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Thu, 20 Jul 2017
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Science & Technology


A cure for baldness?

© Playbuzz
Scientists have made a breakthrough that could eventually help lead to a cure for baldness.

They discovered that in animals individual hairs communicate with each other to form an even covering all over the body, vital for furry creatures to survive in different climates.

But, in humans, that signalling pathway appears to break down in certain areas, such as the front of the scalp and the crown in men, leading to bald patches alongside lush hair growth.

By identifying the mechanism that allows hair to 'talk' to each other, the researchers from University of California, Irvine, hope to find a way to restore it in humans to eliminate hair loss and balding.

They also hope to be able to use their discovery to find a way to help those who suffer from too much hair in certain parts of the body, lead researcher Maksim Plikus told the online journal eLife.

Plikus, assistant professor of development and cell biology, worked out the interaction between hair follicles on a system called the 'Wnt-BMP signals' along pathways in the body.

A study of mice shows this is how different parts of the body communicate with each other to use proteins to regenerate or regulate hair growth.


Ominous milestone: Scientists form synthetic version of extinct horsepox virus in lab

© John Hopkins University
In a laboratory in Alberta, Canada, a team of scientists recently pieced together overlapping segments of mail order DNA to form a synthetic version of an extinct virus.

Their ominous milestone—successfully synthesizing horsepox, a relative of the deadly smallpox virus, which was declared eradicated in 1980—has raised a conundrum in the scientific community: What are the implications of conducting research that has the potential to grow biological knowledge, but also harm public health and safety?

In a blog post for the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, Tom Inglesby, the center's director, weighs in on the debate. Inglesby—an expert in public health preparedness, pandemic and infectious diseases, and response to biological threats—discusses the issues raised by the study, the difficulty in publishing this kind of science, and the potential regulatory fallout now that biological synthesis on this scale has been proven possible.


Stunning detail of Jupiter's mysterious Great Red Spot captured in 'closest ever' photos by Juno spacecraft

NASA's Juno spacecraft completed its closest ever flyby of Jupiter's iconic Great Red Spot, capturing some stunning images in the process.

A number of the images have now been sent back to Earth for all to enjoy, detailing the gas giant's 'Great Red Spot' - a gigantic high-pressure zone twice the size of Earth.

Scientists say the spot, monitored since 1830, is a massive swirling storm, possibly hammering the solar system's biggest planet for over 350 years.


Cannibalism: A new way to stop disease transmission?

© Ben Van Allen/UCSD
A large fall armyworm is about to cannibalize a smaller diseased armyworm of the same age.
Cannibalism may be just what the doctor ordered, according to a new study that will be published in American Naturalist led by former LSU postdoctoral researcher and current University of California, San Diego, or UCSD, postdoctoral researcher Benjamin Van Allen, along with other individuals in Bret Elderd lab's at LSU and Volker Rudolf's lab at Rice University.

LSU Department of Biological Sciences Associate Professor Bret Elderd investigates how various factors affect disease transmission in insects, particularly in Lepidoptera, an order of insects that includes butterflies and moths. With his lab group, Elderd looks at how factors including protective chemicals produced by plants that insects eat and changes in temperature can either quicken or dampen the spread of disease. By studying these and other factors, Elderd's work may help other researchers create environmentally friendly bioinsecticides to protect crops like soybeans, for example. But Van Allen, Elderd and colleagues are finding that cannibalism may be an understudied factor in the spread of disease.


A 75,000-mile-wide spot has appeared on the sun - and experts warn it could knock out communications satellites and cause blackouts on Earth

This sunspot is the first to appear after the sun was spotless for 2 days. Like freckles on the face of the sun, they appear to be small features, but size is relative: The dark core of this sunspot is larger than Earth as shown by this graphic
A huge spot has appeared on the sun that could send dangerous solar flares down to Earth.

The sunspot, dubbed AR2665, is 74,560 miles (120,000 kilometres) wide - big enough to be seen from Earth.

Experts have warned that the spot is large enough to produce 'M-class' solar flares, which can cause radio blackouts on Earth, knock out communications satellites and create radiation storms.

Nasa's Solar Dynamics Observatory first detected the huge spot last week, and it appears to have lingered through to this week.

Sunspots are darker, cooler areas on the surface of the sun, caused by interactions with the sun's magnetic field.

They tend to appear in regions of intense magnetic activity, and when that energy is released, solar flares and huge storms erupt from sunspots.


