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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Age-reversal and other cool medical innovations, 2011


  1. Partial reversal of aging achieved in mice
  2. Liver tissue grown in lab cuts reliance on donors
  3. Artificial pancreas" shows promise in pregnancy
  4. What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes
  5. Scientists grow blood vessels for human surgery
  6. Swine flu vaccine likely causes child narcolepsy: study
  7. Debut of the first practical 'artificial leaf'
  8. Water waves exhibit negative gravity near a periodic array of buoys
First some cool short news:
8 Beautiful Bioluminescent Creatures From the See -
Solar sails pick up speed -  
Two trials of spacecraft have successfully unfurled their solar sails, and demonstrated that radiation from sunlight can power them through interplanetary space.
Solar sails use photons from the sun to propel spacecraft at high speeds. On January 20, the small lightweight spacecraft NanoSail-D deployed a 10-square-meter gleaming sail in low-Earth orbit.
Shortly after, on January 26, engineers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the extension of their solar-sail mission IKAROS. Launched in May 2010, IKAROS flew past Venus in December last year, and the mission will continue until March 2012. - I'm looking forward how this will go, because it offers a cheap way to propel stuff in space. True, it's quite slow, but if we're talking about commercial transport of ore, then time is not so important once the cycle starts working.

Did China Just Invent the 21st Century's Coolest Technology? - Scientists in China say they have successfully produced a model Maglev train that can travel as fast as a plane, according to a report in a Chinese newspaper.
Shuai Bin said the vacuum magnetic suspension train model reached speeds of between 600 and 1,200 kilometers per hour.
If the claim is true, that would mean the Chinese have topped the speed record set by the highest recorded speed of a Maglev train - 581 kilometers per hour - in Japan. - WOW! I so wish this news to be true. Because let's face it, flying is infrastructurely cool, because you need to build only two airports for it to work. But every plane can be used like a weapon. A train can only blow itself. And if the train is as fast as the plane, then planes can be used only for intercontinental flights. Which should decrease their emission as well.
Solar powered cell phone film - Bye, bye big batteries and so long outlets - Wysips, a French company, has developed a technology to charge your phone without an outlet, or a power mat. It is a . Of course, solar chargers aren't new, but most of them are clunky and external. This one can be built right into the phone. The charger is basically a few layers of a thin and transparent photovoltaic film that can be put on top of a phone's display to let it charge wherever there is light. You may be wondering how thin this film is? The current version is less than 100 microns. - Check out the cool video! I so want one of those. Forget about dead battery. You can charge anywhere!

Fluorescent peptides help nerves glow in surgery - Accidental damage to thin or buried nerves during surgery can have severe consequences, from chronic pain to permanent paralysis. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine may have found a remedy: injectable fluorescent peptides that cause hard-to-see peripheral nerves to glow, alerting surgeons to their location even before the nerves are encountered.

New solar energy conversion process could revamp solar power production -Stanford engineers have figured out how to simultaneously use the light and heat of the sun to generate electricity in a way that could make solar power production more than twice as efficient as existing methods and potentially cheap enough to compete with oil. Unlike photovoltaic technology currently used in solar panels - which becomes less efficient as the temperature rises - the new process excels at higher temperatures. Called 'photon enhanced thermionic emission,' or PETE, the process promises to surpass the efficiency of existing photovoltaic and thermal conversion technologies. - I feel little bit skeptic, not because of the technology which sounds great and sound, but because I wonder how much time it will take for this cool new method to be used in actual solar panel.

Partial reversal of aging achieved in mice

November 29, 2010 By Richard Saltus
( -- Harvard scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute say they have for the first time partially reversed age-related degeneration in mice, resulting in new growth of the brain and testes, improved fertility, and the return of a lost cognitive function. In a report posted online by the journal Nature in advance of print publication, researchers led by Ronald A. DePinho, a Harvard Medical School (HMS) professor of genetics, said they achieved the milestone in aging science by engineering mice with a controllable telomerase gene. The telomerase enzyme maintains the protective caps called telomeres that shield the ends of chromosomes.

As humans age, low levels of telomerase are associated with progressive erosion of telomeres, which may then contribute to tissue degeneration and functional decline in the elderly. By creating mice with a telomerase switch, the researchers were able to generate prematurely aged mice. The switch allowed the scientists to find out whether reactivating telomerase in the animals would restore telomeres and mitigate the signs and symptoms of aging. The work showed a dramatic reversal of many aspects of aging, including reversal of brain disease and infertility.

Importantly, the animals showed no signs of developing cancer. This remains a concern because cancer cells turn on telomerase to make themselves virtually immortal. DePinho said the risk can be minimized by switching on telomerase only for a matter of days or weeks — which may be brief enough to avoid fueling hidden cancers or cause new ones to develop.

The experiments used mice that had been engineered to develop severe DNA and tissue damage as a result of abnormal, premature aging. These animals had short, dysfunctional telomeres and suffered a variety of age-related afflictions that progressed in successive generations of mice. Among the conditions were testes reduced in size and depleted of sperm, atrophied spleens, damage to the intestines, and shrinkage of the brain along with an inability to grow new brain cells.
Rather than supply the rodents with supplemental telomerase, the scientists devised a way to switch on the animals’ own dormant telomerase gene, known as TERT. They engineered the endogenous TERT gene to encode a fusion protein of TERT and the estrogen receptor. This fusion protein would only become activated with a special form of estrogen. With this setup, scientists could give the mice an estrogen-like drug at any time to stimulate the TERT-estrogen receptor fusion protein and make it active to maintain telomeres.

Against this backdrop, the researchers administered the estrogen drug to some of the mice via a time-release pellet inserted under the skin. Other animals, the controls, were given a pellet containing no active drug.

After four weeks, the scientists observed remarkable signs of rejuvenation in the treated mice. Overall, the mice exhibited increased levels of telomerase and lengthened telomeres, biological changes indicative of cells returning to a growth state with reversal of tissue degeneration, and increase in size of the spleen, testes, and brain.

The telomerase boost also lengthened the rodents’ life spans compared to their untreated counterparts — but they did not live longer than normal mice, said the researchers. source
My comment: WOW. If you think about it, there's very serious wow-factor in this news. True, the mice didn't live longer, so it's not a key to immortality. But just imagine living 70-80 years, feeling like you're in your 30s for the last 40 of them! That's very serious change of the lifestyle, of the life-time experience, of everything. And all that, by restoring the natural way the cell regenerates. It's amazing. If it can be done, that will be a revolution! And I'm sure it can be done. Let's hope we will be among those who will witness and enjoy the effect.

Liver tissue grown in lab cuts reliance on donors

Jan 22, 2011
WASHINGTON: Scientists have attained success in growing human liver cells on resorbable scaffolds made from materialsimilar tosurgicalsutures .
This liver tissue could be used in place of donor organs during liver transplantation or during the bridge period until a suitable donor is available for patients with acute liver failure , say researchers .
In applying their tissue engineering approach , the German researchers were able to successfully create new liver tissue providing a potential solution to the obstacles challenging liver cell transplantation . The team isolated liver cellsfrom 12human liver specimens with a viability of 82%. After a two-dayculture period , liver cells formed tightly packed cellular aggregates , called spheroids , and took on a liver-like appearance .
Human liver cells were distributed across a three-dimensional porous structure of the polymer scaffolding . From day two to four ,the average number of spheroids more than doubled from 18 to 41 per visual field. ANI source
My comment: Another amazing news. Especially if you consider that the liver is the biggest organ in our body and the one for which you last find out that there are problems. So, it will be amazing to have a way to produce livers. But, I think it could be even more amazing, if we learn how to make organs regenerate while inside us! Because every surgery has innate risks, so keeping any intervention to minimal is essential for good health.

