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Sat, 20 Jul 2019
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Science & Technology


Groundbreaking study: Scientists use CRISPR to eliminate HIV DNA in mice

CRISPR thing
© Pixabay/mwooten
A group of scientists have, for the first time, eliminated HIV DNA from the genomes of living animals, in what is being described as a critical step towards developing a cure for the AIDS virus.

The groundbreaking study, published in the journal Nature Communications, revealed that treatment to suppress HIV replication coupled with gene editing therapy can eliminate HIV from infected cells and organs.

Current HIV treatment focuses on the life-long use of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which suppresses HIV replication but does not eliminate the virus. Dr Kamel Khalili, a senior investigator of the study, had found in previous work that by using the gene editing CRISPR-Cas9 technology, large fragments of HIV DNA could be removed from infected cells.

Oil Well

Chinese scientists develop new material for cleaning up oil spills

Oil spill
© Sioux County Sheriff’s Office / Facebook
The search for ever-better materials to soak up oil from water has recently added a new member to this highly specialized and highly sough-after family: Chinese scientists have invented a honeycomb-style polypropylene material that can soak up oil from water more cheaply and efficiently than some popular established methods, and do it in an environmentally friendly way.

The material according to a press release, is essentially foam with a rough surface and a tubular structure modeled on honeycombs. This structure allows water to flow freely through the tubes while oil gets caught and absorbed in seconds, the researchers from Ningbo Institute of Materials Technology said.


Cockroaches developing 'cross-resistance' to bug sprays

german cockroach
© Ana Marina Lopez Torres
German cockroach
Controlling them will become 'almost impossible'

Cockroaches are developing a resistance to insecticides used in exterminators' bug spray and may soon be "almost impossible" to control with chemicals alone, scientists warn.

New research recently published by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, has suggested that a strain of German cockroach — Blattella germanica L. — will only become more difficult to eliminate as future generations are becoming increasingly immune to human efforts of population control.

Such control is very necessary, scientists said, because the pests are often a threat to human health. They can spread bacteria and the feces they produce trigger allergies and asthma in adults and children.


Killing nuclear will kill your 'green economy'

nuclear power plant
© Global Look Press / S. Ziese
The German government vowed to shut down nuclear energy by 2022. Germany is getting half of its energy needs from alternative sources: atomic 13 percent, solar 9 percent, wind 25 percent, and hydro power 5 percent. While carbon generator sources are: biomass 8 percent, gas 9 percent, hard coal 10 percent, brown coal 20 percent. Critics said and are saying that transitioning to alternate sources while, at the same time, phasing out atomic energy is too ambitious. I don't approve of this euphemistic term "ambitious," I think the word deranged is more fitting.

Eight years ago, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, in wake of the Fukushima situation, announced that she would phase out nuclear energy by 2022. Wind and solar power was promised to replace that fall in output, but here's a word the pushers of radiophobia never mention - STORAGE. If you phase out nuclear, then what's going to happen when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow? That loss has to be replaced in the grid and the German Government, allegedly against fossil fuels and pro-green, plugged the gap with [dirty] coal, burning more and more of it. Even with 100 percent green energy generation, a country is still left seriously vulnerable to nature's whim if it didn't invest or invest sufficiently in diversification and storage capacity, to get batteries to feed the grid while the wind and the clouds aren't favorable.

How can prudent and rational voices be heard when faced with so much 'green' propaganda? The most recent example being the crud from HBO on Chernobyl, the purpose of which is to conveniently promote radiophobia, given the historical moment facing the world today on this question. This weekend, hundreds of protesters in North Rhine Westphalia broke through a police line to demonstrate against the mining of brown coal. Note that nobody has a plan for people working in the coal sector. Nobody is interested in their livelihood or their communities. Nobody is giving them a better deal to replace their current profession.

Comment: The hysteria around 'global warming' and CO2 may be just as ill-placed, but that doesn't change the fact that nuclear is still the best option. It's cheaper, cleaner, and has the added advantage of solving the non-existent problem of 'excess' CO2. In other words, it's something that both sides of the debate can support, for different reasons. Everyone wins. See also:

Microscope 1

Spores in space: Mold can withstand radiation doses that would kill a human

Penicillium mold
© David Gregory & Debbie Marshall, CC BY
A Penicillium mold is producing chains of spores in this scanning electron micrograph image
Scientists zapped mold spores in a laboratory and concluded that two types of fungus could survive a journey to the moon or Mars.

There are both positive and negative implications about this news, according to a recent statement by the American Geophysical Union (AGU). AGU coordinated the 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference in Seattle, where lead researcher microbiologist Marta Cortesão, a doctoral student at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), will present her research on the mold today (June 28).

Having fungus among us in space could be a plus. Mold can be used to produce compounds in antibiotics, for example, and space medicine could come in handy. But the results of the new research also raise concerns, Cortesão said in the AGU statement, because the fungi withstood radiation exposure 200 times the dose that would kill a human.


Arctic fox that traveled over 2,000 miles in a mere 76 days from Norway to Canada leaves scientists speechless

© Universal Images Group Editorial/ FILE PHOTO
Despite its tender age, an Arctic fox has made headlines, broken records and baffled scientists who tracked its blistering 2,176-mile trek from Norway's Svalbard islands to Canada in a mere 76 days.

