Archive for category Science
One-third of Americans reject evolution, poll shows
BY CHRIS FRANCESCANI
NEW YORK Mon Dec 30, 2013
(Reuters) – One-third of Americans reject the idea of evolution and Republicans have grown more skeptical about it, according to a poll released on Monday.
Sixty percent of Americans say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” the telephone survey by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project showed (Click here for the full survey).
But 33 percent reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time,” Pew said in a statement.
Although this percentage remained steady since 2009, the last time Pew asked the question, there was a growing partisan gap on whether humans evolved.
“The gap is coming from the Republicans, where fewer are now saying that humans have evolved over time,” said Cary Funk, a Pew senior researcher who conducted the analysis.
The poll showed 43 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats say humans have evolved over time, compared with 54 percent and 64 percent respectively four years ago.
Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants topped the list of those rejecting evolution, with 64 percent of those polled saying they believe humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
“This has been a staple of evangelical Protestantism for nearly 100 years,” said Alan Lichtman, an American University history professor and author of “White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement.”
A quarter of those surveyed told Pew that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things.”
The survey of 1,983 adults in all 50 states was conducted from March 21 to April 8. The margin of error was 3 percentage points, meaning results could vary that much either way.
(The penultimate paragraph of this story has been corrected to say that one-fourth of all surveyed believe a supreme being guided evolution.)
(Reporting By Chris Francescani; Editing by Ian Simpson and Jonathan Oatis)
- POLL: One-third of Americans reject evolution… (reuters.com)
- One-third of Americans reject evolution, poll shows (news.yahoo.com)
- Skepticism of evolution grows among Republicans, according to new poll (csmonitor.com)
- CORRECTED – One-third of Americans reject evolution, poll shows – Firstpost (firstpost.com)
- One-third of Americans reject evolution, poll shows (firstpost.com)
- One-third of Americans reject evolution, poll shows (bangordailynews.com)
- Republicans’ belief in evolution plummets, poll reveals (cbsnews.com)
- Poll: Solid Majority Of Americans Believe In Evolution (washington.cbslocal.com)
- Poll: Republicans increasingly reject evolution (themoderatevoice.com)
- Poll: Republican Belief In Evolution On The Decline (newsy.com)
Predictors of suicidal behaviour found in blood
Changes in gene expression can indicate heightened risk for self-harm.
20 August 2013
- Predictors of suicidal behaviour found in blood (nature.com)
- Predictors of Suicidal Behavior Found In Blood (science.slashdot.org)
- Suicide risk could show up in a blood test (newscientist.com)
- Biomarkers ‘indicate suicide risk’ (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- A blood test for suicide? (thestar.blogs.com)
- Suicide risk could show up in a blood test (beyondmusing.wordpress.com)
- Chemicals in the Blood Could Warn of Suicidal Thoughts (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- Researchers identify biomarkers for possible blood test to predict suicide risk (psypost.org)
- A Blood Test for Suicide? (news.sciencemag.org)
- Biomarkers for Possible Blood Test to Predict Suicide Risk Discovered (medindia.net)
More than 100,000 want to go to Mars and not return, project says
By Jennifer Juarez, CNNMexico.com
(CNN) — More than 100,000 people are eager to make themselves at home on another planet. They’ve applied for a one-way trip to Mars, hoping to be chosen to spend the rest of their lives on uncharted territory, according to an organization planning the manned missions.
project wants to colonize the red planet, beginning in 2022. There are financial and practical questions about this venture that haven’t been clarified. Will there be enough money? Will people really be able to survive on Mars? But these haven’t stopped some 30,000 Americans from signing up.
You can see some of the candidates on the project’s website, but they’re not the only ones who have applied, said Bas Lansdorp, Mars One CEO and co-founder.
“There is also a very large number of people who are still working on their profile, so either they have decided not to pay the application fee, or they are still making their video or they’re still filling out the questionnaire or their resume. So the people that you can see online are only the ones that have finished and who have set their profiles as public,” Lansdorp said.
