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Fri, 21 Oct 2016
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Medical breakthrough: Brain implant allows paralyzed man to regain sense of touch

© UPMC/Pitt Health Sciences
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center researcher Robert Gaunt touches the finger of a robotic arm, causing Nathan Copeland, who has paralysis in all four limbs, to feel that sensation in his own finger.
For the first time, scientists have helped a paralyzed man experience the sense of touch in his mind-controlled robotic arm.

For the cutting-edge experiment, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, electrodes smaller than a grain of sand were implanted in the sensory cortex of the man's brain. The electrodes received signals from a robot arm. When a researcher pressed the fingers of the prosthesis, the man felt the pressure in the fingers of his paralyzed right hand, effectively bypassing his damaged spinal cord

The results of the experiment, which have been repeated over several months with 30-year-old Nathan Copeland, offer a breakthrough in the restoration of a critical function in people with paralyzed limbs: the ability not just to move those limbs, but to feel them.

The experiment with Copeland was a featured stop Thursday when President Obama visited Pittsburgh for a White House Frontiers Conference on advances in science, medicine and technology. The researchers described how neuroscience has been able to build a technology where simply imagining a motion translates into motion, in this case a robotic arm.

Comment: See also:


"Taste Buddy" device tricks brain into thinking broccoli tastes like chocolate

© Mike Blake / Reuters
Bland food could soon be a thing of the past after scientists invented a revolutionary new device which completely alters our sense of taste and may prove to be a breakthrough in the fight against obesity.

British scientists are on the verge of making broccoli taste like chocolate and tofu taste like steak.

Researchers at London's City University have built a prototype for a device, called the Taste Buddy, which uses low-level electrical current to 'trick' your taste buds.

Comment: See also: The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith and included here is a very informative video with the author.


Astronomical research finds universe could contain 2 trillion galaxies, 10 times more than previously thought

© Chandra X-ray Observatory Center / Reuters
Astronomers have long pondered how many galaxies might exist in the universe - and the answer appears to be a staggering two trillion. The figure, obtained from Hubble Telescope images, has shocked scientists who estimated the number to be at least 10 times smaller.

The finding wasn't easy to come by. An international team of scientists examined deep space images taken by the Hubble from over the past 20 years, and converted them into 3D pictures. From there, they measured the number of galaxies at different times in the history of the universe, going back more than 13 billion years - near the time of the 'Big Bang.'

The researchers, led by Christopher Conselice of the University of Nottingham, also used new mathematical models which allowed them to infer the existence of galaxies which telescopes cannot observe. The team's findings are detailed in the Astrophysical Journal.

For the number of galaxies we now see and their numbers to add up, the researchers concluded that there must be a further 90 percent of galaxies in the observable universe that are too faint and too far away to be seen.

2 + 2 = 4

Physicist creates algorithm that tells women when they're fertile

© Surija/"Sray"/Flickr
One of the physicists who helped find the Higgs boson, Elina Berglund, has spent the past three years working on something completely different - a fertility app that tells women when they're fertile or not.

It's not the first fertility app out there, but Berglund's app works so well that it's been shown to help women avoid pregnancy with 99.5 percent reliability - an efficacy that puts it right up there with the pill and condoms.

Best of all, the app doesn't have any side effects, and just requires women to input their temperature daily to map their fertility throughout the month.

Back in 2012, Berglund was working at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider experiment to find the famous Higgs boson. But after the discovery of the particle, she felt it was time to work on something completely different.

"I wanted to give my body a break from the pill," she told Daniela Walker from Wired, "but I couldn't find any good forms of natural birth control, so I wrote an algorithm for myself."


Newly discovered fossils suggest 'unicorns' were real

© Sun Sentinel
'Siberian unicorns' roamed the Earth 29,000 years ago, study finds.
Columbus - Turns out, unicorns are not mystical fairy tale creatures, and scientists have the fossils to prove it.

We should point out first, however, that real unicorns are not pretty horses with wings and horns.

No, the real unicorn, known as Elasmotherium sibiricum, looked more like a hairy rhinoceros than a beautiful stallion. Unlike modern day rhinos, however, this one had a giant horn.


New study: Extraterrestrial impact preceded ancient global warming event

© Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Microtektites as first seen in a sediment sample from the onset of the Paeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.
A comet strike may have triggered the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a rapid warming of the Earth caused by an accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide 56 million years ago, which offers analogs to global warming today. Sorting through samples of sediment from the time period, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute discovered evidence of the strike in the form of microtektites - tiny dark glassy spheres typically formed by extraterrestrial impacts. The research will be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

"This tells us that there was an extraterrestrial impact at the time this sediment was deposited - a space rock hit the planet," said Morgan Schaller, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Rensselaer, and corresponding author of the paper.

"The coincidence of an impact with a major climate change is nothing short of remarkable." Schaller is joined in the research by Rensselaer professor Miriam Katz and graduate student Megan Fung, James Wright of Rutgers University, and Dennis Kent of Columbia University.

Schaller was searching for fossilized remains of Foraminifera, a tiny organism that produces a shell, when he first noticed a microtektite in the sediment he was examining. Although it is common for researchers to search for fossilized remains in PETM sediments, microtektites have not been previously detected. Schaller and his team theorize this is because microtektites are typically dark in color, and do not stand out on the black sorting tray researchers use to search for light-colored fossilized remains. Once Schaller noticed the first microtektite, the researchers switched to a white sorting tray, and began to find more.

