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R2-D2

Robot scientist Adam makes new discovery

© Jen Rowland

In a world first, researchers believe that a robot scientists has independently discovered new scientific knowledge.

The robot, Adam, which is a computer system that fully automates the scientific process, hypothesized that certain genes in baker's yeast code for specific enzymes that catalyse biochemical reactions in yeast. Adam then devised experiments to test these predictions, ran the experiments using laboratory robotics, interpreted the results and repeated the cycle. Separate manual experiments have been used to confirm that the hypotheses were both novel and correct.

"Because biological organisms are so complex it is important that the details of biological experiments are recorded in great detail. This is difficult and irksome for human scientists, but easy for robot scientists," says Ross King, who led the research at Aberystwyth University.

Sun

Solar-powered cooker nabs climate prize

Oslo - A $6 cardboard box that uses solar power to cook food, sterilize water and could help 3 billion poor people cut greenhouse gases, has won a $75,000 prize for ideas to fight global warming.

The "Kyoto Box," named after the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol that seeks to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, is aimed at billions of people who use firewood to cook.

Costing 5 euros ($6.60) to make, it can also make it easier to boil polluted water.

"We're saving lives and saving trees," the Kyoto Box's developer Jon Boehmer, a Norwegian based in Kenya, said in a statement.

Control Panel

Google, Universal Music partner on new music video site

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© Wired
Universal Music Group and Google are now partners in the music-video business.

The largest of the four top recording companies and YouTube's parent company announced on Thursday that they are working together on Vevo, a new music and video entertainment service set to launch later this year. YouTube will handle the technology while Universal Music supplies the content. The two companies will share ad revenue.

The companies said and at this point it appears that Universal's content and artists will be the only label represented on the site. However, Doug Morris, Universal Music's chief executive, said in a conference call with the media that he is in negotiations with other top record labels and is confident they will join.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said on the same conference call that YouTube and Universal Music have renewed their existing licensing agreement. YouTube will continue to be licensed to allow visitors to use songs from Universal Music. Professionally made videos from the label will only appear on Vevo, the companies said.

This is the first time that YouTube has launched a satellite Web site, Schmidt said but he added that he hopes there will be more.

Blackbox

Do aliens share our genetic code?

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© Jonathan Hordle / Rex
Was Jabba the Hutt made from the same genetic building blocks as life on Earth?
What similarities will alien life forms have to living things here on Earth? We won't know until we find some, but now there is evidence that at least the basic building blocks will be the same.

All terrestrial life forms share the same 20 amino acids. Biochemists have managed to synthesise 10 of them in experiments that simulate lifeless prebiotic environments, using proxies for lightning, ionising radiation from space, or hydrothermal vents to provide the necessary energy. Amino acids are also found inside meteorites formed before Earth was born.

Paul Higgs and Ralph Pudritz at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, point out that all these experiments produced a subset of the same 10 amino acids and calculate that these 10 require the least amount of energy to form.

This, they argue, suggests that if alien life exists it probably has the same 10 amino acids at its core.

Saturn

First DNA analysis from Mars?

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© NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team/STScI/AURA/J Bell/Cornell/M Wolff/Space Science Institute
Some 3-4 billion years ago, impacts threw pieces of Earth and Mars into space. Life may have hitched a ride on this rocky debris, some of which landed on neighbouring planets as meteorites
In August 1996, molecular biologist Gary Ruvkun was about to reveal one of the biggest discoveries of his scientific career. His lab at Harvard Medical School had recently found a gene called age-1 that determines lifespan in roundworms. Their work offered the tantalising possibility that tinkering with molecular pathways might extend the lifespan of other organisms - and perhaps even humans.

Harvard sent out a press release and Ruvkun prepared for an onslaught of media attention. But it never came. Two days before his team's paper came out, scientists analysing a meteorite from Mars called ALH84001 made headlines worldwide. Then-US president Bill Clinton even got in on the announcement.

"My grad student leans in the door and says, 'They've just announced life on Mars,'" recalls Ruvkun. "That would really f--- us," Ruvkun replied, thinking his student was joking.

Scientists have since raised serious doubts about the existence of the purported fossilised microbes in the meteorite.

Telescope

Pulsar Creates Cosmic "Hand"

Image
© NASA
A new x-ray image has revealed an unusual hand-shaped nebula that brings a whole new meaning to the expression "reach for the stars."

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory recently snapped this shot of energetic particles streaming from a pulsar - the rapidly rotating core left behind after a very massive star exploded as a supernova. Known as B1509, the pulsar is thought to be about 1,700 years old and lies roughly 17,000 light-years from Earth.

The tiny pulsar is just 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) wide. But it is spinning so fast - it makes seven complete rotations every second - that the particles it spews have created a nebula spanning 150 light-years.

Control Panel

Science's most powerful computer tackles first questions

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© National Center for Computational Sciences, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Jaguar is the second most powerful computer ever built and the fastest dedicated to science.
In cult sci-fi tale Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the most powerful computer in the universe was charged with finding the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

In the real world, a newly built supercomputer that is the most powerful ever dedicated to science will be tackling questions about climate change, supernovas, and the structure of water.

The projects were chosen in a peer-reviewed process designed to get the computer producing useful science even during the period when its performance is still being fine-tuned by engineers.

Jaguar is located at the National Center for Computational Sciences (NCCS), part of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, and has a peak operating performance of 1.64 petaflops, meaning it can perform more than a million billion mathematical operations every second.

Jaguar has 181,000 processing cores, compared to the one or two found in most desktop machines. The world's only more powerful computer is the US Nuclear Security Administration's 1.7-petaflop Roadrunner at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Radar

Conficker botnet stirs to distribute update payload: it's alive!

The Conficker superworm is stirring, with the spread of a new variant that spreads across P2P and drops a payload. It is thought to update machines infected by earlier strains of the worm.

Conficker-E (the latest variant) offers potential clues on the origins of the worm, because of possible links to other malware. Trend Micro reports that the new Downadup/Conficker variant is talking to servers associated with the Waledac family of malware, in order to download further unwanted items.

Waledec, in turn, is suspected as the latest item of malware from the gang behind the Storm botnet, sparking speculation that all three strains of botnet client are the work of the same cybercriminal gang.

Umbrella

Obama looks to 'introduce' what has long been happening: climate geoengineering

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© Unknown
The president's new science adviser said Wednesday that global warming is so dire, the Obama administration is discussing radical technologies to cool Earth's air.

John Holdren told the Associated Press in his first interview since being confirmed last month that the idea of geoengineering the climate is being discussed. One such extreme option includes shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun's rays. Holdren said such an experimental measure would only be used as a last resort.

Sun

Wristband to alert sun over-exposure

© unknown
The increased rate of skin cancer among sunbathers prompts scientists to create a wristband to warn user against maximum sun exposure.

Excessive sun exposure is reported as the main trigger for DNA changes leading to melanoma, the most malignant type of skin cancer in 70 percent of sufferers.

The new bracelet-style product, which will enter the market in the upcoming months, turns pink when the sunbather is in danger of getting a sunburn.