The entrepreneur did not specify how many have paid the fees, completed their profiles and configured them as private.
The application process
Anyone 18 or older may apply, but the fee depends on a user’s nationality. For Americans, it’s $38; if you’re in Mexico, however, it’s a mere $15.
The company said it sets the price based on the gross domestic product per capita of each nation. “We wanted it to be high enough for people to have to really think about it and low enough for anyone to be able to afford it,” Lansdorp said.
For the first crew, the Mars One mission will cost $6 billion, Lansdorp said. The idea is for it to be funded by sponsors and media that will pay for broadcasting rights of shows and movies documenting everything from the astronauts’ training on Earth to their deployment and colonization of Mars.
Out of the applicants, Mars One said it will select a multicontinental group of 40 astronauts this year. Four of them — two men and two women — are set to leave for Mars in September 2022, landing in April 2023.
Another multicontinental group of four will be deployed two years later, according to the Mars One plan. None of them will return to Earth.
An illustration shows the proposed Mars One settlement. A manned mission to Mars is planned in nearly a decade.
The astronauts will undergo a required eight-year training in a secluded location. , they will learn how to repair habitat structures, grow vegetables in confined spaces and address “both routine and serious medical issues such as dental upkeep, muscle tears and bone fractures.”
“What we want to do is tell the story to the world,” Lansdorp said, “when humans go to Mars, when they settle on Mars and build a new Earth, a new planet. This is one of the most exciting things that ever happened, and we want to share the story with the entire world.”
How will Mars be colonized?
Each lander that Mars One sends will be able to carry about 5,511 pounds of “useful load” to Mars, he said. After eight missions, more than 44,000 pounds of supplies and people are expected to have arrived. The capsules themselves, whose weight is not included in that number, will become part of the habitat.
Food and solar panels will go in the capsules. Earth won’t be sending much water or oxygen though — those will be manufactured on Mars, Lansdorp said.
Astronauts will filter Martian water from the Martian soil. “We will evaporate it and condense it back into its liquid state,” he said.
“From the water we can make hydrogen and oxygen, and we will use the oxygen for a breathing atmosphere inside the habitat. This will be prepared by the rovers autonomously before the humans arrive.”
It sounds like terraforming, a process in which the conditions of a planet are modified to make it habitable, but Lansdorp said it isn’t.
“We will create an atmosphere that looks like the atmosphere on Earth, so you could say that we are terraforming the habitat. But to terraform the entire planet, that’s a project that will take hundreds and hundreds of years,” he added.
A dangerous mission
In spite of the risks of space travel, the Mars One founder said he is convinced of the viability of the project. However, some space travel experts have said the risks are far too high to carry out these manned missions to Mars, a distance that humans have never traveled.
Radiation is a big concern. NASA does not allow their astronauts to expose themselves to radiation levels that could increase their risk of developing cancer by more than 3%.
To maintain the radiation exposure standards that NASA requires, the maximum time an astronaut can spend in space “is anywhere from about 300 days to about 360 days for the solar minimum activity. For solar maximum, in ranges anywhere from about 275 days to 500 days,” said Eddie Semones, NASA spaceflight radiation officer.
A round-trip journey to Mars could expose astronauts to the maximum amount of radiation allowed in a career under current NASA standards, according to a at the space agency. Mars One is planning a one-way journey, which doesn’t negate the problem, and being on Mars could expose astronauts to even more radiation, depending on how long they stay and what the shielding conditions are like.
Radiation damages cells’ DNA, which can lead to cell death or permanent changes that may result in cancer. However, “there’s no convincing human evidence for excess abnormalities in offspring of radiation-exposed adults,” Semones said.
While orbiting the Earth, astronauts get exposed to greater concentrations of cosmic background radiation than here on Earth in addition to charged particles trapped in the upper atmosphere and from the sun, said Robert J. Reynolds, epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center.
