Biotech

Self-Propelling Microparticles Spot Ricin In Minutes (acs.org) 14

ckwu writes: Tiny rocketlike particles that move around on their own in a hydrogen peroxide solution can detect trace amounts of the lethal toxin ricin within minutes. The tube-shaped, microsized particles--made of graphene oxide lined with platinum--carry sensor molecules that glow when they bind to ricin. In a dilute hydrogen peroxide solution, the platinum catalyzes the breakdown of the peroxide into water and oxygen. The oxygen bubbles shoot out one end of the tube, propelling them in the liquid like little rockets. The swimming motors could actively seek out ricin in a sample and speed up detection, paving the way towards a quick, easy way to detect the bioterrorism agent in food and water samples (without having to bring them back to a lab).
Robotics

World's First Robotic Farm To Produce 11 Million Heads of Lettuce Per Year (inhabitat.com) 161

MikeChino writes: Japanese company SPREAD is preparing to open the world's first robot-controlled farm. The facility is designed to produce 11 million heads of lettuce each year, and it's expected to ship its first crop in Fall 2017. The new 47,300 square feet Vegetable Factory in Kansai Science City will also reduce construction costs by 25 percent and energy demand by 30 percent.
Power

Why the Calorie Is Broken (arstechnica.com) 108

New submitter ami.one writes: Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley explain how we are still using a century old method for measuring the calories in our food and the calories spent in different human activities. Essentially, there is a very big difference between burning stuff in a bomb calorie-meter and the extremely complex ways our body extracts energy from food. In fact, the exact process of digestion is yet to be understood sufficiently at a micro level, and years from being replicated to any close degree. Plus, the way our bodies spend calories for a given activity is hugely different from the way a car consumer gasoline and dependent on a number of parameters — some of which are not even known currently. Therefore, balancing calories in to Calories out is not so stupidly simple as it seems to the underweight layperson . Update: 01/28 22:09 GMT by T : Sorry for the duplicate post; it was a long night.
Science

Why the Calorie Is Broken (arstechnica.com) 425

An anonymous reader writes: Nutrition is a subject for which everybody should understand the basics. Unfortunately, this is hard. Not only is there a ton of conflicting research about how to properly fuel your body, there's a multi-billion-dollar industry with financial incentive to muddy the waters. Further, one of the most basic concepts for how we evaluate food — the calorie — is incredibly imprecise. "Wilbur Atwater, a Department of Agriculture scientist, began by measuring the calories contained in more than 4,000 foods. Then he fed those foods to volunteers and collected their faeces, which he incinerated in a bomb calorimeter. After subtracting the energy measured in the faeces from that in the food, he arrived at the Atwater values, numbers that represent the available energy in each gram of protein, carbohydrate and fat. These century-old figures remain the basis for today's standards."

In addition to the measuring system being outdated, the amount of calories taken from a meal can vary from person to person. Differences in metabolism and digestive efficiency add sizable error bars. Then there are issues with serving sizes and preparation methods. Research is now underway to find a better measure of food intake than the calorie. One possibility for the future is mapping your internal chemistry and having it analyzed with a massive database to see what foods work best for you. Another may involve tweaking your gut microbiome to change how you extract energy from certain foods.

Medicine

US Regulators Find Serious Deficiencies At Theranos Lab (wsj.com) 66

An anonymous reader writes: 2016 has not started well for blood-testing startup Theranos. Already facing allegations of data manipulation, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have found problems with Theranos' laboratory in Newark, California, putting the company's relationship with the Medicare program in danger. WSJ reports: "It isn't clear exactly what regulators have faulted Theranos for in their latest inspection, which took several months. Adverse findings would be another regulatory setback for one of Silicon Valley's highest-profile startups, valued at about $9 billion in 2014. Theranos already has stopped collecting tiny samples of blood from patients' fingers for all but one of its tests while it waits for the Food and Drug Administration to review the company's applications for wider use of the proprietary vials called 'nanotainers.' In October, the FDA said it had determined that the nanotainers were an 'uncleared medical device.'"
Earth

