Science & Technology
Map


Health

Ultraviolet light robot kills Ebola in two minutes on surfaces

While vaccine makers and drug companies are rushing to bring medical interventions to the market that might address the Ebola pandemic, there's already a technology available right now that can kill Ebola in just two minutes in hospitals, quarantine centers, commercial offices and even public schools.

It's called the Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot, and it was invented by a team of Texas doctors whose company is based on San Antonio. (And no, I didn't get paid to write this. I'm covering this because this technology appears to be a viable lifesaving invention.)

The Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot uses pulsed xenon-generated UV light to achieve what the company calls "the advanced environmental cleaning of healthcare facilities." Because ultraviolet light destroys the integrity of the RNA that viruses are made of, it renders viruses "dead." (Viruses aren't really alive in the first place, technically speaking, so the correct term is "nonviable.")

Ebola, just like most other viruses, are quickly destroyed by UV light. That's why Ebola likes to spread in dark places where sunlight doesn't reach. (Think of Ebola as a "vampire" virus that feeds off human blood but shuns sunlight...) The Xenex robot destroys Ebola on surfaces in just two minutes, zapping them with a specific wavelength of UV light at concentrations that are 25,000 times higher than natural sunlight.
Syringe

Cure for Type 1 diabetes imminent after Harvard stem-cell breakthrough

Insulin Injection
© Alamy
Harvard University has, for the first time, managed to manufacture the millions of beta cells required for transplantation.
A cure for diabetes could be imminent after scientists discovered how to make huge quantities of insulin-producing cells, in a breakthrough hailed as significant as antibiotics.

Harvard University has, for the first time, managed to manufacture the millions of beta cells required for transplantation.

It could mean the end of daily insulin injections for the 400,000 people in Britain living with Type 1 diabetes.

And it marks the culmination of 23-years of research for Harvard professor Doug Melton who has been trying to find a cure for the disease since his son Sam was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a baby.

"We are now just one pre-clinical step away from the finish line," said Prof Melton.

Asked about his children's reaction he said: "I think like all kids, they always assumed that if I said I'd do this, I'd do it,

"It was gratifying to know that we can do something that we always thought was possible."

The stem cell-derived beta cells are presently undergoing trials in animal models, including non-human primates, where they are still producing insulin after several months, Prof Melton said.
Blue Planet

Ultra-rare white lion cubs born in Crimean zoo

© Ruptly Video Screenshot
Two-week-old white lion cubs have been showing their toothless grins to zoo visitors and workers at the Taigan Safari Park in Crimea. Check out the touching footage of the adorable little cubs taken by RT.

The video shows three cubs lying in the grass together and hugged by the park's director, and then taken to their father and mother - the latter a gorgeous white lioness.

The director of the safari park noted how unique the cubs are.

"We are happy about all baby animals born in the Taigan Safari Park, but we're happiest about rare animal births, like white lions. There is a really small number of them all over the world. But in Taigan Safari Park they are always being born to our adult lioness," Oleg Zubkov told RT.
Rocket

Astronauts may hibernate for Mars journey

Stasis
© 20th Century Fox
A Nasa-backed study is exploring the feasibility of lowering the cost of a human expedition to Mars by putting the astronauts in deep sleep. The deep sleep, called torpor, would reduce astronauts' metabolic functions with existing medical procedures.

"Therapeutic torpor has been around in theory since the 1980s and really since 2003 has been a staple for critical care trauma patients in hospitals," said aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer, with SpaceWorks Enterprises in Atlanta, earlier this week at the International Astronomical Congress here. So far, the duration of a patient's time in torpor state has been limited to about one week.

Coupled with intravenous feeding, a crew could be put in hibernation for the transit time to Mars, which under the best-case scenario would take 180 days one-way. "We haven't had the need to keep someone in (therapeutic torpor) for longer than seven days. For human Mars missions, we need to push that to 90 days, 180 days," Schaffer said.

Comment: Torpor is a condition that can happen naturally from hypothermia. It shuts down most non-vital body processes and dramatically slows down the metabolism. The torpor state would be achieved by lowering body temperatures to somewhere between 89 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit. For every single degree the body temperature drops, its metabolic rate drops 5 to 7 percent. Researchers hope to get a 10 degree drop which would mean a 50 to 70 percent reduction in metabolic rate. The coma would be induced by letting the spaceship cool down in the freezing cold of space bringing the astronauts' body temperatures down, too. During interplanetary transit, the crew would receive low-level electrical impulses to key muscle groups to prevent muscles wasting away while in hibernation.

Blue Planet

Not so settled science: Gravity rivals join forces to nail down Big G

cavendish experiment 1798
© DK/UIG/SPL
A mock-up of a torsion balance used by British natural philosopher Henry Cavendish to measure G in 1798.
Metrologists meet to design the ultimate gravitational-constant experiment.

It is one of nature's most fundamental numbers, but humanity still doesn't have an accurate value for the gravitational constant. And, bafflingly, scientists' ability to pinpoint G seems to be getting worse. This week, the world's leading gravity metrologists are meeting to devise a set of experiments that will try to set the record straight. This will call for precision measurements that are notoriously difficult to make - but it will also require former rivals to work together.

Comment: Dr. Rupert Sheldrake on constants of nature



Comet

Comet Siding Spring: Close call for Mars, wake up call for Earth?

