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Fri, 23 Jun 2017
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Science & Technology


Were LIGO's gravity wave detections all noise? Independent analysis suggests that may be the case

© LIGO, NSF, A. Simonnet (SSU)
The 30-ish solar mass binary black holes first observed by LIGO are likely from the merger of direct collapse black holes. But a new publication challenges the analysis of the LIGO collaboration, and the very existence of these mergers.
After an effort of more than 100 years and a collaboration involving over 1,000 scientists, we all celebrated. It was Feb. 11, 2016, and LIGO had just announced their first direct detection of gravitational waves. Analysis of the data attributed the signal to a black hole merger that happened several billion light years away. But what if there wasn't a signal at all, but rather patterns and correlations in the noise that fooled us into believing we were seeing something that wasn't real? A group of Danish researchers just submitted a paper arguing that the celebration might have been premature.

A team of five researchers — James Creswell, Sebastian von Hausegger, Andrew D. Jackson, Hao Liu and Pavel Naselsky — from the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, presented their own analysis of the openly available LIGO data. And, unlike the LIGO collaboration itself, they come to a disturbing conclusion: that these gravitational waves might not be signals at all, but rather patterns in the noise that have hoodwinked even the best scientists working on this puzzle.

Better Earth

Pacific invasion: Bizarre asexual, glow-in-the-dark sea creatures

© rowandemboats / Instagram
The creatures can reproduce asexually.
A party of pyrosomes invading the Pacific is causing great concern that the non-native creature could damage the area's food chain. Millions of the translucent, cucumber-shaped species have been spotted much further north than their usual haunts.

Typically found in the Tropics, pyrosomes - meaning 'fire bodies' due to their bioluminescence - have been spotted in the waters off Alaska and British Columbia. One fisherman told National Geographicthat when he dragged up 50 fishing hooks they were on almost every one.

"It got to the point where they couldn't effectively fish," Leon Shaul of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said.


DNA replication filmed for the first time, and it's not what we expected

It undermines a great deal of what's in the textbooks.
Here's proof of how far we've come in science - in a world-first, researchers have recorded up-close footage of a single DNA molecule replicating itself, and it's raising questions about how we assumed the process played out.

The real-time footage has revealed that this fundamental part of life incorporates an unexpected amount of 'randomness', and it could force a major rethink into how genetic replication occurs without mutations.

"It's a real paradigm shift, and undermines a great deal of what's in the textbooks," says one of the team, Stephen Kowalczykowski from the University of California, Davis. "It's a different way of thinking about replication that raises new questions."

The DNA double helix consists of two intertwining strands of genetic material made up of four different bases - guanine, thymine, cytosine, and adenine (G, T, C and A). Replication occurs when an enzyme called helicase unwinds and unzips the double helix into two single strands. A second enzyme called primase attaches a 'primer' to each of these unravelled strands, and a third enzyme called DNA polymerase attaches at this primer, and adds additional bases to form a whole new double helix. You can watch that process in the new footage below:

Comment: Perhaps there is a rational design that remains to be learned. For more information, see: The Cs Hit List 09: DNA, Rational Design and the Origins of Life


New study shows shifting water weight can trigger small earthquakes in California

© Reuters/Robert Galbreath
Water shapes California powerfully, deluging the state with El Niño - generated rainfalls and drying it out with punishing droughts. Now, a new study suggests that water may play yet another role: triggering earthquakes.

Scientists for decades have tried to understand how different natural forces, pressing on Earth's surface, might help explain changes in earthquake rates, with mixed results. The pulsing of the tides has been one long-standing suspect, but their effect is weak or nonexistent. In the Himalayas, rains from the annual monsoon season have also been found to affect quake frequency. And in California, criss-crossed with faults and at the center of grinding tectonic plates, quake activity seems to increase regularly in the autumn along part of the San Andreas fault—during the driest time of year.

