by its current successor, Plasmodium falciparum.

More than 90 percent of people in Africa now lack the receptor on their red blood cells, as do about 60 percent of African-Americans.

The possibility that the receptor has a bearing on H.I.V. infection first occurred to Robin Weiss, a biologist at University College, London, after he noticed that the virus seemed to be hitchhiking on red blood cells. Dr. Weiss, who wrote the new report with Dr. Ahuja and Dr. Dolan, showed in laboratory tests that H.I.V. latches onto the receptor in place of its intended guest, the CCL5 hormone.

The Texas-London research team is not certain how lack of the receptor promotes H.I.V. infection, but Dr. Ahuja said the red blood cells acted like a sponge for CCL5. Because CCL5 is known to obstruct multiplication of the virus, having lots of the hormone in the bloodstream may prevent infection. Conversely, people whose blood cannot soak up the hormone could be more vulnerable.

Dr. Weiss said the red blood cell receptor was similar to another receptor, CCR5, which occurs on the surface of the white blood cells that are H.I.V.’s major target. A small percentage of Europeans have a mutation that prevents the CCR5 receptor from being displayed on the surface of white blood cells, and they are protected against H.I.V.

It is somewhat puzzling that the absence of the two receptors has the opposite effect — vulnerability to H.I.V. when the red cell receptor is missing, protection from it when the white cell receptor is withdrawn. The researchers offer an explanation that they concede is far from straightforward.

Dr. Goldstein said that in parts of the United States, African-Americans have a higher infection rate than European-Americans, and that patients with a higher proportion of African genes may be more vulnerable to H.I.V. for reasons unconnected to the SNP. Nonetheless, the SNP would show up in a greater proportion of infected people simply because of their African heritage. If so, the gene’s apparent association with H.I.V. infection could be just coincidental, not causal.

The researchers took steps to rule out this possibility, but Dr. Goldstein said those steps might not have been adequate.

Although H.I.V. is too recent an infection to have left an evolutionary mark on the genome, human ancestors would have been exposed to malarial parasites and to S.I.V., which infects monkeys, and the genome still bears the marks of these challenges to survival. Better knowledge of these adaptations will help understand the biology of H.I.V. infection, he said. source

My comment: I find that article very intriguing and quite possible explanation. I don't see why the absence of a receptor in the red blood cells and the white blood cells lead to controversial results since those receptors are made from different hormones, obviously. Their connection may be uncertain, but that's all.

Counting monkeys tick off yet another 'human' ability

  • 11:03 01 July 2008
  • Ewen Callaway

At this rate a monkey might prove the Riemann hypothesis. Rhesus macaques have been shown to possess yet another numerical talent once thought unique to humans – they can simultaneously count audible beeps and dots on a computer screen.

Their ability to comprehend numbers not as just discrete images or sounds, but as abstract representations that can be combined suggests that such maths skills aren't unique to humans, says Kerry Jordan, a psychologist at Utah State University, Logan, US, who led the new study.

This sort of evidence "shows that [animals] have these precursors to math very early on in the evolutionary line and early on in development," she says.

Jordan and colleague Elizabeth Brannon, of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, US, trained two eight-year-old female macaques to equate beeps to dots on a computer screen. So if a monkey heard seven beeps, it knew to tap a square on the screen displaying seven dots.

Next, the researchers tested the monkeys’ training in adding dots and beeps together.

The animals were presented dots of different sizes flash onto a screen. At the same time they heard a series of short tones.

To determine if the monkeys could combine the two, Jordan and Brannon showed the animals a screen with two numerical choices, represented as dots – one the correct sum, one incorrect.

Both monkeys did better than 50:50 – one added the sights and sounds correctly 72% of the time, the other 66% of the time.

Both monkeys tended to make mistakes when the right and wrong answers were numerically similar. For instance, if the choices were one and eight, the animals rarely got it wrong. But they found it harder to choose between, say, five and six.

People make the same kind of errors when making snap numerical judgements, such counting the number of people in a crowd, says Jordan, which is further evidence that our abstract maths skills aren't unique.

The monkey's ability to add numbers seen and heard together makes sense in the wild, says Jordan.

"If you have an animal trying to make a decision to defend its territory, it's going to want know how many other animals it has to deal with," she says. It would do this by combining information on how many animals it could see with how many it could hear.

Irene Pepperberg, a psychologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who trained a parrot named Alex to add small sums, says the paper confirms observations in the wild.

Flycatchers, for instance, seem to communicate their mood to other birds using a numerical combination of song and wing motions. The more wing flicks and songs, the more likely it is to attack another bird, she says.

Journal reference: Cognition, DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.05.006 source

My comment: A very interesting experiment I believe. I know how well animals can learn things, because I love dealing with animals myself. It's amazing how intelligent a goat can be-an animal that you don't expect to be very smart. But still, they never ceased to amaze me. I think the important message from this article is that humans are not that unique. We might be the masterpiece in the moment, but we are nothing but a product.

Frozen embryos give bouncier babies

  • 09 July 2008

FROZEN embryos do better than fresh. That's the surprising conclusion of a study of children conceived by IVF which set out to address concerns that freezing might harm embryos.

Anja Pinborg of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark studied more than 1200 children born in the country between 1995 and 2006 as a result of IVF using frozen embryos and compared them with almost 18,000 children born after conventional IVF using fresh embryos.