Artificial pancreas" shows promise in pregnancy

Jan 30, LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists have shown how an "artificial pancreas" can help pregnant women with type 1 diabetes and say their finding could significantly reduce cases of stillbirth and death among diabetic expectant mothers.
British researchers used a so-called "closed-loop insulin delivery system" or artificial pancreas, in 10 pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes and found it provided the right amount of insulin at the right time, maintained near normal blood sugar, and prevented dangerous drops in blood sugar levels at night.
The experimental artificial pancreas was created by combining a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, with an insulin pump, both of which are already used separately by many people with type 1 diabetes.
Pregnancy can be particularly risky for women with diabetes as hormonal changes make it very difficult to keep blood glucose levels within a safe range, especially at night.
As a result of high blood glucose levels, babies of women with diabetes are five times as likely to be stillborn, three times as likely to die in their first months of life and twice as likely to have a major deformity, the researchers said.
Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, which part-funded the study, said that although it was a small and early stage trial, the results were encouraging.sourceMy comment: I didn't know there is so big risk for women with that kind of diabetes. It is good that something so simple, can decrease the risk.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Genetically-Modified Mosquitoes

Generally speaking, the goal of gene-based mosquito-control projects is either to kill the insects or make them benign. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, for example, are studying mosquitoes that were made malaria-resistant through the activation of a gene responsible for a protein that blocks the infection. And the British company Oxitec has engineered a strain of mosquito that cannot survive without regular doses of tetracycline; in the wild, these mosquitoes would survive just long enough to mate and pass on their tetracycline-junkie genes to their doomed offspring. In a trial in the Cayman Islands last year, Oxitec-modified mosquitoes were able to cut the overall population by 80 percent in just six months.But the problem is that we don’t fully understand how mosquitoes and the diseases they carry would adapt in response to such experiments. New strains of malaria and other diseases could emerge. Three percent of the offspring from Oxitec’s tetracycline-dependent mosquitoes survive—what happens if those bugs breed with wild mosquitoes?
It’s even possible that the changes we induce in mosquitoes could move into other animals. Horizontal gene transfer could result in midges, gnats and black flies developing the same mutations, including the unfortunate characteristic of dying shortly after hatching—and a mass die-off of insects that provide sustenance to birds, bats, frogs and fish would be a food-chain disaster.
Joe Conlon, a technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association, favors using a variety of techniques all at once—dispersing larvicide, which is less environmentally harmful than pesticides that kill adults; planting Ovitraps, which attract egg-laying females; and, where possible, getting rid of the water impoundments where the insects breed. source
My comment: See also:( Biology Controversy Erupts in French Classrooms over Permitting Teens to Genetically Modify Bacteria ) Ok, I must say I'm very opposed to genetic battles with any species. After all, we can very well fight mosquito-induced diseases, if we have the political will. But we don't have the right to kill of entire species, just like that, because we don't like the economical burden it represents for us. Furthermore, we have barely scratched the surface of horizontal and vertical gene-transfer. The biggest genetic madness we did are GM crops. But crops don't fly, right? Crops don't bite humans and a variety of animals, sucking their blood. If crops can be dangerous, what's left for mosquitoes or other insects. Insects are like a genetic lab, if we are to mess with them and let them loose in the wild, we must be very very sure what we do. Because, people already observed unexpected results from GM crops, like new wild crops which have acquired the genes of not one, but two different GM crops. Scientists have already observed the same happening for the mosquitoes. This is clearly a problem, and sooner or later, we'll find out that Nature and evolution should always remain our friends, because like enemies, they are way way out of our league.

Scientists grow blood vessels for human surgery

February 2, 2011 
Scientists can grow blood vessels in a lab for use in coronary bypass or dialysis, a promising alternative to harvesting from the patient, said a study published on Wednesday.
The process involves taking smooth muscle cells from a human cadaver and grafting them onto tubes made of the material used in making dissolvable stitches, called polyglycolic acid.
Within eight to 10 weeks, the tubes degrade and a "fully formed vascular graft" remains, said the research by scientists from Duke University, East Carolina University and Yale University.
The veins have been tested in baboons and dogs. They were not rejected by the animals' bodies and functioned well for six months, said the study, published in the journal .
The bio-engineered vessels could also be stored in saline solution for up to a year, suggesting that one day surgeons could pluck a vein "off the shelf" for use in a sick patient, the study said.
Clinical trials in humans are expected to begin soon, according to a spokeswoman from Humacyte, a company based in North Carolina that also contributed to the study and funded the research.
Shannon Dahl, senior director of Scientific Operations at Humacyte, said veins can be made in a variety of sizes for use in different operations.
 sourceMy comment: Another wow-news. Seriously, can you imagine having blood vessels "off the shelf"?! It sounds kind of arrogant, but from the other side, that what science is. And those veins are badly needed. Not to mention that once you have abundance of cheap blood vessels, I'm sure medicine will come up with fancy and hopefully good for the population ways to use them. Good luck on their human trials.

Swine flu vaccine likely causes child narcolepsy: study

February 1, 2011 

 Children injected with the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine were nine times more likely to contract narcolepsy than those who were not vaccinated, a preliminary study by Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, showed Tuesday.
The institute stressed in its preliminary study that more investigation was needed, but said young people aged four to 19 had a "manifold increased risk of falling ill with narcolepsy" if they had been inoculated against swine flu with Pandemrix.Finland launched an aggressive inoculation programme against the H1N1 virus in 2009, but last August THL recommended discontinuing the use of Pandemrix until it could study whether it was connected to a sharp rise in the instance of narcolepsy cases in the country, especially among children.
The European Medicines Agency also launched a probe into the suspected connection.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder which causes extreme fatigue and often results in the patient falling soundly asleep without warning, even in the middle of an activity.
Doctors in Finland reported a more than trippling of narcolepsy cases during the swine flue pandemic, and THL said "the risk of falling ill with narcolepsy among those vaccinated in the 4-19 years age group was nine-fold in comparison to those unvaccinated in the same age group."
Hospital data shows that new child narcolepsy cases in Finland jumped from seven in 2007 to 16 in 2008 to 60 during the swine flu pandemic in 2009-2010.
Fifty-two of the latest cases, or 90 percent, occured in youths who had received the Pandemrix vaccine, THL said, adding most of the patients developed narcolepsy symptoms between two and 10 weeks after being vaccinated.
No changes in the number of cases were observed in children under four or youth over 19 years of age.
My comment: As much as I like to defend science, vaccines are totally different story. Because they are not pure science, they are profitable science. And where there is profit, there can be also abuse. This case, makes a very good example why one should avoid vaccines for stuff that can be handled in other ways. This doesn't apply for all the vaccines since some of them are really important. But flu-vaccines - come on. Sure, there is a risk from complications. But probably the risk from getting injured in road-incident is bigger.  

Debut of the first practical 'artificial leaf'

March 27, 2011
Scientists today claimed one of the milestones in the drive for sustainable energy — development of the first practical artificial leaf. Speaking here at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that mimics the process, called photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.
About the shape of a poker card but thinner, the device is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur, or would run slowly. Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.
The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.
Nocera, who is with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out that the "artificial leaf" is not a new concept. The first artificial leaf was developed more than a decade ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.
Nocera's new leaf is made of inexpensive materials that are widely available, works under simple conditions and is highly stable. In laboratory studies, he showed that an artificial leaf prototype could operate continuously for at least 45 hours without a drop in activity.
Right now, Nocera's leaf is about 10 times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf. However, he is optimistic that he can boost the efficiency of the artificial leaf much higher in the future. source
My comment: So, let's repeat - this isn't a new concept, the nice guys from the named US agency had the technology for a decade, but they didn't do a thing about it. Why? Because they have oil. And they don't care particularly about giving light to the poor Africans. After all, why would they need light, if they can't read. Anyway, I'm quite impressed by the efficiency of the process and I wish a lot of luck to the inventors. Because they did something really good, something that can make a difference on large-scale. Actually, I would love to have one of those devices. For when the electricity goes down.

Water waves exhibit negative gravity near a periodic array of buoys

 ( -- Ocean waves can be incredibly strong and very difficult to block completely. When a wave moving across the ocean interacts with a buoy, the wave can be slightly dampened, but will still pass by if its wavelength is long enough compared to the size of the buoy. But in a new study, scientists have calculated that a periodic array of resonators (such as vertical bottom-mounted split tubes or damping buoys) resonating at a low frequency can completely block water waves. The effect arises from the water having negative effective gravity.
 Through and , the researchers have shown that, when a periodic array of vertical bottom-mounted split tubes resonates near a certain low frequency, the array strongly reflects approaching water waves. They found that such a strong reflection can dramatically modify the efficiency of the waves. source
My comment: That is also quite cool and it has obvious application for tsunami cases. True the energy required will be probably much bigger, but since tsunamis are not so often, it can be supplied when needed.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Self-powering artificial skin and quantum dot displays, 09.2011


  1. Researchers fabricate first large-area, full-color quantum dot display Scientists convert skin cells to beating heart cells 
  2. New transistors: An alternative to silicon and better than graphene 
  3. Regular exercise can delay the aging process
  4. New stretchable solar cells will power artificial electronic 'super skin' 
  5. Nasal stem cells put in ears can restore hearing 
  6. Miniature 'wearable' PET scanner ready for use 
  7. Novel transistor combines logic and memory functions, drastically reduces power consumption 
  8. Untapped crop data from Africa predicts corn peril if temperatures rise 
  9. U.S. team creates diamond aerogel in lab by emulating Mother Nature  

Researchers fabricate first large-area, full-color quantum dot display

February 21, 2011 by Lisa Zyga
( -- For more than a decade, researchers have been trying to make TV displays out of quantum dots. Theoretically, quantum dot displays could provide extremely high-resolution images and higher energy efficiencies than current TVs. Now in a new study, researchers have presented the first large-area, full-color quantum dot display that could lead to the development of displays for the next-generation TVs, mobile phones, digital cameras, and portable game systems.
The researchers, Tae-Ho Kim and coauthors from various institutes in South Korea, have published their study on the first four-inch, full-color quantum dot display in a recent issue of . The display consists of a film printed with trillions of the tiny (an average of 3 trillion per cm2). The quantum dots emit light at a specific wavelength (color) that can be tuned by changing the size of the quantum dots.  source
My comment: Wow! I didn't know they are so far ahead in the technology of quantum dots. And if they are so efficient, that would be a great breakthrough. Just imagine not having to charge your smart phone with huge display every day. 

