Archive for the ‘The Internet’ Category

Putting a Human on Mars

Monday, April 28th, 2014

BBC Science and Technology — One of Earth’s closest neighbours, Mars is still some 56 million km away at its closest alignment, a journey of at least nine months. Rovers have landed on the Red Planet, probes have scanned its surface but what would it take to put a human on Mars? The BBC asked scientists from Imperial College London to design a mission which could take astronauts to the planet – and back. Watch the videos and explore this interactive to find out about their radical solution.

he crew would need protecting from the rigours of a nine month journey. Long periods of weightlessness cause bone loss and muscle wastage so the craft is designed to create its own artificial gravity by spinning through space. Shields would lessen, but could not eliminate, the threat of solar and cosmic radiation.

During the journey, the crew’s health would be monitored closely with wireless sensors but they will rely entirely on medication aboard the craft and the skills of their fellow crew should they fall sick. The long journey and confined quarters could also affect their mental health and conflicts between crew members could arise. Lack of daylight can disrupt sleep patterns, potentially causing poor concentration. Solar and cosmic radiation are constant threats.

After nine long months in space, the crew would guide the lander vehicle down to the Martian surface, making a fairly conventional landing for such an exceptional voyage. The words spoken as the crew become the first humans to ever set foot on another planet would take between three and 20 minutes to travel back to Earth.

The scientists propose a landing spot near the Martian equator where conditions are relatively mild at an average of -30 degrees Celsius, similar to an Antarctic winter on Earth. The crew would live in a habitat sent ahead in an unmanned mission.

While on the planet, the astronauts would conduct extensive geological and atmospheric surveys. They would also drill into the crust, looking for evidence that simple life once existed on Mars. The length of their stay could be as little as three months or as long as two years, governed by the alignment of Earth and Mars.

It would be expensive to send a craft to Mars with enough fuel for a round trip. So a return vehicle would be sent in advance of the manned mission, landing at a latitude where ice exists just beneath the surface. A robotic device would mine the ice and split it into hydrogen and oxygen using electrolysis. This would be used to create methane to power the return vehicle into Martian orbit where it would dock with the cruise vehicle for the long journey back to Earth. (04/28/2014)

More…

Descendant of the Hippocrates’ Tree Saved and Cloned

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Hippocrates treeBBC Biological Scence — Jane O’Brien reports: Legend has it that Hippocrates, the ancient Greek “father” of medicine, taught his students under a tree on the island of Kos.

More than 25 centuries later, experts in the US have produced the first DNA barcode of the Oriental plane that is believed to be its descendant. The original tree died centuries ago but the Greeks believe one of its descendents grows in the same place.

“In terms of symbolism this is huge,” said team member Amy Driskell. Dr Driskell manages the Smithsonian’s Laboratories of Analytical Biology, which carried out the barcoding.

Hippocrates invented the idea that people with the same disease exhibit similar symptoms which produced similar outcomes. His book, Prognosis, was the first to compare cases in an organised study and remains the basis of the theory of modern medical diagnosis.

Cuttings from this 500-year-old tree, a member of the Oriental plane tree species, have been presented as gifts to major medical institutions all over the world. One was planted at the National Library of Medicine near Washington DC (part of the National Institutes of Health – NIH), when the building opened in 1962 – and the DNA barcode was created from this tree. Barcodes are fragments of DNA that are unique to individual species and serve as their genetic fingerprint. More than 200,000 have been collected as part of the DNA Barcode of Life Project which aims to create a database of barcodes from every species on Earth. The Hippocrates Tree at the National Library of Medicine has become the source of the first barcode for the Oriental plane tree species. …

“I’m sure that Hippocrates would have been fascinated by the DNA Barcode Project and I think he would have been very excited about how DNA comparison and other modern methods are being used to better understand and ultimately treat human disease,” said Dr David Lipman, director of the National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information.

But it very nearly didn’t happen. In 1990 NIH chief landscape architect Lynn Mueller noticed the tree’s health was declining and by 2003 it was almost dead. He began a desperate quest to find ways to clone the tree and save one of the few tangible links to Hippocrates in the US. Nurseries around the country were given cuttings, but all failed to take. Eventually he contacted the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Michigan where experts managed to produce several clones. “A new growth clipping is taken from the plant and the end is submerged in different rooting hormones to encourage new cell growth,” said Mr Mueller. “They’re put into a special soil which is sterilised – and we have our new trees.”  (04/28/2014)

More…

Smart Contact Lens Measures Glucose

Monday, January 20th, 2014

BBC Medical Technology — Google has said it is testing a “smart contact lens” that can help measure glucose levels in tears. It uses a “tiny” wireless chip and a “miniaturised” glucose sensor embedded between two layers of lens material. The firm said it is also working on integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed certain thresholds …

Many global firms have been looking to expand in the wearable technology sector – seen by many as a key growth area in the coming years.

