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

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Space special, October, 2008

In today's edition:

  1. Minerals on Mars Point to More Recent Presence of Water
  2. Mission to Mars: Key health hurdle can be overcome, say scientists
  3. Could a hot air balloon help map Saturn moon?
  4. Space tourism flies into a legal black hole
Another space special, people! I hope you enjoy it. The news on Mars and Titan are particularly cool.

Minerals on Mars Point to More Recent Presence of Water

By KENNETH CHANG, November 3, 2008

Global mineralogical signs suggest that Mars was at least occasionally wet for the first two billion years of its existence.

In an article in the November issue of the journal Geology, scientists working with data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter report that they have spotted widespread deposits of opals and related minerals on the surface of Mars.

Opals belong to a class of minerals known as hydrated silicas, with water molecules wedged into silicon-based minerals like quartz. The formation of hydrated silicas requires liquid water.

Most interesting is that the opal deposits lie in areas that appear to have formed only about two billion years ago. Previously, spacecraft have detected other water-bearing minerals like clays in regions that date back more than 3.5 billion years. Mars, like the other planets in the solar system, is about 4.5 billion years old.

In July, Dr. Murchie and other scientists reported that the orbiter had detected vast deposits of the claylike minerals on the older terrains. Images also showed ancient lakebeds with accumulations of the minerals, indicating standing water persisted for thousands of years.

The presence of water on Mars has been known for many years; its ice caps, easily visible from space, are largely made of frozen water. The unanswered question is how often the ice has melted.

The most intriguing possibility is that Mars, when it was less than a billion years old, was warm enough for lakes and oceans of liquid water — and with that, the possibility of life. The planet’s landforms offer compelling evidence for flowing water: immense canyons and channels, dried-up river deltas.

Planetary scientists are still trying to explain the transition of Mars from lots of water to today’s cold and dry climate.

James F. Kasting, a professor of geosciences at Penn State, believes he may have figured out how to warm up Mars. Greenhouse gas like CO2 isn't enought to keep Mars warm since it give -40F at most. Nitrogen dioxide however gives temperature up to 100F degrees.He said he still needed to demonstrate that the nitrogen dioxide would mix throughout the atmosphere rather than remain in pockets around the volcanoes. source

My comment: Yeah! Nice, right? I love it. What is more important for me is the last paragraph. People often underestimate the power of NO2 as a greenhouse gas. Obviously, it's much more dangerous than CO2, since it effects is much more troublesome. I hope people pay attention to this theory for the sake of Earth.

Mission to Mars: Key health hurdle can be overcome, say scientists

(AFP) – Scientists believe they have found a way of protecting astronauts from a dangerous source of space radiation, thus lifting a major doubt clouding the dream to send humans to Mars.

Space weather is one of the greatest challenges facing Mission Red Planet sketched by the United States and Europe for some three decades from now. Even the shortest round trip -- distance between Earth and Mars varies between 55 million (34 million miles) and more than 400 million kms (250 million miles) -- would take at least 18 months.

During this time, the crew would be exposed to sub-atomic particles that can slice DNA on two and thus damage the tissue.

British and Portuguese scientists have taken a fresh look on the idea of Earth similar magnetic field around the the ship and say that the magnetic field does not, in fact, have to be huge -- just a "bubble" a few hundred metres (yards) across would suffice.

Their study, published on Tuesday in a specialist journal by Britain's Institute of Physics, draws on numerical simulation that is also used by experts in nuclear fusion, in which a hot plasma is kept in place by a powerful magnetic field.

Using a plasma lab at the Superior Technical Institute in Lisbon, the team tested a scaled down version of the device -- its full details are secret, as patents are being sought -- in a simulation of a solar storm of atomic particles.

Scaled up for a trip to Mars, the device would weigh around "several hundred kilos" (500-700 pounds) and use only about a kilowatt of energy, or around one half to one third of the typical power consumption of today's communications satellites, said Bingham.

The force of the magnetic field would replicate that of Earth's but, to minimise any risk to crew close to its source, could be carried in unmanned spacecraft flying either side of the crewship.

Bingham said the "mini magnetosphere" was being pitched both to the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.

The field would scatter almost all particles dispatched in "solar storms" -- protons belched out by the Sun, , but it would not work against high-energy cosmic rays. The ship however could be protected from it by a material, like a kevlar bulletproof waistcoat, against that threat.

In 2001, a NASA study found that at least 39 former astronauts suffered cataracts after flying in space, 36 of whom had taken part in missions beyond Earth's orbit.

Separately, the agency has tentatively estimated that a trip to Mars and back would give a 40-year-old non-smoking man a 40 percent risk of developing fatal cancer after he returned to Earth, or twice the terrestrial risk. source

My comment: Another cool thing. I like most the fact that it's Star Trek design! So, it could be done after all. And in the end, it's pretty logical, it just needed some decent simulations.

Could a hot air balloon help map Saturn moon?

By Leslie Mullen, Nov. 6, 2008

Athena Coustenis, an astrophysicist and planetologist with the Paris Observatory, is helping draft a plan to send a hot air balloon to Titan, as well as an orbiting spacecraft and a surface probe. Called TSSM — the Titan and Saturn System Mission — this three-tiered approach to exploration could shed more light on the still-mysterious moon.

Although the atmosphere of Titan is filled with a smoggy orange hydrocarbon haze, it is primarily composed of nitrogen — just like Earth's. In fact, astrobiologists think Titan's atmosphere may be quite similar to how the Earth's was billions of years ago, before life on our planet generated oxygen.

Photos of Titan from Huygens probe from 2005 show a mountain of ice with river channels carving their way down to a lake of liquid methane shoreline. The Huygens probe eventually landed in a sandy river bed dotted with pebbles. This soft terrain would prove hazardous for a wheeled rover.

TSSM probe could be outfitted with a helicopter rotor to move around, floaters to prevent it from sinking if it landed on one of Titan's hydrocarbon lakes and a scoop to help it analyze the surface soil or liquid.

Huygens unexpectedly did gain some data of the surface upon landing. The probe heated the cold surface and caused some of it to evaporate, and an instrument designed to read the chemistry of the atmosphere caught a whiff of methane gas.

Our knowledge of Titan's geography has improved thanks to Huygens and Cassini. The Huygens probe proved the theory of a global ocean of hydrocarbon was incorrect, and from what the Cassini spacecraft has seen so far, the lakes of liquid hydrocarbon on Titan are mostly confined to the moon's north polar region.

The orbiter also could be used to study Enceledus, a tiny moon that previously had not garnered much attention. Cassini discovered that Enceladus has geysers of liquid water at its south pole, and this spray generates one of the rings around Saturn. Scientists are puzzled how this icy snowball could generate enough heat to keep water liquid.

Some may think the TSSM is too risky a mission, since hot air balloons and probes that float on liquid have never before been sent to alien worlds. But Coustenis says our exploration efforts beyond Earth always need to be on the cutting edge.

NASA and ESA are working in cooperation to develop an outer planets mission, and they are expected to choose between TSSM and a mission to Jupiter and its moon Europa in early 2009. Whichever mission they choose, the projected launch date is around 2020, with an arrival around 2030 © 2007 Space.com. source

My comment: Nice. I personally love the idea, because it's simple and it would probably work very well. The only thing I don't like is the date it would reach Titan. I would be like 50 years old by then! That's disgusting. But in any case, I love the moons of the giants-they are all so interesting. I only wish we have a way to reach them sooner.

Space tourism flies into a legal black hole

FOR the fledgling space tourism industry Falcon 1's successful launch on 28 September was hugely significant. When the rocket, built by SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, reached orbit 500 kilometres above the Earth it was the first privately developed rocket to do so.

Then two days later Virgin Galactic struck a deal with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that will allow US scientists to monitor climate change using its spacecraft.

Last month, there was a the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, UK on the civilian space flight industry.

