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Genomic remnants from ancient viruses play a prominent role in embryonic development

ancient viruses
© Credit: A*STAR Genome Institute of Singapore
Genomic remnants from ancient viruses may help human embryonic stem cells maintain the flexibility needed to form the full spectrum of tissues in the body.
Like fossils buried beneath a modern landscape, the human genome is littered with sequences that originated from ancient viral DNA insertion events. Scientists have long assumed that these 'transposable elements' are, like fossils, biologically inactive and primarily interesting as a window into evolutionary history. However, researchers at the A*STAR Genome Institute of Singapore have now uncovered evidence that some of these sequences play a prominent role in early embryonic development.

Huck-Hui Ng and colleagues embarked on this project in collaboration with Guillaume Bourque at Canada's McGill University. Bourque's group had discovered that one particular class of sequences of transposable elements - known as human endogenous retrovirus subfamily H (HERV-H) - appears to be specifically expressed in human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Indeed, these HERV-H sequences are actively transcribed in hESCs, producing enigmatic RNA strands that do not encode a protein but nevertheless appear to serve some function.

Ng and Bourque set out to clarify the role of this RNA by performing experiments in which they selectively depleted it from stem cells. hESCs are actively maintained in a so-called 'pluripotent' state, from which they are capable of developing into any cell type in the human body (see image). In the absence of HERV-H RNA, hESCs rapidly lost their pluripotency; the researchers noted that the loss of HERV-H expression considerably altered the activity of many genes associated with cell development and proliferation.
Galaxy

Solar-system-wide 'climate' change: More galactic cosmic rays are reaching Earth than normal

New space weather observations continue to stun scientists reared on the Aristotelian 'uniformitarian' model, where nothing dynamic ever (or exceedingly rarely) happens in space. This is from phys.org:
In a recently published paper in Space Weather, associate professor Nathan Schwadron of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS) says that due to a highly abnormal and extended lack of solar activity, the solar wind is exhibiting extremely low densities and magnetic field strengths, which in turn is causing dangerous levels of hazardous radiation to pervade the space environment.
While the study notes that "human beings face a variety of consequences ranging from acute effects (radiation sickness) to long-term effects including cancer induction and damage to organs including the heart and brain," the funding angle for this study was to assess the impact of increased radiation on astronauts travelling to Mars (ha! like that will ever happen in today's global economic depression). That's not what interests us here at SOTT.net. What we're interested in are the trend of reducing solar output and the high radiation levels seen during the sun's last minimum cycle... in terms of the immediate, present effects of increased cosmic rays reaching the planet's surface.
Bulb

Jewelry that harvests energy from your veins

© Naomi Kizhner
Naomi Kizhner, an industrial designer and graduate student from Hadassah College in Jerusalem, has designed jewelry that theoretically extracts energy from the wearers own body. The 'speculative' jewelry is embedded into the person's veins and uses their blood to turn small wheels inside the device.
Comet

Earth at risk after cuts close comet-spotting program that spotted the Siding Spring

© Nasa, JPL-Caltech, UCLA/AAP
A Nasa infrared image of Comet Siding Spring. The comet, also known by the less catchy name of C/2007 Q3, was discovered in 2007 by astronomers at the Siding Spring Observatory.
The Earth has been left with a huge blind spot for potentially devastating comet strikes after the only dedicated comet-spotting program in the southern hemisphere lost its funding, leading astronomers have warned.

The program, which discovered the Siding Spring comet that narrowly missed Mars on Sunday, was shut down last year after losing funding.

"It's a real worry," Bradley Tucker, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) and University of California Berkeley, told Guardian Australia.

"There could be something hurtling towards us right now and we wouldn't know about it."


Comment: Indeed, something wicked this way comes, and SOTT has been warning about it for years.


The Siding Spring survey - named after the observatory near Coonabarabran in central New South Wales, where the Mars comet was first spotted - was the only program in the southern hemisphere actively searching for potentially hazardous comets, asteroids and meteors.

Comment: Don't say we didn't warn you. As was mentioned above, SOTT has been talking about the cosmic threat for years now, and how this knowledge is been purposefully concealed and distorted by the Powers that Be. Considering the recent anti-Putin charade and continuous bloodshed in the Middle East, Victor Clube, author of The Cosmic Serpent and The Cosmic Winter was right when he said in the report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force:
We do not need the celestial threat to disguise Cold War intentions; rather we need the Cold War to disguise celestial intentions!


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Cell biology research shakes up mitochondrial mystery

mitochondria

A volume rendering of mitochondria
Elvis did it, Michael Jackson did it, and so do the mitochondria in our cells. They shake. While Elvis and Michael shook for decades before loud and appreciative audiences, mitochondrial oscillations have quietly bewildered scientists for more than 40 years.

Now, a team of scientists at National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) has imaged mitochondria for the first time oscillating in a live animal, in this case, the salivary glands of laboratory rats. The report, published online today in the journal Cell Reports, shows the oscillations occur spontaneously and often in the rodent cells, which leads the researchers to believe the oscillations almost surely also occur in human cells.

"The movements could last from tens of seconds to minutes, which was far longer and frequently at a faster tempo than observed previously in cell culture," said Roberto Weigert, Ph.D., an NIDCR scientist and senior author on the study. The mitochondria also appear to synchronize their movements not only in an individual cell but, quite unexpectedly, into a linked network of oscillators vibrating throughout the tissue.

