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Science & Technology


DNA nanobots deliver drugs in living cockroaches

© Daly and Newton/Getty Images
As much computing power as a Commodore 64.

It's a computer - inside a cockroach. Nano-sized entities made of DNA that are able to perform the same kind of logic operations as a silicon-based computer have been introduced into a living animal.

The DNA computers - known as origami robots because they work by folding and unfolding strands of DNA - travel around the insect's body and interact with each other, as well as the insect's cells. When they uncurl, they can dispense drugs carried in their folds.

"DNA nanorobots could potentially carry out complex programs that could one day be used to diagnose or treat diseases with unprecedented sophistication," says Daniel Levner, a bioengineer at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

Levner and his colleagues at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, made the nanobots by exploiting the binding properties of DNA. When it meets a certain kind of protein, DNA unravels into two complementary strands.

By creating particular sequences, the strands can be made to unravel on contact with specific molecules - say, those on a diseased cell. When the molecule unravels, out drops the package wrapped inside.

Mars, Earth, sun to line up Tuesday

An artist's conception of a previous Mars opposition from a few years ago. The distances between the sun, the planets and the distant nebula are not to scale.
Skywatchers will get a rare treat Tuesday night when Mars, Earth and the sun will be arranged in a nearly straight line.

Every two years, Mars reaches a point in its orbit called "opposition," when the planet lies directly opposite the sun in Earth's sky, according to Astronomy magazine.

This means Mars rises near sunset and remains visible all night long as it moves nearly overhead across the night sky. It will be a bright burnt orange color, NASA's Mars Exploration Program reports, and almost 10 times brighter than the brightest stars in the sky.

Severe 'Heartbleed' bug undoes Web encryption, reveals Yahoo passwords

heartbleed openssl security bug
© screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET;
A Heartbleed vulnerability tester shows Yahoo to be afflicted by the bug, which can reveal passwords and in principle let others create a bogus version of the Web site.
A flaw in software that's widely used to secure Web communications means that passwords and other highly sensitive data could be exposed. Some say they've already found hundreds of Yahoo passwords.

A major new vulnerability called Heartbleed could let attackers gain access to users' passwords and fool people into using bogus versions of Web sites. Some already say they've found Yahoo passwords as a result.

The problem, disclosed Monday night, is in open-source software called OpenSSL that's widely used to encrypt Web communications. Heartbleed can reveal the contents of a server's memory, where the most sensitive of data is stored. That includes private data such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers. It also means an attacker can get copies of a server's digital keys then use that to impersonate servers or to decrypt communications from the past or potentially the future, too.
Comet 2

Comet Jacques brightens rapidly, heads North

© Damian Peach
Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques on April 1, 2014.
We've got a hot comet on our hands. Comet Jacques barely cracked magnitude +11 at the time of its March 13 discovery, but just three weeks later, amateur astronomers have already spotted it in large binoculars at magnitude +9.5. Expert comet observer Michael Mattiazzo, who maintains the Southern Comets Homepage, predicts that if Comet Jacques continues its rapid rise in brightness, it might become faintly visible with the naked eye by July.

Comet Jacques_2
Discovery images of Comet Jacques by the SONEAR team show a small, condensed object with a short, faint
The comet's currently inching across the southern constellation Antlia headed toward Puppis and Monoceros later this month. Observers describe it as "very diffuse" with a large, dim coma and moderately compact core. Photos show a short tail pointing east-northeast. This past weekend C/2014 E2 passed closest to the Earth at 89.3 million miles (144 million km) on its way to perihelion on July 2.

Paralyzed patients move again with electrical stimulation of spinal cord

Electrical Stimulation to Spinal Cord
© University of Louisville
With the help of electrical stimulation to his spine, paralyzed patient Kent Stephenson voluntarily raises his leg.
For people who become paralyzed after a spinal cord injury, the condition is usually permanent, but a new study suggests that zapping the spine with electricity during physical training could help paralyzed patients regain movement.

Researchers applied electrical stimulation to the spines of four people who had been paralyzed for more than two years. All four patients were able to flex their toes, ankles and knees again, and their movements improved further with physical rehabilitation, the research showed.

If proven effective in more people, the stimulation therapy could ultimately change the prognosis for people living with paralysis, researchers say.

"Spinal cord injury may no longer mean a lifelong sentence of complete paralysis," said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, a director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., which funded the research.

"To my personal knowledge, I think this is the first report of four such individuals that have gained such substantial improvement, more two years after injury," Pettigrew told Live Science.

