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Dynamic genome discovery: Harvard scientists uncover 'DNA switch' that could lead to human limb regrowth

Gene switch
A team of scientists at Harvard University has discovered the "master gene" that enables animals such as lizards, geckos and jellyfish the ability to regrow large appendages of their body such as limbs and tails-if not their entire body-and they're hoping that the discovery could be a crucial first step to humans one day being able to regenerate their lost limbs.

The team released their study in Science journal this week that reveals the "DNA switches" that animals have used to control their genes and regenerate parts of their body.

Bulb

Michael Behe: One man's battle with Darwinian evolution

Dr. Michael J. Behe
© Discovery Institute
Still from the film: Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines
When a man knows something's true, when it's obvious to him, but his peers and his colleagues believe something else, what does he do? Especially if it has to do with a subject considered to be very important, even foundational for the work he does, what does he do?

Does he decide to set his ideas on paper for the whole world to see? This guarantees fierce opposition and sometimes personal attack. To choose this path requires a willingness to face that opposition and stand firm. Such intellectual courage is rare but not vanishingly so. This is the story of a man who has that courage.

The Concept of Irreducible Complexity

By the early 1990s, Dr. Michael J. Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, had come to doubt the efficacy of Darwinian evolution. (Behe uses the term Darwinian evolution to distinguish it from evolution meaning simply change over time, which is not controversial and which he accepts. Darwinian evolution, on the other hand, is claimed to be the result of unguided, naturalistic processes of random mutation and natural selection, which he sees as severely limited.)

Comment: Watch: Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines - to get a better glimpse of who Behe is and just what he's been up against:




Moon

Roscosmos chief Rogozin: The new space race has begun

Dmitry Rogozin/Flag
© SpaceNews/KREMLIN.RU
Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin
Russia has entered a new space competition, according to the head of the country's space agency, Roscosmos. The new "competition" is focused on manned space flight and deep space exploration.

"Now we are entering a new stage of a certain competition with leading space powers, related to future manned programs, including in deep space," Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said Friday. Rogozin also revealed that he recently talked to the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeev and discussed the details of the Moon program and specifications of payloads needed for that.

The first Russian cosmonauts are expected to walk on the surface of the Earth's only natural satellite by 2030. The Moon program involves development of a super-heavy lifter and landing/ take-off module.

Fish

Robots used to aid communication between bees and fish

bees and fish
© EPFL
Robotics spies capable of interspecies translation helped groups of bees and fish talk to each other.
Bees and fish can now converse with each other thanks to new robotics technology designed by researchers in Europe.

Scientists developed robots to translate and deliver signals from groups of bees and schools of fish. The robots traded signals across an international border, allowing bees in Austria to talk to fish a few hundred miles away in Switzerland.

"We created an unprecedented bridge between the two animal communities, enabling them to exchange some of their dynamics," Frank Bonnet, a robotics engineer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, or EPFL, said in a news release.

Previously, researchers at EPFL's Mobile Robots Group have designed and deployed "spy" robots that blend in with groups of animals. Most recently, the team used a robot to infiltrate a school of zebrafish and influence its swimming direction.

For the latest experiment, scientists decided to use the fish spy to help different species communicate.

Comment: Interspecies communication: Beluga rooming with dolphins learns their language


Brain

Can zapping the brain with lasers cure alcoholism? Scripps scientists think so

Man drinking alcohol
© Getty Images/IStock
Anyone who has ever had first-hand experience of substance abuse will know that, however much a person might want to quit, ending this kind of dependency isn't a simple on/off mechanism. But what if it could be? While science has not yet advanced to that point with humans, researchers from Scripps Research have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the desire to drink in alcohol-dependent rats - by targeting a part of the brain using lasers.

"This research identifies a specific neuronal population in a deep region of the brain that is activated during alcohol withdrawal and which controls alcohol drinking in a rodent model of alcoholism," Olivier George, an associate professor at Scripps Research, told Digital Trends. "We also identify by which downstream pathways these neurons control the rest of the brain to produce addiction-like behaviors. What is so exciting about these findings is that we were able to control the motivation to drink alcohol in severely dependent individuals with the flip of a switch. By implanting fiber optics deep in the brain and turning on a laser that inhibits these neurons specifically we could dramatically decrease alcohol drinking and the physical symptoms of withdrawal."

Galaxy

Scientists meet to investigate the 'Great Silence': Are we in a 'galactic zoo'?

meti telescope
© Getty
Should we be sending more messages to aliens?
Are we alone? Probably not. After all, astronomers have already found 4,001 confirmed exoplanets in our Milky Way galaxy, and expect there to be over 50 billion exoplanets out there. For scientists gathering in Paris today, the question is different: why haven't we made contact with alien civilizations?

What is the Fermi Paradox and the "Great Silence?"

Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked 'where is everybody?' back in 1950 in what's now called the Fermi Paradox. It addresses a contradiction in astronomy, and can be summarized thus: if extraterrestrial life and even intelligent alien civilizations are not just likely, but highly probable, then why have none of them been in contact with us? Are there biological or sociological explanations for this "Great Silence?"