As a spacecraft moves into deep space, the people on board would be exposed to even more cosmic radiation and solar particles, which is “fairly dangerous,” Reynolds said.
Interestingly, according to Reynolds, astronauts’ risk of dying of cancer is lower than that of the general public because they tend to be in shape, eat well, don’t smoke and receive careful monitoring from doctors. Of course, none of them have been to Mars.
Semones emphasized that NASA does not study the health effects of Mars colonization and that it’s focusing on shorter recognition missions of the surface of Mars. “We’re not looking at colonization of Mars or anything. We’re not focusing our research on those kinds of questions.”
Can it be done?
Mars One isn’t the only group hoping to make history by sending people to the red planet. wants to launch two people — a man and a woman — on a 501-day, round-trip journey to Mars and back in 2018 without ever touching down.
At this time there is no technology that can protect astronauts from an excess of space radiation. “The maximum number of days to stay with our standards is on the order of 500 days. So any mission that would exceed 500 days would not be doable,” Semones said.
Reynolds agreed: “At this point it’s completely infeasible to try to send someone to Mars unless we can get there faster or we develop better shielding for a spacecraft.”
NASA is working on engines intended to cut the travel time to Mars by the 2030s, but those systems won’t be ready for many years, Chris Moore, NASA’s deputy director of advanced exploration systems, told CNN this year. In the meantime, Moore said engineers could try to limit travelers’ exposures by designing a spacecraft in such a way that it provides more protection.
But Mars One founder Lansdorp insisted his group will get people landing on Mars by 2023.
“The risks of space travel in general are already very high, so radiation is really not our biggest concern,” he said.
But remember: You can never go home again.
- More than 100,000 want to go to Mars and not return, project says (cnn.com)
- 100,000 sign up for one-way ticket to Mars (telegraph.co.uk)
- Mars One Project: Colonize Mars by 2022 (ecobagsbgc.wordpress.com)
- 1, 00,000 people apply for ‘one-way ticket’ to Mars to never return to Earth (dnaindia.com)
- 100000 people apply to go to Mars and not return – Hindustan Times (hindustantimes.com)
- More than 100,000 want to go to Mars and not return (fox6now.com)
- 100,000 people apply to go to Mars and not return (ndtv.com)
- Over 100,000 People Have Applied for a One-Way Trip to Mars (geekosystem.com)
- 1,00,000 people apply to go to Mars and not return (ibnlive.in.com)
- Applications for one-way trip to Mars top 100,000 – with a handful of Brits involved (metro.co.uk)
Scientists serve up lab-made burger from cow cells
LONDON (AP) — The food of the future could do with a pinch of seasoning — and maybe some cheese.
Two volunteers who took the first public bites of hamburger grown in a laboratory gave it good marks for texture but agreed there was something missing.
“I miss the salt and pepper,” said Austrian nutritionist Hanni Ruetzler. U.S. journalist Josh Schonwald confessed to a difficulty in judging a burger “without ketchup or onions or jalapenos or bacon.” Both tasters shunned the bun, lettuce and sliced tomatoes offered to them to concentrate on the flavor of the meat itself.
Mark Post, the Dutch scientist who led the team that grew the meat from cattle stem cells, regretted having served the patty without his favorite topping: aged gouda cheese.
“That would have enhanced the whole experience tremendously,” he told The Associated Press. He said he was pleased with the reviews: “It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start.”
Post, whose team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands developed the burger over five years, hopes that making meat in labs could eventually help feed the world and fight climate change — although that goal is probably a decade or two away, at best.
“The first (lab-made) meat products are going to be very exclusive,” said Isha Datar, director of New Harvest, an international nonprofit that promotes meat alternatives. “These burgers won’t be in Happy Meals before someone rich and famous is eating them.”
Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, announced that he funded the 250,000-euro ($330,000) project, saying he was motivated by a concern for animal welfare.
“We’re trying to create the first cultured beef hamburger,” he said in a videotaped message. “From there, I’m optimistic we can really scale up by leaps and bounds.”
Scientists agreed that improving the flavor probably won’t be hard.
“Taste is the least (important) problem since this could be controlled by letting some of the stem cells develop into fat cells,” said Stig Omholt, director of biotechnology at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
Adding fat to the burgers this way would probably be healthier than getting it from naturally chunky cows, said Omholt, who was not involved in the project. He called Monday’s tasting a publicity stunt — but not in a bad way. He said it was a smart way to draw public attention, and possibly investor funds, to efforts to develop lab-grown meat.
Post’s team made the meat from shoulder muscle cells of two organically raised cows. The cells were put into a nutrient solution to help them develop into muscle tissue, and they grew into small strands of meat.
It took nearly 20,000 strands to make a single 140-gram (5-ounce) patty, which for Monday’s event was seasoned with salt, egg powder and breadcrumbs. Red beet juice and saffron were added to help the burger look more meat-like; Post said the lab-made patty had a yellowish tinge.
“I’m a vegetarian, but I would be first in line to try this,” said Jonathan Garlick, a stem cell researcher at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. He has used similar techniques to make human skin but wasn’t involved in the burger research.
Experts say new ways of producing meat are needed to satisfy growing carnivorous appetites without exhausting resources. By 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization predicts global meat consumption will double as more people in developing countries can afford it. Raising animals destined for the dinner table takes up about 70 percent of all agricultural land.
The animal rights group PETA has thrown its support behind the lab-meat initiative.
“As long as there’s anybody who’s willing to kill a chicken, a cow or a pig to make their meal, we are all for this,” said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s president and co-founder. “Instead of the millions and billions (of animals) being slaughtered now, we could just clone a few cells to make burgers or chops,” she said.
If the product is ever ready for market, national food authorities will likely require data proving the lab meat is safe; there is no precedent. Some experts said officials might regulate the process used to make such meat, similar to how they monitor beer and wine production.
Only one patty was cooked Monday, and the testers each took less than half of it. Post said he would take the leftovers home so his kids can have a taste.
- Scientists to serve lab-made burger from cow cells (news.yahoo.com)
- Scientists serve up lab-made burger from cow cells (news.yahoo.com)
- Scientists to serve lab-made burger from cow cells (star-telegram.com)
- Scientists To Serve Lab-Made Burger From Cow Cells (npr.org)
- Scientists to serve lab-made burger from cow cells (miamiherald.com)
- Scientists to serve lab-made burger from cow cells (krem.com)
- Scientists to serve lab-made burger from cow cells (thestate.com)
- Stem cell burger short on flavour (stuff.co.nz)
- Scientists to serve lab-made burger from cow cells (metronews.ca)
- Scientists to Serve $300,000 Lab-Made Burger (abcnews.go.com)
Power plants: UGA researchers explore how to harvest electricity directly from plants
May 9, 2013
Ramaraja Ramasamy is an assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering.
Athens, Ga. – The sun provides the most abundant source of energy on the planet. However, only a tiny fraction of the solar radiation on Earth is converted into useful energy.
To help solve this problem, researchers at the University of Georgia looked to nature for inspiration, and they are now developing a new technology that makes it possible to use plants to generate electricity.
“Clean energy is the need of the century,” said Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering and the corresponding author of a paper describing the process in the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science. “This approach may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems.”
Plants are the undisputed champions of solar power. After billions of years of evolution, most of them operate at nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency, meaning that for every photon of sunlight a plant captures, it produces an equal number of electrons. Converting even a fraction of this into electricity would improve upon the efficiency seen with solar panels, which generally operate at efficiency levels between 12 and 17 percent.
During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, which produces electrons. These newly freed electrons go on to help create sugars that plants use much like food to support growth and reproduction.