Yet despite growing confidence the question of safety stays. At the moment there are no global, legally enforceable standards that guarantee the safety of civilian spacecraft, says Gérardine Goh, a lawyer at DLR, the German Aerospace Centre in Bonn and an adviser to Germany's delegation to the UN's Office of Outer Space Affairs. "Ships have to be seaworthy, aircraft have to be airworthy. But there is no legislation as yet that will ensure a spacecraft is spaceworthy," she told IAC conference delegates.

So along with like-minded engineers, lawyers and policy makers at the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety, a Netherlands-based not-for-profit group, Goh is advocating the development of minimum safety standards for civilian spacecraft.

They hope their ideas will one day feed into rules adopted by a future global regulator, possibly a UN-backed one. This might ensure safety in space in a way similar to how the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation currently regulates safety in aircraft. "There is currently no international minimum safety standard for mass commercial space flight," Goh says. "We need a basic UN treaty that gives us that."

For example, one way companies are planning to get tourists into space is with an aircraft "mother ship" that carries a rocket to an altitude of around 16 kilometres before launching it, says Goh. "But with an aircraft launch, the ICAO air safety standards only apply to the mother ship and to the rocket capsule until it has separated. After that, we have no agreed safety standards for the capsule itself. That's a big problem."

So from 16 kilometres to the Kármán line, the point 100 kilometres up where space is deemed to start, the rocket will be travelling in a legal vacuum, where lawyers cannot agree whether it is a plane or a rocket. Some say only air law applies at or below 100 kilometres. Others, like Goh, argue that if you are in a fully functioning rocket, some agreed minimum safety measures should apply to the spaceship's design. Such confusion could expose fledgling space firms to a debilitating blizzard of writs in the event of an accident.

Other aspects of the UN's 1967 treaty on the exploration and use of outer space may also need revisiting if civilian space flight proves successful. For instance, countries are obliged to rescue and repatriate astronauts who crash or land in their territory. Governments might decide that the costs of rescuing space tourists should be met by the space flight operators.

Civilian space flight companies hardly need a reminder of the risks they are working with, as the field has already experienced its first major tragedy - on the ground. In 2007, three engineers were killed and three others badly injured when nitrous oxide rocket fuel exploded for reasons that remain unclear during fuel flow tests at a Scaled Composites facility in Mojave, California. The firm is building WhiteKnightTwo, a carrier aircraft, and SpaceShipTwo, a six-seater rocket, for Virgin Galactic. Scaled was fined by California's health and safety regulator and is modifying its technology to reduce risks.

Civilian space companies tend to believe that safety is already built into their designs. For example, the VSH will have an ejector seat for every tourist and crew member - allowing them to bail out of a crippled craft at around 40,000 feet (12 kilometres).

The notion of applying minimum regulations is fiercely resisted in the US, where the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has no plans to regulate civilian space flight safety until 2012. The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 states that civilian space flight regulation must not "stifle" the developing technologies with onerous rules, says AST chief George Nield. source

My comment: I think that such regulation is definitely needed. More and more rich people want to let's say visit space. Rich people don't like to die and if this happen /even with all the safety they probably require / they will want to be able to sue someone and those regulations will provide precisely this. Nothing more than legal responsibility in space. I have already written on the issue- I think people should start extending the laws to outer space-sooner or later, we'll get commercial space flights, it's best to be ready for that moment, than to wait accidents to happen, people to get discouraged and then to encourage them.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Organs without limits

In today's edition:

  1. Can an Artificial Heart Replace the Real Thing?
  2. Scientists coax brain cells in mice to regenerate
  3. 'Anti-Aging' Pill Makes Mice Mighty
Amazing news, just for you. This is a very optimistic edition. Do you realise we may be the last generation to die or the first to live forever? Or at least much more! This is so magnificent.

Can an Artificial Heart Replace the Real Thing?


Working with the European Aeronautics Defense & Space (EADS) French researchers have developed a pioneering new artificial heart. Dr. Alain Carpentier, the heart surgeon who led the development of the device, said that the first heart patients may receive the experimental organ in just three years.

Its developers say the new heart is the closest thing yet to the human body's natural ticker. The new device employs two pumps, instead of one, more accurately mimicking the function of a real heart's two ventricles, as well as a system of miniature sensors that react to physical activity and automatically increase or decrease the heart rate and blood pressure. The prosthesis also uses new composite bio-tech materials, which are made from animal tissue and chemically treated to eliminate the risk of blood clots, Carpentier says, a problem that has plagued earlier alternatives.

That's good news for the estimated 20,000 people worldwide who are each year in urgent need of a heart transplant for survival. Currently, only about a quarter of those patients receive transplanted hearts from donors. The first transplant patients will likely be the critically ill, who currently receive existing artificial hearts as end-of-life treatments, but Carpentier expects his new heart to be tested increasingly in younger heart patients.

So far, the Carmat heart has been tested in the lab and in animals; it could take up to two years to get the approval needed to begin human trials. Among the issues that still need to be worked out: battery life. One charge, for example, runs anywhere from five to 16 hours (compared to 30 minutes on rival).

If the heart proves safe it's expected to hit the market with a $250,000 price tag. source

My comment: Awesome! Seriously, the need of artificial heart is obvious-so many people die without ever getting a transplant, or waiting for it. Now, at least unnecessary waste of human life can be saved. Though, it sounds somewhat disgusting that the heart is made out of animals tissue, still, it will work. I just wonder how much of a pressure it can stand, because the normal heart is pretty tough in this.

Scientists coax brain cells in mice to regenerate

(Reuters) – Scientists have found a way to get damaged nerve cells in the brains of mice to repair themselves, a finding that may lead to new treatments for spinal cord and brain injuries.

By turning off proteins that keep nerve cell growth in check, the researchers were able to stimulate regrowth in mice with damaged optic nerves, they reported on Thursday.

A separate team found that blocking a protein that discourages cell repairs allowed nerve cells in lab dishes to regenerate.

Taken together, the findings offer leads on ways to coax damaged nerves in the brain and spinal cord to fix themselves.

The studies focused on nerve fibers called axons that carry electrical signals throughout the body.Unlike fibers in arms and legs which recover, brain and spinal cord nerve fibers do not regenerate.

Nerve injury shut down a gene network called mTOR pathway(and active in our youth) completely. Two proteins -- PTEN and TSC1 -- appear to be responsible for silencing this pathway, the researchers discovered. If they are suppressed, the neurons regrow.

Mice genetically engineered to lack the proteins kept more neurons after an injury to the optic nerve than normal mice. And the mutant mice were able to grow new axons within two weeks. The team is now looking for drugs that can block the proteins.

Tessier-Lavigne and colleagues focused on a different problem -- the chemicals in the body that discourage repairs. When an axon in the spinal cord is severed, the cut end sprouts a growth cone.

Tiny sensors on the growth cone pick up chemical signals. In nerves in the periphery of the body such as the finger, signals tell the axon to repair itself. But in the central nervous system, chemical signals repress growth.

Tessier-Lavigne's team found one of those signals -- a protein called PirB -- in the insulating myelin sheath that wraps around each neuron. When they blocked this myelin protein in cell cultures, they got nerve cells to grow. source

My comment: Apart from the great discoveries that obviously give great hope to people that suffer neural damages, one thing impresses me. Why the not-important neural paths recover and the important ones don't? That's very odd, since it doesn't give any biological advantage to the organism. For me, finding out why this happens is very important. It could give us such a deep understanding of our body.

'Anti-Aging' Pill Makes Mice Mighty

Nov. 7, 2008 -- Eat more than you should. Stay skinny. Run twice as far. Those are the big claims coming from a new drug study from Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. This latest study clears the way for human clinical trials of SRT1720, often touted as an "anti-aging pill."

SRT1720 activates the same receptor as the much-discussed resveratrol, the chemical in red wine that may slow some effects of aging. Both resveratrol and SRT1720 are being tested as a way to treat type-two diabetes first, and possibly other age-related diseases, later.

