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Comment: Re:so...... (Score 2) 348

Why is this comment modded off topic? Anyone who has bothered to read the linked webpages would know they are not talking about photovoltaics. What perhaps *IS* off topic is that is usually a really poor source of good science. The feed they provide to YAHOO is almost always filled with sensationalist nonsense.

Comment: Re:the next logical step (Score 1) 85

I don't have very deep background in this area, but a bit of trivia from a neuroscience class two years ago is relevant here. Decades ago, before research ethics developed to its current state, there was an experiment using a de-brained but still living cat that showed the neural circuitry in the spinal cord was sophisticated enough to coordinate walking/running with no input/output to the brain. The following youtube clip shows film footage of the cat suspended over a treadmill where the motion of the tread stimulated anatomically correct gaits of normal healthy animals. In other words, the artificial stimulation doesn't really control *how* they walk or perform other tasks that are "instinctual". Most of that is an innate ability of the central nervous system. Voluntary control of muscles and movement, especially fine control, like dodging obstacles, for example, are still a bit tricky to hack at the current state of understanding.

Comment: the next logical step (Score 3, Insightful) 85

After they optimize this for human physiology and gain commercial approval, this technology will obviously be a boon for accident victims. However, the engineer in me can't help but think of how far they can take the cyborg theme. ALS is a disease where motor neurons selectively waste away. Do we dare hope that we can eventually bypass the whole path of neuro connections to directly stimulate individual muscle groups?

Comment: Re:You completely missed the point of the article (Score 1) 27

by Doubting Sapien (#47821211) Attached to: CPU's Heat Output to Amplify DNA Could Make Drastically Cheaper Tests
Mod parent up. I've read only the abstract of the article, but even still, the proposed system as described is a terribly expensive way to do PCR for another reason. Typical PCR reaction runs usually thermocycle around 20-30 times. That is 20 to 30 times you will need to change the temperature of your heat sink from a high denaturing temp to a low annealing temp to facilitate DNA replication. One of the first things I was taught in heat transfer as an electrical engineer is that the overwhelming factor involved in electronics failure is material fatigue due to thermo expansion/contraction. If you try to turn the CPU of a commodity PC into a thermocycling heat sink, you are going kill that machine really fast. Better to put in the investment for a proper thermocycler and related equipment designed to do the job correctly and reliably. Molecular biology is cheap enough these days that you don't need to do these crazy ostentatious hacks.

Comment: Beyond human efforts. (Score 4, Interesting) 190

Laboratory samples are not necessarily the only sources of still viable small pox virus. With climate change now a global reality, thawing of the arctic permafrost means that the remains of victims who died of smallpox before eradication, even if buried (but especially if not), can potentially still release the disease into the current population. There was some news a while ago when the the Spanish Flu of 1918 was recovered in this way, albeit intentionally in the interest of science. But who knows if/when nature should take it's course this way with small pox, without our help?

Comment: Re:How long before... (Score 1) 105

by Doubting Sapien (#47338159) Attached to: Fixing Faulty Genes On the Cheap
It is hard to predict the progress of technology, so - NO: I won't tell you "how long before...." But I'll try to explain why CRISPR is special enough to be exciting in my experience and what technological/engineering hurdles need to be overcome in order to reach your objective.
At the moment, variations of the CRISPR-CAS system can only edit the genome of individual cells in vitro with varying efficiency. This is assuming you can culture the cells to begin with. For example, I work with human embryonic stem cells, which are particularly finicky. They won't tolerate much roughness and will even up and die on you if the growth conditions are just a bit off. This is very hard to achieve reliably as some culturing reagents (coating matrix, for example) are "undefined" products with variations in composition from batch to batch.
To go to a chop shop and treat your issue at the genetic level requires an in vivo way to introduce a CRISPR-enabled vector into your cells. This is not easy to do with today's technology, but it may not necessarily be a deal breaker. In the example you gave, a food allergy can probably be addressed by treating only the GI tract and the immune system that comes into contact with the offending allergen. As such, there is no need to target every living cell in your body in this case. However, if you are treating an illness involving a more fundamental life process, that is not the case. For example, a mitochondrial disease where basic cellular metabolism is defective would probably be best tackled when an individual is still a developing embryo or at least very, very young. Otherwise, tissues and organs that are not convenient to access will still retain the genetic defect and present problems for the host organism.
Another question is where in the genome you want to edit. So far, one of our experiments involving the targeted insertion (non-CRISPR method) of a construct into our hESCs have been a bust. Our best guess is that the intended site of transfection (sub-telemeric regions of chromosomes) is critical for cell survival and too much fiddling in the area is fatal. CRISPR-CAS was a compelling solution for us because of how ideally targeted it is supposed to be. We are not aware of anyone else who've used CRISPR with hESCs in the way that we are doing, but what has been reported so far with other experiments using notoriously difficult subjects has been encouraging. So far, the experiment shows clear evidence of true integration into the genome as opposed to a transient transfection. In about a week, a Southern blot verification will tell us if the integration was random or indeed targeted.
As rosy as I can paint a picture about what is possible, however, strong caution follows the introduction of any new technology. Anonymous Coward may be an asshole, but (s)he isn't wrong for being a cynic about the commercial deployment of this as a consumer product. Considering how complex human biology is, the chance of an unintended edit with unanticipated consequences is more than likely. Many genes are linked in very convoluted ways. Even with the human genome project having ostensibly mapped everything, we are still looking at just the tip of the iceberg. Having a complete manuscript, is very different from understanding all the nuances of the story. To get back to the spirit of your question, I would imagine that the scenario probably is more similar to dental service, where you go back periodically to check on the integrity of any major service, with tweaks along the way as necessary.