Scientists convert skin cells to beating heart cells

January 31, 2011 
Scripps Research Institute scientists have converted adult skin cells directly into beating heart cells efficiently without having to first go through the laborious process of generating embryonic-like stem cells. The powerful general technology platform could lead to new treatments for a range of diseases and injuries involving cell loss or damage, such as heart disease, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's disease.
(..)Because of these concerns, Ding and colleagues decided to try to tweak the process by completely bypassing the iPS stage and going directly from one type of mature cell (a skin cell) to another (a heart cell).
The team introduced the same four genes initially used to make iPS cells into adult skin fibroblast cells, but instead of letting the genes be continuously active in cells for several weeks, they switched off their activities just after a few days, long before the cells had turned into iPS cells. Once the four genes were switched off, the scientists gave a signal to the cells to make them turn into heart cells.
"In 11 days, we went from skin cells to beating heart cells in a dish," said Ding. "It was phenomenal to see."
(..) the next step will be to modify this technique further to remove the need for inserting the four genes, which have been linked to the development of cancer.  source
My comment: I hope soon enough they'll manage not to use the 4 genes. I mean, it is known that the organs in human body, for example the heart, keep some ability to regenerate even past the embryonic stage. If the body can do it without complicated genetic tweaking, then there is a way. We only have to discover it. And that will be a major major discovery. Just imagine how useful could be cells-regeneration induced by some chemical. And most importantly, how much pain it could save. Not to mention that if we learn how to induce that regeneration and more specifically, how to remove "old" and damaged cells with new and healthy ones, that is certainly a step closer to immortality.

New transistors: An alternative to silicon and better than graphene

January 30, 2011
Smaller and more energy-efficient electronic chips could be made using molybdenite. In an article appearing online January 30 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, EPFL's Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures (LANES) publishes a study showing that this material has distinct advantages over traditional silicon or graphene for use in electronics applications.
This mineral, which is abundant in nature, is often used as an element in steel alloys or as an additive in lubricants. But it had not yet been extensively studied for use in electronics.
One of molybdenite's advantages is that it is less voluminous than silicon, which is a three-dimensional material. Another advantage of molybdenite is that it can be used to make transistors that consume 100,000 times less energy in standby state than traditional silicon . A semi-conductor with a "gap" must be used to turn a transistor on and off, and molybdenite's 1.8 electron-volt gap is ideal for this purpose.
It (the gap) thus offers a greater level of control over the electrical behavior of the material, which can be turned on and off easily.
The existence of this gap in molybdenite also gives it an advantage over graphene. Considered today by many scientists as the electronics material of the future, the "semi-metal" graphene doesn't have a gap, and it is very difficult to artificially reproduce one in the material. source
My comment: I' m very impressed by this news! Because this is a material which is much more abundant than silicone, currently cheaper to produce than graphene and it has advantages compared to both silicone and graphene. The main question is how come we didn't hear about it so far? And will we hear about it from now on? I'm also curious how toxic molybdenite is. Because from a quick google scan I read that actually it is very toxic in animal tests. But silicone is not exactly clear water neither (at least not on large scale pollution we observe today). So a risk assessment is very important before deciding which one is ecologically and economically safer.

Regular exercise can delay the aging process

February 22, 2011 by Lin Edwards
( -- A team of Canadian scientists working with mice genetically modified to age twice as fast as normal has found regular exercise keeps them young.
The results showed that after five months (when the mice were the equivalent of 60 human years) the exercising mice looked like wild-type mice: younger and healthier and more active than the non-exercising mice, which were almost immobile and had lost much of their hair. The non-exercising mice were also less sociable and less fertile than the exercisers.
The researchers said every tissue and every organ they examined was better in the exercising mice than in those that did not exercise, including the hair, skin, ovaries, testicles, spleen, kidneys, and liver. In the non-exercisers their brains had shrunk and hearts were enlarged, but they were normal size in the exercisers. The anti-aging effects were "unprecedented" and protected every part of the body.
Dr Tarnopolsky said that while death is inevitable, is the most potent anti-aging therapy available and can keep us healthy and disease free for longer than anything else. source
My comment: Maybe it's the additional oxygen due to the exercises? Also, from their study it's hard to say how intensive are the exercises - strength or cardio so to say. Because for me running for 45 mins sounds quite intensive, but for a mouse, I don't know, maybe it's the equivalent of 45 mins walk in the park? Or, considering that they age twice faster, maybe it represents 4 hours of exercises? 
And the intensity is key to any ani-aging conclusion. Because you can make the statistics for people who worked very hard all their lives or for professional athletes and I'm not sure it will say they generally live much longer than other people.

New stretchable solar cells will power artificial electronic 'super skin'

February 23, 2011 By Louis Bergeron
( -- Ultrasensitive electronic skin developed by Stanford researcher Zhenan Bao is getting even better. Now she's demonstrated that it can detect chemicals and biological molecules, in addition to sensing an incredibly light touch. And it can now be powered by a new, stretchable solar cell she's developed in her lab, opening up more applications in clothing, robots, prosthetic limbs and more.
 She's also making the skin self-powering, using to generate electricity. And the new solar cells are not just flexible, but stretchable – they can be stretched up to 30 percent beyond their original length and snap back without any damage or loss of power.
Super skin, indeed.
 The researchers are now working on extending the technique to detect proteins, which could prove useful for medical diagnostics purposes.
By adjusting aspects of the transistor structure, the super skin can detect chemical substances in either vapor or liquid environments.
Finally, Bao has figured out how to replace the materials used in earlier versions of the transistor with biodegradable materials. Now, not only will the super skin be more versatile and powerful, it will also be more eco-friendly. source
My comment: This is certainly a WOW news. I mean skin that is stretchable, self-powered and detecting chemicals? That's like the absolute sci-fi dream. I certainly wish all the luck possible to that research because it sounds so amazingly cool. Of course, its first applications will be in the army, which doesn't make me so happy, but anyway, sooner or later, it will reach normal people. And then, we'll add a whole new dimension to the tactile experience. 

Creepy robotic head mimics a child - Does it creep you out? Not me. I think it's almost cute.

Amputees regain control with bionic arm wired to chest - "Jesse Sullivan, the man in this video, is using one of the most high-tech prosthetic arms available. But what's truly impressive about it isn't visible to the eye: instead of using a motor, he's controlling the arm with his thoughts. After an amputation, the nerves in a stump remain healthy, at least for a while, and now scientists are making use of this fact to create highly dexterous, thought-controlled prosthetics.
In the video above, the nerves from Sullivan's stump were connected to muscles in his chest. When he thinks about moving his chest muscles, the signals are picked up by the nerves that were previously connected to the arm and interpreted by a computer which relays the information to the prosthesis."

Nasal stem cells put in ears can restore hearing

PTI,Feb 15, 2011, 06.36am IST
MELBOURNE: In what could help restore hearing loss in humans, an Indian-origin scientist-led team has shown for the first time that injecting stem cells from nose into ears of mice with deafness improved their hearing.
Sonali Pandit and colleagues at Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia have claimed that the research has the potential to reverse or restore hearing during early onset sensorineural hearing loss in people. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when hearing cells in the cochlea lose their function. Frequently inherited, and usually starting during infancy, the condition could slow a child's development and lead to speech and language problems.
The team found that stem cells appear to release "factors" , or chemical substances , that help preserve the function of cochlear hearing cells, without the stem cells becoming part of the tissue of the inner ear.
Adult human nasal stem cells were used in the study, as they are plentiful, easy to obtain and unspecialized. Though it has taken five years to reach the current stage of research, the scientists anticipate that it will take a further decade at least for the findings to benefit people. source
My comment: I wonder why the nose and the ears are so deeply connected. Well, apart from the obvious physiological reasons, of course. But still, it very interesting how those stem-cells help to preserve the cochlear cells but without actually becoming them. It sounds very weird. 

