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Tue, 17 Jul 2018
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Curtains for CRISPR? New study says DNA-editing technology can cause cancer

gene editing
© Handout / Reuters
Researchers have raised alarm over the king of genome-editing tools, CRISPR, after major DNA deletions were detected during the gene-editing process, suggesting the risk of genetic damage is much greater than previously thought.

CRISPR/Cas9 is one of the newest genome-editing tools and is considered very powerful. It can alter sections of DNA in cells by cutting at specific points and introducing changes at that location.

While the tool is already extensively used in scientific research, it is also poised to become the gene editor of choice in clinical contexts with potential for treating diseases such as HIV, cancer or sickle cell disease.

However, this new study, carried out at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK, suggests the technique is not as safe as previously thought and could lead to dangerous changes in some cells and, potentially, even cause cancer.

Comment: See also:


Chinese team sets new 'quantum entaglement' record

quantum computer
© Alfred Pasieka / Science Photo Library / Getty Images
Conceptual artwork representing how data may be controlled and stored in a quantum computer
A new 'quantum entanglement' record has been set which could see computing speeds ratcheted up. Chinese scientists successfully interwove 18 qubits - the most basic unit of quantum computing - into just six connected photons.

"It's as if you took six bits of the computer, but each of them tripled in the amount of information it could contain and can do it quite quickly and efficiently," quantum physicist Sydney Schreppler from the University of California explained.

In theory, the ability to pack in an unprecedented three qubits per photon will allow quantum computers to perform a wide range of calculations that are simply not possible with conventional computers. However, we won't know the full potential of the leap for some time as quantum computing is still in the early stages of development.


Astronomers discover 12 new moons orbiting Jupiter

jupiter moon
Astronomers have discovered a dozen new moons orbiting Jupiter, but one could spell disaster for the others - 1km-wide "oddball" moving in the opposite direction to the other 78 objects circling the gas giant.

A team led by Scott S. Sheppard from Washington DC's Carnegie Institution for Science first spotted the moons in 2017 while on the hunt for a possible massive planet beyond Pluto. Sheppard's discovery brought the total number of objects orbiting Jupiter to 79 - but he said one discovery stood out in particular.

"Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon," Sheppard explained. "It's also likely Jupiter's smallest-known moon, being less than 1km (0.6 of a mile) in diameter."

Comet 2

Comet: C/2018 N2 (ASASSN)

MPEC 2018-O01, issued on 2018, July 16, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~16.1) in the course of the "All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae" (ASASSN) program, in images taken 2018 July 7-11 with the 14-cm "Cassius" survey telescope at Cerro Tololo. The new comet has been designated C/2018 N2 (ASASSN).

I performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the PCCP webpage. Stacking of 10 unfiltered exposures, 60 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2018, July 15.7 from Q62 (iTelescope network) through a 0.43-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD, shows that this object is a comet with a diffuse coma about 15 arcsec in diameter.

My confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
Comnet C/2018 NZ
© Remanzacco Blogspot


Asteroid 2017 YE5 discovered to be locked in orbit with unusual twin

asteroid 2017 ye5
An asteroid discovered orbiting the Sun in December last year has revealed a fun surprise: it's not one asteroid, but two, locked in their own binary orbit around a mutual centre of gravity.

The object is called 2017 YE5 (as in "YE5 a surprise second asteroid, hooray!")*, and when it was first detected on 21 December 2017, it was angled in such a way that astronomers couldn't tell whether it was two objects, or two lobes of the same object joined by a slender waist - like Comet 67P.

But in late June, the asteroids were coming in on the closest point to Earth in their elliptical path around the Sun - a distance of about 6 million kilometres (3.7 million miles) from Earth; it was an observation opportunity too good to pass up.

Comment: Binary objects, like stars, are actually a relatively common feature in the universe:


A horse's snort lets you know they're happy

horses snort
© Juniors Bildarchiv GmbH
Sounds happy to me
Horses appear to snort more when they're happy. The finding could be used to assess the conditions in which horses are kept.

The distinctive noise has long been thought to serve hygienic functions, removing phlegm, flies and more from the nostril - although some studies had suggested that horses that are well looked-after seem to do it more.

Martine Hausberger at the University of Rennes, France, decided to investigate by recording the snorting patterns of 48 horses in Brittany, France, living under different conditions. Some of the horses led restricted lives, housed in individual stalls and feeding on low-fibre meals. Others lived more freely, housed in groups and able to feed on grass and hay at their leisure.