Boyajian's star: Another possibility

© NASA/JPL/Cal Tech
An illustration depicts what Boyajian's star may look like. The star demonstrates inexplicable changes in brightness, and one hypothesis, illustrated here, is that pieces of a broken planet are blocking the star's light.
The unusual light curve of the star KIC 8462852, also known as "Tabby's star" or "Boyajian's star", has puzzled us since its discovery last year. A new study now explores whether the star's missing flux is due to internal blockage rather than something outside of the star.

Mysterious Dips

Boyajian's star shows unusual episodes of dimming in its light curve by as much as 20%, each lasting a few to tens of days and separated by periods of typically hundreds of days. In addition, archival observations show that it has gradually faded by roughly 15% over the span of the last hundred years. What could be causing both the sporadic flux dips and the long-term fading of this odd star?

Explanations thus far have varied from mundane to extreme. Alien megastructures, pieces of smashed planets or comets orbiting the star, and intervening interstellar medium have all been proposed as possible explanations — but these require some object external to the star. A new study by researcher Peter Foukal proposes an alternative: what if the source of the flux obstruction is the star itself?

Comment: See also: Mystery of 'alien megastructure' star still baffles astronomers


Chinese researchers just teleported the first object from the ground to Earth's orbit

© shutterstock
Not long ago, in the early 1990s, scientists only speculated that teleportation using quantum physics could be possible.

Since then, the process has become a standard operation in quantum optics labs around the world. In fact, just last year, two teams conducted the world's first quantum teleportation outside a laboratory.

Now, researchers in China have taken the process a few steps further: They successfully teleported a photon from Earth to a satellite orbiting more than 311 miles away.

The satellite, called Micius, is a highly sensitive photo receiver capable of detecting the quantum states of single photons fired from the ground. Micius was launched to allow scientists to test various technological building blocks for quantum feats including entanglement, cryptography, and teleportation.

This teleportation feat was announced as one of the first results of these experiments. The group not only teleported the first object from the ground to orbit but also created the first satellite-to-ground quantum network, smashing the record for the longest distance for which entanglement has been measured.


Researchers: Messy desks may be a sign of genius

What does your work space say about you? (Mark Twain pictured)
Is your desk overflowing with scraps of paper, coffee cups, envelopes and wilted plants? Well, far from being idle, it turns out you might just be a creative genius.

In world where 'cleanliness is next to godliness' is a well-valued idiom, being a messy person can often be mistaken as a hallmark of laziness. But thanks to a recent study, researchers have found there is a method to this madness.

Proving that sometimes working in mess is much more productive than precision and order, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that creative geniuses favor a chaotic workspace.


Better than Star Wars: Chemists invent technology for making animated 3-D table-top objects by structuring light

SMU chemist Dr. Alex Lippert and his lab developed the SMU 3-D light pad (shown here). It includes an ultraviolet projector and a visible projector, which project patterns of light into a chamber of photoactivatable dye. Wherever the UV light intersects with the green light it generates a 3-dimensional image inside the chamber.
A scientist's dream of 3-D projections like those he saw years ago in a Star Wars movie has led to new technology for making animated 3-D table-top objects by structuring light.

The new technology uses photoswitch molecules to bring to life 3-D light structures that are viewable from 360 degrees, says chemist Alexander Lippert, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, who led the research.

The economical method for shaping light into an infinite number of volumetric objects would be useful in a variety of fields, from biomedical imaging, education and engineering, to TV, movies, video games and more.

"Our idea was to use chemistry and special photoswitch molecules to make a 3-D display that delivers a 360-degree view," Lippert said. "It's not a hologram, it's really three-dimensionally structured light."

Key to the technology is a molecule that switches between non-fluorescent and fluorescent in reaction to the presence or absence of ultraviolet light.

The new technology is not a hologram, and differs from 3-D movies or 3-D computer design. Those are flat displays that use binocular disparity or linear perspective to make objects appear three-dimensional when in fact they only have height and width and lack a true volume profile.


The curious connections between quantum entanglement, UFOs and black budgets

Quantum entanglement: a phenomenon that Einstein thought was so "spooky" that there was no way it could be valid, posits that the "space" between physical objects isn't actually empty space as our senses perceive it to be, but rather, that either information is travelling faster than the speed of light, or even better, instantaneously with no "time" involved.

It implies that everything is connected, that if there was a "big bang," it happened when all physical matter was one, and then exploded out into little pieces that spread throughout the cosmos. The tricky part to understand is that all those little piece, those plants, those starts, and all the intelligent life that has most certainly formed, is still all connected in some sort of way we have yet to understand.