Science & Technology


Using human brainwaves to light up mouse gene expression

human brainwaves mouse genes

Researchers tested an implant containing human stem cells that had been engineered to produce a protein called secreted alkaline phosphatase.
A system that uses brain activity to switch on genes with light could give new meaning to the phrase 'mind over matter'. The set-up, which was tested in mice, might one day allow human patients to pre-empt pain or seizures by recognizing brain activity that signals the onset of these phenomena and intervening to stop them.

The findings, reported on 11 November in Nature Communications, are another advance in the burgeoning field of optogenetics, which uses light to control the activity of genes. But whereas many experimental systems still require an outside power source, the team led by Martin Fussenegger, a bioengineer at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, used the brain's own electricity - picked up by means of electroencephalography (EEG) - to provide power through a daisy-chain of signals.
Fireball 2

European spacecraft lands on comet

© AP Photo/ESA
The picture released by the European Space Agency ESA on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 was taken by Rosetta's lander Philae shortly after its separation from the mother spaceship with the lander’s CIVA-P imaging system and captures one of Rosetta's 14 metre-long solar wings. On Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 the Philae lander detached from Rosetta and started it's descent to the 4-kilometer-wide (2.5-mile-wide) 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet.
The European Space Agency celebrated a cosmic touchdown Wednesday by successfully landing a spacecraft on a comet for the first time in history.

The agency said it has received a signal at 1603 GMT (11:03 a.m. EST) from the 100-kilogram (220-pound) Philae lander after it touched down on the icy surface of the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

"We definitely confirm that the lander is on the surface," said flight director Andrea Accomazzo.

While further checks are needed to ascertain the state of the lander, the fact that it is resting on the surface of the speeding comet is already a huge success. It marks the highlight of the decade-long Rosetta mission to study comets and learn more about the origins of these celestial bodies.

The head of the European Space Agency underlined Europe's pride in having achieved a unique first ahead of its U.S. counterpart NASA.

Stem cells organize using geometry as a guide

Each fluorescent point of light making up the multicolored rings in this image is an individual human embryonic cell in the early stages of development. These cells are the descendants of human embryonic stem (ES) cells, which have the potential to become any of roughly 200 cell types in the human body.
stem cell development
© Aryeh Warmflash, Rockefeller University
As seen under a microscope, human embryonic cells (colored dots) confined to areas of precisely controlled size and shape start to specialize and form distinct layers similar to those seen in early development.

During normal embryonic development, ES cell descendants specialize, migrate and organize into distinct layers in a process called gastrulation. These layers then shape and fold into structures that give rise to different tissues, organs and limbs. Scientists seeking to understand the molecular cues responsible for early embryonic patterning have focused on finding the right mix of chemical signals, called growth factors, that would allow them to replicate the process in the lab. But a very different approach by a team of National Institutes of Health-funded developmental biologists and physicists at Rockefeller University indicates that a critical element is geometrical.

"Thanks to our diverse scientific perspectives, we were in a good position to realize that geometry could be an important factor," says developmental biologist Ali Brivanlou, who led the team with physicist Eric Siggia. A former postdoctoral researcher trained in theoretical physics, Aryeh Warmflash, also played a big role.

Comment: It appears the cells are directing their development according to the information they receive from their environment. As above, so below. For more on information theory and how it may apply to everyday life, see Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk's new book, Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.


Experts exploring depths of frozen Siberian mystery crater to understand its origins

When frozen, the accessible parts of crater (pictured from below) are around 54ft (16.5 metres) deep, and scientists captured these latest remarkable images by using climbing gear to reach a frozen lake 34ft (10.5 metres) at the bottom. It is thought the crater was formed when heating from underground fissures released gas hydrates causing the dramatic blowout
Remarkable new images have emerged showing the haunting beauty of a mysterious Siberian crater.

The photographs were released as it was revealed scientists are monitoring satellite images to check for other similar holes in northern Russia in a desperate attempt to understand their origin.

And, for the first time, Siberian scientists have used climbing gear to reach a frozen lake 34ft (10.5 metres) deep in the hole to carry out tests.

Comment: See also: Russian scientists suggest Siberian exploding holes 'are the key to Bermuda Triangle'

Comet 2

Electric Universe: Tail discovered on long-known asteroid

active asteroid
© Credit: Scott Sheppard
The faint tail can be seen in active asteroid 62412.
A two-person team of Carnegie's Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory has discovered a new active asteroid, called 62412, in the Solar System's main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is the first comet-like object seen in the Hygiea family of asteroids. Sheppard will present his team's findings at the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences meeting and participate on Tuesday, November 11, in a press conference organized by the society.

Active asteroids are a newly recognized phenomenon. 62412 is only the 13th known active asteroid in the main asteroid belt. Sheppard and Trujillo estimate that there are likely about 100 of them in the main asteroid belt, based on their discovery.

Active asteroids have stable orbits between Mars and Jupiter like other asteroids. However, unlike other asteroids, they sometimes have the appearance of comets, when dust or gas is ejected from their surfaces to create a sporadic tail effect. Sheppard and Trujillo discovered an unexpected tail on 62412, an object which had been known as a typical asteroid for over a decade. Their findings reclassify it as an active asteroid. The reasons for this loss of material and subsequent tail in active asteroids are unknown, although there are several theories such as recent impacts or sublimation from solid to gas of exposed ices.

"Until about ten years ago, it was pretty obvious what a comet was and what a comet wasn't, but that is all changing as we realize that not all of these objects show activity all of the time," Sheppard said.

In the past, asteroids were thought to be mostly unchanging objects, but an improved ability to observe them has allowed scientists to discover tails and comas, which are the thin envelope of an atmosphere that surrounds a comet's nucleus.

