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Tue, 27 Jun 2017
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Cassiopaea

3bn years old and 3bn light years away black hole cosmic wave detected in 2017

© Reuters
Albert Einstein's once-theoretical gravitational waves were detected in January for only the third time in history, scientists announced Thursday.

The waves are ripples in space which permeate through time when two black holes smash together to create a supermassive one.

Einstein predicted gravitational waves over a century ago but they remained elusive until September 2015 when scientists working with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) picked up the cosmic vibrations.

These vibrations are caused when massive celestial objects - in this latest case two black holes - smash together and merge, triggering ripples in space that echo through time and are picked up by LIGO here on Earth.

Beaker

In world-first trials scientists are using embryonic stem cells to treat Parkinson's and blindness

© nobeastsofierce/Shutterstock
This is happening.

In a world first, surgeons in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou are planning to inject stem cells derived from human embryos into the brains of patients with Parkinson's disease with the aim of treating their debilitating symptoms.

Meanwhile, another medical team in the same city is aiming to target vision loss using embryonic stem cells (ESC) to replace lost cells in the retina, marking a new direction in China in the wake of major changes in how the country regulates stem cell treatments.

While similar treatments on Parkinson's patients have already been tested in Australia, those trials relied on cells taken from eggs that were forced to divide without first being fertilized in an effort to circumvent any ethical concerns.

Stem cells are a little like blank slates that are yet to take on a specific task. If you rewind the clock on any of your body's tissues, its cells will become less specialized, until you're left with a cell with a lot of potential to become nearly anything.

Airplane

World's largest airplane rolls out of its hanger for first time

© April Keller / Stratolaunch Systems Corp / AFP
The world's largest airplane - designed to reshape space travel by launching rockets mid-air into orbit from 30,000 ft - rolled out of its hangar for the first time Wednesday at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the US.

The groundbreaking plane, which looks like two aircraft joined together, is the brainchild of billionaire Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen and his private spaceflight company Stratolaunch. Allen founded the company in 2011 with the goal of making access to low-Earth orbit more "convenient, reliable and routine."

It has the biggest wingspan of any aircraft ever built, coming in 385ft (117 meters), longer than an NFL field which is 360ft in length.

Airplane

Delta and JetBlue will test replacing boarding passes with facial and fingerprint recognition technology

© Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
JetBlue Airways Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc. will test facial- and fingerprint-recognition technology at two U.S. airports to replace boarding passes, building on industry efforts to increase security and ease passage through airports.

The JetBlue program will start next month on flights from Boston to Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport, the airline said in a statement Wednesday. It will match passenger photos to their passport or visa photos. Delta has been trying fingerprint identification in Washington that may eventually replace boarding passes.

The testing highlights efforts by carriers to speed customers through congested airports while increasing security. Europe's KLM airline in February began using face-scanning technology for boarding at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Delta this month said it would attempt a self-serve process for checking bags at one airport using facial recognition.

"We hope to learn how we can further reduce friction points in the airport experience, with the boarding process being one of the hardest to solve," Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue's executive vice president for customer experience, said in the statement.

Fireball 2

Asteroid strike may have 'tipped axis' of Saturn's moon Enceladus

© saturn.jpl.nasa.gov
Saturn's moon Enceladus may have been tipped after being struck by an asteroid at some point in the distant past, according to research from NASA's Cassini mission.

The team found that the moon appeared to have unsettled from its original axis by around 55 degrees - more than halfway toward rolling completely onto its side.

"We found a chain of low areas, or basins, that trace a belt across the moon's surface that we believe are the fossil remnants of an earlier, previous equator and poles," said Radwan Tajeddine, a Cassini imaging team associate.

Brain

The cognitive differences between males and females

When Nirao Shah decided in 1998 to study sex-based differences in the brain using up-to-the-minute molecular tools, he didn't have a ton of competition. But he did have a good reason.

"I wanted to find and explore neural circuits that regulate specific behaviors," says Shah, then a newly minted Caltech PhD who was beginning a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia. So, he zeroed in on sex-associated behavioral differences in mating, parenting and aggression.

"These behaviors are essential for survival and propagation," says Shah, MD, PhD, now a Stanford professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurobiology. "They're innate rather than learned — at least in animals — so the circuitry involved ought to be developmentally hard-wired into the brain. These circuits should differ depending on which sex you're looking at."

His plan was to learn what he could about the activity of genes tied to behaviors that differ between the sexes, then use that knowledge to help identify the neuronal circuits — clusters of nerve cells in close communication with one another — underlying those behaviors.

At the time, this was not a universally popular idea. The neuroscience community had largely considered any observed sex-associated differences in cognition and behavior in humans to be due to the effects of cultural influences. Animal researchers, for their part, seldom even bothered to use female rodents in their experiments, figuring that the cyclical variations in their reproductive hormones would introduce confounding variability into the search for fundamental neurological insights.

But over the past 15 years or so, there's been a sea change as new technologies have generated a growing pile of evidence that there are inherent differences in how men's and women's brains are wired and how they work.

Not how well they work, mind you. Our differences don't mean one sex or the other is better or smarter or more deserving. Some researchers have grappled with charges of "neuro­sexism": falling prey to stereotypes or being too quick to interpret human sex differences as biological rather than cultural. They counter, however, that data from animal research, cross-​cultural surveys, natural experiments and brain-imaging studies demonstrate real, if not always earthshaking, brain differences, and that these differences may contribute to differences in behavior and cognition.