“We have developed a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that we can capture the electrons before the plant uses them to make these sugars,” said Ramasamy, who is also a member of UGA’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.
Ramasamy’s technology involves separating out structures in the plant cell called thylakoids, which are responsible for capturing and storing energy from sunlight. Researchers manipulate the proteins contained in the thylakoids, interrupting the pathway along which electrons flow.
These modified thylakoids are then immobilized on a specially designed backing of carbon nanotubes, cylindrical structures that are nearly 50,000 times finer than a human hair. The nanotubes act as an electrical conductor, capturing the electrons from the plant material and sending them along a wire.
In small-scale experiments, this approach resulted in electrical current levels that are two orders of magnitude larger than those previously reported in similar systems.
Ramasamy cautions that much more work must be done before this technology reaches commercialization, but he and his collaborators are already working to improve the stability and output of their device.
“In the near term, this technology might best be used for remote sensors or other portable electronic equipment that requires less power to run,” he said. “If we are able to leverage technologies like genetic engineering to enhance stability of the plant photosynthetic machineries, I’m very hopeful that this technology will be competitive to traditional solar panels in the future.”
“We have discovered something very promising here, and it is certainly worth exploring further,” he said. “The electrical output we see now is modest, but only about 30 years ago, hydrogen fuel cells were in their infancy, and now they can power cars, buses and even buildings.”
- Power plants: UGA researchers explore how to harvest electricity directly from plants (eurekalert.org)
- Power plants: UGA researchers explore how to harvest electricity directly from plants (esciencenews.com)
- Nanotubes Capture Electrons from Plant Material for Generating Power (azonano.com)
- True power plants: Researchers explore how to harvest electricity directly from plants (nanowerk.com)
- How to harvest electricity directly from plants (scienceblog.com)
- Plug into a plant: A new approach to clean energy harvesting (gizmag.com)
- Scientists Use Cyborg Plants to Harvest Solar Energy (dailyfusion.net)
- ‘Power plants’: How to harvest electricity directly from plants (sciencedaily.com)
- Scientists Interrupt Photosynthesis To Snatch Plants’ Clean Energy (earthtechling.com)
- Nature’s power plants (bizjournals.com)
Scientists Discover Protein That Reverses Heart Disease In Older Mice
Scientists at Harvard University think they have found a way to possibly reverse the aging process in human organs.
Dr. Richard Lee, director of regenerative medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Amy Wagers, of the Department of Regenerative Biology at Harvard, made the discovery when they were working with younger and older mice.
They took an older mouse with the most common form of human heart failure and merged the mouse’s blood stream with that of a healthy young mouse using a Siamese twin technique known as parabiosis. They found that the older mouse’s diseased heart was able to reverse to a younger healthier condition.
They later identified a protein in the blood of young mice called GDF-11, which diminishes with age. They injected this protein directly into the older mice and had the same positive results. They are using this protein to restore other aging/diseased tissues and organs. Their results are published online today in the science journal Cell.
- Scientists may be able to reverse aging process in vital organs (upi.com)
- Transfusions Reverse Aging Effects On Hearts In Mice (science.slashdot.org)
- Scientists discover protein that may turn hearts younger (foxnews.com)
- ‘Macabre’ Technique Turns Old Mouse Hearts Young (news.sciencemag.org)
- Protein Rejuvenates Hearts In Mice (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Scientists discover protein that can REVERSE ageing in the heart (dailymail.co.uk)
- Blood hormone restores youthful hearts to old mice (nature.com)
- Researchers Discover Protein that Could Reverse Aging in the Heart (counselheal.com)
- Young blood reverses heart decline in old mice (newscientist.com)
- Blood ‘Youth’ Hormone Reverses Heart Failure Symptoms in Aging Mouse Hearts (medicaldaily.com)
Einstein Letter on Religion and God to Be Auctioned on eBay
Bidding to start at $3 million.
