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Patents for technology to read people's minds hugely increasing

© The Independent, UK
Patents include technology to artificially alter people’s mood and control video games, as well as more conventional healthcare applications.
Companies are taking out a huge amount of patents related to reading brainwaves, according to analysis, with a range of different applications.

Fewer than 400 neuro-technology related patents were filed between 2000-2009. But in 2010 alone that reached 800, and last year 1,600 were filed, according to research company SharpBrains.

The patents are for a range of uses, not just for the healthcare technology that might be expected. The company with the most patents is market research firm Nielsen, which has 100. Microsoft also has 89 related patents.


Mysterious supernova still astounds astronomers

© NASA/ESA/Hubble
Supernova SN 1987A.
This is Supernova SN 1987A, one of the brightest stellar explosions since the invention of the telescope more than 400 years ago.

Supernova 1987A exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy about 168,000 light-years away. The light from the supernova arrived here in 1987. Dominating the image are three glowing loops of stellar material, formed when the fast expanding supernova collided with the dense, slower moving material in the stellar wind.

This stellar wind was ejected by the former star about 20,000 years before it went supernova. These collisions cause intense heating and the production of powerful optical and X-ray energy emissions.

Outer, ejected materials lit up first, followed by the innermost materials powered by radioactive isotopes, such as cobalt-56, which decayed into iron-56.

There are still many mysteries surrounding these structures, and their origin remains largely unknown. Another mystery is that of the missing neutron star at the heart of the supernova.

The star that exploded to create SN1987A was a blue supergiant known as Sanduleak -69° 202. Blue supergiants can have surface temperatures of over 50,000°C, and can be a million times as luminous as the Sun.

The violent death of a high-mass star, such as SN 1987A, leaves behind a stellar remnant in the form of either a neutron star or a stellar mass black hole.

However astronomers have been unable to find a neutron star in the remnants of SN1987A, possibly because it's surrounded by an extremely dense cloud of thick dust. It's also possible that so much material fell back onto the neutron star that it further collapsed into a stellar mass black hole.


Revolutionary machine extends lung transplant window to 24 hours

© Reuters/Carlos Barria
A new technique is enabling a patient's lung to keep breathing for up to a day outside their body. Doctors are hailing it as a success that could see the number of transplants in a year double and allow them to save hundreds more lives.

Until now, donor organs have had to be placed in a refrigerated box and stored in ice to keep them working as new as they were being ferried to and from hospitals. But that only allowed the organ to live for six hours.

The machine at London's Royal Brompton and Harefield hospital can stretch this to 24 hours.

The Organ Care System, or OSC, not just stores the organ, but keeps it in the same condition as it exists in the body. It consists of a sealed plastic box, a pump that feeds blood to the organ and a device to inflate and deflate the lung.

The technology could also improve the lung's condition, the developers say. That in itself increases the likelihood of the lung's suitability for a patient; it should be noted that, at present, only about 20 percent of donor lungs are good.


Martian sunset observed in color by Curiosity rover

Curiosity Mars rover recorded this sequence of views of the Sun setting at the close of the mission's 956th Martian day, or sol (April 15, 2015), from the rover's location in Gale Crater. It was the first sunset observed in color by Curiosity.


Scientists observe gigantic gas halo stretching from Andromeda toward Milky Way

© Reuters/ASA/JPL-Caltech/NHSC
Scientists have observed a gigantic gas halo stretching from Andromeda - our nearest major galaxy. It goes towards our own Milky Way and if it could be seen with the naked eye, it would be the diameter of 100 full moons.

Halos are the gaseous atmospheres of galaxies. Astrophysicist Nicolas Lehner of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, who led the study, explains that the properties of these gaseous halos control the rate at which stars form in galaxies.

Andromeda, also known as Messier 21, or M31, is our closest major galactic neighbor, at 2.5 million light-years away. It is also 25 percent more luminous than the Milky Way and contains about 1 trillion stars, twice as much as the greater estimates for our own galaxy.

Both Andromeda and the Milky Way are part of a cluster called the Local Group, containing about 45 other major galaxies that we know of.

The scientists said that if the halo could be viewed with the naked eye, it would be 100 times the diameter of the full moon , while Andromeda galaxy looks about six times the diameter of the full moon.


Tesla's Powerwall battery sold out in one week

© Reuters/Patrick T. Fallon
Tesla Motors has so far taken 38,000 reservations for its zero-carbon Powerwall home battery. Such high demand signals that revenue from the company's new battery could soon outstrip that from its electric cars sales.

"There's no way that we can possibly satisfy the demand this year," Musk told Wall Street analysts Thursday during a conference at which he reviewed Tesla's first-quarter earnings.