The European scientists overfed two groups of mice by about 40 percent. For a person, that would be close to eating 3,000 calories a day, enough to pack on significant weight.

The mice were first divided into a control group and test group. The test group was given two doses of SIRT1720: 100 mg or 500 mg.

After 15 weeks of eating the high-calorie diet, the control mice gained significant weight. The mice taking 500 mg of the drug, however, gained no weight. The cholesterol levels of the mice on the drug also improved.

The animals' exercise habits were also recorded. Mice without SRT1720 ran for roughly half a mile. Mice given 100 mg ran roughly seven-tenths of a mile. And mice on 500 mg of SRT1720 were able to run a full mile, twice the distance of untreated mice.

Dipp won't speculate on the drug's upper limits, other than to say that tests have shown that above 500 mg, its effects plateau. SRT1720 has no known side effects.

The research, led by Johan Auwerx at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, was published this week in the journal Cell Metabolism.

SRT1720 is about 1,000 times more powerful that resveratrol, say the researchers. The two chemicals are not related structurally, but both influence the same chemical pathway in the body -- in particular, a type of receptor called SIRT1.

SRT1720 is more powerful than resveratrol because the body doesn't break the drug apart as quickly as it does resveratrol, making it more efficient at binding to the receptors.

The SIRT1 receptor is also activated during caloric restriction diets, which have been shown to lengthen life span in multiple animal models, and during exercise.

SIRT1 receptors are found in mitochondria, often called the powerhouse of the cell because of all the energy they produce.

SRT1720 would be used as a therapeutic drug, not a preventative measure. "The FDA doesn't have a clear approval path for disease prevention," said Dipp. "It does have paths for treating disease, however, and that's what we are going after."source

My comment: Now, two points. First, the fact that they made that research and it worked is amazing. I have a lot of faith in that drug, although I kind of prefer to stick to red wine for the moment. But just notice the last paragraph-FDA doesn't have a prevention path. Does it mean it won't allow it as a supplement? I doubt, but it sounds like this! I'm glad the research is European, that makes me so proud!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

GMo madness

In today's edition:

  1. Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops: reports
  2. GM crops found to affect reproduction in mice: Austrian study
  3. GM crops 'to be grown in secret'
Human stupidity never ceases to amaze me! I mean read those article and find the controversies! It's an absolute nonsense, however, it's for real.

Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops: reports

HANOI (AFP) – Vietnam plans to test genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops from now until 2010 and then grow them on a large scale, media reports in the communist country said on Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat announced the plan in a National Assembly session this week, said the state-run Vietnam News Agency.

Under the government plan, Vietnam would from 2011 plant GM species of maize, cotton and soybean, said the news site Vietnamnet quoting experts attending a recent biotechnology workshop.

The Ho Chi Minh City Biotechnology Centre plans to grow a GM maize variety from the Philippines on a trial basis, the report said.

GM technology has been highly controversial, praised by some for increasing yields and improving varieties, and condemned by others for creating "frankenfoods" that pose dangers to the environment and people's health.

Environmental group Greenpeace has called for a worldwide recall of GM foods, with a spokesman saying this week that distributing them was "like playing Russian roulette with consumers and public health." source

My comment: Are they crazy?! Growing GMos in their beautiful country. I think it's much better to profit from sex-tourism, than to prostitute for a biotechnological company. Because that's what they are doing in case you didn't notice. And just today, I wrote against a ridiculous article in NewScientist that authorities in India decided that Indian farmers didn't suicide because of the sucking GM crops, they did it because of the bad government politics. Ridiculous.

GM crops found to affect reproduction in mice: Austrian study

VIENNA (AFP) – Genetically-modified maize can affect reproduction in mice, an Austrian study has found, although its authors have dismissed warnings by environmental groups that it could also harm humans.

The long-term study, which was commissioned by the Austrian health ministry, found that female mice that had been given a diet consisting of 33 percent genetically-modified (GM) maize had fewer babies and fewer litters than those fed on non-GM food after a few generations.

But the authors of the study were keen to point out that these were only initial findings and that further tests were needed to confirm the effect of GM foods on other animals and on humans.

"Confirmation of these preliminary results is urgently needed through further studies," the study's author, Juergen Zentek, added.

Environmental groups like Global 2000 and Greenpeace were quick to seize on the study to call for a ban on all GM crops.

"Considering the severity of the potential threat to human health and reproduction, Greenpeace is demanding a recall of all GE (genetically-engineered) food and crops from the market, worldwide," the group said in a statement.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has requested a copy of the study and will then pass it on to the European food safety authority for expertise, her spokeswoman said. source

My comment: It's no wonder that the research origin in Austria, the only EU country that could withstand the push to allow GM foods on her territory. I'm majorly pleased by this result and I sincerely hope that people won't ruin it out of fear from biotech companies (not only Monsanto, mind you, Bayer is also on the train) . I mean, probably we're too negatice and we're too happy on every such result. Well, we really are. I am. But the reason is that I strongly believe that those foods require much more extensive studying before being allowed on market, nothing else. I believe in the technology, just not in its current application. In any case, that research will come so handy to EFSA and so annoying to France and Mr. Sarkozy who utterly wishes to comfort USA on the GMo scene. Oh well.

GM crops 'to be grown in secret'

Genetically-modified crops could be grown by the Government in secret locations in an attempt to prevent trials being attacked by saboteurs, it has been reported. Trials could also be conducted away from the public in the Government's Porton Down military research site in Salisbury, Wiltshire, it is claimed.

There are currently no GM food trials underway in the country and the more than 50 that have been conducted since 2000 have been affected by vandalism. Opponents of GM benefit from current rules, which dictate that all trials must be disclosed on a Government website.

However, a review of security arrangements for trials has been ordered by Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary and Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary.

The Independent reported that ministers are preparing to scrap the disclosure rule.

Mr Benn said: "We need to see if GM foods have a contribution to make, and we won't know the answer about their environmental impact unless we run controlled experiments. It's important to go with the science."

Lord Mandelson acted to loosen rules on GM licensing in his previous job as EU Trade Commisioner, and it is thought he favours a relaxation of the conditions in Britain.

While the Government has signalled that GM crops hold the potential to prevent future food crises, Gordon Brown has trodden carefully around the issue due to fierce opposition from large sections of the public.

Leeds University, where a trial batch of 400 GM potato plants was destroyed by vandals in June, is planning to make a final attempt to complete the trial, and is asking the Government to fund security fences and CCTV cameras on its farm. source

My comment: Yep. That's the sad truth, governments simply adore GM, universities also do. I wonder why people are so eagerly opposing them. Oh, wait, because they are harmful to both humans and environment. Ok, I can't but be mad on that article, especially on last paragraph that I deleted because it made me furious. It's simply not true that the world cannot feed itself without GM crops. It's not truth! Those crops are not giving that different yield than normal one to be called panacea for starvation. To be correct, this is an outright lie. The key moment with biotech crops are that they are under patent laws and every research center can profit wildly from them. That's why universities are backing so dearly the GMs. But one thing is sure-the experiments must be completed, the world really need to know what GMs are. But not by a 1 year experiment-by a 10 years experiment. Sometimes I think of USA as such, but since it's not a controlled environment, it's hard to know which activities of biotechnological companies damage the population the most-GMs, drugs, health care...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Genetics gone wild

In today's edition:

  1. Bio Lab in Galveston Raises Concerns
  2. Scientists clone from frozen mice
  3. African, Asian join the library of genomics
  4. Australia leads world first global effort to improve diagnosis of genetic disorders

Bio Lab in Galveston Raises Concerns

October 28, 2008

GALVESTON, Tex. — Much of the University of Texas medical school on this island suffered flood damage during Hurricane Ike, except for one gleaming new building, a national biological defense laboratory that will soon house some of the most deadly diseases in the world.