The frozen embryos produced babies of roughly normal birth weight, while those from conventional IVF were on average about 200 grams lighter, Pinborg told the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Barcelona, Spain, on 8 July.

Freezing an embryo shortly after fertilisation is unlikely to improve its viability, though. An alternative explanation, Pinborg argues, is that embryos able to survive the freezing and thawing process are likely to be healthier. "There's selection," she suggests.

What's more, women who have eggs frozen for later use tend to be younger and in better physical shape. And unlike women given conventional IVF, they will not be trying to establish a pregnancy immediately after being given hormone treatment to harvest their eggs - which it is thought could impair the process of implantation.

Pinborg's team also found that babies from frozen embryos were no more likely to suffer birth defects or neurological problems than conventional IVF babies.

From issue 2664 of New Scientist magazine, 09 July 2008, page 19 source
My comment: That's a good news mainly for all the women that want to become mothers trough IVF. So it looks like freezing the embryos isn't such a trouble for them. Which is nice.

Drought-resistant wheat beats Australian heat

  • 28 June 2008

WILL Australia's farmers fall for the charms of drought-resistant wheat, even if it's genetically modified? Faced with climate change and a growing food crisis, enthusiasts certainly hope such traits will help overcome aversion to GM technology.

Of 24 strains of GM wheat tested in field trials, two lines exceeded the yield of the non-GM variety by 20 per cent under drought conditions, according to German Spangenberg of the Victoria Department of Primary Industries in Melbourne, Australia. The results were presented last week at the Bio2008 convention in San Diego, California.

Environmental groups remain unconvinced. "The main driver of genetic engineering is to make it possible to patent crop strains. That won't help farmers in developing countries who need to keep back seeds for their next year's crop," says Louise Sales of Greenpeace Australia in Sydney.

Australian farmers may yet be persuaded. The forecast for this year's wheat crop has just been trimmed by 9 per cent because of dry conditions, although it may still be up by 10 million tonnes compared to last year's drought-devastated crop. source

My comment: Just notice: Of 24 strains of GM wheat tested in field trials, two lines exceeded the yield of the non-GM variety by 20 per cent under drought conditions. That means that only 2 of the GM exceeded the yield of the normal crops! 2/24. That is 8.34%! What that does of the claim that GM crops are much better than the normal one. I don't know whether 20% is worthy the price of such crops.

Making formula milk more like mum's

  • 14 July 2008
  • Jo Whelan
  • Magazine issue 2664

Breast is best. There's no doubt about it. The list of proven benefits grows longer every year. Breastfed babies are not only protected against a huge range of infections, they also enjoy lifelong benefits, from higher intelligence to a lower risk of obesity and diabetes.

The reason, we are discovering, is that breast milk is the ultimate functional food. As well as providing babies with the essential nutrients they need to grow and develop, it also contains hundreds of active components that do everything from targeting dangerous pathogens and boosting the development of a baby's gut to preventing allergic reactions and increasing appetite. What's more, the composition of breast milk changes over time to match babies' needs - levels of natural painkillers called beta-endorphins are highest right after birth, for instance, while levels of most nutrients gradually fall over the first year or so.

Due to its benefits, health authorities recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in addition to solid food until children are at least a year old. Yet in the Us, just 11 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed up to the age of six months. In the UK, the figure is just 3 per cent.

Mimicking human breast milk is virtually impossible. Besides the fats, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins that babies need to survive, breast milk also
includes hormones, immune signalling molecules, antibodies and even living immune cells. It also contains live bacteria that help colonise a baby’s gut, along with substances that promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, endocannabinoids that stimulate suckling and appetite, stem cells with unknown purpose.

What we do know is that breast milk helps protect babies against disease in numerous different ways. It contains hundreds of specific substances that provide general protection against infections, ranging from sugars that stop bacteria sticking to gut cells,and fats that disrupt certain kinds of viruses, to an array of signalling molecules that stimulate immune development.
It also includes tailor-made protection in the form of antibodies specific to viruses,
bacteria and toxins that the mother has already been exposed to. In breastfed babies, these antibodies help mop up pathogens and toxins in the mouth, throat and gut. the way in which they are produced is highly sophisticated: some milk antibodies are secreted by immune cells that have migrated from the mother’s gut to her breasts.
Breast milk also contains living immune cells from the mother, which have been shown to survive in the baby’s gut, where they may target pathogens directly. some even enter the infant’s body proper, and might help “educate” its immune system. a mother’s milk also appears to teach her infant’s immune system what not to attack: it contains potential allergens eaten or even breathed in by the mother, along with factors that tell the baby’s immune system not to overreact to them.
By contrast, most infant formulas are made from cow’s milk. This also contains active components, but many are specific to cows, the levels differ greatly from those in human milk.

Genetic engineers have taken the first steps towards manufacturing around a dozen protective proteins found in human milk. The two closest to commercialisation are lactoferrin and lysozyme, an enzyme that attacks the cell wall of some bacteria and is thought to act in synergy with lactoferrin.
Human lactoferrin and lysozyme produced in genetically modified rice have produced
positive results when added to oral rehydration solutions, which are the main treatment for diarrhoea in developing countries. source

My comment: Ok, two comments: first, obviously the breast milk is an absolute natural perfectness for feeding a growing person. And second: if you read in the article, you'll see that there is a survey on 140 that took the proteins lactoferrin and lysozyme and they had less diarrhoea than those taking standard solution with no adverse effects. However this is a very small number of people to conduct a research and also, the guy that made it, works for the company that produces it (and also GM modified rice). That's why I'm naturally suspicious toward such researches. You can't promote something on the base of internal company data. There should be an independent assesment. And that's what precisely the article is against which is disgusting.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Space news, everyone!