While 15-year-old Cori 'Coco' Gauff's Wimbledon win over Venus Williams was undoubtedly impressive, this one-year-old Arctic fox may have made the most impressive athletic debut of the year, occasionally clocking nearly 100 miles a day during its epic intercontinental journey.

Equipped with a GPS tracking band by the Norwegian Polar Institute, researchers were already impressed when the fox reached Greenland 21 days after its release on March 26, 2018. But the little critter was only getting started, eventually crossing into Canada's Ellesmere less than two months later. With an astounding average pace of 28.5 miles per day, no fox has ever been recorded traveling that far, that fast before.

Microscope 2

Genealogy sites have helped identify suspects. Now they've helped convict one

geneology snapshot murder suspect
© Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, via Associated Press
Parabon, a forensic consulting firm, generated this composite sketch of the suspect using crime-scene DNA.

A new forensic technique sailed through its first test in court, leading to a guilty verdict. But beyond the courtroom, a battle over privacy is intensifying.

It has been used to identify more than 40 murder and rape suspects in cases as much as a half-century old. It has led to guilty pleas and confessions, including in one case where another man was convicted of the crime.

Genetic genealogy — in which DNA samples are used to find relatives of suspects, and eventually the suspects themselves — has redefined the cutting edge of forensic science, solving the type of cases that haunt detectives most: the killing of a schoolteacher 27 years ago, an assault on a 71-year-old church organ player, the rape and murder of dozens of California residents by a man who became known as the Golden State Killer.

Comment: As we move into the strange new world of DNA and genetics, the moral implications, particularly in regards to privacy, become murky. No one is going to object to perpetrators of heinous crimes being brought to justice, but what are the rest of us giving up in order to achieve that goal?

See also:


A new radioactive model of ancient rocks suggest lost continents for early Earth

A 4 Ga record of granitic heat production
© Science Direct
A new radioactivity model of Earth's ancient rocks calls into question current models for the formation of Earth's continental crust, suggesting continents may have risen out of the sea much earlier than previously thought but were destroyed, leaving little trace.

Scientists at the University of Adelaide have published two studies on a model of rock radioactivity over billions of years which found that the Earth's continental crust may have been thicker, much earlier than current models suggest, with continents possibly present as far back as four billion years.

"We use this model to understand the evolving processes from early Earth to the present, and suggest that the survival of the early crust was dependent on the amount of radioactivity in the rocks - not random chance," says Dr Derrick Hasterok, from the University of Adelaide's Department of Earth Sciences and Mawson Centre for Geoscience.

"If our model proves to be correct, it may require revision to many aspects of our understanding of the Earth's chemical and physical evolution, including the rate of growth of the continents and possibly even the onset of plate tectonics."

Dr Hasterok and his PhD student Matthew Gard compiled 75,800 geochemical samples of igneous rocks (such as granite) with estimated ages of formation from around the continents. They estimated radioactivity in these rocks today and constructed a model of average radioactivity from four billion years ago to the present.


Scientists find 'mystical' psychedelic compound in the pineal gland, neocortex and the hippocampus

brains Produce DMT
In the past few years, thrill-seekers from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and beyond have been travelling to South America to take part in so-called Ayahuasca retreats. Their goal: to partake in a brewed concoction made from a vine plant Banisteriopsis caapi, traditionally used by indigenous people for sacred religious ceremonies. Drinkers of Ayahuasca experience short-term hallucinogenic episodes many describe as life-changing.

The active ingredient responsible for these psychedelic visions is a molecule called dimethyltryptamine (DMT). For the first time, a team led by Michigan Medicine has discovered the widespread presence of naturally-occurring DMT in the mammalian brain. The finding is the first step toward studying DMT-- and figuring out its role -- within the brains of humans.

"DMT is not just in plants, but also can be detected in mammals," says Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. Her interest in DMT came about accidentally. Before studying the psychedelic, her research focused on melatonin production in the pineal gland.

In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Rene Descartes claimed that the pineal gland, a small pinecone-shaped organ located deep in the center of the brain, was the seat of the soul. Since its discovery, the pineal gland, known by some as the third eye, has been shrouded in mystery. Scientists now know it controls the production of melatonin, playing an important role in modulating circadian rhythms, or the body's internal clock. However, an online search for notes to include in a course she was teaching opened Borjigin's eyes to a thriving community still convinced of the pineal gland's mystical power.


Cosmic fireworks Eta Carinae still exploding after nearly 200 years

Eta Carinae
© NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of Arizona, Tucson), and J. Morse (BoldlyGo Institute, New York)
If you were to have looked up at the sky 181 years ago you'd have noticed one seemingly new and incredibly bright star burning up the heavens during an event known as The Great Eruption of 1838. The Great Eruption occurred in the constellation Carina when Eta Carinae, a two-star system, formed a nebula so massive that, for a time, it was bright enough for Mariners to navigate by.

Although the Great Eruption has long since faded from the view of the naked human eye, its tumultuous explosion is still going on and is quite visible to the Hubble telescope, which recently returned a stunning image of the moribund binary system.