How a laboratory where scientists plan to study viruses like Ebola and Marburg ended up on a barrier island where hurricanes regularly wreak havoc puzzles some environmentalists and community leaders.

Officials at the laboratory and at the National Institutes of Health, which along with the university is helping to pay for the $174 million building, say it can withstand any storm the Atlantic hurls at it.Получер

Built atop concrete pylons driven 120 feet into the ground, the seven-floor laboratory was designed to stand up to 140-mile-an-hour winds. Its backup generators and high-security laboratories are 30 feet above sea level.

The project enjoyed the strong support of three influential Texas Republicans: President Bush, a former Texas governor; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; and the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, whose district includes part of Galveston County. Officials at the National Institutes of Health, however, say the decision to put the lab here was based purely on the merits. It is to open Nov. 11.

Dr. LeDuc acknowledged that hurricanes would disrupt research. Each time a hurricane approaches the island, scientists will have to stop their experiments and exterminate many of the viruses and bacteria they are studying.

And Hurricane Ike did not provide the worst-case test the laboratory will someday face, some critics say. Ike’s 100-m.p.h. winds were on the low side for a hurricane, yet it still flooded most of the island’s buildings. The university’s teaching hospital, on the same campus as the lab, has been shut down for more than a month.

“The University of Texas should consider locating its biohazards lab away from Galveston Island and out of harm’s way,” Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said. “As destructive as it was, Hurricane Ike was only a Category 2 storm. A more powerful storm would pose an even greater threat of a biohazards release.”

The laboratory is one of two the Bush administration pushed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The second is being built at Boston University Medical Center, where it met stiff community resistance.

Not so in Texas, where there was hardly a whimper of protest. For starters, the University of Texas Medical Branch is one of the largest employers on the island of 57,000 people.

In addition, the leaders of the medical school skillfully sold community leaders and politicians on the high-tech safety measures at the lab and on the economic boon to Galveston, an impoverished town in need of the 300 jobs the laboratory would bring.

University leaders met twice a month with community leaders for several years to dispel fears of pathogens escaping. Then they created a permanent advisory committee of residents that included some of their critics. The campaign to win over residents was effective.

Nonetheless, some community members remain skeptical about the safety measures.

“It is not a geographically good location, and the safety measures are only as good as the people who work there,” said Jackie Cole, a former City Council member who now serves on a citizen’s advisory board for the laboratory.

Dr. LeDuc and other scientists at the laboratory say it is almost impossible for diseases to escape. The air pressure in the laboratories is kept lower than in surrounding hallways. Even if the double doors into the laboratories are opened accidentally, air rushes in, carrying pathogens up and away through vents to special filters, which are periodically sterilized with formaldehyde and then incinerated.

All the laboratory tables have hoods that suck contaminated air through the vents to the filters, as do the rooms themselves. Liquid waste, feces and urine go to tanks on the first floor, where it is heated to a temperature at which nothing can survive before being put into the sewage system.

Other waste — carcasses of laboratory animals and disposable lab equipment — is sterilized in autoclaves, giant steam-pressure cookers, before being incinerated off site, Dr. LeDuc said.

When hurricanes threaten the island, researchers will shut down their experiments at least 24 hours before landfall, decontaminate the labs and then move the stocks of deadly pathogens into freezers on upper floors, where they are kept at 70 below zero, Dr. Joan Nichols, an associate director of research, said.

Even if the emergency power system were to fail, the freezers can keep the samples of killer diseases dormant for about four days, she said.

The precautions are necessary. The laboratory will do research into some of the nastiest diseases on the planet, among them Ebola, anthrax, tularemia, West Nile virus, drug-resistant tuberculosis, bubonic plague, avian influenza and typhus.

In the top-level secure laboratories, where deadly filoviruses like Ebola are studied, the scientists work in pressurized spacesuits inside rooms with airtight steel doors. Before leaving the secured area, they take a chemical shower for eight minutes in their suits, then a conventional shower, Dr. LeDuc said.source

My comment: Very nice. Almost like in a movie. Although the security measures seem to be very tight, nothing is impossible, especially when playful humans are involved. What I like the most is, however, how the scientists bought the locals. It's an example of good manipulation of the public opinion. I'm not saying the building isn't safe, it sounds very safe. But if you account for the viruses they work with, I'd prefer that building to be on Moon. And even that's not safe enough.

Scientists clone from frozen mice

Japanese scientists have managed to create clones from the bodies of mice which have been frozen for 16 years.

Cloning has largely been done using just live donor cells, transferring their DNA to recipient eggs.

Using previously frozen cells runs the risk of ice damage to the DNA unless carefully handled.

The scientists said they created their mice from the brain cells of rodents that had been kept in laboratory conditions at -20C.

The scientists in Kobe, Japan, said their technique raised the possibility of recreating extinct creatures, such as mammoth, from their frozen remains.

Many of the successful clones since Dolly the sheep was born in 1996 have been created by a method where the nucleus of a cell has been removed, placed in an empty egg and kick-started into replicating by chemicals or electricity.

It is not the only cloning technique, and Australian researchers reported cloning a pig in 2001 from cells that had been frozen for two years. The Adelaide-based team said its cloning method differed from the Dolly approach in important respects.

Professor John Armitage is director of tissue banking at the Bristol Eye Hospital, UK.

He commented: "Mitochondrial and some nuclear DNA fragments have previously been isolated from mammoths frozen in permafrost, but the key question is whether sufficiently intact nuclei could be extracted from mammoth cells, which will have been frozen for at least 10,000 years at relatively high sub-zero temperatures.

Professor Armitage added: "-20C, the temperature at which the mice used in these experiments were stored, is insufficient to stop physical and chemical reactions of biological significance - even food in a domestic freezer has a limited storage time based on changing texture and taste.

"To achieve long-term storage of viable cells, including embryos, requires far lower temperatures of at least -140C in the presence of cryoprotectants."

Viable eggs, sperm and embryos are already retrieved from the frozen state for use in in vitro fertilisation (IVF). source
My comment: Nice! The mammoths part at least. Anyway, I like to trace those steps, because each and every new technology in genetics improves our knowledge and presents new opportunities.

Researchers Could Grow Replacement Tissue to Patch Broken Hearts


Researchers have built a honeycomb-like scaffold that resembles natural heart tissue, and found that when they seeded the artificial structure with heart cells from young rats the cells grew and joined together in an approximation of normal heart muscle. The cells had also formed electrical connections with one another, allowing them to contract in coordination – and when an electric field was applied along the long axis of the honeycomb, the cells indeed contracted. “You could see the cells ‘beating’ on the scaffold,” says [study coauthor] George Engelmayr [New Scientist].

Other researchers have constructed biodegradable scaffolding on which to grow different types of tissue, but heart tissue poses particular technical challenges. Heart tissue must be flexible enough to change shape as the heart contracts, but also strong enough to withstand the intense forces generated by these contractions. So, the researchers used a polymer. [Technology Review].

In the study, published in Nature Materials, researchers found that an accordion-like polymer structure caused the cells to contract in one direction, while remaining rigid in the other direction. In the short term, researchers say the heart simulacrum would be useful for testing heart drugs in the lab. If the system is approved for human use, the technology could eventually be used for “patches” to mend the hearts of patients who have had damaged tissue removed after a heart attack, or for children with congenital heart defects.

Farther still down the line, scientists want to grow different components of the heart – such as valves and cardiac muscle patches – which may within a decade or so be combined together before being transplanted into a patient. [The Independent]. source

My comment: Nice, right? I know I don't need to comment this, since everyone gets the benefits-hearts are probably the mostly transplanted organ after skin, but it's so hard to get it and when you do, it either won't work or it will give you a new personality or something in this lines. Whatever.

African, Asian join the library of genomics


Laboratories have for the first time sequenced the full genetic code of an African and an Asian in what amounts to a major step towards the goal of a tailor-made profile of one's DNA.