Various estimates have said the sector is expected to grow by between $10bn and $50bn (£6bn and £31bn) in the next five years. Within the sector, many firms have been looking specifically at technology targeted at healthcare. Google’s latest foray with the smart contact lens is aimed at a sector where consumer demand for such devices is expected to grow.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, one in ten people across the world’s population are forecast to have diabetes by 2035. People suffering from the condition need to monitor their glucose levels regularly as sudden spikes or drops are dangerous. At present, the majority of them do so by testing drops of blood. Google said it was testing a prototype of the lens that could “generate a reading once per second”. (01/20/2014)

More…

Preventing Blindness

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Graphic showing gene therapy to prevent blindnessBBC Medical Science — Surgeons in Oxford have used a gene therapy technique to improve the vision of six patients who would otherwise have gone blind. The operation involved inserting a gene into the eye, a treatment that revived light-detecting cells. The doctors involved believe that the treatment could in time be used to treat common forms of blindness.

Prof Robert MacLaren, the surgeon who led the research, said he was “absolutely delighted” at the outcome. “We really couldn’t have asked for a better result,” he said. …

If the improvements seen in the patients continue, the aim will be to offer the treatment to younger choroideremia patients to prevent them from losing their sight. The condition is relatively rare: it is thought to affect a thousand people in the UK. But Professor MacLaren believes that success with choroideremia demonstrates the principle that gene therapy could be used to cure other forms of genetic blindness including age-related macular degeneration. This condition causes blindness in 300,000 people in Britain and causes a deterioration in the vision of one in four people over the age of 75.

“The mechanisms of choroideremia and what we are trying to do with the treatment would broadly be applicable to more common causes of blindness,” the professor explained. “Choroideremia shows some similarities with macular degeneration in that we are targeting the same cells. We don’t yet know which genes to target for macular degeneration but we do know now how to do it and how to put the genes back in.”  (01/20/2014)

More…

 

The Value of Vaccine

Monday, January 20th, 2014

BBC Medical Science — India is marking three years since its last reported polio case, a landmark in the global battle against the disease. It is seen as confirmation of one of India’s biggest public health successes, achieved through a massive and sustained immunisation programme. India’s health minister hailed it as a “monumental milestone”.

In 2012 the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria remain on it. The list refers to countries in which the virus is circulating freely and the transmission of the infectious disease has not been stopped. Despite India’s success, health experts fear a resurgence of polio in other parts of the world.

“This monumental milestone was possible due to unwavering political will at the highest level, commitment of adequate financial resources, technological innovation … and the tireless efforts of millions of workers including more than 23 lakh (2.3 million) vaccinators,” Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters. The WHO is expected to formally certify India’s polio-free status next month after testing its last samples. …

After the eradication of smallpox in 1980, polio is the second disease in India that has been eliminated through immunisation. Nearly 2.3 million volunteers vaccinate some 170 million children under five years of age in India during every round of immunisation.

Polio is capable of causing crippling disability or death within hours. It plagued societies in ancient times – and was present in more than 100 countries even in the 1980s, when it left 350,000 people paralysed each year. Global cases have decreased since then as part of a mass eradication programme – to 372 last year.

Despite the quarter-century-long vaccination programme, experts fear it could make a comeback in countries riven by fighting. Most of last year’s cases were in conflict areas like Somalia and Syria, where polio had previously been eradicated.  (01/20/2014)

More…

November 2013, Warmest Weather Recorded

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Atlantic Journal— Rebecca J. Rosen reports: If you live in the eastern half of the United States, last month probably seemed like a normal November for you, perhaps even a bit chilly.

But, historically, the month was anything but.

According to NOAA, November 2013 was the warmest November since at least 1880, the year when NOAA’s global temperature records begin. During the 20th century, the average global temperature for November was 55.2° F; in 2013 we managed to beat that by 1.40° F.

The longer three-month period, stretching from September to November, was also unusually warm—the second warmest on record since 1880; only 2005 was warmer. For the entire year to date, 2013 is on track to be among the top five or six warmest years since we started keeping track. All ten of the ten warmest years on record have happened in the past 15 years. (12/18/2013)

More...

Remembering Alfred Russel Wallace

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Alfred Russel WallaceBBC Science History — James Morgan writes: The 100th anniversary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace, the “forgotten hero” who co-discovered evolution, is being marked today in London. The first ever statue of the naturalist will be unveiled at the Natural History Museum by Sir David Attenborough.

