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Tue, 16 Oct 2018
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Russian scientists isolate bacteria which neutralizes nuclear waste

Nuclear Waste
© Gualtiero Boffi
The unique bacteria, discovered in a nuclear waste storage site in Siberia, shows promise as a tool for the creation of a natural barrier to the spread of radionuclides.

Researchers from the Moscow-based Frumkin Institute of Physical Chemistry and the Russian Academy of Sciences' Federal Research Center for Biotechnology have been able to isolate microorganisms which can be used to safeguard the surrounding environment from liquid radioactive waste.

Comment: The discovery extends research done in the UK.
Certain microbes can use radionuclides such as uranium and neptunium in place of oxygen, studies have found. In doing so, they convert them from soluble to insoluble forms, making them less mobile.

This should give us more confidence in waste disposal plans, says Jonathan Lloyd, a geomicrobiologist at the University of Manchester, UK, who presented the research at the annual meeting of the Microbiology Society in Edinburgh last week.

It had been thought that the presence of cement would result in conditions too alkaline for microbes to grow - it has a pH of around 11, similar to bleach. To see if this was so, Lloyd's team studied a lime kiln site in the UK's Peak District to see if microbes could be found growing in conditions similar to those that would be expected in a nuclear disposal site. "We went to see if there was biology there and there was," says Lloyd. "We found they could grow at pH values you would probably find developing around these cementitious waste forms."

The radiation levels typically found at nuclear waste dumps don't seem to pose a problem for bacteria either.

"It doesn't kill them," says Lloyd. "If anything, it actually stimulates the microbes."

The study found that the way bacteria process waste products means hazardous material is less likely to seep into the environment. Some nuclear waste contains cellulose, which can break down to form isosaccharinic acid (ISA) under alkaline conditions. ISA can form a soluble complex with uranium, helping it to leak out of the waste repository. But bacteria seem to use ISA as a carbon source and degrade it, keeping radionuclides in solid form - which means they stay in place.

Microbes may also help prevent radioactive gases escaping. Hydrogen produced by reactions in the repositories could build up pressure and cause them to crack open or explode. But microbes can use hydrogen and keep the levels down. They can also grow in fractures in the rock, form biofilms and clog up pores.

"At the moment, they have safety case models that are built on chemistry and physical containment. If you start including the biology, it means that those models are actually overly conservative, which is a good thing," says Lloyd.


Scientists puzzled as to why Earth's mantle convection has stalled

Earth core mantle
© REUTERS/Terray Sylvester
Scientists have diagnosed the Earth as having a bizarre geological condition known as 'stagnant slabs', meaning tectonic rocks subducted into the fiery hot mantle mysteriously become wedged hundreds of miles below the surface.

But researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder believe they have discovered the reason for what appears to be a glitch in the Earth's internal mechanism.

Using computer simulations of seismic activities under the Pacific Ocean, scientists found that slabs of rocky tectonic plates may be temporarily obstructed from falling seamlessly into the subduction, by an obstacle at a certain point in the Earth's mantle that is like a "thin, weak" layer of material.


New imaging technique lets scientists see one molecule through the 'eyes' of another

molecule representation

CO is a molecule with a rather unique form of triple bond, which can stretch and vibrate to a relatively impressive extent.
Molecules, or singular units of substances such as proteins or gases, react to each other through a complex, and finite, set of properties. These include the electrical attributes that may repel or draw one atom away from (or toward) another; electrical charges acting on different chemical bonds, as well as a number of other smaller forces often named after the scientists who discover them (e.g., Pauli or Stark forces). These factors determine how different molecules interact, and, ultimately, build up what we think of as the matter around us.

Imaging Molecular Interactions

Molecular interactions are a fundamental component of chemistry. Advanced technologies allow modern-day scientists to visualize or project increasingly clear and accurate images of how different chemicals really 'look' based on them. In fact, they are even integrated into these techniques themselves. These improved imaging techniques may one day help scientists to visualize how different molecules really look like in their natural state. More traditional techniques, such as X-ray crystallography, have done a good enough job.


IBM computer creates 'quantum artificial life' for the first time

Artificial Life
© Shutterstock
For the first time, an international team of researchers has used a quantum computer to create artificial life-a simulation of living organisms that scientists can use to understand life at the level of whole populations all the way down to cellular interactions.

With the quantum computer, individual living organisms represented at a microscopic level with superconducting qubits were made to "mate," interact with their environment, and "die" to model some of the major factors that influence evolution.

The new research, published in Scientific Reports on Thursday, is a breakthrough that may eventually help answer the question of whether the origin of life can be explained by quantum mechanics, a theory of physics that describes the universe in terms of the interactions between subatomic particles.

Modeling quantum artificial life is a new approach to one of the most vexing questions in science: How does life emerge from inert matter, such as the "primordial soup" of organic molecules that once existed on Earth?

Erwin Schrödinger first proposed that the answer might lie in the quantum realm in 1944 in his seminal book on the topic, What is Life?. But progress has been delayed by difficulties in creating the powerful quantum computers needed to power the simulations that can answer this question.

Unlike the normal, "classical" computers you're using to read this article, which only process information in binary bits-units of information whose value can either be a one or a zero-quantum computers make use of qubits, whose information value can be a combination of both one and zero. This property, known as superposition, means that large-scale quantum computers will have vastly more information-processing power than classical computers.


Renewable energy plan: Russia starts exports of locally-produced solar panels to Europe

Solar panel and cow
© Alexandr Kryazhev / Sputnik
First batches of Russian-produced solar panels have been supplied to Europe, according to First Deputy Energy Minister Alexey Texler.