Wikimedia Commons/Rebecca J. Rosen
On January 3, 1954 — one year before his death — Albert Einstein wrote a letter to Eric B. Gutkind, whose book, Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt, Einstein had recently been reading. The handwritten letter, which is in German, has been kept in good condition over the last six decadeswill be auctioned off on eBay over the next two weeks. Bidding will begin at $3 million. (An image of the letter is available here.)
In the letter, Einstein offers some pointed and characteristically brief thoughts on God and religion. In a key passage, he writes:
The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text.*
Despite the dramatic events in the world that he both lived through (e.g. the Holocaust) and directly brought about (e.g. the discovery of the general theory of relativity), Einstein was in many ways remarkably consistent in his feelings about God and religion, and the sentiments in this letter echo those that he had been formulating — not to mention promulgating — for decades.
The clearest of those here is Einstein’s critique of religion as not sophisticated enough to render the universe as Einstein understood it. This is something he said, or at least hinted at, many times, such as when he wrote to a U.S. Navy ensign that he considered a father-figure-like understanding of God to be a consequence of “childish analogies.” Religion, Einstein believed, made a caricature of God.
That’s not, however, because Einstein rejected the notion of God, but because he took the idea of God very seriously, elevating it above a religious conception to a mathematical one. To Einstein, the elegance of the physics guiding the universe were God’s handiwork, the mark not of a humanlike being that maintains control over the world, but of a divine beauty in nature’s laws. As Walter Issacson wrote in his biography, following a religious phase in childhood, Einstein retained “a profound reverence for the harmony and beauty of what he called the mind of God as it was expressed in the creation of the universe and its laws.”
Einstein’s God — deeply shaped by the ideas of Baruch Spinoza — was a “superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe,” he wrote. His religion followed from there. As Isaacson tells it:
One evening in Berlin, Einstein and his wife were at a dinner party when a guest expressed a belief in astrology. Einstein ridiculed the notion as pure superstition. Another guest stepped in and similarly disparaged religion. Belief in God, he insisted, was likewise a superstition.
At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs.
“It isn’t possible!” the skeptical guest said, turning to Einstein to ask if he was, in fact, religious.
“Yes, you can call it that,” Einstein replied calmly. “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.”
In a 1930 essay, Einstein expressed this another way: “To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man.”
Prayer would have little influence over such a God and have no role in Einstein’s personal religion. “Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and this holds for the actions of people,” he told a sixth-grade girl. “For this reason, a scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a supernatural Being.”
All of this squares with Einstein’s letter now on auction. The religion of the Bible was too provincial, too small, to contain the God Einstein revered. That God, the one he found in physics and who inspired his science, deserved more. But, nevertheless, Einstein didn’t believe that differing views on God should interfere with the development of understanding among men. Supernatural matters were abstract, disconnected from the exigencies of the 20th century. In closing his letter to Gutkind he wrote, “Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual ‘props’ and ‘rationalization’ in Freud’s language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.”
- Einstein Letter Critical of Religion To Be Auctioned On EBay (science.slashdot.org)
- Einstein Letter on God Up for Auction (msatheists.org)
- Einstein’s letter on God to be auctioned on eBay (todayonline.com)
- Einstein Letter Calling Biblical Stories ‘Pretty Childish’ to Be Auctioned on eBay (theatlantic.com)
- Einstein Letter Calling Biblical Stories ‘Pretty Childish’ to Be Auctioned on eBay (insideboxmag.com)
- Albert Einstein’s ‘God Letter’ To Be Auctioned On eBay With An Opening Bid Of $3 Million (PHOTO) (huffingtonpost.com)
- Einstein Letter on Religion (thetruthwashere.wordpress.com)
- Albert Einstein’s ‘God Letter’ handwritten a year before his death to auction at eBay starting at$3M (bornrich.com)
- Einstein’s ‘God letter’ to be auctioned (msnbc.msn.com)
- Einstein letter on God to be auctioned on eBay (cnsnews.com)
DNA: The Ultimate Hard Drive
By John Bohannon, ScienceNOW
When it comes to storing information, hard drives don’t hold a candle to DNA. Our genetic code packs billions of gigabytes into a single gram. A mere milligram of the molecule could encode the complete text of every book in the Library of Congress and have plenty of room to spare. All of this has been mostly theoretical — until now. In a new study, researchers stored an entire genetics textbook in less than a picogram of DNA — one trillionth of a gram — an advance that could revolutionize our ability to save data.