Comment: Read more about the emotionally extraordinarily expressive animals:


NASA releases crazy new photo of the 'spiders' on Mars

‘spiders’ on Mars
NASA has released an image showing "spiders" on Mars, small darks spots on the reddish landscape with tendrils one could easily perceive as tiny legs. The marks were captured by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in mid-May at Mars' south pole during the planet's winter season. The "spiders" make their appearance as the season turns to spring, dotting the terrain.

Of course, the dark marks shown in the image above aren't spiders - they're not even living creatures. Rather, these are marks on the land called "araneiform terrain," a type of mound that appears to radiate outward with tendrils. These spots form in areas where carbon dioxide ice under the surface gets warm and then releases gas.

Comment: It seems Mars doesn't just experience seasons, but it's also undergoing other more extreme shifts, like we're seeing on earth, and elsewhere throughout space: And check out SOTT radio's: Behind the Headlines: The Electric Universe - An interview with Wallace Thornhill


Epic new image of Galactic center created with help of 64 South African telescopes

The black hole at the center of the Milky Way and filaments.
The black hole at the center of the Milky Way and filaments.
You're looking at the center of our galactic home, the Milky Way, as imaged by 64 radio telescopes in the South African wilderness.

Scientists released this image today to inaugurate the completed MeerKAT radio telescope. But these scopes form part of an even more ambitious project: the Square Kilometer Array, a joint effort to build the world's largest telescope, spanning the continents of Africa and Australia.

This image shows filaments of particles, structures that seem to exist in alignment with the galaxy's central black hole. It's unclear what causes these filaments. Maybe they are particles ejected by the spinning black hole; maybe they are hypothesized "cosmic strings;" and maybe they're not unique, and there are other, similar structures waiting to be found, according to a 2017 release from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Comment: We're still very much in the dark regarding the properties and rhythms of our universe:


New control of cell division discovered

When a cell divides, its constituents are usually evenly distributed among the daughter cells. UZH researchers have now identified an enzyme that guarantees that cell constituents that are concentrated in organelles without a membrane are properly distributed. Their discovery opens up new opportunities for the treatment of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, aging processes and viral infections.
Cell Division
© iStock/zimmytws
Vinegar drops in olive oil illustrate the phase separation of two liquids.
As every cook has experienced: When balsamic vinegar and olive oil are mixed, both liquids separate. Round vinegar drops form, which then float on the surface of the oil. In physical terms, this constitutes the formation of two phases in the liquid. Phase separation of molecules also takes place inside cells. Here, liquid drops form in the cell plasma.

Phase separation guarantees distribution of cell components

Researchers at the laboratory of Lucas Pelkmans, professor at the Institute of Molecular Life Sciences at the University of Zurich (UZH), have now discovered that a class of enzymes - which are dual specificity kinases - actively control this process in cells. When a cell divides, the enzyme DYRK3 promotes the mixing of the phases. This guarantees that the cells can correctly build the machinery for separating the chromosomes and dividing the cell content. After division, the enzyme is broken down and the individual phases start to form again. If everything goes according to plan, the genetic material, organelles and cell contents are correctly distributed among the daughter cells. "These fundamental findings give us completely new insights into cell division: as a process in which the cell contents mix together and then separate again," says Lucas Pelkmans.

Wedding Rings

New microcrystalline form of gold is much golder than normal gold

gold nugget
© Susan E. Degginger / Alamy Stock Photo
Not gold enough?
New form of gold is much golder than normal gold

All that glitters is not gold - but sometimes it really, really is. Researchers have made a new kind of gold crystal that is even more gold-like than regular gold.

Gold is a precious metal, which means that as well as being attractively shiny it is almost entirely chemically inert. Unlike other metals, it does not rust when exposed to air, and retains its lustre indefinitely.

It's said this property is why wedding rings are traditionally made of gold: it represents an eternity of love. Silver is another such "noble metal", but even silver reacts slowly with oxygen in the air, so requires occasional polishing.

In 2015 Giridhar Kulkarni of the Centre for Nano and Soft Matter Sciences in Bangalore, India and his colleagues described a new form of gold: microcrystals measuring between 2 and 17 micrometres. They made them by heating gold chloride to 220 °C for 30 minutes in the presence of a second chemical called tetraoctylammonium bromide. They look like angular, knobbly sausages.