"Export supplies have been started already, particularly from the Novocheboksarsk plant to Europe," he said on the sidelines of the Russian Energy Week on Friday.

Texler explained that Russia is currently implementing a program in support of renewable energy planned until 2024. The extension of the program will help power engineering companies, particularly to launch equipment exports to international markets.

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The Truth Perspective: An Alternative to Nihilistic Postmodernism: Whitehead's Process Philosophy

Alfred North Whitehead Ray Griffin Postmodern Philosophy
If postmodern philosophy is wrong, what should replace it? Is a return to 'modern' or even 'pre-modern' thought necessary? Or is there another option? This week on the Truth Perspective we'll be discussing the radically different form of postmodernism developed by mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, called process philosophy.

In this truly post-modernist philosophy, change, or rather the process of becoming, is regarded as more than just accidental or illusory and is made the cornerstone of our reality. Where everything, from the smallest particle to the universe itself, has experience, acts with at least some degree of spontaneity, and is striving to reach ever higher ideals. An elegant merger of science and religion with far-reaching implications, process philosophy opens the door for morality, truth and objective reality to once again claim their right to exist.

Running Time: 01:22:23

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Scientists publish scathing article accusing DARPA of genetically modifying insects for use as bioweapon to spread agricultural viruses

DARPA bioweapons
In a scathing report issued this week, researchers with the Science Policy Forum have accused the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of creating a technology-ostensibly used to genetically modify crops with insects-but that could be converted into a dangerous and illegal bioweapon.

The current program is being funded by the Pentagon's darling "research" arm DARPA - who last year was found to be spending millions on "genetic extinction technology" that could wipe out entire species. DARPA's new project, dubbed "Insect Allies" involves releasing fleets of genetically modified insects onto crops which would "infect" plants with a special virus that would genetically modify the plant on location.

Comment: See also: Defensive bioweapon? DARPA wants insects to spread genetically modified viruses... to 'save crops'


Too much of a good thing - Animals that go wild for your pee

© Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock)
Last month, visitors to Washington's Olympic National Park were treated to a surreal sight. A helicopter crossed the sky dangling strands of drugged, blindfolded mountain goats - as many as five at a time - like a string of furry pearls.

In the end, more than 100 goats were airlifted from the park and shipped to new homes across the state, all because they loved human pee too much.

Lacking the dietary minerals they'd find in their natural range, park officials say some of the goats (which were introduced to the area in the 1920s) have become "quite aggressive" when seeking human sources of salt. Namely, urine.

"They learn that salt comes from people and people pee on trails, so they follow you down the trail and wait until you pee," said Dr Patti Happe, the park's wildlife branch chief. "People think that goats are chasing them when really they're just following them, waiting for a handout."

But mountain goats aren't alone in their quest for liquid gold. A surprising number of creatures - from reindeer to locusts - have a known affinity for human urine. And for some species, this craving for our minerals has dramatically shaped their behaviour.

Magic Hat

Scientists unveil plan to stave off global pandemics with a Noah's Ark... of bacteria

test tubes
© Ints Kalnins / Reuters
A Noah's Ark of germs may not sound like the most appealing doomsday plan, but scientists believe such a collection could help save us from the threat of out of control pandemics caused by the effects of industrialization.

A group of researchers have warned that we are facing "a growing global health crisis," as the microbes that live in our bodies and help us fight illness are being erased due to growing urbanization, increased dependency on antibiotics, and processed foods.


Microbiota are the ecological communities of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other colonizers that live in or on our bodies. They are essential to immunity, nutrition and hormone activity. Our microbiomes are largely passed from mothers to children over generations and affect human development.

"These microbes co-evolved with humans over hundreds of millennia. They help us digest food, strengthen our immune system and protect against invading germs," Dr. Maria Dominguez-Bello of the Rutgers-New Brunswick's Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology explains. "Over a handful of generations, we have seen a staggering loss in microbial diversity linked with a worldwide spike in immune and other disorders."


Study claims 2017 earthquake off Mexico broke through an entire tectonic plate

mexico earthquake map
Map of shaking intensity around the epicenter of the September 8, 2017 magnitude 8.2 earthquake

Magnitude 8.2 in Mexico involved more fault movement than thought possible

September 2017 saw a pair of weird earthquakes in Mexico. A magnitude 8.2 on September 8 just offshore the state of Chiapas was followed by a magnitude 7.1 on September 19-this time much closer to Mexico City, causing considerable destruction there. While the two earthquakes were not connected, they were the same type of earthquake, which is unusual in the region.

Mexico's western coast is a tectonic plate boundary, where the oceanic plate collides with and dives beneath the continent. That means that earthquakes along that boundary are typically the result of compressive force that squeezes rock to slide up the plane of the fault. Both September earthquakes were the result of stretching, however, which is almost as much of a head-scratcher as finding that part of your car's engine was pulled apart during a head-on crash.

The explanation here is that as the oceanic plate disappears beneath the continent, it sinks downward into the mantle. First of all, the bending of the plate downward causes stretching, just as the skin over your elbow has to stretch. Second, the sinking plate pulls downward as it "hangs" from the part of the plate that is still up at the surface-another stretching force. Occasional earthquakes within this bending, sinking plate can reflect that stretching.

A new study led by the University of Oregon's Diego Malgar found something even weirder, though. Counter to what we thought possible, the fault seems to have broken clean through the entire tectonic plate.