Overfishing Responsible For Declining Fish Population (theguardian.com) 212

iONiUM send word of a new study into fishing practices around the world that found official reports have dramatically underestimated the number of fish caught over the past several decades. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, global catches peaked at 86 million tons in 1996, and began a slow decline after that. This study suggests the peak was much higher — around 130 million tons — and subsequent catch rates are falling three times faster. Significantly, they believe the decline is not due to less fishing activity, but rather the exhaustion of supply in many areas. One of the study's authors, Daniel Pauly, said, "I expect a continued decline because I don’t expect countries to realise the need to rebuild stocks. I don’t see African countries, for example, rebuilding their stocks, or being allowed to by the foreign fleets that are working there, because the pressure to continue to fish is very strong. We know how to fix this problem but whether we do it or not depends on conditions that are difficult."
Biotech

Fraud Detected In Science Research That Suggested GMO Crops Were Harmful (nature.com) 357

An anonymous reader writes: Three science papers that had suggested that genetically modified crops were harmful to animals and have been used by activist groups to argue for their ban have been found to contain manipulated and possibly falsified data. Nature reports: "Papers that describe harmful effects to animals fed genetically modified (GM) crops are under scrutiny for alleged data manipulation. The leaked findings of an ongoing investigation at the University of Naples in Italy suggest that images in the papers may have been intentionally altered. The leader of the lab that carried out the work there says that there is no substance to this claim. The papers' findings run counter to those of numerous safety tests carried out by food and drug agencies around the world, which indicate that there are no dangers associated with eating GM food. But the work has been widely cited on anti-GM websites — and results of the experiments that the papers describe were referenced in an Italian Senate hearing last July on whether the country should allow cultivation of safety-approved GM crops. 'The case is very important also because these papers have been used politically in the debate on GM crops,' says Italian senator Elena Cattaneo, a neuroscientist at the University of Milan whose concerns about the work triggered the investigation.
EU

Iran Complies With Nuclear Deal; Sanctions Lifted (nytimes.com) 229

An anonymous reader writes: Iran has shipped most of its nuclear fuel out of the country, destroyed the innards of a plutonium-producing reactor and mothballed more than 12,000 centrifuges. This compliance with the nuclear accord struck in July has caused the U.S. and Europe to lift financial sanctions on Iran, releasing ~$100 billion in assets. "Under the new rules put in place, the United States will no longer sanction foreign individuals or firms for buying oil and gas from Iran. The American trade embargo remains in place, but the government will permit certain limited business activities with Iran, such as selling or purchasing Iranian food and carpets and American commercial aircraft and parts. It is an opening to Iran that represents a huge roll of the dice, one that will be debated long after Mr. Obama he has built his presidential library. It is unclear what will happen after the passing of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has protected and often fueled the hardliners — but permitted these talks to go ahead."
Earth

Grisly Find Suggests Humans Inhabited Arctic 45,000 Years Ago (sciencemag.org) 138

sciencehabit points out this story which may rewrite the early history of humans in North America. From the Sciencemag story: "In August of 2012, an 11-year-old boy made a gruesome discovery in a frozen bluff overlooking the Arctic Ocean. While exploring the foggy coast of Yenisei Bay, about 2000 kilometers south of the North Pole, he came upon the leg bones of a woolly mammoth eroding out of frozen sediments. Scientists excavating the well-preserved creature determined that it had been killed by humans: Its eye sockets, ribs, and jaw had been battered, apparently by spears, and one spear-point had left a dent in its cheekbone—perhaps a missed blow aimed at the base of its trunk. When they dated the remains, the researchers got another surprise: The mammoth died 45,000 years ago. That means that humans lived in the Arctic more than 10,000 years earlier than scientists believed, according to a new study. The find suggests that even at this early stage, humans were traversing the most frigid parts of the globe and had the adaptive ability to migrate almost everywhere."
Education

Turning Around a School District By Fighting Poverty (npr.org) 413

New submitter gomezedward40 writes: Through her unconventional focus on addressing poverty, Superintendent Tiffany Anderson has been credited with rapidly improving the school district of Jennings, Mo. NPR reports: "The school district of 3,000 students has taken unprecedented steps, like opening a food pantry to give away food, a shelter for homeless students and a health clinic, among other efforts. 'My purpose is to remove the challenges that poverty creates,' she says. 'You can not expect children to learn at a high level if they come in hungry and tired.' That unconventional approach has had big results. When Anderson took over in 2012, the school district was close to losing accreditation. Jennings had a score of 57 percent on state educational standards. A district loses accreditation if that score goes below 50 percent. Two years later, that score was up to 78 percent, and in the past year rose again to 81 percent, Anderson says. She points to a 92 percent 4-year graduation rate, and a 100 percent college and career placement rate."
Science