A new wasp genus – Wallaceaphytis – has been named in honour of the man who has been in Darwin’s shadow ever since they co-published their theory in 1858. The wasp was discovered in Borneo, where Wallace carried out his research.  “It seemed only fitting to name it in his honour, especially as it is the centenary of his death,” said Dr Andrew Polaszek of the NHM, one of the expedition team who found the insect last year. They have published their discovery in the Journal of Natural History – the same annals in which Wallace published his famous paper on the origin of species – “the Sarawak Law”.

Just one millimetre long, the wasp belongs to a group known as parasitoids, which lay their eggs inside other insects or spiders. “Wallaceaphytis is so unusual that one of my volunteers called me over to the microscope saying ‘this looks really strange’,” Dr Polaszek told the BBC. “Not only is it a new species but also a completely new genus. And we found it in Wallace’s old stomping ground.”

The incredible variety of insects Wallace discovered during his travels in the Malay Archipelago inspired his theory of evolution by natural selection He described his ideas in an essay which he sent to Charles Darwin – who subsequently sought to co-publish his own independent version of the theory But while there are many, many monuments to Darwin, there has never been a single one of Wallace – until today.

A life-size bronze sculpture by Anthony Smith will be unveiled at the NHM by Sir David Attenborough, who said, “For me, there is no more admirable character in the history of science.” (11/11/2013)

More…

Walking and Jumping Plant Spores

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Jumping horsetail seeds (c) Philippe MarmottantBBC Plant Science — Victoria Gill writes: Researchers in France have discovered a strange new type of movement in plants – tiny spores that walk and jump. The researchers used high speed cameras to find out how horsetail (Equisetum) spores dispersed.

This revealed that the microscopic spores’ “legs” curl and uncurl when the moisture levels change, causing them to appear to crawl around or even to spring from the ground. The findings are published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

Lead researcher Dr Philippe Marmottant from Joseph Fourier University, Grenoble, explained that the motion of plants provides natural inspiration for self-propelled devices. Jumping enables the spores to enter wind currents, which they use to disperse over large distances

“If you think of a carnivorous plant, [like a Venus flytrap] their motion can be quite fast,” Dr Marmottant told the BBC. “So I was interested in finding new types of motion in plants, and a friend who is a biologist told me about these very special plant spores that have a motion driven by humidity.”

When Dr Marmottant examined the spores under the microscope, he saw their movement. But it was only when he combined the microscope with a high-speed camera that he revealed that the plants were not only moving, but walking and jumping. …

Before this study, it was not clear what the function of the spores’ leg structures was.

“People assumed they were like wings, so they would help dispersal into the wind,” explained Dr Marmottant. “But here we show they actually induce motion on the ground.

“And more importantly, they also enable jumps, which means [the spores] can enter the wind currents. And once you’re in the wind current, you can travel long distances, which is an evolutionary advantage, because it means you can disperse your seeds very widely.”

Horsetail plants, which grew when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, are still found all over the world today. But only now have researchers discovered the strange secret of their mobility, which has helped them disperse so effectively and become so prevalent. (09/11/2013)

More…

 

Prototype HIV-vaccine Working in Monkeys

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

SIVBBC Medical Science — Rebecca Morelle writes: A vaccine for the monkey equivalent of HIV appears to eradicate the virus, a study suggests. Research published in the journal Nature has shown that vaccinated monkeys can clear Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) infection from their bodies.

It was effective in nine of the 16 monkeys that were inoculated. The US scientists say they now want to use a similar approach to test a vaccine for HIV in humans. …

The research team looked at an aggressive form of virus called SIVmac239, which is up to 100 times more deadly than HIV. Infected monkeys usually die within two years, but in some inoculated primates the virus did not take hold.

The vaccine is based on another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV), which belongs to the herpes family. It used the infectious power of CMV to sweep throughout the body. But instead of causing disease, it has been modified to spur the immune system into action to fight off the SIV molecules.

“It maintains an armed force, that patrols all the tissues of the body, all the time, indefinitely,” explained Prof Picker.

The researchers gave rhesus macaque monkeys the vaccine, and then exposed them to SIV. They found that at first the infection began to establish and spread. But then the monkeys’ bodies started to respond, searching out and destroying all signs of the virus. Of the monkeys that successfully responded to the vaccine, they were still clear of infection between one-and-a-half and three years later. …

Prof Picker said: “In order to make a human version we have to make sure it is absolutely safe. We have now engineered a CMV virus which generates the same immune response but has been attenuated [modified to lose its virulence] to the point where we think it is unequivocally safe.”

This would first have to pass through the regulatory authorities, but if it does, he said he hoped to start the first clinical trials in humans in the next two years. (09/11/2013)

More…

A Flaw in the Monetary System?

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

MonNetA — The Money Network Alliance was founded in 2003, in response to the need for a professional networking entity for research, development and the support of complementary currencies and new money systems.  (08/07/2013)

V

V

More…