+ - Y Chromosome Is More Than a Sex Switch->

Submitted by sciencehabit
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "The small, stumpy Y chromosome—possessed by male mammals but not females, and often shrugged off as doing little more than determining the sex of a developing fetus—may impact human biology in a big way. Two independent studies have concluded that the sex chromosome, which shrank millions of years ago, retains the handful of genes that it does not by chance, but because they are key to our survival. The findings may also explain differences in disease susceptibility between men and women."
Link to Original Source

+ - Koreans successfully transplant human brain stem cells into primates-> 1

Submitted by Anonymous Coward
An anonymous reader writes "A team of researchers in Korea has transplanted human neural stem cells (hNSCs) into the brains of nonhuman primates and found that after two years, the cells had successfully differentiated into neurons without causing tumors. Their goal is to show that stem cells can help regrow parts of the human brain damaged by stroke. Current treatment with clot busters within three hours after a stroke has shown good outcomes, said study co-author Dr. Seung U. Kim of University of British Columbia. "[But] stem cell therapy has the potential to address the treatment needs of those stroke patients for whom tPA treatment was unavailable or did not help." The study will be published Cell Transplantation but is available on-line as an unedited early e-pub."
Link to Original Source

+ - Contacting the author of lost software?

Submitted by AAWood
AAWood (918613) writes "I used to love a freeware PalmOS game from way back... so much so that I'd like a crack at making my own version for modern systems. I don't want to go ahead without contacting the author for their blessing, which is a problem when I don't have the game, aren't sure I remember the name, and can't find any indication is ever existed online.

Are there any useful avenues for tracking down forgotten developers? Should I go ahead if I can't find them? Have you ever had a situation where you needed something you knew was out there, but could no longer find?"

+ - The Science of Shakespeare

Submitted by Hugh Pickens DOT Com
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Dan Falk writes in Scientific American that in the last few years, scholars have begun to look more closely at William Shakespeare’s interest in the scientific discoveries of his time—asking what he knew, when he knew it, and how that knowledge might be reflected in his work. Astronomer Peter Usher argues that examples of the playwright’s scientific knowledge can be found in works spanning his entire career and has taken a particular interest in Hamlet, which he sees as an allegory about competing cosmological worldviews. "According to Usher, the play references not only Copernicus, but also Ptolemy, as well as Tycho Brahe (PDF), who pushed for a hybrid model of the solar system (a compromise that preserved elements of the ancient Ptolemaic system as well as the new Copernican model). Digges, too, is central to Usher’s theory. When Hamlet envisions himself as “a king of infinite space," could he be alluding to the new, infinite universe described—for the first time—by his countryman Thomas Digges?" Usher’s proposal may sound far-fetched—but even skeptics do a double take when they look at Tycho Brahe’s coat of arms, noticing that two of Tycho’s relatives were named “Rosencrans” and “Guildensteren.”

According to Falk, Shakespeare’s characters were connected to the cosmos in a way that seems quite foreign to the modern reader. Whether crying for joy or shedding tears of anguish, they look to the heavens for confirmation, calling out to “Jupiter” or “the gods” or “the heavens” as they struggle to make sense of their lives. "[Shakespeare] lived in an age of belief, yet a streak of skepticism runs through his work, especially toward the end of his career; in King Lear it reaches an almost euphoric nihilism. His characters often call upon the gods to help them, but their desperate pleas are rarely answered. Was Shakespeare a closet atheist, like his colleague Christopher Marlowe?"

+ - Can a Mobile Game Diagnose Alzheimer's? ->

Submitted by the_newsbeagle
the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "Currently, the best way to check if a person has a high likelihood of developing Alzheimer's is to perform a PET scan to measure the amount of amyloid plaque in his or her brain. That's an expensive procedure. But a startup called Akili Interactive says it has developed a mobile game that can identify likely Alzheimer's patients just by their gameplay and game results. The game is based on a neuroscience study which showed that multitasking is one of the first brain functions to take a hit in Alzheimer's patients. Therefore the game requires players to perform two tasks at the same time."
Link to Original Source

Comment: Re:Fuck the politics. This sucks regardless (Score 2) 86

by Doubting Sapien (#46701785) Attached to: Stem-Cell Research Funding Institute Is Shuttered

However the issue with embryonic stem cells are that they come from aborted human fetuses.