Ant Behavior Significantly Altered By Injecting a Single Enzyme (arstechnica.com) 45

New submitter Fiona_OHanlon writes: According to an article at Ars Technica, researchers injected enzymes into ant larvae brains, causing genetically identical ants from different castes to behave as if they were from the opposite caste. From the story: "Carpenter ants live in a caste system, where some members of the colony grow into large, strong worker guards known as majors and others grow into small, inquisitive food scouts known as minors. [The researchers] focused specifically on enzymes that affect 160 genes whose activity diverged the most between minors and majors. Those genes included ones associated with learning, memory, and the way neurons communicate with each other in the brain. ... After several experiments with feeding the substance to their insect subjects, the researchers figured out how to inject the enzymes into the brains of major workers shortly after hatching (abstract). The treatment made the ants take on new social roles immediately. ... The modification ultimately depended on changing the behavior of one particular gene, Rpd3, which set off a cascade effect that changed the behavior of other genes too."
Medicine

DUI Charges Dismissed Against Woman Whose Body Brews Alcohol (cnn.com) 259

HughPickens.com writes: CNN reports that a judge dismissed DUI charges against a woman in upstate New York after being presented with evidence the woman suffers from "auto-brewery syndrome" even though she blew a blood alcohol level more than four times the legal limit. "I had never heard of auto-brewery syndrome before this case," says attorney Joseph Marusak. "But I knew something was amiss when the hospital police took the woman to wanted to release her immediately because she wasn't exhibiting any symptoms." Also known as gut-fermentation syndrome, this rare medical condition can occur when abnormal amounts of gastrointestinal yeast convert common food carbohydrates into ethanol. The process is believed to take place in the small bowel, and is vastly different from the normal gut fermentation in the large bowel that gives our bodies energy.
Advertising

Games Involving Candy Stimulate Kids' Appetites (www.ru.nl) 43

An anonymous reader writes: Most of us are aware by now of the myriad internet games created not for their own sake, but as a marketing tool for another product. But we're not the target audience for these games — kids are. New research out of Radboud University found that two-thirds of all kids around primary school age play one of these games at least once a week, and almost none of them are aware that they're advertisements (abstract). Worse, the game-ads are really effective. "..shortly after playing a game with an embedded food advertisement, children ate 55% more of the candy offered to them than children who had played a game with an embedded toy advertisement." The researchers further add that "it does not matter whether the games are about candy or fruit: children eat more candy after playing a game involving food."
Earth

$7 Million Xprize For Deep Ocean Exploration (businesswire.com) 37

An anonymous reader writes: Peter Diamandis announced today the launch of a new Xprize competition. $7 million is available for teams who are capable of pushing the boundaries of ocean exploration. "Our oceans cover two-thirds of our planet's surface and are a crucial global source of food, energy, economic security, and even the air we breathe, yet 95 percent of the deep sea remains a mystery to us," Diamandis said. The competition goals are as follows: "In each round, teams will complete a series of tasks, including making a bathymetric map (a map of the sea floor), producing high-resolution images of a specific object, and identifying archeological, biological or geological features. Teams also must show resiliency and durability by proving they can operate their technologies, deployed from the shore or air, at a depth of up to 4,000 meters."
Biotech

Chipotle Plans To DNA Test Produce After E-Coli Outbreaks In Nine States 147

HughPickens.com writes: Lisa Jenning reports at Restaurant News that Chipotle plans to do DNA-based tests of all fresh produce before it is shipped to restaurants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle now includes seven more people in three new states, including Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania, for a total count of 52 sickened in nine states. Most of the illnesses were in Washington, with 27 cases, and Oregon, with 13 cases. Twenty people have been hospitalized but there have been no reported deaths. Health officials say a meal or ingredient from Chipotle was likely the cause, but they have not yet identified the specific source of the outbreak. Chipotle's founder and co-chief executive, Steve Ells apologized to patrons who fell ill after eating at the company's restaurants. "This was a very unfortunate incident and I'm deeply sorry that this happened, but the procedures we're putting in place today are so above industry norms that we are going to be the safest place to eat." The chain will begin end-of-shelf-life testing to ensure quality specifications are met throughout the shelf life of products. The data collected will be used to measure the performance of vendors and suppliers to enhance food safety throughout the system.