To find out whether precipitation was playing a role, geophysicist Christopher Johnson, a recent Ph.D. graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, set out with colleagues to gather data from a network of 661 GPS sensors scattered around the state. The units are sensitive enough to detect when the ground rises or sinks by a few millimeters because of water weight, groundwater pumping, and tides, among other things.

Cell Phone

Hitachi develops breath analyzer smartphone device with facial recognition

© Japan Times
Hitachi Ltd. has developed a smartphone-connected device to prevent drunken driving by detecting alcohol from a person's breath while employing facial recognition technology to prevent the person from using a substitute.

The device will allow taxi and parcel delivery services to make sure their drivers are alcohol-free. Hitachi will begin a field test in August with employees at a subsidiary in preparation for commercialization.

The device, which weighs 20 grams, needs to be attached to a smartphone and is operated through an application on the phone.

When a driver breathes into the device before getting into a vehicle, the smartphone camera takes a photo of the person. The device will confirm if the person who took the breath test is the same as the one driving by having the smartphone take another facial image once the driver is aboard, Hitachi said.


Georgia Tech researchers: 4D printing could hold the key to humanity's future in space

© Georgia Tech / YouTube
Innovation over the last decade has seen a massive proliferation of 3D-printing technology, but 4D printing, where time plays a crucial role in the final structure, could be the future of human space exploration and habitation, according to researchers.

The rather unique solution comes courtesy of the Georgia Institute of Technology and may resolve multiple problems plaguing not only the commercial space exploration industry, but also the biomedical and medical instruments industries.

Georgia Tech's method of '4D printing' relies on temperature change over time in order for initially 3D-printed structures to rise and take their final forms.

4D printing relies on a principle known as tensegrity, a system in which the perfect combination of light, strong and collapsible structures can take a robust form based around the perfect balance of tension between their constituent parts. Essentially, it would be flat-pack furniture on a bigger scale - in space.

Blue Planet

What caused the mysterious bend in the Hawaiian-Emperor chain?

© T. Torsvik et al. (GFZ)
The Hawaiian-Emperor Chain is an example of a hotspot track - a trail of volcanic islands and seamounts created on a lithospheric plate as the plate slowly shifts over a spot of localized melting sourced by a jet of hot material rising from the deep mantle (mantle plume).
The volcanic islands of Hawaii represent the youngest end of a 80 million years old and roughly 6,000 kilometres long mountain chain on the ground of the Pacific Ocean. The so-called Hawaiian-Emperor chain consisting of dozens of volcanoes is well known for its peculiar 60 degrees bend.

The cause for this bend has been heavily debated for decades. One explanation is an abrupt change in the motion of the Pacific tectonic plate, the opposite model states southward drift of the mantle plume that has sourced the chain since its beginning 80 million years ago. Apparently both processes play an important role, shows a new study in Nature Communications, published by a group of scientists from the University of Oslo, German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ Potsdam, and Utrecht University.

Many volcanic ocean islands are created by columnar shaped hot upwellings called mantle plumes that originate near the ~3000 km deep base of Earth's mantle. Mantle plumes are not much influenced by surface motions of the tectonic plates that slowly move over them. Hence, long linear chains of plume-sourced volcanoes that get older and older with increasing distance from active hotspots can be tracked for hundreds to thousands of kilometres.
In the Hawaiian hotspot trail, the Hawaii islands are the youngest in the chain that stretches nearly 6,000 km to Detroit seamount in the northwest Pacific, where volcanism occurred about 80 million years ago. An unprecedented 60 degrees bend characterizes the Hawaiian-Emperor Chain, dividing it into the older Emperor Chain and the younger Hawaiian Chain. The bend has been dated to 47 Ma.