Miniature 'wearable' PET scanner ready for use

March 13, 2011 

 Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and collaborators have demonstrated the efficacy of a "wearable," portable PET scanner they've developed for rats. The device will give neuroscientists a new tool for simultaneously studying brain function and behavior in fully awake, moving animals.
"Positron emission tomography (PET) is a powerful tool for studying the   that occur in the brain," said Paul Vaska, head of PET physics at Brookhaven
But studying animals with PET has required general anesthesia or other methods to immobilize the animals.
After several years of development, the scientists have arrived at a design for a miniature, portable, donut-shaped PET scanner that can be "worn" like a collar on a rat's head for simultaneous studies of and behavior. Weighing only 250 grams, the device - dubbed RatCAP, for Rat Conscious Animal PET - is counterbalanced by a system of springs and motion stabilizers to allow the animal significant freedom of movement. Measurements of the rats' indicated only moderate and temporary increases.
"Rats wearing the device appear to adapt well and move freely about their environment," Woody said.

The researchers' next step will be to use RatCAP to explore distinct behavioral expressions that can be correlated with simultaneously acquired PET data. source
My comment: Yeah, and the ultimate next step is to put one of those deviced on the neck of each and every person on Earth and happily observe his or her thoughts in the name of national security. Ok, I'm unfair to the researchers, they created something quite cool. It's just that it is so easy to find very bad applications of this tool...

Novel transistor combines logic and memory functions, drastically reduces power consumption

February 1, 2011 By Mikiko Tanifuji
A group headed by Dr. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, a Principal Investigator at the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics (MANA; Japan), succeeded in the development of a novel transistor, the "atom transistor," which performs both logic and memory functions while reducing power consumption to 1 x 10-6  that of the conventional devices. Logic elements which are capable of retaining their state (i.e., memory) will be indispensible for the development of instant-on personal computers (PC) and other electronic equipment. 
In contrast to conventional transistors, which control the movement of electrons in a , the newly-developed “atom transistor” operates by transferring a very small amount of metal in an insulator. By using an insulator, which has higher resistance than a semiconductor, as the base material, and realizing on/off states by transfer of a tiny amount metal atoms in this material, the new device achieves a high on/off ratio on the same level as conventional semiconductor with extremely low .
Furthermore, it was found that the “atom transistor” also operates as a memory element which retains states by control of the operating voltage range. source
My comment:  That also sounds very interesting, though it doesn't become clear  what are the metals and how easy are the new transistors for constructing...

Untapped crop data from Africa predicts corn peril if temperatures rise

March 13, 2011 
A hidden trove of historical crop yield data from Africa shows that corn – long believed to tolerate hot temperatures – is a likely victim of global warming.
Led by Lobell, the researchers combined data from 20,000 trials in sub-Saharan Africa with weather data recorded at stations scattered across the region. They found that a temperature rise of a single degree Celsius would cause yield losses for 65 percent of the present maize-growing region in Africa – provided the received the optimal amount of rainfall. Under drought conditions, the entire maize-growing region would suffer yield losses, with more than 75 percent of areas predicted to decline by at least 20 percent for 1 degree Celsius of warming. source
My comment: And imagine, if this happens with corn, which is considered temperature-resistant, what will happen with all the other species which are not. Well, I'm far from the idea of full extinction, after all Nature is pretty well adaptable, but humans are not so much. And we have to eat...

U.S. team creates diamond aerogel in lab by emulating Mother Nature

May 10, 2011 by Bob Yirka
( -- Researchers working out of Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, have devised a process whereby an ordinary carbon aerogel is used as a base to create a new type aerogel comprised of diamond, making it not only denser, but translucent. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (PNAS), the team describes a process where a carbon aerogel is set in a pool of neon gas, then subjected to pressure and then heat, causing diamond crystals to form, resulting in a diamond aerogel.
Possible applications for the new material are diverse; ranging from flat panel television screens to highly efficient thermal window coatings, to possibly being used as a component in a quantum computer. It’s also possible they could make their way towards being used as part of medical implants due to diamonds being more highly biocompatible than other materials currently in use. All of that will have to wait though, at least for a while, as the current technique was only able to produce diamond aerogel in sample sizes on the order of twice the size of a human hair’s thickness. source
My comment:  Pretty cool, huh? I've seen on the net some samples of those aerogel, it looks so alien...

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Ancient Transylvanians - the new name of Thracians?! 2011


  1. Neanderthals ate a well balanced diet
  2. All Non-Africans Part Neanderthal, Genetics Confirm
  3. Few grandparents until 30,000 years ago
  4. Ancient farmers swiftly spread westward
  5. "Chilling" Child Sacrifices Found at Prehistoric Site
  6. Archaeology: 8000 year-old Sun temple found in Bulgaria
  7. Ancient Transylvanians Rich in Gold, Treasure Shows 

Neanderthals ate a well balanced diet

Researchers from George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution have discovered evidence to debunk the theory that Neanderthals’ disappearance was caused in part by a deficient diet – one that lacked variety and was overly reliant on meat. After discovering starch granules from plant food trapped in the dental calculus on 40-thousand-year-old Neanderthal teeth, the scientists believe that Neanderthals ate a wide variety of plants and included cooked grains as part of a more sophisticated, diverse diet similar to early modern humans.
The discovery of starch granules in the calculus on Neanderthal teeth provides direct evidence that they made sophisticated, thoughtful food choices and ate more nutrient-rich plants, for example date palms, legumes and grains such as barley. The researchers discovered starch granules in dental calculus – which forms when plaque build-up hardens – on the fossilized teeth of Neanderthal skeletons – excavated from Shanidar Cave in Iraq and Spy Cave in Belgium. The researchers also determined from alterations they observed in the starch granules that Neanderthals prepared and cooked starch-rich foods to make them taste better and easier to digest. source
My comment: It's kind of funny how researchers refute a theory after theory about the reason behind the disappearing of the Neanderthals. Sooner or later they'll have to figure out that the answer, obviously, is not so simple.

All Non-Africans Part Neanderthal, Genetics Confirm

Damian Labuda of the University of Montreal's Department of Pediatrics and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center conducted the study with his colleagues. They determined some of the human X chromosome originates from Neanderthals, but only in people of non-African heritage.
"This confirms recent findings suggesting that the two populations interbred," Labuda was quoted as saying in a press release. His team believes most, if not all, of the interbreeding took place in the Middle East, while modern humans were migrating out of Africa and spreading to other regions.
The ancestors of Neanderthals left Africa about 400,000 to 800,000 years ago. They evolved over the millennia mostly in what are now France, Spain, Germany and Russia. They went extinct, or were simply absorbed into the modern human population, about 30,000 years ago.
My comment: I don't get precisely how they decided the two populations mixed in the Middle East and not in Europe, but I'm sure they have some decent reasons. Maybe the idea is that Homo Sapiens passed trough there on their way to the world, but I think this theory is kind of shaky now that they found some very old remains of Homo Sapiens in Asia. Anyway, I find it very interesting that they finally proved we interbred with Neanderthals.

Few grandparents until 30,000 years ago

In the article, Rachel Caspari describes how analysis of the teeth of Neanderthals found in Croatia, who lived about 130,000 years ago, suggests “no one survived past 30”.
They calculated the ratio of older to younger adults – the OY ratio – in fossil samples of 768 individuals spanning 3million years, stretching back from the most primitive australopithecines to modern Europeans of the early Upper Paelolithic, who lived between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago. The researchers found that for every 10 young adult Neanderthals, who probably died between 15 and 30, there were just four who survived past 30 and so lived long enough to see their children have babies themselves.
Among the modern European group, however, there were 20 potential grandparents for every 10 young adults, concluding that “adult survivorship soared very late in human evolution”.
The researchers say they do not know why so many of this group started to live longer, but once they did it helped their societies greatly.
My comment: While I agree that their study sounds intriguing, I think it's hard to judge about the benefit of longer life, when you don't know exactly what's the dynamic of the society. If the active life of the people starts at 11, then 30 is not so young anymore. I suppose this should be more a sign of the stability of the society than of the knowledge passed throughout the generations. Simply because we know already that the Neanderthals had similar lifestyle as the Homo Sapiens regardless their shorter average lifespan.Then they obviously had a way to pass the knowledge.