But food safety experts are mixed about the effectiveness of such screening efforts for the prevention of foodborne illness. Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association, says such tests are not practical as a screening tool. Instead, restaurant chains should focus on whether their suppliers have adequate food-safety programs in place. "You can't test your way to safety," says Whitaker. "The problem with product testing by itself is that it's hard to take enough samples to be confident that the product is free of any pathogens." DNA tests are considered among the most accurate and fast, with same-day testing available for organisms like E. coli or salmonella, says Morgan Wallace. Some manufacturers don't wait for results, since produce is perishable, but that introduces the risk of a produce recall if a pathogen has been identified after shipment. Others hold the product until test results are confirmed, but that practice adds holding costs and reduces the shelf life.
Japan

Japan Defends Scientific Value of New Plan To Kill 333 Minke Whales (sciencemag.org) 214

sciencehabit writes with news that Japan plans on killing 333 minke whales this year as part of their whale research program in the Antarctic Ocean. "We did our best to try to meet the criteria established by the ICJ and we have decided to implement our research plan because we are confident we have completed our scientific homework," Joji Morishita, the nation's representative to the International Whaling Commission said. Science reports: "Japan has resumed its controversial lethal research whaling because it wants to determine how many minke whales can be harvested sustainably while studying the environment, Joji Morishita, the nation's representative to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), told a press conference today. 'We'd like to find out how the marine ecosystem of the Antarctic Ocean is actually shifting or changing and not just look at whales but [also at] krill and the oceanographic situation,' Morishita said.

Japan's whaling fleet last week departed for the southern seas for the first time since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the nation to halt its research whaling in March 2014. The court ruled that Japan's JARPA II program, which sought to take some 850 minke whales, 50 fin whales, and 50 humpback whales, was not for the purposes of scientific research as stipulated in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The convention allows countries to kill whales for research."
ISS

Cygnus Launches In First Mission Since Antares Rocket Explosion (arstechnica.com) 39

An anonymous reader writes: An Atlas V rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station has lifted off from Cape Canaveral. This is the first flight of the Cygnus since the previous spacecraft was destroyed during an Antares rocket explosion in 2014. Ars reports: "Sunday's successful launch was the fourth attempt this week to get CRS Orb-4 into space. Three previous launch attempts—one per day since Thursday—were scrubbed due to foul weather at Cape Canaveral. The CRS-4 Cygnus capsule is currently en route to the ISS, carrying about 7300 pounds (about 3300kg) of food, hardware, and scientific equipment for the Expedition 44 crew on board the ISS (which includes US astronaut Scott Kelly, who is more than halfway through a year-long stay aboard the station)."
Science

Disease Threatens 99% of the Banana Market (washingtonpost.com) 199

An anonymous reader writes: In the 1950s, Panama Disease wiped out the dominant type of banana that was imported worldwide. Banana-growers had to switch to a different strain, the Cavendish banana, at great expense. Now, a new study finds that a more virulent strain of the disease is directly threatening the Cavendish banana. Banana plants are dying from it throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Australia. It hasn't reached Latin America yet, which is good — that's where the vast majority of the world's bananas are produced. But the researchers say it's just a matter of time. "The latest strain is likely to put the risks of monoculture on display once more. And while scientists might find or breed a better one in the mean time, the reality is that this time around we don't have a formidable replacement that's resistant to the new strain of Panama Disease. Once it reaches Latin America, as it is expected to, it could be only a matter of decades before the most popular banana on the planet once again disappears."
Advertising

Companies Want To Insert Ads Into Unicode (thenextweb.com) 262

AmiMoJo writes: Food company Nestle has started a petition to get a KitKat emoji into the Unicode standard. They aren't alone, Taco Bell wants a taco emoji added, and Durex suggested adding a condom. While the latter two are at least generic, KitKat is a trademark of Nestle and the "break" image a key part of their marketing. Next year Unicode will include a faceplam emoji (U+1F926) for occasions such as this.

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