At peak abundance, the research team found as many as three microtektites per gram of sediment examined. Microtektites are typically spherical, or tear-drop shaped, and are formed by an impact powerful enough to melt and vaporize the target area, casting molten ejecta into the atmosphere. Some microtektites from the samples contained "shocked quartz," definitive evidence of their impact origin, and exhibited microcraters or were sintered together, evidence of the speed at which they were traveling as they solidified and hit the ground.


Has the solar cycle mystery been solved? Gas giants are the key

On our star, the Sun, the sunspots are seen in a belt around the equator. Sunspots are cool areas caused by the strong magnetic fields where the flow of heat is slowed.
In the time before the current period of faith-based science, much good work was done on the role of the Sun in controlling climate. One of the best monographs from that time of innocence is Hoyt and Schatten's The Role of the Sun in Climate Change, published by Oxford University Press in 1997. That book starts with this paragraph:
About 400 years before the birth of Christ, near Mt. Lyscabettus in ancient Greece, the pale orb of the sun rose through the mists. According to habit, Meton recorded the sun's location on the horizon. In this era when much remained to be discovered, Meton hoped to find predictable changes in the locations of sunrise and moonrise. Although rainy weather had limited his recent observations, this foggy morning he discerned specks on the face of the sun, the culmination of many such blemishes in recent years. On a hunch, Meton began examining his more than 20 years of solar records. These seemed to confirm his belief: when the sun has spots, the weather tends to be wetter and rainier.
So the idea that sunspots and the solar cycle control climate is at least 2,400 years old. In the modern era, the appreciation of sunspots started again in 1610 with telescopic observations by Galileo, Thomas Harriot and others. The solar cycle was discovered by Samual Schwabe in 1843 after 17 years of observations, though William Herschel's correlation of sunspots and the wheat price in England dates from 1801. A 2003 paper by Pustilnik and Din entitled Influence of Solar Activity on State of Wheat Market in Medieval England confirmed Herschel's observation.

Comment: Could electric interactions some how be involved in how the phase of the gas giants affects output of the sun? Whatever the mechanism, this is fascinating news.

Further reading on electric universe theory and its implications for weather, climate, and more: Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection.


Researchers find babies first register heartbeat as early as 16 days after conception

© Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters
The first tick of a baby's heart happens as early as 16 days after conception, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Oxford.

Initially, analysts said the heart muscle contracted to beat eight days after conception in mice, roughly equating to 21 days in a human pregnancy. However, Oxford University teamed up with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and found that the first heartbeat in babies happens much sooner.

BHF Professor Paul Riley, a leading researcher at the university said the team wanted to better understand how the heart develops.

"We are trying to better understand how the heart develops and ultimately what causes the heart defects that develop in the womb before birth and to extrapolate to adult heart repair," Riley said.

"By finding out how the heart first starts to beat and how problems can arise in heart development, we are one step closer to being able to prevent heart conditions from arising during pregnancy," he added.


Scientists find black widow spider DNA lurking inside virus

© Maria Jeffs/Shutterstock
Scientists have found some toxic DNA lurking inside a virus that infects bacteria. In addition to its own genes, the virus holds a gene for black widow spider venom and DNA from other animals, the researchers found. The findings suggest that either the virus snagged this foreign genetic material or that these other animals have stolen DNA from the virus, the researchers said.

Future research could find that such swapping across domains of life, from the most complex to the most ancient, is more common than previously thought, scientists say.

Stealing DNA

Viruses infect all three domains of the tree of life. The most complex forms of life on Earth — including animals, plants and fungi — belong to the domain Eukaryota, whose cells possess nuclei. The other two domains include the prokaryotes, the earliest forms of life — single-celled microbes that lack nuclei. There are two prokaryotic domains — the familiar Bacteria, as well as Archaea, which includes microorganisms that thrive in harsh environments such as hot springs and underground petroleum deposits.

Each virus infects just one domain of life. For instance, bacteriophages, which are viruses that attack bacteria, cannot infect eukaryotes, or cells with nuclei. In part due to this specificity, scientists have explored using these so-called "phages" in therapies to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Fireball 3

Increasing number of meteorite impacts recorded on the Moon

© NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
A new lunar crater, formed about three years ago.
Meteorites have punched at least 222 impact craters into the Moon's surface in the past 7 years. That's 33% more than researchers expected, and suggests that future lunar astronauts may need to hunker down against incoming space rocks.

"It's just something that's happening all the time," says Emerson Speyerer, an engineer at Arizona State University in Tempe and author of a 12 October paper in Nature1.

Planetary geologists will also need to rethink their understanding of the age of the lunar surface, which depends on counting craters and estimating how long the terrain has been pummelled by impacts.

Although most of the craters dotting the Moon's surface formed millions of years ago, space rocks and debris continue to create fresh pockmarks. In 2011, a team led by Ingrid Daubar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, compared some of the first pictures taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which launched in 2009, with decades-old images taken by the Apollo astronauts.

The scientists spotted five fresh impact craters in the LRO images. Then, on two separate occasions in 2013, other astronomers using telescopes on Earth spotted bright flashes on the Moon; LRO later flew over those locations and photographed the freshly formed craters2, 3.