"We are very interested in the scientific approach used in the analysis of the Fermi Paradox and the search for intelligent life in the universe," said Cyril Birnbaum and Brigitte David at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (Cité), the science museum in Paris that's hosting today's meeting. "The question 'Are we alone?' affects us all, because it is directly related to humanity and our place in the cosmos."

Comment: It's rather curious that it's often supposed that the overseers of this zoo are benevolent. Particularly when other notable, although much less publicized, perspectives have been put forward, and with supporting evidence: Also check out SOTT radio's:


Fish

Devolution as evolution?

Daihua sanqiong
© Yang Zhao
The holotype specimen of Daihua sanqiong.
Today there's a Press Release provided by the University of Bristol about comb jellies from the Cambrian, found outcrops south of Kunming in the Yunnan Province, South China by Professor Hou Xianguang, co-author of the study.

Of interest, given the recent release of Michael Behe's new book, Darwin Devolves, is the following statement:
The study shows how comb jellies evolved from ancestors with an organic skeleton, which some still possessed and swam with during the Cambrian. Their combs evolved from tentacles in polyp-like ancestors that were attached to the seafloor. Their mouths then expanded into balloon-like spheres while their original body reduced in size so that the tentacles that used to surround the mouth now emerges from the back-end of the animal.

"With such body transformations, I think we have some of the answers to understand why comb jellies are so hard to figure out. It explains why they have lost so many genes and possess a morphology that we see in other animals," added co-author Dr. Luke Parry.

Comment: That's kind of a problem for Darwinism isn't it? What is known so far is that anything resembling Darwinian evolution involves loss of a function or genes. See also:


Solar Flares

Huge new sunspot AR2736 forms rapidly as Solar Minimum underway

sunspot AR2736
Two days ago, sunspot AR2736 didn't exist. Now the rapidly-growing active region (movie) stretches across more than 100,000 km of the solar surface and contains multiple dark cores larger than Earth. Moreover, it has a complicated magnetic field that is crackling with C-class solar flares. The sunspot is inset in this magnetic map of the sun from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:

The rapidly-growing sunspot AR2736
© NASA
The rapidly-growing sunspot AR2736.

Info

Rogue waves are becoming rarer and more extreme

Rogue Wave
© Captain Roger Wilson/NOAA
60-foot wave hitting tanker off Alaska.
Research led by the University of Southampton suggests that 'rogue' waves are occurring less often, but becoming more extreme.

Scientists have, for the first time, used long-term data from a wide expanse of ocean to investigate how these rare, unexpected and hazardous ocean phenomena behave. Their findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Waves are classed as 'rogue' when they are over twice the height of the average sea state around them. From trough to peak, past observations have put some at over 30 metres high. The fiercest are capable of damaging or sinking ships, can wound or kill crew members and on occasions have swept people off the shoreline and out to sea.

A team of engineers and oceanographers from the University of Southampton, together with researchers from The National Oceanography Centre (NOC), examined over 20 years of information (sourced between 1994-2016) from 15 buoys which provide surface data along the US western seaboard - stretching from Seattle in the north, to San Diego in the south.
The data showed instances of rogue waves vary greatly, depending on the area of sea and time period focused on. On average though, the team found instances of rogue waves (across the two decade window) fell slightly, but that rogue wave size, relative to the background sea, increased by around one per cent year-on-year.

Info

Programmable self-assembling DNA created by scientist

Programmable DNA Molecules
© Demin Liu and Damien Woods
Computer scientists at UC Davis, Maynooth University and Caltech have created DNA molecules that can self-assemble by carrying out a Boolean logic computation. Highlighted in green is the “circuit diagram” made up of DNA tiles that fit together according to inputs and outputs. Below is an atomic force microscope image of a self-assembled DNA ribbon that carried out the same computation. In the background are other ribbons, with different barcode labels, that carried out different computations.
Computer scientists at the University of California, Davis, and the California Institute of Technology have created DNA molecules that can self-assemble into patterns essentially by running their own program. The work is published March 21 in the journal Nature.

"The ultimate goal is to use computation to grow structures and enable more sophisticated molecular engineering," said David Doty, assistant professor of computer science at UC Davis and co-first author on the paper.

The system is analogous to a computer, but instead of using transistors and diodes, it uses molecules to represent a six-bit binary number (for example, 011001). The team developed a variety of algorithms that can be computed by the molecules.

"We were surprised by the versatility of algorithms we were able to design, despite being limited to six-bit inputs," Doty said. The researchers were able to design and run 21 algorithms over the course of the experiments, demonstrating the potential of the system, he said.

Working initially as postdoctoral scholars with Professor Erik Winfree at Caltech, Doty and co-lead author Damien Woods, now at Maynooth University, Ireland, designed a library of short pieces, or tiles, of DNA. Each DNA tile consists of 42 bases (A, C, G or T) arranged in four domains of 10-11 bases. Each domain can represent a 1 or 0 and can stick to some of the domains on other tiles. No two tiles are a complete match.