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Tue, 23 Apr 2019
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Like mountaineers, nerves need expert guidance to find their way

Motor neurons
© Salk Institute
Left: Motor neurons (green) exit the spinal cord (red) and enter the periphery of the body to connect with muscles. Right: Motor neurons (white arrow) without the guidance of p190 are trapped within the spinal cord.
Similar to the dozens of Sherpas that guide hikers up treacherous Himalayan mountains to reach a summit, the nervous system relies on elaborate timing and location of guidance cues for neuronal axons-threadlike projections-to successfully reach their destinations in the body. Now, Salk Institute researchers discover how neurons navigate a tricky cellular environment by listening for directions, while simultaneously filtering out inappropriate instructions to avoid getting lost. The findings appeared in Neuron on March 19, 2019.

"There are 100 trillion connections in the nervous system governed by 20,000 genes, of which roughly 10 gene families are known to be involved in controlling axon guidance. We wanted to understand the clever genetic systems nature has employed to wire the most complicated biological machine in the universe," says Salk Professor Samuel Pfaff, senior author and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "Thus, we set out to examine how motor neurons find their connections with muscles in the body, which is critical for our brain to relay information to our muscles to allow for movement."

The brain controls hundreds of different muscles to allow for precise movement. During development, motor neurons in the spinal cord extend their axons outside of the central nervous system to connect with muscle cells in the body. Every motor neuron relies on a set of genes to ensure the axon grows correctly to the muscle.

Comment: See also:


Scientists 'clear' Alzheimer's plaque from mice using only light and sound

mouse brains alzheimer's plaques
© Gabrielle Drummond
Mouse brain with (left) and without (right) treatment.
Clumps of harmful proteins that interfere with brain functions have been partially cleared in mice using nothing but light and sound.

Research led by MIT has found strobe lights and a low pitched buzz can be used to recreate brain waves lost in the disease, which in turn remove plaque and improve cognitive function in mice engineered to display Alzheimer's-like behaviour.

It's a little like using light and sound to trigger their own brain waves to help fight the disease.

Comment: See also:


Microsoft using manufactured DNA-based data storage

DNA Data storage
© PC Mag
Existing data storage methods can't keep up with the amount of data we need to store, so Microsoft is creating a fully automated data-to-DNA storage system as a solution.

Microsoft says we're soon going to be faced with a bit of a data storage crisis. We are producing so much data that we're going to reach a point where there's more data than storage available. To solve this impending problem, Microsoft is turning to DNA.

According to Seagate, in 2018 we created 33 zettabytes of data, but by 2025 that will have grown to 175 zettabytes. Hard drives continue to grow in capacity, but even if they did manage to keep up with demand they require a lot of physical storage space and cooling, meaning datacenters will need to expand. DNA, on the other hand, can store data "in a space that's orders of magnitude smaller than datacenters," but we need to figure out how to automate the data-to-DNA process and to do so cheaply.

A team of researchers at Microsoft working with the University of Washington believe they have taken the first step towards doing just that. A proof-of-concept test successfully demonstrated "the first fully automated system to store and retrieve data in manufactured DNA."


New, massive storms forming on Neptune

Storm on Neptune
Neptune’s dark storms were first captured by Voyager 2 in 1989 (left). In 2018, Hubble spied an entirely new storm system.
Neptune has a new storm, in the form of a large dark spot that appeared in late 2018. By analyzing Hubble images dating back to 2015, astronomers have discovered high-altitude clouds that formed years ahead of the visible storm, indicating it was already forming there, swirling beneath the clouds and haze. The telltale clouds are teaching astronomers more about how such storms form and evolve on all the giant outer planets.

Birth of a Storm

Neptune, like all the outer solar system planets, forms large and durable storms. While Jupiter's Great Red Spot is infamous, Neptune's dark blue spots were unknown until Voyager 2 flew past in 1989, sending back pictures of two large storms on its surface. Jupiter's Great Red Spot has been visible for at least 190 years, and possibly since the 1600s. But when Hubble peered at Neptune in 1994, its storms had already vanished.

Since then, Hubble has spotted dark storms appearing and disappearing on Neptune, lasting only two years or so - though maybe up to six years - before dissipating again. Like hurricanes on steroids, Neptune's storms are dark vortexes of clouds racing at high speeds, each roughly the size of planet Earth. But Earth storms rarely last more than a few weeks, and form around low-pressure areas. On the giant planets, they instead form around regions of high-pressure.

"That makes them more stable to start," says Simon. "And there are no land masses. That's what breaks storms up on Earth." On Jupiter, the planet's jet streams lock its massive storm in place near the equator, where it has safely churned for centuries. On Neptune, wind patterns push the storms north or south where they get shredded by opposing wind currents within a few years.

Microscope 2

Ben Shapiro interviews Stephen Meyer about intelligent design

Ben Shapiro
Ben Shapiro's Sunday Special interview with Stephen Meyer is up and viewable now at YouTube. This might be the best interview with Meyer that I've ever seen. Check it out:

Why might it be the best? Partly because of the long video format - a full hour (with a provocative final question for Steve that you need to subscribe to The Daily Wire to see), and very well produced. Partly because Shapiro has done his homework. He knows the common challenges to intelligent design and poses them very articulately, and he's obviously absorbed Meyer's books, especially Darwin's Doubt and Signature in the Cell, as well other material on ID. That is more than you can say for some scientists and journalists I'm thinking of right now.