A few teams have tried to write data into the genomes of living cells. But the approach has a couple of disadvantages. First, cells die — not a good way to lose your term paper. They also replicate, introducing new mutations over time that can change the data.
To get around these problems, a team led by George Church, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, created a DNA information-archiving system that uses no cells at all. Instead, an inkjet printer embeds short fragments of chemically synthesized DNA onto the surface of a tiny glass chip. To encode a digital file, researchers divide it into tiny blocks of data and convert these data not into the 1s and 0s of typical digital storage media, but rather into DNA’s four-letter alphabet of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts. Each DNA fragment also contains a digital “barcode” that records its location in the original file. Reading the data requires a DNA sequencer and a computer to reassemble all of the fragments in order and convert them back into digital format. The computer also corrects for errors; each block of data is replicated thousands of times so that any chance glitch can be identified and fixed by comparing it to the other copies.
To demonstrate its system in action, the team used the DNA chips to encode a genetics book co-authored by Church. It worked. After converting the book into DNA and translating it back into digital form, the team’s system had a raw error rate of only two errors per million bits, amounting to a few single-letter typos. That is on par with DVDs and far better than magnetic hard drives. And because of their tiny size, DNA chips are now the storage medium with the highest known information density, the researchers report online today in Science.
Don’t replace your flash drive with genetic material just yet, however. The cost of the DNA sequencer and other instruments “currently makes this impractical for general use,” says Daniel Gibson, a synthetic biologist at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, “but the field is moving fast and the technology will soon be cheaper, faster, and smaller.” Gibson led the team that created the first completely synthetic genome, which included a “watermark” of extra data encoded into the DNA. The researchers used a three-letter coding system that is less efficient than the Church team’s but has built-in safeguards to prevent living cells from translating the DNA into proteins. “If DNA is going to be used for this purpose, and outside a laboratory setting, then you would want to use DNA sequence that is least likely to be expressed in the environment,” he says. Church disagrees. Unless someone deliberately “subverts” his DNA data-archiving system, he sees little danger.
- DNA: The Ultimate Hard Drive (news.sciencemag.org)
- DNA: The Ultimate Hard Drive (wired.com)
- Harvard Medical School researchers encode full-length novel in DNA (theverge.com)
- Book written in DNA code (guardian.co.uk)
- Harvard cracks DNA storage, crams 700 terabytes of data into a single gram (extremetech.com)
- Soon you’ll be backing up your hard drive using DNA [Biotechnology] (io9.com)
- Harvard Researchers Can Store All the Data Humans Make in a Year on 4 grams of DNA (forbes.com)
- DNA: Database of the New Age (girlmeetswhiskey.com)
- Researchers encode entire ebook in DNA strands (geek.com)
Tevatron Targets Higgs Mass
Today, researchers from Fermilab announced they have zeroed in further on the mass of the Higgs boson, the controversially-called “God particle”* that is thought to be the key to all mass in the Universe. This news comes just two days before a highly-anticipated announcement by CERN during the ICHEP physics conference in Melbourne, Australia (which is expected by many to confirm actual proof of the Higgs.)
Even after analyzing the data from 500 trillion collisions produced over the past decade at Fermilab’s Tevatron particle collider the Higgs particle has not been identified directly. But a narrower range for its mass has been established with some certainty: according to the research the Higgs, if it exists, has a mass between 115 and 135 GeV/c2.