Space fans, here we go again. Few exciting news about space exploration and also a cool video that recorded the sounds of the icebergs. I find it very funny and interesting.

  1. Embracing icebergs sing eerie duets
  2. Makemake Is Named the Newest Plutoid
  3. Video Shows Moon From Other Side
  4. Solar sail gets another chance for launch
  5. Almighty smash left record crater on Mars
If you wonder why the Iceberg stuff is on the top, it's because I really want you to watch the video.

Embracing icebergs
sing eerie duetsMovie Camera

  • 12:22 09 July 2008
  • Nora Schultz

They travel from Antarctica to Tahiti, can sound like laughing monkeys, or barking dogs, and some were triggered by the December 2004 tsunami: they are the eerie songs made by some of Antarctica's largest icebergs.

The phenomenon occurs when the huge lumps of ice scrape past each other and produce thousands of tiny "icequakes". These are so similar to earthquakes, researchers say, that icebergs could help to better understand and predict tremors.

Massive tabular icebergs break off the Antarctic ice shelf about every 50 years. Soon after the last "calving" event in 2000, unusual harmonic tremors were picked up by underwater hydrophones as far as Tahiti.

Emile Okal of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and colleagues soon traced the sounds back to the new icebergs, including what was then the world's largest free-floating berg, B15A.

To find out how the icebergs produce the noises, Doug MacAyeal at the University of Chicago and colleagues constructed a network of seismographs on iceberg C16, which at the time was aground in the Ross Sea and adjoining to B15A.

They monitored the tremors – which are inaudible to the human ear, but can be heard if the recordings are speeded up – during the austral summer of 2003.

The team found that one particular song was repeated by the giants daily, and the timing matched that of the tides in the Ross Sea. It began vigorously on the first surge then slowly ground to a halt and began again when the tide reversed.

The researchers triangulated the source of the tremors and discovered that they came from an area where C16 was rammed by B15A in a collision zone only a few kilometres long. Pushed by the daily tides, the bergs scraped past each other in many brief, jerky movements.

The researchers say the icebergs could allow them to study earthquakes in a laboratory-like setting.

"It turns out that these icebergs are perfect analogies of plate tectonics. They float on the ocean like surface plates float on magma; and just like them, they occasionally collide and slide against each other," says MacAyeal.

"For example, the pattern after the tidal pause, when the contact zone breaks again after briefly refreezing, might help people understand why the first earthquake after a long delay is so much stronger," he says. "The iceberg tremors could also lead to ways to predict the strength of aftershocks."

MacAyeal has played with the speed of recordings to produce sounds "which speak to the human ear". In one instance, the bergs "bark" like a dog, elsewhere they "ping" like a submarine (see video, right).

The seismometers also recorded the break-up of B15A in 2005, producing a sound similar to a laughing monkey.

Daniela Jansen at the University of Swansea, UK, says it could be useful to record similar tremors on the Larsen C ice shelf.

Once this ice shelf breaks up catastrophically, like its cousins Larsen A and B have before, the tremor data could help to pinpoint where the disintegration started. This could help understand the connection between ice shelf break-up and climate warming.

Journal reference: Journal of Geophysical Research (DOI: 10.1029/2008JF001005, in press) source

My comment: The video is hilarious. Or ok, wrong word. It's just very exciting to hear 2 icebergs rubbing each other. It reminds me of the Earth humming. It looks like we're immersed by sounds, which is so cool. And also, do you realise that sound and the earthquakes seismic waves are basically the same thing- pressure waves :) That's so cool!

Makemake Is Named the Newest Plutoid

Published: July 20, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — A dwarf planet orbiting beyond Neptune has been designated the third plutoid in the solar system and given the name Makemake, the International Astronomical Union said Saturday.

The red methane-covered dwarf planet, formerly known as 2005 FY9 or “Easterbunny,” is named after a Polynesian creator of humanity and god of fertility.

Just last month the astronomical union, which names planets and other heavenly bodies, decided to create a class of subplanets called plutoids.

Pluto, demoted from planet status, and Eris are the other two plutoids.

Makemake is slightly smaller and dimmer than Pluto and was discovered in 2005.

“The orbit is not particularly strange, but the object itself is big, probably about two-thirds the size of Pluto,” said Michael E. Brown of the California Institute of Technology, who discovered and named Makemake (pronounced MAH-keh MAH-keh).

Dr. Brown said the name came to him when he was looking for a mythological god and thought of Easter Island in the South Pacific. Makemake was the chief god among people who settled the island. source

My comment: Nice, another non-planet around. I don't see why they cannot be planets. I mean, what's so special in the term "planet". And they are not so small after all. Anyway, I hope the naming brings us good fortune.

Video Shows Moon From Other Side

July 19, 2008

A NASA spacecraft designed to look for comets turned its cameras homeward, capturing a unique view of the moon passing in front of the Earth as seen from 31 million miles away. The spacecraft, Deep Impact, took shots at 15-minute intervals, which were combined to make the sequence shown below.

