Science & Technology


Galactic monster mystery revealed in ancient universe

© ESO/UltraVISTA team
ESO's VISTA survey telescope has spied a horde of previously hidden massive galaxies that existed when the Universe was in its infancy. By discovering and studying more of these galaxies than ever before, astronomers have for the first time found out exactly when such monster galaxies first appeared. The newly discovered massive galaxies are marked on this image of the UltraVISTA field.
Astronomers have detected something baffling at the furthest frontiers of our observable universe: massive galaxies -- lots of massive galaxies -- that shouldn't even exist.

Depending on the wavelength you observe the universe in, different celestial objects and cosmic phenomena present themselves. This rule is especially true when looking deeper into the universe — the further you look, the farther back in time you can see. Because the universe is expanding, the most ancient light traveling over these vast distances becomes more difficult to observe.

This nature of space-time becomes abundantly clear when considering new discoveries in the infrared realm — light has become so red-shifted (basically stretched) that only infrared observatories can see the faint glow at the most distant corners of the cosmos.

In an effort to reveal galaxies that have remained hidden from view at these vast distances, the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile has revealed some of the youngest galaxies discovered to date, galaxies that were born a mere billion years after the Big Bang. But there's something weird going on: There's lots of them. And they're monsters.

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Genetically modified humans could exist within 2 years

© Natural Society
The biotech firm Editas Medicine says that humans who have had their DNA genetically modified could exist within the next 2 years. The company announced that it will soon start the first trials of what it calls a groundbreaking new technique.

U.S.-based Editas is striving to become the first lab in the world to edit the DNA of patients suffering from leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a genetic condition that causes severe vision loss at birth. Some LCA patients also experience central nervous system conditions, such as epilepsy, developmental delays and motor skill impairment.

LCA is said to be caused by defects in a gene responsible for the creation of a protein that is vital to vision. Editas Medicine scientists believe they can fix the mutated DNA using gene-editing technology known as CRISPRs.

CRISPRs, which stands for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats," allows scientists to edit genes "with precision, efficiency and flexibility," Gizmodo explained in a May 5, 2015 article. Researchers have reportedly been able to create monkeys with targeted mutations and prevent HIV infection in human cells using this piece of biotechnology.

In early May, Chinese scientists said they'd successfully applied CRISPRs to nonviable human embryos, suggesting that the technology could someday be used to treat any genetic disease. It might even be used to create "designer babies" in the future, though that day is a long ways off.

Editas Medicine hopes to start a CRISPR trial with blind patients in 2017. It would be the first time the technology was ever used on humans.


Sensory illusion causes cells to self-destruct

© Dmitry Knorre / Fotolia
Illustration of yeast cells. Even brainless single-celled yeast have sensory biases that can be hacked by a carefully engineered illusion, a finding that could be used to develop new approaches to fighting diseases such as cancer, say experts.
Magic tricks work because they take advantage of the brain's sensory assumptions, tricking audiences into seeing phantoms or overlooking sleights of hand. Now a team of UC San Francisco researchers has discovered that even brainless single-celled yeast have sensory biases that can be hacked by a carefully engineered illusion, a finding that could be used to develop new approaches to fighting diseases such as cancer.

"The ability to perceive and respond to the environment is a basic attribute of all living organisms, from the greatest to the smallest," said Wendell Lim, PhD, the study's senior author. "And so is the susceptibility to misperception. It doesn't matter if the illusion is based on molecular sensors within a single cell or neurons in the brain."

In the new study, published online Nov. 19, 2015 in Science Express, Lim and his team discovered that yeast cells falsely perceive a specifically timed pattern of stress -- caused by alternating between low and mildly increased sodium levels -- as a massive, continuously increasing ramp of stress. In response, the microbes end up over-responding and killing themselves. The results, Lim says, suggest a whole new way of looking at the perceptual abilities of simple cells and could even be used to develop new approaches to fighting diseases using the power of illusion.

Snowflake Cold

Short winter days trigger aggression hormones differently based on sex

Territorial hamsters reveal biological mechanism behind the difference in male versus female aggression

© Frank Scherbarth
A female hamster displays aggressive behavior.
Indiana University researchers have discovered a hormonal mechanism in hamsters that connects short winter days with increased aggression in females, and that it differs from the mechanism that controls this same response in males.

The work, which advances basic knowledge on the connection between certain sex hormones and aggression, could go on to advance research on the treatment of inappropriate aggression in humans.


Babies have logical reasoning before age one

Deductive problem solving was previously thought to be beyond the reach of infants

© Emory Health Sciences
A screen shot of a video from one of the experiments shows a subject watching the puppets interact.
Human infants are capable of deductive problem solving as early as 10 months of age, a new study by psychologists at Emory University and Bucknell finds. The journal Developmental Science is publishing the research, showing that babies can make transitive inferences about a social hierarchy of dominance.