Mr. Potato

'Enhanced' geothermal plant implicated in South Korea's second most destructive earthquake

earthquake Pohang
© Yonhap/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The nation's energy ministry expressed 'deep regret', and said it would dismantle the experimental plant. A 2017 earthquake in Pohang, South Korea has been linked to a geothermal plant.
A South Korean government panel has concluded that a magnitude-5.4 earthquake that struck the city of Pohang on 15 November 2017 was probably caused by an experimental geothermal power plant. The panel was convened under presidential orders and released its findings on 20 March.

Unlike conventional geothermal plants, which extract energy directly from hot underground water or rock, the Pohang power plant injected fluid at high pressure into the ground to fracture the rock and release heat - a technology known as an enhanced geothermal system. This pressure caused small earthquakes that affected nearby faults, and eventually triggered the bigger 2017 quake, the panel found.

The quake was the nation's second strongest and its most destructive on modern record - it injured 135 people and caused an estimated 300 billion won (US$290 million) in damage. The nation's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, which had provided funding for the plant, said in a statement that it accepts the panel's findings and "expresses deep regret" to the citizens of Pohang who were harmed by the event.

Comment: With a process quite similar to fracking, what did they expect? And in times like these, where the very ground beneath our feet is proving to be increasingly unstable - with a rise in sinkholes, major earthquakes, gaping fissures and landslides - it's a reckless endeavor:

Comet 2

Asteroid Ryugu is surprisingly dry, Japanese spacecraft finds

© Seiji Sugita et al., Science
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft reveals new clues about the early solar system. The visible-light camera and a near-infrared spectrometer on Hayabusa2 confirmed the lack of water on Ryugu. Researchers said they were unsure how the parent body that produced Ryugu became so dehydrated.
A Japanese spacecraft studying the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu beamed home new data revealing that the space rock has less water than scientists expected.

The spacecraft, Hayabusa2, arrived at Ryugu on June 27, 2018. Since then, the probe has surveyed the asteroid's surface and landed multiple robotic probes on its rocky terrain.

Last month, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) completed a complicated touchdown maneuver to collect samples from Ryugu's surface, which will be brought back to Earth in a return capsule in late 2020.

After almost a year surveying Ryugu, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft has already collected invaluable data that may help scientists better understand the early solar system.

Comment: Scientists may be surprised by the lack of water on asteroids like Ryugu because of their misconceptions about space rocks altogether: See also: And check out SOTT radio's:

Microscope 2

Turns out we didn't understand viruses: Plant virus distributes genes into separate cells - all work together

virus plant
Plant cells (blue) infected by different virus segments (red and green)
It is a truth universally acknowledged among virologists that a single virus, carrying a full set of genes, must be in want of a cell. A virus is just a collection of genes packaged into a capsule. It infiltrates and hijacks a living cell to make extra copies of itself. Those daughter viruses then bust out of their ailing host, and each finds a new cell to infect. Rinse, and repeat. This is how all viruses, from Ebola to influenza, are meant to work.

But Stéphane Blanc and his colleagues at the University of Montpellier have shown that one virus breaks all the rules.

Faba bean necrotic stunt virus, or FBNSV for short, infects legumes, and is spread through the bites of aphids. Its genes are split among eight segments, each of which is packaged into its own capsule. And, as Blanc's team has now shown, these eight segments can reproduce themselves, even if they infect different cells. FBNSV needs all of its components, but it doesn't need them in the same place. Indeed, this virus never seems to fully come together. It is always distributed, its existence spread between capsules and split among different host cells.

"This is truly a revolutionary result in virology," says Siobain Duffy of Rutgers University, who wasn't involved in the study. "Once again, viruses prove that they've had the evolutionary time to try just about every reproductive strategy, even ones that are hard for scientists to imagine."

Comment: The evolutionary biologist's fall-back answer for something they can't explain: "evolution done it!" It doesn't matter that the answer makes no sense and doesn't actually explain anything. How exactly did this "reproductive strategy" come about because of "evolutionary time"? What are the precise genetic pathways from one reproductive strategy to the next? What are their probabilities? No answers, just pat responses with absolutely no substance. Pathetic.


Global AI development threatened by Boeing's recent crashes

plane cockpit
© Getty Images / Reinier Snijders
Two deadly crashes involving Boeing's newest airplane in less than six months puts in jeopardy not only the credibility of the manufacturer, but also new technologies actively being pushed by the world's top tech firms.

All Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes operated by global carriers were grounded earlier this month after an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft crashed shortly after take-off, taking a steep nosedive not far from Nairobi.

The fatal accident which claimed 157 lives followed a similar crash in Indonesia, which killed all 189 people on board in October.

The two crashes appear to have something in common. The crews of both aircraft reportedly struggled with the MAX 8 autopilot system which pointed the nose of the airplane down before the crash.


Electricity-eating microbes fix carbon dioxide using electrons

microbes eat electricity
© Bose laboratory, Washington University
A Washington University team showed how a phototrophic microbe called Rhodopseudomonas palustris takes up electrons from conductive substances like metal oxides or rust to reduce carbon dioxide.
New research from Washington University in St. Louis explains the cellular processes that allow a sun-loving microbe to "eat" electricity-transferring electrons to fix carbon dioxide to fuel its growth.

Led by Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and Michael Guzman, a Ph.D. candidate in her laboratory, a Washington University team showed how a naturally occurring strain of Rhodopseudomonas palustris takes up electrons from conductive substances like metal oxides or rust. The work is described in a March 22 paper in the journal Nature Communications.

The study builds on Bose's previous discovery that R. palustris TIE-1 can consume electrons from rust proxies like poised electrodes, a process called extracellular electron uptake. R. palustris is phototrophic, which means that it uses energy from light to carry out certain metabolic processes. The new research explains the cellular sinks where this microbe dumps the electrons it eats from electricity.