Info

NASA to release artificial clouds in the sky above Maryland coast

© Wikimedia Commons
NASA will begin testing a new system on Tuesday that entails the release of artificial clouds, along with a sounding rocket launch. The luminescent clouds will be released into the environment above the Mid-Atlantic coast in hopes of learning more about the ionosphere.

The test is scheduled to begin at 4:25 a.m. and last until 4:42 a.m. A sounding rocket will be launched from the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's eastern shore.

Cell Phone

Most smartphone apps share your data with 3rd party services

Our mobile phones can reveal a lot about ourselves: where we live and work; who our family, friends and acquaintances are; how (and even what) we communicate with them; and our personal habits. With all the information stored on them, it isn't surprising that mobile device users take steps to protect their privacy, like using PINs or passcodes to unlock their phones.

The research that we and our colleagues are doing identifies and explores a significant threat that most people miss: More than 70 percent of smartphone apps are reporting personal data to third-party tracking companies like Google Analytics, the Facebook Graph API or Crashlytics.

When people install a new Android or iOS app, it asks the user's permission before accessing personal information. Generally speaking, this is positive. And some of the information these apps are collecting are necessary for them to work properly: A map app wouldn't be nearly as useful if it couldn't use GPS data to get a location.

But once an app has permission to collect that information, it can share your data with anyone the app's developer wants to - letting third-party companies track where you are, how fast you're moving and what you're doing.

Comment: Open Source Mozilla Firefox Now 'Tracking the Trackers'


Gear

Unexpected complications: CRISPR gene editing can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome

© Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0
CRISPR-associated protein Cas9 (white) from Staphylococcus aureus based on Protein Database ID 5AXW. Credit: Thomas Splettstoesser
As CRISPR-Cas9 starts to move into clinical trials, a new study published in Nature Methods has found that the gene-editing technology can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome.

"We feel it's critical that the scientific community consider the potential hazards of all off-target mutations caused by CRISPR, including single nucleotide mutations and mutations in non-coding regions of the genome," says co-author Stephen Tsang, MD, PhD, the Laszlo T. Bito Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and associate professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University Medical Center and in Columbia's Institute of Genomic Medicine and the Institute of Human Nutrition.

CRISPR-Cas9 editing technology—by virtue of its speed and unprecedented precision—has been a boon for scientists trying to understand the role of genes in disease. The technique has also raised hope for more powerful gene therapies that can delete or repair flawed genes, not just add new genes.

The first clinical trial to deploy CRISPR is now underway in China, and a U.S. trial is slated to start next year. But even though CRISPR can precisely target specific stretches of DNA, it sometimes hits other parts of the genome. Most studies that search for these off-target mutations use computer algorithms to identify areas most likely to be affected and then examine those areas for deletions and insertions.

Comment: God's red pencil? CRISPR and the myths of precise genome editing
The concept of the precise editing of a genome leading to a precise biological outcome depends heavily on the conception that genes give rise to simple outputs. This is the genetic paradigm taught in schools. It is also the paradigm presented to the public and that even plays a large role in the thinking of molecular genetic researchers.

However, a defined, discrete or simple pathway from gene to trait probably never exists. Most gene function is mediated murkily through highly complex biochemical and other networks that depend on many conditional factors, such as the presence of other genes and their variants, on the environment, on the age of the organism, on chance, and so forth. Geneticists and molecular biologists, however, since the time of Gregor Mendel, have striven to find or create artificial experimental systems in which environmental or any other sources of variation are minimised so as not to distract from the more "important" business of genetic discovery.

But by discarding organisms or traits that do not follow their expectations, geneticists and molecular biologists have built themselves a circular argument in favour of a naive deterministic account of gene function. Their paradigm habitually downplays the enormous complexities by which information passes (in both directions) between organisms and their genomes. It has created an immense and mostly unexamined bias in the default public understanding of genes and DNA.

Why is this discussion of precision important? Because for the last seventy years all chemical and biological technologies, from genetic engineering to pesticides, have been built on a myth of precision and specificity. They have all been adopted under the pretense that they would function without side effects or unexpected complications. Yet the extraordinary disasters and repercussions of DDT, leaded paint, agent orange, atrazine, C8, asbestos, chlordane, PCBs, and so on, when all is said and done, have been stories of the steady unraveling of a founding myth of precision and specificity.



Ice Cube

Methane leaks may lead to cooling instead of warming: Scientists find a 'totally unexpected' source of climate cooling

© Unknown
Methane escaping margin seeps appeared to stimulate marine phytoplankton, which may have increased their intake of carbon dioxide.
Arctic waters absorbed vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, creating a cooling effect that's 230 times greater than the warming from methane emitted from underwater seeps, according to a new study.

The findings are a complete reversal of what scientists previously believed — that methane seeps in the Arctic Ocean were contributing to global warming.

"If what we observed near Svalbard occurs more broadly at similar locations around the world, it could mean that methane seeps have a net cooling effect on climate, not a warming effect as we previously thought," John Pohlman, a U.S. Geological Survey biochemist and lead author of the study, said in a statement Monday.

If the results hold, Pohlman's study could have big implications for how scientists calculate the global carbon "budget" and for future projections of global warming.

"This is ... totally unexpected," Brett Thornton, a Swedish geochemist who was not involved in the study, told Science Magazine.

A group of U.S., German and Norwegian scientists measured methane and carbon dioxide concentrations off Svalbard's coast. They found 2,000 times more carbon dioxide was taken out of the atmosphere than methane escaping from underwater vents.

Comment: Nature is much more complicated than Antropogenic Global Warming scientist would have us believe and thus the models from which predictions are made are far from reality.

To understand more about some of these many feedback loops read this book by Sott editors and researchers, Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk: Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection