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Thu, 27 Jul 2017
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Science & Technology


First human embryos modified in U.S.

© MIT Technological Review
The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, MIT Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

Until now, American scientists have watched with a combination of awe, envy, and some alarm as scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China.

Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.

Book 2

High-intensity x-ray imaging reveals medieval manuscript hidden in book binding

© Emeline Pouyet
In the mid-16th century, a bookbinder picked up a piece of parchment - one that was already centuries old - and used it to bind a book of poetry. This parchment's text remained unreadable for nearly 500 years, but now, thanks to state-of-the-art imaging techniques, people can read its words once more, according to a new study.

An analysis of the sixth-century text revealed that it was part of the Roman law code. Whoever made the poetry book likely considered the text to be outdated, as at that point, society was using the church's code, rather than Roman laws, the researchers said.

The finding is a remarkable one, as it can likely be used to help decipher the text on other parchments used as bookbinding materials, the researchers said.

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, bookbinders routinely recycled medieval parchments so they could use them as bindings for new, printed books. (A parchment is a thin and stiff piece of animal skin, usually from sheep or goats, that people wrote on.) Scholars have long known about this practice, but though they were interested in the text written on these old parchments, they were unable to read them.


Iran successfully tests Phoenix space rocket meant to deliver small satellites into orbit

© Kirill Kudryavtsev / Reuters
Iran says it has successfully tested the Simorgh rocket, a two-stage vehicle meant to deliver small space satellites into orbit. The test comes years behind schedule and may be the second one for the rocket. Named after a mythical beast of Persian folklore, the rocket was first unveiled under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2010 as part of the celebrations of Iran's first domestic satellite launch. Simorgh's maiden flight was initially scheduled for the same year, but the project was plagued by years of delays. On Thursday, Iranian media reported that the space rocket had been successfully tested for the first time.

"The Imam Khomeini Space Centre was officially opened with the successful test of the Simorgh (Phoenix) space launch vehicle," state television said. "The Simorgh can place a satellite weighing up to 250kg (550lbs) in an orbit of 500km (310 miles)." State television showed footage of the launch from the site decorated with pictures of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor as Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "The Imam Khomeini Space Centre ... is a large complex that includes all stages of the preparation, launch, control and guidance of satellites," state television added.

Comment: In August of 2008 Iran successfully launched a carrier rocket Safir (Messenger), capable of putting lightweight satellites into low-earth orbit.
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Midi-chlorians or mitochondria? "Star Wars" hoax paper published in four journals

© Lucas Film
"Star Wars" microscopic midi-chlorians were born on the fictional Wellspring of Life.
Mitochondria: totally real cell organelles that convert sugars, fats and oxygen into usable energy for cells. Midi-chlorians: completely made-up and widely derided microscopic life-forms that give Jedi warriors their ability to use the Force in the "Star Wars" movies.

See the difference? A handful of "peer reviewers" apparently didn't, as a paper that subbed in "midi-chlorians" for "mitochondria" got accepted into four journals this week. The paper mashed up lightly altered text from Wikipedia on mitochondria with Star Wars-related rambling, including the infamous monologue on the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise from "Revenge of the Sith."

The paper was a hoax written by the so-called Neuroskeptic, who blogs pseudonymously for Discover magazine. The point? To expose "predatory journals," which claim to offer peer-reviewed, open-access publication but in fact publish almost anything for a fee, according to the Neuroskeptic.

Microscope 1

Report: Human embryo DNA edited in the US for the first time

© Getty images
A team of researchers in Oregon have become the first to attempt to create genetically modified human embryos in the United States. The team reportedly demonstrated they could eliminate diseases in offspring with CRISPR.

Led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a team of scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University used the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to alter human DNA in single-cell embryos, according to a report published Wednesday on the MIT Technology Review.

"So far as I know, this will be the first study reported in the US," Jun Wu, a collaborator at the Salk Institute, told the MIT Technology Review.

The report claims that Mitalipov broke new ground "both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases."


Signs of the times - New comet, Nova in Scutum constellation and Supernova in Pisces!

© Rolando Ligustri
New Comet ASASSN1 (C/2017 O1) already glows aqua from carbon-laced gases. The comet is currently visible in the pre-dawn sky through modest-sized telescopes.
It feels like the FedEx guy just pulled up and dropped off a truckload of astronomical goodies. News arrived in my e-mail Monday about a new comet discovered by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN).Founding member Benjamin Shappee and team have 498 bright supernovae and numerous other transient sources to their credit, but this is the group's first comet discovery, ASASSN1 (C/2017 O1).

The 15th-magnitude object was caught before dawn on July 19th in the constellation Cetus using data from the quadruple 14-cm "Cassius" telescope on Cerro Tololo, Chile. Don't be put off by that magnitude. The comet has brightened quickly in the past few days; visual observers are now reporting it at around magnitude +10 with a large (7′), weakly condensed coma. Chris Wyatt of Australia relates that a Swan band filter does a great job enhancing the apparent brightness and contrast of the coma, a sign this is a "gassy" comet.
© Stellarium
This wide-view map shows Comet ASASSN1's location at the Cetus–Eridanus border south of Alpha (α) Ceti (Menkar) on July 26th.
Assuming the orbit remains close to the current calculation, Comet ASASSN1 will move northeast across Cetus and Taurus this summer and fall, slowly brightening as it approaches perihelion on October 14th in Perseus. It comes closest to the Earth four nights later, missing the planet by a cool 67 million miles. In a fun twist, ASASSN1 will slow down and spend the entire month of December and much of January within a few degrees of the North Star!


Secretive Saturn: New Cassini data upends existing theories

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
NASA's Cassini probe to Saturn has revealed that the magnetic field of the ringed planet has almost no "tilt" to it, which contradicts previous scientific wisdom about the nature our Milky Way neighbor.

Cassini has been diving into and back out of Saturn's atmosphere in order to answer a longstanding question about the planet: how long is its day? In other words, how long does it take the gas giant to complete one full rotation?

This seems like it would be an easy question to answer, but it's ended up being more complicated than most expected. Saturn is a massive ball of swirling gases that make it impossible to simply choose a point on the planet and track how long it takes before you see it again.


NASA's mega-powerful rocket test a step closer with Mars missions on horizon

NASA made another successful test of an RS-25 engine controller unit - one of four engines that will eventually propel the world's most powerful rocket - the Space Launch System (SLS).

This is the third of the four engines to be tested and marks another significant milestone en route to the first integrated flight of the SLS deep space rocket and the Orion spacecraft, known as Exploration Mission-1.

The first unmanned flight for the SLS will take place around the moon in 2019. NASA's long term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars by 2035.


Kaspersky Lab's CEO announces the antivirus software is completely free-of-charge

© Vladimir Astapkovich / Sputnik
Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab has unveiled the global launch of a free version of its antivirus software.
"I've some fantastic, earth-shattering-saving news: we're announcing the global launch of Kaspersky Free, which, as you may have guessed by the title, is completely free-of-charge! Oh my giveaway!" company CEO Eugene Kaspersky wrote in a blog post.
The announcement came amid US allegations the company is vulnerable to Russian government influence, a charge Kaspersky has vehemently denied.


China developing 'pre-crime' artificial intelligence to catch suspects before they do the crime

© Getty
In a storyline lifted straight from the Tom Cruise film 'Minority Report,' China is planning to use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict future crimes and prevent them from happening.

Police are teaming up with technology companies to develop artificial intelligence which they say will help them identify and apprehend suspects before crimes are even committed, according to The Financial Times.