Comment: "The fundamental difference between asteroids and comets is not their chemical composition, i.e. dirty, fluffy icy comets vs. rocky asteroids. Rather, as has long been put forward by plasma theorists, what differentiates 'comets' from 'asteroids' is their electric activity"

Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection

As the Rosetta mission is currently lining up to deploy its robotic Philae lander to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko later today, scientists are already discovering new information that is significantly altering their understanding of comets.

"Yet new information is already pouring in. What scientists have discovered is already starting to transform our understanding of Rosetta's target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G for short), and cometary science."
1. C-G looks nothing like we'd expect

2. The surface is hotter than we guessed, and surprisingly ice-free

3. Despite its dry surface, C-G expels an astronomical amount of water... but not on its dark side
Wheres the ice 3 surprising comet facts we've already learned from Rosetta


Rosetta's comet sings a mysterious 'song'

Comet 67P
© ESA/Rosetta/NavCam
Through some kind of interaction in the comet's environment, 67P's weak magnetic field seems to be oscillating at low frequencies.
The Rosetta mission has detected a mysterious signal coming from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The mission has five instruments in the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC) that measure the plasma environment surrounding the comet.

Plasma is a charged gas and the RPC is tasked with understanding variations in the comet's activity, how 67P's jets of vapour and dust interacts with the solar wind and the dynamic structure of the comet's nucleus and coma.

But when recording signals in the 40-50 millihertz frequency range, the RPC scientists stumbled on a surprise - the comet was singing, they report.

Through some kind of interaction in the comet's environment, 67P's weak magnetic field seems to be oscillating at low frequencies. In an effort to better understand this unique 'song', mission scientists have increased the frequency 10,000 times to make it audible to the human ear.

Thought control successfully used to switch on a gene

Star Wars
© Rex Features

Luke Skywalker strikes a protective pose behind Princess Leia in the 1977 series opener Star Wars.
Luke Skywalker mastering the mysterious "Force" in Star Wars has come a step closer to reality after an experiment where thought control was successfully used to switch on a gene and generate protein in an electronic chip.

Scientists believe the bizarre experiment, in which volunteers were wired up to a machine that read their brainwaves, could lead to mind-operated implants for treating disease.

The Swiss researchers compared the study to Luke Skywalker's power. They were inspired by the game Mindflex, in which players wearing headsets use their brainwaves to "thought control" a small ball through an obstacle course by operating a fan.

In the experiment, volunteers wore brainwave-recording headsets linked to an electrical current generator. By thinking in a certain way, they were able wirelessly to turn on the gene chip, causing it to emit near infra-red LED light.

This activated light-sensitive cells in the chip, triggering a cascade of signals and switching on the gene for a marker protein called SEAP (secreted embryonic alkaline phosphatase).

Implanted into mice, the chip released the protein into the animals' bloodstreams.
Bizarro Earth

Solar eclipse in March 2015 threatens Europe solar grid, temp 'may drop 6 C in 30 minutes'

solar eclipse
© Reuters / Goran Tomasevic
A partially eclipsed sun is seen from Juba November 3, 2013
When an almost total solar eclipse starts on March 20, 2015 and casts an umbra on northern Europe, it may face an unprecedented test of its electricity grid due to the massive development of solar power production.

The warning comes from the French power grid RTE, which said Friday that Europe must be prepared for the event.

"The passage of this shadow will considerably reduce photovoltaic power production," Dominique Maillard, the head of RTE, told reporters during its winter outlook presentation, as cited by Reuters."According to our calculations, the impact could be a drop in production of as much as 30,000 megawatts across Europe, it's the equivalent of a six degrees Celsius drop in temperatures in half an hour."
Ice Cube

Mummified bison uncovered in Siberia

© Dr. Gennady Boeskorov
Researchers have uncovered the several thousand year old, mummified remains of an extinct species of bison in a region of eastern Siberia known as the Yana-Indigirka Lowland, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) in Berlin, Germany.

The mummy was a near-complete specimen of Steppe bison and was discovered by a team of experts led by Dr. Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The creature is reportedly 9,300 years old and has a complete brain, heart, blood vessels, digestive system and even intact fur, though the researchers explained that some of the organs have shrunk significantly over time. A necropsy of the animal found no obvious cause of death.

"Normally, what you find with the mummies of megafauna in North America or Siberia is partial carcasses. They're partly eaten or destroyed because they're lying in the permafrost for tens of thousands of years," Olga Potapova of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs in South Dakota told Live Science reporter Elizabeth Palermo. "But the mummy was preserved so well that it [earned] a record for the level of its preservation."

Comment: See also: What killed the woolly mammoth? UCSB Professor finds evidence to support comet collision

A giant meteor - not overhunting - wiped out the woolly mammoth because it struggled to cope with the rapid climate change that followed

A comet may have caused widespread large mammal extinctions 12,900 years ago


Virus that 'makes humans more stupid' discovered

Stupid Virus
© The Independent, UK
A virus has been discovered that affects cognitive abilities in healthy people.
A virus that infects human brains and makes us more stupid has been discovered, according to scientists in the US.

The algae virus, never before observed in healthy people, was found to affect cognitive functions including visual processing and spatial awareness.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the University of Nebraska stumbled upon the discovery when they were undertaking an unrelated study into throat microbes.

Surprisingly, the researchers found DNA in the throats of healthy individuals that matched the DNA of a virus known to infect green algae.

Dr Robert Yolken, a virologist who led the original study, said: "This is a striking example showing that the 'innocuous' microorganisms we carry can affect behaviour and cognition.