The latest images show the moon and Earth in greater detail than previous ones taken by orbiting spacecraft, showing oceans and continents on our planet and craters on the moon. By studying how Earth looks from so far away, the scientists hope to sharpen their search for alien worlds that may share similar characteristics.

Sara Seager, a planetary theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-investigator on the extended mission for Deep Impact, notes that the data being gathered are just for planning purposes because the discovery of a good candidate alien planet is a long way off in the future.

But should that time come, by comparing this detailed image of Earth to a glimmering, flickering point source of light, “we want to be able to infer whether there are oceans and continents on another planet,” she said. — SARAH GRAHAM source

My comment: Eh, far in the future my ass. I bet it would happen in 5 years or less. But the video is cool.

Solar sail gets another chance for launch

  • 04 July 2008
A four-quadrant solar sail propulsion system – similar to the one to be tested from NanoSail-D – hovers with payload at a fixed point in space in Earth orbit (Illustration: NASA/MSFC)
A four-quadrant solar sail propulsion system – similar to the one to be tested from NanoSail-D – hovers with payload at a fixed point in space in Earth orbit (Illustration: NASA/MSFC)

IT'S an idea that has been plagued by misfortune. Now, proponents of technology that seeks to propel spacecraft using the pressure exerted by photons from the sun on thin "solar sails" look set for another chance to get their idea off the ground.

Missions by the US non-profit Planetary Society to test solar sail technology failed in 2001 and 2005, because the rockets needed to get them into space malfunctioned. Now they look set for a comeback as early as 29 July, when a tiny NASA spacecraft called NanoSail-D is scheduled to go into Earth orbit.

The aim is to demonstrate the feasibility of deploying sails in orbit. The spacecraft will unfurl four 3-metre-wide sails made of plastic film coated with aluminium. In addition to feeling pressure from sunlight, it is hoped that the sails will experience a slight drag from Earth's outer atmosphere. Similar sails could one day be used to bring normal satellites back to Earth after their missions, reducing orbital clutter.

The spacecraft will unfurl four sails made of plastic film coated with aluminium

Worryingly, the launcher for the spacecraft, Falcon 1, has suffered similar bad fortune. On its two launch attempts so far, it failed to reach orbit. source

My comment: That sounds so much as a sabotage. But sooner or later, it would fly. And I think that technology could have success, especially when we're not really looking for speedy deploy. I mean if you want to just fly around a detector in the Solar System, what a better way. Well, it won't be particularly quick, but it would spead up with time, having in mind there's no real friction. And it would be fun.

Almighty smash left record crater on Mars

  • 25 June 2008
An impact by an object more than half as wide as Mercury is thought to have created a crater that covers most of Mars's northern hemisphere (Courtesy of S Lombeyda/ M Marinova/ O Aharonson)
A giant impact explains why Mars's two hemispheres are so different (Illustration: Jeff Andrews-Hanna)
A giant impact explains why Mars's two hemispheres are so different (Illustration: Jeff Andrews-Hanna)

EVERY scar tells a story, yet a huge gash on Mars has long proven very hard to read. Now a peek beneath the planet's surface reveals that the scar is the largest known impact structure in the solar system - gouged out by a collision that reshaped the Red Planet.

The surface of Mars's northern hemisphere lies about 6 kilometres lower than that of the southern hemisphere. This has greatly influenced the planet's evolution, says Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The northern hemisphere's thinner crust means more magma has been able to push to the surface to fuel volcanism, and the difference in altitude meant that ancient outbursts of liquid water tended to flow from south to north.

It also means that atmospheric pressure on northern surfaces is higher than in the south, encouraging winds there to scour the surface more than in the opposite hemisphere. As a result, it seems likely that more dust has been blown from north to south than the other way.

A prime theory to explain how this global asymmetry came about is that a huge impact blasted away much of the northern hemisphere's crust. The prime suspect in the hunt for clues to such a collision had been an extensive structure in the northern hemisphere, thought to have formed about 4.4 billion years ago.

This timing fits with other evidence that numerous large projectiles were careening through the inner solar system at this time, such as the Mars-sized planet that walloped the primordial Earth and formed our Moon, yet left no trace on Earth.

The timing fits - numerous large projectiles were careening through the inner solar system 4.4 billion years ago

However, the Mars impact theory has been undermined by the structure's irregular, kidney shape, since an impact would have punched out a circle or ellipse.

To examine the suspected crater in more detail, Andrews-Hanna and colleagues analysed variations in the strength of gravity above the Martian surface using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This revealed that the structure was actually a near-perfect ellipse, but ended up looking kidney-shaped because lava has since obscured part of it (scroll down for image).

At roughly 8500 by 10,600 kilometres across, it is nearly 15 times the area of the Moon's South Pole-Aitken basin which, at 2500 kilometres in diameter, is the largest undisputed impact scar in the solar system.

The Mars crater was probably created by an object as large as 2700 kilometres across - over half of the diameter of Mercury. The effects of such an impact would have been catastrophic, says Andrews-Hanna.

"Within the basin you'd have had a magma ocean - it would have been easily several tens of kilometres deep," he says. "Outside the basin you would have had a tremendous amount of ejecta raining back down on the surface."

Herbert Frey of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, had been sceptical of the giant impact theory because of the structure's irregular shape, but now calls it the "best working hypothesis" to explain the differences between the Red Planet's hemispheres. "They make a compelling case," he says.