“Our data strongly point toward the existence of the Higgs boson, but it will take results from the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe to establish a discovery,” said Fermilab’s Rob Roser, cospokesperson for the CDF experiment at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
Researchers hunt for the Higgs by looking for particles that it breaks down into. With the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, scientists look for energetic photons, while at Fermilab CDFand DZero collaborators have been searching for bottom quarks. Both are viable results expected from the decay of a Higgs particle, “just as a vending machine might return the same amount of change using different combinations of coins.”
Fermilab’s results have a statistical significance of 2.9 sigma, meaning that there’s a 1-in-550 chance that the data was the result of something else entirely. While a 5-sigma significance is required for an official “discovery”, these findings show that the Higgs is running out of places to hide.
“We have developed sophisticated simulation and analysis programs to identify Higgs-like patterns,” said Luciano Ristori, co-spokesperson of the CDF experiment. ”Still, it is easier to look for a friend’s face in a sports stadium filled with 100,000 people than to search for a Higgs-like event among trillions of collisions.”
“We achieved a critical step in the search for the Higgs boson. Nobody expected the Tevatron to get this far when it was built in the 1980s.”
– Dmitri Denisov, DZero cospokesperson and physicist at Fermilab
Nearly 50 years since it was proposed, physicists may now be on the edge of exposing this elusive and essential ingredient of… well, everything.
See the Fermilab press release here.
- Tevatron offers Higgs boson data (upi.com)
- God particle is ‘found’: Scientists at Cern expected to announce Higgs boson particle has been discovered on Wednesday | Mail Online (mbcalyn.com)
- Tevatron collider waves goodbye to the Higgs (newscientist.com)
- Tevatron scientists announce their final results on the Higgs particle (esciencenews.com)
- Tevatron collider waves goodbye to the Higgs (newscientist.com)
- Tevatron Scientists Announce Their Final Results On the Higgs Particle (thesciencebulletin.wordpress.com)
- Tevatron scientists announce their final results on the Higgs particle (earthsky.org)
- Final Tevatron data gives more strong evidence of the Higgs Boson (wired.co.uk)
- Higgs boson: US physicists find strongest evidence yet of ‘god particle’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Puny US particle punisher finds strong evidence for God particle (go.theregister.com)
Scientists Find Truth in “Mad Scientist” Stereotype: There Is a Link between Genius and Insanity – Medical Daily
Scientists Find Truth in “Mad Scientist” Stereotype: There Is a Link between Genius and Insanity
Genius and insanity may actually go together, according to scientists who found that mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are often found in highly creative and intelligent people.
BY CHRISTINE HSU |
Photo: REUTERS/Bobby Yip
U.S. mathematician and Nobel Laureate John Nash, 83, stands on the podium as he receives an Honorary Doctor of Science at the City University of Hong Kong November 8, 2011. Many prodigies like painter Van Gogh, author Jack Kerouac and mathematician John Nash had displayed self-destructive behaviors, and it is unclear as to why humans have evolved this trait of gift and deficit.
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- The Connection Between Madness and Genius… (itiltdotme.wordpress.com)
- Why Are Genius and Madness Connected? (livescience.com)
- Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety (everydayhealth.com)
- Why Are Genius and Madness Connected? (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Demi Lovato Talks About Anorexia, Bulimia, Cutting And Bipolar Disorder In Cosmo (now100fm.cbslocal.com)
- Bipolar Disorder (allaboutcounseling.com)
- Lithium Treatment for Bipolar Disorder (everydayhealth.com)
- Bipolar Disorder – What to Say, What Not to Say (everydayhealth.com)
- Bipolar Disorder (lupuschronicles.com)
- Demi Lovato Talks Bipolar Disorder & Dating with ‘Cosmopolitan’ (justjared.com)