Until now, the genomes of only two individuals -- James Watson, who co-determined DNA's double-helix structure, and maverick biotech entrepreneur Craig Venter -- have been unravelled.

Both men are of European descent, which leaves gaps in knowledge about how people of different ethnic backgrounds could be susceptible, or alternatively immune, to inherited diseases or respond to medicine.

Two studies, released on Wednesday by the British-based journal Nature, aim to fill in some of those blanks, with the genomes of a Han Chinese male and a man from the Yoruba ethnic group in West Africa.

The two teams describe the methods they used to expose the three billion base pairs of code in the anonymous individuals' DNA.

Later work, analysing the genomes of the four men, will compare and contrast changes in the code that could be linked to disease.

The two new genomes were compiled using sequencers made by Illumina Inc., a San Diego, California, biotech firm, which with rival firms 454 Life Sciences and Applied Biosystems has been credited with slashing the cost of genomics.

An international consortium called the 1,000 Genomes Project seeks to build the current library of four individual genomes to at least 1,000 people from around the world, in order to get the broadest possible view of the genetic mosaic.

© 2008 AFP source
My comment: Lol, double victory after Obama. Haha. Well, it's great to expand the knowledge of human genom, no doubts in that. I'm just more curious over the next research, that would examine the differences in the different types. I guess that they won't be big, but still, I'm curious.

Australia leads world first global effort to improve diagnosis of genetic disorders

An Australian-led global initiative to improve the diagnosis of genetic disorders and reduce errors in the reporting of genetic variations has been published today in the prestigious scientific journal Science.

"There is a staggering error rate of up to 40 percent in some reporting of genetic variations," said Professor Richard Cotton, lead author of the paper, Convenor of the Human Variome Project and honorary researcher at the University of Melbourne. "This means clinicians and specialists cannot solely rely on the research literature to inform the life and death decisions of diagnosis and prognosis of genetic disorders."

Over 60 percent of people worldwide will be affected by a genetic change at some point in their lives that can result in a range of diseases such as cystic fibrosis, epilepsy and cancer.

"In a world first, we aim to collect information on every fault in every gene worldwide."

"Ultimately the project will provide the first global standardization of the reporting of genetic mutations and their effect on human health so clinicians can reliably diagnose, treat and inform patients," he said.

The Australian-led global project combines the talents of University of Melbourne researchers and colleagues within the Florey Neuroscience Institutes, the Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Epilepsy Research Centre, as well as international colleagues from around the globe.

The project has the support of World Health Organization, UNESCO and OECD countries.

The completion of the Human Genome Project in early 2000 empowered researchers with the genomic mapping of the human body. But out of the 20,000 human genes mapped, only 3,000 have any information available on their variations.

"In the next few years it is expected that the number of genes in which disease-causing variations are recognized will increase dramatically," Professor Cotton said.

"Currently there is no standardized way to capture this information and make it of use to clinicians."

The Human Variome Project will produce standards for the storage, transmission and use of genetic variation information which for many will reduce the enormously time consuming task of seeking data to assist in providing patients with information.

The Science paper details the establishment of a range of pilot projects being organised around the world that will examine how to systematically collect genetic, clinical and biochemical information in either a country specific or gene specific manner.

Countries already signed on to these pilots include Australia, China, Japan and Kuwait.

"Once these pilot projects are complete, we will be able to roll out suitable systems around the globe and improve the health of billions of people," he said.

Source: University of Melbourne source
My comment:
This project will improve our knowledge on human genome without a doubt. However, I question its practical benefits.

People still believe that one genetic mutation is responsible for a disease. So, let's guess that we monitor all the pregnancies. What happens if a baby has a mutation that could lead to any type of cancer? What are we doing with that baby? To leave the "ethical" problems aside, I simply doubt this is a workable solution for prevention of diseases and I find it very unlikely that there is a baby born with perfect genes.

But then, if the project succeed, we'll have enough data and my guess is that it will show that genetic predisposition doesn't equal disease and that there's more to life than this. After all look at the viruses-they are a genetic laboratory and with all their imperfectnesses, they are the most brutally surviving species around.

October top 10-Buy Now!

Interested in science?

Yes? Then you're just like me!

I'm obsessed with science and I spend hours and hours, checking on the latest and coolest news, reading trough tons of interesting articles and exploring different directions that these articles can lead to. The information these days is everywhere and all you need to do is tap in and learn.

The best sides of Internet, however, are also the worst. The time you need to check all those sites is the time you're not going to spend with your family, friends or even worst -- on your job.

As fun and educative as it is, reading about cool stuff that other people discovered is not going to prepare you a diner, it's not going to make love to your boyfriend or girlfriend and most definitely, it's not going to write your long overdue research. Guess how I figured that out? Oh, well...

Learning this in the hard way, I figured that since I cannot fight my obsession, I better at least help other people just like me.

First, it was the blog. The idea of TTFWL is to inform people of news I find particularly interesting and important. It allowed me to follow stories, to look for development in certain fields and to put my personal notes on the discoveries. Notes that sometimes get pretty carried away. Anyway, I figured it was an easy way to not forget the cool things I read and in the same time, to share them with people with similar interests.

The problem of the blog is that it's too random. There are so many stories that look interesting and fun, that it's hard to find the important ones. This is where my bulletin comes in.

Top 10” offers the best from my blog in a very shortened format. It's all about saving time and still being informed. Top 10 offers the 10 most important news from the past month that I discussed on my blog. With my notes rewritten from the perspective of time and space. This is a log, all right, but a real one-only the essentials that matter. It still covers many areas, but they are no longer that random. They are the best from the rest. They are what made the month in science for me.

Why my Top 10 is different? Because it follows my own priorities. And my priorities are to find the Truth. So everything that could lead to more of the Truth will be on the list. Also, I'm not interested in abstract things, I like to see the practical side of the discoveries, to consider them from the Future they could lead to.

My goal is to provide you the most important discoveries for the month. And to make it in a way, that you won't need to read trough tons of nonsense, just to get the two paragraphs that mattered.

In the end, it won't cost you more than a small lunch, I think it's more than worthy the money. Again, it's the time that matters and what I want is to give you the time I spent gathering this information. I think it's more than a fair deal.

Interested in science? Of course you are! Now you have the unique opportunity to join me in my quest for information and to enjoy my findings.


October's edition is out now. Buy now for only 15 euros:



You can also subscribe for 6 months from now on:


The process of the selling is you pay trough paypal and leave your email there and I'm gonna send you the ebook after the payment. And that's it. As simple as it is.

That's it from me folks! I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Technologies of the future-robo-snakes, nano-grenades and 3D for blind

In today's edition:

  1. Pinching display lets you feel the data
  2. Safety fears over nanocosmetics
  3. Plasma Turns Garbage into Gas
  4. High-tech robodocs are surgeons of the future
  5. Drug grenades explode right on target
  6. Nanotubes worm their way into harmful places
I have some very nice stuff, packed and ready for you. I recommend you all of them, but at least 4 and 5 if you're interested in medicine. They discuss some novel technologies that certainly offer new opportunities. Also check number 2-it's about nanoparticles loaded in cosmetics without our knowledge. Enjoy!

Pinching display lets you feel the data

A DEVICE that pinches and stretches the skin on the fingertips, rather than prodding and poking it, could revolutionise the way blind people access graphs and maps.

Current electronic Braille displays work by raising and lowering an array of pins to form individual characters. But the actuators needed to move the pins up and down are bulky because they need to be powerful enough to resist the pressure exerted by the finger. The size of the these actuators means that only 16 pins can fit into a square centimetre, severely limiting a display's ability to represent images.

Now a team from Canada has improved this resolution, allowing tactile chips to display detailed maps, graphs and diagrams. It has designed an array of pins that move horizontally rather than vertically, when a voltage is applied. This movement stretches or pinches the skin.