Legendary Stradivarius loses to new violins in blind tests

Violin Test
© Stefan Avalos
Soloist Ilya Kaler tests a violin. Kaler wears modified welder’s goggles to prevent him from seeing which instrument he is playing.
Among violinists, the instruments built in the 1600s and 1700s by the Stradivari and Guarneri families are legendary. But a new study suggests the reputation of these old violins owes more to myth than truth.

In actuality, expert soloists pick new violins over antiques in blind tests, the research finds. What's more, the soloists performed no better than chance at guessing whether a given violin is newly manufactured or more than a century old.

"This implies that whatever it is they are looking for in an instrument, it's not related to age, or for that matter, country of origin," said study researcher Joseph Curtin, who makes violins in Ann Arbor, Mich. "That is a very surprising conclusion."

Employers can identify turncoats through subtle changes in language

office workers
© Nosnibor137
Something fishy going on in the next cubicle? Check your inbox for clues
Most office workers send dozens of electronic communications to colleagues in any given working day, through email, instant messaging and intranet systems. So many in fact that you might not notice subtle changes in the language your fellow employees use.

Instead of ending their email with "see ya!", they might suddenly offer you "kind regards". Instead of talking about "us", they might refer to themselves more. Would you pick up on it if they did?

These changes are important and could hint at a disgruntled employee about to go rogue. Our findings demonstrate how language may provide an indirect way of identifying employees who are undertaking an insider attack.

My team has tested whether it's possible to detect insider threats within a company just by looking at how employees communicate with each other. If a person is planning to act maliciously to damage their employer or sneak out commercially sensitive material, the way they interact with their co-workers changes.

Scientists invent injectable oxygen that keeps you alive without breathing

lab worker
© Ocean Networks Canada
Oxygen is great, you guys - it's pretty important to sustaining organic life and does particularly great things for us humans. The small caveat, though, is that we need to be able to breathe in order to make use of our atmospheric oxygen; if you can't - a collapsed lung or blocked windpipe, say - you'd typically be out of luck. Until now.

Scientists have developed a new microparticle filled with oxygen that can be injected into the blood stream, keeping you alive even if you can't intake air into your lungs. The microparticles are actually tiny capsules (2-4 micrometers tiny) made of a single layer of lipids surrounding a small bubble of oxygen gas. The capsule is suspended in a liquid so that the bubbles don't get any bigger (which would make them deadly, FYI).

Bio-luminescent deep sea creatures may shed light on next generation of medical imaging

© Wim Van Egmond/Corbis
Sea Sparkle (Noctiluca scintillans) is a large, non-photosynthetic marine Dinoflagellate that is bioluminescent and causes the sea to glow.
Bioluminescent organisms may help doctors design better ways to scan human organs and make better diagnoses

In July, a team of scientists organised by the American Museum of Natural History will dive 300 metres below the Atlantic Ocean's surface about 160km off the coast of New England. Among their goals: to find bioluminescent creatures - such as the dinoflagellates that make their own light, causing the ocean to glow - that they hope will offer clues for creating the next generation of medical imaging.

The right combination of molecules - a protein that can make light and another compound to serve as the light's fuel - may allow us to map brain activity to a new level of detail. This advance may some day give quadriplegics new ways to interact with the world.

Though it seems futuristic, the back story for this line of research began 50 years ago. In the early 1960s, a Japanese marine biologist named Osamu Shimomura isolated a protein from the crystal jellyfish. When blue light is shined on the creature, this protein absorbs it, changes its wavelength and emits a green light. It is called green fluorescent protein, or GFP.

"That single protein literally changed the course of biology," says Vincent Pieribone, a neurobiologist at Yale. It also won Shimomura a share of the 2008 Nobel prize in biochemistry.

It may work: Modern day Noah makes tsunami proof boat

From his backyard in Palo Alto, Calif., Chris Robinson is building a tsunami-proof capsule out of epoxy and plywood that he hopes will be strong enough to survive a tsunami and save the lives of those inside it.

He's a user experience designer by trade and looks at everything as a challenge. "What could you do that you could just climb into in your backyard," Chris asked himself, "instead of climbing in your car and being chased by a wave?"

The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Fukushima, Japan, had a profound impact on him. Chris lived in Japan after college and taught English in Fukushima for a year. He met his wife there; many of the places that were destroyed by the tsunami were places he and his wife frequented when they were dating.

"The idea that tsunamis happen and have that destructive force and there really wasn't, at that time, any kind of viable plan to survive it other than just get to high ground," bothered Chris and was the challenge that lead him to build the capsule.