Ancient farmers swiftly spread westward


Farming villages sprouted swiftly in this coastal region of Croatia, called Dalmatia, nearly 8,000 years ago, apparently with the arrival of Middle Easterners already adept at growing crops and herding animals, says archaeologist Andrew Moore of Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
Plant cultivation and animal raising started almost 8,000 years ago at Pokrovnik and lasted for close to a millennium, according to radiocarbon dating of charred seeds and bones from a series of occupation layers. Comparable practices at Danilo Bitinj lasted from about 7,300 to 6,800 years ago.
“Farming came to Dalmatia abruptly, spread rapidly and took hold immediately,” Moore says.
Other evidence supports a fast spread of sophisticated farming methods from the Middle East into Europe (SN: 2/5/05, p. 88), remarks Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef. Farming villages in western Greece date to about 9,000 years ago, he notes. Middle Eastern farmers exploited a wide array of domesticated plants and animals by 10,500 years ago, setting the stage for a westward migration, Bar-Yosef says.
Excavated seeds and plant parts show that ancient villagers grew nine different domestic plants — including emmer, oats and lentils — and gathered blackberries and other wild fruits.Animal bones found at the two villages indicate that residents primarily herded sheep and goats, along with some cattle and a small number of pigs.
Diverse food sources provided a hedge against regional fluctuations in rainfall and growing seasons, according to Moore.
Aside from farming, Neolithic villagers in Dalmatia were “oriented toward the sea, and enjoyed extensive long-distance contacts,” Moore adds. source
My comment: The only thing I'd like to add is that there were no ancient Greek settlements 9000years ago. They were pelasgians. Or Thracians if you like. But not Greek! Otherwise, I'm not surprised by the study. It justs proves what we already know - that the agriculture spread trough the Balkans to Western Europe at about that time. 

"Chilling" Child Sacrifices Found at Prehistoric Site

John Roachfor National Geographic News Published December 23, 2010
The skeletons of dozens of children killed as part of a ritual bloodletting sacrifice a thousand years ago have been discovered in northern Peru, a new study says.
The remains are the earliest evidence of ritualized blood sacrifice and mutilation of children that has so far been seen in the South American Andes, according to study leader Haagen Klaus.
Seeds of a paralytic and hallucinogenic plant called Nectandra, which also prevents blood clotting, were found with the skeletons, suggesting the children were drugged before their throats were slit and their chests cut open.
During the sacrifices, sharp bronze knives were used to hack the children to death. One skeleton had more than 25 cut marks on it. A few had their hands and legs bound with rope.
Eighty-two skeletons of the Muchik people—including 32 that were mostly or completely intact—have been discovered since 2003 at the Cerro Cerillos site in the Lambayeque Valley on Peru's arid northern coast.
It's unclear why their chests were cut open, but it may have been to cut out their hearts, Klaus said.
In many Andean cultures, Klaus added, children may have been seen as conduits to communicate with the supernatural. What's more, in the Muchik cosmology, children may not have been seen as humans at all.
After the bloodletting was over, the children were allowed to mummify in the desert air for at least a month, the study concluded. Empty fly pupa were found with the kids' remains, indicating that maggots ate their flesh during natural decomposition.
In ancient beliefs, the hatched fly carried deceased children's souls away and signified a reverent burial, according to Klaus.
Llama remains were also found with the bodies, suggesting that the funerals of many victims were accompanied by "solemn and very serious" feasts that included llama meat, Klaus noted.
The heads and legs of llamas were "given" to the dead, presumably to feed them in the afterlife.
The Moche were independently governed agricultural societies that ruled the region from about A.D. 100 to 800.  sourceMy comment: Ok, what I don't understand is why would they believe the children did not have soul and then make a big funeral which shows respect. It simply makes no sense. If those were sacrifices at all (and not say medical experiments which as crazy as it may sounds is not completely impossible), then those people killed the children with the clear knowledge that they sacrifice a human, if not even a higher being. It simply amazes me how prejudiced scientists can be.

Archaeology: 8000 year-old Sun temple found in Bulgaria

Wed, Dec 15 2010 13:35 CETby The Sofia Echo staff

The oldest temple of the Sun has been discovered in northwest Bulgaria, near the town of Vratsa, aged at more then 8000 years, the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) reported on December 15 2010.
The Bulgarian 'Stonehenge' is hence about 3000 years older than its illustrious English counterpart. But unlike its more renowned English cousin, the Bulgarian sun temple was not on the surface, rather it was dug out from under tons of earth and is shaped in the form of a horse shoe, the report said.
The temple was found near the village of Ohoden. According to archaeologists, the prehistoric people used the celestial facility to calculate the seasons and to determine the best times for sowing and harvest. The site was also used for rituals, offering gifts to the Sun for fertility as BNT reported.
This area of Bulgaria was previously made famous because remnants of the oldest people who lived in this part of Europe were found.
My comment: No comment, really. I'm just glad to see the findings of our archaeologists being popularized. They deserve it. And for further findings check this:
Archaeology: Discovery of Gothic amulet at Bulgaria’s Perperikon - Gothic amulet with a swastika dedicated to Odin, supreme god of the Germanic tribes, has been discovered by archaeologists at Bulgaria’s ancient holy site of Perperikon near Kurdjali.  It is believed that the amulet belonged to a warrior who participated in the capture of the rock city 17 centuries ago. - Though I'm not sure how they dated the amulet so quickly - it could be much older. 

Ancient Transylvanians Rich in Gold, Treasure Shows 

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The wine domesticated 8000 years ago and more, 2011

Did Vikings navigate by polarized light? - What I find most curious is how they found out about the properties of polarized light and how did the find a material that can be used for that. I think we tend to underestimate the trial-error experience while it worked so well in our history.


  1. Bulgarian Archaeologists Stumble Upon 8000-Year-Old Skeleton
  2. Bulgarian Archaeologist Shows Off Perperikon Finds
  3. Fossil finger records key to Neanderthals' promiscuity
  4. Acoustic Archaeology Yielding Mind-Tripping Tricks
  5. Analysis of teeth suggests modern humans mature more slowly than Neanderthals did
  6. Study finds Neanderthals ate their veggies
  7. Acoustic Archaeology Yielding Mind-Tripping Tricks
  8. Multiple fathers prevalent in Amazonian cultures
  9. Grapes domesticated 8,000 years ago

Bulgarian Archaeologists Stumble Upon 8000-Year-Old Skeleton

October 24, 2010, Sunday
Bulgarian archaeologists clearing a plot for highway construction have come across a Neolithic home and a skeleton date back to 6000 BC.
The Neolithic Age home was discovered close to the village of Krum in the Haskovo District by the team of archaeologist Boris Borisov.
Borisov said the skeleton belonged to a young disabled person, aged between 10 and 15. It was found buried with limbs close to the body as part of a funeral ritual, close to the southern wall of the home. source
My comment: Wow! And that's the second very old settlement discovered in Bulgaria. The other one is in Northern Bulgaria, near the Danube. Amazing.

Bulgarian Archaeologist Shows Off Perperikon Finds

Archaeology | October 18, 2010, Monday
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Archaeologist Shows Off Perperikon Finds
Professor Nikolay Ovcharov, known as the "Bulgarian Indiana Jones", shows the figure of an Ancient Thracian warrior, 3rd-2nd century BC, that he found at Perperikon. Photo by Bulphoto
Leading Bulgarian archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov has presented the latest finds of his team from the Ancient Thrace and Rome fortress of Perperikon in the Rhodope Mountain.
One of the finds is a miniature model of a stone grinder dated back to 7000 years ago. Ovcharov believes the model might have been an actual children's toy.
Another unique find is a figure of a Thracian warrior from the 3rd-2nd century BC. The Thracian warrior used to hold a spear. The figure is modeled after the Greek god Apollo, who in the Roman Age "replaced" the cult for the "Thracian Horseman", a local deity, among the Thracians.
Ovcharov also showed a surgical instrument from Roman times which was used for plucking parasites out of human bodies. He explained the instrument is the same as the one portrayed on every pharmacy with a serpent wrapped around it or held by the Ancient Greece god of medicine Asclepius.
According to the professor, the most interesting find at Perperikon from the Middle Ages period is the 13th century image of a mummer, or "kuker" in Bulgarian. The human-line image features a man with a bear head and a bear skin, which according to Ovcharov, proves that today's kukeri games around Bulgaria – in which humans dress as scary animal creatures to chase away evil ghosts – were inherited from the ancient Dionysus games among the Thracians.
Other exciting finds from the four-month summer excavations at Perperikon are a bronze buckle from the 10th century with an image of a griffin, a mythical creature with an eagle's head and a lion's body, and 14th-century Venice coins.
A very rare Bulgarian coin picturing Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander and his son Mihail from the Second Bulgarian Empire, minted in 1330-1345, was also shown to the public.
The Thracian city of Perperikon is an ancient archaeological complex located 15 km north of the city of Kardzhali. It is believed to be site of the sanctuary of god Dionysus which was widely known in the ancient world.
Human activity at Perperikon dates back to 5 000 BC, and in the Middle Ages the former ancient sanctuary became a key fortress controlling the Eastern Rhodoppe Mountains. source
My comment: I really really like the figurine. It's very sweet. :) But more seriously, the guys obviously had very good summer last year. Let's hope they'll find even more this summer. Unfortunately, time is not our ally, not with all those treasure-hunters who are robbing our legacy. But in any case, I wish the archaeologists luck. Because what they dig is the last treasure of Bulgaria. The only thing that is not yet destroyed. We have to protect it.