Fingertips are highly sensitive to this sensation. These pins are not pushing against the finger, so the actuators can be made smaller. It fools the brain into thinking you're touching a raised surface.

The device, called the Tactograph, consists of a chip roughly 1 centimetre square with an 8-by-8 array of pins on top, mounted on a larger platform. First, a teacher digitally scans a picture, removes any text and highlights important boundaries using the Tactograph's software. Then, as the user slides the chip across the platform with their fingertip, the pins move to produce the texture corresponding to the different parts of the image.

For example, when representing a map, the device would produce a vibrating sensation to mark out the borders of countries, and it would "colour" the interior of each region with a different static texture. The team demonstrated how the device has been used to display graphs, maps and diagrams at the ASSETS 2008 conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, last week. source

My comment: Nice! True, it's far from producing a 3D surface corresponding to the picture, but it's close. And that would be good for all the people who cannot see. Though I think it's much more important to work on how to give them new eyes.

Safety fears over nanocosmetics

Cosmetics containing tiny "nano" particles are being used widely despite unresolved issues surrounding their safety, a consumer watchdog warns.

Many skin care products, including sunscreens and wrinkle creams, contain this technology to make them easier to apply and invisible on the skin. But experts are concerned about their possible long-term effects on the body, Which? reports.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating atoms and molecules on the nanoscale - 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The cosmetics industry is using it to create new materials with novel properties, but this could create unexpected risks.

Which? wrote to 67 cosmetics companies, including all of the main brands as well as smaller ones, asking them about their use of nanotechnology, what benefits they thought it brought and how they ensured product safety.

Seventeen firms responded, and of these, eight were willing to provide information about how they used nanotechnology. Most of the eight, which included The Body Shop, Boots, Nivea, Avon, L'Oréal, Unilever, Korres and The Green People, used nanotechnology for the UV filters in their sunscreens.

These products included nano emulsions - preparations containing oil and water droplets reduced to nano size - used to preserve active ingredients, such as vitamins and anti-oxidants, and for their lightness and transparency.

Another example was a type of nanomaterial called "fullerenes" used in anti-aging cream products.

Scientists have raised particular concerns about potential toxicity of fullerenes if they were able to penetrate the skin.

There is also a concern that the nanomaterials in sunscreens might be able to breach sunburned skin.

The precautionary principle should be applied to products where there are potential risks but where it is not currently possible to assess their safety so that consumers are not put at risk, it says.

In September 2006, the government launched a voluntary reporting scheme for all engineered nanomaterials to find out what was, or could be, on the market, to guide the development of regulations. This has had a limited response - 12 responses in two years - and is now under review.

A spokeswoman for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association said: "The industry is working with government to provide more information on the safety of these products.

A European Commission spokeswoman said: "We are working towards improving our ability to assess the safety of all consumer products using nanomaterials including cosmetics.

"The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identifed Health Risks (SCENIHR) is currently preparing an update of its 2006 opinion on the risk assessment of products of nanotechnologies. This update will be available in January 2009." source

My comment: This is an issue I often comment on My European Dream and I find it very funny to mention the EC when the latest risk assessment commission found that regulations on nanoparticles are relevant and enough. If nano-solutions of water are not very likely to be dangerous, oils are other thing and fullerenes-completely other beer. There simply isn't enough data about the action of nano-elements on biological tissues. Even if we don't go for the full precautionary principle, but at least a decent trial lasting 2-5 years should be enough. Additional information you can find on this Yahoo news, which claims that some of the nano-structure can accumulate fat and lead to lung cancer.

Plasma Turns Garbage into Gas

By Melinda Wenner

Every year 130 million tons of America’s trash ends up in landfills. Together the dumps emit more of the greenhouse gas methane than any other human-related source. But thanks to plasma technology, one city’s rotting rubbish will soon release far less methane—and provide power for 50,000 homes—because of an innovation in plasma technology backed by Atlanta-based Geoplasma.

Engineers have developed an efficient torch for blasting garbage with a stream of
superheated gas, known as plasma. When trash is dropped into a chamber and heated to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, its organic components—food, fluids, paper—vaporize into a hot, pressurized gas, which turns a turbine to generate electricity. Steam, a by-product, can generate more. Inorganic refuse such as metals condense at the bottom and can be used in roadbeds and heavy construction.

Several small plasma plants exist around the world for industrial processes, but Geoplasma is constructing the first U.S. plasma refuse plant in St. Lucie County, Florida. The plant is scheduled to go online by 2011; it will process 1,500 tons of garbage a day, sending 60 megawatts of electricity to the power grid (after using some to power itself).

Emissions are far lower than in standard incineration, and the process reduces landfill volume and methane release. Power prices are projected to be on par with electricity from natural gas. source

My comment: Nice. I'm naturally suspicious to incineration, because it usually release lots of nasty gases into the atmosphere. But if this method is more efficient and less damaging to the environment, then it's great. In any case, I didn't see numbers of the new emissions compared to the old ones, and that is what ultimately counts. Not the electricity input.

High-tech robodocs are surgeons of the future

Nov. 3, 2008

LONDON - A mechanical snake that can enter the body through natural orifices -- not an incision -- to perform operations is just one futuristic device researchers believe will transform traditional surgical techniques.

The average selling price of the market-leading da Vinci system from California's Intuitive Surgical Inc is $1.35 million. Some critics, including British fertility expert Robert Winston, have questioned the cost-effectiveness of robots when other treatments, such as cancer drugs, are being rationed.

But proponents note prices will inevitably fall as usage and competition increase, as happened with once-costly computers.

Tens of thousands of prostate, heart and other procedures are already being performed by robots (but directed by humans!), and experts predict machines will be used to penetrate deeper into ailing bodies in the years ahead.

In a university laboratory behind London's Science Museum, researchers are working on a new generation of high-tech gadgets to take minimally invasive robotic surgery to the next level.

The prospect of robot arms probing into the abdomen may be alarming but their precision can mean less trauma, quicker recovery, a shorter stay in hospital and reduced tissue damage.

One idea that could soon become a reality is a device that uses the surgeon's gaze to direct tools by tracking the light reflected from the user's eyes, making operations simpler and less invasive.

Positive results with the eye-tracking system were presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Nice, France in September.

The natural orifice "I-snake" camera and surgery system, which would do away with the need for incisions altogether, is further down the track. The team at Imperial hope to have their oral or rectal access system ready for tests within 3-1/2 years.

Work is also under way on "augmented reality" software. This could use data from past patient scans to help surgeons visualize tumors or other structures underneath living tissue.

Another possibility is artificially stabilizing the image of moving organs, such as a beating heart, by creating robotic instruments that move in tandem with the patient's body.

In May this year, doctors at the University of Calgary in Canada used a robot called neuroArm to remove a tumor from a 21-year-old woman's brain in the first operation of its kind.

Privately held U.S. firm Satiety Inc, meanwhile, is testing a stomach stapler for obese patients that slides down the throat rather than requiring abdominal surgery.

Researchers at Germany's DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics are working on a lightweight system called MIRO using the same robotic arm technology as is used in space.

And business is booming at Intuitive Surgical, whose installed base of more than 1,030 da Vinci robots at hospitals throughout the world is due to perform at least 130,000 prostatectomies, hysterectomies, heart valve operations and other procedures this year. source

My comment: This article was a little overview of the sate of the robotics in medicine. I was most impressed by the frequency of use of simple robots in surgeries-not a surprise, since where I am, they are making surgery like 20 years ago. Are you scared of robotics cutting trough your body? I'm not-in the end they are just a extension of the surgeon hand. Now, the robo-snake that is supposed to enter trough natural orifices is completely horrifying- i have had a endoscopic examination of my stomach and I would never ever like anything thick that goes trough my throat into my stomach, thank you very much.

