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Mon, 25 Sep 2017
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Researchers say miniscule DNA robots could soon end need for major surgeries

© Demin Liu / California Institute of Technology
A conceptual illustration of two DNA robots sorting fluorescent molecules
Robots made out of single strands of DNA could soon be used to precisely target and treat some of the world's deadliest diseases.

Developed by researchers from the California Institute of Technology, the microscopic machines have feet, arms and hands included in their design so they can maneuver and pick up molecules. They then recognize specific drop-off points and respond to signals telling them when to drop their cargo.


Darker than asphalt: Hubble telescope captures images of pitch-black exoplanet

© NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
This artist’s impression shows the exoplanet WASP-12b — an alien world as black as fresh asphalt, orbiting a star like our Sun. Scientists were able to measure its albedo: the amount of light the planet reflects. The results showed that the planet is extremely dark at optical wavelengths.
Astronomers have discovered that the well-studied exoplanet WASP-12b reflects almost no light, making it appear essentially pitch black. This discovery sheds new light on the atmospheric composition of the planet and also refutes previous hypotheses about WASP-12b's atmosphere. The results are also in stark contrast to observations of another similarly sized exoplanet.

Using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, an international team led by astronomers at McGill University, Canada, and the University of Exeter, UK, have measured how much light the exoplanet WASP-12b reflects-its albedo-in order to learn more about the composition of its atmosphere.

The results were surprising, explains lead author Taylor Bell, a Master's student in astronomy at McGill University who is affiliated with the Institute for Research on Exoplanets: "The measured albedo of WASP-12b is 0.064 at most. This is an extremely low value, making the planet darker than fresh asphalt!" This makes WASP-12b two times less reflective than our Moon which has an albedo of 0.12. Bell adds: "The low albedo shows we still have a lot to learn about WASP-12b and other similar exoplanets."


Humans lost ancient viral defense mechanism

© KU Leuven
Insects and plants have an important ancient defence mechanism that helps them to fight viruses. This is encoded in their DNA. Scientists have long assumed that vertebrates - including humans - also had this same mechanism. But researchers at KU Leuven have found that vertebrates lost this particular asset in the course of their evolution.

The possibilities encoded in our DNA are expressed via RNA. Conversely, RNA interference (RNAi) can also suppress the expression of a specific gene. Insects and plants use this RNAi mechanism to defend themselves against viruses, among other things. With a little help, insects and plants can even be made resistant to certain diseases through this RNAi mechanism. Examples include so-called genetically modified crops.

It seems only logical to assume, then, that humans can be protected against specific diseases in a similar way. However, past experiments to this effect have proven to be a challenge. Researchers from the Animal Physiology and Neurobiology unit at KU Leuven have now shown why this is the case.


Electric eels leap to deliver painful, taser-like shock

The electric eel has always been noted for its impressive ability to shock and subdue its prey. It's recently become clear that electric eels also use a clever trick to deliver an intense, Taser-like jolt to potential predators: they leap from the water to target threatening animals, humans included, above water. Now, a researcher reporting in Current Biology on September 14 has measured (and experienced) just how strong that jolt can be.

Those stunning leaps make for a more painful experience because they prevent the eels' electrical discharges from weakening as they dissipate through the water.

"We've known these animals give off a huge amount of electricity, and everybody thought that was really amazing," says Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University. "But they aren't just simple animals that go around shocking stuff. They've evolved to produce stronger and stronger electrical discharges, and in concert they've evolved these behaviors to more efficiently use them."


Superfast lightwaves can be slowed to store data on a computer chip - study

© Mehau Kulyk / Getty Images
Scientists have converted light-based information into sound waves on a computer chip in a world first - paving the way for the development of more efficient computers.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have published details of their groundbreaking study in Nature.

"It is like the difference between thunder and lightning," said Dr Birgit Stiller, supervisor of the project at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS).

"The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain," according to Stiller.

The delay allows for the data to be briefly stored and managed inside the chip for processing, retrieval and further transmission as light waves.


Rare Moon 'occultation' is about to occur as it blocks view of three planets

© Voraorn Ratanakorn/Shutterstock.com
On September 18, the Moon will pass in front of three planets and one of the brightest stars in our night sky, all in less than 24 hours, marking a special lunar occultation.