Comet Siding Spring
© NASA,ESA, ISRO
Five orbiters from India, the European Union and the United States will nestle behind Mars as comet Siding Springs passes at a speed of 200,000 km/hr (125,000 mph). At right, Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts on Jupiter, the Chelyabinsk Asteroid over Russia.
It was 20 years ago this past July when images of Jupiter being pummeled by a comet caught the world's attention. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 had flown too close to Jupiter. It was captured by the giant planet's gravity and torn into a string of beads. One by one the comet fragments impacted Jupiter - leaving blemishes on its atmosphere, each several times larger than Earth in size.

Until that event, no one had seen a comet impact a planet. Now, Mars will see a very close passage of the comet Siding Spring on October 19th. When the comet was first discovered, astronomers quickly realized that it was heading straight at Mars. In fact, it appeared it was going to be a bulls-eye hit - except for the margin of error in calculating a comet's trajectory from 1 billion kilometers (620 million miles, 7 AU) away.

It took several months of analysis for a cataclysmic impact on Mars to be ruled out. So now today, Mars faces a just a cosmic close shave. But this comet packs enough energy that an impact would have globally altered Mars surface and atmosphere.
Solar Flares

Scientists observing the Birkeland currents


Plots of AMPERE magnetic perturbations and radial current density from the northern hemisphere for 24 February 2014 with start times from 1530 UT through 1700 UT.
When the supersonic solar wind hits the Earth's magnetic field, a powerful electrical connection occurs with Earth's field, generating millions of amperes of current that drive the dazzling auroras. These so-called Birkeland currents connect the ionosphere to the magnetosphere and channel solar wind energy to Earth's uppermost atmosphere. Solar storms release torrential blasts of solar wind that cause much stronger currents and can overload power grids and disrupt communications and navigation.

Now for the first time, scientists are making continuous, global measurements of the Birkeland currents, opening a new window on our understanding of our home planet's response to solar storms. Using the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment, based on the 66 Iridium satellites orbiting the Earth, authors of a Geophysical Research Letters study have discovered that Earth's response to onsets in forcing from the solar wind occurs in two distinct stages.

Currents first appear near noon in the polar regions and remain steady for about half an hour. Then the second stage begins, when strong currents appear near midnight and eventually join the initial currents near noon. Most of the solar wind energy is deposited in the polar atmosphere by processes initiated in the second stage. The authors note that scientists are working to understand how the delay between the first and second stages could give near-term warning of impending space weather disruptions.
Magnify

Fruit flies reveal features of human intestinal cancer

Tumor Growth
© Andreu Casali
This is a 4-week-old Drosophila gut with a large Apc-Ras tumor (in green).
Researchers in Spain have determined how a transcription factor known as Mirror regulates tumour-like growth in the intestines of fruit flies. The scientists believe a related system may be at work in humans during the progression of colorectal cancer due to the observation of similar genes and genetic interactions in cultured colorectal cancer cells. The results are reported in the journal EMBO Reports.

Colorectal cancer leads to more than half a million deaths worldwide each year. The disease originates in the epithelial cells of the gastrointestinal track mainly due to aberrations in the molecular signaling activities of cells.

"We have been able to use flies as a model system to study molecular events that are very similar to the steps that take place in colorectal cancer in humans and we have been able to use this system to identify new genetic regulations relevant to human disease," says Andreu Casali, lead author of the study and a research associate at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona.
Magnify

Live and let-7: Do MicroRNA play a surprising role in cell survival?

© Credit: Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, UC San Diego
This is a scanning micrograph of dividing cancer cells.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have identified a microRNA molecule as a surprisingly crucial player in managing cell survival and growth. The findings, published in the October 7 issue of Cell Metabolism, underscore the emerging recognition that non-coding RNAs - small molecules that are not translated into working proteins - help regulate basic cellular processes and may be key to developing new drugs and therapies.

Specifically, principal investigator Albert R. La Spada, MD, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular medicine, chief of the Division of Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics and associate director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine at UC San Diego, and colleagues found that a microRNA known as let-7 controls autophagy through the amino acid sensing pathway, which has emerged as the most potent activator of mTORC1 complex activity.

Autophagy is a fundamental process used by cells to degrade unnecessary components in times of starvation, releasing energy stores that help promote cell survival. Cells have further adapted autophagy for other purposes as well, including recycling dysfunctional components, immune response to pathogen invasion, surveillance against cancer and maintenance of protein and organelle control in the central nervous system. MTORC1 is a critical protein complex that regulates energy consumption and growth in cells.
Nebula

New Planck collaborative analysis: 'Big Bang Signal' could all be dust

© Simonsfoundation.org
There was little need, before, to know exactly how much dust peppers outer space, far from the plane of the Milky Way. Scientists understood that the dimly radiating grains aligned with our galaxy's magnetic field and that the field's twists and turns gave a subtle swirl to the dust glow. But those swirls were too faint to see. Only since March, when researchers claimed to have glimpsed the edge of space and time with a fantastically sensitive telescope, has the dust demanded a reckoning. For, like a cuckoo egg masquerading in a warbler's nest, its pattern mimics a predicted signal from the Big Bang.

Now, scientists have shown that the swirl pattern touted as evidence of primordial gravitational waves - ripples in space and time dating to the universe's explosive birth - could instead all come from magnetically aligned dust. A new analysis of data from the Planck space telescope has concluded that the tiny silicate and carbonate particles spewed into interstellar space by dying stars could account for as much as 100 percent of the signal detected by the BICEP2 telescope and announced to great fanfare this spring.

The Planck analysis is "relatively definitive in that we can't exclude that the entirety of our signal is from dust," said Brian Keating, an astrophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of the BICEP2 collaboration.

"We were, of course, disappointed," said Planck team member Jonathan Aumont of the Université Paris-Sud.
Top