"We're basically sold out through the middle of next year — in a week! We can't even respond to them. We have to triage our response to those who want to be a distributor. It's crazy off the hook. It seems to have gone super viral."

Cell Phone

Apple has plans for your DNA

© MIT Techonology Review
Of all the rumors ever to swirl around the world's most valuable company, this may be the first that could involve spitting in a plastic cup.

Apple is collaborating with U.S. researchers to launch apps that would offer some iPhone owners the chance to get their DNA tested, many of them for the first time, according to people familiar with the plans.

The apps are based on ResearchKit, a software platform Apple introduced in March that helps hospitals or scientists run medical studies on iPhones by collecting data from the devices' sensors or through surveys.

The first five ResearchKit apps, including one called mPower that tracks symptoms of Parkinson's disease, quickly recruited thousands of participants in a few days, demonstrating the reach of Apple's platform.

"Apple launched ResearchKit and got a fantastic response. The obvious next thing is to collect DNA," says Gholson Lyon, a geneticist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who isn't involved with the studies.

Nudging iPhone owners to submit DNA samples to researchers would thrust Apple's devices into the center of a widening battle for genetic information. Universities, large technology companies like Google (see "Google Wants to Store Your Genome"), direct-to-consumer labs, and even the U.S. government (see "U.S. to Develop DNA Study of One Million People") are all trying to amass mega-databases of gene information to uncover clues about the causes of disease (see "Internet of DNA").

In two initial studies planned, Apple isn't going to directly collect or test DNA itself. That will be done by academic partners. The data would be maintained by scientists in a computing cloud, but certain findings could appear directly on consumers' iPhones as well. Eventually, it's even possible consumers might swipe to share "my genes" as easily as they do their location.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment. But one person with knowledge of the plans said the company's eventual aim is to "enable the individual to show and share" DNA information with different recipients, including organizers of scientific studies. This person, like others with knowledge of the research, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the company's insistence on secrecy.

One of these people said the DNA-app studies could still be cancelled, but another said Apple wants the apps ready for the company's worldwide developers' conference, to be held in June in San Francisco.

Monkey Wrench

Student excavation uncovers hundreds of rare moa bones

© Frederick William Frohawk
Extinct North Island giant moa
Māori Studies staff and students from Victoria University of Wellington have excavated hundreds of moa bones from a central North Island site where few moa remains were known to exist.

The rare discovery was part of a field trip dubbed 'Operation Moa Hunt' in April, run by Victoria's Te Kawa a Māui, School of Māori Studies.

The bones belong to about 50 individual moa birds and were excavated from an area 3m2 and 50cm deep, on a farm south of Taihape.

Initial identifications indicate the bones come from mainly two moa species, the North Island giant moa and the little bush moa, and are at least 1800 years old.

The School's Kairuruku/Research Associate Dr Bruce McFadgen and Ahonuku/Associate Professor Peter Adds, both trained archaeologists, led the students on the weekend-long field trip, along with Te Papa Vertebrate Curator Alan Tennyson.

Mr Tennyson says the find has tripled the number of moa bones found on the volcanic plateau held in public museums.


Granddaddy of all birds discovered in China

© Zongda Zhang
The fossilized discovery in China of modern birds' oldest relative puts their origin six million years earlier than previously thought.

The fossils of the oldest known ancestor of modern birds, found by paleontologists in China, has prompted scientists to rethink the date of the first appearance of the Ornithuromorpha clade of birds, which includes all modern species.

As a result of the discovery, the date has jumped back by around six million years to 130.7 million years ago, a team led by researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing announced on Tuesday.


Has a sixth DNA base been discovered?

© Adrian Sanborn, Erez Lieberman Aiden
Physics simulation of 5 megabases of DNA forming loops and domains.
Most text books talk of four DNA bases. Later research has shown there to be five. No, wait, cross that out, there could be six. Scientists suggest that the methyl-adenine is the sixth base and that it is medically important.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the main component of genetic material, found in humans and all other animals. DNA is formed by combining four parts or bases. These are coded A, C, G and T (representing adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine).

The combination of these leads to thousands of possible sequences. This variation explains the genetic variability found across and throughout living creatures.

Use of the word base is historical, in reference to the chemical properties of 'nucleobases' in acid-base reactions; the term does not really describe their biological functions.

There are, in addition to the four main bases, two other bases. These are methylated forms of other DNA bases. Methylation is a form of alkylation with a methyl group. These have epigenetic implications. Epigenetics is essentially additional information layered on top of the sequence of letters that makes up DNA.