This is right-wing propaganda at its worst. embryonic stem cells DO NOT COME FROM ABORTED HUMAN FETUSES. They come from left over embryos that those seeking fertility treatment no longer need. They were never aborted because they were never implanted in the first place. Because they were never implanted, they never had the chance to develop into anything near resemblance to a fetus. Please get your facts straight, no matter which side of the debate you are on.

Comment: Re:Embryonic stem cell research (Score 3) 86

by Doubting Sapien (#46700637) Attached to: Stem-Cell Research Funding Institute Is Shuttered
Please mod parent up, as it ought to be considered an honest question deserving of an honest answer.

I work with human embryonic stem cells (hESC). I'm going to hazard a guess that you've bought into certain propaganda efforts attempting to mislead the public into believing ESC research "destroys" embryos. That is not at all the case. First a primer in cell biology: At a certain stage in their life cycle, most normal "somatic" cells enter a stage called "senescence" where they may continue to live but no longer divide and will eventually die. Stem cells, on the other hand, have the unique ability to continue dividing indefinitely without becoming "old". This "self-renewal" property makes a stem cell culture very much like the "mother dough" a baker would use to perpetuate starter cultures for years or decades.

Our lab uses uses cells that originated from fertility treatment at my institution's OB/GYN clinic. Individuals who have achieved a successful pregnancy would consent to allow fertilized but unimplanted embryos to be used for research purposes. (If we didn't ask for them, they would have been destroyed as medical waste.) During the early stages of growth, all the cells in the embryo have stem cell qualities and are all "self-renewing". Under artificial growth conditions, these cells are coaxed into remaining stem cells without developing further into a fetus with all different types of tissues and organs. As such, they remain masses of stem cells that could be split/divided and given to research groups as necessary.

So you see, a single embryo can establish a "cell line" that (depending on culture methods and/or skill/technique of cell-culturist) can be maintained indefinitely by researchers. At the moment, the "economics" of this has more to do with the resources needed to grow them rather than obtain them. Cell culture growth media is incredibly expensive right now because it is hard to keep these delicate, finicky guys happy in lab conditions. (Stem cells like growing in an organic environment - not in a dish.) So far, embryonic stem cells are only being used for research as a way to study some fundamental things that are still poorly understood. (Like for example how to grow cells intended for tissue/organ transplant in artificial conditions cheaply and reliably. Expect cost to come down as we make progress on this front.) My lab, for example, only grows enough of them to support a few experiments at a time on DNA damage/repair. Now, the anticipated therapeutic use of stem cells are different. But you would not necessarily need millions of them as one would as in the case of drug manufacturing to produce useful proteins. Because stem cells are "self-renewing", conceivably you only need enough of them to keep itself going in, say, replacing a failed organ or tissue.

At the moment, it is too early to concretely say what the future might look like where stem cells are commercially used for therapies. A couple of possible guesses for how they can be obtained: 1) a person donates his/her own by having parents who made the smart decision to bank "cord blood" saved from the umbilical cord when the baby was born. 2) the small minute number of stem cells that circulate in the blood or exist elsewhere in the body can be extracted. 3) Cells from other parts of your body that have already specialized into certain cell types can be treated to return them to a "stem-cell-like-state". This last thing is what people are talking about when they mention "induced pluri-potent stem cells" (iPSC). In any case, I find it hard to come up with a scenario where stem cells take on the qualities of a commodity to be produced for mass consumption. I suppose anything is possible, but other problems need to be solved along the way, like how to prevent organ rejection when your immune system recognize that your implant doesn't belong to you.

Comment: Re:Sure, but... (Score 1) 392

by Doubting Sapien (#46673551) Attached to: How Many People Does It Take To Colonize Another Star System?
For the intended purpose of perpetuating humanity, such a simplistic scheme is laughably inadequate. Human beings are not some lab organism that you can sustain by throwing them some measured resource. "What is left" is the means to pass on tradition and culture - the living soul of a society. One example: We have enough problems already in segments of our society caused by the absence of men in single parent families disproportionately supported by women. What kind of civilization are you going to have with no male role-models to eventually show sons what it means to be decent husbands and fathers? Will a female only "custodial" community be sustainable or even desirable? Do you expect them to all be lesbians without the need for anyone of the male gender to be around? Even if such a preposterous idea could be floated, how would such a society deal with the eventual presence of male children and adults? You might say that technology provides a way to store the customs and norms of a society such that we can easily store the essence of manhood digitally. But let me ask you: Given the historic records afforded by the invention of writing, how feasibly is it to resurrect past human civilizations to which we no longer have an unbroken link? If your living population is too small, the chances are greater for social order to drift in a way that would eventually lead to instability and destruction. Or at best, communal norms may reach a point where there is no compelling motivation for the "custodial" population to restore humanity in any form that we currently recognize or desire. You are playing with the dangerous idea of putting too much power in the hands of too few. "Genetic" diversity should not be the only thing that is important here.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.