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Comment Re:Are prions a life form? (Score 1) 52

But prions don't actually reproduce--they already exist in our brains. All mammals have prion proteins in their brain. The propagation starts when one of these normally folded one misfolds, or a misfolded one gets into the brain from some other source. Then it causes the existing proteins to misfold. No new molecules are created in this process. In fact, a disease form of a prion is the exact same molecule as a healthy form. It's just a change in shape. Viruses don't hit on all the hallmarks of life, and prions hit even fewer.

Comment Re:Don't Prions come from eating Meat? (Score 1) 52

Remember: We all have proteins that can act like prions. The prion protein responsible for mad cow disease is in the brains of all cows, and a version is in all people. It's a misfolded form of the protein that causes disease. And most people with prion diseases don't get it from eating meat. Only about 1% of prion diseases come from infections--eating animal meat with misfolded prions, for example. Up to 20% of people with diseases have genetic mutations that cause the misfolding. But about 80% of the cases are just sporadic misfolding of unknown cause. Also prion diseases are super rare--about 1 case in a million people. So prions in meat is a pretty low risk situation. What this study is showing is that classical prion proteins aren't the only ones that misfold and then get other proteins to misfold with them, causing disease in the process. Basically, what this group is saying is that "prion" is a much broader concept in biology--that many proteins beyond the mad cow ones can act like that.

Comment Re:Prions are for mad cows. (Score 1) 52

Right now there are no drugs that stop or even slow Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. And that's not for a lack of trying. There have been several notable failures recently--drugs that went to clinical trials and showed no effects in patients. These drugs were designed before this idea that all these diseases were due to prionlike mechanisms started to pick up steam in the field. So now that there have been some fairly big papers suggesting that prionlike proteins are the cause, people can start looking at new designs for drugs that would stop prionlike propagation. Basically, people have already been doing that for classical prion diseases--making molecules that stop those proteins from aggregating into fibrils. So now drug makers could take all that's been learned with those molecules and apply them to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Submission + - Another Neurodegenerative Disease Linked To A Prion->

MTorrice writes: A new study concludes that a brain protein causes the rare, Parkinson’s-like disease called multiple systems atrophy (MSA) by acting like a prion, the misbehaving type of protein infamously linked to mad cow disease. The researchers say the results are the most definitive demonstration to date that proteins involved in many neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, exhibit prionlike behavior: They can misfold into shapes that then coax others to do the same, leading to protein aggregation that forms neurotoxic clumps. If these other diseases are caused by prionlike proteins, then scientists could develop treatments that slow or stop disease progression by designing molecules that block prion propagation.
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Submission + - "Brain-Eating Amoeba" Scoffs At Chlorine In Water Pipes

JMarshall writes: A new study shows that standard chlorination may not be enough to kill the “brain-eating amoeba” Naegleria fowleri, in water pipes. N. fowleri is a rare but deadly pathogen that kills more than 97% of those it infects. The digestive system will kill it, but if a person inhales water, N. fowleri can penetrate nasal mucus and work its way to the brain where it causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. An increasing number of cases are linked to drinking water pipes. Chlorine disinfection ought to be killing N. fowleri, but the new work shows the amoeba can shelter, protected, in biofilms that line the pipes. Killing N. fowleri in the presence of biofilms takes up to 40 times the standard chlorine dose, the researchers found.

Submission + - Red Fireworks Go Green->

An anonymous reader writes: Makers of fireworks and flares have long believed that the beautiful red color in their explosions could be attained only with chlorine-based compounds. But after these ingredients combust, they can transform into cancer-causing chemicals that then fall to the ground. New chlorine-free pyrotechnics could pave the way for a generation of red fireworks and flares that are better for the environment and for people’s health.

Chemists formulated the new explosive by replacing polyvinyl chloride on the old ingredient list with either hexamine, a preservative in citrus washing solutions, or 5-amino-1H-tetrazole, an air-bag propellant.

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Submission + - Transparent Paper Produces Power With Just A Touch->

ckwu writes: A new transparent-paper device can generate electrical power from a user’s touch. The paper energy-harvester could be used to make disposable, self-powered touch screens that fold; interactive light-up books; touch-sensitive skin for prosthetics; and security systems for art and documents, according to the researchers. The device is made out of nanopaper, a tangled mat made of nanometers-wide cellulose fibers that is transparent and smooth like plastic. The researchers deposit carbon nanotubes on the nanopaper to make a pair of electrodes, and then sandwich a polyethylene film in between. The generator works via electrostatic induction. Pressing one side of the device causes a change in the charge balance between the nanotube electrodes, resulting in a flow of current through the device. Releasing the pressure causes electrons to flow back, so repeated pressing and releasing creates continuous current. The researchers demonstrated that the generator could produce enough power when pressed to light up a small liquid-crystal display.
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Submission + - Neuroscientists Find Difference In How Male And Feamle Mice Develop Pain->

MTorrice writes: Over the past 15 years, neuroscientists have pieced together a biological circuit that they think is involved in some chronic pain conditions. But work on this mechanism left out some important subjects: females.