Journal reference: Nature (vol 453, p 1216) source

My comment: No comment, really! The magnitude of the events is just leaving me speachless. I think the theory sounds plausible.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Recent on Archeology

  1. When crocodiles roamed the Arctic
  2. The Ordovician: Life's second big bang
  3. Uncovering Evidence of a Workaday World Along the Nile

When crocodiles roamed the Arctic

  • 18 June 2008
  • Magazine issue 2661

WHEN Ernest Shackleton and his men marched towards the South Pole in December 1908, they came across something entirely unexpected. After scaling the vast Beardmore glacier on the edge of the polar plateau, they found seams of coal amid the snow and ice. They also found impressions of leaves in sandstone boulders nearby and even fossilised wood from a coniferous tree.

The conclusion was extraordinary but inescapable: Antarctica was once warm and forested, conditions that could hardly be more different to the far-below-freezing midsummer weather that forced Shackleton's team to turn back before reaching the pole. How was this possible?

Four years later, Alfred Wegener put forward his theory of continental drift which, it was later realised, could explain the balmy climate: Antarctica had been warmer because it was once much closer to the equator. Even today, some schoolchildren are taught that continental drift accounts for all the evidence for ... source

My comment: I read the whole article. It looks kind of unbelievable to me that the Arctic average temperature in the summer was 32 C. I didn't quite read all of it, but still, the evidences are the bones of reptiles and other animals found in the ice.

The Ordovician: Life's second big bang

  • 11 June 2008
  • James O'Donoghue
  • Magazine issue 2660

JUST over half a billion years ago, evolution hit a purple patch. In the space of a few million years, once-empty seas were suddenly overrun by all manner of newfangled life forms. Animals had arrived on the scene and life on Earth never looked back.

At least, that's what we originally thought the fossil record was telling us. It now turns out that this spectacular event - known as the Cambrian explosion - stuttered to a halt not long after it began. Around 515 million years ago, evolution ran out of steam and the increase in biodiversity went into reverse. For the march of progress to continue, life needed rebooting.

It came in the form of a second explosion of life called the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, a little-heard-of episode which has been the focus of intense scientific interest in recent years. Since discovering hints of it around 20 years .. source

My comment: Forgot the source, but if you take a sentence and google it, you'll find the original article. Couldn't find the full article, so I won't comment it. If someone has it, I'ld be very happy to take a look.

Uncovering Evidence of a Workaday World Along the Nile

Published: July 1, 2008

Archaeologists have long fixed their sights on the grandeur that was ancient Egypt, the pyramids, temples and tombs. Few bothered to dig beneath and beyond the monumental stones for glimpses into the living and working spaces of ordinary Egyptians.

That is changing slowly but steadily. In the last two or three decades, excavations have uncovered urban remains and swept aside the conventional wisdom that the Egypt of the pharaohs, in contrast to Mesopotamia, was somehow a civilization without cities.

“We can now confirm that this was not the case,” said Nadine Moeller, an Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

She described the discovery of a large administration building and seven grain silos buried at the site of an ancient provincial capital on the Upper Nile. The partly preserved round silos, more than 3,500 years old, appear to be the largest storage bins known from early Egypt. Seal impressions and other artifacts associated with commodities put a somewhat older date for the central building, with at least 16 columns.

An official announcement of the discovery was made by Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council for Antiquities in Egypt. He is best known for the more spectacular research on mummies and tombs, but is now promoting greater attention to settlement exploration.

Mark Lehner, an Egyptologist who uncovered remains of settlements for workers who built the pyramids at Giza, said that at Dr. Moeller’s site he inspected layers of sediments showing occupation extending back 5,000 years to the dawn of Egyptian civilization and forward to the early Islamic period in the first millennium A.D. The silos are near temple ruins from about 300 B.C.

“Where there are temples, we are learning, they were surrounded by towns which have usually been overlooked,” Dr. Lehner said.

The site of the recent discovery is at Tell Edfu, halfway between the modern cities of Aswan and Luxor (Thebes in antiquity). For much of Egyptian history, the central government was based in Memphis, in the north, or Thebes. The town at Tell Edfu was an important regional center with close ties to Thebes.

Dr. Moeller and a team of European and Egyptian archaeologists began excavations near the temple there in 2005. They exposed a large courtyard surrounded by mud-brick walls. Underneath the courtyard, they came upon foundations of the first three of the seven silos. From artifacts, the archaeologists dated the silos to the 17th dynasty, 1630 to 1520 B.C.

These storage bins, presumably for barley and emmer wheat, which were used for food and as a medium of exchange, were built of mud brick, with diameters from 18 to 22 feet. If their height was greater than the diameter, as was the usual case, the silos probably stood at least 25 feet tall.

In the last three years, the team excavated the column bases and chambers of what they think was the town’s administrative center. The building layout suggests it may have been part of the governor’s palace, and artifacts mark it as the economic heart of town.

Seal impressions, which established the building’s existence in the 13th dynasty, 1773 to 1650 B.C., indicate their use in identifying different commodities. Some seals showed ornamental patterns of spirals and hieroglyphic symbols belonging to different officials. Archaeologists said this was evidence of the activities in the building like accounting and the opening and sealing of boxes and ceramic jars in the course of business transactions. source

My comment: What I like is that people are making serious digs. I mean, it's nice to have all those monuments, but the stories we create on them are not only one-sided. They are based on way too many assumptions. Maybe now, we'll finally have an Egyptology based on evidences.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Technology of the future or back to the worms

Cool articles on some exciting developments on the science and technology scene.