Researchers publish how they made the H7N9 virus more transmissable

In 2014, a moratorium was placed on federally funded research which involved making flu viruses more lethal. The moratorium was placed after heated debate generated by research published by a Netherlands team, headed up by Ron Fouchier. Fouchier's research had produced a strain of H5N1 which was able to go airborne, thus greatly enhancing its ability to spread. Fouchier focused on the transmission of the disease among ferrets, which are the lab stand-in for people.
Now, scientists in California have published research concerning enabling the human-to-human transmission of the bird flu virus H7N9. This virus strain is of concern to scientists as it has already infected 1500 people and killed 40% of them. H7N9 has not been known, however, to spread easily from human contact.

The article explaining the three genetic changes which need to be made to transform H7N9 into a virtual pandemic agent was published on June 15, 2017 in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

According to Scripps biologist Jim Paulsen, as quoted in an NPR article, "As scientists we're interested in how the virus works.... We're trying to just understand the virus so that we can be prepared."

Comment: Why on earth are scientists trying to make the flu virus or any other virus more lethal? Because the US military is always looking for better and more efficient ways to kill lots of people. What could possibly go wrong?

Alarm Clock

Weaponized plants: Pentagon's synthetic organisms could 'militarize the environment'

© SeniorJ Deviant Art
What if you were deemed a fugitive 20 years from now, for doing something such as vocally speaking out against the status quo, growing cannabis, or going against the grain of the system. Then one day, you're walking in some rural area you escaped to in order to avoid capture by the state, and the environment recognizes your identity and becomes weaponized to you.

The moss in the woods recognizes your biological footprint and creates a toxin to anesthetize you until authorities arrive to place you under arrest. The trees in this forest are not even equipped with cameras, but engineered, synthetic organisms with a biological code connected to a database that recognizes you are a fugitive and responds by creating toxins.

Although the idea of a fugitive being specifically targeted by intelligent synthetic biology is a particularly far-fetched scenario, fully engineered, synthetic ecosystems weaponized against people are something the Pentagon is actually working on.

DARPA is flirting with creating environments where every organism is engineered to perform biological tasks, from creating chemicals to being weaponized. The trees, moss, grass, insects, bacteria, and soil of an ecosystem could be engineered to release toxins on people, or put people to sleep until the state's forces arrive, or perform any function they can engineer an organism to do.


Deep-space travel, colonization may rely on genetically engineered life forms

© Genetic Literacy Project
Genetic biotechnology is usually discussed in the context of current and emerging applications here on Earth, and rightly so, since we still live exclusively in our planetary cradle. But as humanity looks outward, we ponder what kind of life we ought to take with us to support outposts and eventually colonies off the Earth.

While the International Space Station (ISS) and the various spacecraft that ferry astronauts on short bouts through space depend on consumables brought up from Earth to maintain life support, this approach will not be practical for extensive lunar missions, much less long term occupation of more distant sites. If we're to build permanent bases, and eventually colonies, on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, moons of outer planets or in free space, we'll need recycling life support systems. This means air, water, and food replenished through microorganisms and plants, and it's not a new idea.

Space exploration enthusiasts have been talking about it for decades, and it's the most obvious application of microorganisms and plants transplanted from Earth. What is new, however, is the prospect of a comprehensive use of synthetic biology for a wide range of off-Earth outpost and colonization applications.

To this end, considering human outposts on the Moon and Mars, a study from scientists based at NASA Ames Research Center and the University of California at Berkeley examined the potential of genetic technology, not only to achieve biologically based life support systems, but also to facilitate other activities that must be sustained on colony worlds. Not discussed as often with biotechnology and space exploration in the same conversation, these other activities include creation of rocket propellant, synthesis of polymers, and production of pharmaceuticals. Together with the life support system, they paint a picture of the beckoning era of space activity that puts synthetic biology at center stage.

Although written specifically in the context of lunar and Martian outposts, the proposed biologically based technical infrastructure is just as applicable to a colony on less frequently discussed worlds, such as the dwarf planet Ceres or an outer planet moon, or to a colony that orbits in the Earth moon system.