Science & Technology


'Bio-spleen' uses magnets to clean bad blood

© Wyss Institute/Harvard University
The rat study shows a variety of pathogens can be 'pulled out' from blood that is circulated through the external bio-spleen.
A device that uses magnets to extract bacteria, fungi and toxins from blood could one day throw a lifeline to patients with sepsis and other infections, researchers say.

They say the external gadget - tested so far in rats but not yet humans - might also eventually be modified to strip Ebola and other viruses from blood.

The device was inspired by the spleen, which can continuously remove pathogens and toxins from blood without first identifying the infectious agent.

Dubbed a 'bio-spleen', the invention uses magnetic nanobeads coated with a genetically-engineered human blood protein called mannose-binding lectin (MBL).

The MBL binds to pathogens and toxins, which can then be "pulled out" with a magnet, the developers wrote in the journal Nature Medicine.

The bio-spleen was developed to treat sepsis, or blood infection, which affects 18 million people in the world every year, with a 30-50 per cent mortality rate.

The microbes that cause it are often resistant to antibiotics, and spread fast.
2 + 2 = 4

What does information theory have to do with the origins of life?

What is life? Information
Understanding the origin of life is perhaps the most important outstanding problem in science. Just where did life begin, what conditions does it need and how likely is it to emerge from pre-biotic soups elsewhere in the universe are questions that occupy a great many researchers.

Although fascinating questions, they are particularly hard to formulate in ways that are amenable to scientific investigation. Most research focuses on life-bearing molecules and self-supporting, or autocatalytic, chemistries. But even then, it is hard to agree even on a definition of life. So it is no surprise that progress is slow.

Today, Christoph Adami at Michigan State University in East Lansing sidesteps many of these problems by analysing the origin of life from an entirely different point of view. The basis for Adami's new approach is the idea that life is fundamentally a phenomenon of information. This allows Adami to ignore all the messy details of chemistry and instead consider life's most basic properties as ones determined by the nature of information and the laws of physics that govern it.

Comment: So far so good. If there's one thing that differentiates living organisms from basic chemistry, it is the information that codes for the materials that construct their bodies, not to mention 'epi-genetic' sources of information like body plans and cell structures.

Comment: Adami, like practically every other neo-Darwinist, is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. There's a reason you have to introduce 'simplifying assumptions' in order to make the probabilities higher than they actually are, in order to get the result you want (i.e. spontaneous emergence of self-replicating organisms): the probabilities themselves are astronomically small! The fact is, the only way we know of to search out those tiny probabilities with any success is with intelligence.

For more information on the subject, see Bryant Shiller's Origin of Life: The 5th Option.


Four additional Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) heading towards Earth

Four Earth-facing CME's heading our way

Comment: Wonder what's perturbing the Sun? Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection: The Secret History of the World - Book 3


Information 'eaters'? The entropy of black holes

© Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss
Yesterday I talked about black hole thermodynamics, specifically how you can write the laws of thermodynamics as laws about black holes. Central to the idea of thermodynamics is the property of entropy, which can be related to the amount of physical information a system has.

For classical black holes, this is a problem, because if you toss an object into such a black hole, the object (and all its physical information) is lost forever. It is as if the information of the object was erased, which would violate the basic principle that information cannot be destroyed. Now you might argue that being trapped is not the same thing as being destroyed, but for information it is. If you cannot recover the information, then it has been destroyed.

So it would seem that black holes "eat" information, even though the laws of thermodynamics say that shouldn't be possible. This is known as the black hole information paradox.

Spinosaurus: Giant swimming dinosaur fossil unearthed

Spinosaurus is thought to be the largest known carnivore and would have feasted on huge fish and sharks.
A giant fossil, unearthed in the Sahara desert, has given scientists an unprecedented look at the largest-known carnivorous dinosaur: Spinosaurus.