  • Can you 'daydream' your way out of a coma?
  • Longevity gene keeps the brain ticking over
  • Smoking gene protects against cocaine addiction
  • Tequila is surprise raw material for diamond films
  • Google plans to become net-access nanny
  • Surgeons may get Minority Report-style display
  • The Worms Crawl In

Can you 'daydream' your way out of a coma?

Source: New Scientist
Date: 13 June 2008

Daydreaming your way out of a coma? Unlikely as it sounds, keeping track of a wandering mind may one day help doctors to discover whether a brain-damaged individual is still 'in there'.

When a healthy person is daydreaming, their brain is not occupied with specific tasks and the 'default network', a series of specific, connected regions in the brain's cortex, kicks in. The network's purpose is still hotly debated but recent evidence suggests it keeps the brain primed and ready to take on new tasks. Problems activating the default network have been linked to cognitive diseases like Alzheimer's and schizophrenia.

Now Steven Laureys and colleagues at the University of Liège in Belgium have used brain scans to measure the activity of the default network in 13 brain-damaged people whose levels of consciousness were different.

Their study, presented at this week's meeting of the European Neurology Society in Nice, France, found that activity varied in proportion to the amount of brain damage. Minimally conscious patients had a ten per cent reduction compared with healthy individuals, while activity was reduced by 35 per cent in coma patients and those in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). There was no activity at all in the default network of a brain-dead patient.

Laureys concludes that such a scan could act as a 'consciousness meter'. "This could turn into an utterly useful way to diagnose residual consciousness in brain-damaged patients," he says. Such a test could dramatically affect the fate of brain-damaged patients, by helping to determine whether to treat them with drugs or therapies, and in some cases, whether to keep them alive at all, says Laureys.

Usually, consciousness is measured by running a battery of behavioural tests. But these may miss some people who are minimally conscious. Two years ago, researchers at the University of Cambridge, together with Laureys's group, investigated an alternative. They found that the correct brain areas lit up in someone they thought was in a PVS when she was asked to imagine playing tennis. This indicated that she must in fact be conscious (New Scientist, 7 July 2007, p 40).

However, the test is difficult to carry out and negative results are hard to interpret as the patient may simply not be able to think about a particular task. Measuring activity in the resting brain is quicker - and doesn't depend on the patient responding. "We just scan someone for ten minutes and get an easily quantifiable read-out," says Laureys.

John Whyte at the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who is testing drugs that may help restore consciousness, says that although larger studies are needed to determine how reliably the default network indicates consciousness, assessing awareness in the resting brain is crucial to treating unresponsive, brain-damaged patients: "To find the right treatments, we need to be able to classify patients better, and resting assessments like this one should help with that."

Joseph Giacino at the JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, agrees: "If this can help us to sort patients by how well connected their brains are, we might be able to use it one day to better predict who will wake up and who won't." source:NewScientist full article

My comment:

Longevity gene keeps the brain ticking over

  • 18 June 2008

A GENE linked to IQ might also help to prolong life.

The gene codes for an enzyme called succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase (SSADH), which destroys GABA, a neurotransmitter that dampens brain activity and causes drowsiness. The gene comes in two common forms: the so-called "T" version is 20 per cent less efficient than the "C" version. In previous studies, young people with two copies of the T version performed slightly worse on IQ tests.

SSADH also detoxifies the brain by getting rid of excess acid, helping to protect cells from the free-radical damage that accelerates ageing.

So to study the effects of the gene on ageing and longevity, Giuseppe Passarino of the University of Calabria, Italy, and his colleagues took a representative sample of 514 Italians aged between 18 and 107 and identified which gene variants they carried. Of these they also evaluated 115 people aged 65 to 85 using a ... source

The team then used the ages and gene information to reconstruct a survival “snapshot”
for the entire group. Their model showed that people carrying two Ts were unlikely to live past the age of 85; the maximum age for those carrying at least one C copy was approximately 100 years (Annals of Human Genetics, DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-1890.2008.00450.x).

My comment: Nice! So, they don't live more because they are smarter, but because their brains clean up the stress better. Sounds reasonable. And it's particularly close to the explanation why meditation is good for you health.

Smoking gene protects against cocaine addiction

  • 25 June 2008
  • Nora Schultz
  • Magazine issue 2661

IT MAY be a small consolation, but a mutation in a gene that makes you more likely to smoke also offers some protection against cocaine dependence.

An earlier study showed that people with two copies of a mutation in the CHRNA5 gene are twice as likely to become heavy smokers. The assumption was that genes for nicotine addiction would also increase the risk of addiction to other drugs. "Most cocaine users are also smokers, so we expected the same gene to increase the risk for both," says Rick Grucza of Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri.

But when his team scanned the genes of 260 cocaine addicts and 244 non-addicts, they found that only 48 per cent of addicts had at least one copy of the CHRNA5 mutation compared to 64 per cent of the non-addicts. Using the number of copies of the mutation that people in each group had, source group had, the researchers calculated that two copies of the mutation reduce the risk of addiction by 55 per cent and one copy by 35 per cent (Biological Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1016/j.
How might the same gene make people more likely to smoke yet less vulnerable to cocaine addiction? The CHRNA5 mutation damps down the function of a receptor found on both
reward and inhibitory neurons. As cocaine only affects the reward neurons, the researchers speculate that decreased receptor function means people with the mutation get less of a kick out of cocaine, making them less susceptible to addiction.