"You look through the microscope, and it almost looks like a synchronized dance," said Weigert. "The synchronization, to borrow an old cliché, tells us that we need to differentiate the forest from the trees - and vice versa - when studying mitochondria. It may be that the forest holds the key to understanding how mitochondria function in human health and disease."
Telescope

Heavy metal frost? A new look at a Venusian mystery

Venus
© NASA
This is a radar image of one of the areas sampled on Ovda. There is a smooth ramp across the map going from higher to lower elevations, shown as a gradual transition in radar brightness up the ramp. (The top of the ramp is brighter than the bottom of the ramp in the lower right corner). The bright areas to either side of the ramp are highland plateaus, and the curious dark spots are the mysterious areas at the highest elevations that the researchers are investigating.
Venus is hiding something beneath its brilliant shroud of clouds: a first order mystery about the planet that researchers may be a little closer to solving because of a new re-analysis of twenty-year-old spacecraft data.

Venus's surface can't be seen from orbit in visible light because of the planet's hot, dense, cloudy atmosphere. Instead, radar has been used by spacecraft to penetrate the clouds and map out the surface - both by reflecting radar off the surface to measure elevation and by looking at the radio emissions of the hot surface. The last spacecraft to map Venus in this way was Magellan, two decades ago. One of the Venusian surprises discovered at that time is that radio waves are reflected differently at different elevations on Venus. Also observed were a handful of radio dark spots at the highest elevations. Both enigmas have defied explanation.

"There is general brightening upward trend in the highlands and then dark spots at the highest locations," explained Elise Harrington, an Earth sciences undergraduate at Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, who revisited the Venus data during her internship at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, under the direction of Allan Treiman. Brightening, in this case, means the radio waves reflect well. Dark means the radio waves are not reflected. In other words, the higher you go on Venus, the more radio reflective the ground gets until it abruptly goes radio black.
Comet 2

Mars Orbiter image shows Comet Siding Spring's nucleus is small

comet siding
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
These images were taken of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Oct. 19, 2014, during the comet's close flyby of Mars and the spacecraft.
The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured views of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring while that visitor sped past Mars on Sunday (Oct. 19), yielding information about its nucleus.

The images are the highest-resolution views ever acquired of a comet coming from the Oort Cloud at the fringes of the solar system. Other spacecraft have approached and studied comets with shorter orbits. This comet's flyby of Mars provided spacecraft at the Red Planet an opportunity to investigate from close range.

Images of comet Siding Spring from HiRISE are online.

The highest-resolution of images of the comet's nucleus, taken from a distance of about 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers), have a scale of about 150 yards (138 meters) per pixel. Telescopic observers had modeled the size of the nucleus as about half a mile, or one kilometer wide. However, the best HiRISE images show only two to three pixels across the brightest feature, probably the nucleus, suggesting a size smaller than half that estimate.
Comet 2

Comet Siding Spring shaved past Mars, but NASA orbiters and rovers are safe


An artist drawing of Comet Siding Spring approaching Mars.
It was the closest comet near-miss known to astronomers, but everything is alright.

Comet Siding Spring shaved past a planet's surface at one third the distance of the Earth to the moon. But it wasn't Earth in the cross hairs - it was our neighbor Mars.

Earth got lucky in more than one way. With a gang of NASA orbiters and rovers on and around Mars, their cameras and instruments got a historic front row seat on the comet that NASA said made the closest recorded pass ever by any planet.

The three orbiters are just coming out of hiding.

The comet came so close that Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) had to duck and cover on the other side of the planet.

Otherwise, Siding Spring's debris of dust and gas flying at 126,000 miles per hour just 87,000 miles above Mars' surface could have blasted them like a shotgun.

They're all OK, NASA said in a statement. It will take a few days for them to transfer pictures and data to Earth.

Siding Spring has moved on. The comet does not pose a threat to Earth and was headed back out to the outer reaches of the solar system, NASA said.
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Blind cave fish may provide insight on eye disease and other human health issues

Cavefish
© CC BY-SA 3.0
A closeup of our Blind Cave Fish, for the mexican tetra page.
Blind cave fish may not be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to understanding human sight, but recent research indicates they may have quite a bit to teach us about the causes of many human ailments, including those that result in loss of sight. A team of researchers, led by Suzanne McGaugh, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences, is looking to the tiny eyeless fish for clues about the underpinnings of degenerative eye disease and more.

A new study, published in the October 20 online edition of Nature Communications, opens the doors to research that could illuminate the mechanisms behind human disease.

Cave fish exhibit repeated, independent evolution for a variety of traits including eye degeneration, pigment loss, increased size, number of taste buds and shifts in behavior. The researchers are investigating how organisms adapt to cave environments and which genes are involved in a range of traits. "The cavefish genome sequence is similar to the human genome sequence, and we share many of the same pathways and genes with them," says McGaugh. "They're an ideal subject for study, because they have traits that are directly translatable to human health."
Robot

Nine creepy Orwellian technologies that will soon be inside you...

Given the frenzy of interest following the announcement of the Apple Watch, you might think wearables will be the next really important shift in technology.

Not so.

Wearables will have their moment in the sun, but they're simply a transition technology.

Technology will move from existing outside our bodies to residing inside us.

That's the next big frontier.

Here are nine signs that implantable tech is here now, growing rapidly, and that it will be part of your life (and your body) in the near future.

1. Implantable smartphones
Sure, we're virtual connected to our phones 24/7 now, but what if we were actually connected to our phones?

That's already starting to happen.

Last year, for instance, artist Anthony Antonellis had an RFID chip embedded in his arm that could store and transfer art to his handheld smartphone.

Researchers are experimenting with embedded sensors that turn human bone into living speakers.

Comment: Why such levity from Mr. Edelhart when writing about totalitarianism? Stevie Wonder could see that this is nothing to be lighthearted about.

See:
Beyond Orwell's worst nightmare

2011: A Brave New Dystopia

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