May 31, 2008 at 9:37 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment

DNA Computer Puts Microbes to Work as Number Crunchers

Study shows genetic material in bacteria can be harnessed to solve complex math problems

By Nikhil Swaminathan

e. coli
Researchers have put DNA computers inside living cells for the first time.

It’s not your normal, electronic silicon-based machine, but scientists have made a computer from a small, circular piece of DNA, then inserted it into a living bacterial cell and unleashed the microbe to solve a mathematical sorting problem.

“A computer is any system that can read some input and give some readable output,” says Karmella Haynes, a biologist at Davidson College in North Carolina and co-author of a new study appearing in the Journal of Biological Engineering. Haynes and her team looked to harness the power of DNA recombination to solve the so-called “burnt pancake problem”: a puzzle about how to stack different-size flapjacks that are burned on one side and perfectly cooked on the other using the fewest number of flips to arrange them so the largest are on the bottom and all are golden side up.

“This work is the first work I’ve encountered which uses living cells in order to solve a specific computer science problem,” says Tom Ran, a graduate student in the lab of computer scientist Ehud Shapiro at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. …more

Mind Reading Made Possible

May 31, 2008 at 8:54 pm | Posted in Mindscape, scientific advances | Leave a comment

Mind Reading

A new computer algorithm can guess what you are looking at based on brain activity alone

By Christopher Intagliata

of science-fiction authors have imagined a future that includes
mind-reading technology. Although the ability to play back memories
like a movie remains a distant dream, a new study has taken a
provocative step in that direction by decoding neural signals for

Neuroscientist Kendrick Kay and his colleagues at the University of
California, Berkeley, were able to successfully determine which of a
large group of never-before-seen photographs a subject was viewing
based purely on functional MRI data. By analyzing fMRI scans of viewers
as they looked at thousands of images, Kay’s team created a computer
model that uses picture elements such as angles and brightness to
predict the neural activity elicited by a novel black-and-white
photograph. Then the researchers scanned subjects while showing them
new snapshots. Most of the time Kay’s model could single out which
image the subject was viewing by matching its prediction of brain
activity to the actual activity measured by the fMRI scanner, although
very similar pictures tended to baffle the program. …more

Afghanistan’s Hidden Treasures

May 31, 2008 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
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A plaque from Begram, Afghanistan. (1st or 2nd century A.D.)
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An ivory statue from Begram. (1st or 2nd century A.D.)
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A goblet depicting figures harvesting dates, from Begram.
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The first group consists of three rare Bronze Age gold bowls, one intact and fragments of two others. They were found in 1972 at Tepe Fullol in northeastern Afghanistan
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objects from the Greco-Bactrian city of Ai Khanum, founded in 300 B.C. by a follower of Alexander the Great
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large ceremonial plaque in silver and gold from the third century B.C.
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A bronze mask of Silenus from Begram.
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The scenes here are miniature and worldly, dominated by curvaceous women, sharing gossip, jokes or maybe wine, among elaborately carved archways and grills, and surrounded by opulent plants in gardens whose gates are left tantalizingly ajar.
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These contain the extraordinary jewelry, weapons, coins and clothing ornaments found in six royal graves dating from the first century A.D.
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A small solid-gold Aphrodite
  blog it

Bdelloids can take advantage of the entire environmental metagenome

May 31, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
Nearly all other multicellular animals have strong safeguards against foreign DNA, but bdelloids’ seeming embrace of genetic detritus is in keeping with their general quirkiness: Shunning sex and entirely lacking males, the ubiquitous creatures are also extraordinarily resistant to radiation, as Meselson and Gladyshev demonstrated earlier this year in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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Long viewed as straitlaced spinsters, sexless freshwater invertebrate animals known as bdelloid rotifers may actually be far more promiscuous than anyone had imagined: Scientists at Harvard University have found that the genomes of these common creatures are chock-full of DNA from plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals.
bdelloids may acquire DNA by habitually disintegrating their genomes — something these unusual animals do regularly during periods of desiccation, which fractures their genetic material and ruptures cellular membranes. Miraculously, bdelloids can then spring back to life upon rehydration of their habitats, readily reconstituting their genomes and their membranes.

In the process of rebuilding their shattered DNA, though, they may adopt shreds of genetic material from other bdelloids in the same puddle, as well as from unrelated species.

In principle, this gives them an opportunity to take advantage of the entire environmental metagenome

Pushing the edge of Science

May 31, 2008 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
3 ideas
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Sperm-powered Nanobots
a brigade of medical nanobots, devices tiny enough to ride the flow of blood
through the body’s arteries to a problem area. The bots might arrive at a clot,
for example, and then using an internal power system, obliterate the clot with a
precisely targeted drug or therapy.
The same molecular power packs that fuel sperm in their journey through the
Fusion On Tap
a form of nuclear energy so clean it generates no radioactive waste, so safe it
can be located in the heart of a city, and so inexpensive it provides virtually
unlimited power for the dirt-cheap price of $60 per kilowatt
Focus fusion
is initiated when a pulse of electricity is discharged through a hydrogen-boron
gas across two nesting cylindrical electrodes
built for just $300,000
A Two-Timing Universe
By adding a second dimension of time and a fourth dimension of space to
Einstein’s standard space-time, Bars has come up with a new model providing
“additional information

Writing Good for You

May 31, 2008 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
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Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
Most likely, writing activates a cluster of neurological pathways, and several researchers are committed to uncovering them.
blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art.

How Man-Made Noise May Be Altering Earth’s Ecology

May 31, 2008 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
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How Man-Made Noise May Be Altering Earth’s Ecology

We worry about the carbon emissions from SUVs and airplanes; maybe we should be
equally concerned about the racket they cause.
a field recording scientist:
In a biophony, animals divide up the acoustic spectrum so they don’t interfere
with one another’s voices.
It looks like the musical score for an orchestra, with each instrument in its
place. No two species are using the same frequency. “That’s part of how they
coexist so well,”

When they issue mating calls or all-important warning cries, they aren’t
masked by the noises of other animals.


what happens when man-made noise —

we should be developing not just clean tech but “quiet” tech, industrial
machinery designed to run as silently as possible. More regulations could help,
too. Cities have long had noise ordinances; wilderness areas could benefit from
tighter protections as well

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