A new study highlights the risk of ignoring sex in biomedical research. The researchers report that female mice develop a certain type of pain through a completely different mechanism than the one males use.

Researchers often avoid working with female animals because they worry that the hormonal changes in the female estrous cycle could add complicating variables. But this new study demonstrates how it's important to study both sexes to avoid getting an incomplete picture of biological phenomena.

It's possible that a similar sex difference exists in people, and, if it does, there could be significant implications for the development of new pain therapies.

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Submission + - Airplane Coatings Help Recoup Fuel Efficiency Lost To Bug Splatter->

MTorrice writes: When bugs explode against the wings of oncoming airplanes, they create a sticky problem for aerospace engineers. Their blood, or hemolymph, clings to an airplane’s wings, disrupting the smooth airflow over them and sapping the aircraft’s fuel efficiency. NASA scientists are now developing coatings that help aircraft shed or repel bug guts during flight. After screening nearly 200 different coating formulations, the NASA researchers recently flight-tested a handful of promising candidates, showing that they could reduce the amount of insect insides stuck to the wings by up to 40%. With further optimization, such coatings could allow planes to use 5% less fuel.
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Submission + - Generating Power With Bacterial Spores->

MTorrice writes: Ozgur Sahin dreams of a future when panels floating on lakes and oceans generate renewable energy. But the panels the biophysicist from Columbia University has in mind don’t harvest wind or sunlight. They use bacterial spores to tap the power of evaporating water.

In a step toward that goal, Sahin and his team have created machines that produce electricity when spore-laden materials—a sort of artificial muscle—expand and contract with changes in humidity. Although these devices generate only about 1% of the energy produced by similarly sized commercial solar panels, the spore-powered generators cost about 100 times less, Sahin says.

Watch the spore muscles power a LED and a little car.

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Submission + - An extra-large nanocage molecule for quantum computing

JMarshall writes: Researchers have built a molecular nanocage 8 nm across that represents a step toward quantum computing.
It is difficult to make uniform nanoparticles more than 4 nm across, but new work solves this problem. Researchers made eight-membered metal rings from chromium and nickel that can act like a qubits in quantum computing. More connected rings means greater quantum computing capacity, so the team worked to combine many rings into one molecule. They managed to pull 24 rings together into an 8-nm sphere, secured by palladium ions at the core. The molecule had a surprisingly good phase memory, an indication of the molecule’s quantum computing potential. The researchers say building a molecule with 70-100 rings would allow them to do “some serious stuff” in quantum computing.

Submission + - Metamaterial Forms Near-Perfect Mirror

JMarshall writes: Researchers have made near-perfect reflectors out of a silicon metamaterial. These reflectors could offer a simpler, less expensive way to make high-performance mirrors for lasers or telescopes.

Metamaterials typically use nanoscale patterning to create unusual properties not present in the bulk material. In this new method, researchers used off-the-shelf, nanosized polystyrene beads and allowed them to self-assemble into a monolayer with a hexagonal pattern. Using the monolayer as a photolithographic mask, the researchers etched an array of silicon cylinders, each a few hundred nanometers across, onto a wafer. The cylinders act like tiny resonators for a particular light frequency—analogous to the way a given sound frequency will make a tuning fork hum. The array reflected 99.7 % of incident light at their peak wavelength. These simple metamaterial mirrors might one day replace current high-performance reflectors, which are somewhat costly to make.

Submission + - Coating Stabilizes Lithium Electrodes For High Capacity Batteries

JMarshall writes: Lithium-metal battery anodes can store 10-fold more energy by weight than those in today’s best batteries, but they have been too unstable to be practical. Now, researchers have used atomic layer deposition—widely used in the semiconductor industry—to coat lithium-metal anodes with a thin protective layer that dramatically improved their performance. Coated lithium-metal anodes did not corrode under conditions that corrode unprotected lithium metal. When combined with sulfur cathodes, which also have the potential to store lots of energy but which typically react badly with lithium, the lithium metal anodes performed well with no sign of degradation after 100 charge cycles. If these better batteries could be commercialized, they could allow electric vehicles to drive farther between charges or offer a more compact power source for implanted medical devices.

Submission + - Alloy Deforms, Springs Back Into Shape Millions Of Times->

MTorrice writes: By adding a touch of cobalt to an alloy of titanium, nickel, and copper, an international team of researchers has come up with a shape-memory alloy film that can be deformed at least 10 million times and still snap back to its original shape. The finding represents a remarkable improvement on previous shape-memory alloys, which, at best, could withstand only a thousand deformations before succumbing to structural failure.

The current, top-of-class alloy is nickel titanium, which is used in stents to open blood vessels and as orthodontic wires.

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