Some Neanderthals news:

Fossil finger records key to Neanderthals' promiscuity

November 3, 2010 
( -- Fossil finger bones of early human ancestors suggest that Neanderthals were more promiscuous than human populations today, researchers at the universities of Liverpool and Oxford have found.
The team found that the fossil finger ratios of Neanderthals, and early members of the human species, were lower than most living humans, which suggests that they had been exposed to high levels of prenatal androgens. This indicates that early humans were likely to be more competitive and promiscuous than people today.  source

Analysis of teeth suggests modern humans mature more slowly than Neanderthals did

November 15, 2010 
A sophisticated new examination of teeth from 11 Neanderthal and early human fossils shows that modern humans are slower than our ancestors to reach full maturity. The finding suggests that our characteristically slow development and long childhood are recent and unique to our own species, and may have given early humans an evolutionary advantage over Neanderthals.
Such studies add to the growing body of evidence that subtle developmental differences exist between us and our Neanderthal cousins. The recent sequencing of the has provided tantalizing genetic clues pointing to differences in cranial and skeletal development between and modern humans. source
My comment: Well that makes sense. Though it's hard to say how important is the length of human life to evolution. Sure, it gives you more time to do and learn stuff, but since the procrastination is likely a specie-wide trait, it's not certain how much more humans will learn in a lifetime compared to the Neanderthals. If Neanderthals were stronger and had more stamina, it's likely they had more power to do stuff and ultimately lived more intensive life.

Study finds Neanderthals ate their veggies

December 27, 2010
A US study on Monday found that Neanderthals, prehistoric cousins of humans, ate grains and vegetables as well as meat, cooking them over fire in the same way homo sapiens did.
The new research published in the (PNAS) challenges a prevailing theory that Neanderthals' over reliance on meat contributed to their extinction around 30,000 years ago.
Many of the particles "had undergone physical changes that matched experimentally-cooked , suggesting that controlled fire much like early modern humans," PNAS said in a statement. sourceMy comment: I think that is actually quite interesting since people imagine Neanderthals like some kind of brutes who ate raw meat and basically clubbed everything in sight. But obviously they were able to cook their food and liked the variety in their diet. Because so far, we know they ate meat, marine life, vegetables, grain, fruits, roots and so on.

Acoustic Archaeology Yielding Mind-Tripping Tricks

By Eric Niiler Tue Nov 16, 2010 08:00 AM ET 
Miriam Kolar, a researcher at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research and Acoustics, has been studying the 3,000 year-old Chavin culture in the high plains of Peru. Kolar and her colleagues have been mapping a maze of underground tunnels, drains and hallways in which echoes don't sound like echoes. "The structures could be physically disorienting and the acoustic environment is very different than the natural world," Kolar said.
Ancient drawings from the Chavin culture show a people who were fascinated with sensory experiences -- ancient hippies if you will. "There is peyote and mucus trails out of the nose indicative of people using psychoactive plant substances. They were taking drugs and having a hallucinogenic experience."
If that wasn't enough, the mazes at Chavin de Huantar also include air ducts that use sunlight to produce distorted shadows of the maze's human participants. And sound waves from giant marine shells found in the maze in 2001 may have produced a frequency that actually rattled the eyeballs of those San Pedro cactus-using ancients, Kolar said. 
The Mayan rulers at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan also figured out how to use sound for crowd control. David Lubman, an acoustic engineer who has spent the past 12 years studying the Mayan site, says a strange bird-like echo from the Kukulkan temple was actually constructed on purpose.  Lubman's analysis compared the acoustic soundprint of the quetzal bird, which was revered by Mayans, to the sound of the echo at Chichen Itza. The two sounds matched.  Other new research presented at this week's Acoustical Society of America conference in Cancun shows that Mayan rulers figured out how to build a public address system in the site's giant ball court. That allowed kings to address hundreds of warriors and subjects without screaming. source
My comment: What is most fascinating for me, is how we tend to underestimate ancient people and their curiosity and creativity. And in reality, it doesn't take so much to have fun. And the drive for fun and for power is a constant throughout human history. So I'm not surprised by the discovery, I'm surprised we discover it so late.

Multiple fathers prevalent in Amazonian cultures

November 10, 2010
In modern culture, it is not considered socially acceptable for married people to have extramarital sexual partners. However, in some Amazonian cultures, extramarital sexual affairs were common, and people believed that when a woman became pregnant, each of her sexual partners would be considered part-biological father. Now, a new University of Missouri study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that up to 70 percent of Amazonian cultures may have believed in the principle of multiple paternity.
"It was socially acceptable for children to have multiple fathers, and secondary fathers often contributed to their children's upbringing."
Walker says sexual promiscuity was normal and acceptable in many traditional South American societies. He says married couples typically lived with the wife's family, which he says increased their sexual freedom.
"In some Amazonian cultures, it was bad manners for a husband to be jealous of his wife's extramarital partners," Walker said. "It was also considered strange if you did not have multiple sexual partners. Cousins were often preferred partners, so it was especially rude to shun their advances."
Women believed that by having multiple they gained the benefit of larger gene pools for their children. He says women benefited from the system because secondary fathers gave gifts and helped support the child, which has been shown to increase child survival rates. In addition, brutal warfare was common in ancient Amazonia, and should the mother become a widow, her child would still have a father figure.
Men benefitted from the multiple paternity system because they were able to formalize alliances with other men by sharing wives. Walker hypothesizes that multiple paternity also strengthened family bonds, as brothers often shared wives in some cultures. source
My comment: I personally love that system. It's not so much about promiscuity. But think how limiting is our current social structure. Extramarital sexual encounters happen, that's a fact. People try to hide it or to stigmatize it, but if approximately 1/3 of all the people have affairs, some lasting years and yielding children, then it's kind of strange to claim this is not "normal". Obviously people do it and like it and need it. In this case what's the point of denying? The problem is that in many cases, the children of such affairs (or of the official relationship) are the victims, because they don't have complete access to one of their parents. Not to mention all the children whose step-fathers never truly connect with them. Why? What's the benefit from this? None. Then, maybe this amazonian style of family is much better. It will surely save a lot of money for psychologists and other related doctors. And of course, for lawyers.

Grapes domesticated 8,000 years ago 

Jan 19, 2011, By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
In wine there is truth, in vino veritas, as the ancient Romans put it. And the truth is that people first cultivated grapes for vino about 8,000 years ago, finds a genetics study.
In the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by Sean Myles of Cornell, looked at "1,000 samples of the domesticated grape, Vitis vinifera subsp. vinifera, and its wild relative, V. vinifera subsp. sylvestris." Comparing the gene maps across the grapes, the team concludes that humanity has only begun to explore the genetic diversity of the humble grape.
"Archaeological evidence suggests that grape domestication took place in the South Caucasus between the Caspian and Black Seas and that cultivated vinifera then spread south to the western side of the Fertile Crescent, the Jordan Valley, and Egypt by 5,000 y ago. Grape growing and winemaking then expanded westward toward Europe."
The new analysis suggests that people have been conservative in crossing varieties, after the earliest domestication of wild grapes." sourceMy comment:8000 years old! That's so much! I didn't suspect that wine is that old. But I particularly like the location of domestication. Right between Black and Caspian sea. Yes, it's one of the places where Thracians roamed. Of course, during this period they weren't called Thracians at all, so I'm exaggerating a little, but it's just amazing how well the regions fit.
Archeologists Find Traces of Unknown Civilization near Kislovodsk
25.01.2011 - Kislovodsk archaeological expedition headed by Dmitry Korobov has found about two hundred ancient settlements following a uniform architectural concept on the Kabardian Ridge, in the foothills of Elbrus.
The mysterious people mysteriously disappeared. After the 9th century B.C. they left their houses in the foothills of Elbrus and went away. There is, for example, an assumption that dwellers of Arkaim - a big settlement that prospered behind Urals in the 3rd-2nd millennia BC - could have reached that land.
Archaeologists: Tombs Dating Back to 5th Millennium BC Unearthed in Syria
(25.11.2010)- Archaeological Discovery: Several dolmen tombs dating back to the 5th Millennium BC or the Stone–Copper Age (the Eneolithic Age) have been unearthed in several sites in southern Syria such as Ein Zakkar, Tsil, al-Bakkar and Jibilieh to the west of Daraa, in addition to al-Maysara, southeast Daraa, Syrian Archaeologists said.- Look at the pictures at the source page. And think about Stonehenge. Read more about findings in Syria here: "Archaeologists: Buildings Dating Back to 4th millennium BC Unearthed in Syria" .