The 95-million-year-old remains confirm a long-held theory: that this is the first-known swimming dinosaur. Scientists say the beast had flat, paddle-like feet and nostrils on top of its crocodilian head that would allow it to submerge with ease.The research is published in the journal Science.

Spinosaurus skeleton
A life-size reconstruction of Spinosaurus is on display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC
Lead author Nizar Ibrahim, a palaeontologist from the University of Chicago, said: "It is a really bizarre dinosaur - there's no real blueprint for it. It has a long neck, a long trunk, a long tail, a 7ft (2m) sail on its back and a snout like a crocodile. And when we look at the body proportions, the animal was clearly not as agile on land as other dinosaurs were, so I think it spent a substantial amount of time in the water."

The team says that Spinosaurus was a fearsome beast. The researchers say that, at more than 15m (50ft) from nose to tail, it was potentially the largest of all the carnivorous dinosaurs - bigger even than the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex.

Comment: Spinosaurus (spine lizard) lived in North Africa from the lower Albian to lower Cenomanian stages of the Cretaceous period, 112 to 97 million years ago. The first remains were discovered in 1912 but were destroyed during WWII by a British bombing raid on Munich.

It is debatable whether the top "fin" was sail-like or covered in fat in the formation of a hump. Spinosaurus may be the longest and largest theropod dinosaur. Theropods could not pronate their "arms/hand" to rotate so the "palm" faced the ground, but could achieve a resting position on the side of the "hand" thereby qualifying as quadruped.

Varied specimens of the Spinosaurus come from Egypt, England, Niger, and Brazil and comprise two subfamilies: Baryonychinae and Spinosaurinae. Paleontologist John R. Horner was quoted as saying: "If we base the ferocious factor on the length of the animal, there was nothing that ever lived on this planet that could match this creature [Spinosaurus]. Also my hypothesis is that T-rex was actually a scavenger rather than a killer. Spinosaurus was really the predatory animal."

Blue Planet

New research shows textbook theory behind volcano formation may be wrong

Hawaiian volcano
© Sunshine Pics/Fotolia
Tungurahua volcano eruption
In the typical textbook picture, volcanoes, such as those that are forming the Hawaiian islands, erupt when magma gushes out as narrow jets from deep inside Earth. But that picture is wrong, according to a new study from researchers who conclude that seismology data are now confirming that such narrow jets don't actually exist.

In the typical textbook picture, volcanoes, such as those that are forming the Hawaiian islands, erupt when magma gushes out as narrow jets from deep inside Earth. But that picture is wrong, according to a new study from researchers at Caltech and the University of Miami in Florida.

New seismology data are now confirming that such narrow jets don't actually exist, says Don Anderson, the Eleanor and John R. McMillian Professor of Geophysics, Emeritus, at Caltech. In fact, he adds, basic physics doesn't support the presence of these jets, called mantle plumes, and the new results corroborate those fundamental ideas.

"Mantle plumes have never had a sound physical or logical basis," Anderson says. "They are akin to Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories about how giraffes got their long necks."

Anderson and James Natland, a professor emeritus of marine geology and geophysics at the University of Miami, describe their analysis online in the September 8 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to current mantle-plume theory, Anderson explains, heat from Earth's core somehow generates narrow jets of hot magma that gush through the mantle and to the surface. The jets act as pipes that transfer heat from the core, and how exactly they're created isn't clear, he says. But they have been assumed to exist, originating near where Earth's core meets the mantle, almost 3,000 kilometers underground -- nearly halfway to the planet's center. The jets are theorized to be no more than about 300 kilometers wide, and when they reach the surface, they produce hot spots.

While the top of the mantle is a sort of fluid sludge, the uppermost layer is rigid rock, broken up into plates that float on the magma-bearing layers. Magma from the mantle beneath the plates bursts through the plate to create volcanoes. As the plates drift across the hot spots, a chain of volcanoes forms -- such as the island chains of Hawaii and Samoa.