"We found that within the first year of life, children can engage in this type of logical reasoning, which was previously thought to be beyond their reach until the age of about four or five years," says Stella Lourenco, the Emory University psychologist who led the study.

Comment: Babies have an eye for statistics
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Conficker virus resurfaces: 'Mysterious' malware found in new police body cams

© Rick Wilking/Reuters
A pre-installed virus has been found on two body camera models used by police departments around the country. Risks of the virus spreading or discrediting video evidence in court are now getting a closer look.

Network managing company iPower Technologies was testing the connection between a computer and two police body cameras when the computer's anti-virus software was alerted, according to a November 12 report. The software discovered a notorious worm known as Conficker that came pre-installed on the two Frontline cameras made by Martel Electronics.

"Ultimately, the public has to understand that pretty much any device we use today that connects to the internet or a computer, has the potential to be compromised," iPower President Jarrett Pavao wrote on the company's website. He went on to stress the importance of manufacturers using "stringent security protocols. If products are being produced in offshore locations, what responsibilities lie with the manufacturer to guarantee our safety?" Pavao asked.

iPower says the manufacturer of the virus-ridden cameras, Martel, was contacted the day of the discovery on November 11, but didn't respond. Pavao went public because of "the huge security implications of these cameras being shipped to government agencies and police departments all over the country," the company website explained.

Conficker was first discovered in 2008, when it exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft's Windows software to ultimately reach 15 million computers worldwide. Efforts to contain it were hindered by the worm's multi-faceted ability to spread. What made it even more noteworthy was its lack of a general purpose. Conficker was not grabbing bank account information or other data to be used for profit or other crimes, though some variations could disable Windows updates.

Comment: See below for more on the Conflicker virus:

2 + 2 = 4

Ear and tongue sensors combine to understand "silent speech"

© Ryan McVay/Getty
Read my lips. A new invention can recognise "silent speech" by keeping tabs on your tongue and ears.

By training it to recognise useful phrases, it could allow people who are disabled or work in loud environments to quietly control wearable devices.

The new device relies in part on a magnetic tongue control system, previously designed to help people with paralysis drive a power wheelchair via tongue movements.

But the researchers were concerned that the technology - which relies on a magnetic tongue piercing or a sensor affixed to the tongue - might be too invasive for some users.

2 + 2 = 4

Unrealistic expectations can harm child's academic performance

© Igor Mojzes / Fotolia
Unrealistically high aspiration may hinder academic performance.
When parents have high hopes for their children's academic achievement, the children tend to do better in school, unless those hopes are unrealistic, in which case the children may not perform well in school, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

"Our research revealed both positive and negative aspects of parents' aspiration for their children's academic performance. Although parental aspiration can help improve children's academic performance, excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous," said lead author Kou Murayama, PhD, of the University of Reading. The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.



Human gene prevents regeneration in zebrafish

© University of California
Normally, a zebra fish’s amputated tail fin completely regrows within 15 days (left) but the human tumor suppressor ARF largely blocks this regenerative ability (right).
Regenerative medicine could one day allow physicians to correct congenital deformities, regrow damaged fingers, or even mend a broken heart. But to do it, they will have to reckon with the body's own anti-cancer security system. Now UCSF researchers have found a human gene that may be a key mediator of this tradeoff, blocking both tumors and healthy regeneration.

As a child, UCSF's Jason Pomerantz, MD, was amazed by the fact that salamanders can regenerate limbs. Now, as a plastic surgeon and stem cell researcher, he believes that insights from creatures like zebrafish and salamanders, which routinely regrow damaged tails, limbs, jaws and even hearts, may one day endow humans with heightened regenerative abilities.

"In the last 10 to 15 years, as regenerative organisms like zebrafish have become genetically tractable to study in the lab, I became convinced that these animals might be able to teach us what is possible for human regeneration," Pomerantz said. "Why can these vertebrates regenerate highly complex structures, while we can't?"

In a study published Nov. 17, 2015, in the journal eLife, Pomerantz and his team showed new evidence suggesting that mammals may have given up the ability to regenerate limbs partly in exchange for advanced cancer-fighting genes.


Skin must develop tolerance to "good" bacteria early in life, says new study

© Wikipedia
Human skin structure.
A wave of specialized immune cells entering the skin in early life may induce tolerance to the hundreds of species of so-called friendly bacteria that live on the surface of the body, according to a new study led by scientists from UC San Francisco.

In addition to offering a new view of the shaping of the skin microbiome - the term for communities of microbes that reside in or on different parts of the body - the new research may shed light on the development of chronic inflammatory skin conditions.

"There's an early developmental window during which you can be exposed to bacteria and they're seen as friendly - the immune system incorporates them and says, 'Yes this is good, this is 'self,' and it will not mount an immune response," said Michael D. Rosenblum, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology at UCSF and senior author of a new paper on the research. "But if you introduce the same bacteria for the first time later in life, the response is completely different. The immune system says, 'This is bad, and we need to get rid of it.'"