Friday, 17 June 2011

Technology for a better future, 2011


  1. See how they grow: Monitoring single bacteria without a microscope
  2. New reactor paves the way for efficiently producing fuel from sunlight
  3. EU, US partners plan 'low-cost' space launcher
  4. Iron Age Copper Reveals Earth’s Stronger, Faster Magnetic Field
  5. Nanogenerators grow strong enough to power small conventional electronics (w/ Video)
  6. Crystal cantilever lifts objects 600 times its own weight (w/ Video)
  7. Scientists move objects across meter-scale distances using only light (w/ Video)
  8. Scientists suggest that cancer is purely man-made
  9. Skin-cell spray gun drastically cuts healing time for burns
  10. Microsponges from seaweed may save lives (w/ Video)

See how they grow: Monitoring single bacteria without a microscope

January 17, 2011 
( -- With an invention that can be made from some of the same parts used in CD players, University of Michigan researchers have developed a way to measure the growth and drug susceptibility of individual bacterial cells without the use of a microscope.

Instead of waiting days for culture results, clinicians will be able to determine in minutes the antibiotic best able to treat the infection. This advance, along with the sensor's potential use in screening existing and newly discovered compounds for antibiotic activity, could improve patient outcome, reduce healthcare costs and reduce the spread of
The device, called an asynchronous magnetic bead rotation (AMBR) sensor, was invented in Kopelman's lab at U-M.
The AMBR sensor uses a spherical, magnetic bead that asynchronously spins in a magnetic field. Just as a pencil attached to a child's toy top creates drag that affects the way the top spins, anything attached to the bead slows its rate of rotation. In the current work, the researchers attached individual, rod-shaped Escherichia coli bacteria to individual beads and watched what happened, using the newly developed AMBR sensor.
"When one bacterium gets attached, it's hanging out there like a little hotdog, and it changes the drag tremendously, slowing down the rate of rotation by a factor of four," said Kopelman. "If the bacterium grows even a tiny bit, the drag increases even more, and we can monitor that nano-growth by observing changes in the rate of rotation."
"The method can detect growth of as little as 80 nanometers, making it far more sensitive than even a powerful optical microscope, which has a resolution limit of about 250 nanometers," said graduate student Paivo Kinnunen, one of the paper's lead authors, who is also working at Life Magnetics while completing his studies.
The U-M group demonstrated that the sensor not only can monitor the growth of a single bacterium throughout its life cycle and over multiple generations, but it can also determine when an individual bacterium stops growing, in response to treatment with an antibacterial drug, for instance.
"You can basically tell, within minutes, whether or not the antibiotic is working," said Kinnunen.
sourceMy comment: I love this smart gadget. It's so simple and yet so effective. The only problem is that I somehow doubt doctors will start using them. It's like prescription for antibiotics - in theory, they should be done after there is a lab test about they type of the bacteria. In practice - they give you some general antibiotics and only if it doesn't work, they consider sending you for tests. So, great invention, let's hope someone will actually use it.

New reactor paves the way for efficiently producing fuel from sunlight

January 19, 2011 by Kathy Svitil
Using a common metal most famously found in self-cleaning ovens, Sossina Haile hopes to change our energy future. The metal is cerium oxide—or ceria—and it is the centerpiece of a promising new technology developed by Haile and her colleagues that concentrates solar energy and uses it to efficiently convert carbon dioxide and water into fuels.
Solar has long been touted as the solution to our energy woes, but while it is plentiful and free, it can't be bottled up and transported. The process developed by Haile—a professor of materials science and chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)—and her colleagues could make that possible.The researchers designed and built a two-foot-tall prototype reactor that has a quartz window and a cavity that absorbs concentrated . The concentrator works "like the magnifying glass you used as a kid" to focus the sun's rays, says Haile.
At the heart of the reactor is a cylindrical lining of ceria. Ceria—a metal oxide that is commonly embedded in the walls of self-cleaning ovens, where it catalyzes reactions that decompose food and other stuck-on gunk—propels the solar-driven reactions. The reactor takes advantage of ceria's ability to "exhale" oxygen from its crystalline framework at very high temperatures and then "inhale" oxygen back in at lower temperatures.
"What is special about the material is that it doesn't release all of the oxygen. That helps to leave the framework of the material intact as oxygen leaves," Haile explains. "When we cool it back down, the material's thermodynamically preferred state is to pull oxygen back into the structure."
The ETH-Caltech solar reactor for producing H2 and CO from H2O and CO2 via the two-step thermochemical cycle with ceria redox reactions.
And once the ceria is oxygenated to full capacity, it can be heated back up again, and the cycle can begin anew. For all of this to work, the temperatures in the reactor have to be very high—nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
In experiments conducted last spring, Haile and her colleagues achieved the best rates for CO2 dissociation ever achieved, "by orders of magnitude," she says. The efficiency of the reactor was uncommonly high for CO2 splitting, in part, she says, "because we're using the whole solar spectrum, and not just particular wavelengths." And unlike in electrolysis, the rate is not limited by the low solubility of CO2 in water. Furthermore, Haile says, the high operating temperatures of the reactor mean that fast catalysis is possible, without the need for expensive and rare metal catalysts (cerium, in fact, is the most common of the rare earth metals—about as abundant as copper).

Currently, the system harnesses less than 1% of the solar energy it receives, with most of the energy lost as heat through the reactor's walls or by re-radiation through the quartz window. Thermodynamic modeling by lead author and former Caltech graduate student William Chueh suggests that efficiencies of 15% or higher are possible. A more realistic scenario might be to take the CO2 emissions from coal-powered electric plants and convert them to transportation fuels. " source 
My comment: Another very cool idea. I'm looking forward to see how this work out. Because if they increase the efficiency, then the CCS can be finally possible!

EU, US partners plan 'low-cost' space launcher

February 8, 2011 
European technology firm Astrium is teaming up with US company Alliant to make a "low-cost" space rocket launcher that could one day take tourists into orbit, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
It said the companies plan a 300-foot (91-metre) launcher dubbed "Liberty" to take and scientific payloads into space for about $180 million (132 million euros) a time, 40 percent cheaper than some current launches.
The newspaper said the project's backers hope to gain funding from US space agency for the project, which they say could lead eventually to commercial projects such as orbiting hotels for space tourists.
Astrium, a subsidiary of defence giant EADS, is the main maker of the Ariane commercial rocket, used to launch satellites. US firm Alliant Techsystems is a leading maker of space shuttles.
The companies hope to test the new "low-cost commercial launcher" as soon as 2013, the report said. source
My comment: Well, 2013 is not that far. Though I find this idea kind of odd now that private space companies finally gained some momentum. Is this catching the wave or an effort to keep the monopoly that they are losing?

Iron Age Copper Reveals Earth’s Stronger, Faster Magnetic Field

 SAN FRANCISCO — Slag left over from Iron Age copper smelting shows the Earth’s magnetic field was stronger and more variable than scientists ever imagined.
“This is a very challenging result,” said geomagnetist Luis Silva of the University of Leeds, who was not involved in the new work. “It’s completely outside of anything we thought could be happening in the core.”
The Earth’s magnetic field comes from the movement of molten iron in the core. The field’s strength and structure are constantly changing. But paleomagnetists (scientists who study the history of the Earth’s magnetic field) thought the changes were usually small and slow, fluctuating by about 16 percent over the course of a century.
But a new study of ancient copper mines in southern Israel found that the strength of the magnetic field could double and then fall back down in less than 20 years.
To measure the strength of the magnetic field, Shaar and colleagues turned to piles of waste metal left near an ancient Egyptian copper mine.When melted iron cools rapidly, it freezes with a signature of the Earth’s magnetic field at that instant. Paleomagnetists have traditionally studied the glass-like rocks thrown from volcanoes to build a picture of how the magnetic field has changed over time. Their measurements, plus theoretical models, showed that the magnetic field’s strength peaked around 3,000 years ago in the middle Egypt’s Iron Age.
 sourceMy comment: Interesting, huh? So this puts in new perspective the idea of "The day after tomorrow" and other similar productions. Because if the field can double its power for 20 years, then what happens if it decreases its strength in similar period?

