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Tue, 25 Jul 2017
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Science & Technology


Biologists use stem cells to bioengineer functional arteries

© The Morgridge Institute for Research
Stem cell biologists have tried unsuccessfully for years to produce cells that will give rise to functional arteries and give physicians new options to combat cardiovascular disease, the world's leading cause of death.

But new techniques developed at the Morgridge Institute for Research and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have produced, for the first time, functional arterial cells at both the quality and scale to be relevant for disease modeling and clinical application.

Reporting in the July 10 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), scientists in the lab of stem cell pioneer James Thomson describe methods for generating and characterizing arterial endothelial cells — the cells that initiate artery development — that exhibit many of the specific functions required by the body.

Further, these cells contributed both to new artery formation and improved survival rate of mice used in a model for myocardial infarction. Mice treated with this cell line had an 83 percent survival rate, compared to 33 percent for controls.

Comment: Stem cell therapy: The innovations and potential to help repair and regenerate your body


Strong solar flare erupts from sunspot AR2665

© NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory
Solar flare eruption July 14, 2017
After days of suspenseful quiet, huge sunspot AR2665 finally erupted on July 14th (0209 UT), producing a powerful and long-lasting M2-class solar flare. Extreme ultraviolet telescopes onboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the blast:

Remarkably, the explosion persisted for more than two hours, producing a sustained fusillade of X-rays and energetic protons that ionized the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere. Shortwave radio blackouts were subsequently observed over the Pacific Ocean and especially around the Arctic Circle. This map from NOAA shows the affected geographic regions.


Geologists: Slow earthquakes occur continuously in the Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone

© Ghosh lab, UC Riverside
Image shows tremor sources and low frequency earthquake distribution in the study region and historic large earthquakes in the Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone. Each red star represents the location of 1 min tremor signal determined by the beam back projection method, and the black stars show three visually detected low frequency earthquakes located using arrival times of body waves.
Seismologists at the University of California, Riverside studying earthquakes in the seismically and volcanically active Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone have found that "slow earthquakes" are occurring continuously, and could encourage damaging earthquakes.

Slow earthquakes are quiet, can be as large as magnitude 7, and last days to years. Taking place mainly at the boundary between tectonic plates, they happen so slowly that people don't feel them. A large slow earthquake is typically associated with abundant seismic tremor—a continuous weak seismic chatter—and low frequency (small and repeating) earthquakes.

"In the Alaska-Aleutian subduction zone, we found seismic tremor, and visually identified three low frequency earthquakes," said Abhijit Ghosh, an assistant professor of Earth sciences, who led the research published recently in Geophysical Research Letters. "Using them as templates, we detected nearly 1,300 additional low frequency earthquakes. Slow earthquakes may play an important role in the earthquake cycles in this subduction zone."


GMO insanity: Pesticides soon to be genetically bred into DNA of crops

Using RNA sequencing, Roundup Ready won't need to be sprayed in crops, it'll be part of it
Forget spraying pesticides on your food, now they'll be genetically engineered to be in your food, thanks to Monsanto's latest quiet approval via the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA just told Monsanto they could go ahead and bypass spraying our crops with carcinogenic chemicals like Round Up and just go ahead and breed them right into the crops themselves. Using a process called RNA interference, Monsanto's RNAi plant will supposedly kill pesky rootworms when they come along to chomp on them- but what else will these genetically modified crops do to beneficial bugs, the soil, and human health? The EPA has no idea, because they haven't done a single trial on RNAi-altered crops.

Comment: This is another chapter in Monsanto's deadly game of genetic roulette where they roll the dice and human beings and our food supply pays the price.


Astronomers find star that could not possibly be any smaller

© cam.ac.uk
University of Cambridge astronomers have stumbled upon the smallest star ever discovered. Fractionally larger than Saturn but smaller than Jupiter, it was hiding in a binary star system 600 light years away.

The gravitational pull of the star, with the catchy name EBLM J0555-57Ab, is about 300 times that of what we feel here on Earth. Researchers believe it's likely to be as small as stars can be, and was found while astronomers were hunting for planets.

Stars need to have enough mass to allow for the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. If not, they will most likely collapse in on themselves becoming so-called brown dwarfs.

"Our discovery reveals how small stars can be," Alexander Boetticher, lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Had this star formed with only a slightly lower mass, the fusion reaction of hydrogen in its core could not be sustained, and the star would instead have transformed into a brown dwarf."

Brown dwarfs are stellar objects which just don't quite manage to make it as stars and aren't quite planets.


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.