But as nicotine affects inhibitory neurons as well as reward ones, a decrease in receptor function reduces inhibition as well as reward. The team says this reduced inhibition causes people with the mutated gene to get more reward from nicotine than those with a normal one.

My comment: This isn't to make smokers go try drugs or to give them another reason not to quit cigarettes. I just think it's interesting how our behaviour is so well defined by our genes. Not completely, we still have out choices, but still, it has a huge impact. I love our bodies!

Tequila is surprise raw material for diamond films

  • 20 June 2008
  • From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues

If you were looking for a new way to make semiconducting diamond, you might not have thought of starting with tequila. But the potent spirit turns out to be excellent raw material.

Diamond is normally an electrical insulator, but becomes a semiconductor when doped with the right impurities. Diamond film is tougher than silicon, so it could be useful for devices that must operate at high temperatures or under other harsh conditions.

However, diamond films are expensive and difficult to make. They are produced by vaporising organic material, and then controlling how the carbon atoms crystallise onto a surface. The process works best if the material contains carbon and oxygen in roughly equal parts, as well as some hydrogen.

Now a team of researchers led by Javier Morales of the University of Nuevo León near Monterrey in Mexico have shown that ordinary tequila does the job nicely. They injected the heated vapour from 80-proof "tequila blanco" into a low-pressure chamber. Measurements confirmed that the carbon deposited on test surfaces had a diamond structure (

"The result is certainly funny, but the process seems reasonable," says physicist Rudolf Pfeiffer of the University of Vienna in Austria. "I don't know of any previous attempts to make diamonds from drinks." source

My comment: Lol, really really funny. So, tequila isn't made just to help boys take the flowers of drunk girls. Nice! :)

Google plans to become net-access nanny

Google is planning to release tools that let internet users know if their service provider (ISP) is tampering with their internet connection - for example by throttling access to popular bandwidth-heavy sites.

It is the latest round of the net neutrality debate. Net neutrals like Google say the the internet should be a straightforward commodity. Although you may pay more or less for access, what you get is always the same - freedom to use and access the internet as you wish, with all those potential activities being treated the same by your ISP.

In the opposite corner are those who think ISPs should be able to choose which services they support, and which they don't. For example, under this scheme an ISP could slow all traffic to pizza delivery sites except those it had commercial agreements with.

Google's planned software will let you know when that is happening, by presenting an easy-to-understand breakdown of how your connection has been performing. Exactly how has not been revealed. I'm guessing one way would be to let you know if certain applications or websites consistently perform badly on your connection, compared to Google's own data on how they usually perform.

Google is one of the most influential pro-neutrality organisations. But its as-yet-unnamed tool (Throottle, Nootral?) is unlikely to be downloaded by large numbers of people.

If Google wanted to push it to more than just principled geeks it could throw it in with Google Toolbar, which already comes bundled with other software. Adding the neutrality nanny into that mix could dramatically increase its impact. source

My comment: I don't think people understand why the privacy of our data is really really important. But my bf gave me a very good example. So, your provider shares your interests with another party. Then suddenly, you see ads saying "You like Star Trek? Check this, this is just as good!" using the movie you like. And after you check 20 of this every day, because they attract their attention by a way you cannot turn off-your interests, you'll loose say minimum 15 seconds on each ad-so it makes 300 seconds. Which is 5 minutes. Not much. But if you add the lost concentration , make it 30 minutes. Also the impulsive purchases. Just like in Youtube. You go to see one video and end up spending hours on the "related videos".
As for why your provider shouldnot filter your internet, I hope it's clear enough. If you happen to like another pizza, you're screwed. And you cannot always simply change the provider, because it might be like one! Think of it!

Surgeons may get Minority Report-style display

  • 16 June 2008

In Steven Spielberg's movie Minority Report, the agents of a police state monitor people's lives to stop crimes before they are committed, using giant computer screens that they operate using mid-air hand gestures. But in the real world surgeons, not spies, may be the first to handle data in this way. It appears to be a great way to avoid hospital-acquired infections like MRSA, which can easily be spread via a keyboard or mouse.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (vol 15, p 321), engineer Juan Wachs and colleagues at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel, describe a screen and gesture-recognition system that allows surgeons to flip back and forth through radiology images, such as MRI and CT scans, by simply groping in mid-air. Their system, called Gestix, comprises a colour video camera above a flat, widescreen monitor placed next to the operating table. The video signal from the camera is fed to a PC, where software trained to detect the colour of the surgeon's gloves tracks the movements of their hand.

Unlike the EyeToy and Wii gaming systems, which require the user to hit target areas on a screen or hold a controller, Gestix simply requires the surgeon to learn eight gestures. These include swishing the hand right or left to go back or forth through a preloaded image sequence, or clockwise and counterclockwise to zoom in and out.

In tests of the sterile browsing system during brain surgery, the researchers say the system did what it was asked to do 96 per cent of the time. source

My comment: Awesome! Like really awesome! I'm kind of jelous of the sergeons they get to try the cool new tech first. But then-all for the science!