Drug grenades explode right on target

Detonating explosives near sick people is not generally a good idea, but microscopic grenades that go off painlessly inside the body could accelerate the delivery of drugs to diseased tissue, say researchers.

Carbon nanotubes and other nanomaterials are touted as being perfect "mules" to deliver drugs because they can pass freely into cells and even cell nuclei. But the tiny structures diffuse very slowly through biological tissue, which could limit their therapeutic benefit.

Typically, 200-nanometre particles take nearly 9 hours to diffuse just 400 micrometers in water, says Bruno De Geest, a chemical engineer at Ghent University in Belgium.

But De Geest and colleagues can propel nanoparticles the same distance 800 times faster by hurling them from an exploding microscopic grenade.

Their tiny grenades are made from a rigid but porous polymer membrane that contains a gel based on the sugar dextran. As water seeps through the membrane it degrades the chemical cross-links holding the gel together. The gel swells and eventually bursts the capsule open, spewing its contents outwards.

De Geest's team loaded the gel with green fluorescent nanoparticles to make it possible to see the explosive ejection.

"To obtain exploding microcapsules that exhibit that behaviour, we need them to be between 100 and 400 micrometers [in diameter]," says De Geest.

Smaller microgrenades can't be loaded with enough gel to cause a powerful detonation, he says. Although 400-micrometer-wide particles are too large to pass through the bloodstream - and so couldn't be injected into a vein - they could be implanted just below the skin in the area where the medicine is needed, says De Geest.

"For the purpose of vaccination, the subcutaneous region is an ideal place for antigen delivery," he says. He adds that the microcapsules are too small to cause any pain when they explode.

By altering the properties of membrane and payload it is possible to make the grenades in smaller sizes. The gel responds to temperature and pH too, so it would also be possible to build smart grenades targeted to a particular tissue environment.

Journal reference: Journal of the American Chemical Society (DOI: 10.1021/ja806574h) source

My comment: Nice, nice, nice. Especially the last part. If you think about it, if you know a specific characteristics of for example cancer cells and want to target them with this grenades, you simply make the gel sensitive to that specific trait and load the body with the little guys. Then you wait. Eventually, the drug will get when it's supposed to be. Sure, there are some difficulties to overcome, like finding a unique trait to target in a cell-not simple, considering our somewhat limited knowledge of the detailed picture in our bodies, but eventually, it could work very well. This is a certainly interesting technology.

Nanotubes worm their way into harmful places

  • 15 October 2008
  • Magazine issue 2678.

THE early bird won't get the worm if the environment has been tainted with carbon nanotubes. Eating them could stop earthworms reproducing and so threaten vital food chains.

Nanotube materials have enormous potential in electronics and construction, but it is suspected that exposure to nanotubes could cause asbestosis-like lung disease in people. Now Janeck Scott-Fordsmand and his team at the National Environmental Research Institute in Roskilde, Denmark, have tested their effect on earthworms. They found that earthworms given food laced with double-walled nanotubes produced far fewer cocoons than normal: the higher the dose, the fewer the cocoons (Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, vol 71, p 616).

Earthworms are vital to ecosystems because they aerate the soil. Nanotube pollution could make soils unable to support crops and sustain biodiversity, says Scott-Fordsmand. source

My comment: Yes, back to the article of the safety of nano-cosmetics. We see that thinks are nowhere near as pink as some companies are trying to present them. What more do national safety agencies need to take some kind of action toward the random use of nano-particles?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Space news in colors-and what colors they are...

Space again, dudes and dudettes and this time with pictures.

  1. Cassini's closest encounters
  2. Giant cyclones seen on Saturn
  3. Probe to Examine Our Space in Space
  4. Giant cyclones seen on Saturn
  5. Europe aims for re-entry spacecraft
For me this was really a great edition. I mean read the news, especially the second as it is... amazing. Actually all of them are amazing and there's nothing that gives me hope more than news from space. Isn't this weird? Anyway, the good news is that Saturn offers some dreams to alien-maniacs. Ok, read them all, as they are really cool. Think "intergalactic medium"! (reference ot the 3d article!). Awesome :)
P.S. 20.11 happens to be my birthday, so this publication is my present for me. I looooove space!

Cassini's closest encounters

The Cassini orbiter came through its closest-ever encounter with a Saturnian moon with flying colors - and with a fresh crop of cool black-and-white pictures of Enceladus. The most precious products of Thursday's 16-mile-high pass weren't the pictures, but the samplings of the mysterious stuff welling up from the cracks in Enceladus' icy surface.

The big reason why the 22-foot-high (6.8-meter-high) spacecraft came so close to Enceladus (25 kilometers, for the metrically inclined) was to collect samples of dust and other material given off by the moon.

Past flybys confirmed that water ice crystals and even organic molecules were emanating from geysers on the surface. During Thursday's encounter, scientists wanted to get closer-in samples, in hopes of pinpointing which materials were coming from where. Cassini's dust analyzer is tailor-made for such observations.

Due to a software glitch, "this particular instrument had a little bit of a hiccup the last time we tried to make this measurement," said Pappalardo, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But the detector apparently worked like a charm this week.

He compared the plume of ice and other materials to a hand reaching out from Enceladus itself. "Instead of seeing the 'fist,' we're seeing the fingers now," he said.

The dust analyzer should be able to tell scientists more precisely what's inside the jets of material given off by the geysers. It's tempting to think that the results could point to a "smoking gun" for life beneath Enceladus' surface - but that's a tall order. For now, Pappalardo is just happy to hear that Cassini has done its part.

"There is data in hand now," he said.

There are pictures in hand as well, and some of them have already been posted to the Cassini imaging team's Web site.

"The imaging team acquired fabulous images," Carolyn Porco of the Colorado-based Space Science Institute said in an e-mailed status report, "and the instruments designed to collect and measure the constituents of the plume for analysis did what they should."

The raw black-and-white images provide another good look at the moon's cracked and craggy surface. And the next flyby, a 122-mile-high (197-kilometer-high) pass scheduled for Oct. 31, should serve up some tasty Halloween treats for Porco and her team.

"That one is designed for imaging," she said. source

My comment:Nice, click on the links or the source to see the beautiful pictures. Though I'm much more happy about the data from the moon itself. It's great to be able to get samples, especially when Nature offers them so kindly to us by making them fly around the moon. I can't wait for the analysis.

Giant cyclones seen on Saturn

Storms are 'hundreds of times stronger' than most hurricanes on Earth


Image: Saturn hurricane


NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
These two infrared images of Saturn show the entire south polar region with the hurricane-like vortex in the center.

Scientists have discovered a giant cyclone swirling on Saturn's north pole, and observed a similar storm on the planet's south pole in detail 10 times greater than before, thanks to new images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

The new images, taken in infrared light, reveal for the first time a massive cyclone churning at the north pole, similar to a gigantic storm on Saturn's south pole.

"These are truly massive cyclones, hundreds of times stronger than the most giant hurricanes on Earth," said Kevin Baines, Cassini scientist on the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Dozens of puffy, convectively formed cumulus clouds swirl around both poles, betraying the presence of giant thunderstorms lurking beneath. Thunderstorms are the likely engine for these giant weather systems."

Researchers think the storms are powered by heat released from condensing water in thunderstorms deep down in the atmosphere, similar to the way condensing water in clouds on Earth powers hurricane vortices.

But unlike Earth's hurricanes, which stem from the ocean's heat and water, Saturn's cyclones have no body of water at their bases. The storms on that planet are locked to Saturn's poles, whereas terrestrial hurricanes drift across the ocean.

Cassini mapped the entire north pole of Saturn in detail in infrared, with features as small as 120 kilometers (75 miles) visible in the images. Time-lapse movies of the clouds circling the north pole show the whirlpool-like cyclone there is rotating at 325 mph (530 kph) — more than twice as fast as the highest winds measured in cyclones on Earth.