An occultation might sound like some creepy ritual, but it's actually just the term astronomers use to denote that one celestial body is blocking out another one in the sky. And as far as lunar occultations go, this one's a rare sight.

The Moon will be passing in front of Venus, then the first-magnitude star Regulus, then Mars, and finally Mercury. As the Moon orbits our planet, it regularly travels in front of other objects in the sky, but it's rare to get a planetary alignment quite like this one.

The last time we had a lunar occultation of three planets within a 24-hour window was on 5 March 2008 (Mercury, Venus, and Neptune), and it won't be until 2036 when we get another one with three planets.


New look at dark energy: Research suggests accelerating expansion of the Universe may not be real, could be only an apparent effect

© Andrew Pontzen and Fabio Governato / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)
This is a computer-simulated image depicting one possible scenario of how light sources are distributed in the cosmic web.
The accelerating expansion of the Universe may not be real, but could just be an apparent effect, according to new research published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The new study-by a group at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand-finds the fit of Type Ia supernovae to a model universe with no dark energy to be very slightly better than the fit to the standard dark energy model.

Dark energy is usually assumed to form roughly 70% of the present material content of the Universe. However, this mysterious quantity is essentially a place-holder for unknown physics.

Current models of the Universe require this dark energy term to explain the observed acceleration in the rate at which the Universe is expanding. Scientists base this conclusion on measurements of the distances to supernova explosions in distant galaxies, which appear to be farther away than they should be if the Universe's expansion were not accelerating.


Research crew emerges from their Mars-like habitat after 8 months

In this 2017 photo released by the University of Hawaii crew members of Mission V, walk up hill with a cart next to the university's facility Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) at the Mauna Loa volcano, Big Island.
After eight months of living in isolation on a remote Hawaii volcano, six NASA-backed research subjects will emerge from their Mars-like habitat on Sunday and return to civilization.

Their first order of business after subsisting on mostly freeze-dried and canned food: Feast on fresh-picked pineapple, papaya, mango, locally grown vegetables and a fluffy, homemade egg strata cooked by their project's lead scientist.

The crew of four men and two women were quarantined on a vast plain below the summit of the world's largest active volcano in January. All of their communications with the outside world were subjected to a 20-minute delay-the time it takes for signals to get from Mars to Earth.

They are part of a study designed to better understand the psychological effects that a long-term manned mission to space would have on astronauts. The data they gathered will help NASA better pick crews that have certain traits and a better chance of doing well during a two-to-three year Mars expedition.


All-in-one vaccine: New method claims to combine every childhood vaccine into one shot

US researchers are said to be close to being able to deliver every required vaccine in a single go, and kids and parents both will benefit.

A new medical technology is in development by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to combine every single nasty hypodermic-needle inoculation into one single shot, a move that will surely cause many families to breathe a sigh of relief, and could go a long way toward eradicating stubborn diseases globally.

As described in the journal Science, the technology - a method of storing all those necessary vaccines in microcapsules that release within the body at specific times - has worked successfully in mice, according to a report by the BBC.

Comment: One can only assume how potentially devastating this new all-in-one vaccine will be considering in the documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, they showed what happened when they combined measles, mumps and rubella into one vaccine and how Autism rates skyrocketed. See also:


Research finds the bilingual brain calculates differently depending on the language used

People can intuitively recognize small numbers up to four; however, when calculating they depend on the assistance of language. In this respect, the fascinating research question ensues: how do multilingual people solve arithmetical tasks presented to them in different languages of which they have a very good command? The question will gain in importance in the future, as an increasingly globalized job market and accelerated migration will mean that ever more people seek work and study outside of the linguistic area of their home countries.

This question was investigated by a research team led by Dr Amandine Van Rinsveld and Professor Dr Christine Schiltz from the Cognitive Science and Assessment Institute (COSA) at the University of Luxembourg. For the purpose of the study, the researchers recruited subjects with Luxembourgish as their mother tongue, who successfully completed their schooling in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and continued their academic studies in francophone universities in Belgium. Thus, the study subjects mastered both the German and French languages perfectly. As Luxembourger students, they took maths classes in primary schools in German and then in secondary schools in French.

Comment: See also:
Are bilingual's brains wired differently?
Bilingual Babies' Vocabulary Linked to Early Brain Differentiation