Nanogenerators grow strong enough to power small conventional electronics (w/ Video)

November 8, 2010 
Blinking numbers on a liquid-crystal display (LCD) often indicate that a device's clock needs resetting. But in the laboratory of Zhong Lin Wang at Georgia Tech, the blinking number on a small LCD signals the success of a five-year effort to power conventional electronic devices with nanoscale generators that harvest mechanical energy from the environment using an array of tiny nanowires.
In this case, the comes from compressing a nanogenerator between two fingers, but it could also come from a heartbeat, the pounding of a hiker's shoe on a trail, the rustling of a shirt, or the of a heavy machine. While these nanogenerators will never produce large amounts of for conventional purposes, they could be used to power nanoscale and microscale devices – and even to recharge pacemakers or iPods.
Wang's nanogenerators rely on the piezoelectric effect seen in crystalline materials such as , in which an electric charge potential is created when structures made from the material are flexed or compressed.
Wang says the nanogenerators are now close to producing enough current for a self-powered system that might monitor the environment for a toxic gas, for instance, then broadcast a warning. The system would include capacitors able to store up the small charges until enough power was available to send out a burst of data. source
My comment: I wonder when we'll see improved energy consumption of laptops using the waste heat. Because it's cool to power sensors, think of all the opportunities for espionage. However I would prefer better energy efficiency of appliances.

Crystal cantilever lifts objects 600 times its own weight (w/ Video)

October 1, 2010 By Lisa Zyga
( -- For a long time, scientists have been trying to transform the collective movements of tiny molecules into useful mechanical work. With this goal in mind, a team of researchers from Japan has developed a crystal cantilever that exhibits reversible bending upon alternate irradiation with ultraviolet (UV) and visible light. They've demonstrated that the crystal cantilever can lift metal balls that weigh up to 600 times more than the cantilever itself. In this process, the crystal's photogenerated molecular-scale shape change generates a very large amount of stress - more than 100 times larger than the stress produced by biological muscles - to induce the macroscale movement.
When irradiated with visible light (440-nm wavelength), the crystal returns to its original straight shape and the blue color disappears. The scientists could repeat the photostimulated bending cycle more than 250 times without observing any damage to the crystal.
The scientists also demonstrated that the crystals could be used to lift heavy metal balls. source
My comment: Check out the cool videos on the site! Just think of all the opportunities that such tool offer. It's amazing! And I really applaud that direction of thought, because it's so different from everything we're used to.

Scientists move objects across meter-scale distances using only light (w/ Video)

September 30, 2010 By Lisa Zyga -- For more than 40 years, scientists have been using the radiation pressure of light to move and manipulate small objects in space. But until now, the movements have always been restricted to very small scales, typically across distances of a few hundred micrometers, and mostly in liquids. In a new study, scientists have demonstrated a technique that achieves giant optical manipulation in air using a new kind of optical trap that can move 100-micrometer-sized objects across meter-scale distances with an accuracy of about 10 micrometers.
As the scientists explain, moving objects with light can be done using the photophoresis effect in air and other gases. When a particle is heated nonuniformly by light, the surrounding gas molecules bounce off the particle's surface with different velocities, creating a force on the particle that pushes it in the direction from the higher illumination to the lower illumination.
As the researchers demonstrated, the technique could enable the light-absorbing particles to be manipulated with a high degree of accuracy, even at large distances. The researchers could move particles to a target located 0.5 meters away with an accuracy of 10 micrometers, which they demonstrated using particles with diameters between 60 micrometers and 100 micrometers. source
My comment: Can you imagine what is accuracy of 10 micrometers for a distance on the scale of meters? That's quite an accomplishment!

Scientists suggest that cancer is purely man-made

October 14, 2010 
( -- Cancer is a modern, man-made disease caused by environmental factors such as pollution and diet, a study by University of Manchester scientists has strongly suggested.
The study of remains and literature from ancient Egypt and and earlier periods – carried out at Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology and published in Nature Reviews Cancer – includes the first histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy.
Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, with few references to cancer in literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity. The disease rate has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution, in particular childhood cancer – proving that the rise is not simply due to people living longer.
Professor Rosalie David, at the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to and changes to our and lifestyle.”
 Various malignancies have been reported in non-human primates but do not include many of the cancers most commonly identified in modern adult humans.It has been suggested that the short life span of individuals in antiquity precluded the development of cancer. Although this statistical construct is true, individuals in and Greece did live long enough to develop such diseases as atherosclerosis, Paget's disease of bone, and osteoporosis, and, in modern populations, bone tumours primarily affect the young.
Another explanation for the lack of tumours in ancient remains is that tumours might not be well preserved. Dr. Zimmerman has performed experimental studies indicating that mummification preserves the features of malignancy and that tumours should actually be better preserved than normal tissues. In spite of this finding, hundreds of mummies from all areas of the world have been examined and there are still only two publications showing microscopic confirmation of cancer.
As the team moved through the ages, it was not until the 17th century that they found descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers and the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832.
 sourceMy comment: I find this article for most troublesome. Because, as we see it today, some cancers come from viral infections, while other come from DNA damage that accumulate in our bodies trough the life. So it's amazing to find out that there are so little evidences of cancer in the Ancient times. I would guess that could mean that people with cancer rarely left offspring to carry the bad genes, but that's kind of far-fetched considering how Ancient people bred. So then, the conclusions of the authors must be true! We are killing ourselves out of mere stupidity! How sad it this?! Maybe such researches could mean something to law-makers who help so much the dirtiest industries. But I doubt it. Because there are so many known carcinogens in our environment and it's amazing how lawmakers close their eyes and pretend they don't know.

Skin-cell spray gun drastically cuts healing time for burns

February 8, 2011 by Lin Edwards
( -- Scientists in the US have developed a new technique that sprays a burn patient's own cells on the burn to help regenerate the skin and drastically reduce recovery time. The gun has been under development since 2008 and has now been used to successfully treat more than a dozen patients.
In a process taking only an hour and a half in total, a biopsy is taken from the patient’s undamaged skin and then healthy stem cells are isolated from the biopsy and an aqueous solution containing the cells is sprayed on the burn.
The sprayed wound is then covered with a newly-developed dressing with tubes enmeshed within it and extending from each end. One set of tubes functions as an artery, while the second set functions as a vein. The tubes are connected to an “artificial vascular system” and provide electrolytes, antibiotics, amino acids and glucose to the wound. The dressing keeps the wound clean and sterile, and provides nutrition for the skin stem cells to encourage them to regenerate new skin.
After treatment the wound heals in just days, when it would have taken weeks to heal using traditional treatments. Dr Gerlach said patients had been treated at the Berlin Burn Center and they had regrown over a burned ear or an entire face in only a few days. source
My comment: And that is also so damn cool! Too bad they don't mention the cost of the treatment. And the qualification needed by the doctors to be able to do that procedure. Because one ear and one face are good work, but what's better is to have 90% of all burns around the world healed like that. Just think how much pain and infections and ultimately lives could be saved with this skin gun.

Microsponges from seaweed may save lives (w/ Video)

February 9, 2011 
( -- Microsponges derived from seaweed may help diagnose heart disease, cancers, HIV and other diseases quickly and at far lower cost than current clinical methods. The microsponges are an essential component of Rice University's Programmable Bio-Nano-Chip (PBNC) and the focus of a new paper in the journal Small
PBNCs capture biomarkers -- molecules that offer information about a person's health -- found in blood, saliva and other bodily fluids. The biomarkers are sequestered in tiny sponges set into an array of inverted pyramid-shaped funnels in the microprocessor heart of the credit card-sized PBNC.
When a fluid sample is put into the disposable device, microfluidic channels direct it to the sponges, which are infused with antibodies that detect and capture specific biomarkers. Once captured, they can be analyzed within minutes with a sophisticated microscope and computer built into a portable, toaster-sized reader.
My comment: Also very nice. But it would be so much nicer if they could present a working tool and also talk about its cost. Because if you scrolled trough the news, you'll see a lot of cool new inventions. But that's what they are - inventions that might significantly improve our lives, but also which might never see real-life use.
And finally:

2-D photos spring to 3-D life - Check out this video how with only 12 or so pictures of an object, you can create its 3d view. Cool, huh?