Hundreds of French towns to darken street lights during Jour de la Nuit to show effects of urban light pollution

France light pollution map
France's light pollution map
Street lights will be switched off in hundreds of towns and villages across France to allow people to enjoy the clear night skies in the Jour de la Nuit on September 20.

The event, organised by the group Agir pour l'Environnement, aims to show how urban light pollution is spoiling people's lives and biodiversity and there will be events ranging from starlit horse rides in Peone, Alpes-Maritimes to a guided observation of the night sky at Ouézy, Calvados.

Many cities, towns and villages will be switching off the bulk of their street lights so that people can better view the stars, planets and the waning Moon. However, there will also be nature events to observe the animals that only come out when dusk falls, such as deer, bats and some butterflies and moths.

Held on the autumn equinox, when the Sun shines directly over the Equator and the days and nights are equal in each hemisphere, it marks the start of autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the south.
Arrow Down

Mad Science: 'Genetically modified micro humans' to be 'farmed' for drug testing by 2017

GMO Micro Humans
© Natural Society
Developers of artificial micro-humans, or 'mini GM humans,' are hoping to release their technology on the market by 2017.

No this isn't a sci-fi joke. Scientists are developing artificial humans in the same vein as GM plants with the hope that these creations will replace the need for using animals in laboratory testing.

Artificial humans will be 'farmed' with interacting organs that can be used in drug tests, speeding up the process of FDA and other government regulatory approvals, and supposedly without damaging rats or other animals currently used in laboratories.

The GM humans will contain smartphone-sized microchips that will be programmed to replicate up to 10 major human organs.

Each GM human will be tiny - roughly the size of a microchip itself, simulating the response of humans to substances inhaled, absorbed in the blood, or exposed to in the intestinal tract.

Early versions comprising an artificial kidney, heart, lung or gut are already being used by the cosmetic industry and to observe the use of chemical drugs on non-GMO humans.

Scientists discover nuclear waste-eating bacteria

© University of Manchester
Tiny single-cell organisms discovered living underground could help dispose off hazardous nuclear waste, scientists say.

Although bacteria with waste-eating properties have been discovered in relatively pristine soils before, this is the first time that microbes that can survive in the very harsh conditions expected in radioactive waste disposal sites have been found.

The disposal of nuclear waste is very challenging, with very large volumes destined for burial deep underground.

The largest volume of radioactive waste, termed 'intermediate level', will be encased in concrete prior to disposal into underground vaults, researchers said.

When ground waters eventually reach these waste materials, they will react with the cement and become highly alkaline.

This change drives a series of chemical reactions, triggering the breakdown of the various 'cellulose' based materials that are present in these complex wastes.

One such product linked to these activities, isosaccharinic acid (ISA), causes much concern as it can react with a wide range of radionuclides - unstable and toxic elements that are formed during the production of nuclear power and make up the radioactive component of nuclear waste.

Scientists: Activating single gene could extend human lifespan by 30%

© Reuters/Susana Vera
In an experiment on fruit flies, UCLA biologists activated just one gene, AMPK, which extended their lifespan by nearly a third, by helping them to get rid of "cellular garbage" causing old age diseases such as Parkinson's. Humans have the same gene.

"Instead of studying the diseases of aging - Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes - one by one, we believe it may be possible to intervene in the aging process and delay the onset of many of these diseases," said author David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA, whose paper was published last week in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

"We are not there yet, and it could, of course, take many years, but that is our goal and we think it is realistic."

UCLA's laboratory conducted the study on 100,000 fruit flies, used because they have been genetically mapped, and scientists can easily mutate just one gene within a population, limiting variables, and ensuring a perfectly controlled experiment.

Those flies with the gene activated in their intestines lived just over eight weeks, instead of the usual six, and, almost as crucially, remained healthier for longer into their lifespans. Projected onto the current US life expectancy of 78, this would correspond to an average lifetime of 101 years.

Comment: The turmeric plant has been shown to activate AMPK and suppress glucose production in the liver. Read more about it here.