Surrounding the cyclone is an odd, honeycomb-shaped hexagon, which itself does not seem to move while the clouds within it whip around at high speeds. Strangely, neither the fast-moving clouds inside the hexagon nor the cyclone seem to disrupt the six-sided feature.

Southern storm
The cyclone on Saturn's south pole has been observed before, but never in as much detail. Earlier images revealed an outer ring of high clouds surrounding a region previously thought to be mostly clear air interspersed with a few puffy clouds circulating around the center. The new images show that the clouds are actually vigorous convective storms that form yet another distinct, inner ring.

The outer ring of high clouds around the vortex is 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) wide, and its clouds cast shadows, indicating they are 25 to 45 miles (40 to 70 km) above the clouds inside the ring. The new images hint at an inner ring about half the diameter of the main ring, and so the actual clear "eye" region is smaller than it appeared in earlier low-resolution images.

The Cassini-Huygens mission, which has been in orbit around Saturn since July 2004, is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

© 2007 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com. source

My comment: Ok, that is absolutely stunning, specifically the honeycomb structure. Isn't this driving up your wildest dreams?! Ok, I probably read too much science fiction, but it's amazing what opportunities planets like Saturn and Jupiter offer to life. There is water, its composition is mostly
hydrogen and helium, but there is also ice of ammonia, ice of methane and water ice. a link. Methane is pretty well know for its role in organic life. Not to forget the fact that Saturn emits more twice more energy in the infrared than it receives from the Sun. Now, this could have very physical explanation, now that I think, but it could have a biological one. I mean this is a huge "ocean" of stuff we can't even see! And this storm? Hmmm. I'm saying there is definitely something special here and I'll love to see more data coming.

Probe to Examine Our Space in Space

Irene Klotz, Discovery News


The Heliosphere
The Heliosphere | Video: Discovery Space

Oct. 13, 2008 -- As the solar system carts around our little section of the Milky Way galaxy, it disturbs the relative calm and cold fabric of intergalactic space. Not much is known about this boundary, except that the meeting is far from sedate -- something akin to a boat slamming through water at 50,000 mph.

So far, only the Voyager probes have crossed into the boundary zone, some eight to nine billion miles from Earth, with surprising results. On Sunday, NASA plans to launch a spacecraft that for the first time will be able to map the zone -- without having to go there.

The spacecraft is known as the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX. It works by detecting particles that were stripped of electric charges in the outer regions of the heliosphere, the solar wind-filled bubble that delineates our solar system from intergalactic space.

The particles are called energetic neutral atoms and they were discovered accidentally about 20 years ago during a mission that studied the Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind. Instruments on the satellites to measure what should have been low background levels of energetic particles sometimes detected extra counts.

Scientists learned that these energetic neutral atoms were being generated from inside the magnetosphere and realized a similar process would occur from the solar system's magnetic bubble as well.

The neutral atoms are created when a neutral atom from interstellar space passes a positively-charged particle from the sun. When this happens, an electron can jump from one to the other, making the charged atom neutral.

The next challenge was to figure out how to put a spacecraft far enough away from Earth's magnetic field so it could find the atoms transformed by the solar system's passage through intergalactic space.

With a budget of $169 million, scientists had limited options for launchers. They settled on a low-cost Pegasus booster, an air-launched system created by Orbital Sciences Corp., and outfitted IBEX with a hydrazine-fueled rocket motor that can place it into an orbit that reaches a distance nearly as far from Earth as the moon.

Two-thirds of the 1,000-pound spacecraft is fuel.

IBEX will take several weeks to maneuver into position before mapping can begin. Each full-sky survey will take six months. IBEX currently is funded for two years.

Among the mission's goals are to determine how the environment may have changed over time. For example, scientists are interested in learning if galactic cosmic rays were more prevalent in the past, as higher bursts of radiation may have impacted evolution.

NASA's Voyager probes were dispatched in the 1970s to survey the outer planets. Voyager 1 crossed an area known as the termination shock, the boundary region between the solar system and the intergalactic medium in 2004. Voyager 2 followed in 2007.

Both probes are headed toward the outer boundary of the solar system known as the heliopause, which is where the sun's influence ends and interstellar space begins.

So far, scientists have learned that there are cosmic rays being produced from somewhere in the heliosphere that are not coming from nova and supernova explosions and that heliosphere is not uniformly shaped. Voyager 2 hit the termination shock nearly a billion miles sooner than Voyager 1.

"Maybe there's stronger-than expected magnetic fields on the outside pushing (the heliosphere) in on the south side," McComas said. "The whole region may be deflated. Nobody ever thought we could cross that much closer in with Voyager 2."

IBEX's launch is set for Sunday from the Kwajalein Atoll, located on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. That location is closer to the equator than mainland U.S. launch sites, which will enable the rocket to take maximum advantage of Earth's rotational spin and leave the satellite in as high an altitude as possible.source

My comment: Ok, isn't this article mind-blowing you? Just like a blow-job but on the mind. It works for me :) Even the sound of "intergalactic medium" thrills me. Living our everyday life, we simply don't realise how VAST the Universe is and how small we are comparing to everything around us. Too bad our engines are still so sucky, we can't mount decent missions to that region. I don't get it how engeners can sleep knowing what has to be done and that it's still not done!

Europe aims for re-entry spacecraft

Spacecraft designed to use rear flaps in a paddling motion to steer itself



By Jeremy Hsu
Oct. 15, 2008

Plenty of European astronauts and hardware have gone up to the space station or to other orbits around Earth, but now the European Space Agency is thinking of ways to get them back down on their own.

A Vega rocket on the drawing boards is slated to carry ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle into space in 2012. The stubby white-and-black spacecraft is designed to use two rear flaps in a paddling motion to steer itself during atmospheric reentry.

Such a demonstration craft could perhaps pave the way for Europe to return its astronauts to Earth without relying on the U.S. or Russian space programs. The Unites States itself faces a four-year gap in manned spaceflight capability after the space shuttle retires in 2010, and will have to rely on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

"With ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle] and Columbus, the European space laboratory, we believe Europe has now become one of the major players in manned space exploration," said John Ellwood, ATV mission manager. He added that the European Union's Council of Ministers would meet in November to set space policy for the next several years.

Europe's ATV currently serves as an unmanned space delivery vehicle, with the first, named Jules Verne, successfully completing its mission and undergoing a fiery death in the Earth's atmosphere. But now ESA wants to push forward with developing an ATV variant that could undergo re-entry and safely return cargo or astronauts.

"ESA does not plan to develop a reusable re-entry system on the basis of the ATV, but rather an expendable re-entry vehicle," said Marco Caporicci, head of transport and re-entry systems for the ESA Human Spaceflight Directorate.

The Advanced Re-entry Vehicle would use Europe's Ariane 5 rocket, which is not reusable. An expendable service module would boost the ARV into orbit and guide the re-entry module to reenter Earth's atmosphere.

ESA has not tried to develop a reusable launch system or service module because of the low number of European spaceflights, Caporicci said. But the re-entry capsule would conceptually resemble NASA's Apollo or upcoming Orion capsules, with some changes.

"We believe that the shape selected, with a cone angle of 20 degrees, would allow more internal volume than for the classical Apollo shape," Caporicci told Space.com.

Caporicci cautioned that "ARV does not play a role in closing the gap between Shuttle and Orion," and that the IXV and ARV programs would each follow their own separate development tracks.

© 2007 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com. source
My comment: Ok, I don't like one-time-use things and when it comes down to a spacecraft I like them even less. But it's a good beginning, even if you think of it as an emergency fly-down. Because I get creeped when I think of those astronauts, stuck in the middle of nothing, without a way to get home in case something goes wrong. It's even more amazing how nothing went wrong so far, not that I wish that for them. I wish them only luck, because they deserve it. My point-I cheer the European initiative and hope that the usual lack of money will turn out to become a great simplistic craft that could eventually become reusable.