The Worms Crawl In

Published: July 1, 2008

In 2004, David Pritchard applied a dressing to his arm that was crawling with pin-size hookworm larvae, like maggots on the surface of meat. He left the wrap on for several days to make sure that the squirming freeloaders would infiltrate his system.“The itch when they cross through your skin is indescribable,” he said.

Dr. Pritchard, an immunologist-biologist at the University of Nottingham, is.

While carrying out field work in Papua New Guinea in the late 1980s, he noticed that Papuans infected with the Necator americanus hookworm, a parasite that lives in the human gut, did not suffer much from an assortment of autoimmune-related illnesses, including hay fever and asthma. Over the years, Dr. Pritchard has developed a theory to explain the phenomenon.

“The allergic response evolved to help expel parasites, and we think the worms have found a way of switching off the immune system in order to survive,” he said. “That’s why infected people have fewer allergic symptoms.”

To test his theory, and to see whether he can translate it into therapeutic pay dirt, Dr. Pritchard is recruiting clinical trial participants willing to be infected with 10 hookworms each in hopes of banishing their allergies and asthma.

Dr. Pritchard initially used himself as a subject to secure approval from the National Health Services ethics committee in Britain.

In the tropics, where it is common, hookworm kills 65,000 people a year and afflicts hundreds of thousands with anemia. In low numbers in adults in a controlled experiment, Dr. Pritchard said, the worms have not caused problems.

In the late 1980s, the Wellcome Trust issued a grant, and Dr. Pritchard and his Nottingham team set up camp on Karkar Island, Papua New Guinea.

Hookworm infiltrates a victim’s system when the larvae, hatched from eggs in infected people’s excrement, penetrate the skin, often through the soles of the feet. From there, they enter the bloodstream, travel to the heart and lungs, and are swallowed when they reach the pharynx. They mature into adults once they reach the small intestine, where they can subsist for years by latching onto the intestinal wall and siphoning off blood. After sieving the fecal samples to extract hookworms eliminated when the worm treatment pill was given, the team reached an intriguing conclusion: Villagers with the highest levels of allergy-related antibodies in their blood had the smallest and least fertile parasites, indicating that these antibodies conferred a degree of protection against parasite infection.

And the hookworms seemed equipped to retaliate. After colonizing a digestive tract, the host often showed signs of a blunted immune response, leading Dr. Pritchard to suspect that the worms were reducing the potency of the body’s defenses to make their environment more hospitable.

Nearly 20 years later, his musing began to come to fruition. After Dr. Pritchard’s self-infection experiment, the National Health Services ethics committee let him conduct a study in 2006 with 30 participants, 15 of whom received 10 hookworms each. Tests showed that after six weeks, the T-cells of the 15 worm recipients began to produce lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammatory response, indicating that their immune systems were more suppressed than those of the 15 placebo recipients. Despite playing host to small numbers of parasites, worm recipients reported little discomfort.

Trial participants raved about their allergy symptoms disappearing. Word about the study soon appeared online among chronic allergy sufferers, and a Yahoo group on “helminthic therapy” sprung up.

Now he is recruiting patients for a larger-scale trial of the therapy, and he said he hoped to publish his results within the next year.

Dr. Pritchard is the first scientist to infect patients with hookworms in a laboratory setting, but he is not the first to conclude that parasite infection might ease allergy symptoms. Previous studies have lent support to the idea.

In 2000, Maria Yazdanbakhsh, an immunologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, studied 520 Gabonese children and found that those with Schistosoma haematobium, one of a family of parasites that cause schistosomiasis, had lower levels of allergic responses to dust mites, one of the most common environmental allergens.

It was not until 2005 that Rick Maizels, a biologist at Edinburgh University, uncovered a possible biological explanation.

When Dr. Maizels and his colleagues infected a group of mice with the Heligmosomoides polygyrus parasite, a nematode similar to the hookworm that infects humans, they found that the mice started churning out more regulatory T cells for reasons that remain unclear.

The T cells, Dr. Maizels said, modulate the immune response by secreting interleukin-10, a compound that counteracts inflammatory effects that other immune system cells generate at the site of an allergic reaction.

Some scientists say Dr. Pritchard is walking a fine ethical line by infecting patients with a parasite known to risk hosts’ health. Peter Hotez, a microbiologist at George Washington University who is developing a hookworm vaccine, said the parasite was among the primary causes of stunted growth and malnutrition in developing countries.

“If a kid is infected with 25 hookworms, he’s being robbed of his daily iron requirement, and because the worms suppress the immune system, they can increase the host’s susceptibility to diseases like AIDS and malaria,” Dr. Hotez said. “So in its current form, I think this therapy is too risky.”

Because of the potential side effects, Dr. Pritchard does not envision thousands of patients lined up at clinics to receive parasites along with flu shots.

His long-term goal, he added, is to figure out exactly how the worms turn down the immune-system radar, so he can borrow the tactics to develop alternatives to immune-suppressant and allergy-fighting drugs.

“We’re looking at the molecular mechanisms the worms are using, and we’re hoping to find molecules that veer the immune response away from allergy,” he said.

A new class of drugs that mimics worms’ effects on the immune system could also potentially treat Crohn’s disease, arthritis and other autoimmune conditions.

Though he eventually hopes to eliminate hookworms entirely from his allergy treatment, Dr. Pritchard has few qualms about venturing where no parasite researcher has gone before.source
My comment: Not exactly a technology but it's interesting and promising!